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Title: Vera Nevill - Poor Wisdom's Chance
Author: Cameron, Mrs. H. Lovett
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Vera Nevill - Poor Wisdom's Chance" ***

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                             VERA NEVILL;


                              _A NOVEL_.

                      BY MRS. H. LOVETT CAMERON

       Author of "Pure Gold," "In a Grass Country," etc., etc.


                             PHILADELPHIA:
                       J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
                                 1893.



  "No. Vain, alas! th' endeavour
   From bonds so sweet to sever.
     Poor Wisdom's Chance
     Against a glance
   Is now as weak as ever."

   _Moore's Melodies_.



CONTENTS.


       CHAPTER I. The Vicar's Family

      CHAPTER II. Kynaston Hall

     CHAPTER III. Fanning Dead Ashes

      CHAPTER IV. The Lay Rector

       CHAPTER V. "Little Pitchers"

      CHAPTER VI. A Soirée at Walpole Lodge

     CHAPTER VII. Evening Reveries

    CHAPTER VIII. The Member for Meadowshire

      CHAPTER IX. Engaged

       CHAPTER X. A Meeting on the Stairs

      CHAPTER XI. An Idle Morning

     CHAPTER XII. The Meet at Shadonake

    CHAPTER XIII. Peacock's Feathers

     CHAPTER XIV. Her Wedding Dress

      CHAPTER XV. Vera's Message

     CHAPTER XVI. "Poor Wisdom"

    CHAPTER XVII. An Unlucky Love-Letter

   CHAPTER XVIII. Lady Kynaston's Plans

     CHAPTER XIX. What She Waited For

      CHAPTER XX. A Morning Walk

     CHAPTER XXI. Maurice's Intercession

    CHAPTER XXII. Mr. Pryme's Visitors

   CHAPTER XXIII. A White Sunshade

    CHAPTER XXIV. Her Son's Secret

     CHAPTER XXV. St. Paul's, Knightsbridge

    CHAPTER XXVI. The Russia-Leather Case

   CHAPTER XXVII. Dinner at Ranelagh

  CHAPTER XXVIII. Mrs. Hazeldine's "Long Eliza"

    CHAPTER XXIX. A Wedding Tour

     CHAPTER XXX. "If I could Die!"

    CHAPTER XXXI. An Eventful Drive

   CHAPTER XXXII. By the Vicarage Gate

  CHAPTER XXXIII. Denis Wilde's Love

   CHAPTER XXXIV. A Garden Party

    CHAPTER XXXV. Shadonake Bath

   CHAPTER XXXVI. At Peace



VERA NEVILL

OR

POOR WISDOM'S CHANCE.



CHAPTER I.

THE VICAR'S FAMILY.

  With that regal indolent air she had
  So confident of her charm.

              Owen Meredith.

  Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.

              Shakespeare.


Amongst the divers domestic complications into which short-sighted man is
prone to fall there is none which has been more conclusively proved to be
an utter and egregious failure than that family arrangement which, for
lack of a better name, I will call a "composite household."

No one could have spoken upon this subject with greater warmth of
feeling, nor out of the depths of a more painful experience, than
could the Rev. Eustace Daintree, sometime vicar of the parish of
Sutton-in-the-Wold.

Mr. Daintree's family circle consisted of himself, his mother, his wife,
and his wife's sister, and I should like to know how a man could expect
to lead a life of peace and tranquillity with such a combination of
inharmonious feminine elements!

There were two children also, who were a fruitful source of discord and
disunion. It is certain that, had he chosen to do so, the Rev. Eustace
might have made many heart-rending and harrowing revelations concerning
the private life and customs of the inhabitants of his vicarage. It is
equally certain, however, that he would not have chosen to do so, for he
was emphatically a man of peace and gentleness, kind hearted and given
to good works; and was, moreover, sincerely anxious to do his duty
impartially to those whom Providence or fate, or a combination of chances
and changes, had somehow contrived to bring together under his roof.

Things had not always been thus with him. In the early days of their
married life Eustace Daintree and Marion his wife had had their home to
themselves, and right well had they enjoyed it. A fairly good living
backed up by independent means, a small rural parish, a pleasant
neighbourhood, a pretty and comfortable vicarage-house--what more can the
hearts of a clergyman of the Church of England and his wife desire? Mr.
and Mrs. Daintree, at all events, had wished for nothing better. But this
blissful state of things was not destined to last; it was, perhaps,
hardly to be expected that it should, seeing that man is born to trouble,
and that happiness is known to be as fleeting as time or beauty or any
other good thing.

When Eustace Daintree had been married five years, his father died,
and his mother, accepting his warmly tendered invitation to come to
Sutton-in-the-Wold upon a long visit, took up her abode in the pleasant
vicarage-house.

Her visit was long indeed. In a weak moment her son consented to her
urgent request to be allowed to subscribe her quota to the household
expenses--this was as good as giving her a ninety-nine years' lease of
her quarters. The thin end of the wedge thus inserted, Mrs. Daintree
_mère_ became immovable as the church tower or the kitchen chimney, and
the doomed members of the family began to understand that nothing short
of death itself was likely to terminate the old lady's residence amongst
them. For the future her son's house became her home.

But, even thus, things were not at their worst. Marion Daintree was a
soft-hearted, gentle-mannered little woman. It cannot be said that she
regarded the permanent instalment of her mother-in-law in her home with
pleasurable feelings; she would have been more than human had she done
so. But then she was unfeignedly fond of her husband, and desired so
earnestly to make his home happy that, not seeing her way to oust the
intruder without a warfare which would have distressed him, she
determined to make the best of the situation, and to preserve the
family peace and concord at all risks.

She succeeded in her praiseworthy efforts, but at what cost no one but
herself ever knew. Marion's whole life became one propitiatory sacrifice
to her mother-in-law. To propitiate Mrs. Daintree was a very simple
matter. Bearing in mind that her leading characteristics were a bad
temper and an ungovernable desire to ride rough-shod over the feelings of
all those who came into contact with her, in order to secure her favour
it was only necessary to study her moods, and to allow her to tread you
under foot as much as her soul desired. Provided that she had her own way
in these little matters, Mrs. Daintree became an amiable old lady. Marion
did all that was needful; figuratively speaking, she laid down in the
dust before her, and the Juggernaut of her fate consented to be appeased
by the lowly attitude, and crushed its way triumphantly over her fallen
body.

Thus Marion accepted her fate, and peace was preserved in her husband's
house. But by-and-by there came somebody into the family who would by no
manner of means consent to be so crushed and trodden under foot. This
somebody was Vera Nevill.

In order duly to set forth who and what was this young woman, who thus
audaciously set at defiance the powers that were, it will be necessary
that I should take a brief survey of Marion's family history.

Marion, then, be it known, was the eldest of three sisters; so much the
eldest, that when Mr. Daintree had met her and married her in Rome during
one of his brief holidays, the two remaining sisters had been at the time
hardly more than children. Colonel Nevill, their father, had married an
Italian lady, long since dead, and had lived a nomad life ever since he
had become a widower; moving about chiefly between Nice, Rome, and Malta.
Wherever pleasant society was to be found, there would Colonel Nevill and
his daughters instinctively drift, and year after year they became more
and more enamoured of their foreign life, and less and less disposed to
venture back to the chill fogs and cloudy skies of their native land.

Three years after Marion had left them, and gone away with her husband to
his English vicarage; Theodora, the second daughter, had at eighteen
married an Italian prince, whose lineage was ancient, but whose acres
were few; and Colonel Nevill, dying rather suddenly almost immediately
after, Vera, the youngest daughter, as was most natural, instantly found
a home with Princess Marinari.

All this time Marion lived at Sutton-in-the-Wold, and saw none of them.
She wept copiously at the news of her father's death, regretting bitterly
her inability to receive his parting blessing; but, her little Minnie
being born shortly after, her thoughts were fortunately diverted into a
happier channel, and she suffered from her loss less keenly and recovered
from it more quickly than had she had no separate life and no separate
interests of her own to engross her. Still, being essentially
affectionate and faithful, she clung to the memory of the two sisters now
separated so entirely from her. For some years she and Theodora kept up a
brisk correspondence. Marion's letters were full of the sayings and
doings of Tommy and Minnie, and Theodora's were full of nothing but Vera.

What Vera had looked like at her first ball, how Prince this and Marquis
so-and-so had admired her; how she had been smothered with bouquets and
bonbons at Carnival time; how she had sat to some world-famed artist, who
had entreated to be allowed to put her face into his great picture, and
how the house was literally besieged with her lovers. By all this, and
much more in the same strain, Marion perceived that her young sister,
whom she had last seen in all the raw unformed awkwardness of early
girlhood, had developed somehow into a beautiful woman.

And there came photographs of Vera occasionally, fully confirming the
glowing accounts Princess Marinari gave of her; fantastic photographs,
portraying her in strange and different ways. There was Vera looking out
through clouds of her own dark hair hanging loosely about her face; Vera
as a Bacchante crowned with vine leaves, laughing saucily; Vera draped as
a _dévote_, with drooping eyes and hands crossed meekly upon her bosom.
Sometimes she would be in a ball-dress, with lace about her white
shoulders; sometimes muffled up in winter sables, her head covered with
a fur cap. But always she was beautiful, always a young queen, even in
these poor, fading photographs, that could give but a faint idea of her
loveliness to those who knew her not.

"She must be very handsome," Eustace Daintree would say heartily, as his
wife, with a little natural flush of pride, handed some picture of her
young sister across the breakfast-table to him. "How I wish we could see
her, she must be worth looking at, indeed. Mother, have you seen this
last one of Vera?"

"Beauty is a snare," the old lady would answer viciously, hardly deigning
to glance at the lovely face; "and your sister seems to me, Marion, to be
dressed up like an actress, most unlike my idea of a modest English
girl."

Then Marion would take her treasure away with her up into her own room,
out of the way of her mother-in-law's stern and repelling remarks.

But one day there came sad news to the vicarage at Sutton. Theodora,
Princess Marinari, caught the Roman fever in its worst form, and after
a few agonizing letters and telegrams, that came so rapidly one upon the
other that she had hardly time to realize the dreadful truth, Marion
learnt that her sister was dead.

After that, the elder sister's English home became naturally the right
and fitting place for Vera to come to. So she left her gay life and her
lovers, her bright dresses and all that had hitherto seemed to her worth
living for, and came back to her father's country and took up her abode
in Eustace Daintree's quiet vicarage, where she became shortly her
sister's idol and her sister's mother-in-law's mortal foe.

And then it was that the worthy clergyman came to discover that to put
three grown-up women into the same house, and to expect them to live
together in peace and amity, is about as foolhardy an experiment as to
shut up a bulldog, a parrot, and a tom-cat in a cupboard, and expect
them to behave like so many lambs.

It is now rather more than a year since Vera Nevill came to live in her
brother-in-law's house. Let me waste no further time, but introduce her
to you at once.

The time of the year is October--the time of day is five o'clock. In the
vicarage drawing-room the afternoon tea-table has just been set out, and
the fire just lit, for it is chilly; but one of the long French windows
leading into the garden is still open, and through it Vera steps into
the room.

There is a background of brown and yellow foliage behind her, across the
garden, all aglow with the crimson light of the western sky, against
which the outlines of her figure, in its close-fitting dark dress, stand
out clearly and distinctly. Vera has the figure, not of a sylph, but of
a goddess; it is the absolute perfection of the female form. She is
tall--very tall, and she carries her head a little proudly, like a young
queen conscious of her own power.

She comes in with a certain slow and languid grace in her movements, and
pauses for an instant by the hearth, holding out her hand, that is white
and well-shaped, though perhaps a trifle too long-fingered, to the
warmth.

The glow of the newly-lit fire flickers up over her face--her face, with
its pure oval outlines, its delicate, regular features, and its dreamy
eyes, that are neither blue nor gray nor hazel, but something vague and
indistinctly beautiful, entirely peculiar to themselves. Her hair, a soft
dusky cloud, comes down low over her broad forehead, and is gathered up
at the back in some strange and thoroughly un-English fashion that would
not suit every one, yet that somehow makes a fitting crown to the stately
young head it adorns.

"Tea, Vera?" says Marion, from behind the cups and saucers.

Old Mrs. Daintree sits darning socks, severely, by the fading light.
There is a sound of distant whimpering from the shadowy corner behind the
piano; it is Tommy in disgrace. Vera turns round; Marion's kind face
looks troubled and distressed; the old lady compresses her lips firmly
and savagely.

Vera takes the cup from her sister's hands, and putting it down again on
the table, proceeds to cut a slice of bread from the loaf, and to spread
it thickly with strawberry jam.

"Come here, Tommy, and have some of Auntie's bread and jam."

Out comes a small person, with a very swollen face and a very dirty
pinafore, from the distant seclusion of the corner, and flies swiftly
to Vera's sheltering arm.

Mrs. Daintree drops her work angrily into her lap.

"Vera, I must beg of you not to interfere with Tom; are you aware that he
is in the corner by my orders?"

"Perfectly, Mrs. Daintree; and also that he was there before I went out,
exactly three-quarters of an hour ago; there are limits to all human
endurance."

"I consider it extremely impertinent," begins the old lady, nodding her
head violently.

"Darling Vera," pleads Marion, almost in tears; "perhaps you had better
let him go back."

"Tommy is quite good now," says Vera, calmly passing her hand over the
rough blonde head. Master Tommy's mouth is full of bread and jam, and he
looks supremely indifferent to the warfare that is being carried on on
his account over his head.

His crime having been the surreptitious purloining of his grandmamma's
darning cotton, and the subsequent immersion of the same in the inkstand,
Vera feels quite a warm glow of approval towards the little culprit and
his judiciously-planned piece of mischief.

"Vera, I _insist_ upon that child being sent back into the corner!"
exclaims Mrs. Daintree, angrily, bringing her large fist heavily down
upon her knee.

"The child has been over-punished already," she answers, calmly, still
administering the soothing solace of strawberry jam.

"Oh, Vera, _pray_ keep the peace!" cries Marion, with clasped hands.

"Here, I am thankful to say, comes my son;" as a shadow passes the
window, and Eustace's tall figure with the meekly stooping head comes
in at the door. "Eustace, I beg that you will decide who is to be in
authority in this house--your mother or this young lady. It is
insufferable that every time I send the children into the corner Vera
should call them out and give them cakes and jam."

Eustace Daintree looks helplessly from one to the other.

"My dear mother--my dear girls--what is it all about? I am sure Vera does
not mean----"

"No, Vera only means to be kind, grandmamma," cries Marion, nervously;
"she is so fond of the children----"

"Hold your tongue, Marion, and don't take your sister's part so
shamelessly!"

Meanwhile Vera rises silently and pushes Tommy and all his enormities
gently by the shoulders out of the room. Then she turns round and faces
her foe.

"Judge between us, Eustace!" the old lady is crying; "am I to be defied
and set at nought? are we all to bow down and worship Miss Vera, the most
useless, lazy person in the house, who turns up her nose at honest men
and prefers to live on charity, a burden to her relations?"

"Vera is no burden, only a great pleasure to me, my dear mother," said
the clergyman, holding out his hand to the girl.

"Oh, grandmamma, how unkind you are," says Marion, bursting into tears.
But Vera only laughs lazily and amusedly, she is so used to it all! It
does not disturb her.

"Is she to be mistress here, I ask, or am I?" continues Mrs. Daintree,
furiously.

"Marion is the mistress here," says Vera, boldly; "neither you nor I have
any authority in her house or over her children." And then the old lady
gathers up her work and sails majestically from the room, followed by her
weak, trembling daughter-in-law, bent on reconciliation, on cajolement,
on laying herself down for her own sins, and her sister's as well, before
the avenging genius of her life.

The clergyman stands by the hearth with his head bent and his hands
behind him. He sighs wearily.

Vera creeps up to him and lays her hand softly upon his coat sleeve.

"I am a firebrand, am I not, Eustace?"

"My dear, no, not that; but if you could try a little to keep the peace!"
He stayed the caressing hand within his own and looked at her tenderly.
His face is a good one, but not a handsome one; and, as he looks at his
wife's young sister, it is softened into its best and kindest. Who can
resist Vera, when she looks gentle and humble, with that rare light in
her dark eyes?

"Vera, why don't you look like that at Mr. Gisburne?" he says, smiling.

"Oh, Eustace! am I indeed a burden to you, as your mother says?" she
exclaims, evasively.

"No, no, my dear, but it seems hard for you here; a home of your own
might be happier for you; and Gisburne is a good man."

"I don't like good men who are poor!" says Vera, with a little grimace.

Her brother-in-law looks shocked. "Why do you say such hard worldly
things, Vera? You do not really mean them."

"Don't I? Eustace, look at me: do I look like a poor clergyman's wife? Do
survey me dispassionately." She holds herself at arm's length from him,
and looks comically up and down the length of her gray skirts. "Think of
the yards and yards of stuff it takes to clothe me; and should not a
woman as tall as I am be always in velvet and point lace, Eustace? What
is the good of condemning myself to workhouse sheeting for the rest of my
days?"

Mr. Daintree looks at her admiringly; he has learnt to love her; this
beautiful southern flower that has come to blossom in his home. Women
will be hard enough on Vera through her life--men, never.

"You have great gifts and great temptations, my child," he says,
solemnly. "I pray that I may be enabled to do my duty to you. Do not say
you do not like good men, Vera, it pains me to hear you say it."

"I like _one_ good man, and his name is Eustace Daintree!" she answers,
softly; "is not that a hopeful sign?"

"You are a little flatterer, Vera," he says, kissing her; but, though he
is a middle-aged clergyman and her brother-in-law, he is by no means
impervious to the flattery.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Marion is humbling herself into the dust, at the
footstool of her tyrant. Mrs. Daintree is very angry with Marion's
sister, and Mr. Gisburne is also the text whereon she hangs her sermon.

"I wish her no harm, Marion; why should I? She is most impertinent to me,
but of that I will not speak."

"Indeed, grandmamma, you do not understand Vera. I am sure she----"

"Oh, yes, excuse me, my dear, I understand her perfectly--the
impertinence to myself I waive--I hope I am a Christian, but I cannot
forgive her for turning up her nose at Mr. Gisburne--a most excellent
young man; what can a girl want more?"

"Dear Mrs. Daintree, does Vera look like a poor clergyman's wife?" said
Marion, using unconsciously Vera's own arguments.

"Now, Marion, I have no patience with such folly! Whom do you suppose she
is to wait for? We haven't got any Princes down at Sutton to marry her;
and I say it's a shame that she should go on living on her friends, a
girl without a penny! when she might marry a respectable man, and have
a home of her own."

And then even Marion said that, if Vera could be brought to like Mr.
Gisburne, it might possibly be happier for her to marry him.



CHAPTER II.

KYNASTON HALL.

  Only the wind here hovers and revels
  In a round where life seems barren as death.
  Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
  Haply of lovers none ever will know.

  Swinburne, "A Forsaken Garden."


It seemed to be generally acknowledged by the Daintree family that if
Vera would only consent to yield to the solicitations of the Reverend
Albert Gisburne, and transfer herself to Tripton Rectory for life, it
would be the simplest and easiest solution of a good many difficult
problems concerning her.

In point of fact, Vera Nevill was an incongruous element in the Daintree
household. In that quiet humdrum country clergyman's life she was as much
out of her proper place as a bird of paradise in a chicken yard, or a
Gloire de Dijon rose in a field of turnips.

It was not her beauty alone, but her whole previous life which unfitted
her for the things amongst which she found herself suddenly transplanted.
She was no young unformed child, but a woman of the world, who had been
courted and flattered and sought after; who had learnt to hold her own,
and to fight her battles single-handed, and who knew far more about
the dangers and difficulties of life than did the simple-hearted
brother-in-law, under whose charge she now found herself, or the timid,
gentle sister who was so many years her senior.

But if she was cognizant of the world and its ways, Vera knew absolutely
nothing about the life of an English vicarage. Sunday schools and
mothers' meetings were enigmas to her; clothing clubs and friendly
societies, hopeless and uninteresting mysteries which she had no desire
to solve. She had no place in the daily routine. What was she to do
amongst it all?

Vera did what was most pleasant and also most natural to her--she did
nothing. She was by habit and by culture essentially indolent. The
southern blood she inherited, the life of the Italian fine lady she had
led, made her languid and fond of inaction. To lie late in bed, to sip
chocolate, and open her letters before she rose; to be dressed and
re-dressed by a fashionable lady's maid; to recline in luxurious
carriages, and to listen lazily to the flattery and adulation that had
surrounded her--that had been Vera's life from morning till night ever
since she grew up.

How, with such antecedents, was she to enter suddenly into all the
activity of an English clergyman's home? There were the schools, and the
vestry meetings, and the sick and the destitute to be fretted after from
Monday morning till Saturday night--Eustace and Marion hardly ever had a
moment's respite or a leisure hour the whole week; whilst Sunday, of
course, was the hardest day's work of all.

But Vera could not turn her life into these things. She would not have
known how to set about them, and assuredly she had no desire to try.

So she wandered about the garden in the summer time, or sat dreamily by
the fire in winter. She gathered flowers and decorated the rooms with
them; she spoilt the children, she quarrelled with their grandmother, but
she did nothing else; and the righteous soul of Eustace Daintree was
disquieted within him on account of her. He felt that her life was
wasted, and the responsibility of it seemed, to his over-sensitive
conscience, to rest upon himself.

"The girl ought to be married," he would say to his wife, anxiously. "A
husband and a home of her own is what she wants. If she were happily
settled she would find occupation enough."

"I don't see whom she could marry, Eustace; men are so scarce, and there
are so many girls in the county."

"Well, she might have had Barry." Barry was a curate whom Vera had lately
scorned, and who had, in consequence of the crushed condition of his
affections, incontinently fled. "And then there is Gisburne. Why couldn't
she marry Gisburne? He is quite a catch, and a good young man too."

"Yes, it is a pity; perhaps she may change her mind, and he will ask her
again after Christmas; he told me as much."

"You must try and persuade her to think better of it by then, my dear.
Now I must be off to old Abraham, and be sure you send round the port to
Mary Williams; and you will find the list for the blanket club on my
study table, love."

Her husband started on his morning rounds, and Marion, coming down into
the drawing-room, found old Mrs. Daintree haranguing Vera on the same
all-important topic.

"I am only speaking for your good, Vera; what other object could I have?"
she was saying, as she dived into the huge basket of undarned socks on
the floor before her, and extracted thereout a ragged specimen to be
operated upon. "It is sheer obstinacy on your part that you will not
accept such a good offer. And there was poor Mr. Barry, a most worthy
young man, and his second cousin a bishop, too, quite sure of a living,
I should say."

"Another clergyman!" said Vera, with a soft laugh, just lifting up her
hands and letting them fall down again upon her lap, with a little,
half-foreign movement of impatience. "Are there, then, no other men but
the clergy in this country?"

"And a very good thing if there were no others," glared the old lady,
defiantly, over her spectacles.

"I do not like them," said Vera, simply.

"Not like them! Considering that I am the daughter, the widow, and the
mother of clergymen, I consider that remark a deliberate insult to me!"

"Dear Mrs. Daintree, I am sure Vera never meant----" cried Marion,
trembling for fear of a fresh battle.

"Don't interrupt me, Marion; you ought to have more proper pride than to
stand by and hear the Church reviled."

"Vera only said she did not like them."

"No more I do, Marion," said Vera, stifling a yawn--"not when they are
young; when they are old, like Eustace, they are far better; but when
they are young they are all exactly alike--equally harmless when out of
the pulpit, and equally wearisome when in it!"

A few moments of offended silence on the part of the elder lady,
during which she tugs fiercely and savagely at the ragged sock in her
hands--then she bursts forth again.

"You may scorn them as much as you like, but let me tell you that the
life of a clergyman's wife--honoured, respected, and useful--is a more
profitable one than the idle existence which you lead, utterly
purposeless and lazy. You never do one single thing from morning till
night."

"What shall I do? Shall I help you to darn Eustace's socks?" reaching at
one of them out of the basket.

Mrs. Daintree wrenched it angrily from her hand.

"Good gracious! as if you could! What a bungle it would be. Why, I never
saw you with a piece of work in your hand in my life. I dare say you
could not even thread a needle."

"I am quite sure I have never threaded one yet," laughed Vera, lazily. "I
might try; but you see you won't let me be useful, so I had better resign
myself to idleness." And then she rose and took her hat, and went out
through the French window, out among the fallen yellow leaves, leaving
the other women to discuss the vexed problem of her existence.

She discussed it to herself as she walked dreamily along under the trees
in the lane beyond the garden, her head bent, and her eyes fixed upon the
ground; she swung her hat idly in her hand, for it was warm for the time
of year, and the gold-brown leaves fluttered down about her head and
rustled under the dark, trailing skirts behind her.

About half a mile up the lane, beyond the vicarage, stood an old iron
gateway leading into a park. It was flanked by square red-brick columns,
upon whose summits two stone griffins, "rampant," had looked each other
in the face for the space of some two hundred years or so, peering grimly
over the tops of the shields against which they stood on end, upon which
all the family arms and quarterings of the Kynastons had become softly
coated over by an indistinct veil of gray-green moss.

Vera turned in at this gate, nodding to the woman at the lodge within,
who looked out for a minute at her as she passed. It was her daily walk,
for Kynaston was uninhabited and empty, and any one was free to wander
unreproved among its chestnut glades, or to stand and gossip to its
ancient housekeeper in the great bare rooms of the deserted house.

Vera did so often. The square, red-brick building, with its stone
copings, the terrace walk before the windows, the peacocks sunning
themselves before the front door, the fountain plashing sleepily in the
stone basin, the statues down the square Italian garden--all had a
certain fascination for her dreamy poetical nature. Then turning in at
the high narrow doorway, whose threshold Mrs. Eccles, the housekeeper,
had long ago given her free leave to cross, she would stroll through the
deserted rooms, touching the queer spindle-legged furniture with gentle
reverent fingers, gazing absorbedly at the dark rows of family portraits,
and speculating always to herself what they had been like, these dead and
gone Kynastons, who had once lived and laughed, and sorrowed and died, in
the now empty rooms, where nothing was left of them save those dim and
faded portraits, and where the echo of her own footsteps was the only
sound in the wilderness of the carpetless chambers where once they had
reigned supreme.

She got to know them all at last by name--whole generations of them.
There was Sir Ralph in armour, and Bridget, his wife, in a ruff and a
farthingale; young Sir Maurice, who died in boyhood, and Sir Penrhyn, his
brother, in long love-locks and lace ruffles. A whole succession of Sir
Martins and Sir Henrys; then came the first Sir John and his wife in
powder and patches, with their fourteen children all in a row, whose
elaborate marriages and family histories, Vera, although assisted by Mrs.
Eccles, who had them all at her fingers' ends, had considerable
difficulty in clearly comprehending. It was a relief to be firmly landed
with Sir Maurice, in a sad-coloured suit and full-bottomed wig, "the
present baronet's grandfather," and, lastly, Sir John, "the present
baronet's father," in a deputy-lieutenant's scarlet uniform, with a
cocked hat under his arm--by far the worst and most inartistic painting
in the whole collection.

It was all wonderful and interesting to Vera. She elaborated whole
romances to herself out of these portraits. She settled their loves and
their temptations, heart-broken separations, and true lovers' meetings
between them. Each one had his or her history woven out of the slender
materials which Mrs. Eccles could give her of their real lives. Only one
thing disappointed her, there was no portrait of the present Sir John.
She would have liked to have seen what he was like, this man who was
unmarried still, and who had never cared to live in the house of his
fathers. She wondered what the mystery had been that kept him from it.
She could not understand that a man should deliberately prefer dark,
dirty, dingy London, which she had only once seen in passing from one
station to the other on her way to Sutton, to a life in this quiet
old-world red-brick house, with the rooks cawing among trees, and the
long chestnut glades stretching away into the park, and all the venerable
associations of those portraits of his ancestors. Some trouble, some
sorrow, must have kept him away from it, she felt.

But she would not question Mrs. Eccles about him; she encouraged her to
talk of the dead and gone generations as much as she pleased, but of the
man who was her master Vera would have thought it scarcely honourable to
have spoken to his servant. Perhaps, too, she preferred her dreams. One
day, idly opening the drawer of an old bureau in the little room which
Mrs. Eccles always called religiously "My lady's morning room," Vera came
upon a modern photograph that arrested her attention wonderfully.

It represented, however, nothing very remarkable; only a
broad-shouldered, good-looking young man, with an aquiline noise and a
close-cropped head. On the reverse side of the card was written in
pencil, "My son--for Mrs. Eccles." Lady Kynaston, she supposed, must
therefore have sent it to the old housekeeper, and of course it was Sir
John. Vera pushed it back again into the drawer with a little flush, as
though she had been guilty of an indiscretion in looking at it, and she
said no word of her discovery to the housekeeper. A day or two later she
sought for it again in the same place, but it had been taken away.

But the face thus seen made an impression upon her. She did not forget
it; and when Sir John Kynaston's name was mentioned, she invested him
with the living likeness of the photograph she had seen.

On this particular October morning that Vera strolled up idly to the old
house she did not feel inclined to wander among the deserted rooms; the
sunshine came down too pleasantly through the autumn leaves; the air was
too full of the lingering breath of the dying summer for her to care to
go indoors. She paused a minute by the open window of the housekeeper's
room, and called the old lady by name.

The room, however, was empty and she received no answer, so she wandered
on to the terrace and leant over the stone parapet that looked over the
gardens and the fountains, and the distant park beyond, and she thought
of the photograph in the drawer.

And then and there there came into Vera Neville's mind a thought that,
beginning with nothing more than an indistinct and idle fancy, ended in
a set and determined purpose.

The thought was this:--

"If Sir John Kynaston ever comes down here, I will marry him."

She said it to herself, deliberately and calmly, without the slightest
particle of hesitation or bashfulness. She told herself that what her
relations were perpetually impressing upon her concerning the
desirableness of her marrying and making a home of her own, was perfectly
just and true. It would undoubtedly be a good thing for her to marry; her
life was neither very pleasant nor very satisfactory to herself or to any
one else. She had never intended to end her days at Sutton Vicarage; it
had only been an intermediate condition of things. She had no vocation
for visiting the poor, or for filling that useful but unexciting family
office of maiden aunt; and, moreover, she felt that, with all their
kindness to her, her brother-in-law and his wife ought not to be burdened
with her support for longer than was necessary. As to turning governess,
or companion, or lady-help, there was an incongruity in the idea that
made it too ludicrous to contemplate even for an instant. There is no
other way that a handsome and penniless woman can deliver her friends
of the burden of her existence than by marriage.

Marriage decidedly was what Vera had to look to. She was in no way averse
to the idea, only she intended to look at the subject from the most
practical and matter-of-fact point of view.

She was not going to render herself wretched for life by rashly
consenting to marry Mr. Gisburne, or any other equally unsuitable husband
that her friends might choose to press upon her. Vera differed in one
important respect from the vast majority of young ladies of the present
day--she had no vague and indistinct dreams as to what marriage might
bring her. She knew exactly what she wanted from it. She wanted wealth
and position, because she knew what they were and what life became
without them; and because she knew that she was utterly unfitted to be
the wife of any one but a rich man.

And therefore it was that Vera looked from the square red house behind
her over the wide gardens and broad lawns, and down the noble avenues
that spread away into the distance, and said to herself, "This is what
will suit me, to be mistress of a place like this; I should love it
dearly; I should find real happiness and pleasure in the duties that such
a position would bring me. If Sir John Kynaston comes here, it is he whom
I will marry, and none other."

As to what her feelings might be towards the man whom she thus proposed
to marry it cannot be said that Vera took them into consideration at all.
She was not, indeed, aware whether or no she possessed any feelings; they
had never incommoded her hitherto. Probably they had no existence. Such
vague fancy as had been ever roused within her had been connected with a
photograph seen once in a writing-table drawer. The photograph of Sir
John Kynaston! The reflection did not influence her in the least, only
she said to herself also, "If he is like his photograph, I should be sure
to get on with him."

She was an odd mixture, this Vera. Ambitious, worldly-wise, mercenary
even, if you will; conscious of her own beauty, and determined to exact
its full value; and yet she was tender and affectionate, full of poetry
and refinement, honest and true as her own fanciful name.

The secret of these strange contradictions is simply this. Vera has never
loved. No one spark of divine fire has ever touched her soul or warmed
the latent energies of her being. She has lived in the thick of the
world, but love has passed her scatheless. Her mind, her intellect, her
brain, are all alive, and sharpened acutely; her heart slumbers still.
Happier for her, perhaps, had it never awakened.

She leant upon the stone parapet, supporting her chin upon her hand,
dreaming her dreams. Her hat lay by her side, her long dark dress fell in
straight heavy folds to her feet. The yellow leaves fluttered about her,
the peacocks strutted up and down, the gardeners in the distance were
sweeping up the dead leaves on the lawns, but Vera stirred not; one
motionless, beautiful figure giving grace, and life, and harmony to the
deserted scene.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some one was passing along among the upper rooms of the house, followed
by Mrs. Eccles, panting and exhausted.

"I am sure, Sir John, I am quite ashamed that you should see the place so
choked up with dust and lumber. If you had only let me have a day's
notice, instead of being took all of a sudden like, I'd have had the
house tidied up a bit; but what with not expecting to see any of the
family, and my being old, and not so quick at the cleaning as I used to
be----"

"Never mind, Mrs. Eccles; I had just as soon see it as it is. I only
wanted to see if you could make three or four rooms tolerably habitable
in case I thought of bringing my horses down for a month or so. The
stables, I find, are in good repair."

"Yes, Sir John, and so is the house; though the furniture is that
old-fashioned, that it is hardly fit for you to use."

"Oh! it will do well enough; besides, I have not made up my mind at all.
It is quite uncertain whether I shall come----Who is that?" stopping
suddenly short before the window.

"That! Oh, bless me, Sir John, it's Miss Vera, from the vicarage. I hope
you won't object to her being here; of course, she could not know you was
back. I had given her leave to walk in the grounds."

"The vicarage! Has Mr. Daintree a daughter so old as that?"

"Oh, law! no, Sir John. It is Mrs. Daintree's sister. She came from
abroad to live with them last year. A very nice young lady, Sir John, is
Miss Nevill, and seems lonely like, and it kind of cheers her up to come
and see me and walk in the garden. I am sure I hope you won't take it
amiss that I should have allowed her to come."

"Take it amiss--good gracious, no! Pray, let Miss--Miss Nevill, did you
say?--come as often as she likes. What about the cellars, Mrs. Eccles?"

"I will get the key, Sir John." The housekeeper precedes him out of the
room, but Sir John stands still by the window.

"What a picture," he says to himself below his breath; "how well she
looks there. She gives to the old place just the one thing it lacks--has
always lacked ever since I have known it--the presence of a beautiful
woman. Yes, Mrs. Eccles, I am coming." This last aloud, and he hastens
downstairs.

Five minutes later, Sir John Kynaston says to his housekeeper,

"You need not scare that young lady away from the place by telling her
I was here to-day and saw her. And you may get the rooms ready, Mrs.
Eccles, and order anything that is wanted, and get in a couple of maids,
for I have made up my mind to bring my horses down next month."



CHAPTER III.

FANNING DEAD ASHES.

  Weep no more, nor sigh, nor groan,
  Sorrow calls no time that's gone,
  Violets plucked, the sweetest rain
  Makes not fresh, nor grow again.

  Fletcher.


"Have you heard of Sir John's latest vagary, grandpapa? He is gone down
to Kynaston to hunt--so there's an end of _him_."

"Humph! Where did you hear that?"

"I've been lunching at Lady Kynaston's."

The speaker stood by the window of one of the large houses at Prince's
Gate overlooking the Horticultural Gardens. She was a small, slight
woman, with fair pale features and a mass of soft yellow hair. She had a
delicate complexion and very clear blue eyes. Altogether she was a pretty
little woman. A stranger would have guessed her to be a girl barely out
of her teens. Helen Romer was in reality five-and-twenty, and she had
been a widow four years.

Of her brief married life few people could speak with any certainty,
although there were plenty of surmises and conjectures concerning it. All
that was known was that Helen had lived with her grandfather till she was
nineteen; that one fine morning she had walked out of the house and had
been married to a man whom her grandfather disapproved of, and to whom
she had always professed perfect indifference. It was also known that
eighteen months later her husband, having rapidly wasted his existence by
drink and other irregular courses, had died in miserable poverty; and
that Helen, not being able to set up a home of her own, upon her slender
fortune of some five or six thousand pounds, had returned to her
grandfather's house in Prince's Gate, where she had lived ever since.

Why she had married William Romer no one ever exactly knew--perhaps Helen
herself least of any one. It certainly was not for love; it could hardly
have been from any worldly motive. Some people averred, and possibly they
were not far wrong, that she had done so out of pique because the man she
loved did not want her.

However that might be, Mrs. Romer returned a widow, and not a very
disconsolate one, to her grandfather's house.

It is certain that she would not have lived there could she have helped
it. She did not love old Mr. Harlowe, neither did Mr. Harlowe love her. A
sense of absolute duty to his dead daughter's child on the one side, a
sense of absolute necessity on the other, kept the two together. Their
natures were inharmonious. They kept up a form of affection and intimacy
openly; in reality, they had not one single thought in common.

It is not too much to say that Mr. Harlowe positively disliked his
grand-daughter. He had, perhaps, good reason for it. Helen had been
nothing but a trouble to him. He had not desired to bring up a young
lady in his house; he had not wished for the society which her presence
entailed, nor for the dissipations of London life into which he was
dragged more or less against his will. Added to which, Helen had not
striven to please him in essential matters. She had married a gambling,
drinking blackguard, whom he had forbidden to enter his doors; and now,
when she might retrieve her position, and marry well and creditably, she
refused to make the slightest effort to meet his views.

Helen's life was a mystery to all but herself. To the world she was a
pretty, lively little widow, with a good house to live in, and sufficient
money of her own to spend to very good effect upon her back, with not a
single duty or responsibility in her existence, and with no other
occupation in life than to amuse herself. At her heart Helen knew herself
to be a soured and disappointed woman, who had desired one thing all her
life, and who, having attained with great pains and toil that forbidden
fruit which she had coveted, had found it turn, as such fruits too often
do, to dust and ashes between her teeth. It was to have been sweet as
honeydew--and behold, it was nothing but bitterness!

She stood at the window looking out at the waning light of the November
afternoon. She was handsomely dressed in dark-green velvet, with a heavy
old-fashioned gold chain round her neck; every now and then she looked at
her watch, and a frown passed over her brow. The old man was bending over
the fire behind her.

"Gone to Kynaston, is he? Humph! that is your fault, you frightened him
off."

"Did I set my cap at him so palpably then?" said Helen, with a short,
hard laugh.

"You know very well what I mean," answered her grandfather, sulkily. "Set
your cap! No, you only do that to the men you know I don't approve of,
and who don't want you."

Helen winced a little. "You put things very coarsely, grandpapa," she
said, and laughed again. "I am sorry I have been unable to make love to
Sir John Kynaston to please you. Is that what you wanted me to do?"

"I want you to look after a respectable husband, who can afford to keep
you. What is the meaning of that perpetual going to Lady Kynaston's then?
And why have you dragged me up to town at this confounded time of the
year if it wasn't for that? You have played your cards badly as usual.
You might have had him if you had chosen."

"I have never had the least intention of casting myself at Sir John's
head," said Helen, scornfully.

"You can cast yourself, as you call it, at that good-for-nothing young
spendthrift's head fast enough if you choose it."

"I don't in the least know whom you mean," she said, shortly.

The old man chuckled. "Oh, yes, you know well enough--the brother who
spends his time racing and betting. You are a fool, Helen; he doesn't
want you; and if he did, he couldn't afford to keep you."

"Suppose we leave Captain Kynaston's name out of the discussion,
grandpapa," she said, quietly, but her face flushed suddenly and her
hands twisted themselves nervously in and out of her heavy chain. "Are
you not going to your study this evening?"

"Oh yes, I'm going, fast enough. You want me out of the way, I suppose.
Somebody coming to tea, eh? Oh yes, I'll clear out. I don't want to
listen to your rubbish."

The old man gathered up his books and papers and shuffled out of the
room, muttering to himself as he went.

The servant came in, bringing the lamp, replenished the fire and drew the
curtains, shutting out the light of day.

"Any one to tea, ma'am?" he inquired, respectfully.

"One gentleman--no one else. Bring up tea when he comes."

"Very well, ma'am;" and the servant withdrew. Mrs. Romer paced
impatiently up and down the room, stopping again and again before the
clock.

"Late again! A whole half-hour behind his time! It is insufferable that
he should treat me like this. He would go quickly enough to see some new
face--some fresh fancy that had attracted him."

She took out her watch and laid it on the table. "Let me see if he will
come before the minute-hand touches the quarter; he _must_ be here by
then!"

She continued to pace steadily up and down the room. The clock ticked on,
the minute-hand of the watch crept ever stealthily forward over the
golden dial; now and then a passing vehicle without made her heart beat
with sudden hope, and then sink down again with disappointment, as the
sound of the wheels went by and died away in the distance.

Suddenly she sank into an arm-chair, covering her face with her hands.

"Oh, what a fool--what a fool I am!" she exclaimed aloud. "Why have I not
strength of mind to go out before he comes, to show him that I don't
care? Why, at least, can I not call up grandpapa, and pretend I had
forgotten he was coming? That would be the best way to treat him; the way
to show him that I am not the miserable slave he thinks me. Why can I,
who know so well how to manage all other men, never manage the one man
whose love I want? That horrid old man was right--he does not want me--he
never did. Oh, if I only could be proud, and pretend I do not care! But I
can't, I can't--there is always this miserable sickening pain at my heart
for him, and he knows it. I have let him know it!"

A ring at the bell made her spring to her feet, whilst a glad flush
suddenly covered her face.

In another minute the man she loved was in the room.

"Nearly three-quarters of an hour late!" she cried, angrily, as he
entered. "How shamefully you treat me!"

He stood in front of the fire, pulling off his dogskin gloves:
a broad-shouldered, handsome fellow, with an aquiline nose and a
close-cropped head.

"Am I late?" he said, indifferently. "I really did not know it. I have
had fifty places to go to in as many minutes."

"Of course I shall forgive you if you have been so busy," she said,
softening at once. "Maurice, darling, are you not going to kiss me?" She
stood up by his side upon the hearthrug, looking at him with all her
heart in her eyes, whilst his were on the fire. She wound her arms round
his neck, and drew his head down. He leant his cheek carelessly towards
her lips, and she kissed him passionately; and he--he was thinking of
something else.

"Poor little woman," he said, almost with an effort recalling himself
to the present; he patted her cheek lightly and turned round to toss
his gloves into his hat on the table behind him. "How cold it has
turned--aren't you going to give me some tea?" And then he sat down on
the further side of the fire and stretched himself back in his arm-chair,
throwing his arms up behind his head.

Helen rang the bell for the tea.

"Is that all you have to say to me?" she said, poutingly.

Maurice Kynaston looked distressed.

"Upon my word, Helen, I am sure I don't know what you expect. I haven't
heard any particular news. I saw you only yesterday, you know. I don't
know what you want me to say."

Helen was silent. She knew very well what she wanted, she wanted him to
say and do things that were impossible to him--to play the lover to her,
to respond to her caresses, to look glad to see her.

Maurice was so tired of it all! tired alike of her reproaches and her
caresses. The first irritated him, the second gave him no pleasure. There
was no longer any attraction to him about her, her love was oppressive to
him. He did not want it, he had never wanted it; only somehow she had
laid it so openly and freely at his feet, that it had seemed almost
unmanly to him not to put forth his hand and take it. And now he was
tired of his thraldom, sick of her endearments, satiated with her kisses.
And what was it all to end in? He could not marry her, he would not have
desired to do so had he been able; but as things were, there was no money
to marry on either side. At his heart Maurice Kynaston was glad of it,
for he did not want her for a wife, and yet he feared that he was bound
to her.

Man-like, he had no courage to break the chains that bound him, and yet
to-night he had said to himself that he would make the effort--the state
of his affairs furnished him with a sufficiently good pretext for
broaching the subject.

"There is something I wanted to say to you," he said, after the tea had
been brought in and they were alone again. He sat forward in his chair
and stroked his moustache nervously, not looking at her as he spoke.

Helen came and sat on the hearthrug at his feet, resting her cheek
caressingly against his knee.

"What is it, Maurice?"

"Well, it's about myself. I have been awfully hard hit this last week at
Newmarket, you know."

"Yes, so you told me. I am so sorry, darling." But she did not care much
as long as he was with her and was kind to her--nothing else signified
much to her.

"Yes, but I am pretty well broke this time--I had to go to John again. He
is an awfully good fellow, is old John; he has paid everything up for me.
But I've had to promise to give up racing, and now I've got to live on
my pay."

"I could lend you fifty pounds."

"Fifty pounds! pooh! what nonsense! What would be the good of fifty
pounds to me?"

He said it rather ungraciously, perhaps, and her eyes filled with tears.
When a man does not love a woman, her little childish offers of help do
not touch him as they would if he loved her. He would not have taken five
thousand from her, yet he was angry with her for talking of fifty pounds.

"What I wanted to say to you, Helen, was that, of course, now I am so
hard up it's no good thinking of--of marrying--or anything of that kind;
and don't you think it would be happiest if you and I--I mean, wisest for
us both--for you, of course, principally----"

"_What!_" She lifted her head sharply. She saw what he meant at once. A
wild terror filled her heart. "You mean that you want to throw me over!"
she said, breathlessly.

"My dear child, do be reasonable. Throw you over! of course not--but what
is it all to lead to? How can we possibly marry? It was bad enough
before, when I had my few hundreds a year. But now even that is gone.
A captain in a line regiment is not exactly in a position to marry. Why,
I shall hardly be able to keep myself, far less a wife too. I cannot drag
you down to starvation, Helen; it would not be right or honourable to
continue to bind you to my broken fortunes."

She was standing up now before him very white and very resolute.

"Why do you make so many excuses? You want to be rid of me."

"My dear child, how unjust you are."

"Am I unjust? Wait! let me speak. How have we altered things? Could you
marry me any more before you lost this money? You know you could not.
Have we not always agreed to wait till better times? Why cannot we go on
waiting?"

"It would not be fair to tie you."

He had not the courage to say, "I do not love you--money or no money, I
do not wish to marry you." How indeed is a man who is a gentleman to say
such a discourteous thing to a lady for whom he has once professed
affection? Maurice Kynaston, at all events, could not say so.

"It would not be fair to tie you; it would be better to let you be free:"
that was all he could find to say. And then Helen burst forth
impetuously,

"I wish to be tied--I do not want to be free--I will not marry any other
man on earth but you. Oh! Maurice, my love, my darling!" casting herself
down again at his feet and clasping her arms wildly round him. "Whom else
do I want but you--whom else have I ever loved? You know I have always
been yours--always--long ago, in the old days when you never even gave me
a look, and I was so maddened with misery and despair that I did not care
what became of me when I married poor Willie, hardly knowing what I was
doing, only because my life was so unbearable at home. And now that I
have got you, do you think I will give you up? And you love me--surely,
surely, you _must_ love me. You said so once, Maurice--tell me so again.
You do love me, don't you?"

What was a man to do? Maurice moved uneasily under her embrace as though
he would withdraw her arms from about his neck.

"Of course," he said, nervously; "of course, I am fond of you, and all
that, but we can't marry upon less than nothing. You must know that as
well as I do."

"No; but we can wait."

"What are we to wait for?" he said, irritably.

"Oh, a hundred things might happen--your brother might die."

"God forbid!" he said, pushing her from him, in earnest this time.

"Well, we will hope not that, perhaps; but grandpapa can't live for ever,
and he ought to leave me all his money, and then we should be rich."

"It is horrible waiting for dead people's shoes," said Maurice, with a
little shudder; "besides, Mr. Harlowe is just as likely as not to leave
his money to a hospital, or to the British Museum, or the National
Gallery--you could not count upon anything."

"We could at all events wait and see."

"And be engaged all that time on the off-chance?" he said, drearily;
"that is a miserable prospect."

"Then you do wish to get rid of me!" she said, looking at him
suspiciously; "you have seen some other woman."

"Pooh! what a little fool you are!" He jumped up angrily from his chair,
leaving her there upon the hearthrug. A woman makes a false move when she
speaks of "another woman" to the man whose affection for her is on the
wane. In the present instance the accusation was utterly without
foundation. Many as were his self-reproaches on her account, that one had
never been amongst them. If he did not love her, neither had he the
slightest fancy for any other woman. Her remark irritated him beyond
measure; it seemed to annul and wipe out the score of his own
shortcomings towards her, and to make himself, not her, the injured one.

"Women are the most irrational, the most unjust, the most thoroughly
pig-headed set of creatures on the face of the earth!" he burst forth,
angrily.

She saw her mistake by this time. She was no fool; she was quick
enough--sharp as a needle--where her love did not, as love invariably
does, warp and blind her judgment.

"I am sorry, Maurice," she said, humbly. "I did not mean to doubt you, of
course. Have you not said you love me? Sit down again, please."

He sat down only half appeased, looking glum and sulky. She felt that
some concession on her part was necessary. She took his hand and stroked
it softly. She knew so well that he did not love her, and yet she clung
so desperately to the hope that she could win him back; she would not own
to herself even in the furthermost recesses of her own heart that his
love was dead. She would not believe it; to put it in words to herself
even would have half killed her; but still she was forced to acknowledge
that unless she met him half-way she might lose him altogether.

"I will tell you what I will do, Maurice," she said thoughtfully. "I will
consent to let our engagement be in abeyance for the present; I will
cease to write to you unless I have anything particular to say, and I
will not expect you to write to me. If people question us, we will deny
any engagement between us--we will say that we are each of us free--but
on one condition only, that you will promise me most solemnly, on your
honour as a gentleman, that should either of us be left any money--should
there be, say, a clear thousand a year between us, within the next five
years----"

"My dear Helen, I am as likely to have a thousand a year as to be
presented with the regalia."

"Never mind. If it is unlikely, so much the worse--or the better,
whichever you may like to call it. But if such a thing does happen, give
me your word of honour that you will come to me at once--that, in fact,
our engagement shall be renewed. If things are no better, our prospects
no brighter, in five years from now--well, then, let us each be free to
marry elsewhere."

There was a moment or two of silence between them. Maurice bent forward
in his chair, leaning his arms upon his knees, and staring moodily into
the fire. He was weighing her proposition. It was something; but it was
not enough. It virtually bound him to her for five years, for, of course,
an engagement that is to be tacitly consented to between the principal
contractors is an engagement still, though the whole world be in
ignorance of it. But then it gave him a chance, and a very good chance
too, of perfect liberty in five years' time. It was something, certainly;
though, as he had wanted his freedom at once, it could hardly be said to
be altogether satisfactory.

Helen knelt bolt upright in front of him, watching his face. How
passionately she desired to hear him indignantly repudiate the
half-liberty she offered him! How ardently she desired that he should
take her in his arms, and swear to her that he would never consent to her
terms, no one but herself could know. It had been her last expedient to
revive the old love, to rekindle the dead ashes of the smouldering fire.
Surely, if there was but a spark of it left, it must leap up into life
and vitality again at her words. But, as she watched him, her heart, that
had beat so wildly, sank cold and colder within her. She felt that his
heart was gone from her; she had cast her last die and lost. But, for all
that, she was not minded to let him go free--her wild, ungoverned passion
for him was too deeply rooted within her; since he would not be hers
willingly, he should be hers by force.

"Surely," she said, wistfully, "you cannot find my terms too hard to
consent to--you who--who love me?"

He turned to her quickly and took her hands, every feeling of
gentleman-like honour, every spark of manly courtesy towards her, aroused
by her gentle words.

"Say no more, Helen--you are too good--too generous to me. It shall be as
you say."

And then he left, thankful to escape from her presence and to be alone
again with his thoughts in the raw darkness of the November evening.



CHAPTER IV.

THE LAY RECTOR.

  Or art thou complaining
    Of thy lowly lot,
  And, thine own disdaining,
    Dost ask what thou hast not?
  Of the future dreaming,
    Weary of the past,
  For the present scheming
    All but what thou hast.

  L. E. Landon.


In the churchyard at Sutton-in-the-Wold was a monument which, for
downright ugliness and bad taste, could hardly find its fellow in the
whole county. It was a wonderful and marvellous structure of gray
granite, raised upon a flight of steps, and consisted of an object like
unto Cleopatra's Needle surmounting a family tea-urn. It had been erected
by one Nathaniel Crupps, a well-to-do farmer in the parish, upon the
death of his second wife. The first partner of his affections had been
previously interred also in the same spot, but it was not until the death
of the second Mrs. Crupps, who was undoubtedly his favourite, that
Nathaniel bethought him of immortalizing the memory of both ladies by one
bold stroke of fancy, as exemplified by this portentous granite
monstrosity. On it the virtues of both wives were recorded, as it was
touchingly and naïvely stated, by their "sorrowing husband with strict
impartiality."

It was upon this graceful structure that Vera Nevill leant one foggy
morning in the first week of November, and surveyed the church in front
of her. She was not engaged in any sentimental musings appropriate to the
situation. She was neither meditating upon the briefness of life in
general, nor upon the many virtues of the ladies of the Crupps family,
over whose remains she was standing. She was simply waiting for Jimmy
Griffiths, and looking at the church because she had nothing else to look
at. The church, indeed, afforded her some food for reflection, purely, I
regret to state, of a practical and mundane character. It was a large and
handsome building, with a particularly fine old tower, that was sadly out
of repair; but the chancel was a modern and barn-like structure of brick
and plaster, which ought, of course, to be entirely swept away, and a new
and more appropriate one built in its stead. The chancel belonged, as
most chancels do, to the lay rector, and the lay rector was Sir John
Kynaston.

As soon as it became bruited abroad that Sir John was coming down to the
old house for the winter, there was a general excitement throughout the
parish, but no one partook of the excitement to a greater degree than did
its worthy vicar.

It was the dream of Eustace Daintree's life to get his church restored,
and more especially to get the chancel rebuilt. There had been a
restoration fund accumulating for some years, and could he have had the
slightest assistance from the lay rector concerning the chancel, Mr.
Daintree would assuredly have sent for the architect, and the builders,
and the stone-cutters, and have begun his church at once with that
beautiful disregard of the future chances of being able to get the money
to pay for it, and with that sparrow-like trust in Providence, which is
usually displayed by those clerical gentlemen who, in the face of an
estimate which tells them that eight thousand pounds will be the sum
total required, are ready to dash into bricks and mortar upon the actual
possession of eight hundred. But there was the chancel! To leave it as it
was whilst restoring the nave would have been too heart-rending; to touch
it without Sir John Kynaston's assistance, impossible and illegal.
Several times Eustace Daintree had applied to Sir John in writing upon
the subject. The answers had been vague and unsatisfactory. He would
promise nothing at all; he would come down and see it some day possibly,
and then he would be able to say more about it; meanwhile, for the
present, things must remain as they were.

When, therefore, the news was known that Sir John was actually coming
down, Mr. Daintree's thoughts flew at once to his beloved church.

"Now we shall get the chancel done at last," he said to his wife
gleefully, rubbing his hands. And the very day after Sir John's arrival
Eustace went up to the Hall after dinner to see him upon the subject.

"Had you not better wait a day or two?" counselled his more prudent wife.
"Wait till you meet him, naturally. You don't very well know what kind of
man he is, nor how he will take it."

"What is the use of waiting? I knew him well enough eight years ago; he
was a pleasant fellow enough then. He won't kill me, I suppose, and the
chancel is a disgrace--a positive disgrace to him. It is my duty to point
it out to him; the thing can't afford to wait, it ought to be done at
once."

So he disregarded Marion's advice, and Vera helped him on with his
great-coat in the hall, and wound his woollen comforter round his neck,
and bade him good luck on his expedition to Kynaston.

He came back sorrowful and abashed. Sir John had been civil, very civil;
he had insisted on his sitting down at his table--for he had apparently
not finished his dinner--and had opened a bottle of fine old port in his
honour. He had inquired about many of the old people, and had expressed
a friendly interest in the parish generally; but with regard to the
chancel, he had been as adamant.

He did not see, he had said, why it could not go on well enough as it
was. If it was in bad repair, Davis should see to it; a man with a
barrowful of bricks and a shovelful of mortar should be sent down. That,
of course, it was his duty to do. Sir John did not understand that more
could possibly be expected of him. The chancel had been good enough for
his father, it would probably be good enough for him; it would last his
time, he supposed, in any case.

But the soul of the Rev. Eustace became as water within him. It was
not of a barrowful of bricks and shovelful of mortar that he had been
dreaming, but of lancet windows and stone mouldings; of polished oak
rafters within, and of high gables and red tiles without.

He came down from the Hall disheartened and discomfited, with all the
spirit crushed out of him; and the ladies of his family, for once,
were of one mind about the matter. There arose about him a storm of
indignation and a gush of sympathy, which could not fail to soothe him
somewhat. Eustace went to rest that night sore and heavy-hearted, it is
true, but with all the damnatory verses in the Scriptures concerning the
latter end of the "rich man" ringing in his head; a course of meditation
which, upon the whole, afforded him a distinct sensation of consolation
and comfort.

And the next morning in the churchyard Vera leant against the Cruppsian
sarcophagus, and thought about it.

"Poor old Eustace," she said to herself; "how I wish I were very rich,
and could do his chancel for him! How pleased he would be; and what a
good fellow he is! How odd it is to think what different aims there are
in people's lives! There are Eustace and Marion simply miserable this
morning because of that hideous barn they can't get rid of. Well, it _is_
hideous certainly; but it doesn't disturb my peace of mind in the least.
What a mean curmudgeon Sir John must be, by the way! I should not have
thought it from his photograph; such a frank, open, generous face he
seemed to have. However, we all know how photographs can mislead one.
I wonder where that wretched boy can be!"

The "wretched boy" was Jimmy Griffiths afore-mentioned; he was the youth
who was in the habit of blowing the organ. The schoolmaster, who was also
the organist, was ill, and had sent word to Mr. Daintree that he would be
unable to be at the church on the morrow. Eustace had asked Vera to take
his place. Now Vera was not accomplished; she neither sang, nor played,
nor painted in water-colours; but she had once learnt to play the organ
a little--a very little. So she professed herself willing to undertake
the office of organ-player for once, that is to say, if she found she
could do it pretty well, only she must go into church and try all the
chants over. So Jimmy Griffiths was sent for from the village, and Vera,
with the church key in her pocket, strolled idly into the churchyard,
and, whilst awaiting him, meditated upon the tomb of the two Mrs. Crupps.

She had come in from the private gate of the vicarage, and the vicarage
garden--very bleak and very desolate by this time--lay behind her. To the
right, the public pathway led down through the lych-gate into the
village. Anybody coming up from the village could have seen her as she
stood against the granite monument. She wore a long fur cloak down almost
to her feet, and a round fur cap upon her head; they were her sister
Theodora's sables, which she had left to her. Old Mrs. Daintree always
told her she ought to sell them, a remark which made Vera very angry. Her
back was turned to the village and to the lych-gate, and she was looking
up at poor Eustace's bug-bear--the barn-like chancel.

Suddenly somebody came up close behind her and spoke to her.

"Can you tell me, please, where the keys of the church are kept?"

A gentleman stood beside her, lifting his hat as he spoke. Vera started
a little at being so suddenly spoken to, but answered quite quietly and
unconfusedly,

"They are generally kept at the vicarage, or else in the clerk's
cottage."

"Thank you; then I will go and fetch them."

"But they are not there now," said Vera, as though finishing her former
remark.

"If you will kindly tell me where I can find them," continued the
stranger, very politely, "I will go and get them."

"I am afraid you can't do that," said Vera, with just the vestige of a
smile playing upon her face, "because they are at present in my pocket."

"Oh, I beg your pardon;" and the stranger smiled outright.

"But I will let you into the church, if you like; if that is what you
wish?" she said, quite simply.

"Yes, if you please." Vera moved up the path to the porch, the gentleman
following her. She turned the key in the heavy door and held it open. "If
you will go in, please, I will take the keys; I must not leave them in
the door." The gentleman went in, and Vera looked at him as he passed by.

Most uninteresting! was her verdict as he passed her; forty at the very
least! What a beautiful situation for an adventure! What a romantic
incident! And how excessively tame is the _dénouement_! A middle-aged
gentleman, tall and slightly bald, with close-cropped whiskers and grave,
set features; who on earth could he be? A stranger, evidently; perhaps he
was staying at some neighbouring country house, and had walked over to
Sutton for the sake of exercise; but what on earth could he want to see
the church for!

The stranger stood just inside the door with his hat off, looking at her.

"Won't you come in and show it to me?" he asked, rather hesitatingly.

"The church? oh, certainly, if you like, but there is nothing to see in
it." She came in, closing the door behind her, and stood beside him. It
did not strike her as unusual or interesting, or as anything, in fact,
but the most common-place and unexciting proceeding, that she should do
the honours of the church to this middle-aged stranger.

They stood side by side in the centre of the small nave with all the
ugly, high, red-cushioned pews around them. Vera looked up and down the
familiar place as though she and not he were seeing it for the first
time; from the row of whitewashed pillars to the staring white windows;
from the hatchment on the plastered walls to the disfiguring gallery
along the west end.

"It is very hideous," she said, almost apologetically, "especially the
chancel; Mr. Daintree wants to have it restored, but I suppose that can't
be done at all now."

"Why can't it be done?"

"Oh, because nothing can be done unless the chancel is pulled down; that
belongs to the lay rector, and he has refused to restore it."

"Sir John Kynaston is the lay rector."

"Yes!" Vera looked a little startled; "do you know him?"

The gentleman passed his hand over his chin.

"Slightly," he answered, not looking at her.

"It is a pity he cannot be brought to see how necessary it is, for he
certainly ought to do it," continued Vera. "You see I cannot help being
interested in it because Mr. Daintree is such a good man, and has worked
so hard to get up money to begin the rest of the church. He had quite
counted upon the chancel being done, and now he is so much disappointed;
but, I beg your pardon, this cannot interest you."

"But it interests me very much. Why does not somebody put it in this
light to Sir John; he would not surely refuse?"

"My brother-in-law, Mr. Daintree, I mean, did ask him last night, and he
would not promise to do anything."

The stranger suddenly left her side and walked up the church by himself
into the chancel. He went straight up to the east end and made a minute
examination apparently of the wall; after that, he came slowly down
again, looking carefully into every corner and cranny from the
whitewashed ceiling down to the damp and uneven stone paving at his feet;
Vera thought him a very odd person, and wondered what he was thinking
about.

He came back to her and stood before her looking at her for a minute. And
then he made this most remarkable speech:

"If _you_ were to ask Sir John Kynaston this he would restore the
chancel!" he said.

For half-a-second Vera stared at him in blank amazement. Then she turned
haughtily round, and flushed hotly with angry indignation.

"There is nothing more to see in the church," she said, shortly, and
walked straight out of it.

The stranger had followed her; when they reached the churchyard he said
to her, quite humbly,

"I beg your pardon; Miss Nevill; how unlucky I am to have made you angry,
to begin with."

Vera looked at him in astonishment. How did he know her name; who was he?
He was looking at her with such a penitent and distressed expression,
that for the first time she noticed what a kind face it was. Then, before
she could answer him, she saw her brother-in-law over the paling of the
vicarage garden, coming towards them.

The stranger saw him, too, and lifted his hat to her.

"Good-bye," he said, rather hastily; "I did not mean to offend you; don't
be angry about it;" and, before she could say a word, he turned quickly
down the churchyard through the lych-gate into the road, and was gone.

"Vera," said Eustace Daintree, coming leisurely up to her through the
garden gate, "how on earth do you come to be talking to Sir John; has he
been saying anything to you about the chancel?"

"_Who_ was it? _who_ did you say?" cried Vera, aghast.

"Why, Sir John Kynaston, to be sure. Did you not know it was he?"

She was thunderstruck. "Are you quite sure?" she faltered.

"Why, of course! I saw him only last night, you know. I wonder why he
went off in such a hurry when he saw me?"

Vera was walking silently down the garden towards the house by his side.
The thought in her mind was, "If that was Sir John Kynaston, who then is
the photograph I found in the writing-table drawer?"

"What did he say to you, Vera? How came you to be talking to him?"
pursued her brother-in-law.

"I only let him into the church. I did not know who he was. I told him
the chancel ought to be restored--by himself."

Eustace Daintree looked dismayed.

"How very unfortunate. It will, perhaps, make him still more decided to
do nothing."

Vera smiled a little to herself. "I hope not, Eustace," was all she said.
But although she said no word of it to him, she knew at her heart that
his chancel would be restored for him.

Late that night Vera sat alone by her fireside, and thought over her
morning's adventure; and once again she said to herself, with a little
regretful sigh, "Whose, then, was the photograph?" But she put the
thought away from her.

After all, she said to herself, it made no difference. He was still Sir
John Kynaston of Kynaston Hall, and just as well worth a woman's while to
marry. She had made some mistake, that was all; and the real Sir John was
not the least romantic or interesting to look at, but Kynaston Hall
belonged to him all the same.

They were not very exalted or very much to be admired, these dreams of
Vera's girlhood. But neither were they quite so coarse and unlovely as
would have been those of a purely mercenary woman. She was free from the
vulgarity of desiring the man's money and his name from any desire to
raise herself above her relations, or to feed her own vanity and ambition
at their expense. It was only that, marriage being a necessity for her,
to marry anything but a rich man would have been, with her tastes and the
habits to which she had been brought up, the sheerest and rankest folly.
She thought she could make a good wife to any man whose life she would
like to share--that is to say, a life of ease and affluence. She knew she
would make a very bad wife to a poor man. Therefore she determined upon
so carving out her own fortunes that she should not make a failure of
herself. It was worldly wisdom of the purest and simplest character.

She was as much determined as ever upon winning Kynaston's owner if he
was to be won. Only she wished, with a little sigh, that he had happened
to be the man in the photograph. She hardly knew why she wished it--but
the wish was there.

She sat bending over her fire, with all her soft, dark hair loose about
her face and flowing down her back, and her eyes fixed dreamily upon the
flames. Her past life came back to her, her old life in the whirl and
turmoil of pleasure which had suited her so well. She compared it, a
little drearily, with the present; with the humdrum routine of the
vicarage; with the parish talk about the old women and the schools; and
the small tittle-tattle about the schoolmaster and the choir, going on
around her all day; with old Mrs. Daintree's sharp tongue and her
sister's meek rejoinders. She was very tired of it. It did not amuse her.
She was not exactly discontented with her lot. Eustace and her sister
were very kind to her, and she loved them dearly; but she did not live
their life--she was with them, but not of them. As for herself, for her
interests and her delights, they stagnated amongst them all. How long was
it to last?

And Kynaston, by contrast, appeared very fair, with its smooth lawns and
its terrace walks, and its great desolate rooms, that she would so well
understand how to fill with life and brightness; but Kynaston's master
counted for very little to her. She knew the power of her own beauty so
well. Experience had taught her that Vera Nevill had but to smile and to
win; it had been so easy to her to be loved and wooed.

"Only," she said to herself, as she stood up before her fire, and
stretched up her arms so that her long hair fell back like a cloud around
her, "only he is a different sort of man to what I had pictured him. It
will, perhaps, not be such an easy matter to win a man like that."

She went to bed and dreamt--not of Sir John Kynaston--but of the man
whose pictured face once seen had haunted her ever since.



CHAPTER V.

"LITTLE PITCHERS."

