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Title: Prisoners - Fast Bound In Misery And Iron
Author: Cholmondeley, Mary, 1859-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: "HER EYES TURNED TOWARDS IT MECHANICALLY BECAUSE IT
CONTAINED ... THE MAN OF WHOM SHE WAS THINKING"]



PRISONERS

FAST BOUND IN MISERY AND IRON

By

MARY CHOLMONDELEY

_Author of_

"Red Pottage"


"But for failing of love on our
part, therefore is all our travail."

--JULIAN OF NORWICH.


DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
NEW YORK MCMVI

Copyright, 1905, 1906, by

COLVER PUBLISHING COMPANY

Copyright, 1906, by

MARY CHOLMONDELEY

_Published, September, 1906_



To
My Brother
Reginald



ILLUSTRATIONS


"Her eyes turned towards it mechanically
because it contained ... the man of
whom she was thinking"                       _Frontispiece_

"A deathlike silence followed the _delegato's_
words"                                         _Page_ 36

"'Is she worth it?' he said with sudden
passion"                                          "   46

"'You are all blinder one than the other, that
it's Andrea I'm grieving for'"                    "   80

"If Fay had come in then he would have killed
her, done her to death with the chains he
had worn so patiently for her sake"               "  146

"Fay noticed for the first time how lightly
Wentworth walked, how square his shoulders
were"                                             "  184



CHAPTER I

    Grim Fate was tender, contemplating you,
      And fairies brought their offerings at your birth;
    You take the rose-leaf pathway as your due,
      Your rightful meed the choicest gifts of earth.

    --ARTHUR C. LEGGE.


Fay stood on her balcony, and looked over the ilexes of her villa at
Frascati; out across the grey-green of the Campagna to the little
compressed city which goes by the great name of Rome.

How small it looked, what a huddled speck with a bubble dome, to be
represented by so stupendous a name!

She gazed at it without seeing it. Her eyes turned towards it
mechanically because it contained somewhere within its narrow precincts
the man of whom she was thinking, of whom she was always thinking.

It was easy to see that Fay--the Duchess of Colle Alto--was an
Englishwoman, in spite of her historic Italian name.

She had the look of perfect though not robust health, the reflection
over her whole being of a childhood spent much in the open air. She was
twenty-three, but her sweet fair face, with its delicate irregular
features, was immature, childish. It gave no impression of experience,
or thought, or of having met life. She was obviously not of those who
criticise or judge themselves. In how many faces we see the conflict, or
the remains of conflict with a dual nature. Fay, as she was called by
her family, seemed all of a piece with herself. Her unharassed
countenance showed it, especially when, as at this moment, she looked
harassed. Anxiety was evidently a foreign element. It sat ill upon her
smooth face, as if it might slide off at any moment. Fay's violet eyes
were her greatest charm. She looked at you with a deprecating, timid,
limpid gaze, in which no guile existed, any more than steadfastness, any
more than unselfishness, any more than courage.

Fay had come into the world anxious to please. She had never shown any
particular wish to give pleasure. If she had been missed out of her
somewhat oppressed and struggling home when she married, it is probable
that the sense of her absence was tinged by relief.

She had never intended to marry the Duke of Colle Alto. It is difficult
to say why that sedate distinguished personage married her.

Fay's face had a very sweet and endearing promise in it which drew men's
eyes after her. I don't know what it meant, and they did not know
either, but they instinctively lessened the distance between themselves
and it. A very thin string will tow a very heavy body if there is no
resistance, and the pace is slow. The duke looked at Fay, who was at
that moment being taken out for her first season by her grandmother,
Lady Bellairs. Fay tried to please him, as was her wont with all except
men with beards. She liked to have him in attendance. Her violet eyes
lighted up with genuine pleasure when he came to see her.

It is perhaps difficult for the legions of women who do not please
easily, and for the handful whose interests lie outside themselves, and
who are not desirous of pleasing indiscriminately, it is difficult for
either to realise the passionate desire to please which possesses and
saps the life of some of their sisters. Admiration with them is not a
luxury, any more than a hot-water bottle is a luxury to the aged, or a
foot rest to a gouty foot. It is a necessity of life. After a becoming
interval, the interstices of which had been filled with flowers, the
duke proposed to Lady Bellairs for Fay's hand. Fay did not wish to marry
him. He was not in the least her ideal. Neither did she wish to remain
unmarried, neither did she wish to part with her grave, distinguished
suitor who was an ornament to herself. And she was distinctly averse to
living any longer in the paternal home, lost in a remote crease in a
Hampshire down. Poor women have only too frequently to deal with these
complicated situations, with which blundering, egotistic male minds are
seldom in perfect sympathy.

Fay had never willingly relinquished any of the men who had cared for
her, and some had cared much. These last had as a rule torn themselves
away from her, leaving hearts, or other fragments of themselves, behind,
and were not to be cajoled back again, even by one of her little
gilt-edged notes. But the duke did not break away. He had selected her,
she pleased him, he desired to marry an Englishwoman. He had the
approval of Lady Bellairs.

The day came when Fay was suddenly and adroitly confronted with the fact
that she must marry him, or lose him.

Many confirmed bachelors who openly regret that they have never come
across a woman to whom they cared to tie themselves for life might be
in a position to descant on the inability of wives to enter into their
husbands' inmost feelings, if only they--the bachelors--had known on a
past occasion how to act with sudden promptitude on the top of patience.

The duke played the waiting game, and then hit hard. He had coolly
allowed himself to be trifled with, until the moment arrived when it did
not suit him to be trifled with any longer.

The marriage had not proved a marked success, nor an entire failure. The
duke was an irreproachable husband, but, like many men who marry when
they are no longer young, he aged suddenly after marriage. He quickly
became bald and stout. His tact except in these two particulars remained
flawless. He never allowed his deep chagrin to appear when, three years
after his marriage, he still remained without a son to continue his
historic name.

He was polite to his wife at all times, mildly sarcastic as to her
extravagance. Fay was not exorbitantly extravagant; but then the duke
was not exorbitantly rich. One of Fay's arts, as unconscious as that of
a kitten, was to imply past unhappiness, spoken of with a cheerful
resignation which greatly endeared her to others--and to herself. The
duke had understood that she had not had a very happy home, and he had
honestly endeavoured to make her new home happy. In the early days of
his marriage he made many small experiments in the hope of pleasing the
pretty creature who had thrown in her lot with his. Possibly also there
may have been other subtle, patient attempts to win somewhat from her of
another nature. Possibly there may have been veiled disappointments,
and noiseless retreats under cover of night.

However these things may have been, after the first year Fay made the
discovery that she was unhappily married. The duke was kind, in kindness
he never failed; but he was easily jealous--at least she thought so; and
he appeared quite unable to see in their true light her amicable little
flirtations with his delightful compatriots. After one or two annoying
incidents, in which the compatriots had shown several distinctly
un-English characteristics, the duke became, in his wife's eyes,
tiresome, strict, a burden. Perhaps, also, she felt the Englishwoman's
surprise at the inadequate belief in a woman's power of guarding her own
virtue, which remains in some nations an hereditary masculine instinct.
She felt that she could take care of herself, which was, in reality,
just what she could not do, as her imperturbable, watchful husband was
well aware.

But was he aware of the subject of her thoughts at this moment? It was
more than probable that he was. But Fay had not the faintest suspicion
that he had guessed anything.

One of her many charms was a certain youthful innocence of mind, which
imputed no evil to others, which never suspected that others would
impute it to her. Her husband was wearisome. He looked coldly on her if
she smiled on young men, and she had to smile at them when they smiled
at her. But, she reasoned, of course all the time he really knew that he
could trust her entirely. There was no harm in Fay's nature, no venom,
there were no dark places, no strong passions, with their awful
possibilities for good and evil. She had already given much pain in her
short life, but inadvertently. She was of that large class of whom it
may truly be said when evil comes, that they are more sinned against
than sinning. They always somehow gravitate into the places where people
_are_ sinned against, just as some people never attend a cricket-match
without receiving a ball on their persons.

And now trouble had come upon her. She had at last fallen in love. I
would not venture to assert that she had fallen in very deep, that the
"breakers of the boundless deep" had engulfed her. Some of us make
shipwreck in a teacup tempest, and when our serenity is restored--there
is nothing calmer than a teacup after its storm--our experience serves,
after a decent interval, as an agreeable fringe to our confidential
conversation.

Anyhow, Fay had fallen in love. I feel bound to add that for some time
before that event happened life had become intolerably dull. The advent
to Rome of her distant connection, Michael Carstairs, had been at this
juncture a source of delight to her. She had, before her marriage,
flirted with him a very little--not as much as she could have wished;
but Lady Bellairs, who was fond of him, had promptly intervened, and the
young man had disappeared into his examinations. That was four years
ago.

In reality Fay had half-forgotten him; but when she saw him suddenly,
pale, handsome, distinguished, across a ballroom in Rome, and, after a
moment's uncertainty, realised who he was, she felt the same pleasurable
surprise, soft as the fall of dew, which pervades the feminine heart
when, in looking into an unused drawer, it inadvertently haps upon a
length of new ribbon, bought, carefully put away, and forgotten.

Fay went gently up to Michael, conscious of her beauty and her wonderful
jewels, and held out her hand with a little deprecating smile.

"And so we meet again at last," she said.

He turned red and white.

"At last," he said with difficulty.

She looked more closely at him. The dreamy, poetic face had changed
during those four years. She became dimly aware that he had not only
grown from a youth into a man, but that some other transformation had
been painfully wrought in him.

Instinctively her beaming face became grave to match his. She was slow
to see what others were feeling, but quick to reflect their mood. She
sighed gently, vaguely stirred, in spite of herself, by something--she
knew not what--in her companion's face.

"It is four years since I saw you," she said.

And from her lowered voice it seemed as if her life were rooted in
memory alone.

"Four years," said Michael, who, promising young diplomat as he was,
appeared only able to repeat parrot-wise her last words after her.

A pause.

"Do you know my husband?"

"I do not."

"May I introduce him to you?"

Fay made a little sign, and the duke approached, superb, decorated,
dignified, with the polished pallor as if the skin were a little too
tight, which is the Charybdis of many who have avoided the Scylla of
wrinkles.

The elder Italian and the grave, fair, young Englishman bowed to each
other, were made known to each other.

That night as the duke drove home with his wife he said to her in his
admirable English:

"Your young cousin is an enthusiast, a dreamer, a sensitive, what your
Tennyson calls a Sir Galahad. In Italy we make of such men a priest, a
cardinal. He is not an _homme d'affaires_. It was not well to put him
into diplomacy. One may make a religion of art. One may even for a time
make a religion of a woman. But of the English diplomacy one does not
make a religion."

Fay lay awake that night. From a disused pigeon-hole in her mind she
drew out and unfolded to its short length that attractive remnant, that
half-forgotten episode of her teens. She remembered everything--I mean
everything she wished to remember. Michael's face had recalled it all,
those exquisite days which he had taken so much more seriously than she
had, the sudden ruthless intervention of Lady Bellairs, the end of the
daydream. Fay, whose attention had been adroitly diverted to other
channels, had never wondered how he took their separation at the time.
Now that she saw him again she was aware that he had taken it--to heart.

During that sleepless night Fay persuaded herself that Michael had not
been alone in his suffering. She also had felt the parting with equal
poignancy.

They met again a few days later by chance in an old cloistered, deserted
garden. How often she had walked in that garden as she was doing now
with English friends! His presence gave the place its true significance.
They met as those who have between them the bond of a common sorrow.

"And what have you been doing all these four years?" she asked him, as
they wandered somewhat apart.

"I have been working."

"You never came to say good-bye before you went to that place in Germany
to study."

"I was told I had better not come."

"I suppose grandmamma told you that."

"She did, most kindly and wisely."

A pause.

She was leaning in the still May sunshine against an old grey tomb of
carved stone. Two angels with spread wings upheld the defaced
inscription. Above it, over it, round it, like desire impotently defying
death, a flood of red roses clambered and clung. Were they trying to
wake some votary who slept below? A great twisted sentinel cypress kept
its own dark counsel. Against its shadow Fay's figure in her white
gossamer gown showed more ethereal and exquisite even than in memory.
She seemed at one with this wonderful, passionate southern spring, which
trembled between rapture and anguish. The red roses and the white irises
were everywhere. Even the unkept grass in which her light feet were set
was wild with white daisies.

"Do you remember our last walk on the down that day in spring?" she said
suddenly.

She had forgotten it until last night.

"I remember it."

"It was May then. It is May again now."

He did not answer. The roses left off calling to the dead, and suddenly
enfolded the two young grave creatures leaning against the tomb, in a
gust of hot perfume.

"Do you remember," Fay's voice was tremulous, "how you gave me a bit of
pink may?"

"I remember."

"I was looking at it yesterday. It is not very pink now."

It was true. In all shallow meanings, and when she had not had time to
get her mind into a tangle, Fay was perfectly truthful. She had
yesterday been turning over the contents of a little cedar box in which
she kept her childish possessions, and she had found in an envelope a
brown unsightly ghost of what had once been a may-blossom on a Hampshire
down. She had remembered the vivid sunshine, the wheeling seagull, the
soft south wind blowing in from the sea. Michael had kissed her under
the thin dappled shade of the flowering tree, and she had kissed him
back.

Michael's eyes turned for a long moment to the yellow weather-stained
arches of the cloister, and then he looked full at Fay with a certain
peculiar detached glance which had first made her endeavour to attract
him. There is a look in a man's face which women like Fay cannot endure,
because it means independence of them.

"I thought," he said, with the grave simplicity which apparently was
unchangeable in him whatever else might change, "that it was only I who
remembered. It has always been a comfort to me that any unhappiness
which my want of forethought, my--my culpable selfishness may have
caused, was borne by myself alone."

"I was unhappy too," she said, speaking as simply as he. She looked up
at him suddenly as she said it. There was a wet glint in her deep violet
eyes. She believed absolutely at that moment that she had been as
unhappy as he for four years. There was no suspicion in her mind that
she was not genuine. Only the sincere ever doubt their sincerity. Fay
never doubted hers. She felt what she said, and the sweet eyes turned on
Michael had the transparent fixity of a child's.

They walked unsteadily back to the others and spoke no more to each
other that day. Conscience pricked Fay that night.

"Leave him alone," it said. "You have both suffered. Let the dead past
bury its dead."

Fay's conscience was a wonderfully adaptable one with a tendency to
poetic quotation. It showed considerable tact in adopting her point of
view. Nevertheless from that generally fallacious standpoint it often
gave her quite respectable advice. "Leave him alone," said the
hoodwinked monitor. "You are married and Andrea is easily jealous.
Michael is sensitive, and has been deeply in love with you. Don't stir
him up to fall in love with you again. _Leave him alone._"

The young British matron waxed indignant. Was she, Fay, the kind of
woman to forget her duty to her husband? Was Michael the kind of man to
make love to a married woman? Such an idea was preposterous, unjust to
both of them. And people would begin to talk at once if she and her
cousin (Michael was only a distant connection) were studiously to avoid
each other, if they could not exchange a few words simply like old
friends. No one had suggested an attitude of rigid avoidance; but
throughout life Fay had always convinced herself of the advisability of
a certain wished-for course by conjuring up, only to discard it, the
extreme and most obviously senseless opposite of that course--as the
only alternative.

She imagined her husband saying: "Why won't you ask Mr. Carstairs to
dinner? He is your cousin and he is charming. What can the reason be
that you so earnestly refuse to meet him?" And then Andrea, who always
"got ideas into his head," would begin to suspect that there had been
"something" between them.

_No. No._ It would be far wiser to meet naturally now and then, and to
treat Michael like an old friend. Fay had a somewhat muffled conception
of what an old friend might be. After deep thought she came to the
conclusion that it was her duty to ask Michael frequently to the house.
When Fay once recognised a duty she performed it without delay.

She met with an unexpected obstacle in the way of its adequate
performance. The obstacle was Michael.

The young man came once, and then again after an interval of several
months, but apparently nothing would induce him to frequent the house.

Fay did not recognise her boyish eager lover in the grave sedate man,
old of his age, who had replaced him. His dignified and quite
unobtrusive resistance, which had not indifference at its core, added an
intense, a feverish, interest to Fay's life. She saw that he still cared
for her, and that he did not intend to wound himself a second time. He
had had enough. She put out all her little transparent arts during the
months that followed. The duke watched.

She had implied to her husband with a smile that she had not been very
happy at home. She implied to Michael with a smile that it was not the
duke's fault, but that she was not very happy in her married life, that
he did not care much about her, and that they had but few tastes in
common. Each lived their own life on amicable terms, but somewhat apart
from each other. She owned that she had hoped for something rather
different in marriage. She had, it seemed, started life with a very
exalted ideal of married life, which the duke's

          coarse thumb
    And finger failed to plumb.

Michael remained outwardly obdurate, but inwardly he weakened. His
tender adoration and respect for Fay, wounded and mutilated though they
had been, had nevertheless survived what in many minds must have proved
their death-blow. He still believed implicitly all she said.

But to him her marriage was the impassable barrier, a barrier as
enfranchisable as the brown earth on a coffin lid.

After many months Fay at last vaguely realised his attitude towards her.
She told herself that she respected it, that it was just what she
wished, was in fact the result of her own tactfully expressed wishes.
She seemed to remember things she had said which would have led him to
behave just as he had done. And then she turned heaven and earth to
regain her personal ascendency over him. She never would have regained
it if an accident had not befallen her. She fell in love with him during
the process.

The day came, an evil day for Michael, when he could no longer doubt it,
when he was not permitted to remain in doubt. Who shall say what waves
of boundless devotion, what passionate impulses of protection, of
compassion, of intense longing to shield her from the fire which had
devastated his own youth, passed in succession over him as he looked at
the delicate little creature who was to him the only real woman in the
world--all the rest were counterfeits--and who now, as he believed,
loved him as he had long loved her.

Michael was one of the few men who bear through life the common
masculine burden of a profound ignorance of women, coupled with an
undeviating loyalty towards them. He supposed she was suffering as he
had suffered, that it was with her now beside the fountain, under the
ilexes of her Italian garden, as it had been with him during these five
intolerable years.

How Fay wept! What a passion of tears, till her small flower-like face
was bereft of all beauty, of everything except a hideous contraction of
grief!

He stood near her, not touching her, in anguish far deeper than hers. At
last he took her clenched hand in his.

"Do not grieve so," he said brokenly. "It is not our fault. It is
greater than either of us. It has come upon us against our wills. We
have both struggled. You don't know how I have struggled, Fay, day and
night since I came to Rome. But I have been in fault. I ought never to
have come, for I knew you were living near Rome. But I did not know it
had touched you, and for myself I had hoped--I thought--that it was
past--in as far as it could pass--that I was accustomed to it. Listen,
Fay, and do not cry so bitterly. I will leave Rome at once. I will not
see you again. My poor darling, we have come to a hard place in life,
but we can do the only thing left to us--our duty."

Fay's heart contracted, and she suddenly ceased sobbing. She had never
thought of this horrible possibility that he would leave her.

She drew the hand that clasped hers to her lips and held it tightly
against her breast.

"Don't leave me," she stammered, trembling from head to foot, from sheer
terror at the thought; "I will be good. I will do what is right. We are
not like other people. We can trust each other. But I can't live without
seeing you sometimes, I could not bear it."

He withdrew his hand. They looked wildly into each other's eyes. His
convulsed face paled and paled. Even as he stood before her she knew she
was losing him, that something was tearing him from her. It was as
certain that he was going from her as if she were standing by his
deathbed.

He kissed her suddenly.

"I shall not come back," he said. And the next moment he was gone.



CHAPTER II

    Nous passons notre vie à nous forger des chaînes, et à
    nous plaindre de les porter.--VALTOUR.


For a long time Fay had stood on her balcony looking out towards Rome,
while the remembrance of the last few months pressed in upon her.

It was a week since she had seen Michael, since he had said, "I shall
not come back."

And in the meanwhile she had heard that he had resigned his appointment,
and was leaving Rome at once. She had never imagined that he would act
so quickly, with such determination. She had vaguely supposed that he
would send in his resignation, and then remain on. In novels in a
situation like theirs the man never really went away, or if he did he
came back. Fay knew very little of Michael, but nevertheless she
instinctively felt and quailed before the conviction that he really was
leaving her for ever, that he would reconstruct a life for himself
somewhere in which she could not reach him, in which she would have no
part or lot. He might suffer during the process, but he would do it. His
yea was yea, and his nay, nay. She should see him no more. Some day, not
for a long time perhaps, but some day, she should hear of his marriage.

Suddenly, without a moment's warning, her own life rose up before her,
distorted, horrible, unendurable. The ilexes, solemn in the sunset,
showed like foul shapes of disgust and nausea. The quiet Campagna with
its distant faintly outlined Sabine hills was rotten to the core.

The duke passed across a glade at a little distance, and, looking up,
smiled gravely at her, with a slight courteous gesture of his brown
hand.

She smiled mechanically in response and shrank back into her room. Her
husband had suddenly become a thing to shudder at, repulsive as a
reptile, intolerable. Her life with him, without Michael, stretched
before her like a loathsome disease, a leprosy, which in the
interminable years would gradually eat her away, a death by inches.

The first throes of a frustrated passion at the stake have probably
seldom failed to engender a fierce rebellion against the laws which
light the faggots round it.

The fire had licked Fay. She fled blindfold from it, not knowing
whither, only away from that pain, over any precipice, into any slough.

"I cannot live without him," she sobbed to herself. "This is not just a
common love affair like other people's. It is everything, my whole life!
It is not as if we were bad people! We are both upright! We always have
been! We have both done our best, but--I can't go on. What is reputation
worth, the world's opinion of me?--_nothing_."

It was not worth more to Fay at that moment than it has ever been worth
to any other poor mortal since the world's opinion first clashed with
love.

To follow love shows itself time and time again alike to the pure and to
the worldly as the only real life, the only path. But if we disbelieve
in it, and framing our lives on other lines become voluntarily
bedridden into selfishness and luxury, can we--when that in which we
have not believed comes to pass--can we suddenly rise and follow Love up
his mountain passes? We try to rise when he calls us from our sick beds.
We even go feverishly a little way with him. But unless we have learnt
the beginnings of courage and self-surrender before we set out, we seem
to turn giddy, and lose our footing. Certain precipices there are where
only the pure and strong in heart may pass, at the foot of which are the
piled bones of many passionate pilgrims.

Were Fay's delicate little bones, so subtly covered in soft white flesh,
to be added to that putrefying heap? But can we blame anyone, be they
who they may, placed howsoever they may be, who when first they undergo
a real emotion try however feebly to rise to meet it?

Fay was not wholly wise, not wholly sincere, but she made an attempt to
meet it. It was not to be expected that the attempt would be quite wise
or quite sincere either. Still it was the best she could do. She would
sacrifice herself for love. She would go away with Michael. No one would
ever speak to her again, but she did not care.

Involuntarily she unclasped a diamond Saint-Esprit from her throat which
the duke had given her, and laid it on her writing-table. She should
never wear it again. She no longer had the right to wear it. It was a
unique jewel. But what did she care for jewels now! They had served to
pass the time in the sort of waking dream in which she had lived till
Michael came. But she was awake now. She looked at herself in the glass
long and fixedly. Yes, she was beautiful. How dreadful it must be for
plain women when they loved! They must know that men could not really
care for them. They might, of course, respect and esteem them, and wish
in a lukewarm way to marry them, but they could never really love them.
She, Fay, carried with her the talisman.

A horrible doubt seized her, just when she was becoming calm. Supposing
Michael would not! Oh! but he _would_ if he cared as she did. The
sacrifice was all on the woman's side. No one thought much the worse of
men when they did these things. And Michael was so good, so honourable
that he would certainly never desert her. They would become legal
husband and wife directly Andrea divorced her.

From underneath these matted commonplaces, Fay's muffled conscience
strove to reach her with its weak voice.

"Stop, stop!" it said. "You will injure him. You will tie a noose round
his neck. You will spoil his life. And Andrea! He has been kind in a
way. And your marriage vows! And your own people at home! And Magdalen,
the sister who loves you. Remember her! Stop, stop! Let Michael go. You
were obliged to relinquish him once. Let him go again now."

Fay believed she went through a second conflict. Perhaps there lurked at
the back of her mind the image of Michael's set face--set away from her;
and that image helped her at last to say to herself, "Yes. It is right.
I will let him go."

But did she really mean it? For while she said over and over again,
"Yes, yes; we must part," she decided that it was necessary to see him
just once again, to bid him a last farewell, to strengthen him to live
without her. She could not reason it out, but she knew that it was
absolutely essential to the welfare of both that they should see each
other just once more before they parted--_for ever_. The parting no
longer loomed so awful in her mind if there was to be a meeting before
it took place. She almost forgot it directly her mind could find a
staying point on the thought of that one last sacred interview, of all
she should say, of all they would both feel.

But how to see him! He had said he would not come back. He left Rome in
a few days. She should see him officially on Thursday, when he was in
attendance on his chief. But what was the use of that? He would hardly
exchange a word with her. She might decide to see _him_ alone; but what
if he refused to see _her_? Instinctively Fay knew that he would so
refuse.

"We must part." Just so. But how to hold him? How to draw him to her
just once more? That was the crux.

In novels if a woman needs the help of the chivalrous man ever kneeling
in the background, she sends him a ring. Fay looked earnestly at her
rings. But Michael might not understand if she sent him one, and if the
duke intercepted it he would certainly entirely misconstrue the
situation.

Fay sat down at her writing-table, and got out her note-paper. Truth
compels me to state that it was of blue linen, that it had a little gilt
coronet on it, and that it was scented.

She thought a long time. At least she bit the little silver owl at the
end of her pen for a long time. She tore up several sheets. At last she
wrote in her large, slanting, dashing handwriting:

     "_I know that we must part. You are right and I wish it too. It is
     all like a terrible dream, and what will the awakening be?_" (Fay
     did not quite know what she meant by this, but it impressed her
     deeply as she wrote it, and a tear dropped on "the awakening" and
     made it look like "reckoning." She was not of those, however, who
     having once written one word ever think it can be mistaken for
     another; and really reckoning did quite as well as awakening.)
     "_But I must see you once before you go. I have something of urgent
     importance to say to you._" (It was not clear to Fay what the
     matter of importance was. But has not everyone in love laboured
     daily under a burden as big as Christian's, of subjects which
     demand instant discussion, or the bearer may fall into a state of
     melancholia? Fay was convinced as she wrote that there was
     something she ached to say to him: and also the point was to say
     something that would bring him.) "_Don't fail me. You have never
     failed me yet. You left me before when it was right we should part.
     Did I try to keep you then? Did I say one word to hold you back?_"
     (Fay's heart swelled as she wrote those words. She saw, bathed in a
     new light, her own courage and uprightness in the past. She
     realised her extraordinary strength of character. She had not
     faltered then.) "_I did not falter then. I will not do so now,
     though this time is harder than the first._" (It certainly was.)
     "_You have to come to my little party on Thursday with your chief.
     I cannot speak to you then. I am closely watched. When the others_
     _have gone come back through the gardens. The door by the fountain
     will be unlocked, and come up the balcony steps to my sitting-room.
     The balcony window will be open. You know that I should not ask you
     to do this unless it was urgent. Will you fail me at the last? For
     we shall never meet again, Michael!_"

Fay closed the note, directed it, pinned it into the lace of her inmost
vest--the wife of an Italian distrusts pockets and postal
arrangements--and then wept her heart out, her vain, selfish little
heart, which for the first time in her life was not wholly vain, nor
wholly selfish. Perhaps it was not her fault if she was cruel. It takes
many steadfast years, many prayers, many acts of humble service before
we may hope to reach the place where we are content to bear alone the
brunt of that pang, and to guard the one we love even from ourselves.



