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Title: A Son of Hagar - A Romance of Our Time
Author: Caine, Hall, Sir, 1853-1931
Language: English
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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.

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A SON OF HAGAR.

A Romance of Our Time

by

HALL CAINE,

Author of "The Bondsman," "The Deemster," etc.

"God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is."



New York
Hurst & Company
Publishers.



TO

R.D. BLACKMORE.

It must be an exceeding great reward, beyond all the rewards of material
success, to know that you have written a book that is deep, tranquil,
strong and pure. Again and again you have nobly earned that knowledge.
Across the more than thirty years that divide us, the elder from the
younger brother, the veteran from the raw comrade, let me offer my hand
to you as to a master of our craft.

To the author, then, of a romance that has no equal save in Scott, I
humbly dedicate this romance of mine.

H.C.

       *       *       *       *       *


CUMBRIAN WORDS.

barn=child; dusta=dost thou; hasta=hast thou.

laal=little; leet=alight; girt=great.

sista=seëst thou.

varra=very.

wadsta=wouldst thou.

wilta=wilt thou.

Shaf!=_an expression of contempt_.



PREFACE.


In my first novel, "The Shadow of a Crime," I tried to penetrate into
the soul of a brave, unselfish, long-suffering man, and to lay bare the
processes by which he raised himself to a great height of
self-sacrifice. In this novel the aim has been to penetrate into the
soul of a bad man, and to lay bare the processes by which he is tempted
to his fall. To find a character that shall be above all common
tendencies to guilt and yet tainted with the plague-spot of evil hidden
somewhere; then to watch the first sharp struggle of what is good in the
man with what is bad, until he is in the coil of his temptation; and
finally, to show in what tragic ruin a man of strong passions, great
will and power of mind may resist the force that precipitates him and
save his soul alive--this is, I trust, a motive no less worthy, no less
profitable to study, in the utmost result no less heroic and inspiring,
than that of tracing the upward path of noble types of mind. For me
there has been a pathetic, and I think purifying, interest in looking
into the soul of this man and seeing it corrode beneath the touch of a
powerful temptation until at the last, when it seems to lie spent, it
rises again in strength and shows that the human heart has no depths in
which it is lost. If this character had been equal to my intention, it
might have been a real contribution to fiction, and far as I know it to
fall short of the first deep blow of feeling in which it was conceived,
it is, I think, new to the novel, though it holds a notable place in the
drama--it would be presumptuous to say where--unnecessary, also, as I
have made no disguise of my purpose.

One of the usual disadvantages of choosing a leading character that is
off the lines of heroic portraiture is that the author may seem to be in
sympathy with a base part in life and with base opinions. In this novel
I run a different risk. I shall not be surprised if I provoke some
hostility in making the bad man justify his course by the gaunt and grim
morality that masquerades as the morality of our own time, while the
good man is made to justify his one dubious act by the full and sincere
and just morality that too often wears now the garb of vice--the
morality of the books of Moses. This novel relies, I trust, on the sheer
humanities alone, but among its less aggressive purposes is that of a
plea for the natural rights of the bastard. Those rights have been
recognized in every country and by every race, except one, since the day
when the outcast woman in the wilderness hearkened to the cry from
heaven which said, "God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is." In
England alone have the rights of blood been as nothing compared with
the rights of property, and it is part of the business of this novel to
exhibit these interests at a climax of strife. I have no fear that any
true-hearted person will accuse me of a desire to cast reproach upon
marriage as an ordinance. Recognizing the beauty and the sanctity of
marriage, I have tried to show that true marriage is a higher thing than
a ceremony, and that people who use the gibbet and stake for offenders
against its forms are too often those who see no offense in the
violation of its spirit.

My principal scenes are again among the mountains of Cumberland; but in
this second attempt I have tried to realize more completely their
solitude and sweetness, their breezy healthfulness, and their scent as
of new-cut turf, by putting them side by side with scenes full of the
garrulous clangor and the malodor of the dark side of London.

When I began, I thought to enlarge the popular knowledge of our robust
north-country by the addition of some whimsical character and quaint
folk-lore. If much of this quiet local atmosphere has had to make way
before one strong current of tragic feeling, I trust some of it remains
that is fresh and bracing in the incidents of the booth, the smithy, the
dalesman's wedding, the rush-bearing, the cock-fighting, and the
sheep-shearing. Those readers of the earlier book who found human nature
and an element of humor in the patois, will regret with me the necessity
so to modify the dialect in this book as to remove from it nearly all
the race quality that comes of intonation.

I ought to add that one of my characters, Parson Christian, is a
portrait of a dear, simple, honest soul long gone to his account, and
that the words here put into his mouth are oftener his own than mine.

I trust this book may help to correct a prevailing misconception as to
the morals and mind of the typical English peasantry. It is certain that
the conventional peasant of literature, the broad-mouthed rustic in a
smock-frock, dull-eyed, mulish, beetle-headed, doddering, too vacant to
be vicious, too doltish to do amiss, does not exist as a type in
England. What does exist in every corner of the country is a peasantry
speaking a patois that is often of varying inflections, but is always
full of racy poetry, illiterate and yet possessed of a vast oral
literature, sharing brains with other classes more equally than
education, humorous, nimble-witted; clear-sighted, astute, cynical, not
too virtuous, and having a lofty, contempt for the wiseacres of the
town.

The manners and customs, the folk lore and folk-talk of Cumberland are
far from exhausted in my two Cumberland novels; but it is not probable
that I shall work in this vein again. In parting from it, may I venture
to hope that here and there a reader grown tired of the life of the
great cities has sometimes found it a relief to escape with me into
these mountain solitudes and look upon a life as real and more true; a
life that is humble and yet not low; a life in which men may be men, and
the rude people of the soil need study the face of no master save nature
alone?


A SON OF HAGAR.



_BOOK I._


RETRO ME, SATHANA!



PROLOGUE.

IN THE YEAR 1845.


It was a chill December morning. The atmosphere was dense with fog in
the dusky chamber of a London police court; the lights were bleared and
the voices drowsed. A woman carrying a child in her arms had been half
dragged, half pushed into the dock. She was young; beneath her
disheveled hair her face showed almost girlish. Her features were
pinched with pain; her eyes had at one moment a serene look, and at the
next moment a look of defiance. Her dress had been rich; it was now torn
and damp, and clung in dank folds to her limbs. The child she carried
appeared to be four months old. She held it convulsively at her breast,
and when it gave forth a feeble cry she rocked it mechanically.

"Your worship, I picked this person out of the river at ha'past one
o'clock this morning," said a constable. "She had throwed herself off
the steps of Blackfriars Bridge."

"Had she the child with her?" asked the bench.

"Yes, your worship; and when I brought her to land I couldn't get the
little one out of her arms nohow--she clung that tight to it. The
mother, she was insensible; but the child opened its eyes and cried."

"Have you not learned her name?"

"No, sir; she won't give us no answer when we ask her that."

"I am informed," said the clerk, "that against all inquiries touching
her name and circumstances she keeps a rigid silence. The doctor is of
opinion, your worship, that the woman is not entirely responsible."

"Her appearance in court might certainly justify that conclusion," said
the magistrate.

The young woman had gazed vacantly about her with an air of
indifference. She seemed scarcely to realize that through the yellow
vagueness the eyes of a hundred persons were centered on her haggard
face.

"Anybody here who knows her?" asked the bench.

"Yes, your worship; I found out the old woman alonger she lodged."

"Let us hear the old person."

A woman in middle life--a little, confused, aimless, uncomfortable
body--stepped into the box. She answered to the name of Drayton. Her
husband was a hotel porter. She had a house in Pimlico. A month ago one
of her rooms on the first floor back had been to let. She put a card in
her window, and the prisoner applied. Accepted the young lady as tenant,
and had been duly paid her rent. Knew nothing of who she was or where
she came from. Couldn't even get her name. Had heard her call the baby
Paul. That was all she knew.

"Her occupation, my good woman, what was it?

"Nothing; she hadn't no occupation, your worship."

"Never went out? Not at night?"

"No, sir; leastways not at night, sir. I hopes your worship takes me for
an honest woman, sir."

"Did nothing for a living, and yet she paid you. Did you board her?"

"Yes, your worship; she could cook her wittles, but the poor young thing
seemed never to have heart for nothing, sir."

"Never talked to you?"

"No, sir; nothing but cried. She cried, and cried, and cried, 'cept when
she laughed, and then it were awful, your worship. My man always did say
as how there was no knowing what she'd be doing of yet."

"Is she married, do you know?"

"Yes, your worship; she wears her wedding-ring quite regular--only, once
she plucked it off and flung it in the fire--I saw it with my own eyes,
sir, or I mightn't ha' believed it; and I never did see the like--but
the poor creature's not responsible at whiles--that's what my husband
says."

"What was her behavior to the child? Did she seem fond of it?"

"Oh, yes, your worship; she used to hug, and hug, and hug it, and call
it her darling, and Paul, and Paul, and Paul, and all she had left in
the world."

"When did you see her last before to-day?"

"Yesterday, sir; she put on her bonnet and cape and drew a shawl around
the baby, and went out in the afternoon. 'It will do you a mort of
good,' says I to her; 'Yes, Mrs. Drayton,' says she, 'it will do us both
a world of good.' That was on the front doorsteps, your worship and it
was a nice afternoon, but I had never no idea what she meant to be doing
of; but she's not responsible, poor young thing, that's what my--"

"And when night came and she hadn't got home, did you go in search of
her?"

"Yes, your worship; for I says to my husband, says I, 'Poor young thing,
I can't rest in my bed, and knowing nothing of what's come to her.' And
my man, he says to me, 'Maggie,' he says, 'you go to the station and
give the officers her description,' he says--'a tall young woman as
might ha' been a lady, a-carrying a baby--- that'll be good enough,' he
says, and I went. And this morning the officer came, and I knew by his
face as something had happened, and--"

"Let us hear the doctor. Is he in court?"

"Yes, your worship," said the constable.

Mrs. Drayton was being bustled out of the box. She stopped on the first
step down--

"And I do hope as no harm will come to her--she's not
responsible--that's what my hus--"

"All right, we know all that; down with you; this way; don't bother his
worship!"

At the bottom of the steps the woman stopped again with a handkerchief
to her eyes.

"And it do make me cry to see her, poor thing, and the baby, too, and
innocent as a kitten--and I hopes if anything is done to her as--"

Mrs. Drayton's further hopes and fears were lost in the bustle of the
court. The young woman in the dock still gazed about her vacantly. There
was strength in her firmly molded lip, sensibility in her large dark
eyes, power in her broad, smooth brow, and a certain stateliness in the
outlines of her tall, slim figure.

The doctor who had examined her gave his report in a few words; the
woman should be under control, though she was dangerous to no one but
herself. Her attempt at suicide was one of the common results of
disaster in affairs of love. Perhaps she was a married woman, abandoned
by her husband; more likely she was an unfortunate lady in whom the
shame of pregnancy had produced insanity. She was obviously a person of
education and delicacy of feeling.

"She must have connections of some kind," said the magistrate; and,
turning to the dock, he said quietly, "Give us your name, my good lady."

The woman seemed not to hear, but she pressed her child yet closer to
her breast, and it cried feebly.

The magistrate tried again.

"Your baby's name is Paul, isn't it? Paul--what?"

She looked around, glanced at the magistrate and back at the people in
the court, but said nothing.

Just then the door opposite the bench creaked slightly, and a gentleman
entered. The woman's wondering eyes passed over him. In an instant her
torpor was shaken off. She riveted her gaze on the new-comer. Her
features contracted with lines of pain. She drew the child aside, as if
to hide it from sight. Then her face twitched, and she staggered back
into the arms of the constable behind her. She was now insensible.
Through the dense folds of the fog the vague faces of the spectators
showed an intent expression.

It was observed that the gentleman who had entered the court a moment
before immediately left it. The magistrate saw him pass out of the door
merely as a distorted figure in the dusky shadows.

"Let her be removed to the Dartford asylum," said the magistrate; "I
will give an order at once."

A voice came from the body of the court. It was Mrs. Drayton's voice,
thick with sobs.

"And if you please, your worship, may me and my husband take care of the
child until the poor young thing is well enough to come for it? We've no
children of our own, sir, and my husband and me, we'd like to have it,
and no one would do no better by it, your worship."

"I think you are a good woman, Mrs. Drayton," said the magistrate. Then,
turning to the clerk, he added: "Let inquiries be made about her, and,
if all prove satisfactory, let the child be given into her care."

"Oh, thank your worship; it do make me cry--"

"Yes, all right--never mind now--we know all about it--come along."

The prisoner recovered consciousness in being removed from the dock; the
constable was taking the child out of her arms. She clung to it with
feverish hands.

"Take me away," she said in a deep whisper, and her eyes wandered to the
door.

"Stop that man!" said the magistrate, pointing to the vague recesses
into which the spectator had disappeared. An officer of the court went
out hastily. Presently returning: "He is gone," said the officer.

"Take me away, take me away!" cried the prisoner in a tense voice.
"Paul, Paul, my own little Paul!" The woman's breath came and went in
gusts, and her child cried from the convulsive pressure to her breast.

"Remove them," said the bench.

There was a faint commotion. Among the people in the court, huddled like
sheep, there was a harsh scraping of feet, and some suppressed
whispering. The stolid faces on the bench turned and smiled slightly in
the yellow gleam of the gas that burned in front of them. Then the
momentary bustle ended, the woman and child were gone, and the calm
monotony of the court was resumed.

Six months later a handsome woman, still little more than a girl, yet
with eyes of suffering, stepped up to the door of a house in Pimlico and
knocked timidly.

"I wish to see Mrs. Drayton," she said, when the door was opened by an
elderly person.

"Bless you, they're gone, Mrs. Drayton and her Husband."

"Gone!" said the young woman, "gone! What do you mean?"

"Why, gone--removed--shifted."

"Removed--shifted?" The idea seemed to struggle its slow way into her
brain.

"In course--what else, when the big hotel fails and he loses his job?
Rents can't be paid on nothing a week, and something to put in the mouth
besides."

"Gone? Are you mad? Woman, think what you're saying. Gone where?"

"How do I know where? Mad, indeed! I'll not say but other folk look a
mort madder nor ever I looked."

The young woman took her by the shoulder.

"Don't say that--don't say you don't know where they're gone. They've
got my child, I tell you; my poor little Paul.

"Oh, so you're the young party as drowned herself, are you? Well,
they're gone anyways, and the little chit with them, and there's no
saying where. You may believe me. Ask the neighbors else."

The young woman leaned against the door-jamb with a white face and great
eyes.

"Well, well, how hard she takes it. Deary me, deary me, she's not a bad
sort, after all. Well, well, who'd ha' thought it! There, there, come in
and sit awhile. It is cruel to lose one's babby--and me to tell her,
too. Misbegotten or not, it's one's own flesh and blood, and that's what
I always says."

The young woman had been drawn into the house and seated on a chair. She
got up again with the face of an old woman.

"Oh, I'm choking!" she said.

"Rest awhile, do now, my dear--there--there."

"No, no, my good woman, let me go."

"Heaven help you, child; how you look!"

"Heaven has never helped me," said the young woman. "I was a Sister of
Charity only two years ago. A man found me and wooed me; married me and
abandoned me; I tried to die and they rescued me; they separated me from
my child and put me in an asylum; I escaped, and have now come for my
darling, and he is gone."

"Deary me, deary me!" and the old woman stroked her consolingly.

"Let me go," she cried, starting up afresh. "If Heaven has done nothing
for me, perhaps the world itself will have mercy."

The ghastly face answered ill to the grating laugh that followed as she
jerked her head aside and hurried away.



CHAPTER I.

IN THE YEAR 1875.


It was Young Folks' Day in the Vale of Newlands. The summer was at its
height; the sun shone brightly; the lake to the north lay flat as a
floor of glass, and reflected a continent of blue cloud; the fells were
clear to their summits, and purple with waves of heather. It was
noontide, and the shadows were short. In the slumberous atmosphere the
bees droned, and the hot air quivered some feet above the long, lush
grass. The fragrance of new-mown hay floated languidly through a
sub-current of wild rose and honeysuckle. In a meadow at the foot of the
Causey Pike tents were pitched, flags were flying, and crowds of men,
women, and children watched the mountain sports.

In the center of a group of spectators two men, stripped to the waist,
were wrestling. They were huge fellows, with muscles that stood out on
their arms like giant bulbs, and feet that held the ground like the
hoofs of oxen. The wrestlers were calm to all outward appearance, and
embraced each other with the quiet fondling of lambs and the sinuous
power of less affectionate creatures. But the people about them were
wildly excited. They stopped to watch every wary movement of the foot,
and craned their necks to catch the subtlest twist of the wrist.

"Sista, Reuben, sista! He'll have enough to do to tummel John Proudfoot.
John's up to the scat to-day, anyways."

"Look tha! John's on for giving him the cross-buttock."

John was the blacksmith, a big buirdly fellow with a larger blunt head.

"And he has given it too, has John."

"Nay, nay, John's doon--ey, ey, he's doon, is John."

One of the wrestlers had thrown the other, and was standing quietly over
him. He was a stalwart young man of eight-and-twenty, brown-haired,
clear-eyed, of a ruddy complexion, with a short, thick, curly beard, and
the grace and bearing that comes of health and strength and a complete
absence of self-consciousness. He smiled cheerfully, and nodded his head
in response to loud shouts of applause. "Weel done! Verra weel done!
That's the way to ding 'em ower! What sayst tha, Reuben?"

"What a bash it was, to be sure!"

"What dusta think you of yon wrestling, ey, man?"

"Nay, nay, it's verra middling."

"Ever seen owt like it since the good auld days you crack on sa often,
auld man?"

"Nay, he doont him verra neat, did Paul--I will allow it."

"There's never a man in Cumberland need take a hand with young Paul
Ritson after this."

"Ey, ey; he's his father's son."

The wrestler, surrounded by a little multitude of boys, who clung to his
sparse garments on every side, made his way to a tent.

At the same moment a ludicrous figure forced a passage through the
crowd, and came to a stand in the middle of the green. It was a
diminutive creature, mounted on a pony that carried its owner on a
saddle immediately below its neck, and a pair of paniers just above its
tail. The rider was an elderly man with shaggy eyebrows and beard of
mingled black and gray. His swarthy, keen wizened face was twisted into
grotesque lines beneath a pair of little blinking eyes, which seemed to
say that anybody who refused to see that they belonged to a perfectly,
wideawake son of old Adam made a portentous mistake. He was the mountain
peddler, and to-day, at least, his visit was opportune.

"Lasses, here's for you! Look you, here's Gubblum Oglethorpe, pony and
all."

"Why, didsta ever see the like--Gubblum's getten hissel into a saddle!"

Gubblum, from his seat on the pony, twisted one half of his wrinkled
face awry, and said:

"In course I have! But it's a vast easier getting into this saddle nor
getting out of it, I can tell you!"

"Why, how's that, Gubblum?" cried a voice from the crowd.

"What, man, did you never hear of the day I bought it?"

Sundry shakes of many heads were the response.

"No?" said Gubblum, with an accent of sheer incredulity, and added,
"Well, there is no accounting for the ignorance of some folks."

"What happened to you, Gubblum?"

Gubblum's expression of surprise gave place to a look of condescension.
He lifted his bronzed and hairy hand to the rim of his straw hat to
shade his eyes from the sun.

"Well, when I got on to auld Bessy, here, I couldn't get off
again--that's what happened."

"No? Why?"

"You see, I'd got my clogs on when I went to buy the saddle in Kezzick,
and they're middling wide in the soles, my clogs are. So when I put my
feet into the stirrups, there they stuck."

"Stuck!"

"Ey, fast as nails! And when I got home to Branth'et Edge I couldn't get
them out. So our Sally, she said to my auld woman, 'Mother,' she said,
'we'll have to put father into the stable with the pony and fetch him a
cup of tea.' And that's what they did, and when I had summat into me I
had another fratch at getting out of the saddle; but I couldn't manish
it; so I had--what you think I had to do?"

"Nay, man, what?"

"I had to sleep all night in the stable on Bessy's back!"

"Bless thee, Gubblum, and whatever didsta do?"

"I'm coming to that, on'y some folks are so impatient. Next morning that
lass of mine, she said to her mother, 'Mother,' she said, 'wouldn't it
be best to take the saddle off the pony, and then father he'll sure come
off with it?'"

"And they did do it?"

"Ey, they did. They took Bessy and me round to the soft bed as they
keeps maistly at the back of a stable, and they loosened the straps and
gave a push, and cried 'Away.'"

"Weel, man, weel?"

"Weel! nowt of the sort! It wasn't weel at all! When I rolled over I was
off the pony, for sure; but I was stuck fast to the saddle just the
same."

"What ever did they do with thee then?"

"I'm coming to that, too, on'y some folks are so mortal fond of hearing
theirselves talk. They picked me up, saddle and all, and set me on the
edge of the kitchen dresser. And there I sat for the best part of a
week, sleeping and waking, and carding and spinning, and getting fearful
thin. But I got off at last, I did!" There was a look of proud content
in Gubblum's face as he added, "What a thing it is to be eddicated! We
don't vally eddication half enough!"

A young fellow--it was Lang Geordie Moore--pushed a smirking face
between the shoulders of two girls, and said:

"Did you take to reading and writing, then, Gubblum, when you were on
the kitchen dresser?"

There was a gurgling titter, but, disdaining to notice the interruption,
Gubblum lifted his tawny face into the glare of the sun, and said:

"It was my son as did it--him that is learning for a parson. He came
home from St. Bees, and 'Mother,' he said, before he'd been in the house
a minute, 'let's take fathers clogs off, and then his feet will come
out of the stirrups."

A loud laugh bubbled over the company. Gubblum sat erect in the saddle
and added with a grave face:

"That's what comes of eddication and reading the Bible and all o' that!
If I had fifty sons I'd make 'em all parsons."

The people laughed again, and crowed and exchanged nods and knowing
winks. They enjoyed the peddler's talk, and felt an indulgent tenderness
for his slow and feeble intellect. He on his part enjoyed no less to
assume a simple and shallow nature. A twinkle lurked under his bushy
brows while he "smoked the gonies." They laughed and he smiled slyly,
and both were satisfied.

Gubblum Oglethorpe, peddler, of Branth'et Edge, got off his pony and
stroked its tousled mane. He was leading it to a temporary stable, when
he met face to face the young wrestler, Paul Ritson, who was coming from
the tent in his walking costume. Drawing up sharply, he surveyed Paul
rapidly from head to foot, and then asked him with a look of
bewilderment what he could be doing there.

"Why, when did you come back to these parts?"

Paul smiled.

"Come back! I've not been away."

The old man looked slyly up into Paul's face and winked. Perceiving no
response to that insinuating communication, his wrinkled face became
more grave, and he said:

"You were nigh to London three days ago."

"Nigh to London three days ago!" Paul laughed, then nodded across at a
burly dalesman standing near, and said: "Geordie, just pinch the old
man, and see if he's dreaming."

There was a general titter, followed by glances of amused inquiry. The
peddler took off his hat, held his head aside, scratched it leisurely,
glanced up again at the face of young Ritson, as if to satisfy himself
finally as to his identity, and eventually muttered half aloud:

"Well, I'm fair maizelt--that's what I am!"

"Maizelt--why?"

"I could ha' sworn I saw you at a spot near London three days ago."

"Not been there these three years," said Paul.

"Didn't you wave your hand to me as we went by--me and Bessy?"

"Did I? Where?"

"Why, at the Hawk and Heron, in Hendon."

"Never saw the place in my life."

"Sure of that?"

"Sure."

The grave old head dropped once more, and the pony's head was held down
to the withered hand that scratched and caressed it. Then the first idea
of a possible reason on Paul's part for keeping his movements secret
suggested itself afresh to Gubblum. He glanced soberly around, caught
the eye of the young dalesman furtively, and winked again. Paul laughed
outright, nodded his head good-humoredly, and rather ostentatiously
winked in response. The company that had gathered about them caught the
humor of the situation, and tittered audibly enough to provoke the
peddler's wrath.

"But I say you have seen it," shouted Gubblum in emphatic tones.

At that moment a slim young man walked slowly past the group. He was
well dressed, and carried himself with ease and some dignity, albeit
with an air of listlessness--a weary and dragging gait, due in part to a
slight infirmity of one foot. When some of the dalesmen bowed to him his
smile lacked warmth. He was Hugh Ritson, the younger brother of Paul.

Gubblum's manner gathered emphasis. "You were standing on the step of
the Hawk and Heron," said he, "and I waved my hand and shouted 'A canny
morning to you, Master Paul'--ey, that I did!"

"You don't say so!" said Paul, with mock solemnity. His brother had
caught the peddler's words, and stopped.

"But I do say so," said Gubblum, with many shakes of his big head. Let
any facetious young gentleman who supposed that it was possible to make
sport of him, understand once for all that it might be as well to throw
a stone into his own garden.

"Why, Gubblum," said Paul, smothering a laugh, "what was I doing at
Hendon?"

"Doing! Well, a chap 'at was on the road along of me said that Master
Paul had started innkeeper."

"Innkeeper!"

There was a prolonged burst of laughter, amid which one amused patriarch
on a stick shouted: "Feel if tha's abed, Gubblum, ma man!"

"And if I is abed, it's better nor being in bed-lam, isn't it?" shouted
the peddler.

Then Gubblum scratched his head again, and said more quietly: "It caps
all. If it wasn't you, it must ha' been the old gentleman hissel'."

"Are we so much alike? Come, let's see your pack."

"His name was Paul, anyways."

Hugh Ritson had elbowed his way through the group, and was now at
Gubblum's elbow listening intently. When the others had laughed, he
alone preserved an equal countenance.

"Paul--what?" he asked.

"Nay, don't ax me--I know nowt no mair--I must be an auld maizelin, I
must, for sure!"

Hugh Ritson turned on his heel and walked off.



CHAPTER II.


The Vale of Newlands runs north and south. On its east banks rise the
Cat Bell fells and the Eel Crags; on the west rise Hindscarth and
Robinson, backed by Whiteless Pike and Grasmoor. A river flows down the
bed of the valley, springing in the south among the heights of Dale
Head, and emptying into Bassenthwaite on the north. A village known as
Little Town stands about midway in the vale, and a road runs along each
bank. The tents were pitched for the sports near the bed of the valley,
on the east side of the Newlands Beck. On the west side, above the road,
there was a thick copse of hazel, oak, and birch. From a clearing in
this wood a thin column of pale blue smoke was rising through the still
air. A hut in the shape of a cone stood a few yards from the road. It
was thatched from the ground upward with heather and bracken, leaving
only a low aperture as door. Near the hut a small fire of hazel sticks
crackled under the pot that swung from a forked triangle of oak limbs.
Fagots were stacked at one end of the clearing; a pile of loose bark lay
near. It was a charcoal pit, and behind a line of hurdles that were
propped with poles and intertwined with dead grass and gorse, an old man
was building a charcoal fire.

He was tall and slight, and he stooped. His eyes were large and heavy;
his long beard was whitening. He wore a low-crowned hat with broad brim,
and a loose flannel jacket without a waistcoat. Most of us convey the
idea that to our own view we are centers of our circles, and that the
universe revolves about us. This old man suggested a different feeling.
To himself he might have been a thing gone somehow out of its orbit.
There was a listless melancholy, a lonely weariness in his look and
movements. An old misery seemed to sit on him.

His name was Matthew Fisher; but the folk of the country-side called him
Laird Fisher. The dubious dignity came of the circumstance that he was
the holder of an absolute royalty on a few acres of land under
Hindscarth. The royalty had been many generations in his family. His
grandfather had set store by it. When the lord of the manor had worked
the copper pits at the foot of the Eel Crags, he had tried to possess
himself of the royalties of the Fishers. But the peasant family resisted
the aristocrat. Luke Fisher believed there was a fortune under his feet,
and he meant to try his own luck on his holding some day. That day never
came. His son, Mark Fisher, carried on the tradition, but made no effort
to unearth the fortune. They were a cool, silent, slow, and stubborn
race. Matthew Fisher followed his father and his grandfather, and
inherited the family faith. All these years the tenders of the lord of
the manor were ignored, and the Fishers enjoyed their title of courtesy
or badinage. When Matthew was a boy there was a rhyme current in the
vale which ran:

"There's t' auld laird, and t' young laird, and t' laird among t' barns.
If iver there comes another laird, we'll hang-him up by t' arms."

There is a tough bit of Toryism in the grain of these northern
dalesfolk. Their threat was idle; no other laird ever came. Matthew
married, and had one daughter only. He farmed his few acres with poor
results. The ground was good enough, but Matthew was living under the
shadow of the family tradition. One day--it was Sunday morning, and the
sun shone brightly--he was rambling by the Po Beck that rose on
Hindscarth and passed through his land, when his eye glanced over a
glittering stone that lay among the pebbles, at the bottom of the
stream. It was ore, good full ore, and on the very surface. Then the
Laird Fisher sunk a shaft and all his earnings with it in an attempt to
procure iron or copper. The dalespeople derided him, but he held
silently on his way.

"How dusta find the cobbles to-day--any softer?" they would ask.

"As soft as the hearts of most folk," he would answer, and then add in a
murmur, "and maybe a vast harder nor their heads."

The undeceiving came at length, and then the Laird Fisher was old and
poor. His wife died broken-hearted. After that the laird never rallied.
The breezy irony of the dalesfolk did not spare the old man's bent head.
"He's brankan" (holding up his head) "like a steg swan," they would say
as he went past. The shaft was left unworked, and the holding lay
fallow. Laird Fisher took wage from the lord of the manor to burn
charcoal in the copse.

The old man had raised his vertical shaft, and was laying the oak limbs
against it, when a girl of about eighteen came along the road from the
south, and clambered over the stile that led to the charcoal pit. She
was followed by a sheep-dog, small and wiry as a hill-fox.

"Is that thee, Mercy?" said the charcoal-burner from the fire, without
turning.

The girl was a pretty little thing; yet there was something wrong with
her prettiness. One saw at once that her cheeks should have been pink
and white like the daisy, and that her hair, which was yellow as the
primrose, should have tumbled in wavelets about them. There ought to
have been sunshine in the blue eyes, and laughter on the red lips, and
merry lilt in the soft voice. But the pink had faded from the girl's
cheek; the shadow had chased the sunshine from her eyes; her lips had
taken a downward turn, and a note of sadness had stolen the merriment
from her voice.

"It's only your tea, father," she said, setting down a basket. Then
taking up a spoon that lay on the ground, she stirred the mess that was
simmering over the fire. The dog lay and blinked in the sun.

A rabbit rustled through the coppice, and a jay screeched in the distant
glade. But above all came the peals of merry laughter from below. The
girl's eyes wandered yearningly to the tents over which the flags were
flying.

"Do you hear the sports, father?" she said.

"Ey, lass, there's gay carryin's-on. They're chirming and chirping like
as many sparrows." The old man twisted about. "I should have thowt as
thou'd have been in the thick of the thrang thysel', Mercy, carryin' on
the war."

"I didn't care to go," said Mercy in an undertone.

The old man looked at her silently for a moment.

"Ways me, but thoos not the same heartsome lass," he said, and went on
piling the fagots around the shaft. "But I count nowt of sec wark," he
added, after a pause.

Little Mercy's eyes strayed back from the bubbling pot to the tents
below. There was a shout of applause.

"That's Geordie Moore's voice," thought Mercy. She could see a circle
with linked hands. "They're playing the cushion game," she said under
her breath, and then drew a long sigh.

Though she did not care to go to the sports to-day, she felt, oh! so
sick at heart. Like a wounded hare that creeps into quiet ambush, and
lies down on the dry clover to die, she had stolen away from all this
noisy happiness; but her heart's joy was draining away. In her wistful
eyes there was something almost cruel in this bustling merriment, in
this flaunting gayety, in this sweet summer day itself.

The old charcoal-burner had stepped up to where the girl knelt with
far-away eyes.

"Mercy," he said, "I've wanted a word with you this many a day."

"With me, father?"

The girl rose to her feet. There was a look of uneasiness in her face.

"You've lost your spirits--what's come of them?"

"Me, father?"

The assumed surprise was in danger of breaking down.

"Not well, Mercy--is that it?"

He took her head between his hard old hands, and stroked her hair as
tenderly as a mother might have done.

"Oh, yes, father; quite well, quite."

Then there was a little forced laugh. The lucent eyes were full of a
dewy wistfulness.

"Any trouble, Mercy?"

"What trouble, father?"

"Nay, any trouble--trouble's common, isn't it?"

The old man's voice shook slightly, and his hand trembled on the girl's
head.

"What have I to trouble me!" said Mercy, in a low voice nigh to
breaking.

"Well, you know best," said the charcoal-burner. Then he put his hand
under the girl's chin and lifted her face until her unwilling eyes
looked into his. The scrutiny appeared to console him, and a smile
played over his battered features. "Maybe I was wrong," he thought.
"Folk are allus clattering."

Mercy made another forced little laugh, and instantly the Laird Fisher's
face saddened.

"They do say 'at you're not the same heartsome little lass," he said.

"Do they? Oh, but I am quite happy! You always say people are
busybodies, don't you, father?"

The break-down was imminent.

"Why, Mercy, you're crying."

"Me--crying!" The girl tossed her head with, a pathetic gesture of gay
protestation. "Oh, no; I was laughing--that was it."

"There are tears in your eyes, anyways."

"Tears? Nonsense, father! Tears? Didn't I tell you that your sight was
failing you--- ey, didn't I, now?"

It was of no use to struggle longer. The fair head fell on the heaving
breast, and Mercy sobbed.

The old man looked at her through a blinding mist in his hazy eyes.
"Tell me, my little lassie, tell me," he said.

"Oh, it's nothing," said Mercy. She had brushed away the tears and was
smiling.

The Laird Fisher shook his head.

"It's nothing, father--only--"

"Only--what?"

"Only--oh, it's nothing!"

"Mercy, my lass," said the Laird Fisher, and the tears stood now in his
own dim eyes, "Mercy, remember if owt goes wrong with a girl, and her
mother is under the grass, her father is the first she should come to
and tell all."

The old man had seated himself on a stout block cut from a trunk, and
was opening the basket, when there was a light, springy step on the
road.

"So you fire to-night, Matthew?"

An elderly man leaned over the stile and smiled.

"Nay, Mr. Bonnithorne, there's ower much nastment in the weather yet."

The gentleman took off his silk hat and mopped his forehead. His hair
was thin and of a pale yellow, and was smoothed flat on his brow.

"You surprise me! I thought the weather perfect. See how blue the sky
is."

"That doesn't argy. It might be better with never a blenk of blue. It
was rayder airy yesterday, and last night the moon got up as blake and
yellow as May butter."

The smile was perpetual on the gentleman's face. It showed his teeth
constantly.

"You dalesmen are so weather-wise."

The voice was soft and womanish. There was a little laugh at the end of
each remark.

"We go by the moon in firing, sir," the charcoal-burner answered, "Last
night it rose sou'-west, and that doesn't mean betterment, though it's
quiet enough now. There'll be clashy weather before nightfall."

The girl strayed away into the thicket, and startled a woodcock out of a
heap of dead oak leaves. The gentleman followed her with his eyes. They
were very small and piercing eyes, and they blinked frequently.

"Your daughter does not look very well, Matthew."

"She's gayly, sir; she's gayly," said the charcoal-burner shortly, his
mouth in his can of tea.

The gentleman smiled from the teeth out. After a pause, he said: "I
suppose it isn't pleasant when one of your hurdles is blown down, and
the charcoal burning," indicating the wooden hurdles which had been
propped about the half-built charcoal stack.

"Ey, it's gay bad wark, to be sure--being dragged into the fire."

The dog had risen with a startled movement. Following the upward
direction of the animal's nose, the gentleman said, "Whose sheep are
those on the ghyll yonder?"

"Auld Mr. Ritson's, them herdwicks."

The sheep were on a ridge of shelving rock.

"Dangerous spot, eh?"

"Ey, it's a bent place. They're verra clammersome, the black-faced
sorts."

"I'll bid you good-day, Matthew." The yellow-haired elderly gentleman
was moving off. He walked with a jerk and a spring on his toes. "And
mind you take your daughter to the new doctor at Keswick," he said at
parting.

"It's not doctoring that'll mend Mercy," the charcoal-burner muttered,
when the other had gone.



CHAPTER III.


Josiah Bonnithorne was quite without kinspeople or connections. His
mother had been one of two sisters who lived by keeping a small
confectioner's shop in Whitehaven, and were devoted Methodists. The
sisters had formed views as to matrimony, and they enjoyed a curious
similarity of choice. They were to be the wives of preachers. But the
opportunity was long in coming, and they grew elderly. At length the
younger sister died, and so solved the problem of her future. The elder
sister was left for two years more alone with her confectionery. Then
she married a stranger who had come to one of the pits as gangsman. It
was a sad falling off. But at all events the gangsman was a local
preacher, and so the poor soul who took him for husband had effected a
compromise with her cherished ideal. It turned put that he was a
scoundrel as well, and had a wife living elsewhere. This disclosure
abridged his usefulness among the brethren, and he fled. Naturally, he
left his second wife behind, having previously secured a bill of sale on
her household effects. A few months elapsed, the woman was turned adrift
by her husband's creditors, and then a child was born. It was a poor
little thing--a boy. The good souls of the "connection" provided for it
until it was two years old, and afterward placed it in a charity school.
While the little fellow was there, his mother was struck down by a
mortal complaint. Then for the first time the poor ruined woman asked to
see her child. They brought the little one to her bedside, and it smiled
down into her dying face. "Oh, that it may please the Lord to make him a
preacher!" she said with a great effort. At a sign from the doctor the
child was taken away. The face pinched by cruel suffering quivered
slightly, the timid eyes worn by wasted hope softened and closed, and
the mother bid farewell to everything.

The boy lived. They christened him Josiah, and he took for surname the
maiden name of his mother, Bonnithorne. He was a weakling, and had no
love of boyish sports; but he excelled in scholarship. In spite of these
tendencies, he was apprenticed to a butcher when the time came to remove
him from school. An accident transferred him to the office of a
solicitor, and he was articled. Ten years later he succeeded to his
master's practice, and then he sailed with all sail set.

He disappointed the "connection" by developing into a Churchman, but
otherwise aroused no hostile feeling. It was obviously his cue to
conciliate everybody. He was liked without being popular, trusted
without being a favorite. Churchwarden, trustee for public funds,
executor for private friends, he had a reputation for disinterested
industry. And people said how well it was that one so unselfish as
Josiah Bonnithorne should nevertheless prosper even as this world goes.

But there was a man in Cumberland who knew Mr. Bonnithorne from the
crown of his head to the sole of his foot. That man was Mr. Hugh Ritson.
Never for an instant did either of these palter with the other.

When Mr. Bonnithorne left the charcoal pit, he followed the road that
crossed the Newlands Beck, and returned on the breast of the Eel Crags.
This led him close to the booth where the sports were proceeding. He
heard, as he passed, the gurgling laugh with which the dalesfolk
received the peddler's story of how he saw Paul Ritson at Hendon. A
minute afterward he encountered Hugh Ritson on the road. There was only
the most meagre pretense at greeting when these men came face to face.

"Your father sent for me," said Mr. Bonnithorne.

"On what business?" Hugh Ritson asked.

"I have yet to learn."

They walked some steps without speaking. Then the lawyer turned with his
constant smile, and said in his soft voice:

"I have just seen your little friend. She looks pale, poor thing!
Something must be done, and shortly."

Hugh Ritson's face flushed perceptibly. His eyes were on the ground.

"Let us go no further in this matter," he said, in a low tone. "I saw
her yesterday. Then there is her father, poor, broken creature! Let it
drop."

"I did not believe it of you!" Mr. Bonnithorne spoke calmly and went on
smiling.

"Besides, I am ashamed. The thing is too mean," said Hugh Ritson. "In
what turgid melodrama does not just such an episode occur?"

"So, so! Or is it the story of the cat in the adage? You would and you
wouldn't?"

"My blood is not thick enough. I can't do it."

"Then why did you propose it? Was it your suggestion or mine? I thought
to spare the girl her shame. Here her trouble must fall on her in
battalions, poor little being. Send her away, and you decimate them."

"It is unnecessary. You know I am superior to prejudice." Hugh Ritson
dropped his voice and said, as if speaking into his breast: "If the
worst comes to the worst, I can marry her."

Mr. Bonnithorne laughed lightly.

"Ho! ho! And in what turgid melodrama does not just such an episode
occur?"

Hugh Ritson drew up sharply.

"Why not? Is she poor? Then what am I? Uneducated? What is education
likely to do for me? A simple creature, all heart and no head? God be
praised for that!"

At this moment a girl's laugh came rippling through the air. It was one
of those joyous peals that make the heart's own music. Hugh Ritson's
pale face flushed a little, and he drew his breath hard.

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded his head in the direction of the voice, and said
softly: "So our friend Greta is here to-day?"

"Yes," said Hugh Ritson very quietly.

Then the friends walked some distance in silence.

"It is scarcely worthy of you to talk in this brain-sick fashion," said
Mr. Bonnithorne. There was a dull irritation in the tone. "You place
yourself in the wrong point of view. You do not love the little being."

Hugh Ritson's forehead contracted, and he said: "If I have wrecked my
life by one folly, one act of astounding unwisdom, what matter? There
was but little to wreck. I am a disappointed man."

"Pardon me, you are a very young one," said Mr. Bonnithorne.

"What am I in my father's house? He gives no hint of helping me to an
independence in life."

"There are the lands. Your father must be a rich man."

"And I am a second son."

"Indeed?"

Hugh Ritson glanced up quickly.

"What do you mean?"

"You say you are a second son."

"And what then?"

"Would it be so fearful a thing if you were not a second son?"

"In the name of truth, be plain. My brother Paul is living."

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded his head twice or thrice, and said calmly: "You
know that your brother hopes to marry Greta?"

"I have heard it."

Again the flush came to Hugh Ritson's cheeks. His low voice had a
tremor.

"Did I ever tell you of her father's strange legacy?"

"Never."

"My poor friend Robert Lowther left a legacy to a son of his own, who
was Greta's half-brother."

"An illegitimate son?"

"Not strictly. Lowther married the son's mother," said Mr. Bonnithorne.

"Married her? Then his son was his heir?"

"No."

Hugh Ritson looked perplexed.

"The girl was a Catholic, Lowther a Protestant. A Catholic priest
married them in Ireland. That was not a valid marriage by English law."

Hugh smiled grimly.

"And Lowther had the marriage annulled?"

"He had fallen in love," began Mr. Bonnithorne.

"This time with an heiress?" There was a caustic laugh.

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded. "Greta's mother. So he--"

"Abandoned the first wife," Hugh Ritson interrupted again.

Mr. Bonnithorne shook his head with an innocent expression.

"Wife? Well, he left her."

"You talk of a son. Had they one?"

"They had," said Mr. Bonnithorne, "and when the woman and child ...
disappeared--"

"Exactly," said Hugh Ritson, and he smiled. "What did Lowther then?"

"Married again, and had a daughter--Greta."

"Then why the legacy?"

"Conscience-money," said Mr. Bonnithorne, pursing up his mouth.

Hugh Ritson laughed slightly.

"The sort of fools' pence the Chancellor of the Exchequer receives
labeled 'Income Tax.'"

"Precisely--only Lowther had no address to send it to."

"He had behaved like a scoundrel," said Hugh Ritson.

"True, and he felt remorse. After the second marriage he set people to
find the poor woman and child. They were never found. His last days were
overshadowed by his early fault. I believe he died broken-hearted. In
his will--I drew it for him--he left, as I say, a sum to be paid to this
son of his first wife--when found."

Hugh Ritson laughed half mockingly.

"I thought he was a fool. A scoundrel is generally a fool as well."

"Generally; I've often observed it," said Mr. Bonnithorne.

"What possible interest of anybody's could it be to go hunting for the
son of the fool's deserted wife?"

"The fool," answered Mr. Bonnithorne, "was shrewd enough to make an
interest by ordering that if the son were not found before Greta came of
age, a legacy of double the sum should be paid to an orphanage for
boys."

Hugh Ritson's respect for the dead man's intelligence experienced a
sensible elevation.

"So it is worth a legacy to the family to discover Greta's
half-brother," he said, summing up the situation in an instant. "If
alive--If not, then proof that he is dead."

The two men had walked some distance, and reached the turning of a lane
which led to a house that could be seen among the trees at the foot of a
ghyll. The younger man drew up on his infirm foot.

"But I fail to catch the relevance of all this. When I mentioned that I
was a second son you--"

"I have had hardly any data to help me in my search," Mr. Bonnithorne
continued. He was walking on. "Only a medallion-portrait of the first
wife." Mr. Bonnithorne dived into a breast-pocket.

"My brother Paul is living. What possible--"

"Here it is," said Mr. Bonnithorne, and he held out a small picture.

Hugh Ritson took it with little interest.

"This is the portrait of the nun," he said, as his eyes first fell on
it, and recognized the coif and cape.

"A novice--that's what she was when Lowther met her," said Mr.
Bonnithorne.

Then Hugh Ritson stopped. He regarded the portrait attentively; looked
up at the lawyer and back at the medallion. For an instant the strong
calm which he had hitherto shown seemed to desert him. The picture
trembled in his hand. Mr. Bonnithorne did not appear to see his
agitation.

"Is it a fancy? Surely it must be fancy!" he muttered.

Then he asked aloud what the nun's name had been.

"Ormerod."

There was a start of recovered consciousness.

"Ormerod--that's strange!"

The exclamation seemed to escape inadvertently.

"Why strange?"

Hugh Ritson did not answer immediately.

"Her Christian name?"

"Grace."

"Grace Ormerod? Why, you must know that Grace Ormerod happened to be my
own mother's maiden name!"

"You seem to recognize the portrait."

Hugh Ritson had regained his self-possession. He assumed an air of
indifference.

"Well, yes--no, of course not--no," he said, emphatically, at last.

In his heart there was another answer. He thought for the moment when he
set eyes on the picture that it looked like--a little like--his own
mother's face.

They walked on. Mr. Bonnithorne's constant smile parted his lips.
Lifting his voice rather unnecessarily, he said:

"By the way, another odd coincidence! Would you like to know the name of
Grace Ormerod's child by Robert Lowther?"

Hugh Ritson's heart leaped within him, but he preserved an outward show
of indifference, and drawled:

"Well, what was it?"

"Paul."

The name went through him like an arrow, then he said, rather languidly:

"So the half-brother of Greta Lowther, wherever he is, is named--"

"Paul Lowther," said Mr. Bonnithorne. "But," he added, with a quick
glance, "he may--I say he may--be passing by another name--Paul
something else, for example."

"Assuredly--certainly--yes--yes," Hugh Ritson mumbled. His all but
impenetrable calm was gone.

They reached the front of the house, and stood in a paved court-yard. It
was the home of the Ritsons, known as the Ghyll, a long Cumbrian
homestead of gray stone and green slate. A lazy curl of smoke was
winding up from one chimney through the clear air. A gossamer net of the
tangled boughs of a slim brier-rose hung over the face of a broad porch,
and at that moment a butterfly flitted through it. The chattering of
geese came from behind.

"Robert Lowther was the father of Grace Ormerod's child?" said Hugh
Ritson, vacantly.

"The father of her son Paul."

"And Greta is his daughter? Is that how it goes?"

"That is so--and half-sister to Paul."

Hugh Ritson raised his eyes to Mr. Bonnithorne's face.

"And of what age would Paul Lowther be now?"

"Well, older than you, certainly. Perhaps as old as--yes, perhaps as
old--fully as old as your brother."

Hugh Ritson's infirm foot trailed heavily on the stones. His lips
quivered. For a moment he seemed to be rapt. Then he swung about and
muttered:

"Tut! it isn't within belief. Thrusted home, it might betray a man,
Heaven only knows how deeply."

Mr. Bonnithorne looked up inquiringly.

"Pardon me; I fail, as you say, to catch the relevance."

"Mr. Bonnithorne," said Hugh Ritson, holding out his hand, "you and I
have been good friends, have we not?"

"Oh, the best of friends."

"At your leisure, when I have had time to think of this, let us discuss
it further."

Mr. Bonnithorne smiled assent.

"And meantime," he said, softly, "let the unhappy little being we spoke
of be sent away."

Hugh Ritson's eyes fell, and his voice deepened.

"Poor little soul--I'm sorry--very."

"As for Greta and her lover--well--"

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded his head significantly, and left his words
unfinished.

"My father is crossing the stack-yard," said Hugh Ritson. "You shall see
him in good time. Come this way."

The shadows were lengthening in the valley. A purple belt was stretching
across the distant hills, and a dark-blue tint was nestling under the
eaves. A solitary crow flew across the sky, and cawed out its guttural
note. Its shadow fell, as it passed, on two elderly people who were
coming into the court-yard.



CHAPTER IV.


"It's time for that laal Mr. Bonnithorne to be here," said Allan Ritson.

"Why did you send for him?" asked Mrs. Ritson, in the low tone that was
natural to her.

"To get that matter about the will off my mind. It'll be one thing less
to think about, and it has boddert me sair and lang."

Allan spoke with the shuffling reserve of a man to whose secret
communings a painful idea had been too long familiar. In the effort to
cast off the unwelcome and secret associate, there was a show of
emancipation which, as an acute observer might see, was more assumed
than real.

Mrs. Ritson made no terms with the affectation of indifference. Her
grave face became yet more grave, and her soft voice grew softer as she
said:

"And if when it is settled and done the cloud would break that has hung
over our lives, then all would be well. But that can never be."

Allan tossed his head aside, and made pretense to smile; but no gleam of
sunshine on his cornfields was ever chased so closely by the line of
dark shadow as his smile by the frown that followed.

"Come, worrit thysel' na' mair about it! When I've made my will, and put
Paul on the same footing with t'other lad, who knows owt mair nor we
choose to tell?"

Mrs. Ritson glanced into his face with a look of sad reproach.

"Heaven knows, Allan," she said; "and the dark cloud still gathers for
us there."

The old man took a step or two on the gravel path, and dropped his gray
head. His voice deepened:

"Tha says reet, mother," he said, "tha says reet. Ey, it saddens my auld
days--and thine forby!" He took a step or two more, and added: "And na
lawyer can shak' it off now. Nay, nay, never now. Weel, mother, our sky
has been lang owerkessen; but, mind ye," lifting his face and voice
together, "we've had gude crops if we tholed some thistles."

"Yes, we've had happy days, too," said Mrs. Ritson.

At that moment there came from across the vale the shouts of the
merrymakers and the music of a fiddle. Allan Ritson lifted his head,
nodded it aside jauntily, and smiled feebly through the mist that was
gathering about his eyes.

"There they are--wrestling and jumping. I mind me when there was scarce
a man in Cummerlan' could give me the cross-buttock. That's many a lang
year agone, though. And now our Paul can manish most on 'em--that he
can."

The fiddle was playing a country dance. The old man listened; his face
broadened, he lifted a leg jauntily, and gave a sweep of one arm.

Just then there came through the air a peal of happy laughter. It was
the same heart's music that Hugh Ritson and Mr. Bonnithorne had heard in
the road. Allan's face brightened, and his voice had only the faintest
crack in it as he said:

"That's Greta's laugh! It is for sure! What a heartsome lass yon is! I
like a heartsome lassie--a merrie touch, and gone!"

"Yes," said Mrs. Ritson, soberly; "Greta is a winsome girl."

It was hardly spoken when a young girl bounded down upon them, almost
breathless, yet laughing in gusts, turning her head over her shoulder
and shouting:

"Hurrah! Beaten, sir! Hurrah!"

It was Greta Lowther; twenty years of age, with fair hair, quick brown
eyes, a sunny face lighted up with youthful animation, a swift smile on
her parted lips--an English wild white rose.

"I've beaten him," she said. "He challenged me to cross Windybrowe while
he ran round the Bowder stone, but I got to the lonnin before he had
crossed the bridge."

Then, running to the corner of the lane, she plucked off her straw hat,
waved it about her head, and shouted again in an accent of triumph:

"Hurrah! hurrah! beaten, sir, beaten!"

Paul Ritson came running down the fell in strides of two yards apiece.

"Oh, you young rogue--you cheated!" he cried, coming to a stand and
catching his breath.

"Cheated?" said Greta, in a tone of dire amazement.

"You bargained to touch the beacon on the top of Windybrowe, and you
didn't go within a hundred yards of it."

"The beacon? On Windybrowe?" said the girl, and wondrous perplexity
shone in her lovely eyes.

Paul wiped his brow, and shook his head and his finger with mock gravity
at the beautiful cheat.

"Now, Greta, now--now--gently--"

Greta looked around with the bewildered gaze of a lost lambkin.

"Mother," said Paul, "she stole a march on me."

"He was the thief, Mrs. Ritson; you believe me, don't you?"

"Me! why I never stole anything in my life--save one thing."

"And what was that, pray?" said Greta, with another mighty innocent
look.

Paul crept up to her side and whispered something over her shoulder,
whereupon she eyed him largely, and said with a quick smile:

"You don't say so! But please don't be too certain of it. I'm sure I
never heard of that theft."

"Then here's a theft you shall hear of," said Paul, throwing one arm
about her neck and tipping up her chin.

There was a sudden gleam of rosy, roguish lips. Old Allan, with mischief
dancing in his eyes, pretended to recover them from a more distant
sight.

"Er--why, what's that?" he said; "the sneck of a gate, eh?"

Greta drew herself up.

"How can you--and all the people looking--they might really think that
we were--we were--"

Paul came behind, put his head over one shoulder, and said:

"And we're not, are we?"

"They're weel matched, mother, eh?" said Allan, turning to his wife.
"They're marra-to-bran, as folks say. Greta, he's a girt booby, isn't
he?"

Greta stepped up to the old man, and with a familiar gesture laid a hand
on his arm. At the same moment Paul came to his side. Allan tapped his
son on the back.

"Thou girt lang booby," he said, and laughed heartily. All the shadows
that had hung over him were gone. "And how's Parson Christian?" he asked
in another tone.

"Well, quite well, and as dear an old soul as ever," said Greta.

"He's father and mother to thee baith, my lass. I never knew thy awn
father. He was dead and gone before we coom't to these parts. And thy
mother, too, God bless her! she's dead and gone now. But if this lad of
mine, this Paul, this girt lang--Ah, and here's Mr. Bonnithorne, and
Hughie, too."

The return of the lawyer and Hugh Ritson abridged the threat of
punishment that seemed to hang on the old man's lips.

Hugh Ritson's lifted eyes had comprehended everything. The girl leaning
over his father's arm; the pure, smooth cheeks close to the swarthy,
weather-beaten, comfortable old face; the soft gaze upward full of
feeling; the half-open lips and the teeth like pearls; then the glance
round, half of mockery, half of protest, altogether of unconquerable
love, to where Paul Ritson stood, his eyes just breaking into a smile;
the head, the neck, the arms, the bosom still heaving gently after the
race; the light loose costume--Hugh Ritson saw it all, and his heart
beat fast. His pale face whitened at that moment, and his infirm foot
trailed heavily on the gravel.

Allan shook hands with Mr. Bonnithorne, and then turned to his sons.
"Come, you two lads have not been gude friends latterly, and that's a
sair grief baith to your mother and me. You're not made in the same mold
seemingly. But you must mak' up your fratch, my lads, for your auld
folks' sake, if nowt else."

At this he stretched out both arms, as if with the intention of joining
their hands. Hugh made a gesture of protestation.

"I have no quarrel to make up," he said, and turned aside.

Paul held out his hand. "Shake hands, Hugh," he said. Hugh took the
proffered hand with unresponsive coldness.

Paul glanced into his brother's face a moment, and said:

"What's the use of breeding malice? It's a sort of live stock that's not
worth its fodder, and it eats up everything."

There was a scarcely perceptible curl on Hugh Ritson's lip, but he
turned silently away. With head on his breast, he walked toward the
porch.

"Stop!"

It was old Allan's voice. The deep tone betrayed the anger that was
choking him. His face was flushed, his eyes were stern, his lips
trembled.

"Come back and shak' hands wi' thy brother reet."

Hugh Ritson faced about, leaning heavily on his infirm foot.

"Why to-day more than yesterday or to-morrow?" he said, calmly.

"Come back, I tell thee!" shouted the old man more hotly.

Hugh maintained his hold of himself, and said in a quiet and even voice,
"I am no longer a child."

"Then bear thysel' like a man--not like a whipped hound."

The young man shuddered secretly from head to foot. His eyes flashed for
an instant. Then, recovering his self-control, he said:

"Even a dog would resent such language, sir."

Greta had dropped aside from the painful scene, and for a moment Hugh
Ritson's eyes followed her.

"I'll have no sec worriment in my house," shouted the old man in a
broken voice. "Those that live here must live at peace. Those that want
war must go."

Hugh Ritson could bear up no longer.

"And what is your house to me, sir? What has it done for me? The world
is wide."

Old Allan was confounded. Silent, dumb, with great staring eyes, he
looked round into the faces of those about him. Then in thick, choking
tones he shouted:

"Shak' thy brother's hand, or thou'rt no brother of his."

"Perhaps not," said Hugh very quietly.

"Shak' hands, I tell thee." The old man's fists were clinched. His body
quivered in every limb.

His son's lips were firmly set; he made no answer.

The old man snatched from Mr. Bonnithorne the stick he carried. At this
Hugh lifted his eyes sharply until they met the eyes of his father.
Allan was transfixed. The stick fell from his hand. Then Hugh Ritson
halted into the house.

"Come back, come back ... my boy ... Hughie ... come back!" the old man
sobbed out. But there was no reply.

"Allan, be patient, forgive him; he will ask your pardon," said Mrs.
Ritson.

Paul and Greta had stolen away. The old man was now speechless, and his
eyes, bent on the ground, swam with tears.

"All will be well, please God," said Mrs. Ritson. "Remember, he is
sorely tried, poor boy. He expected you to do something for him.'"

"And I meant to, I meant to--that I did," the father answered in a
broken cry.

"But you've put it off, and off, Allan--- like everything else."

Allan lifted his hazy eyes from the ground, and looked into his wife's
face. "If it had been t'other lad I could have borne it maybe," he said,
feelingly.

Mr. Bonnithorne, standing aside, had been plowing the gravel with one
foot. He now raised his eyes, and said: "And yet, Mr. Ritson, folk say
that you have always shown most favor to your eldest son."

The old man's gaze rested on the lawyer for a moment, but he did not
speak at once, and there was an awkward silence.

"I've summat to say to Mr. Bonnithorne, mother," said the statesman. He
was quieter now. Mrs. Ritson stepped into the house.

Allan Ritson and the lawyer followed her, going into a little parlor to
the right of the porch. It was a quaint room, full of the odor of a
by-gone time. The floor was of polished black oak covered with skins;
the ceiling was paneled oak and had a paneled beam. Bright oak
cupboards, their fronts carved with rude figures, were set into the
walls, which were whitened, and bore one illuminated text and three
prints in black and white. The furniture was heavy and old. There was a
spinning-wheel under the wide window-board. A bluebottle buzzed about
the ceiling; a slant of sunlight crossed the floor. The men sat down.

"I sent for thee to mak' my will, Mr. Bonnithorne," said the old man.

The lawyer smiled.

"It is an old maxim that delay in affairs of law is a candle that burns
in the daytime; when the night comes it is burned to the socket."

Old Allan took little heed of the sentiment.

"Ey," he said, "but there's mair nor common 'casion for it in my case."

Mr. Bonnithorne was instantly on the alert.

"And what is your especial reason?" he asked.

Allan's mind seemed to wander. He stood silent for a moment, and then
said slowly, as if laboring with thought and phrase:

"Weel, tha must know ... I scarce know how to tell thee ... Weel, my
eldest son, Paul, as they call him--"

The old man stopped, and his manner grew sullen. Mr. Bonnithorne came to
his help.

"Yes, I am all attention--your eldest son--"

"He is--he is--"

The door opened and Mrs. Ritson entered the room, followed close by the
Laird Fisher.

"Mr. Ritson, your sheep, them black-faced herdwicks on Hindscarth, have
broke the fences, and the red drift of 'em is down in the barrowmouth of
the pass," said the charcoal-burner.

The statesman got on his feet.

"I must gang away at once," he said. "Mr. Bonnithorne, I must put thee
off, or maybe I'll lose fifty head of sheep down in the ghyll."

"I made so bold as to tell ye, for I reckon we'll have all maks of
weather yet."

"That's reet, Mattha; and reet neighborly forby. I'll slip away after
thee in a thumb's snitting."

The Laird Fisher went out.

"Can ye bide here for me until eight o'clock to-neet, Mr. Bonnithorne?"

There was some vexation written on the lawyer's face, but he answered
with meekness:

"I am always at your service, Mr. Ritson. I can return at eight."

"Verra good" Then, turning to Mrs. Ritson, "Give friend Bonnithorne a
bite o' summat," said Allan, and he followed the charcoal-burner. Out in
the court-yard he called the dogs. "Hey howe! hey howe! Bright! Laddie!
Come boys; come, boys, te-lick, te-smack!"

He put his head in at the door of an out-house and shouted, "Reuben,
wheriver ista? Come thy ways quick, and bring the lad!"

In another moment a young shepherd and a cowherd, surrounded by three or
four sheep-dogs, joined Allan Ritson in the court-yard.

"Dusta gang back to the fell, Mattha?" said the statesman.

"Nay; I's done for the day. I'm away home."

"Good-neet, and thank."

Then the troop disappeared down the lonnin--the men calling, the dogs
barking.

In walking through the hall Mr. Bonnithorne encountered Hugh Ritson, who
was passing out of the house, his face very hard, his head much bent.

"Would you," said the lawyer, "like to know the business on which I have
been called here?"

Hugh Ritson did not immediately raise his eyes.

"To make his will," added Mr. Bonnithorne, not waiting for an answer.

Then Hugh Ritson's eyes were lifted; there was one flash of
intelligence; after that the young man went out without a word.



CHAPTER V.


Hugh Ritson was seven-and-twenty. His clean-shaven face was long, pale,
and intellectual; his nose was wide at the bridge and full at the
nostrils; he had firm-set lips, large vehement eyes, and a broad
forehead, with hair of dark auburn parted down the middle and falling in
thin waves on the temples. The expression of the physiognomy in repose
was one of pain, and, in action, of power; the effect of the whole was
not unlike that which is produced by the face of a high-bred horse, with
its deep eyes and dilated nostrils. He was barely above medium height,
and his figure was almost delicate. When he spoke his voice startled
you--it was so low and deep to come from that slight frame. His
lameness, which was slight, was due to a long-standing infirmity of the
hip.

As second son of a Cumbrian statesman, whose estate consisted chiefly of
land, he expected but little from his father, and had been trained in
the profession of a mining engineer. After spending a few months at the
iron mines of Cleator, he had removed to London at twenty-two, and
enrolled himself as a student of the Mining College in Jermyn Street.
There he had spent four years, sharing the chambers of a young barrister
in the Temple Gardens. His London career was uneventful. Taciturn in
manner, he made few friends. His mind had a tendency toward
contemplative inactivity. Of physical energy he had very little, and
this may have been partly due to his infirmity. Late at night he would
walk alone in the Strand: the teeming life of the city, and the mystery
of its silence after midnight, had a strong fascination for him. In
these rambles he came to know some of the strangest and oddest of the
rags and rinsings of humanity: among them a Persian nobleman of the late
shah's household, who kept a small tobacco-shop at the corner of a
by-street, and an old French exile, once of the court of Louis
Phillippe, who sold the halfpenny papers. At other times he went out
hardly at all, and was rarely invited.

Only the housemate, who saw him at all times and in many moods, seemed
to suspect that beneath that cold exterior there lay an ardent nature.
But he himself knew how strong was the tide of his passion. He could
never look a beautiful woman in the face but his pulse beat high, and he
felt almost faint. Yet strong as his passion was, his will was no less
strong. He put a check on himself, and during his four years in London
contrived successfully to dam up the flood that was secretly
threatening him.

At six-and-twenty he returned to Cumberland, having some grounds for
believing that his father intended to find him the means of mining for
himself. A year had now passed, and nothing had been done. He was
growing sick with hope deferred. His elder brother, Paul, had spent his
life on the land, and it was always understood that in due course he
would inherit it. That at least was the prospect which Hugh Ritson had
in view, though no prospective arrangement had been made. Week followed
week, and month followed month, and his heart grew bitter. He had almost
decided to end this waiting. The day would come when he could bear it
not longer, and then he would cut adrift.

An accidental circumstance was the cause of his irresolution. He used to
walk frequently on the moss where the Laird Fisher sunk his shaft. In
the beck that ran close to the disused headgear he would wade for an
hour early in the summer morning. One day he saw the old laird's
daughter washing linen at the beck-side. He remembered her as a pretty,
prattling thing of ten or eleven. She was now a girl of eighteen, with a
pure face, a timid manner, and an air that was neither that of a woman
nor of a child. Her mother was lately dead, her father spent most of his
days on the fell (some of his nights also when the charcoal was
burning), and she was much alone. Hugh Ritson liked her gentle replies
and her few simple questions. So it came about that he would look for
her in the mornings, and be disappointed if he did not catch sight of
her good young face. Himself a silent man, he liked to listen to the
girl's modest, unconnected talk. His stern eyes would soften at such
times to a sort of caressing expression. This went on for months, and in
that solitude no idle tongue was set to wag. At length Hugh Ritson
perceived that the girl's heart was touched. If he came late he found
her leaning over the gate, her eyes bent down among the mountain grasses
at her feet, and her cheeks colored by a red glow. It is unnecessary to
go further. The girl gave herself up to him with her whole heart and
soul, and he--well, he found the bulwarks with which he had surrounded
himself were ruined and down.

Then the awakening came, and Hugh learned too late that he had not loved
the simple child, by realizing that with all the ardor of his restrained
but passionate nature he loved another woman.

So much for the first complication in the tragedy of this man's life.

The second complication was new to his consciousness, and it was at this
moment conspiring with the first to lure him to consequences that are
now to be related. The story which Mr. Bonnithorne had told of the
legacy left by Greta's father to a son by one Grace Ormerod had come to
him at a time when, owing to disappointment and chagrin, he was
peculiarly liable to the temptation of any "honest trifle" that pointed
the way he wished to go. If the Grace Ormerod who married Lowther had
indeed been his own mother, then--a thousand to one--Paul was Lowther's
son. If Paul was Lowther's son he was also half brother of Greta. If
Paul was not the son of Allan Ritson, then he himself, Hugh Ritson, was
his father's heir.

In the present whirlwind of feeling he did not inquire too closely into
the pros and cons of probability. Enough that evidence seemed to be with
him, and that it transformed the world in his view.

Perhaps the first result of this transformation was that he
unconsciously assumed a different attitude toward the unhappy passage in
his life wherein Mercy Fisher was chiefly concerned. What his feeling
was before Mr. Bonnithorne's revelation, we have already seen. Now the
sentiment that made much of such an "accident" was fit only for a
"turgid melodrama," and the idea of "atonement" by "marriage" was the
mock heroic of those "great lovers of noble histories," the spectators
who applaud it from the pit.

When he passed Mr. Bonnithorne in the hall at the Ghyll he was on his
way to the cottage of the Laird Fisher. He saw in the road ahead of him
the group which included his father and the charcoal-burner, and to
avoid them he cut across the breast of the Eel Crags. After a sharp
walk of a mile he came to a little white-washed house that stood near
the head of Newlands, almost under the bridge that crosses the fall. It
was a sweet place in a great solitude, where the silence was broken only
by the tumbling waters, the cooing of pigeons on the roof, and the
twittering of ringouzels by the side of the torrent. The air was fresh
with the smell of new peat. There was a wedge-shaped garden in front,
and it was encompassed by chestnut-trees. As Hugh Ritson drew near he
noticed that a squirrel crept from the fork of one of these trees. The
little creature rocked itself on the thin end of a swaying branch,
plucking sometimes at the drooping fan of the chestnut, and sometimes at
the prickly shell of its pendulous nut. When he opened the little gate
Hugh Ritson observed that a cat sat sedately behind the trunk of that
tree, glancing up at intervals at the sporting squirrel in her moving
seat.

As he entered the garden Mercy was crossing it with a pail of water just
raised from the well. She had seen him, and now tried to pass into the
house. He stepped before her and she set down the pail. Her head was
held very low, and her cheeks were deeply flushed.

"Mercy," he said, "it is all arranged. Mr. Bonnithorne will see you into
the train this evening, and when you get to your journey's end the
person I spoke of will meet you."

The girl lifted her eyes beseechingly to his face.

"Not to-day, Hugh," she said in a broken whisper; "let me stay until
to-morrow."

He regarded her for a moment with a steadfast look, and when he spoke
again his voice fell on her ear like the clank of a chain.

"The journey has to be made. Every week's delay increases the danger."

The girl's eyes fell again, and the tears began to drop from them on to
the brown arms that she had clasped in front.

"Come," he said in a softer tone, "the train starts in an hour. Your
father is not yet home from the pit, and most of the dalespeople are at
the sports. So much the better. Put on your cloak and hat and take the
fell path to the Coledaie road-ends. There Mr. Bonnithorne will meet
you."

The girl's tears were flowing fast, though she bit her lip and struggled
to check them.

"Come, now, come; you know this was of your own choice."

There was a pause.

"I never thought it would be so hard to go," she said at length.

He smiled feebly, and tried a more rallying tone.

"You are not going for life. You will come back safe and happy."

The words thrilled her through and through. Her clasped hands trembled
visibly, and her fingers clutched them with a convulsive movement. After
awhile she was calmer, and said quietly:

"No, I'll never come back--I know that quite well." And her head dropped
on her breast and she felt sick at heart. "I'll have to say good-bye to
everything. There were Betsy Jackson's children--I kissed them all this
morning, and never said why--little Willy, he seemed to know, dear
little fellow, and cried so bitterly."

The memories of these incidents touched to overflowing the springs of
love in the girl's simple soul, and the bubbling child-voice was drowned
in sobs.

The man stood with a smile of pain on his face. He came close, and
brushed away her tears, and touched her drooping head with a gesture of
protestation.

Mercy regained her voice.

"And then there's your mother," she said, "and I can't say good-bye to
her, and my poor father, and I daren't tell him--"

Hugh stamped on the path impatiently.

"Come, come, Mercy, don't be foolish."

The girl lifted to his the good young face that had once Been bonny as
the day and was now pale with weeping and drawn down with grief. She
took him by the coat, and then, by an impulse which she seemed unable to
resist, threw one arm about his neck, and raised her face to his until
their lips all but touched, and their eyes met in a steadfast gaze.

"Hugh," she said, passionately, "are you sure that you love me well
enough to think of me when I am gone?--are you quite, quite sure?"

"Yes, yes; be sure of that," he said, gently.

He disengaged her arm.

"And will you come and fetch me after--after--"

She could not say the word. He smiled and answered, "Why, yes, yes."

Her fingers trembled and clung together; her head fell; her cheeks were
aglow.

"Why, of course." He smiled again, as if in deprecation of so much
child-like earnestness; then put his arm about the girl's shoulder,
dropped his voice to a tone of mingled compassion and affection, and
said, as he lifted the brightening face to his, "There, there--now go
off and make ready."

The girl brushed her tears away vigorously, and looked half ashamed and
half enchanted.

"I'm going."

"That's a good little girl."

How the sunshine came back at the sound of his words!

"Good-bye for the present, Mercy--only for the present, you know."

But how the shadow pursued the sunshine after all!

Hugh saw the tears gathering again in the lucent eyes, and came back a
step.

"There--a smile--just one little smile!" She smiled through her tears.
"There--there--that's a dear little Mercy. Good-day; good-bye."

Hugh turned on his heel and walked sharply away. As he passed out
through the gate he could not help observing that the cat from the foot
of the chestnut-tree was walking stealthily off, with something like a
dawning smile on its whiskered face, and the brush of the squirrel
between its teeth.

Hugh Ritson had gained his end, and yet he felt more crushed than at the
darkest moment of defeat. He had conquered his own manhood; and now he
crept away from the scene of his triumph with a sense of utter
abasement. When he had talked with Mr. Bonnithorne it was with a
feeling of the meanness of the folly in which he was involved; and if
any sentiment touching the girl's situation was strong upon him it was
closely bound up with a personal view of the degradation that might come
of a man's humiliating unwisdom. The very conventionality of his folly
had irked him. But its cowardice was now uppermost. That a man should
enter into warfare with a woman on unequal terms, and win by cajolery
and deceit, was more than cruel; it was brutal. He could have borne even
this hard saying so far as it concerned the woman's suffering, but for
the reflection that it made the man something worse than a coxcomb in
his own eyes.

The day was now far spent; the brilliant sun had dipped behind
Grisedale, and left a ridge of dark fells in the west. On the east the
green sides of Cat Bells and the Eel Crags were yellow at the summit,
where the hills held their last commerce with the hidden sun. Not a
breath of wind; not the rustle of a leaf; the valley lay still, save for
the echoing voices of the merrymakers in the booth below. The sky
overhead was blue, but a dark cloud, like the hulk of a ship, had
anchored lately to the north.

Hugh Ritson took the valley road back to Ghyll. He was visibly
perturbed; he walked with head much bent, stopped suddenly at times,
then snatched impetuously at the trailing bushes, and passed on. When he
was under Hindscarth, the sharp yap of dogs, followed by the bleat of
unseen sheep, caused him to look up, and he saw a group of men, like
emmets creeping on a dark bowlder, moving over a ridge of shelving rock.

There was a slight spasm of his features at that moment, and his foot
trailed more heavily as he went on. At a twist of the road he passed the
Laird Fisher. The old man looked less melancholy than usual. It was as
if the familiar sorrow sat a little more lightly to-night on the
half-ruined creature.

"Good-neet to you, sir, and how fend ye?" he said almost cheerily.

Hugh Ritson responded briefly.

"So you're not sleeping on the fell to-night, Matthew?" and as he spoke
his eyes wandered toward the fell road.

"Nay; I's not firing to-neet, for sure; my daughter is expecting me."

Hugh's eyes were now fixed intently on the road that crossed the foot of
the fell to the west. The charcoal-burner was moving off, and, following
at the same moment the upward direction of Hugh Ritson's gaze, he said:

"It's a baddish place yon, where your father is with Reuben and the lad,
and it's baddish weather that is coming, too--look at yon black cloud
over Walna Scar."

Then for an instant there was embarrassment in Hugh Ritson's eyes, and
he answered in a faltering commonplace.

"Ways me; but I must slip away home, sir; my laal lass will be weary
waiting. Good-neet to you, sir; good-neet."

"Good-night, Matthew, and God help you," said Hugh in a tone of
startling earnestness, his eyes turned away.

He had walked half a mile further, and reached the lonnin that led to
the Ghyll, when he was almost overrun by Greta Lowther, who came
tripping out of the gate of a meadow, her bonnet swinging over her arm,
her soft, wavy hair floating over her white forehead, her cheeks colored
with a warm glow, a roguish light in her eyes, and laughter on the point
of bubbling out of her lips.

Greta had just given Paul Ritson the slip. There was a thicket in the
field she had crossed, and it was covered with wild roses, white and
red. Through the heart of it there rippled a tiny streak of water that
was amber-tinted from the round shingle in its bed. The trunk of an old
beech lay across it for ford or bridge. Underfoot were the sedge and
moss; overhead the thick boughs and the roses; in the air, the odor of
hay and the songs of birds. And Paul, the cunning rascal, would have
tempted Greta into this solitude; but she was too shrewd, the wise
little woman, to-be so easily trapped. Pretending to follow him in
ignorance of his manifest design, she tripped back on tiptoe, and fled
away like a lapwing over the noiseless grass.

When Greta met Hugh Ritson she was saying to herself, of Paul in
particular, and of his sex in general: "What dear, simple, unsuspecting,
trustful creatures they are!" Then she drew up sharply, "Ah, Hugh!"

"How happy you look, Greta!" he said, fixing his eyes upon her.

A new light brightened her sunny face. "Not happier than I feel," she
answered. She swung the arm over which the bonnet hung; the heaving of
her breast showed the mold of her early womanhood.

Hugh Ritson's mind had for the last half hour brooded over many a good
purpose, but not one of them was now left.

"You witnessed a painful scene to-day," he said, with some hesitation.
"Be sure it was no less painful to me because you were there to see it."

"Oh, I was so sorry," said Greta, impetuously. "You mean with your
father?"

Hugh bent his head slightly. "It was inevitable--I know that full
well--but for my share in it I ask your pardon."

"That is nothing," she said; "but you took your father too seriously."

"I took him at his word--that was all."

"But the dear old man meant nothing, and you meant very much. He only
wanted to abuse you a little, and perhaps frighten you, and shake his
stick at you, and then love you all the better for it."

"You may be right, Greta. Among the whims of nature there is that of
making such human contradictions; but, as you say, I take things
seriously--everything--life itself."

He paused, and there was a slight trembling of the lip.

"Besides," he went on in another tone, "it has been always so. Since our
childhood--my brother's and mine--there has not been much paternal
tenderness wasted on me. I can hardly expect it now."

"Surely that must be a morbid fancy," Greta said in a distressed tone.
The light was dying out of her eyes. She made one quick glance downward
to where Hugh Ritson's infirm foot trailed on the road, and then, in an
instant of recovered consciousness, she glanced up, now confused and
embarrassed, into his face.

She was too late; he had read her thought. A faint smile parted her
lips; and the light of his own eyes was cold.

"No; not that," he said; "I ask no pity in that regard--and need none.
Nature has given my brother a physique that would shame a Greek statue,
but he and I are quits--perhaps more than quits."

He made a hard smile, and she flushed deep with shame of having her
thought read.

"I am sorry if I conveyed that," she said, slowly. "It must have been
quite unwittingly. I was thinking of your mother. She is so good and
tender to everybody. Why, she is the angel of the country-side. Do you
know what name they've given her?"

Hugh shook his head.

"Saint Grace! Parson Christian told me--it seems it was my own dear
mother who christened her."

"Nevertheless, there has not been much to sweeten my life, Greta," he
said.

His voice arrested her; it was charged with unusual feeling. She made no
answer, and they began to walk toward the house.

After a few steps Greta remembered the trick that she had played on
Paul, and craned her beautiful neck to see over the stone cobble-hedge
into the field where she had left him.

Hugh observed her intently.

"I hear that you have decided. Is it so, Greta?" he said.

"Decided what?" she asked, coloring again.

He also colored slightly, and answered with a strained quietness.

"To marry my brother."

"If he wishes it--I suppose he does--he says so, you know."

Hugh looked earnestly into the girl's glowing face, and said with
deliberation:

"Greta, perhaps there are reasons why you should not marry Paul."

"What reasons?"

He did not reply at once, and she repeated her question. Then he said in
a strange tone:

"Just and lawful impediments, as they say."

Greta's eyes opened wide in undisguised amazement.

"Impossible--you cannot mean it," she said with her customary
impetuosity. She glanced into Hugh's face, and misread what she saw
there. Then she began to laugh; at first lightly, afterward rather
boisterously, and said with head averted, and almost as if talking to
herself, "No, no; he is nothing to me but the man I love."

"Do you then love him?"

Greta started.

"Do you ask?" she said. The amazement in the wide eyes had deepened to a
look of rapture. "Love him?" she said; "better than all the world
beside." The girl was lifted out of herself. "You are to be my brother,
Hugh, and I need not fear to speak so."

She swung her bonnet on her arm, just to preserve composure by some
distracting exercise.

Hugh Ritson stopped, and his face softened. It was a perplexing smile
that sat on his features. While he had talked with Greta there had run
through his mind, as a painful undertone, the thought of Mercy Fisher.
He had now dismissed the last of his qualms respecting her. To be tied
down for life to a mindless piece of physical prettiness--what man of
brains could bear it? He had yielded to a natural impulse--true! That
moment of temptation threatened painful consequences--still true! What
then? Nothing! Was the dead fruit to hang about his neck forever?
Tut!--all natural law was against it. Had he not said that he was above
prejudice? So was he above the maudlin sentiment of the "great lovers of
noble histories." The sophistry grew apace with Greta's beautiful
countenance before him. Catching at her last word, he said:

"Your brother--yes. But did you never guess that I could have wished
another name?"

The look of amazement returned to her eyes; he saw it and went on:

"Is it possible that you have not read my secret?"

"What secret?" she said in a half-smothered voice.

"Greta, if your love had been great love, you must have read my secret
just as I have read yours." In a low tone he continued: "Long ago I knew
that you loved, or thought you loved, my brother. I saw it before he had
seen it--before you had realized it."

The red glow colored her cheeks more deeply than before. She had
stopped, and he was tramping nervously backward and forward.

"Greta," he said again, and he fixed his eyes entreatingly upon her,
"what is the love that scarcely knows itself?--that is the love with
which you love my brother. And what is the tame, timid passion of a man
of no mind?--that is the love which he offers you. What is your love for
him, or his for you?--what is it, can it be? Love is not love unless it
is the love of true minds. That was said long ago, Greta, and how true
it is!" He went on quickly, in a tone of dull irritation: "All other
love is no better than lust. Greta, I understand you. It is not for a
rude man like my brother to do so." Then in an eager voice he said:
"Dearest, I bring you a love undreamed of among these country boors."

"Country boors!" she repeated in a half-stifled whisper.

He did not hear her. His vehement eyes swam, and he was dizzy.

"Greta, dearest, I said there has been little in my life to sweeten it.
Yet I am a man made to love and to be loved. My love for you has been
mute for months; but it can be mute no longer. Perhaps I have had my own
impediment, apart from our love for Paul. But that is all over now."

His cheeks quivered, his lips trembled, his voice swelled, his nervous
fingers were riveted to his palm. He approached her and took her hand.
She seemed to be benumbed by strong feeling. She had stood as one
transfixed, a slow paralysis of surprise laying hold of her faculties.
But at his touch her senses regained their mastery. She flung away his
hand. Her breast heaved. In a voice charged with indignation, she said:

"So this is what you mean! I understand you at last!"

Huge Ritson fell back a pace.

"Greta, hear me--hear me again!"

But she had found her voice indeed.

"Sir, you have outraged your brother's heart as surely as if at this
moment I had been your brother's wife!"

"Greta, think before you speak--think, I implore you!"

"I have thought! I have thought of you as your sister might think, and
spoken to you as my brother. Now I know how mean of soul you are!"

Hugh broke in passionately:

"For God's sake, stop! I am an unforgiving man."

His nostrils quivered, every nerve vibrated.

"Love? You never loved. If you knew what the word means you would die of
shame where you stand this instant."

Hugh lost all control.

"I bid you beware!" he said in wrath and dismay.

"And I bid you be silent!" said Greta, with an eloquent uplifting of the
hand. "You offer your love to a pledged woman. It is only base love that
is basely offered. It is bad coin, sir, and goes back dishonored."

Hugh Ritson regained some self-command. The contractions were deep about
his forehead, but he answered in an imperturbable voice:

"You shall never marry my brother!"

"I will--God willing!"

"Then you shall marry him to your lifelong horror and disgrace."

"That shall be as Heaven may order."

"A boor--a hulking brute--a bas--"

"Enough! I would rather marry a plowboy than such a gentleman as you!"

Face to face, eye to eye, with panting breath and scornful looks, there
they stood for one moment. Then Greta swung about and walked down the
lonnin.