  Once at least in a man's life, if only for a brief space, he reverences
  the saint in the woman he desires. He may love and pursue again and
  again, but she who has power to hold him back, who can make him tremble
  instead of woo, who can make him silent when he feels eloquent, and
  restrained when most impassioned, has won from him what never again can
  be given.


It was an easier matter to win him than Vera thought.

A week later Sir John Kynaston sat alone by his library fire, after
breakfast, and owned to himself that he had fallen hopelessly and
helplessly in love with Vera Nevill.

This was all the more remarkable because Sir John was not a very young
man, and that he was, moreover, not of a nature to do things rashly or
impulsively.

He was, on the contrary, of a slow and hesitating disposition. He was in
the habit of weighing his words and his actions before he spoke or acted,
his mind was tardy to take in new thoughts and new ideas, and he was
cautious and almost sluggish in taking any steps in a strange and
unaccustomed direction.

Nevertheless, in this matter of Vera, he had succumbed to his fate with
all the uncalculating blindness of a boy in his teens.

Vera was like no other woman he had ever seen; she was as far removed
above common young-ladyhood as Raphael's Madonnas are beyond and above
Greuze's simpering maidens; there could be no other like her--she was
a queen, a goddess among women.

From the very first moment that he had caught sight of her on the terrace
outside his house her absolute mastery over him had begun. Her rare
beauty, her quiet smile, her slow, indolent movements, the very tones of
her rich, low voice, all impressed him in a strange and wonderful manner.
She seemed to him to be the incarnation of everything that was pure and
elevated in womanhood. To have imagined that such a one as she could have
thought of his wealth or his position would have been the rankest
blasphemy in his eyes.

He raised her up on a pedestal of his own creating, and then he fell down
before her and adored her.

John Kynaston had but little knowledge of women. Shy and retiring in
manner--somewhat suspicious and distrustful also--he had kept out of
their way through life. Once, in very early manhood, he had been
deceived; he had become engaged to a girl whom he afterwards discovered
to have accepted him only for his money and his name, whilst her heart
really belonged to another and a poorer man. He had shaken himself free
of her, with horror and disgust, and had sworn to himself that he would
never be so betrayed again. Since then he had been suspicious--and not
without just cause--of the young ladies who had smiled upon him, and of
their mothers, who had pressed him with gracious invitations to their
houses. He was a rich man, but he did not mean to be loved for his
wealth; he said to himself that, sooner than be so, he would die
unmarried and leave to Maurice the task of keeping up the old name and
the old family.

But he had seen Vera; and all at once all the old barriers of pride and
reserve were broken down! Here was the one woman on earth who realized
his dreams, the one woman whom he would wait and toil for, even as Jacob
waited and toiled for Rachel!

He had come down to Kynaston to hunt; but hitherto hunting had been very
little in his thoughts. He had been down to the vicarage once or twice,
he had met her once in the lanes, and he had longed for a glimpse of her
daily; as yet he had done nothing else. He opened his letters on this
particular morning slowly and abstractedly, tossing them into the fire,
one after the other, as he read them, and not paying very much attention
to their contents.

There was one, however, from his brother, "I wish you would ask me down
to Kynaston for a week or two, old fellow," wrote Maurice. "I know you
would mount me--now I have got rid of all my horses to please you--and
I should like a glimpse of the old country. Write and tell me if I shall
come down on Monday."

This letter Sir John did pay attention to. He rose hastily, as though not
a moment was to be lost, and answered it:--

"Dear Maurice,--I can't possibly have you down here yet. My own plans are
very uncertain, and if you are going to take your leave after Christmas,
you had far better not go away from your work now. If I am still here in
January, I shall be delighted if you will come down, and will mount you
as much as you like."

He was happier when he had written and directed this letter.

"I must be alone just now," he murmured. "I could not bear Maurice's
chatter--it would jar upon me."

Then he put on his hat and strolled out. He looked in at the stables one
minute, and called the head groom to him.

"Wright, did not Mr. Beavan say, when I bought that new bay mare of him,
that she had carried a lady to hounds?"

"Yes, Sir John; Miss Beavan rode her last season."

"Ah, she is a good rider. Well, I wish you would put a side-saddle and a
skirt on her, and exercise her this morning. I might want to--to lend her
to a lady; but she must be perfectly quiet. You can take her out every
day this week."

Sir John went on his way, leaving the worthy Wright a prey to speculation
as to who the mysterious lady might be for whom the bay mare was to be
exercised.

His master, meanwhile, bent his steps almost instinctively to the
vicarage.

Vera was undergoing a periodical persecution concerning Mr. Gisburne
at the hands of old Mrs. Daintree. She was standing up by the table
arranging some scarlet berries and some long trails of ivy which the
children had brought to her in a vase. Tommy and Minnie stood by watching
her intently; Mrs. Daintree sat at a little distance, her lap full of
undarned socks, and rated her.

"It is not as if you were a girl who could earn her living in case of
need. There is not one single thing you can do."

"Aunt Vera can make nosegays of berries boofully, grandma," interpolates
Tommy, earnestly; "can't she, Minnie?"

"Yes, she do," assented the smaller child, with emphasis.

"I wasn't speaking to you, Tom; little boys should be--"

"Heard and not seen," puts in Tommy, rapidly; "you always say that,
grandma."

Vera laughs softly. Mrs. Daintree goes on with her lecture.

"Many girls in your position are very accomplished; can teach the piano,
and history, and the elements of Latin; but it seems to me you have been
brought up in idleness."

"Idleness is not to be despised in its way," answers Vera, composedly.
"Another bit of ivy, Tommy. What shall I do, Mrs. Daintree?" she
continues, whilst her deft fingers wind the trailing greenery round and
round the glass stem of the vase. "Shall I go down to the village school
and sit at the feet of Mr. Dee? I have no doubt he could teach me a great
many things I know nothing about."

"That is nonsense; of course I don't mean that you can educate yourself
to any purpose now; it is too late for that; but you need not, at all
events, turn up your nose at the blessings that Providence sets before
you; and I must say, that for a young woman deliberately to choose to
remain a burden upon her friends, betokens an amount of servility and
a lack of the spirit of independence which I should not have supposed
possible even in you!"

"What do you want me to do?" said Vera, without a sign of impatience.
"Shall I walk over to Tripton this afternoon, and make a low curtsey to
Mr. Gisburne, and say to him very politely, 'Here is an idle and
penniless young woman who would be very pleased to stop here and marry
you!' Would that be the way to do it, Mrs. Daintree?"

"No, no, _no_!" imperatively from Tommy, who was listening with rapidly
crimsoning cheeks; "you shall _not_ go and stop at Tripton, and tell Mr.
Gisburne you will marry him!"

Vera laughed. "No, Tommy, I don't think I will; not, that is to say, if
you are a good boy. I think I can do something better than that with
myself!" she added, softly, as if to herself. Mrs. Daintree caught the
words.

"And _what_ better, pray? What better chance are you ever likely to have?
Let me tell you, bachelors who want penniless wives don't grow on the
blackberry bushes down here! If you were not so selfish and so conceited,
you would see where your duty to my son, who is supporting you, lay. You
would see that to be married to an honest, upright man like Albert
Gisburne is a chance that most girls would catch at only too thankfully."

The old lady had raised her voice; she spoke loud and angrily; she was
rapidly working herself into a passion. Tommy, accustomed to family rows,
stood on the hearthrug, looking excitedly from his grandmother to his
aunt. He was a precocious child; he did not quite understand, and yet he
understood partly. He knew that his grandmother was scolding Vera, and
telling her she was to go away and marry Mr. Gisburne. That Vera should
go away! That, in itself, was sufficiently awful. Tommy adored Vera with
all the intensity of his childish soul; that she should go away from him
to Mr. Gisburne seemed to him the most terrible visitation that could
possibly happen. His little heart swelled within him; the tears were very
near his eyes.

At this very minute the door softly opened, and Sir John Kynaston, whose
ring had been unheard in the commotion, was ushered in.

Tommy thought he saw a deliverer, specially sent in by Providence for the
occasion. He made one spring at him and caught him round the legs, after
the manner of enthusiastic small boys.

"Please--please--don't let grandmamma send aunt Vera away to Tripton
to marry Mr. Gisburne! He has red hair, and I hate him; and aunt Vera
doesn't want to go, she wants to stop at home and do something better!"

A moment of utter confusion on all sides; then Vera, crimson to the roots
of her hair, stepped forward and held out her hand.

"Little pitchers have long ears!" she said, laughing: "and Tommy is a
very silly little boy."

"No, but, aunt Vera, you said--you said," cried the child. What further
revelations he might have made were fortunately not destined to be known.
His aunt placed her hand unceremoniously over his small, eager mouth, and
hustled both children in some haste out of the room.

Meanwhile, Sir John, looking the picture of distress and embarrassment,
had shaken hands with the old lady, and inquired if he could speak with
her son.

"Mr. Daintree is in his study; I will take you to him," she said, rising,
and led him away out of the room. She looked at him sharply as she showed
him into the study; and it did come across her mind, "I wonder what you
come so often for." Still, no thought of Vera entered into her head. Sir
John was the great man of the place, the squire, the potentate in the
hollow of whose hand lay Sutton-in-the-Wold and all its inhabitants, and
Vera was a nobody in the old lady's eyes,--a waif, whose presence was of
no account at all. Sir John was no more likely to notice her than any of
the village girls; except, indeed, that he would speak politely to her
because she was Eustace's sister-in-law. Still, it did come across her
mind to wonder what he came so often for.

Five minutes later the two gentlemen were seen going across the vicarage
garden towards the church.

They remained there a very long time, more than half an hour. When they
came back Marion had finished her housekeeping and was in the room busy
cutting out unbleached calico into poor men's shirts, on the grand piano,
an instrument which she maintained had been specially and originally
called into existence for no other purpose. Mrs. Daintree still sat in
her chimney corner. Vera was at the writing-table with her back to the
room, writing a letter.

The vicar came in with his face all aglow with excitement and delight;
his wife looked up at him quickly, she saw that something unusual and of
a pleasant character had happened.

"My dear Marion, we must both thank our good friend, Sir John. I am happy
to tell you that he has consented to restore the chancel."

"Oh, Sir John, how can we ever thank you enough!" cried Marion, coming
forward breathlessly and pressing his hands in eager gratitude. Sir John
looked as if he didn't want to be thanked, but he glanced towards the
writing-table. Vera's back was turned; she made no sign of having heard.

"I am sure I had given up all hopes of it altogether," continued the
vicar. "You gave such an unqualified refusal when I spoke to you about
it before, I never dreamt that you would be induced to change your mind."

"Some one--I mean--I thought it over--and--and it was presented to my
notice--in another light," stammered Sir John, somewhat confusedly.

"And it is most kind, most generous of you to allow it to be done in my
own way, according to the plans I had wished to follow."

"Oh, I am quite sure you will understand it much better than I am likely
to do. Besides, I have no time to attend to it; it will suit me better to
leave it entirely in your hands."

"Would you not like to see the plans Mr. Woodley drew for us last year?"

"Not now, I think, thank you; I must be going; another time, Mr.
Daintree; I can't wait just now."

He was standing irresolute in the middle of the room. He looked again
wistfully at Vera's back. Was it possible that she was not going to give
him one word, one look, when surely she must know by whose influence he
had been induced to consent to rebuild the chancel!

Almost in despair he moved to the door, and just as he reached it, when
his hand was already on the handle, she looked up. Her eyes, all softened
with pleasure and gratitude, nay, almost with tenderness, met his. He
stopped suddenly short.

"Miss Nevill, might I ask you to walk with me as far as the clerk's
cottage? I--I forget which it is!"

It was the lamest and most blundering excuse. Any six-year-old child in
the village could have pointed out the cottage to him. Mrs. Daintree
looked up in astonishment. Vera blushed rosy red; Eustace, man-like, saw
nothing, and began eagerly,

"I am walking that way myself; we can go together----" Suddenly his coat
tails were violently pulled from behind. "Quite impossible, Eustace; I
want you at home for the next hour," says Marion, quietly standing by his
side, with a look of utter innocence upon her face. The vicar, almost
throttled by the violence of the assault upon his garments, perceived
that, in some mysterious manner, he had said something he ought not to
have said. He deemed it wisest to subside into silence.

Vera rose from the writing-table. "I will go and put my hat on," she
said, quietly, and left the room.

Three minutes later she and Sir John went out of the front door together.

"Well, that is the oddest fellow I ever came across in my life," said
Eustace, fairly puzzled as soon as he was gone. "It is my belief,"
tapping his forehead significantly, "that he is a little touched _here_.
I don't believe he quite knows what he is talking about. Why, the other
night he would have nothing to say to the chancel, wouldn't even listen
to me, cut me so short about it I really couldn't venture to pursue the
subject; and here he comes, ten days later, all of his own accord, and
proposes to do it exactly as it ought to be done, in the best and most
expensive way--purbeck columns round the lancet windows, and all, Marion,
just what I wanted; gives me absolute _carte blanche_ about it. I only
hope he won't take a fresh fancy into his head and change his mind
again."

"Perhaps he found he would make himself unpopular if he did not do it,"
suggested his mother.

Marion held her tongue, and snipped away at her unbleached calico.

"And then, again, about old Hoggs' cottage," pursued Mr. Daintree. "What
on earth could make him forget where it was? He might as well forget the
way to his own house. I really do think he must be a little gone in the
upper storey, poor fellow! Marion, what have you to say about it?"

"I have to say that if you stand chattering here all the morning, we
shall never get anything done. I want to speak to you immediately,
Eustace, in the other room."

She hurried her husband out into the study, and carefully closed the door
upon them.

What then was the Rev. Eustace's amazement to behold his wife suddenly
execute a series of capers round the room, which would not have disgraced
a _coryphée_ at a Christmas pantomime, but were hardly in keeping with
the demure and highly respectable bearing of the wife of the vicar of
Sutton-in-the-Wold!

Mr. Daintree began to think that everybody was going mad this morning.

"My dear Marion, what on earth is the matter?"

"Oh, you dear, stupid, blunder-headed old donkey!" exclaimed his wife,
finishing her _pas seul_ in front of him, and hugging him vehemently as a
finale to the entertainment. "Do you mean to say that you don't see it?"

"See it? See what?" repeated the unfortunate clergyman, in mortal
bewilderment, staring at her hard.

"Oh, you dear, stupid old goose! why, it's as plain as daylight. Can't
you guess?"

Eustace shook his head dolefully.

"Why, Sir John Kynaston has fallen in love with Vera!"

"_Marion!_ impossible!" in an awe-struck whisper. "What can make you
imagine such a thing?"

"Why, everything--the chancel, of course. She must have spoken to him
about it; it is to be done for her; did you not see him look at her? And
then, asking her to go down the village with him; he knows where Hoggs'
cottage is as well as you do, only he couldn't think of anything better."

Eustace literally gasped with the magnitude of the revelation.

"Great Heavens! and I offered to go with him instead of her."

"Yes, you great blundering baby!"

"Oh, my dear, are you sure--are you quite sure? Remember his position and
Vera's."

"Well, and isn't Vera good enough, and beautiful enough, for any
position?" answered her sister, proudly.

"Yes, yes; that is true; God bless her!" he said, fervently. "Marion,
what a clever woman you are to find it out."

"Of course I am clever, sir. But, Eustace, it is only beginning, you
know; so we must just let things take their course, and not seem to
notice anything. And, mind, not a word to your mother."

Meanwhile Vera and Sir John Kynaston were walking down the village street
together. The man awkward and ill at ease, the woman calm and composed,
and thoroughly mistress of the occasion.

"It is very good of you about the chancel," said Vera, softly, breaking
the embarrassment of the silence between them.

"You _knew_ I should do it," he said, looking at her.

She smiled. "I thought perhaps you would."

"You know _why_ I am going to do it--for whose sake, do you not?" he
pursued, still keeping his eyes upon her downcast face.

"Because it is the right thing to do, I hope; and for the sake of doing
good," she answered, sedately; and Sir John felt immediately reproved and
rebuked, as though by the voice of an angelic being.

"Tell me," he said, presently, "is it true that they want you to
marry--that parson--Gisburne, of Tripton? Forgive me for asking."

Vera coloured a little and laughed.

"What dreadful things little boys are!" was all she said.

"Nay, but I want to know. Are you--are you _engaged_ to him?" with a
sudden painful eagerness of manner.

"Most decidedly I am not," she answered, earnestly.

Sir John breathed again.

"I don't know what you will think of me; you will, perhaps, say I am very
impertinent. I know I have no right to question you."

"I only think you are very kind to take an interest in me," she answered,
gently, looking at him with that wonderful look in her shadowy eyes that
came into them unconsciously when she felt her softest and her best.

They had passed through the village by this time into the quiet lane
beyond; needless to say that no thought of Hoggs, the clerk, or his
cottage, had come into either of their heads by the way.

Sir John stopped short, and Vera of necessity stopped too.

"I thought--it seemed to me by what I overheard," he said, hesitatingly,
"that they were tormenting you--persecuting you, perhaps--into a marriage
you do not wish for."

"They have wished me to marry Mr. Gisburne," Vera admitted, in a low
voice, rustling the fallen brown leaves with her foot, her eyes fixed on
the ground.

"But you won't let them over-persuade you; you won't be induced to listen
to them, will you? Promise me you won't?" he asked, anxiously.

Vera looked up frankly into his face and smiled.

"I give you my word of honour I will not marry Mr. Gisburne," she
answered; and then she added, laughingly, "You had no business to make me
betray that poor man's secrets."

And then Sir John laughed too, and, changing the subject, asked her if
she would like to ride a little bay mare he had that he thought would
carry her. Vera said she would think of it, with the air of a young queen
accepting a favour from a humble subject; and Sir John thanked her as
heartily as though she had promised him some great thing.

"Now, suppose we go and find Hoggs' cottage," she said, smiling. And they
turned back towards the village.



CHAPTER VI.

A SOIRÉE AT WALPOLE LODGE.

  When the lute is broken,
    Sweet notes are remembered not;
  When the lips have spoken,
    Loved accents are soon forgot.
  As music and splendour
    Survive not the lamp and the lute,
  The heart's echoes render
    No song when the spirit is mute.

  Shelley.


About three miles from Hyde Park Corner, somewhere among the cross-roads
between Mortlake and Kew, there stands a rambling, old-fashioned house,
within about four acres of garden, surrounded by a very high, red-brick
wall. It is one of those houses of which there used to be scores within
the immediate neighbourhood of London--of which there still are dozens,
although, alas! they are yearly disappearing to make room for gay rows of
pert, upstart villas, whose tawdry flashiness ill replaces the sedate
respectability of their last-century predecessors. But, uncoveted by the
contractor's lawless eye, untouched by the builder's desecrating hand,
Walpole Lodge stands on, as it did a hundred years ago, hidden behind
the shelter of its venerable walls, and half smothered under masses of
wisteria and Virginia creeper. On the wall, in summer time, grow
countless soft green mosses, and brown, waving grasses. Thick masses of
yellow stonecrop and tufts of snapdragon crown its summit, whilst the
topmost branches of the long row of lime-trees within come nodding
sweet-scented greetings to the passers-by along the dusty high road
below.

But in the winter the wall is flowerless and the branches of the
lime-trees are bare, and within, in the garden, there are only the
holly-trees and the yew-hedge of the shrubbery walks, and the empty brown
flower-beds set in the faded grass. But winter and summer alike, old Lady
Kynaston holds her weekly receptions, and thither flock all the wit, and
the talent, and the fashion of London. In the summer they are garden
parties, in the winter they become evening receptions. How she manages it
no one can quite tell; but so it is, that her rooms are always crowded,
that no one is ever bored at her house, that people are always keen to
come to her, and that there are hundreds who would think it an effort to
go to other people's parties across the street who think it no trouble at
all to drive nearly to Richmond, to hers. She has the rare talent of
making society a charm in itself. No one who is not clever, or beautiful,
or distinguished in some way above his or her fellows ever gains a
footing in her drawing-rooms. Every one of any note whatever is sure to
be found there. There are savants and diplomatists, poets and painters,
foreign ambassadors, and men of science. The fashionable beauty is sure
to be met there side by side with the latest type of strong-minded woman;
the German composer, with the wild hair, whose music is to regenerate
the future, may be seen chatting to a cabinet minister; the most rising
barrister of the day is lingering by the side of a prima-donna, or
discoursing to an Eastern traveller. Old Lady Kynaston herself has
charming manners, and possesses the rare tact of making every one feel
at home and happy in her house.

It was not done in a day--this gathering about her of so brilliant and
delightful a society. She had lived many years at Walpole Lodge, ever
since her widowhood, and was now quite an old lady. In her early life she
had written several charming books--chiefly biographies of distinguished
men whom she had known, and even now she occasionally put pen again to
paper, and sent some delightful social essay or some pleasantly written
critique to one or other of the Reviews of the day.

Her married life had been neither very long nor very happy. She had never
learnt to love her husband's country home. At his death she had turned
her back thankfully upon Kynaston, and had never seen it again. Of her
two sons, she stood in some awe of the elder, whose cold and unresponsive
character resembled her dead husband's, whilst she adored Maurice, who
was warm-hearted and affectionate in manner, like herself. There were ten
years between them, for she had been married twelve years; and at her
secret heart Lady Kynaston hoped and believed that John would remain
unmarried, so that the estates and the money might in time become
Maurice's.

It is the second Thursday in December, and Lady Kynaston is "at home" to
the world. Her drawing-rooms--there are three of them, not large, but
low, comfortable rooms, opening one out of the other--are filled, as
usual, with a mixed and brilliant crowd.

Across the square hall is the dining-room, where a cold supper, not very
sumptuous or very _recherché_, but still sufficient of its kind for the
occasion, is laid out; and beyond that is Lady Kynaston's boudoir, where
there is a piano, and which is used on these occasions as a music-room,
so that those who are musical may retire there, and neither interfere,
nor be interfered with, by the rest of the company. Some one is singing
in the music-room now--singing well, you may be sure, or he would not be
at Walpole Lodge--but the strains of the song can hardly be heard at all
across dining-room and hall, in the larger of the three rooms, where most
of the guests are congregated.

Lady Kynaston, a small, slight woman in soft gray satin and old lace,
moves about graciously and gracefully still, despite her seventy years,
among her guests--stopping now at one group, now at another, talking
politics to one, science to a second, whispering a few discreet words
about the latest scandal to this great lady, murmuring words of approval
upon her clever book or her charming poem to another. Her smiles are
equally dispensed, no one is passed over, and she has the rare talent of
making every single individual in the crowded room feel himself to be the
one particular person whom Lady Kynaston is especially rejoiced to see.
She has tact, and she has sympathy--two invaluable gifts in a woman.

Conspicuous among the crowd of well-dressed and handsome women is Helen
Romer. She sits on an ottoman at the further end of the room, where she
holds a little court of her own, dispensing her smiles and pleasant words
among the little knot of men who linger admiringly by her side.

She is in black, with masses of gold embroidery about her, and she
carries a large black and gold feather fan in her hands, which she
moves rapidly, almost restlessly, up and down; her eyes wander often
to the doorway, and every now and then she raises her hand with a short,
impatient action to her blonde head, as though she were half weary of
the talk about her.

Presently, Lady Kynaston, moving slowly among her guests, comes near her,
and, leaning for a moment on the back of the ottoman, presses her hand as
she passes.

Mrs. Romer is a favourite of hers; she is pretty, and she is piquant in
manner and conversation; two very good things, which she thinks highly of
in any young woman. Besides that, she knows that Helen loves her younger
son; and, although she hardly understands how things are between them,
nor how far Maurice himself is implicated, she believes that Helen will
eventually inherit her grandfather's money, and, liking her personally,
she has seen no harm in encouraging her too plainly displayed affection.
Moreover, the love they both bear to him has been a link between them.
They talk of him together almost as a mother and a daughter might do;
they have the same anxieties over his health, the same vexations over
his debts, the same rejoicings when his brother comes forward with his
much-needed help. Lady Kynaston does not want her darling to marry yet,
but when the time shall come for him to take unto himself a wife, she
will raise no objection to pretty Helen Romer, should he bring her to
her, as a daughter-in-law.

As the old lady stoops over her, Helen's upturned wistful eyes say as
plainly as words can say it--

"Is he coming to-night?"

"Maurice will be here presently, I hope," says his mother, answering the
look in her eyes; "he was to come up by the six o'clock train; he will
dine at his club and come on here later." Helen's face became radiant,
and Lady Kynaston passed on.

Maurice Kynaston's regiment was quartered at Northampton; he came up to
town often for the day or for the night, as he could get leave; but his
movements were never quite to be depended upon.

Half-an-hour or so more of feverish impatience. Helen watches the gay
crowd about her with a feeling of sick weariness. Two members of
Parliament are talking of Russian aggression and Turkish misrule close to
her; they turn to her presently and include her in the conversation; Mrs.
Romer gives her opinion shrewdly and sensibly. An elderly duchess is
describing some episode of Royalty's last ball; there is a general laugh,
in which Helen joins heartily; a young attaché bends over her and
whispers some admiring little speech in her ear, and she blushes and
smiles just as if she liked it above all things; while all the time her
eyes hardly stray for one second from the open doorway through which
Maurice will come, and her heart is saying to itself, over and over
again,

"Will he come, will he come?"

He comes at last. Long before the servant, who opens the door to him, has
taken his coat and hat from him, Helen catches sight of his handsome head
and his broad shoulders through an opening in the crowd. In another
minute he is in the room standing irresolute in the doorway, looking
round as if to see who is and who is not there to-night.

He is, after all, only a very ordinary type of a good-looking soldierly
young Englishman, just such a one as may be seen any day in our parks or
our drawing-rooms. He has clearly-cut and rather _prononcé_ features, a
strong-built, well made figure, a long moustache, close-shaven cheeks,
and eyes that are rather deep-set, and are, when you are near enough to
see them well, of a deep blue-gray. In all that Maurice Kynaston is in no
way different from scores of other good-looking young men whom we may
have met. But there is just something that makes his face a remarkable
one: it is a strong-looking face--a face that looks as if he had a will
of his own and knew how to stick to it; a face that looks, too, as if he
could do and dare much for truth and honour's sake. It is almost stern
when he is silent; it can soften into the tenderness of a woman when he
speaks.

Look at him now as he catches sight of his mother, and steps forward for
a minute to press her loving hands. All the hardness and all the strength
are gone out of his face now; he only looks down at her with eyes full of
love and gentleness--for life as yet holds nothing dearer or better for
him than that little white-haired old woman. Only for a minute, and then
he leaves go of her hands, and passes on down the room, speaking to the
guests whom he knows.

"He does not see me," says Helen, bitterly, to herself; "he will go on
into the next room, and never know that I am here."

But he had seen her perfectly. Next to the woman he most wishes to see in
a room, the one whom a man first catches sight of is the woman he would
sooner were not there. He had seen Helen the very instant he came in, but
he had noticed thankfully that some one was talking to her, and he said
to himself that there was no occasion for him to hurry to her side; it
was not as if they were openly engaged; there could be no necessity for
him to rush into slavery at once; he would speak to her, of course,
by-and-by; and whenever he came to her he well knew that he would be
equally welcomed: he was so sure of her. Nothing on earth or under Heaven
is so fatal to a man's love as that. There was no longer any uncertainty;
there was none of the keenness of pursuit dear to the old hunting
instinct inherent in man; there was not even the charm of variety in her
moods. She was always the same to him; always she pouted a little at
first, and looked ill-tempered, and reproached him; and always she came
round again at his very first kind word, and poured out her heart in a
torrent of worship at his feet. Maurice knew it all by heart, the sulks
and the cross words, and then the passionate denials, and the wild
protestations of her undying love. He was sorry for her, too, in his way;
he was too tender-hearted, too chivalrous, to be anything but kind to
her; but though he was sorry, he could not love her; and, oh! how
insufferably weary of her he was!

Presently he did come up to her, and took the seat by her side just
vacated by the attaché. The little serio-comedy instantly repeated
itself.

A little pout and a little toss of the head.

"You have been as long coming to speak to me as you possibly could be."

"Do you think it would look well if I had come rushing up to you the
instant I came in?"

"You need not, at all events, have stood talking for ten minutes to that
great black-eyed Lady Anderleigh. Of course, if you like her better than
me, you can go back to her."

"Of course I can, if I choose, you silly little woman; but seeing that
I am by you, and not by her, I suppose it is a proof that I prefer your
society, is it not?"

Very polite, but not strictly true, Captain Maurice! At his heart he
preferred talking to Lady Anderleigh, or to any other woman in the room.
The admission, however, was quite enough for Helen.

"Dear Maurice," she whispered, "forgive me; I am a jealous, bad-tempered
wretch, but," lower still, "it is only because I love you so much."

And had there been no one in the room, Maurice knew perfectly that at
this juncture Mrs. Romer would have cast her arms around his neck--as
usual.

To his unspeakable relief, a man--a clever lawyer, whose attention was a
flattering thing to any woman--came up to Helen at this moment, and took
a vacant chair beside her. Maurice thankfully slipped away, leaving his
inamorata in a state of rage and disgust with that talented and elderly
lawyer, such as no words can describe.

Captain Kynaston took the favourable opportunity of escaping across the
hall, where he spent the remainder of the evening, dividing his attention
between the music and supper rooms, and Helen saw him no more that night.

She saw, however, some one she had not reckoned upon seeing. Glancing
carelessly across to the end of the room, she perceived, talking to Lady
Kynaston, a little French gentleman, with a smooth black head, a neat,
pointed, little black beard, and the red ribbon of the Légion d'Honneur
in his button-hole.

What there was in the sight of so harmless and inoffensive a personage to
upset her it may be difficult to say; but the fact is that, when Mrs.
Romer perceived this polite little Frenchman talking to her hostess, she
turned suddenly so sick and white, that a lady sitting near her asked her
if she was going to faint.

"I feel it a little hot," she murmured; "I think I will go into the next
room." She rose and attempted to escape--whether from the heat or the
observation of the little Frenchman was best known to herself.

Her maneuver, however, was not destined to succeed. Before she could
work her way half-way through the crush to the door, the man whom she was
bent upon avoiding turned round and saw her. A look of glad recognition
flashed into his face, and he instantly left Lady Kynaston's side, and
came across the room to speak to her.

"This is an unlooked-for pleasure, madame."

"I certainly never expected to meet you here, Monsieur D'Arblet,"
faltered Helen, turning red and white alternately.

"Will you not come and have a little conversation with me?"

"I was just going away."

"So soon! Oh, bien! then I will take you to your carriage." He held out
his arm, and Helen was perforce obliged to take it.

There was a little delay in the hall, whilst Helen waited for her, or
rather for her grandfather's carriage, during which she stood with her
hand upon her unwelcome friend's arm. Whilst they were waiting he
whispered something eagerly in her ear.

"No, no; it is impossible!" reiterated Helen, with much apparent
distress.

Monsieur D'Arblet whispered something more.

"Very well, if you insist upon it!" she said, faintly, and then got into
her carriage and was driven away.

Before, however, she had left Walpole Lodge five minutes, she called out
to the servants to stop the carriage. The footman descended from the box
and came round to the window.

They had drawn up by the side of a long wall quite beyond the crowd of
carriages that was waiting at Lady Kynaston's house.

"I want to wait here a few minutes, for--for a gentleman I am going to
drive back to town," she said to the servant, confusedly. She was ashamed
to give such an order to him.

She was frightened too, and trembled with nervousness lest any one should
see her waiting here.

It was a cold, damp night, and Helen shivered, and drew her fur cloak
closer about her in the darkness. Presently there came footsteps along
the pathway, and a man came through the fog up to the door. It was opened
for him in silence, and he got in, and the carriage drove off again.

Monsieur Le Vicomte D'Arblet had a mean, cunning-looking countenance;
strictly speaking, indeed, he was rather handsome, his features being
decidedly well-shaped, but the evil and vindictive expression of his
face made it an unpleasant one to look upon. As he took his seat in the
brougham by Helen's side she shrank instinctively away from him.

"So, ma mie!" he said, peering down into her face with odious
familiarity, "here I find you again after all this time, beautiful as
ever! It is charming to be with you again, once more."

"Monsieur D'Arblet, pray understand that nothing but absolute necessity
would have induced me to drive you home to-night," said Helen, who was
trembling violently.

"You are not polite, ma belle--there is a charming _franchise_ about you
Englishwomen, however, which gives a piquancy to your conversation."

"You know very well why it is that I am obliged to speak to you alone,"
she interrupted, colouring hotly under his bold looks of admiration.

"_Le souvenir du beau passé!_" murmured the Frenchman, laughing softly.
"Is that it, ma belle Hélène?"

"Monsieur," she cried, almost in tears, "pray listen to me; for pity's
sake tell me what you have done with my letters--have you destroyed
them?"

"Destroyed them! What, those dear letters that are so precious to my
heart? Ah, madame, could you believe it of me?"

"You have kept them?" she murmured, faintly.

"Mais si, certainement, that I have kept them, every one--every single
one of them," he repeated, looking at her meaningly, with a cold glitter
in his black eyes.

"Not that--_that_ one?" pleaded Helen, piteously.

"Yes--that one too--that charming and delightful letter in which you so
generously offered to throw yourself upon my protection--do you remember
it?"

"Alas, only too well!" she murmured, hiding her face in her hands.

"Ah!" he continued, with a sort of relish in torturing her, which
resembled the feline cruelty of a wild beast playing with its prey. "Ah!
it was a delightful letter, that; what a pity it was that I was out of
Paris that night, and never received it till, alas! it was too late to
rush to your side. You remember how it was, do you not? Your husband was
lying ill at your hotel; you were very tired of him--ce pauvre mari!
Well, you had been tired of him for some time, had you not? And he was
not what you ladies call 'nice;' he did drink, and he did swear, and I
had been often to see you when he was out, and had taken you to the
theatre and the bal d'Opéra--do you remember?"

"Ah, for Heaven's sake spare me these horrible reminiscences!" cried
Helen, despairingly.

He went on pitilessly, as though he had not heard her, "And you were good
enough to write me several letters--there were one, two, three, four of
them," counting them off upon his fingers; "and then came the fifth--that
one you wrote when he was ill. Was it not a sad pity that I had gone out
of Paris for the day, and never received it till you and your husband had
left for England? But think you that I will part with it ever? It is my
consolation, my trésor!"

"Monsieur D'Arblet, if you have one spark of honour or of gentleman-like
feeling, you will give me those mad, foolish letters again. I entreat you
to do so. You know that I was beside myself when I wrote them, I was so
unhappy--do you not see that they compromise me fatally; that it is my
good name, my reputation, which are at stake?" In her agony she had half
sunk at his feet on the floor of the carriage, clasping her hands
entreatingly together.

Monsieur D'Arblet raised her with _empressement_.

"Ah, madame, do not thus humiliate yourself at my feet. Why should you be
afraid? Are not your good name and your reputation safe in my hands?"

Helen burst into bitter tears.

"How cruel, how wicked you are!" she cried; "no Englishman would treat a
lady in this way."

"Your Englishmen are fools, ma chère--and I--I am French!" he replied,
shrugging his shoulders expressively.

"But what object, what possible cause can you have for keeping those
wretched letters?"

He bent his face down close to hers.

"Shall I tell you, belle Hélène? It is this: You are beautiful and you
have talent; I like you. Some day, perhaps, when the grandpapa dies, you
will have money--then Lucien D'Arblet will come to you, madame, with
that precious little packet in his hands, and he will say, 'You will
marry me, ma chère, or I will make public these letters.' Do you see?
Till then, amusez vous, ma belle; enjoy your life and your liberty as
much as you desire; I will not object to anything you do. Only you will
not venture to marry--because I have these letters?"

"You would prevent my marrying?" said Helen, faintly.

"Mais, certainement that I should. Do you suppose any man would care to
be your husband after he had read that last letter--the fifth, you know?"

No answer, save the choking sobs of his companion.

Monsieur D'Arblet waited a few minutes, watching her; then, as she did
not raise her head from the cushions of the carriage, where she had
buried it, the Frenchman pulled the check-string of the carriage.

"Now," he said, "I will wish you good-night, for we are close to your
house. We have had our little talk, have we not?"

The brougham, stopped, and the footman opened the door.

"Good-night, madame, and many thanks for your kindness," said D'Arblet,
raising his hat politely.

In another minute he was gone, and Helen, hoping that the darkness had
concealed the traces of her agitation from the servant's prying eyes, was
driven on, more dead than alive, to her grandfather's house.



CHAPTER VII.

EVENING REVERIES.

  For nothing on earth is sadder
    Than the dream that cheated the grasp,
  The flower that turned to the adder,
    The fruit that changed to the asp,
  When the dayspring in darkness closes,
    As the sunset fades from the hills,
  With the fragrance of perished roses,
    And the music of parched-up rills.

  A. L. Gordon.


It had been the darkest chapter of her life, that fatal month in Paris,
when she had foolishly and recklessly placed herself in the power of a
man so unscrupulous and so devoid of principle as Lucien D'Arblet.

It had begun in all innocence--on her part, at least. She had been very
miserable; she had discovered to the full how wild a mistake her marriage
had been. She had felt herself to be fatally separated from Maurice, the
man she loved, for ever; and Monsieur D'Arblet had been kind to her; he
had pitied her for being tied to a husband who drank and who gambled, and
Helen had allowed herself to be pitied. D'Arblet had charming manners,
and an accurate knowledge of the weakness of the fair sex; he knew when
to flatter and when to cajole her, when to be tenderly sympathetic to her
sorrows, and when to divert her thoughts to brighter and pleasanter
topics than her own miseries. He succeeded in fascinating her completely.
Whilst her husband was occupied with his own disreputable friends, Helen,
sooner than remain alone in their hotel night after night, was persuaded
to accept Monsieur D'Arblet's escort to theatres and operas, and other
public places, where her constant presence with him very soon compromised
her amongst the few friends who knew her in Paris.

Then came scenes with her husband; frantic letters of misery to this
French vicomte, whom she imagined to be so devotedly attached to her,
and, finally, one ever-to-be-repented letter, in which she offered to
leave her husband for ever and to come to him.

True, this letter did not reach its destination till too late, and Helen
was mercifully saved from the fate which, in her wicked despair, she was
ready to rush upon. Twenty-four hours after her return to England she saw
the horrible abyss upon which she had stood, and thanked God from the
bottom of her heart that she had been rescued, in spite of herself, from
so dreadful a deed. But the letter had been written, and was in Lucien
D'Arblet's possession. Later on she learnt, by a chance conversation, the
true character of the man, and shuddered when she remembered how nearly
she had wrecked her whole life for him. And when her husband's death had
placed her once more in the security and affluence of her grandfather's
house, with fresh hopes and fresh chances before her, she had but one
wish with regard to that Parisian episode of her life,--to forget it as
though it had never been.

She hoped, and, as time went on, she felt sure, that she would never see
Monsieur D'Arblet again. New hopes and new excitements occupied her
thoughts. The man to whom in her youth she had given her heart once more
came across her life; she was thrown very much into his society; she
learnt to love him more devotedly than ever, and when at last she had
succeeded in establishing the sort of engagement which existed between
them, she had assured him, and also assured herself, that no other man
had ever, for one instant, filled her fancy. That stormy chapter of her
married life was forgotten; she resolutely wiped it out of her memory, as
if it had never existed.

And now, after all this time--it was five years ago--she had met him
again--this Frenchman, who had once compromised her name, and who now had
possession of her letters.

There was a cruel irony of fate in the fact that she should be destined
to meet him again at Lady Kynaston's, the very house of all others where
she would least have wished to see him.

There was, however, had she thought of it, nothing at all extraordinary
in her having done so. No house in all London society was so open to
foreigners as Walpole Lodge, and Monsieur Le Vicomte D'Arblet was no
unknown upstart; he bore a good old name; he was clever, had taken an
active part in diplomatic life, and was a very well-known individual in
Parisian society. He had been brought to Lady Kynaston's by a member of
the French Embassy, who was a frequenter of her soirées.

Neither, however, was meeting with Mrs. Romer entirely accidental on
Monsieur D'Arblet's part. He had never forgotten the pretty Englishwoman
who had so foolishly and recklessly placed herself in his power.

It is true he had lost sight of her, and other intrigues and other
pursuits had filled his leisure hours; but when he came to England he had
thought of her again, and had made a few careless inquiries after her. It
was not difficult to identify her; the Mrs. Romer who was now a widow,
who lived with her rich grandfather, who was very old, who would probably
soon die and leave her all his wealth, was evidently the same Mrs. Romer
whom he had known. The friend who gave him the information spoke of her
as lovely and _spirituelle_, and as a woman who would be worth marrying
some day. "She is often at Lady Kynaston's receptions," he had added.

"Mon cher, take me to your Lady Kynaston's soirées," had been Lucien
D'Arblet's lazy rejoinder as they finished their evening smoke together.
"I would like to meet my friend, la belle veuve, again, and I will see if
she has forgotten me."

Bitter, very bitter, were Mrs. Romer's remorseful meditations that night
when she reached her grandfather's house at Prince's Gate. Every detail
of her acquaintance with Lucien D'Arblet came back to her with a horrible
and painful distinctness. Over and over again she cursed her own folly,
and bewailed the hardness of the fate which placed her once more in the
hands of this man.

Would he indeed keep his cruel threats to her? Would he bring forward
those letters to spoil her life once more--to prevent her from marrying
Maurice should she ever have the chance of doing so?

Stooping alone over her fire, with all the brightness, and all the
freshness gone out of her, with an old and almost haggard look in the
face that was so lately beaming with smiles and dimples, Helen Romer
asked herself shudderingly these bitter questions over and over again.

Had she been sure of Maurice's love, she would have been almost tempted
to have confessed her fault, and to have thrown herself upon his mercy;
but she knew that he did not love her well enough to forgive her. Too
well she knew with what disgust and contempt Maurice would be likely to
regard her past conduct; such a confession would, she knew, only induce
him to shake himself clear of her for ever. Indeed, had he loved her, it
is doubtful whether Maurice would have been able to condone so grave a
fault in the past history of a woman; his own standard of honour stood
too high to allow him to pass over lightly any disgraceful or
dishonourable conduct in those with whom he had to do. But, loving her
not, she would have been utterly without excuse in his eyes.

She knew it well enough. No, her only chance was in silence, and in vague
hopes that time might rescue her out of her difficulties.

Meanwhile, whilst Helen Romer sat up late into the early morning,
thinking bitterly over her past sins and her future dangers, Maurice
Kynaston and his mother also kept watch together at Walpole Lodge after
all the guests had gone away, and the old house was left alone again to
the mother and son.

"Something troubles you, little mother," said Maurice, as he stretched
himself upon the rug by her bedroom fire, and laid his head down
caressingly upon her knees.

Lady Kynaston passed her hand fondly over the short dark hair. "How well
you know my face, Maurice! Yes, something has worried me all day--it is a
letter from your brother."

Maurice looked up laughingly. "What, is old John in trouble? That would
be something new. Has he taken a leaf out of my book, mother, and dropped
his money at Newmarket, too?"

"No, you naughty boy? John has got more sense. No!" with a sigh--"I wish
it were only money; I fear it is a worse trouble than that."

"My dear mother, you alarm me," cried Maurice, looking up in mock dismay;
"why, whatever has he been and gone and done?"

"Oh, Maurice, it is nothing to laugh at--it is some woman--a girl he has
met down at Kynaston; some nobody--a clergyman's daughter, or sister, or
something--whom he says he is going to marry!" Lady Kynaston looked the
picture of distress and dismay.

Maurice laughed softly. "Well, well, mother; there is nothing very
dreadful after all--I am sure I wish him joy."

"My boy," she said, below her breath, "I had so hoped, so trusted he
would never marry--it seemed so unlikely--he seemed so completely happy
in his bachelor's life; and I had hoped that you--that you----"

"Yes, yes, mother dear, I know," he said, quickly, and twisted himself
round till he got her hand between his, kissing it as he spoke; "but I--I
never thought of that--dear old John, he has been the best of brothers to
me; and, mother dear, I know it is all your love to me; but you and I,
dear, we will not grudge him his happiness, will we?"

He knew so well her weakness--how that she had loved him at the expense
of the other son, who was not so dear to her; he loved her for it, and
yet he did not at his heart think it right.

Lady Kynaston wiped a few tears away. "You are always right, my boy,
always, and I am a foolish old woman. But oh, Maurice, that is only half
the trouble! Who is this woman whom he has chosen? Some country girl,
ignorant of the ways of the world, unformed and awkward--not fitted to be
his wife!"

"Does he say so?" laughed Maurice.

"No, no, of course not. Stay, where is his letter? Oh, there, on the
dressing-table; give it me, my dear. No, this is what he says: 'Miss
Nevill seems to me in every way to fulfil my ideal of a good and perfect
woman, and, if she will consent to marry me, I intend to make her my
wife.'"

"Well, a good and perfect woman is a _rara avis_, at all events mother."

"Oh, dear! but all men say that of a girl when they are in love--it
amounts to very little."

"You see, he has evidently not proposed to her yet; perhaps she will
refuse him."

"Refuse Sir John Kynaston, of Kynaston Hall! A poor clergyman's daughter!
My dear Maurice, I gave you credit for more knowledge of the world.
Besides, John is a fine-looking man. Oh, no, she is not in the least
likely to refuse him."

"Then all we have got to do is to make the best of her," said Maurice,
composedly.

"That is easily said for you, who need see very little of her. But
John's wife is a person who will be of great importance to my
happiness. Dear me! and to think he might have had Lady Mary Hendrie
for the asking: a charming creature, well born, highly educated and
accomplished--everything that a man could wish for. And there were the De
Vallery girls--either of them would have married him, and been a suitable
wife for him; and he must needs go and throw himself away on a little
country chit, who could have been equally happy, and much more suitably
mated, with her father's curate. Maurice, my dear," with a sudden change
of voice, "I wish you would go down and cut him out; if you made love to
her ever so little you could turn her head, you know."

Maurice burst out laughing. "Oh, you wicked, immoral little mother! Did I
ever hear such an iniquitous proposition! Do you want _me_ to marry her?"

"No, no!" laughed his mother; "but you might make her think you meant to,
and then, perhaps, she would refuse John."

"I have not Kynaston Hall at my back, remember, after which you have
given her the credit of angling. Besides, mother dear, to speak plainly,
I honestly do not think my taste in women is in the least likely to be
the same as John's. No, I think I will keep out of the way whilst the
love-making is going on. I will go down and have a look at the young
woman by-and-by when it is all settled, and let you know what I think of
her. I dare say a good, honest country lass will suit John far better
than a beautiful woman of the world, who would be sure to be miserable
with him. Don't fret, little mother; make the best of her if you can."

He rose and stretched himself up to his full height before the fire. Lady
Kynaston looked up at him admiringly. Oh, she thought, if the money and
the name could only have been his! How well he would have made use of it;
how proud she would have been of him--her handsome boy, whom all men
liked, and all women would gladly love.

"A good son makes a good husband," she said aloud, following her own
thoughts.

"And John has been a good son, mother," said Maurice, cordially.

"Yes, yes, in his way, perhaps; but I was thinking of you, my boy, not
of him, and how lucky will be the woman who is your wife, Maurice--will
it be----"

Maurice stooped quickly, and laid his hand playfully over her lips.

"I don't know, mother dear--never ask me--for I don't know it myself."
And then he kissed her, and wished her good-night, and left her.

She sat long over her fire, dreaming, by herself, thinking a little,
perhaps, of the elder son, and the bride he was going to bring her, whom
she should have to welcome whether she liked her or no, but thinking more
of the younger, whose inner life she had studied, and who was so entirely
dear and precious to her. It was very little to her that he had been
extravagant and thoughtless, that he had lost money in betting and
racing--these were minor faults--and she and John between them had always
managed to meet his difficulties; they had not been, in truth, very
tremendous. But for that, he had never caused her one day's anxiety,
never given her one instant's pain. "God grant he may get a wife who
deserves him," was the mother's prayer that night. "I doubt if Helen
be worthy of him; but if he loves her, as I believe he must do, no word
of mine shall stand between him and his happiness."

And then she went to bed, and dreamed, as mothers dream of the child they
love best.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE MEMBER FOR MEADOWSHIRE.

  Honour and shame from no condition rise;
  Act well your part, there all the honour lies.

  Pope, "Essay on Man."


About five miles from Kynaston Hall, as the crow flies, across the
fields, stood, as the house-agents would have described it, "a large
and commodious modern mansion, standing in about eighty acres of
well-timbered park land."

I do not know that any description that could be given of Shadonake would
so well answer to the reality as the above familiar form of words.

The house was undoubtedly large, very large, and it was also modern, very
modern. It was a handsome stone structure, with a colonnade of white
pillars along the entrance side, and with a multiplicity of large
plate-glass windows stretching away in interminable vistas in every
direction. A broad gravel sweep led up to the front door; to the right
were the stables, large and handsome too, with a clock-tower and a belfry
over the gateway; and to the left were the gardens and the shrubberies.

There had been an old house once at Shadonake, old and picturesque and
uncomfortable; but when the property had been purchased by the present
owner--Mr. Andrew Miller--after he had been returned as Conservative
member for the county, the old house was swept away, and a modern
mansion, more suited to the wants and requirements of his family, arose
in its place.

The park was flat, but well wooded. The old trees, of course, remained
intact; but the gardens of the first house, being rambling and
old-fashioned, had been done away with, to make room for others on a
larger and more imposing scale; and vineries and pineries, orchid-houses,
and hot-houses of every description arose rapidly all over the site of
the old bowling-green and the wilderness, half kitchen garden, half
rosary, that had served to content the former owners of Shadonake, now
all lying dead and buried in the chancel of the village church.

The only feature of the old mansion which had been left untouched was
rather a remarkable one. It was a large lake or pond, lying south of the
gardens, and about a quarter of a mile from the house. It lay in a sort
of dip in the ground, and was surrounded on all four sides--for it was
exactly square--by very steep high banks, which had been cut into by
steep stone steps, now gray, and broken, and moss-grown, which led down
straight into the water. This pool was called Shadonake Bath. How long
the steps had existed no one knew; probably for several hundred years,
for there was a ghost story connected with them. Somebody was supposed,
before the memory of any one living, to have been drowned there, and to
haunt the steps at certain times of the year.

It is certain that but for the fact of a mania for boating, and punting,
and skating indulged in by several of his younger sons, Mr. Miller, in
his energy for sweeping away all things old, and setting up all things
new, would not have spared the Bath any more than he had spared the
bowling-green. He had gone so far, indeed, as to have a plan submitted to
him for draining it, and turning it into a strawberry garden, and for
doing away with the picturesque old stone steps altogether in order to
encase the banks in red brick, suitable to the cultivation of peaches and
nectarines; but Ernest and Charley, the Eton boys, had thought about
their punts and their canoes, and had pleaded piteously for the Bath; so
the Bath was allowed to remain untouched, greatly to the relief of many
of the neighbours, who were proud of its traditions, and who, in the
general destruction that had been going on at Shadonake, had trembled for
its safety.

Where Mr. Miller had originally come from nobody exactly knew. It was
generally supposed that he had migrated early in life from northern and
manufacturing districts, where his father had amassed a large fortune.
In spite, however, of his wealth, it is doubtful whether he would ever
have achieved the difficult task of being returned for so exclusive and
aristocratic a county as Meadowshire had he not made a most prudent and
politic marriage. He had married one of the Miss Esterworths, of
Lutterton.

Now, everybody who has the slightest knowledge of Meadowshire and its
internal politics will see at once that Andrew Miller could not have done
better for himself. The Esterworths are the very oldest and best of the
old county families; there can be no sort of doubt whatever as to their
position and standing. Therefore, when Andrew Miller married Caroline
Esterworth, there was at once an end of all hesitation as to how he was
to be treated amongst them. Meadowshire might wonder at Miss Caroline's
taste, but it kept its wonder to itself, and held out the right hand of
fellowship to Andrew Miller then and ever after.

It is true that there were five Miss Esterworths, all grown up, and all
unmarried, at the time when Andrew came a-wooing to Lutterton Castle;
they were none of them remarkable for beauty, and Caroline, who was the
eldest of the five, less so than the others. Moreover, there were many
sons at Lutterton, and the daughters' portions were but small. Altogether
the love-making had been easy and prosperous, for Caroline, who was a
sensible young woman, had readily recognized the superior advantages
of marrying an excellent man of no birth or breeding, with twenty
thousand a year, to remaining Miss Esterworth to her dying day, in
dignified but impecunious spinsterhood. Time had proved the wisdom of her
choice. For some years the Millers had rented a small but pretty little
house within two miles of Lutterton, where, of course, everybody visited
them, and got used to Andrew's squat, burly figure, and agreed to
overlook his many little defects of speech and manner in consideration of
his many excellent qualities--and his wealth--and where, in course of
time, all their children, two daughters and six sons, were born.

And then, a vacancy occurring opportunely, Mrs. Miller determined that
her husband should stand in the Conservative interest for the county. She
would have made a Liberal of him had she thought it would answer better.
How she toiled and how she slaved, and how she kept her Andrew, who was
not by any means ambitious of the position, up to the mark, it boots not
here to tell. Suffice it to say, that the deed was accomplished, and that
Andrew Miller became M.P. for North Meadowshire.

Almost at the same time Shadonake fell into the market, and Mrs. Miller
perceived that the time had now come for her husband's wealth to be
recognized and appreciated; or, as he himself expressed it, in vernacular
that was strictly to the point if inelegant in diction, the time was
come for him "to cut a splash."

She had been very clever, this daughter of the Esterworths. She had kept
a tight rein over her husband all through the early years of their
married life. She would have no ostentation, no vulgar display of wealth,
no parading and flaunting of that twenty thousand per annum in their
neighbours' faces. And she had done what she had intended; she had
established her husband's position well in the county--she had made him
to be accepted, not only by reason of his wealth, but also because he was
her husband; she had roused no one's envy--she had never given cause for
spite or jealousy--she had made him popular as well as herself. They had
lived quietly and unobtrusively; they had, of course, had everything of
the best; their horses and carriages were irreproachable, but they had
not had more of them than their neighbours. They had entertained freely,
and they had given their guests well-cooked dinners and expensive wines;
but there had been nothing lavish in their entertainments, nothing that
could make any of them go away and say to themselves, with angry
discontent, that "those Millers" were purse-proud and vulgar in their
wealth. When she had gone to her neighbours' houses Mrs. Miller had been
handsomely but never extravagantly dressed; she had praised their cooks,
and expressed herself envious of their flowers, and had bemoaned her own
inability to vie with their peaches and their pineapples; she had never
talked about her own possessions, nor had she ever paraded her own eight
thousand pounds' worth of diamonds before the envious eyes of women who
had none.

In this way she had made herself popular--and in this way she had won the
county seat for her husband.

When, however, that great end and aim of her existence was accomplished,
Caroline Miller felt that she might now fairly launch out a little. The
time was come when she might reap the advantage of her long years of
repression and patient waiting. Her daughters were growing up, her sons
were all at school. For her children's sake, it was time that she should
take the lead in the county which their father's fortune and new position
entitled them to, and which no one now was likely to grudge them.
Shadonake therefore was bought, and the house straightway pulled down,
and built up again in a style, and with a magnificence, befitting Mr.
Miller's wealth.

Bricks and mortar were Andrew Miller's delight. He was never so happy as
during the three years that Shadonake House was being built; every stone
that was laid was a fresh interest to him; every inch of brick wall a
keen and special delight. He had been disappointed not to have had the
spoliation of Shadonake Bath; it had been a distinct mortification to him
to have to forego the four brick walls which would have replaced its
ancient steps; but then he had made it up to himself by altering the
position of the front door three times before it was finally settled
to his satisfaction.

But all this was over by this time, and when my story begins Shadonake
new House, as it was sometimes called, was built, and furnished and
inhabited in every corner of its lofty rooms, and all along the spacious
length of its many wide corridors.

One afternoon--it is about a week later than that soirée at Walpole
Lodge, mentioned in a previous chapter--Mrs. Miller and her eldest
daughter are sitting together in the large drawing-room at Shadonake. The
room is furnished in that style of high artistic decoration that is now
the fashion. There are rich Persian rugs over the polished oak floor; a
high oak chimney-piece, with blue tiles inserted into it in every
direction, and decorated with old Nankin china bowls and jars; a wide
grate below, where logs of wood are blazing between brass bars;
quantities of spindle-legged Chippendale furniture all over the room,
and a profusion of rich gold embroidery and "textile fabrics" of all
descriptions lighting up the carved oak "dado" and the sombre sage green
of the walls. There are pictures, too, quite of the best, and china of
every period and every style, upon every available bracket and shelf and
corner where a cup or a plate can be made to stand. Four large windows on
one side open on to the lawn; two, at right angles to them, lead into
a large conservatory, where there is, even at this dead season of the
year, a blaze of exotic blossoms that fill the room with their sweet rich
odour.

Mrs. Miller sits before a writing bureau of inlaid satin-wood of an
ancient pattern. She has her pen in her hand, and is docketing her
visiting list. Beatrice Miller sits on a low four-legged stool by her
mother's side, with a large Japanese china bowl on her knees filled with
cards, which she takes out one after the other, reading the names upon
them aloud to her mother before tossing them into a basket, also of
Japanese structure, which is on the floor in front of her.

Beatrice is Mrs. Miller's eldest daughter, and she is twenty. Guy is only
eleven months older, and Edwin is a year younger--they are both at
Oxford; next comes Geraldine, who is still in the school-room, but who is
hoping to come out next Easter; then Ernest and Charley, the Eton boys;
and lastly, Teddy and Ralph, who are at a famous preparatory school,
whence they hope, in process of time, to be drafted on to Eton, following
in the footsteps of their elder brothers.

Of all this large family it is Beatrice, the eldest daughter, who causes
her mother the most anxiety. Beatrice is like her mother--a plain but
clever-looking girl, with the dark swart features and colouring of the
Esterworths, who are not a handsome race. Added to which, she inherits
her father's short and somewhat stumpy figure. Such a personal appearance
in itself is enough to cause uneasiness to any mother who is anxious for
her daughter's future; but when these advantages of looks are rendered
still more peculiar by the fact that her hair had to be shaved off some
years ago when she had scarlet fever, and that it has never grown again
properly, but is worn short and loose about her face like a boy's, with
its black tresses tumbling into her eyes every time she looks down--and
when, added to this, Mrs. Miller also discovered to her mortification
that Beatrice possessed a will of her own, and so decided a method of
expressing her opinions and convictions, that she was not likely to be
easily moulded to her own views, you will, perhaps, understand the extent
of the difficulties with which she has to deal.

For, of course, so clever and so managing a woman as Mrs. Miller has not
allowed her daughter to grow up to the age of twenty without making the
most careful and judiciously-laid schemes for her ultimate disposal. That
Beatrice is to marry is a matter of course, and Mrs. Miller has well
determined that the marriage is to be a good one, and that her daughter
is to strengthen her father's position in Meadowshire by a union with one
or other of its leading families. Now, when Mrs. Miller came to pass the
marriageable men of Meadowshire under review, there was no such eligible
bachelor amongst them all as Sir John Kynaston, of Kynaston Hall.

It was on him, therefore, that her hopes with regard to Beatrice were
fixed. Fortune hitherto had seemed to smile favourably upon her. Beatrice
had had one season in town, during which she had met Sir John frequently,
and he had, contrary to his usual custom, asked her to dance several
times when he had met her at balls. Mrs. Miller said to herself that Sir
John, not being a very young man, did not set much store upon mere
personal beauty; that he probably valued mental qualities in a woman more
highly than the transient glitter of beauty; and that Beatrice's good
sense and sharp, shrewd conversation had evidently made a favourable
impression upon him.

She never was more mistaken in her life. True, Sir John did like Miss
Miller, he found her unconventional and amusing; but his only object in
distinguishing her by his attentions had been to pay a necessary
compliment to the new M.P.'s daughter, a duty which he would have
fulfilled equally had she been stupid as well as plain: moreover, as we
have seen, few men were so intensely sensitive to beauty in a woman as
was Sir John Kynaston. Mrs. Miller, however, was full of hopes concerning
him. To do her justice, she was not exactly vulgarly ambitious for her
daughter; she liked Sir John personally, and had a high respect for his
character, and she considered that Beatrice's high spirit and self-willed
disposition would be most desirably moderated and kept in check by a
husband so much older than herself. Lady Kynaston, moreover, was one of
her best and dearest friends, and was her beau-idéal of all that a clever
and refined lady should be. The match, in every respect, would have been
a very acceptable one to her. Whether or no Miss Beatrice shared her
mother's views on her behalf remains to be seen.

The mother and daughter are settling together the preliminaries of a
week's festivities which Mrs. Miller has decided shall be held at
Shadonake this winter. The house is to be filled, and there are to be a
series of dinner parties, culminating in a ball.

"The Bayleys, the Westons, the Foresters, and two daughters, I suppose,"
reads Mrs. Miller, aloud, from the list in her hand, "Any more for the
second dinner-party, Beatrice?"

"Are you not going to ask the Daintrees, of Sutton, mother?"

"Oh, dear me, another parson, Beatrice! I really don't think we can; I
have got three already. They shall have a card for the ball."

"You will ask that handsome girl who lives with them, won't you?"

"Not the slightest occasion for doing so," replied her mother, shortly.
Beatrice lifted her eyebrows.

"Why, she is the best-looking woman in all Meadowshire; we cannot leave
her out."

"I know nothing about her, not even her name; she is some kind of poor
relation, I believe--acts as the children's governess. We have too many
women as it is. No, I certainly shall not ask her. Go on to the next,
Beatrice."

"But, mother, she is so very handsome! Surely you might include her."

"Dear me, Beatrice, what a stupid girl you are! What is the good of
asking handsome girls to cut you out in your own house? I should have
thought you would have had the sense to see that for yourself," said Mrs.
Miller, impatiently.

"I think you are horribly unjust, mamma," says Miss Beatrice,
energetically; "and it is downright unkind to leave her out because
she is handsome--as if I cared."

"How can I ask her if I do not know her name?" said her mother,
irritably, with just that amount of dread of her daughter's rising temper
to make her anxious to conciliate her. "If you like to find out who she
is and all about her----"

"Yes, I will find out," said Beatrice, quietly; "give me the note, I will
keep it back for the present."

"Now, for goodness sake, go on, child, and don't waste any more time. Who
are coming from town to stay in the house?"

"Well, there will be Lady Kynaston, I suppose."

"Yes. She won't come till the end of the week. I have heard from her; she
will try and get down in time for the ball."

"Then there will be the Macpherson girls and Helen Romer. And, as a
matter of course, Captain Kynaston must be asked?"

"Yes. What a fool that woman is to advertise her feelings so openly that
one is obliged to ask her attendant swain to follow her wherever she
goes!"

"On the contrary, I think her remarkably clever; she gets what she wants,
and the cleverest of us can do no more. It is a well-known fact to all
Helen's acquaintances that not to ask Captain Kynaston to meet her would
be deliberately to insult her--she expects it as her right."

"All the same, it is in very bad taste and excessively underbred of her.
However, I should ask Captain Kynaston in any case, for his mother's
sake, and because I like him. He is a good shot, too, and the coverts
must be shot that week. Who next?"

"Mr. Herbert Pryme."

"Goodness me! Beatrice, what makes you think of _him_? We don't know
anything about him--where he comes from or who are his belongings--he is
only a nobody!"

"He is a barrister, mamma!"

"Yes, of course, I know that--but, then, there are barristers of all
sorts. I am sure I do not know what made you fix upon him; you only met
him two or three times in town."

"I liked him," said Beatrice, carelessly; "he is a gentleman, and would
be a pleasant man to have in the house."

Her mother looked at her sharply. She was playing with the gold locket
round her neck, twisting it backwards and forwards along its chain, her
eyes fixed upon the heap of cards on her lap. There was not the faintest
vestige of a blush upon her face.

"However," she continued, "if you don't care about having him, strike his
name out. Only it is a pity, because Sophy Macpherson is rather fond of
him, I fancy."

This was a lie; it was Miss Beatrice herself who was fond of him, but not
even her mother, keen and quick-scented as she was, could have guessed it
from her impassive face. Mrs. Miller was taken in completely.

"Oh," she said, "if Sophy Macpherson likes him, that alters the case. Oh,
yes, I will ask him by all means--as you say, he is a gentleman and
pleasant."

"Look, mamma!" exclaimed Beatrice, suddenly; "there is uncle Tom riding
up the drive."

Now, Tom Esterworth was a very important personage; he was the present
head of the Esterworth family, and, as such, the representative of its
ancient honours and traditions. He was a bachelor, and reigned in
solitary grandeur at Lutterton Castle, and kept the hounds as his
fathers had done before him.

Uncle Tom was thought very much of at Shadonake, and his visits always
caused a certain amount of agitation in his sister's mind. To her dying
day she would be conscious that in Tom's eyes she had been guilty of a
_mésalliance_. She never could get that idea out of her head; it made her
nervous and ill at ease in his presence. She hustled all her notes and
cards hurriedly together into her bureau.

"Uncle Tom! Dear me, what can he have come to-day for! I thought the
hounds were out. Ring the bell, Beatrice; he will like some tea. Where
is your father?"

"Papa is out superintending the building of the new pigsties," said
Beatrice as she rang the bell. "I think uncle Tom has been hunting; he is
in boots and breeches I see."

"Dear me, I hope your father won't come in with his muddy feet and his
hands covered with earth," said Mrs. Miller, nervously.

Uncle Tom came in, a tall, dark-faced, strong-limbed man of fifty--an
ugly man, if you will, but a gentleman, and an Esterworth, every inch of
him. He kissed his sister, and patted his niece on the cheek.

"Why weren't you out to-day, Pussy?"

"You met so far off, uncle. I had no one to ride with to the meet. The
boys will be back next week. Have you had a good run?"

"No, we've done nothing but potter about all the morning; there isn't a
scrap of scent."

"Uncle Tom, will you give us a meet here when we have our house-warming?"

"Humph! you haven't got any foxes at Shadonake," answered her uncle. He
had drawn his chair to the fire, and was warming his hands over the
blazing logs. Beatrice was rather a favourite with him. "I will see about
it, Pussy," he added, kindly, seeing that she looked disappointed. Mrs.
Miller was pouring him out a cup of tea.

"Well, I've got a piece of news for you women!" says Mr. Esterworth,
stretching out his hand for his tea. "John Kynaston's going to be
married!"

Mrs. Miller never knew how it was that the old Worcester tea-cup in her
hand did not at this juncture fall flat on the ground into a thousand
atoms at her brother's feet. It is certain that only a very strong
exercise of self-control and presence of mind saved it from destruction.

"Engaged to be married!" she said, with a gasp.

"That is news indeed," cried Beatrice, heartily, "I am delighted."

"Don't be so foolish, Beatrice," said her mother, quite sharply. "How on
earth can you be delighted when you don't even know who it is? Who is it,
Tom?"

"Ah, that is the whole pith of the matter," said Mr. Esterworth, who was
not above the weakness of liking to be the bearer of a piece of gossip.
"I'll give you three guesses, and I'll bet you won't hit it."

"One of the Courtenay girls?"

"No."

"Anna Vivian?"

"I know," says Beatrice, nodding her head sagely; "it is that girl who
lives with the Daintrees."

"Beatrice, how silly you are!" cries her mother.

Tom Esterworth turns round in his chair, and looks at his niece.

"By Jove, you've hit it!" he exclaims. "What a clever pussy you are to be
sure."

And then the soul of the member's wife became filled with consternation
and disgust.