CHAPTER III

    There will no man do for your sake, I think,
      What I would have done for the least word said.
    I had wrung life dry for your lips to drink,
      Broken it up for your daily bread.

    --A. C. SWINBURNE.


A witty bishop was once heard to remark that one of the difficulties of
his social life lay in the fact that all women of forty were exactly
alike, and it was impossible to recall their individual label, to which
archdeacon, or canon, or form of spinster good works, they belonged. It
would be dangerous, irreverent, to pry further into the recesses of the
episcopal, or even of the suffragan, mind. There are snowy peaks where
we lay helpers should fear to tread. But it may be stated, without
laying ourselves open to a suspicion of wishing to undermine the Church,
that when the woman of forty in her turn acidly announces, as she not
infrequently does, that all young men seem to her exactly alike, she is
in a parlous condition.

Yet many women had said that Michael was exactly like every other young
man. And to all except the very few who knew him well he certainly did
appear to be--not an individual at all--but only an indistinguished unit
of a vast army.

His obvious good looks were like the good looks of others. He looked
well bred, but to look that is as common in a certain class as it is
rare in another. He had the spare, wiry figure, tall and lightly built,
square in the shoulders, and thin in the flank; he had the clear
weather-beaten complexion, the clean, nervous, capable hand, and the
self-effacing manner, which we associate with myriads of well-born,
machine-trained, perfectly groomed, expensively educated, uneducated
Englishmen. Our public schools turn them out by the thousand. The "lost
legion" is made up of them. The unburied bones of the pioneers of new
colonies are mostly theirs. They die of thirst in "the never never
country," under a tree, leaving their initials cut in its trunk; they
fall by hundreds in our wars. They are born leaders where acumen and
craft are not needed. Large game was made for them, and they for it.
They are the vermin destroyers of the universe. They throw life from
them with both hands, they play the game of life with a levity which
they never showed in the business of cricket and football.

They are essentially not of the stuff of which those dull persons, the
thinkers, the politicians, the educationalists, are made. No profession
knows them except the army. They have no opinions worth hearing. Only
the women who are to marry them listen to them. They are sometimes
squeezed into Parliament and are borne with there like children. About
one in a hundred of them can earn his own living, and then it is as a
land agent.

They make adorable country squires, and picturesque, simple-minded,
painstaking men of rank. They know by a sort of hereditary instinct how
to deal with a labouring man, and a horse, and how to break in a dog.
They give themselves no airs. We have _millions_ of men like this, and
it is doubtful whether the nation finds much use for them, except at
coronations, where they look beautiful; or on county councils, where
they can hold an opinion without the preliminary fatigue of forming it;
and on the bloodstained fringes of our empire, where they serenely meet
their dreadful deaths.

In the ranks of that vast army I descry Michael, and I wonder what it is
in him that makes me able to descry him at all. He is like thousands of
other men. In what is he unlike?

I think it must be something in his expression. Of many ugly men it has
been said with truth that one never observes their ugliness. Something
in the character redeems it. With Michael's undeniable good looks it was
the same. One did not notice them. They were not admired, except,
possibly, for the first moment, or across a room. His rather
insignificant grey eyes were the only thing one remembered him by, the
only part of him which seemed to represent him.

It was as if out of the narrow window of a fortress _our friend_ for a
moment looked out; that "friend of our infinite dreams" who in dreams,
but, alas! never by day, comes softly to us across the white fields of
youth; who, later on, in dreams but never by day, overtakes us with
unbearable happiness in his hand in which to steep our exhaustion on the
hillside; who when our hair is grey comes to us still in dreams but
never by day, down the darkening valley, to tell us that our worn out
romantic hopes are but the alphabet of his language.

Such a look there was in Michael's eyes, and what it meant who shall
say? Once and again at long intervals we pass in the thoroughfare of
life young faces which have the same expression, as if they saw beyond,
as if they looked past their own youth across to an immortal youth, from
their own life to an unquenchable, upwelling spring of life. When
Michael spoke, which was little, his words verged on the commonplace. He
explained the obvious with modest directness. He had thought out and
made his own a small selection of platitudes. It is at first a shock to
some of us when we discover that a beautiful spiritual nature is linked
with a tranquil commonplace mind and narrow abilities.

When Michael's eyes rested on anything his still glance seemed to pass
through it, into its essence. An inscrutable Fate had willed that his
eyes should not rest on any woman save Fay.

Was her little hand to rend his illusions from him; or did he perhaps
see her as she was, as her husband, her shrewd old grandmother, her
sister even, had never seen her? Fay had revealed to Michael that of
which many men who write glibly of passion die in ignorance, the wonder
and awe of love, clothed in a woman's form, walking the earth. And in a
reverent and grateful loyalty Michael would have laid down his life for
her, as gladly as Dante would have done for "his lady." But Michael
would have laid down his in silence, as one casts off a glove. He had
never read the "New Life." It is improbable that it would have made any
impression on him if he had read it. He never associated words or books
or poetry with feelings. What he felt he held sacred. He was
unconsciously by nature that which others of the artistic temperament
consciously are in a lesser degree, and are doomed to try to express.
Michael never wanted to express anything, had no impulse of
self-revelation, no interest in his own mental experiences.

While Fay was turning over her little _bric-a-brac_ assortment of
feelings, her toy renunciations, her imitation convictions, Michael was
slowly making the great renunciation without even taking himself into
his confidence. To go away. To see her no more. This was death by
inches. As he sat hour after hour in his little room behind the Embassy
it seemed to him as if, by some frightful exertion of his will, he were
wading with incredible slowness out to sea, over endless flats in
inch-deep water, which after an interminable journey would be deep
enough to drown him at last.

The nausea and horror of this slow death were upon him. Nevertheless, he
meant to move towards it. And where Michael's eye was fixed there his
foot followed. He was not of those who rend themselves by violent
conflict. If he had ever been asked to give his reason for any action of
his life, from the greatest to the smallest, he would have looked at the
questioner in mild surprise, and would have said: "It was the only thing
to do."

To him vacillation and doubt were unknown. A certain wisdom could never
be his, for he saw no alternatives. He never balanced two courses of
action against each other.

"There were no two ways about it," he said to his godfather, the Bishop
of Lostford, respecting a decision where there were several
alternatives, which he had endeavoured to set before Michael with
impartiality. But Michael saw only one course, and took it.

And now again he only saw one course, and he meant to take it. He
sickened under it, but his mind was made up. Fay's letter which duly
reached him only made him suffer. It did not alter his determination to
go. Certainly, he would see her again, if she desired it so intensely,
and had something vitally important to tell him, though he disliked the
suggestion of a clandestine meeting. Still it was Fay's suggestion, and
Fay could do no wrong. But he knew that nothing she could do or say,
nothing new that she could spring upon him would have power to shake his
decision to leave Rome on Friday. _It was the only thing to do._



CHAPTER IV

    L'on fait plus souvent des trahisons par faiblesse que
    par un dessein formé de trahir.--LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.


Fay's evening-party was a success. Her parties generally were. It was a
small gathering, for as it was May but few of the residents had come
down to the villas. Some of the guests had motored out from Rome. My
impression is that Fay enjoyed the evening. She certainly enjoyed the
brilliancy which excitement had momentarily added to her beauty.

All the time she was saying to herself, "If people only knew. What a
contrast between what these people think and what I really am. Perhaps
this is the last time I shall have a party here. Perhaps I shall not be
here to-morrow. Perhaps Michael will insist on taking me away with him,
from this death in life, this hell on earth."

What large imposing words! How well they sounded! Yes, in a way Fay was
enjoying herself.

Often during the evening she saw the grave, kindly eyes of the duke upon
her. Once he came up to her, and paid her a little exquisite compliment.
Her disgust and hatred of him were immediately forgotten. She smiled
back at him. She did not love him of course. A man like that did not
know what love was. But Fay had never yet felt harshly towards any man
who admired her. The husband who did not understand her watched her with
something of the indulgent, protecting expression which we see on the
face of the owner of an enchanting puppy, which is ready to gallop on
india rubber legs after any pair of boots which appears on its low
horizon.

       *       *       *       *       *

The guests had ebbed away by degrees. Lord John Alington, a tall, bald,
boring Englishman, and one or two others, remained behind, arranging
some expedition with the duke.

Michael's chief had long since gone. Michael did not depart with him,
but took his leave a few moments later. Michael's departure from Rome
the following day on urgent affairs was generally known. The duke had
watched him bid Fay a mechanical farewell, and had then expressed an
urbane regret at his departure. The thin, pinched face of the young man
appealed to the elder one. The duke had liked him from the first.

"It is time he went," he said to himself as he watched Michael leave the
room. As Michael left it Fay's excitement dropped from her, and she
became conscious of an enormous fatigue. A few minutes later she dragged
herself up the great pictured staircase to her little boudoir
overlooking the garden, and sank down exhausted on a couch. Her pretty
Italian maid was waiting for her in the adjoining bedroom, and came to
her, and began to unfasten her jewels.

Fay dismissed her for the night, saying she was not going to bed yet.
She often stayed up late reading. She was of those who say that they
have no time for reading in the day, and who like to look up (or rather,
to say afterwards they looked up) to find the solemn moon peering in at
them.

To-night there was no solemn or otherwise disposed moon.

Fay's heart suddenly began to beat so wildly that it seemed as if she
would suffocate. What violent emotion was this which was flooding her,
sweeping away all landmarks, covering, as by one great inrolling tidal
wave, all the familiar country of her heart? Whither was she being swept
in the midst of this overwhelming roaring torrent? Out to sea? To some
swift destruction? Where? Where?

She clutched the arm of the sofa and trembled. She had known so many
small emotions. What was this? And like a second wave on the top of the
first a sea of recklessness broke over and engulfed her. _What next?_
She did not know. She did not care. Michael, his face and hand. These
were the only realities. In another moment she should see him, feel him,
hold him, never, never let him go again.

In the intense stillness a whisper came up through the orange blossom
below her balcony:

"Fay."

She was on the balcony in a moment. The scent of the orange blossom had
become alive and confused everything.

"Come up," she said almost inaudibly.

"I cannot."

"You must. I must speak to you."

"Come down here then. I am not coming up."

She ran down, and felt rather than saw Michael's presence at the foot of
the little stair.

He was breathing hard. He did not move towards her.

"You sent for me, so I came," he said. "Tell me quickly what I can do
for you, how I can serve you. I cannot remain here more than a moment. I
endanger your safety as it is."

It was all so different from what she had expected, from what she had
pictured to herself. He was so determined and stern; and it had never
struck her as possible that he would not come up to her room, that the
interview would be so short.

"I can't speak here," she said, angry tears smarting in her eyes.

"You can and must. Tell me quickly, dearest, why you sent for me. You
said it was all-important. I am here, I will do your bidding, if you
will only say what it is."

"Take me with you," she gasped inaudibly.

She had not meant to say that. She was merely the mouthpiece of
something vast, of some blind destructive force that was rending her.
She swayed against the railings, clinging to them with both hands.

Even as she spoke her voiceless whisper was drowned in a sound but very
little louder. There was a distant stir, a movement as of waking bees in
the house.

He had not heard her. He was listening intently.

"Go back instantly and shut the window," he said, and in a moment she
felt he was gone.

She crept feebly up the stairs to her room and sank down again on the
couch, broken, half dead.

"I shall see him no more. I shall see him no more," she said to herself,
twisting her hands. What a travesty, what a mockery that one hurried
moment had been! What a parting that was no parting! He had no heart.
He did not really love her.

Through her stupor she felt rather than heard a movement in the house.
She stole out of her room to the head of the grand staircase. Nearly all
the lights had been put out. Close to a lamp in the saloon below, the
duke and Lord John were standing, looking at a map. "The Grotta Ferrata
road is the best," the duke was saying. And as he spoke a servant came
in quickly, and whispered to the duke, who left the saloon with him.

Fay fled back to her own room. Something was happening. But what? Could
it have any connection with herself and Michael? No, that seemed
impossible. And Michael must by now have left the gardens, by the
unlocked door by which he had come in.

Fay drew the reading lamp nearer to her, and opened the book of
devotions which Magdalen, her far off sister in England, had sent her.
Her eyes wandered over the page, her mind taking no heed.

"_For it is the most pain that the soul may have, to turn from God any
time by sin._"

There certainly was a sort of subdued stir in the house. A nameless fear
was invading Fay's heart. The book shook in her hand. What _could_ be
happening? And if it was, as it must be, something quite apart from her
and Michael, what did it matter, why be afraid?

"_For sin is vile, and so greatly to be hated that it may be likened to
no pain which is not sin. And to me was showed no harder hell than
sin._"

A low tap came at the window. Fay started violently, and the book
dropped on the floor.

The tap was repeated. She went to the window, and saw Michael's face
through the glass.

She opened the glass door, and he came in. His clothes were smeared and
torn, and there was blood upon his hand.

"Something has happened," he said. "I don't know what it is, but the
garden is surrounded, and there is someone watching at the door I came
in at. I have tried all the other ways. I have tried to climb the wall,
but there was glass at the top. I can't get out. And they are searching
the gardens with lanterns."

Even as he spoke they saw lights moving among the ilexes.

"They can't know," she said faintly.

"It does not seem possible. They are probably looking for someone else,
but I can't be found here at this hour without raising suspicion. Is
there any way out through the house from here?"

"Only down the grand staircase."

"I must risk it. Show me the way."

They went together down the almost dark corridor. Fay's heart sickened
at the thought that a belated servant might see them. But all was quiet.
At the head of the staircase they both peered over the balustrade. At
its foot in a narrow circle of light stood the duke and Lord John, and a
man with a tri-coloured sash. Even as they looked, the three turned and
began slowly to mount the staircase.

Fay and Michael were back in her boudoir in a moment.

"There is a way out here," he said, indicating the door into her
bedroom.

"It leads into my bedroom, and then through to Andrea's rooms. There is
no passage, and he has a dog in his room. It would bark."

"I must go back to the garden again," he said, and instantly moved to
the window. Both saw two _carabinieri_ standing with a lantern at the
foot of the balcony steps.

"If you go down now," said Fay hoarsely, "my reputation goes with you."

He looked at her.

It was as if his whole life were focussed on one burning point; how to
save her from suspicion. If he could have shrivelled into ashes at her
feet he would have done it. She saw her frightful predicament, and
almost hated him.

The animal panic of being trapped caught them both simultaneously. He
overcame it instantly, while she shook helplessly as in a palsy.

He went swiftly back to the door leading to the staircase, and glanced
through it.

"They are coming along the corridor," he said. "They will certainly come
in here."

"Stand behind the screen," she gasped. "I will say no one has been here,
and they will pass through into the other room. As soon as they have
left the room go quickly out by the staircase."

He looked round him once, and then walked behind a tall screen of
Italian leather which stood at the head of a divan.

Fay took up her book from the floor, but her numb fingers refused to
hold it. She put it on the edge of the table near her, under the lamp,
hid her shaking hands in the folds of her long white chiffon gown, and
fixed her eyes upon the page.

The words of the dead saint swam before her eyes:

"_Yea, He loveth us now as well while we are here, as He shall do while
we are there afore His blessed face. But for failing of love on our
part, therefore is all our travail._"

There were subdued footsteps outside, a tap, the duke's voice.

"May I come in?"

"Come in," she said, but she heard no words.

She made a superhuman effort.

"Come in," she said again, and this time to her relief she heard the
words distinctly.

The duke entered and held the door half closed.

"I feared to disturb you, my child," he said, "but it is unavoidable
that I disturb you. It is a relief to find that you are not yet in bed
and asleep. A very grave, a very sad event has happened which
necessitates the presence of the police commissioner. Calm yourself, my
Francesca, and my good friend the _delegato_ will explain."

The official in the sash came in. Lord John stood in the doorway.

"Duchess," said the official, "I grieve to say that one of your guests
of this evening, the Marchese di Maltagliala, has been assassinated in
the garden, or possibly in the road, and his dead body was dragged into
the garden afterwards. He was found just inside the east garden door,
which by some mischance had been left unlocked."

A deathlike silence followed the _delegato's_ words.

[Illustration: "A DEATHLIKE SILENCE FOLLOWED THE DELEGATO'S WORDS"]

Fay turned her bloodless face towards him, and her eyes never left
him. She felt Michael listening behind the screen.

"There was hardly an instant," continued the official, with a touch of
professional pride, "before the alarm was given. By a fortunate chance I
myself happened to be near. The garden was instantly surrounded. It is
being searched now. It seems hardly possible that the assassin can have
escaped. I entreat your pardon for intruding this painful subject on the
sensitive mind of a lady, and breaking in on your privacy."

"I should think he has escaped by now," said Fay hoarsely.

"It is possible, but improbable," said the official. Then he turned to
the duke. "This is, I understand from you, the only way into the house
from the garden?"

"The only way that might possibly still be open," said the duke. "The
doors on the ground floor are both locked, as we have seen."

"We greatly feared," continued the duke, turning to his wife, "that the
murderer if he were still in the garden, finding it was being searched,
might terrify you by rushing in here."

"No one has been in here," said Fay automatically.

"Have you been in this room ever since you left the saloon?" said her
husband.

"Yes. I have been reading here ever since."

"Then it is impossible that anyone should have escaped into the house
through this room," said the duke. "The duchess must have seen him. It
is no longer necessary to search the house."

The _delegato_ hesitated. He opened the glass door and spoke to the men
with the lantern.

"They are convinced that it is not possible he is concealed in the
garden," he said. "Perhaps if the duchess were deeply engaged in study
he might have serpentinely glided through into the next room without her
perceiving him. It is, I understand, the duchess's private apartment. It
might be as well--where does the duchess's apartment lead into?"

"Into my rooms," said the duke, "and my dog is there. He would have
given the alarm long ago if any stranger had passed through my room. If
he is silent no one has been near him."

There was a pause.

Fay learned what suspense means.

The _delegato_ twirled his moustaches.

He was evidently reluctant to give up the remotest chance, and yet
reluctant to inconvenience the duke further.

"It is just possible," he said, "that the assassin may have taken refuge
in here before the duchess came back to her apartment. My duties are
grave, duchess. Have I your permission?"

Fay bowed.

The duke, still urbane, but evidently finding the situation unduly
prolonged, led the way into Fay's bedroom.

This story would never have been written if Lord John had not remained
standing in the doorway.

Did Michael know he was there? He had not so far spoken, or given any
sign of his presence.

"Won't you go into my room, Lord John, and help in the capture," she
said distinctly; and as she spoke she was aware that she was only just
in time.

But Lord John would not go in, thanks. Lord John preferred to advance
heavily in her direction, and to sit down by her on the couch, telling
her not to look so terrified, that he would take care of her.

She stared wildly at him, livid and helpless.

A door was softly opened, and was instantly followed by the furious
barking of a dog.

"Go and help them," said Fay to Lord John.

But Lord John did not move. Like all bores he was conscious of his own
attractive personality. He only settled his eyeglass more firmly in his
pale eye.

"You never spoke to me all evening," he said, with jocular emphasis.
"What have I done to deserve such severity?"

In another moment the duke and the official returned, followed by
Sancho, a large Bridlington terrier, still bristling and snarling at the
official.

Fay called the dog to her, and held it forcibly, pretending to caress
it.

"No one has gone by that way," said the _delegato_ to the duke. "The dog
proves that."

"Sancho proves it," said the duke gravely.

As he spoke he paused as if suddenly arrested. His eyes were fixed on a
small Florentine mirror which hung over Fay's writing-table in the angle
of the wall. The duke's face changed, as a man's face might change, who,
conscious of no enemy, feels himself stabbed from behind in the dark.
Then he came forward, and said with a firm voice:

"We will now go once more into the gardens. Lord John, you will
accompany us."

Lord John got heavily to his feet.

"Take Sancho with you," said Fay, holding the dog with difficulty, who
was obviously excited and suspicious, its mobile nostrils working, its
eyes glued to the screen.

The duke opened the glass door, and Sancho, his attention turned, rushed
out into the night, barking furiously.

"You need have no further fear," said the duke to Fay, looking into her
eyes. "The assassin has certainly escaped."

"No doubt," said Fay.

"Unless he is hiding behind the screen all the time," said Lord John,
with his customary facetiousness. "It is about the only place in the
room he could hide in, except of course the wastepaper basket."

The _delegato_, who was not apparently a man who quickly seized the
humorous side of a remark, at once stepped back from the window, and
glanced at the wastepaper basket.

"I may as well look behind the screen," he said, and went towards it.

But before he could reach it the screen moved, and Michael came out from
behind it.

The four people in the room gazed at him spell-bound, speechless; Lord
John reeled against the wall. The duke alone retained his
self-possession.

Michael advanced into the middle of the room, and for a moment his eyes
met Fay's. Who shall say what he read in their terror-stricken depths?

Then he turned to the duke and said:

"I ask pardon of you, duke, and of the duchess, my cousin, for the
inconvenience I have caused you. I confess to the murder of the Marchese
di Maltagliala, and sought refuge in the garden. When the garden was
surrounded I sought refuge here. I did not tell the duchess what I had
done, but I implored her to let me take shelter here, and to promise not
to give me up. She ought at once to have given me up. She yielded to the
dictates of humanity and suffered me to hide in this room. Duchess, I
thank you for your noble, your self-sacrificing but unavailing desire to
shield a guilty man."

Michael went up to her, took her cold hand and kissed it. Then he turned
again to the duke.

"I offer you my apologies for this intrusion," he said, and the two men
bowed to each other.

"And now, signor," he said in Italian to the amazed official, "I am at
your service."



CHAPTER V

    Qui sait tout souffrir peut tout oser.--VAUVENARGUES.


Michael was imprisoned for the night in a cell attached to the Court of
Mandamento, and the next day was sent to Rome to await his trial at the
_assise_.

Early on the second day after he reached Rome the duke came to him. The
two men looked fixedly at each other. They exchanged no form of
greeting.

The duke made a little sign with his hand, and the warder withdrew
outside the cell door, which he left ajar.

Then the duke sat down by Michael.

"I should have come yesterday," he said in English, "but it took time to
gain permission, and also"--he nodded towards the door--"to arrange."

"For God's sake give me details," said Michael.

The duke gave them in a low voice. He described in a careful sequence
the exact position of the dead body, the wound, caused by stabbing in
the back, the strong inference that the murdered man had been attacked
in the road, and then dragged just inside the Colle Alto garden door.

"I don't see any reason why he should have gone outside the garden,"
said Michael.

"Neither do I. But the garden door was unlocked. It had been locked as
usual, my gardener swears, and the key left in the lock on the inside.
Who then opened it, if for some reason the marchese did not open it
himself?"

Michael did not answer.

"I saw the body before it was moved," continued the duke. "It was still
warm. I incline to think the marchese was murdered actually inside the
garden, and that he fell on his face where he stood, and was dragged
behind the hydrangeas. But the _delegato_ thought differently. You will
remember, Carstairs, that the dead man had been dragged by the feet."

"Did I put him on the right side or the left of the door as you go in?"

"On the left."

"On his face?"

"Yes."

There was a pause.

"You had no quarrel with the marchese, I presume?" said the duke
significantly.

"On the contrary," said Michael; "it is not known, but I had."

"Just so. Just so. About a woman?"

Michael winced.

"About a horse," he said.

"No," said the duke, with decision. "Think again. Your memory does not
serve you. It was about a woman. Was it not a dancing-girl?"

"I am not like that," said Michael, colouring.

"It is of no account what you are like, or what you are not like. What
matters is that which is quickly believed. A quarrel about a woman is
always believed, especially by women who think all turns on them. Were
you not in Paris at Easter?"

"I was."

"Was not the marchese in Paris at Easter?"

"He was. I saw him once at the Opera with the old Duke of Castelfranco."

"Just so. A quarrel about a dancing-girl at Paris at Easter. That was
how it was."

"You are right," said Michael, regaining his composure with an effort.
"I owed him a grudge. You will be careful to mention this to no one?"

"I will mention it only to one or two women on whom I can rely," said
the duke; "and to them only in the strictest confidence."

Michael nodded.

Silence fell between them, and he wondered why the duke did not go. The
warder shifted his feet in the passage.

Presently the duke began to speak in a low, even voice.

"I owe you an apology," he said. "I saw you standing behind the screen,
reflected in a little mirror, and for one moment I thought you had done
me a great injury. It was only for a moment. I regained myself quickly.
I would have saved you if I could. But I owe you an apology for a
suspicion unworthy of either of us."

"It was natural," said Michael. He was greatly drawn to this man.

"I may in some matters be deceived," continued the duke, "for in my time
I have deceived others, and have not been found out. I don't know why
you were in my wife's rooms that night. Nevertheless, I clearly know two
things: one, that you did not murder the marchese, and the other, that
there was nothing wrong between you and my wife. With you her honour was
safe. You and I are combining now to guard only her reputation before
the world."

Michael did not answer. He nodded again.

"At the price," continued the duke, "probably of your best years."

"I am content to pay the price," said Michael. "It was the only thing to
do." Then he coloured like a girl, and raised his eyes to the duke's. "I
went to her that night to say good-bye," he said. "That was why the
garden door was unlocked. I love her. I have loved her for years."

It seemed as if everything between the two men had become transparent.

"I know it," said the duke. "She also, the duchess, is in love with
you."

Michael drew back perceptibly. His manner changed.

"A little--not much," continued the duke. "I watched her, when you gave
up yourself. She could have saved you. She could save you still--by a
word. But she will not speak it. She appeared to love me a little once.
I was not deceived. I knew. She loves you a little now. Why do you
deceive yourself, my friend? There is only one person for whom she has a
permanent and deep affection--for her very charming self."

The words fell into the silence of the bare room. Michael's thin hands,
tightly clenched, shook a little.

The duke bent towards him.

"Is she worth it?" he said, with sudden passion.

No answer. Michael hid his face in his hands.

"Is she worth it?" said the duke again.

Michael looked up suddenly at the duke, and the elder man winced at the
expression in his face. He looked through the duke, through his veiled
despair and disillusion, beyond him.

"Yes, she is worth it," he said. "You do not understand her because you
only love her in part. I meant to serve her by leaving Rome, but now I
can't leave it. What I can do for her I will. It is no sacrifice--I am
glad to do it--to have the chance. I have always wished--to serve
her--to put my hands under her feet."

The sudden radiance in Michael's face passed. He looked down
embarrassed, annoyed with himself.