Hugh Ritson's natural manner returned instantly. He looked after her
without the change of a feature, and then turned quietly into the
house.



CHAPTER VI.


There was a drowsy calm in the room where Mr. Bonnithorne sat at lunch.
It was the little oak-bound parlor to the right, in which he had begun
the conversation with old Allan Ritson that had been interrupted by the
announcement of the Laird Fisher. Half of the window was thrown up, and
the landscape framed by the sash lay still as a picture. The sun that
had passed over Grisedale sent a deep glow from behind, and the woods
beneath took a restful tone. Only the mountain-head was white where it
towered into the sky and the silence.

Mrs. Ritson entered and sat down. Her manner was meek almost to
abjectness. She was elderly, but her face bore traces of the beauty she
had enjoyed in youth. The lines had grown deep in it since then, and now
the sadness of its expression was permanent. She wore an old-fashioned
lavender gown, and there was a white silk scarf about her neck. Her
voice was low and tremulous, yet eager, as if it were always
questioning.

With downcast head, and eyes bent on her lap, where her fingers twitched
nervously as she knitted without cessation, she sat silent, or put meek
questions to her guest.

Mr. Bonnithorne answered in smiles and speeches of six words apiece.
Between each sparse reply he addressed himself afresh to his lunch with
an appetite that was the reverse of sparse. All the while a subdued hum
of many voices came up from the booth in the fields below.

At length Mrs. Ritson's anxiety overcame the restraint of her manner.

"Mr. Bonnithorne," she said, "do let the will be made to-night. Urge Mr.
Ritson, when he returns, to admit of no further delay. He has many noble
qualities, but procrastination is his fault. It has been ever so."

Mr. Bonnithorne paused with a glass half raised to his lips, and lifted
his eyes instead.

"Pardon me, madame," he said, with the customary smile which failed to
disarm his words; "this is for certain reasons a subject I can hardly
discuss with--with--- with a woman."

And just then a peacock strutted through the court-yard, startling the
still air with its empty scream.

Mrs. Ritson colored deeply. Even modesty like hers had been put to a
severe strain. But she dropped her eyes again, finished a row of
stitches, rested the steel needle on her lip, and answered quietly:

"Surely a woman may talk of what concerns her husband and her children."

The great man had resumed his knife and fork.

"Not necessarily," he said. "It is a strange and curious fact that there
is one condition in which the law does not recognize the right of a
woman to call her son her own."

During this prolonged speech, Hugh Ritson, fresh from his interview with
Greta Lowther, entered the room, and stretched himself on the couch.

Mrs. Ritson, without shifting the determination of her gaze from the
nervous fingers in her lap, said:

"What condition?"

Mr. Bonnithorne twisted slightly, and glanced significantly at Hugh as
he answered:

"The condition of illegitimacy."

Something supercilious in the tone jarred on Mrs. Ritson's ear. She
looked up from her knitting, and said:

"What do you mean?"

Bonnithorne placed his knife and fork with precision over his empty
plate, used his napkin with deliberation, coughed slightly, and said: "I
mean that the law denies the name of son to offspring that has been
bastardized."

Mrs. Ritson's face grew crimson, and she rose to her feet.

"If so, the law is cruel and wicked," she said in a voice more tremulous
with emotion.

Mr. Bonnithorne leaned languidly back in his chair, ejected a long "hem"
from his overburdened chest, inserted his fingers in the armpits of his
waistcoat, looked up, and said: "Odd, isn't it?"

Unluckily for the full effect of Mr. Bonnithorne's subtle witticism,
Paul Ritson, with Greta at his side, appeared in the door-way at the
moment of its delivery. The manner more than the words had awakened his
anger, and the significance of both he interpreted by his mother's
agitated face. In two strides he stepped up to where the great man sat,
even now all smiles and white teeth, and laid a powerful hand on his
arm.

"My friend," said Paul, lustily, "it might not be safe for you to speak
to my mother again like that!"

Mr. Bonnithorne rose stiffly, and his shifty eyes looked into Paul's
wrathful face.

"Safe?" he echoed with emphasis.

Paul, his lips compressed, bent his head, and at the same instant
brought the other hand down on the table.

Without speaking, Mr. Bonnithorne shuffled back into his seat. Mrs.
Ritson, letting fall her knitting into her lap, sat and dropped her face
into her hands. Paul took her by the arm, raised her up, and led her out
of the room. As he did so, he passed the couch on which Hugh Ritson lay,
and looked down with mingled anger and contempt into his brother's
indifferent eyes.

When the door closed behind them, Hugh Ritson and Mr. Bonnithorne rose
together. There was a momentary gleam of mutual consciousness. Then
instantly, suddenly, by one impulse, the two men joined hands across the
table.



CHAPTER VII.


The cloud that had hung over Walna Scar broke above the valley, and a
heavy rain-storm, with low mutterings of distant thunder, drove the
pleasure-people from the meadow to the booth. It was a long canvas tent
with a drinking-bar at one end, and stalls in the corners for the sale
of gingerbreads and gimcracks. The grass under it was trodden flat, and
in patches the earth was bare and wet beneath the trapesing feet of the
people. They were a mixed and curious company. In a ring that was
cleared by an athletic plowman the fiddler-postman of Newlands, Tom o'
Dint, was seated on a tub turned bottom up. He was a little man with
bowed legs and feet a foot long.

"Now, lasses, step forret! Dunnot be blate. Come along with ye, any as
have springiness in them!"

The rough invitation was accepted without too much timidity by several
damsels dressed in gorgeous gowns and bonnets. Then up and down, one,
two, three, cut and shuffle, cross, under, and up and down again.

"I'll be mounting my best nag and comin' ower to Scara Crag and tappin'
at your window some neet soon," whispered a young fellow to the girl he
had just danced with.

She laughed a little mockingly.

"Your best nag, Willy?"

"Weel--the maister's."

She laughed again, and a sneer curled her lip. "You Colebank chaps are
famous sweethearts, I hear. Fare-te-weel, Willy."

And she twisted on her heel. He followed her up.

"Dunnet gowl, Aggy. Mappen I'll be maister man mysel' soon."

Aggy pushed her way through the crowd and disappeared.

"She's packed him off wi' a flea in his ear," said an elderly man
standing near.

"Just like all the lave of them," said another, "snurling up her neb at
a man for lack of gear. Why didna he brag of some rich uncle in
Austrilly?"

"Ey, and stuff her with all sorts of flaitchment and lies. Then all the
lasses wad be glyming at him."

The dance spun on.

"Why, it's a regular upshot, as good as Carel fair," said one of the
girls.

"Bessie, you're reet clipt and heeled for sure," responded her
companion.

Bessie's eyes sparkled with delight at the lusty compliment paid to her
dancing, and she opened her cloak to cool herself, and also to show the
glittering locket that hung about her neck.

"It's famish, this fashion," muttered the elderly cynic. "It must tak' a
brave canny fortune."

"Shaf, man, the country's puzzen'd round with pride," answered his
gossip. "Lasses worked in the old days. Now they never do a hand's turn
but washin' and bleachin' and starchin' and curlin' their polls."

"Ey, ey, there's been na luck in the country since the women-folk began
to think shame of their wark."

The fiddler made a squeak on two notes that sounded like kiss-her, and
from a corner of the booth there came a clamorous smack of lips.

"I saw you sweetheartin' laal Bessie," said one of the fellows to
another.

"And I saw you last night cutteran sa soft in the meadow. Nay, dunnot
look sa strange. I never say nowt, not I. Only yon mother of Aggy's,
she's a famous fratcher, and dunnot you let her get wind. She brays the
lasses, and mappen she'll bray somebody forby."

While the dancing proceeded there was a noisy clatter of glasses and a
mutter of voices in the neighborhood of the bar.

"The varra crony one's fidgin to see! Gie us a shak' of thy daddle!"
shouted a fellow with a face like a russet apple.

"Come, Dick, let's bottom a quart together. Deil tak' the expense."

"Why, man, and wherever hasta been since Whissen Monday?"

"Weel, you see, I went to the fair and stood with a straw in my mouth,
and the wives all came round, and one of them said, 'What wage do you
ask, canny lad?' 'Five pounds ten,' I says. 'And what can you do?' she
says. 'Do?' I says, 'anything from plowing to threshing and nicking a
nag's tail,' I says. 'Come, be my man,' she says. But she was like to
clem me, so I packed up my bits of duds and got my wage in my reet-hand
breek pocket, and here I am."

The dancing had finished, and a little group was gathered around the
fiddler's tub.

"Come thy ways; here's Tom o' Dint conjuring, and telling folk what they
are thinking."

"That's mair nor he could do for the numskulls as never think."

"He bangs all the player-folk, does Tom."

"Who's yon tatterdemalion flinging by the newspaper and bawling, 'The
country's going to the dogs?'"

"That's Grey Graham, setting folk by the lug with his blusteration."

"Mess, lads, but he'd be a reet good Parli'ment man to threep about the
nation."

"Weel, I's na pollytishun, but if it's tearin' and snappin' same as a
terrier that mak's a reet good Parli'ment man, I reckon not all England
could bang him."

"And that's not saying nowt, Sim. I've heard Grey Graham on the ballot
till it's wet him through to the waistcoat."

"Is that Mister Paul Ritson and Mistress Lowther just run in for
shelter?"

"Surely; and a reet bonny lass she is."

"And he's got larnin' and manners too."

"Ey, he's of the bettermer sort, is Paul."

"Does she live at the parson's--Parson Christian's?"

"Why, yes, man; it's only naturable--he's her guardian."

"And what a man he is, to be sure."

"Ey, we'll never see his like again when he's gone."

"Nay, not till the water runs up bank and trees grow down bank."

"And what a scholar, and no pride neither, and what's mair in a parson,
no greed. Why, the leal fellow values the world and the world's gear not
a flea."

"Contentment's a kingdom, as folk say, and religion is no worse for a
bit o' charity."

There was a momentary pressure of the company toward the mouth of the
booth, where Gubblum Oglethorpe reappeared with his pack swung from his
neck in front of him. The girls gathered eagerly around.

"What have you to-day, Gubblum?"

"Nay, nowt for you, my dear. You're one of them that allus looks best
with nothing on."

"Oh, Gubblum!"

The compliment was certainly a dubious one.

"Only your bits of shabby duds--that's all that pretty faces like yours
wants."

"Oh, Gubblum!"

The peddler was evidently a dear, simple soul.

"Lord bless you, yes; what's in here," slapping his pack contemptuously,
"it's only for them wizzent old creatures up in London--them 'at have
faces like the map of England when it shows all the lines of the
railways--just to make them a bit presentable, you know. And there is no
knowing what some of these things won't do to mak' a body smart--what
with brooches and handkerchers and collars, and I don't know what."

Gubblum's air of indifference had the extraordinary effect of bringing a
dozen pairs of gloating eyes on the strapped pack. The face of the
peddler wore an expression of bland innocence as he continued:

"But bless you, I'm such a straightforward chap, or I'd make my fortune
with the like of what's here."

"Open your pack, Gubblum," said one of the fellows, Geordie Moore,
prompted by sundry prods from the elbow of a little damsel by his side.

The "straightforward chap" made a deprecatory gesture, and then yielded
obligingly. While loosening the straps he resumed his discourse on his
own general ignorance of business tactics, his ruinous honesty, and
demoralizing sense of honor.

"I'm not cute enough, that's my fault. I know the way to my mouth with a
spoonful of poddish, and that's all. If I go further in the dark, I'm
lost."

Gubblum opened his pack and drew forth a red and green shawl of a
hideous pattern.

"Now, just to give you a sample. Here's a nice neat shawl that I never
had no more nor two of. Well, I actually sold the fellow of that shawl
for seven-and-sixpence."

The look of amazement at his own shortcomings which sat on the
child-like face of the peddler was answered by the expression of mock
surprise in the face of Paul Ritson, who came up at the moment, took the
shawl from Gubblum's outstretched arms, and said in a hushed whisper:

"No, did you now?"

Geordie Moore thereupon dived into his pocket, and brought out three
half-crowns.

"Here's for you, Gubblum; let's have it."

"'Od bless me!" cried the elderly cynic, "but that Gubblum will never
mak' his plack a bawbee."

And Grey Graham, having disposed of the affairs of the nation and
witnessed Geordie snap at the peddler's bait, cried out in a bitter
laugh:

   "'There's little wit within his powe
   That lights a candle at the lowe.'"

Just then a tumult arose in the vicinity of the bar. The two cronies
were at open war.

"Deuce take it! I had fifteen white shillin' in my reet-hand breek
pocket, and where are they now?"

"'Od dang thee! what should I know about your brass? You're kicking up a
stour to waken a corp!"

"I had fifteen white shillin' in my reet-hand breek pocket, I tell
thee!"

"What's that to me, thou poor shaffles? You're as drunk as muck. Do you
think I've taken your brass? You've got a wrong pig by the lug if you
reckon to come ower me!"

"They were in my reet-hand breek pocket, I'll swear on it!"

"What a fratchin'--try your left-hand breek pocket."

The russet-faced plowman thrust his hand where directed and instantly a
comical smile of mingled joy and shame overspread his countenance. There
was a gurgling laugh, through which the voice of the peddler could be
heard saying:

"We'll mak' thee king ower the cockers, my canny lad."

The canny lad was slinking away amid a derisive titter, when a great
silence fell on the booth. Those in front fell back, and those behind
craned their necks to see over the heads of the people before them.

At the mouth of the booth stood the old Laird Fisher, his face ghastly
pale, his eyes big and restless, the rain dripping from his long hair
and beard.

"They've telt me," he began in a strange voice, "they've telt me that my
Mercy has gone off in the London train. I reckon they're mistook as to
the lass, but I've come to see for mysel'. Is she here?"

None answered. Only the heavy rain-drops that pattered on the canvas
overhead broke the silence. Paul Ritson pushed his way through the
crowd.

"Mercy?--London? Wait, Matthew; I'll see if she's here."

The Laird Fisher looked from face to face of the people about him.

"Any on you know owt about her?" he asked in a low voice. "Why don't you
speak, some on you? You shake your heads--what does that mean?"

The old man was struggling to control the emotion that was surging in
his throat.

"No, Matthew, she's not here," said Paul Ritson.

"Then maybe it's true," said Matthew, with a strange quiet.

There was a pause. Paul was the first to shake off his surprise.

"She might be at Little Town--in Keswick--twenty places."

"She might be, Master Paul, but she's nowt o' the sort. She's on her way
to London, Mercy is."

It was Natt, the stableman at the Ghyll, who spoke.

At that the old man's trance seemed to break.

"Gone! Mercy gone! Gone without a word! Why? Where?"

"She'd her little red bundle aside her; and she cried a gay bit to
hersel' in the corner. I saw her mysel'."

Paul's face became rigid with anger.

"There's villainy in this--be sure of that!" he said, hotly.

The laird rocked his head backward and forward, and his eyes swam with
tears; but he stood in the middle as quiet as a child.

"My laal Mercy," he said, faintly, "gone from her old father."

Paul stepped to the old man's side, and put a great hand on his shoulder
as softly as a woman might have soothed her babe. Then turning about,
and glancing wrathfully in the faces around them, he said:

"Some waistrel has been at work here. Who is he? Speak out. Anybody
know?"

No one spoke. Only the laird moaned feebly, and reeled like a drunken
man. Then, with the first shock over, the old man began to laugh. What a
laugh it was!

"No matter," he said; "no matter. Now I've nowt left, I've nowt to lose.
There's comfort in that, anyways. Ha! ha! ha! But my heart is like to
choke for all. You say reet, Mr. Ritson, there's villainy in it."

The old man's eyes wandered vacantly.

"Her own father," he mumbled; "her lone old father--broken-hearted--him
'at loved her--no matter, I've nowt left to--Ha! ha! ha!"

He tried to walk away jauntily, and with a ghastly smile on his battered
face, but he stumbled and fell insensible into Paul's outstretched arms.
They loosened his neckerchief and bathed his forehead.

Just then Hugh Ritson strode into the tent, stepped up to the group, and
looked down over the bent heads at the stricken father lying in his
brother's arms.

Paul's lips trembled and his powerful frame quivered.

"Who knows but the scoundrel is here now?" he said; and his eyes
traversed the men about him. "If he is, let him look at his pitiless
work; and may the sight follow him to his death!"

At that moment Hugh Ritson's face underwent an awful change. Then the
old man opened his eyes in consciousness, and Hugh knelt before him and
put a glass of water to his lips.



CHAPTER VIII.


In the homestead of the Ritsons the wide old ingle was aglow with a
cheerful fire, and Mrs. Ritson stood before it baking oaten cake on a
"griddle." The table was laid for supper with beef and beer and milk and
barley-bread. In the seat of a recessed window, Paul Ritson and Greta
Lowther sat together.

At intervals that grew shorter, and with a grave face that became more
anxious, Mrs. Ritson walked to the door and looked out into the
thickening sky. The young people had been too much absorbed to notice
her increasing perturbation, until she opened a clothes-chest and took
out dry flannels and spread them on the hearth to air.

"Don't worrit yourself, mother," said Paul. "He'll be here soon. He had
to cross the Coledale Pass, and that's a long stroke of the ground, you
know."

"It's an hour past supper-time," said Mrs. Ritson, glancing aside at the
old clock that ticked audibly from behind the great arm-chair. "The rain
is coming again--listen!" There was a light patter of rain-drops against
the window-panes. "If he's on the fells now he'll be wet to the skin."

"I wish I'd gone in place of him," said Paul, turning to Greta. "A bad
wetting troubles him nowadays. Not same as of old, when he'd follow the
fells all day long knee-deep in water and soaked to the skin with rain
or snow."

The thunder-clap shook the house. The windows rattled, and the lamp that
had been newly lighted and put on the table flickered slightly and
burned red.

"Mercy, me, what a night! Was that a flash of lightning?" said Mrs.
Ritson, and she walked to the door once more and opened it.

"Don't worrit, mother," repeated Paul. "Do come in. Father will be here
soon, and if he gets a wetting there's no help for it now."

Paul had turned aside from an animated conversation with Greta to
interpolate this remonstrance against his mother's anxiety. Resuming the
narrative of his wrestling match, he described its incidents as much by
gesture as by words.

"John Proudfoot took me--so--and tried to give me the cross-buttock, but
I caught his eye and twisted him on my hip--so--and down he went in a
bash!"

A hurried knock came to the outer door. In an instant it was opened, and
a white face looked in.

"What's now, Reuben?" said Paul, rising to his feet.

"Come along with me--leave the women-folk behind--master's down--the
lightning has struck him--I'm afeart he's dead!"

"My father!" said Paul, and stood for a moment with a bewildered look.
"Go on, Reuben, I'll follow." Paul picked up his hat and was gone in an
instant.

Mrs. Ritson had been stooping over the griddle when Reuben entered. She
heard what he said, and rose up with a face of death-like pallor. But
she said nothing, and sunk helplessly into a chair. Then Greta stepped
up to her and kissed her.

"Mother--dear mother!" she said, and Mrs. Ritson dropped her head on the
girl's breast.

Hugh had been sitting over some papers in his own room off the first
landing. He overheard the announcement, and came into the hall.

"Your father has been struck by the lightning," said Greta.

"They will fetch him home," said Hugh.

At the next moment there was the sound from without of burdened
footsteps. They were bearing the injured man. Through the back of the
house they carried him to his room.

"That is for my sake," said Mrs. Ritson, raising her tear-stained face
to listen.

Paul entered. His ruddy cheeks had grown ashy white. His eyes, that had
blinked with pleasure a minute ago, now stared wide with fear.

"Is he alive?"

"Yes."

"Thank God! oh, thank God forever and ever! Let me go in to him."

"He is unconscious--he breathes--but no more."

Mrs. Ritson, with Paul and Greta, went into the room in which they had
placed the stricken man. He lay across the bed in his clothes, just as
he had fallen. They bathed his forehead and applied leeches to his
temples. He breathed heavily, but gave no sign of consciousness.

Paul sat at his father's side with his face buried in his hands. He was
recalling his boyish days, when his father would lift him in his arms
and throw him on the bare back of the pony that he gave him on his
thirteenth birthday. Could it be possible that the end was at hand!

He got up and led Greta out of the room.

"This house of mourning is no place for you," he said; "the storm is
over: you must leave us; Natt can put the mare into the trap and drive
you home."

"I will not go," said Greta; "this shall be my home to-night. Don't send
me away from you, Paul. You are in trouble, and my place is here."

"You could do no good, and might take some harm."

Mrs. Ritson came out.

"Where is Mr. Bonnithorne?" she asked. "He was to be here at eight. Your
father might recover consciousness."

"The lawyer could do nothing to help him."

"If he is to leave us, may it please God to give him one little hour of
consciousness."

"Yes, knowing us again--giving us a farewell word."

"There is another reason--a more terrible reason!"

"You are thinking of the will. Let that go by. Come, mother--and Greta,
too--- come, let us go back."

Half an hour later the house was as still as the chamber of death. With
hushed voices and noiseless steps the women-servants moved to and from
the room where lay the dying man. The farming men sat together in an
outer kitchen, and talked in whispers.

The storm had passed away; the stars struggled one by one through a rack
of flying cloud, and a silver fringe of moonlight sometimes fretted the
black patches of the sky.

Hugh Ritson sat alone in the old hall, that was now desolate enough. His
face rested on his hand, and his elbow on his knee. There was a strange
light in his eyes. It was not sorrow, and it was not pain; it was
anxiety, uncertainty, perturbation. Again and again he started up from a
deep reverie, and then a half-smothered cry escaped him. He walked a few
paces to and fro, and sat down once more.

A servant crossed the hall on tiptoe. Hugh raised his head.

"How is your patient now?" he said, quietly.

"Just breathing, sir; still quite unconscious."

Hugh got up uneasily. A mirror hung on the wall in front of him, and he
stood and looked vacantly into it. His thoughts wandered, and when a
gleam of consciousness returned the first object that he saw was the
reflection of his own face. It was full of light and expression. Perhaps
it wore a ghostly smile. He turned away from the sight impatiently.

Sitting down again he tried to compose himself. Point by point he
revolved the situation. He thought of what the lawyer had said of his
deserted wife and lost son of Lowther. Then, taking out of an inner
pocket the medallion that Mr. Bonnithorne had lent him, he looked at it
long and earnestly.

The inspection seemed to afford a grim satisfaction. There could be no
doubt now of the ghostly smile that played upon his face.

There was a tall antique clock in the corner of the hall. It struck
eight. The slow beats of the bell echoed chillily in the hushed
apartment. The hour awakened the consciousness of the brooding man. At
eight o'clock Mr. Bonnithorne was appointed to be there to make the
will.

Hugh Ritson touched gently a hand-bell that stood on the table. A
servant entered.

"Send Natt to me," said Hugh.

A moment later the stableman shambled into the hall. He was a thick-set
young fellow with a short neck and a full face, and eyelids that hung
deep over a pair of cunning eyes. At first sight one would have said
that the rascal was only half awake; at the second glance, that he was
never asleep.

Hugh received him with a show of cordiality.

"Ah, Natt, come here--closer."

The man walked across. Hugh dropped his voice.

"Go down to Little Town and find Mr. Bonnithorne. You may meet him on
the way. If not, he will be at the Flying Horse. Tell him I sent you to
say that Adam Fallow lies dying at Bigrigg, and must see him at once.
You understand?"

The man lifted his slumberous eyelids. A suspicious twinkle lurked
beneath them. He glanced around, then down at his big, grimy boots,
measured with one uplifted hand the altitude of the bump on the top of
his bullet head, and muttered, "I understand."

Hugh's face darkened.

"Silence!" he said, sternly; and then he met Natt's upward glance with a
faint smile. "When you come back, get yourself out of the way--do you
hear?"

The heavy eyelids went up once more. "I hear."

"Then be off!"

The fellow was shuffling away.

"Natt," said Hugh, following him a step, "you fancied that new whip of
mine; take it. You'll find it in the porch."

A smile crossed Natt's face from ear to ear. He stumbled out.

Hugh Ritson returned to the hearth. That haunting mirror caught the
light of his eyes again and showed that he too was smiling. At the same
instant there came from the inner room the dull, dead sound of a deep
sob. It banished the smile and made him pause. He looked at the
reflection of his face--could it be the face of a scoundrel? Was he
playing a base part? No, he was merely asserting his rights; his plain
legal rights--nothing more.

He opened a cupboard in the wall and took down a bunch of keys.
Selecting one key, he stepped up to a cabinet and opened it. In a
compartment were many loose papers. Now to see if by chance there
existed a will already. He glanced at the papers one by one and threw
them aside. When he had finished his inspection he took a hasty turn
about the room. No trace--he had been sure of it!

Again the deep sob came from within. Hugh Ritson walked noiselessly to
the inner door, opened it slightly, bent his head, and listened. He
turned away with an expression of pain, picked up his hat, and went out.

The night was very dark. He strode a few paces down the lonnin and then
back to the porch. Uncovering his head, he let the night wind cool his
hot temples. His breath came audibly and hard. He was turning again
into the house when his eye was arrested by a light near the turning of
the high-road. The light was approaching; he walked toward it, and met
Josiah Bonnithorne. The lawyer was jouncing along toward the house with
a lantern in his hand.

"Didn't you meet the stableman?" said Hugh in an eager whisper.

"No."

"The blockhead must have taken the old pack-horse road on the fell-side.
One would be safe in that fool's stupidity. You have heard what has
happened?"

"I have."

"There is no will already."

"And your father is insensible?"

"Yes."

"Then none shall be made."

There was a pause, in which the darkness itself seemed full of speech.
The lantern cast its light only on an open cart-shed in the lane.

"If your mother is the Grace Ormerod who married Robert Lowther and had
a son by him, then Paul was that son--the heir to Lowther's
conscience-money."

"Bonnithorne," said Hugh Ritson--his voice trembled and broke--"if it is
so, then it is so, and we need do nothing. Remember, he is my father. It
is not within belief that he wants to disinherit his own son for the son
of another man."

Mr. Bonnithorne broke into a half-smothered laugh, and stepped close
into the cobble-hedge, keeping the lantern down.

"Your father--yes. But you have seen to-day what that may come to. He
has always held you under his hand. Paul has been the old man's
favorite."

"No doubt of that." Hugh crept close to the lawyer. He was wrestling in
the coil of a tragic temptation.

"If he recovers consciousness, he may be tempted to recognize as his own
his wife's illegitimate son. That"--the low tone was one of withering
irony--"will keep her from dishonor, and you from the estates."

"At least he is my brother--my mother's son. If my father wishes to
provide for him, God forbid that we should prevent."

Once more the half-smothered laugh came through the darkness.

"You have missed your vocation, Mr. Ritson. Believe me, the Gospel has
lost a fervent advocate. Perhaps you would like to pray for this good
brother; perhaps you would consider it safe to drop on your knee and
say, 'My good brother that should be, who has ever loved me, whom I have
ever loved, take here my fortune, and leave me until death a penniless
dependent on the lands that are mine by right of birth.'"

Hugh Ritson's breath came in gusts through his quivering, unseen lips.

"Bonnithorne, it cannot be--it is mere coincidence, seductive, damning
coincidence. My mother knows all. If it were true that Paul was the son
of Lowther, she would know that Paul and Greta must be half-brother and
half-sister. She would stop their unnatural union."

"And do you think I have waited until now to sound that shoal water with
a cautious plummet? Your mother is as ignorant of the propinquity as
Greta herself. Lowther was dead before your family settled in Newlands.
The families never once came together while the widow lived. And now not
a relative survives who can tell the story."

"Parson Christian?" said Hugh Ritson.

"A great child just out of swaddling-clothes!"

"Then the secret rests with you and me, Bonnithorne?"

"Who else? The marriage must not come off. Greta is Paul's half-sister,
but she is no relative of yours--"

"You are right, Bonnithorne," Hugh Ritson broke in; "the marriage is
against nature."

"And the first step toward stopping it is to stop the will."

"Then why are you here?"

"To make sure that there is no will already. You have satisfied me, and
now I go."

There was a pause.

"Who shall say that I am acting a base part?" said Hugh, in an eager
tone.

"Who indeed?"

"Nature itself is on my side."

The man was conquered. He was in the grip of his temptation.

"I am off, Mr. Ritson. Get back into the house. It is not safe for you
to be out of sight and sound."

Mr. Bonnithorne was moving off in the darkness, the lamp before his
breast; its light fell that instant on Hugh Ritson's haggard face.

"Wait; put out your lamp."

"It's done."

All was now dark.

"Good-night."

"Good-night."

With slow whispers the two men parted.

The springy step of Josiah Bonnithorne was soon lost in the road below.

Hugh Ritson stood for awhile where the lawyer left him, and then turned
back into the house. He found the cabinet open. In the turmoil of
emotion he had forgotten to close it. He returned to it, and shuffled
with the papers to put them back in their place. At that moment the door
opened, and a heavy footstep fell on the floor. Hugh glanced up
startled. It was Paul. His face was plowed deep with lines of pain. But
the cloud of sorrow that it wore was not so black as the cloud of anger
when he saw what his brother was doing and guessed his purpose.

"What are you about?" Paul asked, mastering his wrath.

There was no response.

"Shut up that cabinet!"

Hugh turned about with a flushed face.

"I shall do as I please!"

Paul took two strides toward him.

"Shut it up!"

The cabinet was closed. At the same moment Mrs. Ritson came from the
inner room. Paul turned on his heel.

"He is thinking of the will," said the elder brother. "Perhaps it is
natural that he should distrust me; but when the time comes he is
welcome to the half of everything, and ten thousand wills would hardly
give him more."

Mrs. Ritson was strongly agitated. Her eyes, red with weeping, were
aflame with expression.

"Paul, he is conscious," she cried in a voice that her anxiety could not
subdue. "He is trying to speak. Where is the lawyer?"

Hugh had been moving toward the outer door.

"Conscious!" he repeated, and returned to the hearth.

"Send for Mr. Bonnithorne at once!" said Mrs. Ritson, addressing Hugh.

Her manner was feverish. Hugh touched the bell. When the servant
appeared, he said:

"Tell Natt to run to the village for Mr. Bonnithorne."

Paul had walked to the door of the inner room. His hand was on the
handle, when the door opened and Greta came out. She stepped up to Mrs.
Ritson and tried to quiet her agitation.

The servant returned.

"I can't find Natt," she said. "He is not in the house."

"You'll find him in the stable," said Hugh, composedly.

The servant went out hurriedly.

Paul returned to the middle of the room.

"I'll go myself," he said, and plucked his hat from the settle, but Mrs.
Ritson rose to prevent him.

"No, no, Paul," she said in a tremulous voice, "you must never leave his
side."

Paul glanced at his brother with a perplexed look. The calmness of
Hugh's manner disturbed him.

The servant reappeared.

"Natt is not in the stable, sir."

Paul's face was growing crimson. Mrs. Ritson turned to Hugh.

"Hugh, my dear son, do you go for the lawyer."

A faint smile that lurked at the corners of Hugh's mouth gave way to a
look of injury.

"Mother, my place, also, is here. How can you ask me to leave my
father's side at a moment like this?"

Greta had been looking fixedly at Hugh.

"I'll go," she said, resolutely.

"Impossible," said Paul. "It is now dark--the roads are wet and lonely."

"I'll go, nevertheless," said Greta, firmly.

"God bless you, my darling, and love you and keep you forever!" said
Paul. Wrapping a cloak about her shoulders, he whispered: "My brave
girl--that's the stuff of which an English woman may be made."

He opened the door and walked out with her across the court-yard. The
night was now clear and calm; the stars burned; the trees whispered; the
distant ghylls, swollen by the rain, roared loud through the thin air; a
bird on the bough of a fir-tree whistled and chirped. The storm was
gone; only its wreckage lay in the still room within.

"A safe journey to you, dear girl, and a speedy return," whispered Paul,
and in another moment Greta had vanished in the dark.

When he returned to the hall, his brother was passing into the room
where the sick man lay. Paul was about to follow when his mother, who
was walking aimlessly to and fro in yet more violent agitation than
before, called on him to remain. He turned about and stepped up to her,
observing as he did so that Hugh had paused on the threshold, and was
regarding them with a steadfast look.

Mrs. Ritson took Paul's hand with a nervous grasp. Her eyes, that bore
the marks of recent tears, had the light of wild excitement.

"God be praised that he is conscious at last!" she said.

Paul shook his head as if in censure of his mother's feelings.

"Let him die in peace," he said; "let his soul pass quietly to its rest.
Don't vex it now with thoughts of the cares it leaves behind."

Mrs. Ritson let go his hand, and dropped into a chair. A slight shudder
passed over her. Paul looked down with a puzzled expression. Then there
was a low sobbing. He leaned over his mother and smoothed her hair
tenderly.

"Come, let us go in," he said in a broken voice.

Mrs. Ritson rose from her seat and went down on her knees. Her eyes,
still wet, but no longer weeping, were raised to heaven.

"Almighty Father, give me strength!" she said beneath her breath, and
then more quietly she rose to her feet.

Paul regarded her with increasing perturbation. Something even more
serious than he yet knew of was amiss. Hardly knowing why, his heart
sunk still deeper.

"What are we doing?" he said, scarcely realizing his own words.

Mrs. Ritson threw herself on his neck.

"Did I not say there was a terrible reason why your father should make a
will?"

Paul's voice seemed to die within him.

"What is it, mother?" he asked feebly, not yet gathering the meaning of
his fears.

"God knows, I never dreamed it would be my lips that must tell you,"
said Mrs. Ritson. "Paul, my son, my darling son, you think me a good
mother and a pure woman. I am neither. I must confess all--now--and to
you. Oh, how your love will turn from me!"

Paul's face turned pale. His eyes gazed into his mother's eyes with a
fixed look. The clock ticked audibly. Not another sound broke the
silence. At last Paul spoke.

"Speak, mother," he said; "is it something about my father?"

Mrs. Ritson's face fell on to her son's breast. A strong shudder ran
over her shoulders, and she sobbed aloud.

"You are not your father's heir," she said; "you were born before we
married.... But you will try not to hate me, ... your own mother.... You
will try, will you not?"

Paul's great frame shook visibly. He tried to speak. His tongue cleaved
to his mouth.

"Do you mean that I am--a bastard?" he said in a hoarse whisper.

The word seemed to sting his mother like a poisoned arrow. She clung yet
closer about his neck.

"Pity me and love me still, though I have wronged you before God and
man. I whom the world thought so pure--I am but a whited sepulcher--a
dishonored woman dishonoring her dearest son!"

The door opened gently, and Hugh Ritson stood in the door-way. Neither
his brother nor his mother realized his presence. He remained a moment,
and then withdrew, leaving the door ajar.

Beneath the two whom he left behind, the world at that moment reeled.

Paul stood with great, wide eyes, that had never tear to soften them,
gazing vacantly into the weeping eyes before him. His lips quivered, but
he did not speak.

"Paul, speak to me--speak to me--only speak--only let me hear your
voice! See, I am at your feet--your mother kneels to you--forgive her as
God has forgiven her!"

And loosing her grasp, she flung herself on the ground before him, and
covered her face with her hands.

Paul seemed not at first to know what was happening. Then he stooped and
raised his mother to her feet.

"Mother, rise up," he said in a strange, hollow tone. "Who am I that I
should presume to pardon you? I am your son--you are my mother!"

His vacant eyes gathered a startled expression. He glanced quickly
around the room, and said in a deep whisper:

"How many know of this?"

"None besides ourselves."

The frightened look disappeared. In its place came a look of
overwhelming agony.

"But I know of it; oh, my God!" he cried; and into the chair from which
his mother had risen he fell like a wounded man.

Mrs. Ritson dried her eyes. A strange quiet was coming upon her now. Her
voice gathered strength. She laid a hand on the head of her son, who sat
before her with buried face.

"Paul," she said, "it is not until now that the day of reckoning has
waited for me. When you were a babe, and knew nothing of your mother's
grief, I sorrowed over the shame that might yet be yours; and when you
grew to be a prattling child, I thought if God would look into your
innocent eyes they would purchase grace for both of us."

Paul lifted his head. At that moment of distress God had sent him the
gracious gift of tears. His eyes were wet, and looked tenderly at his
mother.

"Paul," she continued, quite calmly now, "promise me one thing."

"What is it?" he asked, softly.

"That if your father should not live to make the will that must
recognize you as his son, you will never reveal this secret."

Paul rose to his feet. "That is impossible. I cannot promise it," he
said.

"Why?"

"Honor and justice require that my brother Hugh, and not I, should be my
father's heir--he, at least, must know."

"What honor, and what justice?"

"The honor of a true man--the justice of the law of England."

Mrs. Ritson dropped her head. "So much for your honor," she said. "But
what of mine?"

"Mother, what do you mean?"

"That if you allow your younger brother to inherit, the world by that
act will be told all--your father's sin, your mother's shame."

Mrs. Ritson raised her hands to her face, and turned aside. Paul stepped
up to her and kissed her forehead reverently.

"You are right," he said. "Forgive me--I thought only of myself. The
world that loves to tarnish a pure name would like to gloat over your
sorrow. That it shall never! Man's law may have been outraged, but God's
law is still inviolate. Whatever my birth, I am as much your son in the
light of Heaven as Jacob was the son of Isaac, or David of Jesse. Come,
let us go to him--he may yet live to acknowledge me."

It had been a terrible moment, but it was past. To live to manhood in
ignorance of the dishonor of his birth, and then to learn the truth
under the shadow of death--this had been a tragic experience. The love
he had borne his father--the reverence he had learned at his mother's
knee--to what bitter test had they been put! Had all the past been but
as the marble image of a happy life! Was all the future shattered before
him! Pshaw! he was the unconscious slave of a superstition--a phantasm,
a gingerbread superstition!

And a mightier touch awoke his sensibilities--the touch of nature.
Before God at that moment he was his father's son. If the world, or the
world's law, said otherwise, then they were of the devil, and deserving
to be damned. What rite, what jabbering ceremony, what priestly
ordinance, what legal mummery, stood between him and his claim to his
father's name?

Paul took in love the hand of his mother. "Let us go in to him," he
repeated, and together they walked across the room.

The outer door was flung open, and Greta entered, flushed and with
wide-open eyes. At the same instant the inner door swung noiselessly
back, and Hugh Ritson stood on the threshold. Greta was about to speak,
but Hugh motioned her to silence. His face was pale, his hand trembled.
"Too late," he said, huskily; "he is dead!"

Greta sunk on to the settle in the window recess. Hugh walked to the
hearth and paused with rigid features before the haunting mirror.

Paul stood for a moment hand in hand with his mother, motionless,
speechless, cold at his heart. Then he hurried into the inner room. Mrs.
Ritson followed him, closing the door behind him.

The little oak-bound room was dusky; the lamp that burned low was
shaded. Across the bed lay Allan Ritson, in his habit as he lived. But
his lips were white and cold.

Paul stood and looked down. There lay his father--his father still! His
father by right of nature--of love--of honor--let the world say what it
would.

And he knew the truth at last: too late to look into those glassy eyes
and read the secret of their long years of suffering love.

"Father," Paul whispered, and fell to his knees by the deaf ear.

Mrs. Ritson, strangely quiet, strangely calm, stepped to the opposite
side of the bed, and placed one hand on the dead man's breast.

"Paul," she said, "come here."

He rose to his feet and walked to her side.

"Lay your hand with mine, and pledge to me your solemn word never to
speak of what you have heard to-night until that great day when we three
shall stand together before the great white throne."

Paul placed his hand side by side with hers, and lifted his eyes to
heaven.

"On my father's body, by my mother's honor--never to reveal to any human
soul, by word or deed, his act or her shame--always to bear myself as
their lawful son before man, even as I am their rightful son before
God--I swear it! I swear it!"

His voice was cold and clear, but the words were scarcely uttered when
he fell to his knees again, with a subdued cry of overwrought feeling.

Mrs. Ritson staggered back, caught the curtains of the bed, and covered
her face. All was still.

Then a shuffling footfall was heard on the floor. Hugh Ritson was in the
darkened room. He lifted the shaded lamp from the table, approached the
bedside, and held the lamp with one hand above his head. The light fell
on the outstretched body of his father and the bowed head of his
brother.



_BOOK II._


THE COIL OF THE TEMPTATION.



CHAPTER I.


It was late in November, and the day was dark and drear. Hoar-frost lay
on the ground. The atmosphere was pallid with haze and dense with
mystery. Gaunt specters of white mist swept across the valley and
gathered at the sides of every open door. The mountains were gone. Only
a fibrous vagueness was visible.

In an old pasture field by the bridge a man was plowing. He was an
elderly man, sturdy and stolid of figure, and clad in blue homespun.
There was nothing clerical in his garb or manner, yet he was the vicar
and school-master of the parish. His low-crowned hat was drawn deep over
his slumberous gray eyes. The mobile mouth beneath completed the
expression of gentleness and easy good-nature. It was a fine old face,
with the beauty of simplicity and the sweetness of content.

A boy in front led the horses, and whistled. The parson hummed a tune as
he turned his furrows. Sometimes he sung in a drawling tone--

   "Bonny lass, canny lass, wilta be mine?
   Thou's nowder wesh dishes nor sarra the swine."

At the turn-rows he paused, and rested on his plow handles. He rested
longest at the turn-rows on the roadside of the field. Like the
shivering mists that grouped about the open doors, he was held there by
light and warmth.

The smithy stood at the opposite side of the road, cut into the rock of
the fell on three sides, and having a roof of thatch. The glare of the
fire, now rising, now falling, streamed through the open door. It sent a
long vista of light through the blank and pulsating haze. The vibrations
of the anvil were all but the only sounds on the air; the alternate thin
clink of the smith's hand-hammer and the thick thud of the striker's
sledge echoed in unseen recesses of the hills beyond.

This smithy of Newlands filled the function which under a higher
propitiousness of circumstance is answered by a club. Girded with his
leather apron, his sleeves rolled tightly over his knotty arms, the
smith, John Proudfoot, stood waiting for his heat. His striker, Geordie
Moore, had fallen to at the bellows. On the tool chest sat Gubblum
Oglethorpe, leisurely smoking. His pony was tied to the hasp of the
gate. The miller, Dick of the Syke, sat on a pile of iron rods. Tom o'
Dint, the little bow-legged fiddler and postman, was sharpening at the
grindstone a penknife already worn obliquely to a point by many similar
applications.

"Nay, I can make nowt of him. He's a changed man for sure," said the
blacksmith.

Gubblum removed his pipe and muttered sententiously:

"It's die-spensy, I tell thee."

"Dandering and wandering about at all hours of the day and night,"
continued the blacksmith.

"It's all die-spensy," repeated the peddler.

"And as widderful and wizzent as a polecat nailed up on a barn door,"
said Tom o' Dint, lifting his grating knife from the grindstone and
speaking with a voice as hoarse.

"Eh, and as weak as watter with it," added the blacksmith.

"His as was as strong as rum punch," rejoined the fiddler.

"It's die-spensy, John--nowt else," said Gubblum.

The miller broke in testily.

"What's die-spensy?"

"What ails Paul Ritson?" answered Gubblum.

"Shaf on your balderdash," said Dick of the Syke; "die-spensying and
die-spensying. You've no' but your die-spensy for everything. Tommy's
rusty throat, and John's big toe, and lang Geordie's broken nose, as
Giles Raisley gave him a' Saturday neet at the Pack Horse--it's all
die-spensy."

The miller was a blusterous fellow, who could swear in lusty anger and
laugh in boisterous sport in a single breath.

Gubblum puffed placidly.

"It is die-spensy. I know it by exper'ence," he observed, persistently.

The blacksmith's little eyes twinkled mischievously.

"To be sure you do, Gubblum. You had it bad the day you crossed in the
packet from Whitehebben. That was die-spensy--a cute bout too."

"I've heard as it were amazing rough on the watter that day," said Tom,
in a pause of the wheel, glancing up knowingly at the blacksmith.

"Heard, had you? Must have been tolerable deaf else. Rough? Why, them do
say as the packet were wrecked, and only two planks saved. Gubblum was
washed ashore cross-legged on one of them, and his pack on the other."

The long, labored breathings of the bellows ended, the iron was thrown
white hot out of the glowing coals on to the anvil, and the clank of the
hand-hammer and thud of the sledge were all that could be heard. Then
the iron cooled, and was lifted back into the palpitating blaze. The
blacksmith stepped to the door, wiped his streaming forehead with one
hand and waved the other to the parson plowing in the opposite field.

"A canny morning, Mr. Christian," he shouted. "Bad luck for the parson's
young lady, anyhow--her sweetheart is none to keen for the wedding," he
said, turning again to the fire.

"She's a fine like lass, yon," said Tom o' Dint.

An old man, iron gray, with a pair of mason's mallets swung front and
back across his shoulders, stepped into the smithy.

"How fend ye, John?" he said.

"Middling weel, Job," answered the blacksmith; "and what's your errand
now?"

"A chisel or two for tempering."

"Cutting in the church-yard to-day, Job? Cold wark, eh?"

"Ey, auld Ritson's stone as they've putten over him."

The blacksmith tapped the peddler on the arm.

"Gubblum, shall I tell you what's a-matter with Paul?"

"Never you bother, John, it's die-spensy."

"It's fretting--that's it--fretting for his father."

"Fretting for his fiddlesticks!" shouted Dick, the miller; "Allan's dead
this half a year."

"John's reet," said Job, the stone-cutter; "it is fretting."

Dick of the Syke got up off the iron rods.

"Because a young fellow has given you a job of wark to cut his father's
headstone and tell a lie or two in letters half an inch deep and two
shillings a dozen--does that show 'at he's fretting?"

"He didn't do nowt of the sort," said Job, hotly.

"Dusta mean as it were the other one--Hugh?" inquired the miller.

"Maybe that's reet," said Job.

Dick of the Syke was not to be beaten for lack of the logic of
circumlocution.

"Then what for do you say as Paul is weeping his insides out about his
father, when he leaves it to other folks to put a bit of stone over him
and a few scrats on it?"

"Because I do say so," said Job, conclusively.

"And maybe you've got your reasons, Job," said the blacksmith with
insinuating suavity.

"Maybe I have," said the mason. Then softening, he added, "I don't mind
telling you, neither. Yesterday morning when I went to wark I found Paul
Ritson lying full length across his father's grave. His clothes were
soaking with dew, and his face was as white as a Feb'uary mist, and
stiff and set like, and his hair was frosted over same as a pane in the
church window."

"Never!"

"He was like to take no note of me, but I gave him a shake, and called
out, 'What, Mr. Paul! why, what, man! what's this?'"

"And what ever did he say?"

"Say! Nowt. He get hissel' up--and gay stiff in the limbs he looked, to
be sure--and walked off without a word."

Gubblum on the tool chest had removed his pipe from between his lips
during the mason's narrative, and listened with a face of blank
amazement.

"Weel, that is a stiffener," he said, drawing a long breath.

"What's a stiffener?" said Job, sharply.

"That 'at you're telling for gospel truth." Then, turning to the
blacksmith, the peddler pointed the shank of his pipe at the mason, and
said: "What morning was it as he found Paul Ritson taking a bath to
hissel' in the kirk-yard?"

"Why, yesterday morning," said the smith.

"Well, he bangs them all at lying!" said Gubblum.

"What dusta say?" shouted Job, with sudden fury.

"As you've telt us a lie," answered Gubblum.

"Sista, Gubblum, if you don't take that word back I'll--I'll throw you
into the water-butt!"

"And what would I do while you were thrang at that laal job?" asked the
peddler.

The blacksmith interposed.

"Sec a rumpus!" he said; "you're too sudden in your temper, Job."

"Some folks are ower much like their namesakes in the Bible," said
Gubblum, resuming his pipe.

"Then what for did he say it worn't true as I found young Ritson
yesterday morning wet to the skin in the church-yard?" said Job,
ignoring the peddler.

"Because he warn't there," said Gubblum.

Job lost all patience.

"Look here," he said, "if you're not hankering for a cold bath on a
frosty morning, laal man, I don't know as you've got any call to say
that again!"

"He warn't there," the "laal man" muttered doggedly.

The blacksmith had plunged his last heat into the water trough to cool,
and a cloud of vapor filled the smithy.

"Lord A'mighty!" he said, laughing, "that's the way some folks go
off--all of a hiss and a smoke."

"He warn't there," mumbled the peddler again, impervious to the homely
similitude.

"How are you so certain sure?" said Dick of the Syke. "You warn't there
yourself, I reckon."

"No; but I was somewhere else, and so was Paul Ritson. I slept at the
Pack House in Kezzick night afore last, and he did the same."

"Did you see him there?" said the blacksmith.

"No; but Giles Raisley saw him, and he warn't astir when Giles went on
his morning shift at eight o'clock."

The blacksmith broke into a loud guffaw.

"Tell us how he was at the Hawk and Heron in London at midsummer."

"And so he was," said Gubblum, unabashed.

"Willy-nilly, ey?" said the blacksmith, pausing over the anvil with
uplifted hammer, the lurid reflection of the hot iron on his face.

"Maybe he had his reasons for denying hisself," said Gubblum.

The blacksmith laughed again, tapped the iron with the hand-hammer, down
came the sledge, and the flakes flew.

Two miners entered the smithy.

"Good-morning, John; are ye gayly?" said one of them.

"Gayly, gayly! Why, it's Giles hissel'!"

"Giles," said the peddler, "where was Paul Ritson night afore last?"

"Abed, I reckon," chuckled one of the new-comers.

"Where abed?"

"Nay, don't ax me. Wait--night afore last? That was the night he slept
at Janet's, wasn't it?"

Gubblum's eyes twinkled with triumph.

"What, did I tell you?"

"What call had he to sleep at Keswick?" said the blacksmith; "it's
no'but four miles from his own bed at the Ghyll."

"Nay, now, when ye ax the like o' that--"

Tom, the postman, stopped his grindstone and snuckered huskily:

"Maybe he's had a fratch with yon brother--yon Hugh."

"I'm on the morning shift this week, and Mother Janet she said: 'Giles,'
she said, 'the brother of your young master came late last night for a
bed.'"

"Job, what do you say to that?" shouted the blacksmith above the
pulsating of the bellows, and with the sharp white lights of the leaping
flames on his laughing face.

"Say! That they're a pack of liars!" said the mason, catching up his
untempered chisels and flinging out of the smithy.

When he had gone, Gubblum removed his pipe and said calmly: "He's ower
much like his Bible namesake in temper--that's the on'y fault of Job."

The parson, in the field outside, had stood in the turn-rows, resting on
his plow-handles. He had been drawling "Bonny lass, canny lass;" but,
catching the sound of angry words, he had paused and listened. When Job,
the mason, flung away, he returned to his plowing, and disappeared down
the furrow, the boy whistling at his horse's head.

"Why, Mattha, it is thee?" said the blacksmith, observing for the first
time the second of the new-comers; "and how fend ye?"

"Middling weel, John, middling weel," said Matthew, in a low voice,
resting on the edge of the trough.

It was Laird Fisher, more bent than of old, with deeper lines in his
grave face and with yet more listless eyes. He had brought two picks for
sharpening.

"Got your smelting-house at wark down at the pit, Mattha?" asked the
blacksmith.

"Ey, John, it's at wark--it's at wark."

The miller had turned to go, but he faced about with ready anger.

"Lord, yes, and a pretty pickle you and your gaffer's like to make of
me. Wad ye credit it, John? they've built their smelting-house within
half a rod of my mill. Half a rod; not a yard mair. When your red-hot
rubbish is shot down your bank, where's it going to go, ey? That's what
I want to know--where's it going to go?"

"Why, into your mill, of course," said Gubblum, with a wink, from the
tool-chest. "That'll maybe help you to go by fire when you can't raise
the wind."

"Verra good for thee, Gubblum," laughed the blacksmith.

"I'll have the law on them safe enough," said the miller.

"And where's your damages to come from?"

"From the same spot as all the rest of the brass--that's good enough for
me."

Matthew's voice followed the insinuating guffaw.

"I spoke to Master Hugh yesterday. I telt him all you said about a
wall."

"Well?"

"He won't build it."

"Of course not. Why didsta not speak to Paul?"

"No use in that," said Matthew, faintly.

"Nay, young Hugh is a gaffer," exclaimed the blacksmith.

"And Paul has no say in it except finding the brass, ey?"

"I mak' no doubt as you're reet, Dick," said Matthew, meekly.

"It's been just so since the day auld Allan died," said the blacksmith.
"He hadn't been a week in his grave before Hugh bought up Mattha's
royalty in the Hammer Hole, and began to sink for iron. He's never found
much ore, as I've heard tell on, but he goes ahead laying down his
pumping engines, and putting up his cranes, and boring his mill-races,
just as if he was proper-ietor of a royal mine."

"Hugh is the chain-horse, and Paul's no'but the mare in the shafts,"
said Gubblum.

"And the money comes somehow," said Tom o' Dint, who had finished the
knife and was testing its edge in whittling a stick.

Matthew got up from his seat.

"I'll come again for the picks, John," he said quietly; and the old man
stepped out of the bright glow into the chill haze.

"Mattha has never been the same since laal Mercy left him," said the
blacksmith.

"Any news of her?" asked the peddler.

"Ax Tom o' Dint; he's the postman, and like to know if anybody in
Newlands gets the scribe of a line from the wench," said the miller.

Tom shakes his head. "You could tell summat, an' you would, ey, Tom?"
said the blacksmith, showing his teeth.

"Don't you misliken me," said the rural messenger in his husky tones;
"I'm none of your Peeping Toms." And the postman drew up his head with
as much pride of office as could be assumed by a gentleman of bowed legs
and curtailed stature.

"It baffles me as Mattha hisself could make nowt of his royalty in the
Hammer Hole, if there was owt to make out of it," said the miller from
the gate, buttoning his coat up to his ears.

"I've heard as he had a mind to try his luck again," said Giles Raisley.

"Nay, nay, nowt of the sort," said the blacksmith. "When the laal lass
cut away and left the auld chap he lost heart and couldn't bear the
sight of the spot where she used to bide. So he started back to his bit
place on Coledale Moss. But Hugh Ritson followed him and bought up his
royalty--for nowt, as they say--and set him to wark for wage in his own
sinking--the same that ruined the auld man lang ago."

"And he's like to see a fortun' come out of it yet," said Giles.

"It won't be Mattha's fortun', then."

"Nay, never fear," said the miner.

Gubblum shook the ashes out of his pipe, and said meditatively,
"Mattha's like me and the cuckoo."

"Why, man, how's that?" said the blacksmith, girding his leather apron
in a band about his waist. A fresh heat was in the fire; the bellows
were belching; the palpitating flames were licking the smoky hood. A
twinkle lurked in the blacksmith's eye. "How's that?" he repeated.

"He's allus stopping short too soon," said Gubblum. "My missis, she said
to me last back end, 'Gubblum,' she said, 'dusta mind as it's allus
summer when the cuckoo is in the garden?' 'That's what is is,' I said.
'Well,' she said, 'dusta not think it wad allus be summer if the cuckoo
could allus be kept here?' 'Maybe so,' I says; 'but easier said nor
done.' 'Shaf on you for a clothead!' says she; 'nowt so simple. When you
get the cuckoo into the garden, build a wall round and keep it in.' And
that's what I did; and I built it middling high, too, but it warn't high
enough, for, wad ye think it, one day I saw the cuckoo setting off, and
it just skimmed the top of that wall by a bare inch. Now, if I'd no'but
put another stone--"

A loud peal of laughter was Gubblum's swift abridgment. The peddler
tapped the mouth of his pipe on his thumb-nail, and smiled under his
shaggy brows.



CHAPTER II.


When Parson Christian finished his plowing, the day was far spent. He
gave the boy a shilling as day's wage for leading the horses, drove the
team back to their owner, Robert Atkinson, paid five shillings for the
day's hire of them, and set out for home. On the way thither he called
at Henry Walmsley's, the grocery store in the village, and bought half a
pound of tea, a can of coffee, and a stone of sugar; then at Randal
Alston's, the shoemaker's, and paid for the repairing of a pair of
boots, and put them under his arm; finally, he looked in at the Flying
Horse and called for a pot of ale, and drank it, and smoked a pipe and
had a crack with Tommy Lowthwaite, the publican.

The mist had risen as the day wore on, and now that the twilight was
creeping down the valley, the lane to the vicarage could be plainly seen
in its yellow carpeting of fallen leaves. An outer door of the house
stood open, and a rosy glow streamed from the fire into the porch. Not
less bright was the face within that was waiting to welcome the old
vicar home.

"Back again, Greta, back again!" shouted the parson, rolling into the
cozy room with his ballast under either arm. "There--wait--fair play,
girl--ah, you rogue!--now that's what I call a mean advantage!"

There was a smack of lips, a little laugh in a silvery voice with a
merry lilt in it, and then a deep-toned mutter of affected protestation
breaking down into silence and a broad smile.

At arms-length Greta glanced at the parson's burdens, and summoned an
austere look.

"Now, didn't I tell you never to do it again?" she said, with an
uplifted finger and an air of stern reproof.

"Did you now?" said the parson, with an expression of bland
innocence--adding, in an accent of wonderment: "What a memory I have, to
be sure!"

"Leave such domestic duties to your domestic superiors," said the girl,
keeping a countenance of amazing severity. "Do you hear me, you dear old
darling?"

"I hear, I hear," said the old man, throwing his purchases on the floor
one by one. "Why, bless me, and here's Mr. Bonnithorne," he added,
lifting his eyes to the chimney-corner, where the lawyer sat toasting
his toes. "Welcome, welcome."

"Peter, Peter!" cried Greta, opening an inner door.

A gaunt old fellow, with only one arm, shambled into the room.

"Peter, take away these things to the kitchen," said Greta.

The old man glanced down at the parson's purchases with a look of
undisguised contempt.

"He's been at it again, mistress," he said.

The parson had thrown off his coat, and was pushing away his long boots
with the boot-jack.

"And how's Mr. Bonnithorne this rusty weather? Wait, Peter, give me the
slippers out of the big parcel. I got Randal Alston to cut down my old
boots into clock sides, and make me slippers out of the feet. Only
sixpence, and see what a cozy pair. Thank you, Peter. So you're well,
Mr. Bonnithorne. Odd, you say? Well, it is, considering the world of
folk who are badly these murky days."

Peter lifted the boots and fixed them dexterously under the stump of his
abridged member. The tea and coffee he deposited in his trousers'
pockets, and the sugar he carried in his hand.

"There'll be never no living with him," he muttered in Greta's ear as he
passed out. "Don't know as I mind his going to plow--that's a job for a
man with two hands--but the like o' this isn't no master's wark."

"Dear me!" exclaimed the parson, who was examining his easy-chair
preparatory to sitting in it, "a new cushion--and a bag on the wall for
my specs--and a shelf for my pipes--and a--a--what do you call this?"

"An antimacassar, Mr. Christian," the lawyer said.

"I wondered was he ever going to see any difference," said Greta, with
dancing eyes.

"Dear me, and red curtains on the windows, and a clean print counterpane
on the settle--"

"A chintz--a chintz," interposed Greta, with a mock whimper.

"And the old rosewood clock in the corner as bright as a looking-glass,
and the big oak cabinet all shiny with oil--"

"Varnish, sir, varnish."

"And all the carvings on it as fresh as a new pin--St. Peter with his
great key, and the rich man with his money-bag trying to defy the fiery
furnace."

"Didn't I say you would scarcely know your own house when you came home
again?" said Greta.

She was busying herself at spreading the cloth on the round table and
laying the parson's supper.

Parson Christian was revolving on his slippered toes, his eyes full of
child-like amazement, and a maturer twinkle of knowingness lurking in
that corner of his aged orbs that was not directly under the fire of
the girl's sharp, delighted gaze.

"Deary me, have you a young lady at home, Mr. Bonnithorne?"

"You know I am a bachelor, Mr. Christian," said the lawyer, demurely.

"So am I--so am I. I never knew any better--not until our old friend
Mrs. Lowther died and left me to take charge of her daughter."

"Mother should have asked me to take charge of Mr. Christian, shouldn't
she, Mr. Bonnithorne?" said Greta, with roguish eyes.

"Well, there's something in that," said the parson, with a laugh. "Peter
was getting old and a bit rusty in the hinges, you know, and we were
likely to turn out a pair of old crows fit for nothing but to scare good
Christians from the district. But Greta came to the musty old house,
with its dust and its cobwebs, and its two old human spiders, like a
slant of sunlight on a muggy day. Here's supper--draw up your chair, Mr.
Bonnithorne, and welcome. It's my favorite dish--she knows it--barley
broth and a sheep's head, with boiled potatoes and mashed turnips. Draw
up your chair--but where's the pot of ale, Greta?"

"Peter! Peter!"

The other spider presently appeared, carrying a quart jug with a little
mountain of froth--a crater bubbling over and down the sides.

"Been delving for potatoes to-day, Peter?" said the parson.

Peter answered with a grumpy nod of his big head.

"How many bushels?"

"Maybe a matter of twelve," muttered Peter, shambling out.

Then the parson and his guest fell to.

"You're a happy man, Mr. Christian," said Mr. Bonnithorne, as Greta left
the room on some domestic errand.

Parson Christian shook his head.

"No call for grace," he said, "with all the luxuries of life thrown into
one's lap--that's the worst of living such a happy life. No trials, no
cross--nothing to say but 'Soul, take thine ease'--and that's bad when
you think of it.... Have some sheep's head, Mr. Bonnithorne; you've not
got any tongue--here's a nice sweet bit."

"Thank you, Mr. Christian. I came round to pay the ten shillings for
Joseph Parkinson's funeral sermon last Sunday sennight, and the one
pound two half-yearly allowance from the James Bolton charity for poor
clergy-men."

"Well, well! they may well say it never rains but it pours," said the
parson. "I called at Henry Walmsley's and Robert Atkinson's on my way
home from the crossroads, and they both paid me their Martinmas
quarterage--Henry five shillings, and Robert seven shillings--and when I
dropped in on Randal Alston to pay for the welting and soling of my
shoes he said they would come to one and sixpence, but that he owed me
one and seven-pence for veal that Peter sold him, so he paid me a penny,
and we are clear from the beginning of the world to this day."

"I also wanted to speak about our young friend Greta," said Mr.
Bonnithorne, softly. "I suppose you are reconciled to losing her?"

"Losing her?--Greta!" said the parson, laying down his knife. Then
smiling, "Oh, you mean when Paul takes her--of course, of course--only
the marriage will not be yet awhile--he said so himself."

"Marriage with Paul--no," said Mr. Bonnithorne, clearing his throat and
looking grave.

Parson Christian glanced into the lawyer's face uneasily and lapsed into
silence.

"Mr. Christian, you were left guardian of Greta Lowther by our dear
friend, her mother. It becomes your duty to see that she does the best
for her future welfare and happiness."

"Surely, surely!" said the parson.

"You are an old man, Mr. Christian, and she is a young girl. When you
and I are gone, Greta Lowther will still have the battle of life before
her."

"Please God--please God!" said the parson, faintly.

"Isn't it well that you should see that she shall have a husband that
can fight it with her side by side?"

"So she shall, so she shall--Paul is a manly fellow, and as fond of her
as of his own soul--nay, as I tell him, it's idolatry and a sin before
God, his love of the girl."

"You're wrong, Mr. Christian. Paul Ritson is no fit husband for Greta.
He is a ruined man. Since his father's death he has allowed the Ghyll to
go to wreck. It is mortgaged to the last blade of grass. I know it."

Parson Christian shifted his chair from the table and gazed into the
fire with bewildered eyes.

"I knew he was in trouble," he said, "but I didn't guess that things
wore so grave a look."

"Don't you see that he is shattered in mind as well as purse?" said the
lawyer.

"No, no; I can't say that I do see that. He's a little absent sometimes,
but that's all. When I talk of Matthew Henry and discuss his
commentaries, or recite the story of dear Adam Clarke, he is a
little--just a little forgetful--that's all--yes, that is all."

"Compared with his brother--what a difference!" said Mr. Bonnithorne.

"Well, there is a difference," said the parson.

"Such spirit, such intelligence--he'll be the richest man in Cumberland
one of these days. He has bought up a royalty that is sweating ore, and
now he is laying down pumping engines and putting up smelting-houses,
and he is getting standing orders to fix a line of railway for the ore
he is fetching up."

"And where did the money come from?" asked the parson; "the money to
begin?"

Mr. Bonnithorne glanced up sharply.

"It was his share of his father's personalty."

"A big tree from such a little acorn," said the parson, meditatively,
"and quick growth, too."

"There's no saying what intelligence and enterprise will not do in this
world, Mr. Christian," said the lawyer, who seemed less certain of the
next. "Hugh Ritson is a man of spirit and brains. Now, that's the
husband for Greta--that is, if you can get him--and I don't know that
you can--but if it were only possible--"

Parson Christian faced about.

"Mr. Bonnithorne," he said, gravely, "the girl is not up for sale, and
the richest man in Cumberland can't buy her. The thirty pieces of silver
for which Judas sold his master may have been smelted and coined afresh,
but not a piece of that money shall touch fingers of mine!"

"You mistake me, Mr. Christian, believe me, you do," protested the
lawyer, with an aggrieved expression. "I was speaking in our young
friend's interests. Whatever occurs, I beg of you, as a friend and
well-wisher of the daughter of Robert Lowther, now in his grave, never
to allow her to marry Paul Ritson."

"That shall be as God wills it," said the parson quietly.

The lawyer had risen and drawn on his great-coat.

"She can stay here with me," continued the parson.

"No, she should marry now," said Mr. Bonnithorne, stepping to the door.
"She's all but of age. It is hardly fair to keep her."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked the parson, a puzzled look on his face.

"She is rich and she is young. Her wealth can buy comforts, and her
youth win pleasures."

The good old Christian opened wide his great gray eyes with a blank
expression. He glanced vacantly about the simple room, rose to his feet,
and sat down again.

"I never thought of that before," he said, faintly, and staring long
into the fire.

There was a heavy foot on the path outside. The latch was lifted, and
Paul Ritson stepped into the room. At the sound of his step Greta
tripped through the inner door, all joy and eagerness, to welcome him.
The parson got up and held out both hands, the clouds gone from his
beaming face.

"Well, good-night," said the lawyer, opening the door. "I've four long
miles before me. And how dark! how very dark!"

Paul Ritson was in truth a changed man.

His face was pale and haggard, and his eyes were bleared and heavy. He
dropped with a listless weariness into the chair that Greta drew up to
the fire. When he smiled the lips lagged back to a gloomy repose, and
when he laughed the note of merriment rang hollow and fell short.

"Just in time for a game with me, my lad!" said the parson. "Greta,
fetch the chessboard and box."

The board was brought, the pieces fixed; the parson settled himself at
his ease, with slippers on the hearth-rug and a handkerchief across his
knee.

"Do you know, Paul, I heard a great parl about you to-day?"

"About me! Where?" asked Paul, without much curiosity in his tone.

"At Mr. Proudfoot's smithy, while I was turning the fallows in the
meadow down at the crossroads. Little Mr. Oglethorpe was saying that you
slept at the Pack Horse, in Keswick, the night before last; but Mr. Job
Sheepshanks, the letter-cutter, said nay, and they had high words
indeed, wherein Job called Mr. Oglethorpe all but his proper name, and
flung away in high dudgeon."

Paul moved his pawn and said, "I never slept at the Pack Horse in my
life, Mr. Christian."

Greta sat knitting at one side of the ingle. The kitten, with a bell
attached to a ribbon about its neck, sported with the bows of her dainty
slippers. Only the click of the needles, and the tinkle of the bell, and
the hollow tick of the great clock in the corner broke the silence.

At last Parson Christian drew himself up in his chair.

"Well, Paul, man, Paul--deary me, what a sad move! You're going back,
back, back; once you could beat me five games to four. Now I can run
away with you."

The game soon finished, amid a chuckle from the parson, a bantering word
from Greta, and a loud, forced laugh from Paul.

Parson Christian lifted from a shelf a ponderous tome bound in leather
and incased in green cloth.

"I must make my day's entry," he said, "and get off to bed. I was astir
before day-break this morning."

Greta crept up behind the old man, and looked over his shoulder as he
wrote:

   "Nov. 21.--Retired to my lodging-room last night, and commended my
   all to God, and lay down, and fell asleep; but Peter minded the
   heifer that was near to calving; so he came and wakened me, and we
   went down and sealed her, and foddered her, and milked her. Spent all
   day plowing the low meadow, Peter delving potatoes. Called at the
   Flying Horse, and sat while I drank one pot of ale and no more, and
   paid for it. Received ten shillings from Lawyer Bonnithorne for
   funeral sermon, and one pound two from Bolton charity; also five
   shillings quarterage from Henry Walmsley, and seven from Robert
   Atkinson, and a penny to square accounts from Randal Alston, and so
   retired to my closet at peace with all the world. Blessed be God."

The parson returned to its shelf the ponderous diary "made to view his
life and actions in," and called through the inner door for his bedroom
candle. A morose voice answered "Coming," and presently came.

"Thank you, Peter; and how's the meeting-house, and who preaches there
next Sunday, Peter?"

Peter grumbled out:

"I don't know as it's not yourself. I passed them my word as you'd
exhort 'em a' Sunday afternoon."

"But nobody has ever asked me. You should have mentioned the matter to
me first, Peter, before promising. But never mind, I'm willing, though
it's a poor discourse they can get from me."

Turning to Paul, who sat silent before the fire:

"Peter has left us and turned Methodist," said the parson; "he is now
Brother Peter Ward, and wants me to preach at the meeting-house. Well, I
won't say nay. Many a good ordained clergyman has been dissenting
minister as well. Good-night to you.... Peter, I wish you to get some
whipcord and tie up the reel of my fishing-rod--there it is, on the
rafters of the ceiling; and a bit more cord to go round the handle of my
whip--it leans against the leads of the neuk window; and, Peter, I'm
going to go to the mill with the oats to-morrow, and Robin Atkinson has
loaned me his shandry and mare. Robin always puts a bushel of grain into
the box, but it's light and only small feeding. I wish you to get a
bushel of better to mix with it, and make it more worth the mare's labor
to eat it. Good-night all; good night."

Peter grumbled something beneath his breath and shambled out.

"God bless him!" said Greta presently; and Paul, without lifting his
eyes from the fire, said quietly:

   "'Christe's lore, and His apostles twelve
   He taught; but first he followed it himselve.'"

Then there was silence in the little vicarage. Paul sat without
animation until Greta set herself to bewitch him out of his moodiness.
Her bright eyes, dancing in the rosy fire-light that flickered in the
room; her high spirits bubbling over with delicious teasing and joyous
sprightliness; her tenderness, her rippling laughter, her wit, her
badinage--all were brought to the defeat and banishment of Paul's
heaviness of soul. It was to no purpose. The gloom of the grave face
would not be conquered. Paul smiled slightly into the gleaming eyes, and
laughed faintly at the pouting lips, and stroked tenderly the soft hair
that was glorified into gold in the glint of the fire-light; but the old
sad look came back once and again.

Greta gave it up at last. She rose from the hassock at his feet.

"Sweetheart," she said, "I will go to bed. You are not well to-night, or
you are angry, or out of humor."

She waited a moment, but he did not speak. Then she made a feeble feint
of leaving the room.

At last Paul said:

"Greta, I have something to say."

She was back at her hassock in an instant. The laughter had gone from
her eyes, and left a dewy wistfulness.

"You are unhappy. You have been unhappy a long, long time, and have
never told me the cause. Tell me now."

The heavy face relaxed.

"What ever put that in your head, little one?" he asked, in a playful
tone, patting the golden hair.

"Tell me now," she said more eagerly. "Think of me as a woman fit to
share your sorrows, not as a child to be pampered and played with, and
never to be burdened with a man's sterner cares. If I am not fit to
know your troubles, I am not fit to be your wife. Tell me, Paul, what it
is that has taken the sunshine out of your life."

"The sunshine has not been taken out of my life yet, little woman--here
it is," said Paul, lightly, and he drew his fingers through the
glistening hair.

The girl's lucent eyes fell.

"You are playing with me," she said gravely; "you are always playing
with me. Am I so much a child? Are you angry with me?"

"Angry with you, little one? Hardly that, I think," said Paul, and his
voice sunk.

"Then tell me, sweetheart. You have something to say--what is it?"

"I have come to ask--"

"Yes?"

He hesitated. His heart was too full to speak. He began again.

"Do you think it would be too great a sacrifice to give up--"

"What?" she gasped.

"Do you remember all you told me about my brother Hugh--that he said he
loved you?"

"Well?" said Greta, with a puzzled glance.

"I think he spoke truly," said Paul, and his voice trembled.

She drew back with agony in every line of her face.

"Would it be ... do you think ... supposing I went away, far away, and
we were not to meet for a time, a long time--never to meet again--could
you bring yourself to love him and marry him?"

Greta rose to her feet in agitation.

"Him--love him!--you ask me that--you!"

The girl's voice broke down into sobs that seemed to shake her to the
heart's core.

"Greta, darling, forgive me; I was blind--I am ashamed."

"Oh, I could cry my eyes out!" she said, wiping away her tears. "Say you
were only playing with me, then; say you were only playing; do say so,
do!"

"I will say anything--anything but the same words again--and they nearly
killed me to say them."

"And was this what you came to say?" Greta inquired.

"No, no," he said, lifted out of his gloom by the excitement; "but
another thing, and it is easier now--ten times easier now--to say it.
Greta, do you think if I were to leave Cumberland and settle in another
country--Australia or Canada, or somewhere far enough away--that you
could give up home, and kindred, and friends, and old associations, and
all the dear past, and face a new life in a new world with me? Could you
do it?"

Her eyes sparkled. He opened his arms, and she flew to his embrace.

"Is this your answer, little one?" he said, with choking delight. And a
pair of streaming eyes looked up for a brief instant into his face.
"Then we'll say no more now. I'm to go to London to-morrow night, and
shall be away four days. When I return we'll talk again, and tell the
good soul who lies in yonder. Peace be with him, and sweet sleep, the
dear old friend!"

Paul lifted up his hat and opened the door. His gloom was gone; his eyes
were alive with animation. The worn cheeks were aflame. He stood erect,
and walked with the step of a strong man.

Greta followed him into the porch. The rosy fire-light followed her. It
flickered over her golden hair, and bathed her beauty in a ruddy glow.

"Oh, how free the air will breathe over there," he said, "when all this
slavery is left behind forever! You don't understand, little woman, but
some day you shall. What matter if it is a land of rain, and snow, and
tempest? It will be a land of freedom--freedom, and life, and love. And
now, Master Hugh, we shall soon be quits--very soon!"

His excitement carried him away, and Greta was too greedy of his joy to
check it with questions.

They stood together at the door. The night was still and dark; the trees
were noiseless, their prattling leaves were gone. Silent and empty as a
vacant street was the unseen road.

Paul held forth his hand to feel if it rained. A withered leaf floated
down from the eaves into his palm.

Then a footstep echoed on the path. It went on toward the village.
Presently the postman came trudging along from the other direction.

"Good-night, Tom o' Dint!" cried Paul, cheerily.

Tom stopped and hesitated.

"Who was it I hailed on the road?" he asked.

"When?"

"Just now."

"Nay, who was it?"

"I thought it was yourself."

The little man trundled on in the dark.

"My brother, no doubt," said Paul, and he pulled the door after him.



CHAPTER III.


The next morning a bright sun shone on the frosty landscape. The sky was
blue and the air was clear.

Hugh Ritson sat in his room at the back of the Ghyll, with its window
looking out on the fell-side and on the river under the leafless trees
beneath. The apartment had hardly the appearance of a room in a Cumbrian
homestead. It was all but luxurious in its appointments. The character
of its contents gave it something of the odor of a by-gone age. Besides
books on many shelves, prints, pictures in water and oil, and mirrors of
various shapes, there was tapestry on the inside of the door, a bust of
Dante above a cabinet of black oak, a piece of bas-relief in soapstone,
a gargoyle in wood, a brass censer, a mediaeval lamp with open mouth,
and a small ivory crucifix nailed to the wall above the fire.

Hugh himself sat at an organ, his fingers wandering aimlessly over the
keys, his eyes gazing vacantly out at the window. There was a knock at
the door.

"Come in," said the player. Mr. Bonnithorne entered and walked to a
table in the middle of the floor. Hugh Ritson finished the movement he
was playing, and then arose from the organ and drew an easy-chair to the
fire.

"Brought the deed?" he asked, quietly, Mr. Bonnithorne still standing.

"I have, my dear friend, and something yet more important."

Hugh glanced up: through his constant smile Mr. Bonnithorne was
obviously agitated. Dropping his voice, the lawyer added, "Copies of the
three certificates."

Hugh smiled faintly. "Good; we will discuss the certificates first," he
said, and drew his dressing-gown leisurely about him.

Mr. Bonnithorne began to unfold some documents. He paused; his eye was
keen and bright; he seemed to survey his dear friend with some
perplexity; his glance was shadowed by a certain look of distrust; but
his words were cordial and submissive, and his voice was, as usual, low
and meek. "What a wonderful man you are. And how changed! It is only a
few months since I had to whip up your lagging spirits at a great
crisis. And now you leave me far behind. Not the least anxious! How
different I am, to be sure. It was this very morning my correspondent
sent me the copies, and yet I am here, five miles from home. And when
the post arrived I declare to you that such was my eagerness to know if
our surmises were right that--"

Hugh interrupted in a quick, cold voice: "That you were too nervous to
open his letter, and fumbled it back and front for an hour--precisely."

Saying this, Hugh lifted his eyes quickly enough to encounter Mr.
Bonnithorne's glance, and when they fell again a curious expression was
playing about his mouth.

"Give me the papers," said Hugh, and he stretched forward his hand
without shifting in his seat.

"Well, really, you are--really--"

Hugh raised his eyes again. Mr. Bonnithorne paused, handed the
documents, and shuffled uneasily into a seat.

One by one Hugh glanced hastily over three slips of paper. "This is
well," he said, quietly.

"Well? I should say so, indeed. What could be better? I confess to you
that until to-day I had some doubts. Now I have none."

"Doubts? So you had doubts?" said Hugh, dryly "They disturbed your
sleep, perhaps?"

The lurking distrust in Mr. Bonnithorne's eyes openly displayed itself,
and he gazed full into the face of Hugh Ritson with a searching look
that made little parley with his smile. "Then one may take a man's
inheritance without qualm or conviction?"

Hugh pretended not to hear, and began to read aloud the certificates in
his hand. "Let me see, this is first--Registration of Birth."

Mr. Bonnithorne interrupted. "Luckily, very luckily, the registration of
birth is first."

Hugh read:

"Name, Paul. Date of birth, August 14, 1845. Place of birth, Russell
Square, London. Father's name, Robert Lowther. Mother's name, Grace
Lowther; maiden name, Ormerod."

"Then this comes second--Registration of Marriage."

Mr. Bonnithorne rose in his eagerness and rubbed his hands together at
the fire. "Yes, second," he said, with evident relish.

Hugh read calmly:

"Allan Ritson--Grace Ormerod--Register's office, Bow Street, Strand,
London--June 12, 1847."

"What do you say to that?" asked Mr. Bonnithorne, in an eager whisper.

Hugh continued without comment. "And this comes last--Registration of
Birth."

"Name, Hugh--March 25, 1848--Holme, Ravenglass, Cumberland--Allan
Ritson--Grace Ritson (Ormerod)."

"There you have the case in a nutshell," said Mr. Bonnithorne, dropping
his voice. "Paul is your half-brother, and the son of Lowther. You are
Allan Ritson's heir, born within a year of your father's marriage. Can
anything be clearer?"

Hugh remained silently intent on the documents. "Were these copies made
at Somerset House?" he asked.

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded.

"And your correspondent can be relied upon?"

"Assuredly. A solicitor in excellent practice."

"Was he told what items he had to find, or did he make a general
search?"

"He was told to find the marriage or marriages of Grace Ormerod and to
trace her offspring."

"And these were the only entries?"

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded again.

Hugh twirled the papers in his fingers, and then placed two of them side
by side. His face wore a look of perplexity. "I am puzzled," he said.

"What puzzles you?" said Mr. Bonnithorne. "Can anything be plainer?"

"Yes. By these certificates I am two and a half years younger than Paul.
I was always taught that there was only a year between us."

Mr. Bonnithorne smiled, and said in a superior tone:

"An obvious ruse."

"You think a child is easily deceived--true!"

Mr. Bonnithorne preserved a smiling face.

"Now, I will proceed to the payment of the legacy, and you, no doubt, to
the institution of your claim."

"No," said Hugh Ritson, with emphasis, rising to his feet.

"You know that if a bastard dies seized of an estate, the law justifies
his title. He is then the bastard eigne. You must eject this man."

"No," said Hugh Ritson again. The lawyer glanced up inquiringly, and
Hugh added: "That shall come later. Meantime the marriage must be
brought about."

"Your own marriage with Greta?"

"Paul's."

"Paul's?" said Mr. Bonnithorne, the very suppression of his tone giving
it additional emphasis.

"Paul's," repeated Hugh with grim composure. "He shall marry her."

The lawyer had risen once more, and was now face to face with Hugh
Ritson, glancing into his eyes with eager scrutiny.

"You cannot mean it?" he said at length.

"And why not?" said Hugh, placidly.

"Because Paul is her brother--at least, her half-brother."

"They don't know that."

Mr. Bonnithorne's breath seemed to be arrested.

"But we know it, and we can't stand by and witness their marriage!" he
said at length.

Hugh Ritson leaned with his back to the fire. "We can, and shall," he
said, and not a muscle of his face moved.

Mr. Bonnithorne surveyed his friend from head to foot, and then his own
countenance relaxed.

"You are trifling; but it will be no trifle to them when they learn that
their billing and cooing must end. And from such a cause, too. It will
be a terrible shock. The only question is, whether it would not be more
humane to say nothing of the impediment until we have brought about
another match. Last night, at Parson Christian's, I did what I could for
you."

Hugh smiled in return; a close observer might have seen that his was a
cold mockery of the lawyer's own smile.

"Yes, you were always humane, Bonnithorne, and now your sensibilities
are shocked. But when I spoke of marriage I meant the ceremony. Nothing
more."

Mr. Bonnithorne's eyes twinkled.

"I think I understand. You intend to separate them at the church
door--perhaps at the altar rail. It is a shocking revenge. My very skin
creeps!"

Hugh laughed lightly, and walked to the window. A slant of sunshine fell
on his upturned face. When he turned his head and broke silence he spoke
in a deep, harsh voice.

"I was humane, too. When she spoke of marriage with Paul, I hinted at an
impediment. She ridiculed the idea; scoffed at it." Another light laugh,
and then a stern solemnity. "She insulted me--palpably, grossly,
brutally. What did she say? Didn't I tell you before? Why, she said--ha!
ha! would you believe it?--she said she'd rather marry a plowboy than
such a gentleman as me. That was her very word."

Hugh Ritson's face was now dark with passion, while laughter was on his
lips.

"She shall marry her plowboy, to her lifelong horror and disgrace. I
promised her as much, and I will keep my word!"

"A terrible revenge!" muttered the lawyer, twitching uneasily at his
finger-nails.

"Tut! You don't know to what lengths love may go. Even the feeble infant
hearts of men whose minds are a blank can carry them any length in the
devotion or the revenge of love!" He paused, and then added in a low
tone, "She has outraged my love!"