"Well, I call it downright sly of John Kynaston!" she exclaims, angrily;
"picking out a nobody like that behind all our backs, and keeping it so
quiet, too; he ought to be ashamed of himself for such an unsuitable
selection!"

Beatrice laughed. "You know, uncle Tom, mamma wanted him to marry me."

"Beatrice, you should not say such things," said her mother, colouring.

"Whew!" whistled Mr. Esterworth. "So that was the little game, Caroline,
was it? John Kynaston has better taste. He wouldn't have looked at an
ugly little girl like our pussy here, would he, Puss? Miss Nevill is one
of the finest women I ever saw in my life. She was at the meet to-day on
one of his horses; and, by Jove! she made all the other women look plain
by the side of her! Kynaston is a very lucky fellow."

"I think, mamma, there can be no doubt about sending Miss Nevill an
invitation to our ball now," said Beatrice, laughingly.

"She will have to be asked to stay in the house," said Mrs. Miller, with
something akin to a groan. "I cannot leave her out, as Lady Kynaston is
coming. Oh, dear! oh, dear! what fools men are, to be sure!"

But Beatrice was wicked enough to laugh again over her mother's
discomfiture.



CHAPTER IX.

ENGAGED.

  I wonder did you ever count
  The value of one human fate,
  Or sum the infinite amount
  Of one heart's treasures, and the weight
      Of one heart's venture.

  A. Procter.


It was quite true what Mr. Thomas Esterworth had said, that Vera was
engaged to Sir John Kynaston.

It had all come about so rapidly, and withal so quietly, that, when Vera
came to think of it, it rather took her breath away. She had expected it,
of course; indeed, she had even planned and tried for it; but, when it
had actually come to her, she felt herself to be bewildered by the
suddenness of it.

In the end the climax of the love-making had been prosaic enough. Sir
John had not felt himself equal to the task of a personal interview with
the lady of his affections, with the accompanying risks of a personal
rejection, which, in his modesty and humility with reference to her, he
had believed to be quite on the cards. So he had written to her. The note
had been taken up to the vicarage by the footman, and had been brought
into the dining-room by the vicarial parlour-maid, just as the three
ladies were finishing breakfast, and after the vicar himself had left the
room.

"A note from Kynaston, please 'm," says rosy-cheeked Hannah, holding it
forth before her, upon a small japanned tray, as an object of general
family interest and excitement.

"For your master, Hannah?" says old Mrs. Daintree. "Are they waiting for
an answer? You will find him in his study."

"No, ma'am, it's for Miss Vera."

"Dear me!" with a suspicious glance across the table; "how very odd!"

Vera takes up the note and opens it.

"May I have the crest, auntie?" clamours Tommy before she had read three
words of it.

"Is it about the horse he has offered you to ride?" asks his mother.

But Vera answers nothing; she gets up quietly, and leaves the room
without a word.

"Extraordinary!" gasps Mrs. Daintree; "Vera's manners are certainly most
abrupt and unlady-like at times, Marion. I think you ought to point it
out to her."

Marion murmurs some unintelligible excuse and follows her sister--leaving
the unfortunate Tommy a prey to his grandmother's tender mercies. So
brilliant an opportunity is not, of course, to be thrown away. Tommy's
fingers, having incontinently strayed in the direction of the
sugar-basin, are summarily slapped for their indiscretion, and an
admonition is straightway delivered to him in forcible language
concerning the pains and penalties which threaten the ulterior destiny of
naughty little boys in general and of such of them in particular who are
specially addicted to the abstraction of lumps of sugar from the
breakfast-table.

Meanwhile, Marion has found her sister in the adjoining room standing up
alone upon the hearthrug with Sir John Kynaston's letter in her hands.
She is not reading it now, she is looking steadfastly into the fire. It
has fulfilled--nay, more than fulfilled--her wishes. The triumph of her
success is pleasant to her, and has brought a little more than their
usual glow into her cheeks, and yet--Heaven knows what vague and
intangible dreams and fancies have not somehow sunk down chill and cold
within her during the last five minutes.

Gratified ambition--flattered vanity--the joy of success--all this she
feels to the full; but nothing more! There is not one single other
sensation within her. Her pulses have not quickened, ever so little, as
she read her lover's letter; her heart has not throbbed, even once, with
a sweeter, purer delight--such as she has read and heard that other women
have felt.

"I suppose I have no heart," said Vera to herself; "it must be that I am
cold by nature. I am happy; but--but--I wonder what it feels like--this
_love_--that there is so much talked and written about?"

And then Marion came in breathlessly.

"Oh, Vera, what is it?"

Vera turns round to her, smiling serenely, and places the note in her
hands.

This is what Sir John Kynaston has written:--

  "Dear Miss Nevill,--I do not think what I am about to say will be
  altogether unexpected by you. You must have surely guessed how sincere
  an affection I have learnt to feel for you. I know that I am unworthy
  of you, and I am conscious of how vast a disparity there is between
  my age and your own youth and beauty. But if my great love and devotion
  can in any way bridge over the gap that lies between us, believe me,
  that if you will consent to be my wife, my whole life shall be devoted
  to making you happy. If you can give me an answer to-day, I shall be
  very grateful, as suspense is hard to bear. But pray do not decide
  against me in haste, and without giving me every chance in your power.

  "Yours devotedly,
  "John  Kynaston."

"Oh! Vera, my darling sister, I am so glad!" cries Marion, in tearful
delight, throwing her arms up round the neck of the young sister, who is
so much taller than she is; "I had guessed it, dearest; I saw he was in
love with you; and oh, Vera, I shall have you always near me!"

"Yes, that will be nice," assents Vera, quietly, and a trifle absently,
stroking her sister's cheek, with her eyes still fixed on the fire; "and
of course," rousing herself with an effort, "of course I am a very lucky
woman."

And then Mr. Daintree came in, and his wife rushed to him rapturously to
impart the joyful news. There was a little pleasant confusion of broken
words and explanations between the three, and then Marion whisked away,
brimming over with triumphant delight to wave the flags of victory
exultingly in her mother-in-law's face.

Eustace Daintree and Vera were alone. He took her hands within his, and
looked steadfastly in her face.

"Vera, are you sure of yourself, my dear, in this matter?"

Her eyes met his for a moment, and then fell before his earnest gaze. She
coloured a little.

"I am quite sure that I mean to accept Sir John's proposal," she said,
with a little uneasy laugh.

"Child, do you love him?"

Her eyes met his again; there was a vague trouble in them. The man had a
power over her, the power of sheer goodness of soul. She could never be
untrue to herself with Eustace Daintree; she was always at her very best
with him, humble and gentle; and she could no more have told him a lie,
or put him off with vague conventionalities, than she could have
committed a deadly sin.

What is it about some people that, in spite of ourselves, they thus force
out of us the best part of our nature; that base and unworthy thoughts
cannot live in us before them,--that they melt out of our hearts as the
snow before the rays of the sun? Even though the effect may be transient,
such is the power of their faith, and their truth, and their goodness,
that it must needs call forth in us something of the same spirit as their
own.

Such was Eustace Daintree's influence over Vera. It was not because of
his office, for no one was less susceptible than Vera--a Protestant
brought up, with but vague ideas of her own faith, in a Catholic land--to
any of those recognized associations with which a purely English-bred
girl might have felt the character of the clergyman of the parish where
she lived to be invested. It was nothing of that sort that made him great
to her; it was, simply and solely, the goodness of the man that impressed
her. His guilelessness, his simplicity of mind, his absolute uprightness
of character, and, with it all, the absence in him of any assumption of
authority, or of any superiority of character over those about him. His
very humility made her humble with him, and exalted him into something
saintly in her eyes.

When Eustace looked at her fixedly, with all his good soul in his earnest
eyes, and said to her again, "Do you love him, Vera?" Vera could but
answer him simply and frankly, almost against her will, as it were.

"I don't think I do, Eustace; but then I do not quite know what love is.
I do not think, however, that it can be what I feel."

"My child, no union can be hallowed without love. Vera, you will not run
into so great a danger?" he said anxiously.

She looked up at him smiling.

"I like him better than any one else, at all events. Better than Mr.
Gisburne, for instance. And I think, I do really think, Eustace, it will
be for my happiness."

The vicar looked grave. "If Sir John Kynaston were a poor man, would you
marry him?"

And Vera answered bravely, though with a heightened colour--

"No; but it is not only for the money, Eustace; indeed it is not.
But--but--I should be miserable without it; and I must do something with
my life."

He drew her near to him, and kissed her forehead. He understood her. With
that rare gift of sympathy--the highest, the most God-like of all human
attributes--he felt at once what she meant. It was wonderful that this
man, who was so unworldly, so unselfish, so pure of the stains of earth
himself, should have seen at once her position from her own point of
view; that was neither a very exalted one, nor was it very free from the
dross of worldliness. But it was so. All at once he seemed to know by a
subtle instinct what were the weaknesses, and the temptations, and the
aims of this girl, who, with all her faults, was so dear to him. He
understood her better, perhaps, than she understood herself. Her soul was
untouched by passion; the story of her life was unwritten; there was no
danger for her yet; and perchance it might be that the storms of life
would pass her by unscathed, and that she might remain sheltered for ever
in the safe haven which had opened so unexpectedly to receive her.

"There is a peril in the course you have chosen," he said, gravely; "but
your soul is pure, and you are safe. And I know, Vera, that you will
always do your duty."

And the tears were in her eyes as he left her.

When he had gone she sat down to write her answer to Sir John Kynaston.
She dipped her pen into the ink, and sat with it in her hand, thinking.
Her brother-in-law's words had aroused a fresh train of thought within
her. There seemed to be an amount of solemnity in what she was about to
do that she had not considered before. It was true that she did not love
him; but then, as she had told Eustace just now, she loved no one else;
she did not rightly understand what love meant, indeed. And is a woman to
wait on in patience for years until love comes to her? Would it ever
come? Probably not, thought Vera; not to her, who thought herself to be
cold, and not easily moved. There must be surely many women to whom this
wonderful thing of love never comes. In all her experience of life there
was nothing to contradict this. It was not as if she had been a girl who
had never left her native village, never tasted of the pleasures of life,
never known the sweet incense of flattery and devotion. Vera had known it
all. Many men had courted her; one or two had loved her dearly, but she
had not loved them. Amongst them all, indeed, there had been never one
whom she had liked with such a sincere affection as she now felt for this
man, who seemed to love her so much, and who wrote to her so diffidently,
and yet so devotedly.

"I love him as well as I am ever likely to love any one," said Vera, to
herself. Yet still she leant her chin upon her hand and looked out of the
window at the gray bare branches of the elm-trees across the damp green
lawn, and still her letter was unwritten.

"Vera!" cries Marion, coming in hurriedly and breaking in upon her
reverie, "the footman from Kynaston is waiting all this time to know if
there is any answer! Shall I send him away? Or have you made up your
mind?"

"Oh yes, I have made up my mind. My note will be ready directly; he may
as well take it. It will save the trouble of sending up to the Hall
later." For Vera remembers that there is not a superfluity of servants
at the vicarage, and that they all of them have plenty to do.

And thus, a mere trifle--a feather, as it were, on the river of
life--settled her destiny for her out of hand.

She dipped her pen into the ink once more, and wrote:--

  "Dear Sir John,--You have done me a great honour in asking me to be
  your wife. I am fully sensible of your affection, and am very grateful
  for it. I fear you think too highly of me; but I will endeavour to
  prove myself worthy of your good opinion, and to make you as good a
  wife as you deserve.

  "Yours,
  "Vera Nevill."

She was conscious herself of the excessive coldness of her note, but she
could not help it. She could not, for the life of her, have made it
warmer. Nothing, indeed, is so difficult as to write down feelings that
do not exist; it is easier to simulate with our spoken words and our
looks; but the pen that is urged beyond its natural inclination seems to
cool into ice in our fingers. But, at all events, she had accepted him.

It was a relief to her when the thing was done, and the note sent off
beyond the possibility of recall.

After that there had been no longer any leisure for her doubting
thoughts. There was her sister's delighted excitement, Mrs. Daintree's
oppressive astonishment, and even Eustace's calmer satisfaction in her
bright prospects, to occupy and divert her thoughts. Then there came her
lover himself, tender and grateful, and with so worshipful a respect in
every word and action that the most sensitive woman could scarcely have
been ruffled or alarmed by the prospects of so deferential a husband.

In a few days Vera became reconciled to her new position, which was in
truth a very pleasant one to her. There were the congratulations of
friends and acquaintances to be responded to; the pleasant flutter of
adulation that surrounded her once more; the little daily excitement
of John Kynaston's visits--all this made her happy and perfectly
satisfied with the wisdom of her decision.

Only one thing vexed her.

"What will your mother say, John?" she had asked the very first day she
had been engaged to him.

"It will not make much difference to me, dearest, whatever she may say."

Nor in truth would it, for Sir John, as we have seen, had never been a
devoted son, nor had he ever given his confidence to his mother; he had
always gone his own way independently of her.

"But it must needs make a difference to me," Vera had insisted. "You have
written to her, of course."

"Oh, yes; I wrote and told her I was engaged to you."

"And she has not written?"

"Yes, there was a message for you--her love or something."

Sir John evidently did not consider the subject of much importance. But
Vera was hurt that Lady Kynaston had not written to her.

"I will never enter any family where I am not welcome," she had said to
her lover, proudly.

And then Sir John had taken fright, for she was so precious to him that
the fear of losing her was becoming almost as a nightmare to him, and,
possibly, at the bottom of his heart he knew how feeble was his hold
over her. He had written off to his mother that day a letter that was
almost a command, and had told her to write to Vera.

This letter was not likely to prepossess Lady Kynaston, who was a
masterful little lady herself, in her daughter-in-law's favour; it did
more harm than good. She had obeyed her son, it is true, because he was
the head of the family, and because she stood in awe of him; but the
letter, thus written under compulsion, was not kind--it was not even
just.

"Horrid girl!" had said Lady Kynaston, angrily, to herself, as she had
sat down to her writing-table to fulfil her son's mandate. "It is not
likely that I can be very loving to her--some wretched, second-rate girl,
evidently--for not even Caroline Miller who, goodness knows, rakes up all
the odds and ends of society--ever heard of her before!"

It is not to be supposed that a letter undertaken under such auspices
could be in any way conciliatory or pleasant in its tone. Such as it was,
Vera put it straight into the fire directly she had read it; no one ever
saw it but herself.

"I have heard from your mother," she said to Sir John.

"Yes? I am very glad. She wrote everything that was kind, no doubt."

"I dare say she meant to be kind," said Vera; which was not true, because
she knew perfectly that there had been no kindness intended. But she
pursued the subject no further.

"I hope you will like Maurice," said Sir John, presently; "he is a
good-hearted boy, though he has been sadly extravagant, and given me
a good deal of trouble."

"I shall be glad to know your brother," said Vera, quietly. "Is he coming
to Kynaston?"

"Yes, eventually; but you will meet him first at Shadonake when you go
to stay there: they have asked a large party for that week, I hear, and
Maurice will be there."

Now, by this time Vera knew that the photograph she had once found in the
old writing-table drawer at Kynaston was that of her lover's brother
Maurice.



CHAPTER X.

A MEETING ON THE STAIRS.

  Since first I saw your face
    I resolved to honour and renown you;
  If now I be disdained,
    I wish my heart had never known you.

  The Sun whose beams most glorious are
    Rejecteth no beholder,
  And your sweet beauty past compare
    Made my poor eyes the bolder.

Thomas Ford.


I have often wondered why, in the ordering of human destinies,
some special Providence, some guardian spirit who is gifted with
foreknowledge, is not mercifully told off to each of us so to order the
trifles of our lives that they may combine to the working together of our
weal, instead of conspiring, as they too often and too evidently do, for
our woe.

Look back upon your own life, and upon the lives of those whose story you
have known the most intimately, and see what straws, what nonentities,
what absurd trivialities have brought about the most important events of
existence. Recollect how, and in what manner, those people whom it would
have been well for you never to have known came across you. How those
whose influence over you is for good were kept out of your way at the
very crisis of your life. Think what a different life you would have led;
I do not mean only happier, but how much better and purer, if some absurd
trifle had not seemed to play into the hands, as it were, of your
destiny, and to set you in a path whereof no one could at the time
foresee the end.

Some one had looked out their train in last month's Bradshaw, unwitting
of the autumn alterations, and was kept from you till the next day. You
took the left instead of the right side of the square on your way home,
or you stood for a minute gossiping at your neighbour's door, and there
came by some one who ultimately altered and embittered your whole life,
and who, but for that accidental meeting, you would, probably, never have
seen again; or some evil adviser was at hand, whilst one whose opinion
you revered, and whose timely help would have saved you from taking that
false step you ever after regretted, was kept to the house, by Heaven
knows what ridiculous trifle--a cold in the head, or finger-ache--and
did not see you to warn and to keep you back from your own folly until it
was too late.

People say these things are ordered for us. I do not know; it may be so,
but sometimes it seems rather as if we were irresponsible puppets, tossed
and buffeted about, blindly and helplessly, upon life's river, as
fluttering dead leaves are danced wildly along the swift current of a
Highland stream. Such a trifle might have saved us! yet there was no
pitying hand put forth to avert that which, in our human blindness,
appeared to us to be as unimportant as any other incident of our lives.

Life is an unsolvable problem. Shall we ever, in some other world,
I wonder, read its riddles aright?

All these moral dissertations have been called forth because Vera Nevill
went to stay for a week at Shadonake. If she had known--what we none of
us know--the future, she doubtless would have stayed away. Fate--a
beneficent fate, indeed--made, I am bound to confess, a valiant effort in
her behalf. Little Minnie fell ill the day before her departure; and the
symptoms were such that everybody in the house believed that she was
sickening for scarlet fever. The doctor, however, having been hastily
summoned, pronounced the disease to be an infantile complaint of a
harmless and innocuous nature, which he dignified by the delusively
poetical name of "Rosalia."

"It is not infectious, Mr. Smee, I hope?" asked Marion, anxiously.
"Nothing to prevent my sister going to stay at the Millers' to morrow?"

"Not in the least infectious, Mrs. Daintree, and anybody in the house can
go wherever they like, except the child herself, who must be kept in a
warm room for two days, when she will probably be quite well again."

"I am glad, dear, there is nothing to put a stop to your visit; it would
have been such a pity," said Marion, in her blindness, to her sister
afterwards.

So the fates had a game of pitch and toss with Vera's future, and settled
it amongst them to their own satisfaction, probably, but not, it will be
seen, for Vera's own good or ultimate happiness.

On the afternoon of the 3rd day of January, therefore, Eustace
Daintree drove his sister-in-law over to Shadonake in the open
basket pony-carriage, and deposited her and her box safely at the
stone-colonnaded door of that most imposing mansion, which she entered
exactly ten minutes before the dressing-bell rang, and was conducted
almost immediately upstairs to her own room.

Some twenty minutes later there are still two ladies sitting on in the
small tea-room, where it is the fashion at Shadonake to linger between
the hours of five and seven, who alone have not yet moved to obey the
mandate of the dressing-bell.

"What _is_ the good of waiting?" says Beatrice, impatiently; "the train
is often late, and, besides, he may not come till the nine o'clock
train."

"That is just what I want to wait for," answers Helen Romer. "I want
just to hear if the carriage has come back, and then I shall know for
certain."

"Well, you know how frightfully punctual papa is, and how angry it makes
him if anybody is late."

"Just two minutes more, Beatrice; I can dress very quickly when once
I set to work," pleads Helen.

Beatrice sits down again on the arm of the sofa, and resigns herself to
her fate; but she looks rather annoyed and vexed about it.

Mrs. Romer paces the room feverishly and impatiently.

"What did you think of Miss Nevill?" asks Beatrice.

"I could hardly see her in her hat and that thick veil; but she looked as
if she were handsome."

"She is _beautiful_!" says Beatrice, emphatically, "and uncle Tom
says----"

"Hush!" interrupts Helen, hurriedly. "Is not that the sound of
wheels?--Yes, it is the carriage."

She flies to the door.

"Take care, Helen," says Beatrice, anxiously; "don't open the door
wide, don't let the servants think we have been waiting, it looks so
bad--so--so unlady-like."

But Helen Romer does not even hear her; she is listening intently to the
approaching sounds, with the half-opened door in her hand.

The tea-room door opens into a large inner hall, out of which leads the
principal staircase; the outer or entrance-hall is beyond; and presently
the stopping of the carriage, the opening and shutting of doors from the
servants' departments, and all the usual bustle of an arrival are heard.

The two girls stand close together listening, Beatrice hidden in the
shadow of the room.

"There are _two_ voices!" cries Helen, in a disappointed tone; "he is not
alone!"

"I suppose it is Mr. Pryme--mamma said he might come by this train,"
answers Beatrice, so quietly that no one could ever have guessed how her
heart was beating.

"Helen, _do_ let us run upstairs; I really cannot stay. Let _me_ go, at
all events!" she adds, with a sudden agony of entreaty as the guests were
heard advancing towards the door of the inner hall. And as Helen made not
the slightest sign of moving, Beatrice slipped past her and ran lightly
and swiftly across the hall upstairs, and disappeared along the landing
above just as Captain Kynaston and Mr. Herbert Pryme appeared upon the
scene below.

No such scruples of modesty troubled Mrs. Romer. As the young men entered
the inner hall preceded by the butler, who was taking them up to their
rooms, and followed by two footmen who were bearing their portmanteaus,
Helen stepped boldly forward out of the shelter of the tea-room, and held
out her hand to Captain Kynaston.

"How do you do? How late your train is."

Maurice looked distinctly annoyed, but of course he shook hands with her.

"How are you, Mrs. Romer? I did not expect you to be here till to-morrow.
Yes, we are late," consulting his watch; "only twenty minutes to dress
in--I must look sharp."

Meanwhile the stranger, Mr. Pryme, was following the butler upstairs.

Helen lowered her voice.

"I _must_ speak to you a minute, Maurice; it is six weeks since we have
met, and to meet in public would be too trying. Please dress as quickly
as ever you can; I know you can dress quickly if you choose; and wait for
me here at the bottom of the stairs--we might get just three minutes
together before dinner."

There were the footmen and the portmanteaus within six yards of them, and
Mr. Pryme and the butler still within earshot. What was Maurice to do? He
could not really listen to a whole succession of prayers, and entreaties,
and piteous appeals. There was neither the time, nor was it the place,
for either discussion or remonstrance. All he could do was to nod a hasty
assent to her request.

"Then I must make haste," he said, and ran quickly upstairs in the wake
of the other guest.

The staircase at Shadonake was very wide and very handsome, and
thoroughly in keeping with the spacious character of the house. It
consisted of one wide flight of shallow steps, with a richly-carved
balustrade on either side of it, leading straight down from a large
square landing above. Both landing and steps were carpeted with thick
velvet-pile carpet, so that no jarring footfall was ever heard upon them.
The hall into which the staircase led was paved in coloured mosaic tiles,
and was half covered over with rich Persian rugs. A great many doors,
nearly all the sitting-rooms of the house, in fact, opened into it,
and the blank spaces of the wall were filled in with banks of large
handsome plants, palms and giant ferns, and azaleas in full bloom, which
were daily rearranged by the gardeners in every available corner.

At the foot of the staircase, and with his back to it, leaning against
the balustrade, stood Captain Kynaston, exactly four minutes before the
dinner was announced.

Most people were in the habit of calling Maurice a good-looking man, but
if anybody had seen him now for the first time it is doubtful whether
they would have endorsed that favourable opinion upon his personal
appearance. A thoroughly ill-tempered expression of face seldom enhances
any one's good looks, and if ever a man looked in a bad temper, Maurice
Kynaston did so at the present moment.

He stood with his hands in his trousers pockets, and his eyes fixed upon
his own boots, and he looked as savage as it was well possible for a man
to look.

He was waiting here for Helen, because he had told her that he would do
so, and when Captain Kynaston promised anything to a lady he always kept
his word.

But to say that he hated being there is but a mild term for the rage and
disgust he experienced.

To be waylaid and attacked thus, directly he had set foot in the house,
with a stranger and three servants looking on so as to render him
absolutely helpless; to be uncomfortably hurried over his toilet, and
inveigled into a sort of rendezvous at the foot of a public staircase,
where a number of people might at any minute enter from any one of the
six or eight surrounding doors, was enough of itself to try his temper;
but when he came to consider how Helen, in thus appropriating him and
making him obey her caprices, was virtually breaking her side of the
treaty between them; that she was exacting from him the full amount of
servitude and devotion which an open engagement would demand, and yet she
had agreed to deny any such engagement between them openly--it was, he
felt, more than he could continue to bear with meekness.

Meekness, indeed, was in no way Maurice Kynaston's distinguishing
characteristic. He was masterful and imperious by nature; to be the slave
of any woman was neither pleasant nor profitable to him. Honour, indeed,
had bound him to Helen, and had he loved her she might have led him. Her
position gave her a certain hold over him, and she knew how to appeal to
his heart; but he loved her not, and to control his will and his spirit
was beyond her power.

Maurice said to himself that he would put a stop to this system of
persecution once and for all--that this interview, which she herself had
contrived, should be made the opportunity of a few forcible words, that
should frighten her into submission.

So he stood fretting, and fuming, and raging, waiting for her at the foot
of the stairs.

There was a soft rustle, as of a woman's dress, behind him. He turned
sharply round.

Halfway down the stairs came a woman whom he had never seen before.
A black velvet dress, made high in the throat, with a wide collar of
heavy lace upon her shoulders, hung clingingly about the outlines of her
tall and perfect figure; her hands, with some lace ruffles falling about
her wrists, were simply crossed before her. The light of a distant
hanging-lamp shone down upon her, just catching one diamond star that
glittered among the thick coils of her hair--she wore no other ornament.
She came down the stairs slowly, almost lingeringly, with a certain
grace in her movements, and without a shadow of embarrassment or
self-consciousness.

Maurice drew aside to let her pass him--looking at her--for how could he
choose but look? But when she reached the bottom of the steps, she turned
her face towards him.

"You are Maurice--are you not?" she said, and put forth both her hands
towards him.

An utter bewilderment as to who she was made him speechless; his mind had
been full of Helen and his own troubles; everything else had gone out of
his head. She coloured a little, still holding out her hands to him.

"I am Vera," she said, simply, and there was a little deprecating appeal
in the words as though she would have added, "Be my friend."

He took the hands--soft slender hands that trembled a very little in his
grasp--within his own, and some nameless charm in their gentle touch
brought a sudden flush into his face, but no appropriate words concerning
his pleasure at meeting her, or his gratification at their future
relations, fell from Maurice Kynaston's lips. He only held her thus by
her hands, and looked at her--looked at her as if he could never look at
her enough--from her head to her feet, and from her feet up again to her
head, till a sudden wave of colour flooded her face at the earnestness
of his scrutiny.

"Vera--_Vera Nevill_!" was all he said; and then below his breath, as
though his absolute amazement were utterly irrepressible: "_By Jove!_"
And Vera laughed softly at the thoroughly British character of the
exclamation.

"How like an Englishman!" she said. "An Italian would have paid me fifty
pretty compliments in half the time you have taken just to stare at me!"

"What a charming _tableau vivant_!" exclaims a voice above them as Mrs.
Romer comes down the staircase. "You really look like a scene in a play!
Pray don't let me disturb you."

"I am making friends with my sister-in-law that is to be, Mrs. Romer,"
says Maurice, who has dropped Vera's hands with a guilty suddenness, and
now endeavours to look completely at his ease--an effort in which he
signally fails.

"Were you? Dear me! I thought you and Miss Nevill were practising the
pose of the 'Huguenots'!"

Now the whole armoury of feminine weapons--impertinence, spite, and bad
manners, born of jealousy--is utterly beneath the contempt of such a
woman as Vera; but she is no untried, inexperienced country girl such as
Mrs. Romer imagines her to be disconcerted or stricken dumb by such an
attack. She knew instantly that she had been attacked, and in what
manner, and she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

"I have never seen that picture, the 'Huguenots,' Mrs. Romer," she
said, quietly; "do you think there is a photograph or a print of it
at Kynaston, Maurice? If so, you or John must show it to me."

And how Mrs. Romer hated her then and there, from that very minute until
her life's end, it would not be easy to set forth!

The utter _insouciance_, the lady-like ignoring of Helen's impertinence,
the quiet assumption of what she knew her own position in the Kynaston
family to be, down to the sisterly "Maurice," whereby she addressed the
man whom in public, at least, Mrs. Romer was forced to call by a more
formal name--all proved to that astute little woman that Vera Nevill was
no ordinary antagonist, no village maiden to be snubbed or patronised at
her pleasure, but a woman of the world, who understood how to fight her
own battles, and was likely, as she was forced to own to herself, to
"give back as good as she got."

Not another single word was spoken between them, for at that very minute
a door was thrown open, and the whole of the party in the house came
trooping forth in pairs from the drawing-room in a long procession on
their way to the dining-room.

First came Mr. Miller with old Mrs. Macpherson on his arm. Then Mr. Pryme
and Miss Sophy Macpherson; her sister behind with Guy Miller; Beatrice,
looking melancholy, with the curate in charge; and her mother last with
Sir John, who had come over from Kynaston to dinner. Edwin Miller, the
second son, by himself brought up the rear.

There was some laughter at the expense of the three defaulters, who, of
course, were supposed to have only just hurried downstairs.

"Aha! just saved your soup, ladies!" cried Mr. Miller, laughingly. "Fall
in, fall in, as best you can!"

Mrs. Miller came to the rescue, and, by a rapid stroke of generalship,
marshalled them into their places.

Miss Nevill, of course, was a stranger; Helen had been on intimate terms
with them all for years; Vera, besides, was standing close to Maurice.

"Please take in Miss Nevill, Captain Kynaston; and Edwin, my dear, give
your arm to Mrs. Romer."

Edwin, who was a pleasant-looking boy, with plenty to say for himself,
hurried forward with alacrity; and Helen had to accept her fate with the
best grace she could.

"Well, how did you get on with Vera, and how did you like her?" asked Sir
John, coming round to his brother's side of the table when the ladies had
left the room. He had noted with pleasure that Vera and Maurice had
talked incessantly throughout the dinner.

"My dear fellow!" cried Maurice, heartily, "she is the handsomest woman I
ever met in my life! I give you my word that, when she introduced herself
to me coming downstairs, I was so surprised, she was so utterly different
to what I and the mother have been imagining, that upon my life I
couldn't speak a word--I could do nothing but stare at her!"

"You like her, then?" said his brother, smiling, well pleased at his
openly expressed admiration.

"I think you are a very lucky fellow, old man! Like her! of course I do;
she's a downright good sort!"

And if Sir John was slightly shocked at the irreverence of alluding to so
perfect and pure a woman as his adored Vera by so familiar a phrase as "a
good sort," he was, at all events, too pleased by Maurice's genuine
approval of her to find any fault with his method of expressing it.



CHAPTER XI.

AN IDLE MORNING.

  We loved, sir; used to meet;
  How sad, and bad, and mad it was;
  But then, how it was sweet!

  Browning.


Leaning against a window-frame at the end of a long corridor on the
second floor, and idly looking out over the view of the wide lawns and
empty flower-beds which it commands, stands Mr. Herbert Pryme, on the
second morning after his arrival at Shadonake House.

It is after breakfast, and most of the gentlemen of the house have
dispersed; that is to say, Mr. Miller has gone off to survey his new
pigsties, and his sons and a Mr. Nethercliff, who arrived last night,
have ridden to a meet some fifteen miles distant, which the ladies had
voted to be too far off to attend.

Mr. Pryme, however, is evidently not a keen sports-man; he has declined
the offer of a mount which Guy Miller has hospitably pressed upon him,
and he has also declined to avail himself of his host's offer of the
services of the gamekeeper. Curiously enough, another guest at Shadonake,
whose zeal for hunting has never yet been impeached, has followed his
example.

"What on earth do they meet at Fretly for!" Maurice Kynaston had
exclaimed last night to young Guy, as the morrow's plans had been
discussed in the smoking-room; "it's the worst country I ever was in, all
plough and woodlands, and never a fox to be found. Your uncle ought to
know better than to go there. I certainly shan't take the trouble to get
up early to go to that place."

"Not go?" repeated Guy, aghast; "you don't mean to say you won't go,
Kynaston?"

"That's just what I do mean, though."

"What the deuce will you do with yourself all day?"

"Lie in bed," answered Maurice, between the puffs of his pipe; "we've
had a precious hard day's shooting to-day, and I mean to take it easy
to-morrow."

And Captain Kynaston was as good as his word. He did not appear in the
breakfast-room the next morning until the men who were bound for Fretly
had all ridden off and were well out of sight of the house. What he had
stayed for he would have been somewhat puzzled to explain. He was not the
kind of man who, as a rule, cared to dawdle about all day with women when
there was any kind of sport to be had from hunting down to ratting; more
especially was he disinclined for any such dawdling when Helen Romer was
amongst the number of the ladies so left to be danced attendance upon.
And yet he distinctly told himself that he meant to be devoted for this
one day to the fair sex. All yesterday he had been crossed and put out;
the men had been out shooting from breakfast till dinner; some of the
ladies had joined them with the Irish-stew at lunch time; Helen had been
amongst them, but not Miss Nevill. Maurice, in spite of the pheasants
having been plentiful and the sport satisfactory, had been in a decidedly
bad temper all the afternoon in consequence. In the evening the party at
dinner had been enlarged by an influx of country neighbours; Vera had
been hopelessly divided from him and absorbed by other people the whole
evening; he had not exchanged a single word with her all day.

Captain Kynaston was seized with an insatiable desire to improve his
acquaintance with his sister-in-law to be. It was his duty, he told
himself, to make friends with her; his brother would be hurt, he argued,
and his mother would be annoyed if he neglected to pay a proper attention
to the future Lady Kynaston. There could be no doubt that it was his
duty; that it was also his pleasure did not strike him so forcibly as it
should have done, considering the fact that a man is only very keen to
create duties for himself when they are proportionately mingled with that
which is pleasant and agreeable. The exigencies of his position, with
regard to his elder brother's bride having been forcibly borne in upon
him--combined possibly with the certain knowledge that the elder brother
himself would be hunting all day--compelled him to stop at home and
devote himself to Vera. Mr. Herbert Pryme, however, had no such excuse,
real or imaginary, and yet he stands idly by the corridor window, idly,
yet perfectly patiently--relieving the tedium of his position by the
unexciting entertainment of softly whistling the popular airs from the
"Cloches de Corneville" below his breath.

Herbert Pryme is a good-looking young fellow of about six-and-twenty; he
looks his profession all over, and is a good type of the average young
barrister of the present day. He has fair hair, and small, close-cropped
whiskers; his face is retrieved from boyishness by strongly-marked
and rather heavy features; he studiously affects a solemn and imposing
gravity of face and manner, and a severe and elderly style of dress,
which he hopes may produce a favourable effect upon the non-legal minds
of his somewhat imaginary clients.

It is doubtful, however, whether Mr. Pryme has not found a shorter and
pleasanter road to fortune than that slow and toilsome route along which
the legal muse leads her patient votaries.

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes elapse, and still Mr. Pryme looks patiently
out of the window, and still he whistles the Song of the Bells. The only
sign of weariness he gives is to take out his watch, which, by the way,
is suspended by a broad black ribbon, and lives, not in his waistcoat
pocket, but in a "fob," and is further decorated by a very large and
old-fashioned seal. Having consulted a time piece which for size and
thickness might have belonged to his great-grandfather, he returns it to
his fob, and resumes his whistling.

Presently a door at the further end of the corridor softly opens and
shuts, and Mr. Pryme looks up quickly.

Beatrice Miller, looking about her a little guiltily, comes swiftly
towards him along the passage.

"Mamma kept me such ages!" she says, breathlessly; "I thought I should
never get away."

"Never mind, so long as you are here," he answers, holding her by
both hands. "My darling, I must have a kiss; I hungered for one all
yesterday."

He looks into her face eagerly and lovingly. To most people Beatrice is a
plain girl, but to this man she is beautiful; his own love for her has
invested her with a charm and a fascination that no one else has seen in
her.

Oh! divine passion, that can thus glorify its object. It is like a dash
of sunshine over a winter landscape, which transforms it into the
loveliness of spring; or the magic brush of the painter, which can turn a
ploughed field and a barren common into the golden glories of a Cuyp or a
Turner.

Thus it was with Herbert Pryme. He looked at Beatrice with the blinding
glamour of his own love in his eyes, and she was beautiful to him. Truth
to say, Beatrice was a woman whom to love once was to love always. There
was so much that was charming and loveable in her character, so great a
freshness of mind and soul about her, that, although from lack of beauty
she had hitherto failed to attract love, having once secured it, she
possessed that rare and valuable faculty of being able to retain it,
which many women, even those who are the most beautiful, are incapable
of.

"It is just as I imagined about Mr. Nethercliff," says Beatrice,
laughing; "he has been asked here for my benefit. Mamma has just been
telling me about him; he is Lord Garford's nephew and his heir. Lord
Garford's place, you know, is quite the other side of the county; he is
poor, so I suppose I might do for him," with a little grimace. "At all
events, I am to sit next to him at dinner to-night, and make myself
civil. You see, I am to be offered to all the county magnates in
succession."

Herbert Pryme still holds her hands, and looks down with grave vexation
into her face.

"And how do you suppose I shall feel whilst Mr. Nethercliff is making
love to you?"

"You may make your mind quite easy; it is impossible that there should be
another man foolish enough in all England to want to make love to such an
'ugly duckling' as I am!"

"Don't be silly, child, and don't fish for compliments," he answers,
fondly, stroking her short dark hair, which he thinks so characteristic
of herself.

Beatrice looks up happily at him. A woman is always at her very best when
she is alone with the man she loves. Unconsciously, all the charms she
possesses are displayed in her glistening eyes, and in the colour which
comes and goes in her contented face. There is no philtre which beauty
can use, there is neither cosmetic nor rouge that can give that tender,
lovely glow with which successful love transforms even a plain face into
radiance and fascination.

"I wish, Beatrice, you would let me speak to your father," continued
Herbert; "I cannot bear to be here under false pretences. Why will you
not let me deal fairly and openly with your parents?"

"And be sent about your business by the evening train. No, thank you!
My dear boy, speaking to papa would be as much use as speaking to the
butler; they would both of them refer you instantly to mamma; and with
an equally lamentable result. Please leave things to me. When mamma has
offered me ineffectually to every marriageable man in Meadowshire, she
will get quite sick of it, and, I dare say, I shall be allowed to do as
I like then without any more fuss."

"And how long is this process to last?"

"About a year; by which time Geraldine will be nearly eighteen, and ready
to step into my shoes. Mamma will be glad enough to be rid of me then,
and to try her hand upon her instead. Geraldine is meek and tractable,
and will be quite willing to do as she is told."

"And, meanwhile, what am I to do?"

"You! You are to make love to Sophy Macpherson. Do you not know that she
is the excuse for your having been asked here at all?"

"I don't like it, Beatrice," repeats her lover, gravely--not, however,
alluding to the duties relating to Miss Macpherson, which she had been
urging upon him. "Upon my life, I don't." He looks away moodily out of
the window. "I hate doing things on the sly. And, besides, I am a poor
man, and your parents are rich. I could not afford to support a wife at
present on my own income."

"All the more reason that we should wait," she interrupts, quickly.

"Yes; but I ought not to have spoken to you; I'd no business to steal
your heart."

"You did not steal it," she says, nestling up to his side. "I presented
it to you, free, gratis."

Where is the man who could resist such an appeal! Away went duty,
prudence, and every other laudable consideration to the winds; and
Herbert Pryme straightway became insanely and blissfully oblivious of his
own poverty, of Mr. Miller's wealth, and of everything else upon earth
and under the sun that was not entirely and idiotically delightful and
ecstatic.

"You will do as I tell you?" whispers Beatrice.

"Of course I will," answers her lover. And then there is a complete
stagnation of the power of speech on both sides for the space of five
minutes, during which the clock ticking steadily on at the far end of the
corridor has things entirely its own way.

"There is another couple who are happy," says Herbert Pryme, breaking the
charmed silence at length, and indicating, by a sign, two people who are
wandering slowly down the garden. Beatrice Miller, following the
direction of his eyes, sees Maurice Kynaston and Vera.

"Those two?" she exclaims. "Oh dear, no! They are not happy--not in our
way. Miss Nevill is engaged to his brother, you know."

"Umph! if I were Sir John Kynaston, I would look after my brother then."

"Herbert! what _can_ you mean?" cries Beatrice, opening her eyes in
astonishment. "Why, Captain Kynaston is supposed to be engaged to Mrs.
Romer; at any rate, she is desperately in love with him."

"Yes, everybody knows that: but is he in love with her?"

"Herbert, I am sure you must be mistaken!" persists Beatrice, eagerly.

"Perhaps I am. Never mind, little woman," kissing her lightly; "I only
said they looked happy. If you will take the trouble to remark them
through the day, you will, perhaps, be struck by the same blissful aspect
that I have noticed. If they are happy, it won't last long. Why should
not one be glad to see other people enjoying themselves? Let them be
happy whilst they can."

Herbert Pryme was right. Maurice and Vera wandering side by side along
the broad gravel walks in the wintry gardens were happy--without so much
as venturing to wonder what it was that made them so.

"I did not want to hunt to-day," Maurice is saying; "I thought I would
stop at home and talk to you."

"That was kind of you," answers Vera, with a smile.

If she had known him better, she would have been more sensible of the
compliment implied. To give up a day's hunting for a woman's sake is what
very few keen sports-men have been known to do; the attraction must be
great indeed.

"You will go out, of course, on Monday, the day the hounds meet here?
I should like to see you on a horse."

"I shall at all events put on a habit and get up on the mare John has
given me. But I know very little of English hunting; I have only ridden
in Italy. We used to go out in winter over the Campagna--that is very
different to England."

"You must look very well in a habit." He turned to look at her as he
spoke. There was no reticence in his undisguised admiration of her.

Vera laughed a little. "You shall look at me if you like when I have it
on," she said, blushing faintly under his scrutiny.

"I am grateful to you for the permission; but I am bound to confess that
I should look all the same had you forbidden me to do so."

Vera was pleased. She felt glad that he admired her. Was it not quite
right and most desirable that her husband's brother should appreciate her
beauty and ratify his good taste?

"When does your mother come?" she said, changing the subject quietly, but
without effort.

"Only the very night of the ball, I am afraid. Tuesday, is it not?"

"Have you written to her about me? She does not like me, I fear."

"No; I will not write. She shall see you and judge for herself. I am not
the least afraid of her not liking you when she knows you; and you will
love her."

By this time they had wandered away from the house through the belt of
shrubbery, and had emerged beyond upon the margin of the pool of water.

Vera stood still, suddenly struck with the sight.

"Is this Shadonake Bath?" she asked, below her breath.

"Yes; have you never seen it before?" he answered, in some surprise.

"Never. I have not lived in Meadowshire long, you know, and the Millers
were moving into the house and furnishing it all last summer. I have
never been in the gardens till to-day. How strangely sad the place looks!
Let us walk round it."

They went round to the further side.

The pool of water lay dark and silent within its stone steps; not a
ripple disturbed its surface; not a dead leaf rested on its bosom. Only
the motionless water looked up everlastingly at the gray winter skies
above, and reflected them back blackly and gloomily upon its solemn face.

Vera stood still and looked at it. Something in its aspect--she could not
have told what--affected her powerfully. She went down two or three steps
towards the water, and stooped over it intently.

Maurice, watching her curiously, saw, to his surprise, that she trembled.
She turned round to him.

"Does it not look dark and deep? Is it very deep?"

"I believe it is. There are all sorts of stories about it. Come up, Vera;
why do you tremble so?"

"How dreadful to be drowned here!" she said, below her breath, and she
shuddered.

He stretched out his hand to her.

"Do not say such horrid things! Give me your hand--the steps are
slippery. What has put drowning into your head? And--why, how pale you
are; what has frightened you?"

She took his hand and came back again to where he stood.

"Do you believe in presentiments?" she said, slowly, with her eyes fixed
still, as though by some fascination, upon the dark waters beneath them.

"Not in the very least," he answered, cheerily; "do not think of such
things. John would be the first to scold you--and to scold me for
bringing you here."

He stood, holding her hand, looking at her kindly and compassionately;
suddenly she looked at him, and as their eyes met once more, she trembled
from head to foot.

"Vera, you are frightened; tell me what it is!"

"I don't know! I don't know!" she cried, with a sudden wail, like a
person in pain; "only--oh! I wish I had not seen it for the first time
with _you_!"

Before he could answer her, some one, _beckoning_ to them from the
further side of the pool, caused them both to turn suddenly round.

It was not only Herbert Pryme who had seen them wander away down the
garden from the house. Mrs. Romer, too, had been at another window and
had noticed them. To run lightly upstairs, put on her hat and jacket, and
to follow them, had been the work of but a very few minutes. Helen was
not minded to allow Maurice to wander about all the morning with Vera.

"Are you going for a walk?" she called out to them across the water.
"Wait for me; I am coming with you."

Vera turned quickly to her companion.

"Is it true that you are engaged to her?" she asked him rapidly, in a low
voice.

Maurice hesitated. Morally speaking, he was engaged to her; but, then, it
had been agreed between them that he was to deny any such engagement. He
felt singularly disinclined to let Vera know what was the truth.

"People say you are," she said, once more. "Will you tell me if it is
true?"

"No; there is no engagement between us," he answered, gravely.

"I am very glad," she answered, earnestly. He coloured, but he had no
time to ask her why she was glad--for Helen came up to them.

"How interested you look in each other's conversation!" she said, looking
suspiciously at them both. "May I not hear what you have been talking
about?"

"Anybody might hear," answered Vera, carelessly, "were it worth one's
while to take the trouble of repeating it."

Maurice said nothing. He was angry with Helen for having interrupted
them, and angry with himself for having denied his semi-engagement. He
stood looking away from them both, prodding his stick into the gravel
walk.

For half a minute they stood silently together.

"Let us go on," said Vera, and they began to walk.

Once again in the days that were to come those three stood side by side
upon the margin of Shadonake Bath.



CHAPTER XII.

THE MEET AT SHADONAKE.

  The desire of the moth for the star,
  Of the night for the morrow,
  The devotion to something afar.

  Shelley.


Mrs. Macpherson had brought up her daughters with one fixed and
predominant idea in her mind. Each of them was to excel in some one taste
or accomplishment, by virtue of which they might be enabled to shine in
society. They were taught to do one thing well. Thus, Sophy, the eldest,
played the piano remarkably, whilst Jessie painted in water-colours with
charming exactitude and neatness. They had both had first-rate masters,
and no pains had been spared to make each of them proficient in the
accomplishment that had been selected for her. But, as neither of these
young ladies had any natural talent, the result was hardly so
satisfactory as their fond mother could have desired. They did exactly
what they had been taught to do with precision and conscientiousness; no
less and no more; and the further result of their entire devotion to one
kind of study was, that they could do nothing else.

Mrs. Macpherson began to realize that her system of education had
possibly left something to be desired on the Monday morning that Mr.
Esterworth brought up his hounds to Shadonake House. It was provoking
to see all the other ladies attired in their habits, whilst her own
daughters had to come down to breakfast in their ordinary morning
dresses, because they had never been taught to ride.

"Are you not going to ride?" she heard Guy Miller ask of Sophy, who was
decidedly the best looking and the pleasantest of the sisters.

"No, we have never ridden at all; mamma never thought we had the time for
it," answers Sophy.

"I think," said Mrs. Macpherson, turning to her hostess, "that I shall
pursue a different course with my younger girls. I feel sorry now that
Sophy and Jessie do not ride. Music and painting are, of course, the most
charming accomplishments that a woman can have; but still it is not at
all times that they are useful."

"No, you cannot be always painting and playing."

"Neither can you be always riding," said Mrs. Macpherson, with some
asperity, for there was a little natural jealousy between these ladies on
the subject of their girls; "but still----"

"But still, you will acknowledge that I have done right in letting
Beatrice hunt. You may be quite sure that there is no accomplishment
which brings a girl so much into notice in the country. Look at her now."

Mrs. Macpherson looked and saw Beatrice in her habit at the far end of
the dining-room surrounded by a group of men in pink, and she also saw
her own daughters sitting neglected by themselves on the other side of
the room. She made no observation upon the contrast, for it would hardly
have been polite to have done so; but she made a mental note of the fact
that Mrs. Miller was a very clever woman, and that, if you want an ugly
daughter to marry, you had better let her learn how to ride across
country. And she furthermore decided that her third daughter, Alice, who
was not blessed with the gift of beauty, should forthwith abandon the
cultivation of a very feeble and uncertain vocal organ and be sent to the
nearest riding-school the very instant she returned to her home.

Beatrice Miller rode very well indeed; it was the secret of her uncle's
affection for her, and many a good day's sport had the two enjoyed side
by side across the flat fields and the strong fences and wide ditches of
their native country. Her brothers, Guy and Edwin, were fond of hunting
too, but they rode clumsily and awkwardly, floundering across country in
what their uncle called, contemptuously, a thoroughly "provincial style."
But Beatrice had the true Esterworth seat and hand; she looked as if she
were born to her saddle, and, in truth, she was never so happy as when
she was in it. It was a proof of how great and real was her love to
Herbert Pryme that she fully recognized that, in becoming his wife, she
would have to live in London entirely and to give up her beloved hunting
for his sake.

A woman who rides, as did Beatrice, is sure to be popular on a hunting
morning; and, with the consciousness of her lover's hands resting upon
the back of her chair, with her favourite uncle by her side, and with
several truly ardent admirers of her good riding about her, Miss Miller
was evidently enjoying herself thoroughly.

The scene, indeed, was animated to the last degree. The long dining-room
was filled with guests, the table was covered with good things, a repast,
half breakfast, half luncheon, being laid out upon it. Everybody helped
themselves, with much chattering and laughter, and there was a pleasant
sense of haste and excitement, and a charming informality about the
proceedings, which made the Shadonake Hunt breakfast, which Tom
Esterworth had been prevailed upon by his niece's entreaties to allow,
a thorough and decided success.

Outside there were the hounds, drawn up in patient expectation on the
grass beyond the gravel sweep, the bright coats and velvet caps of the
men, and the gray horses--on which it was the Meadowshire tradition that
they should be always mounted--standing out well against the dark
background of the leafless woods behind. Then there were a goodly company
who had not dismounted, and to whom glasses of sherry were being handed
by the servants, and who also were chattering to each other, or to those
on foot, whilst before the door, an object of interest to those within as
to those without, Sir John Kynaston was putting Miss Nevill upon her
horse.

There was not a man present who did not express his admiration for her
beauty and her grace; hardly a woman who did not instantly make some
depreciatory remark. The latter fact spoke perhaps more convincingly for
the undoubted success she had created than did the former.

Maurice was standing by one of the dining-room windows, Mrs. Romer, as
usual, by his side. He alone, perhaps, of all the men who saw her vault
lightly into her saddle, made no audible remark, but perhaps his
admiration was all too plainly written in his eyes, for it called
forth a contemptuous remark from his companion--

"She is a great deal too tall to look well on a horse; those big women
should never ride."

"What! not with a figure so perfect as hers?"

"Yes, that is the third time you have spoken about her figure to-day,"
said Helen, irritably. "What on earth can you see in it?" for Mrs. Romer,
who was slight almost to angularity, was, as all thin women are, openly
indignant at the masculine foible for more flowing outlines, which was
displayed with greater candour than discretion by her quasi-lover.

"What do I see in it?" repeated Maurice, who was dimly conscious of her
jealousy, and was injudicious enough to lose his temper slightly over its
exhibition. "I see in it the beauty of a goddess, and the perfection of
a woman!"

"Really!" with a sarcastic laugh; "how wonderfully enthusiastic and
poetical you become over Miss Nevill's charms; it is something quite new
in you, Maurice. Your interest in this 'goddess-like' young lady strikes
me as singularly warmly expressed; it is more lover-like than fraternal."

"What do you mean?" he said, looking at her coldly and angrily. Helen had
seen that look of hard contempt in his face before; she quailed a little
before it, and was frightened at what she had said.

"Of course," she said, reddening, "I know it's all right; but it does
really sound peculiar, your admiring her so much; and--and--it is hardly
flattering to me."

"I don't see that it has anything to do with you," and he turned shortly
away from her.

She made a step or two after him. "You will ride with me, will you not,
Maurice? You know I can't go very hard; you might give me a lead or two,
and keep near me."

"You must not ask me to make any promises," he said, politely, but
coldly. "Guy Miller says there is a groom told off to look after you
ladies. Of course, if I can be of any use to you, I shall be happy, but
it is no use making rash engagements as to what one will do in a run."

"Come, come, it's time we were off," cries out Tom Esterworth at the
further end of the room, and his stalwart figure makes its way in the
direction of the door.

In a very few minutes the order "to horse" has gone forth, and the whole
company have sallied forth and are busy mounting their horses in front of
the house.

Off goes the master, well in front, at a sharp trot, towards the woods on
the further slope of the hill, and off go the hounds and the whips, and
the riders, in a long and gay procession after him, down the wide avenue.

"Promise me you will not stop out long, Vera," says Sir John to her as
they go side by side down the drive. "You look white and tired as it is.
Have you got a headache?"

"Yes, a little," confesses Vera, with a blush. "I did not sleep well."

"This sitting up late night after night is not good for you," says her
lover, anxiously; "and there is the ball to-morrow night."

"Yes; and I want to look my best for your mother," she said, smiling. "I
will take care of myself, John; I will go home early in time for lunch."

"You are always so ready to do what I ask you. Oh, Vera, how good you
are! how little I deserve such a treasure!"

"Don't," she answers, almost sharply, whilst an expression of pain
contracts her brow for an instant. "Don't say such things to me, John;
don't call me good."

John Kynaston looks at her fondly. "I will not call you anything you
don't wish," he says, gently, "but I am free to think it, Vera!"

The first covert is successfully drawn without much delay. A fox is
found, and breaks away across the open, and a short but sharp burst of
fifteen or twenty minutes follows. The field is an unusually large one,
and there are many out who are not in it at all. Beatrice, however, is
well up, and so is Herbert Pryme, who is not likely to be far from her
side. Close behind them follows Sir John Kynaston, and Mrs. Romer, who is
well mounted upon one of Edwin Miller's horses, keeps well up with the
rest.

Vera never quite knew how it was that somehow or other she got thrown out
of that short but exciting run. She was on the wrong side of the covert
to begin with; several men were near her, but they were all strangers,
and at the time "Gone away!" was shouted, there was no one to tell her
which way to take. Two men took the left side of the copse, three others
turned to the right. Vera followed the latter, and found that the hounds
must have gone in the opposite direction, for when she got round the wood
not a trace of them was to be seen.

She did not know the country well, and she hardly knew which way to turn.
It seemed to her, however, that by striking across a small field to the
left of her she would cut off a corner, and eventually come up with the
hounds again.

She turned her mare short round, and put her at a big straggling hedge
which she had no fears of her being unable to compass. There was,
however, more of a drop on the further side than she had counted upon,
and in some way, as the mare landed, floundering on the further side,
something gave way, and she found that her stirrup-leather had broken.

Vera pulled up and looked about her helplessly. She found herself in
a small spinney of young birch-trees, filling up the extremity of a
triangular field into which she had come. Not a sign of the hounds, or,
indeed, of any living creature was to be seen in any direction. She did
not feel inclined to go on--or even to go back home with her broken
stirrup-leather. It occurred to her that she would get off and see what
she could do towards patching it together herself.

With some little difficulty, her mare being fidgety, and refusing to
stand still, she managed to dismount; but in doing so her wrist caught
against the pommel of her saddle, and was so severely wrenched backwards,
as she sprang to the ground, that she turned quite sick with the pain.

It seemed to her that her wrist must be sprained; at all events, her
right hand was, for the minute, perfectly powerless. The mare, perceiving
that nothing further was expected of her, amused herself by cropping the
short grass at her feet, whilst Vera stood by her side in dire perplexity
as to what she was to do next. Just then she heard the welcome sound of a
horse's hoofs in the adjoining field, and in another minute a hat and
black coat, followed by a horse's head and forelegs appeared on the top
of the fence, and a man dropped over into the spinney just ten yards in
front of her.

Vera took it to be her lover, for the brothers both hunted in black, and
there was a certain family resemblance between their broad shoulders and
the square set of their heads. She called out eagerly,

"Oh, John! how glad I am to see you! I have come to grief!"

"So I see; but I am not John. I hope, however, I may do as well. What is
the matter?"

"It is you, Maurice? Oh, yes, you will do quite as well. I have broken my
stirrup-leather, and I am afraid I have sprained my wrist."

"That sounds bad--let me see."

In an instant he had sprung from his horse to help her.

She looked up at him as he came, pushing the tall brushwood away as
he stepped through it. It struck her suddenly how like he was to the
photograph she had found of him at Kynaston long ago, and what a
well-made man he was, and how brave and handsome he looked in his
hunting gear.

"How have you managed to hurt your wrist? Let me see it."

"I wrenched it somehow in jumping down; but I don't think that it can be
sprained, for I find I can move it now a little; it is only bruised, but
it hurts me horribly."

She turned back her cuff and held out the injured hand to him. Maurice
stooped over it. There was a moment's silence, the two horses stood
waiting patiently by, the solitary fields lay bare and lifeless on every
side of them, the little birch-trees rustled mysteriously overhead, the
leaden sky, with its chill curtain of unbroken gray cloud, spread
monotonously above them; there was no living thing in all the winter
landscape besides to listen or to watch them.

Suddenly Maurice Kynaston caught the hand that he held to his lips, and
pressed half a dozen passionate kisses upon its outstretched palm.

It was the work of half a minute, and in the next Maurice felt as if he
should die of shame and remorse.

"For God's sake, forgive me!" he cried, brokenly. "I am a brute--I forgot
myself--I must be mad, I think; for Heaven's sake tell me that I have not
offended you past forgiveness, Vera!"

His pulses were beating wildly, his face was flushed, the hands that
still held hers shook with a nameless emotion; he looked imploringly into
her face, as if to read his sentence in her eyes, but what he saw there
arrested the torrent of repentance and regret that was upon his lips.

Upon Vera's face there was no flush either of shame or anger. No storm
of indignation, no passion of insulted feeling; only eyes wide open and
terror-stricken, that met his with the unspeakable horror that one sees
sometimes in those of a hunted animal. She was pale as death. Then
suddenly the colour flushed hotly back into her face; she averted her
eyes.

"Let me go home," she said, in a faint voice; "help me to get on to my
horse, Maurice."

There was neither resentment nor anger in her voice, only a great
weariness.

He obeyed her in silence. Possibly he felt that he had stood for one
instant upon the verge of a precipice, and that miraculously her face had
saved him, he knew not how, where words would only have dragged him down
to unutterable ruin.

What had it been that had thus saved him? What was the meaning of that
terror that had been written in her lovely eyes? Since she was not angry,
what had she feared?

Maurice asked himself these questions vainly all the way home. Not a word
was spoken between them; they rode in absolute silence side by side until
they reached the house.

Then, as he lifted her off her horse at the hall-door, he whispered,

"Have you forgiven me?"

"There was nothing to forgive," she answered, in a low, strained voice.
She spoke wearily, as one who is suffering physical pain. But, as she
spoke, the hand that he still held seemed almost, to his fancy, to linger
for a second with a gentle fluttering pressure within his grasp.

Miss Nevill went into the house, having utterly forgotten that she had
sprained her wrist; a fact which proves indisputably, I suppose, that the
injury could not have been of a very serious nature.



CHAPTER XIII.

PEACOCK'S FEATHERS.

  That practised falsehood under saintly show,
  Deep malice to conceal, couched with revenge.

  Milton, "Paradise Lost."


Old Lady Kynaston arrived at Shadonake in the worst possible temper. Her
butler and factotum, who always made every arrangement for her when she
was about to travel, had for once been unequal to cope with Bradshaw;
he had looked out the wrong train, and had sent off his lady and her maid
half-an-hour too late from Walpole Lodge.

The consequence was that, instead of reaching Shadonake comfortably at
half-past six in the afternoon, Lady Kynaston had to wait for the next
train. She ate her dinner alone, in London, at the Midland Railway Hotel,
and never reached her destination till half-past nine on the night of the
ball.

Before she had half completed her toilette the guests were beginning to
arrive.

"I am afraid I must go down and receive these people, dear Lady
Kynaston," said Mrs. Miller, who had remained in her guest's room full
of regret and sympathy at the _contretemps_ of her journey.

"Oh, dear me! yes, Caroline--pray go down. I shall be all the quicker for
being left alone. Not _that_ cap, West; the one with the Spanish point,
of course. Dear me, how I do hate all this hurry and confusion!"

"I am so afraid you will be tired," murmured Mrs. Miller, soothingly.
"Would you like me to send Miss Nevill up to your room? It might be
pleasanter for you than to meet her downstairs."

"Good gracious, no!" exclaimed the elder lady, testily. "What on earth
should I be in such a hurry for! I shall see quite as much of her as I
want by-and-by, I have no doubt."

Mrs. Miller retired, and the old lady was left undisturbed to finish
her toilette, during which it may fairly be assumed that that dignified
personage, Mrs. West, had a hard time of it.

When she issued forth from her room, dressed, like a little fairy
godmother, in point lace and diamonds, the dancing downstairs was in
full swing.

Lady Kynaston paused for a minute at the top of the broad staircase to
look down upon the bright scene below. The hall was full of people. Girls
in many-coloured dresses passed backwards and forwards from the ball-room
to the refreshment-room, laughing and chatting to their partners; elderly
people were congregated about the doorways gossiping and shaking hands
with new-comers, or watching their daughters with pleased or anxious
faces, according to the circumstances of their lot. Everybody was talking
at once. There came up a pleasant confusion of sound--happy voices
mingling with the measured strains of the dance-music. In a sheltered
corner behind the staircase, Beatrice and Herbert Pryme had settled
themselves down comfortably for a chat. Lady Kynaston saw them.

"Caroline is a fool!" she muttered to herself. "All the balls in the
world won't get that girl married as she wishes. She has set her heart
upon that briefless barrister. I saw it as plain as daylight last season.
As to entertaining all this _cohue_ of aborigines, Caroline might spare
her trouble and her money, as far as the girl is concerned."

And then, coming slowly down the staircase, Lady Kynaston saw something
which restored her to good temper at once.

The something was her younger son. She had caught sight of him through an
open doorway in the conservatory. His back was turned to her, and he was
bending over a lady who was sitting down, and whose face was concealed
behind him.

Lady Kynaston stood still with that sudden _serrement de coeur_ which
comes to us all when we see the creature we love best on earth. He did
not see her, and she could not see his face, because it was turned away
from her; but she knew, by his very attitude, the way he bent down over
his companion, by the eager manner in which he was talking to her, and by
the way in which he was evidently entirely engrossed and absorbed in what
he was saying--that he was enjoying himself, and that he was happy.

The mother's heart all went out towards him; the mother's eyes moistened
as she looked.

The couple in the conservatory were alone. A Chinese lantern, swung high
up above, shed down a soft radiance upon them. Tall camellia bushes,
covered with waxen blossoms and cool shiny leaves, were behind them;
banks of long-fronded, feathery ferns framed them in like a picture.
Maurice's handsome figure stood up tall and strong amongst the greenery;
the dress of the woman he was with lay in soft diaphanous folds upon the
ground beyond him. One white arm rested on her lap, one tiny foot peeped
out from below the laces of her skirt. But Lady Kynaston could not see
her face.

"I wonder who she is," she said to herself. "It is not Helen. She has
peacock's feathers on her dress--bad luck, I believe! Dear boy, he looks
thoroughly happy. I will not disturb him now."

And she passed on through the hall into the large drawing-room, where the
dancing was going on.

The first person she caught sight of there was her eldest son. He was
dancing a quadrille, and his partner was a short young lady in a
strawberry-coloured tulle dress, covered with trails of spinach-green
fern leaves. This young person had a round, chubby face, with bright
apple-hued cheeks, a dark, bullet-shaped head, and round, bead-like eyes
that glanced about her rapidly like those of a frightened dickey-bird.
Her dress was cut very low, and the charms she exhibited were not
captivating. Her arms were very red, and her shoulders were mottled: the
latter is considered to be a healthy sign in a baby, but is hardly a
beautiful characteristic in a grown woman.

"_That_ is my daughter-in-law," said Lady Kynaston to herself, and she
almost groaned aloud. "She is _worse_ even than I thought! Countrified
and common to the last degree; there will be no licking that face or that
figure into shape--they are hopeless! Elise and Worth combined could do
nothing with her! John must be mad. No wonder she is good, poor thing,"
added the naughty little old lady, cynically. "A woman with _that_
appearance can never be tempted to be anything else!"

The quadrille came to an end, and Sir John, after depositing his partner
at the further side of the room, came up to his mother.

"My dear mother, how are you? I am so sorry about your journey; you must
be dead beat. What a fool Bates was to make such a mistake." He was
looking about the room as he spoke. "I must introduce you to Vera."

"Yes, introduce me to her at once," said his mother, in a resigned and
depressed tone of voice. She would like to have added, "And pray get it
over as soon as you can." What she did say was only, "Bring her up to me
now. The young lady you have just been dancing with, I suppose!"

"What!" cried Sir John, and burst out laughing. "Good Heavens, mother!
that was Miss Smiles, the daughter of the parson of Lutterton. You don't
mean to say you thought a little ugly chit like _that_ was my Vera!"

His mother suddenly laid her hand upon his arm.

"Who is that lovely woman who has just come in with Maurice?" she
exclaimed.

Her son followed the direction of her eyes, and beheld Vera standing in
the doorway that led from the conservatory by his brother's side.

Without a word he passed his mother's hand through his arm and led her
across the room.

"Vera, this is my mother," he said. And Lady Kynaston owned afterwards
that she never felt so taken aback and so utterly struck dumb with
astonishment in her life.

Her two sons looked at her with amusement and some triumph. The little
surprise had been so thoroughly carried out; the contrast of the truth to
what they knew she had expected was too good a joke not to be enjoyed.

"Not much what you expected, little mother, is it?" said Maurice,
laughingly. But to Vera, who knew nothing, it was no laughing matter.

She put both her hands out tremblingly and hesitatingly--with a pretty
pleading look of deprecating deference in her eyes--and the little old
lady, who valued beauty and grace and talent so much that she could
barely tolerate goodness itself without them, was melted at once.

"My dear," she said, "you are beautiful, and I am going to love you; but
these naughty boys made me think you were something like little Miss
Smiles."

"Nay, mother, it was your own diseased imagination," laughed Maurice;
"but come, Vera, I am not going to be cheated of this waltz--if John does
not want you to dance with him, that is to say."

John nodded pleasantly to them, and the two whirled away together into
the midst of the throng of dancers.

"Well, mother?"

"My dear, she is a very beautiful creature, and I have been a silly,
prejudiced old woman."

"And you forgive her for being poor, and for living in a vicarage instead
of a castle?"

"She would be a queen if she were a beggar and lived in a mud hovel!"
answered his mother, heartily, and Sir John was satisfied.

Lady Kynaston's eyes were following the couple as they danced: for all
her admiration and her enthusiasm, there was a little anxiety in their
gaze. She had not forgotten the little picture she had caught a glimpse
of in the conservatory, nor had her woman's eyes failed to notice that
Vera's dress was trimmed with peacock's feathers.

Where was Helen? Lady Kynaston said to herself; and why was Maurice
devoting himself to his future sister-in-law instead of to her?