"There remains then but one other person to be considered," said the
duke, looking closely at him. "The beautiful heroine, the young lover,
these are now accommodated. All is _en régle_. But that dull elderly
person who takes the _rôle_ of husband on these occasions! Is there not
a husband somewhere? What of him? Will he indeed fold his arms as on the
stage? Will he indeed stand by as serenely as you suppose and suffer an
innocent man to make this sacrifice for the sake of his--honour?"

"He will, only because he must," said Michael, catching his breath. "I
had thought of that. He can do nothing. Have I not accused myself? And
his honour is also hers. They stand and fall together."

[Illustration: "'IS SHE WORTH IT?' HE SAID WITH SUDDEN PASSION"]

"They stand and fall together," said the duke slowly. "Yes, that is
true. And he is old. He is finished. He is the head of a great house.
His honour is perhaps the only thing that still means anything to
him. Nevertheless, it is strange to me that you think he would consent
to keep it at so great a cost, the cost perhaps of twenty years. That
were impossible.... He could not permit _that_. But--one little year--at
most. That perhaps his conscience might permit. One little year! You are
young. Supposing he has within him," he laid his hand on his heart,
"that of which his wife does not know, which means that his release is
_sure_. Do you understand? Supposing it must come soon--very soon--her
release--and yours. Perhaps then----" There was a long pause. "Perhaps
then his conscience might suffer him to keep silence."

Michael's hand made a slight movement. The duke took it in his, and held
it firmly.

"Listen," he said at last. "Once when I was young, twenty years ago, I
loved. I too would fain have served a woman, would have put my hands
under her feet. There is always one such a woman in life, but only one.
She was to me the world. But I could only trouble her life. She was
married. She had children. I knew I ought to go. I meant to go. She
prayed me to go. I promised her to go--nevertheless I stayed. And at
last--inasmuch as she loved me very much--I broke up her home, her life,
her honour, she was separated from her children. She lost all, and then
when all was gone she died. The only thing which I could keep from her
was poverty, which would have been nothing to her. She never reproached
me. There is no reproach in love. But--she died in disgrace, and alone.
From the first to the last it was her white hands under my feet. That
was how I served the one woman I have deeply loved, the one creature
who deeply loved me." The duke's voice had become almost inaudible. "You
have done better than I," he said.

Then he kissed Michael on the forehead, and went out.

They never met again.



CHAPTER VI

    The year slid like a corpse afloat.--D. G. ROSSETTI.


And how did it fare with Fay during the days that followed Michael's
arrest?

Much sympathy was felt for her. Lord John, wallowing in the delicious
novelty of finding eager listeners, went about extolling her courage and
unselfishness to the skies. Her conduct was considered perfectly natural
and womanly. No man condemned her for trying to shield her cousin from
the consequences of his crime. Women said they would have done the same,
and envied her her romantic situation.

And Fay, shut up in her darkened room in her romantic situation--she who
adored romantic situations--what were Fay's thoughts?

There is a travail of soul which toils with hard crying up the dark
valley of decision, and brings forth in anguish the life entrusted to
it. Perhaps it is the great renunciation. Perhaps it is only the loyal
inevitable deed which is struggling to come forth, to be allowed to live
for our healing and comfort.

But there is another travail of soul, barren, unavailing, which flings
itself down, and tosses in impotent misery from side to side, from mood
to mood, as in a sickly trance.

Such was Fay's.

Her decision not to speak had been made in the moment when she had let
Michael accuse himself, and she kept silence. But that she did not know.
She thought it was still to make.

"I must speak. I must speak," she said to herself all through the
endless day after Michael's arrest, all through the endless night, until
the dawn came up behind the ilexes, the tranquil dawn that knew all, and
found her shuddering and wild-eyed.

"I must speak. I cannot let Michael suffer for me, even to save my
reputation."

_Her reputation!_ How little she had cared for it twenty-four hours ago,
when passion clutched the reins!

But now---- The public shame of it--the divorce which in her eyes must
ensue--Andrea! Her courteous, sedate, inexorable husband, whose will she
could not bend, whom she could not cajole, whose mind was a closed book
to her; a book which had lain by her hand for three years, which she had
never had the curiosity to open!--Fay feared her husband, as we all fear
what we do not understand. He would divorce her--and then---- And
Magdalen at home--and----

A flood of suffocating emotion swept over her, full of ugly swimming and
crawling reptiles, and invertebrate horrors, the inevitable scavengers
of the sea of selfish passion.

Fay shrank back for very life. She could not pass through that flood and
live. Nevertheless she felt herself pushed towards it.

"But I have no choice. I _must_ speak. He is innocent. He is doing this
to shield me because he loves me. But I also love him, far, far more
than he loves me, and I will prove it."

Fay went in imagination through a fearful and melodramatic scene, in
which she revealed everything before a public tribunal. She saw her
husband's face darken against her, her lover's lighten as she saved him.
She saw her slender figure standing alone, bearing the whole shock,
serene, unshaken. The vision moved her to tears.

Was it a prophetic vision?

It was quite light now, and she crept to her husband's room. She had not
seen him during the previous day. He had been out the whole of it. She
felt drawn towards him by calamity, by the loneliness of her misery.

The duke was not asleep. He was lying in bed with his hands clasped
behind his head. His sallow face, worn by a sleepless night, and perhaps
by a wounding memory, was turned towards the light, and the new day
dealt harshly with it. There were heavy lines under the eyes. The eyes
looked steadily in front of him, plunged deep in a past which had
something of the irrevocable tenderness of the dawn in it, the holy
reflection of an inalienable love.

He did not stir as his wife came in. His eyes only moved, resting upon
her for a moment, focussing her with difficulty, as if withdrawn from
something at a great distance, and then they turned once more to the
window.

A pale primrose light had risen above the blue tangled mist of ilexes
and olives. The cypresses stood half-veiled in mist, half-sharply clear
against the stainless pallor of the upper sky.

"I am so miserable, Andrea."

He did not speak.

"I cannot sleep."

Still no answer.

"I am convinced that Michael is innocent."

"It goes without saying."

"Then they can't convict him, can they?"

"They will convict him," said the duke, and for a moment he bent his
eyes upon her. "Has he not accused himself?"

"They won't--hang him?"

The duke shrugged his shoulders. He did not think fit to enlighten his
wife's ignorance of the fact that in Italy there is no capital
punishment.

"But if he has not done it, and we know he has not," faltered Fay.

"He is perhaps shielding someone," said the duke, "the real murderer."

"I don't see how that could be."

"He may have his reasons. The real murderer is perhaps a friend--or
a--woman. Your cousin is a romantic. It is always better for a romantic
if he had not been born. But generally a female millstone is in
readiness to tie itself round him, and cast him into the sea. The world
is not fitted to him. It is to egotistic persons like you and me, my
Francesca, to whom the world is most admirably adapted."

"I don't see how the murderer could be a woman. Women don't murder men
on the high road."

"No, not on the high road. You are in the right. How dusty, how dirty is
the high road! But I have known, not once nor twice, women to murder men
very quietly. Oh! so gently and cleanly--to let them die. I am much
older than you, but you will perhaps also live to see a woman do this,
Francesca. And now retire to your room, and let me counsel you to take
some rest. Your beauty needs it."

She burst into tears.

"How little you care!" she said between her sobs, "how heartless you
are! I will never believe they will convict him. He is innocent, and his
innocence will come to light."

"I think the light will not be suffered to fall upon it," said the duke.

Afterwards, years afterwards, Fay remembered that conversation with
wonder that its significance had escaped her. But at the time she could
see nothing, feel nothing except her own anguish.

She left her husband's room. There was no help or sympathy in him. She
went back to her own room and flung herself face downwards on her bed.
Let no one think she did not suffer.

A faint ray of comfort presently came to her at the thought that
Michael's innocence might after all come to light. It might be proved in
spite of himself.

She would pray incessantly that the real murderer might give himself up,
or that suspicion should fall on him, and he should be dragged to
justice. And then, if--_after all_--Michael were convicted and his life
endangered, then she _must_ speak. But--not till then. Not now when all
might yet go well without her confession.... And it was not as if she
were guilty of unfaithfulness. She had not done anything wrong beyond
imprudence. Yes, she had certainly been imprudent; that she saw. But she
had done nothing _wrong_. It could not be right to confess to what in
public opinion amounted to unfaithfulness on her part, and dishonourable
conduct on his, when it was not so. They were both innocent. It would be
telling a lie to let anyone think either of them could be guilty of such
a sordid crime. It looked sordid now. Why should she drag down his name
with hers into the mud--unless it were absolutely necessary.... And she
must remember how distressed Michael would be if she said a word, if she
flung her good name from her, which he had risked all to save. Some
semblance of calm returned to her, as she thus reached the only
conclusion which the bias of her mind would permit. The stream ran
docilely in the little groove cut out for it.

During the days and weeks that followed Fay shut herself up, and prayed
incessantly for Michael.

She prayed all through the interminable interval before the trial.

"If it goes against him, I will speak," she said.

Yet all the time Michael who loved her knew that she would not speak.
Her husband who could have loved her, and who watched her struggle with
compassion, knew that she would not speak. Only Fay who did not know
herself believed that she would speak.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day came when the duke gravely informed her that Michael was found
guilty of murder.

Fay's prayers it seemed had not availed. She prayed no more. There was
no help in God. Probably there was no God to pray to. Her sister
Magdalen seemed to think there was. But how could she tell? Besides,
Magdalen had such a calm temperament, and nothing had ever happened to
make her unhappy, or to shake her faith. It was different for Magdalen.

Evidently there was no justice anywhere, only a blind chance. "The truth
will out," Fay had said to herself over and over again. She had tried to
have faith. But the truth had not come out. She was being pushed, pushed
over the edge of the precipice. Oh, why had Michael fallen in love with
her when they were boy and girl! She remembered with horror and disgust
those early days, that exquisite dawn of young passion in the time of
primroses. It had brought her to _this_--to this horrible place of tears
and shame and shuddering--to these wretched days and hideous nights. Oh,
why, why, had he loved her! Why had she let herself love him!

Suddenly she said to herself, "They may reprieve him yet. If his
sentence is not commuted to imprisonment I will speak, so help me God I
will."

It could never be known whether she would have kept that oath, for the
next day she heard that Michael had been sentenced to fifteen years'
imprisonment. Why had Andrea been so cruel as to let her imagine for a
whole horrible night that Michael's would be a death sentence, when in
Italy it seemed there was no capital punishment as in England? It was
just like Andrea to torture her needlessly! When the sentence reached
her Fay drew breath. The horrible catastrophe had been averted. To a man
of Michael's temperament the living grave to which he was consigned was
infinitely worse than death. But what was Michael's temperament to Fay?
She shut her eyes to the cell of an Italian prison. Michael would live,
and in time the truth would come to light, and he would be released.

She impressed this conviction with tears on his half-brother Wentworth
Maine, the kind, silent elder brother, Michael's greatest friend, who
had come out to Italy to be near him, and who heard sentence given
against him with a set face, and an unshaken belief in his innocence.
Even to Wentworth Michael had said nothing, could be induced to say no
word. He confessed to the murder. That was all.

Wentworth, who had never seen Fay before, as she had married just before
he came to live at his uncle's place in Hampshire near Fay's home, saw
the marks of grief in her lovely face, and was unconsciously drawn
towards her. He was shy as only men can be; but he almost forgot it in
her sympathetic presence. She came into his isolated, secluded life at
the moment when the barriers of his instinctive timidity and apathy were
broken down by his first real trouble. And he was grateful to her for
having done her best to save Michael.

"I shall never forget that," he said, when he came to bid her good-bye.
"There are very few women who would have had the courage and
unselfishness to act as you did."

Fay winced and paled, and he took his leave, bearing away with him a
grave admiration for this delicate, sensitive creature, so full of
tender compassion for him and Michael.

He made no attempt to see her again when he returned to Italy some
months later to visit Michael in prison. To visit Fay on that occasion
would have taken him somewhat out of his way, and Wentworth never went
out of his way, not out of principle, but because such a course never
occurred to him. He would have liked to see her, in order to tell her
about Michael's condition, and also to deliver in person a message which
Michael had sent to Fay by him. But when he realised that a detour would
be necessary in order to accomplish this, he wrote to Fay to tell her
with deep regret that it was impossible for him to see her, gave her
Michael's message, and returned to England by the way he came.
Nevertheless, he often thought of her, for she was inextricably
associated with the unspeakable trouble of his life, his brother's
living death.

When all was over, and the last sod had--so to speak--been cast upon
that living grave, Fay tried to take up her life again. But she could
not. She had lost heart. She dared not be alone. She shunned society. At
her earnest request her sister Magdalen came out to her for a time, from
the home in England, into which she was wedged so tightly. But even
Magdalen's calm presence brought no calm with it, and the deepening
friendship between her sister and her husband only irritated Fay.
Everything irritated Fay. She was ill at ease, restless, feebly
sarcastic, impatient.

There is a peace which passes understanding, and there is an unpeace
which passes understanding also. Fay did not know, would not know, why
she was so troubled, so weary of life, so destitute of comfort.

Had she met the great opportunity of her life, the turning point, and
missed it? I do not think so. It was not for her.

       *       *       *       *       *

A year later the duke died.

He made a dignified exit. An attack of vertigo to which he was liable
came on when he was on horseback. He was thrown and dragged, and only
survived a few days as by a miracle. His wife, who had seen little of
him during the last year, saw still less of him during the days of his
short illness. But when the end was close at hand he sent for her, and
asked her to remain in a distant recess of his room during the painful
hours.

"It will be a happier memory for you," he said gently to her between the
paroxysms of suffering, "to think that you were there."

And so propped high in a great carved bedstead in the octagonal room
where the Colle Altos were born, and where, when they could choose, they
died, the duke lay awaiting the end.

He had received extreme unction. The chanting choir had gone. The priest
had closed his pale fingers upon the crucifix, when he desired to be
left alone with his wife.

She drew near timidly and stood beside his bed.

He bent his tranquil, kindly eyes upon her.

"Good-bye, my Francesca," he said. "May God and his angels protect you,
and give you peace."

A belated compunction seized her.

"I wish I had been a better wife to you, Andrea," she said brokenly,
laying her hand on his.

He made the ghost of a courteous, deprecating gesture, and raised her
hand to his lips. The effort exhausted him. He closed his eyes and his
hand fell out of hers.

Through the open window came a sudden waft of hot carnations, a long
drawn breath of the rapturous Italian spring.

It reached the duke. He stirred slightly, and opened his eyes once more.
Once more they fell on Fay, and it seemed to her as if with the last
touch of his cold lips upon her hand their relation of husband and wife
had ceased. Even at that moment she realised with a sinking sense of
impotence how slight her hold on him from first to last had been.
Clearly he had already forgotten it, passed beyond it, would never
remember it again.

"It is spring," he said, looking full at her with tender fixity, and for
a moment she thought his mind was wandering. "Spring once more. The sun
shines. He does not see them, the spring and the sunshine. Since a year
he does not see them. Francesca, how much longer will you keep your
cousin Michael in prison?"

And thereupon the duke closed his eyes on this world, and went upon his
way.



CHAPTER VII

    A bachelor's an unfinished thing ... He wants somebody to listen to
    his talk.--EDEN PHILLPOTTS.


Reader, do you know Barford, in Hampshire? If you don't, I can tell you
how to get to it. You take train from Victoria, and you get out at
Saundersfoot. There is nothing at Saundersfoot, except a wilderness of
lodgings and a tin station and a high wind. It need not detain an active
mind beyond the necessary moment of enquiring by which road it may be
most quickly left. I cannot tell you who Saunders was, nor why the
watering-place was called after his foot. But if you walk steadily away
from it for five miles inland, along the white chalky road between the
downs, you will arrive at the little village of Barford.

There is only one road, so you cannot miss your way. Little twisty lanes
fretted with sheep-tracks drop down into it now and then from the
broad-shouldered downs on either side, but take no notice of them. If
you persevere, you will in due course see the village of Barford lying
in front of you, which, at a little distance, looks as if it had been
carelessly swept into a crease between the downs, while a few cottages
and houses on the hillside seem to have adhered to the ground, and
remained stuck where they were when the sweeping took place.

After you have passed the pond and the post office, and before you reach
the school, you will see a lodge, and an old Italian iron gateway,
flanked by a set of white wooden knobs planted in the ground on either
side, held together by chains. The white knobs are apparently there in
order to upset carriages as they drive in or out. But very few carriages
have driven in or out during the last two years, except those of the
owner of Barford Manor, Wentworth Maine. Wentworth, since he inherited
the place from his uncle five years ago, had always led a somewhat
secluded life. But during the last two years, ever since his
half-brother, Michael, had been sentenced and imprisoned in Italy,
Wentworth had withdrawn himself even more from the society of his
neighbours. He continued to shoot and hunt, and to do his duties as a
magistrate and as a supporter of the Conservative party, but his thin,
refined face had a certain worn, pinched look, which spoke of long
tracts of solitary unhappiness. And the habit of solitude was growing on
him.

The old Manor House, standing in its high-walled gardens, its sunny low
rooms looking out across the down, seemed wrapped in an atmosphere of
ancient peace, which consorted as ill with the present impression of the
place as does old Gobelin tapestry with a careful modern patch upon its
surface. The patch, however, adroitly copied, is seen to be an
innovation.

The old house, which had known so much, had sheltered so much, had kept
counsel so long, seemed to resent the artificial peace that its present
owner had somewhat laboriously constructed round himself, within its
mellow, ivied walls.

There is a fictitious tranquillity which is always on the verge of being
broken, which depends largely on uninterrupted hours, on confidential,
velvet-shod servants, on a brooding dove in a cedar, on the absence of
the inharmonious or jarring elements which pervade daily life.

Such an imitation peace, coy as a fickle mistress, Wentworth cherished.
Was it worth all the trouble he took to preserve it, when the real thing
lay at his very door?

On this February morning, as he sat looking out across the down, white
in the pale sunshine, the current of his life ran low. He had returned
the night before from one of his periodical journeys to Italy to visit
Michael in his cell. He was tired with the clang and hurry of the long
journey, depressed almost to despair by the renewed realisation of his
brother's fate. Two years--close on two years, had Michael been in
prison.

In Wentworth's faithful heart that wound never healed. To-day it bled
afresh. He bit his lip, and his face quivered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wentworth was not as handsome as Michael, but, nevertheless, he was
distinctly good to look at, and the half-brothers, in spite of the
fifteen years' difference between their ages, bore a certain superficial
resemblance to each other. Wentworth was of middle height, lightly and
leanly built, with a high bridge on a rather thin nose, and with narrow,
clean grey eyes under light eyelashes. He looked as if he had been made
up of different shades of one colour. His light brown hair had a little
grey in it, his delicately cut face and nervous hands were both tanned,
by persistent exposure to all kinds of weather, to nearly the same
shade of indeterminate brown as his hair.

You could not look at Wentworth without seeing that he was a man who had
never even glanced at the ignoble side of life, for whose fastidious,
sensitive nature sensual lures had no attraction, a man who could not
lie, who could not stoop, whose mind was as clean as his hand, and, for
an Englishman, that is saying a good deal. He was manly in a physical
sense. He rode straight, he shot well. He could endure bodily strain
with indifference, though he was not robustly built. He was sane,
even-tempered, liable to petty resentments, mildly and resolutely
selfish, except where Michael was concerned, a conscientious and just
master--at least, just in intention--a patient and respectful son where
patience and respect had not been easy.

The strain of scholar and student in him was about evenly mixed with
that of the country gentleman. The result was a certain innate sense of
superiority which he was not in the least aware that he showed. He had
no idea that he was considered "fine," and "thinking a good deal of
himself," by the more bucolic of his country neighbours. No one could
say that Wentworth was childlike, but perhaps he was a little childish.
He certainly had a _naïf_ and unshakable belief that the impressions he
had formed as to his own character were shared by others. He supposed it
was recognised by his neighbours that they had a thinker in their midst,
and always tacitly occupied the ground which he imagined had been
conceded to him on that account.

His mother, a beautiful, foolish, whimsical, hard-riding heiress, the
last of a long line, had married the youngest son--the one brilliant,
cultivated member--of a family as ancient, as uneducated, and as prosaic
as her own. Wentworth was the result of that union. His father had died
before his talents were fully recognised: that is to say, just when it
was beginning to be perceived that he was a genius only in his own
class, and that there were hordes of educated men in the middle classes
who could beat him at every point on his own ground, except in carriage
and appearance, and whom no one regarded as specially gifted. Still, in
his own county, among his own friends, and in a society where education
and culture eke out a precarious, interloping existence, and are
regarded with distrustful curiosity, Lord Wilfrid Maine lived and died,
and was mourned as a genius.

After many years of uneasy, imprudent widowhood, the widow of the great
man had made a disastrous second marriage, and had died at Michael's
birth.

No one had disputed with Wentworth over the possession of Michael.
Wentworth, a sedate, self-centred young man of three-and-twenty, of
independent means, mainly occupied in transcribing the nullity of his
days in a voluminous diary, had taken charge of him virtually from his
first holidays, during which Michael's father had achieved the somewhat
tedious task of drinking himself to death. Michael's father had
appointed Wentworth as his son's guardian. If it had been a jealous
affection on Wentworth's part, it had also been a deep one. And it had
been returned with a single-hearted devotion on Michael's part which had
gradually knit together the hearts of the older and the younger man, as
it seemed indissolubly. No one had come between them. Once or twice
Wentworth had become uneasy, suspicious of Michael's affection for his
tutor at Eton, distrustful of the intimacies Michael formed with boys,
and, later on, with men of his own age. Wentworth had nipped a few of
these incipient friendships in the bud. He vaguely felt that each case,
judged by its own merits, was undesirable. Some of these friendships he
had not been able to nip. These he ignored; among that number was
Michael's affection for his godfather, the Bishop of Lostford. Michael's
boyish passion for Fay, Wentworth had never divined. It had come about
during the last year of his great uncle's life at Barford, which was
within a few miles of Priesthope, Fay's home. Michael had spent many
weeks at Barford with the old man, who was devoted to him. Everyone had
expected that he would make Michael his heir, but when he died soon
afterwards, it was found he had left the place, in a will dated many
years back, to Wentworth. If Michael had never mentioned his first
painful contact with life to Wentworth, it was perhaps partly because he
instinctively felt that the confidence would be coldly received, partly
also because Michael was a man of few words, to whom speech had never
taken the shape of relief.

There had no doubt been wretched moments in Wentworth's devotion to
Michael, but nevertheless it had been the best thing so far in his
somewhat colourless existence, with its hesitating essays in other
directions, its half-hearted withdrawals, its pigeon-holed emotions. He
had not been half-hearted about Michael. It is perhaps natural that we
should love very deeply those who have had the power to release us
momentarily from the airless prison of our own egotism. How often it is
a child's hand which first opens that iron door, and draws us forth into
the sunshine! With Wentworth it had been so. The pure air of the
moorland, the scent of the heather and the sea seem indissolubly mingled
with the remembrance of those whom we have loved. For did we not in
their company walk abroad into a new world, breathe a new air, while
Self, the dingy turnkey, for once slept at his post?

One of the reasons of his devotion to Michael was that Michael's
character did not apparently or perceptibly alter. He was very much the
same person in his striped convict's blouse as he had been in his Eton
jacket. But it is doubtful whether Wentworth had ever realised of what
materials that character consisted. Wentworth was of those who never get
the best out of men and women, who never divine and meet, but only come
into surprised uncomfortable contact with their deeper emotions.
Michael's passion of service for Fay would have been a great shock to
Wentworth had he suspected it. It remained for the duke to perceive the
latent power in Michael, and to be taken instantly into his confidence
on the matter, while Wentworth, unwitting, had remained for life outside
his brother's mind.

Some men and women are half conscious that they are thus left out, are
companions only of "the outer court" of the lives of others. But
Wentworth never suspected this, partly because he regarded as friendship
a degree of intimacy which most men and all women regard as
acquaintanceship. He did not know there was anything more. Those from
whom others need much, learn perforce, whether they will or no, to what
heights, to what depths human nature can climb and--fall. But Wentworth
was not a person on whom others made large demands. But if his love for
Michael had been his one tangible happiness, it had become now his one
real pain.

Contrary to all his habits, he sat on, hour after hour, motionless,
inert, watching the cloud shadows pass across the down. He tried to
rouse himself. He told himself that he must settle back into his old
occupations. He must get forward with his history of Sussex, and write
up his diary. He must come to some decision about the allotment scheme
on his property in Saundersfoot. He must go over and help Colonel
Bellairs not to make a fool of himself about the disputed right of way
across his property where it joined Wentworth's own land. Colonel
Bellairs always bungled into business matters of the simplest nature as
a bumble bee bungles into a spider's web. For Colonel Bellairs to touch
business of any kind was immediately to become hopelessly and
inextricably involved in it, with much furious buzzing. His mere
presence entangled the plainest matter into a confused cocoon, with
himself struggling in the middle.

Wentworth must save the old autocrat from putting himself in the wrong,
when he was so plainly in the right. Wentworth must at any rate, if he
could do nothing else this morning, read his letters, which had
accumulated during his short absence.

Without moving from his chair he turned over, with a groan, the pile of
envelopes waiting for him at his elbow. Invitations, bills, tenants'
complaints, an unexpected dividend. It was all one to him. The Bishop
of Lostford--so his secretary wrote--accepted Wentworth's invitation to
dine and sleep at Barford that night, after holding a confirmation at
Saundersfoot. Wentworth had forgotten he had asked him. Very well, he
must remember to order a room to be got ready. That was all. A
subscription earnestly solicited by the daughter of a neighbouring
clergyman for a parish library. Why could he not be left in peace? Oh!
what was the use of anything--of life, health, money, intellect, if
existence was always to be like this, if every day was to be like this,
only like this? This weary, dry-as-dust grind, this making a handful of
bricks out of a cartload of straw, this distaste and fatigue, and sense
of being duped by satisfaction, which was only another form of
dissatisfaction, after all. What was the use of living exactly as you
liked, _if you did not like it?_ Oh, Michael! Michael! Michael! He
forgot that he had often been nearly as miserable as this when Michael
had been free and happy. Not quite, but nearly. Now he attributed the
whole of his recurrent wretchedness, which was largely temperamental, to
his distress about his brother's fate.

That wound, never healed, bled afresh. Who felt for him in his trouble?
Who, among all his friends, cared, or understood? No one. That was the
way of the world.

Fay's sweet, forlorn face, snowdrop pale under its long black veil, rose
suddenly before him, as he had seen it some weeks ago, when he had met
her walking in the woods near her father's house. She had gone back to
her old home after the duke's death. She, at least, had grieved for him
and Michael with an intensity which he had never forgotten. Even in her
widowed desolation she had remembered Michael, and always asked after
him when Wentworth went over to Priesthope. And Wentworth was often
there, for one reason or another. Michael, too, had asked after her, and
had sent her a message by his brother. Should he go over to-day and
deliver it in person? Among his letters was a scrawling, illegible note,
already several days old, from Colonel Bellairs, Fay's father, about the
right of way. The matter, it seemed, was more urgent than Wentworth had
realised. Any matter pertaining to Colonel Bellairs was always, in the
opinion of the latter, of momentous urgency.