"Surely not past forgiveness?" interrupted Mr. Bonnithorne, nervously.
"It would be a lifelong injury. And she is a woman, too."

Hugh faced about.

"But he is a man; and I have my reckoning with him also." Hugh Ritson
strode across the room, and then stopped suddenly. "Look you,
Bonnithorne, you said that with all your confidence on the night of my
father's death, you had your doubts until to-day. But I had never a
moment's doubt. Why? Because I had assurance from my mother's own lips.
To me? No, but worse; to him. He knows well he is not my father's heir.
He has known it since the hour of my father's death. He knows that I
know it. Yet he has kept the lands to this day." Another uneasy
perambulation. "Do you think of that when you talk of revenge?
Manliness? He has none. He is a pitiful, truculent, groveling coward,
ready to buy profit at any price. He has robbed me of my inheritance. He
stands in my place. He is a living lie. Revenge? It will be
retribution!"

Hugh Ritson's composure was gone. Mr. Bonnithorne, not easily cowed,
dropped his eyes before him. "Terrible, terrible!" he muttered again,
and added with more assurance: "But you know I have always urged you to
assert your right to the inheritance."

Hugh was striding about the room, his infirm foot trailing heavily after
him.

"Bonnithorne," he said, pausing, "when a woman has outraged the poor
weak heart of one of the waifs whom fate flings into the gutter, he
sometimes throws a cup of vitriol into her face, saying, 'If she is not
for me, she is not for another;' or 'Where she has sinned, there let her
suffer.' That is revenge; it is the feeble device of a man who thinks in
his simple soul that when beauty is gone loathing is at hand." Another
light trill of laughter.

"But the cup of retribution is not to be measured by the cup of
vitriol."

Mr. Bonnithorne fumbled his papers nervously, and repeated beneath his
breath, "Terrible, terrible!"

"She has wronged me, Bonnithorne, and he has wronged me. They shall
marry and they shall separate; and henceforward they shall walk together
and yet apart, a gulf dividing them from each other, yet a wider gulf
dividing both from the world; and so on until the end, and he and I and
she and I are quits."

"Terrible, terrible!" Mr. Bonnithorne mumbled again. "All nature rises
against it."

"Is it so? Then be it so," said Hugh, the flame subsiding from his
cheek, and a cold smile creeping afresh about his lips. "Your sense of
justice would have been answered, perhaps, if I had turned this bastard
adrift penniless and a beggar, stopped the marriage, and taken by
strategy the woman I could not win by love." The smile faded away. "That
would have been better than the cup of vitriol, but not much better. You
are a man of the world."

"It is a terrible revenge," the lawyer muttered again--this time with a
different intonation.

"I repeat, they shall marry. No more than that," said Hugh. "I would
outrage nature as little as I would shock the world."

The sun had crept round to where the organ stood in one corner of the
room. Hugh's passion had gradually subsided. He sidled on to the stool
and began to play softly. A knock came to the door, and old Laird Fisher
entered.

"The gentleman frae Crewe is down at the pit about t' engine in the
smelting-mill," said the old man.

"Say I shall be with him in half an hour," said Hugh, and Laird Fisher
left the room. Then Hugh put the papers in his pocket.

"We have wasted too much time over the certificates--they can
wait--where's the deed of mortgage?--I must have the money to pay for
the new engine."

"It is here," said the lawyer, and he spread a parchment on the table.

Hugh glanced hastily over it, and touched a hand-bell. When the maid
appeared he told her to go to Mr. Paul, who was thatching in the
stack-yard, and say he wished to see him at once. Then he returned to
the organ and played a tender air. His touch was both light and
strenuous.

"Any news of his daughter?" said Mr. Bonnithorne, sinking his voice to a
whisper.

"Whose daughter?" said Hugh, pausing and looking over his shoulder.

"The old man's--Laird Fisher's."

"Strangely enough--yes. A letter came this morning."

Hugh Ritson stopped playing and thrust his hand into an inner pocket.
But Mr. Bonnithorne hastened to show that he had no desire to pry into
another man's secrets.

"Pray don't trouble. Perhaps you'd rather not--just tell me in a word
how things are shaping."

Hugh laughed a little, unfolded a sheet of scented writing-paper, with
ornamented border, and began to read:

"'I am writing to thank you very much--' Here," tossing the letter to
the lawyer, "read it for yourself." Then he resumed his playing.

Mr. Bonnithorne fixed his nose-glasses, and read:

   "I am writing to thank you very much for your kind remembrance of me,
   it was almost like having your company, I live in hopes of seeing you
   soon, when are you coming to me? Sometimes I think you will never,
   never come, and then I can't help crying though I try not to, and I
   don't cry much. I don't go out very often London is far away, six
   miles, there are nice people here and nice children. Only think when
   my trouble is over and you come and take me home. How is poor
   father, does he look much older does he fret for me now? I wonder
   will he know me. I am quite well, only there is something the matter
   in my eyes. Sometimes when I wake up I can't see plain. Don't be long
   writing. My eyes are very sore and red to-day, and it is oh so lonely
   in this strange place. Mrs. Drayton is kind to me. Good-bye. She has
   a son, but he is always at meets, that is races, and I have never
   seen him. Write soon to your loving Mercy. The time is near."

Hugh played on while Mr. Bonnithorne read. The lawyer, when he came to
the end, handed the letter back with the simple comment:

"Came this morning, you say? It was written last Tuesday--nearly a week
ago."

Hugh nodded his head over his shoulder, and continued to play. He swayed
to and fro with an easy grace to the long sweeps of the music until the
door opened sharply, and Paul entered with a firm step. Then he rose,
picked a pen from the inkstand, and dipped it in the ink.

Paul wore a suit of rough, light cloth, with leggins, and a fur cap,
which he did not remove. His face was pale; decision sat on every line
of it.

"Excuse me, Mr. Bonnithorne, if I don't shake hands," he said in his
deep voice; "I'm at work, and none too clean."

"This," said Hugh Ritson, twiddling the pen in his fingers, "this is the
deed I spoke of yesterday. You sign there," pointing to a blank space in
front of a little wafer.

Then he placed one hand firmly on the upper part of the parchment, as if
to steady it, and held out the pen.

Paul made no approach to accepting it. He stretched forward, took hold
of the document, and lifted it, casting Hugh's hand aside.

Hugh watched him closely.

"The usual formality," he said, lightly; "nothing more."

Paul passed his eye rapidly over the deed. Then he turned to the lawyer.

"Is this the fourth or fifth mortgage that has been drawn?" he inquired,
still holding the parchment before him.

"Really, I can't say--I presume it is the--really, I hardly remember--"

Mr. Bonnithorne's suavity of tone and customary smile broke down into
silence and a look of lowering anxiety.

Paul glanced steadfastly into his face.

"But I remember," he said, with composure more embarrassing than
violence. "It is the fifth. The Holme farm was first, and then came
Goldscope. Hindscarth was mortgaged to the last ear of corn, and then it
was the turn for Coledale. Now, it's the Ghyll itself, I see, house and
buildings."

Hugh Ritson's face underwent a change, but his tone was unruffled as he
said:

"If you please, we will come to business." Then with a sinister smile,
"You resemble the French counsel--you begin every speech at the
Creation. 'Let us go on to the Deluge,' said the judge."

"To the Deluge!" said Paul; and he turned his head slowly to where Hugh
stood, holding the pen in one hand and rapping the table with the
knuckles of the other. "Rather unnecessary. We're already under water."

The passion in Hugh Ritson's face dropped to a look of sullen anger. But
he mastered his voice, and said quietly:

"The engineer from Crewe is waiting for me at the pit. I have wasted the
whole morning over these formalities. Come, come, let us have done. Mr.
Bonnithorne will witness the signature."

Paul had not shifted his steadfast gaze from his brother's face. Hugh
dodged his glance at first, and then met it with an expression of
audacity.

Still holding the parchment before him, Paul said quietly:

"To-night I leave home for London, and shall be absent four days. Can
this business wait until my return?"

"No, it can't," said Hugh with emphasis.

Paul dropped his voice.

"Don't take that tone with me, I warn you. Can this business wait?"

"I mean what I say--it can not."

"On my return I may have something to tell you that will affect this and
the other deeds. Once more, can it wait?"

"Will you sign--yes or no?" said Hugh.

Paul looked steady and straight into his brother's eyes.

"You are draining away my inheritance--you are--"

At this word Hugh's smoldering temper was afire.

"Your inheritance?" he broke out in his bitterest tones. "It is late in
the day to talk of that. Your inheritance--"

But he stopped. The expression of audacity gave place to a look of blank
bewilderment. Paul had torn the parchment from top to bottom, and flung
it on the table, and in an instant was walking out of the room.



CHAPTER IV.


Paul Ritson returned to the stack-yard, and worked vigorously three
hours longer. A stack had been stripped by a recent storm, and he
thatched it afresh with the help of a laborer and a boy. Then he stepped
indoors, changed his clothes, and filled a traveling-bag. When this was
done he went in search of the stableman. Natt was in his stable,
whistling as he polished his harness.

"Bring the trap round to the front at seven," he said, "and put my bag
in at the back; you'll find it in the hall."

By this time the night had closed in, and the young moon showed faintly
over the head of Hindscarth. The wind was rising.

Paul returned to the house, ate, drank, and smoked. Then he rose and
walked upstairs and knocked at the door of his mother's room.

Mrs. Ritson was alone. A lamp burned on the table and cast a sharp white
light on her face. The face was worn and very pale. Lines were plowed
deep on it. She was kneeling, but she rose as Paul entered. He bent his
head and kissed her forehead. There was a book before her; a rosary was
in her hand. The room was without fire. It was chill and cheerless, and
only sparsely furnished--sheep-skin rugs on the floor, texts on the
walls, a carved oak clothes-chest in one corner, two square high-backed
chairs and a small table, a bed, and no more.

"I'm going off, mother," said Paul; "the train leaves in an hour."

"When do you return?" said Mrs. Ritson.

"Let me see--this is Saturday; I shall be back on Wednesday evening."

"God be with you!" she said in a fervent voice.

"Mother, I spoke to Greta last night, and she promised. We shall soon be
free of this tyranny. Already the first link of the chain is broken. He
called me into his room this morning to sign a mortgage on the Ghyll,
and I refused."

"And yet you are about to go away and leave everything in his hands!"

Mrs. Ritson sat down and Paul put his hand tenderly on her head.

"Better that than to have it wrested from me inch by inch--to hold the
shadow of an inheritance while he grasps the substance. He knows all.
His dark hints are not needed to tell me that."

"Yet he is silent," said Mrs. Ritson, and her eyes fell on to her book.
"And surely it is for my sake that he is so--if in truth he knows all.
Is he not my son? And is not my honor his honor?"

Paul shook his head.

"If the honor of twenty mothers, as true and dear as you, were the
stepping-stones to his interest, over those stones he would go. No, no;
it is not honor, whether yours or his, that keeps him silent."

Mrs. Ritson glanced up.

"Are you not too hard on him? He is guiltless in the eye of the world,
and that at least should plead for him. Forgive him. Do not leave your
brother in anger!"

"I have nothing to forgive," said Paul. "Even if he knew nothing, I
should still go away and leave everything. I could not live any longer
under the shadow of this secret, bound by an oath. I would go, as I go
now, with sealed lips, but a free heart. He should have his own before
man--and I mine, before God."

Mrs. Ritson sat in silence; her lips trembled perceptibly, and her
eyelids quivered.

"I shall soon leave you, my dear son," she said in a tremulous voice.

"Nay, nay, you shall not," he answered in an altered tone, half of
raillery, half of tenderness; "you are coming with us--with Greta and
me--and over there the roses will bloom again in your white cheeks."

Mrs. Ritson shook her head.

"I shall soon leave you, dearest," she repeated, and told her beads.

He tried to dispel her sadness; he laughed, and she smiled feebly; he
patted her head playfully. But she came back to the same words: "I shall
soon leave you."

The moon was shining at the full when he lifted his hat to go. It was
sailing through a sky of fibrous cloud. The wind was high, and rattled
the empty boughs of the tree against the window. Keen frost was in the
air.

"I shall see my father's old friend in London on Monday, and be back on
Wednesday. Good-bye. Keep a good heart. Good-bye."

She wept on his breast and clung to him.

"Good-bye, good-bye!" he repeated, and triad to disengage himself from
her embrace.

But she clung closer. It was as if she was to see him no more.

"Good-bye!" she sobbed, and with the tears in his own eyes he laughed at
her idle fears.

"Ha! ha! ha! one would think I was going for life--ha! ha--"

There was a scream on the frosty air without. His laugh died on his
lips.

"What was that?" he said, and drew a sharp breath.

She lifted her face, whiter now than ever, and with tearless eyes.

"It was the cry of the bird that foretells death," she said in a
whisper.

He laughed a little--boisterously.

"Nay, nay; you will be well and happy yet." Then he broke away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Natt was sitting in the trap, and it was drawn up in the court-yard to
the door. He was looking through the darkness at some object in the
distance, and when Paul came up he was not at first conscious of his
master's presence.

"What were you looking at, Natt?" said Paul, pulling on his gloves.

"I war wond'rin' whether lang Dick o' the Syke had kindled a fire
to-night, or whether yon lowe on the side of the Causey were frae the
new smelting-house."

Paul glanced over the horse's head. A deep glow stood out against the
fell. All around was darkness.

"The smelting-house, I should say," said Paul, and jumped to his seat
beside Natt.

By one of the lamps that the trap carried, he looked at his watch.

"A quarter past seven. It will be smart driving, but you can give the
mare her own time coming back."

Then he took the reins, and in another moment they were gone.



CHAPTER V.


At eight o'clock that night the sky was brilliantly lighted up, and the
sound of many voices was borne on the night wind. The red flare came
from the Syke; the mill was afire. Showers of sparks and sheets of flame
were leaping and streaming into the sky. Men and women were hurrying to
and fro, and the women's shrill cries mingled with the men's shouts. At
intervals the brightness of the glare faded, and then a column of
choking smoke poured out and was borne away on the wind. Dick, the
miller, was there, with the scorching heat reddening his wrathful face.
John Proudfoot had raised a ladder against the mill, and, hatchet in
hand, was going to cut away the cross-trees; but the heat drove him
back. The sharp snap of the flames told of timbers being ripped away.

"No use--it's gone," said the blacksmith, dragging the ladder behind
him.

"I telt them afore what their damned smelting-house would do for me!"
said the miller, striding about in his impotent rage.

Parson Christian was standing by the gate on the windward side of the
mill-yard, with Laird Fisher beside him, looking on in silence at the
leaping flames.

"The wind is from the south," he said, "and a spark of the hot refuse
shot down the bank has been blown into the mill."

The mill was a wooden structure, and the fire held it like a serpent in
its grip. People were coming and going from the darkness into the red
glare, and out of the glare into the darkness. Among them was one
stalwart figure that none noticed in the general confusion.

"Have you a tarpaulin?" said this man, addressing those about him.

"There's a big one on the stack at Coledale," answered another.

"Run for it!"

"It's of no use."

"Damme, run for it!"

The tone of authority was not to be ignored. In three minutes a huge
tarpaulin was being dragged behind a dozen men.

"Lay hold of the ropes and let us dip it into the river," shouted the
same voice above the prevailing clangor. It was done. Dripping wet, the
tarpaulin was pulled into the mill-yard.

"Where's your ladder? Quick!"

The ladder was raised against the scorching wooden walls.

"Be ready to throw me the ropes," shouted the deep voice.

A firm step was set on the lowest rung. There was a crackle of glass,
and then a cloud of smoke streamed out of a broken window. For an
instant the bright glare was obscured. But it burst forth afresh, and
leaped with great white tongues into the sky.

"The sheets are caught!" shouted the miller.

They were flying around with the wind. A line of flame seemed to be
pursuing them.

"Who's the man on the ladder--dusta know?" cried John Proudfoot.

"I dunnot," answered the miller.

At that instant Hugh Ritson came up. The smoke was gone, and now a dark
figure could be dimly seen high up on the mill-side. He seized the
cross-trees with both hands and swung himself on to the raking roof.

"Now for the ropes!" he shouted.

The flames burst out again and illumined the whole sky; the dark mass of
the fells could be seen far overhead, and the waters of the river in the
bed of the valley glowed like amber. The stalwart figure stood out in
the white light against the red glare, holding on to the cross-trees on
the top of the mill, and with a wheel of crackling fire careering beside
him.

There could be no doubt of his identity, with the light on his strong
face and tawny hair.

"It's Paul Ritson!" shouted many a voice.

"Damme, the ropes--quick!"

The ropes were thrown and caught, and thrown again to the other side.
Then the dripping tarpaulin was drawn over the mill until it covered the
top and half the sides. The wheel burned out, and the iron axle came to
the ground with a plunge.

The fire was conquered; the night sky grew black; the night wind became
voiceless. Then the busy throng had time for talk.

"Where's Paul?" asked Parson Christian.

"Ay, where is he?" said the miller.

"He's a stunner, for sure--where is he?" said the blacksmith.

None knew. When the flames began to fade he was missed. He had
gone--none knew where.

"Nine o'clock," said Parson Christian, turning his face toward home.
"Sharp work, while it lasted, my lads!"

Then there was the sound of wheels, and Natt drove his trap to the gate
of the mill-yard.

"You've just missed it, Natt," said John Proudfoot; "where have you
been?"

"Driving the master to the train."

Hugh Ritson was standing by. Every one glanced from him to Natt.

"The train?--master? What do you mean? Who?"

"Who? Why, Master Paul," said Natt, with a curl of the lip. "I reckon it
could scarce be Master Hugh."

"When? What train?" said Parson Christian.

"The eight o'clock to London."

"Eight o'clock? London?"

"Don't I speak plain?"

"And has he gone?"

"I's warrant he's gone."

Consternation sat on every face but Natt's.



CHAPTER VI.


Next day was Sunday, and after morning service a group of men gathered
about the church porch to discuss the events of the night before. In the
evening the parlor of the Flying Horse was full of dalespeople, and many
a sapient theory was then and there put forth to account for the
extraordinary coincidence of the presence of Paul Ritson at the fire and
his alleged departure by the London train.

Hugh Ritson was not seen abroad that day. But early on Monday morning he
hastened to the stable, called on Natt to saddle a horse, sprung on its
back and galloped away toward the town.

The morning was bitterly cold, and the rider was buttoned up to the
throat. The air was damp; a dense veil of vapor lay on the valley and
hid half the fells; the wintery dawn, with its sunless sky, had not the
strength to rend it asunder; the wind had veered to the north, and was
now dank and icy. A snow-storm was coming.

The face of Hugh Ritson was wan and jaded. He leaned heavily forward in
the saddle; the biting wind was in his eyes; he had a fixed look, and
seemed not to see the people whom he passed on the road.

Dick o' the Syke was grubbing among the fallen wreck of the charred and
dismantled mill. When Hugh rode past him he lifted his eyes and muttered
an oath beneath his breath. Old Laird Fisher was trundling a wheelbarrow
on the bank of the smelting-house. The headgear of the pit-shaft was
working. As Hugh passed the smithy, John Proudfoot was standing, hammer
in hand, by the side of a wheelless wagon upheld by poles. John was
saying, "Wonder what sec a place Mister Paul slept a' Saturday neet--I
reckon that wad settle all;" and a voice from inside the smithy
answered: "Nowt of the sort, John; it's a fate, I tell, tha." The
peddler's pony was standing by the hasp of the gate.

Never once lifting his eyes, with head bent and compressed lips, Hugh
Ritson rode on in the teeth of the coming storm. There was another storm
within that was uprooting every emotion of his soul. When he came to the
vicarage he drew up sharply and rapped heavily on the gate. Brother
Peter came shambling out at the speed of six steps a minute.

"Mr. Christian at home?" asked Hugh.

"Don't know as he is," said Peter.

"Where is he?"

"Don't know as I've heard."

"Tell him I'll call as I come back, in two hours."

"Don't know as I'll see him."

"Then go and look for him!" shouted Hugh, impatiently bringing down the
whip on the flank of the horse.

Brother Peter Ward turned about sulkily.

"Don't know as I will," he grumbled, and trudged back into the house.

Then Hugh Ritson rode on. A thin sleet began to fall, and it drove hard
into his face. The roads were crisp, and the horse sometimes stumbled;
but the rider pressed on.

In less than half an hour he was riding into the town. The people who
were standing in groups in the market-place parted and made space for
him. They hailed him with respectful salutations. He responded curtly or
not at all. Notwithstanding his long ride, his face was still pale, and
his lips were bloodless. He stopped at the court-yard leading to the
front of the Pack Horse. Old Willie Calvert, the innkeeper, stood there,
and touched his cap when Hugh approached him.

"My brother Paul slept here a few nights ago, I hear?" said Hugh.

"So he did," said the innkeeper.

"What night was it?"

"What night? Let me see--it were a week come Wednesday."

"Did you see him yourself?"

"Nay; I were lang abed."

"Who did--Mistress Calvert?"

"Ey--she did for sure--Janet" (calling up the court). "She'll tell ye
all the ins and oots."

A comfortable-looking elderly body in a white cap and print apron came
to the door.

"You saw my brother--Paul, you know--when he slept at your house last
Wednesday night?"

"Yes, surely," said Janet.

"What did he say?"

"Nay, nowt. It was verra late--maybe twelve o'clock--and I was bolting
up and had the cannel in my hand to get me to bed, and a rap came, and
when I opened the door who should it be but Mister Paul. He said he
wanted a bed, but he seem't to be in the doldrums and noways keen for a
crack, so I ax't na questions, but just took him to the little green
room over the snug and bid him good-night."

"And next morning--did you see him then?" said Hugh.

"No, but a morning when he paid for his bed for he had nowther bite nor
sup in the house."

"Did he look changed?--anything different about him?"

"Nay, nowt but in low feckle someways, and maybe summat different
dressed."

"How different? What did he wear that night?"

Pale as Hugh Ritson's face had been before, it was now white as a face
in moonlight.

"Maybe a pepper and salt tweed coat, but I can't rightly call to mind at
the minute."

Hugh's great eyes stared out of his head. His tongue cleaved to his
mouth, and for the moment denied him speech.

"Thank you, Mistress Calvert. Here, Willie, my man, drink my health with
the missis."

So saying, he tossed a silver coin to the innkeeper, wheeled about, and
rode off.

"I can not mak' nowther head nor tail o' this," said the old man.

"Of what--the brass?" said Janet.

"Nay, but that's soond enough, for sure, auld lass."

"Then just thoo leave other folks's business to theirselves, and come
thy ways in with thee. Thoo wert allus thrang a-meddlin'."

The innkeeper had gone indoors and drawn himself a draught of ale.

"I allus like to see the ins and oots o' things," he observed, with a
twinkle in his eye, and the pot to his mouth.

"Mind as you're not ower keen at seein' the ins and oots o' that
pewter."

"I'll be keerful, auld lass."

Hugh Ritson's horse went clattering over the stones of the streets until
it came to the house of Mr. Bonnithorne. Then Hugh drew up sharply,
jumped from the saddle, tied the reins to the loop in the gate-pier, and
rang the bell. In another minute he was standing in the breakfast-room,
which was made comfortable by a glowing fire. Mr. Bonnithorne, in
dressing-gown and slippers, rose from his easy-chair with a look of
surprise.

"Did you hear of the fire at the mill on Saturday night?" asked Hugh in
a faltering voice.

Mr. Bonnithorne nodded his head.

"Very unlucky, very," said the lawyer. "The man will want recompense,
and the law will support him."

"Tut!--a bagatelle!" said Hugh, with a gesture of impatience.

"Of course, if you say so--"

"You've heard nothing about Paul?"

Mr. Bonnithorne answered with a shake of his yellow head, and a look of
inquiry.

Then Hugh told him of the man at the fire, and of Natt's story when he
drove up in the trap. He spoke with visible embarrassment, and in a
voice that could scarcely support itself. But the deep fear that had
come over him had not yet taken hold of the lawyer. Mr. Bonnithorne
listened with a bland smile of amused incredulity. Hugh stopped with a
shudder.

"What are you thinking?" he asked, nervously.

"That Natt lied."

"As well say that the people at the fire lied."

"No; you yourself saw Paul there."

"Bonnithorne, like all keen-eyed men, you are short-sighted. I have
something more to tell you. The people at the Pack Horse say that Paul
slept at their house last Wednesday night. Now I know that he slept at
home."

Mr. Bonnithorne smiled again.

"A mistake as to the night," he said; "what can be plainer?"

"Don't wriggle; look the facts in the face."

"Facts?--a coincidence in evidence--a common error."

"Would to God it were!" Hugh strode about the room in obvious
perturbation, his eyes bent on the ground. "Bonnithorne, what is the
place where the girl Mercy lives?"

"An inn at Hendon."

"Do they call it the Hawk and Heron?"

"They do. The old woman Drayton keeps it."

Hugh Ritson's step faltered. He listened with a look of stupid
consternation.

"Did I never tell you that the peddler, Oglethorpe, said he saw Paul at
the Hawk and Heron in Hendon?"

Mr. Bonnithorne dropped back into his seat without a word. Conviction
was taking hold of him.

"What do the folks say?" he asked at length.

"Say? That it was a ghost, a wraith, twenty things--the idiots!"

"What do you say, Mr. Ritson?"

"That it was another man."

The lawyer remained sitting, his eyes fixed and vacant.

"What then? What if it is another man? Resemblances are common. We are
all brothers. For example, there are numbers of persons like myself in
the world. Odd, isn't it?"

"Very," said Hugh, with a hard laugh.

"And what if there exists a man resembling your half-brother, Paul, so
closely that on three several occasions he has been mistaken for him by
competent witnesses--what does it come to?"

Hugh paused.

"Come to. God knows! I want to find out. Who is this man? What is he?
Where does he come from? What is his business here? Why, of all places
on this wide earth, does he, of all men alive, haunt my house like a
shadow?"

Hugh Ritson was still visibly perturbed.

"There's more in this matter than either of us knows," he said.

Mr. Bonnithorne watched him for a moment in silence.

"I think you draw a painful inference--what is it?" he asked.

"What?" repeated Hugh, and added, absently, "who can tell?"

Up and down the room he walked restlessly, his eyes bent on the floor,
his face drawn down into lines. At length he stood and picked up the hat
he had thrown on the couch.

"Bonnithorne," he said, "you and I thought we saw into the heart of a
mystery. Heaven pity us for blind moles! I fear we saw nothing."

"Why--what--how so--when--" Mr. Bonnithorne stammered, and then stopped
short.

Hugh had walked out of the room and out of the house. He leaped into the
saddle and rode away.

The wind had risen yet higher; it blew an icy blast from behind him as
he cantered home. Through the hazy atmosphere a cloud of dun, vaporish
red could be seen trailing over the dim fells. It poised above the ball
crown of the Eel Crags like a huge supernatural bird with outstretched
wings.

Hugh held the reins with half-frozen hands. He barely felt the biting
cold. His soul was in a tumult, and he was driven on by fears that were
all but insupportable. For months a thick veil had overspread his
conscience, and now, in an instant, and by an accident, it was being
rent asunder. He had lulled his soul to sleep. But no opiate of
sophistry could keep the soul from waking. His soul was waking now. He
began to suspect that he had been acting like a scoundrel.

At the vicarage he stopped, dismounted, and entered. Standing in the
hall, he overheard voices in the kitchen. They were those of Brother
Peter and little Jacob Berry, the tailor, who had been hired to sew by
the day, and was seated on the dresser.

"I've heard of such sights afore," the little tailor was saying. "When
auld Mother Langdale's son was killed at wrustlin' down Borrowdale way,
and Mother Langdale was abed with rheumatis, she saw him come to the
bed-head a-dripping wet with blood, as plain as plain could be, and in
less nor an hour after they brought him home to the auld body on a
shutter--they did, for sure."

"Shaf on sec stories! I don't know as some folks aren't as daft as
Mother Langdale herself!" Peter muttered in reply.

Hugh Ritson beat the door heavily with his riding-whip.

"Parson Christian at home now?" he asked, when Peter opened it.

"Been and gone," said Peter.

"Did you tell him I meant to come back?"

"Don't know as I did."

Hugh's whip came down impatiently on his leggins.

"Do you know anything?" he asked. "Do you know that you are now talking
to a gentleman?"

"Don't know as I do," mumbled Peter, backing in again.

"If Miss Greta is at home tell her I should be glad to speak with
her--do you hear?" Peter disappeared.

Hugh was left alone in the hall. He waited some minutes, thinking that
Peter was carrying his message. Presently he overheard that worthy
reopening the discussion on Mother Langdale's sanity with little Jacob
in the kitchen. The deep damnation he desired just then for Brother
Peter was about to be indicated by another lusty rap on the kitchen
door, when the door of the parlor opened, and Greta herself stood on
the threshold with a smile and an outstretched hand.

"I thought it was your voice," she said, and led the way in.

"Your cordial welcome heaps coals of fire on my head, Greta. I cannot
forget in what spirit we last talked and parted."

"Let us think no more about it," said Greta, and she drew a chair for
him to the fire.

He remained standing, and as if benumbed by strong feeling.

"I have come to speak of it--to ask pardon for it--I was in the wrong,"
he said, falteringly.

She did not respond, but sat down with drooping eyes. He paused, and
there was an ominous silence.

"You don't know what I suffered, or what I suffer still. You are very
happy. I am a miserable man. Greta, do you know what it is to love
without being loved? How can you know? It is torture beyond the gift of
words--misery beyond the relief of tears. It is not jealousy; that is no
more than a vulgar kind of envy. It is a nameless, measureless torment."

He paused again. She did not speak. His voice grew tremulous.

"I'm not one of the fools who think that the souls that are created for
each other must needs come together--that destiny draws them from the
uttermost parts of the earth--that, trifle as they will with their best
hopes, fate is stronger than they are, and true to the pole-star of
ultimate happiness. I know the world too well to believe nonsense like
that. I know that every day, every hour, men and women are casting
themselves away--men on the wrong women, women on the wrong men--and
that all this is a tangle that will never, never be undone."

He stepped up to where she sat and dropped his voice to a whisper.

"Greta--permit me to say it--I loved you dearly. Would to Heaven I had
not! My love was not of yesterday. It was you and I, I and you. That was
the only true marriage possible to either of us from world's end to
world's end. But Paul came between us; and when I saw you give yourself
to the wrong man--"

Greta had risen to her feet.

"You say you come to ask pardon for what you said, but you really come
to repeat it." So saying, she made a show of leaving the room.

Hugh stood awhile in silence. Then he threw off his faltering tone and
drew himself up.

"I have come," he said, "to warn you before it is too late. I have come
to say, while it is yet time, never marry my brother, for as sure as God
is above us, you will repent it with unquenchable tears if you do."

Greta's eyes flashed with an expression of disdain.

"No," she said; "you have come to threaten me--a sure sign that you
yourself have some secret cause for fear."

It was a home-thrust, and Hugh was hit.

"Greta, I repeat it, you are marrying the wrong man."

"What right have you to say so?"

"The right of one who could part you forever with a word."

Greta was sore perplexed. Like a true woman, she would have given half
her fortune at that moment to probe this mystery. But her indignation
got the better of her curiosity.

"It is false!" she said.

"It is true!" he answered. "I could speak the word that would part you
wider than the poles asunder."

"Then I challenge you to speak it," she exclaimed.

They faced each other, pale, and with quivering lips.

"It is not my purpose. I have warned you," he said.

"You do not believe your own warning," she answered.

He winced, but said not a word.

"You have come to me with an idle threat, and fear is written on your
own face."

He drew his breath sharply, and did not reply.

"Whatever it is, you do not believe it."

He was making for the door. He came back a step.

"Shall I speak the word?" he said. "Can you bear it?"

"Leave me," she said, "and carry your falsehood with you!"

He was gone in an instant. Then her anger cooled directly, and her
woman's curiosity came back with a hundred-fold rebound.

"Gracious Heaven! what did he mean?" she thought, and the hot flush
mounted to her eyes. She had half a mind to call him back. "Could it be
true?" The tears were now rolling down her cheeks. "He has a secret
power over Paul--what is it?" She ran to the door. "Hugh! Hugh!" He was
gone. The galloping feet of his horse were heard faint in the distance.
She went back into the house and sat down, and wept galling tears of
pride and vexation.



CHAPTER VII.


At midday Parson Christian came home from the fields to dinner.

"I've been away leading turf," he said, "from Cole Moss, for Robin
Atkinson, to pay him for loaning me his gray mare on Saturday when I
fetched my grain to the mill. Happen most of it is burned up,
though--but that's no fault of Robin's. So now we neither owe t'other
anything, and we're straight from the beginning of the world."

Greta was bustling about with the very efficient hindrance of Brother
Peter's assistance, to get the dinner on the table. She smiled, and
sometimes tossed her fair head mighty jauntily, and laughed out loud
with a touch of rattling gayety. But there were rims of red around her
bleared eyes, and her voice, beneath all its noisy merriment, had a
tearful lilt.

The parson observed this, but said nothing about it.

"Coming round by Harras End I met John Lowthwaite," he said, "and John
would have me go into his house and return thanks for his wife's
recovery from childbed. So I went in, and warmed me, and drank a pot of
ale with them, and assisted the wife and family to return praise to
God."

Dinner was laid, little Jacob Berry came in from the kitchen, and all
sat down together--Parson Christian and Greta, Brother Peter, and the
tailor hired to sew.

"Dear me! I'm Jack-of-all-trades, Greta, my lass," said the parson,
after grace. "Old Jonathan Truesdale came running after me at the
bridge, to say that Mistress Truesdale wanted me to go and taste the
medicine that the doctor sent her from Keswick, and see if it hadn't
opium in it, because it made her sleep. I sent word that I had business
to take me the other way, but would send Miss Greta if she would go.
Jonathan said his missus would be very thankful, for she was lonesome at
whiles."

"I'll go, and welcome," said Greta. The rims about her eyes were growing
deeper; the parson chattered on, to banish the tempest of tears that he
saw was coming.

"Well, Peter, and how did the brethren at the meeting house like the
discourse yesterday afternoon?"

"Don't know as they thought you were varra soond on the point of
'lection," muttered Peter from the inside of his bowl of soup.

"Well, you're right homely folk down there, and I'd have no fault to
find if you were not a little too disputatious. What's the use of
wrangling over doctrine? Right or wrong, it will matter very little to
any of us in a hundred years. We're on our way to heaven, and, please
God, there'll be no doctrine there."

Greta could not eat. She had no appetite for food. Another appetite--the
appetite of curiosity--was eating at her heart. She laid down her knife.
The parson could hide his concern no longer.

"Dear me, my lass, you and that braw lad of yours are like David and
Jonathan, and" (with a stern wag of his white head) "I'm not so sure
that I won't turn myself into Saul and fling my javelin at him for
envy."

The parson certainly did not look too revengeful at that moment, with
the mist gathering in his eyes.

"Talking of Saul," said little Jacob, "there's that story of the witch
of Endor, and Saul seein' Sam'el when he was dead. I reckon as that's
no'but another version of what happened at the fire a' Saturday neet."

Parson Christian glanced furtively at Greta's drooping head, and then
meeting the tailor's eye, he put his finger to his lips.

When dinner was over the parson lifted from the shelf the huge tome,
"made to view his life and actions in." He drew his chair to the fire
and began to turn over the earliest leaves. Greta had thrown on her
cloak and was fixing her hat.

"I'm going to see poor Mrs. Truesdale," she said. Then, coming behind
the old man, and glancing over his shoulder at the book on his knees,
"What are you looking for?" she asked, and smiled; "a prescription for
envy?"

The parson shook his old head gravely. "You must know I met young Mr.
Ritson this morning?"

"Hugh?"

"Yes; he was riding home from his iron pits, but stopped and asked me if
I could tell him when his father, who is dead and gone, poor fellow,
came first to these parts, and how old his brother Paul might be at that
time."

"Why did he ask?" said Greta, eagerly.

"Nay, I scarce can say. I told him I could not tell without looking at
my book. Let me see; it must be a matter of seven-and-twenty years ago.
How old is your sweetheart, Greta?"

"Paul is twenty-eight."

"And this is the year seventy-five. Twenty-eight from
seventy-five--that's forty-seven. Paul was a wee toddle, I remember.
I'll look for forty-seven. Eighteen forty-four, forty-five,
forty-six--here it is--forty-seven. And, bless me, the very page! Look,
here we have it."

Then the parson read this entry in his diary:

"'Nov. 18th.--Being promised to preach at John Skerton's church, at
Ravenglass, I got ready to go thither. I took my mare and set forward
and went direct to Thomas Storsacre's, where I was to lodge. It rained
sore all the day, and I was wet, and took off my coat and let it run an
hour. Then we supped and sat discoursing by the fire till near ten
o'clock of one thing and another, and, among the rest, of one Allan
Ritson, who had newly settled at Ravenglass. Thomas said Allan was fresh
from Scotland, being Scottish born, and that his wife was Irish, and
that they had a child, called Paul, only a few months old, and not yet
walking.'

"The very thing! Wait, here's something more:

"'Nov. 19th (Lord's day).--Went to church, and many people came to
worship. Parson Skerton read the prayers and Thomas Storsacre the
lessons. I prayed, and preached from Matt. vii. 23, 24; then ceased, and
dismissed the people. After service, Thomas brought his new neighbor,
Allan Ritson, who asked me to visit him that day and dine. So I went
with him, and saw his wife and child--an infant in arms. Mrs. Ritson is
a woman of some education and much piety. Her husband is a rough, blunt
dalesman, of the good old type.'

"The very thing," the parson repeated, and he put a pipe spill in the
page.

"I wonder why he wants it?" said Greta.

She left Parson Christian still looking at his book, and went out on her
errand.

She was more than an hour gone, and when she returned, the winter's day
had all but closed in. Only a little yellow light still lingered in the
sky.

"Greta, they have sent for you from the Ghyll," said the parson, as she
entered. "Mrs. Ritson wants to see you to-night. Natt, the stableman,
came with the trap. But he has gone again."

"I will follow him at once," said Greta.

"Nay, my lass; the day is not young enough," said the parson.

"I was never afraid of the dark," said Greta.

She took down a lantern and lighted it, drew her cloak more closely
about her, and prepared to go.

"Then take this paper to young Mr. Hugh. It's a copy of what is written
in my book."

Greta hesitated. But she could not tell Parson Christian what had passed
between Hugh and herself. She took the paper and hastened away.

The parson sat for a while before the fire. Then he rose, walked to the
door and opened it. "Heaven bless the girl, it's snowing! What a night
for the child to be abroad!" He returned in disturbed humor to the
fireside.



CHAPTER VIII.


When Greta set out, the atmosphere was yellow and vaporish. The sky grew
rapidly darker. As she reached the village, thin flakes of snow began to
fall. She could feel them driven by the wind against her face, and when
she came by the inn she could see them in the dull, yellow light.

The laborers were leaving the fields, and, with their breakfast cans
swung on their fork handles, they were drifting in twos and threes into
the Flying Horse. It looked warm and snug within.

She passed the little cluster of old houses, and scarcely saw them in
the deepening night. As she went by the mill she could just descry its
ruined roof standing out like a dark pyramid against the dun sky. The
snow fell faster. It was now lying thick on her cloak in front, and on
the windward face of the lantern in her hand.

The road was heavier than before, and she had still fully a quarter of a
mile to go. She hastened on. Passing the little church--Parson
Christian's church--she met Job Sheepshanks, the letter-cutter, coming
out of the shed in the church-yard. "Bad night for a young lady to be
from home, begging your pardon, miss," said Job, and went on toward the
village, his bunch of chisels clanking over his shoulder.

The wind soughed in the leafless trees that grew around the old roofless
barn at the corner of the road that led to the fells. The gurgle of a
half-frozen waterfall came from the distant Ghyll. Save for these sounds
and the dull thud of Greta's step on the snow-covered road, all around
was still.

How fast the snow fell now. Yet Greta heeded it not at all. Her mind was
busy with many thoughts. She was thinking of Paul as Parson Christian's
great book had pictured him--Paul as a child, a little, darling babe,
not yet able to walk. Could it be possible that Paul, her Paul, had once
been that? Of course, to think like this was foolishness. Every one must
have been young at some time. Only it seemed so strange. It was a sort
of mystery.

Then she thought of Paul the man--Paul as he had been, gay and
heartsome; Paul as he was, harassed by many cares. She thought of her
love for him--of his love for her--of how they were soon, very soon, to
join hands and face the unknown future in an unknown land. She had
promised. Yes, and she would go.

She thought of Paul in London, and how soon he would be back in
Newlands. This was Monday, and Paul had promised to come home on
Wednesday. Only two days more! Yet how long it would be, after all!

Greta had reached the lonnin that went up to the Ghyll. She would soon
be there. How thick the trees were in the lane! They shut out the last
glimmer of light from the sky. The lantern burned yellow amidst the snow
that lay on it like a crust.

Then Greta thought of Mrs. Ritson. It was strange that Paul's mother had
sent for her. They were friends, but there had never been much intimacy
between them. Mrs. Ritson was a grave and earnest woman, a saintly soul,
and Greta's lightsome spirit had always felt rebuked in her presence.
Paul loved his mother, and she herself must needs love as well as
reverence the mother of Paul. It was Paul first and Paul last. Paul was
the center of her world. She was a woman, and love was her whole
existence.

Here in the lonnin she was in pitch darkness. She stumbled once into the
dike; then laughed and went on again. At one moment she thought she
heard a noise not far away. She stood and listened. No, it was nothing.
Only a hundred yards more! Bravely!

Then, by a swift rebound--she knew not why--her mind went back to the
events of the morning. She thought of Hugh Ritson and his mysterious
threat. What did he mean? What harm could he do them? Oh! that she had
been calmer, and asked. Her heart fluttered. It flashed upon her that
perhaps it was he and not his mother who had sent for her to-night. Her
pulse quickened.

At that instant the curlew shot over her head with its deep, mournful
cry. At the same moment she heard a step approaching her. It came on
quickly. She stopped. "Who is it?" she asked.

There was no answer. The sound of the footstep ceased.

"Who are you?" she called again.

Then with heavy thuds in the darkness and on the snow, some one
approached. She trembled from head to foot, but advanced a step and
stopped again. The footstep was passing her. She brought the light of
the lantern full on the retreating figure.

It was the figure of a man. Going by hastily, he turned his head over
his shoulder and she saw his face. It was the face of Paul, colorless,
agitated, with flashing eyes.

Every drop of Greta's blood stood still.

"Paul!" she cried, thrilled and immovable.

There was an instant of unconsciousness. The earth reeled beneath her.
When she came to herself she was standing alone in the lane, the lantern
half buried in the snow at her feet.

Had it been all a dream?

She was but twenty yards from the house. The door of the porch stood
open. Chilled with fear to the heart's core, she rushed in. No one was
in the hall. Not a sound, but the faint mutter of voices in the kitchen.

She ran through the passage and threw open the kitchen door. The farm
laborers were at supper, chatting, laughing, eating, smoking.

"Didn't you hear somebody in the house?" she cried.

The men got up and turned about. There was dead silence in a moment.

"When?"

"Now."

"No. What body?"

She flew off without waiting to explain. The kitchen was too far away.
Hugh Ritson's room opened from the first landing of the stairs. The
stairs went up almost from the porch. Darting up, she threw open the
door of Hugh's room. Hugh was sitting at the table, examining papers by
a lamp.

"Have you seen Paul?" she cried, in an agonized whisper, and with a
panic-stricken look.

Hugh dropped the papers and rose stiffly to his feet.

"Great God! Where?"

"Here--this moment!"

Their eyes met. He did not answer. He was very pale. Had she dreamed?
She looked down at the snow-crusted lantern in her hand. It must have
been all a dream.

She stepped back on to the landing, and stood in silence. The serving
people had come out of the kitchen, and, huddled together, they looked
at her in amazement. Then a low moan reached her ear. She ran to Mrs.
Ritson's room. The door to it stood wide open; a fire burned in the
grate, a candle on the table.

Outstretched on the floor lay the mother of Paul, cold, still, and
insensible.

When Mrs. Ritson regained consciousness she looked about with the empty
gaze of one who is bending bewildered eyes on vacancy. Greta was
kneeling beside her, and she helped to lift her into the bed. Mrs.
Ritson did not speak, but she grasped Greta's hand with a nervous
twitch, when the girl whispered something in her ear. From time to time
she trembled visibly, and glanced with a startled look toward the door.
But not a word did she utter.

Thus hour after hour wore on, and the night was growing apace. A painful
silence brooded over the house. Only in the kitchen was any voice raised
above a whisper. There the servants quaked and clucked--every tongue
among them let loose in conjecture and the accents of surprise.

Hugh Ritson passed again and again from his own room to his mother's. He
looked down from time to time at the weary, pale, and quiet face. But he
said little. He put no questions.

Greta sat beside the bed, only less weary, only less pale and quiet,
only less disturbed by horrible imaginings than the sufferer who lay
upon it. Toward midnight Hugh came to say that Peter had been sent for
her from the vicarage. Greta rose, put on her cloak and hat, kissed the
silent lips, and followed Hugh out of the room.

As they passed down the stairs Greta stopped at the door of Hugh
Ritson's room, and beckoned him to enter it with her. They went in
together, and she closed the door.

"Now tell me," she said, "what this means."

Hugh's face was very pale. His eyes had a wandering look, and when he
spoke his voice was muffled. But by an effort of his unquenchable energy
he shook off this show of concern.

"It means," he said, "that you have been the victim of a delusion."

Greta's pale face flushed. "And your mother--has she also been the
victim of a delusion?"

Hugh shrugged his shoulders, showed his teeth slightly, but made no
reply.

"Answer me--tell me the truth--be frank for once--tell me, can you
explain this mystery?"

"If I could explain it, how would it be a mystery?"

Greta felt the blood tingle to her finger-tips.

"Do you believe I have told you the truth?" she asked.

"I am sure you have."

"Do you believe I saw Paul in the lane?"

"I am sure you think you saw him."

"Do you know for certain that he went away?"

Hugh nodded his head.

"Are you sure he has not got back?"

"Quite sure."

"In short, you think what I saw was merely the result of woman's
hysteria?"

Hugh smiled through his white lips, and his staring eyes assumed a
momentary look of amused composure. He stepped to the table and fumbled
some papers.

This reminded Greta of the paper the parson had asked her to deliver. "I
ought to have given you this before," she said. "Mr. Christian sent it."

He took it without much apparent interest, put it on the table unread,
and went to the door with Greta.

The trap was standing in the court-yard, with Natt in the driver's seat,
and Brother Peter in the seat behind. The snow had ceased to fall, but
it lay several inches deep on the ground. There was the snow's dumb
silence on the earth and in the air.

Hugh helped Greta to her place, and then lifted the lamp from the trap,
and looked on the ground a few yards ahead of the horse. "There are no
footprints in the snow," he said, with a poor pretence at a
smile--"none, at least, that go from the house."

Greta herself had begun to doubt. She lacked presence of mind to ask if
there were any footprints at all except Peter's. The thing was done and
gone. It all happened three hours ago, and it was easy to suspect the
evidence of the senses.

Hugh returned the lamp to its loop. "Did you scream," he asked, "when
you saw--when you saw--it?"

Greta was beginning to feel ashamed. "I might have done. I can not
positively say--"

"Ah, that explains everything. No doubt mother heard you and was
frightened. I see it all now. Natt, drive on--cold journey--good-night."

Greta felt her face burn in the darkness. Before she had time or
impulse to reply, they were rolling away toward home.

At intervals her ear caught the sound of suppressed titters from the
driver's seat. Natt was chuckling to himself with great apparent
satisfaction. Since the fire at the mill he had been putting two and two
together, and he was now perfectly confident as to the accuracy of his
computation. When folks said that Paul had been at the fire he laughed
derisively, because he knew that an hour before he had left him at the
station. But an idea works in a brain like Natt's pretty much as the hop
ferments. When it goes to the bottom it leaves froth and bubbles at the
top. Natt knew that there was some grave quarrel between the brothers.
He also knew that there were two ways to the station and two ways back
to Newlands--one through the town, the other under Latrigg. Mr. Paul
might have his own reasons for pretending to go to London, and also his
own reasons for not going. Natt had left him stepping into the station
at the town entrance. But what was to prevent him from going out again
at the entrance from Latrigg? Of course that was what he had done. And
he had never been out of the county. Deary me, how blind folks were, to
be sure! Thus Natt's wise head chuckled and clucked.

At one moment Natt twisted his sapient and facetious noddle over his
shoulder to where Brother Peter sat huddled into a hump and in gloomy
silence. "Mercy me, Peter!" he cried, in an affrighted whisper, and with
a mighty tragical start, "and is that thee? Dusta know I thowt it were
thy ghost?"

"Don't know as it's not--dragging a body frae bed a cold neet like
this," mumbled Peter, numbed up to his tongue, but still warm enough
there.



CHAPTER IX.


Hugh Ritson was content that Greta should think she had been the victim
of a delusion. He was not unwilling that she should be tortured by
suggestions of the supernatural. If she concluded that Paul had deceived
her as to his departure from Newlands, he would not be unlikely to
foster the delusion. The one thing of all others which Hugh Ritson was
anxious to prevent was that Greta should be led to draw the purely
matter-of-fact inference that when she thought she saw Paul she had
really seen another man.

But that was his own conviction. He was now sure beyond the hope of
doubt that there was a man alive who resembled Paul Ritson so closely
that he had thrice before, and now once again, been mistaken for him by
unsuspecting persons. That other man was to be the living power in his
own life, in his brother's life, in his mother's life, in Greta's life.
Who was he?

Left alone in the court-yard when the trap drove away, Hugh Ritson
shuddered and looked round. He had laughed with the easy grace of a man
no longer puzzled as he bid Greta good-night, but suspense was gnawing
at his heart. He returned hastily to his room, sat down at the table,
picked up the paper which Parson Christian had sent him, and read it
with eager eyes.

He read it and reread it; he seemed to devour it line by line, word by
word. When he would have set it down his fingers so trembled that he let
it fall, and he rose from his chair with rigid limbs.

What he had dreaded he now knew for certainty. He had stumbled into an
empty grave. He opened a drawer and took out three copies of
certificates that Mr. Bonnithorne had brought him. Selecting the
earliest of these in order of date, he set it side by side with the copy
of the extract from Parson Christian's diary.

By the one--Paul, the son of Grace Ormerod, by her husband Robert
Lowther, was born August 14, 1845.

By the other--Paul, the reputed son of Grace Ormerod by her husband,
Allan Ritson, was an infant still in arms on November 19, 1847.

Paul Ritson could not be Paul Lowther.

Paul Ritson could not be the half-brother of Greta Lowther.

Hugh Ritson fell back as one who had been dealt a blow. For months he
had been idly hatching an addled villainy. The revenge that he had
promised himself for spurned and outraged love--the revenge that he had
named retribution--was but an impotent mockery.

For an hour he strode up and down the room with flushed face and limbs
that shook beneath him. Natt came home from the vicarage, put in his
horse, and turned into the kitchen--now long deserted for the night. He
heard the restless footstep backward and forward, and began to wonder if
anything further had gone wrong. At last he ventured upstairs, opened
noiselessly the door, and found his master with a face aflame and a look
of frenzy. But the curious young rascal with the sleepy eyes had not
time to proffer his disinterested services before he was hunted out with
an oath. He returned to the kitchen with a settled conviction that
somewhere in that mysterious chamber his master kept a capacious
cupboard for strong drink.

Like master, like man: Natt brewed himself an ample pint of hot ale,
pulled off his great boots, and drew up to warm himself before the
remains of a huge fire.

Hugh Ritson's bedroom opened off his sitting-room. He went to bed; he
tried to sleep, but no sleep came near him; he tossed about for an hour,
rose, walked the room again, then went to bed once more.

He was feeling the first pangs of honest remorse. A worse man would have
accommodated himself more speedily to the altered conditions when he
found that he had pursued a phantasm. To do this erring man justice, he
writhed under it. A better man would have fled from it. If, at the
outset, if when the first step in the descent had been taken, he had
seen clearly that villainy lay that way, he would not have gone
further. But now he had gone too far. To go on were as easy as to go
back; and go on he must.

While he honestly believed that Greta was half-sister to the man known
to the world as Paul Ritson and his brother, he could have stood aside
and witnessed without flinching the ceremony that was to hold them
forever together and apart. Then without remorse he could have come down
and separated them, and seen that woman die of heart's hunger who had
starved to death the great love he bore her. There would have been a
stern retribution in that, and the voice of nature would have whispered
him that he did well.

But when it was no longer possible to believe that Greta and Paul were
anything to each other, the power of sophistry collapsed, and
retribution sunk to revenge.

He might go on, but there could be no self-deception. The blind
earthworms of malice might delude themselves if they liked, but he could
see, and he must face the truth. If ever he did what he had proposed to
do, then he was a scoundrel, and a conscious scoundrel!

Hugh Ritson leaped out of his bed. The perspiration rolled in big beads
from his forehead. His tongue grew thick and stiff in his mouth. The
great veins in his neck swelled.

Without knowing whither he went, he walked out of his own into his
mother's room. A candle still burned on the table. The fire had
smoldered out. A servant-maid sat by the bedside with head aslant,
sleeping the innocent sleep. He approached the bed. His mother was
breathing softly. She had fallen into a doze; the pale face was very
quiet; the weary look of the worn cheeks was smoothed out; the absent
eyes were lightly closed. Closed, too, on the rough world was the poor
soul that was vexed by it.

Hugh Ritson was touched. Somewhere deep down in that frozen nature the
angel of love troubled the still waters.

Bending his head, he would have touched the cold forehead with his
feverish lips. But he drew back. No, no, no! Tenderness was not for
him. The good God gave it to some as manna from heaven. But here and
there a man, stretched on the rack of life, had not the drop of water
that would cool his tongue.

With stealthy steps, as of one who had violated the chamber of chastity,
Hugh Ritson crept back to his own room. He took brandy from a cupboard
and drank a glass of it. Then he lay down and composed himself afresh to
sleep. Thoughts of Greta came back to him. Even his love for her was
without tenderness. It was a fiery passion. It made him weep,
nevertheless. Galling tears, hot, bitter, smarting tears, rolled from
his eyes. And down in that deep and hidden well of feeling, where he,
too, was a man like other men, Hugh Ritson's strong heart bled. He would
have thought that love like his must have subdued the whole world to its
will; that when a woman could reject it the very stones must cry out.
Pshaw!

Would sleep never come? He leaped up, and laughed mockingly, drank
another glass of brandy, and laughed again. His door was open, and the
hollow voice echoed through the house.

He put on a dressing-gown, took his lamp in his hand, and walked
down-stairs and into the hall. The wind had risen. It moaned around the
house, then licked it with hissing tongues. Hugh Ritson walked to the
ingle, where no fire burned. There he stood, scarcely knowing why. The
lamp in his hand cast its reflection into the mirror on the wall. Behind
it was a flushed face, haggard, with hollow eyes and parted lips.

The sight recalled another scene. He stepped into the little room at the
back. It was in that room his father died. Now it was empty; a bare
mattress, a chair, a table--no more.

Hugh Ritson lifted the lamp above his head and looked down. He was
enacting the whole terrible tragedy afresh. He crept noiselessly to the
door, opened it slightly, and looked cautiously out. Then, leaving it
ajar, he stood behind it with bent head and inclining ear. His face wore
a ghastly smile.

The wind soughed and wept without.

Hugh Ritson threw the door open and stepped back into the hall. There he
stood some minutes with eyes riveted on one spot. Then he hurried away
to his room. As he went up the stairs he laughed again.

Back at his bedside he poured himself another glass of brandy, and once
more lay down to sleep. He certainly slept this time, and his sleep was
deep.

Natt's dreamy ear heard a voice in the hall. He had drunk his hot ale,
and from the same potent cause as his master, he also had slept, but
with somewhat less struggle. Awakened in his chair by the unaccustomed
sound, he stole on tiptoe to the kitchen door. He was in time to see
from behind the figure of a man ascending the stairs carrying a lamp
before him. Natt's eyes were a shade hazy at the moment, but he was
cock-sure of what he saw. Of course it was Mister Paul, sneaking off to
bed after more "straitforrad" folk had got into their nightcaps and
their second sleep. That was where Natt soon put himself.

When all was still in that troubled house, the moon's white face peered
through a rack of flying cloud and looked in at the dark windows.



CHAPTER X.


Next morning, Tuesday morning, Hugh Ritson found this letter on his
table:

   "Dearest,--I do not know what is happening to me, but my eyes get
   worse and worse. To-day and yesterday I have not opened them. Oh,
   dear, I think I am losing my sight; and I have had such a fearful
   fright. The day after I wrote to you, Mrs. Drayton's son came home,
   and I saw him. Oh, I thought it was your brother Paul, and his name
   is Paul, too, but I think now it must be my eyes--they were very bad,
   and perhaps I did not see plain. He asked me questions, and went away
   next morning. Do not be long writing, I am, oh, so very lonely. When
   are you coming to me? Write soon.

   Your loving,

   Mercy."

Hugh Ritson had risen in a calmer mood. He was prepared for a disclosure
like this. Last night he had been overwhelmed by the discovery that Paul
Ritson was not the son of Robert Lowther. With the coming of daylight a
sterner spirit of inquiry came upon him. The question that now agitated
him was the identity of the man who had been mistaken for Paul.

After Mercy's letter the mystery was in a measure dispelled. There could
hardly be the shadow of a doubt that the man who had slept at the Pack
Horse--the man who had been seen by many persons at the fire--the man
who Greta had encountered in the lane--was one and the same with the man
whom Mercy knew for Paul Drayton, the innkeeper at Hendon.

But so much light on one small spot only made the surrounding gloom more
dark. Far more important than any question of who this man was by repute
was the other question of why he was there. Wherefore had he come? Why
did he not come openly? What hidden reason had he for moving like a
shadow where he knew no one and was known of none?

Hugh thought again of the circumstance of his mother's strange seizure.
Last night he had formulated his theory respecting it. And it was simple
enough. The second man, whoever he was, had, for whatever reason, come
to the house, and, failing to attract attention in the hall, had
wandered aimlessly upstairs to the first room in which he heard a noise.
That room happened to be his mother's, and when the stranger, with the
fatal resemblance to her absent son, presented himself before her in
that strange way, at that strange hour, in that strange place, the fear
had leaped to her heart that it was his wraith warning her of his death,
and she had fainted and fallen.

The theory had its serious loop-holes for incredulity, but Hugh Ritson
minded them not at all. Another and a graver issue tortured him.

But this morning, by the light of Mercy's letter, his view was clearer.
If the man who resembled Paul had come secretly to Newlands, he must
have had his reasons for not declaring himself. If he had wandered when
none was near into Mrs. Ritson's room, it must have been because he had
a purpose there. And his mother's seizure might not have been due to
purely superstitious fears, or her silence to shattered nerves.

There was one thing to do, and that was to get at the heart of this
mystery. Whoever he was, this second man was to be the living influence
in all their lives.

Thus far, one thing only was plain--that Paul Ritson was not the
half-brother of Greta.

Hugh determined to travel south forthwith. If the other man was still
beating about Newlands, so much the better. Hugh would be able to see
the old woman, his mother, and talk with her undisturbed by the
suspicions of a cunning man.

Hugh spent most of that day in his office at the pit-head, settling up
such business as could not await his return. On Wednesday morning early
he dispatched Natt on foot with a letter to Mr. Bonnithorne, explaining
succinctly, but with shrewd reservations, the recent turn of events.
Then he stepped for a moment into his mother's room.

Mrs. Ritson had risen, and was sitting by the fire writing. Hugh
observed, as she rose, that there were tears in her eyes, and that the
paper beneath her pen was stained with great drops that had fallen as
she wrote. A woman was busy on her knees on the floor sorting linen into
a trunk. This garrulous body, old Dinah Wilson, was talking as Hugh
entered.

"It caps all--you niver heard sec feckless wark," she was saying. "And
Reuben threept me down, too. There he was in the peat loft when I went
for the peats, and he had it all as fine as clerk after passon. 'It was
Master Paul at the fire, certain sure,' he says, ower and ower again.
'What, man, get away wi' thy botheration--Mister Paul was off to
London!' I says. 'Go and see if tha can leet on a straight waistcoat any
spot,' I says. But he threept and he threept. 'It was Master Paul or his
own birth brother,' he says."

"Hush, Dinah!" said Mrs. Ritson.

Hugh told his mother, in a quiet voice, that business was taking him
away. Then he turned about and said "Good-day" without emotion.

She held out her hand to him and looked him tenderly in the eyes.

"Is this our parting?" she said, and then leaned forward and touched his
cheek with her lips.

He seemed surprised, and turned pale; but he went out calmly and without
speaking. In half an hour he was walking rapidly over the snow-crusted
road to the station.



CHAPTER XI.


When Paul parted from Natt at the station on Saturday night, he had told
the stableman to meet him with the trap at the same spot and at the same
hour on Wednesday. Since receiving these instructions, however, Natt
had, as we have seen, arrived at conclusions of his own respecting
certain events. The futility of doing as he had been bidden began to
present itself to his mind with peculiar force. What was the good of
going to the station for a man who was not coming by the train? What was
the use of pretending to bring home a person who had never been away?
These and other equivocal problems defied solution when Natt essayed
them.

He revolved the situation fully on his way home from Mr. Bonnithorne's,
and decided that to go to the station that night at eight o'clock would
be only a fine way of making a fool of a body. But when he reached the
stable, and sat down to smoke, and saw the hour approaching, his
instinct began to act automatically, and in sheer defiance of the thing
he called his reason. In short, Natt pulled off his coat and proceeded
to harness the mare.

Then it was that, relieved of the weight of abstract questions, he made
two grave discoveries. The first was that the horse bore marks of having
been driven in his absence; the next, that the harness was not hanging
precisely on those hooks where he had last placed it. And when he drew
out the trap he saw that the tires of the wheels were still crusted with
unmelted snow.

These concrete issues finally banished the discussion of general
principles. Natt had not entirely accounted for the strange
circumstances when he jumped into his seat and drove away. But the old
idea of Paul's dubious conduct was still fermenting; the froth and
bubbles were still rising.

Natt had not gone half-way to the station when he almost leaped out of
the trap at the sudden advent of an original thought: The trap had been
driven out before! He had not covered a mile more before that thought
had annexed another: And along this road, too! After this the sequence
of ideas was swift. In less than half a league, Natt had realized that
Paul Ritson himself had driven the mare to the station in order that he
might be there to come home at eight o'clock, and thus complete the
deception which he had practiced on gullible and slow-witted persons.
But in his satisfaction at this explanation Natt overlooked the trifling
difficulty of how the trap had been got home again.

Driving up into the station, he was greeted by a flyman waiting for
hire.

"Bad on the laal mare, ma man--two sec journeys in ya half day. I reckon
tha knows it's been here afore?"

Natt's face broadened into a superior smile, which seemed to desire his
gratuitous informant to tell him something he didn't know. This unspoken
request was about to be gratified.

"Dusta ken who came down last?"

Natt waved his hand in silent censure of so much unnecessary zeal, and
passed on.

Promptly as the clock struck eight, the London train drew up at the
station, and a minute afterward Paul Ritson came out. "Here he be, of
course," thought Natt.

Paul was in great spirits. His face wore the brightest smile, and his
voice had the cheeriest ring. His clothes, seen by the lamp, looked a
little draggled and dirty.

He swung himself into the trap, took the driver's seat and the reins and
rattled along with cheerful talk.

It was months since Natt had witnessed such an access of geniality on
Paul's part.

"Too good to be true," thought Natt, who, in his own wise way, was
silently making a study in histrionics.

"Anything fresh while I've been away?" asked Paul.

"Humph!" said Natt.

"Nothing new? Nobody's cow calved? The mare not lost her hindmost
shoe--nothing?" asked Paul, and laughed.

"I know no more nor you," said Natt, in a grumpy tone.

Paul looked at him and laughed again. Not to-night were good spirits
like his to be quenched by a servant's ill humor.

They drove some distance without speaking, the silence being broken only
by Paul's coaxing appeals to the old mare to quicken the pace that was
carrying him to somebody who was waiting at the vicarage.

Natt recovered from his natural dudgeon at an attempt to play upon him,
and began to feel the humor of the situation. It was good sport, after
all--this little trick of Master Paul. And the best of it was that
nobody saw through it but Natt himself. Natt began to titter and look up
significantly out of his sleepy eyes into Paul's face. Paul glanced back
with a look of bewilderment; but of course that was only a part of the
game.

"Keep it up," thought Natt; "how we are doing 'em!"

The landscape lying south was a valley, with a double gable of mountains
at the top; the mill stood on a knoll two miles further up, and on any
night but the darkest its black outlines could be dimly seen against the
sky that crept down between these fells. There was no moon visible, but
the moon's light was behind the clouds.

"What has happened to the mill?" said Paul, catching sight of the
dismantled mass in the distance.

"Nowt since Saturday neet, as I've heard on," said Natt.

"And what happened then?"

"Oh, nowt, nowt--I's warrant not," said Natt, with a gurgling titter.

Paul looked perplexed. Natt had been drinking, nothing surer.

"Why, lad, the wheel is gone--look!"

"I'll not say but it is. We know all about that, we do!"

Paul glanced down again. Liquor got into the brains of some folk, but it
had gone into Natt's face. With what an idiotic grin he was looking into
one's eyes!

But Paul's heart was full of happiness. His bosom's lord sat lightly on
its throne. Natt's face was excruciatingly ridiculous, and Paul laughed
at the sight of it. Then Natt laughed, and they both laughed together,
each at, neither with, the other. "I don't know nothing, I don't. Oh,
no!" chuckled Natt, inwardly. Once he made the remark aloud.

When they came to the vicarage Paul drew up, threw the reins to Natt,
and got down.

"Don't wait for me," he said; "drive home."

Natt drove as far homeward as the Flying Horse, and then turned in there
for a crack, leaving the trap in the road. Before he left the inn, a
discovery yet more astounding, if somewhat less amusing, was made by his
swift and subtle intellect.



CHAPTER XII.


An itinerant mendicant preacher had walked through the valley that day,
and when night fell in he had gravitated to the parson's door.

"Seeing the sun low," he said, "and knowing it a long way to Keswick,
and I not being able to abide the night air, but sure to catch a cold, I
came straight to your house."

Like other guests of high degree, the shoeless being made a virtue of
accepting hospitality.

"Come in, brother, and welcome," said Parson Christian; and that night
the wayfarer lodged at the vicarage. He was a poor, straggle-headed
creature, with a broken brain as well as a broken purse, but he had the
warm seat at the ingle.

Greta heard Paul's step on the path and ran to meet him.

"Paul, Paul! thank God you are here at last!"

Her manner was warm and impulsive to seriousness, but Paul was in no
humor to make nice distinctions.

Parson Christian rose from his seat before the fire and shook hands with
feeling and gravity.

"Right glad to see you, good lad," he said. "This is Brother Jolly," he
added, "a fellow-soldier of the cross, who has suffered sore for
neglecting Solomon's injunction against suretyship."

Paul took the flaccid hand of the fellow-soldier, and then drew Greta
aside into the recess of the square window.

"It's all settled," he said, eagerly; "I saw my father's old friend, and
agreed to go out to his sheep runs as steward, with the prospect of
farming for myself in two years' time. I have been busy, I can tell you.
Only listen. On Monday I saw the good old gentleman--he's living in
London now, and he won't go back to Victoria, he tells me--wants to lay
his bones where they were got, he says--funny old dog, rather--says he
remembers my father when he wasn't as solemn as a parish clerk on Ash
Wednesday. Well, on Monday I saw the old fellow, and settled terms and
things--liberal old chap, too, if he has got a hawk beak--regular
Shylock, you know. Well--where was I? Oh, of course--then on Tuesday I
took out our berths--yours, mother's, and mine--the ship is called the
'Ballarat'--queer name--a fine sea-boat, though--she leaves the London
docks next Wednesday--"

"Next Wednesday?" said Greta, absently, and with little interest in her
tone.

"Yes, a week to-day--sails at three prompt--pilot comes on at a quarter
to--everybody aboard at twelve. But it didn't take quite four-and-twenty
hours to book the berths, and the rest of the day I spent at a lawyer's
office. Can't stomach that breed, somehow; they seem to get all the
clover--maybe it's because they're a drift of sheep with tin cans about
their necks, and can never take a nibble without all the world knowing.
Ha! ha! I wish I'd thought of that when I saw old Shylock."

Paul was rattling on with a glib tongue, and eyes that danced to the
blithe step of an emancipated heart.

In the slumberous fire-light the parson and the itinerant preacher
talked together of the dust and noise in the great world outside these
sleepy mountains.

Greta drew back into the half-light of the window recess, too greedy of
Paul's good spirits to check them.

"Yes, I went to the lawyer's office," he continued, "and drew out a
power of attorney in Hugh's name, and now he can do what he likes with
the Ghyll, just as if it were his own. Much luck to him, say I, and some
bowels, too, please God! But that's not all--not half. This morning--ah,
now, you wise little woman, who always pretend to know so much more than
other folks, tell me what I did in London before leaving it this
morning?"

Greta had hardly listened. Her eyes had dropped to his breast, her arms
had crept about his neck, and her tears were falling fast. But he was
not yet conscious of the deluge.

"What do you think? Why, I went to Doctors' Commons and bought the
license--dirt cheap, too, at the price--and now it can be done any
day--any day--- think of that! So ho! so ho! covering your face,
eh?--up, now, up with it--gently. Do you know, they asked me your
complexion, the color of your eyes, or something--that old Shylock or
somebody--and I couldn't tell for the life of me--there, a peep, just
one wee peep! Why, what's this--what the d---- What villain--what in the
name of mischief is the ma--Why, Greta, you're cry--yes, you are--you
are crying!"

Paul had forced up Greta's face with gentle violence, and now he held
her at arm's length, surveying her with bewildered looks.

Parson Christian twisted about in his chair. He had not been so much
immersed in wars and rumors of wars as to be quite ignorant of what was
going on around him. "Greta is but in badly case," he said, pretending
to laugh. "She has fettled things in the house over and over again, and
she has if't and haffled over everything. She's been longing, surely."
The deep voice had a touch of tremor in it this time, and the twinkling
old eyes looked hazy.

"Ah, of course!" shouted Paul, in stentorian tones, and he laughed about
as heartily as the parson.

Greta's tears were gone in an instant.

"You must go home at once, Paul," she said; "your mother must not wait a
moment longer."

He laughed and bantered and talked of his dismissal. She stopped him
with a grave face and a solemn word. At last his jubilant spirit was
conquered; he realized that something was amiss. Then she told him what
happened at the Ghyll on Monday night. He turned white, and at first
stood tongue-tied. Next he tried to laugh it off, but the laughter fell
short.

"Must have been my brother," he said; "it's true, we're not much alike,
but then it was night, dark night, and you had no light but the dim
lamp--and at least there's a family resemblance."

"Your brother Hugh was sitting in his room."

Paul's heart sickened with an indescribable sensation.

"You found the door of my mother's room standing open?"

"Wide open."

"And Hugh was in his own room?" said Paul, his eyes flashing and his
teeth set.

"I saw him there a moment later."

"My features, my complexion, my height, and my build, you say?"

"The same in everything."

Paul lifted his face, and in that luminous twilight it were an
expression of peculiar horror: "In fact, myself--in a glass?"

Greta shuddered and answered, "Just that, Paul; neither more nor less."

"Very strange," he muttered. He was shaken to the depths. Greta crept
closer to his breast.

"And when my mother recovered she said nothing?"

"Nothing."

"You did not question her?"

"How could I? But I was hungering for a word."

Paul patted her head with his tenderest touch.

"Have you seen her since?"

"Not since. I have been ill--I mean, rather unwell."

Parson Christian twisted again in his chair. "What do you think, my lad?
Greta in a dream last night rose out of bed, went to the stair-head, and
there fell to the ground."

"My poor darling," said Paul, the absent look flying from his eyes.

"But, blessed be God, she has no harm," said the parson, and turned once
more to his guest.

"Paul, you must hurry away now. Good-bye for the present, dearest. Kiss
me good-bye."

But Paul stood there still.

"Greta, do you ever feel that what is happening now has happened
before--somehow--somewhere--and where?--when?--the questions keep
ringing in your brain and racking your heart--but there is no
answer--you are shouting into a voiceless cavern."

His face was as pale as ashes, his eyes were fixed, and his gaze was far
away. Greta grew afraid of the horror she had awakened.

"Don't think too seriously about it," she said. "Besides, I may have
been mistaken. In fact, Hugh said--"

"Well, what did he say?"

"He made me ashamed. He said I had imagined I saw you and screamed, and
so frightened your mother."

"There are men in the world who would see the Lord of Hosts come from
the heavens in glory and say it was only a water-spout."

"But, as you said yourself, it was in the night, and very dark. I had
nothing but the feeble oil-lamp to see by. Don't look like that, Paul."

The girl lifted a nervous hand and covered his eyes, and laughed a
little, hollow laugh.

Paul shook himself free of his stupor.

"Good-night, Greta," he said, tenderly, and walked to the door. Then the
vacant look returned.

"The answer is somewhere--somewhere," he said, faintly. He shook himself
again, and shouted, in his lusty tones:

"Good-night, all--good-night, good-night!"

The next instant he was gone.

Out in the road, he began to run; but it was not from exertion alone
that his breath came and went in gusts. Before he reached the village
his nameless sentiment of dread of the unknown had given way to anxiety
for his mother. What was this strange illness that had come upon her in
his absence? Her angel-face had been his beacon in darkness. She had
lifted his soul from the dust. Tortured by the world and the world's
law, yet Heaven's peace had settled on her. Let the world say what it
would, into her heart the world had not entered.

He hurried on. What a crazy fool he had been to let Natt go off with the
trap! Why had not that coxcomb told him what had occurred? He would
break every bone in the blockhead's skin.

How long the road was, to be sure! A hundred fears suggested themselves
on the way. Would his mother be worse? Would she be still conscious?
Why, in God's name, had he ever gone away?

He came by the Flying Horse, and there, tied to the blue post, stood the
horse and trap. Natt was inside. There he was, the villain, in front of
the fire, laughing boisterously, a glass of hot liquor in his hand.

Paul jumped into the trap and drove away.

It was hardly in human nature that Natt should resist the temptation to
show his cronies by ocular demonstration what a knowing young dog he
could be if he liked. Natt never tried to resist it.

"Is it all die-spensy?" he asked, with a wink, when, with masterly
circumlocution, he had broached his topic.

"It's a fate, I tell tha'," said Tom o' Dint, taking a churchwarden from
between his lips; and another thin voice, from a back bench--it was
little Jacob Berry's--corroborated that view of the mystery.

A fine scorn sat on the features of Natt as he exploded beneath their
feet this mine of supernaturalism.

"Shaf on your bogies and bodderment, say I," he cried; "there are folks
as won't believe their own senses. If you'll no' but show me how yon
horse of mine can be in two places at once, I'll maybe believe as Master
Paul Ritson can be here and in London at the same time. Nowt short o'
that'll do for me, I can tell you."

And at this conclusive reasoning Natt laughed, and crowed, and stirred
his steaming liquor. It was at that moment that Paul whipped up into the
trap and drove away.

"Show me as my horse as I've tied to the post out there is in his stable
all the time, and I's not be for saying as maybe I won't give in."

Gubblum Oglethorpe came straggling into the room at that instant, and
caught the words of Natt's clinching argument.

"What see a post?" he asked.

"Why, the post afore the house, for sure!"

"Well, I wudna be for saying but I's getten a bit short-sighted, but if
theer's a horse tied to a post afore this house, I's not be for saying
as I won't be domd!"

Natt ran to the door, followed by a dozen pairs of quizzing eyes. The
horse was gone. Natt sat down on the post and looked around in blank
astonishment.

"Well, I will be domd!" he said.

At last the bogies had him in their grip.



CHAPTER XIII.


By the time that Paul had got to the Ghyll his anxiety had reached the
point of anguish. Perhaps it had been no more than a fancy, but he
thought as he approached the house that a mist hung about it. When he
walked into the hall his footsteps sounded hollow to his ear, and the
whole place seemed empty as a vault. The spirit-deadening influence of
the surroundings was upon him, when old Dinah Wilson came from the
kitchen and looked at him with surprise. Clearly he had not been
expected. He wanted to ask twenty questions, but his tongue cleaved to
his mouth. The strong man trembled and his courage oozed away.

Why did not the woman speak? How scared she looked, too! He was brushing
past her, and up the stairs, when she told him, in faltering tones, that
her mistress was gone.

The word coursed through his veins like poison. "Gone! how gone?" he
said. Could it be possible that his mother was dead?

"Gone away," said Dinah.

"Away! Where?"

"Gone by train, sir, this afternoon."

"Gone by train," Paul repeated, mechanically, with absent manner.

"There's a letter left, sir; it's on the table in her room."

Recovering his self-possession, Paul darted upstairs at three steps a
stride. His mother's room was empty; no fire in the grate; the pictures
down from the walls; the table coverless; the few books gone from the
shelf; all chill, voiceless, and blind.

What did it mean? Paul stood an instant on the threshold, seeing all in
one swift glance, yet seeing nothing. Then, with the first return of
present consciousness, his eye fell on the letter that lay on the table.
He took it up with trembling fingers. It was addressed in his mother's
hand to him. He broke the seal. This is what he read:

   "I go to-day to the shelter of the Catholic Church. I had long
   thought to return to this refuge, though I had hoped to wait until
   the day your happiness with Greta was complete. That, in Heaven's
   purposes, was not to be, and I must leave you without a last
   farewell. Good-bye, dear son, and God bless and guide you. If you
   love me, do not grieve for me. It is from love of you I leave you.
   Think of me as one who is at peace, and I will bless you even in
   heaven. If ever the world should mock you with your mother's name,
   remember that she is your mother still, and that she loved you to
   the last. Good-bye, dear Paul; you may never know the day when this
   erring and sorrowing heart will be allowed, in His infinite pity, to
   join the choirs above. Then, dearest, from the hour when you read
   this letter, think of me as dead, for I shall be dead to the world."

Paul held the letter before him, and looked at it long with vacant eyes.
Feeling itself seemed gone. Not a tear came from him, not a sigh, not
one moan of an overwrought heart escaped him. All was blind, pulseless
torpor. He stood there crushed and overwhelmed, a shaken, shattered man.
A thousand horrors congealed within him to one deep, dead stupor.

He turned away in silence, and walked out of the house. The empty
chambers seemed, as he went, to echo his heavy footsteps. He took the
road back toward the vicarage, turning neither to the right nor the
left, looking straight before him, and never once shifting his gaze. The
road might be long, but now it fretted him no more. The night might be
cold, but colder far was the heart within him. The moon might fly behind
the cloud floes, and her light burst forth afresh; but for him all was
blank night.

In the vicarage the slumberous fire was smoldering down. The
straggle-brained guest had been lighted to his bed, and the good parson
himself was carrying to his own tranquil closet a head full of the great
world's dust and noise. Greta was still sitting before the dying fire,
her heart heavy with an indefinable sensation of dread.

When Paul opened the door his face was very pale and his eyes had a
strange look; but he was calm, and spoke quietly. He told what had
occurred, and read aloud his mother's letter. The voice was strong in
which he read it, and never a tremor told of the agony his soul was
suffering. Then he sat some time without speaking, and time itself had
no reckoning.

Greta scarcely spoke, and the old parson said little. What power had
words to express a sorrow like this? Death had its solace; but there
was no comfort for death in life.

At last Paul told Parson Christian that he wished the marriage to take
place at once--- to-morrow, or, at latest, the day after that. He told
of their intention to leave England, of his father's friend, and, in
answer to questions, of the power of attorney drawn up in the name of
his brother.

The old man was deeply moved, but his was the most unselfish of souls.
He understood very little of all that was meant by what had been done,
and was still to do. But he said, "God bless you and go with you!"
though his own wounded heart was bleeding. Greta knelt at his chair, and
kissed the tawny old face lined and wrinkled and damp now with a furtive
tear. It was agreed that the marriage should take place on Friday. This
was Wednesday night.

Paul rose and stepped to the door, and Greta followed him to the porch.

"It is good of you to leave all to your brother," she said.

"We'll not speak of it," he answered.

"Is there not something between you?" she asked.

"Another time, darling."

Greta recalled Hugh Ritson's strange threat. Should she mention it to
Paul? She had almost done so, when she lifted her eyes to his face. The
weary, worn expression checked her. Not now; it would be a cruelty.

"I knew the answer to that omen was somewhere," he said, "and it has
come."

He stepped over the threshold and stood one pace outside. The snow still
lay under foot, crusted with frost. The wind blew strongly, and soughed
in the stiff and leafless boughs. Overhead the flying moon at that
moment broke through a rack of cloud. At the same instant the red glow
of the fire-light found its way through the open door, and was reflected
on Paul's pallid face.

Greta gasped; a thrill passed through her. There, before her, eye to eye
with her once again, was the face she saw at the Ghyll!



CHAPTER XIV.


Paul went back home, carrying with him a crushed and broken spirit He
threw himself into a chair in a torpor of dejection. When the servants
spoke to him, he lifted to their faces two clouded eyes, heavy with
suffering, and answered their questions in few words. The maid laid the
supper, and told him it was ready. When she returned to clear the cloth,
the supper was untouched. Paul stepped up to his mother's room, and sat
down before the cold grate. The candle he carried with him burned out.

In the kitchen the servants of the farm and house gossipped long and
bickered vigorously. "Whatever ails Master Paul?" "Crossed in love,
maybe." "Shaf on sec woman's wit!" "Wherever has mistress gone?" "To buy
a new gown, mayhap." "Sista now how a lass's first thowt runs on
finery!" "Didsta hear nowt when you drove mistress to the rail, Reuben?"
"Nay, nowt." "Dusta say it war thee as drove to the station this
afternoon." "I wouldn't be for saying as it warn't." "Wilta be meeting
Master Hugh in the forenoon, Natt?" "Nay, ax Natt na questions. He's
fair tongue-tied to-neet, Natt is. He's clattering all of it to
hisself--swearing a bit, and sec as that."

When the servants had gone to bed, and the house was quiet, Paul still
sat in his mother's abandoned room. No one but he knew what he suffered
that night. He tried to comprehend the disaster that had befallen him.
Why had his mother shut herself in a convent? How should her love for
him require that she should leave him? To demand answers to these
questions was like knocking at the door of a tomb; the voice was silent
that could reply; there came no answer save the dull, heavy, hollow echo
of his own uncertain knock. All was blind, dumb, insensate torpor. No
outlook; no word; no stimulating pang.

His stupor was broken by a vision that for long hours of that dead
night burned in his brain like molten lead. The face which Greta had
seen, and which his mother must also have seen, seemed to rise up before
him as he sat in that deserted chamber. He saw his own face as he might
have seen it in a glass. Not even the blackness of night could conceal
it. Clear as a face seen in the day it shone and burned in that dark
room. He closed his eyes to shut it out, but it was still before him. It
was within him. It was imprinted in features of fire on his brain. He
trembled with fear, never until that hour knowing what fear was. It
acted upon him like his own ghost.

He knew it was but a phantasy, but no phantasy was ever more horrible.
He got up to banish it, and it stood before him face to face. He sunk
down again, and it sat beside him eye to eye.