Mrs. Romer, you may be sure, had not been far off. Her sharp eyes had
seen Vera and Maurice disappear together into the conservatory. She could
have told to a second how long they had remained there; and again, when
they came out, she had watched the little family scene that had taken
place at the door. She had seen the look of delighted surprise on Lady
Kynaston's face; she had noted how pleased and how proud of Vera the
brothers had looked, and then how happily Maurice and Vera had gone off
again together.

"What does it mean?" Helen asked herself, bitterly. "Is Sir John a fool
or blind that he does not see what is going on under his nose? She has
got him, and his money, and his place; what does she want with Maurice
too? Why can't she let him alone--she is taking him from me."

She watched them eagerly and feverishly. They stood still for a moment
near her; she could not hear what they said, but she could see the look
in Maurice's eyes as he bent towards his partner.

Can a woman who has known what love is ever be mistaken about that?

Vera, all wondering and puzzled, might be but dimly conscious of the
meaning in the eyes that met hers; her own drooped, half troubled, half
confused, before them. But to Helen, who knew what love's signals were,
there was no mystery whatever in the passion in his down-bent glance.

"He loves her!" she said to herself, whilst a sharp pang, almost of
physical pain, shot through her heart. "She shall never get him!--never!
never! Not though one of us die for it! They are false, both of them. I
swear they shall never be happy together!"

"Why are you not dancing, Mrs. Romer?" said a voice at her elbow.

"I will dance with you, Sir John, if you will ask me," answers Helen,
smiling.

Sir John responds, as in duty bound, by passing his arm around her waist.

"When are you going to be married, Sir John?" she asks him, when the
first pause in the dance gives her the opportunity of speech.

Sir John looks rather confused. "Well, to tell you the truth, I have
not spoken to Vera yet. I have not liked to hurry her--I thought,
perhaps----"

"Why don't you speak to her? A woman never thinks any better of a man
for being diffident in such matters."

"You think not? But you see Vera is----"

"Vera is very much like all other women, I suppose; and you are not
versed in the ways of the sex."

Sir John demurred in his own mind as to the first part of her speech.
Vera was certainly not like other women; but then he acknowledged the
truth of Mrs. Romer's last remark thoroughly.

"No, I dare say I don't know much about women's ways," he admitted; "and
you think----"

"I think that Vera would be glad enough to be married as soon as she can.
An engagement is a trying ordeal. One is glad enough to get settled down.
What is the use of waiting when once everything is arranged?"

Sir John flushed a little. The prospect of a speedy marriage was pleasant
to him. It was what he had been secretly longing for--only that, in his
slow way, he had not yet been able to suggest it.

"Do you really think she would like it?" he asked, earnestly.

"Of course she would; any woman would."

"And how long do you think the preparations would take?"

"Oh, a month or three weeks is ample time to get clothes in."

His pulses beat hotly at the bare possibility of such a thing. To possess
his Vera in so short a time seemed something too great and too wonderful
to be true.

"Do not lose any more time," continued Helen, following up the impression
she saw she had made upon him. "Speak to her this evening; get her to fix
your wedding-day within the month; believe me, a man gets no advantage by
putting things off too long; and there are dangers, too, in your case."

"Dangers! How do you mean?" he said, quickly.

"Oh, nothing particular--only she is very handsome, and she is young, and
not accustomed, I dare say, to admiration. Other men may admire her as
well as you."

"If they did, it could do her no harm," he answered, stiffly.

"Oh, no, of course not; but you can't keep other men from looking at
her. When once she is your wife you will have her more completely to
yourself."

Sir John made no particular answer to this; but when he had done dancing
with Mrs. Romer, he led her back to her seat and thanked her gravely and
courteously for her suggestions.

"You have done me a great service, Mrs. Romer, and I am infinitely
obliged to you," he said, and then went his way to find Vera.

He was not jealous; but there was a certain uneasiness in his mind. It
might be, indeed, true that others would admire and love Vera; others
more worthy of her, more equally mated with her youth and loveliness; and
he, he said to himself in his humility with regard to her, he had so
little to offer her--nothing but his love. He knew himself to be grave
and quiet; there was nothing about him to enchain her to him. He lacked
brilliancy in manner and conversation; he was dull; he was, perhaps,
even prosy. He knew it very well himself; but suppose Vera should find it
out, and find that she had made a mistake! The bare thought of it was
enough to make him shudder.

No; Mrs. Romer was a clever, well-intentioned little woman. She had meant
to give him a hint in all kindness, and he would not be slow to take it.
What she had meant to say was, "Take her yourself quickly, or some one
else will take her from you."

And Sir John said to himself that he would so take her, and that as
quickly as possible.

Standing talking to her younger son, later on that evening, Lady Kynaston
said to him, suddenly,

"Why does Vera wear peacock's feathers?"

"Why should she not?"

"They are bad luck."

Maurice laughed. "I never knew you to be superstitious before, mother."

"I am not so really; but from choice I would avoid anything that bears an
unlucky interpretation. I saw her with you in the conservatory as I came
downstairs."

Maurice turned suddenly red. "Did you?" he asked, a little anxiously.

"Yes. I did not know it was her, of course. I did not see her face, only
her dress, and I noticed that it was trimmed with peacock's feathers;
that was what made me recognize her afterwards."

"That was bad luck, at all events," said Maurice, almost involuntarily.

"Why?" asked Lady Kynaston, looking up at him sharply. But Maurice would
not tell her why.

Lady Kynaston asked no more questions; but she pondered, and she watched.
Captain Kynaston did not dance again with Vera that night, and he did
dance several times with Mrs. Romer; it did not escape her notice,
however, that he seemed absent and abstracted, and that his face bore its
hardest and sternest aspect throughout the remainder of the evening.

So the ball at Shadonake came to an end, as balls do, with the first
gleams of daylight; and nothing was left of all the gay crowd who had so
lately filled the brilliant rooms but several sleepy people creeping up
slowly to bed, and a great _chiffonade_ of tattered laces, and flowers,
and coloured scraps littered all over the polished floor of the
ball-room.



CHAPTER XIV.

HER WEDDING DRESS.

        Those obstinate questionings
        Of sense and outward things,
        Fallings from us, vanishings,
        Blank misgivings--
  High instincts before which our moral nature
  Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.

  Wordsworth.


"Vera, are you not coming to look at it?"

"Presently."

"It is all laid out on your bed, and you ought to try it on; it might
want alterations."

"Oh, there is plenty of time!"

"It is downright affectation!" says old Mrs. Daintree, angrily, to her
daughter-in-law, as she and Marion leave the room together; "no girl can
really be indifferent to a wedding dress covered with yards of lovely
Brussels lace flounces; she ought to be ashamed of herself for her
ingratitude to Lady Kynaston for such a present; she must really want
to see it, only she likes playing the fine lady beforehand!"

"I don't think it is that," says Marion, gently; "I don't believe Vera is
well."

"Fiddlesticks!" snorts her mother-in-law. "A woman who is going to marry
ten thousand a year within ten days is bound to be well."

Vera sits alone; she leans her head against the window, her hands lie
idle in her lap, her eyes mechanically follow the rough, gray clouds that
rack across the winter sky. In little more than a week she will be Vera
Nevill no longer; she will have gained all that she desired and tried
for--wealth, position, Kynaston--and Sir John! She should be well
content, seeing that it has been her own doing all along. No one has
forced or persuaded her into this engagement, no one has urged her on to
a course contrary to her own inclination, or her own judgment. It has
been her own act throughout. And yet, as she sits alone in the twilight,
and counts over on her fingers the few short days that intervene between
to-day and her bridal morning, hot miserable tears rise to her eyes,
and fall slowly down, one by one, upon her clasped hands. She does not
ask herself why she weeps; possibly she dares not. Only her thoughts
somehow--by that strange connection of ideas which links something in
our present to some other thing in our past, and which apparently is in
no way dependent upon it--go back instinctively, as it were, to her dead
sister, the Princess Marinari.

"Oh, my poor darling Theodora!" she murmurs, half aloud; "if you had
lived, you would have taken care of your Vera; if you had not died, I
should never have come here, nor ever have known--any of them."

And then she hears Marion's voice calling to her from the top of the
stairs.

"Vera! Vera! do come up and see it before it gets quite dark."

She rises hastily and dashes away her tears.

"What is the matter with me to-day!" she says to herself, impatiently.
"Have I not everything in the world I wish for? I am happy--of course
I am happy. I am coming, Marion, instantly."

Upstairs her wedding dress, a soft cloud of rich silk and fleecy lace,
relieved with knots of flowers, dark-leaved myrtle, and waxen orange
blossoms, lies spread out upon her bed. Marion stands contemplating it,
wrapt in ecstatic admiration; old Mrs. Daintree has gone away.

"It is perfectly lovely! I am so glad you had silk instead of satin;
nothing could show off Lady Kynaston's lace so well: is it not beautiful?
you ought to try it on. Why, Vera! what is the matter? I believe you have
been crying."

"I was thinking of Theodora," she murmurs.

"Ah! poor dear Theodora!" assents Marion, with a compassionate sigh; "how
she would have liked to have known of your marriage; how pleased she
would have been."

Vera looks at her sister. "Marion," she says, in a low earnest voice;
"if--if I should break it off, what would you say?"

"Break it off!" cries her sister, horror-struck. "Good heavens, Vera!
what can you mean? Have you gone suddenly mad? What is the matter with
you? Break off a match like this at the last minute? You must be
demented!"

"Oh, of course," with a sudden change of manner; "of course I did not
mean it, it only came into my head for a minute; of course, as you say,
it is a splendid match for me. What should I want to break it off for?
What should I gain? what, indeed?" She spoke feverishly and excitedly,
laughing a little harshly as she spoke.

Marion looked at her anxiously. "I hope to goodness you will never say
such horrid things to anybody else; it sounds dreadful, Vera, as if
Eustace and I were forcing you into it; as if you did not want to marry
Sir John yourself."

"Of course I want to marry him!" interrupted Vera, with unreasonable
sharpness.

"Then, pray don't make a fool of yourself, my dear, by talking about
breaking it off."

"It was only a joke. Break it off! how could I? The best match in the
county, as you say. I am not going to make a fool of myself; don't be
afraid, Marion. It would be so inconvenient, too; the trousseau all
bought, the breakfast ordered, the guests invited; even the wedding dress
here, all finished and ready to put on, and ten thousand a year waiting
for me! Oh, no, I am not going to be such an utter fool!"

She laughed; but her laughter was almost more sad than her tears, and her
sister left her, saddened and puzzled by her manner.

It was now nearly two months since the ball at Shadonake; and, soon after
that eventful visit, Vera had begun to be employed in preparing for her
wedding-day, which had been fixed for the 27th of February; for Sir John
had taken Mrs. Romer's hint, and had pressed an early marriage upon her.
Vera had made no objection; what objection, indeed, could she have found
to make? She had acquiesced readily in her lover's suggestions, and had
set to work to prepare herself for her marriage.

All this time Captain Kynaston had not been in Meadowshire at all; he had
declined his brother's hospitality, and had gone to spend his leave
amongst other friends in Somersetshire, where he had started a couple of
hunters, and wrote word to Sir John that the sport was of such a very
superior nature that he was unable to tear himself away.

Within a fortnight, however, of Sir John's wedding, Maurice did yield at
last to his brother's pressing request, and came up from Somersetshire to
Kynaston. Last Sunday he had suddenly appeared in the Kynaston pew in
Sutton Church by Sir John's side, and had shaken hands with Vera and her
relations on coming out of church, and had walked across the vicarage
garden by the side of Mrs. Daintree, Vera having gone on in front with
Tommy and Minnie. And it was from that moment that Vera had as suddenly
discovered that she was utterly and thoroughly wretched, and that she
dreaded her wedding-day with a strange and unaccountable terror.

She told herself that she was out of health, that the excitement and
bustle of the necessary preparations had over-tried her, that her nerves
were upset, her spirits depressed by reason of the solemnity a woman
naturally feels at the approach of so important a change in her life.
She assured herself aloud, day after day, that she was perfectly happy
and content, that she was the very luckiest and most fortunate of women,
and that she would sooner be Sir John's wife than the wife of any one
else in the world. And she told it to herself so often and so
emphatically, that there were whole hours, and even whole days together,
when she believed in these self-assurances implicitly and thoroughly.

All this time she saw next to nothing of Maurice Kynaston; the weather
was mild and open, and he went out hunting every day. Sir John, on the
other hand, was much with her; a constant necessity for his presence
seemed to possess her. She was never thoroughly content but when he was
with her; ever restless and ill at ease in his absence.

No one could be more thoroughly convinced than Vera of the entire wisdom
of the marriage she was about to make. It was, she felt persuaded, the
best and the happiest thing she could have done with her life. Wealth,
position, affection, were all laid at her feet; and her husband,
moreover, would be a man whose goodness and whose devotion to her could
never fail to command her respect. What more could a woman who, like
herself, was fully alive to the importance of the good things of this
world desire? Surely nothing more. Vera, when she was left alone with
the glories of her wedding garment, took herself to task for her foolish
words to her sister.

"I am a fool!" she said to herself, half angrily, as she bundled all the
white silk and the rich lace unceremoniously away into an empty drawer of
her wardrobe. "I am a fool to say such things even to Marion. It looks,
as she says, as if I were being forced into a rich marriage by my
friends. I am very fond of John; I shall make him a most exemplary wife,
and I shall look remarkably well in the family diamonds, and that is all
that can possibly be required of me."

Having thus settled things comfortably in her own mind, she went
downstairs again, and was in such good spirits, and so radiant with
smiles for the rest of the evening, that Mr. Daintree remarked to his
wife, when they had retired into their conjugal chamber, that he had
never seen Vera look so well or so happy.

"Dear child," he said, "it is a great comfort to me to see it, for just
at first I feared that she had been influenced by the money and the
position, and that her heart was not in it; but now she has evidently
become much attached to Sir John, and is perfectly happy; and he is a
most excellent man, and in every way worthy of her. Did I tell you,
Marion, that he told me the chancel should be begun immediately after the
wedding? It is a pity it could not have been done before; but we shall
just get it finished by Easter."

"I am glad of that. We must fill the church with flowers for the 27th,
and then its appalling ugliness will not be too visible. Of course, the
building could hardly have been begun in the middle of winter."

But if Mrs. Eustace Daintree differed at all from her husband upon the
subject of her sister's serene and perfect happiness, she, like a wise
woman, kept her doubts to herself, and spoke no word of them to destroy
the worthy vicar's peace of mind upon the subject.

The next morning Sir John came down from the Hall to the vicarage with
a cloud upon his brow, and requested Vera to grant him a few minutes'
private conversation. Vera put on her sable cloak and hat, and went out
with him into the garden.

"What is the matter?"

"I am exceedingly vexed with my brother," he answered.

"What has Maurice done?"

"He tells me this morning that he will not stop for the wedding, nor be
my best man. He talks of going away to-morrow."

Vera glanced at him. He looked excessively annoyed; his face, usually so
kind and placid, was ruffled and angry; he flicked the grass impatiently
with his stick.

"I have been talking to him for an hour, and cannot get him to change his
mind, or even to tell me why he will not stay; in fact, he has no good
reason for going. He _must_ stay."

"Does it matter very much?" she asked, gently.

"Of course it matters. My mother is not able to be present; it would not
be prudent after her late attack of bronchitis. My only brother surely
might make a point of being at my wedding."

"But if he has other engagements----"

"He has no other engagement!" he interrupted, angrily; "He cannot find
any but the most paltry excuses. It is behaving with great unkindness to
myself, but that is a small matter. What I do mind and will not submit to
is, that it is a deliberate insult to you."

"An insult to me! Oh! John, how can that be?" she said, in some surprise;
and then, suddenly, she flushed hotly. She knew what he meant. There had
been plenty of people to say that Sir John Kynaston was marrying beneath
himself--a nobody who was unworthy of him: these murmurs had reached
Vera's ears, but she had not heeded them since Lady Kynaston had been on
her side. She saw, however, that Sir John feared that the absence of his
mother and his brother at his wedding might be misconstrued into a sign
that they also disapproved of his bride.

"I don't think Maurice would wish to slight me," she said, gently.

"No; but, then, he must not behave as though he did. I assure you, Vera,
if he perseveres in his determination, I shall be most deeply hurt. I
have always endeavoured to be a kind brother to him, and, if he cannot do
this small thing to please me, I shall consider him most ungrateful."

"That I am sure he is not," she answered, earnestly; "little as I know
him, I can assure you that he never loses an occasion of saying how much
he feels your goodness and generosity to him."

"Then he must prove it. Look here, Vera, will you go up to the Hall now
and talk to him? He is not hunting to-day; you will find him in the
library."

"I?" she cried, looking half frightened; "what can I do? You had much
better ask him yourself."

"I have asked him over and over again, till I am sick of asking! If you
were to put it as a personal request from yourself, I am sure he would
see how important to us both it is that he should be present at our
wedding."

"Pray don't ask me to do such a thing; I really cannot," she said,
hastily.

Sir John looked at her in some surprise; there was an amount of distress
in her face that struck him as inadequate to the small thing he had asked
of her.

"Why, Vera! have you grown shy? Surely you will not mind doing so small a
thing to please me? You need not stay long, and you have your hat on all
ready. I have to speak to your brother-in-law about the chancel; I have a
letter from the architect this morning; and everything must be settled
about it before we go. If you will go up and speak to Maurice now, I will
join you--say in twenty minutes from now," consulting his watch, "at the
lodge gates. You will go, won't you, dear, just to please me?"

She did not know how to refuse; she had no excuse to give, no reason that
she could put into words why she should shrink with such a dreadful
terror from this interview with his brother which he was forcing upon
her. She told him that she would go, and Sir John, leaving her, went into
the house well satisfied to do his business with the vicar.

And Vera went slowly up the lane alone towards the Hall. She did not know
what she was going to say to Maurice; she hardly knew, indeed, what it
was she had been commissioned to ask of him; nor in what words her
request was to be made. She thought no longer of her wedding-day, nor of
the lover who had just parted with her. Only before her eyes there came
again the little wintry copse of birch-trees; the horses standing by, the
bare fields stretching around, and back into her heart there flashed the
memory of those quick, hot kisses pressed upon her outstretched hand; the
one short--and alas! all too perilous--glimpse that had been revealed to
her of the inner life and soul of the man whose lightest touch she had
learnt that day to fear as she feared no other living thing.



CHAPTER XV.

VERA'S MESSAGE.

  Alas! how easily things go wrong,
  A word too much, or a sigh too long;
  And there comes a mist and a driving rain,
  And life is never the same again.


The library at Kynaston was the room which Sir John had used as his only
sitting-room since he had come down to stay in his own house. When his
wedding with Miss Nevill had been definitely fixed, there had come down
from town a whole army of decorators and painters and upholsterers, who
had set to work to renovate and adorn the rest of the house for the
advent of the bride, who was so soon to be brought home to it.

They had altered things in various ways, they had improved a few, and
they had spoiled a good many more; they had, at all events, introduced a
wholesome and thorough system of cleansing and cleaning throughout the
house, that had been very welcome to the soul of Mrs. Eccles; but into
the library they had not penetrated. The old bookshelves remained
untouched; the old books, in their musty brown calf bindings, were
undesecrated by profaning hands. All sorts of quaint chairs and bureaus,
gathered together out of every other room in the house, had congregated
here. The space over the mantelpiece was adorned by a splendid portrait
by Vandyke, flanked irreverently on either side by a series of old
sporting prints, representing the whole beginning, continuation, and
end of a steeple-chase course, and which, it is melancholy to state, were
far more highly appreciated by Sir John than the beautiful and valuable
picture which they surrounded. Below these, and on the mantelpiece
itself, were gathered together a heterogeneous collection of pipes,
spurs, horse-shoes, bits, and other implements, which the superintending
hands of any lady would have straightway relegated to the stables.

In this library Sir John and his brother fed, smoked, wrote and read,
and lived, in fact, entirely in full and disorderly enjoyment of their
bachelorhood and its privileges. The room, consequently, was in a
condition of untidiness and confusion, which was the despair of Mrs.
Eccles and the delight of the two men themselves, who had even forbidden
the entrance of any housemaid into it upon pain of instant dismissal.
Mrs. Eccles submitted herself with resignation to the inevitable, and
comforted herself with the reflection that the time of unchecked
masculine dominion was well-nigh over, and that the days were very near
at hand when "Miss Vera" was coming to alter all this.

"Ah, well, it won't last long, poor gentleman!" the worthy lady said to
herself, in allusion to Sir John's uninvaded sanctum; "let him enjoy his
pigstye while he can. When his wife comes she will soon have the place
swept clean out for him."

So the papers, and the books, and the pipes, and the tobacco-tins were
left heaped up all over the tables and chairs, and the fox-terriers sat
in high places on the sofa cushions; and the brothers smoked their pipes
after their meals, emptied their ashes on to the tables, threw their
empty soda-water bottles into a corner of the room, wore their slippers
at all hours, and lapsed, in fact, into all those delightful methods of
living at ease practised by the vicious nature inherent in man when he is
unchecked by female influence; whilst Mrs. Eccles groaned in silence, but
possessed her soul in patience by reason of that change which she knew to
be coming over the internal economy of Kynaston Hall.

Maurice Kynaston reclines at ease in the most comfortable arm-chair in
the room, his feet reposing upon a second chair; his pipe is in his
mouth, and his hands in his trouser pockets; he wears a loose, gray
shooting-jacket, and Sir John's favourite terrier, Vic, has curled
herself into a little round white ball upon his outstretched legs.
Maurice has just been reading his morning's correspondence, and a letter
from Helen, announcing that her grandfather is ill and confined to his
room by bronchitis, is still in his hand. He looks gloomily and
abstractedly into the red logs of the wood fire. The door opens.

"Any orders for the stable, Captain?"

"None to-day, Mrs. Eccles."

"You are not going out hunting?"

"No, I am going to take a rest. By the way, Mrs. Eccles, I shall be
leaving to-morrow, so you can see about packing my things."

"Dear me! sir, I hope we shall see you again, at the wedding."

"Very unlikely; I don't like weddings, Mrs. Eccles; the only one I ever
mean to dance at is yours. When you get married, you let me know."

"Law! sir, how you do go on!" said the old lady, laughing; not
ill-pleased at the imputation. "Dear me," she went on, looking round the
room uneasily, "did I ever see such a mess in all my born days. Now Sir
John is out, sir, I suppose you couldn't let me----"

"_Certainly not_--if you mean bring in a broom and a dust-pan! Just let
me catch you at it, that's all!"

The housekeeper shook her head with a resigned sigh.

"Ah, well! it can't last long; when Miss Vera comes she'll turn the whole
place inside-out, and all them nasty pipes, and dogs and things will be
cleared away."

"Do you think so?" suddenly sitting upright in his chair. "Wait a bit,
Mrs. Eccles; don't go yet. Do you think Miss Vera will have things her
own way with my brother?"

"Oh! sir, what do you ask me for?" she answered, with discreet
evasiveness. "Surely you must know more about Miss Vera than I can tell
you."

Mrs. Eccles went away, and Maurice got up and leant against the
mantelpiece looking down gloomingly, into the fire. Vic, dislodged from
his knee, sat up beside him, resting her little white paws on the edge of
the fender, warming her nose.

"What a fool I am!" said Maurice, aloud to himself. "I can't even hear
her name mentioned by a servant without wanting to talk about her. Yes,
it's clear he loves her--but does she love him? Will she be happy? Yes,
of course, she will get her own way. Will that be enough for her? Ah!"
turning suddenly round and taking half-a-dozen steps across the room. "It
is high time I went. I am a coward and a traitor to linger on here; I
will go. Why did I say to-morrow--why have I not settled to go this very
day? If I were not so weak and so irresolute, I should be gone by this
time. I ought never, knowing what I do know of myself--I ought never to
have come back at all." He went back to the fire and sat down again,
lifting the little dog back on to his knee. "I shall get over it, I
suppose," he murmured. "Men don't die of this sort of thing; she will
marry, and she will think me unkind because I shall never come near her;
but even if she knew the truth, it would never make any difference to
her; and by-and-by I too, I suppose, shall marry." The soliloquy died
away into silence. Maurice stroked the dog and looked at the fire
dreamily and somewhat drearily.

Some one tapped at the door.

"Come in! What is it, Mrs. Eccles?" he cried, rousing himself.

The door softly opened and there entered, not Mrs. Eccles, but Vera
Nevill.

Captain Kynaston sprang hastily to his feet. "Oh, Vera! I beg your
pardon--how do you do? I suppose you have come for John? You must have
missed him; he started for the vicarage half-an-hour ago."

"No, I have seen him. I have come to see you, Maurice, if you don't
mind." She spoke rather timidly, not looking at him.

"I am delighted, of course," he answered, a little constrainedly.

Vera stood up on the hearth divesting herself of her long fur cloak; she
flung it over the back of a chair, and then took off her hat and gloves.
Maurice was strangely unlike himself this morning, for he never offered
to help her in these operations, he only stood leaning against the corner
of the mantelpiece opposite her, looking at her.

Vera stooped down and stroked the little fox-terrier; when she had done
so, she raised her head and met his eyes.

Did she see, ere he hastily averted them, all the hunger and all the
longing that filled them as he watched her? He, in his turn, stooped and
replenished the fire.

"John sent me to talk to you, Maurice," began Vera, hurriedly, like one
repeating a lesson; "he tells me you will not be with us on the 27th; is
that so?"

"I am sorry, but I am obliged to go away," he answered.

"John is dreadfully hurt, Maurice. I hope you will alter your mind."

"Is it John for whom you are speaking, or for yourself?" he asked,
looking at her.

"For both of us. Of course it will be a great disappointment if you are
not there. You are his only brother, and he will feel it deeply."

"And you; will you feel it?" he persisted. She coloured a little.

"Yes, I shall be very sorry," she answered, nervously. "I should not like
John to be vexed on his wedding-day; he has been a kind brother to you,
Maurice, and it seems hard that you cannot do this little thing to show
your sense of it."

"Believe me, I show my gratitude to my brother just as well in staying
away as in remaining," he answered, earnestly. "Do not urge me any
further, Vera; I would do anything in the world to please John, but
I cannot be present at your wedding."

There was a moment's silence; the fire flickered up merrily between them;
a red-hot cinder fell out noisily from the grate; the clock ticked
steadily on the chimney-piece; the little terrier sniffed at the edge
of Vera's dress.

Suddenly there came into her heart a wild desire _to know_, to eat for
once of that forbidden fruit of the tree of Eden, whence the flaming
swords in vain beckoned her back; to eat, and afterwards, perchance, to
perish of the poisonous food.

A wild conflict of thought thronged into her soul. Prudence, wisdom, her
very heart itself counselled her to be still and to go. But something
stronger than all else was within her too; and something that was new and
strange, and perilously sweet to her; a something that won the day.

She turned to him, stretching out her hands; the warm glow of the fire
lit up her lovely face and her eloquent pleading eyes, and flickered over
the graceful and beautiful figure, whose perfect outlines haunted his
fancy for ever.

"Stay, for my sake, because I ask you!" she cried, with a sudden passion;
"or else tell me why you must go."

There came no answering flash into his eyes, only he lowered them beneath
hers; he sat down suddenly, as though he was weary, on the chair whence
he had risen at her entrance, so that she stood before him, looking down
at him.

There was a certain repression in his face which made him look stern and
cold, as one who struggles with a mortal temptation. He stooped over the
little dog, and became seemingly engrossed in stroking it.

"I cannot stop," he said, in a cold, measured voice; "it is an
impossibility. But, since you ask me, I will tell you why. It can make no
possible difference to you to know; it may, indeed, excite your interest
or your pity for a few moments whilst you listen to me; but when it is
over and you go away you will forget it again. I do not ask you to
remember it or me; it is, in fact, all I ask, that you should forget.
This is what it is. Your wedding-day is very near; it is bringing you
happiness and love. I can rejoice in your happiness. I am not so selfish
as to lament it; but you will not wish me to be there to see it when I
tell you that I have been fool enough to dare to love you myself. It is
the folly of a madman, is it not? since I have never had the slightest
hope or entertained the faintest wish to alter the conditions of your
life; nor have I even asked myself what effect such a confession as this
that you have wrung from me can have upon you. Whether it excites your
pity or your contempt, or even your amusement, it cannot in any case make
any difference to me. My folly, at all events, cannot hurt you or my
brother; it can hurt no one but myself: it cannot even signify to you.
It is only for my own sake that I am going, because one cannot bear more
than a certain amount, can one? I thought I might have been strong
enough, but I find that it would be too much; that is all. You will not
ask me to stay any more, will you?"

Not once had he looked at her; not by a single sign or token had he
betrayed the slightest emotion or agitation. His voice had been steady
and unbroken; he spoke in a low and somewhat monotonous manner; it was
as though he had been relating something that in no way concerned
himself--some story that was of some other, and that other of no great
interest either to him who told it or to her who listened to the tale.
Any one suddenly coming into the room would have guessed him to be
entirely engrossed in the contemplation of the little dog between his
hands; that he was relating the story of his own heart would not have
been imagined for an instant.

When he had done speaking there was an absolute silence in the room. What
he had spoken seemed to admit of no answer of any sort or kind from his
listener. He had asked for nothing; he had pleaded neither for her
sympathy nor her forgiveness, far less for any definite expression of the
effect of his words upon her. He had not, seemingly, cared to know how
they affected her. He had simply told his own story--that was all; it
concerned no one but himself. She might pity him, she might even be
amused at him, as he had said: anyhow, it made no difference to him;
he had chosen to present a picture of his inner life to her as a
doctor might have described some complicated disease to a chance
acquaintance--it was a physiological study, if she cared to look upon it
as such; if not, it did not matter. There was no possible answer that she
could make to him; no form of words by which she could even acknowledge
that she had heard him speak.

She stood perfectly silent for the space of some two or three seconds;
she scarcely breathed, her very heart seemed to have ceased to beat; it
was as if she had been turned to stone. She knew not what she felt; it
was neither pain, nor joy, nor regret; it was only a sort of dull apathy
that oppressed her very being.

Presently she put forth her hands, almost mechanically, and reached her
cloak and hat from the chair behind her.

The soft rustle of her dress upon the carpet struck his ear; he looked up
with a start, like one waking out of a painful dream.

"You are going!" he said, in his usual voice.

"Yes; I am going."

He stood up, facing her.

"There is nothing more to be said, is there?" He said it not as though he
asked her a question, but as one asserting a fact.

"Nothing, I suppose," she answered, rather wearily, not looking at him as
she spoke.

"I shall not see you again, as I leave to-morrow morning by the early
train. You will, at least, wish me good-bye?"

"Good-bye, Maurice."

"Good-bye, Vera; God bless you."

She opened the door softly and went out. She went slowly away down the
avenue, wrapping her cloak closely around her; the wind blew cold and
chill, and she shivered a little as she walked. Presently she struck
aside along a narrow pathway through the grass that led her homewards by
a shorter cut. She had forgotten that Sir John was to wait for her at the
lodge-gates.

She had forgotten his very existence. For she _knew_. She had eaten of
the tree of knowledge, and the scales had fallen for ever from her eyes.

She knew that Maurice loved her--and, alas! for her--she knew also that
she loved him. And between them a great gulf was fixed; deep, and wide,
and impassable as the waters of Lethe.

Out of the calm, unconscious lethargy of her maidenhood's untroubled
dreams the soul of Vera had awakened at length to the realization of the
strong, passionate woman's heart that was within her.

She loved! It had come to her at last; this thing that she had scorned
and disbelieved in, and yet that, possibly, she had secretly longed for.
She had deemed herself too cold, too wise, too much set upon the good
things of earth, to be touched by that scorching fire; but now she was no
colder than any other love-sick maiden, no wiser than every other foolish
woman who had been ready to wreck her life for love in the world's
history.

Surely no girl ever learnt the secret of her own heart with such dire
dismay as did Vera Nevill. There was neither joy nor gladness within her,
only a great anger against herself and her fate, and even against him
who, as he had said, had dared to love her. She had courted the avowal
from his lips, and yet she resented the words she had wrung from him.
But, more than all, she resented the treachery of the heart that was
within her.

"Why did I ever see him?" she cried aloud in her bitterness, striking her
hands wildly against each other. "What evil fate brought us together?
What fool's madness induced me to go near him to-day? I was happy enough;
I had all I wanted; I was content with my fate--and now--now!" Her
passionate words died away into a wail. In her haste and her abstraction
her foot caught against a long, withered bramble trail that lay across
her path; she half stumbled. It was sufficient to arrest her steps. She
stood still, and leant against the smooth, whitened trunk of a beech
tree. Her hands locked themselves tightly together; her face, white and
miserable, lifted itself despairingly towards the pitiless winter sky
above her.

"How am I to live out my life?" she asked herself, in her anguish.

It had not entered into her head that she could alter it. It did not
occur to her to imagine that she could give up anything to which she now
stood pledged. To be John Kynaston's wife, and to love his brother, that
was what struck upon her with horror; no other possible contingency had
as yet suggested itself to her.

Presently, as she moved slowly onwards, still absorbed in her new-found
misfortune, a fresh train of thought came into her mind. She thought no
longer about herself, but about him.

"How cruel I was to leave him like that," she said to herself,
reproachfully; "without a word, or so much as a look, of
consolation--for, if I suffer, has not he suffered too!"

She forgot that he had asked her for nothing; she only knew that, little
enough as she had to give him, she had withheld that little from him.

"What must he think of me?" she repeated to herself, in dismay. "How
heartless and how cold I must be in his eyes to have parted from him thus
without one single kind word. I might, at least, have told him that I was
grateful for the love I cannot take. I wonder," she continued, half aloud
to herself, "I wonder what it is like to be loved by Maurice----" She
paused again, this time leaning against the wicket-gate that led out of
the park into the high road.

A little smile played for one instant about her lips, a soft, far-away
look lingered in her dreaming eyes for just a moment--just the space of
time it might take you to count twenty; she let her fancy carry her
away--_where_?

Ah, sweet and perilous reverie! too dear and too dangerous to be safely
indulged in. Vera roused herself with a start, passing her hand across
her brow as though to brush away the thoughts that would fain have
lingered there.

"Impossible!" she said aloud to herself, moving on again rapidly. "I must
be a fool to stand here dreaming--I, whose fate is irrevocably fixed; and
I would sooner die than alter it. The best match in the county, it is
called. Well, so it is; and nothing less would satisfy me. But--but--I
think I will see him once again, and wish him good-bye more kindly."



CHAPTER XVI.

"POOR WISDOM."

    No; vain, alas! the endeavour
    From bonds so sweet to sever,
  Poor Wisdom's chance against a glance
    Is now as weak as ever!

    Thos. Moore.


The station at Sutton stood perched up above the village on a high
embankment, upon which the railway crossed the valley from the hills that
lay to the north to those that lay to the south of it. Up at the station
it was always draughty and generally cold. To-day, this very early
morning, about ten minutes before the first up train is due, it is not
only cold and draughty, but it is also wet and foggy. A damp, white mist
fills the valley below, and curls up the bare hill sides above; it hangs
chillingly about the narrow, open shed on the up side of the station,
covering the wooden bench within it with thick beads of moisture, so that
no man dare safely sit down on it, and clinging coldly and penetratingly
to the garments of a tall young lady in a long ulster and a thick veil,
who is slowly walking up and down the platform.

The solitary porter on duty eyes her inquiringly. "Going by the up train,
Miss?" he says, touching his hat respectfully as he passes her.

"No," says Vera, blushing hotly under the thick shelter of her veil, and
then adds with that readiness of explanation to which persons who have a
guilty conscience are prone, "I am only waiting to see somebody off." An
uncalled-for piece of information which has only the effect of setting
the bucolic mind of the local porter agog with curiosity and wonderment.

Presently the few passengers for the early train begin to arrive; a
couple of farmers going into the market town, a village girl in a smart
bonnet, an old woman in a dirty red shawl, carrying a bundle; that is
all. Maurice is very late. Vera remembers that he always puts off
starting to catch a train till the very last minute. She stands waiting
for him at the further end of the platform, as far away as she can from
the knot of rustic passengers, with a beating heart and a fever of
impatience within her.

The train is signalled, and at that very minute the dog-cart from
Kynaston drives up at last! Even then he has to get his ticket, and to
convey himself and his portmanteau across from the other side of the
line. Their good-bye will be short indeed!

The train steams up, and Maurice hurries forward followed by the porter
bearing his rugs and sticks; he does not even see her, standing a little
back, as she does, so as not to attract more attention than need be. But
when all his things are put into the carriage, and the porter has been
duly tipped and has departed, Captain Kynaston hears a soft voice behind
him.

"I have come to wish you good-bye again." He turns, flushing at the sound
of the sweet familiar voice, and sees Vera in her long ulster, and her
face hidden behind her veil, by his side.

"Good Heavens, Vera! _you_--out on such a morning?"

"I could not let you go away without--without--one kind word," she
begins, stammering painfully, her voice shaking so, as she speaks, that
he cannot fail to divine her agitation, even though he cannot see the
lovely troubled face that has been so carefully screened from his gaze.

"This is too good of you," he begins. That very minute a brougham dashes
rapidly up to the station.

"It is the Shadonake carriage!" cried Vera, casting a terrified glance
behind her. "Who can it be? they will see me."

"Jump into the train," he answers, hurriedly, and, without a thought
beyond an instinct of self-preservation for the moment, she obeys him.
Maurice follows her quickly, closing the carriage door behind him.
"Nobody can have seen you," he says. "I daresay it is only some visitors
going away; they could not have noticed you. Oh! Vera," turning with
sudden earnestness to her; "how am I ever to thank you for this great
kindness to me?"

"It is nothing; only a five minutes' walk before breakfast. It is no
trouble to me; and I did not want you to think me unfeeling, or unkind
to you."

Before she could speak another word the carriage door was violently
slammed to, and the guard's sharp shrill whistle heralded the departure
of the train. With a cry, Vera sprang towards the door; before she could
reach it, Maurice, who had perceived instantly what had happened, had let
down the window and was shouting to the porter. It was too late. The
train was off.

Vera sank back hopelessly upon the seat; and Maurice, according to the
manners and customs of infuriated Britons, gave utterance to a very
laconic word of bad import below his breath.

"I wouldn't have had this happen for ten thousand pounds!" he said, after
a minute, looking at her in blank despair.

Vera was taking off her veil mechanically; when he could see her face, he
perceived that she was very white.

"Never mind," she said, with a faint smile; "there is no real harm done.
It is unfortunate, that is all. The train stops at Tripton. I can get out
there and walk home."

"Five miles! and it is I who have got you into this scrape! What a
confounded fool I was to make you get into the carriage! I ought to have
remembered how late it was. How are you to walk all that way?"

"Pray don't reproach yourself, Maurice; I shall not mind the walk a bit.
I shall have to confess my escapade to Marion, and tell her why I am late
for breakfast--that is all; as it is, I can, at all events, finish what I
wanted to say to you."

And then she was silent, looking away from him out of the further window.
The train, gradually accelerating its pace, sped quickly on through the
fog-blotted landscape. Hills, villages, church spires, all that made the
country familiar, were hidden in the mist; only here and there, in the
nearer hedge-rows, an occasional tree stood out bleak and black against
the white veil beyond like a sentinel alone on a limitless plain.
Absolute silence--only the train rushing on faster and faster through
the white, wet world without.

Then, at last, it was Maurice, not Vera, that spoke.

"I blame myself bitterly for this, Vera," he said in a low, pained voice.
"Had it not been for my foolish, unthinking words to you yesterday, you
would not have been tempted to do this rash act of kindness. I spoke to
you in a way that I had no right to speak, believing that my words would
make no impression upon you beyond the fact of showing you that it was
impossible for me to stay for your wedding. I never dreamt that your
kindly interest in me would lead you to waste another thought upon me.
I did not know how good and pitying your nature is, nor give you credit
for so much generosity."

She turned round to him sharply and suddenly. "What are you saying?" she
cried, with a harsh pain in her voice. "What words are you using to me?
_Kindness, pity, generosity_!--have they any place here between you
and me?"

There was a moment in which neither of them spoke, only their eyes met,
and the secret that was hidden in their souls lay suddenly revealed to
each of them.

In another instant Vera had sunk upon her knees before him.

"While you live," she cried, passionately, lifting her beautiful dark
eyes, that were filled with a new light and a new glory, to his--"while
you live I will never be another man's wife!"

And there was no other word spoken. Only a shower of close, hot kisses
upon her lips, and two strong arms that drew her nearer and tighter to
the beating heart against which she rested, for he was only human after
all.

Oh, swift and divine moment of joy, that comes but once in a man's life,
when he holds the woman he loves for the first time to his heart! Once,
and once only, he tastes of heaven and forgets life itself in the short
and delirious draught. What envious deity shall grudge him those moments
of rapture, all too sweet, and, alas! all too short!

To Vera and Maurice, locked in each other's arms, time had no shore, and
life was not. It might have been ten seconds, it might have been an
eternity--they could not have told--no pang entered that serene haven
where their souls were lapped in perfect happiness; no serpent entered
into Eden; no harsh note struck upon their enchanted ears, nor jarring
sight upon their sun-dazzled vision. Where in that moment was the duty
and the honour that was a part of the man's very self? What to Vera was
the rich marriage and the life of affluence, and all the glitter and
tinsel which it had been her soul's desire to attain? She remembered it
not; like a house of cards, it had fallen shattered to the ground.

They loved, and they were together. There was neither duty, nor faith,
nor this world's wisdom between them; nothing but that great joy which on
earth has no equal, and which Heaven itself cannot exceed.

But brief are the moments whilst joy, with bated breath and folded wings,
pauses on his flight; too soon, alas! is the divine elixir dashed away
from our lingering lips.

Already, for Maurice and for Vera, it is over, and they have awakened to
earth once more.

It is the man who is the first to remember. "Good God, Vera!" he cries,
pushing her back from him, "what terrible misfortune is this? Can it be
true that you must suffer too, that you love me?"

"Why not?" she answered, looking at him; happy still, but troubled too;
for already for her also Paradise is over. "Is it so hard to believe? And
yet many women must have loved you. But I--I have never loved before.
Listen, Maurice: when I accepted your brother, I liked him, I thought I
could be very happy with him; and--and--do not think ill of me--I wanted
so much to be rich; it was so miserable being poor and dependent, and I
knew life so well, and how hard the struggle is for those who are poor.
I was so determined I would do well for myself; and he was good, and I
liked him."

At the mention of the brother, whom he had wronged, Maurice hid his face
in his hands and groaned aloud.

She laid her hand softly upon his knee; she had half raised herself upon
the seat by his side, and her head, from which her hat had fallen,
pillowed itself with a natural caressing action against his shoulder.

At the soft touch he shivered.

"It was dreadful, was it not? But then, I am not perfect, and I liked the
idea of being rich, and I had never loved--I did not even know what it
meant. And then I met you--long ago your photograph had arrested my
fancy; and do you remember that evening at Shadonake when I first saw
you?"

Could he ever forget one single detail of that meeting?

"You stood at the foot of the staircase, waiting, and I came down softly
behind you. You did not see me till I was close to you, and then you
turned, and you took my hands, and you looked and looked at me till my
eyes could no longer meet yours. There came a vague trouble into my
heart; I had never felt anything like it before. Maurice, from that
instant I must have loved you."

"For God's sake, Vera!" he cried out wildly, as though the gentle words
gave him positive pain, "do not speak of it. Do you not see the abyss
which lies between us--which must part us for ever?"

"Loving you, I will never marry your brother!" she answered, earnestly.

"And I will never rob my brother of his bride. Darling, darling, do not
tempt me too far, or God knows what I may say and do! To reach you, love,
would be to dip my hands in dishonour and basest treachery. Not even for
you can I do this vile thing. Kiss me once more, sweet, and let me go out
of your life for ever; believe me, it is better so; best for us both. In
time you will forget, you will be happy. He will be good to you, and you
will be glad that you were not tempted to betray him."

"You do not know what you ask of me," she cried, lifting her face, all
wet with tears, to his. "Leave me, if you will--go your way--forget
me--it is all the same to me; henceforth there is no other man on earth
to me but you. I will never swear vows at God's altar that I cannot keep,
or commit the frightful sin of marrying one man whilst I know that I love
another. Yes, yes; I know it is a horrible, dreadful misfortune. Have I
sought it, or gone out of my way to find it? Have I not struggled to
keep it away from me? striven to blind my eyes to it and to go on as I
was, and never to acknowledge it to myself? Do I not love wealth above
all things; do I not know that he is rich, and you poor? And yet I cannot
help loving you!"

He took her clasped, trembling hands within his own, and held them
tightly. In that moment the woman was weak, and the man was her master.

"Listen," he said. "Yes, you are right, I am poor; but that is not all.
Vera, for Heaven's sake, reflect, and pause before you wreck your whole
life. I cannot marry you--not only because I am poor, but also, alas!
because I am bound to another woman."

"Helen Romer!" she murmured, faintly; "and you love _her_?" A sick, cold
misery rushed into her heart. She strove to withdraw her hands from his;
but he only held them the tighter.

"No; by the God above us, I love you, and only you," he answered her,
almost roughly; "but I am bound to her. I cannot afford to marry her--we
have neither of us any money; but I am bound all the same. Only one thing
can set me free; if, in five years, we are, neither of us, better off
than now, she has told me that I may go free. Under no other conditions
can I ever marry any one else. That is my secret, Vera. At any moment she
can claim me, and for five years I must wait for her."

"Then I will wait for you five years too," she cried, passionately. "Is
my love less strong, less constant, than hers, do you think? Can I not
wait patiently too?" She wound her arms about his neck, and drew his face
down to hers.

"Five years," she murmured; "it is but a small slice out of one's life
after all; and when it is over, it seems such a little space to look back
upon. Dearest, some day we shall remember how miserable, and yet how
happy too, we have been this morning; and we shall smile, as we remember
it all, out of the fulness of our content."

How was he to gainsay so sweet a prophet? Already the train was
slackening, and the moment when they must part drew near. The beautiful
head lay upon his breast; the deep, shadowy eyes, which love for the
first time had softened into the perfection of their own loveliness,
mirrored themselves in his; the flower-shaped, trembling lips were close
up to his. How could he resist their gentle pleading? There was no time
for more words, for more struggles between love and duty.

"So be it, then," he murmured, and caught her in one last, passionate
embrace to his heart.

Five minutes later a tall young lady, deeply veiled as when she had
entered the train, got out of it and walked swiftly away from Tripton
station down the hill towards the high road. So absorbed was she in her
own reflections that she utterly failed to notice another figure, also
female and also veiled, who, preceding her through the mist, went on
swiftly before her down the road. Nor did she pay the slightest attention
to the fact until a turn in the road brought her suddenly face to face
with two persons who stood deep in conversation under the shelter of
the tall, misty hedge-row.

As Vera approached these two persons sprang apart with a guilty
suddenness, and revealed to her astonished eyes--Beatrice Miller and Mr.
Herbert Pryme.



CHAPTER XVII.

AN UNLUCKY LOVE-LETTER.

  Heaven first taught letters for some wretch's aid,
  Some banished lover, or some captive maid.

  Pope, "Eloisa and Abelard."


To ascertain rightly how Mr. Pryme and Miss Miller came to be found in
the parish of Tripton at nine o'clock in the morning, standing together
under a wet hedge-row, it will be necessary to take a slight retrospect
of what had taken place in the history of these two people since the time
when the young barrister had spent that memorable week at Shadonake.

The visit had come to an end uneventfully for either of them; but two
days after his departure from the house Mr. Pryme had been guilty of a
gross piece of indiscretion. He had forgotten to observe a golden rule
which should be strongly impressed upon every man and woman. The maxim
should be inculcated upon the young with at least as much earnestness as
the Catechism or the Ten Commandments. In homely language, it runs
something in this fashion: "Say what you like, but never commit yourself
to paper."

Mr. Pryme had observed the first portion of this maxim religiously, but
he had failed to pay equal regard to the latter. He _had_ committed
himself to paper in the shape of a very bulky and very passionate
love-letter, which was duly delivered by the morning postman and laid at
the side of Miss Miller's plate upon the breakfast-table.

Now, Miss Miller, as it happened on that particular morning, had a
very heavy influenza cold, and had stayed in bed for breakfast. When,
therefore, Mrs. Miller prepared to send a small tray up to her daughter's
bedroom with her breakfast, she took up her letters also from the table
to put upon it with her tea and toast. The very thick envelope of one
of them first attracted her notice; then the masculine nature of the
handwriting; and when, upon turning it over, she furthermore perceived a
very large-sized monogram of the letters "H. P." upon the envelope, her
mind underwent a sudden revolution as to the sending of her daughter's
correspondence upstairs.

"There, that will do," she said to the lady's maid, "you can take up
the tray; I will bring Miss Miller's letters up to her myself after
breakfast."

After which, without more ado, she walked to the window and opened the
letter. Some people might have had scruples as to such a strong measure.
Mrs. Miller had none at all. Her children, she argued, were her own
property and under her own care; as long as they lived under her roof,
they had no right over anything that they possessed independently of
their mother.

Under ordinary circumstances she would not have opened a letter addressed
to any of her children; but if there was anything of a suspicious nature
in their correspondence, she certainly reserved to herself the perfect
right of dealing with it as she thought fit.

She opened the letter and read the first line; it ran thus:--

"My dearest darling Beatrice." She then turned to the end of it and read
the last; it was this: "Your own most devoted and loving Herbert."

That was quite enough for Mrs. Miller; she did not want to read any more
of it. She slipped the letter into her pocket, and went back to the
breakfast-table and poured out the tea and coffee for her husband and her
sons.

But when the family meal was over, it was with a very angry aspect that
Mrs. Miller went upstairs and stood by her eldest daughter's bedside.

"Beatrice, here is a letter which has come for you this morning, of which
I must ask you an explanation."

"You have read it, mamma!" flushing angrily, as she took it from her
mother's hand.

"I have read the first line and the last. I certainly should not take the
trouble to wade all through such contemptible trash!" Which was an
unprovoked insult to poor Beatrice's feelings.

She snatched the letter from her mother's hand, and crumpled it jealously
under her pillow.

"How can you call it trash, then, if you have not read it?"

It was hard, certainly; to have her letter opened was bad enough, but to
have it called names was worse still. The letter, which to Beatrice would
be so full of sacred charm and delight--such a poem on love and its
sweetness--was nothing more to her mother than "contemptible trash!"

But where in the whole world has a love-letter been indited, however
delightful and perfect it may be to the writer and the receiver of it,
that is nothing but an object of ridicule or contempt to the whole world
beside? Love is divine as Heaven itself to the two people who are
concerned in its ever new delights; but to us lookers-on its murmurs are
but fooleries, its sighs are ludicrous, and its written words absolute
imbecilities; and never a memory of our own lost lives can make the
spectacle of it in others anything but an irritating and idiotic
exhibition.

"I have read quite enough," continued Mrs. Miller, sternly, "to
understand the nature of it. It is from Mr. Pryme, I imagine?"

"Yes, mamma."

"And by what right, may I ask, does Mr. Pryme commence a letter to you in
the warm terms of affection which I have had the pleasure of reading?"

"By the right which I myself have given him," she answered, boldly.

Regardless of her cold, she sat upright in her bed; a flush of defiance
in her face, her short dark hair flung back from her brow in wild
confusion. She understood at once that all had been discovered, and she
was going to do battle for her lover.

"Do you mean to tell me, Beatrice, that you have engaged yourself to this
Mr. Pryme?"

"Certainly I have."

"You know very well that your father and I will never consent to it."

"Never is a long day, mamma."

"Don't take up my words like that. I consider, Beatrice, that you have
deceived me shamefully. You persuaded me to ask that young man to the
house because you said that Sophy Macpherson was fond of him."

"So she is."

"Beatrice, how can you be so wicked and tell such lies in the face of
that letter to yourself?"

"I never said he was fond of her," she answered, with just the vestige of
a twinkle in her eyes.

"If I had known, I would never have asked him to come," continued her
mother.

"No; I am sure you would not. But I did not tell you, mamma."

"I have other views for you. You must write to this young man and tell
him you will give him up."

"I certainly shall not do that."

"I shall not give my consent to your engagement."

"I never imagined that you would, mamma, and that is why I did not ask
for it."

And then Mrs. Miller got very angry indeed.

"What on earth do you intend to do, you ungrateful, disobedient,
rebellious child?"

"I mean to marry Herbert some day because I love him," answered her
daughter, coolly; "but I will not run away with him unless you force me
to it; and I hope, by-and-by, when Geraldine is grown up and can take my
place, that you will give us your consent and your blessing. I am quite
willing to wait a reasonable time for the chance of it."

"Is it likely that I shall give my consent to your marrying a young man
picked up nobody knows where--out of the gutter, most likely? Who are his
people, I should like to know?"

"I daresay his father is as well connected as mine," answered Beatrice,
who knew all about her mother's having married a _parvenu_.

"Beatrice, I am ashamed of you, sneering at your own father!"

"I beg your pardon, mamma; I did not mean to sneer, but you say very
trying things; and Mr. Pryme is a gentleman, and every bit as good as we
are!"

"And where is the money to be found for this precious marriage, I should
like to know? Do you suppose Mr. Pryme can support you?"

"Oh dear, no; but I know papa will not let me starve."

And Mrs. Miller knew it too. However angry she might be, and however
unsuitably Beatrice might choose to marry, Mr. Miller would never allow
his daughter to be insufficiently provided for. Beatrice's marriage
portion would be a small fortune to a poor young man.

"It is your money he is after!" she said, angrily.

"I don't think so, mamma; and of course of that I am the best judge."

"He shall never set foot here again. I shall write to him myself and
forbid him the house."

"That, of course, you may do as you like about, mamma; I cannot prevent
your doing so, but it will not make me give him up, because I shall never
marry any one else."

And there Mrs. Miller was, perforce, obliged to let the matter rest. She
went her way angry and vexed beyond measure, and somewhat baffled too.
How is a mother to deal with a daughter who is so determined and so
defiant as was Beatrice Miller? There is no known method in civilized
life of reducing a young lady of twenty to submission in matters of the
heart. She could not whip her, or put her on bread and water, nor could
she shut her up in a dark cupboard, as she might have done had she been
ten years old.

All she could do was to write a very indignant letter to Mr. Pryme,
forbidding him ever to enter her doors, or address himself in any way to
her daughter again. Having sent this to the post, she was at the end of
her resources. She did, indeed, confide the situation with very strong
and one-sided colouring to her husband; but Mr. Miller had not the strong
instincts of caste which were inherent in his wife. She could not make
him see what dreadful deed of iniquity Herbert Pryme and his daughter
had perpetrated between them.

"What's wrong with the young fellow?" he asked, looking up from the pile
of parliamentary blue-books on the library table before him.

"Nothing is wrong, Andrew; but he isn't a suitable husband for Beatrice."

"Why? you asked him here, Caroline. I suppose, if he was good enough to
stay in the house, he is no different to the boys, or anybody else who
was here."

"It is one thing to stay here, and quite another thing to want to marry
your daughter."

"Well, if he's an honest man, and the girl loves him, I don't see the
good of making a fuss about it; she had better do as she likes."

"But, Andrew, the man hasn't a penny; he has made nothing at the bar
yet." It was no use appealing to his exclusiveness, for he had none; it
was a better move to make him look at the money-point of the question.

"Oh, well, he will get on some day, I daresay, and meanwhile I shall give
Beatrice quite enough for them both when she marries."

"You don't understand, Andrew."

"No, my dear," very humbly, "perhaps I don't; but there, do as you think
best, of course; I am sure I don't wish to interfere about the children;
you always manage all these kind of things; and if you wouldn't mind, my
dear, I am so very busy just now. You know there is to be this attack
upon the Government as soon as the House meets, and I have the whole of
the papers upon the Patagonian and Bolivian question to look up, and most
fraudulent misstatements of the truth I believe them to be; although, as
far as I've gone, I haven't been able to make it quite out yet, but I
shall come to it--no doubt I shall come to it. I am going to speak upon
this question, my dear, and I mean to tell the House that a grosser
misrepresentation of facts was never yet promulgated from the Ministerial
benches, nor flaunted in the faces of an all too leniently credulous
Opposition; that will warm 'em up a bit, I flatter myself; those fellows
in office will hang their heads in shame at the word Patagonia for weeks
after."

"But who cares about Patagonia?"

"Oh, nobody much, I suppose. But there's bound to be an agitation against
the Government, and that does as well as anything else. We can't afford
to neglect a single chance of kicking them out. I have planned my speech
pretty well right through; it will be very effective--withering, I
fancy--but it's just these plaguy blue-books that won't quite tally with
what I've got to say. I must go through them again though----"

"You had better have read the papers first, and settled your speech
afterwards," suggested his wife.

"Oh dear, no! that wouldn't do at all; after all, you know, between you
and me, the facts don't go for much; all we want is, to denounce them;
any line of argument, if it is ingenious enough, will do; lay on the big
words thickly--that's what your constituents like. Law bless you! _they_
don't read the blue books; they'll take my word for granted if I say they
are full of lies; it would be a comfort, however, if I could find a few.
Of course, my dear, this is only between you and me."

A man is not always heroic to the wife of his bosom. Mrs. Miller went
her way and left him to his righteous struggle among the Patagonian
blue-books. After all, she said to herself, it had been her duty to
inform him of his daughter's conduct, but it was needless to discuss
the question further with him. He was incapable of approaching it from
her own point of view. It would be better for her now to go her own way
independently of him. She had always been accustomed to manage things her
own way. It was nothing new to her.

Later in the day she attempted to wrest a promise from Beatrice that
she would hold no further communication with the prohibited lover. But
Beatrice would give no such promise.

"Is it likely that I should promise such a thing?" she asked her mother,
indignantly.

"You would do so if you knew what your duty to your mother was."

"I have other duties besides those to you, mamma; when one has promised
to marry a man, one is surely bound to consider him a little. If I have
the chance of meeting him, I shall certainly take it."

"I shall take very good care that you have no such chances, Beatrice."

"Very well, mamma; you will, of course, do as you think best."

It was in consequence of these and sundry subsequent stormy conversations
that Mr. Herbert Pryme suddenly discovered that he had a very high regard
and affection for Mr. Albert Gisburne, the vicar of Tripton, the same
to whom once Vera's relations had wished to unite her.

The connection between Mr. Gisburne and Herbert Pryme was a slender one;
he had been at college with an elder brother of his, who had died in his
(Herbert's) childhood. He did not indeed very clearly recollect what this
elder brother had been like; but having suddenly called to mind that,
during the course of his short visit to Shadonake, he had discovered the
fact of the college friendship, of which, indeed, Mr. Gisburne had
informed him, he now was unaccountably inflamed by a desire to cultivate
the acquaintance of the valued companion of his deceased brother's youth.

He opened negotiations by the gift of a barrel of oysters, sent down
from Wilton's, with an appropriate and graceful accompanying note. Mr.
Gisburne was surprised, but not naturally otherwise than pleased by the
attention. Next came a box of cigars, which again were shortly followed
by two brace of pheasants purporting to be of Herbert's own shooting, but
which, as a matter of fact, he had purchased in Vigo Street.

This munificent succession of gifts reaped at length the harvest for
which they had been sown. In his third letter of grateful acknowledgment
for his young friend's kind remembrance of him, Mr. Gisburne, with some
diffidence, for Tripton Rectory was neither lively nor remarkably
commodious, suggested how great the pleasure would be were his friend to
run down to him for a couple of days or so; he had nothing, in truth, to
offer him but a bachelor's quarters and a hearty welcome; there was next
to no attraction beyond a pretty rural village and a choral daily
service; but still, if he cared to come, Mr. Gisburne need not say how
delighted he would be, etc., etc.

It is not too much to say that the friend jumped at it. On the shortest
possible notice he arrived, bag and baggage, professing himself charmed
with the bachelor's quarters; and, burning with an insatiable desire to
behold the rurality of the village, to listen to the beauty and the
harmony of the daily choral performances, he took up his abode in the
clergyman's establishment; and the very next morning he sent a rural
villager over to Shadonake with a half-crown for himself and a note to be
given to Miss Miller the very first time she walked or rode out alone.
This note was duly delivered, and that same afternoon Beatrice met her
lover by appointment in an empty lime-kiln up among the chalk hills. This
romantic rendezvous was, however, discontinued shortly, owing to the fact
of Mrs. Miller having become suspicious of her daughter's frequent and
solitary walks, and insisting on sending out Geraldine and her governess
with her.

A few mornings later a golden chance presented itself. Mr. and Mrs.
Miller went away for the night to dine and sleep at a distant country
house. Beatrice had not been invited to go with them. She did not venture
to ask her lover to the house he had been forbidden to enter, but she
ordered the carriage for herself, caught the early train to Tripton, met
Herbert, by appointment, outside the station, and stood talking to him in
the fog by the wayside, where Vera suddenly burst upon their astonished
gaze.

There was nothing for it but to take Vera into their confidence; and they
were so much engrossed in their affairs that they entirely failed to
notice how mechanically she answered, and how apathetically she appeared
for the first few minutes to listen to their story. Presently, however,
she roused herself into a semblance of interest. She promised not to
betray the fact of the stolen interview, all the more readily because it
did not strike either of them to inquire what she herself was doing in
the Tripton road.

In the end Vera walked on slowly by herself, and the Shadonake carriage,
ordered to go along at a foot's pace from Sutton station towards Tripton,
picked both girls up and conveyed them safely, each to their respective
homes.

"You will never tell of me, will you, Vera?" said Beatrice to her, for
the twentieth time, ere they parted.

"Of course not; indeed, I would gladly help you if I could," she
answered, heartily.

"You will certainly be able to help us both very materially some day,"
said Beatrice, who had visions of being asked to stay at Kynaston, to
meet Herbert.

"I am afraid not," answered Vera, with a sigh. Already there was regret
in her mind for the good things of life which she had elected to
relinquish. "Put me down at this corner, Beatrice; I don't want to drive
up to the vicarage. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Vera--and--and you won't mind my saying it--but I like you so
much."

Vera smiled, and, with a kiss, the girls parted; and Mrs. Daintree never
heard after all the story of her sister's early visit to Tripton, for she
returned so soon that she had not yet been missed. The vicar and his
family had but just gathered round the breakfast-table, when, after
having divested herself of her walking garments, she came in quietly and
took her vacant place amongst them unnoticed and unquestioned.



CHAPTER XVIII.

LADY KYNASTON'S PLANS.

  Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
  Brief as the lightning in the collied night.

  And ere a man hath power to say, "Behold!"
  The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
  So quick bright things come to confusion.

  "Midsummer Night's Dream."


Sir John Kynaston sat alone in his old-bachelor rooms in London. They
were dark, dingy rooms, such as are to be found in countless numbers
among the narrow streets that encompass St. James's Street. They were
cheerless and comfortless, and, withal, high-rented, and possessed of
no other known advantage than that of their undeniably central situation.
They were not rooms that one would suppose any man would care to linger
in in broad daylight; and yet Sir John remained in them now a days
almost from morning till night.

He sat for the most part as he is sitting now--in a shabby, leathern
arm-chair, stooping a little forward, and doing nothing. Sometimes he
wrote a few necessary letters, sometimes he made a feint of reading the
paper; but oftenest he did nothing, only sat still, staring before him
with a hopeless misery in his face.

For in these days Sir John Kynaston was a very unhappy man. He had
received a blow such as strikes at the very root and spring of a man's
life--a blow which a younger man often battles through and is none the
worse in the end for, but under which a man of his age is apt to be
crushed and to succumb. Within a week of his wedding-day Vera Nevill
had broken her engagement to him. It had been a nine days' wonder in
Meadowshire--the county had rung with the news--everybody had marvelled
and speculated, but no one had got any nearer to the truth than that Vera
was supposed to have "mistaken her feelings." The women had cried shame
upon her for such capriciousness, and had voted her a fool into the
bargain for throwing over such a match; and if a male voice, somewhat
less timid than the rest, had here and there uplifted itself in her
defence and had ventured to hint that she might have had sufficient and
praiseworthy motives for her conduct, a chorus of feminine indignation
had smothered the kindly suggestion in a whole whirl-wind of abuse and
reviling.

As to Sir John, he blamed her not, and yet he knew no more about it than
any of them; he, too, could only have told you that Vera had mistaken her
feelings--he knew no more than that--for it was but half the truth that
she had told him. But it had been more than enough to convince him that
she was perfectly right. When, after telling him plainly that she found
she did not love him enough, that there had been other and extraneous
reasons that had blinded her to the fact at the time she had accepted
him, but that she had found it out later on; when, after saying this she
had asked him plainly whether he would wish to have a wife who valued his
name, and his wealth, and his fine old house at least as much as he did
himself, Sir John had been able to give her but one answer. No, he would
not have a wife who loved him in such a fashion. And he had thought well
of her for telling him the truth beforehand instead of leaving him to
find it out for himself later. If there had been a little, a very little,
falling of his idol from the high pillar upon which he had set her up, in
that she should at any time have been guided by mercenary and worldly
motives; there had been at the same time a very great amount of respect
for her brave and straightforward confession of her error at a time when
most women would have found themselves unequal to the task of drawing
back from the false position into which they had drifted. No, he could
not blame her in any way.

But, all the same, it was hard to bear. He said to himself that he was
a doomed and fated man; twice had love and joy and domestic peace been
within his grasp, and twice they had been wrested from his arms; these
things, it was plain, were not for him. He was too old, he told himself,
ever to make a further effort. No, there was nothing before him now but
to live out his loveless life alone, to sink into a peevish, selfish old
bachelor, and to make a will in Maurice's favour, and get himself out of
the world that wanted him not with as much expedition as might be.

And he loved Vera still. She was still to him the most pure and perfect
of women--good as she was beautiful. Her loveliness haunted him by day
and by night, till the bitter thought of what might have been and the
contrast of the miserable reality drove him half wild with longings
which he did not know how to repress. He sat at home in his rooms and
moped; there were more streaks of white in his hair than of old, and
there were new lines of care upon his brow--he looked almost an old man
now. He sat indoors and did nothing. It was April by this time, and the
London season was beginning; invitations of all kinds poured in upon him,
but he refused them all; he would go nowhere. Now and then his mother
came to see him and attempted to cheer and to rouse him; she had even
asked him to come down to Walpole Lodge, but he had declined her request
almost ungraciously.

He never had much in common with his mother, and he felt no desire now
for her sympathy; besides, the first time she had come she had been
angry, and had called Vera a jilt, and that had offended him bitterly; he
had rebuked her sternly, and she had been too wise to repeat the offence;
but he had not forgotten it. Maurice, indeed, he would have been glad to
see, but Maurice did not come near him. His regiment had lately moved to
Manchester, and either he could not or would not get leave; and yet he
had been idle enough at one time, and glad to run up to town upon the
smallest pretext. Now he never came. It added a little to his irritation,
but scarcely to his misery. On this particular afternoon, as he sat as
usual brooding over the past, there came the sudden clatter of carriage
wheels over the flagged roadway of the little back street, followed by a
sharp ring at his door. It was his mother, of course; no other woman came
to see him; he heard the rustle of her soft silken skirts up the narrow
staircase, and her pleasant little chatter to the fat old landlady who
was ushering her up, and presently the door opened and she came in.

"Good morning, John. Dear me, how hot and stuffy this room is," holding
up her soft old face to her son.

He just touched her cheek. "I am sorry you find it so--shall I open the
window?"

"Oh!" sinking down in a chair, and throwing back her cloak; "how can you
stand a fire in the room, it is quite mild and spring-like out. Have you
not been out, John? it would do you good to get a little fresh air."