Colonel Bellairs asked Wentworth to come over to luncheon the first day
he could, and to walk over the debatable ground with him.

Wentworth looked at his watch, started up and rang the bell, and ordered
his cob Conrad to be brought round at once.



CHAPTER VIII

    Le plus grand élément des mauvaises actions secrètes, des lâchetés
    inconnues, est peut-être un honheur incomplet.

    --BALZAC.


When Fay, in her panic-stricken widowhood, had fled back to her old home
in Hampshire, she found all very much as she had left it, except that
her father's hair was damply dyed, her sister Magdalen's frankly grey,
and the pigtail of Bessie, the youngest daughter, was now an imposing
bronze coil in the nape of her neck.

But if little else was radically changed in the old home except the hair
of the family, nevertheless, the whole place had somehow declined and
shrunk in Fay's eyes during the three years of her marriage. The dear
old gabled Tudor house, with its twisted chimneys, looked much the same
from the outside, but within, in spite of its wealth of old pictures and
cabinets and china, it had contracted the dim, melancholy aspect which
is the result of prolonged scarcity of money. Nothing had been spent on
the place for years. Magdalen seemed to have faded together with the
curtains, and the darned carpets, and the bleached chintzes.

Colonel Bellairs alone, a handsome man of sixty, had remained remarkably
young for his age. The balance, however, was made even by the fact that
those who lived with him grew old before their time. It had been so
with his wife. It was obviously so with his eldest daughter. Many men as
superficially affectionate as Colonel Bellairs, and at heart as callous,
as exacting and as inconsiderate, have made endurable husbands. But
Colonel Bellairs was not only irresolute and vacillating and incapable
of even the most necessary decisions, but he was an inveterate enemy of
all decision on the part of others, inimical to all suggested
arrangements or plans for household convenience. The words "spring
cleaning" could never be mentioned in his presence. The thing itself
could only be achieved by stealth. A month at the seaside for the sake
of the children was a subject that could not be approached. All small
feminine social arrangements, dependent for their accomplishment on the
use of the horses, were mown down like grass. Colonel Bellairs hated
what he called "living by clockwork."

You may read, if you care to do so, in the faces of many gentle-tempered
and apparently prosperous married women, an enormous fatigue. Wicked,
blood-curdling husbands do not bring this look into women's faces. It is
men like Colonel Bellairs who hold the recipe for calling it into
existence.

Mrs. Bellairs, a beautiful woman, with high spirits, but not
high-spirited, became more and more silent and apathetic year by year,
yielded more and more and more, yielded at last without expostulation
equally at every point, when she should have yielded and when she should
have stood firm, yielded at last even where her children's health and
well-being were concerned.

Apathy and health are seldom housemates for long together. Mrs. Bellairs
gradually declined from her chair to her sofa. She made no effort to
live after her youngest daughter was born. She could have done so if she
had wished it, but she seemed to have no wish on the subject, or on any
other subject. There is an Arabian proverb which seems to embody in it
all the melancholy of the desert, and Mrs. Bellairs exemplified it. "It
is better to sit than to stand. It is better to lie than to sit. It is
better to sleep than to lie. It is better to die than to sleep."

Fay had been glad enough, as we have seen, to escape from home by
marriage. No such way of escape had apparently presented itself for the
elder sister. As Magdalen and Fay sat together on the terrace in front
of the house, the contrast between the sisters was more marked than the
ten years' difference of age seemed to warrant.

Magdalen was a tall, thin woman of thirty-five, who looked older than
her age. She had evidently been extremely pretty once. Perhaps she might
even have been young once. But it must have been a long time ago. She
was a faded, distinguished-looking person, with a slight stoop, and a
worn, delicately-featured face, and humorous, tranquil eyes. Her thick
hair was grey. She looked as if she had borne for many years the brunt
of continued ill health, or the ill health of others, as if she had been
obliged to lift heavy weights too young. Perhaps she had. Everything
about her personality seemed fragile except her peace of mind. You could
not look at Magdalen without seeing that she was a happy creature.

But very few did look at her when Fay was beside her. Fay's beauty had
increased in some ways and diminished in others during the year of her
widowhood. She had become slightly thinner and paler, but not to the
extent when beauty suffers wrong. A very young face can bear a worn
look, and even have its charm enhanced thereby. The mark of suffering on
Fay's childlike face and in her deep violet eyes had brought with it an
expression which might easily be mistaken for spirituality, especially
by those--and they are very many--to whom a pallid and attenuated aspect
are the outward signs of spirituality.

That she was miserable was obvious. _But why was she so restless?_
Magdalen had often silently asked herself that question during the past
year. Even Bessie, the youngest sister, had noticed Fay's continual
restlessness and had commented on it, had advised her sister to embark
on a course of reading, and to endeavour to interest herself in work for
others.

She had also, with the untempered candour of eighteen, suggested to Fay
that she should cease to make a slave of Magdalen. It is hardly
necessary to add that Fay and Bessie did not materially increase the sum
of each other's happiness.

As Magdalen and Fay were sitting together in the sun the door into the
garden opened, and Bessie stalked slowly towards them across the grass,
in a short cycling skirt.

"It surely is not necessary to be quite so badly dressed as Bessie,"
said Fay with instant irritation. "If she must wear one of those hideous
short skirts, it might at any rate be well cut. I have told her so often
enough."

Since Bessie had been guilty of the enormity of suggesting a course of
reading, Fay had made many sarcastic comments on Bessie's direful
clothes.

"I must advise her to take dress more seriously," said Magdalen
absently. She was depressed by a faint misgiving about Bessie. Bessie
was to have lunched to-day with congenial archæological friends,
intelligent owners of interesting fossils. Nevertheless, when
Wentworth's cob Conrad was seen courteously allowing himself to be
conducted to the stable she instantly decided to lunch at home, and to
visit her friends when they were not expecting her, in the afternoon.
_It could make no difference to them_, she had told Magdalen, who shook
her head over that well-known phrase, which Colonel Bellairs had long
since established as "a household word." Bessie was not to be moved by
Magdalen's disapproval, however. She retired to her chamber, donned a
certain enamel brooch which she only wore on Sundays, and appeared at
luncheon.

It was not a particularly cheerful meal. Wentworth was silent and
depressed. Colonel Bellairs did not for an instant cease to speak about
the right of way during the whole of luncheon, even when his back was
turned while he was bending over a ham on the sideboard. And the moment
luncheon was over he had marched Wentworth off to the scene of the
dispute.

Magdalen was vaguely uneasy at the tiny incident of Bessie's change of
plan, and was glad it had escaped Fay's notice. Most things about Bessie
did escape Fay's notice except her clothes. Bessie was not at eighteen
an ingratiating person. No one had ever called her the sunbeam of the
home. She had preserved throughout her solemn childhood and flinty
youth a sort of resentful protest against the attitude of her family at
her advent, namely, that she was not wanted. Her mother had died at her
birth, and for several years afterwards her father had studiously
ignored her presence in the house, not without a sense of melancholy
satisfaction at this proof of his devotion to her mother.

"No, no. It may be unreasonable. It may be foolish," he was wont to say
to friends who had not accused him of unreasonableness, "but don't ask
me to be fond of that child. I can't look at her without remembering
what her birth cost me."

Bessie was a fine, strong young woman, with a perfectly impassive
handsome face--no Bellairs could achieve plainness--and the manner of
one who moves among fellow creatures who do not come up to the standard
of conduct which she has selected as the lowest permissible to herself
and others. Bessie had not so far evinced a preference for anyone in her
own family circle, or outside it. Her affections consisted so far of a
distinct dislike of and contempt for her father. She had accorded to Fay
a solemn compassion when first the latter returned to Priesthope.
Indeed, the estrangement between the sisters, brought about by the
suggested course of reading, had been the unfortunate result of a
cogitating pity on Bessie's part for the lamentable want of regulation
of Fay's mind.

Bessie liked Magdalen, though she disapproved of her manner of life as
weak and illogical. You could not love Bessie any more than you could
love an ironclad. She bore the same resemblance to a woman that an iron
building does to a house. She was not in reality harder than tin or
granite or asphalt, or her father; but it would not be an over-statement
to suggest that she lacked softness.

She advanced with precision to the bench on which her sisters were
sitting.

"I am now going to cycle to the Carters'," she said to Magdalen. "I
forgot to mention till this moment that I met Aunt Mary this morning at
the Wind Farm, and that she gave me a letter for father, and said that
she and Aunt Aggie were lunching with the Copes."

"Poor Copes!" ejaculated Fay.

"And would both come on here afterwards to an early tea," continued
Bessie, taking no notice of the interruption. "Aunt Mary desired that
you would not have hot scones for tea, as Aunt Aggie is always depressed
after them. She said there was no objection to them cold, and buttered,
but not hot."

"I shall have tea in my own room then," once more broke in Fay. "I can't
stand Aunt Mary. She is always preaching at me."

"It is a pity that Fay is disinclined to share the undoubted burden of
entertaining our relatives," said Bessie, addressing herself exclusively
to Magdalen, "as I do not feel able to defer my visit to the Carters any
longer."

Magdalen struggled hard against a smile, and kept it under.

"Possibly the aunts are coming over to consult father about a private
matter," she said. "The letter beforehand to prepare his mind looks like
it. So it would be best if you and Fay were not there. The aunts'
affairs generally require the deepest secrecy."

"And then father lets it all out at dinner before the servants," said
Bessie over her shoulder as she departed.

When she was out of hearing Fay said with exasperation, "You are not
wise to give way so much to Bessie, Magdalen. She is selfishness itself.
Why did not you insist on her staying and helping with the aunts? She
never considers you."

Magdalen was silent.

"I hate sitting here with the house staring at me," said Fay. "I can't
think why you are so fond of this bench. Let us go into the beech
avenue."

For a long time past Magdalen had noticed that Fay always wanted to be
somewhere she was not.

They went in silence through the little wood that bounded the gardens,
and passed into the great, bare, grey aisle of the beech avenue.

In a past generation a wide drive had led through this avenue to the
house. It had been the south approach to Priesthope. But in these
impoverished days, the road, with its sweep of turf on either side, had
been neglected, and was now little more than a mossy cart-rut, with a
fallen tree across it.

The two sisters sat down on a crooked arm of the fallen tree.

It was a soft, tranquil afternoon, flooded with meek February sunshine.
Far away between the green-grey trunks of the trees, the sea glinted
like a silver ribbon. Everything was very still, with the stillness set
deep in peace of one who loves and awaits in awe love's next word. The
earth lay in the sunshine, and listened for the whisper of spring. Faint
birdnotes threaded the high windless spaces near the tree-tops.

"Look!" said Magdalen, "the first crocus."

What is there, what can there be in the first yellow crocus peering
against the brown earth, that can reach with instant healing, like a
child's "soft absolving touch," the inflamed, aching, unrest of the
spirit? It does not seek to comfort us. Then how does comfort reach
through with the crocus; as if the whole under-world were peace and joy,
and were breaking through the thin sod to enfold us?

Fay looked at the flame-pure, upturned face of the little forerunner,
absently at first, and then with growing absorption, until two large
tears slowly welled up into her eyes and blotted it out. She shivered,
and crept a little closer to her sister. She felt alienated from she
knew not what, dreadfully cold and alone in the sunshine, with her cheek
against her sister's shoulder. Though she did not realise it, something
long frost-bound in her mind was yielding, shifting, breaking up. The
first miserable shudder of the thaw was upon her.

She glanced up at Magdalen, who was looking into the heart of the
crocus, and a sudden anger seized her at the still rapture of her
sister's face. The contrast between her own gnawing misery and
Magdalen's serenity cut her like a knife. What right had Magdalen to be
so happy? Why should she have been exempted from all trouble? What had
she done that anguish could never reach her? Fay's love for Magdalen,
and at this time Magdalen was the only person for whom she had any
affection--had all the violent recoils, the mutinous anger, the sudden
desire to wound on the one side, all the tender patience and grieved
understanding on the other which are the outcome of a real attachment
between a bond woman and a free one.

The one craved, the other relinquished; the one was consumed with
unrest, the other had reached some inner stronghold of peace. The one
was imprisoned in self, the other was freed, released. The one made
demands, the other was willing to serve. It seems as if only the free
can serve.

"I am very miserable," said Fay suddenly. She was pushed once more by
the same blind impulse that had taken her to her husband's room the
night after Michael's arrest.

She used almost the same words. And as the duke had made no answer then,
so Magdalen made none now. She had not lived in the same house with Fay
for nearly a year for nothing.

Magdalen's silence acted as a goad.

"You think, and father thinks," continued Fay, her voice shaking, "you
are all blinder one than the other, that it's Andrea I'm grieving for.
It's not."

"I know that," said Magdalen. "You never cared much about him. I have
often wondered what it could be that was distressing you so deeply."

Fay winced. Magdalen had noticed something, after all.

"I have sometimes feared,"--continued Magdalen with the deliberation of
one who has long since made up her mind not to speak until the opening
comes, and not to be silent when it does come--"I have sometimes feared
that your heart was locked up in an Italian prison."

"My heart!" said Fay, and her visible astonishment at a not very
astonishing inference was not lost on Magdalen. "My heart!" she laughed
bitterly. "Do you really suppose after all I've suffered, all I've gone
through, that I'm so silly as to be in love with anyone in prison or out
of it? I suppose you mean poor dear Michael. I hate men, and their
selfish, stupid, blundering ways."

Fay had often alluded to the larger sex _en bloc_ as blunderers since
the night she had told Michael to stand behind the screen.

"There are two blunderers coming towards us now," said Magdalen, as the
distant figures of Colonel Bellairs and Wentworth appeared in the beech
avenue.

Both women experienced a distinct sense of relief.

Colonel Bellairs had many qualities as a parent which made him a kind of
forcing-house for the development of virtue in those of his own family.
He was as guano spread over the roots of the patience of others; as a
pruning hook to their selfishness. But he had one great compensating
quality as a father. He never for one moment thought that any man,
however young, visited the house except for the refreshment and solace
of his own society. He never encouraged anyone to come with a view to
becoming acquainted with his daughters. His own problematic re-marriage,
often discussed in all its pros and cons with Magdalen, was the only
possible alliance that ever occupied his thoughts. In this respect he
was an ideal parent in his daughters' eyes, an inhumanly selfish one
according to his two sisters, Lady Blore and Miss Bellairs, at this
moment stepping out towards Priesthope from the north lodge.

[Illustration: "'YOU ARE ALL BLINDER ONE THAN THE OTHER, THAT IT'S
ANDREA I'M GRIEVING FOR'"]

Wentworth had almost given up hope of a word with Fay until he saw her
sitting with Magdalen in the avenue. The world would be a much harder
place than it already is for women to live in if men concealed their
feelings. A reverent and assiduous study of the nobler sex leads the
student to believe that they imagine they conceal them. But it is women
who early in life are taught to acquire this art, at any rate when they
are bored. Half the happy married women of our acquaintance would be the
widows of determined suicides if women allowed it to appear when they
were bored as quickly as men do.

Wentworth had no idea that he was not an impassable barrier of reserve.
He often said of himself: "I am a very reserved man, I know. It is a
fault of character. I regret it, but I can't help it. I have not the art
of chatting about my deepest feelings at five o'clock tea as a man must
do who lays himself out to be popular with women. What I feel it is my
nature to conceal."

His reserve on this occasion was concentrated in his face, which
remained unmoved. But the lofty impassiveness on which he prided himself
did not reach down to his legs. Those members, which had been dragging
themselves in a sort of feeble semi-paralysis in the wake of the
ruthless Colonel Bellairs, now straightened themselves, and gave signs
of returning energy. Magdalen from a distance noted the change.
Wentworth for the first time was interested in what Colonel Bellairs
was saying. His own voice, which had become almost extinct, revived.
There was also a hint of spring in the air. Not being a person of much
self-knowledge, he mentioned that fact to Colonel Bellairs.

Colonel Bellairs looked at him with the suspicion which appears to be
the one light shadow that lies across the sunny life of the bore.

"I said so half an hour ago," he remarked severely, "when we were
inspecting my new manure tanks, and you said you did not notice it."

"You were right all the same," said the younger man.

What an interest would be added to life if it were possible to ascertain
how many thousands of times people like Colonel Bellairs are limply
assured that they are in the right! The mistake of statistics is that
they are always compiled on such dull subjects. Who cares to know how
many infants are born, and how many deaf mutes exist? But we should
devour statistics, we should read nothing else if only they dealt with
matters of real interest: if they recorded how often Mr. Simpson, the
decadent poet, had said he was "a child of nature," how often, if ever,
the Duchess of Inveraven and Mr. Brown, the junior curate at
Salvage-on-Sea, had owned they had been in the wrong; whether it was
true that an Archbishop had ever really said "I am sorry" without an
"if" after it, and, if so, on what occasion; and whether any novelist
exists who has not affirmed at least five hundred times that criticism
is a lost art.

"Is the right-of-way dispute progressing?" said Magdalen to her father
as the two men came up and stopped in front of them.

Colonel Bellairs implied that it would shortly be arranged, as his
intellect was being applied to the subject.

Wentworth said emphatically, for about the thirtieth time, that the
right of a footpath, or church path across the domain was well
established and could not be set aside; but that whether it was also a
bridle path was the moot point; and whether Colonel Bellairs was
justified in his recent erection of a five-barred stile.

(I may as well add here, for fear the subject should escape my mind
later on, that at the time of these pages going to press the dispute,
often on the verge of a settlement, had reached a further and acuter
stage, being complicated by Colonel Bellairs' sudden denial even of a
church path, to the legal existence of which he had previously agreed in
writing.)

Wentworth trod upon the crocus and said he must be going home.

"We will walk back to the house with you," said Magdalen, and she led
the way with her father.

"I wish you would tell your Aunt Mary," he said to Magdalen as they
walked on, "that I will not have her servants wandering in Lindley wood.
Jones tells me they were there again last Sunday with a dog, that
accursed little yapping wool mat of Aunt Aggie's! I simply won't stand
it. I would rather you told her. It would come better from you."

"I will tell her."

Colonel Bellairs was beginning late in life to lean on Magdalen. She
was fond of him in a way, and never yielded to him. _On ne peut
s'appuyer que contre ce qui résiste._ Though Colonel Bellairs did not
know it, he was always wanting to _s'appuyer_. He had found in his
daughter something solid to lean against, which he had never found in
his wife, who had not resisted him.

"Oh! and look here, Magdalen. I had a letter from your Aunt Mary this
morning, a long rigmarole. She says she is following her letter, and is
coming to have a serious talk with me. Hang it all! Can't a man have a
moment's peace?"

Colonel Bellairs tore out of an inner pocket a bulky letter in a bold,
upright hand, marked _Private_, at the top.

"I wish to the devil she would mind her own business, and let me manage
mine," he said pettishly, thrusting the letter at Magdalen.

"I don't like to read it, as it is marked 'Private.'"

"Read it. Read it," said Colonel Bellairs irritably.

Magdalen read the voluminous epistle tranquilly from beginning to end as
she and her father walked slowly back to the house.

It was an able production, built up on a solid foundation. It dealt with
Colonel Bellairs' "obvious duty" with regard to the man to whom Magdalen
had been momentarily engaged fifteen years before, and who, owing to two
deaths in the Boer war, had unexpectedly succeeded to an earldom.

"Well! well!" said Colonel Bellairs at intervals, more interested than
he wished to appear. "What do you think of it? We noticed in the papers
a week ago that he had succeeded his cousin."

"Wait a minute, father. I have only come to my lacerated affections."

"How slow you are! Your Aunt Mary does pound away. She has a touch as
light as a coal-sack. The wonder to me is how she ever captured poor old
Blore."

"Perhaps she did it by letter. She writes uncommonly well. 'Magdalen's
joyless homelife of incessant, unselfish service.' That is very well
put, isn't it? And so is this: 'It is your duty now to inform him that
you withdraw all opposition to the renewal of the engagement, and to
invite him to Priesthope.' Really, Aunt Mary sticks at nothing. I warn
you solemnly, father, this is only the thin end of the wedge. Unless you
stand firm now, she'll want to choose our new stair carpet for us next.
Really, I think at her age she might take a little holiday, and leave
the Almighty in charge."

"Is that all you've got to say?" said Colonel Bellairs, somewhat
surprised. "Do you wish me to ask him to the house or do you not? I
don't object to him. I never did, except as a son-in-law, when he had no
visible means of subsistence."

"And no intention of making any."

"Just so. But I always rather liked him, and, and--time slips by"--(it
had indeed), "and I can't make much provision for you, in fact, almost
none, and I may marry again; in fact, it is more than likely I shall
shortly marry again." Colonel Bellairs was for a moment plunged in
introspection. "So perhaps, on the whole, it would be more generous on
my part to ignore the past and ask him to the house."

"After forbidding him to come to it?"

Colonel Bellairs began to lose his temper.

"I shall ask whom I think fit if I choose to do so. I am master in this
house. If he does not care to come, he can stay away."

"Ask him, in that case."

"You agree that on the whole that would be best."

"Not at all. I think it extremely undignified on your part, and that it
is a pity that you should be so swayed by Aunt Mary as to go by her
judgment instead of your own. You never thought of asking him till she
tried to coerce you into it."

"I am not going to be coerced by any woman, much less by that man in
petticoats," said Colonel Bellairs wrathfully. "But she will be here
directly. H'm! What on earth am I to say to her if I _don't_ ask him?...
She will be here directly."

They had reached Colonel Bellairs' study by now, and he sat down heavily
in his old leather arm-chair. Magdalen was standing on the hearthrug
near him with the letter in her hand. She held it over the fire, he
nodded, and she dropped it in.

"Perhaps, Magdalen," said her father with dignity, "it would be just as
well if I kept clear of the whole affair. Women manage these little
things best among themselves. I would rather not be dragged in. Anything
on that subject, any discussion, or interchange of opinion would come
best from _you_, eh?"

"I think so, father."

Colonel Bellairs watched his sister's letter burn, with the fixed eye of
one about to drop off into an habitual nap.

The asphyxiating atmosphere of a man's room, where a window is never
opened except to let in a dog, or to shout at a gardener, and where
years of stale tobacco brood in every nook and curtain, enveloped its
occupant with a delicious sense of snug repose, and exerted its usual
soporific charm.

"Took Mary a long time to write," he said, with a sleepy chuckle, as the
last vestige disappeared of the laboriously constructed missive which
Lady Blore had sat up half the previous night, with gold-rimmed
pince-nez on Roman nose to copy out by her bedroom candle, and had sent
to pave the way before her strong destructive feet.

The footman came in.

"Lady Blore and Miss Bellairs are in the drawing-room."

"Just pull the blinds half-way down before you go," said Colonel
Bellairs to Magdalen, "and remember other people have got letters to
write as well as her, and I'm not to be disturbed on any account."



CHAPTER IX

    On garde longtemps son premier amant quand on n'en prend point de
    second.--LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.


The two aunts meanwhile were sitting waiting in the drawing-room.

When Mrs. Bellairs died, which event, according to Aunt Aggie, had been
brought about by a persistent refusal to wear on her chest a small
square of flannel, (quite a small square) sprinkled with camphorated
oil, and according to Aunt Mary by a total misconception of the
Bellairs' character; when this event happened, the two aunts became what
they called supports to their brother's motherless children.

They were far from being broken reeds which pierce the hands of those
who lean on them.

No one had ever leaned on Aunt Mary or Aunt Aggie. Aunt Mary might
perhaps be likened to one of those stout beams which have a tendency to
push ruthlessly through the tottering outer wall which they are supposed
to prop, into the inner chamber of the tenement which has the misfortune
to be the object of their good offices.

She had contracted, not in her first youth, a matrimonial alliance--it
could hardly be called a marriage--with a general, distinguished in
India and obscure everywhere else, who had built a villa called "The
Towers" a few miles from Priesthope. The marriage had taken place after
years of half-gratified reluctance on his part and indomitable crude
persistence on hers. In short it was what is generally called "a long
attachment," and proves beyond dispute, what is already proven to the
hilt, that the sterner sex prefer to have their affairs of the heart
arranged for them; that once lost sight of they are mislaid, once let
loose on parole they never return, once captured they endeavour to
escape; that even when finally married nothing short of the amputation
of all external interests will detain them within the sacred precincts
of THE HOME.

Aunt Mary had had trouble with her general, but though she was no
tactician, she was herself a general. His engagement to her had only
been the first of the crushing defeats which she had inflicted upon him.
Now at last at The Towers a deathlike peace reigned. Sir John, severely
tried by rheumatism and advancing years, had, so to speak, given up his
sword.

His wife's magnanimity had provided him with what she considered
suitable amusements and occupations. He was told that he took an
interest in breeding pigs, and he, who had once ruled a province rather
larger than England, might now be seen on fine mornings tottering out,
tilted forward on his stick, making the tour of the farmyard, and
hanging over the low wall of his model pigstyes.

In Magdalen's recollections, Aunt Mary had always looked exactly the
same, the same strong, tall, robust, large-featured, handsome woman,
with black hair, and round, black, unwinking eyes, who invariably
dressed in black and wore a bonnet. Even under the cedar at The Towers
Aunt Mary wore a bonnet. When she employed herself in a majestic
gardening the sun was shaded from her Roman nose by a black satin
parasol.

There are some men and women whom it is monstrous to suppose ever were
children, ever young, ever different from what they are now. Whatever
laws of human nature may rule the birth of others, they, at any rate,
like the phœnix, sprang full grown, middle aged, in a frock coat, or a
bugled silk gown, from some charred heap of unconsenting parental ashes.

Aunt Mary was no doubt one of these.

Near her, on the edge of her chair, perhaps not so entirely on the edge
of it as at first appeared, sat Aunt Aggie. Aunt Aggie looked as if she
had been coloured by some mistake from a palette prepared to depict a
London fog.

Her eyes were greyish yellow, like her eyelashes, like her hair,--at
least her front hair,--like her eyebrows, and her complexion. She was
short and stout. She called slender people skeletons. Her gown, which
was invariably of some greyish, drabbish, neutral-tinted material,
always cocked up a little in front to show two large, flat, soft-looking
feet.

Aunt Aggie began quite narrow at the top. Her forehead was the thin edge
of the wedge, and she widened slowly as she neared the ground; the first
indication of a settlement showing in the lobes of her ears, then in her
cheeks, and then in her drab-apparelled person. Her whole aspect gave
the impression of a great self-importance, early realised and made part
of life, but kept in abeyance by the society of Aunt Mary and by a
religious conviction that others also had their place, a sort of back
seat, in the Divine consciousness.