Then it changed. For a moment it faded away into a palpitating mist, and
the tension of his gaze relaxed. How blessed was that moment's respite!
His thought returned to his mother. "If ever the world should mock you
with your mother's name, remember that she is your mother still, and
that she loved you to the last." Dear, sacred soul. Little fear that he
should forget it! Little fear that the wise world should tarnish the
fair shrine of that holy love! Tears of tenderness rose to his eyes, and
in the midst of them he thought his mother sat before him. Her head was
bent; an all-eating shame was crimsoning her pale cheek. Then he knew
that other eyes were upon her, looking into her heart, prying deep down
into her dead past, keeping open the heavy eyelids that could never
sleep. He looked up; his own shadow was silently gazing down upon both
of them.

Paul leaped to his feet and ran out of the room. Surely the spirit of
his mother still inhabited the deserted chamber. Surely this was the
shadow that had driven her away. Big drops of sweat rolled in beads from
his forehead. He went out of the house. Heavy black clouds were adrift
in a stormy sky; behind them, the bright moon was scudding.

He walked among the naked trees of the gaunt wood at the foot of
Coledale, and listened to the short breathings of the wind among the
frost-covered boughs. At every second step he gave a quick glance
backward. But at last he saw the thing he looked for--it was walking
with him side by side, pace for pace.

He passed slowly out of the wood, not daring now to run. The white fell
rose sheer up to the grim, gray crags that hung in shaggy, snowy masses
over the black seams of the ravines; and the moon's light rested on them
for an instant. Without thought or aim he began to climb. The ascent was
perilous at any hour to any foot save that of a mountaineer. The
exertion and the watchfulness banished the vision, and his liberated
mind turned to Greta. What was life itself now without Greta's love?
Nothing but a succession of days. She was the savior of his outcast
state; she was his life's spring, whence the waters of content might
flow. And a flood of emotion came over him, and in his heart he blessed
her. It was then that on that gaunt headland he seemed to see her at his
side. But between them, and dividing them, stalked the spectre of
himself.

All to the east was dense gloom, save where the pulsating red of the
smelting house burned in the distance. With no rest for his foot, Paul
walked in the direction of the light, and the shadow of his face walked
with him. As the wind went by him it whistled in his ear, and it sounded
in that solitude like the low cry of the thing at his side.

Old Laird Fisher was at his work of wheeling the refuse of the ore from
the mouth of the furnace, and shooting it down the bank. The glow of the
hot stone in the iron barrow that he trundled was reflected in sharp
white lights on his wrinkled face.

"Ista theer, Mister Paul?" he said, catching his breath and coughing
amid the smoke, and shouting between the gusts of wind.

The slow beat of the engine and the clank of the chain of the cage in
the shaft deadened the wind's shrill whistle. The smoke from the bank
shot up and swirled away like a long flight of swallows.

Standing there, the vision troubled him no longer. It had been merely a
waking phantasy, bred of what Greta said she saw in the snow, and
heightened by the shock to his nerves caused by his mother's departure.
The sight of Matthew helped to beat it off. His submissive face was the
sign of his broken spirit. A tempest had torn up his only hold on the
earth. He was but a poor naked trunk flung on the ground, without power
of growth or grip of the soil. He was old and he had no hope. Yet he
lived on and worked submissively. Paul's own case was different. Destiny
had dashed him in unknown seas against unseen rocks. But he was young,
he had the power of life, and the stimulus of love. Yet here he was, the
prey to an idle fancy, tortured by an agony of fear.

"Good-night to you, Matthew!" he shouted cheerily above the wind, and
went away into the night.

He would go home and sleep the fever out of his blood; he took the road;
and as he went, the monotonous engine-throb died off behind him. He
passed through the village; the street was empty, and it echoed loud to
the sound of his footfall. Large shadows fell about him when for an
instant the moon shot clear of a cloud. A light burned in a cottage
window. Poor Mrs. Truesdale's sick life was within that sleepless
chamber lingering out its last days. The wind fell to silence at one
moment, and then a child's little cry came out to him in the night.

He walked on, and plunged again into the darkness of the road beyond.
The dogs were howling at the distant Ghyll. A sable cloud floated in the
sky, and at its back the moon sailed. It was like black hair silvered
with gray. But on one spot on the road before him the moon shone clear
and white. The place fascinated him like a star. He quickened his pace
until he came into the moon's open light. Then it turned to an ashy
tint; it lay over the church-yard. His father's grave was only a few
paces from the road.

What unseen power had drawn him there? Was it meant that he should
understand that all the stings that fate had in store for him were to be
in some unsearchable way the refuse of his father's deed? His mind went
back to the night of his father's death. He thought of his mother's
confession--a confession more terrible to make more fearful to listen
to, than a mother ever made before or a son ever heard. And now again,
was the disaster of this very night a link in the chain of destiny?

Let no man compare the withering effects of a father's curse with the
blasting influence of a father's sin. If the wrath of Providence should
fail in its stern and awful retribution, the world in its mercy would
not forget that the sins of the fathers must be visited upon the
children.

Paul entered the lych-gate and entered the church-yard. The night dew on
his cheeks was not colder than his tears as he knelt by his father's
grave. At one instant he cursed the world and the world's cruel law.
Then there stole into his heart a poison that corroded its dearest
memory: he thought of his father with bitterness.

At that moment a strange awe crept over him. He knew, though still only
by the eyes of his mind, that the vision had returned. He knew it was
standing against the night-sky as a ghastly headstone to the grave. But
when he raised his eyes what he saw was more terrible. The face was
before him, but it was a dead face now. He saw his own corpse stretched
out on his father's grave.

His head fell on the cold sod. He lay like the dead on the grave of the
dead. Then he knew that it was ordered above that the cloud of his
father's sin should darken his days; that through all the range and
change of life he was to be the lonely slave of a sin not his own. His
fate was sin-inherited, and the wages of sin is death.

Was it strange that at that moment, when all the earth seemed gloomed by
the shadow of a curse that lay blackest over him--when reverence for a
father's memory and love learned at a mother's knee were deadened by a
sense of irremediable wrong--was it strange that there and then peace
fell on him like a dove from heaven?

Orphaned in one hour--now, and not till now--foredoomed to writhe like a
worm amid the dust of the world--the man in him arose and shook off its
fear.

It was because he came to know--rude man as he was, unlettered, but
strong of soul--that there is a Power superior to fate, that the
stormiest sea has its Master, that the waif that is cast by the roughest
wave on the loneliest shore is yet seen and known.

And the voice of an angel seemed to whisper in his heart the story of
Hagar and her son; how the boy was the first-born of his father; how the
second-born became the heir; how the woman and son were turned away; how
they were nigh to death in the desert; and how, at last, the cry came
from heaven, "God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is."

The horror of the vision had gone. It would come back no more. Paul
walked home, went up to his own room, and slept peacefully.

When he awoke the pink and yellow rose of a wintery sunrise bloomed over
the head of the Eel Crags. The tinkle of the anvil came from across the
vale. Sheep were bleating high up on the frost-nipped side of the fell.
The echo of the ax could be heard from the wood, and the muffled lowing
of the kine from the shippon in the yard behind. The harsh scrape of
Natt's clogs was on the gravel. A robin with full throat perched on the
window-ledge and warbled cheerily.

Last night was gone from him for all eternity. Before him was the day,
the world, and life.



CHAPTER XV.


That day--the day before the wedding--all the gossiping tongues in
Newlands were cackling from morning till night. Natt had been sent round
the dale with invitations addressed to statesmen, their wives, sons and
daughters. Parson Christian himself made the round of the homes of the
poor.

"'The poor ye have always with you,' but not everywhere, and not often
in Cana of Galilee," he said to Greta on setting out.

And the people of the highways and hedges were nothing loath to come in
to the feast. "God luck to the weddiners!" they said, "and may they
never lick a lean poddish-stick."

There was not much work done in the valley that day. The richest heiress
on the country-side was about to be married to the richest statesman in
the dale. On the eve of such an event it was labor enough to drop in at
the Flying Horse and discuss mathematics. The general problem was one in
simple addition, namely, how much Paul Ritson would be worth when he
married Greta Lowther. And more than once that day twice two made a
prodigious five.

The frost continued and the roads were crisp. Heavy rains had preceded
the frost, and the river that ran down the middle of the valley had
overflowed the meadows to the width of a wide carriage-way. This was now
a road of ice five miles long, smooth as glass, and all but as straight
as an arrow.

Abraham Strong, the carpenter, had been ordered to take the wheels off a
disused landau and fix instead two keels of wood beneath the axles. This
improvised sledge, after it had been shod in steel by the blacksmith,
was to play a part in to-morrow's ceremony.

Early in the day Brother Peter was dispatched to the town to fetch Mr.
Bonnithorne. The four miles' journey afoot seemed to him a bigger candle
than the entire game was worth.

"Don't know as I see what the lass wants mair nor she's got," he told
himself, grumpily, as he plodded along the road. "What call has she for
a man? Hasn't she two of 'em as she is? I made her comfortable enough
myself. But lasses are varra ficklesome."

Mr. Bonnithorne gathered enough from Brother Peter's "Don't know as
there's not a wedding in t' wind," to infer what was afoot. Hugh Ritson
was away from home, and his brother Paul was availing himself of his
absence to have the marriage ceremony performed.

This was the inference with which Mr. Bonnithorne had walked from the
town; but before reaching the vicarage he encountered Paul himself, who
was even then on the way to his office. Few words passed between them.
Indeed, the young dalesman was civil, and no more. He gave scant
courtesy, but then he also gave something that was more substantial, and
the severity of the lawyer's cynicism relaxed. Paul handed Mr.
Bonnithorne, without comment, the deed drawn up in London. Mr.
Bonnithorne glanced at it, pocketed it, and smiled. His sense of Paul's
importance as a dangerous man sunk to nothing at that moment. They
parted without more words.

Parson Christian got home toward evening, dead beaten with fatigue. He
found the lawyer waiting for him. The marriage had been big in his eyes
all day, and other affairs very little.

"So you shall give her away, Mr. Bonnithorne," he said, without
superfluous preface of any kind.

"I--I?" said Mr. Bonnithorne, with elevated brows.

"Who has more right?" said the parson.

"Well, you know, you--you--"

"Me! Nay, I must marry them. It is you for the other duty."

"You see, Mr. Christian, if you think of it, I am--I am--"

"You are her father's old friend. There, let us look on it as settled."

Mr. Bonnithorne looked on it as awkward. "Well, to say the truth, Mr.
Christian, I'd--I'd rather not."

The old parson lifted two astonished eyes, and gazed at Mr. Bonnithorne
over the rims of his spectacles. The lawyer's uneasiness increased. Then
Parson Christian remembered that only a little while ago Mr. Bonnithorne
had offered reasons why Paul should not marry Greta. They were rather
too secular, those same reasons, but no doubt they had appealed honestly
to his mind as a friend of Greta's family.

"Paul and Greta are going away," said the parson.

"So I judged."

"They go to Victoria to farm there," continued the parson.

"On Greta's money," added the lawyer.

Parson Christian looked again over the rims of his spectacles. Then for
once his frank and mellow face annexed a reflection of the curl on the
lawyer's lip. "Do you know," he said, "it never once came into my
simple old pate to ask which would find the dross and which the honest
labor?"

Mr. Bonnithorne winced. The simple old pate could, on occasion, be more
than a match for his own wise head.

"Seeing that I shall marry her, I think it will be expected that you
should give her to her husband; but if you have an objection--"

"An objection?" Mr. Bonnithorne interrupted. "I don't know that my
feeling is so serious as that."

"Then let us leave it there, and you'll decide in the morning," said
Parson Christian.

So they left it there, and Mr. Bonnithorne, the dear friend of the
family, made haste to the telegraph office and sent this telegram to
Hugh Ritson in London: "They are to be married to-morrow. If you have
anything imperative to say, write to-night, or come."

Paul and Greta saw each other only for five minutes that day amid the
general hubbub; but their few words were pregnant with serious issues.
Beneath the chorus of their hearts' joy there was an undersong of
discord; and neither knew of the other's perplexity.

Greta was thinking of Hugh Ritson's mysterious threat. Whether or not
Hugh had the power of preventing their marriage was a question of less
consequence to Greta at this moment than the other question of whether
or not she could tell Paul what Hugh had said. As the day wore on, her
uncertainty became feverish. If she spoke, she must reveal--what
hitherto she had partly hidden--the importunity and unbrotherly
disloyalty of Hugh's love. She must also awaken fresh distress in Paul's
mind, already overburdened with grief for the loss of his mother.
Probably Paul would be powerless to interpret his brother's strange
language. And if he should be puzzled, the more he must be pained.
Perhaps Hugh Ritson's threat was nothing but the outburst of a
distempered spirit--the noise of a bladder that is emptying itself.
Still, Greta's nervousness increased; no reason, no sophistry could
allay it. She felt like a blind man who knows by the current of air on
his face that he has reached two street crossings, and can not decide
which turn to take.

Paul, on his part, had a grave question to revolve. He was thinking
whether it was the act of an honorable man to let Greta marry him in
ignorance of the fact that he was not his father's legitimate son. Yet
he could never tell her. The oath he had taken over his father's body
must seal his lips forever. His mother's honor was wrapped up in that
oath. Break the one, and the other was no longer inviolate. True, it
would be to Greta, and Greta alone, and she and he were one. True, too,
his mother was now dead to the world. But the oath was rigid:

"Never to reveal to any human soul, by word or deed, his act, or her
shame." He had sworn it, and he must keep it. The conflict of emotion
was terrible. Love was dragging him one way, and love the other. Honor
said yes, and honor said no. His heart's first thought was to tell Greta
everything, to keep nothing back from her whose heart's last thought was
his. But the secret of his birth must lie as a dead and speechless thing
within him.

If it was not the act of an honorable man to let Greta marry him in
ignorance of his birth, there was only one escape from the dishonor--not
to let her marry him at all. If they married, the oath must be kept. If
the oath were kept, the marriage might be dishonored--it could not be
the unreserved and complete union of soul with soul, heart with heart,
mind with mind, which true marriage meant. It would be laying the
treasure at the altar and keeping back part of the price.

Paul was not a man of subtle intellect, or perhaps such reflections
would have troubled him too deeply. Love was above everything, and to
give up Greta was impossible. If Circumstance was the evil genius of a
man's life, should it be made the god of it also?

At all hazards Paul meant to marry Greta. And after all, what did this
question of honor amount to? It was a mere phantasm. What did it matter
to Greta whether he were high or basely born? Should he love her less or
more? Would he be less or more worthy of her love? And how was his
birth base? Not in God's eyes, for God had heard the voice of Hagar's
son. Only in the eyes of the world. And what did that mean? It meant
that whether birth was high or base depended one part on virtue and nine
hundred and ninety-nine parts on money. Where had half the world's
titled great ones sprung from? Not--like him--from their father and
their father's fathers, but from a monarch's favorite.

Thus Paul reasoned with himself at this juncture. Whether he was wholly
right or wholly wrong, or partly right and partly wrong, concerns us not
at all. It was natural that such a man, in such a place, at such an
hour, should decide once for all to say not a word to Greta. It was just
as natural that his reticence should produce the long series of
incidents still to be recorded.

Thus it was not a word was said between them of what lay nearest to the
hearts of both.



CHAPTER XVI.


The morning was brilliant--a vigorous, lusty young day, such as can
awake from the sleep of the night only in winter and in the north. The
sun shone on the white frost; the air was hazy enough to make the
perspective of the fells more sharp, and leave a halo of mystery to hang
over every distant peak and play about every tree.

The Ghyll was early astir, and in every nook and corner full of the buzz
of gossip.

"Well, things is at a pass, for sure!" "And never no axings nowther."
"And all cock-a-hoop, and no waiting for the mistress to come back."
"Shaf, what matter about the mistress--she's no' but a kill-joy. There'd
be no merry neet an' she were at home." "Well, I is fair maizelt 'at he
won't wait for Master Hugh--his awn brother, thoo knows." "What, lass,
dusta think as he wad do owt at the durdum to-neet? Maybe tha's
reckoning on takin' a step wi' him, eh?" "And if I is, it's nowt sa
strange." "Weel, I wadna be for saying tha's aiming too high, for I mind
me of a laal lass once as they called Mercy Fisher, and folks did say
as somebody were partial to her." "Hod thy tongue about the bit thing;
don't thoo misliken me to sec a stromp!"

Resplendent in a blue cloth coat, light check trousers, a flowered
yellow silk waistcoat, and a white felt hat, Natt was flying up and down
the stairs to and from Paul's room. Paul himself had not yet been seen.
Rumor in the kitchen whispered that he had hardly taken the trouble to
dress, and had not even been at the pains to wash. Natt had more than
once protested his belief that his master meant to be married in his
shirt-sleeves. Nothing but "papers and pens and sealing-wax and things"
had he asked for.

Outside the vicarage a motley group had gathered. There was John
Proudfoot, the blacksmith, uncommonly awkward in a frock coat and a pair
of kid gloves that sat on his great hands like a clout on a pitchfork.
Dick, the miller, was there, too, with Giles Raisley, the miner; and Job
Sheepshanks (by the way of treaty of peace) stood stroking the tangled
mane of Gubblum Oglethorpe's pony. Children hung on the fence, women
gathered about the gate, dogs capered on the path. Gubblum himself had
been in the house, and now came out accompanied by Brother Peter Ward
and a huge black jug. The jug was passed round with distinct
satisfaction.

"Is the laal man ever coming?" said Gubblum, smacking his lips and
taking a swift survey of the road.

"Why, here he is at sec a skufter as'll brak' his shins!"

At the top of his speed, and breathless, clad in a long coat whose tails
almost swept the ground, grasping a fiddle in one hand and a paper in
the other, Tom o' Dint came hurrying up.

"Tha's here at last, Tom, ma man. Teem a glass into him, Peter, and
let's mak' a start."

"Ye see, I's two men, I is," said the small man, apologetically. "I had
my rounds with my letters to do first, and business afore pleasure, you
knows."

"Pleasure afore business, say I," cried Gubblum. "Never let yer wark get
the upper hand o' yer wages--them's my maxims."

Two coaches came up at the moment, having driven four miles for the
purpose of driving four furlongs.

John Proudfoot, without needless courtesy, took the fiddler-postman by
the neck of his coat and the garment beneath its tails, and slung him,
fiddle and all, on to the saddle of the pony, and held him there a
moment, steadying him like a sack with an open mouth.

"Sit thee there as steady as a broody hen; and now let's mak' shift,"
said the blacksmith.

"But I must go inside first," said the fiddler; "I've a letter for
Lawyer Bonnithorne."

"Shaf on thee and thy letter! Away with thee! Deliver it at the church
door."

The men dropped into a single file, with Tom o' Dint riding at their
head, and Gubblum walking by the pony's side and holding the reins.

"Strike up!" shouted Job Sheepshanks. "Ista ever gaen to begin?"

Then the fiddler shouldered his fiddle, and fell to, and the first long
sweeps of his wedding-march awoke the echoes of the vale.

The women and children followed the procession a few hundred yards, and
then returned to see the wedding-party enter the coaches.

Inside the vicarage all was noise and bustle. Greta was quiet enough,
and ready to set out at any time, but a bevy of gay young daleswomen
were grouped about her, trying to persuade her to change her brown
broche dress for a pale-blue silk, to have some hothouse plants in her
hair, and at least to wear a veil.

"And mind you keep up heart, darling, and speak out your responses; and,
dearest, don't cry until the parson gets to 'God bless you!'"

Greta received all this counsel with equal thanks. She listened to it,
affected to approve of it, and ignored it. Her face betrayed anxiety.
She hardly understood her own fears, but whenever the door opened, and a
fresh guest entered, she knew that her heart leaped to her mouth.

Parson Christian stood near her in silk gaiters and a coat that had been
old-fashioned even in his youth. But his Jovian gray head and fine old
face, beautiful in its mellowness and child-like simplicity, made small
demand of dress. He patted Greta's hair sometimes with the affectionate
gesture that might be grateful to a fondled child.

Mr. Bonnithorne arrived early, in a white waistcoat and coat adorned by
a flower. His brave apparel was scarcely in keeping with the anxiety
written on his face. He could not sit down for more than a moment in the
same seat. He was up and down, walking to and fro, looking out of the
window, and diving for papers into his pocket.

The procession, headed by Tom o' Dint, had not long been gone, when word
was given, and the party took to the coaches and set off at a trot. Then
the group of women at the gate separated with many a sapient comment.

"Weel, he's getten a bonny lass, for sure."

"And many a sadder thing med happen to her, too."

The village lay midway between the vicarage and the church, and the
fiddler and his company marched through it to a brisk tune, bringing
fifty pairs of curious eyes to the windows and the doors. Tom o' Dint
sat erect in the saddle, playing vigorously, and when a burst of
cheering hailed the procession as it passed a group of topers gathered
outside the Flying Horse, Tom accepted it as a tribute to his playing,
and bowed his head with becoming dignity, and without undue familiarity,
always remembering that courtesy comes after art, as a true artist is in
loyalty bound to do.

Once or twice the pony slipped its foot on the frosty road, and then Tom
was fain to abridge a movement in music and make a movement in
gymnastics toward grasping the front of the saddle.

But all went well until the company came within fifty paces of the
church door, and there a river crossed the road. Being shallow and very
swift, the river head escaped the grip of the frost, and slipped through
its fingers. There was a foot-bridge on one side, and the men behind the
fiddler fell out of line to cross by it.

Gubblum dropped the reins and followed them; but, as bridges are not
made for the traffic of ponies, Tom o' Dint was bound to go through the
water. Never interrupting the sweep and swirl of the march he was
playing, he gave the pony a prod with his foot, and it plunged in. But
scarcely had it taken two steps and reached the depth of its knees,
when, from the intenser cold, or from coming sharply against a submerged
stone, or from indignation at the fiddler's prod, or from the occult
cause known as pure devilment, it shied up its back legs, and tossed
down its tousled head, and pitched the musician head-foremost into the
stream.

Amid a burst of derisive cheers, Tom o' Dint was drawn, wet as a sack,
to the opposite bank, and his fiddle was rescued from a rapid voyage
down the river.

Now, the untoward adventure had the good effect of reducing the
fiddler's sense of the importance of his artistic function, and bringing
him back to consciousness of his prosaic duties as postman. He put his
hand into his pocket, feeling as if he had dipped it into a bag of eels,
and drew out the lawyer's letter. It was wet, and the ink of the
superscription was beginning to run.

Tom o' Dint also began to run. Fearing trouble, he left his
unsympathetic cronies, hurried on to the church, went into the vestry,
where he knew there would be a fire, and proceeded to dry the letter.
The water had softened the gum, and the envelope had opened.

"So much the mair easier dried," thought Tom, and, nothing loath, he
drew out the letter, unfolded it, and held it to the fire.

The paper was smoking with the heat, and so was Tom, when he heard
carriage-wheels without, and then a mighty hubbub, and loud voices
mentioning his own name without reverence: "Where's that clothead of a
fiddler?" and sundry other dubious allusions.

Tom knew that he ought to be at the gate striking up a merry tune to
welcome the bride. But then the letter was not dry. There was not a
moment to lose. Tom spread the paper and envelope on the fender,
intending to return for them, and dashed off with his fiddle to the
discharge of his artistic duty.

As Tom o' Dint left the vestry, Parson Christian entered it. The parson
saw the papers on his fender, picked them up, and in all innocence read
them. The letter ran as follows:

     "Morley's Hotel, Trafalgar Square, Nov. 28.

   "Dear Bonnithorne,--The man who was in Newlands is Paul Lowther,
   Greta's half-brother. Paul Ritson is my own brother, my father's son.
   Keep this to yourself as you value your salvation, your pride, or
   your purse, or whatever else you hold most dear. Send me by wire
   to-day the name of their hotel in London, the time of their train
   south, and who, if any, are with them.

     Yours,

     "HUGH RITSON."

     "P.S.--The girl Mercy will be troublesome."

The parson had scarcely time to understand the words he read, when he,
too, was compelled to leave the vestry. The bride and bridegroom had met
at the church door. It was usual to receive them at the altar with
music. The fiddler's function was at an end for the present. Parson
Christian could not allow the fiddle to be heard in church. There a less
secular instrument was required. The church was too poor for an organ;
it had not yet reached the dignity of a harmonium; but it had an
accordion, and among the parson's offices was the office of
accordionist. So, throwing his gown over his head, he walked into the
church, stepped into the pulpit, whipped up his instrument from the
shelf where he kept it, and began to play.

Now it chanced that Mr. Bonnithorne in his legal capacity held certain
documents for signature, and having accompanied the bride to the altar
rail, he hurried to deposit them in the vestry. The gloom had still hung
heavy on his brow as he entered the church. He was brooding over a
letter that he had expected and had not received. Perhaps it was his
present hunger for a letter that made his eye light first on the one
which the fiddler-postman had left to dry. The parson had dropped it on
the mantel-shelf. At a glance Mr. Bonnithorne saw it was his own.

Tom o' Dint had been compelled to come up the aisle at the tail of the
wedding-party. He saw Mr. Bonnithorne, who was at the head of it, go
into the vestry. Dripping wet as he was, and with chattering teeth, the
sweat stood on his forehead. "Deary me, what sec a character will I
have!" he muttered. He elbowed and edged his way through the crowd, and
got into the vestry at last. But he was too late. With an eye that
struck lightning into the meek face of the fiddler, Mr. Bonnithorne
demanded an explanation.

The request was complied with.

"And who has been in the room since you left it?"

"Nay, nobody, sir."

"Sure of that?"

"For sure," said Tom.

Mr. Bonnithorne's countenance brightened. He had read the letter, and,
believing that no one else had read it, he was satisfied. He put it in
his pocket.

"Maybe I may finish drying it, sir?" said Tom o' Dint.

The lawyer gave a contemptuous snort, and turned on his heel.

When Paul walked with a firm step up the aisle, he looked fresh and
composed. His dress was simple; his eyes were clear and bright, and his
wavy brown hair fell back from a smooth and peaceful brow.

Greta, at Paul's side, looked less at ease. The clouds still hung over
her face. Her eyes turned at intervals to the door, as if expecting some
new arrival.

The service was soon done, and then the parson delivered a homily. It
was short and simple, telling how the good bishop had said marriage was
the mother of the world, filling cities and churches, and heaven itself,
whose nursery it was. Then it touched on the marriage rite.

"I do not love ceremonies," said the parson, "for they are too often
'devised to set a gloss on faint deeds,' and there are such of them as
throw the thing they celebrate further away than the wrong end of a
telescope."

Then he explained that though the marriage ceremony was unknown to the
early Christians, and never referred to in the old Bible, where Abraham
"took" Sarah to wife, and Jacob "took" Rachel, yet that the marriage of
the Church was a most holy and beautiful thing, symbolizing the union of
Christ with His people. Last of all, he spoke of the stainless and pious
parentage of both bride and bridegroom, and warned them to keep their
name and fame unsullied, for "What is birth to man or woman," said the
teacher, "if it shall be a stain to his dead ancestors to have left such
offspring?"

Greta bowed her head meekly, and Paul stood, while the parson spoke,
with absent eyes fixed on the tablets on the wall before him, spelling
out mechanically the words of the commandments.

In a few moments the signatures were taken, the bell in the little
turret was ringing, and the company were trooping out of the church. It
was a rude old structure, with great bulges in the walls, little square
lead lights, and open timbers untrimmed and straight from the tree.

The crowd outside had gathered about the wheelless landau which the
carpenter and blacksmith had converted into a sledge. On the box seat
sat Tom o' Dint, his fiddle in his hand, and icicles hanging in the
folds of his capacious coat. The bride and bridegroom were to return in
this conveyance, which was to be drawn down the frozen river by a score
of young dalesmen shod in steel. They took their seats, and had almost
set off, when Greta called for the parson.

"Parson Christian, Parson Christian!" echoed twenty voices. The good
parson was ringing the bell, being bell-ringer also. Presently the
brazen tongue ceased wagging, and Parson Christian reappeared.

"Here's your seat, parson," said Paul, making space.

"In half a crack," replied Parson Christian, pulling a great key out of
his pocket and locking the church door. He was sexton as well.

Then he got up into the sledge, word was called, the fiddle broke out,
and away they went for the river-bank. A minute more and they were
flying over the smooth ice with the morning sunlight chasing them, and
the music of fifty lusty voices in their ears.

They had the longer journey, but they reached the vicarage as early as
the coaches that had returned by the road. Then came the breakfast--a
solid repast, fit for appetites sharpened by the mountain air. Parson
Christian presided in the parlor, and Brother Peter in the kitchen, the
door between being thrown open. The former radiated smiles like April
sunshine; the latter looked as sour as a plum beslimed by the
earthworms, and "didn't know as he'd ever seen sec a pack of hungry
hounds."

After the breakfast the toasts, and up leaped Mr. Bonnithorne. That
gentleman had quite cast off the weight of his anxiety. He laughed and
chaffed, made quips and cranks.

"Our lawyer is foreclosing," whispered a pert young damsel in Greta's
ear. "He's getting drunk."

Mr. Bonnithorne would propose "Mr. and Mrs. Ritson." He began with a few
hoary and reverend quotations--"Men are April when they woo, December
when they wed." This was capped by "Maids are May when they are maids,
but the sky changes when they are wives." Mr. Bonnithorne protested that
both had been true, only with exceptions.

Paul thanked the company in a dozen manly and well-chosen phrases, and
then stepped to the kitchen door and invited the guests over whom
Brother Peter presided to spend the evening at the Ghyll.

The ladies had risen and carried off Greta to prepare for her journey,
when Gubblum Oglethorpe got on his feet and insisted on proposing "the
lasses." What Gubblum had to say on the subject it is not given to us to
record. By some strange twist of logic, he launched out on a very
different topic. Perhaps he sat in the vicinity of Nancy Tantarum, for
he began with the story of a funeral.

"It minds me," he said, "of the carriers at Adam Strang's funeral, at
Gosforth, last back-end gone twelvemonth. There were two sets on 'em,
and they'd a big bottle atween 'em--same as that one as auld Peter, the
honey, keeps to hissel at yon end of the table. Well, they carried Adam
shoulder high from the house to the grave-yard, first one set and then
t'other, mile on mile apiece, and when one set got to the end of their
mile they set down the coffin and went on for t'other set to pick it
up. It were nine mile from Branthet Edge to Gosforth, so they had nine
shifts atween 'em, and at every shift they swigged away at the big
bottle--this way with it, Peter. Well, the mourners they crossed the
fields for shortness, but the bearers, they had to keep the corpse road.
All went reet for eight mile, and then one set with Adam were far ahead
of the other with the bottle. They set the coffin on a wall at the
roadside and went on. Well, when the second set came up they didn't see
it--they couldn't see owt, that's the fact--same as I expect I'll be
afore the day's gone, but not with Peter's good-will, seemingly. Well,
they went on, too. And when all of 'em coom't up to the church togither,
there was the parson in his white smock and his bare poll and big book
open to start. But, you see, there warn't no corpse. Where was it? Why,
it was no' but resting quiet all by itsel' on the wall a mile away."

Gubblum was proceeding to associate the grewsome story with the
incidents of Paul's appearance at the fire while he was supposed to be
in London; but Greta had returned to the parlor, muffled in furs, Paul
had thrown on a long frieze ulster, and every one had risen for the last
leave-taking. In the midst of the company stood the good old Christian,
his wrinkled face wet with silent tears. Greta threw herself into his
arms and wept aloud. Then the parson began to cast seeming merry glances
around him, and to be mighty jubilant all at once.

The improvised sledge was at the door, laden with many boxes.

"Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye!"

A little cheer, a little attempt at laughter, a suppressed sigh, then a
downright honest cry, and away they were gone. The last thing seen by
Greta's hazy eyes was a drooping white head amid many bright girl faces.

How they flew along. The glow of sunset was now in their faces. It
crimsoned the west, and sparkled like gold on the eastern crags. Between
them and the light were the skaters drawing the sledge, sailing along
like a flight of great rooks, their voices echoing in unseen caverns of
the fells.

Mr. Bonnithorne sat with Paul and Greta.

"Where did you say you would stay in London?" he asked.

"At Morley's Hotel," said Paul.

With this answer the lawyer looked unreasonably happy.

The station was reached in twenty minutes. The train steamed in. Paul
and Greta got into the last carriage, all before it being full. A moment
more, and they were gone.

Then Mr. Bonnithorne walked direct to the telegraph office. But the
liquor he had taken played him false. He had got it into his stupefied
head that he must have blundered about Morley's Hotel. That was not
Paul's, but Hugh's address. So he sent this telegram:

"Left by train at one. Address, Hawk and Heron."

Then he went home happy.

That night there was high revel at the Ghyll. First, a feast in the
hall: beef, veal, mutton, ham, haggis, and hot bacon pie. Then an
adjournment to a barn, where tallow candles were stuck into cloven
sticks, and hollowed potatoes served for lamps. Strong ale and trays of
tobacco went round, and while the glasses jingled and the smoke wreathed
upward, a song was sung:

     "A man may spend
     And God will send,
   If his wife be good to owt;
     But a man may spare
     And still be bare,
   If his wife be good to nowt."

Then blindman's buff. "Antony Blindman kens ta me, sen I bought butter
and cheese o' thee? I ga' tha my pot, I ga' tha my pan, I ga' all I had
but a rap ho' penny I gave a poor auld man."

Last of all, the creels were ranged round the hay-mows, and the floor
was cleared of everything except a beer-barrel. This was run into the
corner, and Tom o' Dint and fiddle were seated on top of it. Dancing was
interrupted only by drinking, until Tom's music began to be irregular,
whereupon Gubblum remonstrated; and then Tom, with the indignation of an
artist, broke the bridge of his fiddle on Gubblum's head, and Gubblum
broke the bridge of Tom's nose with his fist, and both rolled on to the
floor and lay there, until Gubblum extricated himself with difficulty,
shook his lachrymose noddle, and said:

"The laal man is as drunk as a fiddler."

The vicarage was quiet that night. All the guests save one were gone.
Parson Christian sat before the smoldering fire. Old Laird Fisher sat
with him. Neither spoke. They passed a long hour in silence.



_BOOK III._


THE DECLIVITY OF CRIME.



CHAPTER I.


A way-side hostelry, six miles from London, bearing its swinging sign of
the silver hawk and golden heron. It was a little, low-roofed place,
with a drinking-bar in front as you entered, and rooms opening from it
on either hand.

The door of the room to the left was shut. One could hear the voices of
children within, and sometimes a peal of their merry laughter. The room
to the right stood open to the bar. It was a smoky place, with a few
chairs, a long deal table, a bench with a back, a form against the wall,
pipes that hung on nails, and a rough beam across the low ceiling.

A big fire burned in an open grate on a hearth without a fender. In
front of it, coiled up in a huge chair like a canoe, that had a look of
having been hewn straight from the tree, sat the only occupant of the
room. The man wore a tweed suit of the indefinite pattern known as
pepper and salt. His hat was drawn heavily over his face to protect his
eyes from the glare of the fire-light. He gave satisfactory evidence
that he slept.

Under any light but that of the fire, the place must have looked
cheerless to desolation, but the comfortless room was alive with the
fire's palpitating heart. The rosy flames danced over the sleeper's
tawny hair, over the sanded floor, over the walls adorned with gaudy
prints. They threw shadows and then caught them back again; flashed a
ruddy face out of the little cracked window, and then lay still while
the blue night looked in.

An old woman, with a yellow face deeply wrinkled, served behind the bar.
Two or three carriers and hawkers sat on a bench before it. One of these
worthies screwed up the right side of his face with an expression of
cutting irony.

"Burn my body, though, but what an inwalable thing to have a son wot
never need do no work!"

The old woman lifted her eyes.

"There, enough of that," she said, and then jerked her head toward the
room from whence came measured snores. "He'll be working at throwing you
out, some of you, same as he did young Bobby on Sunday sennight."

"Like enough. He don't know which side his bread is buttered, he don't."

"His bread?" said another, an old road-mender, with a scornful dig of
emphasis. "His old mother's, you mean. Don't you notice as folks as eat
other folks' bread, and earn none for theirselves, never knows no more
nor babbies which side the butter is on?"

"Hold your tongue, Luke Sturgis!" said the old woman. "Mayhap you think
it's you're pint of half-and-half as keeps us all out of the union."

"Now you're a-goin' to get wexed, Mrs. Drayton. So wot's to prevent me
having another pint, just to get that fine son of yourn an extra cigar
or so. Hold hard with the pewter, though. I'll drain off what's left, if
convenient."

A drowsy-eyed countryman, with a dog snoring at his feet, said:

"Been to Lunnon again," and pointed the shank of his pipe in the
direction of the sleeping man. "Got the Lunnon smell on his clothes. I
allus knows it forty perches off."

"You're wrong, then, Mr. Wiseman," said the old woman, "and he ain't got
no smell of no Lunnon on his clothes this day, anyways. For he's been
where there ain't no smell no more nor in Hendon, leastways unless the
mount'ins smells and the cataracks and the sheeps."

"The mount'ins? And has Master Paul been along of the mount'ins?"

"Yes; Cummerland, that's the mountains, and fur off, too, I've heerd."

"Cummerland? Ain't that the part as the young missy comes from?"

"Mayhap it is; I wouldn't be for saying no to that."

"So that's the time o' day, is it?" The speaker gave a prolonged whistle
and turned a suggestive glance into the faces of his companions. "Well,
I allus says to my old woman, 'Bide quiet,' I says, 'and it'll leak
out,' and sure enough, so it has."

The landlady fired up.

"And I allus says to your missus, 'Mistress Sturgis,' I says, 'it do
make me that wexed to see a man a-prying into other people's business
and a-talking and a-scandalizing, which it is bad in a woman, where you
expects no better, as the saying is, but it ain't no ways bearsome in a
man--and I wish you'd keep him,' I says, 'from poking his nose, as you
might say, into other people's pewters.' There--that's what I allus says
to your missis."

"And very perwerse of you, too," said the worthy addressed, speaking
with the easy good-nature of one who could afford to be rated. "And
wot's to prevent me having a screw of twist on the strength of it,"
putting a penny on the counter.

The landlady threw down the paper of tobacco, picked up the penny, and
cast it into the till.

"On'y, as I say, there's no use denying now as Mister Paul Drayton has a
finger in the young missy's pie."

"There, that's enough o' that. I told you afore she never set eyes on
him till a fortnight come Sunday."

Two women came into the bar with jugs.

"And how is the young missy?" asked the elder of the two, catching up
the conversation as the landlady served her.

"She's there," said the landlady, rather indefinitely, indicating with a
sidelong nod the room to the left with the closed door.

At that moment the laughter of the children could be heard from within.

"She's merry over it, at any rate, though I did hear a whisper," said
the woman, "as she feeds two when she eats her wittals, as the saying
is."

The men laughed.

"That's being overcur'ous, mistress," said one, as the woman passed out
sniggering.

"Such baggage oughtn't to be taken in to live with respectable people,"
said the other woman, the younger one, who wore a showy bonnet and a
little gay ribbon at her neck.

"And that's being overcharitable," said another voice. "It's the women
for charity, especially to one of themselves."

"It's cur'osity as is the mischief i' this world," said the drowsy-eyed
countryman. "People talk o' the root o' all evil, and some says drink,
and some says money, and some says rheumatis, but I says cur'osity. Show
me the man as ain't cur'ous, and he don't go a-poking his nose into
every stink-pot, as you might say."

"Of course not," said the gentleman addressed as Luke Sturgis. "And show
me the man as ain't cur'ous" he said, with a wink, "and I'll show you
the man as is good at a plough and inwalable at a ditch, and wery near
worth his weight in gold at gapping a hedge, and mucking up a
horse-midden, and catching them nasty moles wot ruin the county worse
nor wars and publicans and parsons."



CHAPTER II.


It was Mercy Fisher who sat in the room to the left of the bar, and
played with the children, and laughed when they laughed, and tried to
forget that she was not as young as they were, and as happy and as free
from thought, living as they lived, from hour to hour, with no past, and
without a future, and all in the living present. But she was changed,
and was now no longer quite a child, though she had a child's heart that
would never grow old, but be a child's heart still, all the same that
the weight of a woman's years lay upon it, and the burden of a woman's
sorrow saddened it. A little older, a little wiser, perhaps, a little
graver of face, and with eyes a little more wistful.

A neighbor who had gone to visit a relative five miles away had brought
round her children, begging the "young missy" to take care of them in
her absence. A curly-headed boy of four sat wriggling in Mercy's lap,
while a girl of six stood by her side, watching the needles as she
knitted. And many a keen thrust the innocent, prattling tongues sent
straight as an arrow to Mercy's heart. The little fellow was revolving a
huge lozenge behind his teeth.

"And if oo had a little boy would oo give him sweets ery often--all
days--sweets and cakes--would oo?"

"Yes, every day, darling; I'd give him sweets and cakes every day."

"I 'ikes oo. And would oo let him go out to play with the big boys, and
get birds' nests and things, would oo?"

"Yes, bird's nests, and berries, and everything."

"I 'ikes oo, I do. And let him go to meet daddy coming home at night,
and ride on daddy's back?"

A shadow shot across the girl's simple face, and there was a pause.

"Would oo? And lift him on daddy's shoulder, would oo?"

"Perhaps, dear."

"Oh!" the little chap's delight required no fuller expression.

"Ot's oo doing?"

"Knitting, darling--there, rest quiet on my knee."

"Ot is it--knitting--stockings for oo little boy?"

"I have no little boy, sweetheart. They are mittens for a gentleman."

"How pooty! Ot's a gentleman?"

"A man, dear. Mr. Drayton is a gentleman, you know."

"Oh!" Then after a moment's sage reflection, "Me knows--a raskill."

"Willy!"

"'At's what daddy says he is."

All this time the little maiden at Mercy's side had been pondering her
own peculiar problem. "What would you do if you had a little girl?"

"Well, let me see; I'd teach her to knit and to sew, and I'd comb her
hair so nice, and make her a silk frock with flounces, and, oh! such a
sweet little hat."

"How nice! And would you take her to market and to church, and to see
the dolls in Mrs. Bicker's window?"

"Yes, dearest, yes."

"And never whip her?"

"My little girl would be very, very good, and oh! so pretty."

"And let her go to grandma's whenever she liked, and not tell grandpa
he's not to give her ha'pennies, would you?"

"Yes ... dear ... yes ... perhaps."

"Are your eyes very sore to-day, Mercy, they are so red?"

But the little one of all was not interested in this turn of the
conversation: "Well, why don't oo have a little boy?"

A dead silence.

"Wont oo, eh?"

Willy was put to the ground. "Let us sing something. Do you like
singing, sweetheart?"

The little fellow climbed back to her lap in excitement. "Me sing, me
sing. Mammy told I a song--me sing it oo."

And without further ceremony the little chap struck up the notes of a
lullaby.

Mercy had learned that same song, as her mother crooned it long ago by
the side of her cot. A great wave of memory and love and sorrow and
remorse, in one, swept over her. It cost her a struggle not to break
into a flood of tears. And the little innocent face looked up at the
ceiling as the sweet child-voice sung the familiar words.

There was a new-comer in the bar outside. It was Hugh Ritson, clad in a
long ulster, with the hood drawn over his hat. He stepped up to the
landlady, who courtesied low from behind the counter. "So he has
returned?" he said, without greeting of any kind.

"Yes, sir, he is back, sir; he got home in the afternoon, sir."

"You told him nothing of any one calling?"

"No, sir--that is to say, sir--not to say told him, sir--but I did
mention--just mention, sir, that--"

Hugh Ritson smiled coldly. "Of course--precisely. Were you more prudent
with the girl?"

"Oh, yes, sir, being as you told me not to name it to the missy--"

"He is asleep, I see."

"Yes, sir; he'd no sooner taken bite and sup than he dropped off in his
chair, same as you see, sir; and never a word since. He must have
traveled all night."

"He did not explain?"

"Oh, no, sir; he on'y called for his cold meat and his ale, sir, and--"

"You see, his old mother ain't noways in his confidence, master," said
one of the countrymen on the bench.

"Nor you in mine, my friend," said Hugh Ritson, facing about. Then
turning again to the landlady, he said: "Tell him some one wants to
speak with him. Or, wait, I'll tell him myself."

He stepped into the room with the sleeping man, and closed the door
after him.

"Luke Sturgis," said the landlady, with sudden austerity, "I'll have you
know as it's none of your business saying words what's onpleasant--and
me his mother, too. What's it you say? Cloven hoof? He's a personable
gentleman, if he has got summat a matter with a foot, and a clever face
how-an'-ever!"



CHAPTER III.


Alone with the sleeping man, Hugh Ritson stood and looked down at him
intently. The fire had burned to a steady glow of red coal without
flame. There was no other light in the room.

The sleeper began to stir with the uneasy movement of one who is
struggling against the effect of a fixed gaze bent upon him. Then, with
a shake of the head and a shrug of the shoulders, he sat up in his
chair. He tossed his hat back from his forehead, and a tuft of wavy
brown hair tumbled over it. His head was held down, and his eyes were on
the fire. Hugh Ritson took a step toward him and put one hand on his
arm.

"Paul Drayton," he said, and the man shrunk under his touch and slowly
turned his face full upon him.

When their eyes met Hugh Ritson saw what he had expected to see--the
face of Paul Ritson. In that low, red light, every feature was the same.
By the swift impulse of sense it seemed as if it could be the same man
and no other; as if Paul Drayton and Paul Ritson were one man.

Drayton got on to his feet with an uncertain shuffle, and then in a
moment the hallucination was dispelled. He kicked, with a heavy boot, at
the slumbering coals, and the fire broke into a sharp crackle and bright
blaze. The white light fell on his face. It was a fine face brutalized
by excess. The features were strong, manly, and impressive. What God had
done was very good; but the eyes were bleared, and the lips discolored,
and the expression, which might have been frank, was sullen.

"I don't wonder that you were tired after your journey; it was a long
one," said Hugh Ritson. He affected an easy manner, but there was a
tremor in his voice. "You caught the early Scotch mail from Penrith," he
added, and drew a bench nearer to the fire and sat down.

Drayton made a half-dazed scrutiny of his visitor, and said:

"Damme, if you're not the fence as was here afore, criss-crossing at our
old woman! Tell us your name."

The voice was husky, but it had, nevertheless, a note or two of the
voice of Paul Ritson.

"That will be unnecessary," said Hugh Ritson, with complete
self-possession. "We've met before," he added, smiling.

"The deuce we have--where?"

"You slept at the Pack Horse at Keswick rather more than a week ago,"
said Hugh.

Drayton betrayed no surprise.

"Last Saturday night you were active at the fire that almost destroyed
the old mill at Newlands."

Drayton's sullen face was immovable.

"By the way," said Hugh, elevating his voice and affecting a sudden flow
of spirits, "I owe you my personal thanks for your exertions. What do
you drink--brandy?"

Going to the door, he called for a bottle of brandy and glasses.

"Then, again, on Monday night," he added, turning into the room, "you
did me the honor to visit my own house."

Drayton was still standing.

"I know you," he said. "Shall I tell you your name?"

Hugh smiled with undisturbed humor. "That also will be unnecessary," he
said; and leisurely drew off his gloves.

"What d'ye want? I ain't got no time to waste--that's flat."

"Well, let me see, it's just ten o'clock," said Hugh Ritson, taking out
his watch. "I want you to earn twenty pounds before twelve."

Mr. Drayton gave vent to a grim laugh.

"I'll pound it as I'm fly to what that means! You're looking to earn two
hundred before midnight."

Mr. Drayton gave Hugh a sidelong glance of great astuteness.

Hugh lifted his eyebrows and shook his head.

"Money is not my object."

"Oh, it ain't, eh? Well, I'm not afraid for you to know as it's
mine--very much so." And Mr. Drayton gave vent to another grim laugh.

Mrs. Drayton entered the room at this moment, and set down the brandy,
two glasses, and a water-bottle on the deal table.

"Let me offer you a little refreshment," and Hugh took up the brandy and
poured out half a tumbler.

"Thankee, thankee!"

"Water? Say when."

But Mr. Drayton stopped the dilution by snatching up his tumbler. His
manner had undergone a change. The watchfulness of a ferocious creature
dogged and all but trapped gave way to reckless abandonment, bravado and
audacity.

"What's the lay?" he said, with a chuckle.

"To accompany a lady to Kentish Town Junction, and see her safe into the
midnight train--that's all."

Drayton laughed outright.

"Of course it is," he said.

"The lady will be here shortly before midnight."

"Of course she will."

Hugh Ritson's face lost its smiles.

"Don't laugh like that--I won't have it!"

Mr. Drayton made another application to the spirit bottle, and then
leaned toward Hugh Ritson over the arm of his chair.

"Look here," he said, "it's just a matter o' thirty years gone August
since my mother put me into swaddling clothes, and deng my buttons if
I'm wearing 'em yet!"

"What do you mean, my friend?" said Hugh.

Drayton chuckled contemptuously.

"Speak out plain," he said. "Give the work its right name. I ain't
afraid for you to say it. A man don't give twenty pounds for the like o'
that. Not if he works for it honest, same as me. I'm a licensed
victualer, and a gentleman--that's what I am, if you want to know."

Hugh Ritson repudiated all unnecessary curiosity, whereupon Mr. Drayton
again had recourse to the spirit bottle, mentioned afresh his profession
and pretensions, and wound up by a relative inquiry, "And what do you
call yourself?"

Hugh did not immediately gratify Mr. Drayton's curiosity.

"Quite right, Mr. Drayton," he said; "I know all about you. Shall I tell
you why you went to Cumberland?"

Remarking that it was easy to repeat an old woman's gossip, Mr. Drayton
took out of his pocket a goat-skin tobacco-pouch, and proceeded to
charge a discolored meerschaum pipe.

"Thirty years ago," said Hugh Ritson, "a young lady tried to drown
herself and her child. She was rescued and committed to an asylum. Her
child, a son, was given into the care of the good woman with whom she
had lodged."

Mr. Drayton interrupted. "Thankee; but, as the wice-chairman says,
'we'll take it as read,' so we will."

Hugh Ritson nodded his head, and continued, while Mr. Drayton smoked
vigorously: "You have never heard of your mother from that hour to this;
but one day you were told by the young girl whom circumstances had cast
on your foster-mother's care, that among the mountains of Cumberland
there lived another man who bore you the most extraordinary resemblance.
That excited your curiosity. You had reasons for thinking that if your
mother were alive she might be rich. Now, you yourself had the
misfortune to be poor."

"And I'm not afraid for anybody to know it," interrupted Mr. Drayton.
"Come to the point honest. Look here, we are like two hyenas I saw one
day at the Zoo. One got a bone in his tooth at feeding time, and blest
if the other didn't fight for that bone I don't know how long and all."

"Well," continued Hugh Ritson, with a dubious smile that the cloud of
smoke might have hidden from a closer observer, "being a man of spirit,
and not without knowledge of the world, having inherited brains, in
short, from the parents who bequeathed you nothing else--"

Mr. Drayton puffed volumes, then poured himself half a tumbler of the
raw spirit and tossed it off.

--"You determined on seeing if, after all, this were only a fortuitous
resemblance."

Mr. Drayton raised his hand. "I am a licensed victualer, that's what I
am, and I ain't flowery," he said, in an apologetic tone; "I hain't had
the chance of it, being as I'd no schooling--but, deng me, you've just
hit it!" And the gentleman who could not be flowery shook hands
effusively with the gentleman who could.

"Precisely, Mr. Drayton, precisely," said Hugh Ritson. He paused and
watched Drayton closely. That worthy had removed his pipe, and was
staring, with stupid eyes and open mouth, into the fire.

"But you found nothing."

"How d'ye know?"

"Your face at this moment says so."

"Pooh! Don't you go along trusting this here time-piece for the time o'
day. It ain't been brought up in habits o' truthfulness same as yours."

Hugh Ritson laughed.

"You and I are meant to be friends, Mr. Drayton," he said. "But let us
first understand each other. Your idea that you could find your parents
in Cumberland was a pure fallacy."

"Eh! Why?"

"Because your mother is dead."

Drayton shook off the stupor of liquor, and betrayed a keen if momentary
interest.

"The book of the asylum in which she was confined, after the attempted
suicide, contains the record--"

"But she escaped," interrupted Drayton.

"Contains the record of her escape and subsequent recovery--dead. The
body was picked out of the river, recognized by the authorities as that
of the unknown woman, and buried in the name she gave."

"What name?" said Drayton.

Hugh Ritson's face underwent a momentary change.

"That is indifferent," he said; "I forget."

"Sure you forget?" said Drayton. "Couldn't be Ritson, eh?"

Hugh struck the table.

"Assuredly not--the name was not Ritson."

The tone irritated Mr. Drayton. He glanced down with a look that seemed
to say that Hugh Ritson had his Maker to thank for giving him the
benefit of an infirm foot.

Hugh Ritson mollified him by explaining that if he had any curiosity as
to the name, he could discover it for himself. "Besides," said Hugh,
"what matter about the name if your mother is dead?"

"That's true," said Drayton, who, being now appeased, began to see that
his anger had been puerile.

"Depend upon it, your father, wherever he is, is a cipher," said Hugh
Ritson.

Drayton got on to his feet and trudged the floor uneasily. An idea had
occurred to him. "The person picked out of the river may have been
another woman. I've heard of such."

"Possibly; but the chance of error is worth little to you." Hugh looked
uncomfortable as he said this, but Drayton saw nothing.

"Bah! What matter?" said Drayton, and, determined to cudgel his brains
no longer, he reached for the brandy and drank another half glass. There
was then an interchange of deep amity.

"Tell me," said Hugh, "what passed at the Ghyll on Monday night?"

"The Ghyll? Monday? That was the night of the snow. What passed?
Nothing."

"Why did you go?"

"Wanted to see your mother. Saw your brother one night late at the door
of the parson's house. Saw you at the fire. At the fire?--certainly.
Stood a matter of a dozen yards away when that young buck of a stableman
drove up with the trap. What excuse for going? Blest if I
remember--summat or other; knocked, and no one came. I don't know how
long and all I stood cooling my heels at the door. Then I saw a light
coming from a room on the first floor, and up I went and knocked. 'Come
in,' says somebody. I went in. Withered old party got up. Black crape
and beads, you know. But, afore I could speak, she reeled like a top and
fell all of a heap. Blest if the old girl didn't take me for a ghost!"
Mr. Drayton elevated his eyebrows, and added with emphasis, "I got out."

"And on the way back you frightened a young lady in the lane, who, like
my mother, mistook you for the ghost of my brother Paul. Well, that
young lady was married to my brother this morning. They are now on their
way to London. They intend to leave England on Wednesday next, and they
mean to pass to-night in your house."

Mr. Drayton's eyebrows went up again.

"It is certainly hard to understand--but look," and Hugh Ritson handed
to Drayton the telegram he had received from Bonnithorne. That worthy
examined it minutely, back and front, with bleared and bewildered eyes,
and then looked to his visitor for explanation.

"The lady must not leave England," said Hugh.

Drayton steadied himself, and tried hard to look appalled.

"Upon my soul, you make my flesh creep!" he said. "What do you want for
your twenty pounds? Speak out plain. I'm not flowery, I'm not. I'm a
licensed victualer and a gentleman--"

"What do I want? Only that you should send the lady home again by the
first train."

Drayton began to laugh.

"You see, there was no cause for alarm," said Hugh, with an innocent
smile.

Drayton's laughter became boisterous.

"I am to decoy the young thing away by making her believe as I'm her
husband, eh?"

"Mr. Drayton, you are a shrewd fellow."

"And what about the husband--ain't he another shrewd fellow?"

"Leave him to me. When the time comes, make no delay. Don't expose
yourself unnecessarily. Wear that ulster you have on at present. Say as
little as possible--nothing if practicable. Get the lady into the fly
that shall be waiting at the door; drive to the station; book her to
Keswick; put her into the carriage at the last moment; then clear away
with all expedition. The midnight train never stops this side of
Bedford."

Drayton was shuffling across the room, chuckling audibly. "He, he, he!
haw! haw!--so I'm to leave her at the station, eh? Poor young thing; I
hain't got the heart--I hain't got it in me to be so cruel. No, no, I
couldn't be such a vagabond of a husband--he, he! haw, haw!--and on the
poor thing's wedding day, too."

Hugh Ritson rose to his feet.

"If you go an inch further than the station, you'll repent it to your
dying day!" he said, once more bringing down his fist heavily on the
table.

At this Drayton chuckled and crowed yet louder, and declared that it
would be necessary to have another half glass in order to take the taste
of the observation out of his mouth.

Then his laughter ceased.

"Look here: you want me to do a job as can only be done by one man
alive. And what do you offer me--twenty pounds? Keep it," he said; "it
won't pass, sir!"

The fire had burned very low, the cheerless room was dense with smoke
and noisome with the smell of dead tobacco. Drayton buttoned up to the
throat the long coat he wore.

"I've summat on," he said; "good-night."

The sound of children's voices came from the bar. The little ones were
going home.

"Good-night, missy, and thank you." It was a woman's voice.

"Good-night, Mercy," cried the children.

Drayton was opening the door.

"Think again," said Hugh Ritson. "You run no risk. Eleven forty-five
prompt will do."



CHAPTER IV.


When Drayton went out, Hugh Ritson walked into the bar. The gossips had
gone. Only the landlady was there. The door to the room opposite now
stood open.

"Mrs. Drayton," said Hugh, "have you ever seen this face before?"

He took a medallion from his pocket and held it out to her.

"Lor's a mercy me!" cried the landlady; "why, it's her herself as plain
as plain--except for the nun's bonnet."

"Is that the lady who lodged with you at Pimlico--the mother of Paul?"

"As sure as sure! Lor's, yes; and to think the poor young dear is dead
and gone! It's thirty years since, but it do make me cry, and my
husband--he's gone, too--my husband he said to me, 'Martha,' he said,
'Martha--'"

The landlady's garrulity was interrupted by a light scream: "Hugh,
Hugh!"

Mercy Fisher stood in the door-way, with wonder-stricken eyes and
heaving breast.

In an instant the poor little soul had rushed into Hugh Ritson's arms
with the flutter of a frightened bird.

"Oh, I knew you would come--I was sure you would come!" she said, and
dried her eyes, and then cried again, and then dried them afresh, and
lifted her pouting lips to be kissed.

Hugh Ritson made no display. A shade of impatience crossed his face at
first, but it was soon gone. He tried to look pleased, and bent his head
and touched the pale lips slightly.

"You look wan, you poor little thing," he said, quietly. "What ails
you?"

"Nothing--nothing, now that you have come. Only you were so long in
coming, so very long."

He called up a brave word to answer her.

"But you see I keep my word, little woman," he said, and smiled down at
her and nodded his head cheerfully.

"And you have come to see me at last! All this way to see poor little
me!"

The mute weariness that had marked her face fled at that moment before a
radiant smile.

"One must do something for those who risk so much for one," he said, and
laughed a little.

"Ah!"

The first surprise over, the joy of that moment was beyond the gift of
speech. Her arms encircled his neck, and she looked up at his face in
silence and with brightening eyes.

"And so you found the time long and tedious?" he said.

"I had no one to talk to," she said, with a blank expression.

"Why, you ungrateful little thing! you had good Mrs. Drayton here, and
her son, and all the smart young fellows of Hendon who came to drink at
the bar and say pretty things to the little bar-maid, and--"

"It's not that--I had no one who knew you," she said, and dropped her
voice to a whisper.

"But you go out sometimes--into the village--to London?" he said.

"No, I never go out--never now."

"Then your eyes are really worse?"

"It's not my eyes. But, never mind. Oh, I knew you would not forget me.
Only sometimes of an evening, when the dusk fell in, and I sat by the
fire all alone, something would say, 'He doesn't want me,' 'He won't
come for me.' But that was not true, was it?"

"Why, no; of course not."

"And then when the children came--the neighbor's children,--and I put
the little darlings to bed, and they said their prayers to me, and I
tried to pray, too--sometimes I was afraid to pray--and then, and then,"
(she glanced round watchfully and dropped her voice) "something would
say, 'Why didn't he leave me alone? I was so happy!'"

"You morbid little woman! You shall be happy again--you are happy now,
are you not?" he said.

Her eyes, bleared and red, but bright with the shafts of love, looked up
at him in the dumb joy that is perfect happiness.

"Ah!" she said, and dropped her comely head on his breast.

"But you should have taken walks--long, healthy, happy walks," he said.

"I did--while the roses bloomed and the dahlias and things, and I saved
so many of them against you would come, moss roses and wild white roses;
but you were so long coming and they withered. And then I couldn't throw
them away, because, you know, they were yours; so I pressed them in the
book you gave me. See, let me show you."

She stepped aside eagerly to pick up a little gilt-edged book from the
table in the inner room. He followed her mechanically, hardly heeding
her happy prattle.

"And was there no young fellow in all Hendon to make those lonely walks
of yours more cheerful?"

She was opening her book with nervous fingers, and stopped to look up
with blank eyes.

"Eh? No handsome young fellow who whispered that you were a pretty
little thing, and had no right to go moping about by yourself? None?
Eh?"

Her old look of weariness was creeping back.

"Come, Mercy, tell the truth, you sly little thing--eh?"

She was fumbling his withered roses with nervous fingers. Her throat
felt parched.

He looked down at her saddening face, and then muttered, as if speaking
to himself: "I told that Bonnithorne this hole and corner was no place
for the girl. He should have taken her to London."

The girl's heart grew sick. The book was closed and dropped back on to
the table.

"And now, Mercy," said Hugh Ritson, "I want you to be a good little
woman, and do as I bid you, and not speak a word. Will you?"

The child-face brightened, and Mercy nodded her head, a little tear
rolling out of one gleaming eye. At the same moment she put her hand in
the pocket of her muslin apron, and took out a pair of knitted mittens,
and tried to draw them on to Hugh's wrists.

He looked at the gift, and smiled, and said: "I won't need these--not
to-day, I mean. See, I wear long gloves, with fur wristbands--there,
I'll store your mittens away in my pocket. What a sad little
soul--crying again?"

Mercy's pretty dreams were dying one by one. She lifted now a timid hand
until it rested lightly on his breast.

"Listen. I'm going out, but I'll soon be back. I must talk with Mrs.
Drayton, and I've something to pay her, you know."

The timid hand fell to the girl's side.

"When I return there may be some friends with me--a lady and a
gentleman--but I want to see them alone, quite alone, and I don't want
them to see you--do you understand?"

A great dumb sadness was closing in on Mercy's heart.

"But they will soon be gone, and then to-morrow you and I must talk
again, and try to arrange matters so that you won't be quite so lonely,
but will stir about, and see the doctor for your eyes, and get well
again, and try to forget--"

"Forget!" said the girl, faintly. Her parched throat took away her
voice.

"I mean--that is to say--I was hoping--of course, I mean forget all the
trouble in Cumberland. And now get away to bed like a good little girl.
I must be off. Ah, how late!--see, a quarter to eleven, and my watch is
slow."

He walked into the bar, buttoning up his coat to his ears. The girl
followed him listlessly. Mrs. Drayton was washing glasses behind the
counter.

"Mind you send this little friend of mine to bed very soon," said Hugh
to the landlady. "Look how red her eyes are! And keep a good fire in
this cozy parlor on the left--you are to have visitors--you need not
trouble about a bedroom--they won't stay long. Let me see, what do they
say is the time of your last up-train?"

"To London? The last one starts away at half past twelve," said the
landlady.

"Very good. I'll see you again, Mrs. Drayton. Good-night, Mercy, and do
keep a brighter face. There--kiss me. Now, good-night--what a silly,
affectionate little goose--and mind you are in bed and asleep before I
return, or I shall be that angry--yes, I shall. You never saw me angry.
Well, never mind. Good-night."

The door opened and closed. Mercy went back into the room. It was
cheerless and empty, and the children's happy voices lived in it no
more. The girl's heart ached with a dull pain that had never a pang at
all, but was dumb and dead and cold; and Mercy was all alone.

"Perhaps he was only in fun when he said that about walking out with
somebody and trying to forget, and not being seen," she thought. "Yes;
he must have been only in fun," she thought, "because he knew how I
waited and waited."

Then she took up again the book that he had hardly glanced at. It fell
open at a yellow, dried-up rose that had left the stain of its heart's
juice on the white leaf.

"Yes, he was only in fun," she said, and then laughed a little; and then
a big drop fell on to the open page and on to the dead flower.

Then she tried to be very brave.

"I must not cry; it makes my eyes, oh! so sore. I must get them well and
strong--oh, yes! I must be well and strong against--against--then."

She lifted her head slowly where she stood alone, and a smile, like a
summer breeze on still water, rippled over her mouth.

"He kissed me," she thought, "and he came to see me--all this long, long
way."

A lovely dream shone in her face now.

"And if he does not come again until--until then--he will be glad--oh,
he will be very glad!"

The thought of a future hour when the poor little soul should be rich
with something of her own that would be dearest of all because not all
her own, shone like a sleeping child's vision in her face. She went out
into the bar and lighted a candle.

"So that's your sweetheart--not the lawyer man, eh?" said Mrs. Drayton,
bustling about.

"I've no call to hide my face now--not now that he has come--have I?"
said Mercy.

"Well, he is free of his money, and I'se just been hoping you get some
of it, for, as I says, you want things bad, and them as has the looking
to it should find 'em, as is only reasonable."

Mercy did as she had been bidden: she went off to her bedroom. But her
head was too full of thoughts for sleep. She examined her face in the
glass, and smiled and blushed at it because he called it pretty. It was
prettier than ever to her own eyes now. After half an hour she
remembered that she had left the book on the table in the parlor, and
crept down-stairs to recover it. When she was on the landing at the
bottom, she heard a hurried knock at the outer door.

Thereafter all her dreams died in an instant.



CHAPTER V.


When Hugh Ritson stepped out into the road, the night was dark. Fresh
from the yellow light of the inn, his eyes could barely descry the
footpath or see the dim black line of the hedge. The atmosphere was
damp. The moisture in the air gathered in great beads on his eyebrows
and beard, stiffening them with frost. It was bitterly cold. The mist
that rose from the river spread itself over the cold, open wastes of
marshy ground that lay to the right and to the left. The gloomy road was
thick with half-frozen mud.

Hugh Ritson buttoned his coat yet closer and started at a brisk pace.

"No time to lose," he thought, "if I've to be at the station when the
north train goes through. Would have dearly liked to keep an eye on my
gentleman. Should have done it, but for the girl. 'Summat on,' eh? What
is it, I wonder? It might be useful to know."

With a cutting wind at his back he walked faster as his eyes grew
familiar with the darkness. He was thinking that Bonnithorne's telegram
might be an error. Perhaps it had even been tampered with. It was barely
conceivable that Paul and Greta had ever so much as heard of the Hawk
and Heron. And what possible inducement could they have to sleep in
Hendon when they would be so near to London?

His mind went back to Mercy Fisher. At that moment she was dreaming
beautiful dreams of how happy she was very soon to make him. He was
thinking, with vexation, that the girl was a connecting link with the
people in Cumberland. Yes--and the only link, too. Could it be that
Mercy--No; the idea of Mercy's disloyalty to him was really too
ridiculous. If he could get to the station before the train from the
north was due to stop there, he would see for himself whether Paul and
Greta alighted. If they did not, as they must be in that train, he would
get into it also, and go on with them to London. Bonnithorne might have
blundered.

The journey was long, and the roads were heavy for walking. It seemed a
far greater distance than he had thought. At the angle of a gate and a
thick brier hedge he struck a match and read the time by his watch.
Eleven o'clock. Too late, if the watch were not more than a minute slow.

At that moment he heard the whistle of a train, and between the whirs of
the wind he heard the tinkle of the signal bell. Too late, indeed. He
was still a quarter of a mile from the station.

Still he held on his way, without hope for his purpose, yet quickening
his pace to a sharp run.

He had come within three hundred yards of the station when he heard an
unearthly scream, followed in an instant by a great clamor and tumult of
human voices. Shrieks, shouts, groans, sobs, wails--all were mingled
together in one agonized cry that rent the thick night air asunder.

Hugh Ritson ran faster.

Then he saw haggard men and women appearing and disappearing before him
in the light of a fire that panted on the ground like an overthrown
horse.

The north train had been wrecked.

Within a dozen yards from the station the engine and three of the front
carriages had broken from their couplings and plunged on to the bank.
The last four carriages, free of the fatal chain, had kept the rails and
were standing unharmed above.

Women who had been dragged through the tops of the overturned carriages
fled away with white faces into the darkness of the fields. Men, too,
with panic-stricken eyes, sat down on the grass, helpless and useless.
Some resolute souls, roused to activity, were pulling at the carriages
to set them right. Men from the station came with lanterns, and rescued
the injured, and put them to lie out of harm's way.

The scene was harrowing, and only two of its incidents are material to
this history. Over all the rest, the clamor, the tumult, the agony, the
abject fear, and the noble courage, let a veil be drawn.

Fate had brought together, in that hour of disaster, three men whose
lives, hitherto apart, were henceforth to be bound up as one life for
good or ill.

Hugh Ritson rushed here and there like a man distraught. He peered into
every face. He caught up a lantern that some one had set down, and ran
to and fro in the darkness, stooping to let the light fall on those on
the ground, holding up the red glare to the windows of the uninjured
carriages.

At that moment all his frozen soul seemed to melt. Face to face with the
pitiless work of destiny, his own heartless schemes disappeared. At last
he saw the face he looked for. Then he dropped the lantern to his side,
and turned the glass of it from him.

"Stay here, Greta," said a voice he knew. "I shall be back with you
presently. Let me lend them a hand over yonder." The man went by him in
the darkness.

Hark!

Hugh Ritson heard a cry from the field beyond the bank. It was there
that they had placed the injured.

"Help! help! I am robbed--- help!" came out of the darkness.

"Where are you?" asked another voice.

"Here! Help! help!"

Hugh Ritson ran toward the place whence the first voice came, and saw
the figure of a man stooping over something that lay on the ground. At
the same moment another man rushed up and laid strong hold of the
stooping figure. There was a short, sharp struggle. The two men were of
one stature, one strength. There was a sound as of cloth ripped asunder.

At the next moment one of the men went by like the wind and was lost in
the blackness of the fields. But Hugh Ritson had held up the lantern as
the man passed, and caught one swift glimpse of his face. He knew him.

A group had gathered about the injured person on the ground and about
the other man who had struggled to defend him.

"Could you not hold the scoundrel?" said one.

"I held him till his coat came to pieces in my hand. See here," said the
other.

Hugh Ritson knew the voice.

"A piece of Irish frieze, I should say" (feeling it).

"You must have gripped him by the lappel of his ulster. Let me keep
this. I am a police sergeant. What is your name, sir?"

"Paul Ritson."

"And your address?"

"I was on my way to Morley's Hotel, Trafalgar Square. What place is
this?"

"Hendon."

"Could one get accommodation here for the night? A lady is with me."

"Best go up by the twelve-thirty, sir."

"The lady is too much worn and excited. Any hotel, inn, lodging-house?"

A porter came up.

"The Hawk and Heron's handiest. A mile, sir. Drayton--it's him as keeps
it--he's here somewhere. Drayton!" (calling).

"Can you get me a fly, my good fellow?"

"Yes, sir."

The police sergeant moved off.

"Then I may look for you at the Hawk and Heron?" he said.

Hugh Ritson heard all. He kept the lantern down. In the darkness not a
face of that group was seen of any man.

A quarter of an hour later, Hugh Ritson, panting for breath, was
knocking at the door of the inn. The landlady within fumbled with the
iron bar behind it.

"Come, quick!" said Hugh.

The door opened, and he stepped in sharply, bathed in perspiration.

"Is your son back?" he said, catching his breath.

"Back, sir? No, sir; it's a mercy if he gets home afore morning, sir;
he's noways--"

"Stop your clatter. The girl is in her room. Go and turn the key on
her!"

It was at that moment that Mercy, having stood an instant at the bottom
of the stairs, had ventured nervously into the bar. Turning about, Hugh
Ritson came face to face with her. At the sight of her his crimsoning
cheeks became white with wrath.

"Didn't I tell you to be in bed?" he muttered, in a low, hoarse whisper.

"I've only come for ... I came down for ... Hugh, don't be angry with
me."

"Come, get back, then; don't stand there. Quick--and mind you lock your
door."

"Yes, I'm going. You wouldn't be angry with me, would you?"

"Well, no, perhaps not; only get off--and quick! Do you hear? Why don't
you go?"

"I only came down for ... I only came...."

"God! what foolery is this? The girl's fainting. Never mind. Here,
landlady, bring a light! Lead the way. She's not too heavy to carry.
Upstairs with you. What a snail you are, old woman! Which room?"

Another knock at the outer door. Another and another in rapid
succession.

"I'm a-coming, I'm a-coming!" cried the landlady from the floor above.

She bustled down the stairs as fast as her stiff joints would let her,
but the knock came again.

"Mercy me, mercy me! and whoever is it?"

"Damme, move your bones, and let me in!"

The door flew open with pressure from without. Ghastly white, yet
dripping with perspiration, his breath coming in short, thick gusts, his
neck bare, his shirt-collar torn aside, the lappel of the frieze ulster
gone, and the rent of the red flannel lining exposed, Paul Drayton
entered. He was sober now.

"Where is he?" with an oath.

"I'm here," said Hugh Ritson, walking through the bar and into the
bar-room to the right, and candle in hand.

Drayton followed him, trying to laugh.

"Am I in time?"

"Of course you are," with a hard smile.

"Fearing I might be late."

"Of course you were."

"Ran all the way."

"Of course you did."

"What are you sniggering and mocking at?" with another oath.

Hugh Ritson dropped his banter, and pointed without a word to the torn
ulster and the disordered shirt-collar. Drayton glanced down at his
dress in the light of the candle.

"Crossed the fields for shortness, and caught in a bramble-bush," he
said, muttering.

"Drop it," said Hugh. "There's no time for it. Look here, Drayton, I'm a
downright man. Don't try it on with me. As you say, it won't pass. Shall
I tell you where the collar of that coat is now? It's at the
police-station."

Drayton made an uneasy movement and glanced up furtively. There was no
mistaking what he saw in Hugh Ritson's face.

"I've my own suspicions as to what caused that accident," said Hugh.

Drayton shuddered and shrunk back.

"No, damme! That shows what you are, though. Show me the man as allus
suspects others of lying, and I'll show you a liar. Show me the man as
allus suspects others of stealing, and I'll show you a thief. You
suspect me of that, d'ye? I know you now!"

"No matter," said Hugh, impatiently; "your sense of the distinction
between crimes is a shade too nice. One crime I do not suspect you of--I
saw you commit it. Is that enough?"

Drayton was silent.

"You'll go to the station with the lady. The gentleman will go to London
with me. They are to come here, after all, though my first advice was a
blunder."

"I'll take the twenty," Drayton mumbled.

"Will you now? We'll discuss that matter afterward."

Drayton seemed stupefied for a moment. Then he lifted his haggard face
and grinned. Hugh Ritson understood him in an instant.

"No tricks, I tell you. If you don't put the lady in the train--the
right train--and be back here at half past one to-morrow, you shall
improve your acquaintance with the Old Bailey."

Drayton carried his eyes slowly up to Hugh Ritson's face, then dropped
them suddenly.

"If I'm lagged, it will be a lifer!" he muttered. He fumbled his torn
ulster. "I must change my coat," he said.

"No."

"She'll see the rent."

"So much the better."

"But the people at the junction will see it."

"What matter?--you will be there as Paul Ritson, not Paul Drayton."

Drayton began to laugh, to chuckle, to crow.

"Hush!"

The sound of carriage-wheels came from the road.

"They're here," said Hugh Ritson. "Keep you out of sight, as you value
your liberty. Do you hear? Take care that he doesn't see you, and that
she doesn't see you until he is gone."

Drayton was tramping about the floor in the intensity of his energy.

"Here's the bar-slide. I'll just lift it an inch."

"Not half an inch," said Hugh, and he blew out the candle.

Then he took the key out of the inside of the lock, and put it on the
outside.

"What! am I to be a prisoner in my own house?" said Drayton.

"I'll put the key on the bar-slide," whispered Hugh. "When you hear the
door close after us, let yourself out--not a moment sooner."

The carriage-wheels stopped outside. There was a sound as of the driver
jumping from the box. Then there came a knock.

Hugh Ritson stepped back to Drayton and whispered:

"This is the very man who tried to hold you--keep you close."



CHAPTER VI.


"This way, sir; this way, my lady; we knew you was a-coming, so we kep'
a nice warm fire in the parlor. This way, my lady, and mind the step up.
Yes, it air dark, but it's clean, sir; yes, it is, sir; but there's a
light in here, sir."

Paul and Greta followed the landlady through the dark bar.

"We'll find our way, my good woman. Ah, and how cozy you are here! As
warm as toast on a cold night. Thank you, thank you--and--why, surely
we've--we've surprised you. Did you say you were expecting somebody? Ah,
I see!"

Mrs. Drayton was backing out of the room with a pallid face, and
twitching at the string of her apron. When she got to the bar she was
trembling from head to foot.

"I don't believe in ghosts," she muttered to herself, "but if so be as I
did believe in ghosts, and afeart of 'em, I don't know as ... Lor's a
mercy me! Who was a-saying as our Paul was like some one? And now here's
some one as is like our Paul. And as much a match as two pewters, on'y
one more smarter, mayhap, and studdier."

"Whatever ails the old lady?" said Greta, faintly.

Paul stood a moment and laughed.

"Strange, but we can't trouble now. What a mercy we're safe and
unharmed."

"A fearful sight--I'll never, never forget it," said Greta, and she
covered her face.

Paul stepped to the door. The flyman was bringing in the luggage.

"Leave the boxes in the bar, driver--there, that will do. Many of them,
eh? Rather. Here's for yourself. Why, bless my soul, who's this? What,
Hugh!"

Hugh Ritson walked into the room calm and smiling, and held out his hand
to Greta and then to his brother.

"I came up to meet your train," he said, in answer to the look of
inquiry.

"Well, that was good of you. Of course, you know of the accident. How
did you find us here?"

"I heard at the station that a lady and gentleman had gone to the Hawk
and Heron."

"And you followed? Well, Hugh, I must say that was brotherly of you,
after all. Wasn't it, Greta?"

"Yes, dear," said Greta, faintly, her voice trembling.

Paul observed her agitation.

"My poor girl, you are upset. I don't wonder at it. You must get off for
the night. Hugh, you must excuse her. It was a terrible scene, you know.
Our new life begins with a great shock to you, Greta. Never mind; that
only means that the bright days are before us."

Paul stepped to the door again, and called to Mrs. Drayton.

"Here, my good landlady, take my wife to her room."

The landlady hobbled up.

"Room, sir, room? The gentleman didn't say nothing--"

"Take the lady to your best room upstairs," said Hugh, with a
significant look.

Greta was going. Her step was slow and uncertain.

"Won't you say good-night, Greta?" said Hugh.

"Good-night," she said, so faintly as hardly to be heard.

The brothers looked after her.

"God bless her!" said Paul, fervently. "The days before her shall be
brighter, if I can make them so."

Hugh Ritson closed the door.

"Paul," he said, "you and your wife must never meet again."

Paul Ritson turned red, and then ashy pale. A scarcely perceptible
tremble of the eyelids, then a jaunty laugh, and then an appalling
solemnity.

"What d'ye mean, man?" he said, with a vacant stare.

"Sit down and listen," said Hugh, seating himself, and lifting the poker
to draw the fire together.

"Quick, tell me what it, is!" said Paul again.

"Paul, don't chafe. We are hot-tempered men, both, at bottom," said
Hugh, and his eye perused his brother with searching power.

"Don't look at me like that," said Paul. "Don't try to frighten me.
Speak out, and quickly."

"Be calm," said Hugh.

"Bah! you take me blindfold to the edge of a precipice, and tell be to
'be calm.'"

"You are wrong. I find you there, and remove the bandage," said Hugh.

"Quick! what is it? In another moment I shall cry out!"

Hugh Ritson rose stiffly to his feet.

"Paul, did you tell Greta she was marrying a bastard?"

With one look of anguish Paul fell back mute and trembling.

"Did you tell her?" said Hugh, with awful emphasis.

Paul's eyes were on the ground, his head bent forward. He was silent.

"I thought you did not mean to tell her," said Hugh, coldly. His eyes
looked steadfastly at Paul's drooping head. "I think so still."

Paul said nothing, but drew his breath hard. Hugh watched him closely.

"To marry a woman under a false pretense--is it the act of an honorable
man? Is it a cheat? Give it what name you will."

Paul drew himself up; his lips were compressed, and he smiled.

"Is this all?" he asked.

"Why did you not tell her?" said Hugh.

"Because I had sworn to tell no one. You will read that secret, as you
have read the other."

Hugh smiled.

"Say, rather, because you dare not do so; because, had you told her, she
had never become your wife."

Paul laughed vacantly.

"We shall see. My own lips are sealed, but yours are free. You shall
tarnish the memory of our father and blacken the honor of our mother.
You shall humble me, and rob me of my wife's love--if you will and
can."

Saying this, Paul stepped hastily to the door, flung it open, and cried:
"Greta! Greta!"

Hugh followed him and caught him arm.

"What are you doing?" he said, in a hoarse whisper; "be quiet, I tell
you--be quiet."

Paul turned about.

"You say I am afraid to tell her. You charge me with trapping her into
marrying me. You shall tell her yourself, now, here, and before my very
face!"

"Come in and shut the door," said Hugh.

"It would do no good, and perhaps some harm. No matter, you shall tell
her. I challenge you to tell her."

"Come in, and listen to me," said Hugh, sullenly; and putting himself
between Paul and the door, he closed it. "There is more to think of than
what Greta may feel," he added. "Have you nothing to say to me?"

Paul's impetuous passion cooled suddenly.

"I have made you atonement," he said, faintly, and dropped into a seat.

"Atonement!"

Hugh Ritson smiled bitterly.

"When you return you will see," said Paid, his eyes once more on the
ground.

"You are thinking of the deed of attorney--I have heard of it already,"
said Hugh. A cold smile played on his compressed lips.

"It was all that was left to do," said Paul, his voice hardly stronger
than a whisper. His proud spirit was humbled, and his challenge dead.

"Paul, you have robbed me of my inheritance, consciously, deliberately.
You have stood in my place. You stand there still. And you leave me your
pitiful deed by way of amends!"

A black frown crossed Hugh Ritson's face.

"Atonement! Are you not ashamed of such mockery? What atonement is there
for a wrong like that?"

"I did it for the best; God knows I did!" said Paul, his head fell on
the table.

Hugh Ritson stood over him, pale with suppressed wrath.

"Was it best to hold my place until my place was no longer worth
holding, and then to leave it with an empty show of generosity? Power of
attorney! What right have you to expect that I will take that from you?
Take my own from the man who robbed me of it, and to receive it back on
my knees! To accept it as a gift, whereof the generosity of giving is
yours, and the humility of receiving is mine!"

A strong shudder passed over Paul's shoulders.

"I was helpless--I was helpless!" he said.

"Understand your true position--your legal position. You were your
mother's illegitimate son--"

"I did it to protect her honor!"

"You mean--to hide her shame!"

"As you will. I was helpless, and I did it for the best."

Hugh Ritson's face grew dark.