"I shall go round to the club presently, I daresay," he answered,
abstractedly, sitting down in his arm-chair again; all the pleasant
flutter that the bright old lady brought with her, the atmosphere of life
and variety that surrounded her, only vexed and wearied him, and jarred
upon his nerves. She was always telling him to go somewhere or to do
something; why couldn't she let him alone? he thought, irritably.

"To your club? No further than that? Why, you might as well stay at home.
Really, my dear, it's a great pity you don't go about and see some of
your old friends; you can't mean to shut yourself up like a dormouse for
ever, I suppose!"

"I haven't the least idea what I mean to do," he answered, not
graciously; she was his mother, and so he could not very well put her out
at the door, but that was what he would have liked to do.

"I don't see," continued Lady Kynaston, with unwonted courage, "I don't
at all see why you should let this unfortunate affair weigh on you for
ever; there is really no reason why you should not console yourself and
marry some nice girl; there is Lady Mary Hendrie and plenty more only too
ready to have you if you will only take that trouble----"

"Mother, I wish you would not talk to me like that," he said,
interrupting suddenly the easy flow of her consoling suggestions, and
there was a look of real pain upon his face that smote her somewhat.
"Never speak to me of marrying again. I shall never marry any one." He
looked away from her, stern and angry, stooping again over the red ashes
in the grate; if he had only given her one plea for her pity--if he had
only added, "I have suffered too much, I love her still"--all her
mother's heart must have gone out to him who, though he was not her
favourite, was her first born after all; but he did not want her pity,
he only wanted her to go away.

"It is a great pity," she answered, stiffly, "because of Kynaston."

"I shall never set foot at Kynaston again."

Her colour rose a little--after all, she was a cunning little old lady.
The little fox-terrier lay on the rug between them; she stooped down and
patted it. "Good dog, good little Vic," she said, a little nervously;
then, with a sudden courage, she looked up at her son again. "John, it
is a sad thing that Kynaston must be left empty to go to rack and ruin;
though I have never cared to live there myself, I have always hoped that
you would. It would have grieved your poor father sadly to have thought
that the old place was always to lie empty."

"I cannot help it," he answered, moodily, wishing more than ever that she
would go.

"John;" she fidgeted with her bonnet strings, and her voice trembled a
little; "John, if you are quite sure you will never live there yourself,
why should not Maurice have it?"

"Maurice! Has he told you to ask for it?" He sat bolt upright in
his chair; he was attentive enough now; the idea that Maurice had
commissioned his mother to ask for something he had not ventured to ask
for himself was not pleasant to him. "Is it Maurice who has sent you?"

"No, no, my dear John; certainly not; why, I haven't seen Maurice for
weeks and weeks; he never comes to town now. But I'll tell you why the
idea came to me. I called just now in Princes Gate; poor old Mr. Harlowe
has had a stroke--it is certain he cannot live long now, after the severe
attack he had of bronchitis, too, two months ago. I just saw Helen for a
minute, she reported him to be unconscious. If he dies, he must surely
leave Helen something; it may not be all, but it will be at least a
competency; and I was thinking, John, that if you did not want Kynaston,
and would let them live there, the marriage might come off at last; they
have been attached to each other a long time, and to live rent free would
be a great thing."

"How are they to keep it up? Kynaston is an expensive place."

"Well, I thought, John, perhaps, if Maurice looks after the property, you
might consider him as your agent, and allow him something, and that and
her money----"

"Yes, yes, I understand; well, I will see; wait, at all events, till Mr.
Harlowe is dead. I will think it over. No, I don't see any reason why
they should not live there if they like;" he sighed, wearily, and his
mother went away, feeling that she had reason to be satisfied with her
morning's work.

She was in such a hurry to install her darling there--to see him viceroy
in the place where now it was certain he must eventually be king. Why
should he be doomed to wait till Kynaston came to him in the course of
nature; why should he not enter upon his kingdom at once, since Sir John,
by his own confession, would never marry or live there himself?

Lady Kynaston was very far from wishing evil to her eldest son, but for
years she had hoped that he would remain unmarried; for a short time she
had been forced to lay her dreams aside, and she had striven to forget
them and to throw herself with interest into her eldest son's engagement;
but now that the marriage was broken off, all her old schemes and plans
came back to her again. She was working and planning again for Maurice's
happiness and aggrandisement. She wanted to see him in his father's
house, "Kynaston of Kynaston," before she died, and to know that his
future was safe. To see him married to Helen and living at Kynaston
appeared to her to be the very best that she could desire for him. In
time, of course, the title and the money would be his too; meanwhile,
with old Mr. Harlowe's fortune, an ample allowance from his brother, and
all the prestige of his old name and his old house, she should live to
see him take his own rightful place among the magnates of his native
county. That would be far better than to be a captain in a line regiment,
barely able to live upon his income. That was all she coveted for him,
and she said to herself that her ambition was not unreasonable, and that
it would be hard indeed if it might not be gratified.

As she drove homewards to Walpole Lodge she felt that her schemes were in
a fair way for success. She was not going to let Maurice know of them too
soon; by-and-by, when all was settled, she would tell him; she would keep
it till then as a pleasant surprise.

All the same, she had been unable to refrain from telling Helen Romer
something of what was in her mind.

"If John does not marry, he might perhaps make Maurice his agent and let
him live at Kynaston," she had said to her a few days ago when they had
been speaking of old Mr. Harlowe's illness.

"How would Maurice like to leave the army?" Helen had asked.

"If he marries, he must do so," his mother had replied, significantly;
and Helen's heart had beat high with hope and triumph.

Again to-day, on her way to her eldest son's rooms, she had stopped at
Princes Gate and had alluded to it.

"I am on my way to see Sir John; I shall sound him about his intentions
with regard to Kynaston, but, of course, I must go to work cautiously;"
and Helen had perfectly understood that she herself had entered into the
old lady's scheme for her younger son's future.

Sitting alone in the hushed house, where the doctors are coming and
going in the darkened room above, Helen feels that at last the reward
of all her long waiting may be at hand. Love and wealth at last seemed
to beckon to her. Her grandfather dead; his fortune hers; and this offer
of a home at Kynaston, which Maurice himself would be sure to like so
much--everything good seemed coming to her at last.

And there was something about the idea of living at Kynaston that
gratified her particularly. Helen had not forgotten the week at
Shadonake. Too surely had her woman's instinct told her that Maurice and
Vera had been drawn to each other by a strong and mutual attraction. The
wildest jealousy and hatred against Vera burnt fiercely in her lawless,
untutored heart. She hated her, for she knew that Maurice loved her. To
live thus under her very eyes as Maurice's wife, in the very house her
rival herself had once been on the point of inhabiting, was a notion that
commended itself to her with all the sweetness of gratified revenge, with
all the charm of flaunting her success and triumph in the face of the
other woman's failure which is dear to such a nature as Helen's.

She alone, of all those who had heard of Vera's broken engagement, had
divined its true cause. She loved Maurice--that was plain to Helen; that
was why she had thrown over Sir John, and at her heart Helen despised her
for it. A woman must be a fool indeed to wreck herself at the last moment
for a merely sentimental reason. There was much, however, that was
incomprehensible to Helen Romer in the situation of things, which she
only half understood.

If Maurice loved Vera, why was it that he was in Manchester whilst she
was still in Meadowshire? that was what Helen could not understand. A
sure instinct told her that Maurice must know better than any one why his
brother's marriage had been broken off. But, if so, then why were he and
Vera apart? It did not strike her that his honour to his brother and his
promises to herself were what kept him away. Helen said to herself,
scornfully, that they were both of them timid and cowardly, and did not
half know how to play out life's game.

"In her place, with her cards in my hand, I would have married him by
this," she said to herself, as she sat alone in her grandfather's
drawing-room, while her busy fingers ran swiftly through the meshes of
her knitting, and the doctor and the hired nurse paced about the room
overhead. "But she has not the pluck for it; his heart may be hers, but,
for all that, I shall win him; and how bitterly she will repent that she
ever interfered with him when she sees him daily there--my husband! And
in time he will forget her and learn to love me; Maurice will never be
false to a woman when once she is his wife; I am not afraid of that. How
dared she meddle with him?--_my_ Maurice!"

The door softly opened, and one of the doctors stepped in on tip-toe.
Helen rose and composed her face into a decorous expression of mournful
anxiety.

"I am happy to tell you, Mrs. Romer," began the doctor. Helen's heart
sank down chill and cold within her.

"Is he better?" she faltered, striving to conceal the dismay which she
felt.

"He has rallied. Consciousness has returned, and partial use of the
limbs. We may be able to pull your grandfather through this time, I
trust."

Put off again! How wretched and how guilty she felt herself to be! It was
almost a crime to wish for any one's death so much.

She sank down again pale and spiritless upon her chair as the doctor left
the room.

"Never mind," she said to herself, presently; "it can't last for ever. It
must be soon now, and I shall be Maurice's wife in the end."

But all this time she had forgotten Monsieur Le Vicomte D'Arblet, whom
she had not seen again since the night she had driven him home from
Walpole Lodge.

He had left England, she knew. Helen privately hoped he had left this
earth. Any way, he had not troubled her, and she had forgotten him.



CHAPTER XIX.

WHAT SHE WAITED FOR.

  Go, forget me; why should sorrow
    O'er that brow a shadow fling?
  Go, forget me, and to-morrow
    Brightly smile and sweetly sing.
  Smile--though I shall not be near thee;
  Sing--though I shall never hear thee.

  Chas. Wolfe.


All this time what of Vera? Would any one of them at the vicarage ever
forget that morning when she had come in after her walk with Sir John
Kynaston, and had stood before them all and, pale as a ghost, had said to
them,

"I am not going to be married; I have broken it off."

It had been a great blow to them, but neither the prayers of her weeping
sister, nor the angry indignation of old Mrs. Daintree, nor even the
gentle remonstrances of her brother-in-law could serve to alter her
determination, nor would she enter into any explanation concerning her
conduct.

It was not pleasant, of course, to be reviled and scolded, to be
questioned and marvelled at, to be treated like a naughty child in
disgrace; and then, whenever she went out, to feel herself tabooed by her
acquaintances as a young woman who had behaved very disgracefully; or
else to be stared at as a natural curiosity by persons whom she hardly
knew.

But she lived through all this bravely. There was a certain amount of
unnatural excitement which kept up her courage and enabled her to face
it. It was no more than what she had expected. The glow of her love and
her impulse of self-sacrifice were still upon her; her nerves had been
strung to the uttermost, and she felt strong in the knowledge of the
justice and the right of her own conduct.

But by-and-by all this died away. Sir John left the neighbourhood;
people got tired of talking about her broken-off marriage; there was no
longer any occasion for her to be brave and steadfast. Life began to
resume for her its normal aspect, the aspect which it had worn in the old
days before Sir John had ever come down to Kynaston, or ever found her
day-dreaming in the churchyard upon Farmer Crupps' family sarcophagus.
The tongue of the sour-tempered old lady, snapping and snarling at her
with more than the bitterness of old, and the suppressed sighs and
mournful demeanour of her sister, whose sympathy and companionship she
had now completely forfeited, and who went about the house with a face
of resigned woe and the censure of an ever implied rebuke in her voice
and manner.

Only the vicar took her part somewhat. "Let her alone," he said,
sometimes, to his wife and mother; "she must have had a better reason
than we any of us know of; the girl is suffering quite enough--leave her
alone."

And she was suffering. The life that she had doomed herself to was almost
unbearable to her. The everlasting round of parish work and parish talk,
the poor people and the coal-clubs--it was what she had come back to. She
had been lifted for a short time out of it all, and a new life, congenial
to her tastes and to her nature, had opened out before her; and yet with
her own hands she had shut the door upon this brighter prospect, and had
left herself out in the darkness, to go back to that life of dull
monotony which she hated.

And what had she gained by it? What single advantage had she reaped
out of her sacrificed life? Was Maurice any nearer to her--was he not
hopelessly divided from her--helplessly out of her reach? She knew
nothing of him, no word concerning him reached her ears: a great blank
was before her. When she went over the past again and again in her mind,
she could not well see what good thing could ever come to her from what
she had done. There were moments indeed when the whole story of her
broken engagement seemed to her like the wild delusion of madness. She
had had no intention of acknowledging her love to Maurice when she had
gone up to the station to see him off; she had only meant to see him
once more, to hold his hand for one instant, to speak a few kind words;
to wish him God speed. She asked herself now what had possessed her that
she had not been able to preserve the self-control of affectionate
friendship when the unfortunate accident of her being taken on in the
train with him had left her entirely alone in his society. She did not
go the length of regretting what she had done for his sake; but she did
acknowledge to herself that she had been led away by the magnetism of his
presence and by the strange and unexpected chance which had thus left her
alone with him into saying and doing things which in a calmer moment she
would not have been betrayed into.

For a few kisses--for the joy of telling him that his love was
returned--for a short moment of delirious and transient happiness, and
alas! for nothing more--she had thrown away her life!

She had behaved hardly and cruelly to a good man who loved her, and whose
heart she had half broken, and she had lost a great many very excellent
and satisfactory things.

And Maurice was no nearer to her. With his own lips he had told her
that he could not marry her. There had been mention, indeed, of that
problematical term of five years, in which he had bound himself to await
Mrs. Romer's pleasure--but, even had Mrs. Romer not existed, it was plain
that Maurice was the last man in the world to take advantage of a woman's
weakness in order to supplant his brother in her heart.

Instinctively Vera felt that Maurice must be no less miserable than
herself; that his regret for what had happened between them must be as
great as her own, and his remorse far greater. They were, indeed, neither
of them blameless in the matter; for, if it was Maurice who had first
spoken of his love to his brother's promised wife, it was Vera who had
made that irrevocable step along the road of her destiny from which no
going back was now possible.

It was a time of utter misery to her. If she sat indoors there was
the persecution of Mrs. Daintree's ill-natured remarks, and Marion's
depression of spirits and half-uttered regrets; and there was also the
scaffolding rising round the chancel walls to be seen from the windows,
and the sound of the sawing of the masonry in the churchyard, as a
perpetual, reproachful reminder of the friend whose kindness and
affection she had so ill requited. If she went out, she could not go up
the lane without passing the gates of Kynaston, or towards the village
without catching sight of the venerable old house among its terraced
gardens, which, so lately, she had thought would be her home. Sometimes
she met her old friend, Mrs. Eccles, in her wanderings, but she did not
venture to speak to her; the cold disapproval in the housekeeper's
passing salutation made her shrink, like a guilty creature, in her
presence; and she would hurry by with scarcely an answering sign, with
downcast eyes and heightened colour.

Somehow, it came to pass in these days that Vera drifted into a degree
of intimacy with Beatrice Miller that would, possibly, never have come
about had the circumstances of her life been different. Ever since her
accidental meeting with the lovers outside Tripton station Vera had,
perforce, become a confidant of their hopes and fears; and Beatrice was
glad enough to have found a friend to whom she could talk about her
lover, for where is the woman who can completely hold her tongue
concerning her own secrets?

Against all the long category of female virtues, as advantageously
displayed in contradistinction to masculine vices, there is still this
one peculiarity which, of itself, marks out the woman as the inferior
animal.

A man, to be worthy of the name, holds his tongue and keeps the
secret of his heart to himself, enjoying it and delighting in it the
more, possibly, for his reticence. A woman may occasionally--very
occasionally--be silent respecting her neighbour, but concerning herself
she is bound to have at least one confidant to whom she will rashly tell
the long story of her loves and her sorrows; and not a consideration
either of prudence or of worldly wisdom will suffice to restrain her too
ready tongue.

Beatrice Miller was a clever girl, with a fair knowledge of the world;
yet she was in no way dismayed that Vera should have discovered her
secret; on the contrary, she was overjoyed that she had now found some
one to talk to about it.

Vera became her friend, but Beatrice was not Vera's friend--the
confidences were not mutual. Over and over again Beatrice was on the
point of questioning her concerning the story that had been on every
one's lips for a time; of asking her what, indeed, was the truth about
her broken engagement; but always the proud, still face restrained her
curiosity, and the words died away unspoken upon her lips.

Vera's story, indeed, was not one that could be easily revealed. There
was too much of bitter regret, too great an element of burning shame at
her heart, for its secrets to be laid bare to a stranger's eye.

Nevertheless, Beatrice's society amused and distracted her mind, and kept
her from brooding over her own troubles. She was glad enough to go over
to Shadonake; even to sit alone with Beatrice and her mother was better
than the eternal monotony of the vicarage, where she felt like a prisoner
waiting for his sentence.

Yes, she was waiting. Waiting for some sign from the man she loved.
Sooner or later, whether it was for good or for evil, she knew it must
come to her; some token that he remembered her existence; some indication
as to what he would have her do with the life that she had laid at his
feet. For, after all, when a woman loves a man, she virtually makes him
the ruler of her destiny; she leaves the responsibility of her fate in
his hands. For the nonce, Maurice Kynaston held the skein of Vera's life
in his grasp; it was for him to do what he pleased with it. Some day,
doubtless, he would tell her what she had to do: meanwhile, she waited.

What else, indeed, can a woman do but wait? To sit still with folded
hands and bated breath, to possess her soul in patience as best she may,
to still the wild beatings of her all too eager spirit--that is what a
woman has to do, and does often enough. God help her, all too badly.

It is so easy when one is old, and the pulses are sluggish, and the hot
passions of youth are quelled, it is so easy then to learn that lesson
of waiting; but when we are young, and our best days slipping away, and
life's hopes all before us, and life's burdens well-nigh unbearable; then
it is that it is hard, that waiting in itself becomes terrible--more
terrible almost than the worst of our woes.

So wearily, feverishly, impatiently enough, Vera waited.

Winter died away into spring. The rough wind of March, worn out with its
own boisterous passions, sobbed itself to rest like a tired child, and
little green buds came cropping up sparsely and timidly out of the brown
bosom of the earth; and, presently, all the glory of the golden crocuses
unfolded itself in long golden lines in the vicarage garden; and there
were twittering of birds and flutterings of soft breezes among the
tree-tops, and a voice seemed to go forth over the face of the earth.
The winter is over, and summer is nigh at hand.

And then it came to her at last. An envelope by the side of her plate
at breakfast; a few scrawled words in a handwriting she had never seen
before, and yet identified with an unfailing instinct, ere even she broke
the seal. One minute of wild hope, to be followed by a sick, chill
numbness, and the story of her love and its longings shrank away into
the despair of impossibility.

How small a thing to make so great a misery! What a few words to make a
wilderness of a human life!

_"Her grandfather is dead, and she has claimed me. Good-bye; forget me
and forgive me."_

That was all; nothing more. No passionate regrets, no unavailing
self-pity; nothing to tell her what it cost him to resign her; no word to
comfort her for the hopelessness of his desertion; nothing but those two
lines.

There was a chattering going on at the table around her. Tommy was
clamouring for bread and butter; the vicar was reading out the telegrams
from the seat of war; Marion was complaining that the butter was not
good; the maid-servant was bringing in the hot bacon and eggs--it all
went on like a dream around her; presently, like a voice out of a fog,
somebody spoke to her:

"Vera, are you not feeling well? You look as if you were going to faint."

And then she crunched the letter in her hand and recalled herself to
life.

"I am quite well, thanks," and busied herself with attending to the wants
of the children.

The vicar glanced up over his spectacles. "No bad news, I hope, my dear."

Oh! why could they not let her alone? But somehow she sat through the
breakfast, and answered all their questions, and bore herself bravely;
and when it was over and she was free to go away by herself with her
trouble, then by that time the worst of it was over.

There are some people whom sorrow softens and touches, but Vera was not
one of them. Her whole soul revolted and rebelled against her fate. She
said to herself that for once she had let her heart guide her; she had
cast aside the crust of worldliness and self-indulgence in which she had
been brought up. She had listened to the softer whisperings of the better
nature within her--she had been true to herself--and lo! what had come of
it?

But now she had learnt her lesson; there were to be no more dreams of
pure and unsullied happiness for her,--no more cravings after what was
good and true and lovely; henceforth she would go back to the teachings
of her youth, to the experience which had told her that a handsome woman
can always command her life as she pleases, and that wealth, which is a
tangible reality, is better worth striving after than the vain shadow
called love, which all talk about and so few make any practical
sacrifices for. Well, she, Vera Nevill, had tried it, and had made her
sacrifices; and what remained to her? Only the fixed determination to
crush it down again within her as if it had never been, and to carve out
her fortunes afresh. Only that she started again at a disadvantage--for
now she knew to her cost that she possessed the fatal power of
loving--the knowledge of good and evil, of which she had eaten
the poisoned fruit.

There were no tears in Vera's eyes as she wandered slowly up and down the
garden paths between the straight yellow lines of the crocus heads.

Her lover had forsaken her. Well, let him go. She told herself that, had
he loved her truly, no power on earth would have been great enough to
keep him from her. She said to herself scornfully--she, Vera Nevill, who
was prepared to sell herself to the highest bidder--that it was Mrs.
Romer's money that kept him from her. Well, let him go to her, then? but
for herself life must begin afresh.

And then she set to work to think about what she could do. To remain here
at Sutton any longer was impossible. It was absolutely necessary that she
should get away from it all, from the family upon whose hands she was
nothing now but a beautiful, helpless burden, and still more from the
haunting memories of Kynaston and all the unfortunate things that had
happened to her here.

Suddenly, out of the memories of her girlhood, she recollected the
existence of a woman who had been her friend once in the old happy days,
when she had lived with her sister Theodora. It was one of those passing
friendships which come and go for a month or two in one's life.

A pretty, spoilt girl, married four, perhaps five, years ago to a rich
man, a banker; who had taken a fancy to Vera, and had pleased herself by
decking her out in a quaint costume to figure at a carnival party; who
had kissed her rapturously at parting, swearing eternal friendship,
giving her her address in London, and making her promise never to be in
England without going to see her. And then she had gone her way, and had
never come back again the next winter, as she had promised to do; a
letter or two had passed between them, and afterwards Vera had forgotten
her. But somewhere upstairs she must have got her direction still.

It was to this friend she would go; and, turning her back for a time
at least upon Meadowshire and its memories, she would see whether, in
the whirl of London life, she could not crush out the pain at her heart,
and live down the fatal weakness that had led her astray from all the
traditions of her youth, and from that cold and prudent wisdom which had
stood her in good stead for so many years.



CHAPTER XX.

A MORNING WALK.

  And e'en while fashion's brightest arts decoy,
  The heart, distrusting, asks if this be joy.

  Goldsmith.


A bright May morning, cold, it is true, and with a biting wind from the
east--as indeed our English May mornings generally are--but sunny and
cloudless as the heart can desire. On such a morning people do their best
to pretend that it is summer. Crowds turn out into the park, and sit
about recklessly on the iron chairs, or lounge idly by the railings; and
the women-folk, with that fine disregard of what is, when it is
antagonistic of what they wish it to be, don their white cottons and
muslins, and put up their parasols against the sun's rays, and, shivering
inwardly, poor things, openly brave the terrors of rheumatism and
lumbago, and make up their minds that it _shall_ be summer.

The sunblinds are drawn all along the front windows of a house in Park
Lane, and though the gay geraniums and calceolarias in the flower-boxes,
which were planted only yesterday, look already nipped and shrivelled up
with the cold, the house, nevertheless, presents from the exterior a
bright and well-cared-for appearance.

Within the drawing-room are two ladies. One, the mistress of the house,
is seated at the writing-table with her back to the room, scribbling off
invitations for dear life, cards for an afternoon "at-home," at the rate
of six per minute; the other sits idle in a low basket-chair doing
nothing.

There is no sound but the scratching of the quill pen as it flies over
the paper, and the chirping of a bullfinch in a cage in the bow-window.

"What time is it, Vera?"

"A quarter to twelve."

"Almost time to dress; I've only ten more cards to fill up. What are you
going to wear--white?"

Vera shivers. "Look how the dust is flying--it must be dreadfully cold
out--I should like to put on a fur jacket."

"_Do_," says the elder lady, energetically. "It will be original, and
attract attention. Not that you could well be more stared at than you
are."

Vera smiles, and does not answer.

Mrs. Hazeldine goes on with her task.

"There! that's done!" she cries, at last, getting up from the table, and
piling her notes up in a heap on one side of it. "Now, I am at your
orders."

She comes forward into the room--a pretty, dark-eyed, oval-faced woman,
with a figure in which her dressmaker has understood how to supplement
all that nature has but imperfectly carried out. A woman with restless
movements and an ever-ready tongue--a thorough daughter of the London
world she lives in.

Vera leans her head back in her chair, and looks at her. "Cissy," she
says, "I must really go home, I have been with you a month to-day."

"Go home! certainly not, my dear. Don't you know that I have sworn to
find you a husband before the season is out? I must really get you
married, Vera. I have half a mind," she adds, reflectively, as she
smooths down her shining brown hair at the glass, and contemplates, not
ill satisfied, her image there--"I have really half a mind to let you
have the boy if I could manage to spare him."

"Do you think he would make a devoted husband?" asks Vera, with a lazy
smile.

"My dear child, don't be a fool. What is the use of devotion in a
husband? All one wants is a good fellow, who will let one alone. After
all, the boy might not answer. I am afraid, Vera," turning round suddenly
upon her, "I am very much afraid that boy is in love with you; it's
horrid of you to take him from me, because he is so useful, and I really
can't well do without him. I am going to pay him out to-night though: he
is to sit opposite you at dinner; he will only be able to gaze at you."

"That is hard upon us both."

"Pooh! don't waste your time upon him. I shall do better than that for
you; he is an eldest son, it is true, but Sir Charles looks as young as
his son, and is quite as likely to live as long. It is only married women
who can afford the luxury of ineligibles. Go and dress, child."

Half-an-hour later Mrs. Hazeldine and Miss Nevill are to be found upon
two chairs on the broad and shady side of the Row, where a small crowd of
men is already gathered around them.

Vera, coming up a stranger, and self-invited to the house of her old
acquaintance a few weeks ago, had already created a sensation in London.
Her rare beauty, the strange charm of her quiet, listless manner, the
shade of melancholy which had of late imperceptibly crept over her,
aroused a keen admiration and interest in her, even in that city, which
more than all others is satiated with its manifold types of beautiful
women.

There was a rush to get introduced to her; a _furore_ to see her. As she
went through a crowd people whispered her name and made way for her to
pass, staring at her after a fashion which is totally modern and
detestably ill-bred; and yet which, sad token of the _decadence_ of
things in these later days, is not beneath the dignity or the manners
of persons whose breeding is supposed to be beyond dispute.

Already the "new beauty" had been favourably contrasted with the
well-known reigning favourites; and it was the loudly expressed opinion
of more than one-half of the _jeunesse dorée_ of the day that not one of
the others could "hold a candle to her, by Jove!"

Mrs. Hazeldine was delighted. It was she to whom belonged the honour of
bringing this new star into notice; the credit of launching her upon
London society was her own. She found herself courted and flattered and
made up to in a wholly new and delightful manner. The men besieged her
for invitations to her house; the women pressed her to come to theirs. It
was all for Miss Nevill's sake, of course, but, even so, it was very
pleasant, and Mrs. Hazeldine dearly loved the importance of her position.

It came to pass that, whereas she had been somewhat put out at the letter
of her old Roman acquaintance, offering to come and stay with her, and
had been disposed to resent the advent of her self-invited guest as an
infliction, which a few needlessly gushing words in the past had brought
upon herself, she had, in a very short time, discovered that she could
not possibly exist without her darling Vera, and that she would not and
could not let her go back again to her country vicarage.

It was, possibly, what Vera had counted upon. It was pretty certain to
have been either one thing or the other. Either her beauty would arouse
Mrs. Hazeldine's jealousy, and she would be glad to be rid of her as
quickly as possible, or else she would be proud of her, and wish to
retain her as an attraction to her house. Fortunately for Vera, Cissy
Hazeldine, worldly, frivolous, pleasure-loving as she was, was,
nevertheless, utterly devoid of the mean and petty spitefulness which
goes far to disfigure many a better woman's character. She was not
jealous of Vera; on the contrary, she was as unfeignedly proud of her as
though she had created her. Besides, as she said to herself, "Our style
is so different, we are not likely to clash."

When she found that in a month's time Vera's beauty had made her house
the most popular one in London, and that people struggled for her
invitation-cards and prayed to be introduced to her, Mrs. Hazeldine was
at the zenith of her delight and self-importance. If only Vera herself
had been a little more practicable!

"I don't despair of getting you introduced to royalty before the season
is out," she would say, triumphantly.

"I don't want to be introduced to royalty," Vera would answer
indifferently.

"Oh! Vera, how can you be so disloyal? And it's quite wicked too; almost
against Scripture. Honour the King, you know it says somewhere; of course
that means the Prince of Wales too."

"I can honour him very well without being introduced to him," said Vera,
who, however, let me assure you, was filled with feelings of profound
loyalty towards the reigning family.

"But only think what a triumph it would be over those other horrid women
who think themselves at the top of the tree!" Mrs. Hazeldine would urge,
with a curious conglomeration of ideas, sacred and profane.

But Vera was indifferent to the honour of becoming acquainted with his
Royal Highness.

Another of Mrs. Hazeldine's troubles was that she absolutely refused to
be photographed.

"Your portrait might be in every shop window if you chose!" Mrs.
Hazeldine would exclaim, despairingly.

"I may be very depraved, Cissy," Vera would answer, indignantly, "but I
have not yet sunk so low as to desire that every draper's assistant may
have the privilege of buying my likeness for a shilling to stick up on
his mantelshelf, with a tight-rope dancer on one side, and a burlesque
actress on the other!"

"My dear, it is done by every one; and women who are beautiful as you are
ought not to mind being admired."

"But I prefer being admired by my friends only, and by those of my own
class. I have no ambition to expose myself, even in effigy, in a shop
window for the edification of street boys and city clerks."

"Well, you can't help your name having been in _Vanity Fair_ this week!"

"No, and I only wish I could get hold of the man who put it there!" cried
Miss Nevill, viciously; and it is certain that unfortunate literary
person would not have relished the interview.

A "beauty" with such strange and unnatural views was, it must be
confessed, as much of a trial as a triumph to an anxious chaperon.

There was a certain amount of fashionable routine, the daily treadmill
of pleasure, to which, however, Vera submitted readily enough, and even
extracted a good deal of enjoyment out of it. There was the morning
saunter into the Row, the afternoons spent at garden parties or
"at-homes," the evenings filled up with dinner parties, to be followed
almost invariably by balls lasting late into the night. All these things
repeat themselves year after year: they are utter weariness to some of
us, but to her they were still new, and Vera entered into the daily whirl
of the London season with an amount of zest which was almost a surprise
to herself.

Just at first there had been a daily terror upon her, that of meeting Sir
John Kynaston or his brother; but London is a large place, and you may go
out to different houses for many nights running without ever coming
across the friend or the foe whom you desire or dread most to encounter.

After a little while, she forgot to glance hurriedly and fearfully around
her every time she entered a ball-room, or to look up shudderingly each
time the door was opened and a fresh guest announced at a dinner-party.
She never met either of them, nor did the name of Kynaston ever strike
upon her ear.

She told herself that she had forgotten the two brothers, whose fate had
seemed at one time so intimately bound up with her own--the one as well
as the other. They were nothing more to her now--they had passed away out
of her life. Henceforth she had entered upon a new course, in which her
beauty and her mother wit were to exact their full value, but in which
her heart was to count for nothing more. It was to be smothered up within
her. That, together with all the best, and sweetest, and truest part of
her, once awakened for a brief space by the magic touch of love, was now
to be extinguished within her as though they had never been.

Meanwhile Vera enjoys herself.

She looks happy enough now as she sits by her friend's side in the park,
with a little knot of admirers about her; not taking very much trouble to
talk to them, indeed, but smiling serenely from one to the other, letting
herself be talked to and amused, with just a word here and there, to show
them she is listening to what they say. It is, perhaps, the secret of her
success that she is so thoroughly indifferent to it all. It matters so
little to her whether they come or go; there is so little eagerness about
her, so perfect an _insouciance_ of manner. Other women lay themselves
out to attract and to be admired; Vera only sits still, and waits with a
certain queenliness of manner for the worship that is laid at her feet,
and which she receives as her due.

Behind her, with his hand on the back of her chair, stands a young fellow
of about two or three and twenty; he does not speak to her much, nor join
in the merry, empty chatter that is going on around her; but it is easy
to see by the way he looks down at her, by the fashion in which he
watches her slightest movement, that Vera exercises no ordinary influence
over him.

He is a tall, slight-figured boy, with very fair yellow hair and delicate
features; his blue eyes are frank and pleasant, but his mouth is a trifle
weak and vacillating, and the lips are too sensitively cut for strength
of character, whilst his chest is too narrow for strength of body. He is
carefully dressed, and wears a white, heavy-scented flower in his coat,
a flower which, five minutes ago, he had ineffectually attempted to
transfer to Miss Nevill's dress; but Vera had only gently pushed back his
hand. "My dear boy, pray keep your gardenia; a flower in one's dress is
such a nuisance, it is always tumbling out."

Denis Wilde, "the boy," as Mrs. Hazeldine called him with a flush on his
fair face, had put it back quietly in his button-hole, too well bred to
show the pain he felt by flinging it, as he would have liked to do, over
the railing, to be trampled under the feet of the horses.

The little group kept its place for some time, the two well-dressed and
good-looking women sitting down, the two or three idlers who stood in
front of them gossiping about nothing at all--last night's ball, to-day's
plans, a little bit of scandal about one passer-by, somebody's rumoured
engagement, somebody else's reported elopement. Denis Wilde stood behind
Vera's chair and listened to it all, the well-known familiar chatter
of a knot of London idlers. There was nothing new or interesting or
entertaining about it. Only a string of names, some of which were strange
to him, but most of which were familiar; and always some little story,
ill-natured or harmless as the case might be, about each name that was
mentioned. And Vera listened, smiling, assenting, but only half
attentive, with her eyes dreamily fixed upon the long procession of
riders passing ever ceaselessly to and fro along the ride.

Suddenly Denis Wilde felt a sudden movement of the chair beneath his
hand. Vera had started violently.

"Here comes Sir John Kynaston," the man before her was saying to his
companion. "What a time it is since he has shown himself; he looks as if
he had had a bad illness."

"Some woman jilted him, I've heard," answered the other man: "some girl
down in the country. People say, Miss Nevill, he is going to die of that
old-fashioned complaint, which you certainly will not believe in, a
broken heart! Poor old boy, he looks as if he had been buried, and had
come up again for a breath of air!"

Vera followed the direction of their eyes. Sir John was walking slowly
towards them; he was thin and careworn; he looked aged beyond all belief.
He walked slowly, as though it were an effort to him, with his eyes upon
the ground. He had not seen her yet; in another minute he would be within
a couple of yards of her. It was next to impossible that he could avoid
seeing her, the centre, as she was, of that noisy, chattering group.

A sort of despair seized her. How was she to meet him--this man whom she
had so cruelly treated? She could _not_ meet him; she felt that it was an
impossibility. Like an imprisoned bird that seeks to escape, she looked
about instinctively from side to side. What possible excuse could she
frame? In what direction could she fly to avoid the glance of reproach
that would smite her to the heart.

Suddenly Denis Wilde bent down over her.

"Miss Nevill, there goes a _Dachshund_, exactly like the one you wanted;
come quickly, and we shall catch him up. He ran away down here."

She sprang up and turned after him; a path leading away from the crowded
Row, towards the comparatively empty park at the back, opened out
immediately behind her chair.

Young Wilde strode rapidly along it before her, and Vera followed him
blindly and thankfully.

After a few minutes he stopped and turned round.

"Where is--the dog--wasn't it a dog, you said? Where is it?" She was
white and trembling.

"There is no dog," he answered, not looking at her. "I--I saw you wanted
to get away for a minute. You will forgive me, won't you?"

Vera looked at him with a sudden earnestness. The watchfulness which had
seen her distress, the ready tact which had guessed at her desire to
escape, and had so promptly suggested the manner of it, touched her
suddenly. She put forth her hand gently and almost timidly.

"Thank you," she said, simply. "I did not imagine you were so clever--or
so kind."

The boy blushed deeply with pleasure. He did not know her trouble, but
the keen eye of love had guessed at its existence. It had been easy for
him who watched her every look, who knew every shade and every line of
her face, to tell that she was in distress, to interpret her pallor and
her trembling terror aright.

"You don't want to go back?" he asked.

"Oh, no, I cannot go back! Besides, I am tired; it is time to go home."

"Stay here, then, and I will call Mrs. Hazeldine."

He left her standing alone upon the grass, and went back to the crowded
path. Presently he returned with her friend.

"My dear Vera, what is the matter? The boy says you have such a headache!
I am so sorry, and I wouldn't let any of those chattering fools come back
to lunch. Why, you look quite pale, child! Will it be too much for you to
have the boy, because we will send him away, too, if you like?"

But Vera turned round and smiled upon the boy.

"Oh, no, let him come, certainly; but let us go home, all three of us at
once, if you don't mind."

The thoughtfulness that had kept her secret for her, even from the eyes
of the woman who was supposed to be her intimate friend, surely deserved
its reward.

They walked home slowly together across the park, and, when Vera came
down to luncheon, a white gardenia had somehow or other found its way to
the bosom of her dress.

That was Denis Wilde's reward.



CHAPTER XXI.

MAURICE'S INTERCESSION.

  Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.

  B. Disraeli, "Coningsby."


Two or three days later the east wind was still blowing, and the chilled
sunshine still feebly shining down upon the nipped lilac and laburnum
blossoms. The garden at Walpole Lodge was shorn of half its customary
beauty, yet to Helen Romer, pacing slowly up and down its gravel walks,
it had never possibly presented a fairer appearance. For Mrs. Romer had
won her battle. All that she had waited for so long and striven for so
hard was at length within her grasp. Her grandfather was dead, his money
had been all left to her, her engagement to Captain Kynaston was an
acknowledged fact, and she herself was staying as an honoured and welcome
guest in her future mother-in-law's house. Everything in the present and
the future seemed to smile upon her, and yet there were drawbacks--as are
there not in most earthly delights?--to the full enjoyment of her
happiness.

For instance, there was that unreasonable and unaccountable codicil to
her grandfather's will, of which no one had been able to discern either
the sense or the meaning, and which stated that, should his beloved
grand-daughter, Helen Romer, be still unmarried within two months of the
date of his death, the whole of the previous bequests and legacies were
to be revoked and cancelled, and, with the exception of five thousand
pounds which she would retain, the whole bulk of his fortune was to
devolve upon the Crown, for the special use of the pensioners of
Greenwich and Chelsea Hospitals.

Why such an extraordinary clause had been added to the old man's will it
was difficult to say. Possibly he feared that his grand-daughter might be
tempted to remain unmarried, in order that she might the more freely
squander her newly-acquired fortune in selfish pleasures; possibly he
desired to ensure her future by the speedy shelter and support of a
husband's name and authority, or perhaps he only hoped at his heart that
she would be unable to fulfil his condition; and, whilst his memory would
be left free from blame towards his daughter's orphaned child, his money
might go away from her by her own fault, and enrich the institutions of
his country at the expense of the grand-daughter, whom he had always
disliked.

Be that as it may, it was sufficient to place Helen in a very awkward and
uncomfortable position. She had not only to claim Maurice's promised
troth to her, but she had also to urge on him an almost immediate
marriage; the task was a thankless and most unpleasant one.

Besides that, there was the existence of a certain little French vicomte
which caused Mrs. Romer not a little anxiety. Now, if ever, was the time
when she had reason to dread his re-appearance with those fatal letters
with which he had once threatened to spoil her life should she ever
attempt to marry again.

But her grandfather had died and had left her his money, and her
engagement and approaching marriage to another man was no secret, yet
still Monsieur Le Vicomte D'Arblet made no sign, and gave forth no token
of his promised vengeance.

Helen dared not flatter herself that he was dead, but she did hope,
and hoped rightly, that he was not in England, and had not heard of
the change in her fortunes. She had been afraid to make any inquiries
concerning him; such a step might only excite suspicion, and defeat her
own object of remaining hidden from him. If only she could be safely
married before he heard of her again--all, she thought, might yet be well
with her. Of what use, then, would be his vengeance? for she did not
think it likely he could be so cruel as to wreak an idle and profitless
revenge upon her after she herself and her fortune were beyond his power.

Perhaps, had she known that her enemy had been on a distant journey to
Constantinople, from which he was now returning, and that every hour she
lived brought him nearer and nearer to her, she would have been less easy
in her mind concerning him. As it was, she consoled herself by thinking
in how short a time her marriage would put her out of his power, and
hoped, for the rest, that things would all turn out right for her.
Nevertheless, strive how she would, she could not quite put away the
dread of it out of her mind--it was an anxiety.

And then there was Maurice himself. She had known, of course, for long,
how slight was her hold upon her lover's heart, but never had he appeared
so cold, so unloving, so full of apathetic indifference towards her as he
had seemed to be during the few days since he had arrived at his mother's
house. His every word and look, the very change in his voice when he
turned from his mother to her, told her, as plainly as though he had
spoken it, that she was forcing him into a marriage that was hateful and
repulsive to him, and which duty alone made him submit to. However little
pride a woman may retain, such a position must always bring a certain
amount of bitterness with it.

To Helen it was gall and wormwood, yet she was all the more determined
upon keeping him. She said to herself that she had toiled, and waited,
and striven for him for too long to relinquish him now that the victory
was hers at length.

Poor Helen, with all her good looks, and all her many attractions, she
had been so unfortunate with this one man whom she loved! She had always
gone the wrong way to work with him.

Even now she could not let him alone; she was foolishly jealous and
suspicious.

He had come to her, all smarting and bleeding still with the sacrifice
he had made of his heart to his duty. He had shut the woman he loved
determinedly out of his thoughts, and had set his face resolutely to do
his duty to the woman whom he seemed destined to marry. Even now a little
softness, a little womanly gentleness and sympathy, and, above all, a
wise forbearance from probing into his still open wounds, might have won
a certain amount of gratitude and affection from him. But Helen was
unequal to this. She only drove him wild with causeless and senseless
jealousy, and goaded him almost to madness by endless suspicions and
irritating cross-questioning.

It is difficult to know what she expected more of him. He slept under
the same roof with her, he dined at his mother's table, and spent the
evenings religiously in her society. She could not well expect to keep
him also at her side all day long; and yet his daily visits to town,
amounting usually to between three and four hours of absence, were a
constant source of annoyance and disquiet to her. Where did he go? What
did he do with himself? Whom did he see in these diurnal expeditions into
London? She wore herself into a fever with her perpetual effort to fathom
these things.

Even now she is fretting and fuming because he has promised to be home to
luncheon, and he is twenty minutes late.

She paces impatiently up and down the garden. Lady Kynaston opens the
French window and calls to her from the house:

"Come, my dear, lunch is on the table; are you not coming in?"

"I had rather wait for Maurice, please; do sit down without me," she
answers, with the irritation of a spoilt child. Lady Kynaston closes the
window. "Oh, these lovers!" she groans to herself, somewhat impatiently,
as she sits down alone to the well-furnished luncheon-table; but she
bears it pretty composedly because Helen has her grandfather's money, and
is to bring her son wealth as well as love, and Lady Kynaston is not at
all above being glad of it. One can stand little faults of manner and
temper from a daughter-in-law, who is an heiress, which one would be
justly indignant at were she a pauper.

A sound of wheels turning in at the lodge-gates--it is Maurice's hansom.

Helen hurries forward to meet him in the hall; Captain Kynaston is
handing a lady out of the hansom; Helen peers at her suspiciously.

"I am bringing you ladies a friend to lunch," says Maurice, gaily, and
Mrs. Romer's face clears when she sees that it is Beatrice Miller.

"Oh, Beatrice, it is you! I am delighted to see you! Go in to the
dining-room, you will find Lady Kynaston. Maurice," drawing him back a
minute, "how late you are again! What have you been doing?"

"I waited whilst Miss Miller put her bonnet on."

"Why, where did you meet her?"

"I met her at her mother's, where I went to call. Have you any
objection?" He looked at her almost defiantly as he answered her
questions; it was intolerable to him that she should put him through
such a catechism.

"You can't have been there all the morning," she continued, suspiciously;
unable or unwilling, perhaps, to notice his rising displeasure. "Where
did you go first?"

Maurice bit his lip, but controlled himself with an effort.

"My dear child," he said, lightly, "one can't sell out of the army, or
prepare for the holy estate of matrimony, without a certain amount of
business on one's hands. Suppose now we go in to lunch." She stepped
aside and let him pass her into the dining-room.

"He is shuffling again," she said to herself, angrily; "that was no
answer to my question. Is it possible that he sees _her_? But no, what
folly; if she is at Sutton, how can he get at her?"

"Oh, Helen," cried out Beatrice to her from the table as she entered,
"you and Lady Kynaston are positively out of the world this season. You
know none of the gossip."

"I go nowhere, of course, now; my grandfather's death is so recent. I
have so many preparations to make just now; and dear Lady Kynaston is
good enough to shut herself up on my account."

"Exactly; you are a couple of recluses," cried Beatrice. "Now, I daresay
you will never guess who is the new beauty whom all the world is talking
about; no other than our friend Vera Nevill. She is creating a perfect
sensation!"

"Indeed!" politely, but with frigid unconcern, from Lady Kynaston.

"Yes; I assure you there is a regular rage about her. Oh, how stupid I
am! Perhaps I ought not to have mentioned her, Lady Kynaston, for of
course she did not behave very well to Sir John, as we all know; but now
that is all over, isn't it? and everybody is wild about her beauty."

"I am glad to hear that Miss Nevill is prospering in any way," said her
ladyship, stiffly. "I owe her no ill-will, poor girl."

Helen Romer is looking at Maurice Kynaston; he has not said one single
word, nor has he raised his eyes once from his plate; but a deep flush
has overspread his handsome face at the sound of Vera's name.

"_That_ is where he goes," said Helen, to herself. "I knew it; he has
seen her, and he loves her still."

The conversation drifted on to other matters. Beatrice passed all the
gossip and scandal of the town under review for Lady Kynaston's benefit;
presently Maurice roused himself, and joined in the talk. But Mrs. Romer
uttered not a word; she sat in her place with a thunder-cloud upon her
brow until the luncheon was over; then, as they rose from the table, she
called her lover to her side.

"I want to speak to you," she said, and detained him until the others had
left the room.

"You knew that Vera Nevill was in town, and you have seen her!" she burst
forth impetuously.

"If I had seen her, I do not know that it would signify, would it?" he
answered, calmly.

"Not signify? when you knew that it was for _your_ sake that she threw
over John, because----"

"Be silent, Helen, you have no right to say that, and no authority for
such a statement," he said, interrupting her hotly.

"Do you suppose you can deceive me? Did not everybody see that she could
not keep her eyes off you? What is the use of denying it? You have seen
her probably; you have been with her to-day."

"As it happens, I have _not_ been with her either to-day or any day; nor
did I know she was in town until Beatrice Miller told us so just now."

"You have not seen her?"

"No, I have not."

"I don't believe you!" she answered, angrily. Now, no man likes to be
given the lie direct even by a lady; and Maurice was a man who was
scrupulously truthful, and proud of his veracity; he lost his temper
fairly.

"I have never told you a lie yet," he began furiously; "and if you think
so, it is time----"

"Maurice! Maurice!" she cried, frantically, stopping the outspoken words
upon his lips, and seeing in one minute that she had gone too far. "My
darling, forgive me; I did not mean to say it. Yes, of course, I believe
you; don't say anything unkind to me, for pity's sake. You know how much
I love you; kiss me, darling. No, Maurice, I won't let you go till you
kiss me, and say you forgive your foolish, jealous little Helen!"

It was the old story over again; angry reproaches--bitter words--insults
upon her side; to be succeeded, the minute he turned round upon her, by
wild cries of regret and entreaties for forgiveness, and by the pleading
of that love which he valued so little.

She drove him wild with anger and indignation; but she never would let
him go--no, never, however much he might strain against the chain by
which she held him.

The quarrel was patched up again; he stooped and kissed her. A man must
kiss a lady when she asks him. How, indeed, is he to refuse to do so? A
woman's kisses are the roses of life--altogether sweet, and lovely, and
precious. No man can say he dislikes a rose, nor refuse so harmless and
charming a gift when it is freely offered to him without absolute
churlishness. Maurice could not well deny her the embrace for which her
upturned lips had pleaded. He kissed her, indeed; but it will be easily
understood that there was very little spontaneity of affection in that
kiss.

"Now let me go," he said, putting her from him gently but coldly; "I want
to speak to my mother."

The two younger ladies wandered out into the garden, whilst Maurice
sought his mother's room.

"Mother, I have been to see John this morning. I am afraid he is really
very ill," he said, gravely.

Lady Kynaston shrugged her shoulders. "He is like a baby over that
foolish affair," she said, impatiently. "He does not seem able to get
over it; why does he shut himself up in his rooms? If he were to go out
a little more----"

"He has been out; it is that that has made him ill. He went out a few
mornings ago--the wind was very cold; he says it is that which gave him a
chill. But, from what he says, I fancy he saw, or he thinks he saw, Miss
Nevill."

Lady Kynaston sat at her davenport with all the litter of her daily
correspondence before her; her son stood up by the mantelpiece, leaning
his back against it, and looked away out of window at the figures of
Beatrice and his future wife sauntering up and down the garden walks. She
could not well see his face as he spoke these last words.

"Tiresome woman!" cried Lady Kynaston, angrily; "there is no end to the
trouble she causes. John ought to be thankful he is well rid of her. Did
you hear what Beatrice Miller said at lunch about her? I call it shocking
bad taste, her coming up to town and flirting and flaunting about under
poor John's nose--heartless coquette! Creating 'a sensation,' indeed!
That is one of those horrible American expressions that are the fashion
just now!"

"It is no wonder she is admired," said Maurice, dreamily: "she is very
beautiful."

"I wish to goodness she would keep out of John's way. Where did he see
her?"

"It was in the Row, I think, and, from what he said, he only fancied he
saw her back, walking away. I told him, of course, it could not be her,
because I thought she was down at Sutton; but, after what Beatrice told
us at lunch, I make no doubt that it was her, and that John really did
see her."

"I should have thought that your brother would have had more spirit than
to sit down and whine over a woman in that way," said her ladyship,
sharply; "it is really contemptible."

"But if he is ill in body as well as in mind, poor fellow?"

"Pooh! fiddlesticks! I am quite sure, if Helen jilted you, you would bear
it a great deal better--losing the money and all--than he does."

Maurice smiled.

"That is very possible; but a man can't help his disposition, and John
has been utterly shattered by it."

"Well, I am sorry for him, of course; but I confess that I don't see that
anybody can do anything for him."

And then Maurice was silent for a minute. God only knew what passed
through his soul at that minute--what agonies of self-renunciation, what
martyrdom of all that makes life pleasant and dear to a man! It is
certain his mother did not know it.

"I think," he said, after a minute, and only a slight harshness in his
voice marked the internal struggle that the words were to cost him--"I
think, mother, _you_ might do a great deal for him. Miss Nevill is in
town. Could you not see her?"

"I see her! What on earth for?"

"If you were to tell her how ill John is, how desperately he feels her
treatment of him--how----"

"Stop, stop, my dear! You cannot possibly suppose that I am going down
upon my knees to entreat Miss Nevill to marry my son after she has thrown
him over!"

"It is no question of going on your knees, mother. A few words would
suffice to show her the misery she is causing to John, and if those few
words would restore his lost happiness----"

"How can I tell that anything I can say would influence her? I suppose
she had good reasons for throwing him over. She cared for some one else,
I suppose, or, at all events, she did not care for him."

"I am quite certain, on the contrary, that she had a very sincere
affection for my brother; and, as to the some one else, I do not think
that will prevent her returning to him. Oh, mother!" he cried, with a
sudden passion, "the world is full of miserable misunderstandings and
mistakes. For God's sake, let us try to put some of its blunders right!
Do not let any poor, mean feelings of false pride stand in our way if we
can make one single life happy!"

She looked up at him, wondering a little at his earnestness. It did not
strike her at the minute that his interest in Vera was unusual, but only
that his affection for his brother was stronger than she imagined it to
be. "You know," she said, "I do not want things to come right in that
way. I do not want John to marry. I want the old place to come to you and
your children; and now that John has agreed to let you and Helen live
there----"

He waved his hand impatiently. "And you know, mother dear, that such
desires are unlawful. John is the eldest, and I will never move a step to
take his birthright from him. To stand in the way of his marriage for
such a cause would be a crime. Is it not better that I should speak
plainly to you, dear? As to my living at Kynaston, I think it highly
unlikely that I should do so in any case, much as you and Helen seem to
wish it. But that has nothing to do with John's affairs. Promise me,
little mother, that you will try and set that right by seeing Miss
Nevill?"

"I do not suppose I should do any good," she answered, with visible
reluctance.

"Never mind; you can but try."

"You can't expect me to go and call upon her for such a purpose, nor
speak to her, without John's authority."

"You might ask her to come here, or go to some house where you will meet
her naturally in public."

"Yes, that would be best; perhaps she will be at Lady Cloverdale's ball
next week."

"It is easy, at all events, to ensure her an invitation to it; ask
Beatrice Miller to get her one."

"Oh, yes; that is easy enough. Oh, dear me, Maurice, you always manage to
get your own way with me; but you have given me a dreadfully hard task
this time."

"As if a woman of your known tact and _savoir faire_ was not capable of
any hard and impossible task!" answered her son, smiling, as he bent and
kissed her soft white face.

The gentle flattery pleased her. The old lady sat smiling happily to
herself, with her hands idle before her, for some minutes after he had
left her.

How dear he was to her, how good, how upright, how thoroughly generous
too, and unselfish to think so much of his brother's troubles just now,
in the midst of all his own happiness.

She got up and went to the window, and watched him as he strolled across
the garden to join the ladies, smiling and kissing her hand to him when
he looked back and saw her.

"Dear fellow, I hope he will be happy!" she said to herself, turning away
with a half sigh. And then suddenly something brought back the ball at
Shadonake to her recollection. There flashed back into her memory a
certain scene in a cool, dimly-lit conservatory: two people whispering
together under a high-swung Chinese lamp, and a background of dark-leaved
shrubs behind them.

She had been puzzled that night. There had been something going on that
she had not quite understood. And now again that feeling of unsatisfied
comprehension came back to her. For the first time it struck her
painfully that the son whom she idolized so much--whose life and
character had been her one study and her one delight ever since the day
of his birth--was nevertheless a riddle to her. That the secret of his
inner self was as much hidden from her--his mother--as though she had
been the merest stranger; that the life she had striven so closely to
entwine with her own was nothing after all but a separate existence, in
the story of whose soul she herself had no part. He was a man struggling
single-handed in all the heat and turmoil of the battle of life, and she,
nothing but a poor, weak old woman, standing feebly aside, powerless to
help or even to understand the creature to whom she had given birth.

There fell a tear or two down upon her wrinkled little hands as she
thought of it. She could not understand him; there was something in his
life she could not fathom. Oh, what did it all mean?

Alas, sooner or later, is not that what comes to every mother concerning
the child she loves best?



CHAPTER XXIL.

MR. PRYME'S VISITORS.

  For courage mounteth with occasion.

  Shakespeare, "King John."


Mr. Herbert Pryme stood by a much ink-stained and littered table in his
chambers in the Temple, with his hands in his trousers pockets, whistling
a slow and melancholy tune.

It was Mr. Pryme's habit to whistle when he was dejected or perplexed;
and the whistling generally partook of the mournful condition of his
feelings. Indeed, everything that this young man did was of a ponderous
and solemn nature; there was always the inner consciousness of the
dignity of the Bar vested in his own person, to be discerned in his outer
bearing. Even in the strictest seclusion of the, alas! seldom invaded
privacy of his chambers Mr. Pryme never forgot that he was a
barrister-at-law.

But when this young gentleman was ill at ease within himself he was in
the habit of whistling. He also was given to the thrusting of his hands
into his pockets. The more unhappy he was, the more he whistled, and the
deeper he stuffed in his hands.

Just now, to all appearances, he was very unhappy indeed.

The air he had selected for his musical self-refreshment was the lively
and slightly vulgar one of "Tommy make Room for your Uncle;" but let
anybody just try to whistle that same vivacious tune to the time of the
Dead March in "Saul," and with a lingering and plaintive emphasis upon
each note, with "linked sweetness long drawn out," and then say whether
the gloomiest of dirges would not be festive indeed in comparison.

Thus did Herbert Pryme whistle it as he looked down upon the piles of
legal documents heaped up together upon his table.

All of them meant work, but none of them meant money. For Herbert was
fain to accept the humble position of "devil" to a great legal light who
occupied the floor below him, and who considered, and perhaps rightly,
that he was doing the young man above him, who had been sent up from the
country with a letter of introduction to him from a second cousin, a
sufficient and inestimable benefit in allowing him to do his dirty work
gratis.

It was all very useful to him, doubtless, but it was not remunerative;
and Herbert wanted money badly.

"Oh, if I could only reckon upon a couple of hundred a year," he sighed,
half aloud to himself, "I might have a chance of winning her! It seems
hard that heaps of these fellows can make hundreds a week by a short
speech, or a few strokes of the pen, that cost them no labour and little
forethought, whilst I, with all my hard work, can make nothing! What
uphill work it is! Not that the Bar is not a fine profession; quite the
finest there is," for not even to himself would Herbert Pryme decry the
legal muse whom he worshipped; "but, I suppose, like every other
profession, it is overstocked; there are too many struggling for the same
prizes. The fact is, that England is over-populated. Now, if a law were
to be passed compelling one-half of the adult males in this country to
remain in a state of celibacy for the space of fifteen years----" but
here he stopped short in his soliloquy and smiled; for was not the one
desire of his life at present to marry Beatrice Miller immediately? And
how was the extra population to be stayed if every one of the doomed
quota of marriageable males were of the same mind as himself?

Presently Mr. Pryme sauntered idly to the window, and stood looking
drearily out of it, still whistling, of course.

The prospect was not a lively one. His chambers looked out upon a little
square, stone-flagged court, with a melancholy-looking pump in the centre
of it. There was an arched passage leading away to one side, down which a
distant footstep echoed drearily now and then, and a side glimpse of the
empty road at the other end, beyond the corner of the opposite houses.
Now and then some member of the learned profession passed rapidly across
the small open space with the pre-occupied air of a man who has not a
minute to spare, or a clerk, bearing the official red bag, ran hastily
along the passage; for the rest, the London sparrows had it pretty much
to themselves. As things were, Mr. Pryme envied the sparrows, who were
ready clothed by Providence, and had no rates and taxes to pay, as well
as the clerks, who, at all events, had plenty to do and no time to
soliloquize upon the hardness and hollowness of life. To have plenty of
brains, and an indefinite amount of spare time to use them in; to desire
ardently to hasten along the road towards fortune and happiness, and to
be forced to sit idly by whilst others, duller-witted, perchance, and
with less capacity for work, are amassing wealth under your very
nose--when this is achieved by sheer luck, or good interest, or any other
of those inadequate causes which get people on in life independent of
talent and industry--that is what makes a radical of a man. This is what
causes him to dream unwholesome dreams about equality and liberty, about
a republic, where there shall be no more principalities and powers, where
plutocracy, as well as aristocracy, shall be unregarded, and where every
good man and true shall rise on his own merits, and on none other.

Oh, happy and impossible Arcadia! You must wait for the millennium, my
friend, before your aspirations shall come to pass. Wait till jealousy,
and selfishness, and snobbism--that last and unconquerable dragon--shall
be destroyed out of the British heart, then, and only then, when jobbery,
and interest, and mammon-worship shall be abolished; then will men be
honoured for what they are, and not for what they seem to be.

Something of all this passed through our friend's jaundiced mind as he
contemplated those homely and familiar little birds, born and bred and
smoke-dried in all the turmoil of the City's heart, who ruffled their
feathers and plumed their wings with contented chirpings upon the dusty
flags of the little courtyard.

Things were exceptionally bad with Herbert Pryme just now. His exchequer
was low--had never been lower--and his sweetheart was far removed out of
his reach. Beatrice had duly come up with her parents to the family
mansion in Eaton Square for the London season, but although he had, it is
true, the satisfaction, such as it was, of breathing the same air as she
did, she was far more out of his reach in town than she had been in the
country. As long as she was at Shadonake Mr. Pryme had always been able
to run down to his excellent friend, the parson of Tripton, and once
there, it had been easy to negotiate a surreptitious meeting with
Beatrice. The fields and the lanes are everybody's property. If Tom and
Maria are caught love-making at the stile out of the wood, and they both
swear that the meeting was purely accidental, I don't see how any one is
to prove that it was premeditated; nor can any parents, now that it is no
longer the fashion to keep grown women under lock and key, prevent their
daughters from going out in the country occasionally unattended, nor
forbid strange young men from walking along the Queen's highway in the
same direction.

But remove your daughter to London, and the case is altered at once. To
keep a girl who goes out a great deal in the whirl of London society out
of the way of a man who goes out very little, who is not in the inner
circle of town life, and is not in the same set as herself, is the
easiest thing in the world.

So Mrs. Miller found it. She kept Beatrice hard at work at the routine of
dissipation. Not an hour of her time was unoccupied, not a minute of her
day unaccounted for; and, of course, she was never alone--it is not yet
the fashion for young girls to dance about London by themselves--her
mother, as a matter of course, was always with her.

As a natural sequence, the lovers had a hard time of it. Beatrice had
been six weeks in London, and Herbert, beyond catching sight of her once
or twice as she was driven past in her mother's carriage down Bond
Street, or through the crowd in the Park, had never seen her at all.

Mrs. Miller was congratulating herself upon the success of her tactics;
she flattered herself that her daughter was completely getting over that
unlucky fancy for the penniless and briefless barrister. Beatrice gave no
sign; she appeared perfectly satisfied and contented, and seemed to be
enjoying herself thoroughly, and to be troubled by no love-sick
hankerings after her absent swain.

"She has forgotten him," said Mrs. Miller, to herself.

But the mother did not take into account that indomitable spirit and
stubborn determination in her own character which had served to carry out
successfully all the schemes of her life, and which she had probably
transmitted to her child.

In Beatrice's head, under its short thick thatch of dark rough hair, and
in her sturdily-built little frame, there lurked the tenacity of a
bulldog. Once she had taken an idea firmly into her mind, Beatrice Miller
would never relinquish it until she had got her own way. Herbert, in
the dingy solitude of his untempting chambers, might despair and look
upon life and its aims as a hopeless enigma. Beatrice did not despair at
all. She only bided her time.

One day, if she waited for it patiently, the opportunity would come to
her, and when it came she would not be slow to make use of it. It came to
her in the shape of a morning visit from Captain Maurice Kynaston.

"Come down and see my mother," Maurice had said to her; "she has not seen
you for a long while. I am just going back to Walpole Lodge to lunch."

"I should like to come very much. You have no objection, I suppose,
mamma?"

No; Mrs. Miller could have no possible objection. Lady Kynaston was
amongst her oldest and most respected friends; under whose house could
Beatrice be safer? And even Maurice, as an escort, engaged to be married
so shortly as he was known to be, was perfectly unobjectionable.

Beatrice went, and, as we have seen, lunched at Walpole Lodge. She had
told her mother not to expect her till late in the afternoon, as, in all
probability, Lady Kynaston would drive her into town and would drop her
in Eaton Square at the end of her drive. Mrs. Miller, to whose watchful
maternal mind the Temple and Kew appeared to be in such totally different
directions that they presented no connecting suggestions, agreed,
unsuspiciously, not to expect her daughter back until after six o'clock.

In this way Beatrice secured the whole afternoon to herself to do what
she liked with it. She was not slow to make use of it. There was all
the pluck of the Esterworths in her veins, together with all the
determination and energy which had raised her father's family from
a race of shopkeepers to take their place amongst gentlemen.

As soon as Captain Kynaston joined the two ladies in the garden at
Walpole Lodge after luncheon Beatrice requested him to order a hansom to
be fetched for her.

"Why should you hurry away?" said Maurice, politely. "My mother will take
you back to town in the carriage if you will wait."

Helen was stooping over the flower-beds, gathering some violets. Beatrice
stepped closer to Maurice.

"Don't say a word, there's a good fellow, but get me the
hansom--and--and--please don't mention it at home."

Then Maurice, who was no tyro in such matters, understood that it was
expected of him that he should ask no questions, but do what he was told
and hold his tongue.

The sequence of which proceedings was, that a hansom cab drew up at the
far corner of the little stone-flagged court in the Temple between four
and five that afternoon.

Mr. Pryme was no longer by the window when it did so, so that he was
totally unprepared for the visitor, whose trembling and twice-repeated
tap at his door he answered somewhat impatiently--

"Come in, and be d----d to you, and don't stand rapping at that door all
day."

The people, as a rule, who solicited admittance to his chambers were
either the boy from the legal light below, who came to ask whether the
papers were ready that had been sent up this morning, or else they were
smiling and sleek-faced tradesmen who washed their hands insinuatingly
whilst they requested that Mr. Pryme would be kind enough to settle that
little outstanding account.

Either of these visitors were equally unwelcome, which must be some
excuse for the roughness of Mr. Pryme's language.

The door was softly pushed ajar.

"Now, then--come in, can't you; who the deuce are you--_Beatrice_!"

Enter Miss Miller, smiling.

"Oh, fie, Herbert! what naughty words, sir."

"Beatrice, is it possible that it is you! Where is your mother? Are you
alone?" looking nervously round at the door, whilst he caught her
outstretched hand.

"Yes, I am quite alone; don't be very shocked. I know I am a horrid, bold
girl to come all by myself to a man's chambers; it's dreadful, isn't it!
Oh, what would people say of it if they knew--why, even _you_ look
horrified! But oh, Herbert, I did want to see you so. I was determined to
get at you somehow--and now I am here for a whole hour; I have managed it
beautifully--no one will ever find out where I have been. Mamma thinks I
am driving with Lady Kynaston!"

And then she sat down and took off her veil, and told him all about it.

She had got at her lover, and she felt perfectly happy and secure,
sitting there with his arm round her waist and her hand in his. Not so
Herbert. He was pleased, of course, to see her, and called her by a
thousand fond names, and he admired her courage and her spirit for
breaking through the conventional trammels of her life in order to come
to him; but he was horribly nervous all the same. Supposing that boy were
to come in from below, or the smiling tradesman, or, still worse, if the
great Q.C. were to catch a glimpse of her as she went out, and recognize
her from having met her in society, where would Miss Miller's reputation
be then?

"It is very imprudent of you--most rash and foolish," he kept on
repeating; but he was glad to see her all the same, and kissed her
between every other word.

"Now, don't waste any more time spooning," says Beatrice, with decision,
drawing herself a little farther from him on the hard leather sofa. "An
hour soon goes, and I have plenty to say to you. Herbert," with great
solemnity, "_I mean to elope with you!_"

Herbert gives an irrepressible start.

"_Now!_ this minute?" he exclaims, in some dismay, and reflects swiftly
that, just now he possesses exactly three pounds seven and sixpence in
ready money.

"No; don't be a goose; not now, because I haven't any clothes." Herbert
breathes more freely. "But some day, very soon, before the end of the
season."

"But, my pet, you are not of age," objects her lover; whilst sundry
clauses in the laws concerning the marriages of minors without the
consent of their parents pass hurriedly through his brain.

"What do I care about my age?" says Beatrice, with the recklessness of an
impetuous woman bent upon having her own way. "Of course, I don't wish to
do anything disreputable, or to make a scandal, but mamma is driving me
to it by never allowing me to see you, and forbidding you to come to the
house, and by encouraging all sorts of men whom she wants me to marry."