It would not be fair to Aunt Aggie to omit to mention, especially as she
continually made veiled allusions to the subject herself, that she also
had known the tender passion. There had been an entanglement in her
youth with a High Church archdeacon. But we all know how indefinite, how
inconclusive, how meagre in practical results archidiaconal conferences
are apt to be! After one of them it was discovered that the entanglement
was all on Aunt Aggie's side. The archdeacon remained unenmeshed. Under
severe pressure from Lady Blore, then an indomitable bride of forty,
flushed by recent victory, he even went so far as to say that his only
bride was the Church. It was after this disheartening statement that
Aunt Aggie found herself drawn towards an evangelical and purer form of
religion. The Archdeacon subsequently married, or rather became guilty
of ecclesiastical bigamy. But Aunt Aggie throughout life retained
pessimistic views respecting the celibacy of the clergy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aunt Mary bestowed a strong businesslike peck, emphasized by contact
with the point of a stone-cold nose, on Magdalen's cheek. Aunt Aggie
greeted her niece with small inarticulate cluckings of affection. Have
you ever kissed a tepid poached egg? Then you know what it is to salute
Aunt Aggie's cheek.

"Where are Fay and Bessie?" enquired Aunt Mary instantly. When the aunts
announced their coming, which was invariably at an hour's notice, they
always expected to find the whole family, including Colonel Bellairs,
waiting indoors to receive them. This expectation was never realised,
but the annoyance that invariably followed had retained through many
years the dew of its youth.

"Bessie and Fay are out. I am expecting them back every moment."

"They will probably be later than usual to-day," said Aunt Mary grimly,
with the half-conscious intuition of those whom others avoid. Did she
know that with the exception of Sir John, whose vanity had led him to
take refuge in a _cul-de-sac_, her fellow creatures rushed out by back
doors, threw themselves out of windows, hid behind haystacks, had
letters to write, were ordered by their doctors to rest, whenever she
appeared? Did she know? One thing was certain. Magdalen was one of the
very few persons who had never avoided her, who at times openly sought
her society. And Aunt Mary, though she would have been ashamed to own
it, loved Magdalen. She intended that Magdalen should live with her some
day at the Towers, as an unpaid companion, when Sir John and Aunt Aggie
had entered into peace.

"And your father," continued Aunt Mary. "Did he get my letter? I intend
to have a serious conversation with him after tea."

"Father has this moment come in, and he asked me to tell you that he had
business letters which he is obliged to write."

"I know what _that_ means."

"Oh! Mary!" interpolated Aunt Aggie eagerly. "You forget that Algernon
always, from the time he was a young man, left his letters to the last
moment. All the Bellairs do."

The Bellairs had other unique family characteristics, as peculiar to
themselves as their choice of time for grappling with their
correspondence, which Aunt Aggie was never tired of quoting. "Bellairs
are always late for breakfast. It is no kind of use finding fault with
Bessie about it. I was just the same at her age."

Aunt Aggie went through life under the belief that she was a peacemaker,
which delicate task she fulfilled by making in an impassioned manner
small statements which seldom contained a new or healing view of
existing difficulties. She often spoke of herself as a "buffer" between
contending forces. Sir John Blore had been known to remark that he could
not fathom what Aggie meant by that expression, as it certainly was not
appropriate to the domestic circle at The Towers, consisting, as it did,
of one rheumatic Anglo-Indian worm, and one able-bodied blackbird.

"I intend to see your father after tea," repeated Aunt Mary, taking no
notice of her sister's remark.

"Father is much worried about the right of way," continued Magdalen. "He
showed me your most kind letter about myself, and----"

"Showed it to _you_!" said Aunt Mary, becoming purple. "It was not
intended for any eye except your father's."

"Confidence between a father and his child," began Aunt Aggie, clasping
her stout little hands, and looking eagerly from her sister to her
niece.

Magdalen went on tranquilly. "It only told me what I knew before, Aunt
Mary, that you have my welfare at heart. Father said that he thought it
would be best if you and I talked the matter over. I agreed with him.
It would be easier for me to discuss it with you. It would not be for
the first time."

It would not indeed!

"Aggie," said Aunt Mary instantly, "you expressed a wish on your way
here to see Bessie's fossils. You will go to the schoolroom and
investigate them."

"I think they are kept locked," said Aunt Aggie faintly. She longed to
stay. She had guessed the subject of the letter. She took in a love
affair the fevered interest with which the unmarried approach the
subject.

"They are unlocked," said Aunt Mary with decision.

Aunt Aggie swallowed the remains of her tea, and holding a little bitten
bun in her hand slid out of the room. She never openly opposed her
sister, with whom she lived part of the year when she let her cottage at
Saundersfoot to relations in need of sea air.

An unmistakable aspect of concentration deepened in Aunt Mary's fine
countenance.

"Magdalen," she said at once, "in the presence of that weak
sentimentalist my lips are closed. But now that we are alone, and as it
is your wish to reopen the subject, it is my duty to inform myself
whether anything has transpired about Everard Constable--Lord
Lossiemouth, as I suppose he now is."

"Nothing," said Magdalen with a calmness that was almost cheerful. If
she was as sensitive as she looked she had a marvellous power of
concealing it. She never shrank. She was apparently never wounded. She
seldom showed that any subject jarred on her. It is affirmed that
animals develop certain organs to meet the exigencies of their
environment. A sole's eye (or is it a sand-dab's?) travels up round its
head regardless of appearances when it finds it is more wanted there
than on the lower side. We often see a similar distortion in the mental
features of the wives of literary men. So perhaps also Magdalen had
adapted herself to the Bellairs' environment, with which it was obvious
that she had almost nothing in common except her name.

Aunt Mary loved Magdalen in a way, yet she never spared her the
discussion of that long-ago attachment of her youth, violently
mismanaged by Colonel Bellairs. The rose of Aunt Mary's real affection
had a little scent, but it was set round with thorns.

"He has behaved disgracefully," she said, looking with anger and
disappointment at her niece's faded face.

"We have discussed that before," said Magdalen tranquilly. "I, as you
know, do not blame him. But it is all a hundred years ago, and better
forgotten."

"He was poor then. No one ever thought he would succeed with two lives
between. But it is different now that he is wealthy and in a position to
marry."

"He has never been in a position to marry me," said Magdalen, "because
he never cared enough for me to make an effort on my behalf. That was
not his fault. He mistook a romantic admiration for love, and naturally
found it would not work. How could it? It was not necessary to turn
heaven and earth to gain me. But it _was_ necessary to turn a few small
stones. He could not turn them."

"Well, at any rate, he asked you, and you accepted him."

"A hundred years ago."

"And you have waited for him ever since."

"Not at all. I am not waiting for him or for anyone."

"You would have married Mr. Grenfell if it had not been for Everard."

"Perhaps I should have married Everard if it had not been for Everard,"
said Magdalen.

It seemed as if nothing could shake her dispassionate view of the
matter.

"Your feelings were certainly engaged, Magdalen. There is no use in
denying that."

"Have I ever denied it?"

Aunt Mary was silent for a moment, but her under lip was ominously
thrust out. She was not thinking of what Magdalen had said. If she had
ever listened to the remarks of others when they differed from her, she
would not have become Lady Blore. She was only silent because she was
rallying her forces.

"A woman's hands become talons when they try to hold on to a man when he
wants to get away," said Magdalen gently.

Aunt Mary turned on her niece an opaque eye that saw nothing beyond the
owner's views.

"Something ought to be done," she said with emphasis. "After all, your
father dismissed him. I shall advise your father to write to him, and if
he does not--I shall write to him myself."

"I hope you will not do that," said Magdalen. "Do you remember what a
subject for gossip it was at the time? When father became angry with
Everard he told everyone, and it became a sort of loud turmoil. The
servants knew, the parish knew, the whole county knew that I had had a
disappointment. I have remained ever since in the eyes of the neighbours
a sort of blighted creature, a victim of the heartlessness of man. A new
edition of that old story now that my hair is grey would be, I think, a
little out of place. I had hoped----"

The door was suddenly thrown open, and Bessie marched into the room with
Aunt Aggie hanging nervously at her heels.

"I came back as quickly as I could from the Carters' in order not to
miss you," said Bessie to Aunt Mary in her stentorian voice, and she
presented a glowing rose cheek to be kissed.

Magdalen shot a grateful glance at her sister, and the conversation
became general.

After the aunts had departed, Bessie said to Magdalen on their way
upstairs to dress, "I found when I reached the Carters' that they had
gone out with Professor Ridgway to see the Roman camp. Only old Mrs.
Carter was at home, and she was rather chilly, and said they had
expected me to luncheon. They had had a little party to meet the
Professor. I saw that my conduct called for an apology. I made one."

"I am glad of that."

"I see now that it would have been wiser to have gone over for luncheon
as arranged. I also thought how selfish it was of Fay not to help you
with the aunts. And then I perceived that there were not two pins to
choose between us, as I had been just as bad myself, so I hurried back
as quickly as I could."

"I was most grateful to you when I saw you come in. And Aunt Mary was
pleased too. She never shows it much; but she was."

"It is of secondary importance whether she was pleased or not. My object
in returning was twofold: to help you, and also for the sake of my own
character. I begin to see that unless I am careful I shall become as
selfish as father."

Magdalen did not answer.

"The aunts never do things like other people," continued Bessie. "I
found Aunt Aggie standing, eating a bun, just outside the drawing-room
door. She was quite flurried when I came up, and said she wanted to see
my fossils, but would rather look at them another day."



CHAPTER X

    La vie est un instrument dont on commence toujours par jouer faux.


Wentworth and Fay did not follow Colonel Bellairs and Magdalen back to
the house. When they reached the end of the avenue they turned back
silently by mutual consent, and retraced their steps down it.

Presently they reached the trunk of the tree where Fay had been sitting
with Magdalen.

Fay sank down upon it once more, white and exhausted. He sat down at a
little distance from her.

"How is Michael?" she said at last, twisting her ungloved hands
together.

"I came to tell you about him; I only got back last night. I knew you
would wish to hear."

"How is he?"

"He has been ill. He has had double pneumonia. It started with
hæmorrhage, and some of the blood got into the lungs, and caused
pneumonia. He is better now, nearly well, in fact. The prison doctor
seemed a sensible man, and he spoke as if he were interested in Michael.
From what he said I gathered that he did not think Michael would survive
another winter there. The prison[1] stands in a sort of marsh. It is a
very good place to prevent prisoners escaping, but not a good place for
them to keep alive in. The doctor is pressing to have Michael moved. He
thinks he might do better at the 'colonia agricola,' where the labour is
more agricultural; or that even work in the iron mines of Portoferriao
would try his constitution less than the swamp where he now is."

[Footnote 1: The prison described has no counterpart in real life.]

"Was he still in chains?"

"No. And the doctor said there was some talk of abolishing them
altogether. If not, he will be obliged to go back to them now he is
better. He is looking forward to the sea lavender coming out. He says
the place is beautiful beyond words when it is in flower: whole tracts
and tracts of grey lilac blossom in the shallows, and hordes of wild
birds. He asked me to tell you that you were to think of him as living
in fairyland."

Fay winced as if struck.

"You gave him my message?" she stammered.

"Of course I did. And he said I was to tell you not to grieve for him,
for he was well and happy."

"Happy!" echoed Fay.

"Yes, happy. He said he had committed a great sin, but that he hoped and
believed that he was now expiating it, and that it would be forgiven."

"I am absolutely certain," said Fay in a suffocated voice, "that Michael
did not murder the Marchese di Maltagliala."

"That is impossible," said Wentworth.

"Then what great sin can he be expiating?"

Even as Fay asked the question she knew the answer. Michael believed he
was expiating the sin of loving another man's wife. In his mind that was
probably on a par with the murder he had not committed.

"I asked him that," said Wentworth, "but he would not say. He would only
repeat that his punishment was just."

Two large tears ran down Fay's cheeks.

"It is unjust, unjust, unjust!" she gasped. "Why does God allow these
dreadful things?"

There was a long silence.

For a time Wentworth had forgotten Fay. He saw again the great yellow
building standing in a waste of waters. He saw again the thin,
prematurely aged face of his brother, the shaved head, the coarse,
striped convict dress, the arid light from the narrow barred window. He
saw again Michael's grave smile, and heard the tranquil voice, "This
place is beautiful in autumn. Mind you come next when the sea lavender
is out."

The remembrance of that meeting cut sharper than the actual pain of it
at the moment. He had gone through with it with a sort of stolid
endurance, letting Michael see but a tithe of what he felt. But the
remembrance was anguish unalloyed. For a time he could neither speak nor
see.

A yellow butterfly that had waked too soon floated towards them on a
wavering trial trip. Close at hand a snowdrop drooped "its serious
head." The butterfly knew its own, and lit on the meek, nunlike flower,
opening and shutting its new wings in the pallid sunshine. It had
perhaps dreamed, as it lay in its chrysalis, "that life had been more
sweet." Was this chill sunshine that could not quicken his wings, was
this grim desert that held no goal for butterfly feet, was this one
snowdrop--_all_? Was this indeed the summer of his dreams, in the sure
and certain hope of which he had spun his cocoon, and laid him down in
faith?

Fay looked at it in anguish not less than Wentworth's, whose dimmed eyes
saw it not at all. She never watched a poised butterfly open and shut
its wings without thinking of Michael. The flight of a seagull across
the down cut her like a lash. He had been free once. He who so loved the
down, the sea, the floating cloud, had been free once.

When Wentworth had winked his steady grey eyes back to their normal
state, he looked furtively at Fay. She was weeping silently. He had seen
Fay in tears before, but never without emotion. With a somewhat halting
utterance he told her of certain small alleviations of Michael's lot.
The permission, urgently asked, had at last been granted that English
books might be sent him from time to time. The lonely, aching smart of
Wentworth's morning hours was vaguely soothed and comforted by Fay's
gentle presence.

She appeared to listen to him, but in reality she heard nothing. She sat
looking straight in front of her, a tear slipping from time to time down
her white cheek. Except on one or two occasions Fay had that rarest
charm of looking beautiful in tears. She became paler than ever, never
red and disfigured and convulsed, with the prosaic cold in the head that
accompanies the emotions of less fortunate women.

"How old is Michael?" she asked suddenly in the midst of a painstaking
account of certain leniencies as to diet, certain macaronis and soups
which the doctor had insisted on for Michael.

"He is twenty-seven."

"And how long has he been in prison?"

"Nearly two years."

"And he has thirteen more," said Fay, looking at Wentworth with wide
eyes blank with horror.

"No," said Wentworth, his voice shaking a little. "No, Michael will not
live long in that swamp, not many years, I think."

"But they will move him to a better climate."

"He does not want to be moved. I should not, either, in his case."

Fay's hands fell to her sides.

"When my mother died," said Wentworth, "I promised her to be good to
Michael. There was no need for me to promise to be good to him. I always
liked him better than anyone else. I taught him to ride and to shoot. He
got his gun up sharp from the first. It's easy to do things for anyone
you like. But what is hard is when the time comes"--Wentworth stopped,
and then went on--"when the time comes that you can't do anything more
for the person you care for most."

Silence.

The yellow butterfly was still feebly trying to open and shut his wings.
The low sun had abandoned him to the encroaching frost, and was touching
the bare overarching branches to palest gold, "so subtly fair, so
gorgeous dim"; so far beyond the reach of tiny wings.

"I don't think," said Wentworth, "I would stick at anything. I don't
know of anything I would not do, anything I would not give up, to get
him back his freedom. But it's no use, I can do nothing for him."

"Oh! Why does not the real murderer confess?" said Fay with a sob,
wringing her hands. "How can he go on, year after year, letting an
innocent man wear out his life in prison, bearing the punishment of his
horrible crime?"

That mysterious murderer occupied a large place in Fay's thoughts. She
hated him with a deadly hatred. He was responsible for everything. That
one crooked channel of thought that persistently turned aside all blame
onto an unknown offender, had at last given a certain crookedness, a
sort of twist, to the whole subject in Fay's mind.

"I begged Michael again for the twentieth time to tell me anything that
could act as a clue to discovering the real criminal," said Wentworth.
"I told him I would spend my last shilling in bringing him to justice,
but he only shook his head. I told him that some of his friends felt
certain that he knew who the murderer was, and was shielding him. He
shook his head again. He would not tell me anything the first day I went
to him after he was arrested. And still, after two years in prison, he
will not speak. Michael will never say anything."

The despair in Wentworth's voice met the advancing chill of the waning
afternoon. The sun had gone. The gold had faded into grey. A frosty
breath was stirring the dead leaves. The butterfly had closed his wings
for the last time, and clung feebly, half reversed, to his snowdrop. A
tiny trembling had laid hold upon him. He was tasting death.

Fay shivered involuntarily, and drew her fur cloak around her.

"I must go in," she said.

They walked slowly to the wooden, ivied gate which separated the woods
from the gardens. A thin, white moon was already up, peering at them
above the gathering sea mist.

They stood a moment together by the gate, each vaguely conscious of the
consolation of the other's presence in the face of the great grief which
had drawn them together.

"I will come again soon, if I may," he said diffidently, "unless seeing
me reminds you of painful things." His voice had lowered itself
involuntarily.

"I like to see you," said Fay in a whisper, and she slipped away from
him like a shadow among the shadows.

The entire dejection of her voice and manner sheared from her words any
possible reassurance which Wentworth might otherwise have found in them,
which he suddenly felt anxious to find in them.

He pondered over them as he rode home.

How she had loved her husband! People had hinted that they had not been
a happily assorted couple, but it was obvious that her grief at his loss
was still overwhelming. And what courageous affection she had shown
towards Michael, whom she had known from a boy; first in trying to
shield him when he had taken refuge in her room, and afterwards in her
sorrowing compassion for his fate. And what a steadfast belief she had
shown from first to last in his innocence, against overwhelming odds!

Wentworth did not know till he met Fay that such women existed. Women he
was aware were an enigma. Men could not fathom them. They were fickle,
mysterious creatures, on whom no sane man could rely, whom the wisest
owned they could not understand, capable alternately of devotion and
treachery, acting from instincts that men did not share, moved by
sudden, amazing impulses that men could not follow.

But could a woman like Fay, who towered head and shoulders above the
ordinary run of women, removed to a height apart from their low level of
pettiness and vanity, by her simplicity and nobility and capacity for
devotion--_could such a woman love a second time?_

The thirst to be loved, to be the object of an exquisite tenderness,
what man has not, consciously or unconsciously longed for that? What
woman has not had her dream of giving that and more, full measure,
running over?

To find favour in a woman's eyes a man need only do his stupid bungling
best. But it is doubtful whether Wentworth had a best of any kind in him
to do.

At twenty-five he would not have risked as much for love as even
cautious men of robuster fibre will still ruefully but determinedly risk
in the forties. And now at forty he would risk almost nothing.

Where Michael was concerned Wentworth's love had reached the strength
where it could act, indefatigably, if need be. Michael had been so far
the only creature who could move his brother's egotism beyond the
refinements of bedridden sentiment.

It was as well for Fay that she did not realise, and absolutely
essential for Wentworth that he did not realise either, that in spite of
an undoubted natural attraction towards her he would have seen no more
of her unless she had come within easy reach.

A common trouble had drawn them towards each other. A common interest, a
common joy or sorrow, a house within easy distance--these are some of
the match makers between the invalids of life, who are not strong enough
to want anything very much, or to work for what they want. For them
favourable circumstance is everything.

Wentworth could ride four and a half miles down a picturesque lane to
see Fay. But he could not have taken a journey by rail.

A few years before Wentworth met Fay he had been tepidly interested in
the youthful sister of one of his college friends and contemporaries, an
Oxford Don at whose house he stayed every year. The sister kept house
for her brother. It was the usual easy commonplace combination of
circumstances that has towed lazy men into marriage since the
institution was first formed. He saw her without any effort on his part.
He arrived at a kind of knowledge of her. He found her to be what he
liked. She was sympathetic, refined, shy, cultivated, unselfish, and of
a wild rose prettiness. After a time he kept up, mainly on her account,
a regular intercourse with the brother, who was becoming rather prosy,
as was Wentworth himself. Presently the brother married, and the sister
ceased to live with him.

Wentworth's visits to Oxford gradually ceased to give him pleasure. He
found his friend's wife middle-class, self-absorbed, and artificial, the
friend himself donnish, cut and dried, and liable to anecdotic seizures
of increasing frequency. The intimacy dwindled and was now moribund. But
it never entered his mind to enquire into the whereabouts of the sister,
and to continue his acquaintance with her independently. If he had
continued to meet her regularly he would almost certainly have married
her. She on her side seemed well disposed towards him. As it was he
never saw her again. He gradually ceased to think of her, except on
summer evenings, as a charming possibility which Fate had sternly
removed, as one lost to him for ever. He wrote a little poem about her,
beginning, "Where are you now?" (She was at Kensington all the time.)
Wentworth never published his verses. He said there was no room for a
new poet who did not advertise himself. There had been room for one of
his college friends, but that had been a case of log rolling.

I do not know whether it was a fortunate or an unfortunate fate that had
prevented the gay little lady of the pink cheeks from being at that
moment installed at Barford as the wife of a poet who scorned publicity.

If Wentworth had been riding home to his wife on that February evening
he would not have taken unconsciously another of the many steps which
entailed so many more, by saying to himself, thinking of Fay:

"Could a woman like that love a second time?"

Then he hastened his speed as he remembered that his old friend the
Bishop of Lostford had by this time arrived at Barford.



CHAPTER XI

    If you feel no love, sit still; occupy yourself with things,
    with yourself, with anything you like, only not with men.

    --TOLSTOY.


In Wentworth's youth he had been attracted towards many, besides the
Bishop, among the bolder and less conventional of his contemporaries.
Their fire, their energies, their enthusiasm, warmed his somewhat
under-vitalized nature. He regarded himself as one of them, and his
refinement and distinction drew the robuster spirits towards himself.
But gradually, as time went on, these energies and enthusiasm took form,
and, alas! took forms which he had not expected--he never expected
anything--and from which his mind instinctively recoiled. He had
supposed that energy was energy. He had not realised that it was life in
embryo, that might develop, not always on lines of beauty, into a new
policy, or a great discovery, or a passion, or a vocation. He hated
transformations, new births, all change. His friends at first rallied
him unmercifully, then lost patience, and finally fell from him, one by
one. Some openly left him, the more good-natured among them forgot him,
and if by chance they found themselves in his society, hurried back with
affectionate cordiality to reminiscences of school and college life,
long-passed milestones before the parting of the ways.

The Bishop when he plunged into his work also for a time lost sight of
Wentworth, but when he was appointed to the See of Lostford, within
five miles of Barford, the two men resumed, at first with alacrity,
something of the old intercourse.

Wentworth had an element of faithfulness in him which enabled him to
take up a friendship after a long interval, but it was on one condition,
namely that the friend had remained _planté là_ where he had been left.
If in the meanwhile the friend had moved, the friendship flagged.

It was soon apparent that the Bishop had not by any means remained
_planté là_, and the friendship quickly drooped. It would long since
have died a natural death if it had not been kept alive by the Bishop
himself, a man of robust affections and strong compassions, without a
moment to spend on small resentments. After Michael's imprisonment he
had redoubled his efforts to keep in touch with Wentworth, and the great
grief of the latter, silently and nobly endured, had been a bond between
the two men which even a miserable incident which must have severed most
friendships had served to loosen, not to break.

The Bishop had in truth arrived at Barford, and was now sitting
apparently unoccupied by the library fire. To be unoccupied even for an
instant except during recuperative sleep was so unusual with the Bishop,
so unprecedented, that his daughter would have been terrified could she
have seen him at that moment. He had only parted from her and her
husband at mid-day, yet it was a sudden thought suggested by his visit
to them which was now holding him motionless by the fire, his lean
person bulging with unanswered letters.

The Bishop was a small ugly man of fifty, unconventional to the core,
the younger son of a duke, and a clergyman by personal conviction. He
had been born in a hurry, and had remained in a hurry ever since. He had
neither great administrative capacities, nor profound scholarship, but
what powers he had were eked out by a stupendous energy. His Archbishop
said that he believed that the Bishop's chaplains died like flies, and
that he merely threw their dead bodies into the Loss, which flowed
beneath his palace windows, without even a burial service. His chaplains
and secretaries certainly worked themselves to the bone for him. They
could have told tales against him, but they never did. For it was a
strain to serve the Bishop, to get his robes thrown over him at the
right--I mean the last--second, to thrust him ruthlessly into his
carriage just in time to catch the tail ends of departing trains--he
generally travelled with the guard. His admirable life had been spent in
a ceaseless whirl. He had never had time to marry. He had hurried to the
altar when he was an eager curate with a pretty young bride who was a
stranger to him, whom his mother had chosen for him. During the years
that followed what little he saw of her at odd moments he liked. After
ten years of what he believed to be married life she died, leaving one
child; tactful to the last, pretty to the last, having made no claim
from first to last, kissing his hand, and thanking him for his love, and
for the beautiful years they had spent together.

His friends said that he bore her loss with heroism, but in reality he
missed her but little. Her death occurred just after he had become an
ardent suffragan. His daughter grew up in a few minutes, and quickly
took her mother's place. She was her mother over again in character and
appearance. His wife had lived in his house for ten years, his daughter
for twenty. By dint of time he learned to know her as he had never known
her mother. At twenty she married his chaplain.

The chaplain was a tall, stooping, fleckless, flawless, mannerless,
joyless personage, middle-aged at twenty-eight, with a voice like a
gong, with a metallic mind constructed of thought-tight compartments,
devoted body and soul to the Church, an able and indefatigable worker,
smelted from the choice ore of that great middle class from which, as we
know, all good things come. That he was a future ornament, or at any
rate an iron girder of the Church was sufficiently obvious.

The Bishop saw his worth, and ruefully endured him until the chaplain,
in the most suitable language, desired to become his son-in-law, and
that at the most inconceivably awkward moment, namely, just when the
Bishop had presented him with a living. The marriage had to be. The
daughter wished it with an intensity that amazed her father. And
gradually the Bishop discovered that he detested his paragon of a
son-in-law. But why? It was not jealousy. He really was a paragon, not a
sham. To the Bishop it seemed, and with truth, that any other woman
would have done as well as his daughter, that her husband neither
understood her nor wished to understand her, that he accepted ruthlessly
without knowing that he accepted it, her selfless devotion, that he used
her as a cushion to make his rare moments of leisure more restful, that
her love was not even a source of happiness to him, only a solace. And
she, extraordinary to behold, was radiantly content.

"_Just like her mother over again_," the Bishop had wrathfully said to
himself as he drove away from his daughter's door. And at that moment a
slide was drawn back from his mind, and he saw that the marriage was a
replica of his own, except in so far that his son-in-law, greatly
assisted by circumstances, had actually taken a little trouble to
arrange his marriage for himself, while the Bishop's--what there was of
it--had been done for him by his mother.

Till this morning he had believed his marriage to have been an ideally
happy one, that he had felt all that man can feel; and he had been
inclined to treat as womanish the desperate desolation of men who had
after all only suffered the same bereavement as he had himself, and
which he had quickly overcome. He saw now that he had missed happiness
exactly as his son-in-law was missing it. The same thing had befallen
them both. Love could do there no mighty works because of their
unbelief. When he remembered his wife's face he realised that her joy
had been something beyond his ken. He had not shared it. He had not
known love, even when it had drawn very nigh unto him.