"Was it best to be a perjured liar?" he said.

Paul gasped, but did not reply.

"Was it best to be a thief?"

Paul leaped to his feet.

"God, give me patience!" he muttered.

"Was it best to be an impostor?"

"Stop, for God's sake, stop!"

"Was it best to be a living lie--and all for the sake of honor? Honor,
forsooth! Is it in perjury and robbery that honor lies?"

Paul strode about the room in silence, ashy pale, his face convulsed and
ugly. Then his countenance softened, and his voice was broken as he
said:

"Hugh, I have done you too much wrong already. Don't drive me into more;
don't, don't, I beseech you!"

Hugh laughed lightly--a little trill that echoed in the silent room.

At that heartless sound all the soul in Paul Ritson seemed to freeze. No
longer abashed, he lifted his head and put his foot down firmly.

"So be it," he said, and the cloud of anguish fell from his face. "I say
it was to save our mother's good name that I consented to do what I
did."

"Consented?" said Hugh, elevating his eyelids.

"You don't believe me? Very well; let it pass. You say my atonement is a
mockery. Very well, let us say it is so. You say I have kept your place
until it is no longer worth keeping. You mean that I have impoverished
your estate. That is not true. And you know it is not true. If the land
is mortgaged, you yourself have had the money!"

"And who had a better right to it?" said Hugh, and he laughed again.

Paul waved his hand, and gulped down the wrath that was rising.

"You have led me the life of the damned. You know well what bitter cup
you have made me drink. If I have stood to the world as my father's
heir, you have eaten up the inheritance If my father's house was mine, I
was no more than a cipher in it. I have had the shadow, and you the
substance. You have undermined me inch by inch!"

"And, meantime, I have been as secret as the grave," said Hugh, and once
more he laughed lightly.

"God knows your purpose--you do nothing without one," said Paul. "But it
is not I alone that have suffered. Do you think that all this has been
going on under our mother's eyes without her seeing it?"

Hugh Ritson dropped the bantering tone.

Paul's face grew to an awful solemnity.

"When our father died, it was to be her honor or mine to die with him.
That was the legacy of his sin, Heaven forgive him. I did not hesitate.
But since that hour she has wasted away."

"Is this my fault?" Hugh asked.

"Heaven knows, and Heaven will judge between you," said Paul. "She could
bear it no longer." Paul's voice trembled as he added, "She's gone!"

There was a moment's silence. It was as if an angel went by weeping.

"I know it," said Hugh, coldly. "She has taken the veil. I have since
seen her."

Paul glanced up.

"She is in the Catholic Convent at Westminster," said Hugh.

Paul's face quivered.

"Miserable man! but for you, how happy she might have been!"

"You are wrong," said Hugh. "It came of her own misdeed--and yours."

Paul strode toward his brother with uplifted hand.

"Not another word of that," he said, and his voice was low and deep.

"How could she examine her conscience and be happy? She had put an
impostor in the place of my father's heir," said Hugh.

"She had put there your father's first-born son," said Paul.

"It is false! She had put there her bastard by another man!"

Silent and awful, Paul stood a moment, with an expression of agony so
horrible that for an instant even Hugh Ritson quailed before it.

"Go on," he said, huskily, and crouched down into his seat.

"Your mother was married before," said Hugh, "and her marriage was
annulled. It was invalid. A child was born of that union."

Paul lifted his head.

"I won't believe it!"

"It is true, and you shall believe it!"

Paul's heart sickened with dread.

"Your father married again, and had a daughter. Your mother married
again, and had a son. Your father's daughter is now living. Shall I tell
you who she is? She is your wife--the woman you have married to-day!"

Paul sprung to his feet.

"It is a lie!" he cried.

"See for yourself," said Hugh Ritson; and taking three papers from his
pocket, he threw them on to the table. They were the copies of
certificates which Bonnithorne had given him.

Paul glanced at them with vacant and wandering eyes, fell back in his
chair, dropped his head on to the table, and groaned.

"Oh, God! can this thing be?"

"When your mother told you that you were an illegitimate son, she
omitted to say by what father. That was natural in her, but cruel to
you. I knew the truth from the first."

"Then you are a scoundrel confessed!" cried Paul.

Hugh rolled his head slightly, and made a poor pretense to smile.

"I knew how she had passed from one man to another; I knew what her
honor counted for. And yet I was silent--silent, though by silence I
lost my birthright. Say, now, if you will, which of us--you or I--has
been the true guardian of our mother's name?"

Paul got up again, abject, crushed, trembling in every limb.

"Man, man, don't gnaw my heart away! Unsay your words! Have pity on me,
and confess that it is a lie--a black, foul lie! Think of the horror of
it--only think of it, and have pity!"

"It is true!"

Then Paul fell on his knees and caught his brother by the arm.

"Hugh, Hugh! my brother, confess it is false! Don't let my flesh consume
away with horror! Don't let me envy the very dead who lie at peace in
their graves! Pity her, if you have no pity left for me!"

"I would save you from a terrible sin."

Paul rose to his feet.

"Now I know it is a lie!" he said, and all the abject submission of his
bearing fell away in one instant.

Hugh Ritson's face flushed.

"There is that here," said Paul, throwing up his head and striking his
breast, "that tells me it is false!"

Hugh smiled coldly, and regained his self-possession.

"My mother knew all. If Greta had been my half-sister, would she have
stood by and witnessed our love?"

Hugh waved his hand deprecatingly.

"Your mother was as ignorant of the propinquity as you were. Robert
Lowther was dead before she settled at Newlands. The survivors knew
nothing of each other. The secret of that early and ill-fated marriage
was buried with him."

"Destiny itself would have prevented it, for destiny shapes its own
ends, and shapes them for the best," said Paul.

"Yes, destiny is shaping them now," said Hugh, "here, and in me. This is
the point to which the pathways of your lives have tended. They meet
here--and part."

Paul's ashy face smiled.

"Then nature would have prevented it," he said. "If this thing had been
true, do you think we should not have known it--she and I--in the
natural recoil of our own hearts? When true hearts meet, there is that
within which sanctions their love, and says it is good. That is Heaven's
own license. No sanction of the world or the world's law, no earthly
marriage is like to that, for it is the marriage first made by nature
itself. Our hearts have met, hers and mine, and the same nature has
sanctioned our love and sanctified it. And against that last, that
first, that highest arbiter, do you ask me to take the evidence of these
poor, pitiful papers? Away with them!" Paul's eyes were bright, his face
had lost its shadows.

"That is very beautiful, no doubt," said Hugh, and he smiled deeply.
"But I warn you to beware."

"I have no fear," said Paul.

"See to it, I tell you. These lofty emotions leave a void that only a
few homely facts can fill. Verify them."

"I will, please God!"

"Accept my statements and these papers, or--disprove both."

"I will disprove them."

"Meantime, take care. Leave your wife in this house until morning, but
do you go elsewhere."

"What!"

Paul's anger was boiling up.

"If you have wronged Greta--"

"I have done her no wrong," said Paul, growing fiercer.

"I say, if you have wronged her, and would have it in your power to
repair the injury, you must pass this night apart."

"Hugh!" cried Paul, in white rage, rising afresh to his feet, "you have
tortured me and broken the heart of my mother; you have driven me from
my home and from the world; you have thrust yourself between me and the
woman who loves me, and now, when I am stripped of all else but that
woman's love, and am going out to a strange land, a stranger and with
empty hands, you would take her from me also and leave me naked!"

"I would save you from a terrible sin," said Hugh Ritson, once again.

"Out of my way!" cried Paul, in a thick voice, and he lifted his
clinched fist.

"Take care, I tell you," said Hugh.

Paul looked dangerous; his forehead contracted into painful lines; his
quick breathing beat on Hugh's face.

"For the love of Heaven, get out of my way!"

But with awful strength and fury his fist fell at that moment, and Hugh
Ritson was dashed to the ground.

In an instant Paul had lifted his foot to trample him, but he staggered
back in horror at the impulse, his face ghastly white, his eyes red like
the sun above snow. Then there was silence, and then Paul gasped in a
flood of emotion:

"Get up! get up! Hugh, Hugh! get up!"

He darted to the door and threw it open.

"Come in, come in! will nobody come?" he cried.

The landlady was in the room at a stride. She had been standing,
listening and quivering, behind the door.

In another moment Greta hurried down-stairs, and hastened to Paul's
side.

Paul was leaning against the wall, his face buried in his hands.

"Take him away," he groaned, "before I rue the day that I saw him!"

Hugh Ritson rose to his feet.

"Paul, what has happened?" cried Greta.

"Take him away."

And still Paul covered his eyes from the sight of what he had done and
had been tempted to do.

"Hugh, what is it?"

Hugh Ritson stepped to the door.

"Ask your husband," he said, with emphasis, and an appalling calmness.
"And remember this night. You shall never forget it!"

Then he halted out of the room.



CHAPTER VII.


Hugh Ritson walked to the bare room opposite. The handle of the door did
not turn in his hand. Drayton held it at the other side, and with head
bent low he crouched there and listened.

"Who is it?" he whispered, when Hugh Ritson unlocked the door and pushed
at it.

"Let me in," said Hugh, sullenly.

"Does he suspect?" whispered Drayton, when the door closed again. "Did
he follow me? What are you going to do for a fellow? Damme, but I'll be
enough for him!"

And Drayton groped in the dark room among the dead cinders on the
hearth, and picked up the poker.

"You fool!" said Hugh, in a low voice. "Put that thing down."

"Isn't he after me? D'ye think I'm going to be taken? Let him come here
and see!"

Drayton tramped the room, and the floor creaked beneath his heavy tread.

"Speak lower, you poltroon!" Hugh whispered, huskily. "He knows nothing
about you. He has never heard of you. Be quiet. Do you hear?"

There was a light, nervous knock at the door.

"Who's there?" said Hugh.

"It's only me, sir," said Mrs. Drayton, from without, breathing audibly,
and speaking faintly amid gusts of breath.

Hugh Ritson opened the door, and the landlady entered.

"Lor's a mercy me! whatever ails the gentleman? Oh, is it yourself in
the dark, Paul? I'm that fearsome, I declare I shiver and quake at
nothing. And the gentleman so like you, too! I never did see nothing
like it, I'm sure!"

"Hush! Stop your clatter. What does he say?" said Hugh.

"The gentleman? He says and says and says as nothing and nothing and
nothing will make him leave the lady this night."

"He'll think better of that."

"And wherever can I put them? And me on'y one room, forby Paul's. And no
cleaning and airing, and nothing. That's what worrits me."

"Hold your tongue! Put the lady in your son's room. Your son won't need
it to-night."

"That's where I did put her."

"Very well; leave her there."

"And the gentleman, too, belike?"

"The gentleman will go back with me. Come, get away!"

"Quite right; on'y there's no airing and cleaning; and I declare I'm
that fearsome--"

Hugh Ritson had taken the landlady by the shoulders and was pushing her
out of the room.

"One moment," he whispered, and drew her back. "Anything doing
upstairs?"

"Upstairs?--the bed--airing--"

"The girl? Has she made any noise yet? Is she conscious?"

"Not as I know of. I went up and listened, and never a sound. Deary me,
deary me! I'm that fearsome--"

"Go up again, and put your ear to the door."

"I'm afeart she'll never come round, and her in that way, and weak, too,
and--"

At that instant there came from the dark road the sound of
carriage-wheels approaching. Hugh Ritson thrust the landlady out of the
room, slammed the door to, and locked it.

"What's that?" said Drayton, in a husky whisper. "Who do they want?
You've not rounded on a fellow, eh?"

"It's the carriage that is to take you and the lady to Kentish Town,"
said Hugh. "Hush! Listen!"

The driver rapped at the door with the end of his whip, and shouted from
his seat: "Heigho, heigho--ready for Kentish Town? Eleven o'clock struck
this half hour!" Then he could be heard beating his crossed arms under
his armpits to warm his hands.

"The fool!" muttered Hugh, "can't he keep his tongue in his mouth?"

"Quite right," shouted Mrs. Drayton, in a shrill voice, putting her face
to the window-pane. "Belike it's for the gentleman," she explained to
herself, and then, with candle in hand, she began to mount the stairs.

The door of the room to the left opened, and Paul Ritson came out. His
great strength seemed to be gone--he reeled like a drunken man.

"Landlady," he said, "when does your last train go up to London?"

"At half past twelve," said Mrs. Drayton, from two steps up the stairs.

"Can I get a fly, my good woman, at this hour of the night?"

"The fly's at the door, sir--just come, sir."

Paul went back into the room where he had left his wife.

The two men in the dark room opposite listened intently.

"Be quiet," whispered Hugh Ritson. "I knew he must think better of it.
He is going. Keep still. Five minutes more, and you start away with the
lady for Kentish Town. He shall walk to the station with me. The instant
we leave the house, you go to the lady and say, 'I have changed my mind,
Greta. We must go together. Come.' Not a word more; hurry her into the
fly, and away."

"Easier said nor done, say I."



CHAPTER VIII.


Alone with Greta, Paul kissed her fervently, and his head fell on her
shoulder. The strong man was as feeble as a child now. He was prostrate.
"The black lie is like poison in my veins!" he said.

"What is it?" said Greta, and she tried to soothe him.

"A lie more foul than man ever uttered before--more cruel, more
monstrous."

"What is it, dearest?" said Greta again, with her piteous, imploring
face close to his.

"I know it's a lie. My heart tells me it is a lie. The very stones cry
out that it is a lie!"

"Tell me what it is," said Greta, and she embraced him tenderly.

But even while he was struggling with the poison of one horrible word,
it was mastering him. He put his wife from him with a strong shudder, as
if her proximity stung him.

Her bosom heaved. She looked appealingly into his face.

"If it is false," she said, "whatever it is, why need it trouble you?"

"That is true, my darling," he said, gulping down his fear and taking
Greta in his arms, and trying to laugh lightly. "Why, indeed? Why need
it trouble me?"

"Can you not tell me?" she said, with an upward look of entreaty. She
was thinking of what Hugh Ritson had said of an impediment to their
marriage.

"Why should I tell you what is false?"

"Then let us dismiss the thought of it," she said, soothingly.

"Why, yes, of course, let us dismiss the thought of it, darling," and he
laughed a loud, hollow laugh. His forehead was damp. She wiped away the
cold sweat. His temples burned. She put her cool hand on them. He was
the very wreck of his former self--the ruin of a man. "Would that I
could!" he muttered to himself.

"Then tell me," she said. "It is my right to know it. I am your wife
now--"

He drew himself away. She clung yet closer. "Paul, there can be no
secrets between you and me--nothing can be kept back."

"Heavenly Father!" he cried, uplifting a face distorted with agony.

"If you can not dismiss it, let it not stand between us," said Greta.
Could it be true that there had been an impediment?

"My darling, it would do no good to tell you. When I took you to be my
wife, I vowed to protect and cherish you. Shall I keep my vow if I
burden you with a black lie that will drive the sunshine out of your
life? Look at me--look at me!"

Greta's breast heaved heavily, but she smiled with a piteous sweetness
as she laid her head on his breast, and said, "No, while I have you, no
lie can do that!"

Paul made no answer. An awful burden of speech was on his tongue. In the
silence they heard the sound of weeping. It was as if some poor woman
were sobbing her heart out in the room above.

"Dearest, when two hearts are made one in marriage they are made one
indeed," said Greta, in a soft voice. "Henceforth the thought of the one
is the thought of both; the happiness of one is the happiness of both,
the sorrow of one is the sorrow of both. Nothing comes between. Joy is
twofold when both share it, and only grief is less for being borne by
two. Death itself, cruel, relentless death itself, even death knits that
union closer. And in sunshine and storm, in this world and in the next,
the bond is ever the same. The tie of the purest friendship is weak
compared with this tie, and even the bond of blood is less strong!"

"Oh, God of heaven, this is too much!" said Paul.

"Paul, if this union of thought and deed, of joy and grief, begins with
marriage and does not end even with death, shall we now, here, at the
threshold of our marriage, do it wrong?"

A great sob choked Paul's utterance. "I can not tell you," he cried; "I
have sworn an oath."

"An oath! Then, surely, this present trouble was not that which Hugh
Ritson has threatened?"

"Greta, if our union means anything, it means trust. Trust me, my
darling. I am helpless. My tongue is sealed. I dare not speak. No, not
even to you. Scarcely to God Himself!"

There was silence for a moment.

"That is enough," she said, very tenderly, and now the tears coursed
down her own cheeks. "I will not ask again. I do not wish to know. You
shall forget that I asked you. Come, dearest, kiss me. Think no more of
this. Come, now." And she drew his head down to hers.

Paul threw himself into a chair. His prostration was abject.

"Come, dearest," said Greta, soothingly, "be a man."

"There is worse to come," he said.

"What matter," said Greta, and smiled. "I shall not fear if I have you
beside me."

"I can bear it no more," said Paul. "The thing is past cure."

"No, dearest, it is not. Only death is that."

"Greta, you said death would bind us closer together, but this thing
draws us apart."

"No, dearest, it does not. That it can not do."

"Could nothing part us?" said Paul, lifting his face.

"Nothing. Though the world divided us, yet we should be together."

Again the loud sobs came from overhead.

Paul rose to his feet, a shattered man no more. His abject mien fell
from him like a garment. "Did I not say it was a lie?" he muttered,
fiercely. "Greta, I am ashamed," he said; "your courage disgraces me.
See what a pitiful coward you have taken for your husband. You have
witnessed a strange weakness. But it has been for the last time. Thank
God, I am now the man of yesterday!"

Her tears were rolling down her cheeks, but her eyes were very bright.
"What do you wish me to do?" she whispered. "Is it not something for me
to do?"

"It is, darling. You said rightly that the thought of one is the thought
of both."

"What is it?"

"A terrible thing!"

"No matter. I am here to do it. What?"

"It is to part from me to-night--only for to-night--only until
to-morrow."

Greta's face broke into a perfect sunshine of beauty. "Is that all?" she
asked.

"My darling!" said Paul, and embraced her fervently and kissed the
quivering lips, "I am leading you through dark vaults, where you can see
no single step before you."

"But I am holding your hand, my husband," Greta whispered.

Speech was too weak for that great moment. Again the heart-breaking sobs
fell on the silence. Then Paul drew a cloak over Greta's shoulders and
buttoned up his ulster. "It is a little after midnight," he said with
composure. "There is a fly at the door. We may catch the last train up
to London. I have a nest for you there, my darling."

Then he went out into the bar. "Landlady," he said, "I will come back
to-morrow for our luggage. Meantime, let it lie here, if it won't be in
your way. We've kept you up late, old lady. Here, take this--and thank
you."

"Thankee! and the boxes are quite safe, sir--thankee!"

He threw open the door to the road, and hailed the driver of the fly,
cheerily. "Cold, sleety night, my good fellow. You'll have a sharp
drive."

"Yes, sir; it air cold waiting, very, specially inside, sir, just for
want of summat short."

"Well, come in quick and get it, my lad."

"Right, sir."

When Paul returned to the room to call Greta, he found her examining
papers. She had picked them up off the table. They were the copies of
certificates which Hugh Ritson had left there. Paul had forgotten them
during the painful interview. He tried to recover them unread, but he
was too late.

"This," she said, holding out one of them, "is not the certificate of
your birth. This person, Paul Lowther, is no doubt my father's lost
son."

"No doubt," said Paul, dropping his head.

"But he is thirty years of age--see! You are no more than twenty-eight."

"If I could but prove that, it would be enough," he said.

"I can prove it, and I will!" she said.

"You! How?"

"Wait until to-morrow, and see," she said.

He had put one arm about her waist, and was taking her to the door.

She stopped. "I can guess what the black lie has been," she whispered.

"Now, driver, up and away."

"Right, sir. Kentish Town Junction?"

"The station, to catch the 12:30."

The carriage door was opened and closed. Then the bitter weeping from
the upper room came out to them in the night.

"Poor girl! whatever ails her? I seem to remember her voice," said
Greta.

"We can't wait," Paul answered.



CHAPTER IX.


The clocks of London were striking one when Paul and Greta descended the
steps in front of St. Pancras Station. The night was dark and bitterly
cold. Dense fog hung in the air, and an unaccustomed silence brooded
over the city. A solitary four-wheeled cab stood in the open square. The
driver was inside, huddled up in his great-coat, and asleep. A porter
awakened him, and he made way for Greta and Paul. He took his apron from
the back of his horse, wrapped it about his waist, and snuffed the wicks
of his lamps--they burned low and red, and crackled in the damp
atmosphere.

"What hotel, sir?"

"The convent, Westminster."

"Convent, sir? Did you say the convent, sir? St. Margaret's,
Westminster, sir?"

"The Catholic convent."

Greta's hand pressed Paul's arm.

The cabman got on to his box, muttering something that was inaudible. As
he passed the gate lodge he drew up while the porter on duty came out
with a lamp, and took the number of the cab.

The fog grew more dense at every step, and the pace at which they
traveled was slow. To avoid the maze of streets that would have helped
them to a shorter cut on a clearer night, the driver struck along Euston
Road to Tottenham Court Road, and thence south toward Oxford Street.
This straighter and plainer course had the disadvantage of being more
frequented. Many a collision became imminent in the uncertain light.

The cabman bought a torch from a passer-by, and stuck it in his
whip-barrel. As they reached the busier thoroughfares he got down from
his box, took the torch in one hand and the reins in the other, and
walked at his horse's head.

The pace was now slower than before. It was like a toilsome passage
through the workings of an iron mine. Volumes of noisome vapor rolled
slowly past them. The air hung close over their heads like an unseen,
vaulted roof. Red lights gleamed like vanishing stars down the elastic
vista. One light would turn out to be a coffee-stall, round which a
group of people gathered--cabmen muffled to the throat, women draggled
and dirty, boys with faces that were old. Another would be a
potato-engine, with its own volumes of white vapor, and the clank of its
oven door like the metallic echo of the miner's pick. The line of
regular lamps was like the line of candles stuck to the rock, the cross
streets were like the cross-workings, the damp air settling down into
streaks of moisture on the glass of the cab window was like the ceasless
drip, drip of the oozing water from overhead.

And to the two laden souls sitting within in silence and with clasped
hands, the great city, nay, the world itself, was like a colossal mine,
which human earthworms had burrowed underground, while the light and
the free air were both above.

At one point, where a patch of dry pavement indicated a bake-house under
the street, three or four squalid creatures crouched together and slept.
The streets were all but noiseless. It would be two hours yet before the
giant of traffic would awake. The few cabmen hailed each other as they
passed unrecognized, and their voices sounded hoarse. When the many
clocks struck two, the many tones came muffled through the dense air.

The journey was long and wearisome, but Paul and Greta scarcely felt it.
They were soon to part; they knew not when they were to meet again.
Perhaps soon, perhaps late; perhaps not until a darkness deeper than
this should cover the land.

Turning into Oxford Street, the cabman struck away to the west, in order
to come upon Westminster by the main artery of Regent Street. The great
thoroughfare was quiet enough now. Fashion was at rest, but even here,
and in its own mocking guise, misery had its haunt. A light laugh broke
the silence of the street, and a girl, so young as to be little more
than a child, dressed in soiled finery, and reeling with unsteady step
on the pavement, came up to the cab window and peered in.

At the open door of a hotel, from whence a shaft of light came out into
the fog, the cabman drew up. "Comfortable hotel, sir; think you'd like
to put up, sir?"

Paul dropped the window. "We want the Catholic convent at Westminster,
my man."

The cabman had put up his torch and was flapping his arms under his
armpits. "Cold job, sir. Think I've had enough of it. Ha'past two, and a
mile from St. Margaret's yet, sir. Got a long step home, sir, and the
missis looking out for me this hour and more."

The night porter of the hotel had opened the cab door, but not for an
instant did Paul's purpose waver. "I'm sorry, my good fellow, but we
must reach the convent, as I tell you."

"Won't to-morrow do, sir? Comfortable quarters, sir. Can recommend 'em,"
with a tip of his hand over his shoulder.

"We must get to the convent to-night, my man."

The cabman returned to his horse's head with a grunt of dissatisfaction.
"Porter, can you keep a bed for me here? I shall be back in an hour,"
said Paul. The porter signified assent, and once again the cab moved off
on its slow journey.

As it passed out of Trafalgar Square by way of Charing Cross, the air
suddenly lightened. It was as if waves of white mist rolled over the
yellow vapor. The cabman threw away his torch, mounted his box, and set
off at a trot. When he reached Parliament Square the fog was gone. The
great clock of Westminster was striking three; the sky was a dun gray
behind the clocktower, and the dark mass of the abbey could be dimly
seen.

The cab drew up on the south-west of Abbey Gardens and before a portico
railed in by an iron gate. The lamp burning on the sidewalk in front
cast a hazy light on what seemed to be a large brick house plain in
every feature.

"This is Saint Margaret's, sir. Eight shillings, sir, if you please."

Paul dismissed the cabman and rang the bell; the hollow tongue sent out
a startling reverberation into the night. The sky to the east was
breaking; thin streaks of a lighter gray foretold the dawn.

The door opened and the iron gate swung back. A sister carrying an open
oil lamp motioned them to enter.

"Can I see the superior?" said Paul.

"She is newly risen," said the sister, and she fixed the lamp to a
bracket in the wall and went away. They were left in a bare, chill,
echoing hall.

The next moment a line of nuns in their coifs passed close by them with
quick and silent steps. At that gray hour they had risen for matins.
Some of them were pale and emaciated, and one that was palest and most
worn went by with drooping head and hands that inlaced her rosary. Paul
stepped back a pace. The nun moved steadily onward with the rest. Never
a sign of recognition, never an upward glance, only the quivering of a
lip--but it was his mother!

He, too, dropped his head, and his own lips trembled. The mother
superior was standing with them before he was aware. For an instant his
voice was suspended, but he told her at length that a great calamity had
befallen them, and begged her to take his wife for a time into her care.

"Charity is our office," said the mother, when she had heard his story.
"Come, my sister, the Church is peace. Your poor laden soul may put off
its load while you are here."

Paul begged to be allowed a moment to say farewell, and the good mother
left them together.

Then from an inner chamber came the solemn tones of an organ and the
full voices of a choir. The softened harmonies seemed to float into
their torn hearts, and they wept. The gray dawn was creeping in. It
blurred the red light of the lamp.

"Good-bye, darling, good-bye!" Paul whispered; but even while he spoke
he clung the closer.

"Good-bye for the present, dear husband," said Greta, and smiled.

"Who would have thought that this calamity could wait for you at the
very steps of God's altar?"

"A day will turn all this evil into good."

"At the threshold of our life together to be torn apart!"

"Think of it no more, dearest. Our lives will yet be the brighter for
this calamity. Do you remember what Parson Christian used to say? The
happiest life is not that which is always in the sunlight, but rather
that over which a dark cloud has once lowered and passed away."

Paul shook his head. "My lips are sealed. You do not know all. It is a
cruel lie that separates us. But what if it can not be disproved?"

Greta's eyes were full of a radiant hopefulness. "It can, and shall!"

Paul bent his head and touched her forehead with his lips. "The past is
a silence that gives back no answer," he said. "My mother alone could
disprove it, and she is dead to the world."

"Not alone, dearest. I can disprove it. Wait and see!"

Paul smiled coldly, and once more shook his head. "You don't know all,"
he said again, and kissed her reverently. "What if to-morrow, and
to-morrow, and to-morrow brings no light to unravel this mystery?"

"Never fear it. The finger of Heaven is in this," said Greta.

"Say, rather, the hand of destiny. And how little we are in the presence
of that pitiless power!"

"God sees all," said Greta. "He has led me in here, and He will guide me
out again."

"What if I brought you for a day, and you remain for a year, for life?"

"Then think that God Himself has taken your wife at your hands."

Paul's face, that had worn a look of deep dejection, became distorted
with pain. "Oh, it is horrible! And this cloister is to be your
marriage-bed!"

"Hush! All is peace here. Good-bye, dearest Paul. Be brave, my husband."

"Brave? Before death a man may be brave; but in the face of a calamity
like this, what man could be brave?"

"God will turn it away."

"God grant it. But I tremble to ask for the truth. The future is not
more awful to me now than the past."

"Keep up heart, dear Paul. You know how pleasant it is to fall asleep
amid storms that shake the trees, and to awake in the stillness and the
sunshine, and amid the songs of the birds. To-morrow the falsehood will
be outfaced, and you will return to fetch me."

"Yes," said Paul, "or else drag out my days as an outcast in the world."

"No, no, no. Good-bye, dearest." Then the voice of the comforter failed
her, and she dropped her head on his breast.

The choir within chanted the matin service. Paul removed the iron bar
that crossed the door, and opened it. The opposite side of the street
was a blank wall, with gaunt boughs of leafless trees behind it and
above it, and beyond all was the dim sanctuary. Traffic's deep buzz
flowed in the distance. The dawn had reddened the eastern sky, and the
towers of the abbey were black against the glory of the coming day.

"It may be that there is never a sunrise on this old city but it awakens
some one to some new calamity," said Paul; "yet surely this is the
heaviest stroke of all Good-bye, my darling!"

"Good-bye, my husband!"

"Yonder gray old fabric has looked on the scarred ruins of many a life,
but never a funeral that has passed down its aisles was so sad as this
parting. Good-bye, dearest wife, good-bye!"

"Good-bye, Paul!"

He struck his breast and drew his breath audibly, "I must go. The thing
is not to be thought of and endured!"

"Good-bye, Paul!" Her face was buried in his breast, to hide it from his
eyes.

"They say that the day a dear friend is lost to us is purer and calmer
in remembrance than the day before. May it be so with us!"

"Hush! You will soon be back to take me away." And Greta nestled closer
to his breast.

"If not--if not"--his hot breathing beat fast on her drooping head--"if
not, then--as the world is dead to both without the other's love--remain
here--in this house--forever. Good-bye! Good-bye!"

He disengaged her clinging arms. He pressed her cold brow with his
quivering lips. Her fears conquered her brave heart at last. A mist was
fast hiding her from him.

"Good-bye! good-bye!"

A moment's silence, a breaking sigh, a rising sob, a last lingering
touch of the inlaced fingers, and then the door closed behind him. She
was alone in the empty hall; her lips were cold; her eyes were shut. The
rosy hues of morning were floating in the air, now rich and sweet and
balmy and restful, with the full, pure, holy harmonies of the choir.



CHAPTER X.


It was merely a momentary vexation which Hugh Ritson felt when the
course that Paul had taken falsified his prescience. "No matter," he
said, "it is only a question of a day, more or less. The thing must be
done."

Drayton made no attempt to conceal his relief when the door closed and
the fly drove off. "I ain't sorry the fence is gone, and that's flat!"

"Only, being gone, you will have a bigger risk to run now, my friend,"
said Hugh Ritson, with undisguised contempt.

Drayton looked up with a glance half of fear, half of suspicion. "You
ain't gone and rounded on a fellow, after all? You ain't told him as I'm
here?"

"Don't be a fool! Get off to bed. Wait, you must put me up for the
night. You'll take care of yourself if you're wise. The police will be
here in the morning; take my word for that."

"Here? In the morning? No!"

"When they asked for his address, he gave them the name of this house.
They'll not forget it. Men of that sort don't forget."

"I'll pound if they don't."

"They have memories for other things besides addresses. Consider if they
have any other reason to remember the landlord of your house."

"No criss-crossing! you don't do me the same as the old woman."

"No matter. You know best. Take care of yourself, Mr. Drayton."

Drayton buttoned his coat as near to the throat as the torn lapel would
allow. "That's what I mean to do. I ain't going to be lagged. It's a
lifer this time, and that would take the stiff'ning out of a man."

"Where are you going?"

"No criss-crossing, I say."

"Leave this house, and they'll have you in twenty-four hours."

"Stay here, and they'll lag me in twelve. Being as that's twelve to the
good, I'm off."

Drayton's hand was on the door-handle. Hugh Ritson snatched it away. "An
idiot like you deserves to be taken. Such men ought to be put away."

Drayton lifted his fist. "Damme, but I'll put you away if--if--"

Hugh Ritson did not flinch. "What if I show you how to escape the
consequences of to-night's work altogether?"

Drayton's uplifted hand fell. "I ain't objecting to that," he growled.
"How?"

"By putting another man in your place."

Drayton's eyes opened in a stare of blank amazement.

"And what about me?" he asked.

"You," said Hugh Ritson, and a scarcely perceptible sneer curled his
lip--"you shall stand in his shoes."

A repulsive smile crossed Drayton's face. He fumbled the torn lapel with
restless fingers. His eyes wandered to the door. There was a moment's
silence.

"Him?" he said, with an elevation of the eyebrows.

Hugh Ritson bent his head slightly. Drayton stood with mouth agape.

Old Mrs. Drayton was pottering around the bar preparatory to going to
bed.

"I'll be a-bidding you good-night, sir. Paul, you'll lock up after the
gentleman."

"Good-night, Mrs. Drayton."

The landlady hobbled away. But from midway up the stairs her querulous
voice came again. "The poor young thing--I declare she's a-crying her
eyes out."

"Why d'ye mean to do?" asked Drayton.

"To get him here."

"How'll ye track him? He's gone to London, ain't he? That's a big
haystack to find a needle in, ain't it?"

"London is not a haystack, Mr. Drayton. It's a honey-comb, and every
cell is labeled. On getting out of the train at St. Pancras Station they
will either hire a cab or they will not. If they hire one, then the
number will be taken at the lodge. By that number the cabman can be
found. He will know where he drove his fare. If my brother left his wife
at one place, and settled himself at another, the cabman will know that
also. If they do not hire a cab, then, as the hour is late, and one of
them is a lady, they must be somewhere in the vicinity of the station.
Thus, in that vast honey-comb, their particular cells are already marked
out for us. That's enough for the present. Who sleep in this house
beside yourselves--and the girl?"

"Nobody but a lad--a pot-boy."

"Where is he now--in bed?"

"Four hours agone."

"Where does he sleep?"

"Up in the attic."

"Don't let that lad see you. On which side of the house does the attic
lie?"

"In the gable, this end."

"Is there an attic in the other gable?"

"Yes, a bad one."

"No matter. Get a mattress and sleep there yourself, and lie close all
day to-morrow. Take food, but no liquor, mind that. I'll come for you
when all is clear. And now show me to your room."

After some preparation the two men went upstairs, carrying the only
remaining light.

"Give me the candle. You had best go up to your attic in the dark. Here,
put this key in the girl's door and unlock it. She's quiet enough now.
Hush--! No; it was only the wind. Good-night--and mind what I say, don't
let that boy see you--and, listen, no liquor!"



CHAPTER XI.


The day had not yet dawned, and all lay still in that house when Mercy
Fisher opened noiselessly the door of her room and crept stealthily down
the stairs. It was very dark in the bar below, and she had no light. The
sickening odor of dead tobacco was in the air. She carried a little
bundle in one hand, and with the other she felt her way around the walls
until she came to the outer door. A heavy chain fastened it, and with
nervous fingers she drew it out of the slide. When free of its groove,
it slipped from her hand, and fell against the door-jamb with a clang.
The girl's heart leaped to her throat. At first she crouched in fear,
then lifted the latch, opened the door, and fled away into the gloom
without, leaving the door wide open.

Never to the last day of her life did she know what purpose guided her
in that hour. She had no object, no aim. Only to fly away from a broken
heart. Only to lie down on the earth and know no more, with all the
heartache over. But she was drifting in her blind misery to that
reservoir of life, London.

She hurried down the road, never once looking back. The leafless trees
were surging in the night-wind; their gaunt branches were waving grimly
over her head. The hedges took fantastic shapes before her, and beside
her. Her limbs trembled and her teeth chattered, yet she hastened on.
Her head ached. She felt suffocated. The world was so cruel to her. If
only she could fly from it and forget--only forget!

The day was dawning; the deep blue of the sky to the left of her was
streaked with thin bars. All before her was a blank void of dun gray. A
veil of vapor beat against her cheeks. The wide marshy lands lay in mist
around her. Not a sound but her own footstep on the road. Not a bird in
the empty air, not a cloud in the blank sky. It was a dreary scene;
neither day nor night.

And through this grim realm that is aloof from all that is human, one
poor, broken-hearted girl hurried on, her little bundle in her hand, a
shawl wrapped about her shoulders, her red, tearless eyes fixed in front
of her.

Like the spirit of unrest, the wind moaned and soughed. Now and then a
withered leaf of last year went by her with a light rustle and stealthy
motion. Desolate as the heart within her was the waste ground.

Bit by bit the gray sky lightened; the east was fretted over with pink,
and a freshness was breathed into the air. Then she began to run. Behind
her were all her pretty dreams, and they were dead. Behind her was the
love she had cherished, and that was dead, too. From a joyful vision she
had awakened to find the idol cold at her breast.

Running hard along the gloomy road, under the empty sky, through the
surging wind, the outcast girl cried in her tearless grief as a little
child cries for the mother who is in her grave--never knowing its loss
until it has grown tired, and weary, and sick, and the night is very
near.

She came to a brick-kiln that stood back from the road. Its wreathing
smoke coiled slowly upward in the smoke-like atmosphere. The red haze
drew her to it, as it drew the shivering waifs of the air. Cold and
tired, she crept up and stood some minutes in the glow; but a step fell
on her ear from behind the kiln, and she stole away like a guilty thing.

Away, away, she knew not where. On, on, she knew not why.

The day had dawned now. In the brightness of morning her heart sunk
lower. Draggled and soiled, her hair still damp with the dew, and the
odor of night in her dress, she walked on in the golden radiance of the
risen sun.

Oh, to bury herself forever, and yet not to die--no, no, not to die!

At a cross-road there was a finger-post, and it read, "To Kilburn."
Beyond it there was a wood, and the sunlight played on the pine-trees
and reddened the dead leaves that still clung to an oak. She was warm
now, but, oh! so tired. Behind the ambush of a holly-bush, close to the
road, Mercy crouched down on a drift of withered leaves at the foot of a
stout beech. She dozed a little and started. All was quiet. Then weary
nature conquered fear, and overcame sorrow, and she slept.

And sleep--that makes kings and queens of us all--gracious sleep, made a
queen of the outcast girl, a queen of love; and she dreamed of her home
among the mountains.

Mercy was still sleeping when a covered wagon, such as carriers use,
came trundling along the road. The driver, a bright-eyed man, with the
freshness of the fields in his face, sat on the front rail and
whistled. His horse shied at something, and this made him get up. He was
at that moment in front of the holly-bush, and he saw Mercy lying behind
it.

Her face was worn and pale, her bonnet fallen back from her forehead,
her head leaning against the trunk of the tree, one hand on her breast,
the other straying aside on the drift of yellow leaves, where a little
bundle covered by a red handkerchief had fallen from her graspless
fingers, and the radiant morning sunlight over all.

The driver of the wagon jumped to the ground. At the same moment Mercy
awoke with a frightened look. She rose to her feet, and would have
hurried away.

"Young to be wagranting about, ain't ye, miss?" said the driver. His
tone was kindlier than his words.

"Let me go, please," said Mercy, and she tried to pass.

"Coorse, coorse; if yer wants to."

Mercy thanked him, her eyes on the ground. She was already on the road.

"Being as you're going my way, I ain't objecting to giving you a lift."

"No, thank you. I have no--I've no money. I must run."

"You'll wait till I ax for it, won't ye, missy? Come, get up."

"And will you let me go down whenever I like?"

"Coorse I will; why not? Up with ye! There, easy, kneel on the shaft,
that's the size of it. Now, go set yourself down on them sacks. Them's
apples, them is. Right? Very well. We're off, then."

The wagon was about half full of sacks, and Mercy crept down in the
furthest corner.

"I ain't in the apple line reg'lar. I'm a fern-gatherer, that's wot I
am. On'y nature don't keep ferning all the year round, so I'se forced to
go fruiting winter times--buying apples same as them from off'n the
farmers down the country, and bringing 'em up to Covent Garden. That's
where I'm going now, that is. And got to be there afore the sales
starts."

Mercy listened, but said nothing.

"You know Covent Garden--not fur from Leicester Square and the
Haymarket?"

Mercy shook her head.

"What! Never been there--and that near?"

Mercy shook her head again and dropped her eyes.

The driver twisted about to look at her. "Let a be, she's feeling it
bad," he thought, and was silent for a moment. Then he twisted about for
another look.

"I say, missy, got bad eyes?"

"They're sore, and a little dim," said Mercy.

"Blest if you don't look the spitting image of a friend of mine--'boutn
the eyes, I mean--red and swelled up and such. It was Tom Crow, a
partner of mine, in fact. Tom caught cold sleeping out one night as we
was ferning down Roger Tichborne's estates--him as was the claimant for
'em, you know, on'y he didn't get 'em. The cold flew to Tom's eyes
straight, and blest if he ain't gone blind as a mole."

Mercy's lips quivered. The driver stopped his chatter, conscious that he
had gone too far, and then, with somewhat illogical perversity, he
proceeded to express his vexation at himself by punishing his horse.

"Get along, you stupid old perwerse old knacker's crutch!"

The horse set off at a trot. They passed through a village, and Mercy
read the name "Child's Hill" printed on the corner of a house.

"Is it London you are going to?" said Mercy, timidly; "Covent Garden--is
that London?"

"Eh?" The driver opened his eyes very wide in a blank stare.

Mercy trembled and held down her head. They jogged on awhile in silence,
and then the driver, who had cast furtive glances at the girl, drew
rein, and said: "I'm wexed as I said Tom Crow was as blind as a mole.
How-and-ever, a mole ain't blind, and it's on'y them coster chaps as
think so, but I've caught a many of 'em out ferning. Besides, Tom was
a-worrited with his missus, Tom was, and happen that was worse nor his
cold.

("Git along, you old perwerse old file!)

"You see, Tom's missus cut away and left him. As young as you, and
maybe as good to look at, but a bad 'un; and she broke Tom's heart, as
the saying is. So Tom left the ferning. He hadn't no heart for it.
Ferning's a thing as wants heart, it do. He started costering first, and
now Tom's got a 'tater-ingine, on'y being as he's blind he has a boy to
wheel it. And that woman, she done it all. 'Jim Groundsell,' he says to
me--that's my name--'Jim,' he says, 'don't fix your heart on nothing,'
he says, 'and keep to your sight and the ferning.'

("Well, you perwerse old crutch! Get along with you!)

"But I went and done it myself. And now my missus, she's a invalide, as
they say, and she ain't out o' bed this twelvemonth come Christmas, and
she gets lonesome lying all by herself, and frets a bit maybe, and--

("Git along, will you, you wexing old fence!")

There was a long silence this time. They were leaving the green fields
behind them, and driving through longer streets than Mercy had ever seen
before. Though the sun was shining feebly, the lamps on the pavement
were still burning. They passed a church, and Mercy saw by the clock
that it was hard on eight. They drove briskly through Camden Town into
St. Giles's, and so on to Long Acre.

The streets were thronged by this time. Troops of people were passing to
and fro. Cabs and omnibuses were rattling hither and thither. At every
turn the crowd became denser and the noise louder. Mercy sat in her
corner, bewildered. The strange city frightened her. For the time it
drove away the memory of her sorrow.

When they reached Covent Garden, Jim, the driver, drew up with a jerk,
and nodded to some of the drivers of similar wagons, and hailed others
with a lusty shout. All was a babel to the girl's dazed sense: laughter,
curses, yelling, whooping, quarreling.

Mercy's head ached. She got down, hardly knowing what to do next. Where
was she to go? In that wilderness of London, more desolate than the
trackless desert, what was she?

She stood a moment on the pavement, her little bundle in her hand, and
all the bewildering scene went round and round. The tears rose to her
eyes, and the glare and noise and the tumult were blotted out.

The next instant she felt herself being lifted back into the wagon, and
then she remembered nothing more.



CHAPTER XII.


Two days later Hugh Ritson entered the convent church of St. Margaret.
It was evening service, and the nave was thronged from chancel to porch.
The aisles, which were bare of seats, were filled only half-way down,
the rest of the pavement being empty save for a man here and there who
leaned lightly against the great columns of the heavy colonnade.

The sermon had already begun. Hugh Ritson walked up the aisle
noiselessly until he came close behind the throng of people standing
together. Then he stood at the side of a column and looked around on
those in the nave.

He was within range of the preacher's voice, but he hardly listened. His
eyes traversed the church until at last they rested on one spot in the
south transept, where a company of nuns sat with downcast eyes half
closed. The face of one of them was hidden beneath her drooping coif;
the rosary held to her breast was gripped with nervous fingers. Near at
hand there was another face that riveted Hugh Ritson's gaze. It was the
face of Greta, radiant in its own beauty, and tender with the devotional
earnestness of parted lips and of lashes wet with the dew of a bruised
spirit.

From these two his eyes never wandered for longer than a minute!
Languidly he listened to the words that floated over the people, and
held them mute. The preacher was a slight young man, emaciated, pale,
with lustrous eyes, and a voice that had a thin, meek pipe. But the
discourse was in a strain of feverish excitement, a spirit of hard
intolerance, a tone of unrelenting judgment, that would have befitted
the gigantic figure and thunderous accents of the monk Jerome.

"There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is
death." This was the text, twenty times repeated. Men talked of the
rights of conscience, as if conscience were God's law. They babbled of
toleration, as if any heresy were to be endured, if only it were
believed. Conscience! It was the slave of Circumstance. Toleration! It
was the watchword at the gate of hell.

Hugh Ritson listened with a vague consciousness, his eyes fixed
alternately on the nun with the drooping coif and on the fair, upturned
face beside her. At last a word struck him, and made his whole soul to
vibrate. Men, women, the great mute throng, pillars, arches, windows of
figured saints, altar aflame with candles, the surpliced choir, and the
pale, thin face with the burning eyes in the pulpit above--all vanished
in an instant.

What was true, said the preacher, in the realm of thought, could not be
false in the world of life. Men did evil deeds, and justified them to
their own enslaved minds. No way so dark but it had appeared to be the
path of light; none so far wrong but it had seemed to be right. Let man
beware of the lie that he told to his own heart. The end thereof is
death.

Staring from a bloodless face, Hugh Ritson reeled a step backward, and
then clung with a trembling hand to the pillar against which he had
leaned. The harsh scrape of his foot was heard over the hushed church,
and here and there a neck was craned in his direction. His emotion was
gone in an instant. A light curl of the hard lip told that the angel
within him had once again been conquered.

The sermon ended with a rapturous declaration of the immutability of
God's law, and the eternal destinies of man. The world was full of
change, but man, who seemed to change most, changed least. The stars
that hung above had seen the beginning and the end of ages. Before man
was, they were. The old river that flowed past the old city that night
had flowed there centuries ago, and generations of men had lived and
died in joy and sorrow, and still the same waters washed the same
shore. But the stars that measure time itself, and the sea that recorded
it, would vanish away, and man should be when time would be no more.
"They shall perish, but thou shalt endure. They shall wax old as doth a
garment.... But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end."

The preacher finished, and the buzz and rustle of the people shifting in
their seats told of the tension that had been broken. Faces that had
been distorted with the tremors of fear, or contracted with the
quiverings of remorse, or glorified with the lights of ecstasy, resumed
their normal expression.

The vesper hymn was sung by the whole congregation, standing. It floated
up to the blue roof, where the lights that burned low over the people's
heads left in the gloom the texts written on the open timbers and the
imaged Christ hung in the clerestory. There was one voice that did not
sing the vesper hymn; and the close-locked lips of Hugh Ritson were but
the symbol of the close-locked heart.

He was asking himself, was it true that when the fire of the stars
should be burned to ashes, still man would endure? Pshaw! What was man?
These throngs of men, whose great voice swelled like the sea, what were
they? In this old church where they sung, other men had sung before
them, and where were they now? Who should say they had not perished?
Living, believing, dying, they were gone: gone with their sins and
sorrows; gone with their virtues and rewards; gone from all sight and
all memory; and no voice came from them, pealing out of the abyss of
death to join this song of hope. Hope! It was a dream. A dream that
great yearning crowds like these, filling churches and chapels, dreamed
age after age. But it was a dream from which there would be no awakening
to know that it was not true.

The priest and choir left the church. Then the congregation broke up and
separated. Hugh Ritson stood awhile, still leaning against the column of
the colonnade. The nuns in the south transept rose last, and went out by
a little aperture opening from the south aisle. Hugh watched them pass
at the distance of the width of the nave. Greta walked a few paces
behind them. When the people had gone, and she rose from her seat, her
eyes fell on Hugh. Then she dropped her head, and walked down the aisle
with a hurried step. Hugh saw her out; the church was now empty, and the
voluntary was done. He followed her through the door, and entered into
the sacristy.

Before him was another door; it led into the convent. The last of the
line of nuns was passing through it. Greta stood in the sacristy, faint,
with a scared face, one hand at her breast, the other on the base of a
crucifix that stood by the wall. When she saw that he had followed her,
her first impulse was to shrink away; her second was to sink to her
knees at his feet. She did neither. Conquering her faintness, but still
quivering from head to foot, she turned upon him with a defiant look.
"Why do you come here? I do not wish to speak with you. Let me pass,"
she said.

Hugh Ritson made no effort to detain her. He stood before her with
downcast eyes, his infirm foot bent under him. "I come to bid you
farewell," he said, calmly; "I come to say that we meet no more."

"Would that we had parted forever before we met the last time!" said
Greta, fervently.

"Would that we had never met!" said Hugh, in a low voice.

"That was a lie with which you parted me from my husband," she said.

"It was--God forgive me."

"And you knew it was a lie?" said Greta.

"I knew it was a lie."

"Then where is your shame, that you can look me in the face? Have you no
shame?" she said.

"Have you no pity?" said Hugh.

"What pity had you for me? Have you not done me wrong enough already?"

"God knows it is true. And He knows I am a miserable man. Have pity and
forgive me, and say farewell!"

Something of contrition in the tone touched her. She was silent.

"The preacher was wrong," he said. "There is no spirit of evil. We are
betrayed by our own passions, and the chief of those passions is love.
It is the Nemesis that stalks through the world, haunting all men, and
goading some to great wrong."

"It was of your doing that I came here," said Greta.

"Would to God it may be of my doing that you remain here," said Hugh.

"That is a prayer He will not hear. I am leaving this house to-night.
There is some one coming who can unmask your wicked falsehood."

"Parson Christian?" said Hugh.

Greta made no answer, and Hugh continued, "His journey is needless. A
word from my mother would have done all. She is in this house."

"Yes, Heaven forgive you, she is here!" said Greta.

"You are wrong; you do not know all. Where is your husband?"

Greta shook her head. "I have neither seen him nor heard from him since
we parted at these doors," she said.

"And when you leave them to-night, do you leave him behind you?" said
Hugh.

"Heaven forbid!" said Greta, passionately.

Hugh Ritson's bloodless face was awful to look upon. "Greta," he said,
in a tone of anguish, "give up the thought. Look on that false union as
broken forever, and all this misery will end. It was I and you--you and
I. But that is over now. I do not come between you. It is useless to
think of that. I do not offer you my love; you refused it long ago. But
I can not see you my brother's wife. That would be too much for me to
endure. I will not endure it. Have pity upon me. If I have no claim to
your love, have I no right to your pity? What have I suffered for your
love? A life's misery. What have I sacrificed to it? My name--my
place--my inheritance."

Greta lifted her eyes with a look of inquiry.

"What? Has he not even yet told you all?" said Hugh. "No matter. What
has he done to earn your love that I have not done? What has he
suffered? What has he sacrificed?"

"If this is love, it is selfish love," said Greta, in a broken voice.

"Selfish?--be it so. All love is selfish."

"Leave me--leave me!"

Hugh Ritson paused; the warmth of his manner increased. "I will leave
you," he said, "and never seek you again; I will go from you forever,
and crush down the sorrow that must be with me to the end, if you will
promise me one thing."

"What is it?" said Greta, her eyes on the ground.

"It is much," said Hugh, "but it is not all. If the price is great,
think of the misery that it buys--and buries. You would sacrifice
something for me, would you not?"

His voice swelled as he spoke, and his pale face softened, and the light
of hopeless love was in his great eyes.

"Say that you would--for me--me!" He held out his arms toward her as if
soul and body together yearned for one word, one look of love.

Greta stood there, silent and immovable. "What is it?" she repeated.

"Let me think that you would do something for my sake--mine," he
pleaded. "Let me carry away that solace. Think what I have suffered for
you, and all in vain. Think that perhaps it was no fault of mine that
you could not love me; that another woman might have found me worthy to
be loved who had not been unworthy of love from me."

"What is it?" repeated Greta, coldly, but her drooping lashes were wet
with tears.

"Think that I am of a vain, proud, stubborn spirit; that in all this
world there is neither man nor woman, friend nor enemy, to whom I have
sued for grace or favor; that since I was a child I have never even
knelt in prayer in God's house that man might see or God might hear.
Then think that I am at your feet, a miserable man."

"What is it?" said Greta, again.

Hugh Ritson paused, and then added, more calmly: "That you should take
the vows and the veil, and stay here until death."

Greta lifted her eyes. Hugh's eyes were bent upon her.

"No, I can not. I should be false to my marriage vows," she said,
quietly.

"To be true to them is to be false to yourself, to your husband, and to
me," said Hugh.

"I love my husband," said Greta, with an eloquent glance. "To be true to
them is to be true to him."

There was a pause. Hugh Ritson's manner underwent a change. It was the
white heat of high passion that broke the silence when he spoke again.

"Greta," he said, and his deep voice had a strong tremor, "if there is
any truth in what that priest told us to-night--if it is not a dream and
a solemn mockery made to enchant or appal the simple--if there is a God
and judgment--my soul is already too heavily burdened with sins against
you and yours. I would have eased it of one other sin more black than
these; but it was not to be."

"What do you mean?" said Greta. Her face was panic-stricken.

Hugh Ritson came a step nearer.

"That your husband is in my hands--that one word from me would commit
him to a doom more dreadful than death--that if he is to be saved as a
free man, alive, you must renounce him forever."

"Speak plain. What do you mean?" said Greta.

"Choose--quick! Which shall it be? You for this convent, or your husband
for lifelong imprisonment?"

Greta's mind was in a whirl. She was making for the door in front of
them. He stepped before her.

"I parted you with a lie," he said, "but to me it was not always a lie.
I believed it once. Do you think I should have denied my self my
inheritance, and let a bastard stand in my place, if I had not believed
it?"

"What further lie is this?" said Greta.

"No matter. Heaven knows. And all I did was for love of you. Is it so
guilty a thing that I have loved you--to all lengths and ends of love? I
meant to put a hemisphere between you--to send him to Australia, and
you back home to Cumberland. What if the lie had then been outfaced? I
should have parted you, and that would have been enough."

"And now, when your revenge falls idle at your feet, you come to me on
your knees," said Greta.

"Revenge? That was but a feeble revenge," said Hugh. "He would have
learned the truth and come back to claim you. There would have been no
peace for me while he was alive and free. Do I come to you on my knees?
Yes; but it is to pray of you to save your husband. Is it so much that I
ask of you? Think what is earned by it. If you have no pity for me, have
you none for him?"

She was struggling to pass him.

"Greta," he said, "choose, and at once. It is now or never.
To-night--to-morrow will be too late. You for a holy life of
self-renouncement, or your husband to drag out his miserable days in
penal servitude."

"This is only another lie. Let me pass," she said.

"It is the truth, as sure as God hears us," said Hugh.

"I shall never believe it."

"I will swear it." He laid a strong hand on her wrist. "I will swear it
at the very foot of God's altar."

He tried to draw her back into the church. She resisted.

"Let me go; I will cry for help."

He dropped her wrist, and fell back from her. She drew herself up in
silence, and walked slowly away.

He stood a moment alone in the sacristy. Then he went out through the
church. It was empty and all but dark. The sacristan, with a long rod,
was putting out the lights one by one. He turned, with arm uplifted, to
look after the halting figure that passed down the aisle and out at the
west porch.



CHAPTER XIII.


Abbey Gardens, the street in front, was dark and all but deserted. Only
a drunken woman went reeling along. But the dull buzz in the distance,
and the white sheet in the sky, told that, somewhere near, the wild
heart of the night beat high.

Hugh Ritson looked up at the heavy mass of the convent building as he
crossed the street. The lights were already out, and all was dark
within. He went on, but presently stopped by a sudden impulse, and
looked again.

It was then he was aware that something moved in the deep portico. The
lamp on the pavement sent a shaft of light on to the door, and there,
under the gas-light, with the face turned from him, was the figure of a
woman. She seemed to cast cautious and stealthy glances around, and to
lift a trembling hand to the bell that hung above her. The hand fell to
her side, but no ring followed. Once again the hand was lifted, and once
again it fell back. Then the woman crept totteringly down the steps and
turned to go.

Hugh Ritson recrossed the street. Amid all the turmoil of his soul, the
incident had arrested him.

The woman was coming toward him. He put himself in her path. The light
fell full upon her, and he saw her face.

It was Mercy Fisher.

With a low cry, the girl sunk back against the railings of the convent,
and covered her face with her hands.

"Is it you, Mercy?" said Hugh.

She made no answer. Then she tried to steal away, but he held her with
gentle force.

"Why did you leave Hendon?" he asked.

"You did not want me," said the girl, in a tone of unutterable pain. And
still her face was buried in her hands.

He did not reply. He let her grief spend itself.

Just then a drunken woman reeled back along the pavement and passed them
close, peering into their midst, and going by with a jarring laugh.

"What's he a-doing to ye, my dear, eh?" she said, jeeringly. "Sarve ye
right!" she added, and laughed again. She was a draggled, battered
outcast--a human ruin, such as night, the pander, flings away.

Mercy lifted her head. A dull, weary look was in her eyes.

"You know how I waited and waited," she said, "and you were so long in
coming, so very long." She turned her eyes aside. "You did not want me;
in your heart you did not want me," she said.

The wave of bitter memory drowned her voice. Not unmoved, he stood and
looked at her, and saw the child-face wet with tears, and the night
breeze of the city drift in her yellow hair.

"Where have you been since?" he said.

"A man going to market brought me up in his wagon. I fainted, and then
he took me to his home. He lives close by, in the Horse and Groom Yard.
His wife is bedridden, and such a good creature, and so kind to me. But
they are poor, and I had no money, and I was afraid to be a burden to
them; and besides--besides--"

"Well?"

"She saw that I was--she saw what was going to--being a woman, she knew
I was soon--"

"Yes, yes," said Hugh, stopping another flood of tears with a light
touch of the hand. "How red your eyes look. Are they worse?"

"The man was very good; he took me to the doctors at a hospital, and
they said--oh, they said I might lose my sight!"

"Poor little Mercy!" said Hugh.

He was now ashamed of his own sufferings. How loud they had clamored
awhile ago; yet, what were they side by side with this poor girl's
tangible sorrows! Mere things of the air, with no reality.

"But no matter!" she burst out. "That's no matter."

"You must keep up heart, Mercy. I spoke angrily to you the other night,
but it's over now, is it not?"

"Oh, why didn't you leave me alone?" said the girl.

"Hush, Mercy; it will be well with you yet." His own eyes were growing
dim, but even then his heart was bitter. Had he not said in his wrath
that passion was the demon of the world? He might say it in his sorrow,
too. The simple heart of this girl loved him, even as his own lustier
soul loved Greta. He had wronged her. But that was only a tithe of the
trouble. If she could but return him hate for wrong, how soon everything
would be right with her! "What brought you here, Mercy?"

"One of the sisters--they visit the sick--one of them visited the house
where they gave me lodgings, and I heard that they sometimes took
homeless girls into the convent. And I thought I was homeless, now,
and--and--"

"Poor little woman!"

"I came the night before last, but saw your brother Paul walking here in
front. So I went away."

"Paul?"

"Then I came last night, and he was here again. So I went away once
more, and to-night I came earlier, and he wasn't here, but just as I was
going to ring the bell, and say that I had no home, and that my eyes
were growing worse, something seemed to say they would ask if I had a
father, and why I had left him; and then I couldn't ring--and then I
thought if only I could die--yes, if only I could die and forget, and
never wake up again in the morning--"

"Hush, Mercy. You shall go back home to your father."

"No, no, no!"

"Yes; and I shall go with you."

There was silence. The bleared eyes looked stealthily up into his face.
A light smile played there.

"Ah!"

A bright vision came to her of a fair day when, hand in hand with him
she loved, she should return to her forsaken home in the mountains, and
hold up her head, and wipe away her father's tears. She was in the dark
street of the city, then; she and her home were very far apart.

He laughed inwardly at a different vision. In a grim spirit of humor he
saw all his unquenchable passion conquered, and he saw himself the
plain, homely, respectable husband of this simple wife.

"Was Paul alone when you saw him?" said Hugh.

"Yes. And would you tell them all?"

The girl's sidelong glance was far away.

"Mercy, I want you to do something for me."

"Yes, yes."

Again the sidelong glance.

Hugh lifted the girl's head with his hand to recall her wandering
thoughts.

"Paul will come again to-night. I want you to wait for him and speak to
him."

"Yes, yes; but won't he ask me questions?"

"What if he does? Answer them all. Only don't say that I have told you
to speak to him. Tell him--will you remember it?--are you
listening?--look me in the face, little woman."

"Yes, yes."

"Tell him that Mr. Christian--Parson Christian, you know--has come to
London and wishes to see him at once. Say he has looked for him at the
hotel in Regent Street and not found him there, and is now at the inn in
Hendon. Will you remember?"

"Yes."

"Where were you going, Mercy--back to your poor friends?"

"No. But will he be sure to come to-night?"

"No doubt. At what time was he here last night?"

"Ten o'clock."

"It is now hard on nine. Tell him to go to Hendon at once, and when he
goes, you go with him. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Don't forget--to-night; to-morrow night will not do. If he does not
come, you must follow me to Hendon and tell me so. I shall be there.
Don't tell him that--do you hear?"

The girl gave a meek assent.

"And now good-bye for an hour or two, little one."

He turned away, and she was left alone before the dark convent. But, she
was not all alone. A new-born dream was with her, and her soul was
radiant with light.



CHAPTER XIV.


Hugh Ritson walked rapidly through Dean's Yard in the direction of the
sanctuary. As he turned into Parliament Street the half moon rose above
the roof of Westminster Hall. But the night was still dark.

He passed through Trafalgar Square and into the Haymarket. The streets
were thronged. Crowds on crowds went languidly by. Dim ghosts of men and
women, most of them, who loitered at this hour in these streets. Old
men, with the souls long years dead within them, and the corruption
reeking up with every breath to poison every word, or lurking like
charnel lights in the eyes to blink contagion in every glance. Young
girls hopping like birds beside them, the spectres of roses in their
cheeks, but the real thorns at their hearts. There had been no way for
them but this--this and one other way: either to drift into the Thames
and be swallowed up in the waters of death, or to be carried along for a
brief minute on the froth of the waves of life.

Laughing because they might not weep; laughing because their souls were
dead; laughing in their conscious travesty of the tragedy of
pleasure--they tripped and lounged and sauntered along. And the lamps
shone round them, and above them was the glimmering moon.

As Hugh Ritson went up the steep Haymarket, his infirmity became more
marked, and he walked with a sliding gait. Seeing this, a woman who
stood there halted and limped a few paces by his side, and pretending
not to see him, shouted with a mocking laugh, "What is it--a man or a
bat?"

How the wild, mad heart of the night leaped up!

A man passed through the throng with eyes that seemed to see nothing of
its frantic frenzy and joyless joy--a stalwart man, who strode along
like a giant among midgets, his vacant eyes fixed before him, his strong
white face expressionless. Hugh Ritson saw him. They passed within two
paces, but without recognition. The one was wandering aimlessly in his
blind misery toward the Convent of St. Margaret, the other was making
for the old inn at Hendon.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Hugh Ritson was standing in the bar of the Hawk and Heron.
His mind was made up; his resolve was fixed; his plan was complete.

"Anybody with him?" he said to the landlady, motioning toward the
stairs.

"Not as I knows on, sir, but he do seem that restless and off his
wittals, and I don't know as I quite understands why--"

Hugh Ritson stopped her garrulous tongue. "I have found the girl. She
will come back to you to-night, Mrs. Drayton. If she brings with her the
gentleman who left these boxes in your care, take him to your son's
bedroom and tell him the person he wishes to see has arrived, and will
be with him directly."

With this he went up the stairs. Then, calling down, he added: "The
moment he is in the room come up and tell me."

A minute later he called again: "Where's the key to this door? Let me
have it."

The landlady hobbled up with the key to Drayton's bedroom; the room was
empty and the door stood open. Hugh Ritson tried the key in the lock and
saw that the wards moved freely. "That will do," he said, in a satisfied
tone.

The old woman was hobbling back. Hugh was standing in thought, with head
bent, and the nail of his forefinger on his cheek.

"By the way, Mrs. Drayton," he said, "you should get the girl to help
you a little sometimes."

"Lor's, sir, I never troubles her, being as she's like a visitor."

"Nonsense, Mrs. Drayton. She's young and hearty, and your own years are
just a little past their best, you know. How's your breathing
to-day--any easier?"

"Well, I can't say as it's a mort better, neither, thanking you the
same, sir," and a protracted fit of coughing bore timely witness to the
landlady's words.

"Ah! that's' a bad bout, my good woman."

"Well, it is, sir; and I get no sympathy, neither--leastways not from
him as a mother might look to--in a manner of speaking."

"Bethink you. Is there nothing the girl can do for you when she comes?
Nothing wanted? No errand?"

"Well, sir, taking it kindly, sir, there's them finings in the cellar
a-wants doing bad, and the boy as ought to do 'em, he's that grumpysome,
as I declare--"

"Quite right, Mrs. Drayton. Send the girl down to them the moment she
comes in, and keep her down until bed-time."

"Thank you, sir! I'm sure I takes it very kind and thoughtful of a
gentleman to say as much, and no call, neither."

The landlady shuffled down-stairs, wagging gratefully her dense old
noddle; the thoughtful gentleman left the key of Drayton's room in the
lock on the outside of the door, and ascended a ladder that went up from
the end of the passage. He knocked at a door at the top. At first there
was no answer. A dull shuffling of feet could be heard from within.
"Come, open the door," said Hugh, impatiently.

The door was opened cautiously. Drayton stood behind it. Hugh Ritson
entered. There was no light in the room; the red, smoking wick of a
tallow candle, newly extinguished, was filling the air with its stench.

"You take care of yourself," said Hugh. "Let us have a light."

Drayton went down on his knees in the dark, fumbled on the floor for a
box of lucifers, and relighted the candle. He was in his shirt-sleeves.

"Cold without your coat, eh?" said Hugh. A sneer played about his lips.

Without answering, Drayton turned to a mattress that lay in the gloom of
one corner, lifted it, took up a coat that lay under it, and put it on.
It was the ulster with the torn lapel.

Hugh Ritson followed Drayton's movements, and laughed slightly. "Men
like you are always cautious in the wrong place," he said. "Let them lay
hands on you, and they won't be long finding your--coat." The last word
had a contemptuous dig of emphasis.

"Damme if I won't burn it, for good and all," muttered Drayton. His
manner was dogged and subdued.

"No, you won't do that," said Hugh, and he eyed him largely. The garret
was empty save for the mattress and the blanket that lay on it, and two
or three plates, with the refuse of food, on the floor. It was a low
room, with a skylight in the rake of the roof, which sloped down to a
sharp angle. There was no window. The walls were half timbered, and had
once been plastered, but the laths were now bare in many places.

"Heard anything?" said Drayton, doggedly.

"Yes; I called and told the police sergeant that I thought I was on the
scent."

"What? No!"

The two men looked at each other--Drayton suspicious, Hugh Ritson with
amused contempt.

"Tell you what, you don't catch me hobnobbing with them gentry," said
Drayton, recovering his composure.

Hugh Ritson made no other answer than a faint smile. As he looked into
the face of Drayton, he was telling himself that no man had ever before
been at the top of such a situation as that of which he himself was then
the master. Here was a man who was the half-brother of Greta, and the
living image of her husband. Here was a man who, despite vague
suspicions, did not know his own identity. Here was a man over whom hung
an inevitable punishment. Hugh Ritson smiled at the daring idea he had
conceived of making this man personate himself.

"Drayton," he said, "I mean to stand your friend in this trouble."

"Tell you again, the best friend to me is the man as helps me to make my
lucky."

"You shall do it, Drayton, this very night. Listen to me. That man, my
brother, as they call him--Paul Ritson, as his name goes--is not my
father's son. He is the son of my mother by another man, and his true
name is Paul Lowther."

"I don't care what his true name is, nor his untrue, neither. It ain't
nothing to me, say I, and no more is it."

"Would it be anything to you to inherit five thousand pounds?"

"What?"

"Paul Lowther is the heir to as much. What would you say if I could put
you in Paul Lowther's place, and get you Paul Lowther's inheritance?"

"Eh? A fortune out of hand--how?"

"The way I described before."

There was a slight scraping sound, such as a rat might have made in
burrowing behind the partition.

"What's that?" said Drayton, his face whitening, and his watchful eyes
glancing toward the door. "A key in the lock?" he whispered.

"Tut! isn't your own key on the inside?" said Hugh Ritson.

Drayton hung his head in shame at his idle fears.

"I know--I haven't forgot," he muttered, covering his discomfiture.

"It's a pity to stay here and be taken, when you might as easily be
safe," said Hugh.

"So it is," Drayton mumbled.

"And go through penal servitude for life, when another man might do it
for you," added Hugh, with a ghostly smile.

"I ain't axing you to say it over. What's that?" Drayton cowered down.
The bankrupt garret had dropped a cake of its rotten plaster. Hugh
Ritson moved not a muscle; only the sidelong glance told of his contempt
for the hulking creature's cowardice.

"The lawyer who has charge of this legacy is my friend and comrade," he
said, after a moment's silence. "We should have no difficulty in that
quarter. My mother is--Well, she's gone. There would be no one left to
question you. If you were only half shrewd the path would be clear."

"What about her?"

"Greta? She would be your wife."

"My wife?"

"In name. You would go back, as I told you, and say: 'I, whom you have
known as Paul Ritson, am really Paul Lowther, and therefore the
half-brother of the woman with whom I went through the ceremony of
marriage. This fact I learned immediately on reaching London. I bring
the lady back as I found her, and shall ask that the marriage--which is
no marriage--be annulled. I deliver up to the rightful heir, Hugh
Ritson, the estates of Allan Ritson, and make claim to the legacy left
me by my father, Robert Lowther.' This is what you have to say and do,
and every one will praise you for an honest and upright man."

"Very conscientious, no doubt; but what about him?"

"He will then be Paul Drayton, and a felon."

Drayton chuckled. "And what about her?"

"If he is in safe keeping, she will count for nothing."

"So I'm to be Paul Lowther."

"You are to pretend to be Paul Lowther."

"I told you afore, as it won't go into my nob, and no more it will,"
said Drayton, scratching his head.

"You shall have time to learn your lesson; you shall have it pat," said
Hugh Ritson. "Meantime--"

At that instant Drayton's eyes were riveted on the skylight with an
affrighted stare.

"Look yonder!" he whispered.

"What?"

"The face on the roof!"

Hugh Ritson plucked up the candle and thrust it over his head and
against the glass. "What face?" he said, contemptuously.

Again Drayton's head fell in shame at his abject fear.

There was a shuffling footstep on the ladder outside. Drayton held his
head aside, and listened. "The old woman," he mumbled. "What now?
Supper, I suppose."



CHAPTER XV.


At that moment there was a visitor in the bar down-stairs. He was an
elderly man, with shaggy eyebrows and a wizened face; a diminutive
creature with a tousled head of black and gray. It was Gubblum
Oglethorpe. The mountain peddler had traveled south to buy chamois
leather, and had packed a great quantity of it into a bundle, like a
panier, which he carried over one arm.

Since the wedding at Newlands, three days ago, Gubblum's lively
intelligence had run a good deal on his recollection of the man
resembling Paul Ritson, whom he had once seen in Hendon. He had always
meant to settle for himself that knotty question. So here, on his first
visit to London, he intended to put up at the very inn about which the
mystery gathered.

"How's ta rubbun on?" he said, by way of salute on entering. When Mrs.
Drayton had gone upstairs she had left the pot-boy in charge of the bar.
He was a loutish lad of sixteen, and his name was Jabez.

Jabez slowly lifted his eyes from the pewters he was washing, and a
broad smile crossed his face. Evidently the new-comer was a countryman.

"Cold neet, eh? Sharp as a step-mother's breath," said Gubblum, throwing
down the panier and drawing up to the fire.

The smile on the face of Jabez broadened perceptibly, and he began to
chuckle.

"What's ta snertan at, eh?" said Gubblum. "I say it's hot weather varra.
Hasta owt agenn it?"

Jabez laughed outright. Clearly the countryman must be crazy.

"What's yon daft thingamy aboot?" thought Gubblum. Then aloud, "Ay, my
lad, gie us a laal sup o' summat."

Jabez found his risible faculties sorely disturbed by this manner of
speech. But he proceeded to fill a pewter. The pot-boy's movements
resembled those of a tortoise in celerity.

"He's a stirran lad, yon," thought Gubblum. "He's swaddering like a duck
in a puddle."

"Can I sleep here to-neet?" he asked, when Jabez had brought him his
beer.

Then the sapient smile on the pot-boy's face ripened into speech.

"I ain't answering for the sleeping," said Jabez, "but happen you may
have a bed--he, he, he! I'll ask the missis--he, he, haw!"

"The missis? Hasta never a master, then?" said Gubblum.

Now, Jabez had been warned, with many portentous threats, that in the
event of any one asking for the master he was to be as mute as the
grave. So in answer to the peddler's question he merely shook his wise
head and looked grave and astonishingly innocent.

"No? And how lang hasta been here?"

"Three years come Easter," said Jabez.

"And how lang dusta say 'at missis has been here?"

"Missis? I heard father say as Mistress Drayton has kep' the Hawk and
Heron this five-and-twenty year."

"Five-and-twenty! Then I reckon that master would be no'but a laal wee
barn when she coomt first," said Gubblum.

"Happen he were," said Jabez. Then, recovering the caution so
unexpectedly disturbed, Jabez protested afresh that he had no master.

"It's slow wark suppen buttermilk wi' a pitchfork," thought Gubblum, and
he proceeded to employ a spoon.

"Sista, my lad, wadsta like me to lend thee a shilling?"

Jabez grinned, and closed his fat fist on the coin thrust into his palm.

"I once knew a man as were the varra spitten picter of your master,"
said Gubblum. "In fact, his varra sel', upsett'n and doon thross'n. I
thowt it were hissel', that's the fact. But when I tackled him he
threept me down, and I was that vexed I could have bitten the side out
of a butter-bowl."

"But I ain't got no master," protested Jabez.

"I were riding by on my laal pony that day, but now I'm going shankum
naggum," continued Gubblum, unmindful of the pot-boy's mighty innocent
look. "'A canny morning to you, Master Paul,' I shouted, and on I went."

"Then you know his name?" said Jabez, opening wide his drowsy eyes.

"'Master Paul's half his time frae home,' says the chap on t'road.
'Coorse he is,' I says: 'it's me for knowing that,' Ah, I mind it same
as it were yesterday. I looked back, and there he was standing at the
door, and he just snitit his nose wi' his finger and thoom. Ey, he did,
for sure."

Jabez found his conscience abnormally active at that moment. "But I
ain't got none," he protested afresh.

"None what?"

"No master."

"That's a lie, my lad, for I see he's been putten a swine ring on yer
snout to keep ye frae rooting up the ground."

After this Gubblum sat a good half-hour in silence. Mrs. Drayton came
down-stairs and arranged that Gubblum should sleep that night in the
house. His bedroom was to be a little room at the back, entered from the
vicinity of the ladder that led to the attics.

Gubblum got up, said he was tired, and asked to be shown to his room.
Jabez lighted a candle, and they went off together.

"Whereiver does that lead to?" said Gubblum, pointing to the ladder near
his bedroom door.

"I dunno," said Jabez, moodily. He had been ruminating on Gubblum's
observation about the swine ring.

"He's as sour as vargis," thought Gubblum.

There was the creak of a footstep overhead.

"Who sleeps in the pigeon loft?" Gubblum asked, tipping his finger
upward.

"I dunno," repeated Jabez.

"His dander's up," thought Gubblum.

Just then the landlady in the bar heard the sound of wheels on the road,
and the next moment a carriage drew up at the open door.

"I say there, lend a hand here, quick!" shouted the driver.

Mrs. Drayton hobbled up. The flyman was leaning through the door of the
fly, helping some one to alight.

"Take a' arm, missy; there, that's the size of it. Now, sir, down,
gently."

The person assisted was a man. The light from the bar fell on his face,
and the landlady saw him clearly. It was Paul Ritson. He was flushed,
and his eyes were bloodshot. Behind him was Mercy Fisher, with recent
tears on her cheeks.

"Oh, he's ill, Mrs. Drayton," said Mercy.

Paul freed one of his arms from the grasp of the girl, waved with a
gesture of deprecation, smiled a jaunty smile, and said:

"No, no, no; let me walk; I'm well--I'm well."

With this he made for the house, but before he had taken a second step
he staggered and fell against the door-jamb.

"Deary me, deary me, the poor gentleman's taken badly," said Mrs.
Drayton, fussing about.

Paul Ritson laughed a little, lifted his red eyes, and said:

"Well, well! But it's nothing. Just dizzy, that's all. And
thirsty--very--give me a drink, good woman."

"Bring that there bench up, missy, and we'll put him astride it," said
the driver. "Right; that's the time o' day. Now, sir, down."

"Deary me, deary me, drink this, my good gentleman. It'll do you a mort
o' good. It's brandy."

"Water--bring me water," said Paul Ritson, feebly; "I'm parched."

"How hot his forehead is," said Mercy.

"And no light 'un to lift, neither," said the driver. "Does he live
here, missis?"

Mrs. Drayton brought a glass of water. Paul drained it to the last drop.

"No, sir; I mean yes, driver," said the landlady, confusedly.

"He warn't so bad getting in," the driver observed.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear! where is Mr. Christian--Parson Christian?" said
Mercy, whose distracted eyes wandered around.

"The gentleman's come, sir; he's upstairs, sir," said the landlady, and,
muttering to herself, Mrs. Drayton hobbled away.

Paul Ritson's head had fallen on his breast. His hat was off, and his
hair tumbled over his face. The strong man sat coiled up on the bench.
Then he shook himself and threw up his head, as if trying to cast off
the weight of stupor that sat on him.

"Well, well! who'd have thought of this? Water--more water!" he mumbled
in a thick voice.

Mercy stood before him with a glass in her hand.

"Is it good for him, I wonder?" she said. "Oh, where is Mr. Christian?"

Paul Ritson saw the glass, clutched at it with both hands, then smiled a
poor, weak smile, as if to atone for his violence, and drank every drop.

"Well, well!--so hot--and dizzy--and cold!" he muttered, incoherently.

Then he relapsed into silence. After a moment, the driver, who was
supporting him at the back, looked over at his face. The eyes were
closed, and the lips were hanging.

"He's gone off unconscious," said the flyman. "Ain't ye got a bed
handy?"

At that moment Mrs. Drayton came hastily down-stairs, in a fever of
agitation.

"You've got to get him up to his room," she said, between gusts of
breath.

"That's a job for two men, ain't it, missis?" said the driver.

Mercy had loosened Paul's collar, and with a nervous hand she was
bathing his burning forehead.

"Oh, tell Mr. Christian," she said; "say he has fainted."

Mrs. Drayton hobbled back. In another instant there was a man's step
descending the stairs. Hugh Ritson entered the bar. He looked down at
the unconscious man and felt his pulse. "When did this happen?" he
asked, turning to Mercy.

"He said he was feeling ill when I met him; then he was worse in the
train, and when we reached Hendon he was too dizzy to stand," said
Mercy.

"His young woman, ain't it?" said the flyman, aside, to Hugh.

Hugh nodded his head slightly. Then, turning toward Mrs. Drayton, with a
significant glance, "Your poor son is going to be ill," he said.

The landlady glanced back with a puzzled expression, and began in a
blundering whimper, "The poor gentleman--"

"The old lady's son?" said the flyman, tipping his finger in the
direction of the landlady.

"Paul Drayton," said Hugh.

Mercy saw and heard all. The tears suddenly dried in her eyes, which
opened wide in amazement. She said nothing.

Hugh caught the altered look in her face.

"Mrs. Drayton," he said, "didn't you say you had something urgent for
Mercy to do? Let her set about it at once. Now, driver, lend a
hand--upstairs; it's only a step."

They lifted Paul Ritson between them, and were carrying him out of the
bar.

"Where's the boy?" asked Hugh. "Don't let him get in the way. Boys are
more hindrance than help," he added, in an explanatory tone.

They had reached the foot of the stair. "Now, my man, easy--heavy, eh?
rather."

They went up. Mercy stood in the middle of the floor with a tearless and
whitening face.

Half a minute later Hugh Ritson and the flyman had returned to the bar.
The phantom of a smile lurked about the flyman's mouth. Hugh Ritson's
face was ashen, and his lips quivered.

The boxes and portmanteaus which Paul and Greta had left in the bar
three nights ago still lay in one corner. Hugh pointed them out to the
driver. "Put them on top of the cab," he said. The flyman proceeded to
do so.

When the man was outside the door, Hugh Ritson turned to Mrs. Drayton.
The landlady was fussing about, twitching her apron between nervous
fingers. "Mrs. Drayton," said Hugh, "you will go in this fly to the
Convent of St. Margaret, Westminster. There you will ask for Mrs.
Ritson, the lady who was here on Friday night. You will tell her that
you have her luggage with you, and that she is to go with you to St.
Pancras Station to meet her husband, and return to Cumberland by the
midnight train. You understand?"

"I can't say as I do, sir, asking pardon, sir. If so be as the lady axes
why her husband didn't come for her hisself--what then?"

"Then say what is true--nothing more, Mrs. Drayton."

"And happen what may that be, sir?"

"That her husband is ill--but mind--not seriously."

"Oh, well, I can speak to that, sir, being as I saw the poor gentleman."

Mrs. Drayton was putting on her bonnet and shawl. The flyman had fixed
the luggage on top of the cab, and was standing in the bar, whip in
hand.

"A glass for the driver," said Hugh. Mrs. Drayton moved toward the
counter. "No, you get into the cab, Mrs. Drayton; Mercy will serve."

Mercy went behind the counter and served the liquor in an absent manner.

"It's now ten-thirty," said Hugh, looking at his watch. "You will drive
first to the convent, Westminster, and from there to St. Pancras, to
catch the train at twelve."

Saying this, he walked to the door and put his head through the window
of the cab. The landlady was settling herself in her seat. "Mrs.
Drayton," he whispered, "you must not utter a syllable about your son
when you see the lady. Mind that. You understand?"

"Well, sir, I can't say--being as I saw the gentleman--wherever's Paul?"

"Hush!"

The driver came out. He leaped to his seat. In another moment the cab
rattled away.

Hugh Ritson walked back into the house. The boy Jabez had come
down-stairs. "When do you close the house?" Hugh asked.

"Eleven o'clock, sir," said Jabez.

"No one here--you might almost as well close now. No matter--go behind
the bar, my lad. Mercy, your eyes are more inflamed than ever; get away
to bed immediately."

Mercy's eyes were not more red than their expression was one of
bewilderment. She moved off mechanically. When she reached the foot of
the stairs she turned and tried to speak. The words would not come. At
length she said, in a strange voice: "You did not tell me the truth."