"Ah! And these men, do they make love to you?" The instinct of the lover
rises instantly superior to the instinct of legal prudence within him.
"That is hard for me to bear."

"Now, Herbert, don't be a fool!" cries Beatrice, jumping up and making a
grimace at herself in the dusty glass over his mantelpiece. "Do I look
like a girl whom men would make love to? Am I not too positively hideous?
Oh, you needn't shake your head and look indignant. Of course I am ugly,
everybody but you thinks so. Of course it's not me, myself, but because
papa is rich, and they think I shall have money. Oh, what a curse this
money is!"

"I think the want of it a far greater one," says Herbert, ruefully.

"At any rate," continues Beatrice, "I am determined to put an end to this
state of things; we must take the law into our own hands."

"Am I to wait for you in a carriage and pair at the corner of Eaton
Square in the middle of the night?" inquires Herbert, grimly.

"No; don't be foolish; people don't do things now-a-days in the way our
grandmothers did. I shall go to morning service one day at some out
of-the-way church, where you will meet me with a licence in your pocket;
it will be the simplest thing in the world."

"And afterwards?"

"Afterwards I shall go home to lunch."

"And what am I to do?"

"Oh! you will come back here, I suppose."

"I don't think that will be very amusing," objects the bridegroom elect,
dubiously.

"No; but then we shall be really married, and when we know that no one
can part us, we shan't mind waiting; and then, some day, after about six
months or so, I shall confess to papa, and there will be a terrible
scene, ending in tears on my part, and in forgiveness on the part of my
parents. Once the deed is done, you see, they will be forced to make the
best of it; and, of course, they will not allow us to starve. I think it
is a very ingenious plan. What do you think of it, Herbert? You don't
look very much delighted at the idea."

"I don't think that I should play a very noble part in such a scheme as
that. Dearly as I love you, Beatrice, I do not think I could consent to
steal you away in such a pitiful and cowardly manner."

"Pooh! you would have nothing to do with it; it is all my doing, of
course. Hush! is not that somebody coming up the stairs?"

They were silent for half a minute, listening to the sound of advancing
steps upon the wooden staircase.

"It is nothing--only somebody to see the man above me. By Jove, though,
it _is_ for me!" as somebody suddenly stopped outside and knocked at the
door. "Wait one minute, sir! Good heavens, Beatrice, what am I to do with
you?"

Herbert looked frightened out of his life. Beatrice, on the contrary,
could hardly smother her laughter.

"I must hide!" she said, in a choked whisper. "Oh, Herbert, it is like
a scene out of a naughty French play! I shall die of laughter!"

Without a moment's thought, she fled into the inner room, the door of
which stood ajar, and which was none other than Mr. Pryme's bed-chamber!
There was no time to think of any better expedient. Beatrice turned the
key upon herself, and Herbert called out "Come in!" to the intruder.
Neither of them had noticed that Beatrice's little white lace sunshade
lay upon the table with her gloves and veil beside it.

If Mr. Pryme had been alarmed at the bare fact of an unknown and possibly
unimportant visitor, it may be left to the imagination to describe the
state of his feelings when the door, upon being opened, disclosed the
Member for North Meadowshire standing without!



CHAPTER XXIII.

A WHITE SUNSHADE.

  For ever, Fortune, wilt thou prove
  An unrelenting foe to love,
  And when we meet a mutual heart,
  Come in between, and bid us part?


"Well, Mr. Pryme, how d'ye do?" said Mr. Miller, in his rough, hearty
voice, holding out his hand. "I dare say you are surprised to see me
here. I haven't met you since you were staying down with us at Christmas
time. Well, and how goes the world with you, young man?"

Herbert, who at first had thought nothing less than that Mr. Miller had
tracked his daughter to his rooms, and that he was about to have the
righteous wrath of an infuriated and exasperated parent to deal with, by
this time began to perceive that, to whatever extraordinary cause his
visit was owing, Beatrice, at all events, had nothing to do with it. He
recovered himself sufficiently to murmur, in answer to his visitor's
greeting, that the world went pretty well with him, and to request his
guest to be seated.

And then, as he pushed an arm-chair forward for him, his eye fell upon
Beatrice's things upon the table, and his heart literally stood still
within him. What was he to do? They lay so close to the father's elbow
that, to move them without attracting attention was impossible, and to
attract attention to them was to risk their being recognized.

Meanwhile Mr. Miller had put on his spectacles, and was drawing some
voluminous papers out of his breast coat-pocket.

"Now, I dare say, young man, you are wondering what brings me to see you?
Well, the fact is, there is a little matter about which I am going to
law. I'm going to bring an action for libel against a newspaper; it is
that rascally paper the _Cat o' Nine Tails_. They had an infamous
paragraph three weeks ago concerning my early life, which, let me tell
you, sir, was highly respectable in every way, sir--in every way."

"I am quite sure of that, Mr. Miller."

"I've brought the paragraph with me. Oh, here it is. Well, I've had a
good deal of correspondence with the editor, and he refuses to publish an
apology, and so I'm tired of the whole matter, and have placed it in the
hands of my solicitors. I'm going to prosecute them, sir, and I don't
care what it costs me to do it; and I'll expose the whole system of these
trumped-up fabrications, that contain, as a rule, one grain of truth to a
hundredweight of lies. Well, now, Mr. Pryme, I want a clever barrister to
take up this case, and I have instructed Messrs. Grainge, my solicitors,
to retain you."

"I am sure, sir, you are very kind; I hardly know how to thank you,"
faltered poor Herbert. Never in the whole course of his life had he felt
so overcome with shame and confusion! Here was this man come to do him a
really great and substantial benefit, whilst his own daughter was hidden
away in a shameful fashion in the next room! Herbert would sooner that
Mr. Miller had pointed a pistol at his head and threatened to shoot him.
The deception that he was practising towards this kind-hearted and
excellent gentleman struck him to the heart with a sense of guilty
remorse.

But what on earth was he to do? He could not reveal the truth to the
unconscious father, nor open the door and disclose Beatrice hiding in his
bedroom, without absolutely risking the reputation of the girl he loved.
There was nothing for it but to go on with the serio-comedy as best he
could, and to try and get Mr. Miller off the premises as speedily as
possible.

He made an effort to decline the proffered employment.

"It is most kind, most generous of you to have thought of me, but I must
tell you that there are many better men, even amongst the juniors, who
would do your case more justice than I should."

"Oh! I believe you have plenty of talent, Mr. Pryme. I've been making
inquiries about you. You only want an opportunity, and I like giving a
young fellow a chance. One must hold out a helping hand to the young ones
now and then."

"Of course, sir, I would do my very best for you, but I really think you
are risking your own case by giving it to me."

"Nonsense--take it and do what you can for me; if you fail, I shall not
blame you;" and here suddenly Mr. Miller's eyes rested upon the sunshade
and the gloves upon the table half-a-yard behind his arm. Now, had it
been Miss Miller's mother who, in the place of her father, had been
seated in Herbert's wooden arm-chair, the secret of her proximity would
have been revealed the very instant the maternal eyes had been set upon
that sunshade and those gloves. Mrs. Miller could have sworn to that
little white lace, ivory-handled toy, with its coquettish pink ribbon
bows, had she seen it amongst a hundred others, nor would it have been
easy to have deceived the mother's eyes in the matter of the gray _peau
de suède_ gloves and the dainty little veil, such as her daughter was in
the habit of wearing. But a father's perceptions in these matters are not
accurate. Mr. Miller had not the remotest idea what his child's sunshade
was like, nor, indeed, whether she had any sunshade at all. Nevertheless,
as his eyes alighted upon these indications of a feminine presence which
lay upon the young barrister's table, they remained fixed there with
distinct disapproval. These obnoxious articles of female attire of course
conveyed clearly to the elder man's perceptions, in a broad and general
sense, the fatal word "woman," and woman in this case meant "vice."

Mr. Miller strove to re-direct his attention to his case and the papers
in his hand. Herbert made a faint and ineffectual attempt to remove the
offending objects from the table. Mr. Miller only looked back at them
with an ever-increasing gloom upon his face, and Herbert's hand, morally
paralyzed by the glance, sank powerlessly down by his side. He imagined,
of course, that the father had recognized his daughter's property.

"Well, to continue the subject," said Mr. Miller, looking away with
an effort, and turning over the papers he had brought with him; "there
are several points in the case I should like to mention to you." He
paused for a minute, apparently to collect his thoughts, and to
Herbert's sensitive ears there was a sudden coldness and constraint
in his voice and manner. "You will, of course, take instructions in
the main from Grainge and Co.; but what I wished to point out to you
was--ahem----" here his voice unaccountably faltered, and his eyes, as
though drawn by a magnet, returned once more with ominous displeasure to
that little heap of feminine finery that lay between them. Mr. Miller
flung down his papers, and turning round in his chair, rested both elbows
upon the table.

"Mr. Pryme," he said, with decision, "I think it is best that I should be
frank with you!" He looked the young barrister full in the face.

"Certainly, certainly, if you please, Mr. Miller," said Herbert, not
quite knowing what he had to fear, and turning hot and cold alternately
under his visitor's scrutinizing gaze.

"Well, then, let me tell you fairly that I came to seek you to-day with
the friendliest motives."

"I am sure you did, and you are most kind to me, sir," murmured Herbert,
playing nervously with an ivory paper-cutter that lay on the table.

Mr. Miller waved his hand, as though to dispense with his grateful
acknowledgments.

"The fact is," he continued, "I had understood from Mrs. Miller that you
were a suitor for my daughter's hand. Well, sir, Mrs. Miller, as you
know, disapproves of your suit. My daughter will be well off, Mr. Pryme,
and you, I understand, have no income at all. You have no other resource
than a profession, at which, as yet, you have made nothing. There is some
reason in Mrs. Miller's objection to you. Nor should I be willing to let
my daughter marry an idle man who will live upon her money. Then, on the
other hand, Mr. Pryme, I find that my girl is fond of you, and, if this
is the case, I am unwilling to make her unhappy. I said to myself that I
would give you an opening in this case of mine, and if you will work hard
and make yourself known and respected in your profession, I should not
object, in the course of time, to your being engaged to her, and I would
endeavour to induce her mother to agree to it. I came here to-day, Mr.
Pryme, to give you a fair chance of winning her."

"You are too good, Mr. Miller," cried Herbert, with effusion, stretching
forth his hand. "I do not know how to thank you enough, nor how to assure
you of my grateful acceptance of your terms."

But Mr. Miller drew back from the young man's proffered hand.

"Wait, there is no occasion to thank me;" and again his eyes fell sternly
upon that unlucky little heap of lace and ribbon. "I am sorry to tell you
that, since I have come here, my friendly and pleasant intentions towards
you have undergone a complete change."

"Sir!"

"Yes, Mr. Pryme; I came here prepared to treat you--well, I may as well
confess it--as a son, under the belief that you were an upright and
honourable man, and were sincerely and honestly attached to my daughter."

"Mr. Miller, is it possible that you can doubt it?"

The elder man pointed with contemptuous significance to the sunshade
before him.

"I find upon your table, young man, the evidences of the recent presence
of some wretched woman in your rooms, and your confusion of manner shows
me too plainly that you are not the kind of husband to which a man may
safely entrust his daughter's happiness."

"Mr. Miller, I assure you you are mistaken; it is not so."

"Every man in this country has a right to justify himself when he is
accused. If I am mistaken, Mr. Pryme, explain to me the meaning of
_that_," and the heavy forefinger was again levelled at the offending
objects before him.

Not one single word could Herbert utter. In vain ingenious fabrications
concerning imaginary sisters, maiden aunts, or aged lady clients rushed
rapidly through his brain; the natural answer on Mr. Miller's part to all
such inventions would have been, "Then, where is she?"

Mr. Miller must know as well as he did himself that the lady, whoever she
might be, must still be in his rooms, else why should her belongings be
left on his table; and if in the rooms, then, as there was no other
egress on the staircase than the one by which he had entered, clearly,
she must be secreted in his bedroom. Mr. Miller was not a young man, and
his perceptions in matters of intrigue and adventure might no longer be
very acute, but it was plain to Herbert that he probably knew quite as
well as he did himself that the owner of the gloves and sunshade was in
the adjoining room.

"Have you any satisfactory explanation to give me?" asked Mr. Miller,
once more, after a solemn silence, during which he glared in a stern and
inquisitorial manner over his spectacles at the young man.

"I have nothing to say," was the answer, given in a low and dejected
voice.

Mr. Miller sprang to his feet and hurriedly gathered up his papers.

"Then, sir," he said, furiously, "I shall wish you good afternoon; and
let me assure you, most emphatically, that you must relinquish all claim
to my daughter's hand. I will never consent to her union with a man whose
private life will not bear investigation; and should she disobey me in
this matter, she shall never have one single shilling of my money."

There was a moment's silence. Mr. Miller was buttoning-up his coat with
the air of a man who buttons up his heart within it at the same time. He
regarded the young man fiercely, and yet there was a lingering
wistfulness, too, in his gaze. He would have given a good deal to hear,
from his lips, a satisfactory explanation of the circumstances which told
so suspiciously against him. He liked the young barrister personally, and
he was fond enough of his daughter to wish that she might be happy in her
own way. He spoke one word more to the young man.

"Have you nothing to say; Mr. Pryme?"

Herbert shook his head, with his eyes gloomily downcast.

"I can only tell you, sir, that you are mistaken in what you imagine. If
you will not believe my word, I can say nothing more."

"And what of _these_, Mr. Pryme--what of _these_?" pointing furiously
downwards to Beatrice's property.

"I cannot explain it any further to you, Mr. Miller. I can only ask you
to believe me."

"Then, I do not believe you, sir--I do not believe you. Would any man in
his senses believe that you haven't got a woman hidden in the next room?
Do you suppose I'm a fool? I have the honour of wishing you good day,
sir, and I am sorry I ever took the trouble of calling upon you. It is,
of course, unnecessary for you to trouble yourself concerning my case, in
these altered circumstances, Mr. Pryme; I beg to decline the benefit of
your legal assistance. Good afternoon."

The door closed upon him, and the sound of his retreating footsteps
echoed noisily down the stairs. Herbert sank into a chair and covered his
face with his hands. So lately hope and fortune seemed to have smiled
upon him for one short, blissful moment, only to withdraw the sunshine
of their faces again from him more completely, and to leave him more
utterly in the dark than ever. Was ever man so unfortunate, and so
unlucky?

But for the _contretemps_ concerning that wretched sunshade, he would now
have been a hopeful, and almost a triumphant, lover. Now life was all
altered for him!

The door between the two rooms opened softly, and Beatrice, no longer
brave, and defiant, and laughing as she had been when she went in, but
white, and scared, and trembling, crept hesitatingly forth, and knelt
down by her lover's side.

"Oh, Herbert! what has happened? It was papa--I heard his voice; but I
could not hear what you talked about, only I heard that he was angry at
the last, when he went away. Oh! tell me, dearest, what has happened?"

Herbert pointed bitterly to her belongings on the table.

"What fatality made me overlook those wretched things?" he cried,
miserably; "they have ruined us!"

Beatrice uttered an exclamation of dismay.

"Papa saw them--he recognized them!"

"Not as _yours_, thank God!"

"What then?"

"He thinks me unworthy of you," answered the lover, in a low voice, and
Beatrice understood. "He has forbidden me ever to think of you now; and
he will leave you penniless if you disobey him; it is a terrible
misfortune, my darling; but still, thank God that your good name is
safe!"

"Yes, at the expense of yours, Herbert!" cried the girl, frantically; "I
see it all now, and, if I dared, I would confess to papa the truth."

"Do not think of it!"

"I dare not; but, Herbert, don't despair; I see now how wicked and how
foolish I was to come here to-day, and what a terrible risk I have run,
for if papa knew that it was I who was in the next room, he would never
forgive me; we can do nothing now but wait until brighter and happier
days; believe me, Herbert, if you will be true to me, I will be true to
you, and I will wait for you till I am old and grey."

He strained her passionately to his heart.

"I will never forget what you have done for me to-day, never!" said the
girl, as she clung to his neck.

And then she put on her gloves and veil, and took up the sunshade that
had been the cause of such a direful ending to her escapade, and went her
way. And after she was gone, Mr. Pryme, with his hands in his pockets,
began once more to whistle, as though the events of the afternoon had
never taken place.



CHAPTER XXIV.

HER SON'S SECRET.

  But love is such a mystery,
  I cannot find it out,
  For when I think I'm best resolved,
  I then am most in doubt."

  Sir J. Suckling.


Lady Kynaston sat alone in her little morning-room; as far as she knew,
she was alone in the house; Mrs. Romer had driven into London, on the
cares of her trousseau intent, and she believed that Maurice had gone
with her; at all events, she had heard him state his intention of going,
and the departing carriage had, some time since, driven away from the
door.

The morning-room looked on to the garden side of the house, and the
windows were wide open; the east wind had departed, and summer had set in
at last. Real summer, coming in with a rush when it did come, with warm
whiffs of flower-scented wind, with flutterings of lime blossoms from the
trees along the high brick wall, with brown bees and saffron butterflies
hovering over the reviving flower-borders, and dragon-flies darting out
of the shadows into the hot blinding sunshine. Summer at last; and oh,
how welcome when it comes upon our rain-drenched and winter-pinched land.

The gardener was bedding out the geraniums along the straight ribbon
border. Lady Kynaston went out once to superintend his operations,
holding up a newspaper in her hand to shield her head from the rays of
the sun. But it was hot, and old McCloud, the Scotch gardener, was
intelligent enough to be safely left to his own devices, so she did not
stop out long.

She came in again, and sat down in a low basket-chair by the window, and
thought how wise she had been to settle herself down in the old house
with its velvet lawns and its wide shadowy trees, instead of in the heat
and turmoil of a London home.

She looked a little anxious and worried to-day--she was not happy about
her eldest son--somebody had told her last night that he was talking
about going to Australia, and turning sheep farmer. Lady Kynaston was
annoyed at the report; it did not strike her as seemly or right that the
head of the Kynaston family should become a sheep farmer. Moreover, she
knew very well that he only wanted to get himself away out of the country
where no one would know of his story, or remind him of his trouble again.
The man's heart was broken. He did not want to farm sheep, or to take to
any other rational or healthful employment; he only wanted, like a sick
animal, to creep away and hide his hurt. Little as Lady Kynaston had in
common with her eldest son, she was sorry for him. She would have done
what she could to help him had she known how. She had written to him only
yesterday, begging him to come to her, but he had not replied to her
letter.

The Cloverdales' ball had come and gone, and Lady Kynaston had taken
pains to ensure that an invitation might be sent to Mrs. Hazeldine and
Miss Nevill. She had also put herself to some inconvenience in order to
be present at it herself, but all to no purpose--Vera was not there.
Perhaps she had had another engagement that evening.

The old lady's promise to her youngest son was still unfulfilled. She
half repented now that she had given him any such promise. What good was
she to do by interceding between her son and Miss Nevill? and why was she
to lay herself open to the chance of a rebuff from that young lady? It
had been a senseless and quixotic idea on Maurice's part altogether.
Young women do not take back a jilted lover because the man's mother
advises them to do so; nor is a broken-off marriage likely to get itself
re-settled in consequence of the interference of a third person.

The old lady had taken out her fancy-work, a piece of crewel work such as
is the fashion of the day. But she was not fond of work; the leaves of
muddy-shaded greens grew but slowly under her fingers, and, truth to say,
the occupation bored her. It was artistic, certainly, and it was
fashionable; but Lady Kynaston would have been happier over a pair of
cross-stitch slippers for her son, or a knitted woollen petticoat for the
old woman at her lodge gate. All the same, she took out her crewels and
put in a few stitches; but the afternoon was warm, there was a humming of
insects in the summer air, a click-clicking from the gardener as he
dropped one empty red flower-pot into the other along the edge of the
ribbon border, a cawing of rooks from the elms over the wall, a very
harmony of soft soothing sounds, just enough to lull worry to rest, not
enough to scare drowsiness from one's brain.

By degrees, it all became mixed up in a delicious confusion. The rooks,
and the bees, and the gardener made one continuous murmur to her, like
the swishing of summer waves upon a sandy shore, or the moaning of soft
winds in the tree tops.

Then the crewel work slipped off her lap, and Lady Kynaston slept.

How long she was asleep she could not rightly have said: it might have
been an hour, it might have been but twenty minutes; but suddenly she
awoke with a start.

The rustle of a woman's dress was beside her, and somebody spoke her
name.

"Lady Kynaston! Oh, I am so sorry I have disturbed you; I did not see you
were asleep."

The old lady opened her eyes wide, and came back suddenly from dreamland.
Vera Nevill stood before her.

"Vera, is it _you_? Good gracious! how did you get in? I never even heard
the door open."

"I came in by the front-door quite correctly," said Vera, smiling and
reaching out her hand for a chair, "and was duly announced by the
footman; but I had no idea you were asleep."

"Only dozing. Sit down, my dear, sit down; I am glad to see you." And,
somehow, all the awkwardness of the meeting between the two vanished. It
was as though they had parted only yesterday on the most friendly terms.
In Vera's absence, Lady Kynaston had thought hard things of her, and had
spoken condemning words concerning her; but in her presence all this
seemed to be altered.

There was something so unspeakably refreshing and soothing about Vera;
there was a certain quiet dignity in her movements, a calm serenity in
her manner, which made it difficult to associate blame and displeasure
with her. Faults she might have, but they could never be mean or ignoble
ones; there was nothing base or contemptible about her. The pure, proud
profile, the broad grave brow, the eyes that, if a trifle cold, were as
true withal as the soul that looked out, sometimes earnestly, sometimes
wistfully, from their shadowy depths; everything about her bade one judge
her, not so much by her actions, which were sometimes incomprehensible,
but by a certain standard that she herself created in the minds of
all who knew her.

Lady Kynaston had called her a jilt and a heartless coquette; she had
made no secret of saying, right and left, how badly she had behaved: what
shameful and discreditable deductions might be drawn from her conduct
towards Sir John. Yet, the very instant she set eyes upon her, she felt
sorry for the hard things she had said of her, and ashamed of herself
that she should have spoken them.

Vera drew forward a chair, and sat down near her. The dress she wore was
white, of some clear and delicate material, softened with creamy lace; it
had been one of kind-hearted Cissy Hazeldine's many presents to her.
Looking at her, Lady Kynaston thought what a lovely vision of youth and
beauty she made in the sombre quiet of the little room.

"They tell me half the men in London have gone mad over you," were her
first words following the train of her own thoughts, and she liked her
visitor none the less, that world-loving little old woman, because she
could not but acknowledge the reasonableness of the madness of which
she accused her of being the object.

"I care very little for the men in London, Lady Kynaston," answered Vera,
quietly.

"My dear, what _do_ you care for?" asked her ladyship, with earnestness,
and Vera understood that she was expected to state her business.

"Lady Kynaston, I have come to ask you about your son," she answered,
simply.

"About John?"

"Of course, it is Sir John I mean," she said, quickly, a hot flush
rising for one instant to her face, and dying away rapidly again, to
leave her a trifle paler than before. "I know," she continued, with a
little hesitation--"I know that I have no right to inquire--but I cannot
forget all that is past--all his goodness and generosity to me. I shall
never forget it; and oh, I hear such dreadful things of him, that he is
ill--that he is talking of going to Australia. Oh, Lady Kynaston, is it
all true?"

She had clasped her hands together, and bent a little forward towards
the old lady in her earnestness; she looked at her piteously, almost
entreatingly.

"Does she love him after all?" thought Lady Kynaston, as she watched her;
and the meaning of the whole story of her son's love seemed more
unfathomable than ever.

"John is neither well nor happy," she said, aloud. "I think, Vera, you
must know the reason of it better than any of us."

"It is my fault--my doing," cried the girl, with a ring of deep regret in
her voice. "Yes," she added, looking away sadly out of the open window;
"that is why I have come. Do you know that I saw him once? I don't think
he saw me--it was in the Park one morning. He looked so aged, so
saddened, I realized then what I had done--his face haunts me."

"Vera, you could alter all that if you chose," said the old lady,
earnestly.

A sudden flush sprang to her face; she looked startled.

"You don't suppose I came here to say _that_, Lady
Kynaston?"

"No, my dear; but I have decided to say it to you. Vera, I entreat you to
tell me the truth. What is it that stands between you and John?"

She was silent, looking down upon her hands that lay crossed one over the
other upon her knee.

"I cannot tell you, Lady Kynaston," she answered, at length, in a low
voice.

Lady Kynaston sighed; she was a little disappointed.

"And you cannot, marry him?"

Vera shook her head.

"No, it would not be right."

The old lady bent forward and laid her hand upon her visitor's arm.

"Forgive me for asking you. Do you love some one else? is it that?"

She bent her head silently.

"Have you any hopes of marrying the man you love?"

"Oh no, none--not the slightest," she said, hurriedly; "I shall never
marry."

"Then, Vera, will you listen to an old woman's advice?"

"Yes, dear Lady Kynaston."

"My dear, if you cannot marry the man you love, put him out of your
mind."

"I must do that in any case," she said, wearily.

"Listen to me, my dear. Don't sacrifice your own life and the life of a
man who is good and loves you dearly to a caprice of your heart. Hush!
don't interrupt me; I dare say you don't think it a caprice; you think it
is to last for ever. But there is no 'for ever' in these matters; the
thing comes to us like an ordinary disease; some of us take it strongly,
and it half kills us; some of us are only a very little ill; but we all
get over it. There is a pain that goes right through one's heart: it is
worse to bear than any physical suffering: but, thank God, that pain
always wears itself out. My dear, I, who speak to you, have felt it, and
I tell you that no man is worth it. You can cure yourself of it if you
will; and the remedy is work and change of the conditions of your life.
You don't think I look very much like a blighted being, do you? and yet I
did not marry the man I loved. I could not; he was poor, and my parents
would not allow it. I thought I should die, but you see I did not. I took
up my life bravely, and I married a most estimable man; I lived an active
and healthy life, so that by degrees it became a happy one. Now, Vera,
why should you not do the same? Your people have a right to expect that
you should marry; they cannot afford to support you for always. Because
you are disappointed in one thing, why are you not to make the best you
can of your life?"

"I do mean to marry--in time," said Vera, brokenly, with tears in her
eyes.

"Then why not marry John?"

There was a minute's silence. Was it possible that Lady Kynaston did not
know? Vera asked herself. Was it possible that she could, in cold blood,
advise her to marry one son whilst the other one loved her! That was what
was so terrible to her mind. To marry was simple enough, but to marry Sir
John Kynaston! She thought of what such an action might bring upon them
all. The daily meetings, the struggles with temptation, the awful
tampering with deadly sin. Could any one so constituted as she was walk
deliberately and with open eyes into such a situation?

She shuddered.

"I cannot do it," she said, wringing her hands together; "don't ask me;
I cannot do it!"

Lady Kynaston got up, and went and stood by her chair.

"Vera, I entreat you not to let any false pride stand in the way of
this. Do not imagine that I ask you to do anything that would wound your
vanity, or humble you in your own eyes. It would be so easy for me to
arrange a meeting between you and John; it shall all come about simply
and naturally. As soon as he sees you again, he will speak to you."

"It is not that, it is not that!" she murmured, distractedly; but Lady
Kynaston went on as if she had not heard her.

"You must know that I should not plead like this with you if I were not
deeply concerned. For myself, I had sooner that John remained unmarried.
I had sooner that Maurice's children came into Kynaston. It is wrong, I
know, but it is the case, because Maurice is my favourite. But when we
hear of John shutting himself up, of his refusing to see any of his
friends, and of his talking of going to Australia, why, then we all feel
that it is you only who can help us; that is why I have promised Maurice
to plead with you."

She looked up quickly.

"You promised Maurice! It is _Maurice_ who wants me to marry his
brother." She turned very pale.

"Certainly he does. You don't suppose Maurice likes to see his brother so
unhappy."

The darkened room, the spindle-legged furniture, Lady Kynaston's little
figure, in her black dress and soft white tulle cap, the bright garden
outside, the belt of trees beyond the lawn, all swam together before her
eyes.

She drew a long breath; then she rose slowly from her place, a little
unsteadily, perhaps, and walked across the Persian rug to the empty
fireplace. She stood there half a minute leaning with both hands upon the
mantelshelf, her head bent forwards.

_Maurice wished it!_ To him, then, there were no fears, and no dangers.
He could look forward calmly to meeting her constantly as his brother's
wife; it would be nothing to him, that temptation that she dreaded so
much; nothing that an abyss which death itself could never bridge over
would be between them to all eternity!

And then the woman's pride, without which, God help us, so many of us
would break our hearts and die, came to her aid.

Very well, then, if he was strong, she would learn to be strong too;
if the danger to him was so slight that he could contemplate it with
calmness and with indifference, then she, too, would show him that it was
nothing to her. Only, then, what a poor thing was this love of his! And
surely the man she had loved so fatally was not Maurice Kynaston at all,
but only some creature of her own imagination, whom she had invested with
things that the man himself had not lost because he had never possessed
them.

If this was so, then why, indeed, listen to the voice of her heart when
everything urged her to stifle it? Why not make Sir John Kynaston happy
and herself prosperous and rich, as everybody round her seemed to
consider it her duty to do?

It passed rapidly through her mind what a fine place Kynaston was; how
dear everything that wealth can bring had always been to her, what a wise
and prudent match it was in every way for her, and what a good indulgent
husband Sir John would be.

Who in the wide world would blame her for going back to him? Would not
everybody, on the contrary, praise her for reconsidering her folly, and
for becoming Lady Kynaston, of Kynaston? The errors of the successful
in this world's race are leniently treated; it is only when we are
unfortunate and our lives become failures that our friends turn their
backs upon our misdeeds in righteous condemnation.

"So long as thou doest well unto thyself men will speak good of thee."

Surely, surely, it was the best and the wisest thing she could do. And
yet even at that moment Eustace Daintree's pale, earnest face came for
one instant before her. What side in all this would he take--he of the
pure heart, of the stainless life? If he knew all, what would he say?

Pooh! he was a dreamer--an idealist, a man of impossible aims; his
theories, indeed, were beautiful, but impracticable. Vera knew that he
expected better things of her; but she had striven to be what he would
have desired, and if she had failed, was it her fault? was it not rather
the fault of the world and the generation in which her life had been
cast?

She had struggled, and she had failed; henceforth let her life be as fate
should ordain for her.

"What is it you wish me to say, Lady Kynaston?" she asked, turning
suddenly towards Maurice's mother.

"My dear child, I only want you to say that if John asks you again to be
his wife, you will consent, or say only, if you like it better, that you
will agree to meet him here. There shall be nothing unpleasant for you; I
will write to him and settle everything."

"If you write to him, I will come," she said, briefly, and then Lady
Kynaston came up to her and kissed her, taking her hands within her own,
and drawing her to her with motherly tenderness. "My dear, everybody will
think well of you for this."

And the words ran so nearly in the current of her own bitter thoughts
that Vera laughed, shortly and disdainfully, a low laugh of scorn at the
world, whose mandates she was prepared to obey, even though she despised
herself for doing so.

"You will be glad by-and-by that you were so sensible and so reasonable,"
said Lady Kynaston.

"Yes--I dare say I shall be glad by-and-by; and now I am going, dear Lady
Kynaston; I have a hansom waiting all this time, and Mrs. Hazeldine will
be wondering what has become of me."

At this moment they both heard the sound of a carriage driving up to the
door.

"It must be some visitors," said Lady Kynaston; "wait a minute, or you
will meet them in the hall. Oh, stay, go through this door into the
dining-room, and you can get through the dining-room window by the garden
round to the front of the house; I dare say you would rather not meet
anybody--you might know them."

"Thank you--yes, I should much prefer to get away quickly and quietly--I
will go through the dining-room; do not come with me, I can easily find
my way."

She gathered up her gloves and her veil and opened the door which
communicated between the morning-room and the dining-room. She heard the
chatter of women's voices and the fluttering of women's garments in the
hall; it seemed as though they were about to be ushered into the room she
was leaving.

She did not want to be seen; besides, she wanted to get away quickly and
return to London. She closed the morning-room door behind her, and took a
couple of steps across the dining-room towards the windows.

Then she stopped suddenly short; Maurice sat before her at the table. He
lifted his eyes and looked at her; he did not seem surprised to see her,
but there was a whole world of grief and despair in his face. It was as
though he had lived through half a lifetime since she had last seen him.

Pride, anger, wounded affection, all died away within her--only the woman
was left, the woman who loved him. Little by little she saw him only
through the blinding mist of her own tears.

Not one single word was spoken between them. What was there that they
could say to each other? Then suddenly she turned away, and went swiftly
back into the room she had just left, closing the door behind her.

It was empty. Lady Kynaston was gone. Vera stooped over the
writing-table, and, taking up a sheet of paper, she wrote in pencil:--

"Do not write to Sir John--it is beyond my strength--forgive me and
forget me. Vera." And then she went out through the other door,
and got herself away from the place in her hansom.

Twenty minutes later, when her bevy of chattering visitors had left her,
Lady Kynaston came back into her morning-room and found the little pencil
note left upon her writing-table. Wondering, perplexed and puzzled beyond
measure, she turned it over and over in her fingers.

What had happened? Why had Vera so suddenly altered her mind again? What
had influenced her? Half by accident, half, perhaps, with an instinct of
what was the truth, she softly opened the door of communication between
the morning-room and the dining-room, opened it for one instant, and then
drew back again, scared and shocked, closing it quickly and noiselessly.
What she had seen in the room was this--

Maurice, half stretched across the table, his face downwards upon his
arm, whilst those tearless, voiceless sobs, which are so terrible to
witness in a man, sobs which are the gasps of a despairing heart, shook
the strong broad shoulders and the down-bent head that was hidden from
her sight.

And then the mother knew at last the secret of her son's heart. It was
Vera whom Maurice loved.



CHAPTER XXV.

ST. PAUL'S, KNIGHTSBRIDGE.

  Hide in thy bosom, poor unfortunate,
  That love which is thy torture and thy crime,
  Or cry aloud to those departed hosts
  Of ghostly lovers! can they be more deaf
  To thy disaster than the living world?
  Who, with a careless smile, will note the pain
  Caused by thy foolish, self-inflicted wound.

  Violet Fane, "Denzil Place."


Upon the steps of the Charing Cross Hotel stood, one morning in June, a
little French gentleman buttoning his lavender gloves. He wore a glossy
new hat, a frock-coat, and a flower in his button-hole; he had altogether
a smart and jaunty appearance.

He hailed a passing hansom and jumped into it, taking care as he did so
to avoid brushing against the muddy wheel, lest he should tarnish the
glories of his light-coloured trousers. Monsieur D'Arblet was more than
usually particular about his appearance this morning. He said to himself,
with a chuckle, as he was driven west-ward, that he was on his way to win
a bride, and a rich bride, too. It behoved him to be careful of his outer
man on such an occasion.

He had heard of Mr. Harlowe's death and of his grand-daughter's good
fortune when he was at Constantinople, for he had friends in London who
kept him _au courant_ with the gossip of society, and he had straightway
made his preparations to return to England. He had not hurried himself,
however, for what he had not heard of was that clause in the old man's
will which made his grand-daughter's marriage within two months the _sine
quâ non_ of her inheriting his fortune. Such an idea as that had never
come into Monsieur D'Arblet's head; he had no conception but that he
should be in plenty of time.

When he got to the house in Princes Gate he found it shut up. This,
however, did not disconcert him, it was no more than he expected. After
a considerable amount of ringing at both bells, there was a grating sound
within as of the unfastening of bolts and chains, and an elderly woman,
evidently fresh from her labours over the scouring of the kitchen grate,
appeared at the door, opening it just a couple of inches, as though she
dreaded the invasion of a gang of housebreakers.

"Will you please tell me where Mrs. Romer is now living?"

The woman grinned. "She has been living at Walpole Lodge, at Kew--Lady
Kynaston's, sir."

"Oh, thank you;" and he was preparing to re-enter his hansom.

"But I don't think you will see her to-day, sir."

"Why not?" turning half-round again.

"It is Mrs. Romer's wedding-day."

"_What?_"

That elderly female, who had been at one time a housemaid in Mr.
Harlowe's household, confided afterwards to her intimate friend, the
kitchenmaid next door, that she was so frightened at the way that
foreign-looking gentleman shouted at her, that she felt as if she should
have dropped. "Indeed, my dear, I was forced to go down and get a drop of
whisky the very instant he was gone, I felt so fluttered, like."

Monsieur Le Vicomte turned round to her, with his foot midway between the
pavement and the step of the hansom, and shouted at her again.

"_What_ did you say it was, woman?"

"Why, Mrs. Romer's wedding-day, to be sure, sir; and no such wonder after
all, I should say; and a lovely morning for the wedding it be, too."

Lucien D'Arblet put his hand vaguely up to his head, as though he had
received a blow; she had escaped him, then, after all.

"So soon after the old man's death," he murmured, half aloud; "who could
have expected it?"

"Well, sir, and soon it is, as you say," replied the ancient
ex-housemaid, who had caught the remark; "but people do say as how Mr.
Harlowe, my late master, wished it so, and of course Mrs. Romer, she were
quite ready, so to speak, for the Captain had been a-courting her for
ever so long, as we who lived in the house could have told."

The vicomte was fumbling at his breast-coat pocket, his face was as
yellow as the rose in his button-hole.

"Where was the wedding to be? At Kew?"

"No, sir; at Saint Paul's church, in Wilton Crescent. Mrs. Romer would
have it so, because that's the place of worship she used to go to when
she lived here. You'd be in time to see them married now, sir, if you was
to look sharp; it was to be at half-past eleven, and it's not that yet;
my niece and a young friend has just started a-foot to go there. I let
her go, because she'd never seen a grand wedding. I'd like to have gone
myself, but, in course, we couldn't both be out of the house----"

The gentleman was listening no longer; he had sprung into his hansom.

"Drive to Saint Paul's, Knightsbridge, as fast as your horse can go," he
called out to the cabman. "I might even now be in time; it would be a
_coup d'état_," he muttered.

Round the door of Saint Paul's church a crowd had gathered, waiting to
see the bridal party come out; there was a strip of red cloth across the
pavement, and a great many carriages were standing down the street; big
footmen were lounging about, chatting amicably together; a knot of
decently-dressed women were pressing up as close to the porch as the
official personage, with a red collar on his coat and gold lace on his
hat, would allow them to go; and an indiscriminate collection of those
chance passers-by who never seem to be in any hurry, or to have anything
better to do than to stand and stare at any excitement, great or small,
that they may meet on their road, were blocking up the pavement on either
side of the red cloth carpeting.

Two ladies came walking along from the direction of the Park.

"There's a wedding going on; do let us go in and see it, Vera."

"My dear Cissy, I detest looking at people being married; it always makes
me low-spirited."

"And I love it. I always get such hints for dresses from a wedding. I'd
go anywhere to see anybody married. I've been to the Jewish synagogue, to
Spurgeon's tabernacle, and to the pro-cathedral, all in one week, before
now just to see weddings."

"There must be a sameness about the performances. Don't you get sick of
them?"

"Never. I wonder whose wedding it is; there must be thirty carriages
waiting. I'll ask one of these big footmen. Whose wedding is it?"

"Captain Kynaston's, ma'am."

"Oh, I used to know him once; he is such a handsome fellow. Come along,
Vera."

"Cissy, I _cannot_ come."

"Nonsense, Vera; don't be so foolish; make haste, or we shan't get in."

Somebody just then dashed up in a hansom, and came hurrying up behind
them. Somehow or other, what with Mrs. Hazeldine dragging her by the arm,
and an excited-looking gentleman pushing his way through the crowd behind
her, Vera got swept on into the church.

"You are very late, ladies," whispered the pew-opener, who supposed them
to belong to the wedding guests; "it is nearly over. You had better take
these seats in this pew; you will see them come out well from here." And
she evidently considered them to be all one party, for she ushered them
all three into a pew; first, Mrs. Hazeldine, then Vera, and next to her
the little foreign-looking gentleman who had bustled up so hurriedly.

It was an awful thing to have happened to Vera that she should have been
thus entrapped by a mere accident into being present at Maurice's
wedding; and yet, when she was once inside the church, she felt not
altogether sorry for it.

"I can at least see the last of him, and pray that he may be happy," she
said to herself, as she sank on her knees in the shelter of the pew, and
buried her face in her hands.

The church was crowded, and yet the wedding itself was not a particularly
attractive one, for, owing to the fact that the bride was a widow, there
was, of course, no bevy of bridesmaids in attendance in diaphanous
raiment. Instead of these, however, there was a great concourse of the
best-dressed women in London, all standing in rows round the upper end of
the nave; and there was a little old lady, in brown satin and point lace,
who stood out conspicuously detached from the other groups, who bent her
head solemnly over the great bouquet of exotics in her hands, and prayed
within herself, with a passionate fervour such as no other soul present
could pray, save only the pale, beautiful girl on her knees, far away
down at the further end of the church. Surely, if God ever gave happiness
to one of his creatures because another prayed for it, Maurice Kynaston,
with the prayers of those two women being offered up for him, would have
been a happy man.

And the mother, by this time, knew that it was all a mistake--a mistake,
alas, which she, in her blindness, had fostered.

No wonder that she trembled as she prayed.

The service, that portion of it which makes two people man and wife,
was over; the clergyman was reading the final exhortation to the
newly-married pair.

They stood together close to the altar rails. The bride was in a pale
lavender satin, covered with lace, which spread far away behind her
across the tesselated pavement. The bridegroom stood by her side, erect
and handsome, but pale and stern, and with a far-away look in his eyes
that would have made any one fancy, had any one been near enough or
attentive enough to remark it, that he was only an indifferent spectator
of the scene, in no way interested in what was going on. He looked as if
he were thinking of something else.

He was thinking of something else. He was thinking of a railway carriage,
of a train rushing onwards through a fog-blotted landscape, and of two
arms, warm and soft, cast up round his neck, and a trembling, passionate
voice, ever crying in his ears--

"While you live I will never marry another man."

That was what the bridegroom was thinking about.

As to the bride, she was debating to herself whether she should have the
body of her wedding-dress cut V or square when she left it with her
dressmaker to be altered into a dinner-dress.

Meanwhile the clergyman, who mumbled his words slightly, and whose
glasses kept on tumbling off his nose, waded through the several duties
of husbands towards their wives, and of wives towards their husbands, as
expounded by Scripture, in a monotonous undertone, until, to the great
relief of the weary guests, the ceremony at last came to an end.

Then the best man, Sir John, who stood behind his brother, looking, if
possible, more like a mute at a funeral even than the bridegroom himself,
stepped forward out of the shadow. The new-married couple went into the
vestry, followed by Sir John, his mother, and a select few, upon which
the door was closed. All the rest of the company then began to chatter
in audible whispers together; they fidgeted backwards and forwards,
from one pew to the other. There were jokes, and smiles, and nods, and
hand-shakings between the different members of the wedding party. All in
a low and decorous undertone, of course, but still there was a distinct
impression upon every one that all the religious part of the business
being well got over, they were free to be jolly about it now, and to
enjoy themselves as much as circumstances would admit of.

All at once there was a sudden hush, everybody scuffled back into their
places. The best man put his nose out of the vestry door, and the
"Wedding March" struck up. Then came a procession of chorister boys down
the church, each bearing a small bouquet of fern and white flowers. They
ranged themselves on either side of the porch, and the bride and
bridegroom came down the aisle alone.

Then it was that Monsieur D'Arblet, leaning forward with the rest to see
them pass, caught sight of the face of the girl who stood by his side.

She was pale as death; a look as of the horror of despair was in her
eyes, her teeth were set, her hands were clenched together as one who has
to impose a terrible and dreadful task upon herself. Nobody in all that
gaily-dressed chattering crowd noticed her, for were not all eyes fixed
upon the bride, the queen of the day? Nobody save the man who stood by
her side. Only he saw that fixed white look of despair, only he heard the
long shuddering sigh that burst from her pale lips as the bridegroom
went by. Monsieur D'Arblet said, to himself:

"This woman loves Monsieur le Capitaine! _Bon!_ Two are better than one;
we will avenge ourselves together, my beautiful incognita."

And then he looked sharply at her companion, and found that her face was
familiar to him. Surely he had dined at that woman's house once. Oh, yes!
to be sure, it was that insufferable little chatterbox, Mrs. Hazeldine.
He remembered all about her now.

There was a good deal of pushing and cramming at the doorway. By the time
Vera could get out of the stifling heat of the crowded church most of the
wedding party had driven off, and the rest were clamouring wildly for
their carriages; she herself had got separated from her companion, and
when she could rejoin her in the little gravelled yard outside, she found
her shaking hands with effusion with the foreign-looking gentleman who
had sat next her in the church, but whom, truth to say, she had hardly
noticed.

"Let me present to you my friend," said Cissy. "Miss Nevill, Monsieur
D'Arblet--you will walk with us as far as the park, won't you?"

"I shall be enchanted, Mrs. Hazeldine."

"And wasn't it a pretty wedding," continued Mrs. Hazeldine, rapturously,
as they all three walked away together down the shady side of the street;
"so remarkably pretty considering that there were no bridesmaids; but
Mrs. Romer is so graceful, and dresses so well. I don't visit her myself,
you know; but of course I know her by sight. One knows everybody by sight
in London; it's rather embarrassing sometimes, because one is tempted to
bow to people one doesn't visit, or else one fancies one ought not to bow
to somebody one does. I've made some dreadfully stupid mistakes myself
sometimes. Did you notice the rose point on that old lady's brown satin,
Vera?"

"That was Lady Kynaston."

"Oh, was it? By the way, of course, you must know some of the Kynastons,
as they come from your part of the world. I wonder they didn't ask you to
the wedding."

Vera murmured something unintelligible. Monsieur D'Arblet looked at her
sharply. He saw that she had in no way recovered her agitation yet, and
that she could hardly bear her companion's brainless chatter over this
wedding.

"That has been no ordinary love affair," said this astute Frenchman to
himself. "I must decidedly cultivate this young lady's acquaintance, for
I mean to pay you out well yet, ma belle Hélène."

"How fortunate it was we happened to be passing just as it was going on.
I wouldn't have missed seeing that lovely lavender satin the bride wore
for worlds; did you notice the cut of the jacket front, Vera; it was
something new; she looked as happy as possible too. I daresay her first
marriage was a _coup manqué_; they generally are when women marry again."

"Suppose we take these three chairs in the shade," suggested Monsieur
D'Arblet, cutting short, unceremoniously the string of her remarks, which
apparently were no more soothing to himself than to Miss Nevill.

They sat down, and for the space of half an hour Monsieur D'Arblet
proceeded to make himself politely agreeable to Miss Nevill, and he
succeeded so well in amusing her by his conversation, that by the time
they all got up to go the natural bloom had returned to her cheeks, and
she was talking to him quite easily and pleasantly, as though no
catastrophe in her life had happened but an hour ago.

"You will come back with us to lunch, Monsieur D'Arblet?"

"I shall be delighted, madame."

"If you will excuse me, Cissy, I am not going to lunch with you to-day,"
said Vera.

"My dear! where are you going, then?"

"I have a visit to pay--an engagement, I mean--in--in Cadogan Place. I
will be home very soon, in time for your drive, if you don't mind my
leaving you."

"Oh, of course, do as you like, dear."

Lucien D'Arblet was annoyed at her defection, but, of course, having
accepted Mrs. Hazeldine's invitation, there was nothing for it but to go
on with her; so he swallowed his discomfiture as best he could, and
proceeded to make himself agreeable to his hostess.

As to Vera, she turned away and retraced her steps slowly towards St.
Paul's Church. It was a foolish romantic fancy, she could not tell what
impelled her to it, but she felt as though she must go back there once
more.

The church was not closed. She pushed open the swing-door and went in. It
was all hushed and silent and empty. Where so lately the gay throng of
well-dressed men and women had passed in and out, chattering, smiling,
nodding--displaying their radiant toilettes one against the other, there
were only now the dark, empty rows of pews, and the bent figure of one
shabbily-dressed old woman gathering together the prayer-books and
hymn-books that had been tumbled out of their places in the scuffle, and
picking up morsels of torn finery that had dropped about along the nave.

Vera passed by her and went up into the chancel. She stood where Maurice
had stood by the altar rails. A soft, subdued light came streaming in
through the coloured glass window; a bird was chirping high up somewhere
among the oak rafters of the roof, the roar of the street without was
muffled and deadened; the old woman slammed-to the door of a pew, the
echo rang with a hollow sound through the empty building, and her
departing footsteps shuffled away down the aisle into silence.

Vera lifted her eyes; great tears welled down slowly, one by one, over
her cheeks--burning, blistering tears, such as, thank God, one sheds but
once or twice in a lifetime--that seem to rend our very hearts as they
rise.

Presently she sank down upon her knees and prayed--prayed for him, that
he might be happy and forget her, but most of all for herself, that she
might school her rebellious heart to patience, and her wild passion of
misery into peace and submission.

And by degrees the tempest within her was hushed. Then, ere she rose from
her knees, something lying on the ground, within a yard of where she
knelt, caught her eye. It was a little Russia-leather letter-case. She
recognized it instantly; she had often seen Maurice take it out of his
pocket.

She caught at it hungrily and eagerly, as a miser clutches a
treasure-trove, pressing it wildly to her bosom, and covering it with
passionate kisses. Dear little shabby case, that had been so near his
heart; that his hand, perchance, only on hour ago had touched. Could
anything on earth be more priceless to her than this worn and faded
object!

It seemed to be quite empty. It had fallen evidently from his pocket
during the service. If he ever missed it, there was nothing in it to
lose; and now it was hers, hers by every right; she would never part with
it, never. It was all she had of him; the one single thing he had touched
which she possessed.

She rose hurriedly. She was in haste now to be gone with her treasure,
lest any one should wrest it from her. She carried it down the church
with a guilty delight, kissing it more than once as she went. And then,
as she opened the church door, some one ran up the steps outside, and she
stood face to face with Sir John Kynaston.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE RUSSIA-LEATHER CASE.

  "Never again," so speaketh one forsaken,
  In the blank desolate passion of despair:
  Never again shall the bright dream I cherished
  Delude my heart, for bitter truth is there:
  The Angel Hope shall still my cruel pain;
  Never again, my heart--never again!

  A. Procter.


"Vera!"

Sir John Kynaston fell back a step or two and turned very white.

"How do you do?" said Vera, quietly, and put out her hand.

They stood in the open air. There was a carriage passing, some idle
cabmen on the stand with nothing to do but to stare at them, a gaping
nursery-maid and her charges at the gate. Whatever people may feel on
suddenly running against each other after a deadly quarrel, or a
heart-rending separation, or after a long interval of heart-burnings and
misunderstandings, there are always the externals of life to be observed.
It is difficult to rush into the tragedy of one's existence at a gulp; it
is safer to shake hands and say, "How do you do?"

That is what Vera felt, and that was what these two people did. Sir John
took her proffered hand, and responded to her stereotyped greeting. By
the time he had done so he had recovered his presence of mind.

"What an odd thing to meet you at the door of this church," he said,
rather nervously. "Do you know that my brother was married here this
morning?"

"Yes; I was in the church."

"Were you? How glad I am I did not know it," almost involuntarily.

There was a little pause; then Vera asked him if he was going to Walpole
Lodge.

"Eventually; but I have come back here to look for something. My brother
has lost a little Russia-leather case; he thinks he may have dropped it
in the church; there were two ten-pound notes in it. I am going in to
look for it. Why, what is that in your hand? I believe that is the very
thing."

"I--I--just picked it up," stammered Vera. She began searching in the
pockets of the case. "I did not think there was anything in it. Yes, here
are the notes, quite safe."

She took them out and gave them to him. He held out his hand mechanically
for the case also.

"Thank you; you have saved me the trouble of looking for it. I will take
it back to him at once."

But she could not part with her treasure; it was all she had got of him.

"The letter-case is very shabby," she said, crimsoning with a painful
confusion. "I do not think he can want it at all; it is quite worn out."

Sir John looked at her with a slight surprise.

"It can be very little use to him. One likes sometimes to have a little
remembrance of those--of people--one has known; he would not mind my
keeping it, I think. Tell him--tell him I asked for it." The tears were
very near her voice; she could scarcely keep them back out of her eyes.

John Kynaston dropped his hand, and Vera slipped the little case quickly
into her pocket.

"Would you mind walking a little way with me, Vera?" he said, gently and
very gravely.

She drew down her veil, and went with him in silence. They had walked
half-way down Wilton Crescent before he spoke to her again; then he
turned towards her, and looked at her earnestly and sadly.

"Why did you go back again into the church, Vera?"

"I wanted to think quietly a little," she murmured. There was another
pause.

"So _that_ is what parted us!" he exclaimed, with a sudden bitterness, at
length.

She looked up, startled and pale.

"What do you mean?" she stammered.

"Oh, child! I see it all now. How blind I have been. Ah, why did you not
trust me, love? Why did you fear to tell me your secret? Do you not think
that I, who would have laid down my life for you to make you happy, do
you not suppose I would have striven to make your path smooth for you?"

She could not answer him; the kind words, the tender voice, were too much
for her. Her tears fell fast and silently.

"Tell me," he said, turning to her almost roughly, "tell me the truth.
Has he ill-treated you, this brother of mine, who stole you from me, and
then has left you desolate?"

"No, no; do not say that; it was never his fault at all, only mine; and
he was always bound to her. He has been everything that is good and loyal
and true to you and to her; it has been only a miserable mistake, and now
it is over. Yes, thank God, it is over; never speak of it again. He was
never false to you; only I was false. But it is ended."

They were walking round Belgrave Square by this time, not near the
houses, but round the square garden in the middle. All recollection of
his brother's marriage, of the wedding breakfast at Walpole Lodge, of the
speech the best man would be expected to make, had gone clean out of his
head; he thought of nothing but Vera and of the revelation concerning her
that had just come to him. It was the quiet hour of the day; there were
very few people about; everybody was indoors eating heavy luncheons,
with sunblinds drawn down to keep out the heat. They were almost as much
alone as in a country lane in Meadowshire.

"What are you going to do with yourself?" he said to her, presently.
"What use are you going to make of your life?"

"I don't know," she answered, drearily; "I suppose I shall go back to
Sutton. Perhaps I shall marry."

"But not me?"

She looked up at him piteously.

"Listen, child," he said, eagerly. "If I were to go away for a year, and
then come back to you, how would it be? Oh, my darling! I love you so
deeply that I could even be content to do with but half your heart, so
that I could win your sweet self. I would exact nothing from you, love,
no more than what you could give me freely. But I would love you so well,
and make your life so sweet and pleasant to you, that in time, perhaps,
you would forget the old sorrow, and learn to be happy, with a quiet kind
of happiness, with me; I would ask for no more. Look, child, I have
grieved sorely for you; I have sat down and wept, and mourned for you as
though I had no strength or life left in me. But now I am ashamed of my
weakness, for it is unworthy of _you_. I am going away abroad, across the
world, I care not where, so long as I can be up and doing, and forget the
pain at my heart. Vera, tell me that I may come back to you in a year.
Think with what fresh life and courage I should go if I had but that hope
before my eyes. In a year's time your pain will be less; you will have
forgotten many things; you will be content, perhaps, to come to me,
knowing that I will never reproach you with the past, nor expect more
than you can give me in the future. Vera, let me come back and claim you
in a year!"

How strange it was that the chance of marrying this man was perpetually
being presented to her. Never, perhaps, had the temptation been stronger
to her than it was now. He had divined her secret; there would be no
concealment between them; he would ask her for no love it was not in her
power to give; he would be content with her as she was, and he would love
her, and worship her, and surround her with everything that could make
her life pleasant and easy for her. Could a man offer more? Oh! why could
she not take him at his word, and give him the hope he craved for?

Alas! for Vera; she had eaten too deeply of the knowledge of good and
evil--that worldly wisdom in whose strength she had started in life's
race, and in the possession of which she had once deemed herself so
strong--so absolutely invulnerable to the things that pierce and wound
weaker woman--this was gone from her. The baser part of her nature,
wherewith she would so gladly have been content, was uppermost no longer;
her heart had triumphed over her head, and, with a woman of strong
character, this is generally only done at the expense of her happiness.

To marry Sir John Kynaston, to be lapped in luxury, to receive all the
good things of this world at his hands, and all the while to love his
brother with a guilty love, this was no longer possible to Vera Nevill.

"I cannot do it; do not ask me," she said, distractedly. "Your goodness
to me half breaks my heart; but it cannot be."

"Why not, child? In a year so much may be altered."

"I shall not alter."

"No; but, even so, you might learn to be happy with me."

"It is not that; you do not understand. I daresay I could be happy
enough; that is not why I cannot marry you."

"Why not, then?"

"_I dare not_," she said, in a low voice.

He drew in his breath. "Ah!" he said, between his teeth, "is it so bad
with you as that?"

She bent her head in silent assent.

"That is hard," he said, almost to himself, looking gloomily before him.
Presently he spoke again. "Thank you, Vera," he said, rather brokenly.
"You are a brave woman and a true one. Many would have taken my all,
and given me back only deception and falseness. But you are incapable of
that, and--and you fear your own strength; is that it?"

"Whilst he lives," she said, with a sudden burst of passion, "I can know
no safety. Never to see his face again can be my only safeguard, and with
you I could never be safe. Why, even to bear your name would be to scorch
my heart every time I was addressed by it. Forgive me, John," turning to
him with a sudden penitence, "I should not have pained you by saying
these things; you who have been so infinitely good to me. Go your way
across the world, and forget me. Ah! have I not been a curse to every one
who bears the name of Kynaston?"

He was silent from very pity. Vera was no longer to him the goddess of
his imagination; the one pure and peerless woman, above all other women,
such as he had once fancied her to be. But surely she was dearer to him
now, in all her weakness and her suffering, than she had ever been on
that lofty pedestal of perfection upon which he had once lifted her.

He pitied her so much, and yet he could not help her; her malady was past
remedy. And, as she had told him, it was no one's fault--it was only a
miserable mistake. He had never had her heart--he saw it plainly now.
Many little things in the past, which he had scarcely remembered at the
time, came back to his memory--little details of that week at Shadonake,
when Maurice had lived in the same house with her, whilst he had only
gone over daily to see her. Always, in those days, Maurice had been by
her side, and Vera had been dreamily happy, with that fixed look of
content with which the presence of the man she loves best beautifies and
poetises a woman's face. Sir John was not a very observant man; but now,
after it was all over, these things came back to him. The night of the
ball, Mrs. Romer's mysterious hints, and his own vague disquietude at her
words; later on Maurice's reasonless refusal to be present at his
wedding, and Vera's startled face of dismay when he had asked her to go
and plead with him to stay for it.

They had struggled against their hearts, it was clear, these poor lovers,
whose lives were both tied up and bound before ever they had met each
other. But nature had been too strong for them; and the woman, at least,
had torn herself free from the chains that had become insupportable to
her.

They walked on silently, side by side, round the square. Some girls were
playing at lawn-tennis within the garden. There was an occasional shout
or a ringing laugh from their fresh young voices. A footman was walking
along the pavement opposite, with two fat pugs and a white Spitz in the
last stage of obesity in tow, which it was his melancholy duty to parade
daily up and down for their mid-day airing. An occasional hansom dashing
quickly by broke the stillness of the "empty" hour. Years and years
afterwards every detail of the scene came back to his memory with the
distinctness of a photograph when he passed once more through the square.

"You have been no curse to me, Vera," he said, presently, breaking the
silence. "Do not reproach yourself; it is I who was a madman to deem that
I could win your love. Child, we are both sufferers; but time heals most
things, and we must learn to wait and be patient. Will you ever marry,
Vera?"

"I don't know. Perhaps I may be obliged to. It might be better for me. I
cannot say. Don't speak of it. Why, is there nothing else for a woman to
do but to marry? John, it must be late. Ought you not to go back--to--to
your mother's?"

Insensibly, she resumed a lighter manner. On that other subject there was
nothing left to be said. She had had her last chance of becoming John
Kynaston's wife. After what she had said to him, she knew he would never
ask her again. That chapter in her life was closed for ever.

They parted, unromantically enough, in front of St. George's Hospital. He
called a hansom for her, and stood holding her hand, one moment longer,
possibly, than was strictly necessary, looking intently into her face as
he did so.

"Will you think of me sometimes?"

"Yes, surely."

"Good-bye, Vera."

"Good-bye, John. God bless you wherever you may go."

She got into her hansom, and he told the cabman where to drive her; then
he lifted his hat to her with grave politeness, and walked away in the
opposite direction. It was a common-place enough parting, and yet these
two never saw each other's faces again in this world.

So it is with our lives. Some one or other who has been a part of our
very existence for a space goes his way one day, and we see him no more.
For a little while our hearts ache, and we shed tears in secret for him
who is gone, but by-and-by we get to understand that he is part of our
past, never, to be recalled, and after a while we get used to his
absence; we think of him less and less, and the death of him, who was
once bound up in our very lives, strikes us only with a mild surprise,
hardly even tinged with a passing melancholy.

"Poor old so-and-so, he is dead," we say. "What a time it is since we
met," and then we go our way and think of him no more.

But Vera knew that, in all human probability, she would never see him
again, this man, who had once so nearly been her husband. It was another
link of her past life severed. It saddened her, but she knew it was
inevitable.

The little letter-case, at all events, was safely hers; and for many a
night Vera slept with it under her pillow.



CHAPTER XXVII.

DINNER AT RANELAGH.

  Here is the whole set, a character dead at every word.

  Sheridan.


It was the fag end of the London season; people were talking about
Goodwood and the Ryde week, about grouse and about salmon-fishing.
Members of Parliament went about, like martyrs at the stake, groaning
over the interminable nature of every debate, and shaking their heads
over the prospect of getting away. Women in society knew all their own
and their neighbours' dresses by heart, and were dead sick of them all;
and even the very gossip and scandal that is always afloat to keep up the
spirits of the idlers and the chatterers had lost all the zest, all the
charm of novelty that gave flavour and piquancy to every _canard_ that
was started two months ago.

It was all stale, flat, and unprofitable.

What was the use of constantly asserting, on the very best authority,
that Lady So-and-so was on the eve of running away with that handsome
young actor, whose eyes had taken the female population by storm, when
Lady So-and-so persisted in walking about arm-in-arm with her husband day
after day, with a child on either side of them, in the most provoking
way, as though to prove the utter fallacy of the report, and her own
incontestable domestic felicity? Or, what merit had a man any longer who
had stated in May that the heiress _par excellence_ of the season was
about to sell herself and her gold to that debauched and drunken marquis,
who had evidently not six months of life left in him in which to enjoy
his bargain, when the heiress herself gave the lie to the _on dit_ in
July by talking calmly about going to Norway with her papa for a month's
retirement and rest after the fatigues of the season?

What a number of lies are there not propounded during the months of May
and June by the inventive Londoner, and how many of them are there not
proved to be so during the latter end of July!

Heaven only knows how and where the voice of scandal is first raised. Is
it at the five o'clock tea-tables? Or, is it in the smoking-rooms of the
clubs that things are first spoken of, and the noxious breath of slander
started upon its career? Or, are there evil-minded persons, both men and
women, prowling about, like unclean animals, at the skirts of that
society into whose inner recesses they would fain gain admittance,
picking up greedily, here and there, in their eaves-dropping career,
some scrap or morsel of truth out of which they weave a well-varnished
tale wherewith to delight the ears of the vulgar and the coarse-minded?
There are such men and such women; God forgive them for their wickedness!

Do any of these scandal-mongers ever call to mind, I wonder, an ancient
and, seemingly, a well-nigh forgotten injunction?

"Thou shalt not bear false witness," said the same Voice who has also
said, "Thou shalt do no murder."

And which is the worst--to kill a man's body, or to slay a man's honour,
or a woman's reputation?

In truth, there seems to me to be but little difference between the two;
and the man or the woman who will do the one might very possibly be
guilty of the other--but for the hanging!

We should all do a great many more wicked things than we do if there were
no consequences.

It is a very trite observation, which is, nevertheless, never spoken with
more justice or more truth than at or about Hyde Park Corner between May
and July, that the world we live in is a very wicked one.

Well, the season, as I have said, was well-nigh over, and all the scandal
had run dry, and the gossip, for the most part, been proved to be
incorrect, and there was nobody in all London who excited so much
irritation among the talkers as the new beauty, Vera Nevill.

For Vera was Miss Nevill still, and there was every prospect of her
remaining so. What on earth possessed the girl that she would not marry?
Had not men dangled at her elbow all the season? Could she not have had
such and such elder sons, or such and such wealthy commoner? What was she
waiting for? A girl without a penny, who came nobody knew from where,
ushered in under Mrs. Hazeldine's wings, with not a decent connection
in the world to her name! What did she want--this girl who had only her
beauty to depend upon? and everybody knows how fleeting _that_ is!

And then, presently, the women who were envious of her began to whisper
amongst themselves. There was something against her; she was not what she
seemed to be. The men flirted, of course--men will always flirt! but
they were careful not to commit themselves! And even that mysterious word
"adventuress," which has an ugly sound, but of which no one exactly knows
the precise meaning, began to be bruited about.

"There was an unpleasant story about her, somebody told me once," said
one prettily-dressed nonentity to another, as they wandered slowly up and
down the velvet lawns at Ranelagh. "She was mixed up in some way with the
Kynaston family. Sir John was to have married her, and then something
dreadful came out, and he threw her over."

"Oh, I thought she jilted him."

"I daresay it was one or the other; at all events, there was some fracas
or other. I believe her mother was--hum, hum--you understand--she
couldn't be swallowed by the Kynastons at any price; they must have been
thankful to get out of it."

"It looks very bad, her not marrying any one, with all the fuss there has
been made over her."

"Yes; even Cissy Hazeldine told me, in confidence, yesterday, she could
not try her again next season. It wouldn't do, you know; it would look
too much as if she had some object of her own in getting her married.
Cissy must find something else for another year. Of course, with a
husband, she could sail her own course and make her own way; but a girl
can't go on attracting attention with impunity--she gets herself talked
about--it is only we married women can do as we like."

"Exactly. Do you suppose _that_ will come to anything?" casting a glance
towards the further end of the lawn, where Vera Nevill sat in a low
basket-chair, under the shadow of a spreading tulip-tree, whilst a slight
boyish figure, stretched at her feet, alternately chewed blades of grass
and looked up worshippingly into her face.

"_That!_" following the direction of her companion's eyes. "Oh dear, no!
Denis Wilde is too wideawake to be caught, though he is such a boy! They
say she is crazy to get him; everybody else has slipped through her
fingers, you see, and he would be better than nothing. Now we are in the
last week in July, I daresay she is getting desperate; but young Wilde
knows pretty well what he is about, I expect!"

"He seems to admire her."

"Oh, yes, I daresay; those large kind of women do get admired; men look
upon them as fine animals. _I_ should not care to be admired in that way,
would you?"

"No, indeed! it is disgusting," replied the other, who was fain to
conceal the bony corners of her angular figure with a multiplicity of
lace ruchings and puffings.

"As to Miss Nevill, she is nothing else. A most material type; why, her
waist must be twenty-two inches round!"

"Quite that, dear," with sweetness, from the owner of a nineteen-inch
article, which two maids struggled with daily in order to reduce it to
the required measurement.

"Well, I never could--between you and me--see much to admire in her."

"Neither could I, although, of course, it has been the fashion to rave
over her."

And, with that, these two amiable young women fell at it tooth and nail,
and proceeded to cry down their victim's personal appearance in the most
unmeasured and sweeping terms.