As he waited motionless for Wentworth to come in, his strong, intrepid
mind worked. The Bishop at fifty went to school to a new thought. It was
that power of going to school at fifty to a new thought which had made
his Archbishop, who loved him, give him the See of Lostford, to the
amazement of the demurer clergy who were scandalised by his
unconventionality, and his fearful baldness of speech. They could only
account for the appointment by the fact that he was the son of a duke.
It was that power which made the Bishop seem a much younger man than
Wentworth, who was in reality ten years his junior. The Bishop was still
a learner. He still moved with vigour mentally. Wentworth, on the
contrary, had arrived--not at any place in particular, but at the spot
where he intended to remain. His ideas, and some of them had been rather
good ones at twenty-five, had suffered from their sedentary existence.
They had become rather stout. He called them progressive because in the
course of years he had perceived in them a slight glacier-like movement.
To others they appeared fixed.

Wentworth's attitude towards life, of which he was so fond of speaking,
was perhaps rather like that of a shrimper who, in ankle-deep water,
watches the heavily freighted whale boats come towering in. He does not
quite know why he, of all men, with his special equipment for the
purpose, and his expert handling of the net, does not also catch whales.
That they seldom swim in two-inch water does not occur to him. At last
he does not think there are any whales. He has exploded that fallacy.
For, in a moment of adventurous enthusiasm, counting not the cost, did
he not once wade recklessly up to his very shoulders in deep water: _and
there were no whales_,--only pinching crabs. Crabs were the one real
danger, the largest denizens of the boundless main, whatever his former
playmates the whalers might affirm.

When the shrimper and the whaler had dined together, and the Bishop had
heard with affectionate sympathy the little there was to hear
respecting Michael, and the conversation tended towards more general
topics, the radical antagonism between the two friends' minds threatened
every moment to make itself felt.

The Bishop tried politics somewhat tentatively, on which they had
sympathised in college days, but it seemed they had widely diverged
since. Wentworth, though he frequently asserted that no one enjoyed more
than he "the clashing of opposite opinions," seemed nevertheless only
able to welcome with cordiality a mild disagreement, just sufficiently
defined to prove stimulating to the expression of his own views. A wide
divergence from them he met with a chilly silence. He did so now. The
Bishop looked at his neat ankle, and changed the subject.

"Have you seen or heard anything of Everard Constable since he came into
his kingdom, such a very unexpected kingdom, too?"

"No. I fancy he is still abroad. But I can't say that for some time past
I have found Constable's aims in life very sympathetic. His unceasing
struggle after literary fame appears to me somewhat undignified."

"Oh! come. Give the devil his due. Constable can write."

"Of course, of course. That is just what I am saying. But he and I
differ too widely in our outlook on life to remain really intimate. He
cares for the big things, ambition, popularity, a prominent position,
luxury. He will enjoy being a personage, and having wealth at his
command. For my part, I am afraid I care infinitely more for the small
things of life, love, friendship, sympathy."

"The _small_ things! Good Lord!" said the Bishop, and his jaw dropped.
He also dropped the subject.

"I ran up against Grenfell last week," he continued immediately. "Do you
see _him_ now? You and he used to be inseparable at Cambridge."

Wentworth became frigid.

Grenfell had accused him at their last meeting of being an old maid, an
accusation which had wounded Wentworth to the quick, and which he had
never forgotten or forgiven. He had not in the least realised that
Grenfell was not alluding to the fact that he happened to be unmarried.

"I can't say I care to see him now," he said. "He has become entirely
engrossed in his career. A simple life like mine, the life of thought,
no longer interests him. He is naturally drawn to people who are playing
big parts."

"What nonsense! He is just the same as ever. A little vehement and
fiery, but not as much as he was. They say he will be the next
Chancellor of the Exchequer to a certainty."

"I daresay he will. He has the art of keeping himself before the public
eye. Being myself so constituted--it is not any virtue in me, only a
constitutional defect--that I cannot elbow for a place, it is difficult
for me to understand how another, especially a man like Grenfell, can
bring himself to do so. I had always thought he was miles above that
kind of thing."

"So he is. So he is. A blind man can see Grenfell's unworldliness. It
sticks a yard out of him. My dear Wentworth, if energetic elbows were,
as you imply, the key to success, how do you account for the fact that
hundreds of painful persons have triumphantly passed that preliminary
examination who never achieve anything beyond a diploma in the art of
pushing?"

Wentworth did not answer.

He firmly believed that in order to attain the things he had not
attained, had never striven for, of which he invariably spoke
disparagingly, but which he secretly and impotently desired, the
co-operation of certain ignoble qualities was essential, sordid allies
whom he would have disdained to use.

"I don't blame Grenfell," he said at last. "He had his way to make. I
know how blinding the glamour of ambition is, how insidious and
insistent the claims of the world may become. I don't pretend to be
superior to certain temptations if they came in my way. But I happen to
have kept out of their way. That is all."

"You have certainly kept out of the way of--nearly everything."

"For my part, I daresay I am hopelessly out of date, but I value beauty
and peace and simplicity higher than a noisy success. But a noisy
success is the one thing that counts nowadays."

"Does it?"

"And Grenfell has taken the right steps to gain it. If a man craves for
popularity, if he really thinks the bubble worth striving for, he must
lay himself out for it. If he wants a place he must jostle for it. If he
wants power he must discard scruples. If he wants social success it can
be got--we see it every day--by pandering to the susceptibilities and
seeking the favour of influential persons. Everything has its price. I
don't say that everyone obtains these things who is ready to bid for
them. But some do. Grenfell is among those who have. I don't blame him.
I am not sure that I don't rather envy him."

The Bishop could respect a conviction.

"Are you not forgetting Grenfell's character?" he said gently, as one
speaks to a sick man. "Think of him, his nobility, his integrity, his
enthusiasm, his transparent unworldliness which so often in the old days
put us all to shame!"

"That is just what makes it all so painful to me," said Wentworth, and
there was no possibility of doubting his sincerity. "That contact with
the world can taint even beautiful natures like his. He was my ideal at
one time. I almost worshipped him at Cambridge."

"I love him still," said the Bishop. "A cat may look at a king, so I
suppose a poor crawler of a bishop may look at a man like Grenfell.
Don't you think, Wentworth, that sometimes a man who succeeds may have
worked as nobly as a man who fails--you always speak so feelingly of
failure, it is one of the many things I like about you. Don't you think
that perhaps sometimes success may be--I don't say it always is--as
high-minded as failure, that a hard-won victory may be as honourable as
defeat, that achievement may _sometimes_ be the result not of chance or
interest, but of unremitting toil? Don't you think you may be
unconsciously cutting yourself adrift from Grenfell's friendship by
attributing his success to unworthy means which a man like him could
never have stooped to?"

"It is he who has cut himself adrift from me," said Wentworth icily. "I
have not changed."

"That is just it. A slight change, shall we say expansion on your part,
might have enabled you to"--the Bishop chose his words as carefully as a
doctor counts drops into a medicine glass--"to keep pace with him?"

"I do not regard friendship as a race or a combat of wits," said
Wentworth. "Friendship is to my mind something sacred. I hope I can
remain Grenfell's friend without believing him to be absolutely
faultless. If he is so unreasonable as to expect that of me, which I
should not for a moment expect of him, why then----" Wentworth shrugged
his shoulders.

One of the few friends who had not drifted from him looked at him with
somewhat pained affection.

Why does a life dwelt apart from others tend to destroy first generosity
and then tenderness in man and woman? Why does one so often find a
certain hardness and inhumanity encrusting those who have withdrawn
themselves behind the shutters of their own convenience, or is it, after
all, their own impotence?

"Has he always been hard and cold by nature?" said the Bishop to
himself, "and is the real man showing himself in middle age, or is his
meagre life starving him?"

He tried again.

"You nearly lost my friendship a year ago by attributing a sordid motive
to me, Wentworth."

Wentworth understood instantly.

"That is all past and forgotten," he said quickly. "I never think of it.
Have I ever allowed it to make the slightest difference?"

"No," said the Bishop, looking hard at him, "and for that matter neither
have I. We have never talked the matter out. Let us do so now. I don't
suppose you have forgotten the odium I incurred over the living of
Rambury. It had been held for generations by old men. It had become a
kind of clerical almshouse. When it fell vacant there was of course yet
another elderly cleric----"

"My uncle," said Wentworth, "a most excellent man."

"Just so, but in failing health. Rightly or wrongly I was convinced that
it was my duty to give the place a chance by putting there a younger
man, of energy and capacity for hard work. I gave it to my future
son-in-law as you know."

Wentworth nodded. "Everyone said at the time he was an excellent man,"
he said with evident desire to be fair.

"I daresay, but that is not the point. The point is that I had no idea
that iron traction engine wanted to marry my daughter or anybody's
daughter. The tactless beast got up steam and proposed for her the day
after I had offered him the living. He had never given so much as a
preliminary screech on the subject, never blown a horn to show what his
horrid intentions were--I only hope that if I had known I should still
have had the moral courage to appoint him. The Archbishop assures me I
should--but I doubt it. I was loudly accused of nepotism, of course.
Your uncle, who died soon afterwards, forgave me in the worst of taste
on his deathbed. I had no means of justifying myself. The Archbishop and
Grenfell and a few other old friends believed. _Why were you not among
those old friends, Wentworth?_"

"I _was_ among them," said Wentworth, meeting the Bishop's sombre eyes.
"You never answered it, so I suppose you never received it, but at the
time I wrote you a long letter assuring you that I for one had not
joined in the cry against you, even though my uncle did. I frankly owned
that, while I regarded the appointment as an ill-considered one, I took
for granted that Mr. Rawlings was suited for the place. I said that I
knew you far too well to suppose even for a moment that you would have
given the post to a man, even if he were your son-in-law, unless he had
been competent to fill it. You never answered the letter, so I suppose
it failed to reach you."

"I received it," said the Bishop slowly. "I felt it to be an
illuminating document, but it did not seem to call for an answer. It was
in itself a response to a tacit appeal."

There was a pause, and then he continued cheerfully. "Rawlings has
proved himself dreadfully competent as you prophesied, and Lucy is very
happy in her new home. I came on from there this morning. My son-in-law,
with the admirable promptitude and economy of time which endeared him to
me as my chaplain, had arranged that every moment of my visit should be
utilised; that I should christen their first child, dedicate a
thank-offering in the shape of a lectern, consecrate the new portion of
the churchyard, open a reading-room, and say a few cordial words at a
drawing-room meeting before I left at mid-day. I told him if he went on
like this he would certainly come to grief and be made a bishop some
day. But he only remarked that he was not solicitous of high
preferment. I think you would like Rawlings if you knew him better. You
and he have a certain amount in common. I must own that I am glad that
it is Lucy who has to put up with him and not I. I should think even God
Almighty must find him rather difficult to live with at times. And now,
Wentworth, if I am to be up and away at cock-crow, I must go to bed."

But the Bishop did not go to bed at once when Wentworth had escorted him
to his room.

"It was no use," he said to himself. "It was worth trying, but it was no
use. He never saw that he had misjudged me. He met my eye. He has a
straight, clean eye. He is sincere as far as he goes, but how far _does_
he go? He has never made that first step towards sincerity of doubting
his own sincerity. He mistakes his moods for convictions. He has never
suspected his own motives, or turned them inside out. He suspects those
of others instead. He is like a crab. He moves sideways by nature, and
he thinks that everyone else who moves otherwise is not straightforward,
and that he must make allowances for them. According to his lights he
has behaved generously by me. Has he! Damn him! God forgive me. Well, I
must stick to him, for I believe I am almost the only friend he has left
in the world."



CHAPTER XII

    Shall soul not somehow pay for soul?--D. G. ROSSETTI.


Fay did not sleep that night.

For a long time past, she seemed to have been gradually, inevitably
approaching, dragging reluctant feet towards something horrible,
unendurable. She could not look this veiled horror in the face. She
never attempted to define it to herself. Her one object was to get away
from it.

It had not sprung into life full grown. It had gradually taken form
after Michael's imprisonment. At first it had been only an uneasy ghost
that could be laid, a spectre across her path that could be avoided; but
since she had come home it had slowly attained gigantic and terrifying
proportions. It loomed before her now as a vague but insistent menace,
from which she could no longer turn away.

A great change was coming over Fay, but she tacitly resisted it. She did
not understand it, nor realise that the menace came from within her
gates, was of the nature of an insurrection in the citadel of self. We
do not always recognise the voice of the rebel soul when first it begins
to speak hoarsely, unintelligibly, urgently from the dark cell to which
we have relegated it.

Some of us are so constituted that we can look back at our past and see
it as a gradation of steps, a sort of sequence, and can thus gain a
kind of inkling of the nature of the next step against which we are even
now striking our feet.

But poor Fay saw her life only as shattered, meaningless fragments,
confused, mutilated masses without coherence. The masses and the gaps
between them were of the same substance in her eyes. She wandered into
her past as a child might wander among the rubbish heaps of its old home
in ruins. She was vaguely conscious that there had been a design once in
those unsightly mounds, that she had once lived in them. On that remnant
of crazy wall clung a strip of wall-paper which she recognised as the
paper in her own nursery; here a vestige of a staircase that had led to
her mother's room. And as a child will gather up a little frockful of
sticks and fallen remnants, and then drop them when they prove heavy, so
Fay picked up out of her past tiny disjointed odds and ends of ideas and
disquieting recollections, only to cast them aside again as burdensome
and useless.

The point to which she wandered back most frequently--to stare blankly
at it without comprehension--was her husband's appeal to her on his
deathbed. To-night she had gone back to it again as to a tottering wall.
She had worn a little pathway over heaps of miserable conjectures and
twisted memories towards that particular place.

She saw again the duke's dying face, and the tender fixity of his eyes.
She could almost hear his difficult waning voice saying:

"The sun shines. He does not see them, the spring and the sunshine.
Since a year he does not see them. Francesca, how much longer will you
keep your Cousin Michael in prison?"

_Since a year he does not see them._

It was two years now.

The shock to Fay at the moment those words were spoken had been that her
husband had known all the time. That revelation blotted out all other
thoughts for the time being. It even blotted out all considerations of
her own conduct towards Michael, which it might conceivably have
rendered acute. It made her mind incapable of receiving the impression
that the duke had perhaps hoped his deliberate last words might make on
it; that surely she would not, after his death, still keep Michael in
his cell. Throughout the early weeks of her widowhood Fay remained as
one stunned. Even Magdalen, who hurried out to her, supposed at first
that she was stunned by grief.

"Then Andrea knew all the time." That was the constant refrain of her
bewildered, half-paralysed mind.

Gradually in the quiet monotonous life at Priesthope the question made
itself felt. "_How did he know?_"

That question was never answered by Fay, deeply though she pondered over
it. It remained a mystery to her all of her life. She recalled little
scraps of his conversation, tiny incidents which might have shown her
that he knew. But she had noticed nothing at the time. Her cheek burned
when she recalled his tranquil, sarcastic voice.

"Not on the high road. You are in the right. How dusty, how dirty, is
the high road! But I have known, not once, nor twice, women to murder
men very quietly. Oh! so gently and cleanly--to let them die."

When first she remembered those words of her dead husband, a horrible
revulsion of feeling against him seized her. She had been vaguely
miserable and remorseful at his death until those words, so tranquilly
spoken in a primrose dawn, came back to her.

Then she was suddenly glad he was dead, gone for ever. She almost hated
him once more. It was dreadful to live with people whom she did not
understand, who knew things they kept secret, whose minds and thoughts
and motives were incomprehensible to her, who believed horrible untrue
things of her. It had been a fixed idea with Fay during her husband's
lifetime that he believed horrible untrue things about her. But what
they were she would have found it difficult to say.

Fay's was not a suspicious nature in its normal state, but most persons
of feeble judgment become suspicious when life becomes difficult. They
cannot judge, and consequently cannot trust. Fay had never learnt even
so much of her husband as that she might have trusted him entirely. Now
that he was gone without betraying her, the knowledge that he had known
her secret and had guarded it faithfully did not make her feel, with a
flood of humble contrition, how deeply she had misjudged him, how loyal
he had been from first to last; it only aroused in her a sense of fear
and anger. How secretive Andrea had been, how underhand! Perhaps part of
the doom of a petty, self-centred nature is that it does not know when
it has been generously and humanely dealt with.

When Fay had somewhat recovered from the shock of her husband's dying
speech she had turned with all her might to Magdalen, had cast herself
upon her, clung to her in a sort of desperation. Magdalen at any rate
believed in her.

For many months after she came to Priesthope, her mind remained in a
kind of stupor, and it seemed at first as if she were regaining a sort
of calm, caught as it were from Magdalen's presence.

But gradually miserable brooding memories returned, and it seemed at
last as if something in Magdalen's gentle serenity irritated instead of
soothing Fay as heretofore. Was Magdalen a sort of unconscious ally of
that fainting soul within Fay's fortress? Were chance words of
Magdalen's beginning to make the rebel stir in his cell? At any rate
something stirred. Something was making trouble. Fay began to shrink
from Magdalen, involuntarily at first, then purposely for long moody
intervals. Then she would be sarcastic and bitter with her, jibe at the
housekeeping, and criticise the household arrangements. A day later she
would be humbly and hysterically affectionate once more, asking to be
forgiven for her waywardness. She could not live without the comfort of
Magdalen's tenderness. And at times she could not live with it. Magdalen
preserved an unmoved front. She ignored her sister's petulance and
spasmodic fault-finding. She knew they were symptoms of some secret ill,
but what that ill was she did not know. She kept the way open for Fay's
sudden remorseful return to affectionate relations, and waited.

Those who, like Magdalen, do not put any value on themselves, are slow
to take offence. It was not that she did not perceive a slight, or a
rebuff, or a sneer at her expense, but she never, so to speak, picked up
the offence flung at her. She let it lie, by the same instinct that led
her to step aside in a narrow path rather than that her skirt should
touch a dead mole. No one could know Magdalen long without seeing that
she lived by a kind of spiritual instinct, as real to her as the natural
instincts of animals.

Fay became more and more haggard and irritable as the months at
Priesthope drew into a year. A new element of misery was added to her
life by the sight of Wentworth, and his visits were becoming frequent.
His mere presence made acute once more that other memory, partially
blurred, persistently pushed aside--the memory of Michael in prison. The
figure of the duke had temporarily displaced that other figure in its
cell.

But now the remembrance of Michael, continually stirred up by poor
Wentworth, with his set, bereaved face, was never suffered to sleep.
With every week of her life it seemed to Fay some new pain came.

Magdalen could not comfort her. Magdalen, who was so fond of Michael.

_If Magdalen knew!_

_Magdalen must never, never know._ She could not live without Magdalen.
Magdalen was not like Andrea in that. She at any rate was concealing
nothing, could know nothing. Now that Andrea was dead, only one living
person beside herself _knew_--Michael. Fay was unconsciously growing to
hate the thought of that one other person, to turn with horror from the
remembrance of Michael: his sufferings, his patient life in death
filled her with nausea, disgust. Her vehement selfish passion for him
had been smothered by the hideous débris which had been cast upon it.

She had never loved him, as the duke well knew, and now the shivering
remembrance of him, constantly renewed by Wentworth, had become like a
poignard in a wound that would not heal. Wentworth had to-day yet again
unconsciously turned the dagger in the wound, and her whole being
sickened and shuddered. Oh! if she could only tear out that sharp-bladed
remembrance and cast it from her, then in time the aching wound in her
life might heal, and she might become happy and well and at peace once
more;--at peace like Magdalen. An envious anger flared up in her mind
against Magdalen's calm and happy face.

Oh, if poor Michael could only die! He wanted to die. If only he could
die and release her. _Release her from what?_

From her duty to speak and set him free? Those were the words which she
never permitted the rebel voice within to say. Still, they were there,
silenced for the time, but always waiting to be said. Their gagged
whisper reached her in spite of herself.

Oh! if only Michael were dead and out of his suffering, then she would
never be tortured by them any more. Then, too, her husband's words would
lose their poisoned point, and she could thrust them forth from her mind
for ever.

"Francesca, how much longer will you keep your cousin Michael in
prison?"

Oh! Cruel, cruel Andrea, vindictive to the very gates of death.

Down the empty, whispering gallery of ghostly fears in which her life
crouched, Michael's voice spoke to her also. She could hear his grave,
low tones. "Think of me as in fairy-land."

That tender, compassionate message had a barbed point which pierced
deeper even than the duke's words.

Her lover and her husband seemed to have conspired together to revenge
themselves upon her.

Fay leaned her pretty head against the window-sill and sobbed
convulsively.

Poor little soul in prison, weeping behind the bars of her cell, that
only her own hands could open!

Were not Fay and Michael both prisoners, fast bound: she in misery, he
only in iron.

The door opened gently and Magdalen came in in a long white wrapper,
with a candle in her hand.

She put down the candle and came towards Fay. She did not speak. Her
face quivered a little. She bent over the huddled figure in the window
seat, and with a great tenderness drew it into her arms. For a moment
Fay yielded to the comfort of the close encircling arms, and leaned her
head against Magdalen's breast.

Then she wrenched herself free, and pushed her sister violently from
her.

"Why do you come creeping in like that?" she said fiercely. "You only
come to spy upon me."

Magdalen did not speak. She had withdrawn a pace, and stood looking at
her sister, her face as white as her night-gown.

Fay turned her tear-drenched face to the window and looked fixedly out.
There was a faint movement in the room. When she looked round Magdalen
was gone.

Fay, worn with two years of partially eluded suffering, restless with
pain, often sick at heart, was at last nearing the last ditch:--but she
had not reached it yet.

Many more useless tears, many more nights of anguish, many more days of
sullen despair still lay between her and that last refuge.



CHAPTER XIII

    Il n'y a point de passé vide ou pauvre, il n'y a point
    d'événements misérables, il n'y a que des événements
    misérablement accueillis.--MAETERLINCK.


Magdalen went back to her own room, and set down her candle on the
dressing-table with a hand that trembled a little.

"I ought not to have gone," she said half aloud, "and yet--I knew she
was awake and in trouble. And she nearly spoke to me to-day. I
thought--perhaps at last--the time had come like it did with Mother. But
I was wrong. I ought not to have gone."

The large room which had been her mother's, the elder Fay's, seemed
to-night crowded with ghostly memories: awakened by the thought of the
younger Fay sobbing in the room at the end of the passage.

In this room, in that bed, the elder Fay had died eighteen years ago.

How like the mother the child had become who had been named after her.

Magdalen saw again in memory the poor pretty apathetic mother who had
taken so long to die; a grey-haired Fay, timid as the present Fay,
unwise, inconsequent, blind as Fay, feebly unselfish, as alas! Fay was
not.

There is in human nature a forlorn impulse, to which Mrs. Bellairs had
yielded, to speak at last when the great silence draws near, of the
things that have long cankered the heart, to lay upon others part of
the unbearable burden of life just when death is about to remove move
it. Mrs. Bellairs had always groped feebly in heavy manacles through
life, in a sort of twilight, but her approaching freedom seemed towards
the last to throw a light, faint and intermittent but still a light, on
much that had lain confused and inexplicable in her mind. Many whispered
confidences were poured into Magdalen's ears during those last weeks,
faltered disjointed revelations, which cut deep into the sensitive
stricken heart of the young girl, cutting possibly also new channels for
all her after life to flow through.

Did the mother realise the needless anguish she inflicted on the spirit
of the grave, silent girl of seventeen. Perhaps she was too near the
great change to judge any longer--not that she had ever judged--what was
wise or unwise, what was large or small. Trivial poisoned incidents and
the deep wounds of life, petty unreasonable annoyances and acute
memories were all jumbled together. She had never sorted them, and now
she had ceased to know which was which. The feeble departing spirit
wandered aimlessly among them.

"You must stand up to your father, Magdalen, when I'm gone. I never
could. I was too much in love with him at first, and later on when I
tried he had got the habit of my yielding to him, and it made a
continual wretchedness if I opposed him. He always thought I did not
love him if I did not consent to everything he wished, or if I did not
think him right whatever he did. I did try to stand up about the
children, but at last I gave up that too. I was not fit to have
children, if I sacrificed their wellbeing to his caprice and his whim,
but that was what I did. I have been a poor mother, and an unfaithful
friend, and an unjust mistress. Women like me have no business to
marry....

"You don't remember Annie, do you? She was second housemaid, the best
servant I ever had. She was engaged to William, the footman with the
curly hair. He is butler now at Barford. She cared for him dreadfully,
poor soul. But your father could not bear her because she had a squint,
and he never gave me any peace till I parted with her. I did part with
her--and I got her a good place--but--I spoilt her marriage. It did not
take much spoiling perhaps, for after she was gone he soon began to walk
with the kitchen maid, but--she had been kind to me. So good once when I
was ill, and my maid was ill. She did everything for me. I have often
cried about that at night since."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mother always used to tell me and I never believed it, but it is
true--men are children and it is no good thinking them different. They
never grow up. I don't know if there are any grown up men anywhere. I
suppose there must be--but I have never met one. I don't know any Prime
Ministers or Archbishops, but I expect they are just the same as your
father in home life."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I daresay your father will be sorry when I'm gone. People like your
father are always very fond of someone who is dead, who has no longer
any claim upon them: a mother or a sister, whom they did not take much
trouble about when they were alive.

"Of course I am going to die first, but I sometimes used to think if
your father died before me and if he were allowed to come back after
death--such things do happen--I had a friend who saw a ghost
once--whether he would be as vexed then at any little change as he is
now. You know, Magdalen, it has always been a cross to me that the
writing-table in my sitting-room is away from the light. My eyes were
never strong. I moved it near the window when I first came here, but
your father was annoyed and had it put back where it is now, because his
mother always had it there. But I really could not see to write there.
And I have often thought if he came back after he was dead whether he
would mind if he found I had moved it nearer the window."

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Bishop of Elvaston married us. I daresay you don't remember him, my
dear. He died a few years later. He had a wart on his chin and he once
shook hands with baby's feet. But he was good. He told me I must
sacrifice all to love. But what has been the use of all my sacrifices,
first of myself and then of others? Your father has not been the happier
or the better for it, but the worse. I have let him do so many cruel
little things for which others have suffered. It was not exactly that he
did not see what he was doing. He would not see. Some people are like
that. They won't look, and they become dreadfully angry if they are
asked to look. I gave it up at last. Oh, my poor husband! I knew I had
failed everybody else, but at any rate not him. But I see now,"--the
weak voice broke--"I see now that I have failed him, too. We ought
never to have married. Love is not any guide to happiness. Remember
that, Magdalen. We were both weak. He was weak and domineering. I was
weak and yielding. I don't know which is the worst."

As the shadows deepened all the tacit unforgiveness of a weak,
down-trodden nature which has been vanquished by life whispered from the
brink of the grave.