"Mercy!"

"Where's Parson Christian?" said Mercy, and her voice grew stern.

"You must not use that tone to me. Come, get away to bed, little one."

Her eyes dropped before his. She turned away. He watched her up the
stairs. So sure of hand was he that not even at that moment did he doubt
his hold of her. But Mercy did not go to bed. She turned in at the open
door of Drayton's room. The room was dark; only a fitful ray of bleared
moonlight fell crosswise on the floor; but she could see that the
unconscious figure of Paul Ritson lay stretched upon the bed.

"And I have led you here with a lie!" she thought. Then her head swam
and fell on to the counterpane. Some minutes passed in silence. She was
aroused by footsteps in the passage outside. They were coming toward
this room. The door, which stood ajar, was pushed open. There was no
time for Mercy to escape, so she crept back into the darkness of a
narrow space between the foot of the bed and the wall.

Two men entered. Mercy realized their presence in the dark room rather
by the sense of touch than by the sense of hearing or sight. They walked
lightly, the darkness hid them, but the air seemed heavy with their hot
breath. One of them approached the bedside; Mercy felt the bed quiver.
The man leaned over it, and there was a pause. Only the scarcely
perceptible breathing of the insensible man fell on the silence.

"He's safe enough still," said a voice that thrilled her through and
through. "Now for it--there's no time to lose!"

The girl crouched down and held her breath.

"Damme if I ain't wishing myself well out of it!" muttered another
voice.

Mercy knew both men. They were Hugh Ritson and Paul Drayton.

Hugh closed the door. "What simpleton says fortune favors the brave?"
he said, in a low, derisive tone. "Here is fortune at the feet of a man
like you!"

Drayton growled, and Mercy heard the oath that came from beneath his
breath. "I'm wanting to be out of this, and I ain't ashamed for you to
know it."

Hugh Ritson's light laugh came from the bedside. He was still standing
by Paul Ritson's head. "If the lord mayor came for you in his carriage,
with a guard of flunkies, you would leave this house in less safety," he
said. Then he added, impatiently: "Come, waste no words; strip off that
tell-tale coat."

With this he leaned over the bed, and there was a creak of the spring
mattress.

"What's that?" said Drayton, in an affrighted tone.

"For God's sake, be a man!" said Hugh, bitterly.

"D'ye call this a man's work?" muttered Drayton.

The light laugh once more. "Perhaps not so manly as robbing the dead and
dying," said Hugh Ritson, and his voice was deep and cold.

Mercy heard another muttered oath. Dear God! what was about to be done?
Could she escape? The door was closed. Still, if she could but reach it,
she might open it and fly away.

At that instant, Hugh Ritson, as if apprehending her thought, said,
"Wait," and then stepped back to the door and drew the snap bolt. Mercy
leaned against the wall, and heard the beating of her heart. In the
darkness she knew that Paul Drayton had thrown off his coat. "A good
riddance!" he muttered, and the heavy garment fell with a thud.

Hugh Ritson had returned to the bed-head. "Give me a hand," he said;
"raise him gently--there, I'll hold him up--now draw off his
coat--quietly, one arm at a time. Is it free? Then, lift--away."

Another heavy garment fell with a thud.

"What's the fence got in his other pockets, eh?"

"Come, lend your hand again--draw off the boots--they're Cumberland
make, and yours are cockney style--quick!"

Drayton stepped to the bottom of the bed and fumbled at the feet of the
insensible man. He was then within a yard of the spot where the girl
stood. She could feel his proximity, and the alcoholic fumes of his
breath rose to her nostrils. She was dizzy, and thought she must have
fallen. She stretched out one hand to save herself, and it fell on to
the bed-rail. It was within a foot of Drayton's arm.

"Take off his stockings--they're homespun--while I remove the cravat.
The pin was a present; it has his name engraved on the plate behind."

The slant of the moonlight had died off the floor, and all was dark.

Drayton's craven fears seemed to leave him. He laughed and crowed. "How
quiet the fence is--very obliging, I'm sure--just fainted in the nick of
time. Will it last?"

"Quick! strip off your own clothes and put them where these have come
from. The coat with the torn lapel--where is it? Make no mistake about
that."

"I'll pound it, no!" Drayton laughed a short, hoarse laugh.

There was some shuffling in the darkness. Then a pause.

"Hush!"

Mercy knew that Hugh Ritson had grasped the arm of Drayton, and that
both held their breath. At that moment the moonlight returned, and the
bleared shaft that had once crossed the floor now crossed the bed. The
light fell on the face of the prostrate man. His eyes were open.

"Water--water!" said Paul Ritson, very feebly.

Hugh Ritson stepped out of the moonlight and went behind his brother.
Then Mercy saw a hand before Paul's face, putting a spirit flask to his
mouth.

When the hand was raised the face twitched slightly, the eyes closed
with a convulsive tremor, and the half-lifted head fell back on to the
pillow.

"He'll be quieter than ever now," said Hugh Ritson, softly. Mercy
thought she must have screamed, but the instinct of self-preservation
kept her still. She stirred not a limb. Her head rested against the
wall, her eyes peered into the darkness, her parched tongue and parted
lips burned like fire.

"Quick! put his clothes on to your own back, and let us be gone."

Drayton drew on the garments and laughed hoarsely. "And a good fit,
too--same make of a man to a T--ex--act--ly!"

The window and the door stood face to face; the bed was on the left of
the door, with the head at the door-end. The narrow alcove in which the
girl stood was to the left of the window, and in front of the window
there was a dressing-table. Drayton stepped up to this table to fix the
cravat by the glass. The faint moonlight that fell on his grinning face
was reflected dimly into the mirror.

At that moment Mercy's sickening eyes turned toward the bed. There, in
repose that was like death itself, lay the upturned face of Paul Ritson.
Two faces cast by nature in the same mold--one white and serene and
peaceful, the other bloated, red, smirking, distorted by passion, with
cruel eyes and smoking lips.

"The very thing--the very thing--damme if his own mother wouldn't take
me for her son!"

Hugh Ritson stepped to Drayton's side. When he spoke his voice was like
a cold blast of wind.

"Now listen: From this moment at which you change your coat for his you
cease to be Paul Drayton, and become Paul Ritson."

"Didn't you say I was to be Paul Lowther?"

"That will come later."

"As I say, it won't go into my nob."

"No matter; say nothing to yourself but this, 'I am to pretend to be
Paul Ritson.'"

"Well, now for it!"

"Ready?" asked Hugh. He returned to the bed-head.

"Ready."

"Then give a hand here. We must put him up into your garret. When the
police come for him he must seem to be in hiding and in drink. You
understand?"

A low, hoarse laugh was the only answer.

Then they lifted the unconscious man from the bed, opened the door, and
carried him into the passage.

Mercy recovered her stunned senses. When the men were gone she crept out
on tiptoe and tripped down the passage to her own room. At the door she
reeled and fell heavily. Then, in a vague state of consciousness, she
heard these words passed over her--"Carry her back into her room and
lock her in." At the same instant she felt herself being lifted in a
strong man's arms.



CHAPTER XVI.


Before Gubblum Oglethorpe parted with Jabez, he tried to undo the
mischief he had done. "Give us a shak' o' thy daddle," he said, holding
out his hand. But Jabez had not forgotten the similitude of the swine
ring. He made no response.

"Dang him for a fool!" thought Gubblum. "He's as daft as a besom." Then
Gubblum remembered with what lavish generosity he had bribed the pot-boy
to no purpose. "He cover't a shilling dammish," he thought; "I'll dang
his silly head off!"

Jabez put down the candle and backed out of the room, his eyes fixed on
the peddler with a ghostly stare.

"You needn't boggle at me. I'll none hurt ye," said Gubblum. Jabez
pulled the door after him. "His head's no'but a lump of puddin' and a
daub o' pancake," thought Gubblum.

Then the peddler sat on the bed and began to wonder what possible reason
there might be for the lad's sudden change of temper. He sat long, and
many crude notions trotted through his brain. At last he recalled the
fact that he had said something about Jabez's snout carrying a swine
ring. That was the rub, sure enough. "I mak' no doobt he thowt it was a
by-wipe," thought Gubblum.

Just as the peddler had arrived at this sapient conclusion, he heard
heavy footsteps ascending and descending the ladder that stood in the
passage outside. Gubblum understood the sounds to mean that the inn was
so full of visitors that some of them had to be lodged even in the
loft. "Ey, I shouldn't wonder but this is a bonny paying consarn," he
thought.

He undressed, got into bed, and blew out his light. He lay awhile
waiting for sleep, and thinking of the failure of his plummets to sound
the depths of Jabez. Then he remembered with vexation that the lad had
even laughed at him in spite of the "shilling dammish."

"Shaf, it was no'but his guts crowkin'," thought Gubblum; and he rolled
over, face to the wall, and began to pay nasal tribute to sleep.

From the slowly tightening grip of unconsciousness Gubblum was roused to
sudden wakefulness. There was a noise as of heavy shuffling feet outside
his door. The peddler raised himself and listened.

"Too dark in this corner," said a voice. "Get a light."

Gubblum crept out of bed, held his head to the door, and listened.

There were retreating steps. Then the man who had spoken before spoke
again. "Quick, there! we must catch the train at eleven fifteen."

The voice pealed in Gubblum's memory. He knew it. It was the voice of
the last man he should have looked for in this house--Hugh Ritson.

Presently the footsteps approached, and thin fingers of light shot over
Gubblum's head into his dark room. He looked up at the door. Three small
round holes had been pierced into the styles for ventilation.

"Put the candle on the floor and take the feet--I'll go up first," said
the same voice.

Gubblum raised himself on tiptoe and tried to peer through the
perforations. He was too small a man to see through. There was a chair
by the side of his bed, and his extinguished candle stood on it. He
removed the candlestick, lifted the chair cautiously, placed its back to
the door, and mounted it. Then he saw all.

There were two men, and he knew both--the brothers Ritson. Ah! had he
not said that Paul Ritson kept this inn? "I'll shut up the whole boilin'
of 'em next time," thought the peddler, "Wait! what are they lugging
into the pigeon loft?"

"Easy!--damme, but the fence is a weight!"

It was the hoarse voice of the other man. The candle was behind him and
on the floor. It cast its light on his back. "If I could no'but get a
blink frae the cannel, I'd see what's atween them," thought Gubblum.

The men with their burden were now at the top of the ladder.

"Twist about, and go in sideways," muttered the voice first heard.

The man below twisted. This movement brought the full light of the
candle on to the faces of all three.

"Lord A'mighty, whativer's this?" Gubblum thought.

The burden was a man's body. But it was the face that startled the
peddler--the face of Paul Ritson.

Gubblum's eyes passed over the group in one quick glance. He saw two
Paul Ritsons there, and one of them lay as still as the dead.

A minute more of awful tension, and the door of the loft above was
slammed and shut, the heavy feet of the two men descended the ladder
quickly, and went down the stairs into the bar.

Gubblum listened as if with every sense. He knew that the outer door to
the road had opened and closed. He heard footsteps dying away in the
distance without. All was silent within the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two men hastening in the night to the Hendon railway station paused at
that turn of the road which leads to the police offices and jail.

"You go on and take care of yourself--I'll follow in five minutes," said
one.

"You ain't going to give a man away?" said the other.

There was only a contemptuous snort for answer. The first speaker had
turned on his heel. When he reached the police offices, he rang the
bell. The door was answered by a sergeant in plain clothes. "I've found
your man for you," said Hugh Ritson.

"Where, sir?"

"At the Hawk and Heron."

"Who is he?"

"Paul Drayton. You'll find him lying in the garret at the west end of
the gable--drunk. Lose not an hour. Go at once."

"Is the gentleman who struggled with him still staying there--Mr. Paul
Ritson?"

"No; he goes back home to-night."

"What's his address in the country?"

"The Ghyll, Newlands, Cumberland."

"And yours, sir?"

"I am his brother, Hugh Ritson, and my address is the same."

"We'll go this instant."

"Well, take your piece of frieze with you and see if it fits. It was by
the torn ulster that I recognized your man. Good-night."



CHAPTER XVII.


As soon as the noise of the retiring steps had died away on Gubblum's
ear, he dressed himself partially, opened the door of his bedroom
cautiously, and stepped into the passage. He was still in the dark, and
groping with one hand, he felt for the ladder by which the two men had
carried their burden to the loft above. He had grasped the lowest rungs
of it, and was already some steps up, when he heard a singular noise. It
was something between the cry of a child and the deep moan of a sick
man. Did it come from the loft? Gubblum held his head in that direction
and listened. No; the sound was from the other end of the passage. Now
it was gone, and all was quiet. What a strange house was this!

"Can't see a styme," thought Gubblum. "I'll away for the cannel."

Back in his bedroom he struck a match, and then stepped afresh into the
passage, guarding the newly lighted candle with the palm of his hand.
Then there came a shrill cry. It seemed to be before him, above him,
behind him, everywhere about him. Gubblum's knees gave way, but the
stubborn bit of heart in him was not to be shaken.

"A rayder queerly sort of a house," he thought; and at that instant
there were heavy lunges at a door at the further end of the passage, and
a cry of "Help! help!"

Gubblum darted in the direction of the voice.

"Let me out!" cried the voice from within.

Gubblum tried the door. It was locked.

"Help! help!" came again.

"In a sniffer; rest ye a bit!" shouted Gubblum, and putting the light on
the floor, he planted his shoulder against the door, and one foot
against the opposite wall.

"Help! help! let me out! quick, quick!" came once more from within.

"Sec a skrummidge!" shouted Gubblum, panting for breath.

Then the lock gave way and the door flew open. In the midst of the bad
light Gubblum saw nothing at first. Then a woman with wild eyes and a
face of anguish came out on him from the dark room. It was Mercy Fisher.

When they recognized each other there was a moment of silence. But it
was only a moment, and that moment was too precious to be lost. In a
flood of tears the girl told him what had happened.

Gubblum understood no more than that villainy had been at work. Mercy
saw nothing but that she had been deceived and had been herself the
instrument of deception. This was enough.

"The raggabrash! I'd like to rozzle their backs with an ash stick," said
Gubblum.

"Oh, where have they taken him--where, where?" cried Mercy, wringing her
hands.

"Don't put on wi' thee--I know," said Gubblum. "I questit them up the
stairs. Come along wi' me, lass, and don't slobber and yowl like a
barn."

Gubblum whipped up his candle, and hurried along the passage and up the
ladder like a monkey, Mercy following at his heels.

"Belike they've locked this door forby," he said.

But no, the key was in the lock. Gubblum turned it and pushed it open.
Then he peered into the garret, holding the candle above his head. When
the light penetrated the darkness, they saw a man's figure outstretched
on a mattress that lay on the bare floor of the empty room. They ran up
to it, and raised the head.

"It's his fadder's son, I'll uphod thee," said Gubblum. "And yon
riff-raff, his spitten picter, is no'but some wastrel merry-begot."

Mercy was down on her knees beside the insensible man, chafing his
hands. There was a tremulous movement of the eyelids.

"Sista, he's coming tul't. Slip away for watter, lass," said Gubblum.

Mercy was gone and back in an instant.

"Let a be, let a be--he'll come round in a crack. Rub his forehead--stir
thy hand, lass--pour the watter--there, that's enough--plenty o' butter
wad sto a dog. Sista, he's coming tul't fast."

Paul Ritson had opened his eyes.

"Slip away for mair watter, lass--there, that's summat like--rest ye, my
lad--a drink?--ey, a sup o' watter."

Paul looked around him. His filmy eyes were full of questions. But at
first his tongue would not speak. He looked up at the bare skylight and
around at the bleached walls, and then back into the face of the
peddler. He noticed Mercy, and smiled.

"Where are we, my girl?" he said, faintly.

"This is the Hawk and Heron," she answered.

"How do I come to be here?" he asked.

Mercy covered her face, and sobbed.

"I brought you," she said, at length.

Paul looked at her a moment with bewildered eyes. Then the tide of
memory flowed back upon his mind.

"I remember," he said, quietly; "I was feeling dizzy--hadn't slept two
nights--not even been in bed--walked the streets the long hours
through."

Everything had rushed over him in a moment, and he closed his eyes with
a deep groan. At his feet Mercy buried her face and sobbed aloud.

Paul drew himself feebly up on his elbow.

"Where is Parson Christian?" he asked, and gazed around, with a faint
smile.

The girl's anguish overflowed.

"That was a lie I told you," she sobbed.

The smile fled away.

"A lie! Why a lie?"

He was struggling with a dazed sense.

"I told you that Parson Christian was here and wanted you. He is not
here."

And Mercy's weeping seemed to choke her.

"My good girl, and why?"

"They brought you to this room and left you, and now they are gone."

"They! Who?"

"Your brother Hugh and Mr. Drayton."

Paul looked deadly sick at heart.

"Who is this Drayton?"

"The spitten picter of yourself, my lad," said Gubblum; "the man I telt
ye of lang ago--him as keeps this house."

Paul's eyes wandered vacantly. His nervous fingers twitched at the
ulster that he wore.

"What's this?" he said, and glanced down at his altered dress.

"When you were insensible they stripped you of your clothes and put
others on you," said Mercy.

"Whose clothes are these?"

"Mr. Drayton's."

Paul Ritson rose to his feet.

"Where are the men?" he said, in a husky voice.

"Gone."

"Where?"

"To the station--that was all I heard."

Paul gazed about with hazy eyes. Mercy flung herself at his feet and
wept bitterly.

"Forgive me! oh, forgive me!"

He looked down at her with a confused expression. His brain was
benumbed. He drew one arm across his face as though struggling to
recover some lost link of memory.

"Why, my good lass, what's this?" he said, and then smiled faintly and
made an attempt to raise her up.

"Who is at the convent at Westminster?" she asked.

Then all his manner changed.

"Why?--what of that?" he said.

"Mrs. Drayton was sent there in a cab to tell Mrs. Ritson to be at St.
Pancras Station at midnight to meet her husband and return to
Cumberland."

The face that had been pale became suddenly old and ghastly. There was
an awful silence.

"Is this the truth?" he asked.

"Yes, yes," cried the girl.

"I think I see it all now--I think I understand," he faltered.

"Forgive me!" cried the girl.

He seemed hardly to see her.

"I have been left in this room insensible, and the impostor who
resembles me--where is he now?"

He struggled with the sickness that was mastering him. His brain reeled.
The palms of his hands became damp. He staggered and leaned against the
wall.

"Rest ye a bit, my lad," said Gubblum. "You'll be gitten stanch agen
soon."

He recovered his feet. His face was charged with new anger.

"And the wicked woman who trapped me to this house is still here," he
said, in a voice thick with wrath.

"Forgive me! forgive me!" wept the girl at his feet.

He took her firmly by the shoulders, raised her to her knees, and turned
her face upward till her eyes met his.

"Let me look at her," he said, hoarsely. "Who would have believed it?"

"Forgive me! forgive me!" cried the girl.

"Woman, woman! what had I done to you--what, what?"

The girl's sobs alone made answer.

In his rage he took her by the throat. A fearful purpose was written in
his face.

"And this is the woman who bowed down the head of her old father nigh to
the grave," he said, bitterly, and flung her from him.

Then he staggered back. His little strength had left him. There was
silence. Only the girl's weeping could be heard.

The next instant, strangely calm, without a tear in his sad eyes, he
stepped to her side and raised her to her feet.

"I was wrong," he said; "surely I was wrong. You could not lie to me
like that, and know it. No, no, no!"

"They told me what I told you," said the girl.

"And I blamed you for it all, poor girl."

"Then you forgive me?" she said, lifting her eyes timidly.

"Forgive you?--ask God to forgive you, girl. I am only a man, and you
have wrecked my life."

There was a foot on the ladder, and Jabez, the boy, stepped up, a candle
in his hand. He had been waiting for the landlady, when he heard voices
overhead.

"The varra man!" shouted Gubblum. "Didsta see owt of thy master
down-stairs?"

Jabez grinned, and glanced up at Paul Ritson.

"Hark ye, laal man, didsta see two men leaving the house a matter of
fifteen minutes ago?"

"Belike I did," said Jabez. "And to be sure it were the gentleman that
come here afore--and another one."

"Another one--your master, you mean?"

Jabez grinned from ear to ear.

"Didsta hear owt?"

"I heard the gentleman say they had to be at St. Pancras at midnight."

Paul fumbled at his breast for his watch. It was gone.

"What's o'clock?" he asked.

"Fifteen after eleven, master," said Jabez. "I've just bolted up."

Paul's face was full of resolution.

"I'll follow," he said; "I've lost time enough already."

"What, man! you'll never manish it--and you as weak as watter forby.
You'll be falling swat in the road like a wet sack."

Paul had pulled the door open. Excitement lent him strength. The next
moment he was gone.

"Where's the master off to? St. Pancras?" asked Jabez.

"Fadge-te-fadge, gang out of my gate! Away, and lig down your daft head
in bed!" said Gubblum.

Jabez did not act on the peddler's advice. He returned to the bar to
await the return of Mrs. Drayton, whose unaccustomed absence gave rise
to many sapient conjectures in the boy's lachrymose noddle. He found
the door to the road open, and from this circumstance his swift
intelligence drew the conclusion that his master had already gone. His
hand was on the door to close and bolt it, when he heard rapid footsteps
approaching. In an instant two men pushed past him and into the house.

"Where's Mr. Drayton," said one, panting from his run.

"He's this minute gone," said Jabez.

"Is that true, my lad?" the man asked, laying a hand on the boy's
shoulder.

"He's gone to St. Pancras, sir. He's got to be there at midnight," said
Jabez.

The boy had recognized the visitors, and was trembling.

The men glanced into each other's faces.

"That was Drayton--the man that ran past us down the road," said one.

"Make sure of it," said the other. "Search the place; I'll wait for you
here."

In two minutes more the men had left the house together.

       *       *       *       *       *

A quarter of an hour later the night porter at the Hendon railway
station saw a man run across the platform and leap into the up train
just as the carriages were moving away. He remarked that the man was
bareheaded, and wore his clothes awry, and that a rent near the collar
of his long frieze ulster exposed a strip of red flannel lining. He
thought he knew him.

The train had barely cleared the platform when two men ran up and came
suddenly to a stand in front of the porter.

"Gone!" said one of them, with vexation.

"That would be the 11:35," said the other, "to King's Cross. Did any one
get into it here, porter?"

"Yes, sergeant--Drayton, of the Hawk and Heron," said the porter.

"Your next up is 11:45 to St. Pancras?"

"Yes, sir, due at twelve."

"Is it prompt?"

"To the second."

The two men faced about.

"Time enough yet," said one.



CHAPTER XVIII.


The cab that drove Mrs. Drayton into London carried with it a world of
memories. Thought in her old head was like the dip of a sea-bird in the
sea--now here, now there, now a straight flight, and now a backward
swirl. As she rattled over the dark roads of Child Hill and the New End,
she puzzled her confused brain to understand the business on which she
had been sent. Why had the gentleman been brought out to Hendon? Why,
being ill, was he so soon to be removed? Why, being removed, was he not
put back into this cab, and driven to the station for Cumberland? What
purpose could be served by sending her to the convent for the
gentleman's wife, when the gentleman himself might have been driven
there? Why was the lady in a convent? The landlady pursed up her lips
and contracted her wrinkled brows in a vain endeavor to get light out of
the gloom of these mysteries.

The thought of the gentleman lying ill at her house suggested many
thoughts concerning her son. Paul was not her son, and his name was not
Drayton. Whose son he was she never knew, and what his name was she had
never heard. But she had fixed and done for him since he was a baby, and
no mother could have loved a son more than she had loved her Paul. What
a poor, puling little one he was, and how the neighbors used to shake
their heads and say:

"You'll never rear it; there's a fate on it, poor, misbegotten mite!"

That was thirty long years ago, and now Paul was the lustiest young man
in Hendon. Ah! it was not Hendon then, but London, and her husband, the
good man, was alive and hearty.

"It'll thrive yet, Martha," he would say, and the little one would seem
to know him, and would smile and crow when he cracked his fingers over
its cot.

Then the landlady thought of the dark days that followed, when bread was
scarce and the gossips would say:

"Serve you right. What for do you have an extra mouth to feed?--take the
brat to the foundling."

But her husband, God bless him, had always said:

"What's bite and sup for a child? Keep him, Martha; he'll be a comfort
to ye yet, old woman."

Mrs. Drayton wiped her eyes as she drove in the dark.

Then the bad times changed, and they left the town and took the inn at
Hendon, and then the worst times of all came on them, for as soon as
they were snug and comfortable the good man himself died. He lay dying a
week, and when the end came he cried for the child.

"Give me the boy," he said, and she lifted the child into his arms in
bed. Then he raised his thin white hand to stroke the wavy hair, but the
poor hand fell into the little one's face.

Mrs. Drayton shifted in her seat, and tried to drive away the memories
that trod on the heels of these recollections; but the roads were still
dark, and nothing but an empty sky was to be seen, and the memories
would not be driven away. She recalled the days when young Paul grew to
be a lusty lad--daring, reckless, the first in mischief, the deepest in
trouble. And there was no man's hand to check him, and people shook
their heads and whispered, "He'll come to a bad end; he has the
wickedness in his blood." Poor lad, it was not his fault if he had
turned out a little wild and wayward and rough, and cruel to his own
mother, as you might say, jostling her when he had a drop to drink, and
maybe striking her when he didn't know what he was doing, and never
turning his hand to honest work, but always dreaming of fortunes coming
some day, and betting and racing, and going here and there, and never
resting happy and content at home. It was not his fault: he had been led
astray by bad companions. And then she didn't mind a blow--not she.
Every woman had to bear the like of that. You want a world of patience
if you have men creatures about you--that's all.

Thinking of bad companions suggested to the landlady's mind, by some
strange twist of which she was never fully conscious, the idea of Hugh
Ritson. The gentleman who had come so strangely among them appeared to
have a curious influence over Paul. He seemed to know something of
Paul's mother. Paul himself rummaged matters up long ago, and found that
the lady had escaped from the asylum, and been lost. And now the strange
gentleman came with her portrait and said she was dead.

Poor soul, how well Mrs. Drayton remembered her! And that was thirty
years ago! She had never afterward set eyes on the lady, and never heard
of her but once, and even that once must be five-and-twenty years since.
One day she went for coal to the wharf at Pimlico, and there she met an
old neighbor, who said: "Mrs. Drayton, your lodger, she that drowned
herself, came back for the babby, but your man and you were shifted
away." And to think that the poor young thing was dead and gone now, and
she herself, who had thought she was old even in those days, was alive
and hearty still!

By this time the cab was rattling through the busy streets of London,
and the train of the landlady's thoughts was broken. Only in a vague way
did she know where she was going. The cab was taking her there, and it
would take her back again. When they reached the convent she had to ask
for Mrs. Ritson, and say she was sent to take her to St. Pancras Station
to meet her husband there, and return to Cumberland by the train at
midnight. That was all.

The clock of the abbey was marking the half-hour after eleven as the cab
passed into Parliament Square. In another minute they drew up before the
convent in Abbey Gardens.

The cabman jumped from the box, rang the bell, and helped Mrs. Drayton
to alight. The iron gate and the door in the portico swung open
together, and a nun stood on the threshold, holding a lamp in her hand.
Mrs. Drayton hobbled up the steps and entered the hall. A deep gloom
pervaded the wide apartment, in which there were but two wicker chairs
and a table. The nun wore a gray serge gown, with a wimple cut square
on her chest, a girdle about her waist, and a rosary hanging by her
side.

"Can I see a lady boarder--Mrs. Ritson?" said the landlady.

The nun started a little, and then answered in a low, melancholy voice,
in which the words she spoke were lost. Mrs. Drayton's eyes were now
accustomed to the gloom, and she looked into the nun's face. It was a
troubled and clouded face, and when it was lifted for an instant to her
own, Mrs. Drayton felt chilled, as if a death's-hand had touched her.

It was the face of the mother of Paul! Older, sadder, calmer, but the
same face still.

The nun dropped her eyes, and made the sign of the cross. Then she
walked with a quick and noiseless step to the other end of the hall, and
sounded a deep gong. In a moment this summoned a sister--a novice,
dressed like the first, except all in white. Mrs. Drayton was now
trembling from head to foot, but she repeated her question, and was led
into a bare, chill room, and left alone.



CHAPTER XIX.


When Greta parted from Hugh Ritson three hours before, she was in an
agony of suspense. Another strange threat had terrified her. She had
been asked to make choice of one of two evils; refusing to believe in
Hugh Ritson's power, she had rejected both. But the uncertainty was
terrible. To what lengths might not passion, unrequited passion,
defeated passion, outraged passion, lead a man like Hugh Ritson? Without
pity, without remorse, with a will that was relentless and a heart that
never knew truth, he was a man to flinch at no extremity. What had he
meant?

Greta's first impulse had been to go in search of her husband, but this
was an idle and a foolish thought. Where should she look? Besides this,
she had promised to remain in the convent until her husband should come
for her, and she must keep her word. She did not go to supper when the
gong sounded, but crept up to her room. The bell rang for vespers, and
Greta did not go to the chapel. She lay down in anguish and wept
scalding tears. The vesper hymn floated up to her where she lay, and she
was still weeping. There was no light in this dark place; there was no
way out of this maze but to wait and suffer.

And slowly the certainty stole upon her that Hugh Ritson had made no
idle threat. He was a resolute man; he had given her a choice of two
courses, and had she not taken a selfish part? If Paul, her husband,
were indeed in danger, no matter from what machination of villainy--was
it much to ask that she, his wife, should rescue him by a sacrifice that
fell heaviest upon herself? Hugh Ritson had been right--her part had
been a selfish one. Oh, where was Mr. Christian? She had telegraphed for
him, and he had answered that he would come; yet hour had followed hour,
and still he had not arrived.

Three hours she tossed in agony. She heard the sisters pass up the
echoing stone staircase to their dormitories, and then the silent house
became as dumb as a vault. Not a ripple flowed into this still tarn from
the great stream of the world that rushed and surged and swelled with
the clangor of a million voices around its incrusted sides.

Her window overlooked the Abbey Gardens. All was quiet beneath. Not a
step sounded on the pavement. Before her the blank wall was black, and
the dark, leafless trees stood out from the vague green of the grass
beyond. Against the sky were the dim outlines of the two towers of the
old abbey--by day a great rock for the pigeons that wheeled above the
tumbling sea of the city, by night a skull of stone from which the voice
of the bell told of the flight of time.

Out of the calm of a moment's stupefaction Greta was awakened by a knock
at her door. The novice entered and told her that a woman waited below
to speak with her. Greta betrayed no surprise, and she was beyond the
reach of fresh agitation. Without word or question she followed the
novice to the room where Mrs. Drayton sat.

She recognized the landlady and heard her story. Greta's heart leaped up
at the thought of rejoining her husband. Here was the answer to the
prayer that had gone up she knew not how often from her troubled heart.
Soon she would be sure that Hugh Ritson's threat was vain. Soon she
would be at Paul's side and hold his hand, and no earthly power should
separate them again. Ah, thank God, the merciful Father, who healed the
wounded hearts of His children, she should very soon be happy once more,
and all the sorrows of these past few days would fade away into a dim
memory.

"Twelve o'clock at St. Pancras, and you have the luggage in a cab at the
door, you say?"

"Yes; and there's no time to lose, for, to be sure, the night is going
fast," said Mrs. Drayton.

"And he will be there to meet me?" asked Greta. Her eyes, still wet with
recent tears, danced with a new-found joy.

"Yes, at St. Pancras," said the landlady.

Greta's happiness overflowed. She took the old woman in her arms and
kissed her wizened cheeks.

"Wait a minute--only a minute," she said, and tripped off with the swift
glide of a lapwing. But when she was half-way up the stairs her ardor
was arrested, and she returned with drooping face and steps of lead.

"But why did he not come for me himself?" she asked.

"The gentleman is not well--he is ill," said Mrs. Drayton.

"Ill? You say he is ill? Then he could not come. And I blamed him for
not coming!"

"The gentleman is weak, but noways worse; belike he will go straight off
and meet you at the station."

Greta turned away once again, and went upstairs slowly. At a door on the
first landing she tapped lightly, and when a voice answered from within
she entered the room.

The superior was on her knees at a table. She lifted a calm and
spiritual face as Greta approached.

"Reverend mother," said Greta, "I am leaving you this moment."

"So soon, my daughter?"

"My husband has sent for me; he will meet me at the railway station at
twelve."

"Why did he not come himself?"

"He is ill; he has gone direct."

"The hour is late and the message is sudden. Are you satisfied?"

"I am anxious, reverend mother--"

"What is it, my daughter?"

"An old gentleman, a clergyman, Mr. Christian, is coming from
Cumberland. I have expected him hourly, but he is not yet arrived. I
cannot wait; I must rejoin my husband. Will you order that a message be
left for the clergyman?"

"What is the message, my child?"

"Simply that I have returned with my husband by the train leaving St.
Pancras at midnight."

"The lay sister in the hall shall deliver it."

"Who is the sister?"

"Sister Grace."

There was a silence.

"Reverend mother, has Sister Grace ever spoken of the past?"

The superior told a few beads.

"The past is as nothing to us here, my daughter. Within these walls the
world does not enter. In the presence of the Cross the past and the
future are one."

Greta drew a long breath. Then she stooped and kissed the hand of the
superior, and turned softly away.

Greta and the landlady passed out through the deep portico, and the same
nun who had opened the door closed it behind them. Mrs. Drayton clung to
Greta's arm as they went through, and her hand trembled perceptibly.

"Who is she?" whispered the landlady, when they were seated in a cab.

"Sister Grace," said Greta, and turned her head aside.

"I could ha' sworn as she were the mother of my Paul," murmured Mrs.
Drayton.

Greta faced about, but the landlady saw nothing of the look of inquiry;
her eyes, like her thoughts, were far away.



CHAPTER XX.


Though the hour was late, the streets were thronged. The people were
trooping home from the theaters; and the Strand, as Greta and the
landlady crossed it, was choked with cabs and omnibuses. The cab drove
through the Seven Dials, and there the public-houses were disgorging at
every corner their poor ruins of men and women. Shouts, curses,
quarreling, and laughter struck upon the ear above the whir of the
wheels. Unshaven men and unwashed women, squalid children running here
and there among the oyster and orange stalls, thieves, idlers, vagabonds
of all conditions, not a few honest people withal, and among them the
dark figures of policemen.

Greta's heart beat high that night. Her spirit was full of a new
alacrity. Every inch of the way, as they flew over the busy streets,
seemed to awake in her soul some fresh sensibility. She wondered where
the multitudes of people came from, and whither they were going--vast
oceans on oceans of humanity, flowing and ebbing without tide.

She wanted to alight a hundred times, and empty her pockets of all her
money. A blind man, playing a tin whistle, and leading a small dog held
by a long string, awoke her special pity; the plaintive look in the eye
of the cur was an object of peculiar sympathy. A filthy woman, reeling
drunk and bareheaded across the street, almost under the feet of the
horses, her discolored breast hanging bare, and a puny infant crying
feebly in her arms, was another occasion for solicitude. A tiny mite
that might have been a dirty boy, coiled up in a ball on a doorstep like
a starved cat, was an object of all but irresistible attraction. But she
dare not stop for an instant; and, at last, with this certainty, she lay
back and shut her eyes very resolutely, and wondered whether, after all,
it were not very selfish to be very happy.

The cab stopped with a jolt; they were at St. Pancras station.

"Has he come?" asked Greta, eagerly, and looked about her with eyes that
comprehended everything at a glance.

She could not see Paul, and when a porter opened the cab and helped her
to alight, it was on her tongue to ask the man if he had seen her
husband. But no, she would not do that. She must look for him herself,
so that she might be the first to see him. Oh, yes, she must be the very
first to see him, and she was now obstinately determined to ask no one.

The porter brought round the truck, and wheeled the luggage onto the
platform, and Greta and Mrs. Drayton followed it. Then the wide eyes
that half smiled and looked half afraid beneath their trembling lids
glanced anxiously around. No, Paul was not there.

"What is the time?" she asked, her eyes still wandering over the
bustling throng about her.

"Ten to twelve, miss," announced the porter.

"Oh," she said, with a sigh of relief, "then he will soon be here."

"Will you sit in the waiting-room, miss?" asked the porter; and almost
unconsciously she followed him when he led the way. Mrs. Drayton hobbled
behind her.

"What did he say about being ill?" she asked, when they were left
together.

"That he was only a bit dizzy. Mayhap he's noways 'customed to illness,"
said the landlady.

"That is true. And what did you say then?"

"I coaxed him to rest him a bit, and take a drop o' summat, and he
smiled and said, 'Thank you, my good woman.'

"You were in the right, you dear old soul," said Greta. And she put her
arms about the landlady and hugged her. "I'm sure you've been very good
to my husband, and watched him tenderly, while I, who should have nursed
him, have been away. Thank you, thank you!"

Mrs. Drayton was feeling uneasy. "Well, d'ye know, I can't bear to see a
fellow creatur' suffer. It goes agen me someways."

Greta had risen to her feet. "Stay here, Mrs. Drayton--Drayton, isn't
it?--stay here while I go on to the platform. He might come and not see
me. Ah, yes, he may be looking everywhere for me now."

She went out and elbowed her way among the people who were hurrying to
and fro; she dodged between the trucks that were sliding luggage on to
the weighing machine and off to the van. The engines were puffing
volumes of smoke and steam up to the great glass roof, where the whistle
of the engine-man echoed sharp and shrill. Presently she returned to the
waiting-room.

"Oh, Mrs. Drayton," she said, "I dreamed a fearful dream last night.
What do you think? Will he be well enough to come?"

"Coorse, coorse, my dear. 'Tell her to meet her husband at twelve.'
Them's the gentleman's own words."

"How happy I shall be when we are safe at home! And if he is ill, it
will be for me to nurse him then."

The light in the dove-like eyes at that moment told plainly that to the
poor soul even illness might bring its compensating happiness.

"And as to dreams, to be sure, they are on'y dreams; and what's dreams,
say I?"

"You are right, Mrs. Drayton," said Greta, and once more she shot away
toward the platform. Her mind had turned to Parson Christian. Could it
be possible that he had arrived? The porter who had brought in her
luggage was still standing beside it, and with him there was another
porter. Their backs were toward Greta as she came out of the
waiting-room, and, tripping lightly behind them, she overheard a part of
their conversation before they were aware that she was near.

"See the old file in the gaiters by the eleven up?" said one.

"Rather. A reg'lar grandmother's great-grandfather just out of the year
one. Talk about swallows, eh?--and the buckles--and the stockings!"

"Good sort, how-an'-ever."

"Good for a tip, eh? Wouldn't ha' thought it."

"No, but a real good-hearted 'un an' if he is a Pape."

"Never?"

"To be sure. Got me to put him in a fly for the Catholic Convent up
Westminster way."

Greta could restrain herself no longer, but burst in upon them with
twenty questions. When had the parson arrived? When had he left? Was it
in a fly? Would it go quickly? Could there be time for it to get back?

"What's your train, miss--twelve to the north?"

"Yes; will he catch it?"

"Scarce get back at twelve," said the porter. But, in spite of this
discouraging prophecy, Greta was so elated at the fresh intelligence
that she drew out her purse and gave the man five shillings. She had no
other change than two half crowns and two pennies, and in her present
elevation of soul there could be no choice, between the silver and the
copper, as to which the bearer of such news deserved.

The man stared, and then smiled, but he quickly reconciled himself to
the unexpected. With extraordinary alacrity he labeled the luggage, and
bowled off to the north train, which was already at the platform.

It was now within three minutes of midnight, and Mrs. Drayton had joined
Greta in the bustling throng on the platform.

"Oh, I feel as if a thousand hearts were all swelling and beating in my
breast at once," said Greta. "Mrs. Drayton, is it certain that he will
come? Porter, have you put the luggage in the van? Which is the
train--the left?"

"No, miss, the left's going out to make room for the local train up from
Kentish Town and Hendon. The right's your train, miss. Got your ticket,
miss?"

"Not yet. Must I get it, think you? Is the time short? Yes, I will get
two tickets myself," she added, turning to the landlady. "Then when he
comes he will have nothing to do but step into the carriage."

"You'll have to be quick, miss--train's nigh due out--only a minute,"
said the porter.

Greta's luminous eyes were peering over the heads of the people that
were about her. Then they brightened, with a flash more swift than
lightning, and all her face wore in an instant a heavenly smile. "Ah, he
is there--there at the back--at the booking-office--run to him, run my
good, dear creature; run and tell him I am here! I'll find a compartment
and have the door open."

Greta tripped along the platform with the foot of a deer. In another
moment she had a carriage door open, and she stood there with the handle
in her hand. She saw him coming who was more than all the world to her.
But she did not look twice. No, she would not look twice. She would wait
until they were within, alone, together.

Side by side with him walked Hugh Ritson. Could it be possible? And was
it he who had brought her husband? Ah! he had repented, and it was only
she who had been bitter to the end. How generous of him! how cruel of
her!

Her eyes fell, and a warm flush overspread her cheeks as he who came
first stepped into the carriage. She did not look again at him, nor did
he look again at her. She knew he did not, though her eyes were down.
"Oh, when we are alone!" she thought, and then she turned to Hugh
Ritson.

The heavenly smile was still on her beautiful face, and the deep light
in her eyes spoke of mingled joy and grief.

"Hugh, I fear, I fear," she faltered, "I have been hard and cruel. Let
us be friends; let me be your dearest sister."

He looked at her in silence. His infirm foot trailed a pace. He saw what
was in her heart, and he knew well what was in his own heart, too; he
thought of the blow that he was about to strike her.

She held out her hand, and took in hers his own unresisting fingers. Ay,
he knew that there and then he was about to break that forgiving heart
forever. He knew who had stepped into that carriage.

She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. The man in him could bear up no
longer. He broke down; he could not speak; he was choked with emotion.

She turned to the landlady, who stood near, twitching at the ribbons of
her bonnet and peering into the carriage.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Drayton, and God bless you for what you have done for my
husband!"

The landlady muttered something that was inaudible; she was confused;
she stammered, and then was silent.

Greta stepped into the carriage. The guard was standing at the door. The
bell had been rung. The train had been signaled. The whistle had
sounded. The clocks were striking midnight.

"Wait! Wait!"

It was a voice from the end of the platform. The guard turned with a
smile to see who called on a train to wait. An old gentleman in silk
stockings and gaiters, with long white hair flowing under the broad brim
of a low-crowned hat, came panting to the only door that was still open.

"Quick, sir, it's moving; in with you!"

"Mr. Christian!" cried Greta, and throwing her arms about him, she drew
him into the carriage. Then the train began to move away.

At that instant another train--the local train from Kentish Town and
Hendon--steamed up to the opposite side of the platform. Before it had
stopped two men leaped out. They were the two police-sergeants.
Instantly--simultaneously--a man burst through the barrier and ran on to
the platform from the street. He was bareheaded, and his face was
ghastly white. In one moment the police-sergeants had laid hands upon
him. The train to the north had not yet cleared the platform. He saw it
passing out. He took hold of the hands by which he was held and threw
them off, as if their grasp had been the grasp of a child. Then he
bounded away toward the retreating train. It was now moving rapidly. It
was gone; it was swallowed up in the dark mouth beyond, and the man
stood behind, bareheaded, dripping with perspiration, yet white as
ashes, his clothes awry, the collar of his frieze ulster torn away, and
a strip of red flannel lining exposed.

It was Paul Ritson.

The police-sergeants hurried up with the re-enforcement of two porters
to recover their man. But he was quiet enough now. He did not stir a
muscle when they handcuffed him. He looked around with vague, vacant
eyes, hardly seeming to realize where he was or what was being done with
him. His frenzy was gone.

They led him down the platform. Hugh Ritson was standing on the spot
where Greta had left him one minute before. When the company neared that
spot the prisoner stopped. He looked across at Hugh Ritson in silence,
and for an instant the dazed look died off his face. Then he turned his
head aside, and allowed himself to be led quietly away.



CHAPTER XXI.


A morning paper, of November--, contained the following paragraph:

   "It will be remembered that in the reports of the disastrous railway
   collision, which occurred at Hendon on Friday last, it was mentioned
   as a ghastly accessory to the story of horror that an injured
   passenger, who had been lifted from the debris of broken carriages,
   and put to lie out of harm's way in a field close at hand, was
   brutally assaulted and (apparently) robbed by some unknown scoundrel,
   who, though detected in the act itself, tore himself from the grasp
   of Police-Sergeant Cox, of the Hendon division of the metropolitan
   police force, and escaped in the darkness. The authorities were
   determined that their vigilance should not be eluded, and a person
   named Paul Drayton is now in custody, and will be brought up at Bow
   Street this morning. It turns out that Drayton is an innkeeper at
   Hendon, where he has long borne a dubious character. He was arrested
   at midnight in St. Pancras Station, in a daring and mad attempt to
   escape by the north-bound train, and it is understood that the
   incident of his capture is such as reflects the highest credit on the
   resolution, energy, and intrepidity of the force."

The same paper, of the day after, contained this further paragraph:

   "The man Drayton, who was yesterday formally committed to take his
   trial at the Central Criminal Court, will be brought up at the Old
   Bailey to-morrow; and as the evidence is said to be of a simple and
   unconflicting character, it is not expected that the hearing will
   extend over a single day. It is stated that the accused, who observed
   a rigid silence during yesterday's proceedings, will, on his trial,
   set up the extraordinary defense of mistaken identity."

An evening paper of Friday, November--, contained the following remarks
in the course of a leading note:

   "It is a familiar legal maxim that a plea of alibi that breaks down
   is the worst of all accusations. The scoundrel that attempted to rob
   a dying man, who lay helpless and at his mercy amid the confusion of
   Friday night's accident at Hendon, was audacious enough to put forth
   the defense that he was not the man he was taken for. Cases of
   mistaken identity are, of course, common enough in the annals of
   jurisprudence, but we imagine the instances are rare indeed of
   evidence of identity so exceptional and conclusive as that which
   convicted the Hendon innkeeper being susceptible of error. The very
   clothes he wore in the dock bore their own witness to his guilt, and
   the court saw the police-sergeant produce a scrap of cloth torn from
   the guilty man's back, which exactly fitted a rent in the prisoner's
   ulster. The whole case would be a case of criminality too gross and
   palpable to merit a syllable of comment but for the astounding
   assurance with which the accused adhered to his plea in the face of
   evidence that was so complete as to make denial little more than a
   farce. He denied that he was Paul Drayton, and said his name was Paul
   Ritson. He was identified as Drayton by several witnesses who have
   known him from infancy; among others by his old mother, Martha
   Drayton, whose evidence (given with reluctance, and with more tears
   than a son so unnatural deserved) was at once as damning and as
   painful as anything of the kind ever heard in a court of justice. The
   claim to be Paul Ritson was answered by the evidence of Mr. Hugh
   Ritson, mine-owner in Cumberland, and brother of the gentleman whom
   the prisoner wished to personate. Mr. H. Ritson admitted a
   resemblance, but had no hesitation in saying that the accused was not
   his brother. The prisoner thereupon applied to the court that the
   wife of Paul Ritson should be examined, but, as it was explained that
   both husband and wife were at present ill in Cumberland, the court
   wisely ruled against the application. As a final freak of defense,
   the prisoner asked for the examination of one Mercy Fisher, who, he
   said, would be able to say by what circumstances he came to wear the
   clothes of the guilty man. The court adjourned for an hour in order
   that this person might be produced, but on reassembling it was
   explained that the girl, who turned out to be a mistress whom Drayton
   had kept at his mother's house, had disappeared. Thus, with a
   well-merited sentence of three years' penal servitude, ended a trial
   of which the vulgarity of detail was only equalled by the audacity of
   defense."

A week passed, and the public had almost forgotten the incidents of the
trial, when the following paragraph appeared in a weekly journal:

   "I have heard that the man who was sentenced to three years' penal
   servitude for robbery at the scene of the Hendon accident was seized
   with an attack of brain fever immediately upon his arrival at
   Millbank. The facts that transpire within that place of retirement
   are whispered with as much reserve as guards the secrets of another
   kind of confessional, but I do hear that since the admission of the
   man who was known on his trial as Paul Drayton, and who is now
   indicated by a numerical cognomen, certain facts have come to light
   which favor the defense he set up of mistaken identity."



CHAPTER XXII.


The chapter room of St. Margaret's Convent was a chill, bare chamber
containing an oak table and four or five plain oak chairs. On the
painted walls, which were of dun gray, there was an etching by a
Florentine master of the flight into Egypt, and a symbolic print of the
Sacred Heart. Besides these pictures there was but a single text to
relieve the blindness of the empty walls, and it ran: "Where the tree
falls, there it must lie."

Four days after Greta's departure from the house wherein she had been
received as a temporary boarder, the superior sat in the chapter room,
and a sister knelt at her feet. The sister's habit was gray and her
linen cape was plain. She wore no scapular, and no hood above the close
cap that hid her hair and crossed her forehead. She was, therefore, a
lay sister; she was Sister Grace.

"Mother, hear my sin," she said in a trembling whisper.

"Speak on, daughter."

"We were both at Athlone in the year of the great famine. He was an
officer in a regiment quartered there. I was a novice of the choir in
the Order of Charity. We met in scenes sanctified by religion. Oh,
mother, the famine was sore, and he was kind to the famished people!
'The hunger is on us,' they would cry, as if it had been a plague of
locusts. It was thus, with their shrill voices and wan faces, that the
ragged multitudes followed us. Yes, mother, he was very, very kind to
the people."

"Well?"

The penitent bowed her head yet lower. "My mother, I renounced the vows,
and--we were married."

The lips of the superior moved in silent prayer.

"What was his name, my daughter?"

"Robert Lowther. We came from Ireland to London. A child was born, and
we called him Paul. Then my husband's love grew chill and died. I
grieved over him. Perhaps I was but a moody companion. At last he told
me--"

The voice faltered; the whole body quivered.

"Well, my child?"

"Oh, mother, he told me I was not his wife; that I was a Catholic, but
that he was a Protestant; that a Catholic priest had married us in
Ireland without question or inquiry. That was not a valid marriage by
English law."

"Shame on the English law! But what do we know of the law at the foot of
the Cross? Well?"

"He left me. Mother, I flung God's good gift away. I tried to drown
myself, and my little child with me; but they prevented me. I was placed
in an asylum for the insane, and my baby--my Paul--was given into the
care of a woman with whom I had lodged. Have I not sinned deeply?"

"Your sins are great, my daughter, but your sufferings have also been
great. What happened then?"

"I escaped from the asylum and returned for my child. It was gone. The
woman had removed to some other part of London, none knew where, and my
Paul, my darling, was lost to me forever. My mother, it was then that I
sinned deepest of all."

Her head was bowed to her trembling knees, and her voice was all but
suspended in an agony of shame.

"Mother, I flung away God's better gift than life! Oh, how shall I tell
you? Your foot trembles, reverend mother. You are a holy woman, and know
nothing of the world's temptations."

"Hush, my daughter; I am as great a sinner as yourself."

"I cannot tell you. Mother, mother, you see I cannot."

"It is for your soul's weal, my daughter."

"I had tried to serve God, and He had seen my shame. What was left to me
but the world, the world, the world! Perhaps the world itself would have
more mercy. My kind mother, have I not told you yet?"

The superior made the sign of the cross.

"Ah, my daughter! the enemy of your soul was with you then. You should
not have ceased to lift your hands to Heaven in supplication and prayer.
You should have prostrated yourself three days and nights in the tribune
before the Holy Sacrament."

The penitent raised her pale face.

"In less time I was a lost and abandoned woman."

The superior told a few beads with trembling fingers. Then she lifted
the cross that hung from her girdle, and held it out to the sister.

"I thought of my child, and prayed that he might be dead. I thought of
him who was not my husband, and my heart grew cold and hard. Mother, my
redemption came. Yes, but with it came the meaning of the fearful
words, too late. Amid the reeling madness of the life that is mocked
with the name of gay, I met a good man. Yes, holy mother, a good man.
Mother, he now sleeps there!"

Her pale face, serene and solemn, was lifted again, and the hand that
held the crucifix was raised above her head.

"I loathed my life. He took me away from it--to the mountains--to
Scotland, and a child was born. Mother, it was only then that I awoke as
from a trance. It seemed as if a ring of sin begirt me. Tears--ah, me!
what tears were shed. But rest and content came at last, and then we
were married."

"My daughter, my daughter, little did I think when I received your vows
that the enemy of your soul had so mastered you."

"Listen a little longer, holy mother. The child grew to be the image of
my darling, my Paul--every feature, every glance the same. And partly to
remind me of my lost one, and partly to make me forget him forever, I
called the second child Paul. Mother, the years went by in peace. The
past was gone from me. Only its memory lay like a waste in my silent
heart. I had another son, and called him Hugh. After many years my
husband died." The penitent paused.

"Mother, another thing comes back to me; but I have confessed it
already. Shall I repeat it?"

"No, my daughter, not if it touches the oath that lay heavy on your
heart."

"I thought my first child was dead. For thirty years I had not seen him.
But the pathways of our lives crossed at last, and the woman who nursed
him came to this house four days ago."

"Here?"

"Mother, my son, the child of that first false union, my darling, for
whom I wept scalding tears long, long years ago; my Paul, whose loss was
all but the loss of his mother's soul, my son is a thief and an
outcast."

The lips of the superior moved again in prayer.

"He is the man known to the world as Paul Drayton--to me as Paul
Lowther."

"My dear daughter, humble yourself in the midst of so awful a judgment.
Do you say Drayton?--Drayton, who, as I hear, was to-day tried and
sentenced?"

"No--yes--how shall I tell you?--the same and not the same. Mother, the
crime was committed by my son Paul Lowther, the sentence was pronounced
on my son Paul Ritson."

"My dear daughter--"

"I was in the court and heard all; and I alone knew all--I alone, alone!
Bear with me that I transgressed the law of this holy order. Think, oh!
my kind mother, think that the nun was yet the woman, and, above all,
the mother. Yes, I heard all. I heard the charge that convicted my son
Paul Lowther. He was guilty before God and man. But the prisoner in the
dock was my son Paul Ritson. I knew him, and believed him when he denied
the name they gave him. Ah, me, my heart bled!"

"What did you do, my daughter?"

"Mother, I was weak, very weak. I could not see my duty clearly. An
awful conflict was rife within me. I could not justify the one man
without condemning the other. And both were the children of my bosom."

"Fearful, fearful! But, my daughter, the one was guilty and the other
innocent."

"Yes, yes; a thousand times yes; but then there was myself. How could I
punish the guilty without revealing the secret sin that had been thirty
years hidden in my heart? And my poor, weak spirit shrunk within me, and
I sat silent amid all."

"My daughter, we must crucify our spiritual pride."

"Yes, yes; but there was the love of my son, Paul Ritson--he thought me
a good woman even yet. How could I confess to that sinful past and not
loose the love of the only human soul that held me pure and true?
Mother, it is very sweet to be loved."

"Oh, my daughter, my daughter, a terrible situation, terrible,
terrible!"

"Mother, I have told you everything. Tell me now what hope is left. Give
me your direction."

"My daughter, let us humble ourselves before God, and pray that He may
reveal the path of duty. Come."

The superior rose, took her crozier in her hand, and walked out of the
room. The sister followed her. They passed through the sacristy into the
empty church.

It was evening. The glow of a wintery sunset came through the windows to
the west, and fell in warm gules on the altar. There was the hush of the
world's awe here as day swooned into night. Without these walls were
turmoil and strife. Within was the balm of rest--the rest that lies in
the heart of the cyclone.

And the good mother and the sister went down on their knees together,
and prayed for light and guidance. The mother rose, but the sister knelt
on; darkness fell, and she was still kneeling, and when the east was
dabbled with the dawn, the gray light fell on her bowed head and
uplifted hands.



_BOOK IV._


THE WATERS OF MARAH ARE BITTER.



CHAPTER I.

IN THE YEAR 1877.


The dale lay green in the morning sunlight; the river that ran through
its lowest bed sparkled with purple and amber; the leaves prattled low
in the light breeze that souched through the rushes and the long grass;
the hills rose sheer and white to the smooth blue lake of the sky, where
only one fleecy cloud floated languidly across from peak to peak. Out of
unseen places came the bleating of sheep and the rumble of distant
cataracts, and above the dull thud of tumbling waters far away was the
thin caroling of birds overhead.

But the air was alive with yet sweeter sounds. On the breast of the fell
that lies over against Cat Bells a procession of children walked, and
sung, and chattered, and laughed. It was St. Peter's Day, and they were
rush-bearing: little ones of all ages, from the comely girl of fourteen,
just ripening into maidenhood, who walked last, to the sweet boy of four
in the pinafore braided with epaulets, who strode along gallantly in
front. Most of the little hands carried rushes, but some were filled
with ferns, and mosses, and flowers. They had assembled at the
school-house, and now, on their way to the church, they were making the
circuit of the dale.

They passed over the road that crosses the river at the head of
Newlands, and turned down into the path that follows the bed of the
valley. At that angle there stands a little group of cottages
deliciously cool in their white-wash, nestling together under the heavy
purple crag from which the waters of a ghyll fall into a deep basin that
reaches to their walls. The last of the group is a cottage with its end
to the road, and its open porch facing a garden shaped like a wedge. As
the children passed this house an old man, gray and thin and much bent,
stood by the gate, leaning on a staff. A colly, with the sheep-dog's
wooden bar suspended from its shaggy neck, lay at his feet. The hum of
voices brought a young woman into the porch. She was bareheaded and wore
a light print gown. Her face was pale and marked with lines. She walked
cautiously, stretching one hand before her with an uncertain motion, and
grasping a trailing tendril of honeysuckle that swept downward from the
roof. Her eyes, which were partly inclined upward and partly turned
toward the procession, had a vague light in their bleached pupils. She
was blind. At her side, and tugging at her other hand, was a child of a
year and a half--a chubby, sunny little fellow with ruddy cheeks, blue
eyes, and fair curly hair.

Prattling, laughing, singing snatches, and waving their rushes and ferns
above their happy, thoughtless heads, the children rattled past. When
they were gone the air was empty, as it is when the lark stops in its
song.

The church of Newlands stands in the heart of the valley, half hidden by
a clump of trees. By the lych-gate Parson Christian stood that morning,
aged a little, the snow a thought thicker on his bushy hair, the face
mellower, the liquid eyes full of the sunlight behind which lies the
shower. Greta stood beside him; quieter of manner than in the old days,
a deeper thoughtfulness in her face, her blue eyes more grave and less
restless, her fair hair no longer falling in waves behind her, but
gathered up into a demure knot under her hat.

"Here they come, bless their innocent hearts!" said Parson Christian,
and at that moment the children turned an angle of the road.

The pink and white of their frocks and pinafores were all but hidden by
the little forest of green that they carried before and above them.

"'Till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane," muttered Greta, smiling.

When the rush-bearers came up to the front of the church, the lych-gate
was thrown open and they filed through.

"How tired he looks, the brave little boy!" said Greta, picking up the
foremost of the company, the tiny man in the epaulets, now covered with
the dust of the roads.

"The little ones first, and you great girls afterward," said the parson.
"Those with flowers go up to the communion and lay them on the form, and
those with mosses put them on the font, and those with rushes and ferns
begin under the pulpit and come down the aisle to the porch."

The stalwart little tramp in Greta's arms wriggled his way to the
ground. He had mosses in his hands and must go first. Then the children
trooped into the church, and in an instant the rude old place was alive
with the buzz of prattling tongues.

The floor covered many a tomb. Graven on the plain slabs that formed the
pathway down the middle of the church were the names of the men and
women who had lived and died in the dale generations gone by. In their
own day they were children themselves; and now other children--their own
children's children's children--with never a thought about what lay
beneath, with only love in their eyes, and laughter on their lips, and
life in their limbs--were strewing rushes down the path above them.

In ten minutes there was not an inch of the flagged aisle visible. All
was green from the communion to the porch. Here and there an adventurous
lad, turning to account the skill at climbing acquired at
birds'-nesting, had clambered over the pews to the rude cross-trees, and
hung great bunches of rushes from the roof.

"Now, children, let us sing," said the parson, and taking up the
accordion, he started a hymn.

The leaded windows of the old church stood open, and the sweet young
voices floated away, and far away, over the uplands and the dale. And
the birds still sung in the blue sky, and the ghylls still rumbled in
the distance, and the light wind still souched through the long grass,
and the morning sunlight shone over all.

There was a cloud of dust on the road, and presently there came trooping
down from the village a company of men, surrounded by a whole circuit of
dogs. Snarls, and yaps, and yelps, and squawks, and guffaws, and
sometimes the cachinnation and crow of cocks, broke upon the clear air.
The roystering set would be as many as a dozen, and all were more or
less drunk. First came John Proudfoot, the blacksmith, in his
shirt-sleeves, with his leathern apron wrapped in a knot about his
waist, and a silver and black game-cock imprisoned under his arm. Lang
Geordie Moore, his young helper, carried another fowl. Dick o' the Syke,
the miller, in a brown coat whitened with flour, walked abreast of
Geordie and tickled the gills of the fowl with a straw. Job Sheepshanks,
the letter-cutter, carried a pot of pitch and a brush, and little Tom o'
Dint hobbled along with a handful of iron files. Behind these came the
landlord of the Flying Horse, with a basket over one arm, from which
peeped the corks of many bottles, and Natt, the stableman at the Ghyll,
carried a wicker cage, in which sat a red bantam-cock with spurs that
glittered in the light.

There was one other man who walked with the company, and he was the soul
of the noisy crew; his voice was the loudest, his laugh the longest, and
half of all that was said was addressed to him. He was a lusty man with
a florid face; he wore a suit of tweeds plaided in wide stripes of buff
and black.

It was Paul Drayton.

"Burn my body, and what's on now?" he said, as the gang reached the
church.

"Rush-bearing, I reckon," answered Tom o' Dint.

"And what's rush-bearing?"

"You know, Mister Paul," said the postman, "rush-bearing--the barns
rush-bearing--St. Peter's Day, you know."

"Oh, ay, I know--rush-bearing. Let me see, ain't it once a year?"

"What, man, but you mind the days when you were a bit boy and went
a-rushing yersel'?" said the blacksmith.

"Coorse, coorse, oh, ay, I ain't forgotten them days. Let me see, it's a
kind of a harvest-home, ain't it?"

"Nowt o' the sort," said Dick, the miller, testily. "Your memory's
failing fast, Mister Ritson."

"And that's true, old fence. I'll never be the same man again after that
brain fever I had up in London--not in the head-piece, you know."

The group of men and dogs had drawn up in front of the church just as
Brother Peter crossed the church-yard to the porch, carrying a red paper
in his hand.

"Who's that--the Methodee man?"

"It's the Methodee, for sure," said the blacksmith.

"Ey, it's the parson's Peter," added the postman, "and yon paper is a
telegraph--it's like he's takin' it to somebody."

"Hold hard, my boys," said Drayton; and, leaving his cronies he strode
through the lych-gate and down the path, the dogs yapping around him.

Brother Peter had drawn up at the door of the porch; the children were
still singing.

"If that telegram is for my wife, you may hand it over to me," said
Drayton, and reached out his hand to take it.

Brother Peter drew back.

"It'll be all right, old fellow--I'll see she gets it."

"Ey, thoo'll manish that, I's warn," said Peter, in a caustic voice.

"Come, don't you know that what belongs to the wife belongs to the
husband?"

"Don't know as I do. I'se never been larn't sec daftness," said Peter.

"Hand it over. Come, be quick!"

"Get ower me 'at can," said Peter, with a decisive twinkle.

"Gi'e him a slab ower the lug," shouted the miller from the road.

"You hear what they say? Come, out with it."

"Eh, you've rowth o' friends, you're a teeran crew, but I cares laal for
any on you."

Drayton turned away with a contemptuous snort.

"Damme, what a clatter!" he shouted, and leaped on to the raised mound
of a grave to look in at an open window. As he did so he kicked a glass
for flowers that lay upon it, and the broken frame tumbled in many
pieces. "I've done for somebody's money," he said with a loud guffaw.

"What, man, but it were thy awn brass as bought it," said the
blacksmith.

"Ey, it's thy fadder's grave," said Job Sheepshanks.

Drayton glanced down at the headstone.

"Why, so it is!" he said; "d'ye see, I hain't been here since the day I
buried him."

"Nay, that's all stuff and nonsense," said Job. "I mind the morning I
found ye lying wet and frostit on the top of that grave."

"D'ye say so? Well, I ain't for denying it; and now I think of it, I
was--yes, I was here that morning."

"Nay, you warn't nowt o' the sort," said the blacksmith. "That were the
varra morning as Giles Raisley saw you at the Pack Horse sleeping. I
mind the fratch Job had with laal Gubblum about it long ago."

"It's all stuff and nonsense," replied Job. "He were here."

"The Pack Horse? Well, now, I remember, I was there, too."

The singing had ceased, and Greta came out into the porch on tiptoe,
carrying in her arms a tiny mite, who was crying. Peter handed her the
telegram, and turned up the path.

Drayton had rejoined his companions, and was in the act of knocking the
neck off a bottle by striking it against the wall, when Peter walked
through the lych-gate.

"Tee a pint o' yal down the Methodee's back," shouted Dick, the miller,
and in another moment Brother Peter was covered with the contents of the
broken bottle.

A loud, roystering laugh filled the air, and echoed from the hills.

"What a breck!" tittered the postman.

"What a breck!" shouted the blacksmith.

"What a breck!" roared the miller.

"Get ower me 'at can!" mimicked Natt.

"He's got a lad's heart, has Mister Paul," said the landlord of the
Flying Horse.

"Ey, he's a fair fatch," echoed little Tom o' Dint.

Leaving Peter to shake himself dry of the liquor that dripped from him
in froth, the noisy gang reeled down the road, the yelping dogs
careering about them, and the cocks squawking with the hugs they
received from the twitching arms of the men convulsed with laughter.

At the head of the Vale of Newlands there is a clearing that was made by
the lead miners of two centuries ago. It lies at the feet of an
ampitheater of hills that rise peak above peak, and die off depth beyond
depth. Of the old mines nothing remains but the level cuttings in the
sides of the fells, and here and there the washing-pits cut out of the
rock at your feet. Fragments of stone lie about, glistening with veins
of lead, but no sound of pick or hammer breaks the stillness, and no
cart or truck trundles over the rough path. It is a solitude in which
one might forget that the world is full of noise.

To this spot Drayton and his cronies made their way. At one of the old
washing troughs they drew up, and sat in a circle on its rocky sides.
They had come for a cock fight. It was to be the bantam (carried by Natt
and owned by his master) against all comers. Drayton and the blacksmith
were the setters-on. The first bout was between the bantam and Lang
Geordie's ponderous black Spanish. Geordie's bird soon squawked
dolorously, and made off over the heads of the derisive spectators,
whereupon Geordie captured it by one of its outstretched wings, and
forthwith screwed its neck. Then came John Proudfoot's silver and black,
and straightway steel gaffs were affixed to the spurs. When the cocks
felt their feet they crowed, and then pecked the ground from side to
side. An exciting struggle ensued. Up and down, over and under, now
beating the breast, now trailing the comb, now pecking at the gills. And
the two men at opposite sides of the pit--the one in his shirt-sleeves
rolled up to the elbows, the other in his sporting plaid--stooped with
every lunge and craned their necks at every fall, and bobbed their heads
with every peck, their eyes flashing, their teeth set.

At one moment they drew off their birds, called for the files, and
sharpened up the spurs. Later on they seized the cocks by the necks,
shouted for the pitch-pot and patched up the bleeding combs. The birds
were equally matched, and fought long. At last their strength ebbed
away. They followed each other feebly, stretching their long, lagging
throats languidly, opening their beaks and hanging out their dry, white
tongues, turning tail, then twisting about and fighting again, until
both lay stretched out on the pit bottom.

As the energy of the cocks subsided, the ardor of the men waxed
sensibly. They yelled excitedly, protested, reviled, swore, laughed,
jeered, and crowed.

At length, when the bantam fell and gave no signs of speedy
resurrection, the anger of Drayton could not be supported. He leaped
across the pit, his face red as his cock's comb, and shouting, "Damme,
what for did ye pick up my bird?" he planted a blow full on the
blacksmith's chest.

A fight of yet fiercer kind followed. Amid shouts, and in the thick of a
general scuffle, the blacksmith closed with his powerful adversary,
gripped him about the waist, twisted him on his loins, and brought him
to the ground with a crash. Then he stood over him with fierce eyes.

"I mak' no doubt you're not hankerin' for another of that sort!" he
puffed.

"John's given him the cross-buttock," said the miller.

"The master's lost all his wrustling," said Natt, blinking out of his
sleepy eyes.

"I mind the day when he could have put John down same as a bit boy,"
said the little postman.

Natt helped Drayton to his feet. He was quiet enough, now, but as black
in the face as a thunder-cloud.

"This comes of a gentleman mixing with them as is beneath him," he
muttered, and he mopped his perspiring forehead with a bandanna
handkerchief.

The miller snorted, the mason grunted, the little postman laughed in his
thin pipe.

Drayton's eyes flashed.

"I'm a gentleman, I am, if you want to know," he said, defiantly.

The blacksmith stood by, leisurely rolling down his shirt-sleeves.

"Ey, for fault of wise folk we call you so," he said, and laughed. "But
when I leet of a man, I's rather have him nor a hundred sec gentlemen as
you!"

"Thoo's reet for once, John!" shouted Dick o' the Syke, and there was
some general laughter.

"Gentleman! Ax the women-folk what they mak' of sec a gentleman,"
continued the blacksmith with contemptuous emphasis. "Him as larn't
folks to fill the public and empty the cupboard."

There was a murmur among the men as they twisted about.

"Ax them what they mak' of him 'at spent four days in Lunnon and came
back another man--ax the women-folk; they're maistly reet, I reckon."

Another uneasy movement among the men.

"Burn my body! and what's the women to me?" said Drayton.

"Nay, nowt," answered the blacksmith. "Your awn wife seems nowdays
powerful keen for your company."

Drayton's eyes were red, but the fire died out of them in an instant. He
stepped up to the blacksmith and held out his hand.

"You've licked me," he said, in another tone, "but I ain't the man to
keep spite, I ain't; so come along, old fence, and let's wet it."

"That's weel said," put in Tommy Lowthwaite, the landlord.

"It's no'but fair," said Dick, the miller.

"He's a reet sort, after all," said Job, the mason.

"He's his awn fadder's son, is Paul Ritson," said Tom o' Dint.

In two minutes more the soiled company were trampling knee-deep through
rank beds of rushes on their way to the other side of the dale. They
stopped a few yards from a pit shaft with its headgear and wheel.

"Let's take my brother's ken for it," said Drayton, and they turned into
a one-story house that stood near.

It was a single capacious chamber, furnished more like a library than an
office; carpets, rugs, a cabinet, easychairs, and a solid table in the
middle of the floor. The cock-fighters filed in and sat down on every
available chair, on the table, and at last on the floor.

"Squat and whiff," said Drayton, "and, Tommy, you out with the corks,
quick."

"It must be a bonny money-making consarn to keep up the likes of this,"
said the miller, settling himself uneasily in an easy-chair.

Dick was telling himself what a fool he had been not to ask more than
the fifty pounds he received for the damage once done by fire to his
mill.

"Have you never heard as it ain't all gold as glitters?" said Drayton;
and he struck a lucifer match on the top of the mahogany table.

"What, man, dusta mean as the pit's not paying?" said the blacksmith.

Drayton gave his head a sidelong shake of combined astuteness and
reserve.

"I mak' no doubt now as you have to lend Master Hugh many a gay penny,"
said Tom o' Dint in an insinuating tone.

"Least said, soonest mended," said Drayton, sententiously, and smiled a
mighty knowing smile.

Then the men laughed, and the landlord handed the bottles round, and all
drank out of the necks, and puffed dense volumes of smoke from their
pipes, and spat on the carpet.

And still the birds sung in the clear air without, and still the ghylls
rumbled, and still the light wind souched through the grass, and still
the morning sunlight shone over all.

The door opened, and Hugh Ritson entered, followed by the lawyer, Mr.
Bonnithorne. There was a steely glimmer in his eyes as he stood just
inside the threshold and looked round.

"Come, get out of this!" he said.

The men shuffled to their feet and were elbowing their way out. Drayton,
who sat on the table, removed his pipe from between his teeth and called
on them to remain.

Hugh Ritson stepped up to Drayton and touched him on the shoulder.

"I want to speak with you," he said.

"What is it?" demanded Drayton.

"I want to speak with you," repeated Hugh.

"What is it? Out with it. You've got the gift of the gab, hain't ye?
Don't mind my friends."

Hugh Ritson's face whitened, and a cold smile passed over it.

"Your time is near," he muttered, and he turned on his heel.

As he stepped out of the noisesome chamber, a loud, hoarse laugh
followed him. He drew a long breath.

"Thank God it will soon be over!" he said.

Bonnithorne was at his side.

"Is it to be to-morrow?" asked the lawyer.

"To-morrow," said Hugh Ritson.

"Have you told him?"

"Tell him yourself, Bonnithorne. I can bear with the man no longer. I
shall be doing something that I may repent."

"Have you apprised Parson Christian?"

Hugh Ritson bent his head.

"And Greta?"

"She won't come," said Hugh. "The girl could never breathe the same air
as that scoundrel for five minutes together."

"And yet he's her half-brother," said the lawyer, softly; and then he
added, with the conventional smile: "Odd, isn't it?"



CHAPTER II.


When the procession of children had passed the little cottage at the
angle of the roads, the old man who leaned on his staff at the gate
turned about and stepped to the porch.

"Did the boy see them?--did he see the children?" said the young woman
who held the child by the hand.

"I mak' na doot," said the old man.

He stooped to the little one and held out one long, withered finger. The
soft baby hand closed on it instantly.

"Did he laugh? I thought he laughed," said the young woman.

A bright smile played on her lips.

"Maybe so, lass."

"Ralphie has never seen the children before, father. Didn't he look
frightened--just a little frightened--at first, you know? I thought he
crept behind my gown."

"Maybe, maybe."

The little one had dropped the hand of his young mother, and, still
holding the bony finger of his grandfather, he toddled beside him into
the house.

Very cool and sweet was the kitchen, with white-washed walls and hard
earthen floor. A table and a settle stood by the window, and a dresser
that was an armory of bright pewter dishes, trenchers, and piggins
crossed the opposite wall.

"Nay, but sista here, laal man," said the old charcoal-burner, and he
dived into a great pocket at his side.

"Have you brought it? Is it the kitten? Oh, dear, let the boy see it!"

A kitten came out of the old man's pocket, and was set down on the rug
at the hearth. The timid creature sat dazed, then raised itself on its
hind legs and mewed.

"Where's Ralphie? Is he watching it, father? What is he doing?"

The little one had dropped on hands and knees before the kitten, and was
gazing up into its face.

The mother leaned over him with a face that would have beamed with
sunshine if the sun of sight had not been missing.

"Is he looking? Doesn't he want to coddle it?"

The little chap had pushed his nose close to the nose of the kitten, and
was prattling to it in various inarticulate noises.

"Boo--loo--lal-la--mamma."

"Isn't he a darling, father?"

"It's a winsome wee thing," said the old man, still standing with
drooping head over the group on the hearth.

The mother's face saddened, and she turned away. Then from the opposite
side of the kitchen, where she was making pretense to take plates from a
plate-rack, there came the sound of suppressed sobs. The old man's eyes
followed her.

"Nay, lass; let's have a sup of broth," he said in a tone that carried
another message.

The young woman put plates and a bowl of broth on the table.

"To think that I can never see my own child, and everybody else can see
him!" she said, and then there was another bout of tears.

The charcoal-burner supped at his broth in silence. A glistening bead
rolled slowly down his wizened cheek, and the interview on the hearth
went on without interruption:

"Mew--mew--mew." "Boo--loo--lal-la--mamma."

There was a foot on the gravel in front.

"How fend ye, Mattha?" said a voice from without.

"Come thy ways, Gubblum," answered the old man.

Gubblum Oglethorpe entered, dressed differently than of old. He wore a
suit of canvas stained deeply with iron ore.

"I's thinking maybe Mercy will let me warm up my poddish," said Gubblum.

"And welcome," said Mercy, and took down from the dresser a saucepan and
porridge thivel. "I'll make it for you while father sups his broth."

"Nay, lass, you're as thrang as an auld peat wife, I's warn. I'll mak'
it myself. I's rather partic'lar about my poddish, forby. Dusta know how
many faults poddish may have? They may be sour, sooty, sodden, and
savorless, soat, welsh, brocken, and lumpy--and that's mair nor enough,
thoo knows."

Gubblum had gone down on the hearth-rug.

"Why, and here's the son and heir," he said. "Nay, laddie, mind my
claes--they'll dirty thy brand-new brat for thee."

"Is he growing, Gubblum?"

"Growing?--amain."

"And his eyes--are they changing color?--going brown?"

"Maybe--I'll not be for saying nay."

"Is he--is he very like me?"

"Nay--weel--nay--I's fancying I see summat of the stranger in the laal
chap at whiles."

The young mother turned her head. Gubblum twisted to where Matthew sat.

"That man and all his raggabrash are raking about this morning. It caps
all, it does, for sure."

The old charcoal-burner did not answer. He paused with the spoon half
raised, glanced at Mercy, and then went on with his broth.

"Hasta heard of the lang yammer in the papers about yon matter?" said
Gubblum.

"Nay," said Matthew, "I hears nowt of the papers."

"He's like to hang a lang crag when he hears about it."

"I mak' na doubt," said Matthew, showing no curiosity.

"It's my belief 'at the auld woman at Hendon is turning tail. You mind
she was down last back end, and he wadn't have nowt to say to her."

"Ey, I mind her," said Matthew.

"Every dog has his day, and I reckon yon dog's day is nigh amaist done.
And it wad have been a vast shorter on'y Mercy hadn't her eyes."

"Ey, ey," said Matthew, quietly.

"If the lass had no'but been able to say, 'Yon man is Drayton, and yon
as you've got in prison is Ritson, and I saw the bad wark done,' that
would have settled it."

"Na doot," said Matthew, his head in the bowl.

"They warn't for hearing me. When the parson took me up to Lunnon mair
nor a twelvemonth agone, they sent us baith home with our tails atween
our legs. 'Bring us the young woman,' they said; 'your evidence will
stand aside hers, but not alone. Bring the young woman to 'dentify,'
they says. 'She's gone blind,' we says. 'We can't help that,' they says.
And that's what they call justice up in Lunnon."

"Ey, ey," said Matthew.

"But then thoo has to mak' 'lowances for them gentry folk--they've never
been larn't no better, thoo sees."

Gubblum's porridge was bubbling, and the thivel worked vigorously.
Matthew had picked up the child from the hearth. The little fellow was
tugging at his white beard.

"It were bad luck that me and Mercy didn't stay a day or so langer in
Hendon yon time. She had her eyes then. But the lass was badly, and"
(dropping his voice) "that way, thoo knows, and I warn't to prophesy
what was to happen to poor Paul Ritson. So I brought her straight away
home."

"So thoo did, Gubblum," said Matthew, stroking the child's head.

"It's that Hugh as is at the bottom of it all, I reckon. I'm not afraid
to say it, if he is my master. I allus liked Paul Ritson--the reet one,
thoo knows, not this taistrel that calls hisself Paul Ritson--but I
cared so laal for Hugh that I could have taken him and wrowk't the fire
with him."

The porridge was ready, and Mercy set a wooden bowl on the table. "I's
fullen thy bicker, my lass," said Gubblum. "I's only a laal man, but I's
got a girt appetite, thoo sees." Then turning to Matthew he continued:
"But he's like to pay for it. He brought his raggabash here, and now the
rascal has the upper hand--that's plain to see."

"So it be," said Matthew.

"Deemoralizin' all the country-side, what with his drinkin' and
cock-fightin' and terriers, an' I don't know what. Theer's Dick o' the
Syke, he's a ruined man this day, and John, the blacksmith, he's never
had a heat on the anvil for a week, and as for Job, the mason, he's
shaping to be mair nor ever like his Bible namesake, for he won't have
nowt but his dunghill to sit on soon."

"Dusta think they dunnot ken he's the wrong man?" asked Matthew.

"Nay, Mattha, but a laal bit of money's a wonderful thing, mind ye."

"It is for sure."

"One day he went to clogger Kit to be measur't for new shoes. 'What,
Master Ritson,' says Kit, 'your foot's langer by three lines nor when I
put the tape on it afore.'"

"Ah!"

"Next day Kit had an order for two pairs, forby a pair of leggins and
clogs for Natt. That's the way it's manish'd."

Mercy had taken her child from her father's knee, and was sitting on the
sconce bench with it, holding a broken piece of a mirror before its
face, and listening for its laugh when it saw itself in the glass.

"But he's none Cummerland--hearken to his tongue," said Matthew.

Gubblum put down his spoon on his plate, now empty.

"That minds me," he said, laughing, "that I met him out one day all
dressed in his brave claes--them as might do for a nigger that plays the
banjo. 'Off for a spogue?' I says. 'What's a spogue?' he says, looking
thunder. 'Nay,' I says, 'you're no'but a dalesman--ax folks up Hendon
way,' I says. I was peddling then, but Master Hugh 'counters me another
day, and he says, 'Gubblum,' he says, 'I's wanting a smart laal man,
same as you, to weigh the ore on the bank-top--pund a week,' he says."

"Ey, I mak' no doot they thowt to buy thee ower," said Matthew.

"They've made a gay canny blunder if they think they've put a swine ring
on Gubblum's snout. Buy or beat--that's the word. They've bought most of
the folk and made them as lazy as libbed bitches. But they warn't able
to buy the Ritson's bitch itself."

"What dusta mean, Gubblum?"

"What, man! thoo's heard how the taistrel killed poor auld Fan? No?
Weel, thoo knows she was Paul Ritson's dog, Fan was; and when she saw
this man coming up the lonnin, she frisk't and wag't her tail. But when
she got close to him she found her mistake, and went slenken off. He
made shift to coax her, but Fan wad none be coaxed; and folks were
takin' stock. So what dusta think the taistrel does, but ups with a
stone and brains her."

"That's like him, for sure," said Matthew. "But don't the folk see that
his wife as it might be, Miss Greta as was, won't have nowt to say to
him?"

"Nay, they say that's no'but a rue-bargain, and she found out her mind
after she wedded--that's all the clot-heads think about it."

"Hark!" said Mercy, half rising from the sconce. "It's Mrs. Ritson's
foot."

The men listened. "Nay, lass, there's no foot," said Gubblum.

"Yes, she's on the road," said Mercy. Her face showed that pathetic
tension of the other senses which is peculiar to the blind. A moment
later Greta stepped into the cottage. The telegram which Brother Peter
gave her at the church was still in her hand.

"Good-morning, Matthew; good-morning, Gubblum; I have news for you,
Mercy. The doctors are coming to-day."

Mercy's face fell perceptibly. The old man's head drooped lower.

"There, don't be afraid," said Greta, touching her hand caressingly. "It
will soon be over. The doctors didn't hurt you before, did they?"

"No; but this time it will be the operation," said Mercy. There was a
tremor in her voice.

Greta had lifted the child from the sconce. The little fellow cooed
close to her ear, and babbled his inarticulate nothings.