After the taking away of a fellow-woman's character, comes as a natural
sequence the condemnation of her face and figure, and it is doubtful
which indictment is the most grave in eyes feminine. Meanwhile the
object of all this animadversion sat tranquilly unconscious under her
tulip-tree, whilst Denis Wilde, that astute young gentleman, whom they
had declared to be too well aware of what he was about to be entrapped
into matrimony, was engaged in proposing to her for the fourth time.

"I thought we had settled this subject long ago, Mr. Wilde," says Vera,
tranquilly unfolding her large, black, feather fan--for it is hot--and
slowly folding it up again.

"It will never be settled for me, Vera; never, so long as you are
unmarried."

"What a dreadful mistake life is!" sighs Vera, wearily, more to herself
than to the boy at her feet. Was anybody ever happy in this world? she
began to wonder.

"I know very well," resumed Denis Wilde, "that I am not good enough for
you; but, then, who is? My prospects, such as they are, are very distant,
and your friends, I daresay, expect you to marry well."

"How often must I tell you that that has nothing to do with it," cries
Vera, impatiently. "If I loved a beggar, I should marry him."

Young Wilde plucked at the grass again, and chewed a daisy up almost
viciously. There was a supreme selfishness in the way she had of
perpetually harping upon her lack of love for him.

"There is always some fellow or other hanging about you," grumbles the
young man, irritably; "you are an inveterate flirt!"

"No woman is worthy of the name who is not!" retorts Vera, laughing.

"I _hate_ a flirt," angrily.

"This is very amusing when you know that your flirtation with Mrs.
Hazeldine is a chronic disease of two years' standing!"

"Pooh!--mere child's play on both sides, and you know it is! You are very
different; you lead a fellow on till he doesn't know whether his very
soul is his own, and then you turn round and snap your fingers in his
face and send him to the devil."

"What an awful accusation! Pray give me an instance of a victim to this
shocking conduct."

"Why, there's that wretched little Frenchman whom you are playing the
same game with that you have already done with me; he follows you like
a shadow."

"Poor Monsieur D'Arblet!" laughed Vera, and then grew suddenly serious.
"But do you know, Mr. Wilde, it is a very singular thing about that
man--I can't think why he follows me about so."

"_Can't_ you!" very grimly.

"I assure you the man is in no more love with me than--than----"

"_I_ am! I suppose you will say next."

"Oh dear, no, you are utterly incorrigible and quite in earnest; but
Monsieur D'Arblet is _pretending_ to be in love with me."

"He makes a very good pretence of it, at all events. Here he comes,
confound him! If I had known Mrs. Hazeldine had asked _him_, I would
never have come."

At which Vera, who had heard these outbursts of indignant jealousy
before, and knew how little poor Denis meant the terrible threats he
uttered, only laughed with the pitiless amusement of a woman who knows
her own power.

Lucien D'Arblet came towards her smiling, and sank down into a vacant
basket-chair by her side with the air of a man who knows himself to be
welcome.

He had been paying a great deal of attention latterly to the beautiful
Miss Nevill; he had followed her about everywhere, and had made it patent
in every public place where he had met her that she alone was the sole
aim and object of his thoughts. And yet, with it all, Monsieur Le Vicomte
was only playing a part, and not only that, but he was pretty certain
that she knew it to be so. He gazed rapturously into her beautiful face,
he lowered his voice tenderly in speaking to her, he pressed her hand
when she gave it to him, and even on occasions he raised it furtively to
his lips; but, with all this, he knew perfectly well that she was not one
whit deceived by him. She no more believed him to be in love with her
than he believed it of himself. She was clever and beautiful, and he
admired and even liked her, but in the beginning of their acquaintance
Monsieur D'Arblet had had no thought of making her the object of any
sentimental attentions. He had been driven to it by a discovery that he
had made concerning her character.

Miss Nevill had a good heart. She was no enraged, injured woman,
thirsting for revenge upon the woman who had stolen her lover from
her--such as he had desired to find in her; she was only a true-hearted
and unhappy girl, who was not in any case likely to develop into the
instrument of vengeance which he sought for.

It was a disappointment to him, but he was not completely disheartened.
It was through her that he desired to punish Helen for daring to brave
him, and he swore to himself that he would do it still; only he must now
set about it in a different way, so he began to make love to Miss Nevill.

And Vera was shrewd enough to perceive that he was only playing a part.
Nevertheless, there were times when she felt so completely puzzled by his
persistent adoration, that she could hardly tell what to make of it. Was
he trying to make some other woman jealous? It even came into her head,
once or twice, to suspect that Cissy Hazeldine was the real object of his
devotion, so utterly incomprehensible did his conduct appear to her.

If she had been told that Lucien D'Arblet's real quest was not love, but
revenge, she would have laughed. An Englishman does not spend his time
nor his energies in plotting a desperate retaliation on a lady who has
disregarded his threats and evaded his persecution; it is not in the
nature of any Briton, however irascible, to do so; but a Frenchman is
differently constituted. There is something delightfully refreshing to
him in an atmosphere of plotting and intrigue. There is the same instinct
of the chase in both nationalities, but it is more amusing to the
Frenchman to hunt down his fellow-creatures than to pursue unhappy little
beasts of the field; and he understands himself in the pursuit of the
larger game infinitely better.

Nevertheless, Monsieur D'Arblet had no intention of getting himself into
trouble, nor of risking the just fury of an indignant British husband,
who stood six feet in his stockings, nor did he desire, by any anonymous
libel, to bring himself in any way under the arm of the law. All he meant
to do was to dig his trench and to lay his mine, to place the fuse in
Vera Nevill's hands--leave her to set fire to it--and then retire
himself, covered with satisfaction at his cleverness, to his own side
of the Channel.

Who could possibly grudge him so harmless an entertainment?

Monsieur D'Arblet, as he sat down by her side under the tulip-tree, began
by paying Miss Nevill a prettily turned compliment upon her fresh white
toilette; as he did so Vera smiled and bent her head; she had seen him
before to-day.

"Fine evening, Mr. Wilde," said the Frenchman, turning civilly, but with
no evident _empressement_, towards the gentleman he addressed.

Denis only answered by a sulky grunt.

Then began that process between the two men which is known in polite
society as the endeavour to sit each other out.

Monsieur D'Arblet discoursed upon the weather and the beauty of the
gardens, with long and expressive pauses between each insignificant
remark, and the air of a man who wishes to say, "I could talk about much
more interesting things if that other fellow was out of the way."

Denis Wilde simply reversed himself, that is to say, he lay on his
back instead of his face, stared up at the sky, and chewed grass
perseveringly. He had evidently no intention of being driven off the
field.

"I had something of great importance to say to you this evening,"
murmured Monsieur D'Arblet, at length, looking fixedly at his enemy's
upturned face.

"All right, go ahead, don't mind me," says the young gentleman, amiably.
"I'm never in the way, am I, Miss Nevill?"

"Never, Mr. Wilde," answers Vera, sweetly. Like a true woman, she quite
appreciates the fun of the situation, and thoroughly enjoys it; "pray
tell me what you have to say, monsieur."

"Ah! Ces choses-là ne se disent qu'à deux!" murmurs he Frenchman, with a
sentimental sigh.

"It is no use your saying it in French," says Denis, with a chuckle,
twisting himself round again upon his chest, "because I have the good
fortune, D'Arblet, to understand your charming language like a native,
absolutely like a native."

"You have a useful proverb in English, which says, that two is company,
and three is none," retorts D'Arblet, with a smile.

"I'm awfully sorry, old fellow; but I am so exceedingly comfortable, I
really can't get up; if I could oblige you in any other way, I certainly
would."

"Come to dinner!" cries out Mrs. Hazeldine, coming towards them from the
garden side of the lawn; "we are all here now."

The two men sprang simultaneously to their feet. This is, of course, the
moment that they have both been waiting for. Each offers an arm to Miss
Nevill; Monsieur D'Arblet bends blandly and smilingly forward; Denis
Wilde has a thunder-cloud upon his face, and holds out his arm as though
he were ready to knock somebody down with it.

"What am I to do?" cries Vera, laughing, and looking with feigned
indecision from one to the other.

"Make haste and decide, my dear," says Mrs. Hazeldine; "for whichever of
you two gentlemen does _not_ take in Miss Nevill must go and take that
eldest Miss Frampton for me."

The eldest Miss Frampton is thirty-five if she is a day; she is large and
bony, much given to beads and bangles, and to talking about the military
men she has known, and whom she usually calls by their surnames alone,
like a man. She goes familiarly amongst her acquaintance by the name of
the Dragoon.

A cold shiver passes visibly down Mr. Wilde's back; unfortunately Miss
Nevill perceives it, and makes up her mind instantly.

"I would not deprive you of so charming a companion," she says, smiling
sweetly at him, and passes her arm through that of the French vicomte.

At dinner, poor Denis Wilde curses Monsieur D'Arblet; Miss Frampton, and
his own fate, indiscriminately and ineffectually. He is sitting exactly
opposite to his divinity, but he cannot even enjoy the felicity of
staring at her, for Miss Frampton will not let him alone. She chatters
unceasingly and gushingly. At an early period of the repast the string of
her amber-bead necklace suddenly gives way with a snap. The beads trickle
slowly down, one by one; half a dozen of them drop with a cracking noise,
like little marbles, upon the polished floor, where there is a general
scramble of waiters and gentlemen under the table together after them;
two fall into her own soup, three more on to Denis Wilde's table-napkin;
as fast as the truants are picked up others are shed down in their wake
from the four apparently inexhaustible rows that garnish her neck.

Miss Frampton bears it all with serene and smiling good temper.

"Dear me, I am really very sorry to give so much trouble. It doesn't
signify in the least, Mr. Wilde--thanks, that is one more. Oh, there goes
another into the sweet-breads; but I really don't mind if they are lost.
Jameson, of the 17th, gave them to me. Do you know Jameson? cousin of
Jameson, in the 9th; he brought them from Italy, or Turkey, or somewhere.
I am sure I don't remember where amber comes from; do you, Mr. Wilde?"

Mr. Wilde, if he is vague as to where it comes from, is quite decided
as to where he would desire it to go. At this moment he had crunched a
tender tooth down upon one of these infernal beads, having helped himself
to it unconsciously out of the sweetbread dish.

Is he doomed to swallow amber beads for the remainder of the repast? he
asks himself.

"Did you ever meet Archdale, the man who was in the 16th?" continues Miss
Frampton, glibly, unconscious of his agonies; "he exchanged afterwards
into the 4th--he is such a nice fellow. I lunched every day at Ascot this
year on the 16th's drag. The first day I met Lester--that's the major,
you know--and Lester is _such_ a pet! He told me to come every day to
lunch, and bring any of my friends with me; so, of course, I did, and
there wasn't a better lunch on the course; and, on the cup-day, Archdale
came up and talked to me--he abused the champagne-cup, though; he said
there was more soda-water than champagne in it--the more he drank of it
the more dreadfully sober he got. However, I am invited to lunch with the
4th at Goodwood. They are going to have a spread under the trees, so I
shall be able to compare notes about the champagne-cup. I know two other
men in the 4th; Hopkins and Lambert; do you know them?" and so on, until
pretty well half the army list and all the luncheon-giving regiments in
the service had been passed under review.

And there, straight opposite to him, was Vera, laughing at his
discomfiture, he was sure, but also listening to the flattering rubbish
which that odious little Frenchman was pouring into her ears.

Did ever young man sit through such a detestable and abominable repast?

If Denis Wilde had been rash enough to nourish insane hopes with regard
to moonlight wanderings in the pleasant garden after dinner, these hopes
were destined to be blighted.

They were a party of twelve; the waiting was bad, and the courses
numerous; the dinner was a lengthy affair altogether. By the time it was
over, and coffee had been discussed on the terrace outside the house, the
carriages came round to the door, and the ladies of the party voted that
it was time to go home.

Soon everybody stood clothed in summer ulsters or white dust-cloaks,
waiting in the hall. The coach started from the door with much noise
and confusion, with a good deal of plunging from the leaders, and some
jibbing from the wheelers, accompanied by a very feeble performance on
that much-abused instrument, the horn, by an amateur who occupied a back
seat; and after it had departed, a humble train of neat broughams and
victorias came trooping up in its wake.

"You will see," said nonentity number one, in her friend's ear; "you will
see that Nevill girl will go back in some man's brougham--that is what
she has been waiting for; otherwise, she would have perched herself up on
the box-seat of the coach, in the most conspicuous place she could find."

"What a disgraceful creature she must be!" is the indignantly virtuous
reply.

The "Nevill girl," however, disappointed the expectations of both these
charitable ladies by quietly taking her place in Mrs. Hazeldine's
brougham, by her friend's side, amid a shower of "Good-nights" from the
remainder of the party.

"Ah!" said the nonentity, with a vicious gasp, "you may be sure she has
some disreputable supper of men, and cigars, and brandies and sodas
waiting for her up in town, or she would never go off so meekly as that
in Mrs. Hazeldine's brougham. Still waters run deep, my dear!"

"She is a horrid, disreputable girl, I am quite sure of that," is the
answer. "I am very thankful, indeed, that I haven't the misfortune of
knowing her."



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MRS. HAZELDINE'S "LONG ELIZA."

   Now will I show myself to have more of the serpent than the
   dove; that is, more knave than fool.

   Christopher Marlowe.


   For every inch that is not fool is rogue.

   Dryden.


The scene is Mrs. Hazeldine's drawing-room, in Park Lane, the hour is
four o'clock in the afternoon, and the _dramatis personæ_ are Miss
Nevill, very red in the face, standing in a corner, behind an oblong
velvet table covered with china ornaments, and Monsieur Le Vicomte
D'Arblet, also red in the face, gesticulating violently on the further
side of it.

Miss Nevill, having retired behind the oblong table, purely from
prudential motives of personal safety, is devoured with anxiety
concerning the too imminent fate of her hostess' china. There is a little
Lowestoft tea-service that was picked up only last week at Christie and
Manson's, a turquoise blue crackle jar that is supposed to be priceless,
and a pair of "Long Eliza" vases, which her hostess loves as much as she
does her toy terrier, and far better than she loves her husband.

What will become of her, Vera Nevill, if Mrs. Hazeldine comes in
presently and finds these treasures lying in a thousand pieces upon the
floor? And yet this is what she is looking forward to, as only too
probable a catastrophe.

Vera feels much as must have felt the owner of the proverbial bull
in the crockery shop--terror mingled with an overpowering sense of
responsibility. All personal considerations are well-nigh merged in
the realization of the danger which menaces her hostess' property.

"Monsieur D'Arblet, I must implore you to calm yourself," she says,
desperately.

"And how, mademoiselle, I ask you, am I to be calm when you speak of
shattering the hopes of my life?" cries the vicomte, who is dancing about
frantically backwards and forwards, in a clear space of three square
yards, between the different pieces of furniture by which he is
surrounded, all equally fragile, and equally loaded with destructible
objects.

"_Pray_ be careful, Monsieur D'Arblet, your sleeve nearly caught then in
the handle of that Chelsea basket," cries Vera, in anguish.

"And what to me are Chelsea baskets, or china, or trash of that kind,
when you, cruel one, are determined to scorn me?"

"Oh, if you would only come outside and have it out on the staircase,"
murmurs Vera, piteously.

"No, I will never leave this room, never, mademoiselle, until you give
me hope; never will I cease to importune you until your heart relents
towards the _miserable_ who adores you!"

Here Monsieur D'Arblet made an attempt to get at his charmer by coming
round the end of the velvet table.

Vera felt distracted. To allow him to execute his maneuver was to run
the chance of being clasped in his arms; to struggle to get free was the
almost certainty of upsetting the table.

She cast a despairing glance across the room at the bell-handle, which
was utterly beyond her reach. There was no hope in that direction.
Apparently, moral persuasion was her only chance.

"Monsieur D'Arblet, I _forbid_ you to advance a step nearer to me!"

He fell back with a profound sigh.

"Mademoiselle, I love you to distraction. I am unable to disobey your
commands."

"Very well, then, listen to me. I cannot understand this violent outburst
of emotion. You have done me the honour to propose to marry me, and I
have, with many thanks for your most flattering distinction, declined
your offer. Surely, between a lady and a gentleman, there can be nothing
further to say; it is not incumbent upon you to persecute me in this
fashion."

"Miss Nevill, you have treated me with a terrible cruelty. You have
encouraged my ardent passion for you until you did lift me up to Heaven."
Here Monsieur D'Arblet stretched up both his arms with a suddenness which
endangered the branches of the tall Dresden candelabra on the high
mantelpiece behind him. "After which you do reject me and cast me down
to hell!" and down came both hands heavily upon the velvet table between
them. The blue crackle jar, the two "Long Eliza" vases, and all the
Lowestoft cups and saucers, literally jumped upon their foundations.

"For Heaven's sake!" cried Vera.

"Ah!" in a tone of deep reproach, "do not plead with me, mademoiselle;
you have broken my heart."

"And you have nearly broken the china," murmured Vera.

"What is this miserable china that you talk about in comparison with my
happiness?" and the vicomte made as though he would tear his hair out
with both hands.

The comedy of the situation began to be too much for Vera's self-control;
another ten minutes of it, and she felt that she should become
hysterical; all the more so because she knew very well that the whole
thing was nothing but a piece of acting; with what object, however, she
was at a loss to imagine.

"For goodness sake, do be reasonable, Monsieur D'Arblet; you know
perfectly well that I never encouraged you, as you call it, for the very
good reason that there has never been anything to encourage. We have been
very good friends, but never anything more."

"Mademoiselle, you do me injustice."

"On the contrary, I give you credit for a great deal more common sense,
as a rule, than you seem disposed to evince to-day. I am quite certain
that you have never entertained any warmer feeling towards me than
friendship."

This was an injudicious statement. Monsieur D'Arblet felt that his
reputation as a _galant homme_ and an adorer of the fair sex was
impugned; he instantly flew into the most violent passion, and jumped
about amongst the gipsy tables and the _étagères_, and the dainty little
spindle-legged cabinets more vehemently than ever.

"_I_, not love you! Lucien D'Arblet profess a sentiment which he does not
experience! _Ah! par exemple, Mademoiselle, c'est trop fort!_ Next you
will say that I am a _menteur_, a _fripon_, a _lâche_! You will tell me
that I have no honour, and no sense of the generosity due to a woman;
that I am a brute and an imbecile," and at every epithet he dashed his
hands violently out in front of him, or thrust them wildly through his
disordered locks. The whole room shook, every ornament on every table
shivered with the strength of his agitation.

"Oh, I will say any single thing you like," cried Vera, "if only you will
keep still----"

"Do not insult me by denying my affection!"

"I will deny nothing," said poor Vera, at her wits' ends. "If what I have
said has pained you, I am sincerely sorry for it; but for Heaven's sake
control yourself, and--and--_do_ go away!"

Then Monsieur D'Arblet stood still and looked at her fixedly and
mournfully; his hands had dropped feebly by his side, there was an air
of profound melancholy in his aspect; he regarded her with a searching
intensity. He was asking himself whether his agitation and his despair
had produced the very slightest effect upon her; and he came to the
conclusion they had not.

"_Peste soit de cette femme!_" he said to himself. "She is the first I
ever came across who refused to believe in vows of eternal love. As a
rule, women never fail to give them credit, if they are spoken often
enough and shouted out loud enough the more one despairs and declares
that one is about to expire, the more the dear creatures are impressed,
and the more firmly they are convinced of the power of their own charms.
But this woman does not believe in me one little bit. Love, despair,
rage--it is all the same to her--I might as well talk to the winds! She
only wants to get rid of me before her friend comes in, and before I
break her accursed china. Ah it is these miserable little pots and jugs
that she is thinking about! Very well, then, it is by them that I will do
what I want. A great genius can bend to small things as well as soar to
large ones--Voyons done, ma belle, which of us will be the victor!"

All this time he was gazing at her fixedly and dejectedly.

"Miss Nevill," he said, gloomily, "I will accept your rejection;
to-morrow I will say good-bye to this country for ever!"

"We are all going away this week," said Vera, cheerfully: "this is the
end of July. You will come back again next year, and enjoy your season as
much as ever."

"Never--never. Lucien D'Arblet will visit this country no more. The words
that I am about to speak to you now--the request that I am about to make
of you are like the words of a dying man; like the parting desire of one
who expires. Mademoiselle, I have a request to make of you."

"I am sure," began Vera, politely, "if there is anything I can do
for you----" She breathed more freely now he talked about going away
and dying; it would be much better that he should so go away, and so
die, than remain interminably on the rampage in Mrs. Hazeldine's
drawing-room. Vera had stood siege for close upon an hour. The moment of
her deliverance was apparently drawing near; in the hour of victory she
felt that she could afford to be generous; any little thing that he liked
to ask of her she would be glad enough to do with a view to expediting
his departure. Perhaps he wanted her photograph, or a lock of her hair;
to either he would be perfectly welcome.

"There is something I am forced to go away from England without having
done; a solemn duty I have to leave unperformed. Miss Nevill, will you
undertake to do it for me?"

"Really, Monsieur D'Arblet, you are very mysterious; it depends, of
course, upon what this duty is--if it is very difficult, or very
unpleasant."

"It is neither difficult nor unpleasant. It is only to give a small
parcel to a gentleman who is not now in England; to give it him yourself,
with your own hands."

"That does not sound difficult, certainly," said Vera, smiling; after
all, she was glad he had not asked for a photograph, or a lock of hair;
"but how am I to find this friend of yours?"

"Miss Nevill, do you know a man called Kynaston? Captain Maurice
Kynaston?" He was watching her keenly now.

Vera turned suddenly very white: then controlling herself with an effort,
she answered quietly.

"Yes, I know him. Why?"

"Because that is the man I want you to give my parcel to." He drew
something out of his breast coat-pocket, and handed it to her across the
oblong table that was still between them. She took it in her hands, and
turned it over doubtfully and uneasily. It was a small square parcel,
done up in brown paper, fastened round with string, and sealed at both
ends.

It might have been a small book; it probably was. She had no reason to
give why she should not do his commission for him, and yet she felt a
strange and unaccountable reluctance to undertake it.

"I had very much rather that you asked somebody else to do this for you,
Monsieur D'Arblet," she said, handing the packet back to him. He did not
attempt to take it from her.

"It concerns the most sacred emotions of my heart, mademoiselle," he
said, sensationally. "I could not entrust it to an indifferent person.
You, who have plunged me into such an abyss of despair by your cruel
rejection of my affection, cannot surely refuse to do so small a thing
for me."

Miss Nevill was again looking at the small parcel in her hands.

"Will it hurt or injure Captain Kynaston in any way?" she asked.

"Far from it; it will probably be of great service to him. Come, Miss
Nevill, promise me that you will give it to him; any time will do before
the end of the year, any time that you happen to see him, or to be near
enough to visit him; I only want to be sure that it reaches him. All you
have to do is to give it him into his hands when no one else is near.
After all, it is a very small favour I ask you."

"And it is precisely because it is so small, Monsieur D'Arblet," said
Vera, decidedly, "that I cannot imagine why you should make such a point
of a trifle like this; and as I don't like being mixed up in things I
don't understand, I must, I think, decline to have anything to do with
it."

"_Allons donc!_" said the vicomte to himself. "I am reduced to the
china."

He took an excited turn up and down the room, then came back again to
where she stood.

"Miss Nevill!" he cried, with rising anger, "you seem determined to wound
my feelings and to insult my self-respect. You reject my offers, you
sneer at my professions of affection; and now you appear to me to throw
sinister doubts upon the meaning of the small thing I have asked you to
do for me." At each of these accusations he waved his arm up and down to
emphasize his remarks; and now, as if unconsciously, his hand suddenly
fell upon the neck of one of the "Long Eliza" vases on the table before
him. He lifted it up in the air.

"For Heaven's sake, Monsieur D'Arblet, take care--please put down that
vase," cried Vera; suddenly returning to her former terrors.

He looked at the object in his hand as though it were utterly beneath
consideration.

"Vase! what is a vase, I ask? Do you not suppose, before relinquishing
what I ask of you, I would dash a hundred vases such as this into ten
thousand fragments to the earth?" He raised his arm above his head as
though on the point of carrying his threat into execution.

Vera uttered a scream.

"Good gracious! What on earth are you doing? It is Mrs. Hazeldine's
favourite piece of china; she values it more than anything she has got.
If you were to break it, she would go half out of her mind."

"Never mind this wretched vase. Answer me, Mademoiselle Nevill, will you
give that parcel to Captain Kynaston?"

"I am not at all likely to meet him; I assure you nothing is so
improbable. I know him very little. Ah! what are you doing?"

The infuriated Frenchman was whirling the blue-and-white treasure madly
round in the air.

"You are, then, determined to humiliate and to insult me; and to prove to
you how great is my just indignation, I will dash----"

"No, no, no!" cried Vera, frantically; "for Heaven's sake, do not be so
mad. Mrs. Hazeldine will never forgive me. Put it down, I entreat you.
Yes, yes, I will promise anything you like. I am sure I have no wish to
insult you."

"Ah, then, you will give that to him?" He paused with the vase still
uplifted, looking at her.

Vera felt convinced by this time that she had to do with a raving
lunatic. After all, was it not better to do this small thing for him, and
to get rid of him. She knew that, sooner or later, down at Sutton, or up
in London, she and Maurice were likely to meet. It would not be much
trouble to her to place the small parcel in his hands. Surely, to deliver
herself from this man--to save Cissy's beloved china, and, perchance,
her own throat--for what might he not take a fancy to next!--from the
clutches of this madman, it would be easier to do what he wanted.

"Yes, I will give it to him. I promise you, if you will only put that
vase down and go away."

"You will promise me faithfully?"

"Faithfully."

"On your word of honour, and as you hope for salvation?"

"Yes, yes. There is no need for oaths; if I have promised, I will do it."

"Very well." He placed the vase back upon the table and walked to the
door. "Mademoiselle," he said, making her a low bow, "I am infinitely
obliged to you;" and then, without another word, he opened the door and
was gone.

Three minutes later Mrs. Hazeldine came in. She was just back from
her drive. She found Vera lying back exhausted and breathless in an
arm-chair.

"My dear, what have you done to Monsieur D'Arblet? I met him running out
of the house like a madman, and laughing to himself like a little fiend.
He nearly knocked me down. What has happened! Have you accepted him?"

"No, I have refused him," gasped Vera; "but, thank God, I have saved your
'Long Eliza,' Cissy!"

Early the following morning one of Mrs. Hazeldine's servants was
despatched in a hansom with a small brown paper parcel and a note to the
Charing Cross Hotel.

During the night watches Miss Nevill had been seized with misgivings
concerning the mysterious mission wherewith she had been charged.

But the servant, the parcel, and the note all returned together just as
they had been sent.

"Monsieur D'Arblet has left town, Miss; he went by the tidal train last
night on his way to the Continent, and has left no address."

So Vera tore up her own note, and locked up the offending parcel in her
dressing-case.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A WEDDING TOUR.

  Thus Grief still treads upon the heels of Pleasure;
  Married in haste, we may repent at leisure.

  Congreve.


We all know that weddings are as old as the world, but who is it
that invented wedding tours? Owing to what delusion were they first
instituted?

For a wedding feast there is a reasonable cause, just as there is for
a funeral luncheon, or a christening dinner. There has been in each
instance a trying ordeal to be gone through in a public church. It is
quite right that there should be eating and drinking, and a certain
amount of jollification afterwards amongst the unoffending guests who
have been dragged in as spectators on the occasion. But why on earth,
when the day is over, cannot the unhappy couple be left alone to eat
a Darby-and-Joan dinner together in the house in which they propose to
live, and return peacefully on the morrow to the avocation of their
daily lives? Why must they be sent off amid a shower of rice and
shabby satin shoes into an enforced banishment from the society of their
fellow-creatures, and so thrown upon each other that, in nine cases out
of ten, for want of something better to do, they have learnt the way to
quarrel, tooth and nail, before the week is out?

I believe that a great many marriages that are as likely as not to turn
out in the end very happily are utterly prevented from doing so by that
pernicious and utterly childish custom of keeping up the season known as
the honeymoon. "Honey," by the way, is very sweet, doubtless; but there
is nothing on earth which sensible people get sooner tired of. Three days
of an exclusively saccharine diet is about as much as any grown man or
woman can be reasonably expected to stand; after that period there comes
upon the jaded appetite unlawful longings after strong meats and
anchovies, after turtle-soup and devilled bones, such as no sugar-fed
couple has the poetic right to indulge in. Nevertheless, like a snake in
the grass, the insidious desire will creep into the soul of one or other
of the two. There will be, doubtless, a noble struggle to stifle the
treacherous thought; a vigorous effort to bring back the wandering mind
into the path of duty; a conscientious effort to go on enjoying honeycomb
as though no flavour of richer viands had been wafted to the nostrils of
the imagination. The sweet and poetical food will be lifted once more
resolutely to the lips, but only to create a sickening satiety from which
the nauseated victim finally revolts in desperation. Then come yearnings
and weariness, loss of appetite, and consequent loss of temper; tears on
the one side, an oath or two on the other, and the "happy couple" come
home eventually very much wiser, as a rule, than they started, and
certainly in a position to understand several unpleasant truths
concerning each other of which they had not a suspicion before they went
away.

Now, if this is too often the melancholy finale to a wedding trip, even
with regard to persons who start forth on it full of hopes of happiness,
of faith in each other, and of fervent affection on both sides, how much
worse is not the case when there are small hopes of happiness, no faith
whatever on one side, and of affection none at all on the other?

This was how it was with Captain and Mrs. Maurice Kynaston on their six
weeks' wedding trip abroad. They went to a great many places they had
neither of them seen before. They stayed a week in Paris, where Helen
bought more dresses and declared herself supremely happy; they visited
the falls of the Rhine, which Maurice said deafened him; and ran
through Switzerland, which they both voted detestably uncomfortable and
dirty--the hotels, _bien entendu_, not the mountains. They stopped a
night on the St. Gothard, which was too cold for them, and a week or two
at the Italian lakes, which were too hot. They sauntered through the
picture-galleries of Milan and Turin, at which places Maurice's yawns
became prolonged and audible; and they floated through the canals of
Venice in gondolas, which Helen asserted to be more ragged and full of
fleas than any London four-wheeler. And then they turned homewards, and
by the time they neared the shores of the Channel once more they had had
so many quarrels that they had forgotten to count them, and they had both
privately discovered that matrimony is an egregious and, alas! an
irreparable mistake. Such a discovery was possibly inevitable; perhaps
they would have come in time to the same conclusion had they remained at
home, but they certainly found it out all the quicker for having gone
abroad.

Helen, perhaps, was the most to be pitied of the two. For Maurice there
had been no illusions to dispel, no dreams to be dissipated, no castles
built upon the sand to fall shattered into atoms; he had known very well
what he had to expect; he did not love the wife he was marrying, and he
did love somebody else. It had not, therefore, been a brilliant prospect
of bliss. Nevertheless, he had certainly hoped, with that vague kind of
hope in which Englishmen are prone to indulge, that things would "come
right" in some fashion, and that he and Helen would manage "to get on"
together. That they did not do so was an annoyance, but hardly a surprise
to him.

But to Helen there was a good deal of unexpected grief and mortification
of soul. She, at all events, had loved him; it was her own strength of
will, the fervour of her own lawless passion for him that had carried the
day, and had, in the end, made her his wife. And she had said to herself
that, once married to him, she would make him love her.

Alas, in love there is no such thing as compulsion! The heart that loves,
loves freely, spontaneously, unreasonably; and, where love is dead, there
neither entreaties nor prayers, nor yet a whole ocean of tears can serve
to re-awaken the frail blossom into life.

But Helen had made sure that, once absolutely her own, once irrevocably
separated from the girl whom instinct had taught her to regard as her
rival, Maurice would return to the old allegiance, and learn to love her
once more, as in days now long gone by.

A very short experience served to convince her of the contrary. Maurice
yawned too openly, was too evidently wearied and bored with her society,
too utterly indifferent to her sayings and her doings, for her to delude
herself long with the hope of regaining his affection. It was all the
same to him whatever she did. If she showered caresses upon him, he
submitted meekly, it is true, but with so evident a distaste to the
operation that she learnt to discontinue the kisses he cared for so
little; if she tried to amuse him with her conversation, he appeared to
be thinking of other things; if she gave her opinion, he hardly seemed to
listen to it. Only when they quarrelled did the slightest animation enter
into their conjugal relations; and it was almost better to quarrel than
to be at peace on such terms as these.

And then Helen got angry with him; angry and sore, wounded in her heart,
and hurt in her vanity. She said to herself that she had been ready to
become the best and most devoted of wives; to study his wishes, to defer
to his opinion, to surround him with loving attentions; but since he
would not have it so, then so much the worse for him. She would be no
model wife; no meek slave, subservient to his caprices. She would go her
own way, and follow her own will, and make him do what she liked, whether
it pleased him or not.

Had Maurice cared to struggle with her for the mastery, things might have
ended differently, but it did not seem worth his while to struggle; as
long as she let him alone, and did not fret him with her incessant
jealousies and suspicions, he was content to let her do as she liked.

Even in that matter of living at Kynaston he learnt, in the end, to
give way to her. Sir John, who had already started for Australia, had
particularly requested him to occupy the house. Lady Kynaston did nothing
but urge it in every letter. Helen herself was bent upon it. There was
no good reason that he could bring forward against so reasonable and
sensible a plan. The house was all ready, newly decorated, and newly
furnished; they had nothing to do but to walk into it. It would save
all trouble in looking out for a country home elsewhere, and would,
doubtless, be an infinitely pleasanter abode for them than any other
house could be. It was the natural and rational thing for them to do.
Maurice knew of only one argument against it, and that one was in his own
heart, and he could speak of it to no one.

And yet, after all, what did it matter, what difference would it make? A
little nearer, a little further, how could it alter things for either of
them? How lessen the impassable gulf between her and him? It was in the
natural course of things that he must meet her at times; there would be
the stereotyped greeting, the averted glance, the cold shake of hands
that could never hope to meet without a pang; these things were almost
inevitable for them. A little oftener or a little seldomer, would it
matter very much then?

Maurice did not think it would; bound as he was to the woman whom he had
made his wife--tied to her by every law of God and of man, of honour, and
of manly feeling--that there should be any actual danger to be run by the
near proximity of the woman he had loved, did not even enter into his
head. If he had known how to do his duty towards Helen before he had
married her, would he not tenfold know how to do so now? Possibly he
over-rated his own strength; for, however high are our principles,
however exalted is our sense of honour--after all, we are but mortals,
and unspeakably weak at the very best.

It did not in any case occur to him to look at the question from Vera's
point of view. It is never easy for a man to put himself into a woman's
place, or to enter into the extra sensitiveness of soul with which she is
endowed.

So it was that he agreed to go straight back to Kynaston, and to make the
old house his permanent home according to his wife's wishes.

It was whilst the newly-married couple were passing through Switzerland
on their homeward journey that they suddenly came across Mr. Herbert
Pryme, who had been performing a melancholy and solitary pilgrimage in
the land of tourists.

It was at the table d'hôte at Vevay, upon coming down to that lengthy
and untempting repast, chiefly composed of aged goats and stringy hens,
which the inventive Swiss waiter exalts, with the effort of a soaring
imagination, into "Chamois," and "Salmi de Poulet," that Captain and Mrs.
Kynaston, who had scarcely recovered from a passage of arms in the
seclusion of their bed-chamber, suddenly descried a familiar face amongst
the long array of uncongenial people ranged down either side of the
table.

What the print of a hob-nailed boot must be to the lonely traveller
across the desert, what the sight of a man from one's own club going down
Pall Mall is in mid-September, or as a draught of Giesler's '68 to an
epicure who has been about to perish on ginger-beer--so did Herbert
Pryme's face shine upon Maurice Kynaston out of the arid waste of that
Vevay _salle-à-manger_.

In England he had been only an acquaintance--at Vevay he became his most
intimate friend. The delight of having a man to speak to, and a man who
knew others of his friends, was almost intoxicating. To think of getting
one evening--nay, one hour of liberty from that ever-present chain of
matrimonial intercourse which was galling him so sorely, was a bliss for
which he could hardly find words to express his gratitude.

Herbert, who could not quite understand the reason of it, was almost
overpowered by the warmth of Captain Kynaston's greeting. To have his
place removed next to his own, and to grasp him heartily by both hands,
wringing them with affectionate fervour, was the work of a few seconds.
And then, who so lively, so full of anecdote and laughter, so interested
in all that could be said to him, as Maurice Kynaston during that dinner?

It made Helen angry to hear him. He could be agreeable enough, she
thought, bitterly, to a chance acquaintance, picked up nobody knew where;
he could find plenty of conversation for this almost unknown young man;
it was only when they were alone together that he sat by glumly and
silently, without a smile and without a word!

She did not take it into account how surfeited the man was with his
honeycomb. Herbert Pryme, individually, was nothing much to him; but he
came as the sight of a distant sail is to a shipwrecked mariner. It is
doubtful, indeed, whether, under the circumstances, Maurice would not
have been equally delighted to have met his tailor or his bootmaker.
After dinner was over the two men went out and smoked their cigars
together. This was a fresh offence to Mrs. Kynaston; usually she enjoyed
an evening stroll with her husband after dinner, but when he asked her to
come out with him on this occasion, she refused, shortly and
ungraciously.

"No, thank you; if you and Mr. Pryme are going to smoke, I could not
possibly come; you know that I hate smoke."

Poor Herbert was about to protest that nothing would induce him to smoke;
but Maurice passed his arm hurriedly through his.

"Come along, then, and have a cigar in the garden," he said, with
scarcely concealed eagerness; he felt like a schoolboy let out of school.

Helen went up to her bedroom, and sat sulkily by her open window, looking
over the lake on to the mountains. Long after it was dark she could see
the two red specks of their cigars wandering about like fire-flies in the
garden, and could hear the crush of the rough gravel under their
footsteps, and the low murmur of their voices as they talked.

"You are coming into Meadowshire, are you not?" asked Maurice, ere they
parted.

Herbert shook his head.

"Not to the Millers?"

"No, I am afraid I shall never be asked to Shadonake again," answered the
younger man, gloomily.

"Why, I thought you and Beatrice--forgive me--but is it not the case?"

"Her parents have stopped all that, Kynaston."

"But I am sure Beatrice herself will never let it stop; I know her too
well," said Maurice, cheerily.

"There are laws in connection with minors," began Mr. Pryme, solemnly.

"Fiddlesticks!" was Maurice's rejoinder. "There are no laws to prevent
young women falling in love, or the world would not be in such a
confounded muddle as it frequently is. Don't be downhearted, Pryme; you
stick to her, and it will all come right; and look here, if they won't
ask you to Shadonake, I ask you to Kynaston; drop me a line, and come
whenever you like--as soon as you get home."

"You are exceedingly kind; I shall be only too delighted."

"When will you be home?"

"I can be home at any time--there is nothing to keep me."

"Well, then, come as soon as you like, the sooner the better. And now
I must say good-night and good-bye too, I fear, for we are off early
to-morrow. I shall be glad enough to be home; I'm dead sick of the
travelling. Good-night, old fellow; it has been a real pleasure to meet
you."

And, positively, this was the only evening out of his whole wedding-trip
that Maurice had thoroughly enjoyed.

"What on earth kept you out so late with that solemn young prig?" says
his wife to him as he opens her door.

"I find him a very pleasant companion, and I have asked him to come to
Kynaston," answers Maurice, shortly.

"Umph!" grunts Helen, and inwardly determines that his visit shall be a
short one.

Four days later they were in England again.

It was only when the train had actually stopped at Sutton, and he was
handing his wife into her own carriage under the arch of greenery across
the road, and amid the ringing cheers of the rustics, who had gathered
to see them arrive, that Maurice began to realise how powerfully that
home-coming was to be tinged in his own mind with thoughts of her who was
once so nearly going as a bride to the same house where now he was taking
Helen.

All along the lane, as they drove under the arches of flags and flowers
that had been put up from the station to the park gates, and as they
responded to the hearty welcome from the village-folk who lined the road,
Maurice was asking himself, with a painful anxiety, whether _she_ was at
Sutton now; whether her eyes had rested upon these rustic decorations,
whether her steps had passed along under these mottoes of welcome and of
happiness. And then, as they neared the church, the clang of the bells
burst forth loudly and jarringly.

Was _she_, perchance, there in the house, kneeling alone, white and
stricken by her bedside, whilst those joy-bells rang out their deafening
clamour from the church hard by?

For the life of him, Maurice could not help casting a glance at the
vicarage as they drove swiftly by it.

The windows were wide open, but no one looked out of them, the muslin
blinds fluttered in the wind, the Gloire de Dijon roses nodded upon the
wall, the Virginia creeper hung in crimson festoons over the porch; but
there was not a living creature to be seen.

He had caught no glimpse of the woman that was ever in his heart; and it
was a great pity that he had looked for her, because his wife, whose
sharp eyes nothing ever escaped, had seen him look.



CHAPTER XXX.

"IF I COULD DIE!"

  Why cannot I forgo, forget
  That ever I loved thee, that ever we met?
  There is not a single link or sign
  To bind thy life in this world with mine.

  M. W. Praed.


But it was not until Captain and Mrs. Maurice Kynaston had been at home
for more than a fortnight that Vera came back to her brother-in-law's
house.

She had kept away, poor girl, as long as she could. She had put off the
evil hour of her return as long as possible. The Hazeldines had gone to
Scotland, and Vera had, in desperation, accepted an invitation to stay
with some acquaintances whom she neither knew very well nor liked
overmuch. It had kept her from Sutton a little longer. But the visit had
come to an end at last, and what was she to do? She had no other visits
to prolong her absence, and her sister wrote to her perpetually, urging
her to return. Her home was at Sutton; she had no other place to go to.
She had told Sir John that in absence from his brother lay her only hope
of safety. But where was she to seek that safety? Where find security,
when he; reckless, or, perchance, heedless of her danger, had come to
plant himself at her very doors? They should have been far as the poles
asunder, and a malevolent fate had willed that the same parish should
contain them.

For whatever Maurice did, Vera in no way underrated the danger. Too well
she knew her own heart; too surely she estimated the strength of a
passion which, repressed and thwarted, and half-smothered, as it had been
within her, yet burnt but the fiercer and the wilder. For that is the way
with love: if it may not flourish and thrive openly and bravely before
the eyes of the world, it will eat into the very heart and life, till all
that is fair and sweet in the garden of the soul is choked and blighted
and overgrown, till the main-spring of life becomes poisoned, and all
things that are happy, withered and dried up.

In Vera's love for Maurice there had been nothing of joy, and all of
pain. There had never been for her that sweet illusion of dawning
affection--that intangible sense of delight in the consciousness of an
unspoken sympathy that is the very essence of a happy love. She had no
memories that were serene and untroubled--no days of calm and delicious
happiness to recall. His first conscious look had been a terror to her;
his words of hopeless love had given her a shock that had been almost
physical; and his few passionate kisses had burnt into her very soul till
they had seemed to have been printed upon her lips in fire. Vera's love
had brought her no good thing that she could count. But it had done one
thing for her: if it had cursed her life, it had purified her soul.

The Vera who had come back to Sutton Vicarage in August was no longer the
same woman who had stood months ago on the terrace at Kynaston among the
falling autumn leaves, and who had told herself that it was money
alone that was worth living for.

She came back to everything that was full of pain, and to much in which
there was absolute fear.

Five minutes after she had entered the vicarage drawing-room her tortures
began.

"You have not asked after the bride and bridegroom," says old Mrs.
Daintree, as she sits in her corner, darning everlastingly at those brown
worsted socks of her son's. Vera thinks she must have been sitting there
darning incessantly, day and night, ever since she had been away. "We are
all full of it down here. Such a pretty welcome home they had--arches
across the road, and processions with flags, and a band inside the
lodge-gates. You should have been here to have seen it. Everybody is
making much of Mrs. Kynaston; she is a very pretty woman, I must say,
and called here three days ago in the most beautiful Paris gown."

"She seemed very sorry not to see you," says Marion, "and quite disposed
to be friendly. I do hope you and she will get on, Vera, in spite of the
awkwardness of her being in your place, as it were."

"What do you mean?" rather sharply.

"Only, of course, dear, that it will be rather painful to you just at
first to see anybody else the mistress at Kynaston, where you yourself
might have been----"

"If you had not been a fool," interpolated the old lady, bluntly.

"I don't think I shall mind that much," says Vera, quietly. "Where is
Eustace?"

"Oh, he will be in presently; he has gone up to the Hall about the
chancel. The men have made all kinds of mistakes about the tesselated
pavement; the wrong pattern was sent down from town, and we have had so
much trouble about it, and there has been nobody to appeal to to set
things right. Captain Kynaston is all very well, and now he is back, I
hope we may get things into a little order; but I am sorry to say he
takes very little interest in the church or the parish; he is not half
so good a squire as poor dear Sir John." And there was a whole volume of
unspoken reproach in the sigh with which Marion wound up her remarks.

"Decidedly," said Vera, to herself, as she went slowly upstairs to her
own little room; "decidedly I must get away from all this. I shall have
to marry." She leant out of her open window in a frame-work of roses
and jessamine, and looked out over the lime-trees towards the Hall.
Now that the trees were in full leaf, she could catch no glimpse of its
red-stacked chimneys and its terraced gardens; but, by-and-by, when the
leaves were down and the trees were bare, she knew she should see it.
Every morning when she got up the sun would be shining full upon it;
every night when she went to bed she would see the twinkling lights of
the many windows gleaming through the darkness; she would be in her
room alone, and _he_ would be out there, happy with his wife.

"I shall not be able to bear it," said Vera, slowly, speaking aloud to
herself. "I had better marry, and go away; there is nothing else to be
done. Poor Denis! He is worthy of a better woman; but I think he will be
good to me."

For it had come to this now, that when Vera thought about marrying, it
was upon Denis Wilde that she also pondered.

To be at Sutton, and not to come face to face with Maurice, was of course
an impossibility. Carefully as Vera confined herself to the house and
garden for the next three days, she could not avoid going to church when
Sunday came. And at church were Captain and Mrs. Kynaston. During the
service she only saw his back, erect and broad-shouldered, in the seat in
front of her, for the pews had been cleared away, and open sittings had
been substituted all through the church. Maurice looked neither to the
right nor to the left; he stood, or sat, or knelt, and scarcely turned
his head an inch, but Helen's butterfly bonnet was twisted in every
direction throughout the service. It is certain that she very soon knew
who it was who had come into the vicarage seat behind her.

When Vera came out of church, having purposely lingered as long as she
could inside, until the rest of the congregation had all gone out, she
found the bride and bridegroom waiting for her in the churchyard.

Helen stood with her hand twined with easy familiarity round her
husband's arm; possibly she had studied the attitude with a view to
impressing Vera with the perfection of her conjugal happiness. She turned
quite delightedly to greet her.

"Oh, here you are at last, Miss Nevill. We have been waiting for you,
have we not, Maurice dear? We both felt how pleased we should be to see
you. I am very glad you have come back; it will make it much more
pleasant for me at Kynaston; you will come up to see me, won't you?
I should like you to see my boudoir, it is lovely!"

"You forget that Miss Nevill has seen it all long ago," said Maurice,
gravely; their hands had just met, but he had not looked at her.

"Oh, yes, to be sure; how stupid I am! Of course, I remember now, it was
all done up for _you_ by poor dear old John. Doesn't it seem funny that
I should be going to live in the house? Ah, how d'ye do, Mr. Daintree?"
as Eustace came out of the vestry door; "here we are, chattering to your
sister. What a delightful sermon, dear Mr. Daintree, and what a treat to
be in a Christian church--I mean a Protestant church--again after those
dreadful Sundays on the Continent."

Vera had turned to Maurice.

"Have you any news of Sir John yet?"

"No; we cannot expect to hear of his arrival till next month. I dare say
you will like to hear about him. I will let you know as soon as he
writes."

"Thank you; I should like to know about him very much."

Helen, in the middle of Eustace's polite acknowledgment of her compliment
to his sermon, was casting furtive glances at her husband; even the two
or three grave words he had exchanged with Vera were sufficient to make
her uneasy. She desired to torture Vera with envy and with jealousy; she
had forgotten to take into account how very easily her own suspicious
jealousy could be aroused. She interrupted the vicar in the very middle
of his speech.

"Now, really, we must run away. Come, Maurice, darling, we shall be late
for lunch; you and Miss Nevill must finish your confidences another day.
You will come up soon, won't you? Any day at five I am in--good-bye."
She shook hands with them, and hurried her husband away.

"What an odd thing it is that you and that girl never can meet without
having all sorts of private things to say to each other," she said,
angrily, as soon as they were out of earshot.

"Private things! what can you possibly mean, Helen? Miss Nevill was
asking me if I had heard of John's arrival."

"I wonder she has the face to mention John's name!"

"Why, pray?"

"After her disgraceful conduct to him."

"I think you know very little about Miss Nevill's conduct, Helen."

"No, I dare say not. And _you_ have always known a great deal more about
it than anybody else. That I have always understood, Maurice."

Maurice looked very black, but he was silent.

"I am very glad I told her about the boudoir," continued Helen,
spitefully. "How mortified she must feel to think that it has all slipped
through her fingers and into mine. I do hope she will come up to the
house. I shall show her all over it; she will wish she had not been
such a fool!"

Maurice was looking at his wife with a singular expression.

"I begin to think you have a very bad heart, Helen," he said, with
a contempt in his voice that was very near akin to disgust.

She looked up, a little startled, and put her hand back, caressingly,
under his arm.

"Oh, don't look at me like that, Maurice; I don't want to vex you. You
know very well how much I love you--and--and"--looking up with a little
smile into his face that was meant as a peace offering--"I suppose I am
jealous!"

"Suppose you wait to be jealous until I give you cause to be so,"
answered her husband, gravely and coldly, but not altogether unkindly,
for he meant to do his duty to her, God helping him, as far as he knew
how.

But all the way home he walked silently by her side, and wondered whether
the sacrifice he had made of his love to his duty had been, indeed, worth
it.

It had been hard for him, this first meeting with Vera. He had felt it
more than he had believed possible. Instinctively he had realized what
she must have suffered; and that her sufferings were utterly beyond his
power to console. It began to come into his mind that, meaning to deal
rightly by Helen, he had dealt cruelly and badly by Vera. He had
sacrificed the woman he loved to the woman he did not love.

Had it, indeed, been such a right and praiseworthy action on his part?
Maurice lost himself in speculation as to what would have happened had he
broken his faith to Helen, and allowed himself to follow the dictates of
his heart rather than those of his conscience.

That was what Vera had done for his sake; but what he had been unable to
do for hers.

There was a certain hardness about the man, a rigid sense of honour that
was almost a fault; for, if it be a virtue to cleave to truth and good
faith above everything, to swear to one's neighbour and disappoint him
not--even though it be to one's own hindrance--it is certainly not a fine
or noble thing to mistake tenderness for a weakness only fit to be
crushed out of the soul with firm hands and an iron determination.

Guilty once of one irreparable action of weakness, Maurice had set
himself determinedly ever after to undo the evil that he had done.

To be true to his brother, to keep his faith with Helen, these had been
the only objects he had steadily kept in view: he had succeeded in his
efforts, but had scarcely realized that, in doing so, he had not only
wrecked his own life, but also that of the woman whom he had so
infinitely wronged.

But when he saw her once again--when he held for an instant the cold hand
within his own--when he marked, with a pang, the dark circles round the
averted eyes that spoke so mutely and touchingly of sleepless vigils and
of many tears--when he noted how the lovely sensitive lips trembled a
little as she spoke her few common-place words to him--then Maurice began
to understand what he had done to her; and, for the first time, something
that was almost remorse, with regard to his own conduct towards her, came
into his soul.

Such meditations were not, however, safe or profitable to indulge in for
long. Maurice recalled his wandering thoughts with an effort, and with
something of repentance for having given them place, turned his attention
resolutely to his wife's chatter during the remainder of the walk home.

Meanwhile Vera and the vicar are walking back, side by side, to the
vicarage.

"Something," says Eustace, with solemn displeasure, "something must
really be done, and that soon, about Ishmael Spriggs; that man will drive
me into my grave before my time! Anything more fearfully and awfully out
of tune than the Te Deum I never heard in the whole course of my life. I
can hear his voice shouting and bellowing above the whole of the rest of
the choir; he leads all the others wrong. It is not a bit of use to tell
me that he is the best behaved man in the parish; it is not a matter of
conduct, as I told Mr. Dale; it is a matter of voice, and if the man
can't be taught to sing in tune, out of the choir he shall go; it's a
positive scandal to the Service. Marion says we shall turn him into an
enemy if we don't let him sing, and that he will go to the dissenting
chapel, and never come to church any more. Well, I can't help that; I
must give him up to the dissenters. As to keeping him in the choir, it is
out of the question after that Te Deum. I shall never forget it. It will
give me a nightmare to-night, I am convinced. Wasn't it dreadful, Vera?"

"Yes, very likely, Eustace," answered Vera, at random. She has not heard
one single word he has said.

Eustace Daintree looks round at her sharply. He sees that she is very
white, and that there are tears upon her cheeks.

"Why, Vera!" he cries, standing still, you have not listened to a word
I have been saying. "What is the matter, child? Why are you crying?"

They are in the vicarage garden now; among the beds of scarlet geraniums,
and the tall hollyhocks, and the glaring red gladioli; a whole bank of
greenery, rhododendrons and lauristinas, conceals them from the windows
of the house; a garden bench sheltered beneath a nook of the laurel
bushes is close by.

With a sudden gesture of utter misery Vera sinks down upon it, and bursts
into a passion of tears.

"My dear child; my poor Vera! What is it? What has happened? What can be
the reason of this?"

Mr. Daintree is infinitely distressed and puzzled; he bends over her,
taking her hand between his own. There is something in this wild outburst
of grief, from one habitually so calm and self-contained as Vera, that is
an absolute shock to him. He had learnt to love her very dearly; he had
thought he had understood all the workings of her candid maiden soul; he
had fancied that the story of her broken engagement was no secret to him,
that it was but the struggle of a conscientious nature after what was
true and honest. It had seemed to him that there had been no mystery in
her conduct, for he could appreciate all her motives. And surely, as she
had done right, she must be now at peace. He had told himself that the
pure instincts of a naturally stainless soul had triumphed in Vera over
the carelessness and worldliness of her early training; and lo, here was
the passionate weeping of a tempest-tossed woman, whose agony he could
not fathom, and whose sorrows he knew not how to divine.

"Vera, will you not tell me?" he asked her, in his distress. "Will you
not make a friend of me? My dear, forget that I am a clergyman; remember
only that I am your brother, and that I shall know how to feel for
you--for you, my dear sister."

But she could not tell him. There are some troubles that must be kept for
ever buried within our own souls; to speak of some things is only to make
them worse. Only she choked back her sobs, and lifted her face, white
and tear-stained; there was a look of hunted despair in her eyes, that
bewildered, and even half-terrified him.

"Tell me," she said, with a sort of anger, "tell me, you that are a
clergyman--Do you think God has made us only to torment us? You have got
a daughter, Eustace; pray God, night and morning, that she may have a
hard heart, and that she may never have one gleam of womanly tenderness
within her; for only so are women happy!"

He did not answer her wild words. Instinctively he felt that common-place
speeches of rebuke or of consolation would be trivial and out of place
before the great anguish of her heart. The man's soul was above the
narrow limits of his training; he felt, dimly, that here was something
with which it were best not to intermeddle, some trouble for which he
could offer no consolation.

She rose and stood before him, holding his hands and gazing earnestly at
his anxious face.

"It has come to this with me," she said, below her voice, "that there are
times when there is but one good thing in all the world that I know any
longer how to desire. God has so ordered my life that there is no road
open for me that does not lead to sin or to misery. Surely, if He were
merciful, He would take back the valueless gift."

"Vera! what do you mean?"

"I mean," she exclaimed, wearily, "that if I could die, I should be at
peace."

She had walked slowly on; her voice, that had trembled at first with a
passionate wildness, had sunk into the spiritless apathy of despair; her
head was bent, her hands clasped before her; her dress trailed with a
soft rustle across the grass, sweeping over a whole wilderness of white
daisies, that bent their heads beneath its folds as she walked. A gleam
of sunshine fell upon her hair, and a bird sang loud and shrill in the
lime trees overhead.

Often and often, in the after days, Eustace Daintree thought of her thus,
and remembered with a pang the sole sad gift that she had craved at
Heaven's hands. Often and often the scene came back to him; the sunny
garden, the scarlet geraniums flaring in the borders, the smooth green
lawn, speckled with shadows from the trees, the wide open windows of his
pleasant vicarage beyond, and the beautiful figure of the girl at his
side, with her bent head, and her low broken voice--the girl who, at
twenty-three, sighed to be rid of the life that had become too hard for
her; that precious gift of life which, too often, at three-score years
and ten, is but hardly resigned!

"If I could die, I should be at peace," she had said. And she was only
twenty-three!

Eustace Daintree never forgot it.



CHAPTER XXXI.

AN EVENTFUL DRIVE.

  Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.

  Shakespeare, "Henry IV."


I imagine that the most fretting and wearing of all the pains and
penalties which it is the lot of humanity to undergo in this troublesome
and naughty world are those which, by our own folly, our own
shortsightedness, and our own imprudence, we have brought upon ourselves.

There is a degree of irritation in such troubles which adds a whole
armoury of small knife-cuts to intensify the agony of the evil from which
we suffer. It is more dreadful to be moaning over our own mistakes than
over the inscrutable perversity of an unpropitious fate.

Somebody once has said that most men grieve over the smallest mistake
more bitterly than over the greatest sin. This is decidedly a perversion
of the moral nature; nevertheless, there is a good deal of truth in it.

"If only I had not been such a fool! If I could only have foreseen such
and such results?"

These are more generally the burden of our bitterest self-reproaches.

And this was what Miss Miller was perpetually repeating to herself during
the months of August and September. Beatrice, in these days, was a
thoroughly miserable young woman. She was more utterly separated than
ever from her lover, and that entirely by her own fault. That foolish
escapade of hers to the Temple had been fatal to her; her father, who
had been inclined to become her lover's friend, had now peremptorily
forbidden her ever to mention his name again, and her own lips were
sealed as to the unlucky incident in which she had played so prominent
a part.

Beatrice knew that, in going alone and on the sly to her lover's
chambers, she had undoubtedly compromised her own good name. To confess
to her own folly and imprudence was almost beyond her power, and to clear
her lover's name at the expense of her own was what she felt he himself
would scarcely thank her for.

Mr. Miller had, of course, said something of what he had discovered at
Mr. Pryme's chambers to the wife of his bosom.

"The young man is not fit for her," he had said; "his private life will
not bear investigation. You must tell Beatrice to put him out of her
head."

Mrs. Miller had, of course, been virtuously indignant over Mr. Pryme's
offences, but she had also been triumphantly elated over her own
sagacity.

"Did I not tell you he was not a proper husband for her? Another time,
Andrew, you will, I hope, allow that I am the best judge in these
matters."

"My dear, you are always right," was the meekly conjugal reply, and then
Mrs. Miller went her way and talked to Beatrice for half-an-hour over the
sinful lives which are frequently led by young men of no family residing
in the Temple, and the shame and disgrace which must necessarily accrue
to any well-brought-up young woman who, in an ill-advised moment, shall
allow her affections to rove towards such unsanctified Pariahs of
society.

And Beatrice, listening to her blushingly, knew what she meant, and yet
had no words wherewith to clear her lover's character from the defamatory
evidence furnished against him by her own sunshade and gloves.

"Your father has seen with his own eyes, my dear, that which makes it
impossible for us ever to consent to your marrying that young man."

How was Beatrice to say to her mother, "It was I--your daughter--who was
there, shut up in Mr. Pryme's bedroom." She could not speak the words.

The sunshine twinkled in Shadonake's many windows, and flooded its
velvet lawns. Below, the Bath slumbered darkly in the shadow of its
ancient steps and its encircling belt of fir-trees; and beyond the
flower-gardens, half-an-acre of pineries, and vineries, and
orchard-houses glittered in a dazzling parterre of glass-roofs and white
paint. Something new--it was an orchard-house--was being built. There was
always something new, and Mr. Miller was superintending the building of
it. He stood over the workmen who were laying the foundation, watching
every brick that was laid down with delighted and absorbed interest. He
held a trowel himself, and had tucked up his shirt cuffs in order to lend
a helping hand in the operations. There was nothing that Andrew Miller
loved so well. Fate and his Caroline had made him a member of Parliament,
and had placed him in the position of a gentleman, but nature had
undoubtedly intended him for a bricklayer.

Beatrice came out of the drawing-room windows across the lawn to him. She
was in her habit, and stood tapping her little boot with her riding whip
for some minutes by her father's side.

"I am going to see uncle Tom, papa," she said; "have you any message?"

"Going to Lutterton? Ah, that's right; the ride will do you good, my
dear. No; I have no message."

Beatrice went back into the house; her little bay mare stood at the door.
She met her mother in the hall.

"I am going to see uncle Tom," she said, to her also.

Mrs. Miller always encouraged her children in their attentions to her
brother. He was rich, and he was a bachelor; he must have saved a good
deal one way or another. Who could tell how it would be left? And then
Beatrice was undoubtedly his favourite. She nodded pleasantly to her
daughter.

"Tell uncle Tom to come over to lunch on Sunday, and, of course, he must
come here early for Guy's birthday next week," for there were to be great
doings on Guy's birthday. "Ride slowly, Beatrice, or you will get so
hot."

Lutterton Castle was a good six miles off. The house stood well, and even
imposingly, on a high wooded knoll that overlooked the undulating park,
and the open valley at its feet. It was a great rambling building with a
central tower and four smaller ones at each corner. When Mr. Esterworth
was at home, which was almost always, it was his vanity to keep a red
flag flying from the centre tower as though he had been royalty. All the
reception-rooms and more than half the bedrooms were permanently
shuttered up, and there was a portly and very dignified housekeeper,
who rattled her keys at her châtelaine, and went through all the unused
apartments daily, followed by a meek phalanx of housemaids, to see that
all the rooms were well-aired and well kept in order, so that at any
minute they might be fit for occupation. Five or six times during the
hunting season the large rooms were all thrown open, and there was a hunt
breakfast held in the principal dining-hall; but, with that exception,
Mr. Esterworth rarely entertained at all.

He occupied three rooms opening out of each other in the small western
tower. They consisted of a bedroom, a dressing-room, and a small and
rather inconvenient study, where the huntsman, whips, and other official
personages connected with the hunt were received at all hours of the day
and night. The room was consequently pervaded by a faint odour of stables
and tobacco; there were usually three or four dogs upon the hearthrug,
and it was a rare thing to find Mr. Esterworth in it unaccompanied by
some personage in breeches and gaiters, wearing a blue spotted neckcloth
and a horseshoe pin.

Such an individual was receiving an audience at the moment of Miss
Miller's arrival, and shuffled awkwardly and hurriedly out of the room by
one door as she entered it by another.

"All right, William," calls the M.F.H. after his departing satellite.
"Look in again to-night. I shall have her fired, I think, and throw her
up till December. Hallo! Pussy, how are you?"

All the four dogs rose from the hearthrug and wagged their tails solemnly
in respectful greeting to her. Beatrice had a pat and a word for each,
and a kiss for her uncle, before she sat down on the chair he pulled
forward for her.

"What brings you, Pussy? What are you riding?"

"Kitty; they have taken her round to the stable. I thought I'd have lunch
with you, uncle Tom."

"Very well; you won't get anything but a mutton-chop."

"I don't ask for anything better."

Beatrice felt that her heart was beating. She had taken a desperate
resolution during her six miles' solitary ride; she had determined to
take her uncle into her confidence. He had always been indulgent and kind
to her; perhaps he would not view her sin in so heinous a light as her
mother would; and who knows? perhaps he would help her.

"Uncle Tom, I'm in dreadful trouble, and I want to tell you about it,"
she began, trembling.

"I'm very sorry, Pussy; what is it?"

"I did a shocking, dreadful thing when I was in London. I went to a young
man's rooms, and got shut up in his bedroom."

"The deuce you did!" says Tom Esterworth, opening his eyes.

"Yes," continues Beatrice, desperately, and crimson with shame and
confusion; "and the worse of it is, that I left my sunshade in the
sitting-room; and papa came in, and, of course, he did not know it was
mine, and--and--he thinks--he thinks----"

"That's the best joke I ever heard in my life!" cries Mr. Esterworth,
laying his head back in the chair and laughing aloud.

"Uncle Tom!" Beatrice could hardly believe her ears.

"Good lord, what a situation for a comedy!" cries her uncle, between the
outbursts of his mirth. "Upon my word, Pussy, you are a good plucked one;
there isn't much Miller blood in your veins. You are an Esterworth all
over."

"But, uncle, indeed, it's no laughing matter."

"Well, I don't see much to cry at if your father did not find you out;
the young man is never likely to talk."

"Oh, but uncle Tom; papa and mamma think so badly of him, and I can't
tell them that I was there; and they will never let me marry him."

"Oh! so you are in love, Pussy?"

"Yes, uncle."

Tom Esterworth smote his hand against his corduroy thigh.

"What a mistake!" he exclaimed; "a girl who can go across country as you
do--what on earth do you want to be married for? Is it Mr. Pryme, Pussy?"

Beatrice nodded.

"And he can't go a yard," said her uncle, sorrowfully and reproachfully.

"Oh, I think he goes very well, uncle; his seat is capital; it is only
his hands that are a bit heavy; but then he has had very little
practice."

"Tut--tut, don't talk to me, child; he is no horseman. He may be a good
young man in his way, but what can have made you take a fancy to a fellow
who can't ride is a mystery to me! Now tell me the whole story, Pussy."

And then Beatrice made a clean breast of it.

"I will see if I can help you," said her uncle, seriously, when she had
finished her story; "but I can't think how you can have set your heart
upon a fellow who can't ride!"

This was evidently a far more fatal error in Tom Esterworth's eyes than
the other matter of her being shut up in Mr. Pryme's rooms. Beatrice
began to think she had not done anything so very terrible after all.

"I must turn it over in my mind. Now come and eat your mutton-chop,
Pussy, and when we have finished our lunch, you shall come out with me
in the dog-cart. I am going to put Clochette into harness for the first
time."

"Will she go quietly?"

"Like a lamb, I should say. You won't be nervous?"

"Dear, no! I am never nervous; I shall enjoy the fun."

The mutton-chop over, Clochette and the dog-cart came round to the door.
She was a raking, bright chestnut mare, with a coat like satin. Even as
she stood at the door she chafed somewhat at her new position between
the shafts. This, however, was no more than might have been expected. Mr.
Esterworth declining the company of the groom, helped his niece up and
took the reins.

"We will go round by Tripton and back by the common," he said, "and talk
this matter well over, Pussy; we shall enjoy ourselves much better with
nobody in the back seat. A man sits there with his arms crossed and his
face like a blank sheet of paper, but one never knows how much they hear,
and their ears are always cocked, like a terrier's on the scent of a
rat."

Clochette went off from the door with a bound, but soon settled down into
a good swinging trot. She kept turning her head nervously from side to
side, and there was evidently a little uncertainty in her mind as to
whether she should keep to the drive, or deviate on to the grass by the
side of it; but, upon the whole, she behaved fairly well, and turned out
of the lodge gates into the high road with perfect docility and good
breeding.