"I have never been loved. I have given everything, and I have had
nothing back. Nothing. Nothing. Don't marry, Magdalen. Men are all like
that. Lots of women say the same. They take everything and they give
nothing. It is our own fault. We rear them to it from their cradles.
From their schooldays we teach them that everything is to give way to
them, beginning with the sisters. With men it is Take, Take, Take, until
we have nothing left to give. I went bankrupt years ago. There is
nothing left in me. I _have_ nothing and I _am_ nothing. I'm not dying
now. I have been dead for years."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You say I am going to be at peace, Magdalen, but how do you know? I
daresay I'm not. I daresay I am going to hell, but if I do I don't care.
I don't care where I go so long as it is somewhere where there aren't
any more husbands, and housekeeping, and home, weary, weary home, and
complaints about food. I don't want ever to see anything again that I
have known here. I am so tired of everything. I am tired to death."

       *       *       *       *       *

Poor mother and poor daughter.

Who shall say what Magdalen's thoughts were as she supported her
mother's feeble steps down to the grave. Perhaps she learned at
seventeen what most of us only learn late, so late, when life is half
over.

Bitterness, humiliation, the passionate despair of the heart which has
given all and has received nothing,--these belong not to the armed band
of Love's pilgrims, though they dog his caravan across the desert.

These are only the vultures and jackal prowlers in Love's wake, ready to
pounce on the faint hearted pilgrim who through weakness falls into the
rear, where fang and talon lie in wait to swoop down and rend him.

If we adventure to be one of Love's pilgrims we must needs be long
suffering and meek, if we are to win safe with him across the desert,
and see at last his holy city.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tears welled up into Magdalen's eyes as one piteous scene after another
came back to her, enacted in this very room.

Poor little mother, who had seemed to Magdalen then so old and forlorn,
who, when she died, had only been a year or two older than Magdalen
herself was now.

And poor little wavering life sobbing in the room at the end of the
passage over some mysterious trouble.

The elder Fay lived on in the younger Fay. Was she also to be vanquished
by life, to become gradually embittered and resentful? There seemed to
be nothing in her lot to make her so. What was it, what could it be that
was casting a blight over Fay's life?

How to help her, how to release her from the self-imposed fetters in
which her mother had lived and--died.

Just as some persons have the power of making something new out of
refuse--paper out of rags--so Magdalen seemed to have the power of
cherishing and transforming the weaker, meaner elements of the
characters with which she came in contact. Certain qualities in those we
are inclined to love daunt us. Insincerity, callousness, selfishness,
treachery in its more refined aspects, these are apt to arouse at first
incredulity and at last scorn in us. But they aroused neither in
Magdalen. She saw them with clearness, and dealt tenderly with them.

What others discarded as worthless, she valued. To push aside the feeble
and intermittent affection of a closed and self-centred nature,
believing it is giving its best, what is that but to push aside a poor
man's little offering. Many years ago Magdalen had accepted not without
tears, one such offering from a very poor man indeed.

Loving-kindness, tenderness, have their warped, stunted shoots as well
as their free-growing, stately blossoms. It is the same marvellous,
fragrant life struggling to come forth through generous or barren soil.
There are some thin, dwarfed, almost scentless flowers of love and
friendship, of which we can discern the faint fragrance only when we are
on our knees. But some of us have conscientious scruples about kneeling
down except at shrines. Magdalen had not.

She knew that Fay cared but little for her in reality. But she also knew
that she did care a little. Fay had turned to her many times, and had
repulsed and forgotten her not a few times.

Magdalen had a good memory.

"When she really wants me she will turn to me again," she said
tranquilly to herself.



CHAPTER XIV

    Toute passion a son chemin de croix.


And Michael?

What of him during these two endless years?

What did he think about during his first year in prison: what was the
first waking in his cell like, the second, the third, the gradual
discovery of what it means to be in prison? Was there a bird outside his
window to wound him? The oncome of summer, the first thrill of autumn,
how did he bear them?

His was not a mind that had ever dwelt for long upon itself. The
egoist's torturing gift of introspection and self-analysis was not his.
He had never pricked himself with that poisoned arrow. So far he had not
thought it of great importance what befell him. Did he think so now? Did
he brood over his adverse fate? Did he rebel against it, or did he
accept it? Did angels of despair and anguish wrestle with him through
the hot nights until the dawn? Did his famishing youth rise up against
him? Or did that most blessed of all temperaments, the impersonal one,
minister to him in his great need?

Perhaps at first he was supported by the thought that he was suffering
voluntarily for Fay's sake. Perhaps during the first year he kept hold
of the remembrance of her love for him. Perhaps in time he forgot what
he had read in the depths of her terror-stricken eyes as he had emerged
from behind the screen. There had been no thought of him at that moment
in those violet eyes, no anxiety for him, no love.

Or perhaps he had _not_ forgotten, and had realised that her love for
him was very slenderly built. Perhaps it was the foreshadow of that
realisation that had made him know in his first weeks in prison, before
the trial, that she would not speak.

Michael had unconsciously readjusted several times already in pain his
love for Fay. He did it again during that first year in prison. He saw
that she was not capable of love as he understood it. He saw that she
was not capable of a great sacrifice for his sake. The sacrifice which
would have exonerated him had been altogether too great. Yes, he saw
that. It had been cruel of him to think even for a moment that she might
make it. What woman would! His opinions respecting the whole sex had to
be gently lowered to meet the occasion. Nevertheless she _did_ love him
in her own flower-like way. She would certainly have made a _small_
sacrifice for his sake. His love was tenderly moved and re-niched into a
smaller demand on hers, one that she could have met without too much
distress. His bruised mind comforted itself with the conviction that if
a slight sacrifice on her part could have saved him she would
indubitably have made it.

After a year in prison the news tardily reached Michael through his
friend, the doctor, that the duke was dead.

The news, so long expected, gave him a pang when it did at last arrive.
He had liked the duke. For a moment they had been very near to each
other.

But now, _now_, Fay would release him. It would still be painful to her
to do so, but in a much lesser degree than heretofore. She would have to
endure certain obvious, though groundless, inferences from which her
delicacy would shrink. But she was free to marry him now, and that made
all the difference as to the explanation she would have to give. A
little courage was all that was needed, just enough to make a small
sacrifice for him. She would certainly have that amount. The other had
been too much to expect. _But this_----

Michael leaned his forehead against the stone wall of his cell, and
sobbed for joy.

Oh! God was good. God was merciful. He knew how much he could bear. He
knew that he was but dust. He had not tried him beyond his strength.

Michael was suffused with momentary shame at the joy that the death of
his friend had brought him.

Nevertheless, like a mountain spring that will not be denied, joy ever
rose and rose afresh within him.

Fay and he could marry now. The thought of her, the hungered craving for
her was no longer a sin.

It was Sunday evening. The myriad bells of Venice were borne in a
floating gossamer tangle of sound across the water.

Joy, overwhelming, suffocating joy inundated him.

He stumbled to his feet, and clung convulsively to the bars of his
narrow window.

How often he had heard the bells, but never with this voice!

He looked out across the wide water with its floating islands, each with
its little campanile. His eyes followed the sails of the fishing boats
from Chioggia, floating like scarlet and orange butterflies in the
pearl haze of the lagoon.

How often he had watched them in pain. How often he had turned his eyes
from them lest that mad rage for freedom which entered at times into the
man in the next cell, when the boats passed, should enter also into him,
and break him upon its wheel.

He looked at the boats now with tears in his eyes. They gleamed at him
like a promise straight from God. How freely they moved. Free as air;
free as the sea-mew with its harsh cry wheeling close at hand under a
luminous sky.

He also should be free soon, should float away past the gleaming
islands, over a sea of pearl in a boat with an orange sail.

For Fay would come to him. The one woman in the world of counterfeits
would come to him, and set him free. She would take him in her arms at
last, and lay her cool healing touch upon his aching life. And he would
lean his forehead against her breast, and his long apprenticeship to
love would be over. It seemed to Michael that she was here already, her
soft cheek against his.

He pressed his face to the stone wall, and whispered as to her:

"Fay, have I served you?"

He almost heard her tremulous whisper, "Yes."

"Do you still love me?"

"Yes."

"We may love each other now."

Again Fay's voice very low. "Yes."

It had to be like that. This moment was only a faint foreshadowing of
that unendurable joy, which inevitably had to come.

A great trembling laid hold on Michael. He could not stand. He fell on
his knees, but he could not kneel. He stretched himself face downwards
on his pallet. But it was not low enough. He flung himself on the floor
of his cell, but it was not low enough. A grave would hardly have been
low enough. The resisting stone floor had to do instead.

And through the waves of awe and rapture that swept over him came
faintly down to him, as from some dim world left behind, the bells of
Venice, and the thin cry of the sea-mew rejoicing with him.

Can we call a life sad which has had in it one such blessed hour?

Luminous day followed luminous day, and the nights also were full of
light. His work was nothing to him. The increasing heat was nothing to
him. His chains were nothing to him.

But at last when the weeks drew into a month, two months, a chill doubt
took up its abode with him. It was resolutely cast out. But it returned.
It was fought against with desperation. It was scorned as want of faith.
Michael's strength waned with each conflict. But it always returned. At
last it became to him like a mysterious figure, always present with him.

"Fay," he whispered over and over again through the endless burning
nights of summer. "Dear one, come soon."

There was neither speech nor language, only the lying bells in the dawn.

The shadow deepened.

A frightful suspense laid its cold, creeping hold on Michael.

What could have happened?

Was she ill?

Was she dead?

He waited, and waited, and waited. Time stood still.

Let no one say that he has found life difficult till he has known what
it is to wait; till he has waited through the endless days that turn
into weeks more slowly than an acorn turns into a sapling; through the
unmoving weeks that turn into months more slowly than a sapling turns
into a forest tree,--for a word which does not come.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late in the autumn, six months and five days after the death of the
duke--Michael marked each day with a scratch on the wall--he received a
letter from Wentworth. He was allowed to receive two letters a year.

He dreaded to open it. He should hear she was dead. He had known all the
time that she was dead. That flowerlike face was dust.

With half blind eyes, that made the words flicker and run into each
other, he sought through Wentworth's long letter for her name. Bess, the
retriever, had had puppies. The Bishop of Lostford's daughter had
married his chaplain--a dull marriage, and the Bishop had not been able
to resist appointing his son-in-law to a large living. The partridges
had done well. He had got more the second time over than last year. But
he did not care to shoot without Michael.

He found her name at last on the third sheet, just a casual sentence.

"Your cousin, the Duchess of Colle Alto, has come to live at Priesthope
for good. She has been there nearly six months. I see her occasionally.
At first she appeared quite stunned by grief, but she is becoming rather
more cheerful as time passes on."

The letter fell out of Michael's hand.

"_Rather more cheerful as time passes on._"

Someone close at hand laughed, a loud, fierce laugh.

Michael looked up startled. He was alone. He never knew that it was he
who had laughed.

"_Rather more cheerful as time passes on._"

He looked back and saw the months of waiting that lay behind
him,--during which the time had passed on. He saw them pieced together
into a kind of map; an endless desert of stones and thorns, and in the
midst a little figure in the far distance, coming toiling towards him,
under a blinding sun.

That figure was himself. And this was what he had reached at last. He
had touched the goal.

She had left Italy for good. She had gone back to her own people; not
lately, but long ago, months ago. When he had first heard of the duke's
death, even while he was counting daily, hourly, on her coming as the
sick man counts on the dawn; even then she was arranging to leave Italy
for good. Even then, when he was expecting her day by day, she must have
made up her mind not to speak. She would not face anything for his sake.
She had decided to leave him to his fate.

She who looked so gentle, was hard; she who wept at a bird's grief over
its rifled nest, was callous of suffering. She, who had seemed to love
him--he felt still her hands holding his hands against her breast--had
never loved him. She did not know what love was.

She was inhuman, a monster. He saw it at last.

There is in love a spiritual repulsion to which physical repulsion at
its worst is but a pale shadow. Those who give love to one who cannot
love may not escape the stroke of that poisoned fang. Sooner or later
that shudder has to come.

Only while we are young do we believe that the reverse of love is hate.
We learn later, and that lesson we never forget, for love alone can
teach it, that the reverse of love is egotism. The egoist cannot love.
Can we endure that knowledge and go on loving? Can we be faithful,
tender, selfless to one who exacts all and gives nothing, who forgets us
and grieves us, even as day by day we forget and grieve our unforsaking
and faithful God?

Can we endure for love of man what God endures for love of us?

The duke's words came back to Michael.

"Why do you deceive yourself, my friend? There is only one person for
whom she has a permanent and deep affection--for her very charming
self."

He had thought of her as his wife for six months and four days.

Michael beat his manacled hands against the wall till they bled. He
broke his teeth against his chains.

If Fay had come in then he would have killed her, done her to death with
the chains he had worn so patiently for her sake.

[Illustration: "IF FAY HAD COME IN THEN HE WOULD HAVE KILLED HER, DONE
HER TO DEATH WITH THE CHAINS HE HAD WORN SO PATIENTLY FOR HER SAKE"]

And that night the convict in the next cell, who had at times such wild
outbursts of impotent rage when the boats went by, heard as he lay awake
a low sound of strangled anguish, that ever stifled itself into silence,
and ever broke forth anew, from dark to dawn.



CHAPTER XV

    Qui sait ce qui peut advenir de la fragilité des
    femmes? Qui sait jusq'où peut aller l'inconstance de ce
    sable mouvant?--ALFRED DE MUSSET.


The Italian winter was closing in. The nights were bitter cold.

Had Michael reached at last the death of love? Was its strait gate too
narrow for him?

After that one night he held his peace, even with himself, even with the
walls of his cell. He did not sleep nor eat. He had no time to sleep or
eat. He was absorbed in one idea.

Michael was not a thinker. He was a man of action, whose action, sharp,
rapier-like, and instantaneous, was unsheathed only by instinctive
feeling, by chivalry, honour, indignation, compassion, never by
reflection, judgment, experience. He could not really think. What he
learned had to reach him some other way. His mind only bungled up
against ideas, hustled them, so to speak, till they turned savage.

He sat idly in his cell when his work was done. There was a kind of
pressure on him, as if the walls were closing in on him. Sometimes he
got up, and pushed them back with his hands.

The sun had shifted his setting as the winter drew in, and for a few
minutes every afternoon laid a thong of red light upon his wall. He
looked at it sternly while it burned. It looked back sternly at him.

He had no wish to be free now, no wish for anything.

The doctor came to see him, and looked closely at him, and spoke kindly
to him. He was interested in the young Englishman, and, like several of
the warders, was convinced of his innocence.

Michael took no notice of him, barely answered his questions. He was
impatient of any interruption.

He was absorbed in one thought.

He had loved Fay for a long time. How long was it? Five years? Ten
years? Owing to his peculiar fate love had usurped in Michael's life too
large a place, the place which it holds in a woman's life, but which is
unnatural in a man's. He did not know it, but he had travelled a long
way on the road towards an entire oblivion of Fay when he came to Rome.
But the one great precaution against her he had not taken. He had not
replaced her, and "Only that which is replaced is destroyed." He had
grown accustomed to loving her.

In these days he went over, slowly, minutely, every step of his long
acquaintanceship with her, from the first day, when he was nineteen and
she was seventeen, to the last evening six years later, when he had
kissed the cold hand that could have saved him, and did not.

Old people, wise old learned people, smoke-dried Dons and genial bishops
sitting in their dignified studies, had spoken with guarded frankness to
him in his youth on the temptations of life. They had told him that
love, save when it was sanctified by marriage, was only a physical
passion, a temporary madness, a fever which all men who were men
underwent, but to which a man of principle did not succumb, and which if
vigorously suppressed soon passed away.

Why had it not been so with him? He had never had to contend with the
coarse forms of temptation of which his elders had spoken, as if they
were an integral part of his youth.

Why, then, had he loved this pretty, false, selfish woman so long? Why
had he allowed himself to be drawn back into her toils after he had
known she was false? Why was he more weak, more credulous, more
infatuated than other men?

The duke had actually been her husband, had actually possessed that
wonderful creature, and yet he, under the glamour of her personal
presence, which it made Michael gasp to think of, he, the duke, had not
been deceived.

Why had he, Michael, been deceived?

He remembered the exhortations of his tepid-minded, painlessly married
tutor at Oxford, who read the vilest French novels as a duty, and took a
walk with his wife on fine afternoons; and whose cryptic warnings on the
empire of the passions would have made a baboon blush.

Michael laughed suddenly as he recalled the mild old-maidish face. What
was the old prig talking about? What did he know, dried up and
shrivelled like a bit of seaweed between the leaves of a folio.

Everyone had told him wrong.

Why had they decried this awful power, why had they so confused it with
sensual indulgence that he had had to disentangle it for himself? Why
had they not warned him, on the contrary, that the love of woman was a
living death, a pitfall from which there was no escape, from the depths
of which you might stare at the sky till you starved to death, as he was
doing now.

With all their warnings they had not warned him, these grave men, these
instructors of youth, who had never known any world except their little
world of books, who ranged women into two camps, one in which they held
a docile Tennysonian place, as chaste adorners of the sacred home,
mothers of children, man's property, insipid angel housekeepers of his
demure middle age; the other where they were depicted as cheap, vulgar
temptresses, on a level with the wine cup and the gambling table.

Why had he allowed himself to be duped and hoodwinked by his elders and
by his own shyness, into chastity? They had entreated him to believe it
was the only happy life. _It was not._ To be faithful to his future
wife. Ha! Ha! That was the beginning of the trap, the white sand neatly
raked over the hidden gin.

If he had only lived like other men! If he had only listened to the
worst among them, if he had only torn the veil early from every limb of
that draped female figure, that iron maiden, if he had only seen it in
its horror of nudity, with its sharp nails for eyes, and its jagged
knives where the bosom should be, he should not be pressed to death in
its embrace now.

He had been deceived, betrayed, fooled. That was why he was shut up. He
had believed in a woman, had believed that the cobra's bite was only a
wasp's sting. Good Lord, what an imbecile! He was insane of course,
raving mad. And he had been here eighteen months and only saw the joke
now.

Michael laughed again, shouted with laughter.

The sun was setting again. It was always setting now. It set in the
mornings as well. The red thong of light was on the wall again. Blood
red! He rocked to and fro shaking with laughter.

The doctor and a warder came in. It was just like them. They were always
coming in when they were not wanted.

He pointed at the bar of light, stumbled to it, and tried to tear it
from the wall. It had been there long enough. Too long. And as he tore
at it with hands dyed crimson, something that was pressing upon him
lightened suddenly, and the blood gushed forth from his mouth, flooding
the sun-stained wall.

"I have put out that damned sunset at last," he said to himself as he
fell.



CHAPTER XVI

    So we must keep apart,
    You there, I here,
    With just the door ajar
    That oceans are,
    And prayer,
    And that pale sustenance
    Despair!

    --EMILY DICKENSON.


It was a little after Christmas when Michael first began to take notice
of his surroundings once more. There was no love or tenderness that
Wentworth could have shown him which the grave young Italian doctor did
not lavish on him.

Little by little the mist in which Michael lay shifted and cleared, and
closed in on him again. But the times when it cleared became nearer
together. He felt that the great lethargy in which he lay would shift
when the mist shifted. Dimly, as if through innumerable veils, he was
aware that something indefinable but terrible crouched behind it. Days
passed. Blank days and blank nights. He had forgotten everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had been lying awake a long time, years and years. The doctor had
been in to see him just before sunrise, had raised him, and made him
drink, and laid him back upon his pillow. And now he felt full of rest.
How clear everything was becoming. He raised his hand to his head. He
had not taken the trouble to do that before. He looked long at his
wasted hands laid on the coarse cotton sheeting. What were these marks
on the wrists? They seemed like an answer to a riddle of which he had
forgotten the question. If he only knew what those marks were he should
know numbers of other things as well. He raised his long right hand, and
held it close to his eyes.

These marks were bruises. A line of bruises went round the wrist. And
here over the bone was a scar. It was healed now, but it had been a deep
sore once.

_When?_

If only he could remember!

The mist in his mind cleared a little.

_Those bruises were made by chains._

A deadly faintness came over him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael knew at last that he was in prison. The past filtered back into
his feeble mind drop by drop. He knew why he was there. He knew what he
had done to bring him there; he realised that he had been ill a long
time, many weeks. But there was still something sinister, mysterious,
crouching in the back of his mind.

The doctor sought to distract him, to rouse him. He was a botanist, and
he shewed Michael his collection of grasses. Michael did not want to
have the fatigue of looking at them, but he feigned an interest to
please the doctor. He gazed languidly at a spray, now dry and old. The
doctor explained to him that it was the sea lavender, which, in the
early autumn, had flushed the shallows of the lagoon with a delicate
grey lilac.

"I remember," said Michael, whitening.

It rushed back upon him, that time of waiting, marked by the flowering
and the fading of the sea lavender. The colour was seared upon his
brain.

"A hundred years it is lilac," he said, "and a hundred thousand years it
is a purple brown."

The doctor, bending lovingly over a specimen of a rare water plant,
looked up to see Michael's quivering face. He withdrew the book gently
and took it away.

Michael trembled exceedingly. He was on the verge of some abyss which he
should see clearly in another moment. The sea lavender grew on the very
edge of it. It yawned suddenly at his feet. The abyss was Fay's last
desertion. He looked down into it. It was quite dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later the doctor brought another book. It was butterflies
this time. He saw that an increasing pressure was upon Michael's mind,
and he feared for his brain. He was too weak to read. He might perhaps
like to look at pictures.

The doctor opened the book at an attractive illustration of an immense
butterfly, with wings of iridescent blue and green. He could not stay,
but he left the cherished volume open on Michael's knee.

Michael turned his maimed mind slowly from the abyss into which it had
been looking ever since he had seen that sprig of sea lavender.

Yes. He knew that particular butterfly. He had seen them by thousands
once in a field in Corfu, long ago on an Easter holiday, when he had
been abroad with Wentworth. They had all glinted together in the
sunshine, wheeling together, sinking together, rising together like an
army of fairies.

How heavy the book was on his knee.

He had not the energy to turn another page. Yes, he must. The doctor
would be disappointed if he found the book open at the same place when
he came back. One leaf. Come! He owed it to his friend. Just one leaf.

Were there English butterflies here as well?

Yes. Here was a sheet of them.

He knew that little yellow one with red tips to its wings. It was common
enough in the south of England.

He looked idly at it.

And somewhere out of the past, far, far back from behind the crystal
screen of childhood, came a memory clear as a raindrop.

He remembered as a tiny child lying in the sun watching a butterfly like
that; watching it walk up and down on a twig of whortleberry, opening
and shutting its new-born wings. It was the first time he had noticed
how beautiful a butterfly's wings were. His baby hand went out towards
it. The baby creature did not fly, was not ready to fly. He grasped it,
and laughed as he felt it flutter, tickling his hot little palms, closed
over it. It gave him a new sense of power. Then he slowly pulled off its
wings, one by one, because they were so pretty.

He remembered it as if it were yesterday, and the sudden disgust and
almost fear with which he suddenly tossed away the little mutilated ugly
thing with struggling legs.

The cruelty of it filled him even now with shamed pain.

"It was not I who did it," he said to himself "I did not understand."

And a bandage was removed from his eyes, and he looked down, as we look
into still water, and he saw that Fay did not understand either. She had
put out her hand to take him. She had pulled his wings off him. She had
cast him aside. Perhaps she even felt horror of him now. But
nevertheless she had not done it on purpose, any more than he had done
it on purpose to that other poor creature of God. _She did not
understand._

Her fair, sweet face, which he had shuddered at as at a leper's, came
back to him, smiling at him with a soft reproach. Ah! It was a child's
face. That was the secret of it all. That was one of the reasons why he
had so worshipped it, that dear face. She had not meant to hurt him with
her pretty hand.

Later on, some day, not in this world perhaps, but some far-off day she
would come to herself, and, looking back, she would feel as he felt now
at the recollection of his infant cruelty, only a thousand times more
deeply. He hoped to God he might be near her when that time of grief
came, to comfort her, to assure her that the pain she had inflicted had
been nothing, nothing, that it did not hurt.

An overwhelming, healing compassion, such as he had never known in all
the years of his great tenderness for Fay, welled up within his arid
heart.

Michael's racked soul was steeped in a great peace and light!

Time and time again his love for Fay had been wounded nearly to the
death, and had been flung back bleeding upon himself. He had always
enfolded it, and withdrawn it, and cherished it anew in a safer place.

A love that has been thus withdrawn and protected does not die. It
shrinks home into the heart, that is all. Like a frightened child
against its mother, it presses close and closer against the Divine Love
that dwells within us, which gave it birth. At last the mother smiles,
and takes her foolish weeping child, born from her body, which has had
strength from her to wander away from her--back into her arms.



CHAPTER XVII

    And no more turn aside and brood
      Upon Love's bitter mystery.

    --W. B. YEATS.


It seems is if in the early childhood of all of us some tiny cell in the
embryo brain remains dormant after the intelligence and other faculties
have begun to quicken and waken. While that cell sleeps the child is
callous to suffering, even ingenious in inflicting it. The little cell
in the brain wakes and the cruelty disappears. And the same cell that
was slow to quicken in the child is often the first to fall asleep in
the old. The ruthless cruelty of old age is not more of a crime than the
ruthless cruelty of young children. Childhood does not yet understand.
Old age ceases to understand.

But some there are among us who have passed beyond childhood, beyond
youth, into middle age, in whose brain that little cell still sleeps and
gives no sign of waking, though all the other faculties are at their
zenith; imagination, intellect, lofty sentiment, religious fervour.
Where they go pain follows. They leave a little trail of pain behind
them, to mark their path through life. They appear to have come into the
world to be ministered to, not to minister. If love could reach them,
call loudly to them from without, it seems as if the dormant cell might
wake. But if they meet love, even on an Easter morning, and when they
are looking for him, they mistake him for the gardener. They can only
be loved and served. They cannot love--as yet. They exact love and miss
it. They feel their urgent need of its warmth in their stiffening,
frigid lives. Sometimes they gain it, lay their cold hand on it, analyse
it, foresee that it may become an incubus, and decide that there is
nothing to be got out of it after all.

They seem inhuman because they are not human--as yet. They seem
variable, treacherous, because a child's moral sense guiding a man's
body and brain must so seem. They are not sane--as yet.

And all the while the little cell in the brain sleeps, and their truth
and beauty and tenderness may not come forth--as yet.

We who love them know that, and that our strained faithfulness to them
now may seem almost want of faith, our pained tenderness now shew like
half-heartedness on the day when that little cell in the brain wakes.

Michael knew this without knowing that he knew it. His mind arrived
unconsciously at mental conclusions by physical means. But in the days
that followed, while his mind remained weak and wandering, he was
supported by the illusion--was it an illusion--that it was Fay really
who was in prison, not himself, and that he was allowed to take her
place in her cell because she would suffer too much, poor little thing,
unless he helped her through.

He became tranquil, happy, serene. He felt no regret when he was well
enough to resume the convict-life, and the chains were put on him once
more. Did he half know that Fay's fetters were heavier than his, that
they were eating into her soul, as his had never eaten into his flesh?