"Only think, when it's all over you will be able to see your darling
Ralphie for the first time!"

Mercy's sightless face brightened. "Oh, yes," she said, "and watch him
play, and see him spin his tops and chase the butterflies. Oh, that will
be very good!"

"Dusta say to-day, Mistress Ritson?" asked Matthew, the big drops
standing in his eyes.

"Yes, Matthew; I will stay to see it over, and mind baby, and help a
little."

Mercy took the little one from Greta's arms and cried over it, and
laughed over it, and then cried and laughed again. "Mamma and Ralphie
shall play together in the garden, darling, and Ralphie shall see the
horses--and the flowers--and the birdies--and mamma--yes, mamma shall
see Ralphie. Oh, Mrs. Ritson, how selfish I am!--how can I ever repay
you?"

The tears were trickling down Greta's cheeks. "It is I who am selfish,
Mercy," she said, and kissed the sightless orbs. "Your dear eyes shall
give me back my poor husband."



CHAPTER III.


Two hours later the doctors arrived. They had called at the vicarage in
driving up the valley, and Parson Christian was with them. They looked
at Mercy's eyes, and were satisfied that the time was ripe for the
operation. At the sound of their voices, Mercy trembled and turned
livid. By a maternal instinct she picked up the child, who was toddling
about the floor, and clasped it to her bosom. The little one opened wide
his blue eyes at sight of the strangers, and the prattling tongue became
quiet.

"Take her to her room, and let her lie on the bed," said one of the
doctors to Greta.

A sudden terror seized the young mother. "No, no, no!" she said, in an
indescribable accent, and the child cried a little from the pressure to
her breast.

"Come, Mercy, dear, be brave for your darling's sake," said Greta.

"Listen to me," said the doctor, quietly but firmly. "You are now quite
blind, and you have been in total darkness for a year and a half. We may
be able to restore your sight by giving you a few minutes' pain. Will
you not bear it?"

Mercy sobbed, and kissed the child passionately.

"Just think, it is quite certain that without an operation you will
never regain your sight," continued the doctor. "You have nothing to
lose and everything to gain. Are you satisfied? Come, go away to your
room quietly."

"Oh, oh, oh!" sobbed Mercy.

"Just imagine, only a few minutes' pain, and even of that you will
scarcely be conscious. Before you know what is doing, it will be done."

Mercy clung closer to her child, and kissed it again and yet more
fervently.

The doctors turned to each other. "Strange vanity!" muttered the one who
had not spoken before. "Her eyes are useless, and yet she is afraid she
may lose them."

Mercy's quick ears caught the whispered words. "It is not that," she
said passionately.

"No, gentlemen," said Greta, "you have mistaken her thought. Tell her
she runs no danger of her life."

The doctors smiled and laughed a little. "Oh, that's it, eh? Well, we
can tell her that with certainty."

Then there was another interchange of half-amused glances.

"Ah, we that be men, sirs, don't know the depth and tenderness of a
mother's heart," said Parson Christian. And Mercy turned toward him a
face that was full of gratitude. Greta took the child out of her arms
and hushed it to sleep in another room. Then she brought it back and put
it in its cradle that stood in the ingle.

"Come, Mercy," she said, "for the sake of your boy." And Mercy permitted
herself to be led from the kitchen.

"So there will be no danger," she said. "I shall not leave my boy. Who
said that? The doctor? Oh, good gracious, it's nothing. Only think, I
shall live to see him grow to be a great lad!"

Her whole face was now radiant.

"It will be nothing. Oh, no, it will be nothing. How silly it was to
think that he would live on, and grow up, and be a man, and I lie cold
in the church-yard, and me his mother! That was very childish, wasn't
it? But, then, I have been so childish since Ralphie came."

"There, lie and be quiet, and it will soon be over," said Greta.

"Let me kiss him first. Do let me kiss him! Only once. You know it's a
great risk, after all. And if he grew up--and I wasn't here, if--if--"

"There, dear Mercy, you must not cry again. It inflames your eyes, and
that can't be good for the doctors."

"No, no, I won't cry. You are very good; everybody is very good. Only
let me kiss my little Ralphie--just for the last."

Greta led her back to the side of the cot, and she spread herself over
it with outstretched arms, as the mother-bird poises with outstretched
wings over her brood. Then she rose, and her face was peaceful and
resigned.

The Laird Fisher sat down before the kitchen fire, with one arm on the
cradle-head. Parson Christian stood beside him. The old charcoal-burner
wept in silence, and the good parson's voice was too thick for the words
of comfort that rose to his lips.

The doctors followed into the bedroom. Mercy was lying tranquilly on her
bed. Her countenance was without expression. She was busy with her own
thoughts. Greta stood by the bedside; anxiety was written in every line
of her beautiful, brave face.

"We must give her the gas," said one of the doctors, addressing the
other.

Mercy's features twitched.

"Who said that?" she asked, nervously.

"My child, you must be quiet," said the doctor in a tone of authority.

"Yes, I will be quiet, very quiet; only don't make me unconscious," she
said. "Never mind me; I will not cry. No; if you hurt me I will not cry
out. I will not stir. I will do everything you ask. And you shall say
how quiet I have been. Only don't let me be insensible."

The doctors consulted aside, and in whispers.

"Who spoke about the gas? It wasn't you, Mrs. Ritson, was it?"

"You must do as the doctors wish, dear," said Greta in a caressing
voice.

"Oh, I will be very good. I will do every little thing. Yes, and I will
be so brave. I am a little childish sometimes, but I can be brave, can't
I?"

The doctors returned to the bedside.

"Very well, we will not use the gas," said one. "You are a brave little
woman, after all. There, be still--very still."

One of the doctors was tearing linen into strips for bandages, while
the other fixed Mercy's head to suit the light.

There was a faint sound from the kitchen. "Wait," said Mercy. "That is
father--he's crying. Tell him not to cry. Say it's nothing."

She laughed a weak little laugh.

"There, he will hear that; go and say it was I who laughed."

Greta left the room on tiptoe. Old Matthew was still sitting over a
dying fire, gently rocking the sleeping child. Parson Christian's eyes
were raised in prayer.

When Greta returned to the bedroom, Mercy called her, and said very
softly--"Let me hold your hand, Greta--may I say Greta?--there," and her
fingers closed on Greta's with a convulsive grasp.

The operation began. Mercy held her breath. She had the stubborn
north-country blood in her. Once only a sigh escaped. There was a dead
silence.

In two or three minutes the doctor said: "Just another minute, and all
will be over."

At the next instant Greta felt her hand held with a grasp of iron.

"Doctor, doctor, I can see you!" cried Mercy, and her words came in
gusts.

"Be quiet," said the doctor in a stern voice. In half a minute more the
linen bandages were being wrapped tightly over Mercy's eyes.

"Doctor, dear doctor, let me see my boy," cried Mercy.

"Be quiet, I say," said the doctor again.

"Dear doctor, my dear doctor, only one peep--one little peep--I saw your
face--let me see my Ralphie's!"

"Not yet, it is not safe."

"But only for a moment. Don't put the bandage on for one moment. Just
think, doctor, I have never seen my boy; I've seen other people's
children, but never once my own, own darling. Oh, dear doctor--"

"You are exciting yourself. Listen to me; if you don't behave yourself
now you may never see your child."

"Yes, yes, I will behave myself; I will be very good. Only don't shut me
up in darkness again until I see my boy. Greta, bring him to me.
Listen: I hear his breathing. Go for my darling. The kind doctor won't
be angry with you. Tell him that if I see my child it will cure me. I
know it will."

Greta's eyes were swimming in tears.

"Rest quiet, Mercy. Everything may be lost if you disturb yourself now,
my dear."

The doctors were wrapping bandage over bandage, and fixing them firmly
at the back of their patient's head.

"Now listen again," said one of them. "This bandage must be kept over
your eyes for a week."

"A week--a whole week? Oh, doctor, you might as well say forever!"

"I say a week. And if you should ever remove it--"

"Not for an instant? Not raise it a little?"

"If you ever remove it for an instant, or raise it ever so little, you
will assuredly lose your sight forever. Remember that."

"Oh, doctor, it is terrible! Why did you not tell me so before? Oh, this
is worse than blindness! Think of the temptation, and I have never seen
my boy!"

The doctor had fixed the bandage, and his voice was less stern, but no
less resolute.

"You must obey me," he said; "I will come again this day week, and then
you shall see your child, and your father, and this young lady, and
everybody. But, mind, if you don't obey me you will never see anything.
You will have one glance of your little boy, and then be blind forever,
or perhaps--yes, perhaps die."

Mercy lay quiet for a moment. Then she said in a low voice:

"Dear doctor, you must forgive me. I am very willful, and I promised to
be so good. I will not touch the bandage. No, for the sake of my little
boy, I will never, never touch it. You shall come yourself and take it
off, and then I shall see him."

The doctors went away. Greta remained all night in the cottage.

"You are happy now, Mercy?" said Greta.

"Oh, yes," said Mercy. "Just think, only a week! And he must be so
beautiful by this time."

When Greta took the child to her at sunset, there was an ineffable joy
in her pale face, and next morning, when Greta awoke, Mercy was singing
softly to herself in the sunrise.



CHAPTER IV.


There was a gathering of miners near the pit-head that morning. It was
pay day. The rule was that the miners on the morning shift should pass
through the pay-office before going down the shaft at eight o'clock; and
that those on the night shift should pass through on their way home a
few minutes afterward. When the morning men passed through the office
they had found the pay-door shut, and a notice posted over it, saying,
"All wages due at eight o'clock to-day will be paid at the same hour
to-morrow."

Presently the men on the night shift came up in the cages, and after a
brief explanation both gangs, with the banksmen and all top-ground
hands, except the engine-man, trooped away to a place suitable for a
conference. There was a worked-out open cutting a hundred yards away. It
was a vast cleft dug into the side of the mountain, square on its base,
vertical in its three gray walls, and sweeping up to a dizzy height,
over which the brant sides of the green fell rose sheer into the sky. It
was to this natural theatre that the two hundred miners made their way
in groups of threes and fours, their lamps and cans in their hands,
their red-stained clothes glistening in the morning sun.

It was decided to send a deputation to the master, asking that the order
might be revoked and payment made as usual. The body of the men remained
in the clearing, conversing in knots, while two miners, buirdly fellows,
rather gruffer of tongue than the rest, went to the office to act as
spokesmen.

The deputation were approaching the pit-head when the engine-man shouted
that he had just heard the master's knock from below, and in another
moment Hugh Ritson, in flannels and fustian, stepped out of the cage.

He heard the request, and at once offered to go to the men and give his
answer. The miners made way for him respectfully, and then closed about
him when he spoke.

"Men," he said, with a touch of his old resolution, "let me tell you
frankly, as between man and man, that I can not pay you this morning,
because I haven't got the money. I tried to get it, and failed. This
afternoon I shall receive much more than is due to you, and to-morrow
you shall be promptly paid."

The miners twisted about and compared notes in subdued voices.

"That's no'but fair," said one.

"He cannut say na fairer," said another.

But there were some who were not so easily appeased; and one of these
crushed his way through the crowd, and said:

"Mr. Ritson, we're not same as the bettermer folk, as can get credit for
owt 'at they want. We ax six days' pay because we have to do six days'
payin' wi' it. And if we're back a day in our pay we're a day back in
our payin'; and that means clemmin' a laal bit--and the wife and barns
forby."

There were murmurs of approval from the crowd, and then another
malcontent added:

"Times has changed to a gay tune sin' we could put by for a rainy day.
It's hand to mouth now, on'y the mouth's allus ready and the hand's
not."

"It's na much as we ha' gotten to put away these times," said the first
speaker. "Not same as the days when a pitman's wife, 'at I ken on, flung
a five-pound note in his face and axed him what he thowt she were to
mak' o' that."

"Nay, nay," responded the others in a chorus.

"Men, I'm not charging you with past extravagance," said Hugh Ritson;
"and it's not my fault if the pit hasn't done as well for all of us as I
had hoped."

He was moving away, when the crowd closed about him again.

"Mates," shouted one of the miners, "there's another word as some on us
wad like to say to the master, and that's about the timber."

"What is it?" asked Hugh Ritson, facing about.

"There be some on us 'at think the pit's none ower safe down the bottom
working, where the seam of sand runs cross-ways. We're auld miners,
maistly, and we thowt maybe ye wadna tak' it wrang if we telt ye 'at it
wants a vast mair forks and upreets."

"Thank you, my lads, I'll see what I can do," said Hugh Ritson; and then
added in a lower tone: "But I've put a forest of timber underground
already, and where this burying of money is to end God alone knows."

He turned away this time and moved off, halting more noticeably than
usual on his infirm foot.

He returned to his office near the pit-bank, and found Mr. Bonnithorne
awaiting him.

"The day is young, but I'm no sluggard, you know," said the lawyer. "I
thought we might want a word or two before the meeting at the Ghyll."

Hugh Ritson did not notice the explanation. He looked anxious and
disturbed. While stripping off his pit flannels, and putting on his
ordinary clothes, he told Mr. Bonnithorne what had just occurred, and
then added:

"If anything had been necessary to prove that this morning's bad
business is inevitable, I should have found it in this encounter with
the men."

"It comes as a fillip to your already blunted purpose," said the lawyer
with a curious smile. "Odd, isn't it?"

"Blunted!" said Hugh Ritson, and there was a perceptible elevation of
the eyebrows.

Presently he drew a long breath, and said with an air of relief:

"Ah, well, if she suffers who has suffered enough already, he, at least,
will be out of the way forever."

Bonnithorne shifted slightly on his seat.

"You think so?" he asked.

Something cynical in the tone caught Hugh Ritson's ear.

"It was a bad change, wasn't it?" added the lawyer; "this one is likely
to be a deal more troublesome."

Hugh Ritson went on with his dressing in silence.

"You see, by the interchange your positions were reversed," continued
the lawyer.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the other was in your hands,
while you are in the hands of this one."

Hugh Ritson's foot fell heavily at that instant, but he merely said,
with suppressed quietness:

"There was this one's crime."

"Was--precisely," said Mr. Bonnithorne.

Hugh Ritson looked up with a look of inquiry.

"When you gave the crime to the other, this one became a free man," the
lawyer explained.

There was a silence.

"What does it all come to?" said Hugh Ritson, sullenly.

"That your hold of Paul Drayton is gone forever."

"How so?"

"Because you can never incriminate him without first incriminating
yourself," said the lawyer.

"Who talks of incrimination?" said Hugh Ritson, testily. "To-day, this
man is to take upon himself the name of Paul Lowther--his true name,
though he doesn't know it, blockhead as he is. Therefore, I ask again:
What does it all come to?"

Mr. Bonnithorne shifted uneasily.

"Nothing," he said, meekly, but the curious smile still played about his
downcast face.

Then there was silence again.

"Do you know that Mercy Fisher is likely to regain her sight?" said
Hugh.

"You don't say so? Dear me, dear me!" said the lawyer, sincere at last.
"In all the annals of jurisprudence there is no such extraordinary case
of identity being conclusively provable by one witness only, and of that
witness becoming blind. Odd, isn't it?"

Hugh Ritson smiled coldly.

"Odd? Say providential," he answered. "I believe that's what you church
folk call it when the Almighty averts a disaster that is made imminent
by your own short-sightedness."

"A disaster, indeed, if her sight ceases to be so providentially short,"
said the lawyer.

"Get the man out of the way, and the woman is all right," said Hugh. He
picked a letter out of a drawer, and handed it to Mr. Bonnithorne. "You
will remember that the other was to have shipped to Australia."

Mr. Bonnithorne bowed his head.

"This letter is from the man for whom he intended to go out--an old
friend of my father. Answer it, Bonnithorne."

"In what terms?" asked the lawyer.

"Say that a long illness prevented, but that Paul Ritson is now prepared
to fulfill his engagement."

"And what then?"

"What then?" Hugh Ritson echoed. "Why, what do you think?"

"Send him?" with a motion of the thumb over the shoulder.

"Of course," said Hugh.

Again the cynical tone caught Hugh Ritson's ear, and he glanced up
quickly, but made no remark. He was now dressed.

"I am ready," and on reaching the door and taking a last look round the
room, he added: "I'll have the best of this furniture removed to the
Ghyll to-morrow. The house has been unbearable of late, and I've been
forced to spend most of my time down here."

"Then you don't intend to give him much grace?" asked Bonnithorne.

"Not an hour."

The lawyer bent his forehead very low at that moment.



CHAPTER V.


The sun was high over the head of Hindscarth, but a fresh breeze was
blowing from the north, and the walk to the Ghyll was bracing. Mr.
Bonnithorne talked little on the way, but Hugh Ritson's spirits rose
sensibly, and he chatted cheerfully on indifferent subjects. It was
still some minutes short of nine o'clock when they reached the house.
The servants were bustling about in clean aprons and caps.

"Have the gentlemen arrived?" asked Hugh.

"Not yet, sir," answered one of the servants--it was old Dinah Wilson.

The two men stepped up to Hugh Ritson's room. There the table was spread
for breakfast. The lawyer glanced at the chairs, and said:

"Then you have invited other friends?"

Hugh nodded his head, and sat down at the organ.

"Three or four neighbors of substance," he said, opening the case. "In a
matter like this it is well to have witnesses."

Bonnithorne replied with phlegm:

"But what about the feelings of the man who is so soon to be turned out
of the house?"

Hugh Ritson's fingers were on the keys. He paused and faced about.

"I had no conception that you had such a delicate sense of humor,
Bonnithorne," he said, with only the shadow of a smile. "Feelings! His
feelings!"

There was a swift glide up the notes, and other sounds were lost. The
window was half open; the lawyer walked to it and looked out. At that
moment the two men were back to back. Hugh Ritson's head was bent over
the keyboard. Mr. Bonnithorne's eyes were on the tranquil landscape
lying in the sun outside. The faces of both wore curious smiles.

Hugh Ritson leaped from his seat.

"Ah, I feel like another man already," he said, and took a step or two
up and down the room, his infirm foot betraying no infirmity. There was
the noise of fresh arrivals in the hall. A minute later a servant
entered, followed by three gentlemen, who shook hands effusively with
Hugh Ritson.

"Delighted to be of service, I'm sure," said one.

"Glad the unhappy connection is to be concluded--it was a scandal," said
the other.

"You could not go on living on such terms--life wasn't worth it, you
know," said the first.

The third gentleman was more restrained, but Hugh paid him marked
deference. They had a short, muttered conference apart.

"Get the other mortgages wiped off the deeds and I have no objection to
lend you the money on the security of the house and land," said the
gentleman. At that remark Hugh Ritson bowed his head and appeared
satisfied.

He rang for breakfast.

"Ask Mr. Paul if he is ready," he said, when Dinah brought the tray.

"Master Paul is abed, sir," said Dinah; and then she added for herself:
"It caps all--sec feckless wark. It dudn't use to be so, for sure. I'll
not say but a man may be that changed in a twelvemonth--"

"Ah, I'll go to him myself," said Hugh; and begging to be excused, he
left the room.

Mr. Bonnithorne followed him to the other side of the door.

"Have you counted the cost?" he asked. "It will be a public scandal."

Hugh smiled, and answered with composure:

"Whose will be the loss?"

"God knows!" said the lawyer, with sudden energy.

Hugh glanced up quickly. There was the murmur of voices from within the
room they had just left.

"Is it that you are too jealous of your good name to allow it to be
bruited abroad in a scandal, as you say?"

Mr. Bonnithorne's face wore a curious expression at that moment.

"It's not my good name that is in question," he said, quietly, and
turned back to the door.

"Whose then? His?"

But the lawyer already held the door ajar, and was passing into the
room.

Hugh Ritson made his way to the bedroom occupied by Paul Drayton. He
opened the door without knocking. It was dark within. Thin streaks of
dusty sunlight shot from between a pair of heavy curtains. The air was
noisome with dead tobacco smoke and the fumes of stale beer. Hugh's
gorge rose, but he conquered his disgust.

"Who's there?" said a husky voice from behind the dark hangings of a
four-post bed that was all but hidden in the gloom.

"The friends are here," said Hugh Ritson, cheerily. "How long will you
be?"

There was a suppressed chuckle.

"All right."

"We will begin breakfast," said Hugh. He was turning to go.

"Is that lawyer man back from Scotland?" asked Drayton.

"Bonnithorne? He's here--he didn't say that he'd been away," said Hugh.

"All right."

Hugh Ritson returned to the bed-head. "Have you heard," he said in a
subdued voice, "that the doctors have operated on the girl Mercy, and
that she is likely to regain her sight?"

"Eh? What?" Drayton had started up in bed. Then rolling down his sleeves
and buttoning them leisurely, he added: "But that ain't nothing to me."

Hugh Ritson left the room. He was in spirits indeed, for he had borne
even this encounter with equanimity. As he passed through the house,
Brother Peter entered at the porch with a letter in his hand.

"Is Parson Christian coming?" said Hugh.

"Don't know 'at I've heard," said Peter. "He's boddered me to fetch ye a
scribe of a line. Here 'tis."

Hugh Ritson opened the envelope. The note ran:

   "I cannot reconcile it to my conscience to break bread with one who
   has broken the peace of my household; nor is it agreeable to my duty
   as a minister of Christ to give the countenance of my presence to
   proceedings which must be a sham, inasmuch as the person concerned is
   an imposter--with the which name I yet hope to brand him when the
   proper time and circumstances arrive."

Hugh smiled as he read the letter; then he thrust a shilling into
Peter's unyielding hand, and shot away.

"The parson will not come," said Hugh, drawing Bonnithorne aside; "but
that can not matter. If he is Greta's guardian, you are her father's
executor." Then, raising his voice, "Gentlemen," he said, "my brother
wishes us to begin breakfast; he will join us presently."

The company was soon seated; the talk was brisk and cheerful.

"Glorious prospect," said a gentleman sitting opposite the open window.
"Often wonder you don't throw out a bay, Mr. Ritson."

"I've thought of it," said Hugh, "but it's not worth while to spend such
money until one is master of one's own house."

"Ah, true, true!" said several voices in chorus.

Drayton entered, his eyes red, his face sallow. "Morning, gents," he
said in his thick guttural.

Two of the gentlemen rose, and bowed with frigid politeness. "Good
morning, Mr. Ritson," said the third.

The servant had followed Drayton into the room with a beefsteak
underdone. "Post not come?" he asked, shifting his plates.

"It can't be long now," said Bonnithorne, consulting his watch.

"Sooner the better," Drayton muttered. He took some papers from a
breast-pocket and counted them; then fixed them in his waistcoat, where
his watch would have been if he had worn one.

When breakfast was done, Hugh Ritson took certain documents from a
cabinet. "Be seated, gentlemen," he said. All sat except Drayton, who
lighted a pipe, and rang to ask if the postman had come. He had not.
"Then go and sharpen up his heels."

"My duty would be less pleasant," said Hugh Ritson, "if some of the
facts were not already known."

"Then we'll take 'em as read, so we will," put in Drayton, perambulating
behind a cloud of smoke.

"Paul, I will ask you to be seated," said Hugh, in an altered tone.

Drayton sat down with a snort.

"I have to tell you," continued Hugh Ritson, "that my brother known to
you as Paul Ritson, is now satisfied that he was not the heir of my
father, who died intestate."

There were sundry nods of the grave noddles assembled about the table.

"Fearful shock to any man," said one. "No wonder he has lost heart and
grown reckless," said another.

"On becoming aware of this fact, he was anxious to relinquish the estate
to the true heir."

There were further nods, and some muttered comments on the requirements
of honor.

"I show you here a copy of the register of my father's marriage, and a
copy of the register of my own birth, occurring less than a year
afterward. From these, in the absence of extraordinary testimony, it
must be the presumption that I am myself my father's rightful heir."

The papers were handed about and returned with evident satisfaction.

"So far, all is plain," continued Hugh Ritson. "But my brother has
learned that he is not even my father's son."

Three astonished faces were lifted from the table. Bonnithorne sat with
head bent. Drayton leaned an elbow on one knee and smoked sullenly.

"It turns out that he is the son of my mother by another man," said Hugh
Ritson.

The guests twisted about. "Ah, that explains all," they whispered.

"You will be surprised to learn that my mother's husband by a former
invalid marriage was no other than Robert Lowther, and that he who sits
with us now as Paul Ritson is really Paul Lowther."

At this, Hugh placed two further documents on the table.

Drayton cleared his throat noisily.

"Dear me, dear me! yet it's plain enough!" said one of the visitors.

"Then what about Mrs. Ritson--Miss Greta, I mean?" asked another.

"She is Paul Lowther's half-sister, and therefore his marriage with her
must be annulled."

The three gentlemen turned in their seats and looked amazed, Drayton
still smoked in silence. Bonnithorne did not raise his head.

"He will relinquish to me my father's estates, but he is not left
penniless," continued Hugh Ritson. "By his own father's will he inherits
five thousand pounds."

Drayton snorted contemptuously, then spat on the floor.

"Friends," said Hugh Ritson again, "there is only one further point, and
I am loath to touch on it. My brother--I speak of Paul Lowther--on
taking possession of the estates, exercised what he believed to be his
legal right to mortgage them. I am sorry to say he mortgaged them
deeply."

There was an interchange of astute glances.

"If I were a rich man, I should be content to be the loser, but I am a
poor man, and am compelled to ask that those mortgages stand forfeit."

"Is it the law?"

"It is--and, as you will say, only a fair one," Hugh answered.

"Who are the mortgagees?"

"That is where the pity arises--the chief of them is no other than the
daughter of Robert Lowther--Greta."

Sundry further twists and turns. "Pity for her." "Well, she should have
seen to his title. Who was her lawyer?"

"Her father's executor, our friend Mr. Bonnithorne."

"How much does she lose?"

"I'm afraid a great deal--perhaps half her fortune," said Hugh.

"No matter; it's but fair, Mr. Ritson is not to inherit an estate
impoverished by the excesses of the wrong man."

Drayton's head was still bent, but he scraped his feet restlessly.

"I have only another word to say," said Hugh. "In affairs of this solemn
nature, it is best to have witnesses, or perhaps I should have preferred
to confer with Paul and Mr. Bonnithorne in private." He dropped his
voice and added: "You see, there is my poor mother; and though, in a
sense, she is no longer of this world, her good name must ever be sacred
with me."

The astute glances again, and two pairs of upraised hands. The lawyer
had twisted toward the window.

"But our friend Bonnithorne will tell you that the law in effect
compelled me to evict my brother. You may not know that there is a
condition of English law in which a bastard becomes a permanent heir;
that is when he is called, in the language of the law, the bastard
eigne." There was a tremor in his voice as he added softly: "Believe me,
I had no choice."

Drayton stamped his heavy foot, threw down his pipe, and jumped to his
feet. "It's a lie, the lot of it!" he blurted. Then he fumbled at his
watch-pocket, and pulled out a paper. "That's my register, straight and
plain."

He stammered it aloud:

"Ritson, Paul; father, Allan Ritson; mother, Grace Ritson. Date of
birth, April 6, 1847; place, Crieff, Scotland."

Hugh Ritson, a little pale, smiled. The others turned to him in their
amazement. In an instant he had regained an appearance of indifference.

"Where does it come from?" he asked.

"The registrar's at Edinburgh. D'ye say it ain't right?"

"No; but I say, what is it worth? Gentlemen," said Hugh, turning to the
visitors, "compare it with the register of my father's marriage.
Observe, the one date is April 6, 1847; the other is June 12, 1847. Even
if genuine, does it prove legitimacy?"

Drayton laid his hand on the lawyer's arm. "Here you, speak up, will
ye?" he said.

Mr. Bonnithorne rose, and then Hugh Ritson's pale face became ghastly.

"This birth occurred in Scotland," he said. "Now, if the father happened
to hold a Scotch domicile, and the mother lived with him as his wife,
the child would be legitimate."

"Without a marriage?"

"Without a ceremony."

Natt pushed into the room, his cap in one hand, a letter in the other.
He had knocked twice, and none had heard. "The post, sir; one letter for
Master Paul."

"Good lad!" Drayton clutched it with a cry of delight.

"But my father had no Scotch domicile," said Hugh, with apparent
composure.

"Oh, but he had," said Drayton, tearing open his envelope.

"He was a Scotsman born," said Bonnithorne, taking another document from
Drayton's hand. "See, this is his register. Odd, isn't it?"

Hugh Ritson's eyes flashed. He looked steadily into the face of the
lawyer, then he took the paper.

The next moment he crushed it in his palm and flung it out of the
window. "I shall want proof both of your facts and your law," he said.

"Eh, and welcome," said Drayton, shouting in his agitation. "Listen to
this," and he proceeded to read.

"Wait! From whom?" asked Hugh Ritson. "Some pettifogger?"

"The solicitor-general," said Bonnithorne.

"Is that good enough?" asked Drayton, tauntingly.

"Go on," said Hugh, rapping the table with his finger-tips.

Drayton handed the letter to the lawyer. "Do you read it," he said; "I
ain't flowery. I'm a gentleman, and--" He stopped suddenly and tramped
the floor, while Bonnithorne read:

   "If there is no reason to suppose the father lost his Scotch
   domicile, the son is legitimate. If the husband recognized his wife
   in registering his son's birth, the law of Scotland would presume
   that there was a marriage, but whether of ceremony or consent would
   be quite indifferent."

There was a pause, Drayton took the letter from the lawyer's hands,
folded it carefully, and put it in his fob-pocket. Then he peered into
Hugh Ritson's face with a leer of triumph. Bonnithorne had slunk aside.
The guests were silent.

"D'ye hear?" said Drayton, "the son is legitimate." He gloated over the
words, and tapped his pocket as he repeated them. "What d'ye say to it,
eh?"

At first Hugh Ritson struggled visibly for composure, and in an instant
his face was like marble. Drayton came close to him.

"You were going to give me the go-by, eh? Turn me out-o'-doors, eh?
Damme, it's my turn now, so it is!"

So saying, Drayton stepped to the door and flung it open.

"This house is mine," he said; "go, and be damned to you!"

At this unexpected blow, Hugh Ritson beat the ground with his foot. He
looked round at the strangers, and felt like a wretch who was gagged and
might say nothing. Then he halted to where Drayton stood with
outstretched arm.

"Let me have a word with you in private," he said in a voice that was
scarcely audible.

Drayton lifted his hand, and his fist was clinched.

"Not a syllable!" he said. His accent was brutal and frenzied.

Hugh Ritson's nostrils quivered, and his eyes flashed. Drayton quailed
an instant, and burst into a laugh.

There was a great silence. Bonnithorne was still before the window, his
face down, his hands clasped behind him, his foot pawing the ground.
Hugh Ritson walked to his side. He contemplated him a moment, and then
touched him on the shoulder. When he spoke, his face was dilated with
passion, and his voice was low and deep.

"There is a Book," he said, "that a Churchman may know, which tells of
an unjust steward. The master thought to dismiss him from his
stewardship. Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do?'"

There was a pause.

"What did he do?" continued Hugh Ritson, and every word fell on the
silence like the stroke of a bell. "He called his master's debtors
together, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe?' 'One hundred
measures.' Then he said, 'Write a bill for fifty.'"

There was another pause.

"What did that steward mean? He meant that when the master should
dismiss him from his stewardship, the debtor should take him into his
house."

Hugh Ritson's manner was the white heat of calm. He turned half round to
where Drayton stood, and raised his voice.

"That debtor was henceforth bound hand and foot. Let him but parley with
the steward, and the steward cried, 'Thief,' 'Forger,' 'Perjurer.'"

Bonnithorne shuffled uneasily. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but
the words would not come. At last he gulped down something that had
seemed to choke him, smiled between his teeth a weak, bankrupt smile,
and said:

"How are we to read your parable? Are you the debtor bound hand and
foot, and is your brother the astute steward?"

Hugh Ritson's foot fell heavily.

"Is it so?" he said, catching at the word. "Then be it so;" and his
voice rose to a shrill cry. "That steward shall come to the ground, and
his master with him!"

At that he stepped back to where Drayton stood with eyes as full of
bewilderment as frenzy.

"Paul Lowther--" he said.

"Call me Paul Ritson," interrupted Drayton.

"Paul Lowther--"

"Ritson!" Drayton shouted, and then, dropping his voice, he said,
rapidly: "You gave it me, and by God I'll keep it!"

Hugh Ritson leaned across the table and tapped a paper that lay on it.

"That is your name," he said, "and I'll prove it."

Drayton burst into another laugh.

"You daren't try," he chuckled.

Hugh turned upon him with eyes of fire.

"So you measure my spirit by your own. Man, man!" he said, "do you know
what you are doing?"

There was another brutal laugh from Drayton, but it died suddenly on his
lips.

Then Hugh Ritson stepped to the door. He took a last look round. It was
as if he knew that he had reached the beginning of the end--as if he
realized that he was never again to stand in the familiar room. The
future, that seemed so near an hour ago, was gone from him forever; the
cup that he had lifted to his lips lay in fragments at his feet. He saw
it all in that swift instant. On his face there were the lines of agony,
but over them there played the smile of resolve. He put one hand to his
forehead, and then said in a voice so low as to be no more than a
whisper:

"Wait and see."

When the guests, who stood huddled together like sheep in a storm, had
recovered their stunned senses, Hugh Ritson was gone from the room.
Drayton had sunk into a chair near where Bonnithorne stood, and was
whining like a whipped hound.

"Go after him! What will he do? You know I was always against it!"

But presently he stood up and laughed, and bantered and crowed, and
observed that it was a pity if a gentleman could not be master in his
own house, and that what couldn't be cured must be endured.

"Precisely," interposed one of the guests, "and you have my entire
sympathy, Mr. Ritson. A more cruel deception was never more manfully
exposed."

"I fully agree with you, neighbor," said another, "and such moral
tyranny is fearful to contemplate. Paul Lowther, indeed! Now, that is a
joke."

"Well, it is rather, ain't it?" said Drayton. And then he laughed, and
they all laughed and shook hands, and were excellent good friends.



CHAPTER VI.


Greta stayed with Mercy until noon that day, begging, entreating, and
finally commanding her to lie quiet in bed, while she herself dressed
and fed the child, and cooked and cleaned, in spite of the Laird
Fisher's protestations. When all was done, and the old charcoal-burner
had gone out on the hills, Greta picked up the little fellow in her
arms and went to Mercy's room. Mercy was alert to every sound, and in an
instant was sitting up in bed. Her face beamed, her parted lips smiled,
her delicate fingers plucked nervously at the counterpane.

"How brightsome it is to-day, Greta," she said. "I'm sure the sun must
be shining."

The window was open, and a soft breeze floated through the sun's rays
into the room. Mercy inclined her head aside, and added, "Ah, you young
rogue you; you are there, are you? Give him to me, the rascal!" The
rogue was set down in his mother's arms, and she proceeded to punish his
rascality with a shower of kisses. "How bonny his cheeks must be; they
will be just like two ripe apples," and forthwith there fell another
shower of kisses. Then she babbled over the little one, and lisped, and
stammered, and nodded her head in his face, and blew little puffs of
breath into his hair, and tickled him until he laughed and crowed and
rolled and threw up his legs; and then she kissed his limbs and
extremities in a way that mothers have, and finally imprisoned one of
his feet by putting it ankle deep into her mouth. "Would you ever think
a foot could be so tiny, Greta?" she said. And the little one plunged
about and clambered laboriously up its mother's breast, and more than
once plucked at the white bandage about her head. "No, no; Ralphie must
not touch," said Mercy with sudden gravity. "Only think, Ralphie pet,
one week--only one--ay, less--only six days now, and then--oh, then--" A
long hug, and the little fellow's boisterous protest against the
convulsive pressure abridged the mother's prophecy.

All at once Mercy's manner changed. She turned toward Greta, and said:
"I will not touch the bandage, no, never; but if Ralphie tugged at it,
and it fell--would that be breaking my promise?"

Greta saw what was in her heart.

"I'm afraid it would, dear," she said; but there was a tremor in her
voice.

Mercy sighed audibly.

"Just think, it would be only Ralphie. The kind doctors could not be
angry with my little child. I would say, 'It was the boy,' and they
would smile and say, 'Ah, that is different.'"

"Give me the little one," said Greta with emotion.

Mercy drew the child closer, and there was a pause.

"I was very wrong, Greta," she said in a low tone. "Oh! you would not
think what a fearful thing came into my mind a minute ago. Take my
Ralphie. Just imagine, my own innocent baby tempted me."

As Greta reached across the bed to lift the child out of his mother's
lap, the little fellow was struggling to communicate, by help of a
limited vocabulary, some wondrous intelligence of recent events that
somewhat overshadowed his little existence. "Puss--dat," many times
repeated, was further explained by one chubby forefinger with its
diminutive finger-nail pointed to the fat back of the other hand.

"He means that the little cat has scratched him," said Greta, "but bless
the mite, he is pointing to the wrong hand."

"Puss--dat," continued the child, and peered up into his mother's
sightless face. Mercy was all tears in an instant. She had borne
yesterday's operation without a groan, but now the scratch on her
child's hand went to her heart like a stab.

"Lie quiet, Mercy," said Greta; "it will be gone to-morrow."

"Go-on," echoed the little chap, and pointed out at the window.

"The darling, how he picks up every word!" said Greta.

"He means the horse," explained Mercy.

"Go-on--man--go-on," prattled the little one, with a child's
indifference to all conversation except his own.

"Bless the love, he must remember the doctor and his horse," said Greta.

Mercy was putting her lips to the scratch on the little hand.

"Oh, Greta, I am very childish; but a mother's heart melts like butter."

"Batter," echoed the child, and wriggled out of Greta's arms to the
ground, where he forthwith clambered on to the stool, and possessed
himself of a slice of bread which lay on the table at the bedside. Then
the fair curly head disappeared like a glint of sunlight through the
door to the kitchen.

"What shall I care if other mothers see my child? I shall see him, too,"
said Mercy, and she sighed. "Yes," she added softly, "his hands and his
eyes and his feet and his soft hair."

"Try to sleep an hour or two, dear," said Greta, "and then perhaps you
may get up this afternoon--only perhaps, you know, but we'll see."

"Yes, Greta, yes. How kind you are."

"You will be far kinder to me some day," said Greta, very tenderly.

"No--ah, yes, I remember. How very selfish I am--I had quite forgotten.
But then it is so hard not to be selfish when you are a mother. Only
fancy, I never think of myself as Mercy now. No, never. I'm just
Ralphie's mamma. When Ralphie came, Mercy must have died in some way.
That's very silly, isn't it? Only it does seem true."

"Man--go-on--batter," was heard from the kitchen, mingled with the
patter of tiny feet.

"Listen to him. How tricksome he is! And you should hear him cry, 'Oh!'
You would say, 'That child has had an eye knocked out.' And then, in a
minute, behold! he's laughing once more. There, I'm selfish again; but I
will make up for it some day, if God is good."

"Yes, Mercy, He is good," said Greta.

Her arms rested on the door-jamb, and her head dropped on to it; her
eyes swam. Did it seem at that moment as if God had been very good to
these two women?

"Greta," said Mercy, and her voice fell to a whisper, "do you think
Ralphie is like--anybody?"

"Yes, dear, he is like you."

There was a pause. Then Mercy's hand strayed from under the bedclothes
and plucked at Greta's gown.

"Do you think," she asked, in a voice all but inaudible, "that father
knows who it is?"

"I can not say--we have never told him."

"Nor I--he never asked, never once--only, you know, he gave up his work
at the mine, and went back to the charcoal-pit when Ralphie came. But he
never said a word."

Greta did not answer. There was another pause. Then Mercy said, in a
stronger voice, "Will it be soon--the trial?"

"As soon as your eyes are better," said Greta, earnestly; "everything
depends on your recovery."

At that moment the bedroom door was pushed open with a little lordly
bang, and the great wee man entered with his piece of bread stuck rather
insecurely on one prong of a fork.

"Toas," he explained complacently, "toas," and walked up to the empty
grate and stretched his arm over the fender at the cold bars.

"Why, there's no fire for toast, you darling goose," said Greta,
catching him in her arms, much to his masculine vexation.

Mercy had risen on an elbow, and her face was full of the yearning of
the blind. Then she lay back.

"Never mind," she said to herself in a faltering voice, "let me lie
quiet and think of all his pretty ways."



CHAPTER VII.


Greta returned to the vicarage toward noon, and overtook Parson
Christian and Peter in the lonnin, the one carrying a scythe over his
shoulder, the other a bundle of rushes under his one arm. The parson was
walking in silence under the noontide sun, his straw hat tipped back
from his forehead and his eyes on the ground. He was busy with his own
reflections. It was not until Greta had tripped up to his side and
slipped his scythe-stone from its strap in the pole that the parson was
awakened from his reverie.

"Great news, Greta--great news, my lass!" he said in answer to her
liberal tender in exchange for his thoughts. "How well it's said, that
he that diggeth a pit for another should look that he fall not into it
himself."

"What news, Mr. Christian?" said Greta, and her color heightened.

"Well, we've been mowing the grass in the church-yard, Peter and I, and
the scythe is old like ourselves, and it wanted tempering. So away we
went to the smithy to have it ground, and who should come up but Robbie
Atkinson, leading hassocks from Longridge. And Robbie would fain have us
go with him and be cheerful at the Flying Horse. Well, we'd each had a
pot of ale and milk, when in came Natt, the stableman at Ritson's, all
lather like one of his horses after his master has been astride her. And
Natt was full of a great quarrel at the Ghyll, wherein young Mr. Hugh
had tried to turn yonder man out of the house in the way I told you of
before, but the man denied that he was what Hugh called him, and clung
to it that he was Paul Ritson, and brought documents to show that Paul
was his father's rightful heir, after all."

"Well, well?" asked Greta, breathlessly.

Peter had shambled on to the house.

"Well, Natt is no very trustworthy chronicler, I fear, but one thing is
plain, and that is, that Mr. Hugh, who thought to turn yon man out of
the house, has been turned out of it himself."

Greta stood in the road, trembling from head to foot.

"My poor husband!" she said in a whisper. Then came a torrent of
questions. "When did this happen? What think you will come of it? Where
will Hugh go? What will he do? Ah, Mr. Christian, you always said the
cruel instrument would turn in his hand!"

There was a step behind them. In their anxiety they had not noticed it
until it was close at their heels. They turned, and were face to face
with Mr. Bonnithorne.

The lawyer bowed, but before they had exchanged the courtesies of
welcome, a horse's tramp came from the road, and in a moment Drayton
rode up the lonnin. His face was flushed, and his manner noisy as he
leaped from the saddle into their midst.

Greta lifted one hand to her breast, and with the other hand she clasped
that of the parson. The old man's face grew rigid in an instant, and
all the mellowness natural to it died away.

Drayton made up to Greta and the parson with an air of braggadocio.

"I've come to tell you once for all that my wife must live under my
roof."

No one answered. Drayton took a step near, and slapped his boot with his
riding-whip.

"The law backs me up in it, and I mean to have it out."

Still there was no answer, and Drayton's braggadocio gathered assurance
from the silence.

"Not as I want her. None of your shrinking away, madame." A hoarse
laugh. "Burn my body! if I wouldn't as soon have my mother for a wife."

"What then?" said the parson in a low tone.

"Appearances. I ain't to be a laughing-stock of the neighborhood any
longer. My wife's my wife. A husband's a husband, and wants obedience."

"And what if you do not get it?" asked the parson, his old face
whitening.

"What? Imprisonment--that's what." Drayton twisted about and touched the
lawyer with the handle of his whip. "Here, you, tell 'em what's what."

Thus appealed to, Mr. Bonnithorne explained that a husband was entitled
to the restitution of connubial rights, and, in default, to the
"attachment" of his spouse.

"The law," said Mr. Bonnithorne, "can compel a wife to live with her
husband, or punish her with imprisonment for not doing so."

"D'ye hear?" said Drayton, slapping furiously at the sole of his boot.
"Punish her with imprisonment."

There was a pause, and then the parson said, quietly but firmly:

"I gather that it means that you want to share this lady's property."

"Well, what of it? Hain't I a right to share it, eh?"

"You have thus far enjoyed the benefit of her mortgages, on the pretense
that you are her husband; but now you are going too far."

"We'll see. Here, you," prodding the lawyer, "take proceedings at once.
If she won't come, imprison her. D'ye hear--imprison her!"

He swung about and caught the reins from the horse's mane, laughing a
hollow laugh. Greta disengaged her hand from the hand of the parson, and
stepped up to Drayton until she stood before him face to face, her eyes
flashing, her lips quivering, her cheeks pale, her whole figure erect
and firm.

"And what of that?" she said. "Do you think to frighten me with the
cruelties of the law?--me?--me?" she echoed, with scorn in every
syllable. "Have I suffered so little from it already that you dare to
say, 'Imprison her,' as if that would drive me to your house?"

Drayton tried to laugh, but the feeble effort died on his hot lips. He
spat on the ground, and then tried to lift his eyes back to the eyes of
Greta, but they fell to the whip that he held in his hand.

"Imprison me, Paul Drayton! I shall not be the first you've imprisoned.
Imprison me, and I shall be rid of you and your imposture!" she said,
raising her voice.

Drayton leaped to the saddle.

"I'll do it!" he muttered; and now, pale, crushed, his braggadocio gone,
he tugged his horse's head aside and brought down the whip on its flank.

Parson Christian turned to Mr. Bonnithorne.

"Follow him," he said, resolutely, and lifted his hand.

The lawyer made a show of explanation, then assumed an air of authority,
but finally encountered the parson's white face, and turned away.

In another moment Greta was hanging on Parson Christian's neck, sobbing
and moaning, while the good old Christian, with all the mellowness back
in his wrinkled face, smoothed her hair as tenderly as a woman.

"My poor Paul, my dear husband!" cried Greta.

"Ah! thanks be to God, things are at their worst now, and they can't
move but they must mend," said the parson.

He took her indoors and bathed her hot forehead, and dried with his hard
old hand the tears that fell from eyes that a moment before had flashed
like a basilisk's.

Toward five o'clock that evening a knock came to the door of the
vicarage, and old Laird Fisher entered. His manner was more than usually
solemn and constrained.

"I's coom't to say as ma lass's wee thing is taken badly," he said, "and
rayder sudden't."

Greta rose from her seat and put on her hat and cloak. She was hastening
down the road while the charcoal-burner was still standing in the middle
of the floor.



CHAPTER VIII.


When Greta reached the old charcoal-burner's cottage, the little one was
lying in a drowsy state in Mercy's arms. Its breathing seemed difficult;
sometimes it started in terror; it was feverish and suffered thirst. The
mother's wistful face was bent down on it with an indescribable
expression. There were only the trembling lips to tell of the sharp
struggle that was going on within. But the yearning for a sight of the
little flushed countenance, the tearless appeal for but one glimpse of
the drowsy little eyes, the half-articulate cry of a mother's heart
against the fate that made the child she had suckled at her breast a
stranger, whose very features she might not know--all this was written
in that blind face.

"Is he pale?" said Mercy. "Is he sleeping? He does not talk now, but
only starts and cries, and sometimes coughs."

"When did this begin?" asked Greta.

"Toward four o'clock. He had been playing, and I noticed that he
breathed heavily, and then he came to me to be nursed. Is he awake now?
Listen."

The little one in its restless drowsiness was muttering faintly,
"Man--go-on--batter--toas."

"The darling is talking in his sleep, isn't he?" said Mercy.

Then there was a ringing, brassy cough.

"It is croup," thought Greta.

She closed the window, lighted a fire, placed the kettle so that the
steam might enter the room, then wrung flannels out of hot water, and
wrapped them about the child's neck. She stayed all that night at the
cottage, and sat up with the little one and nursed it. Mercy could not
be persuaded to go to bed, but she was very quiet. It had not yet taken
hold of her that the child was seriously ill. He was drowsy and a little
feverish, his pulse beat fast and he coughed hard sometimes, but he
would be better in the morning. Oh, yes, he would soon be well again,
and tearing up the flowers in the garden.

Toward midnight the pulse fell rapidly, the breathing become quieter,
and the whole nature seemed to sink. Mercy listened with her ear bent
down at the child's mouth, and a smile of ineffable joy spread itself
over her face.

"Bless him, he is sleeping so calmly," she said.

Greta did not answer.

"The 'puss' and the 'man' don't darken his little life so much now,"
continued Mercy, cheerily.

"No, dear," said Greta, in as strong a voice as she could summon.

"All will be well with my darling boy soon, will it not?"

"Yes, dear," said Greta, with a struggle.

Happily Mercy could not read the other answer in her face.

Mercy had put her sensitive fingers on the child's nose, and was
touching him lightly about the mouth.

"Greta," she said in a startled whisper, "does he look pinched?"

"A little," said Greta, quietly.

"And his skin--is it cold and clammy?"

"We must give him another hot flannel," said Greta.

Mercy sat at the bedside, and said nothing for an hour. Then all at
once, and in a strange, harsh voice, she said:

"I wish God had not made Ralphie so winsome."

Greta started at the words, but made no answer.

The daylight came early. As the first gleams of gray light came in at
the window, Greta turned to where Mercy sat in silence. It was a sad
face that she saw in the mingled yellow light of the dying lamp and the
gray of the dawn.

Mercy spoke again.

"Greta, do you remember what Mistress Branthet said when her baby died
last back-end gone twelvemonth?"

Greta looked up quickly at the bandaged eyes.

"What?" she asked.

"Well, Parson Christian tried to comfort her, and said, 'Your baby is
now an angel in Paradise,' and she turned on him with 'Shaf on your
angels--I want none on 'em--I want my little girl.'"

Mercy's voice broke into a sob.

Toward ten o'clock the doctor came. He had been detained. Very sorry to
disoblige Mrs. Ritson, but fact was old Mr. de Broadthwaite had an
attack of lumbago, complicated by a bout of toothache, and everybody
knew he was most exacting. Young person's baby ill? Feverish, restless,
starts in its sleep, and cough?--Ah, croupy cough--yes, croup, true
croup, not spasmodic. Let him see; how old? A year and a half? Ah, bad,
very. Most frequent in second year of infancy. Dangerous, highly so.
Forms a membrane that occludes air passages. Often ends in convulsions,
and child suffocates. Sad, very. Let him see again. How long since the
attack began? Yesterday at four. Ah, far gone, far. The great man soon
vanished, leaving behind him a harmless preparation of aconite and
ipecacuanha.

Mercy had heard all, and her pent-up grief broke out in sobs.

"Oh, to think I shall hear my Ralphie no more, and to know his white
cold face is looking up from a coffin, while other children are playing
in the sunshine and chasing the butterflies! No, no, it can not be; God
will not let it come to pass; I will pray to Him and He will save my
child. Why, He can do anything, and He has all the world. What is my
little baby boy to Him? He will not let it be taken from me!"

Greta's heart was too full for speech. But she might weep in silence,
and none there would know. Mercy stretched across the bed and, tenderly
folding the child in her arms, she lifted him up, and then went down on
her knees.

"Merciful Father," she said in a childish voice of sweet confidence,
"this is my baby, my Ralphie, and I love him so dearly. You would never
think how much I love him. But he is ill, and doctor says he may die.
Oh, dear Father, only think what it would be to say, 'His little face is
gone.' And then I have never seen him. You will not take him away until
his mother sees him. So soon, too. Only five days more. Why, it is quite
close. Not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next, but the day after
that!"

She put in many another child-like plea, and then rose with a smile on
her pale lips and replaced the little one on his pillow.

"How patient he is," she said. "He can't say 'Thank you,' but I'm sure
his eyes are speaking. Let me feel." She put her finger lightly on the
child's lids. "No, they are shut; he must be sleeping. Oh, dear, he
sleeps very much. Is he gaining color? How quiet he is! If he would only
say, 'Mamma!' How I wish I could see him!"

She was very quiet for awhile, and then plucked at Greta's gown
suddenly.

"Greta," she said eagerly, "something tells me that if I could only see
Ralphie I should save him."

Greta started up in terror. "No, no, no; you must not think of it," she
said.

"But some one whispered it. It must have been God Himself. You know we
ought to obey God always."

"Mercy, it was not God who said that. It was your own heart. You must
not heed it."

"I'm sure it was God," said Mercy. "And I heard it quite plain."

"Mercy, my darling, think what you are saying. Think what it is you wish
to do. If you do it you will be blind forever."

"But I shall have saved my Ralphie."

"No, no; you will not."

"Will he not be saved, Greta?"

"Only our heavenly Father knows."

"Well, He whispered it in my heart. And, as you say, He knows best."

Greta was almost distraught with fear. The noble soul in her would not
allow her to appeal to Mercy's gratitude against the plea of maternal
love. But she felt that all her happiness hung on that chance. If Mercy
regained her sight, all would be well with her and hers; but if she lost
it the future must be a blank.

The day wore slowly on, and the child sunk and sunk. At evening the old
charcoal-burner returned, and went into the bedroom. He stood a moment,
and looked down at the pinched little face, and when the child's eyes
opened drowsily for a moment he put his withered forefinger into its
palm; but there was no longer a responsive clasp of the chubby hand.

The old man's lips quivered behind his white beard.

"It were a winsome wee thing," he said, faintly, and then turned away.

He left his supper untouched and went into the porch. There he sat on a
bench and whittled a blackthorn stick. The sun was sinking over the head
of the Eel Crag; the valley lay deep in a purple haze; the bald top of
Cat Bells stood out bright in the glory of the passing day. A gentle
breeze came up from the south, and the young corn chattered with its
multitudinous tongues in the field below. The dog lay at the
charcoal-burner's feet, blinking in the sun and snapping lazily at a
buzzing fly.

The little life within was ebbing away. No longer racked by the ringing
cough, the loud breathing became less frequent and more harsh. Mercy
lifted the child from the bed and sat with it before the fire. Greta saw
its eyes open, and at the same moment she saw the lips move slightly,
but she heard nothing.

"He is calling his mamma," said Mercy, with her ear bent toward the
child's mouth.

There was a silence for a long time. Mercy pressed the child to her
breast; its close presence seemed to soothe her.

Greta stood and looked down; she saw the little lips move once more, but
again she heard no sound.

"He is calling his mamma," repeated Mercy, wistfully, "and, oh, he seems
such a long way off!"

Once again the little lips moved.

"He is calling me," said Mercy, listening intently; and she grew
restless and excited. "He is going away. I can hear him. He is far off.
Ralphie, Ralphie!" She had lifted the child up to her face. "Ralphie,
Ralphie!" she cried.

"Give me the baby, Mercy," said Greta.

But the mother clung to it with a convulsive grasp.

"Ralphie, Ralphie, Ralphie!..."

There was a sudden flash of some white thing. In an instant the bandage
had fallen from Mercy's head, and she was peering down into the child's
face with wild eyes.

"Ralphie, Ralphie!... Hugh!" she cried.

The mother had seen her babe at last, and in that instant she had
recognized the features of its father.

At the next moment the angel of God passed through that troubled house,
and the child lay dead at the mother's breast.

Mercy saw it all, and her impassioned mood left her. She rose to her
feet quietly, and laid the little one in the bed. There was never a sigh
more, never a tear. Only her face was ashy pale, and her whitening lips
quivered.

"Greta," she said, very slowly, "will you go for him?"

Greta kissed the girl's forehead tenderly. Her own calm, steadfast,
enduring spirit sunk. All the world was dead to her now.

"Yes, dear," she whispered.

The next minute she was gone from the room.



CHAPTER IX.


The evening was closing in; now and then the shrill cries of the birds
pealed and echoed in the still air; a long, fibrous streak of silver in
the sky ebbed away over the head of Hindscarth. Greta hastened toward
the pit-brow. The clank of the iron chain in the gear told that the cage
in the shaft was working.

It was a year and a half since her life had first been overshadowed by a
disaster more black and terrible than death itself, and never for an
instant had the clouds been lifted until three days ago. Then, in a
moment, the light had pierced through the empty sky, and a way had been
wrought for her out of the labyrinth of misery. But even that passage
for life and hope and love seemed now to be closed by the grim
countenance of doom.

Mercy would be blind forever! All was over and done. Greta's strong,
calm spirit sunk and sunk. She saw the impostor holding to the end the
name and place of the good man; and she saw the good man dragging his
toilsome way through life--an outcast, a by-word, loaded with ignominy,
branded with crime. And that unhappy man was her husband, and he had no
stay but in her love--no hope but in her faith.

Greta stopped at the door of Hugh Ritson's office and knocked. A moment
later he and she were face to face. He was dressed in his pit flannels,
and was standing by a table on which a lamp burned. When he recognized
her, he passed one hand across his brow, the other he rested on the
mantel-piece. There was a momentary twitching of her lips, and he
involuntarily remarked that in the time that had passed since they last
met she had grown thinner.

"Come with me," she said in a trembling whisper. "Mercy's child is dead,
and the poor girl is asking for you in her great trouble."

He did not speak at once, but shaded his eyes from the lamp. Then he
said, in a voice unlike his own:

"I will follow you."

She had held the door in her hand, and now she turned to go. He took one
step toward her.

"Greta, have you nothing more to say to me?" he asked.

"What do you wish me to say?"

He did not answer; his eyes fell before her.

There was a slight wave of her hand as she added:

"The same room ought never to contain both you and me--it never should
have done so--but this is not my errand."

"I have deserved it," he said, humbly.

"The cruel work is done--yes, done past undoing. You have not heard the
last of it. Then, since you ask me what I have to say to you, it is
this: That man, that instrument of your malice who is now your master,
has been to say that he can compel me to live with him, or imprison me
if I refuse. Can he do it?"

Hugh Ritson lifted his eyes with a blind, vacant stare.

"To live with him? Him? You to live with him?" he said, absently.

"To live under his roof--those were his words. Can he do it? I mean if
the law recognizes him as my husband?"

Hugh Ritson's eyes wandered.

"Do it? Your husband?" he echoed, incoherently.

"I know well what he wants," said Greta, breathing heavily; "it is not
myself he is anxious for--but he can not have the one without the
other."

"The one without the other?" echoed Hugh Ritson in a low tone. Then he
strode across the room in visible agitation.

"Greta, that man is--. Do you know who he is?"

"Paul Drayton, the innkeeper of Hendon," she answered, calmly.

"No, no; he is your--"

He paused, his brows knit, his fingers interlaced. Her bosom swelled.

"Would you tell me that he is my husband?" she said indignantly.

Hugh Ritson again passed his hand across his brow.

"Greta, I have deserved your distrust," he said, in an altered tone.

"What is done can never be undone," she answered.

His voice had regained its calmness, but his manner was still agitated.

"I may serve you even yet," he said; "I have done you too much wrong; I
know that."

"What is your remorse worth now?" she asked. "It comes too late."

Then he looked her steadily in the face, and replied:

"Greta, it is well said that the most miserable man in all the world is
he who feels remorse before he does the wrong. I was--I am--that man. I
did what I did knowing well that I should repent it--ay, to the last
hour of my life. But I was driven to it--I had no power to resist
it--it mastered me then--it would master me now."

The finger-tips of Greta's right hand were pressed close against her
cheek. Hugh Ritson took a step nearer.

"Greta," he said, and his voice fell to a broken whisper, "there are
some men to whom love is a passing breath, a gentle gale that beats on
the face and sports in the hair, and then is gone. To me it is a wound,
a deep, corrosive, inward wound that yearns and burns."

Greta shuddered; it was as if his words stung her. Then with an
impatient gesture she turned again toward the door, saying:

"This is the death-hour of your child, and, Heaven pardon you, it seems
to be the death-hour of your brother's hopes too!" She faced about. "Do
you think of him?" she added, lifting her voice. "When you see this man
in his place, wasting his substance and mine, do you ever think of him
where he is?"

Her voice trembled and broke. There was a moment's silence. She had
turned her head aside, and he heard the low sound of sobs.

"Yes, I think of him," he answered, slowly. "At night, in the sleepless
hours, I do think of him where he is; and I think of him as a happy man.
Yes, a happy man! What if he wears a convict's dress?--his soul is yoked
to no deadening burden. As for me--well, look at me!"

He smiled grimly.

"I have heard everything," said Greta; "you have sown the wind, and you
are reaping the whirlwind."

Something like a laugh broke from him. It came from the waters of
bitterness that lay deep in his heart.

"Not that," he said. "All that will pass away."

She was on the threshold; a force of which she knew nothing held her
there.

"Greta, I am not so bad a man as perhaps I seem; I am a riddle that you
may not read. The time is near when I shall trouble the world no more,
and it will be but a poor wounded name I shall leave behind me, will it
not? Greta, would it be a mockery to ask you to forgive me?"

"There are others who have more to forgive," said Greta. "One of them
is waiting for you at this moment; and, poor girl! her heart is broken."

Hugh Ritson bent his head slightly, and Greta pulled the door after her.



CHAPTER X.


The evening had closed in; the watery veil that goes between day and
night was hanging in the air; the wind had risen, and the trees were
troubled. When Hugh Ritson reached the cottage, all was dark about the
house save for the red glow from the peat fire which came out into the
open porch. The old Laird Fisher was sitting there, a blackthorn stick
at his feet, his elbows on his knees, his cheeks rested on his hands.
The drowsy glow fell on his drooping white head. As Hugh Ritson passed
into the kitchen, the old man lifted to his a countenance on which grief
and reproach were stamped together. Hugh Ritson's proud spirit was
rebuked by the speechless sorrow of that look. It was such a look as a
wounded hound lifts to the eyes of a brutal master.

A sheep-dog was stretched at full length before the slumbering fire. The
kitchen was empty, and silent too, except for the tick of the clock and
the colly's labored breathing. But at the sound of Hugh's uncertain step
on the hard earthen floor, the door of the bedroom opened, and Greta
motioned him to enter.

A candle burned near the bed. Before a fire, Mercy Fisher sat with
Parson Christian. Her head lay on a table that stood between, her face
buried in her encircled arms. One hand lay open beside the long loose
tresses of yellow hair, and the parson's hand rested upon it
caressingly. Parson Christian rose as Hugh Ritson entered, and bowing
coldly, he left the room; Greta had already gone out, and he rejoined
her in the kitchen.

Mercy lifted her head and looked up at Hugh. There was not a tear in her
weary, red, swollen eyes, and not a sigh came from her heaving breast.
She rose quietly, and taking Hugh's hand in her own, she drew him to the
bedside.

"See where he is," she said in a voice of piercing earnestness, and with
her other hand she lifted a handkerchief from the little white face.
Hugh Ritson shuddered. He saw his own features as if memory had brought
them in an instant from the long past.

Mercy disengaged her hand, and silently hid her face. But she did not
weep.

"My little Ralphie," she said, plaintively, "how quiet he is now! Oh,
but you should have seen him when he was like a glistening ray of
morning light. Why did you not come before?"

Hugh Ritson stood there looking down at the child's dead face, and made
no answer.

"It is better as it is," his heart whispered at that moment. The next
instant his whole frame quivered. What was the thought that had risen
unbidden within him? Better that his child should lie there cold and
lifeless than that it should fill this desolate house with joy and love?
Was he, then, so black a villain? God forbid! Yet it was better so.

"All is over now," said Mercy, and her hands fell from her face. She
turned her weary eyes full upon him, and added: "We have been punished
already."

"Punished?" said Hugh. "We?" There was silence for a moment; and then,
dropping his voice until it was scarcely audible, he said: "Your burden
is heavy to bear, my poor girl."

Her slight figure swayed a little.

"I could bear it no longer," she answered.

"Many a one has thought that before you," he said; "but God alone knows
what we can not bear until we are tried."

"Well, all is over now," she repeated listlessly.

She spoke of herself as if her days were already ended and past; as if
her orb of life had been rounded by the brief span of the little
existence that lay finished upon the bed. Hugh Ritson looked at her, and
the muscles of his face twitched. Her weary eyes were still dry; their
dim light seemed to come from far away.

"How I prayed that I might see my Ralphie," she said. "I thought surely
God had willed it that I should never see my child. Perhaps that was to
be my punishment for--all that had taken place. But I prayed still. Oh,
you would not think how much I pray! But it must have been a wicked
prayer."

She hid her face once more in her hands, and added, with unexpected
animation:

"God heard my prayer, and answered it--but see!" She pointed to the
child. "I saw him--yes, I saw him--die!"

Hugh Ritson was moved, but his heart was bitter. At that moment he
cursed the faith that held in bondage the soul of the woman at his side.
Would that he could trample it underfoot, and break forever the chains
by which it held the simple.

"Hugh," she said, and her voice softened, "we are about to part forever.
Our little Ralphie--yours and mine--he calls me. I could not live
without him. God would not make me do that. He has punished me already,
and He is merciful. Only think, our Ralphie is in heaven!"

She paused and bit her lip, and drew her breath audibly inward. Her face
took then a death-like hue, and all at once her voice overflowed with
anguish.

"Do you know, something whispered at that instant that God had not
punished us enough, that Ralphie was not in heaven, and that the sins of
the fathers--Oh, my darling, my darling!"

With a shrill cry she stopped, turned to the bed, threw her outspread
arms about the child, and kissed it fervently.

The tears came at length, and rained down on that little silent face.
Hugh Ritson could support the strain no longer.

"Mercy," he said, and his voice had a deep tremor--"Mercy, if there is
any sin, it is mine, and if there is to be any punishment hereafter,
that will be mine too. As for your little boy, be sure he is in heaven."
He had stepped to the door, and his thumb was on the wooden latch. "You
say rightly, we shall never meet again," he said in a muffled voice.
"Good-bye."

Mercy lifted her tearful face. "Give me your hand at parting," she said
in an imploring tone. He was on the opposite side of the bed from where
she stood, and she reached her hand across it. He took a step nearer,
and his hand closed in hers. Between them and beneath their clasped
hands lay the child. "Hugh, we could not love in this world--something
went astray with us; but we shall meet again, shall we not?"

He turned his eyes away.

"Perhaps," he answered.

"Promise me," she said--"promise me."

He drew his breath hard.

"If there is a God and a judgment, be sure we shall meet," he said.

His voice broke. He turned abruptly aside and hurried out of the house.



CHAPTER XI.


The night was now dark; there was no moon, and there were no stars; the
wind soughed mournfully through the trees. In the occasional lull the
rumble of the cataracts drifted heavily through the air.

Hugh Ritson walked in the darkness with drooping head. He was not making
for the pit-brow; he had taken the opposite direction. When he reached
the village, he stopped at the Flying Horse. Loud peals of laughter came
from the parlor, hidden by red blinds from the road.

He stood at the door that opened into the bar. The landlady, her face
turned from him, was talking with obvious animation to a daleswoman who
stood with a jug in her hand at the other side of the counter.

"What, woman, thoo's surely heard what happen't at the Ghyll this
morning?"

"Nay, Bessie, I's been thrang as Throp wife, cleaning and tittivating."

"Well, lass, they've telt me as it were shocking. Two brothers, and such
a fratch! It coom't to blows at last, and they do say 'at Master Hugh is
nigh amaist dead with a bash the girt fellow gave him."

Hugh Ritson rapped sharply at the door.

"Tell your husband I wish to see him," he said.

The landlady looked up, fumbled with a napkin, and answered nervously,
"Yes, sir." Then she hobbled to the door of the parlor and opened it. A
wave of mingled noise, vapor, and foul odors came through the aperture.
"Tommy!" she screamed above the babel.

The landlord appeared.

"Can you send me a dog-cart at half past four in the morning?" said
Hugh.

"Maybe--it's a gay canny hour, I reckon," said the landlord.

He pulled at a long pipe as he spoke, and his face, which was flushed,
wore an impudent smile.

"I have to catch the five-o'clock train," Hugh answered.

"To London?" One cheek was twisted into numerous wrinkles.

"I said the five train," said Hugh, sternly. "Can you do it?"

"I's niver said nay--it'll be three half-crowns."

Hugh put half a sovereign on the counter.

"Let it be sent at half past four promptly.

"To the Ghyll?"

The twist of the cheek was a shade less perceptible.

"To the pit-brow."

The parlor door opened again, and Natt stood on the threshold. The
stableman's sleepy eyes awakened to a knowing twinkle. Then his flat
face disappeared, and a thin titter mingled audibly with the clamor
within. In another moment the door was thrown wide open, and Drayton
came slouching out. His hair fell back over his forehead, from which his
hat was tipped back. A cigar was perched between his teeth; the tips of
his fingers were thrust into his waistcoat pockets.

"Come in; I've summat to show you," he said.

Hugh did not stir, but he lifted his head and looked into the room. Half
a score of the riff-raff of the dale were seated amid clouds of smoke.
On the wooden mantel-shelf above the wide ingle a large book stood
open, and the leaves fluttered with the wind that came through the door.

"I hain't forgotten what you said long ago about the parson's book,"
said Drayton, "so here it is, and a mighty valuable thing I call it. You
thought to frighten me with it, but bless yer soul, I like it, I do.
Listen."

Drayton stepped back into the room, turned the leaves, and began to read
in a lusty tone:

   "1847.--November 18.--Thomas said Allan was fresh from Scotland,
   being Scottish born, and that his wife was Irish, and that they had a
   child called Paul, only a few months old, and not yet walking."

It was the parson's diary.

"That's good enough, ain't it, Master Hugh Ritson?" said Drayton, with
an ungainly bow, and a vast show of civility, followed instantly by a
sidelong leer at his cronies about him.

Hugh Ritson held himself stiffly, and merely said:

"Where did you get it?"

At this question there were sundry snorts and titters and muttered
responses from the men at the tables. Hugh's eyes passed over them with
a steely glance.

"Stolen it, I suppose," he said quietly.

"Ay," said Drayton, "and a neat job too. Natt 'ticed away the Methodee
man while I borrowed it."

Drayton seemed to be proud of his share in the transaction, and his
friends laughed loudly at the adroit turn he had given to the matter.
Natt's drowsy eyes were preternaturally bright at that great moment.

Hugh Ritson's forehead darkened with ire.

"This is your gratitude to the clergyman," he said.

Sundry further snorts and sniggers went round the tables.

"There's not a man of you who is not beholden to Parson Christian," said
Hugh, sternly. He twisted sharply round upon one graybeard whose laugh
still rumbled between his teeth. "Reuben Rae, who nursed your sick wife?
John Proudfoot," to the blacksmith, "what about your child down with the
fever?" His quick eye traversed the parlor, and more than one lusty
crony was fain to bury his face in his breast. "Yet you laugh, brave
fellows as you are, when the good man's house is broken into by a
thief."

Drayton took a swift stride toward him.

"Drop it, and quick!" he shouted.

Hugh Ritson governed himself with an effort.

"I'm not here to brawl," he said quietly.

"Pigeon-livered blatherskite!--that's what I call ye--d'ye hear?" said
Drayton.

Hugh's face flinched, but he turned on his heel, and was on the road at
the next instant.

Drayton followed him out, laughing boisterously. Hugh made one quick
step backward and shut the door; then he turned about on Drayton, whose
cruel face could be dimly seen in the hazy red light that came through
the blinds.

"You have tried to torture me," he said, "just as you would hang a dog
by its tail, or draw the teeth of a rat. You have threatened with worse
torture a good and loyal woman. You are a scoundrel, and you know it!
But even you would hesitate if you knew for certain who or what you are.
Let me tell you again, now, when we are alone, and while I have no
personal interest to serve: You are the man whose name I gave you--Paul
Lowther, son of Robert Lowther--and that lady, my brother's wife, whom
for reason of profit you would compel to live under the same roof with
you, is your own sister!"

Drayton's loud guffaw rang out above the wind's moan in the trees. His
cronies within heard it and listened.

"It's a rare old story, that is. Let me see; you've told it before, I
fancy."

"Then it was a lie; now it's God's truth!" said Hugh.

Drayton laughed again.

"And then it was believed, but now it's not. No, no, Master Hugh, it
won't pass."

"We will see."

Hugh Ritson had swung about and was gone.

Drayton went back to his friends.

"Hasn't the pluck of a pigeon when it comes to the push," he muttered.

"Ey, he wears a bonny white feather in his cap, for sure," said old
Reuben Rae.

"No fight in'im--no'but tongue lather," said John, the blacksmith.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hugh Ritson walked through the darkness to the pit-brow. The glow of the
furnace lighted up the air to the south, and showed vaguely the brant
sides of the fell; the dull thud of the engine, the clank of the chain,
and the sharp crack of the refuse tumbling down the bank from the
banksman's barrow were the only sounds that rose above the wind's loud
whistle.

Gubblum was at the mouth of the shaft.

"Oglethorpe," said Hugh, "how many of the gangs are below to-night?"

"All but two--auld Reuben's and Jim South'et's."

"Then they have chosen to work on?"

"Ey, another fortnight--trusting to get their wage afore that, please
God."

"They shall not be disappointed."

Hugh Ritson turned away. Gubblum trundled his last wheelbarrow to the
edge of the bank, and then rested and said to himself, "He takes it cool
enough onyway."

But the outside tranquillity disappeared when Hugh Ritson reached his
own room on the pit-brow. He bathed his hot forehead again and again.
His fingers twitched nervously, and he plunged his perspiring hands into
cold water above the wrists, holding them there for several minutes. Not
for long did he sit in one seat. He tramped the room uneasily, his
infirm foot trailing heavily. Then he threw himself on the couch, tossed
from side to side, rose, and resumed his melancholy walk. Thus an hour
passed drearily.

His mind recalled one by one the events of the day. And one by one there
came crowding back upon him the events of the two years that had passed
since his father's death. A hurricane was upheaving every memory of his
mind. And every memory had its own particular sting, and came up as a
blight to fret his soul. He tried to guard himself from himself. What he
had first thought to do was but in defense of his strict legal rights,
and if he had gone further--if he had done more, without daring to think
of it until it was done--then it was love that had led him astray. Was
it so cruel a thing to be just? So foul a thing to love?

But above the shufflings of remorse, above the stiflings of regret,
above the plea of a maddening love, was the voice of revenge speaking
loudly in his soul. That man, his instrument, now his master, Paul
Lowther, must be brought down, and his time-serving sponsor with him.
But how? There was but one way--by denouncing himself. Yes, that was the
sole outlet for his outraged and baffled spirit. He must go to the
proper quarter and say, "I have perjured myself, and sworn away my
brother's liberty. The man who was condemned as Paul Drayton is Paul
Ritson. I did it all."

That would bring this vulgar scoundrel to the dust, but at what a price!
The convict's dress now worn by his brother would soon be worn by him.
And what solace would it be then that the same suit would be worn by the
impostor also? Yet why prate of solace in a matter like this? What
alternative was left to him? In what quarter of the sky was the light
dawning for him? He was traveling toward the deepening night, and the
day of his life was done.

What if he allowed everything to take its course? Well, he was a
disgraced and ruined man, turned adrift from his father's house, and
doomed to see a stranger living there. Did he lack gall to make such a
climax bitter? Bitter, eh! and a thousand times the more bitter because
he himself had, for ends of his own, first placed the scoundrel where he
sat.

No, no, no; Paul Lowther must be brought down, and with him must fall
the poor ruins of a better man. Yes a better man, let the world say what
it would.

Could it occur that he would not be believed? that when he said "Take
me, I am a perjurer," they would answer, "No, your self-denunciation is
only a freak of revenge, a mad attempt to injure the relative who has
turned you out of his house?" Hugh Ritson laughed as the grim irony of
such a possible situation flashed upon him: a man self-condemned and
saved from punishment by the defense of his enemy!

There was a knock at his door. In his stupor he was not at first
conscious of what the knock meant. At length he recalled himself and
cried:

"Come in."

Gubblum Oglethorpe entered.

"The men on the twelve o'clock shift are just about ganging down, and
they want to tak' a few mair forks with them. They've telt me 'at the
timber is splitting like matchwood under the sandy vein."

Hugh Ritson made an effort to gather the purport of Gubblum's message.

"Tell them to take the forks," he said in a low tone.

Gubblum was backing out, and stopped.

"I reckon thoo's not heard the last frae auld Mattha's," he said in
another voice.

"What is it, Oglethorpe?" said Hugh, his head bent over the table.

"Robbie South'et's wife has been up to t' brow, and says that Mercy's
laal thing is gone."

Hugh did not lift his eyes.

"Is that the last?" he said.

"Nay, but warse. The lass herself tore the bandage frae her eyes, and
she's gone stone blind, and that's foriver."

Hugh's head bent closer over the table.

"Good-night, Oglethorpe," he said.

Gubblum backed out, muttering to himself as he returned to the shaft, "A
cool hand, how-an'-iver."

The moment the door closed, Hugh Ritson tramped the floor in restless
perambulations. What had he thought of doing? Delivering himself to
justice as a perjurer? Had he, then, no duty left in life that he must
needs gratify his revenge in a kind of death? What of the woman who had
suffered for him? What of the broken heart and the wretched home? Were
these as nothing against the humiliation of a proud spirit?

Never for an instant, never in his bitterest agony, did Hugh Ritson lie
to his own soul and say that the resolution he had formed was prompted
by remorse for what he had done to Paul Ritson; not revenge for what he
had suffered from Paul Drayton. To be a saint when sick; to find the
conscience active when defeat overwhelmed it--that was for the weak
dregs of humanity. But such paltering was not for him.

On the one hand revenge, on the other duty--which was he to follow? The
wretched man could come to no decision; and when the fingers of his
watch pointed to one o'clock he lay down on the couch to rest.

It was not sleep that he wanted; sleep had of late become too full of
terrors; but sleep overcame him, nevertheless. His face, when he slept,
was the face of a man in pain; and dreams came that were the distorted
reflections of his waking thoughts. He dreamed that he had died in
infancy. Calm, serene, very sweet, and peaceful, his little innocent
face of childhood looked up from the white pillow. He thought his mother
bent over him, and shed many tears; but he himself belonged to another
world of beings, and looked down on both.

"It is better so," he thought, "and the tears she weeps are blest."

At this he awoke, and rose to his feet. What soft nothings men had said
of sleep! "Oh, sleep, it is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole!"
Gentle! More tyrannous than death. The melancholy perambulation ended,
and he lay down once more. He slept and dreamed again. This time he had
killed his own brother. A moment before they had stood face to
face--vigorous, wrathful, with eyes that flashed, and hands uplifted.
Now his brother lay quiet and awful at his feet, and the great silence
was broken by a voice from heaven crying, "A fugitive and a vagabond
shalt thou be on the earth!"

He started to his feet in terror. "Mercy, mercy!" he cried.

Then he drew his breath hard and looked about him. "A dream--only
another dream," he said to himself, and laughed between his close-set
teeth. The lamp still burned on the table. He rose, drew a key from his
pocket, opened a cupboard, and took out a small bottle. It contained an
opiate. "Since I must sleep, let my sleep at least be dreamless," he
said, and he measured a dose. He was lifting the glass to his lips,
when he caught sight of his face in the glass. "Pitiful! pitiful! A mere
dream unnerves me. Pitiful enough, forsooth! And so I must needs hide
myself from myself behind a bulwark like this!" He held the drug to the
light, and while his hand trembled he laughed. Then he drank it off, put
out the light, and sat on the couch.

The dawn had fretted the sky, and the first streaks of day crept in at
the window, when the lamp's yellow light was gone. Hugh Ritson sat in
the gray gloom, his knees drawn close under his chin, his arms folded
over his breast, his head bent heavily forward. He was crooning an old
song. Presently the voice grew thick, the eye became clouded, and then
the head fell back. He was asleep, and in his sleep he dreamed again. Or
was it a vision, and not a dream, that came to him now? He thought he
stood in a room which he had seen before. On the bed some white thing
lay. It was a child, and the little soul had fled. Beside it a woman
cowered, and moaned "Guilty, guilty!" Her eyes were fixed on the child,
yet she saw nothing; the sightless orbs were bleached. But with her
heart she saw the child; and she saw himself also as he entered. Then it
seemed that she turned her blind face toward him, and called on him by
name. The next instant she was gone. Her seat was vacant, the bed was
empty; only a gray-bearded man sat by a cold grate. With an overpowering
weight pressing him down, it seemed to Hugh that he threw up his head,
and again he heard his name.

He leaped to his feet. Big beads of cold sweat stood on his forehead.
"Mercy is dead," he whispered with awe. "She has gone to put in her plea
of guilty. She is in God's great hand!"

The next moment a voice shouted, "Mr. Ritson!"

He listened, and in the gray light his stony countenance smiled grimly.

"Mr. Ritson!" once more, followed by the rap of a whip-handle against
the door.

"Tommy the landlord," said Hugh, and he broke into a harsh laugh. "So
you were my angel, Tommy, eh?"

Another harsh laugh. The landlord, sitting in the dog-cart outside,
heard it, and thought to himself, "Some one with him."

Hugh Ritson plunged his head into the wash-basin, and rubbed himself
vigorously with a rough towel. "My last sleep is over," he said,
glancing aside with fearful eyes at the couch. "I'll do this thing that
I am bent upon; but no more sleep, and no more dreams!"

He opened the door, threw a rug up to the landlord, put on an ulster,
and leaped into the dog-cart. They started away at a quick trot. A chill
morning breeze swept down the vale. The sun was rising above Cat Bells,
but Hugh Ritson still felt as if he were traveling toward the deepening
night. He sat with folded arms, and head bent on his breast.

"Hasta heard what happened at auld Laird Fisher's this morning?" said
the landlord.

Hugh answered in a low voice:

"I've heard nothing."

"The lass has followed her barn rather sudden't. Ey, she's gone, for
sure. Died a matter of half an hour ago. I heard it frae the parson as I
coom't by."

Hugh Ritson bent yet lower his drooping head.



CHAPTER XII.


At 2 o'clock that day Hugh Ritson arrived at Euston. He got into a cab
and drove to Whitehall. At the Home Office he asked for the Secretary of
State. A hundred obstacles arose to prevent him from penetrating to the
head of the department. One official handed him over to another, the
second to a third, the third to a fourth.

Hugh Ritson was hardly the man to be balked by such impediments. His
business was with the Secretary of State, and none other. Parliament was
in session, and the Home Secretary was at the afternoon sitting of the
House. Hugh Ritson sought and found him there. He explained his purpose
in few words, and was listened to with a faint smile of incredulity.

The secretary was a stolid Yorkshireman, who affected whatever measure
of bluffness had not been natural to him from birth. He first looked at
his visitor with obvious doubts of his sanity; and when this suspicion
had been set at rest by Hugh's incisive explanation, with an equally
obvious desire to feel his bumps.

But the face of the Yorkshireman soon became complicated by other shades
of expression than such as come of distrust of a man's reason or
contempt of his sentimentality.

"Hadn't you better sleep on it, and come to see me at Whitehall in the
morning?" he said, with more respect than he had yet shown. "Then if you
are still of the same mind, I will send for the Public Prosecutor."

Hugh Ritson bowed his acquiescence.

"And can I have the order for Portland?" he said.

"Probably. It will be against the new regulation that none may visit a
convict prison except prison officials and persons interested in prison
discipline. But we'll see what can be done."

That night, Hugh Ritson called at the Convent of St. Margaret. It was
late when he entered, and when he came out again, half an hour
afterward, the lamps were lighted in the Abbey Gardens. The light fell
on the face of the lay sister who opened the door to him. She wore a
gray gown, but no veil or scapular, and beneath the linen band that
covered her hair her eyes were red and swollen.