There was a whole avalanche of dogs in attendance. A collie, rushing on
tumultuously in front; a "plum-pudding" dog between the wheels; a couple
of fox-terriers snapping joyfully at each other in the rear; and there
was also an ill-conditioned animal--half lurcher, half terrier--who
killed cats, and murdered fowls, and worried sheep, and flew at the
heels of unwary strangers; and was given, in short, to every sort of
canine iniquity, and who possessed but one redeeming feature in his
character--that of blind adoration to his master.

This animal, who followed uncle Tom whithersoever he went, came skurrying
out of the stables as the dog-cart drove off, and joined in the general
scamper.

Perhaps the dogs may have been too much for Clochette's nerves, or
perhaps the effort of behaving well as far as the park gates with those
horrible wheels rattling behind her was as much as any hunter born and
bred could be expected to do, or perhaps uncle Tom was too free with that
whip with which he caressed her shining flanks; but be that as it may, no
sooner was Clochette's head well turned along the straight high-road with
its high-tangled hedge-rows on either side than she began to show symptoms
of behaving very badly indeed. She bucked and pranced, and stood on her
hind legs; she whipped suddenly round, pirouetted upon her own axis with
the dexterity of a circus performer, and demonstrated very plainly that,
if she only dared, she would like to take to her heels in the reverse
direction to that which her driver desired her to go.

All this was, however, equally delightful and exciting both to Tom
Esterworth and his niece. There was no apprehension in Beatrice's mind,
for her uncle drove as well as he rode, and she felt perfectly secure in
the strong, supple hands that guided Clochette's erratic movements.

"There is not a kick in her," uncle Tom had said, as they started, and he
repeated the observation now; and kicking being out of the category of
Clochette's iniquities, there was nothing else to fear.

No sooner, however, had the words left his lips than a turn of the road
brought them within sight of a great volume of black smoke rushing slowly
but surely towards them; whilst a horrible roaring and howling, as of an
antediluvian monster in its wrath, filled the silence of the summer
afternoon with a hideous and unholy confusion.

Talk about there being no wild animals in our peaceful land! What
could have been the Megatherium and the Ichthyosaurus, and all the
fire-spitting dragons of antiquity compared to the traction engines of
the nineteenth century?

"It's a steam plough!" ejaculated Beatrice, below her breath.

"D----n!" cried her uncle, not at all below _his_ breath.

As to Clochette, she stood for an instant stock still, with her ears
pricked and her head well up, facing the horrors of her situation; next
she gave an angry snort as though to say, "No! _this_ is too much!" Then
she turned short round and began a series of peculiar bounds and plunges,
accompanied by an ominous uplifting of her hind quarters, which had
plainly but one object in view--the correct conjugation of the verb
active "to kick."

There was a crunching of woodwork, a cracking as of iron hoofs against
the splash-board. Beatrice instinctively put up her hands before her
face, but she did not utter a sound.

"Do you think you could get down, Pussy, and go to her head?"

"Shall I hold the reins, uncle?"

"No, you couldn't hold her; she'll be over the hedge if I let go of her.
Get down if you can."

It was not easy. Beatrice was in her habit, and to jump from the
vacillating height of a dog-cart to the earth is no easy matter even to
a man unencumbered with petticoats.

"Try and get over the back," said her uncle, who was in momentary terror
lest the mare's heels should be dashed into her face. And Beatrice, with
that finest trait of a woman's courage in danger, which consists in doing
exactly what she is told, began to scramble over the back of her seat.

The situation was critical in the extreme; the traction engine came on
apace, the man with the red flag having paused at a public-house round
the corner, was only now running back into his place. Uncle Tom shouted
vainly to him; his voice was drowned in the deafening roar of the
advancing monster.

But already help was at hand, unheard and unperceived by either uncle or
niece; a horseman had come rapidly trotting up the road behind them. To
spring from his horse, who was apparently accustomed to traction engines,
and stood quietly by, to rush to the plunging, struggling mare, and to
seize her by the head was the work of a moment.

"All right, Mr. Esterworth," shouted the new comer. "I can hold her if
you can get down; we can lead her into the field; there is a gate ten
yards back."

Uncle Tom threw the reins to his niece and slipped to the ground; between
them the two men contrived to quiet the terrified Clochette, and to lead
her towards the gate.

In another three minutes they were all safely within the shelter of the
hedge. The traction engine passed, snorting forth fire and smoke, on its
devastating way; and Clochette stood by, panting, trembling, and covered
with foam. Beatrice, safely on the ground, was examining ruefully the
amount of damage done to the dog-cart, and Mr. Esterworth was shaking
hands with his deliverer.

It was Herbert Pryme.

"That's the last time I ever take a lady out, driving without a
man-servant behind me," quoth the M.F.H. "What we should have done
without your timely assistance, sir, I really cannot say; in another
minute she would have kicked the trap into a thousand bits. You have
saved my niece's life, Mr. Pryme."

"Indeed, I did very little," said Herbert, modestly, glancing at Beatrice
who was trembling and rather pale; but, perhaps, that was only from her
recent fright. She had not spoken to him, only she had given him one
bewildered glance, and then had looked hastily away.

"You have saved her life," repeated Mr. Esterworth, with decision. "I
hope you do not mean to contradict my words, sir? You have saved
Beatrice's life, sir, and it's the most providential thing in this world
for you, as Clochette very nearly kicked her to pieces under your nose.
I shall tell Mr. and Mrs. Miller that they are indebted to you for their
daughter's life. Young people, I am going to lead this brute of a mare
home, and, if you like to walk on together to Lutterton in front of me,
why you may."

That was how Herbert Pryme came to be once more re-instated in the good
graces of his lady love's father and mother.

Mr. Esterworth contrived to give them so terrifying an account of
the danger in which Beatrice had been placed, and so graphic and
highly-coloured a description of Herbert Pryme's pluck and sagacity in
rushing to her rescue, that Mr. and Mrs. Miller had no other course left
than to shake hands gratefully with the man to whom, as uncle Tom said,
they literally owed her life.

"I could not have saved her without him," said uncle Tom, drawing
slightly upon his imagination; "in another minute she must have been
kicked to pieces, or dashed violently to the earth among the broken
fragments of the cart, and"--with a happy after-thought--"the steam
plough would have crushed its way over her mangled body."

Mrs. Miller shuddered.

"Oh, Tom, I never can trust her to you again!"

"No, my dear; but I think you must trust her to Mr. Pryme; that young man
deserves to be rewarded."

"But, my dear Tom, there are things against his character. I assure you,
Andrew himself saw----"

"Pooh! pooh!" interrupted Mr. Esterworth. "Young men who sow their wild
oats early are all the better husbands for it afterwards. I will give him
a talking to if you like, but you and your husband must let Pussy have
her own way; it is the least you can do after his conduct; and don't
worry about his being poor, Caroline; I have nothing better to do with my
money, and I shall take care that Pussy is none the worse off for my
death. She is worth all the rest of your children put together--an
Esterworth, every inch of her!"

That, it is to be imagined, was the clenching argument in Mrs. Miller's
mind. Uncle Tom's money was not to be despised, and, by reason of his
money, uncle Tom's wishes were bound to carry some weight with them.

Mr. Pryme, who had been staying for a few days at Kynaston, where,
however, the cordial welcome given to him by its master was, in a great
measure, neutralised by the coldness and incivility of its mistress,
removed himself and his portmanteau, by uncle Tom's invitation, to
Lutterton, and his engagement to Miss Miller became a recognised fact.

"All the same, it is a very bad match for her," said Mrs. Miller, in
confidence, to her husband.

"And I should very much like to know who that sunshade belonged to,"
added the M.P. for Meadowshire, severely.

"I think, my dear, we shall have to overlook that part of the business,
for, as Tom will leave them his money, why----"

"Yes, yes, I quite understand; we must hope the young man has had a good
lesson. Let bygones be bygones, certainly," and Mr. Miller took a pinch
of snuff reflectively, and wondered what Tom Esterworth would "cut up
for."

"But I am _determined_," said Mrs. Miller, ere she closed the discussion,
"I am determined that I will do better for Geraldine."

After all, the mother had a second string to her bow, so the edict went
forth that Beatrice was to be allowed to be happy in her own way, and the
shadow of that fatal sunshade was no longer to be suffered to blacken the
moral horizon of her father's soul.



CHAPTER XXXII.

BY THE VICARAGE GATE.

  Before our lives divide for ever,
  While time is with us and hands are free,
  (Time swift to fasten, and swift to sever
  Hand from hand....)
  I will say no word that a man might say
  Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
  For this could never have been. And never
  (Though the gods and the years relent) shall be.

  Swinburne.


The peacocks had it all to themselves on the terrace walk at Kynaston.
They strutted up and down, craning and bridling their bright-hued necks
with a proud consciousness of absolute proprietorship in the place, and
their long tails trailed across the gravel behind them with the soft
rustle of a woman's garments. Now and then their sad, shrill cries echoed
weirdly through the deserted gardens.

There was no one to see them--the gardeners had all gone home--and no one
was moving from the house. Only one small boy, with a rough head and a
red face, stood below the stone balustrade, half-hidden among the
hollyhocks and the roses, looking wistfully up at the windows of the
house.

"What am I to do with it?" said Tommy Daintree, half-aloud to himself,
and looked sorely perplexed and bewildered.

Tommy had a commission to fulfil, a commission from Vera. He carried a
little note in his hands, and he had promised Vera faithfully that he
would wait near the house till he saw Captain Kynaston come in from his
day's shooting, and give him the note into his own hands.

"You quite understand, Tommy; no one else."

"Yes, auntie, I quite understand."

And Tommy had been waiting there an hour, but still there was no sign of
Captain Kynaston's return; he was getting very tired and very hungry by
this time, for he had had no tea. He had heard the dressing-bell ring
long ago in the house--it must be close upon their dinner hour. Tommy
could not guess that, by an unaccustomed chance, the master of the house
had gone in by the back-door to-day, and that he had been in some time.

Presently some one pushed aside the long muslin curtains, and came
stepping out of the long French window on to the terrace. It was Helen.

She was dressed for dinner; she wore a pale blue dress, cut open at the
neck, a string of pearls and a jewelled locket hung at her throat; she
turned round, half laughing, to some one who was following her.

"You will see all the county magnates at Shadonake to-morrow. You will
have quite enough of them, I promise you; they are neither lively nor
entertaining."

A young man, also in evening dress, had followed her out on to the
terrace; it was Denis Wilde; he had arrived from town by the afternoon
train. Why he should have thrown over several very good invitations to
country houses in Norfolk and Suffolk, where there were large and
cheerful parties gathered together, and partridge shooting to make a man
dream of, in order to come down to the poor sport of Kynaston and the
insipid society of a newly married couple, with whom he was not on very
intimate terms, is a problem which Mr. Wilde alone could have
satisfactorily solved. Being here, he was naturally disposed to make
himself extremely agreeable to his hostess.

"You can't think how anxious I am to inspect the _élite_ of Meadowshire!"
he said, laughing. "My life is an incomplete thing without a sight of
it."

"You will witness the last token of mental aberration in a
decently-brought up young woman in the person of Beatrice Miller. You
know her. Well, she has actually engaged herself to a barrister whom
nobody knows anything about, and who--_bien entendu_--has no briefs--they
never have any. He was staying here for a couple of days; a slow, heavy
young man, who quoted Blackstone. Maurice took a fancy to him abroad;
however, he was clever enough to save Beatrice's life by stopping a
run-away horse. Some people say the accident was the invention of the
lovers' own imaginations; however, the parents believed in it, and it
turned the scales in his favour; but he has taken himself off, I am
thankful to say, and is staying at Lutterton with her uncle. Beatrice
might have married well, but girls are such fools. Hallo, Topsy, what are
you barking at?"

Mrs. Kynaston's pug had come tearing out of the house with a whole chorus
of noisy yappings. The peacocks, deeply wounded in their tenderest
feelings, instantly took wing, and went sailing away majestically over
the crimson and gold parterre of flowers below.

"What can possess her to bark at the peacocks?" said Helen. "Be quiet,
Topsy."

But Topsy refused to be tranquillized.

"She is barking at something below the terrace; perhaps there is a cat
there," said Denis.

"If so, it would be Dutch courage, indeed," answered Helen, laughing.
They went to the edge of the stone parapet and looked over; there stood
Tommy Daintree below them, among the hollyhocks.

"Why, little boy, who are you, and what do you want? Why, are you not Mr.
Daintree's little boy?"

"Yes."

"Then what are you waiting for?"

"I want to give a note to Captain Kynaston," said Tommy, crimson with
confusion. "Is he ever coming in?"

"He is in now; give me the note."

"I was to give it to himself, to nobody else."

"Who told you?"

"Aunt Vera."

"Oh!" There was a whole volume of meaning in the simple exclamation.
Mrs. Kynaston held out her hand. "You can give it to me, I am Captain
Kynaston's wife, you know. Give it to me, Tommy. Your name is Tommy,
isn't it? Yes, I thought so. Mr. Wilde, will you be so kind as to fetch
Tommy a peach off the dinner-table? Give the note to me, my dear, and you
can tell your aunt that it shall be given to Captain Kynaston directly."

When Denis returned from his mission to the dining-room he only found
Tommy waiting for his peach upon the terrace steps. Mrs. Kynaston had
gone back into the house.

Tommy went off devouring his prey with, it must be confessed, rather a
guilty conscience over it. Somehow or other, he felt that he had failed
in the trust his aunt had placed in him; but then, Mrs. Kynaston had been
very kind and very peremptory; she had almost taken the letter out of his
hand, and she had smiled and looked quite like a fairy princess out of
one of Minnie's story-books in her pretty blue silk dress and shining
locket--and then, peaches were so very nice!

What happened to Denis Wilde after the small boy's departure was this. He
sauntered back to the drawing-room windows and looked in; no one was
there. He then wandered further down the terrace till he came opposite
the window of the boudoir--Mrs. Kynaston's own boudoir--which Sir John's
loving hands had once lined with blue and silver for his Vera. Here he
caught sight of Mrs. Kynaston's fair head and slender figure. Her back
was turned to him; he was on the point of calling out to her, when
suddenly the words upon his lips were arrested by something which he saw
her doing. Instead of speaking, he simply stood still and stared at her.

Mrs. Kynaston, unconscious of observation, held the note which Tommy had
just given her over the steam of a small jug of hot water, which she had
hastily ordered her maid to bring to her. In less than a minute the
envelope unfastened of itself. Helen then deliberately took out the note
and read it.

What she read was this:--

  "Dear Captain Kynaston,--I have something that I have promised to give
  to you when you are alone. Would you mind coming round to the vicarage
  after dinner to-night, at nine o'clock? You will find me at the
  gate.--Sincerely yours,

  "Vera Nevill."

Then Helen lit a candle, and fastened the letter up again with
sealing-wax.

And Denis Wilde crept away from the window on tip-toe with a sense of
shocked horror upon him such as he never remembered having experienced in
his life before.

All at once his pretty, pleasant hostess, with whom he had been glad
enough to banter, and with whom even he had been ready to enter upon a
mild and innocent flirtation, became horrible and hateful to him; and
there came into his mind, like an inspiration, the knowledge of her
enmity to Vera; for it was Vera's note that she had opened and read. Then
his instincts were straightway all awake with the acuteness of a danger,
to something--he knew not what--that threatened the woman he loved.

"Thank God, I am here," he said to himself. "That woman is her foe, and
she will be dangerous to her. I would not have come to her house had I
known it; but now I am here, I will stay, for it is certain that she will
need a friend."

At dinner-time the note lay by Maurice's side on the table. Whilst the
soup was being helped he took it up and opened it. He little knew how
narrowly both his wife and his guest watched him as he read it.

But his face was inscrutable. Only he talked a little more, and seemed,
perhaps, in better spirits than usual; but that is what a stranger could
not have noticed, although it is possible that Helen may have done so.

"By the vicarage gate," she had said, and it was there that he found her.
Behind her lay the dark and silent garden, beyond it the house, with its
wide-open drawing-room windows, and the stream of yellow light from the
lamp within, lying in a golden streak across the lawn. She leant over the
gate; an archway of greenery, dark in the night's dim light, was above
her head, and clusters of pale, creamy roses hung down about her on every
side.

It was that sort of owl's light that has no distinctness in it, and yet
is far removed from darkness. Vera's perfect figure, clad in some white,
clinging garment that fell about her in thick, heavy folds, stood out
with a statue-like clearness against the dark shrubs behind her. She
seemed like some shadowy queen of the night. Out of the dimness, the
clear oval of her perfect face shone pale as the waning moon far away
behind the church tower, whilst the dusky veil of her dark hair lost
itself vaguely in the shadows, and melted away into the background.
A poet might have hymned her thus, but no painter could have painted her.

And it was thus that he found her. For the first time for many weary
weeks and months he was alone with her; for the first time he could speak
to her freely and from his heart. He knew not what it was that had made
her send for him, or why it was that he had come. He did not remember her
note, or that she had said that she had something for him. All he knew
was, that she had sent for him, and that he was with her.

There was the gate between them, but her white soft hands were clasped
loosely together over the top of it. He took them feverishly between his
own.

"I am late--you have waited for me, dear? Oh, Vera, how glad I am to be
with you!"

There was a dangerous tenderness in his voice that frightened her. She
tried to draw away her hands.

"I had something for you, or I should not have sent--please, Captain
Kynaston--Maurice--please let my hands go."

He was alone under the star-flecked heavens with the woman he loved,
there was all the witchery of the pale moonlight about her, all the
sweet perfumes of the summer night to intensify the fascination of her
presence. There was a nameless glamour in the luminous dimness--a subtle
seduction to the senses in the silence and the solitude; a bird chirruped
once among the tangled roses overhead, and a soft, sighing breeze
fluttered for one instant amid its long, trailing branches. And then,
God knows how it came to pass, or what madness possessed the man;
but suddenly there was no longer any faith, or honour, or truth for
him--nothing on the face of the whole earth but Vera.

He caught her passionately in his arms, and showered upon her lips the
maddest, wildest kisses that man ever gave to woman.

For one instant she lay still upon his heart; all the fury of her misery
was at rest--all the storm of her sorrow was at peace--for one instant of
time she tasted of life's sublimest joy ere the waters of blackness and
despair closed in once more over her soul. For one instant only--then she
remembered, and withdrew herself shudderingly from his grasp.

"For God's sake, have pity upon me, Maurice!" she wailed. It was the cry
of a broken heart that appealed to his manhood and his honour more surely
and more directly than a torrent of reproach or a storm of indignation.

"Forgive me," he murmured, humbly; "I am a brute to you. I had forgotten
myself. I ought to have spared you, sweet. See, I have let you go; I will
not touch you again; but it was hard to see you alone, to be near you,
and yet to remember how we are parted. Vera, I have ruined your life; it
is wonderful that you do not hate me."

"A true woman never hates the man who has been hard on her," she
answered, smiling sadly.

"If it is any comfort to you to know it, I too am wretched; now it is too
late: I know that my life is spoilt also."

"No; why should that comfort me?" she said, wearily. She leant half back
against the gate--if he could have seen her well in the uncertain light,
he would have been shocked at the worn and haggard face of his beautiful
Vera.

Presently she spoke again.

"I am sorry that I asked you to come--it was not wise, was it, Maurice?
How long must you stop at Kynaston? Can you not go away? We are neither
of us strong enough to bear this--I, I cannot go--but you, _must_ you be
always here?"

"Before God," he answered, earnestly, "I swear to you that I will go away
if it is in my power to go."

"Thank you." Then, with an effort, she roused herself to speak to him:
"But that is not what I wanted to say; let me tell you why I sent for
you. I made a promise, a wretched, stupid thing, to a tiresome little man
I met in London--a Monsieur D'Arblet, a Frenchman; do you know him?"

"D'Arblet! I never heard the name in my life that I know of."

"Really, that seems odd, for I have a little parcel from him to you, and,
strangely enough, he made me promise on my word of honour to give it to
you when no one was near. I did not know how to keep my promise, for,
though we may sometimes meet in public, we are not often likely to meet
alone. I have it here; let me give it to you and have done with the
thing; it has been on my mind."

She drew a small packet from her pocket, and was about to give it to him,
when suddenly his ear caught the sound of an approaching footstep; he
looked nervously round, then he put forth his hand quickly and stopped
her.

"Hush, give me nothing now!" he said, in a low, hurried voice. "To-morrow
we shall meet at Shadonake; if you will go near the Bath some time
during the day after lunch is over, I will join you there, and you can
give it to me; it can be of no possible importance; go in now quickly;
good-night. It is my wife."

She turned and fled swiftly back to the house through the darkness, and
Maurice was left face to face with Helen.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

DENIS WILDE'S LOVE.

  A mighty pain to love it is,
  And 'tis a pain that love to miss;
  But, of all pains, the greatest pain
  Is to love, but love in vain.

  Cowley.


He had not been mistaken. It was Helen who had crept out after him in the
darkness, and whose slight figure, in her pale blue dress, stood close by
him in an angle of the road.

How long she had stood there and what she had heard he did not know. He
expected a torrent of abuse and a storm of reproaches from her, but she
refrained from either. She passed her arm within his, and walked beside
him for several minutes in silence. Maurice, who felt rather guilty, was
weak enough to say, hesitatingly,

"The night was so fine, I strolled out to smoke----"

"_Qui s'excuse s'accuse_," quoted Helen; "only you are not smoking,
Maurice!"

"My cigar has gone out; I--I met Miss Nevill at the gate of the
vicarage."

"So I saw," rather significantly.

"I stopped to have a little talk to her. There is no harm, I suppose, in
that!" he added, irritably.

Helen laughed shortly and harshly.

"Harm! oh dear, no; whoever said there was? By the way, is not this freak
of yours of going out into the roads to smoke, as you say, alone, rather
a slight on your guest? Here is Mr. Wilde; how very amusing! we all seem
to be drawn out towards the vicarage to-night."

Denis Wilde, in fact, had followed in the wake of his hostess, and they
met him now by the lodge gates.

"How very strange!" called out Helen to him, in her scornful, bantering
voice; "how strange that we should all have gone out for solitary
rambles, and all meet in the same place; and there was Miss Nevill out
in the vicarage garden, also on a solitary ramble."

"Is Miss Nevill there? I think I will go on and call upon her," said
Denis.

"You too, Mr. Wilde!" cried Helen. "Have you fallen a victim to the
beauty? We heard enough of her in town; she turned all the men's heads;
even married men are not safe from her snares, and yet it is singular
that none of her admirers care to marry her; there are some women whom
all men make love to, but whom none care to make wives of!"

And Maurice was a coward, and spoke no word in her defence; he did not
dare; but young Denis Wilde drew himself up proudly.

"Mrs. Kynaston," he said, sternly, "I must ask you not to speak
slightingly of Miss Nevill."

"Good gracious, why not? I suppose we are all free to use our tongues and
our eyes in this world! Why should you become the woman's champion?"

"Because," answered Denis, gravely, "I hope to make her my wife."

Maurice was man enough to hold out his hand to him in the darkness.

"I am glad of it," he said, rather hoarsely; "make her happy, Denis, if
you can."

"Thanks. I shall go on to see her now."

Helen murmured an unintelligible apology, and Denis Wilde passed onwards
towards the vicarage.

He had taken her good name into his keeping, he had shielded her from
that other woman's slandering tongue; but he had done so in his despair.
He had spoken no lie in saying that he hoped to make her his wife; but it
was no doubt a fact that Helen and her husband would now believe him to
be engaged to her. Would Vera be induced to verify his words, and to
place herself and her life beneath the shelter of his love, or would she
only be angry with him for venturing to presume upon his hopes? Denis
could not tell.

Ten minutes later he stood alone with her in the vicarage dining-room;
he had sent in his card with a pencilled line upon it to ask for a few
minutes' conversation with her.

Vera had desired that her visitor might be shown into the dining-room.
Old Mrs. Daintree had been amazed and scandalized, and even Marion had
opened her eyes at so unusual a proceeding; but the vicar was out by a
sick bedside in the village, and no one else ever controlled Vera's
actions.

Nevertheless, she herself looked somewhat surprised at so late a visit
from him. And then, somehow or other, Denis made it plain to her how it
was he had come, and what he had said of her. Her name, he told her, had
been lightly spoken of; to have defended it without authority would have
been to do her more harm than good; to take it under his lawful
protection had been instinctively suggested to him by his longing to
shield her. Would she forgive him?

"It was Mrs. Kynaston who spoke evil things of me," said Vera, wearily.
She was very tired, she hardly understood, she scarcely cared about what
he was saying to her; it mattered very little what was said to her. There
was that other scene under the shadow of the roses of the gateway so
vividly before her; the memory of Maurice's passionate kisses upon her
lips, the sound of his beloved voice in her ears. What did anything else
signify?

And meanwhile Denis Wilde was pouring out his whole soul to her.

"My darling, give me the right to defend you now and always," he pleaded;
"do not refuse me the happiness of protecting your dear name from such
women. I know you don't love me, dear, not as I love you, but I will not
mind that; I will ask you for nothing that you will not give me freely;
only try me--I think I could make you happy, love. At any rate, you shall
have anything that tenderness and devotion can give you to bring peace
into your life. Vera, darling, answer me."

"Oh, I am very tired," was all she said, moaningly and wearily, passing
her hand across her aching brow like a worn-out child.

It was life or death to him. To her it was such a little matter! What
were all his words and his prayers beside that heartache that was driving
her into her grave! He could do her no good. Why could he not leave her
in peace?

And yet, at length, something of the fervour and the passion of his love
struck upon her soul and arrested her attention. There is something so
touching and so pitiful in that first boy-love that asks for nothing in
return, craves for no other reward than to be suffered to exist; that
amongst all the selfish and half-hearted passions of older and wiser men,
it must needs elicit some response of gratitude at least, if not of
answering love, in the heart of the woman who is the object of such rare
devotion.

It dawned at length upon Vera, as she listened to his fervent pleading,
and as she saw the tears that rose in poor Denis's earnest eyes, and
the traces of deep emotion on his smooth, boyish face, that here was,
perchance, the one utterly pure and noble love that had ever been laid
at her feet.

There arose a sentiment of pity in her heart, and a vague wonder as to
his grief. Did he suffer, she asked herself, as she herself suffered?

"Vera, Vera, I only ask you to be my wife. I do not ask you for your
heart; only give me your dear self. Only let me be always with you to
brighten your life and to take care of you."

How was she to resist such absolute unselfishness?

"Oh, Denis, how good you are to me!" burst from her lips. "How can I take
you at your word? Do you not know that my heart is gone from me? I have
no love to give you."

"Yes, yes, darling," he said, quickly, pressing her hand to his lips. "Do
not pain yourself by speaking of it. I have guessed it. I have always
seemed to know it. But it is hopeless, is it not? And I--I would so
gladly take you away and comfort you if I could."

And so, in the end, she half yielded to him. What else was she to do? She
gave him a sort of promise.

"If I can, it shall be as you wish," she said; "but give me till
to-morrow night. I will think of it all day, and if you will come here
again to-morrow evening, I will answer you. Give me one more day--only
one," she repeated, with a dull reiteration, out of her utter weariness.

"One day will soon be gone," he said, joyfully, as he bade her good
night.

Alas, how little he knew what that day was to bring forth!

That night the heavens were overcast with heavy clouds, and torrents of
rain poured down upon the face of the earth, and peal after peal of
thunder boomed through the heavy heated air. Helen could not sleep; she
rose, feverish and unrested from her husband's side, and paced wildly and
miserably about the room. Then she went to the window and drew back the
curtain, and looked out upon the storm-driven world. The clouds racked
wildly across the sky; the trees bent and swayed before the howling wind;
the rain beat in floods upon the ground; yet greater and fiercer still
was the tempest that raged in Helen Kynaston's heart. Hatred, jealousy,
and malice strove and struggled within her, and something direr still--a
terror that she could not quench nor stifle; for late that night her
husband had said to her suddenly, without a word of warning or
preparation--

"Helen, do you know a Frenchman called D'Arblet?"

Helen had been at her dressing-table--her back was turned to him--he did
not see the livid pallor which blanched her cheeks at his question.

A little pause, during which she busied herself among the trifles upon
the table.

"No, I never heard the name in my life," she said, at length.

"That is odd--because neither have I--and yet the man has sent me a
parcel." It was of so little importance to him, that it did not occur
to him that there could possibly be any occasion for secresy concerning
Vera's commission. What could an utter stranger have to send to him that
could possibly concern him in any way?

It did not strike him how strained and forced was the voice in which his
wife presently asked him a question.

"And the parcel! You have opened it?"

"No, not yet," began Maurice, stifling a yawn; and he would have gone
on to explain to her that it was not yet actually in his possession,
although, probably, he would not have told her that it was Vera who was
to give it to him; only at that minute the maid came into the room, and
he changed the subject.

But Helen had guessed that it was Vera who was the bearer of that parcel.
How it had come to pass she could not tell, but too surely she divined
that Vera had in her possession those fatal letters that she had once
written to the French vicomte; the letters that would blast her for ever
in her husband's estimation, and turn his luke-warmness and his coldness
into actual hatred and repulsion.

And was it likely that Vera, with such a weapon in her hands, would spare
her? What woman, with so signal a revenge in her power, would forego the
delight of wreaking it upon the woman who had taken from her the man she
loved? Helen knew that in Vera's place she would show no mercy to her
rival.

It was all clear as daylight to her now; the appointment at the vicarage
gate, the something which she had said in her note she had for him; the
whole mystery of the secret meeting between them--it was Vera's revenge.
Vera, whom Maurice loved, and whom she, Helen, hated with such a deadly
hatred!

And then, in the silence of the night, whilst her husband slept, and
whilst the thunder and the wind howled about her home, Helen crept forth
from her room, and sought for that fatal packet of letters which her
husband had told her he had "not yet" opened.

Oh, if she could only find them and destroy them before he ever saw them
again! Long and patiently she looked for them, but her search was in
vain. She ransacked his study and his dressing-room; she opened every
drawer, and fumbled in every pocket, but she found nothing.

She was frightened, too, to be about the house like a thief in the night.
Every gust of wind that creaked among the open doors made her start,
every flash of lightning that lighted up the faces of the old family
portraits, looking down upon her with their fixed eyes, made her turn
pale and shiver, lest she should see them move, or hear them speak.

Only her jealousy and her hatred burnt fiercely above her terror; she
would not give in, she told herself, until she found it.

Denis Wilde, who was restless too, had heard her soft footsteps along the
passage outside his door; and, with a vague uneasiness as to who could be
about at such an hour, he came creeping out of his room, and peeped in at
the library door.

He saw her sitting upon the floor, a lighted candle by her side, an open
drawer, out of her husband's writing-table, upon her lap, turning over
papers, and bills, and note-books with eager, trembling hands. And he saw
in her white, set face, and wild, scared eyes, that which made him draw
back swiftly and shudderingly from the sight of her.

"Good God!" he murmured to himself, as he sought his room again, "the
woman has murder in her face!"

And at last she had to give it up; the letters were not to be found. The
storm without settled itself to rest, the thunder died away in the far
distance over the hills, and Helen, worn out with fatigue and emotion,
sought a troubled slumber upon the sofa in her dressing-room.

"She cannot have given it to him," was the conclusion she came to at
last. "Well, she will do so to-morrow, and I--I will not let her out of
my sight, not for one instant, all the day!"



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A GARDEN PARTY.

  I have done for ever with all these things:
  The songs are ended, the deeds are done;
  There shall none of them gladden me now, not one.
  There is nothing good for me under the sun
  But to perish--as these things perished.

  A. L. Gordon.


Mr. Guy Miller is a young gentleman who has not played an important part
in these pages; nevertheless, but for him, sundry events which took place
at Shadonake at this time would not have had to be recorded.

It so happened that Guy Miller's twenty-first birthday was in the third
week of September, and that it was determined by his parents to celebrate
the day in an appropriate and fitting manner. Guy was a youth of no
particular looks, and no particular manners; he had been at Oxford,
but his father had lately taken him away from it, with a view to his
travelling, and seeing something of the world before he settled down
as a country gentleman. He had had no opportunity, therefore, of
distinguishing himself at college; but as he was not overburdened with
brains, and had, moreover, never been known to study with interest any
profounder literature than "Handley Cross" and "Mr. Sponge's Sporting
Tour," it is possible that, even had he been left undisturbed to pursue
his studies at the university, he would never have developed into a
bright or shining ornament at that seat of learning.

As it was, Guy came home to the paternal mansion an ignorant but amiable
and inoffensive young man, with a small, fluffy moustache, and no
particular bent in life beyond smoking short pipes, and loafing about the
premises with his hands in his trousers pockets.

He was a tolerable shot, and a plucky, though not a graceful horseman. He
hated dancing because he trod on his partner's toes, and shunned ladies'
society because he had to make himself agreeable to them. Nevertheless,
having been fairly "licked into shape" by a course successively of Eton
and of Oxford, he was able to behave like a gentleman in his mother's
house when it was necessary for him to do so, and he quite appreciated
the fact of his being an important personage in the Miller family.

It was to celebrate the coming of age of this interesting young gentleman
that Mr. and Mrs. Miller had settled to give a monster entertainment to
several hundreds of their fellow-creatures.

The proceedings were to include a variety of instructive and amusing
pastimes, and were to last pretty nearly all day. There was to be a
country flower-show in a big tent on the lawn; that was pure business,
and concerned the farmers as much as the gentry. There were also to be
athletic sports in a field for the active young men, lawn-tennis for the
active young women, an amateur polo match got up by the energy and pluck
of Miss Beatrice and her uncle Tom; a "cold collation" in a second tent
to be going on all the afternoon; the whole to be finished up with a
dance in the large drawing room, for a select few, after sunset.

The programme, in all conscience, was varied enough; and the day broke
hopefully, after the wild storm of the previous night, bright and cool
and sunny, with every prospect of being perfectly fine.

Beatrice, happy in the possession of her lover, was full of life and
energy; she threw herself into all the preparations of the _fête_ with
her whole heart. Herbert, who came over from Lutterton at an early hour,
followed her about like a dog, obeying her orders implicitly, but
impeding her proceedings considerably by a constant under-current of
love-making, by which he strove to vary and enliven the operation of
sticking standard flags into the garden borders, and nailing up wreaths
of paper roses inside the tent.

Mrs. Miller, having consented to the engagement, like a sensible woman,
was resolved to make the best of it, and was, if not cordial, at least
pleasantly civil to her future son-in-law. She had given over Beatrice
as a bad job; she had resolved to find suitable matches for Guy and for
Geraldine.

By one o'clock the company was actually beginning to arrive, the small
fry of the neighbourhood being, of course, the first to appear. By-and-by
came the rank and fashion of Meadowshire, and by three o'clock the
gardens were crowded.

It was a brilliant scene; there was the gaily-dressed crowd going in and
out of the tents, groups of elderly people sitting talking under the
trees, lawn-tennis players at one end of the garden, the militia band
playing Strauss's waltzes at the other, the scarlet and white flags
floating bravely over everybody in the breeze, and a hum of many voices
and a sound of merry laughter in every direction.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller, and Guy, the hero of the day, moved about amongst
the guests from group to group. Guy, it must be owned, looking
considerably bored. Beatrice, with her lover in attendance, looking
flushed and rosy with the many congratulations which the news of her
engagement called forth on every side; and the younger boys, home from
school for the occasion, getting in everybody's way, and directing their
main attention to the ices in the refreshment-tent. Such an afternoon
party, it was agreed, had not been held in Meadowshire within the memory
of man; but then, dear Mrs. Miller had such energy and such a real talent
for organization; and if the company _was_ a little mixed, why, of
course, she must recollect Mr. Miller's position, and how important it
was for him, with the prospect of a general election coming on, to make
himself thoroughly popular with all classes.

No one in all the gay crowd was more admired or more noticed than "the
bride," as she was still called, young Mrs. Kynaston. Helen had surpassed
herself in the elaboration of her toilette. The country dames and
damsels, in their somewhat dowdy home-made gowns, could scarcely remember
their manners, so eager were they to stare at the marvels of that
wondrous garment of sheeny satin, and soft, creamy gauze, sprinkled over
with absolute works of art in the shape of wreaths of many-hued
embroidered birds and flowers, with which the whole dress was cunningly
and dexterously adorned. It was a masterpiece of the great Worth; rich
without being gaudy, intricate without losing its general effect of
colour, and, above all, utterly and absolutely inimitable by the hands
of any meaner artist.

Mrs. Kynaston looked well; no one had ever seen her look better; there
was an unusual colour in her cheeks, an unusual glitter in her blue eyes,
that always seemed to be roving restlessly about her as though in search
of something even all the time she was saying her polite commonplaces in
answer to the pleasant and pretty speeches that she received on all sides
from men and women alike.

But through it all she never let Vera Nevill out of her sight; where Vera
moved, she moved also. When she walked across the lawn, Mrs. Kynaston
made some excuse to go in the same direction; when she entered either of
the tents, Helen also found it necessary to go into them. But the crowd
was too great for any one to remark this; no one saw it save Denis Wilde,
whose eyes were sharpened by his love.

Once Helen saw that Maurice and Vera were speaking to each other. She
could not get near enough to hear what they said, but she saw him bend
down and speak to her earnestly, and there was a sad, wistful look in
Vera's upturned eyes as she answered him. Helen's heart beat with a wild,
mad jealousy as she watched them; and yet it was but a few words that had
passed between them.

"Vera, young Wilde says you are going to marry him; is it true?"

"He wants me to do so, but I don't think I can."

"Why not? It would be happier for you, child; forget the past and begin
afresh. He is a good boy, and by-and-by he will be well off."

"You, too--you advise me to do this?" she answered with unwonted
bitterness. "Oh, how wise and calculating one ought to be to live happily
in this miserable world!"

He looked pained.

"I cannot do you any good," he said, rather brokenly. "God knows I would
if I could. I can only be a curse to you. Give me at least the credit of
unselfishly wishing you to be less unhappy than you are."

And then the crowd, moving onwards, parted them from each other.

"Do not forget to meet me at the Bath," she called out to him as he went.

"Oh, to be sure! I had forgotten. I will be there just before the dancing
begins."

And then Denis Wilde took his place by her side.

If Mrs. Kynaston surpassed herself in looks and animation that day, Vera,
on the contrary, had never looked less well.

Her eyes were heavy with sleepless nights and many tears; her movements
were slower and more languid than of wont, and her face was pale and
thin.

Meadowshire generally, that had ceased to trouble itself much about her
when she had thrown over the richest baronet in the county, considered
itself, nevertheless, to be somewhat aggrieved by the falling off in her
appearance, and passed its appropriate and ill-natured comments upon the
fact.

"How ill she looks," said one woman to another.

"Positively old. I suppose she thought she could whistle poor Sir John
back again whenever she chose; now he is out of the country she would
give her eyes for him!"

"I daresay; and looks as if she had cried them out; but he must be glad
to have escaped her! Well, it serves her right for behaving so badly. I'm
sure I don't pity her."

"Nor I, indeed."

And the two amiable women passed onwards to discuss some other ill-fated
victim.

But to the two men who loved her Vera that day was as beautiful as ever;
for love sees no flaw in the face that reigns supreme in the soul. And
Vera sat still in her corner of the tent where she had taken refuge, and
leant her tired, aching head against a gaudy pink-and-white striped
pillar. It was the tent where the flower-show was going on. From her
sheltered nook there was not much that was lovely to be seen, not a
vestige of a rose or a carnation to refresh her tired eyes, only a
counter covered with samples of potatoes and monster cauliflowers;
and there was a slab of white wood with pats of yellow butter, done up in
moss and ferns, which had been sent from the principal dairy-farms of the
county, and before which there was a constant succession of elderly and
interested housewives tasting and comparing notes. There seemed some
difficulty in deciding to whom the butter prize was to be awarded, and at
last a committee of ladies was formed; they all tasted, solemnly, of each
sample all round, and then they each gave their verdict differently, so
that it had all to be done over again amidst a good deal of laughter and
merriment.

Vera was vaguely amused by this scene that went on just in front of her.
When the knotty point was settled, the committee moved on to decide upon
something else, and she was left again to the uninterrupted contemplation
of the Flukes and the York Regents.

Denis Wilde had sat by her for some time, but at last she had begged him
to leave her. Her head ached, she said; if he would not mind going, and
he went.

Presently, Beatrice, beaming with happiness, found her out in her corner.

"Oh, Vera!" she said, coming up to her, all radiant with smiles, "you are
the only one of my friends who has not yet wished me joy."

"That is not because I have not thought of you, Beatrice, dear," she
answered, heartily grasping her friend's outstretched hands. "I was so
very glad to hear that everything has come right for you at last. How did
it all happen?"

"I will come over to the vicarage to-morrow, and tell you the whole
story. Oh! do you remember meeting Herbert and me, that foggy morning,
outside Tripton station?"

Would Vera ever forget it?

"I little thought then how happily everything was to end for us. I used
to think we should have to elope! Poor Herbert, he was always frightened
out of his life when I said that. But we have had a very narrow escape
of being blighted beings to the end of our lives. If it hadn't been for
uncle Tom and that dear darling mare, Clochette, whom I should like
to keep in a gold and jewelled stall to the end of her ever-blessed
days!----Ah, well! I've no time to tell you now--I will come over to
Sutton to-morrow, and I may bring him, may I not?"

"Him," of course, meaning Mr. Herbert Pryme. Vera requested that he might
be brought by all means.

"Well, I must run away now--there are at least a hundred of these stupid
people to whom I must go and make myself agreeable. By the way, Vera, how
dull you look, up in this corner by yourself. Why do you sit here all
alone?"

"My head aches; I am glad to be quiet."

"But you mean to dance by-and-by, I hope?"

"Oh, yes, I daresay. Go back to your guests, Beatrice; I am getting on
very well."

Beatrice went off smiling and waving her hand. Vera could watch her
outside in the sunshine, moving about from group to group, shaking hands
with first one and then another, laughing at some playful sally, or
smiling demurely over some graver words of kindness. She was always
popular, was Beatrice, with her bright talk and her plain clever face,
and there was not a man or woman in all that crowd who did not wish her
happiness.

And so the day wore away, and the polo match--very badly played--was
over, and the votaries of lawn-tennis were worn out with running up and
down, and the flowers and the fruits in the show-tent began to look
limp and dusty. The farmers and those people of small importance who had
only been invited "from two to five," began now to take their departure,
and their carriage wheels were to be heard driving away in rapid
succession from the front door. Then the hundred or so of the "best
county people," who were remaining later for the dancing, began to think
of leaving the lawns before the dew fell. There was a general move
towards the house, and even the band "limbered up," and began to transfer
itself from the garden into the hall, where its labours were to begin
afresh.

Then it was that Vera crept forth out of her sheltered corner, and,
unseen and unnoticed save by one watchful pair of eyes, wended her way
through the shrubbery walks in the direction of the Bath.



CHAPTER XXXV.

SHADONAKE BATH.

  A jolly place--in times of old,
  But something ails it now:
  The spot is cursed!

  Wordsworth.


Calm and still, like the magic mirror of the legend, Shadonake Bath lay
amongst its everlasting shadows.

The great belt of fir-trees beyond it, the sheltering evergreens on
the nearer side, the tiers of grey, moss-grown steps that encompassed
it about, all found their image again upon its smooth and untroubled
surface. There was a golden light from the setting sun to the west,
and the pale mist of a shadowy crescent moon had risen in the east.

It was all quiet here--faint echoes of distant voices and far-away
laughter came up in little gusts from the house; but there was no trace
of the festivities down by the desolate water, nothing but the dark
fir-trees above it, and the great white heads of the water-lilies that
lay like jewels upon its silent bosom.

Vera sat down upon the steps, and rested her chin in her hands, and
waited. The house and the gardens behind her were shut out by the thick
screen of laurels and rhododendrons. Before her, on the other side, were
the fir-trees, with their red, bronzed trunks, and the soft, dark brown
carpet that lay at their feet; there was not even a squirrel stirring
among their branches, nor a bird that fluttered beneath their shadows.

Vera waited. She was not impatient nor anxious. She had nothing to say
to Maurice when he came--she did not mean to keep him, not even for five
minutes, by her side; she did not want to run any further risks with
him--it was better not--better that she should never again be alone with
him. She only meant just to give him that wretched little brown paper
parcel that weighed upon her conscience with the sense of an unfulfilled
vow, and then to go back with him to the house at once. They could have
nothing more to say to each other.

Strangely enough, as she sat there musing all her life came back in
review before her. The old days at Rome, with the favourite sister who
was dead and gone; her own gay, careless life, with its worldly aims and
desires; her first arrival at Sutton, her determination to make herself
Sir John Kynaston's wife, and then her fatal love for his brother; it all
came back to her again. All kinds of little details that she had long
forgotten came flooding in upon her memory. She remembered how she had
first seen Maurice standing at the foot of the staircase, with the light
of the lamp upon his handsome head; and then, again, how one morning she
and he had stood together in this very place by the Bath, and how she had
told him, shuddering, that it would be dreadful to be drowned there, and
she had cried out in a nameless terror that she wished she had not seen
it for the first time with him by her side; and then Helen had come down
from the house and joined them, and they had all three gone away
together. She smiled a little to herself over that foolish, reasonless
terror. The quiet pool of water did not look dreadful to her now--only
cool, and still, and infinitely restful.

By-and-by other thoughts came into her mind. She recalled her interview
with old Lady Kynaston at Walpole Lodge, when she had so nearly promised
her to give back her hand to her eldest son, when she would have done so
had it not been for that sight of Maurice's face in the adjoining room.
She wondered what Lady Kynaston had thought of her sudden change of mind;
what she had been able to make of it; whether she had ever guessed at
what had been the truth. It seemed only yesterday that the old lady had
told her to be wise and brave, and to begin her life over again, and to
make the best of the good things of this world that were still left to
her.

"There is a pain that goes right through the heart," Maurice's mother had
said to her; "I who speak to you have felt it. I thought I should die of
it, but you see I did not."

Alas! did not Vera know that pain all too well; that heartache that
banishes peace by day and sleep by night, and that will not wear itself
out?

And yet other women had borne it, and had lived and been even happy in
other ways; but she could not be happy. Was it because her heart was
deeper, or because her sense of pain was greater than that of others?

Vera could not tell. She only wished, and longed, and even prayed that
she might have the strength to become Denis Wilde's wife; that she might
taste once more of peace, if not of joy; and yet all her longings and all
her prayers only made her realize the more how utterly the thing was
beyond her power.

To Maurice, and Maurice alone, belonged her life and her soul, and Vera
felt that it would be easier for her to be true to the sad, dim memory
of his love than to give her heart and her allegiance to any other upon
earth.

So she sat and mused, and pondered, and the amber light in the east faded
away into palest saffron, and the solemn shadows deepened and lengthened
upon the still bosom of the water.

Suddenly there came a sharp footstep and the rustle of a woman's silken
skirts across the stone flags behind her. She looked up quickly; Helen
stood beside her. Helen, in all the sheen of her gay Paris garments,
with the evening light upon her uncovered head, and the glow of a
passion, fiercer than madness, in her glittering eyes. Some prescience
of evil--she knew not of what--made Vera spring to her feet.

Helen spoke to her shortly and defiantly.

"Miss Nevill, you are waiting here for my husband, are you not?"

A faint flush rose in Vera's face.

"Yes," she answered, very quietly. "I am waiting to speak a few words to
him."

"You have something to give him, have you not? Some letters that are
mine, and which you have probably read."

Helen said the words quickly and feverishly; her voice shook and
trembled. Vera looked surprised and even indignant.

"I don't understand you, Mrs. Kynaston," she began, coldly.

"Oh, yes, you understand me perfectly. Give me my letters, Miss Nevill;
you have no doubt read them all," and she laughed harshly and sneeringly.

"Mrs. Kynaston, you are labouring under some delusion," said Vera,
quietly; "I have no letters of yours, and if I had," with a ring of utter
contempt, "I should not be likely to have opened them."

For it did not occur to her that Helen was speaking of Monsieur
D'Arblet's parcel; that did not in the least convey the idea of letters
to her mind; nor had it ever entered into her head to speculate about
what that unhappy little packet could possibly contain; she had never
even thought about it.

"I have no letters of yours," she repeated.

"You are saying what is false," cried Helen, angrily. "How can you dare
to deny it? You know you have got them, you are here to give them to
Maurice, knowing that they will ruin me. You _shall_ not give them to
him. I have come to take them from you--I _will_ have them."

"I do not even know what you are speaking about," answered Vera. "Why
should I want to ruin you, if, indeed, such a thing is to be done?"

"Because you hate me as much as I hate you."

"Hate is an ugly word," said Vera, rather scornfully. "I have no reason
to hate you, and I do not know why you should hate me."

"Don't imagine you can put me off with empty words," cried Helen, wildly.
She made a step forward; her white hands clenched themselves together
with a reasonless fury; she was as white as the crescent moon that rose
beyond the trees.

"Give me my letters--the letters you are waiting here to give to my
husband!" she cried.

"Mrs. Kynaston, do not be so angry," said Vera, becoming almost
bewildered by her violence; "you are really mistaken--pray calm yourself.
I have no letters: what I was going to give your husband was only a
little parcel from a man who is abroad--he is a foreigner. I do not think
it is of the slightest importance to anybody. I have not opened it, I
have no idea what it contains, and your husband himself said it was
nothing--only I have promised to give it him alone; it was a whim of the
little Frenchman who entrusted me with it, and whom, I must honestly tell
you, I believe to have been half-mad. Only, unfortunately, I have
promised to deliver it in this manner."

Mrs. Kynaston was looking at her fixedly; her anger seemed to have died
away.

"Yes," she said, "it was Monsieur D'Arblet who gave them to you."

"That was his name, D'Arblet. I did not like the man; but he bothered me
until I foolishly undertook his commission. I am sorry now that I did so,
as it seems to vex you so much; but I do not think there are letters in
the parcel, and I certainly have not opened it."

Helen was silent again for a minute, looking at her intently.

"I don't believe you," she said; "they are my letters, sure enough, and
you have read them. What woman would not do so in your place? and you
know that they will ruin me with my husband."

"It is you yourself that tell me so!" cried Vera, impatiently, beginning
to lose her temper. "I do not even know what you are talking about!"

"Miss Nevill!" cried Helen, suddenly changing her tone; "give that parcel
to me, I entreat you."

"I am very sorry, Mrs. Kynaston; I cannot possibly do so."

"Oh yes, you can--you will," said Helen, imploringly. "What can it matter
to you now? It is I who am his wife; you cannot get any good out of a
mere empty revenge. Why should you spoil my chance of winning his heart?
I know well enough that he loves you, but----"

"Mrs. Kynaston, pray, pray recollect yourself; do not say such words to
me!" cried Vera, deeply distressed.

"Why should I not say them! You and I know well enough that it is true.
I hate you, I am jealous of you, for I know that my husband loves you;
and yet, if you will only give me that parcel, I will forgive you--I
will try to live at peace with you--I will even pray and strive for your
happiness! Let me have a chance of making him love me!"

"For God's sake, Mrs. Kynaston, do not say these things to me!" cried
Vera. She was crimson with pain and shame, and shocked beyond measure
that his wife should be so lost to all decency and self-respect as to
speak so openly of her husband's love for herself.

"I will not and cannot listen to you!"

"But you will not be so cruel as to ruin me?" pleaded Helen; "only give
me that parcel, and I shall be safe! You say you have not opened it;
well, I can hardly believe it, because in your place I should have read
every word; yet, if you will give them to me, I will forgive you."

"You do not understand what you are saying!" cried Vera, impatiently.
"How can I give you what is not mine to give? I have no right to dispose
of this parcel"--she held it in her hand--"and I have given my word that
I will give it to your husband alone. How could I be so false as to do
anything else with it? You are asking impossibilities, Mrs. Kynaston."

"You will not give it to me?" There was a sudden change in Helen's
voice--she pleaded no longer.

"No, certainly not."

"And that is your last word?"

"Yes."

There was a silence. Helen looked away over the water towards the
fir-trees. She was pale, but very quiet; all her angry agitation seemed
to have died away. Vera stood a little beneath her on the lowest step,
close down to the water; she held the little parcel that was the object
of the dispute in her hands, and was looking at it with an expression of
deep annoyance; she was wishing heartily that she had never seen either
it or the wretched little Frenchman who had insisted upon confiding it to
her care.

Neither of them spoke; for an instant neither of them even moved. There
was a striking contrast between them: Helen, slight and fragile in her
bird-of-paradise garments, with jewels about her neck, and golden chains
at her wrist; her pretty piquant face, almost childish in the contour of
the small, delicate features. Vera, in her plain, tight-fitting dress,
whose only beauty lay in the perfect simplicity with which it followed
the lines of her glorious figure; her pure, lovely face, laden with its
burden of deep sadness, a little turned away from the other woman who had
taken everything from her, and left her life so desolate. And there was
the silent pool at their feet, and the darkening belt of fir-trees
beyond, and the pale moon ever brightening in the shadowy heavens. It was
a picture such as a painter might have dreamt of.

Not a sound--only once the faint cry of some wild animal in the far-off
woods, and the flutter of a night-moth on the wing. Helen's face was
turned eastwards towards the fast-fading evening glow.

What is it that sends the curse of Cain into the human heart?

Did some foul and evil thing, wandering homeless around that fatal spot,
enter then and there, unbidden, into her sin-stained soul? Or had the
hellish spirit been always there within her, only biding its time to
burst forth in all its naked and hideous horror?

God only knows.

"Vera, gather me a water-lily! See how lovely they are. I am going back
to dance; I want a water-lily."

Vera looked up startled. The sudden change of manner and the familiar
mention of her name struck her as strange. Helen was leaning towards her,
all flushed and eager, pointing with her glistening, jewelled fingers
over the water.

"Don't you see how white they are, and how they gleam in the moonlight
like silver? Would not one of them look lovely in my hair?"

"I do not think I can reach them," said Vera, slowly. She was puzzled and
half-frightened by the quick, feverish words and manner.

"Yes, yes, your arms are long--much longer than mine; you can reach them
very well. See, I will hold the sleeve of your dress like this; it is
very strong. I can hold you quite safely. Kneel down and reach out for
it, Vera. Do, please, I want it so much. There is one so close there,
just beyond your hand. Stoop over a little further; don't be afraid;
I have got you tightly."

And Vera knelt and stretched out over the dark face of the waters.

Then, all at once, there was a cry--a wild struggle--a splash of the
dark, seething waves--and Helen stood up again in her bright raiment
alone on the margin of the pool; whilst ever-widening circles stretched
hurriedly away and away, as though terror-stricken, from the baleful
spot where Vera Nevill had sunk below the ill-fated waters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Someone came madly rushing out of the bushes behind her. Helen screamed
aloud.

"It was an accident! She slipped forward--her footing gave way!" gasped
the unhappy woman in her terror. "Oh, Maurice, for pity's sake, believe
me; it was an accident!" She sunk upon her knees, with wildly
outstretched arms, and trembling, and uplifted hands.

"Stand aside," he said, hoarsely, pushing her roughly from him, so that
she almost fell to the earth, and he plunged deep into the still
quivering waters.

It was the water-lilies that brought her to her death. The long clinging
stems amongst which she sank held her fair body in their cold, clammy
embraces, so that she never rose again. It was long before they found
her.

And, oh! who shall ever describe that dreadful scene by the margin of
Shadonake Bath, whilst the terrified crowd that had gathered there
quickly waited for her whom all knew to be hopelessly gone from them for
ever!

The sobbing, frightened women; the white, stricken faces of the men; the
agony of those who had loved her; the distress and dismay of those who
had only admired her; and there was one trembling, shuddering wretch, in
her satin and her jewels, standing white and haggard apart, with knees
that shook together, and teeth that clattered, and tearless sobs that
shook her from head to foot, staring with a half-maddened stare upon the
fatal waters.

Then, when all was at an end and the worst was known, when the poor
dripping body had been reverently covered over and borne away by loving
arms amid a torrent of sobs and wailing tears towards the house, then
some one came near her and spoke to her--some one off whom the water came
pouring in streams, and whose face was white and wild as her own.

"Get you away out of my sight," said the man whom she had loved so
fruitlessly to her.

"Have pity! have pity!" was the cry of despair that burst from her
quivering lips. "Was it not all an accident?"

"Yes, let it be so to the world, because you bear my name, and I will not
have it dragged through the mire--to all others it is an accident--but
never to me, for _I saw you let her go_! There is the stain of murder
upon your hands. I will never call you wife, nor look upon your face
again; get yourself away out of my sight!"

With a low sobbing cry she turned and fled away from him, and away from
the place, out among the shadows of the fir-trees. Once again some one
stopped her in her terror-stricken flight.

It was Denis Wilde, who came striding towards her under the trees, and
caught her roughly by the wrist.

"It is _you_ who have killed her!" he said, savagely.

"What do you mean?" she murmured, faintly.

"I saw it in your face last night when you were wandering about the house
during the thunderstorm; you meant her death then. I saw it in your eyes.
My God! why did I not watch over her better, and save her from such a
devil as you?"

"No, no, it is not true; it was an accident. Oh, spare me, spare me!"
with a piteousness of terror, was all she could say.

"Yes; I will spare you, poor wretch, for your husband's sake--because she
loved him--and his burden, God help him! is heavy enough as it is. Go!"
flinging her arm rudely from him. "Go, whilst you have got time, lest the
thirst for your blood be too strong for me."

And this time no one saw her go. Like a hunted animal, she fled away
among the trees, her gleaming many-hued dress trailing all wet and
drabbled on the sodden earth behind her, and the darkness of the
gathering night closed in around her, and covered her in mercy with
its pitiful mantle.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

AT PEACE.

  Open, dark grave, and take her:
  Though we have loved her so,
  Yet we must now forsake her:
  Love will no more awake her:
        Oh bitter woe!
  Open thine arms and take her
        To rest below!

  A. Procter.


So Vera was at peace at last. The troubled life was over; the vexed
question of her fate was settled for her. There was to be no more
struggling of right against wrong, of expediency against truth, for her
for evermore. She had all--nay, more than all she wanted now.

"It was what she desired herself," said the vicar, brokenly, as he knelt
by the side of her who had been so dear and precious to him. "Only a
Sunday or two ago she said to me 'If I could die, I should be at peace.'"

And Maurice, with hidden face at the foot of the bed, could not answer
him for tears.

It was there, by that white still presence, that lay so calm and so
lovely amongst the showers of heavy-scented waxen flowers, wherewith
loving hands had decked her for her last long sleep; it was there that
Eustace learnt at last the secret of her life, and the fatal love that
had so wrecked her happiness. It was all clear to him now. Her struggles,
her temptations, her pitiful moments of weakness and misery, her
courageous strife against the hopelessness of her fate--all was made
plain now: he understood her at last.

In Maurice Kynaston's passion of despairing grief he read the story of
her sad life's trouble.

Truly, Maurice had enough to bear; for he alone, and one other, who spoke
no word of it to him, knew the terrible secret of her death; to all else
it was "an accident;" to him and to Denis Wilde alone it was "murder." To
him, too, the motive of the foul, cowardly deed had been revealed; for,
tightly clasped in that poor dead hand, true to the last to the trust
that had been given her, was the fatal packet of letters that had been
the cause of her death. They were all blotted and blurred, and sodden
with the water, but there were whole sentences in the inner folds that
were sufficient for him to recognize his wife's handwriting, and to see
what was the drift and the meaning of them.

Whom they were written to, when they had been penned, he neither knew nor
cared to discover; it was enough for him that they had been written by
her, and that they were altogether shameful and sinful. With a deep and
sickened disgust, he set fire to the whole packet, and scattered the
blackened and smouldering ashes into the empty grate. They had cost a
human life, those reckless, sinful letters; but for them, Vera would not
have died.

The terrible tragedy came to an end at last. They buried her beneath the
coloured mosaic floor of the new chancel, which Sir John had built at her
desire; and Marion smothered herself and her children in crape, and
people shook their heads and sighed when they spoke of her; and Shadonake
was shut up, and the Millers all went to London; and then the world went
its way, and after a time it forgot her; and Vera Nevill's place knew her
no more.

       *       *       *       *       *

After Christmas there was a wedding in Eaton Square; a wedding small and
not at all gay. Indeed, Geraldine Miller considered her sister next door
to a lunatic, and she told herself it would be hardly worth while to be
married at all if there was to be no more fuss made over her marriage
than over Beatrice's. For there were no bridesmaids and no wedding
guests, only all the Millers, from the eldest down to the youngest, uncle
Tom, and an ancient Miss Esterworth, unearthed from the other end of
England for the occasion; and there were also a Mr. and Mrs. Pryme,
a grave and aged couple--uncle and aunt to the bridegroom.

There was, however, one remarkable feature at this particular wedding:
when the family party came down into the dining-room to take their places
for the conventional breakfast upon the plate of the bride's father were
to be seen some very curious things.

These were a faded white lace parasol with pink bows; a pair of soiled
grey _peau de suède_ gloves, and a little black wisp of a spotted net
veil.

"Bless my soul!" said the member for Meadowshire, putting up his
eye-glasses; "what on earth is all this?"

"I think you have seen them before, papa," says the bride, demurely,
whilst uncle Tom bursts into a loud and hearty guffaw of laughter.

"Good gracious me!" says Mr. Miller, turning rather red, and looking
bewilderedly from his daughter to his wife: "I don't really understand.
Caroline, my dear, do you know the meaning of these--these--most
extraordinary objects?"

Mrs. Miller draws near and examines the little heap of faded finery
critically. "Why, Beatrice!" she exclaims, in astonishment, "it is your
last summer's sunshade, and a pair of your old gloves: how on earth did
they come here on your papa's plate?"

"I put them there; I thought papa would like to see them again," cries
Beatrice, laughing; "he met them in Herbert's rooms in the Temple one day
last summer."

"_Beatrice!_" falters her father, staring in amazement at her.

"Yes, papa, dear, don't be too dreadfully shocked at me; it was I, your
very naughty daughter, who had gone on the sly to see Herbert in the
Temple, and I ran into the next room to hide myself when I heard you come
in, and left those stupid tell-tale things on the table! I don't think,
now I am Herbert's wife, that it matters very much how much I confess of
my improprieties, does it?"

"Good gracious me!" says Mr. Miller, solemnly, and then turns round and
shakes hands with his son-in-law. "And I might have retained you for that
libel case after all, instead of getting in a young fool who lost it for
me!" was all he said. And then the sunshade and the gloves were swept
away, and they all sat down and ate a very good breakfast, and drank to
the bride and bridegroom's health none the less heartily for that curious
little explanatory scene at the beginning of the feast.

       *       *       *       *       *

Maurice Kynaston has joined his brother in Australia, where, report says,
they are doing very well, and rapidly making a large fortune; although no
one thinks that either brother will ever leave the country of his
adoption and return to England.

Old Lady Kynaston lives on alone at Walpole Lodge; she is getting very
aged, and is a dull, solitary old woman now, with an ever-present sadness
at her heart.

Before he left England Maurice told her the story of his love for Vera,
and the whole truth about her death. The old lady knows that Vera and her
fatal beauty has wrecked the lives of both her sons. There will be no
tender filial hands to close her dying eyes, no troops of merry
grandchildren to cheer and brighten her closing years. They will live
away from her, and she will die alone. She knows it--and she is very,
very sad.

In South Kensington there lives a gay, world-loving woman who keeps open
house, and entertains perpetually. She has horses and carriages, and a
box at the opera, and is always to be seen faultlessly dressed and the
gayest of the gay at every race meeting, and at every scene of pleasure.

People admire her and flatter her, and speak lightly of her too,
sometimes, for it is generally known that Mrs. Kynaston is "separated"
from her husband; and though a separation is a perfectly respectable
thing, and has no possible connection with a divorce, yet there are ugly
whispers in this case as to what is the cause of the dissension between
the husband in Australia and the wife in London; whispers that often
do not fall very far short of the truth. And, gay as she is, and
light-hearted as she seems to be, there are times when pretty Mrs.
Kynaston is more to be pitied than any wretched beggar who toils along
the streets, for always there is the terror of detection at her heart,
and the fear that her dreadful secret, known as it is to at least two
persons on earth, may ooze out--be guessed by others.

There are things Mrs. Kynaston can never do: to read of some dreadful
murder such as occasionally fills all the papers for days with its
sickening details makes her shut herself in her own room till the
horrible tragedy is over and forgotten; to hear of such things spoken
of in society causes her to faint away with terror. To walk by a pond,
or even to speak of being rowed upon a lake or river, fills her with
such horror of soul that none of her friends ever care to suggest a
water-party of any kind to her.

"She saw that poor Miss Nevill drowned," say her compassionate
acquaintances; "it has upset her nerves, poor dear; she cannot bear the
sight of water." And there are a few who think, and who are not ashamed
to whisper their thoughts with bated breath, that she saw Miss Nevill's
sad death too near and too well to be utterly spotless in the matter.

That she allowed her to perish without attempting to save her, because
she was jealous of her, is the generally received impression; but there
is no one who has quite realized that she was actually guilty of her
death.

Did they think so, they could not eat her dinners with decency. And they
do eat her dinners, which are uncommonly good ones; and they flock to her
house, and they sit in her carriage and her opera-box, and they take all
they can get from her, although at their hearts they do not care to be
intimate with her. But then money covers a multitude of sins. And a great
many crimes may be glossed over if we are only rich enough and popular
enough, and sufficiently the fashion.

As to Denis Wilde, he was young, and in time he got over it and married
an amiable young lady who bore him three children and loved him
devotedly, so that after a while he forgot his first love.

Shadonake Bath has been drained. Mr. Miller has at last been allowed to
have his own way about it. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good,
and there could be found no voice to plead for its preservation after
that terrible tragedy of which it was the scene.

So the old steps have all been cleared away, and brick walls line the
straight deep sides, whereon grow the finest peaches and nectarines in
the county, whilst a parterre of British Queens and Hautboys cover the
spot where Vera died with their rich red fruit and their luxuriant
foliage.

And at Sutton things go on much the same as of old. Old Mrs. Daintree is
dead, and no one sorrowed much for her loss, whilst the domestic harmony
is decidedly enhanced by her absence. Tommy and Minnie are growing big
and lanky, and the subject of schools and education is beginning to
occupy the minds of Marion and her husband.

But the vicar has grown grey and old; his back is more bent and his face
more careworn than it used to be. He has never been quite the same since
Vera's death.

There is a white marble monument in the middle of the chancel, raised by
the loving hands of two brothers far away in Australia. It is by the best
sculptor of the day, and on it lies a pale white figure, with a pure
delicate profile, and hands always meekly crossed upon the bosom.

Every Sunday, as Eustace Daintree passes from his place at the
reading-desk up to the altar to read the Communion Service, there falls
upon it a streak of sunshine from the painted window above, which he
himself and his wife had put up to her memory, lighting up the pale
marble image with a chequered glory of gold and crimson. And the vicar's
eye as he passes alights for a moment with a never-dying sadness upon the
simple words carved at the foot of her tomb--

  Vera Nevill, aged 23.

  AT PEACE.

       *       *       *       *       *

MRS. CAMERON'S NOVELS.

Jack's Secret.

A Sister's Sin.

A Lost Wife.

The Cost of a Lie.

This Wicked World.

A Devout Lover.

A Life's Mistake.

Worth Winning.

Vera Neville.

Pure Gold.

In a Grass Country.


  "Mrs. Cameron's numerous efforts in the line of fiction have
  won for her a wide circle of admirers. Her experience in novel
  writing, as well as her skill in inventing and delineating characters,
  enables her to put before the reading public stories that
  are full of interest and pure in tone."--_Harrisburg Telegraph_.





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