Hugh Ritson hailed a hansom in the Broad Sanctuary, and drove to Hendon.
The bar of the Hawk and Heron was full of carriers, carters,
road-menders, and farm-laborers, all drinking, and all noisy. But,
despite this evidence of a thriving trade, the whole place had a
bankrupt appearance as of things going to wreck. Jabez served behind the
counter. He had developed a good deal of personal consequence, and held
up his head, and repeatedly felt the altitude of a top-knot that curled
there, and bore himself generally with the cockety air of the young
rooster after the neck of the old one has been screwed. Mrs. Drayton sat
knitting in the room where Mercy and the neighbor's children once played
together. When Hugh Ritson went in to her, the old body started.

"Lor's a mercy, me, sir, to think it's you! I'm that fearsome, that I
declare I shiver and quake at nothing. And good for nowt i' the world
neither, not since my own flesh and blood, as you might say, disowned
me."

"Do you mean at the trial?" asked Hugh Ritson.

"The trial, sir!" said the landlady, lifting bewildered eyes, while the
click of the needles ceased. "My Paul weren't there. Cummerland,
sir--and you heard him yourself what he said of me." A corner of her
house-wife's apron went up to her face. "Me as had brought him up that
tender! Well," recovering composure, "I've lost heart, and serve him
right. I just lets the house and things go, I do. I trusts to
Providence; and that Jabez, he's no better nor a babby in the public
line."

When Hugh Ritson left the inn, the old body's agitation increased. She
had set down the knitting, and was fidgeting, first with her cap and
then her apron.

"Listen to me," said Hugh. "To-day is Friday. On Monday you must go to
the convent where you saw the mother of Paul. Ask for Sister Grace. Will
you remember--Sister Grace? She will tell you all."

It was hard on eleven o'clock when Hugh Ritson returned to town. The
streets were thronged, and he walked for a long hour amid the crowds
that passed through the Strand. In all that multitudinous sea of faces,
there was not a countenance on which the mark of suffering was more
indelibly fixed than on his own.

His sensibilities were wrought up to an unwonted pitch. He was like a
waif adrift in unknown waters, a cloud without anchor in a tempestuous
sky; yet he felt that night as he had never felt before, that he had
suddenly become possessed of another and most painful sense. Not a face
in that sea of faces but he seemed to know its secret fear, its joy and
sorrow, the watchful dread that seared the hidden heart, the fluttering
hope that buoyed it up.

It was an awful thing to be turned adrift in a world of sin and
suffering with this agonizing sense. He could look, whether he would or
not, beneath the smiling and rubicund countenance of the
hail-fellow-well-met to that corrosive spot within where the trust of
the widow and fatherless had been betrayed; or see beyond the stolid and
heavy appearance proper to the ox the quivering features of the man who
had stood long years ago above the dead body of the woman who had thrown
her death at his door as sole reward for the life he had wrecked.

Nay, not only did the past write its manual there, but the future wrote
its sign. He knew that the young girl in pink ribbons who was hurrying
along with a smile on her lips, from the shop in the west to that
unknown home in the east where the child of her shame had laughed and
crowed and climbed up her bosom to her chin, was doomed to find that the
source of all her joy and half her sorrow lay cold and stiff in its
crib.

He grew fearful of himself; he shuddered as the unsuspected murderer
brushed his elbow; he shuddered yet more as a mirror flashed back the
reflection of his own hard face, and the idea came to him that perhaps
other eyes could see what his eyes saw.

He turned down Arundel Street and on to the Embankment. No! no! no! the
merciful God had not willed it that any man should look so deeply into
the heart of his fellow-man. That was indeed to know good and evil; and
the thought stole over him that perhaps it was in degree as a man had
eaten of the forbidden fruit of the tree of life that he was cursed with
this bitter knowledge.

Here, on the quiet pavement that echoed to his footsteps, the air was
free. He uncovered his head, and the light west wind played in his hair
and cooled his temples. Not a star shone overhead, and the river that
flowed in the bed below was dark. More dark to him was the sea of
humanity that flowed above.

He had heard that the death-roll of the Thames was one of every day for
the year, and he leaned over the granite wall and wondered if the old
river had claimed its toll for the day that was now almost done. His
hair seemed to rise from its roots as he thought that perhaps at that
very instant, in the black waters beneath him, the day's sacrifice was
washing past.

He walked on, and the dull buzz of the Strand fell on his ear. What,
after all, was the old god of the river to the Juggernaut of the city?
And it was now, when the fret of the day had worn down, that Hugh Ritson
thought of all that he had left behind him in the distant north. There
in the darkness and the silence, amid the mountains, by the waving trees
and the rumbling ghylls, lay half the ruins of his ruined life. The glow
of old London's many lights could not reach so far, but the shadow of
that dark spot was here.



CHAPTER XIII.


The clocks struck midnight, and he returned to the hotel at which he had
engaged a bed. He did not lie down to sleep, but walked to and fro the
night through.

Next morning at ten he was at the Home Office again. He saw the
secretary and some of the law officers of the Crown. When he came out he
carried in his pocket an order to visit a convict in Portland, and was
attended by a police-sergeant in plain clothes. They took train from
Waterloo at two in the afternoon, and reached Weymouth at six. When they
crossed the strip of sea, the best of the day was gone, and a fresh
breeze blew across the breakwater.

The Saxon walls of the castle at the foot of the Vern Hill reflected the
chill blue of the water; but far above, where the rocky coast dipped to
the beach, the yellow stone, with the bluish clay in its crevices, shone
in the glow of the sinking sun.

Hugh Ritson and his companion put up for the night at the Portland Arms
Inn. A ruddy, round-faced man in middle life, clean shaven and dressed
youthfully, was smoking in the parlor. He exchanged a salutation with
the cordiality of one who was nothing loath for a chat; then he picked
up the old Reeve staff, and explained the ancient method of computing
tithes. But Hugh Ritson was in no humor for conversation, and after
dinner he set out for a solitary walk. He took the road that turns from
the beach through the villages of Chiswell and Fortune's Well. When he
reached the top of the hill the sea lay around him; and beneath him, to
the right and left of the summit, were the quarries where the convicts
labored, with two branches of an inclined railway leading down to the
breakwater. On the summit itself, known as the Grove, was a long, high
granite wall, with a broad gate-way, and the lancet lights of a lodge at
one side of it. This was the convict prison, and the three or four
houses in front of it were the residences of governor, chaplain, and
chief warder. A cordon of cottages at a little distance were the homes
of the assistant warders. There were a few shops amid this little group
of cottages, and one public house, the Spotted Dog.

Hugh Ritson strolled into the tavern and sat down in a little
"snuggery," which was separated from a similar apartment by a wooden
partition that stood no higher than a tall man's height, and left a
space between the top stile and the ceiling. A company of men gossiped
at the other side of the partition.

"Talk of B 2001," said a guttural voice (Hugh Ritson started at the
sound), "I took the stiff'ning out of him first go off. When he'd done
he separates and come on from the moor; I saw he wasn't an old lag, so
says I to 'im, 'Green 'un,' I says, 'if you're leary, you'll fetch a
easy lagging, and if you're not, it'll be bellows to mend with you.'
'What d'ye mean?' he says. 'It's bloomin' 'ard work here,' I says, 'and
maybe you don't get shin-of-beef soup to do it on. Bread and water, for
a word,' I says. 'You're in my gang, quarrying, and I won't work you
'ard except I'm druv to it, but I want wide men in my gang,' I says,
'and no putting the stick on agen the screw.' 'Don't understand,' he
says. 'Then follow a straight tip,' I says; 'stand by your warder and
he'll stand by you.' Blest if that lag as I'd give that good advice to
didn't get me fined the very next day."

"Never!" said sundry incredulous voices.

"It was a hot afternoon, and I'd just whipped a quid in my mouth and
leaned atop of my musket for forty winks after dinner. The second-timers
was codding afront of me, and 2001 and the young chap as was dying of
the consumption was wheeling and filling ahead. Well, up comes the
governor right in front of 2001, and shouts, 'Warder,' he shouts,
'you're fined for inattention.' Then off he goes. All right, Mr. 2001, I
says, I'll not misremember."

"What did you do?"

"Do?" (a loud, hollow laugh). "That was when the barracks was building,
and one day a bit of a newspaper blowed over from the officers'
quarters, and 2001 came on it, and the botcher picked it up. He'd
chucked hisself quick. 'Right about face--march.' He got seven stretch,
a month's marks, and lost his bedding."

A hearty laugh followed this account of a "screw's" revenge on a "green"
convict. Hugh Ritson listened and shuddered.

"I ain't surprised at anything from that luny," said another voice. "He
was in my gang at the moor, and I know'd 'im. They put 'im in the
soap-suds gang first, but he got hisself shifted. Then they sent 'im
botching with the tailors, but he put out his broom for the governor,
and said a big lusty man same as 'im wasn't for sitting on a board all
day. The flat didn't want to fetch a easy lagging, that's the fact."

There was a loud guffaw.

"So they put 'im in my turf gang out on the moor, and one day a old
clergyman come in gaiters and a broad-brimmer, and a face as if the
master of the house were a-shaking at his hand, and the missis flopping
down-stairs to give him a smack of the lips. Well, 2001 saw him in
Principal Warder Rennell's office, and not afore the bars. So next day I
says, 'Got anybody outside as would like to send you summat by the
Underground?' 'The what?' he says, reg'lar black in the face. 'The
underground railway,' I says, tipping him a wink. 'Get away from me, you
bloodsucker!' he says. But I pinched 'im. The old lags were laughing at
one of the grave-digger's oyster-openers, when up comes Rennell. 'Who's
laughing?' he says. 'It's 2001,' I says; 'he's always idling and
malingering.'"

"Ha, ha, ha! what did he get?"

"Three days' bread and water, a week's marks, and loss of class
privileges. He didn't mind the grub and the time, but Jack-in-the-box,
who was warder on his landing, said he took it proper bad as he
couldn't write home to the missis."

"What's his dose?"

"Three. One of the old lags would do it on his head, and fetch it easy,
too. He's a scholar, and could get to be a wardsman in the infirmary, or
medicine factotum for the croaker, or maybe book-keeper for the
governor. But he's earned no remissions, and he'll fill his time afore
he slings his hook again."

Hugh Ritson could support the gossip no longer. He got up to leave the
house, but before doing so he pushed open the door that led to the
adjoining room, and stood a moment on the threshold, comprehending
everything and everybody in one quick glance. The air breathed fresh
outside. He walked in the gathering gloom of evening to the ruins of the
church by the cliff, and, passing through the lych-gate, he came on the
beaten track to the rocks. The rocks lay a hundred feet beneath, torn
from the mainland in craggy masses that seemed ready to slide from their
base to the deep chasm between. Could it be possible that men who were
the slaves of hinds like those in yonder tavern could cling to their
little lives while a deliverance like this beetling cliff stood near? A
cold smile played on Hugh Ritson's face as he thought that, come what
would, such slavery was not for him.

The sycamore by the ruined chancel pattered in the breeze, and the
wheatear's last notes came from its top-most bough. Far below the waves
were rocking lazily. There were other waves at Hugh Ritson's feet--the
graves of dead men. Some who were buried there long ago were buried in
their chains. Under the earth the fettered men--on the ruins of the
church the singing bird. Across the sea the light was every moment
fading. In another hour the day would be done, and then the moon would
look down peacefully on the fettered and the free.

Hugh Ritson returned to the Portland Arms Inn. He found the
police-sergeant in conversation with the ruddy-faced gentleman who had
wished to explain to him the mysteries of the Reeve staff.

"He is the doctor at the prison," whispered the sergeant aside.

Presently Hugh turned to the doctor and said:

"Do you happen to know the convict B 2001?"

"Yes--Drayton," said the doctor; "calls himself Ritson. Are you a
friend?"

Hugh Ritson's face quivered slightly.

"No," he answered, "I am not his friend." Then, after a pause, "But I
have an order to see him. Besides, I have just heard him discussed by a
company of wardens in a pot-house on the hill."

"Who were they? What were they like?"

"A tall man, one of them, fifty-five years of age, gray hair, grizzly
beard, dark, vindictive eyes, a gash on one cheek, and a voice like a
crow's."

"Humph! Jim-the-ladder--a discharged soldier."

"Another, a cadaverous fellow, with a plausible tongue."

"Horrocks--an old second-classer; served his time at Dartmoor and got
promotion--doubtful official discipline."

"They both deserve one more and much higher promotion," said Hugh
Ritson, with emphasis.

"You mean this." The doctor laughed, and put the forefinger of one hand,
held horizontally, to the tip of the other, held upright.

"Can it be possible that the law is unable to maintain a fair stand-up
fight with crime, and must needs call a gang of poltroons and
blackmailers to its assistance?"

"You heard a bad account of B 2001, I judge?"

"I heard of nothing that he had done which the Pope of Rome might have
feared to acknowledge."

"You are right--he's as good a man as there's on Portland Bill," said
the doctor, "and if he's not quite as immaculate as his holiness, he's
in the right of it this time."

Hugh Ritson glanced up.

"You've heard he's in the punishment cells," said the doctor. "By the
way, you'll not see him until Monday; he can't join his gang before, and
he hasn't a class privilege left, poor devil."

Hugh inquired the cause.

"Since he came here he's been yoked to a young fellow dying of
consumption. The lad didn't relish the infirmary--he lost his marks
toward remission there. He knew the days he had to serve, and used to
nick them off every night on his wooden spoon. It was a weary way from a
thousand back, back, back to one. And that Jim-the-ladder took delight
in keeping up the count by reports. The poor boy wanted to die in his
mother's arms. He had got his time down to a week, when the 'screw'
clapped as many marks on to him as added a month to his imprisonment.
Then he lost heart, and dropped down like a flounder, and when they
picked him up he was dead."

"Was B 2001 with him as usual?"

"He was; and he broke the strap, sprung on the warder, and tore his
rifle out of his hands. Jim-the-ladder has been a prize-fighter in his
day, and there was a tussle. He leaped back on B 2001 with a howl, and
the blows fell like rain-drops. There was a fearful clamor, the convicts
screaming like madmen."

"B 2001 is a powerful man," said Hugh Ritson.

The doctor nodded.

"He closed with the warder, gripped him by the waist, twisted him on his
loins, turned him heels overhead, and brought him down in a sweep that
would have battered the life out of any other man. Up came the civil
guard, and the convict was brought into the lodge covered with dust,
sweat and blood, his eyes flashing like balls of fire. They had the
lad's body on a stretcher beside him, the lips white, and the cheeks a
mask of blue. It was a tremendous spectacle, I can tell you."

Hugh Ritson's breast heaved, and somewhere deep down in his soul he
surprised a feeling of pride. That man was a hero and his own brother!

"And so the convict was punished?"

"Fourteen days' penal class diet, and marks enough for six months. He'll
be out on Monday, and then he'll wear the blue cap that denotes a
dangerous man."

Hugh Ritson shuddered.

"Is it impossible to see him to-morrow?" he asked.

"Come up before church in the morning and ask for me, and we'll speak to
the governor."



CHAPTER XIV.


Early next morning Hugh Ritson showed his order at the prison gates, and
was admitted to the doctor's quarters. Hugh and the doctor went in
search of the governor, but learned that he was away from home for the
day. The deputy-governor was abed with a raging tooth, and there was
nothing to do but to wait until morning in order to speak with the
convict.

"You can stay here until to-morrow," said the doctor; "I can give you a
shake-down. And now let us go off to church. But come this way first."

They walked in the direction of that portion of the parade-ground which
was marked, in great white letters, "34 gang," with the broad arrow
beneath. Near to this stood a building composed chiefly of wood and
iron, and marked in similar letters "E Hall." They entered a corridor
that led to an open landing in the shape of a many-sided polygon, each
side being a door. In the middle of the landing there was an iron
circular staircase that led to landings above and below. A warder
paraded the open space, which was lighted by gas-jets.

"Hush! Look," said the doctor, standing by the peep-hole in one of the
doors, and at the same time putting out the gas-jet that burned on the
door-jamb.

Hugh Ritson approached, and at first he could see nothing in the
darkness. But he heard a curious clanking noise from within. Then the
glimmer of a feeble candle came through the bars, and he saw a box-like
apartment, some seven feet long by four feet broad and eight feet high.
It was a punishment cell. There was a shelf at the opposite end, and a
tin wash-basin stood on it.

On the side of the door there must have been a similar shelf, on which
the candle burned. A broom, a can, and a bowl were on the brick floor.
There was no other furniture except a hammock swung from end to end,
and the convict was lying in it at this moment. It could be seen that a
heavy chain was fastened with riveted rings around each ankle, and
linked about the waist by a strap. At every movement this chain clanked;
night and day it was there; if the prisoner shifted in his sleep, its
grating sound broke on the silence of the cell, and banished the only
sunshine of his life, the sunshine of his dreams. His head was back to
the door so that the light of the candle burning on the shelf might fall
on a slate which rested on his breast. Though he occupied a punishment
cell he was writing, and Hugh Ritson's quick eyes could decipher the
words: "Oh, that it would please God to destroy me; that He would but
loose His hand and cut me off! Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?" He paused in his writing and
pecked like a bird at a hard piece of bread beside him.

Hugh Ritson fell back, and as his infirm foot grated along the floor,
the convict started and turned his face. It was a blank, pale face, full
of splendid resolution and the nobility of suffering, but without one
ray of hope.

"Do you know him?" asked the doctor.

But Hugh Ritson's eyes were on the ground, and he made no answer.

They went to church. The civil guard was drawn up under the gallery with
loaded rifles. Eight hundred convicts attended service; some of them
were penitent; most of them were trying to make a high profession of
contrition as a bid for the good graces of the chaplain. The obtrusive
reverence of one sinister gray-head near at hand attracted Hugh Ritson's
especial attention. He knelt with his face to the gallery in which the
choir sat. Beside him was a youth fresh from Millbank. The hoary sinner
was evidently initiating the green hand into the mysteries of his new
home. He was loud in his responses, but his voice had a trick of
dropping suddenly to a whispered conference.

"Who's the fat 'un in the choir? A chap as is doing his ten. His missis
chared to keep the kids, and one morning early he popped the old girl's
shoes."

The voice of the chaplain interrupted further explanation; but after
another loud response the old rascal's mouth was twisted awry with the
words:

"He's a wide 'un, he is--seat in the choir got comfortable cushions.
Besides, he gets off Saturday morning's work for practicing--got no more
voice nor a corn-crake."

Evidently it was no disadvantage here to be the greatest of vagabonds.
When a cadaverous old Jew came hobbling up the aisle with his gang, the
gray-head whispered, with awe:

"It's old Mo; he's in the stocking gang; but I did business with him
when he could ha' sent old Rothschild home for a pauper."

At one moment the attention of the green hand was arrested by a tall man
in the black and gray that indicated a convict who had attempted to
escape.

"Says he's in for twenty thousand, but it's a lie," whispered the old
man; "he only knocked a living out of the religious fake."

The last of the conference that Hugh Ritson overheard was a piece of
touching advice.

"Them as 'as any pluck in 'em turns savage, same as B 2001; them as
'asn't, knocks under, same as me; and I says to you, knock under."

After service the sacrament was celebrated. There must have been many
hundreds of communicants, all humble in their piety. It could be noticed
that the chaplain had sometimes to keep a tight grip of the goblet
containing the wine.

That night Hugh Ritson lodged at the doctor's quarters. He did not lie,
but, as on the night before, he walked the long hours through,
steadfastly resisting every temptation to sleep. At five in the morning
he heard the great bell at the gate ring for two minutes, and, shortly
afterward, the tramp, tramp, tramp of many feet under his window. The
convicts, to the number of fifteen hundred, were drawn up on the
parade-ground. They looked chill in the cold light of early morning;
their gray jackets lay loose on their spare shoulders; their hands hung
inertly at their sides, and they walked with the oscillating motion of
men whose feet were sore in their heavy boots. The civil guard was drawn
up, the chief warder whistled, and then the men fell out into gangs of
twenty-five each, attended by an assistant warder.

"Rear rank, take two paces to the right--march."

Then the tramp, tramp again. As the outside gangs passed through the
gate, each officer in charge received his rifle, bayonet, belt, and
cartridge-box from the armorer at the lodge. The stone-dressing gang
passed close under the window, and Hugh Ritson reeled back as one of the
men--a stalwart fellow in a blue cap, who was walking abreast of a
misshapen creature with a face full of ferocity--lifted his eyes upward
from the file.

At eight o'clock the governor appeared at his receiving-office. He was a
slight man with the face and figure of a greyhound. His military
frock-coat was embossed with Crimean medals, and he was redolent of the
odor of Whitehall. He received Hugh Ritson's papers with a curious
mixture of easy courtesy and cold dignity--a sort of combination of the
different manners in which he was wont to bow to a secretary of state
and condemn a convict to the chain and bread and water.

"The men are back to breakfast at nine," he said. "Watkins," to the
chief warder, "have B 2001 brought round to the office immediately 34
gang returns."

Hugh Ritson had left the receiving-office and was crossing the
parade-ground when a loud hubbub arose near the lodge.

"The boat!" shouted twenty voices, and a covey of convicts ran in the
direction of a shed where an eight-oar boat was kept on the chocks. "A
man has mizzled--run a wagon into the sea and is drifting down the
race."

How the demons laughed, how they cursed in jest, how they worked, how
luminous were their eyes and haggard faces at the prospect of
recapturing one of their fellow-prisoners who had tried to make his
escape! Every convict who helped to catch a fugitive was entitled to a
remission of six days. The doctor took Hugh Ritson up on to the lead
flat that covered his quarters. From that altitude they could see over
the prison wall to the rocky coast beyond. Near the ruins of the old
church a gang of convicts were running to and fro, waving their hands,
and shouting in wild excitement.

"It's gang 34," said the doctor, "Jim-the-ladder's gang."

The sun had risen, the sea was glistening in its million facets, and
into many a rolling wave a sea-bird dipped its corded throat. In the
silvery water-way there was something floating that looked as if it
might have been a tub. It was the wagon that the convict had driven into
the water for a boat.

"It will sink--it's shod with thick hoops of iron," said the doctor.

The convict could be seen standing in it. He had thrown off his coat and
cap, and his sleeveless arms were bare to the armpits. The civil guard
ran to the cliff and fired. One shot hit. The man could be seen to tear
the coarse linen shirt from his breast and bind it above the wrist.

"Why does he not crouch down?" said Hugh Ritson: he did not know who
this convict was, but in his heart there was a feverish desire that the
prisoner should escape.

"He's a doomed man--he's in the race--it's flowing hard, and he'll drift
back to the island," said the doctor.

Half an hour later a posse of the civil guard, with two assistant
warders, brought the recaptured fugitive into the governor's
receiving-office. The stalwart fellow strode between the warders with a
firm step and head erect. He wore no jacket or cap, and on one bare arm
a strip of linen was roughly tied. His breast was naked, his eyes were
aflame, and save for a black streak of blood across the cheek, his face
was ashy pale. But that man was not crushed by his misfortunes; he
seemed to crush them.

"Take that man's number," said the governor.

"Ay, take it, and see you take it rightly," said the convict.

"It's B 2001," said the chief warder.

The governor consulted a paper that lay on his table.

"Send for the gentleman," he said to an attendant. "It's well for you
that you are wanted by the law officers of the Crown," he added, turning
to the prisoner.

The convict made no answer; he was neither humble nor sullen; his manner
was frank but fierce, and made almost brutal by a sense of wrong.

The next moment Hugh Ritson stepped into the office. His eyes dropped,
and his infirm foot trailed heavily along the floor. He twitched at his
coat with nervous fingers; his nostrils quivered; his whole body
trembled perceptibly.

"This is the man," said the chief warder, with a deferential bow.

Hugh Ritson tried to raise his eyes, but they fell suddenly. He opened
his lips to speak, but the words would not come. And meantime the wet,
soiled, naked, close-cropped, blood-stained convict, flanked by armed
warders, stood before him with head erect and eyes that searched his
soul. The convict rested one hand on his hip and pointed with the other
at Hugh Ritson's abject figure.

"What does this man want with me?" he said, and his voice was deep.

At that Hugh Ritson broke in impetuously:

"Paul, I will not outrage your sufferings by offering you my pity."

The officers looked into each other's faces.

"I want none of your pity!" said the convict, bitterly.

"No; it is I who need yours," said Hugh Ritson, in a low tone.

The convict laughed a hard laugh, and turned to the warders.

"Here, take me away--I've had enough of this."

"Listen. I have something to say to you--something to do for you, too."

The convict broke afresh into a laugh.

"Take me away, will you?"

"What if I say I am sorry for the past?" said Hugh.

"Then you are a hypocrite!" the convict answered.

Hugh Ritson drew himself up, and took his breath audibly. In one swift
instant his face became discolored and his features pinched and rigid.
There was silence, and then in a low, broken tone, he said:

"Paul, you know well what sort of a man I am; don't drive me too hard. I
have come here to do you a service. Remember your sufferings--"

Once again the convict broke into a cold laugh.

"Remember that others--one other--may be suffering with you."

The convict's haughty look fled like a flash of light.

"Here, take me out of this," he muttered in a low, hoarse voice. He took
a step back, but the guard closed around him. "I won't stand to listen
to this man. Do you hear? I won't listen," he said hotly; "he has come
to torture me--that's all!"

"I have come to undo what I have done," said Hugh. "Paul, let me undo
it. Don't rouse the bad part of me at this crisis of your life and
mine."

The convict paused, and said more quietly:

"Then it's your policy to undo it."

Hugh Ritson flinched. The words had gone to his heart like a spear. If
he had dared to mask his motive, that thrust would have left it naked.

"I will not wrong the truth by saying I am a changed man," he answered
meekly. "My motive is my own; but my act shall be all in all to you."

The convict's face lightened.

"You have used me for your vengeance," he said; "you shall not use me
for your contrition also. Guards, let me out--let me out, I tell you!"

The governor interposed:

"When you leave this room you go direct to the cells."

"Ay, take me to your cells, and let me lie there and die and rot," said
the convict.

"Take him away," said the governor.

"Paul, I beseech you to hear me!" cried Hugh, amid the clanking of the
arms of the guard.

"Take him away!" the governor shouted again.

An hour after, B 2001 was recalled to the receiving-office. He was quiet
enough now.

"We have an order respecting you from the Secretary of State," said the
governor. "You are required to give evidence at a trial. At two o'clock
you leave Portland for Cumberland, and your guard goes with you."

The convict bent his head and went out in silence.



CHAPTER XV.


Paul Ritson--let him be known by his official number no more--was not
taken to the punishment cells. He was set to work with the
stone-dressing gang stationed near the gate of the prison. The news of
his attempt to escape had not spread more rapidly than rumors of his
approaching departure.

"I say," shouted a hoary convict, "take a crooked message out?"

"What's your message?"

"On'y a word to the old girl telling her where she'll find a bunch of
keys as she wants partic'lar."

"Write her yourself, my man."

"What, and the governor read it, and me get a bashing, and the crushers
pinch the old moll? Well, I am surprised at ye; but I forgot, you're a
straight man, you are."

A mocking laugh followed this explanatory speech.

A young fellow with a pale, meek face and the startled eyes of a hare
crept close up to where Paul Ritson worked, and took a letter out of one
of his boots.

"This is the last I had from home," he said, quietly, and put the letter
into Paul's hands.

It was a soiled and crumpled paper, so greasy from frequent handlings
and so much worn by many foldings that the writing could scarcely be
deciphered. Home? It was dated from the Union of Liverpool, and had come
from his invalid wife and his children, all living there.

The poor fellow could not read, but he had somehow learned the letter
by heart, and was able to point out each bit of family history in the
exact place where it was recorded.

He had lost his class privileges, and was not allowed to reply; and now
he wanted to know if Paul Ritson could get down to Liverpool and see his
wife and little ones, and tell them how well he was, and how lusty he
looked, and what fine times he had of it--"just to keep up their
spirits, you know."

"I say, you sir," bawled a sinister gray-head--the same whose
conversation was overheard in church--"I hear as you're a employer of
labor when yer not lagged. Any chance? I wants to leave my sitivation.
Long hours, and grub reg'lar onsatisfactory. Besides, my present
employer insists on me wearing a collar with a number--same as a wild
beast or a bobby. It's gettin' ridic'lus. So I've give notice, and I
flit in September. Maybe ye see as I'm growing my wings to fly." The
hoary sinner pointed upward to his grizzly hair, which was longer than
the hair of his comrades. "On'y it's coming out another tint o' awrburn
nor what it was ten years ago, and the old woman won't have the same
pride in my pussonal appearance."

At two o'clock the assistant warder known as Jim-the-ladder marched Paul
Ritson to the chief warder's office. There the convict was handcuffed
and the warder armed. Then they set out.

On the steamboat that plied between the Portland Ferry and Weymouth the
convict dress attracted much attention. The day was some sort of chapel
festival, and great numbers of chapel people in holiday costume crowded
the decks and climbed the paddle-boxes; the weather was brilliant; the
sun danced on the waters like countless fairies on a floor of glass; a
brass band played on the bridge.

Again at the Weymouth railway station the people gathered in little
groups, and looked askance at the convict. During the few minutes which
elapsed before the train left the platform, a knot of spectators stood
before the carriage and peered in at the window.

Paul Ritson paid little heed to these attentions, but they were often
unwelcome enough. "Keep clear of him--see the blue cap?" "What an
ill-looking fellow--to be sure, his looks are enough to hang him."

Paul laughed bitterly. His heart felt cold within him at that moment. If
he had worn broadcloth and a smile, how different the popular verdict
might have been. Who then would have said that he was a villain?
Certainly not yonder sleek minister of Christ who was humming a psalm
tune a moment ago, and paused to whisper, "Be sure your sin will find
you out." The black-coated Pharisee was handing a lady into a
first-class carriage.

The train started. Paul threw himself back in his seat, and thought of
all that had occurred since he made this journey before. He was
traveling in the other direction then, and what an agony was that first
experience of convict life! He had never thought of it from that day to
this.

Other and more poignant memories had day after day obliterated the
recollection of that experience. But it came back now as freshly as if
it had all occurred yesterday. He was one of a gang of twenty who were
traveling from Millbank to Dartmoor. The journey to Waterloo in the
prison van had been a terrible ordeal. He had thought in the cells that
it would be nothing to him if people in the streets recognized him. The
shameful punishment of an innocent man was not his, but the law's
disgrace.

Yet, when he was marched out into the prison grounds abreast of a
cadaverous wretch with shrunken brows and the eyes of a hawk, an old
thief in front of him, and a murderer convicted of manslaughter treading
on his heels, the cold sweat burst in great beads from his forehead.

He had meant to hold up his head, and if people looked into his face to
look frankly back into their faces. But when his turn came he leaped
into the van, and his chin buried itself in his breast.

Then the crowds drawn up on the pavement outside as the gates rolled
back and the van passed through; the crush in a busy thoroughfare when
the van stopped to let a line of crowded omnibuses go by; the horrible
scene at the station when the convicts were marched down the platform,
and every ear was arrested by the tramp, tramp of twenty fettered men!

Above all, the jests and the laughter of the older hands who had served
their time before, and were superior to all small considerations of
public shame! "I say, you with the gig-lamps, toss a poor devil a bit o'
'bacco." "Seen us afore? In coorse you have. You in the white choker,
look hard while yer at it, and you'll know us again." "Oh, Mother
Shipton, and is that yourself? and how pleased we is to see ye, and just
tip us yer welwet purse, and we'll give it yer back when we're this way
again." And not all the rigor of the attendant warders was enough to
suppress such jesting.

Paul Ritson could not forbear to laugh aloud when he remembered with
what an agony of sweat he had that day crept back into his seat.

Times had changed since then. He had spent a year and a half in a
government school, and had been educated out of all torturing delicacy.

The warder attempted to draw him into conversation. Jim-the-ladder
repeatedly protested that he bore no malice. "I'm a good fellow at
bottom," he said more than once, and Paul Ritson showed no malice. But
he laughed bitterly at a grim and an obvious thought that the warder's
dubious words suggested. Failing in his efforts at conciliation, the
warder charged his pipe and relapsed into a long silence.

They had a compartment to themselves. At a station where the train
stopped a man opened the door and had already put one foot into the
carriage when he recognized the caste of his traveling companions. He
disappeared in a twinkling. Paul Ritson did his best to restrain the
anger that well-nigh choked him. He merely sent a ringing laugh after
the retreating figure. At another station a police inspector, dressed in
a little brief authority, caught sight of the blue cap and gray jacket,
and bustled up to examine the warder's papers. Then, with a lofty look,
he strode through the group of spectators whom his presence had
attracted.

Arrived at Waterloo, the warder hailed a cab, and they drove to Scotland
Yard to report themselves. There they supped on cocoa and brown bread,
with the addition of a rasher of bacon and a pipe for the warder. Thence
they were driven to Euston to catch the nine-o'clock train to Penrith.

The journey north was uneventful. At Rugby, Stafford, and elsewhere, the
train stopped, and little groups of people looked in at the convict, and
made apposite comments on his appearance, crime, and condition. Paul
Ritson often shut his eyes and said nothing. Sometimes a sneer curled
his lip, sometimes he burst into a bitter laugh. He was thinking that
this was a fitting close to the degradation of his prison life. If one
feeling of delicacy, one tender sentiment, one impulse of humanity
remained to him when the gates of Portland closed behind him; it only
required this cruel torture to crush it forever.

In spite of the risk of dismissal and the more immediate danger at the
hands of Paul Ritson, the warder coiled himself up and fell asleep. It
was after midnight when they reached Crewe, and from that point of the
journey the worst of the torment ceased. Their merciful fellow-men were
mostly in bed, dreaming of heroic deeds that they were doing. But the
silence of night had its own torture. As the train rumbled on through
the darkness, now rattling in a long tunnel, now sliding into open air
like a boat into still water, Paul Ritson's mind went back to the day
which seemed now to be so far away that it might have belonged to
another existence, when he traveled this road with the dear soul who had
trusted her young and cloudless life to his keeping. Where was she now?
Peace be with her, wheresoever she was! He recalled her tenderest
glance, he seemed to hear her softest tone; the light pressure of her
delicate fingers was now on his hands--the hard hands that wore the
irons. And even at that moment, when all his soul went out to the pure
young wife who had shared his sufferings, and he felt as if time and
space were nothing, as if he had drawn her to him by the power of his
yearning love, it seemed to him that all at once there rang in his ears
the shrill, sharp voices of the convicts rapping out their foul and
frightful oaths.

He leaped to his feet, with a muttered oath on his own lips, and when
the imagined agony with which he surprised himself had given way to a
new sense of his actual sufferings, his heart grew yet more cold and
bitter. He thought of what he had been and of what he was. There could
be no disguising the truth--he was a worse man. Yes; whatsoever had once
been pure in him, whatsoever had once been generous, whatsoever had once
been of noble aspiration, was now impure, and ungenerous, and ignoble.
Above all else, he had lost that tenderness which is the top and crown
of a strong man. He felt as if the world had lifted its hand against
him, and as if he were ready and eager to strike back.

They reached Penrith toward four in the morning, and then the carriage
in which they traveled was shunted on to the branch line to await the
first train toward Cockermouth. The day was breaking. From the window
Paul Ritson could see vaguely the few ruins of the castle. That familiar
object touched him strangely. He hardly knew why, but he felt that a
hard lump at his heart melted away. By and by the brakeman shouted to
the signalman in the gray silence of the morning. The words were
indifferent--only some casual message--but they were spoken in the broad
Cumbrian that for a year and a half had never once fallen on Paul
Ritson's ear. Then the lump that had melted as his heart seemed to rise
to his throat.

The gray light become intermingled with red, and soon the sky to the
east was aflame. Paul let down the carriage window, and long waves of
sweet mountain air, laden with the smell of peat, flowed in upon him.
His lips parted and his breast expanded. At five o'clock the engine was
attached. A few carriages were added at the platform, and these
contained a number of pitmen, in their red-stained fustian, going down
for the morning shift. When the train moved westward, the sun had
risen, and all the air was musical with the songs of the birds. Very
soon the train ran in among the mountains, and then at last the
bitterness of Paul Ritson's heart seemed to fall away from him like a
garment. That quick thrill of soul which comes when the mountains are
first seen after a long absence is a rapture known to the mountaineer
alone. Paul saw his native hills towering up to the sky, the white mists
flying off their bald crown, the torrents leaping down their brant
sides, and the tears filled his eyes and blotted it all out. The
sedge-warbler was singing with the wheatear, and, though he could not
see them now, he knew where they were: the sedge-warbler was flitting
among the rushes of the low-land mere; the wheatear was perched on the
crevice of gray rock in which it had laid its pale-blue eggs; the sheep
were bleating on the fells, and he knew their haunts by the lea of the
bowlders and along the rocky ledges where grew the freshest grasses.
Down the corries of Blencathra, long drifts of sheep were coming before
the dogs, and he knew that the shepherds had been out on the fells
during the short summer night, numbering the sheep for the washing in
the beck below.

Everything came back upon him like a memory of yesterday. He stood up
and thrust out his head, and did not think of his gray jacket and blue
cap until a carter who watered his horses at a pool near the railway
lines started and stared as if he had seen a "boggle" at noonday.

Then Paul Ritson remembered that he was still a convict, that his hands
wore irons, that the man who lay sleeping on the seat of the carriage
was his warder, and that the steely thing that peeped from the belt of
the sleeping man was a revolver, to be promptly used if he attempted to
escape.

But not even these reflections sufficed to dissipate the emotion that
had taken hold of him. He began at length to think of Hugh Ritson, and
to wonder why he had been brought back home. Home!--home? It was a
melancholy home-coming, but it was coming home, nevertheless.



CHAPTER XVI.


Two days later the gray old town-hall that stands in the market-place of
Keswick was surrounded by a busy throng. The Civil Court of the County
Assize was sitting in this little place for the nonce to try a curious
case of local interest. It was an action for ejectment brought by Greta,
Mrs. Paul Ritson, against a defendant whose name was entered on the
sheet as Paul Drayton, alias Paul Ritson, now of the Ghyll, in the
Parish of Newlands.

The court-room was crowded. It was a large, bare room, with a long table
and two rows of chairs crossing the end, the one row occupied by the
judge and a special jury, the other by the lawyers for the prosecution
and defense. The rest of the chamber was not provided with seats, and
there the dalespeople huddled together.

A seat had been found for Greta at one end of the table. Her cheek
rested on her hand. She dropped her eyes as the spectators craned their
necks to catch a glimpse of her. Behind her, and with one hand on her
chair-back, stood the old parson, his Jovian white head more white than
of old, the tenderer lines in his mellow face drawn down to a look of
pain. Immediately facing Greta, at the opposite end of the table, Hugh
Ritson sat. One leg was thrown over the other knee, and the long,
nervous fingers of the right hand played with the shoelace. His head was
inclined forward, and the thin, pallid, clean-cut face with the great
calm eyes and the full, dilated nostrils was more than ever the face of
a high-bred horse. None would have guessed the purpose with which Hugh
Ritson sat there. One would have said that indifference was in those
eyes and on that brow--indifference or despair.

Near where the rustle was loudest and most frequent among the
spectators, Drayton sat by the side of Mr. Bonnithorne. He was dressed
in his favorite suit of broad plaid, and had a gigantic orange-lily
stuck jauntily in his buttonhole. His face was flushed and his eyes
sparkled. Now and again he leaned back to whisper something to the
blacksmith, the miller, and the landlord of the Flying Horse, who were
grouped behind him. His remarks must have been wondrously facetious, for
they were promptly followed by a low gurgle, which was as promptly
suppressed.

The counsel for the plaintiff opened his case. The plaintiff sued as the
owner in succession to her husband, who was at present dead to the law.
She contended that the man who now stood seized of the Ghyll was not her
husband, Paul Ritson, but Paul Drayton, an innkeeper of Hendon, who bore
him a strange personal resemblance, and personated him. The evidence of
identity which should presently be adduced was full and complete in the
essential particular of proving that the defendant was not Paul Ritson,
by whose title alone the defense would maintain the right of present
possession. Unhappily, the complementary evidence as to the actual
identity of the defendant with Paul Drayton, the publican, had been
seriously curtailed by the blindness, followed by the death, of an
important witness. Still, if he, the counsel for the plaintiff, could
prove to the satisfaction of the jury that the defendant was not the man
he represented himself to be, they would have no course but to grant the
ejectment for which the plaintiff asked. To this end he would call two
witnesses whose evidence must outweigh that of all others--the wife of
Paul Ritson, and the clergyman who solemnized the marriage.

Greta's name was called, and she rose at the end of the table. Her bosom
heaved under the small lace shawl that covered her shoulders, and was
knotted like a sailor's scarf, on her breast. She stood erect, her eyes
raised slightly and her drooping hands clasped in front. After the
customary formalities, she was examined.

"You are the only child of the late Robert Lowther?"

"I am the daughter of Robert Lowther."

Drayton threw back his head, and laughed a little.

"You were married to Paul Ritson in 1875 at the parish church of
Newlands, the minister being the Reverend Mr. Christian?"

"I was."

"On the day of your marriage you accompanied your husband to London, and
the same night he left you at the Convent of St. Margaret, Westminster?"

"That is quite true."

There was a buzz of conversation in the court, accompanied by a
whispered conference on the bench. Counsel paused to say that it was not
a part of his purpose to trouble the court with an explanation of facts
which were so extraordinary that they could only be credited on the oath
of a person who, though present, would not be called. At this reference
Hugh Ritson raised his languid eyes, and the examination proceeded.

"Three days afterward you received a message from your husband,
requesting you to meet him at St. Pancras Station, and return with him
to Cumberland by the midnight train?"

"I did."

"Who took you the message?"

"Mrs. Drayton, the old person at the inn at Hendon."

"You went to the station?"

"Oh, yes."

"Tell the court what occurred there."

"Just on the stroke of twelve, when the train was about to leave, a man
whom at first sight I mistook for my husband came hurrying up the
platform, and I stepped into the carriage with him."

"Do you see that man in court?"

"Yes; he sits two seats to your right."

Drayton rose, smiled broadly, bowed to the witness, and resumed his
seat.

"Were you alone in the compartment?"

"At first we were; but just as the train was moving away who should join
us but Parson Christian."

There was another buzz of conversation, and counsel paused again to say
that he should not trouble the court with an explanation of the
extraordinary circumstances by which Parson Christian came to be in
London at that critical moment. These facts formed in themselves a
chain of evidence which must yet come before a criminal court, involving
as it did the story of a conspiracy more painful and unnatural perhaps
than could be found in the annals of jurisprudence.

"Tell the court what passed in the train."

"I perceived at once that the man was not my husband, though strangely
like him in face and figure, and when he addressed me as his wife I
repulsed him."

"Did Parson Christian also realize the mistake?"

"Oh, yes, but not quite so quickly."

"What did you do?"

"We left the train at the first station at which it stopped."

"Did the defendant offer any resistance?"

"No; he looked abashed, and merely observed that perhaps a recent
illness had altered him."

Counsel for the defense, at whose left Mr. Bonnithorne sat as attorney
for the defendant, cross-examined the witness.

"You say that on the night following the morning of your marriage your
husband left you at a convent?"

"I do."

Mr. Bonnithorne dropped his twinkling eyes, and muttered something that
was inaudible to the witness. There was a titter among the people who
stood behind him.

"And you say that Mrs. Drayton took you the message of which you have
spoken. Did she tell you that your husband had been ill?"

"She did."

"We are to infer that you visited the house of the Draytons at Hendon?"

"A railway accident drove us there."

"Did any one accompany the defendant to St. Pancras that night?"

"My husband's brother, Mr. Hugh Ritson, was with him."

"Tell the jury where your husband now is, if he is not at this moment in
court."

No answer. Amid a profound silence the plaintiff's lawyer was understood
to object to the question.

"Well, we can afford to waive it," said counsel, with a superior smile.
"One further question, Mrs. Ritson. Had you any misunderstanding with
your husband?"

"None whatever."

"Will you swear that your voices were not raised in angry dispute while
you were at the inn at Hendon?"

Greta lifted her head and her eyes flashed. "Yes, I will swear it," she
said in a soft voice but with impressive emphasis.

Mr. Bonnithorne reached up to the ear of counsel and was understood to
say that perhaps the point was too delicate to be pressed.

Parson Christian was next examined. The defendant in the present action
was not the man whom he married to the plaintiff. He had since seen Paul
Ritson. Where? In the convict prison of Dartmoor. In cross-examination
he was asked by what name the convict was known to the directors of
Dartmoor. Paul Drayton.

"Then tell the court how you came to identify the defendant as Drayton."

"There were many facts pointing that way."

"Give us one."

"On the morning of the marriage I found a letter lying open before the
fire in my vestry. It was from Mr. Hugh Ritson to Mr. Bonnithorne, and
it mentioned the name of Drayton in a connection which, by the light of
later revelations, provoked many inferences."

Mr. Bonnithorne was unprepared for this answer. Counsel looked at him
inquiringly, but the attorney glanced down and colored deeply.

"Can you show us the letter?"

"No; I left it where I found it."

"Then it can hardly be received as evidence."

The attorney smiled, and the tension of Drayton's face relaxed. There
was a slight shuffle among the people; the witness had stepped back.

Counsel for the defense opened his case. They were asked to believe that
the defendant in the present action was Paul Drayton, in the teeth of
the fact that Paul Drayton was at that moment a convict in a convict
prison. The incredible statement was made that a newly married husband
had placed his young wife in a convent on the night of their marriage,
and that when they should have rejoined each other an interchange had
been made, the husband going to prison in another man's name, the other
man coming to Cumberland to claim the place of the woman's husband.
Moreover, they were asked to believe that the husband's brother, Mr.
Hugh Ritson, had either been fooled by the impostor or made a party to
the imposture. Happily it was easy to establish identity by two
unquestionable chains of evidence--resemblance and memory. It would be
shown that the defendant could be none other than Paul Ritson, first,
because he resembled him exactly in person; second, because he knew all
that Paul Ritson ought to know; third, because he knew nothing that Paul
Ritson might not know. No two men's lives had ever been the same from
the beginning of the world, and as it would be seen that the defendant's
life had been the same as Paul Ritson's, it followed that Paul Ritson
and the defendant were one and the same man.

Dick o' the Syke was the first witness examined for the defense. He
swore that Paul Ritson was active in extinguishing a fire that broke out
in the mill two years ago; that he had climbed to the cross-trees with a
hatchet; and that within the past month the defendant had described to
him the precise locality and shape of the gap made in the roof by the
fire. No one could have known so much except himself and the man who
stood on the cross-trees. That man was Paul Ritson, and he was there and
then recognized by many spectators, among whom was Parson Christian.

The next witness was Mistress Calvert, of the Pack Horse. Paul Ritson
had slept at their house one night two years ago, and a few days since
the present defendant had pointed out the bedroom he occupied, and
recalled the few words of conversation which passed between them.

Natt, the stableman, was called. His sleepy eyes blinked knowingly as he
explained that one winter's night, when the snow fell heavily, Mrs.
Ritson, then Miss Greta, was startled by what she mistook for the ghost
of Paul Ritson. The witness had not been so easily deceived, and the
defendant had since described to him the exact scene and circumstances
of what the lady had thought to be the ghostly appearance.

Then followed John Proudfoot, the blacksmith; Tom o' Dint, the postman;
Giles Raisley, the pitman; Job Sheepshanks, the mason; and Tommy
Lowthwaite, the landlord of the Flying Horse--all swearing to points of
identity.

One recalled the fact that Paul Ritson had a scar on his head that was
caused by the kick of a horse when he was a boy. The defendant had just
such a scar.

Another remembered that Paul Ritson had a mark on the sole of his right
foot which had been made by treading on a sharp piece of rock on
Hindscarth. The defendant had exactly such a mark.

A third had wrestled with Paul Ritson, and knew that he had a mole
beneath the left shoulder-blade on the back. The defendant had a mole in
that unusual place.

Counsel for the defense smiled blandly at the special jury, the special
jury smiled blandly at counsel for the defense. Was it really necessary
that the defendant should be called? Surely it was a pity to occupy the
time of the court. The whole case was in a nutshell--the lady had
quarreled with her husband. State of affairs would be promptly gauged
when it was explained that this action had been raised to anticipate a
forthcoming suit in the divorce court for restitution of connubial
rights.

The counsel for the plaintiff smiled also, and his was a weak smile of
conscious defeat. He stammered a desire to withdraw--said he had been
promised more conclusive evidence when he undertook the case, and sat
down with an apologetic air.

There was a shuffle of feet in the court. Drayton had risen to receive
the congratulations of his friends behind him and the cordial nods of
some of the superior people who had been favored with seats at the right
hand and left of the judge. He was answering in a loud tone, when there
was a sudden lull of the buzz of gossip, and all eyes were directed
toward one end of the table.

Hugh Ritson had risen from his seat, and with a face that was very pale,
but as firm as a rock, he was engaged in a whispered conference with the
plaintiff's counsel. That gentleman's eager face betrayed the keenest
possible interest in what he heard. Presently he lifted his arm with an
impatient gesture, and said:

"My lord, I have unexpectedly come into possession of new and most
important evidence."

"Of what nature?" asked the judge.

"If it is conceivable," said counsel, "that in any question of personal
identity the court will accept the evidence of all the tinkers and
tailors, the riff-raff, the raggabash of the country-side, and reject
that of the wife of the man whose estate is in question, perhaps it will
be allowed that there are three persons who are essential to this
examination--the brother of Paul Ritson, the defendant who claims to be
Paul Ritson, and the convict who is suffering penal servitude in the
name of Paul Drayton. I might name one other whose evidence might be yet
more conclusive than that of any of these alone--the mother of Paul
Ritson; but she is unhappily dead to the world."

Drayton was still on his feet, riveted to the spot where he stood.
Obtuse as he was, he saw at a glance what had occurred. In all his
calculations this chance had never suggested itself--that Hugh Ritson
would risk the personal danger to bring him down.

"Can you put these persons into the witness-box?"

"My lord, it is, I presume, within the liberties of the defendant to
keep carefully out of that box, but the court will not refuse to hear
the evidence of the two persons of whom I speak--the brother of Paul
Ritson and the convict known as Paul Drayton."

At this there was high commotion. Greta had leaned back in her chair,
her bosom heaving, her face shadowed by lines of pain. Parson Christian
stood behind her with a blank expression of bewilderment. Drayton's
brows were tightened and his lips were drawn hard.

"None of their criss-crossin' for me," he muttered.

"You can ask for a new trial," said the judge.

"My lord, another case is pending, and on the issue in this case the
other case must largely depend."

"How far has the present one proceeded?"

"The defendant's case is not yet completed."

During this scene Hugh Ritson had stood quietly by the table. He
remained there with complete self-possession while counsel proceeded to
explain that four days ago, in anticipation of this action and of
another that had been threatened, a statutory declaration had been made
in the presence of the Home Secretary and the law officers of the Crown.
The first result of that statement was that the convict Drayton was now
present in the court-house ready to appear at this trial.

The judge signified his desire that the convict might be brought in and
heard.

Hugh Ritson motioned to a tall man who stood near, and immediately
afterward a door was thrown open and another man stepped into the
court-room.

Every eye was fixed upon him. He wore a convict's gray jacket, with the
round badge marked "3. B 2001. P S," and the broad arrow beneath. His
face was pale and rigid; his large eyes glittered; he was in his full
manhood, but his close-cropped hair was slightly tinged with gray. He
pushed his way through the people, who fell back to let him pass. When
he reached the table he tapped it impatiently with one of his hands,
which were fettered, and threw up his head with a glance of defiance.
His whole bearing was that of a strong man who believed that every man's
hand was against him, and who intended to let it be seen that his own
hand was against every man's.

Counsel rose again, and asked that the defendant's witnesses might be
recalled. This was done.

"John Proudfoot, Job Sheepshanks, Thomas Lowthwaite, Giles Raisley,
look this way. Who is this man?"

There was a dead hush. Then, one by one, the men who had been named
shook their heads. They did not know the convict. Indeed, he was
terribly altered. The ordeal of the past two years had plowed strange
lines in his face. At that moment he was less like himself than was the
impostor who came there to personate him.

Hugh Ritson's manner did not change. Only a slight curl of the lip
betrayed his feelings.

Counsel continued, "Is there any one in court who recognizes him?"

Not a voice responded. All was silence.

"Will the defendant stand side by side with him?"

Drayton leaped up with a boisterous laugh, and swaggered his way to the
opposite side of the table. As he approached, the convict looked at him
keenly.

"Will Mrs. Ritson come forward again?"

Greta had already risen, and was holding Parson Christian's hand with a
nervous grip. She stepped apart, and going behind the two men, she came
to a stand between them. On the one side stood Drayton, with a smirking
face half turned toward the spectators; on the other stood the convict,
his hands bound before him, his defiant glance softened to a look of
tenderness, and his lips parted with the unuttered cry that was ready to
burst from them.

"Greta," said Hugh Ritson, in a low tone of indescribable pathos, "which
of these men is your husband?"

Counsel repeated the question in form.

Greta had slowly raised her eyes from the ground until they reached the
convict's face. Then in an instant, in a flash of light, with the quick
cry of a startled bird, she flung herself on his neck. Her fair head
dropped on the frieze of the convict's jacket, and her sobs were all
that broke the silence.

Hugh Ritson's emotion surged in his throat, but he stood quietly at the
table. Only his slight figure swayed a little and his face quivered. His
work was not yet done.

"This is the answer of nature," he said quietly.

Hugh Ritson was put into the witness-box, and in a voice that was full
and strong, and that penetrated every corner of the court, he identified
the convict as his brother, Paul Ritson.

Counsel for the defense had seemed to be stunned. Recovering himself, he
tried to smile, and said:

"After this melodramatic interlude, perhaps I may be allowed to ask our
new witness a few questions. Did you, at the Central Criminal Court,
held at the Old Bailey in 1875, swear that the person who stands here in
the dress of a convict was not Paul Ritson?"

"I did."

"Now for my second question. Did you also swear that the defendant was
your brother, and therefore not Paul Drayton."

"I did."

"Then you were guilty of perjury at that time, or you are guilty of
perjury now?"

"I was guilty of perjury then."

The judge interposed and asked if the witness was awakened to the
enormity of the crime to which he confessed. Hugh Ritson bent his head.

"Are you conscious that you are rendering yourself liable to penal
servitude?"

"I have signed a declaration of my guilt."

The answers were given in perfect calmness, but a vein of pathos ran
through every word.

"Do you know that a few years back many a poor wretch whose crime was
trifling compared with yours has gone from the dock to the gallows?"

"My guilt is unmitigated guilt. I make a voluntary statement. I am not
here to appeal for mercy."

There was the hush of awe in the court.

The face of the convict wore an expression of amazement.

Counsel smiled again.

"I presume you know that the effect of the law officers of the Crown,
believing the story that you tell us now is that, if they do so, the man
whom you call your brother will be put into possession of the estate of
which your late father died seized?"

"He is entitled to it."

Counsel turned to the jury with a smile.

"It is always necessary to find some standard by which to judge of human
actions. The witness quarreled with the defendant four days ago, and
this is his revenge. But I appeal to the court. Is this story credible?
Is it not a palpable imposture?"

The judge again interposed.

"Men do not risk so much for a lie. The witness knows that when the
court rises the sheriff may take him into custody."

At this counsel rose again and asked the bench not to play into the
hands of the witness by apprehending him.

"Let the convict be examined," said the judge.

Paul Ritson raised his head; Greta sunk into a chair beneath him. He was
not sworn.

The warder in charge put in an entry from the books of the prison. It
ran: "Paul Drayton, five feet eleven inches, brown hair and eyes, aged
thirty, licensed victualer, born in London, convicted of robbery at the
scene of a railway accident."

"Does that entry properly describe you?" asked the judge.

The convict's eyes wandered.

"What's going on?" he said, in a tone of bewilderment.

"Attend, my man. Are you Paul Ritson, the eldest son of the late Allan
Ritson?"

"Why do you want to know?" said the convict.

"It befits a witness who is permitted to come from the scene of a
degrading punishment to give a prompt and decisive answer. What is your
name, sir?"

"Find it out."

"My man," said the judge, more suavely, "we sit here in the name of the
law, and the law could wish to stand your friend." (The convict laughed
bitterly.) "Pray help us to a decision in the present perplexing case
by a few frank answers. If you are Paul Drayton, you go back to Portland
to complete the term of your imprisonment. If it can be proved that you
are Paul Ritson, your case will be laid before the home officials, with
the result that you will be liberated and re-established in your estate.
First of all, which is your name--Paul Drayton or Paul Ritson?"

The convict did not answer at first. Then he said in a low tone:

"No law can re-establish me."

The judge added:

"Bethink you, if you are Paul Ritson, and an innocent man, the law can
restore you to your young wife."

Visibly moved by this reference, the convict's eyes wandered to where
Greta sat beside him, and the tension of his gaze relaxed.

The judge began again:

"You have been recognized by two witnesses--one claiming to be your
brother, the other to be your wife--as Paul Ritson. Are you that
person?"

The convict's face showed the agony he suffered. In a vague, uncertain,
puzzled way he was thinking of the consequences of his answer. If he
said he was Paul Ritson, it seemed to him that it must leak out that he
was not the eldest legitimate son of his father. Then all the fabric of
his mother's honor would there and then tumble to the ground. He
recalled his oath; could he pronounce six words and not violate it? No,
not six syllables. How those mouthing gossips would glory to see a good
name trailed in the dust!

"Are you Paul Ritson, the eldest son and heir of Allan Ritson?"

The convict looked again at Greta. She rose to her feet beside him. All
her soul was in her face, and cried:

"Answer, answer!"

"I can not answer," said the convict, in a loud, piercing voice.

At that terrible moment his strength seemed to leave him. He sunk
backward into the chair from which Greta had risen.

She stood over him and put her hand tenderly on his head.

"Tell them it is true," she pleaded, "tell them you are my husband; tell
them so; oh, tell them, tell them!" she cried in a tone of piteous
supplication.

He raised to hers his weary eyes with a dumb cry for mercy from the
appeal of love.

Only Hugh Ritson, of all who were there present, understood what was in
the convict's heart.

"Paul Ritson is the rightful heir of his father and his mother's
legitimate son," he muttered audibly.

The convict turned to where his brother sat, and looked at him with a
face that seemed to grapple for the missing links of a chain of facts.

Counsel for the defense arose.

"It will be seen that the unhappy convict witness will not be used as an
instrument of deception," he said. "He is Paul Drayton, and can not be
made to pretend that he is Paul Ritson."

The hush of awe in the court was broken by the opening of a door behind
the bench. Two women stood on the threshold. One of them was small,
wrinkled, and old. She was Mrs. Drayton. The other was a nun in hood and
cape. She was Sister Grace.

Hugh Ritson leaned toward counsel for the plaintiff, who promptly rose
and said:

"The witness I spoke of as dead to the world is now present in the
court."

Amid a buzz of conversation the nun was handed to the table. She raised
her long veil and showed a calm, pale face. After the usual formalities,
counsel addressed her.

"Mrs. Ritson," he said, "tell us which of the two men who sit opposite
is your son."

Sister Grace answered in a clear, soft voice:

"Both are my sons. The convict is Paul Ritson, my son by Allan Ritson;
the other is Paul Lowther, my son by an unhappy alliance with Robert
Lowther."

Drayton jumped to his feet.

"There, that's enough of this!" he shouted, excitedly. "Damme, if I can
stand any more of it!"

Bonnithorne reached over and whispered:

"Mad man, what are you doing? Hold your tongue!"

"It's all up. There's the old woman, too, come to give me away. Here, I
say, I'm Paul Drayton; that's what I am, if you want to know."

"Let the sheriff take that man before a justice of the peace," said the
judge.

"It was you that led me into this mess!" shouted Drayton at Bonnithorne.
"Only for you I would have been in Australia by this time."

"Let the sheriff apprehend Mr. Bonnithorne also," said the judge. "As
for you, sir," he continued, turning to Hugh Ritson, "I will report your
evidence to the Public Prosecutor--who must be in possession of your
statutory declaration--and leave the law officers to take their own
course with regard to you."

The action for ejectment was adjourned.

Drayton and Bonnithorne did not trouble the world much longer. Within a
month they were tried and condemned together--the one for personation;
both for conspiracy.

Paul Ritson was removed in charge of his warder, to be confined in the
town jail pending the arrival of instructions from the Secretary of
State. Hugh Ritson walked out of the court-room a free man.



CHAPTER XVII.


Hugh Ritson returned to his room on the pit-brow. On his way there he
passed a group of people congregated on the bridge at the town end. They
fell apart as he walked through, but not an eye was raised to his, and
not one glance of recognition came from his stony face. Toward the
middle of the afternoon a solicitor came from Carlisle and executed a
bill of sale on the machinery and general plant. The same evening, as
the men on the day shift came up the shaft, and those on the night shift
were about to go below, the wages were paid down to the last weights
taken at the pit-mouth. Then Hugh Ritson closed his doors and began
afresh his melancholy perambulation of the room.

That night--it was Wednesday night--as darkness fell on the mountain and
moorland, there was a great outcry in the Vale. It started at the
pit-mouth, and was taken up on every side. In less than a quarter of an
hour a hundred people--men, women, and children--were gathered about the
head of the shaft. There had been a run of sand in the pit, and some of
the hands were imprisoned in the blocked-up workings. Cries, moans, and
many sounds of weeping arose on the air in one dismal chorus. "I knew it
would come;" "I telt the master lang ago;" "Where's my man?" "And mine?"
"And my poor barn--no'but fifteen." "Anybody seen my Willie?" "Is that
thee, Robbie, ma lad?--No." As every cageful of men and boys came to the
surface, there was a rush of mothers, wives, and fathers to recognize
their own.

Hugh Ritson went out and pushed his way through the people.

"Where is the sand running?" he asked of a pitman just landed.

"In the sandy vein, 2, 3, 1," answered the man.

"Then the shaft is clear?"

"Ay, but the water's blocked in the main working, and it's not safe to
go down."

Hugh Ritson had taken the man's candle out of his hand, and was fixing
it with the putty in the front of his own hat.

"Are you ready?" he shouted to the engine-man, above the babel of
voices.

In another moment he had stepped into the cage and looped down the iron
rail in front of it. There was a moment's silence among the
panic-stricken people as the cage began to move downward.

At the bottom of the shaft a group of men waited to ascend. Their faces
were lurid in the dim light. Before the cage grounded Hugh Ritson could
hear their breathing. "How many of you are left?" he asked.

"No'but two now--Giles Raisley and auld Reuben," answered one of the
men. The others, without heeding the master's question, had scrambled
into the cage, and were already knocking the signal for the ascent.

Hugh Ritson turned toward the working known among the men as the sandy
vein. The cage was now rising, and the pitman who had spoken found
himself left on the pit bottom; the single moment that he had given to
the master had lost him his chance of a place. He cast one stern glance
upward, and a muttered oath was on his lips. At the next instant he had
taken the direction followed by Hugh Ritson, and was walking one pace
behind him.

In the silence the dull thud of their footsteps on the rock beneath
mingled with the drip, drip of the water overhead. When they had gone a
hundred yards down the narrow working there came another and far more
terrible sound. It was such a sound as the sea might have made if it had
rushed through a thousand crevices in the rock. It was the sound of the
thousands of tons of sand as they forced their way from the dense mass
above. And over the hiss as of the sea was the harsh crack of great
timbers splitting like matchwood.

Toward the awful scene of this tumult Hugh Ritson quickened his steps.
The man followed close at his heels. Presently their passage was blocked
with sand like a wall. Then over their heads the cross-trees cracked,
and the upright forks split and bent at the right and left of them. In
another moment the ground beneath them shook under the new weight that
lay on it. They stepped quickly back, and in an instant, with a groan
such as the sea makes when it is sucked by the ebbing tide from a cave
in a rock, the floor, with all its freight, went down a score of feet.
It had fallen to an old working that lay below.

Then the bent forks hung from the roof in empty air. Silence followed
this shock, and through the silence there came a feeble cry for help.
Hugh Ritson stepped out, plucked his candle from his hat, and held it
before his feet.

"Where are you?" he called, and his voice came back through the echoing
depths beyond. Presently a man could be dimly seen clinging to a
cross-piece in an alcove made for an air-shaft from the main working. To
get to him the treacherous ground must be crossed, with its cracking
roof, through which the sand slid even yet, and under the split timbers
that still creaked.

Hugh Ritson did not hesitate; he turned to leap down, saying, "Follow
me." But the man clung to him from behind.

"For God's sake, dunnot!" he cried. "I can not go there. It's mair nor
my life is worth!"

Hugh Ritson twisted about, and looked him steadily in the face.

"What is your name, my man?"

"Davey Braithwaite."

"Then you are the young fellow whose wife died last week?"

"Ey," with a drooping head.

"Your child died before her, did it not?"

"Ey, he did, poor laal thing!"

"Your father and mother are gone, too?"

"They're gone, for sure!"

"And you have neither kith nor kin left in all the world?"

"Nay, no'but mysel' left."

Hugh Ritson said no more; a hard smile played on his white face, and at
the next instant he had leaped down on to the bed of sand below.

The man recoiled a pace or two and wrung his hands. Before he was aware
of what had happened, Giles Raisley and the master were standing beside
him.

"Where were old Reuben and his gang stationed?" said Hugh Ritson.

"In the main working; but the water is dammed up; we can never pass."

They returned to the shaft bottom, and walked thence down the cutting
that ran from it at right angles. A light burned far away in the dim
vista of that long dark burrowing.

It was a candle stuck to the rock. The men who worked by it had left it
there when they rushed off for their lives. Through the bottom of this
working there ran a deep trough, but it was now dry.

This was the channel by which the whole pit was drained. Beyond the
light the three men encountered another wall of sand, and from behind it
and through it there came to them the dull thud and the plash of heavy
water.

"If auld Reuben's theer, he's a dead man," said Giles Raisley, and he
turned to go.

Hugh Ritson had struggled to the top of the heap, and was plowing the
sand away from the roof with his hands. In a little while he had forced
an opening, and could see into the dark space beyond. The water had
risen to a reservoir of several feet deep. But it was still four or five
feet from the roof, and over the black, surging, bubbling waves the
imprisoned miner could be seen clinging to a ledge of rock. Half his
body was already immersed. When the candle shot its streak of light
through the aperture of sand, the poor creature uttered a feeble cry.

In another moment the master had wormed his body through the hole and
dropped slowly into the water. Wading breast deep, he reached the
pitman, gave him his hand, and brought him safely through the closing
seam.

When the cage rose to the surface again, bringing back to life and the
world the last of the imprisoned miners, a great cheer broke from many a
lusty throat. Women who had never thought to bless the master, blessed
him now with fervent tongues. Men who had thought little of the courage
that could rest in that slight figure, fell aside at the sense of their
own cowardice. Under the red glow that came from the engine fire many a
hard face melted.

Hugh Ritson saw little of this, and heeded it not at all. He plucked the
candle, still burning, from his hat, and threw it aside. Then he walked
through the people toward his room, and when he got there he shut the
door, almost slamming it in the faces of those who followed. He pulled
down the window-blinds, and began afresh his perambulation to and fro.

He had grown paler and thinner. There was a somber light in his eyes,
and his lips were whitening. His step, once quick and sure, despite his
infirmity, was now less certain. He had not slept since the night of
Mercy's death. Determined never to encounter again the pains and terrors
of sleep, he had walked through the long hours of the four succeeding
nights. He knew what the result must be, and did not shrink from it.
Once only he had thought of a quicker way to the sure goal that was
before him. Then he had opened a cupboard, and looked long and intently
at a bottle that he took from its shelf. But he had put the bottle back.
Why should he play the fool, and leap the life to come? Thus, night
after night, he had walked and walked, never resting, never pausing,
though the enfeebled limbs shook beneath him, and the four walls of the
room reeled in his dazed eyes.

Before returning to their homes, the people gathered in the darkness
about the office on the pit-brow and gave one last cheer.

The master heard them, and his lip curled.

"Simpletons!--they don't understand," he muttered, beneath his breath,
and continued his melancholy walk.

Next morning, a banksman, who acted as personal attendant on Hugh
Ritson, brought him his breakfast. It was not early.

The sun had risen, but the blinds of the office were still drawn, and a
candle burned on the table. The man would have put out the candle and
let in the sunlight, but the master forbid him. He was a Methodist, and
hummed psalm tunes as he went about his work. This morning he was more
than usually fresh and happy when he entered with his tray; but at the
sight of Hugh Ritson's pallid face his own face saddened.

"You are a young man yet, Luke," said the master. "Let me see, how old
are you?"

"Seventy-nine, sir. I was born in ninety-eight. That was when auld
Bonnypart was agate of us and Nelson bashed him up."

"I dare say you have grandchildren by this time?"

"Bless you, ey, and great-grandchilder, and ten of them, too; and all
well and hearty, thank the Lord!"

The sound of a bell, slowly tolling, came from across the dale. Hugh
Ritson's face contracted, and his eyes fell.

"What bell is that?" he asked, in an altered tone.

"It's like to be the church bell. They're burying poor auld Matha's lass
and her wee barn this morning."

Hugh Ritson did not touch his breakfast.

"Luke, close the shutters," he said, "and bring more candles."

He did not go out that day, but continued to walk to and fro in the
darkened room. Toward nightfall he grew feverish, and rang frequently
the bell that summoned the banksman. He had only some casual order, some
message, some unimportant explanation.

At length the old man understood his purpose, and settled himself there
for the night. They talked much during the early hours, and often the
master laughed and jested. But the atmosphere that is breathed by a
sleepless man is always heavy with sleep, and in spite of his efforts to
keep awake, Luke dozed away in his chair. Then for hours there was a
gloomy silence, broken only by the monotonous footfall within and the
throb of the engine without.

The next day, Friday, the sun shone brilliantly, but the shutters of the
little house on the pit-brow remained closed, and the candle still
burned on the table. Hugh Ritson had grown perceptibly feebler, yet he
continued his dreary walk. The old banksman was forbidden to send for a
doctor, but he contrived to dispatch a messenger for Parson Christian.
That night he watched with the master again. When the conversation
failed, he sung. First, a psalm of David, "The fool hath said in his
heart, There is no God;" then a revival hymn of Charles Wesley about
ransom by Christ's blood.

It would have been a strange spectacle to strange eyes. The old
man--young still, though seventy-nine, dear to troops of dear ones,
encircled in his age by love and honor, living in poverty that was
abundance, with faith that was itself the substance of things hoped for,
his simple face ruddier and mellower than before--rocking his head and
singing in the singleness of his heart. The other man--barely thirty,
yet already old, having missed his youth, his thin cheeks pallid as
linen, his eyes burning with a somber light--alone in the world,
desolate, apart--walking with an uncertain step and a tremor of the
whole frame, which seemed to lurch for poise and balance, yet swinging
his arms with the sweep of the melody, and smiling a forced smile
through his hard and whitened lips.

When the singing ceased, Hugh Ritson paused suddenly and turned to the
old banksman.

"Luke," he said, abruptly, "I suppose there will be many to follow you
when your time comes?"

"Ey, please God," answered the banksman, dashing away a furtive drop
that had rolled on to his cheek; "there'll be my childer, and my
childer's childer, and their childer, forby. Maybe the barns will lay me
behind the mother; poor auld body!"

Hugh Ritson's face darkened, and he resumed his walk.

"Tut! what matter?" he asked himself; "the night winds are enough to
moan over a man's grave." And he laughed a little.

Next morning--Saturday morning--he wrote a letter, and sent Luke to the
village to post it. Then he attended to some business relating to the
pit. After that, he shut the door and bolted it. When the old man
brought the midday meal he knocked in vain, and had to go away.

Night closed in, and still there came no answer to the old man's knock.
When the sun had set the wind had risen. It threatened to be a
tempestuous night.

Toward ten o'clock Parson Christian arrived. He had wrestled long with
his own heart as to what course it was his duty to take. He had come at
last in answer to the banksman's summons, and now he knocked at the
door. There was no answer. The wind was loud in the trees overhead, but
he could hear the restless footfall within. He knocked again, and yet
again.

Then the bolt was drawn, and a voice at once strange and familiar cried,
"Come in, Parson Christian."

He had not called or spoken.

The parson entered. When his eyes fell on Hugh Ritson's face he
shuddered as he had never shuddered before. Many a time he had seen
death in a living face, but never anything like this. The livid cheeks
were stony, the white lips were drawn hard, the somber eyes burned like
a deep, slow fire, the yellow hands were gaunt and restless. There was
despair on the contracted brow, but no repentance. And the enfeebled
limbs trembled, but still shuffled on--on, on, on, through their longer
journey than from Gabbatha to Golgotha. The very atmosphere of the room
breathed of death.

"Let me pray with you," said the parson, softly, and without any other
words, he went down on his knees.

"Ay, pray for me--pray for me; but you lose your labor; nothing can save
me."

"Let us call on God," said the parson.

A bitter laugh broke from Hugh Ritson's lips.

"What! and take to him the dregs and rinsings of my life? No!"

"The blood of Christ has ransomed the world. It can save the worst
sinner of us all, and turn away the heavy wrath of God."

Hugh Ritson broke again into a bitter laugh.

"The end has come of sin, as of trouble. No matter." Then, with an awful
solemnity, he added: "My soul is barren. It is already given over to the
undying worm. I shall die to-morrow at sunrise."

"No man knows the day nor the hour--"

Hugh Ritson repeated, with a fearful emphasis, "I shall die as the sun
rises on Sunday morning."

Parson Christian remained with him the weary night through. The wind
moaned and howled outside. It licked the walls as with the tongues of
serpents. The parson prayed fervently, but Hugh Ritson's voice never
once rose with his. To and fro, to and fro, the dying man continued his
direful walk. At one moment he paused and said with a ghastly smile,
"This dying is an old story. It has been going on every day for six
thousand years, and yet we find it as terrible as ever."

Toward three in the morning he threw open the shutters. The windows were
still dark; it seemed as if the dawn were far away. "It is coming," he
said calmly. "I knew it must come soon. Let us go out to meet it."

With infinite effort he pulled his ulster over his shoulders, put on his
hat, and opened the door.

"Where are you going?" said the parson, and his voice broke.

"To the top of the fell."

"Why there?"

Hugh Ritson turned his heavy eyes upon him. "To see the new day dawn,"
he said, with an awful pathos.

He had already stepped out into the gloom. Parson Christian followed
him. They took the path that led through the moor end to the foot of Cat
Bells. The old man offered his arm, but Hugh Ritson shook his head and
walked one pace ahead. It was a terrible journey. The wind had dropped.
In the air the night and day commingled. The dying man struggled along
with the firm soul of a stricken lion. Step by step and with painful
labor they ascended the bare side of the fell in the gray light of
morning. They reached the top at last.

Below them the moorland lay dark and mute. The mist was around them.
They seemed to stand on an islet of the clouds. In front the day-break
was bursting the confines of the bleak racks of cloud. Then the day came
in its wondrous radiance, and flooded the world in a vast ocean of
light.

On the mountain brow Hugh Ritson resumed his melancholy walk. The old
parson muttered, as if to himself, "Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and
fro? Wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?" Hugh Ritson overheard the words,
and all his manner changed. The stubborn lips softened, the somber eye
melted, the contracted brow relaxed, and for the first time in all this
length of years, he cried like a little child.

At the same instant the sun swept up, and he fell. Parson Christian bent
over him. The crimson of the east twas reflected on his white face. The
new day had dawned.

On the Tuesday following two mourners stood by an open grave in the
church-yard of Newlands. One of them was white-headed; the other wore
the jacket and cap, the badge and broad arrow of a convict. The sexton
and his man had lowered the coffin to its last home, and then stepped
aside. A tall man leaned on the lych-gate, and a group of men and women
stood in silence by the porch of the church. The afternoon sun was low,
and the shadows of the tombstones stretched far on the grass.

The convict went down on his knees, and looked long into the grave. When
he arose, the company that had gathered about the porch had gone, and
voices singing a hymn came from within the old church. It was the
village choir practicing. The world's work had begun again.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Two days later the fell behind the Ghyll was a scene of unusual
animation. It was the day of the shearing. The sheep, visibly whiter and
more fleecy for a washing of some days before, had been gathered into
stone folds. Clippers were seated on creels ranged about a turf fire,
over which a pot of tar hung from a triangle of boughs. Boy "catchers"
brought up the sheep, one by one, and girl "helpers" carried away the
fleeces, hot and odorous, and hung them over the open barn doors. As the
sheep were stripped, they were tugged to the fire and branded from the
bubbling tar with the smet mark of the Ritsons. The metallic click of
the shears was in the air, and over all was the blue sky and the
brilliant sunshine.

In a white overall, stained with patches of tar and some streaks of
blood, smudged with soap and scraps of the clinging wool, Parson
Christian moved among the shearers, applying plentiful doses of salve
from a huge can to the snips made in the skin of the sheep by the
accidents of the shears.

"We might have waited for the maister afore shearing--eh?" said Reuben,
from one of the creels.

"He'll be here before we finish, please the Lord," answered the parson.

"Is it to-day you're to gang for him?"

"Yes, this afternoon."

"A daub on this leg, parson, where she kicked--deuced take her!... It's
like you'll bring him home in a car?"

"Ay; Randal Alston has loaned me his mare."

"Why, man, what a upshot we'll have, for sure--bacon pie and veal and
haggis, and top stannin pie and puddings, I reckon.... Just a hand to
her leg, parson, while I strip the coat and waistcoat off this
black-faced herdwick.... Is the mistress to come home, too?"

"Nay, Reuben, Mrs. Ritson has gone back to where she came from."

"Weel, it's no'but naturable, after all that's happent.... Easy now ...
be quiet, wilta ... dusta want another snip, eh?... And young Mistress
Greta--it's like she'll be mistress now?"

"It's very likely she'll come to the Ghyll with her husband, Reuben."

"God bless her! And there's been no luck on the land since he left
it--and everything a fault, too.... There, she's stripped. Away with
her, Natt, man, and de'il tak' her."

In the afternoon a vast crowd of men, women and children had gathered
once more about the old town-hall at Keswick. They laughed and bantered
and sung. Presently the door of the hall was thrown open, and two men
came out. One was Paul Ritson, no longer clad as a convict; the other
was Parson Christian. The people hailed them with a mighty shout, lifted
them into a gig that was drawn up in the market-place, took out the
horses and crowded into the shafts. Then they set off with a great cheer
through the town and the country road, the dust rising in clouds behind
them.

They took the road to the west of the valley, and as they passed under
the wood, an old man, much bent, was easing a smoking fire in the
charcoal pit. He paused and raised himself, his iron rod in his hand,
and lifted his heavy eyes toward the clamorous company. The gig flew
past with its shouts, its cheers, and its noisy laughter, and the old
man turned silently back to his work.

When they came near to the vicarage, Paul leaped from the carriage over
the heads of the men who pulled it, vaulted the gate, and bounded into
the house. There was one who waited for him there, and in an instant she
was locked close in his arms. "At last!" he whispered. Her heart
overflowed; she dropped her fair young head on his heaving breast, and
wept sweet tears.

Parson Christian came rolling up the path surrounded by a tumultuous
throng. Foremost and lustiest were the blacksmith and the miller, and
close behind came the landlord and the postman. All were shouting as if
their brassy throats might crack.

There was high revel at the Ghyll that evening. First came the feasting
in the old kitchen: huge rounds of beef, quarters of lamb, pease, and
sweet puddings and pies. Then came the dancing in the barn, lighted by
candles in cloven sticks, and lanterns of turnips that were scooped out
hollow.

But at the vicarage Paul and Greta sat alone in silence and with clasped
hands. Parson Christian came in and out at intervals, gossiping cheerily
of the odds and ends of daily life, as if its even tenor had never been
disturbed. They supped together, and sat on till midnight; and then the
old Christian took down his green tome and wrote:

   "June 30.--So Paul being to return home after his long absence, I
   spent the forenoon on the fell shearing, and earned a stone of wool
   and a windle of rye. In the afternoon I set forward toward Keswick,
   wherefor Randal Alston had loaned me his mare and gig. At the Flying
   Horse I lighted not, but stood while I drank a pot of ale with John
   Proudfoot and Richard Parkinson and a neighbor that comes to-morrow
   to thatch the low barn for me. Then direct to Keswick, where there
   was a great concourse, and a hearty welcome, and much rejoicings
   that warmed me and came nigh to break me withal. Got son Paul at
   last, and would have driven direct home, but the good folk were not
   minded that it should be so, and naught would do but that they must
   loose the mare and run in the shafts. So we reached home about six,
   and found all well, and my love Greta, after long waiting in her
   closet, very busy with Paul, who had run in ahead of me. So I went
   out again and foddered and watered the mare, for Peter is sometimes a
   sad fatch and will not always give a horse what is worth its trouble
   in the eating. And being thrang this evening a-mending the heels of
   my old clock boots with lath nails, whereof I bought a pennyworth at
   Thomas Seed's shop in the market-place, I saw little of Paul, but
   left him to Greta. Then supped, and read a psalm and prayed in my
   family, and sat till full midnight. So I retire to my lodging-room,
   at peace with all the world, and commend my all to God. The Lord
   forgive the sins of me and mine that we have committed in these our
   days of trial. Blessed be God who has wrought our victory, and
   overcome our enemies and brought us out more than conquerors.

   Amen."

Parson Christian had put down the pen, and was sprinkling the writing
with sand from a pepper-castor, when Brother Peter came in with candles
in his hand and a letter under his abridged arm. "Laal Tom o' Dint gave
me this for thee," he said to Paul, and dropped the letter on to his
knees. "I was sa thrang with all their bodderments, that I don't know as
I didna forget it."

Parson Christian returned the green-clad book to its shelf, took up his
candle, bid good-night, and went to bed.

Brother Peter shambled out, and then Paul and Greta were left alone.

Paul opened the letter. It was inclosed in a sheet of paper that bore
the stamp of the Convent of St. Margaret, and these words only, "Sent on
by Sister Grace." Paul began to read the letter aloud, Greta looking
over his shoulder. But as he proceeded his voice faltered, and then he
stopped. Then, in silence, the eyes of both traversed the written words.
They ran:

   "Mother, I have wronged you deeply, and yours is a wrong that may
   never be repaired. The past does not return, and what is done is done
   with. It is not allowed to us to raze out the sins and the sufferings
   of the days that are gone; they stand and will endure. I am not so
   bad a man as perhaps I seem; but of what avail is it to defend myself
   now? and who would believe me? My life has been one long error, and
   the threads of my fate have been tangled. Have I not passed before
   our little world for a stern and callous man? Yet the blight of my
   soul has been passion. Yearning for love where love could never be
   returned, I am the ruins of what I might have been. If I did wrong
   knowingly, it was not until passion mastered me; if I saw things as
   they did not exist, it was because passion made me blind. Mother, if
   there is One above to watch and judge our little lives, surely He
   sees this, and reckons the circumstances with the deed.

   "Tell her that I wish her peace. If I were a man used to pray,
   perhaps I would ask Heaven to bless her. But my heart is barren of
   prayer. And what, after all, boots my praying? I have given her back
   at last to the love of a noble man. And now my wasted life is done,
   and this is the end--a sorry end!

   "Mother, I shall not live to suffer the earthly punishment of my
   crime. Never fear--my hand shall not be lifted against myself. Be
   sure of that, whatever else may seem doubtful. But very soon this
   passionate and rebellious soul will stand for judgment before its
   awaiting God.

   "Farewell, my mother, farewell!"





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