When he sent her a message the following spring that he was happy, it
was because it was the truth. Desire had rent him and let him go--at
last. Vague, inconsequent and restful thoughts were Michael's.

His body remained feeble and emaciated. But he was not conscious of its
exhaustion. His mind was at peace with itself.



CHAPTER XVIII

    What she craved, and really felt herself entitled to, was
    a situation in which the noblest attitude should also be the
    easiest.--EDITH WHARTON.


On a stormy night, towards the end of March, Magdalen was lying awake
listening to the wind. Her tranquil mind travelled to a great distance
away from that active, monotonous, daily life which seemed to absorb
her, which had monopolised her energies but never her thoughts for so
many years past.

Suddenly she started slightly and sat up. A storm was coming. A tearing
wind drowned all other sounds, but nevertheless she seemed to listen
intently.

Then she slowly got out of bed, lit her candle, stole down the passage
to Fay's door, and listened again. No sound within. At least none that
could be distinguished through the trampling of the wind over the
groaning old house.

She opened the door and went in. A little figure was crouching over the
dim fire, swaying itself to and fro. It was Fay.

Magdalen put down her candle, and went softly to her, holding out her
arms.

Fay raised a wild, wan face out of her hands and said harshly:

"Aren't you afraid I shall push you away again like I did last time?"

Then with a cry she threw herself into the outstretched arms.

Magdalen held the little creature closely to her, trembling almost as
much as Fay.

Outside the storm broke, and beat in wild tears against the pane.
Within, another storm had broken in a passion of tears.

Fay gasped a few words between the paroxysms of sobbing.

"I was coming to you, Magdalen,--I was trying to come--and I couldn't--I
had pushed you away when you came before--and I thought perhaps you
would push _me_ away--no--no--I didn't, but I said to myself you would.
I hardened myself against you. But I was just coming, all the same
because--because,"--Fay's voice went thinner and thinner into a
strangled whimper, "because I can't bear it alone any more."

"Tell me about it."

But Fay tore herself out of her sister's arms and threw herself face
downwards on the bed.

"I can't," she gasped. "I must and I can't. I must and I can't."

Magdalen remained standing in the middle of the room. She knew that the
breaking moment had come and she waited.

She waited a long time.

The storm without spent itself before the storm within had spent itself.

At last Fay sat up.

Then Magdalen moved quietly to the dying fire. She put on some coal, she
blew the dim embers to a glow.

Fay watched her.

Magdalen did not look at her. She sat down by the fire, keeping her eyes
fixed upon it.

"I have done something very wicked," said Fay in a hollow voice from the
bed. "If I tell you all about it will you promise, will you swear to me
that you will never tell anybody?"

"I promise," said Magdalen after a moment.

"Swear it."

"I swear."

Fay made several false starts and then said:

"I was very unhappy with Andrea."

Magdalen became perceptibly paler and then very red.

"He never cared for me," continued Fay, slipping off the bed, and
kneeling down before the fire. "It's a dreadful thing to marry a man who
does not really care. I sometimes think men can't care. They are too
selfish. They don't know what love is. I was very young. I did not know
anything about life. He was kind, but he never understood me."

Magdalen's eyes filled with tears. In the room at the end of the passage
she had listened to her mother's faint voice in nights of wakeful
weakness speaking of her unhappy marriage. Did all women who failed to
love deep enough say the same things? And as Magdalen had listened in
silence then so she listened in silence now.

"He did not trust me. And then I had no children, and he was dreadfully
disappointed. And he kept things to himself. There was no real
confidence between us, as there ought to be between husband and wife,
those whom God has joined together. Andrea never seemed to remember
that. And gradually his conduct had its natural effect. I grew not to
care for him, and--he brought it on himself--I'm not excusing myself,
Magdalen--I see now that I was to blame too--I ended by caring for
someone else--someone who _did_ love me, who always had since we were
boy and girl together."

"Not Michael!"

"Yes. Michael. And when he came out to Rome it began all over again. It
never would have done if Andrea had been a good husband. I did my best.
I tried to stave it off, but I was too miserable and lonely and I cared
at last. And he was madly in love with me. He worshipped me."

Fay paused. She was looking earnestly into her recollections. She was so
far withholding nothing. As she knelt before the fire making her
confession Magdalen saw that according to her lights she was speaking
the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"Of course he found it out at last and--and we agreed to part. We
decided that he must leave Rome. He wished to see me once to say
good-bye. Was it _very_ wrong of me to let him come once,--just once?"

"It was perhaps natural. And after Michael had said good-bye why did not
he leave Rome?"

"He was arrested the same night," faltered Fay. "I said good-bye to him
in the garden, and then the garden was surrounded because they were
looking for the murderer of the Marchese, and Michael could not get out.
And he was afraid of being seen for fear of compromising me. So he hid
behind the screen in my room. And then--you know the rest--the police
came in and searched my rooms, and Michael came out and confessed to the
murder, and said I had let him hide in my room. It was the only thing to
do to save my reputation, and he did it."

"And what did you say?"

"Nothing. What could I say? Besides, I was too faint to speak."

"And later on when you were not too faint?"

"I never said anything later on either." Fay's voice had become almost
inaudible. "I hoped the real murderer would confess."

"But when he did not confess?"

"I have always clung to the hope. I have prayed day and night that he
might still confess. Sinners do repent sometimes, Magdalen."

There was a terrible silence, during which several fixtures in
Magdalen's mind had to be painfully and swiftly moved, and carefully
safeguarded into new positions. Magdalen became very white in the
process.

At last she said, "Did Andrea _know_ that Michael was innocent of the
murder?"

"I never thought so at the time, but just before he died he said
something cruel to me which shewed he knew Michael's innocence for
certain, had known it from the first."

"Then if he knew Michael had not murdered the Marchese, how do you
suppose he accounted for his being hidden in your rooms at midnight,
after he had ostensibly left the house?"

Fay stared at her sister aghast.

"I never thought of that," she said.

"What _can_ Andrea have thought of that?"

"Andrea was very secretive," faltered Fay. "You never could tell what he
was thinking. And I was the last person he ever told things to. Roman
Catholics are like that. The priest knows everything instead of the
wife."

There was another silence.

Magdalen's question vaguely alarmed Fay. Natures such as hers if given
time will unconsciously whittle away all the sinister little incidents
that traverse and render untenable the position in which they have taken
refuge. They do not purposely ignore these conflicting memories, but
they don't know what has weight and what has not, and they refuse to
weigh them because they cannot weigh anything. Their minds, quickly
confused at the best of times, instinctively select and retain all they
remember that upholds their own view of the situation and--discard the
rest.

Fay could not answer Magdalen's trenchant question. She could only
restate her own view of her husband's character.

Magdalen did not make large demands on the truthfulness of others if
they had very little of it. She did not repeat her question. She waited
a moment, and then said:

"You seem to think that Andrea never guessed the attachment between
yourself and Michael. But he must have done so. And if he had not
guessed it till Michael was found in your rooms, at any rate he knew it
_then_--for certain. _For certain_, Fay. Remember that is settled. There
was no other possible explanation of Michael's presence there, if you
bar the murder explanation, which is barred as far as Andrea is
concerned. Now from first to last Andrea retained his respect for
Michael and his belief in your innocence in circumstances which would
have ruined you in the eyes of most husbands. You say Andrea did not
understand you or do you justice. On the contrary, it seems to me he
acted towards you with great nobility and delicacy."

Fay was vaguely troubled. Her deep, long-fostered dislike of her husband
must not be shaken in this way. She could not endure to have any
fixtures in her mind displaced. So much depended on keeping the whole
tightly wedged fabric in position.

"You don't know what cruel words he said to me on his deathbed," she
said. "I don't call it nobility and delicacy never to give me the least
hint till the day he died that he knew why Michael was in prison."

"Perhaps he hoped--hoped against hope--that----" Magdalen did not finish
her sentence. She fixed her eyes on Fay's. A great love shone in them,
and a great longing. Then, with a kind of withdrawal into herself, she
went on. "Andrea was loyal to you to the last. He went away without a
word to anyone except, it seems, to you. I always liked him, but I see
now that I never did him justice. I did not know with his Italian
hereditary distrust of woman's honour that he could have risen to such a
height as that. Think of it, Fay. What grovelling and sordid suspicions
he might have had of you, must inevitably have had of you and Michael if
he had not followed a very noble instinct, that of entire trust in you
both in the face of overwhelming proof to the contrary. Dear Fay, the
proof was overwhelming."

Fay was silent.

"Just as we all believed in Michael's innocence of the murder, so Andrea
believed in your innocence of a crime even greater, never faltered in
his belief, and went to his grave without a word of doubt. Oh! Fay, Fay,
do you suppose there are many men like that?"

And Magdalen, who so seldom wept, suddenly burst into tears. Perhaps the
thought forced itself through her mind, "If only once long ago I had met
with one little shred of such tender faith!"

"Andrea was better than I thought," Fay faltered. The admission made her
uneasy. She wished he had not been better, that her previous view of him
had not been disturbed.

Magdalen's tears passed quickly. She glanced again at Fay through a veil
of them, looking earnestly for something she did not find.

"And Michael," she went on gently. "Dear, dear Michael. He gave himself
for you, spent in one moment, not counting the cost, his life, his
future, his good name--for your sake. And he goes on day by day, month
by month, year in year out, enduring a living death without a word--for
your sake. How long has Michael been in prison?"

"Two years." Fay's voice was almost inaudible.

"Two years! Is it only two? To him it must seem like a hundred. But if
his strength remains he will go on for thirteen more. Oh! Fay, was any
man since the world began so loyal to any woman as your husband and your
lover have been to you? You said just now that men were selfish and
could not love. I have heard many women say the same. But _you_! How can
_you_ say such a thing! To have met one man who was ready to love and
serve them is not the lot of many women. Very few of us ever find
anything more than a craving to be loved in the stubborn material of
men's hearts. And we are thankful enough when we find that. But to have
stood between two such men who must have crushed you between them if
either of them had had one dishonouring thought of you. A momentary
selfishness, a momentary jealousy in either of them, and--where would
_you_ have been?"

"No one knows how good Michael is better than I do," said Fay, "but what
you don't seem to realise is how awful these years have been for _me_.
He has suffered, but sometimes I think I have suffered more than he has.
No, I don't _think_ it, I _know_ it. He can't have suffered as much as I
have."

Magdalen put out her hand, and touched Fay's rough head with a
tenderness that seemed new even to Fay, to whom she had been always
tender.

"You have suffered more than Michael," she said. "I have endured certain
things in my life, but I could never have endured as you have done the
loss of my peace of mind. How have you lived through these two years?
What days and nights upon the rack it must have meant!"

Oh! the relief of those words. Fay leaned her head against her sister's
knee, and poured forth the endless story of her agony. She had someone
to confide in at last, and the person she loved best, at least whom she
loved a little. She who had never borne a mosquito bite in silence, but
had always shewn it to the first person she met, after rubbing it to a
more prominent red, with a plaintive appeal for sympathy, was now able
to tell her sister everything.

The recital took hours. A few minutes had been enough on the subject of
the duke and Michael, but when Fay came to dilate on her own sufferings,
when the autobiographical flood-gates were opened, it seemed as if the
rush of confidences would never cease. Magdalen listened hour by hour.
Is it given even to the wisest of us ever to speak a true word about
ourselves? Do our whispered or published autobiographies ever deceive
anyone except ourselves? We alone seem unable to read between the lines
of our self-revelations. We alone seem unable to perceive that sinister
ghost-like figure of ourselves which we have unconsciously conjured up
from our pages for all to see; the cruelly faithful reflection of one
whom we have never known. Those who love us and have kept so tenderly
for years the secret of our egotism or our false humility or our
meanness, how can they endure to hear us unconsciously proclaim to the
world what only Love may safely know concerning us?

Magdalen heard, till her heart ached to hear them, all the endless
bolstered-up reasons why Fay was not responsible for Michael's fate. She
heard all about the real murderer not confessing. She heard much that
Fay would have died rather than admit. Gradually she realised that it
was misery that had driven Fay to a partial confession, not as yet
repentance, not the desire to save Michael. Misery starves us out of our
prisons sometimes, tortures us into opening the doors of our cells
bolted from within, but as a rule we make a long weary business of
leaving our cells when only misery urges us forth. I think that
Magdalen's heart must have sunk many times, but whenever Fay looked up
she met the same tender, benignant look bent down upon her.

"Oh! why didn't I tell you before?" she said at last. "I always wanted
to, but I thought--at least I felt--I see I did you an injustice--I
thought you might press me to--to----"

"_To confess_," said Magdalen, her low voice piercing to Fay's very
soul.

"Y-yes, at least to say something to a policeman or someone, so that
Michael might be let out. I was afraid if I told you you would never
give me any peace till Michael was released."

"Have you _had_ any peace since he was put into prison?"

Fay shook her head.

"Make your mind easy, Fay, I shall never urge you to"--Magdalen
hesitated--"to go against your conscience."

"What would you have done in my place?" said Fay hastily.

"I should have had to speak."

"You are better than me, Magdalen, more religious. You always have
been."

"I should have had to speak, not because I am better or worse than you,
but simply because I could not have endured the misery of silence. It
would have broken me in two. And if I had not had the courage to speak
in Andrea's lifetime, I would have spoken directly he was dead, and have
released Michael and married him. You have not told me why you did not
do that."

"I never thought of it. I somehow regarded it as all finished. And I
have never even _thought_ of marrying Michael or anyone when I was left
a widow. I was much too miserable. I had had enough of being married."

There was a difficult silence.

"I should never have a moment's peace if--if I _did_ speak," said Fay at
last.

"Yes, you would," said Magdalen with sudden intensity. "That is where
peace lies."

Fay raised herself to her knees and looked into Magdalen's eyes. The
dawn had come up long ago, and in its austere light Magdalen's face
showed very sharp and white in a certain tender fixity and compassion.
She had seen that look once before in her husband's dying eyes. Now that
she was suddenly brought face to face with it again she understood it
for the first time. Had not Andrea's last prayer been that she might be
given peace!



CHAPTER XIX

    There is no wild wind in his soul,
      No strength of flood or fire;
    He knows no force beyond control,
      He feels no deep desire.

    He knows no altitudes above,
      No passions elevate;
    All is but mockery of love,
      And mimicry of hate.

    --EDGAR VINE HALL.


The morning after the storm Wentworth was sitting in the library at
Barford, looking out across the garden to the down. Behind the down lay
Priesthope, where Fay was.

He was thinking of her. This shewed a frightful lapse in his regulated
existence. So far he had allowed the remembrance of Fay to invade him
only in the evenings over his cigarette, or when he was pacing amid his
purpling beeches.

Was she now actually beginning to invade his mornings, those mornings
sacred to the history of Sussex? No! No! Dismiss the extravagant
surmise. Wentworth was far more interested in his attitude towards a
thing or person--in what he called his point of view--than in the thing
viewed.

He was distinctly attracted by Fay, but he was more occupied with his
feelings about her than with herself. It was these which were now
engrossing him.

For some time past he had been working underground--digging out the
foundations--and as a rule invisible as a mole within them--of a tedious
courtship undertaken under the sustaining conviction that marriage is
much more important to a woman than to a man. This point of view was not
to be wondered at, for Wentworth, like many other eligible, suspiciously
diffident men, had so far come into contact mainly with that large
battalion of women who forage for themselves, and who take upon
themselves with assiduity the work of acquaintanceship and courtship. He
had never quite liked their attentions or been deceived by their "chance
meetings." But his conclusions respecting the whole sex had been formed
by the conduct of the female skirmishers who had thrown themselves
across his path; and he, in common with many other secluded masculine
violets, innocently supposed that he was irresistible to the other sex;
and that when he met the _right_ woman she would set to work like the
others, only with a little more tact, and the marriage would be
conveniently arrived at.

But Fay showed no signs of setting to work, no alacrity, no apparent
grasp of the situation: I mean of the possible but by no means certain
turn which affairs might one day take.

At first Wentworth was incredulous, but he remembered in time that one
of the tactics of women is to retreat in order to lure on a further
masculine advance. Then he became offended, stiff with injured dignity,
almost anxious. But he communed with himself, analysed his feelings
under various headings, and discovered that he was not discouraged. He
was aware--at least, he told himself that he was aware--that
extraordinary efforts must be made in love affairs. I don't know how he
reconciled that startling theory with his other tenets, but he did. The
chance suggestions of his momentary moods he regarded as convictions,
and adopted them one day and disowned them the next with much _naïf_
dignity, and offended astonishment, if the Bishop or some other old
friend actually hinted at a discrepancy between diametrically opposed
but earnestly expounded views. He imagined that he was now grappling
with the difficulties inherent to love in their severest form. It was of
estrangements like these that poets sang. He opened his Browning and
found he was on the right road, passing the proper milestones at the
correct moment. He was sustained in his idleness this morning by the
comfortable realisation that he was falling desperately in love. He
shook his head at himself and smiled. He was not ill pleased with
himself. He would return to a perfectly regulated life later on. In the
meanwhile he would give a free rein to these ecstatic moods, these wild
emotions. When he had given a free rein to them they ambled round a
little paddock, and brought him back to his own front door. It was
delicious. He had thoughts of chronicling the expedition in verse.

I fear we cannot escape the conclusion that Wentworth was on the verge
of being a prig. But he was held back as it were by the coat-tails from
the abyss by a certain _naïveté_ and uprightness of character. The
Bishop once said of him that he was so impressed with the fact that
dolls were stuffed with sawdust that it was impossible not to be fond of
him.

Wentworth in spite of his sweeping emotions was still unconsciously
meditating a possible retreat as regards Fay, was still glancing
furtively over his shoulder. Strange how that involuntary,
self-protective attitude on a man's part is never lost on a woman,
however dense she may otherwise be, almost always ends by ruining him
with her. Others besides Lot's wife have become petrified by looking
back.

Fay, he reflected, must make it perfectly clear to him that if he did
propose he would be accepted--she in short must commit herself--and
then--after all a bachelor's life had great charm. But still--at any
rate he might come back from Lostford this afternoon by way of Pilgrim
Road. That would tie him to nothing. She often walked there. It would be
an entirely chance meeting. Wentworth had frequently used this "short
cut" of late which did not add more than two miles to the length of his
return journey from Lostford.

It was still early in the afternoon when he rode slowly down Pilgrim
Road feeling like a Cavalier. There was no hurry. The earth was
breathing again after the storm. Everything was resting, and waking in
the vivid March sunshine. As he rode at a foot's pace along the mossy
track dappled with anemones, as he noted the thin powder of green on the
boles of the beech trees, and the intense blue through the rosy haze of
myriad twigs, the slight hunger of his heart increased upon him. There
was a whisper in the air which stirred him vaguely in spite of himself.

At that instant he caught sight of a slight black figure sitting on a
fallen tree near the track.

For one moment the Old Adam in him actually suggested that he should
ride past, just taking off his hat. But he had ridden past in life,
just taking off his hat, so often that the action lacked novelty. He
almost did it yet again from sheer force of habit. Then he dismounted
and walked up to Fay, bridle in hand.

"What good fortune to meet you," he said. "I so seldom come this way."

This may have been the truth in some higher, rarer sense than its
obvious meaning, for Wentworth was a perfectly veracious person. Yet
anyone who had seen him during the last few weeks constantly riding at a
foot's pace down this particular glade, looking carefully to right and
left, would hardly have felt that his remark dovetailed in with the
actual facts. The moral is--morals cluster like bees round certain
individuals--that we must not ponder too deeply the meanings of men like
Wentworth.

"I often used to come here," said Fay, "but not of late. I came to get
some palm."

She had in her bare hand a little bunch of palm, the soft woolly buds on
them covered with yellow dust. She held them towards Wentworth, and he
looked at them with grave attention.

The cob, a privileged person, of urbane and distinguished manners,
suddenly elongated towards them a mobile upper lip, his sleek head
slightly on one side, his kind, sly eyes half shut.

"Conrad," said Wentworth, "we never ask. We only take what is given us."

Fay laughed, and gave them both a twig.

Wentworth drew his through his buttonhole. Conrad twisted his in his
strong yellow teeth, turned it over, and then spat it out. The action,
though of doubtful taste in itself, was ennobled by his perfect
rendering of it. He brought it, so to speak, forever within the sphere
of exquisite manners.

Wentworth led him back to the path, tied him to a tree, and then came
back and sat down at a little distance from Fay on the same trunk. He
had somehow nothing to say, but of course he should think of something
striking directly. One of Fay's charms was that she did not talk much.

A young couple close at hand were not hampered by any doubts as to a
choice of subject.

From among the roots of a clump of alder rose a sweet little noise of
mouse talk, intermittent, _affairé_, accompanied by sudden rustlings and
dartings under dead leaves, momentary glimpses of a tiny brown bride and
bridegroom. Ah! wedded bliss! Ah! youth and sunshine, and the joy of
life in a new soft silken coat!

Fay and Wentworth watched and listened, smiling at each other from time
to time.

"I am forced to the conclusion," said Wentworth at last, "that even in
these early days Mrs. Mouse does not listen to all Mr. Mouse says."

"How could she, poor thing, when he never leaves off talking?"

"Well, neither does she. They both talk at once. I suppose they have not
our morbid craving for a listener."

"Do you think--I mean really and truly--that they are talking about
themselves?" said Fay, looking at Wentworth as if any announcement of
his on the subject would be considered final.

"No doubt," he said indulgently, willing to humour her, and feeling more
like a cavalier than ever.

Then he actually noticed how pale she was.

"You look tired," he said. "I am afraid the storm last night kept you
awake."

"Yes," she said, and hung her head.

Wentworth, momentarily released from his point of view, looked at her
more closely, and perceived that her lowered eyelids were heavy with
recent tears. And as he looked, he realised, by some other means than
those of reasoning and deduction, by some mysterious intuitive feeling
new to him, that all these weeks when he had imagined she was drawing
him on by feminine arts of simulated indifference she had in reality
been thinking but little of him because she was in trouble. The
elaborate edifices which he had raised in solitude to account for this
and that in her words one day, in her attitude towards him another day,
toppled over, and he saw before him a simple creature, who for some
unknown and probably foolish reason, had cried all night.

He perceived suddenly, without possibility of doubt, that she had never
considered him in the light of a lover, had never thought seriously
about him at all, and that what he had taken to be an experienced woman
of the world was in reality an ignorant child at heart.

He felt vaguely relieved. There were evidently no ambushes, no
surprises, no pitfalls in this exquisite nature. There was really
nothing to withdraw from. He suddenly experienced a strong desire to go
forward, a more imperative desire than he had ever known about anything
before. Even as he was conscious of it Fay raised her eyes to his and it
passed away again, leaving a great tranquillity behind, together with a
mounting sense of personal power.

If Fay had spoken to him he had not heard what she had said. But he did
not mind having missed it. The meaning of the spring was reaching him
through her presence like music through a reed. He had never understood
it till now. Poor empty little reed! Poor entranced listener mistaking
the reed for music!

Can it be that when God made His pretty world He had certain things
exceeding sharp and sweet to say to us, which it is His will only to
whisper to us through human reeds: the frail human reeds on which we
sometimes deafly lean until they break and pierce our cruel hands?

The mystery of the spring was becoming clear and clearer. What Wentworth
had believed hitherto to be a deceptive voice was nothing but a
reiterated faithful prophecy, a tender warning to him so that he might
be ready when the time came.

"The primroses will soon be out," he said as if it were a secret.

"Very soon," she said, though they were out already. Fay always assented
to what was said.

"I must be going," she said, getting up. "I have walked too far. If I
sit here any longer I shall never get home at all."

"Let me take you home on Conrad."

Fay hesitated.

"I am frightened of horses."

"But not of Conrad. He is only an armchair stuffed to look like a horse.
And I will lead him."

Fay still hesitated.

He took an authoritative tone. He must insist on her riding home. She
was tired already, and it was a long mile up hill to Priesthope.

Fay acquiesced. To-day of all days she was not in a condition for
anything but a dazed acceptance of events as they came.

Wentworth lifted her gently onto the saddle, and put one small dangling
foot into a stirrup shortened to meet it.

She was alarmed and clutched Conrad's mane, but gradually her timidity
was reassured, and they set out slowly together, Wentworth walking
beside her, with his hand on the rein.

The little bunch of palm was forgotten. It had done its part.

Wentworth talked and Fay listened, or seemed to listen. Her mind
wandered if Conrad pricked his ears, but he did not prick them very
often.

Wentworth felt that it was time Fay made more acquaintance with his
mind, and he proceeded without haste, but without undue delay to
indicate to her portions of his own attitude towards life, his point of
view on various subjects. All the sentiments which must infallibly have
lowered him in the eyes of a shrewder woman he spread before her with
childish confidence. He gave her of his best. He expressed a hope that
he did not abuse for his own selfish gratification his power of entering
swiftly into intimacy with his fellow creatures. He alluded to his own
freedom from ambition, his devotion--unlike other men--to the _small_
things of life, love, friendship, etc.: we know the rest. Wentworth had
been struck by that sentence when he first said it to the Bishop, and
he repeated it now. Fay thought it very beautiful. She proved a more
sympathetic listener than the Bishop.

I don't know whether like Mrs. Mouse she did not listen to all Mr. Mouse
said. But at any rate she noticed for the first time how lightly
Wentworth walked, how square his shoulders were, and the beauty of his
brown thin hand upon the bridle; and through her mind a little streak of
vanity came back to the surface, momentarily buried under the _débris_
of last night's emotion. Wentworth was interested in her. He admired
her. _He_ did not know anything uncomfortable about her--_as Magdalen
did_. He thought a great deal of her. It was nice to be with a person
who thought highly of one. It had been a relief to meet him. How well he
talked! What a wide-minded, generous man!

The gate into the gardens must have been hurrying towards them, it was
reached so soon. Wentworth, after a momentary surprise at beholding it,
stopped the cob, and helped Fay with extreme care to the ground. One of
Fay's attractions was her appearance of great fragility. Men felt
instinctively that with the least careless usage she might break in two.
She must be protected, cheered, have everything made smooth for her. She
was in reality much stronger than many of her taller, more
robust-looking sisters, who, whether wives or spinsters, if they
required assistance, had to look for it in quinine. An uneasy jealousy
of Fay led Lady Blore frequently to point out that Fay was always well
enough to do what she wanted. Aunt Mary's own Roman nose and stalwart
figure warded off from her the sympathy to which her severe cramps
undoubtedly entitled her.

"When shall I see you again?" said Wentworth, suddenly realising that
the good hour was over.

Fay did not answer. She was confused. A very delicate colour flew to her
cheek.

Wentworth, reddening under his tan, said: "Perhaps Pilgrim Road is a
favourite walk of yours?"

"Yes. I often go there in the afternoon."

"I have to pass that way, too, most days," he said. "It is a short cut
to Lostford."

He had forgotten that an hour before he had announced that he seldom
used that particular path. It did not matter, for Fay had not noticed
the contradiction any more than he did. Fay was easy to get on with
because she never compared what anyone said one day with what they said
the next. She never would feel the doubts, the perplexities that keener
minds had had to fight against in dealing with him.

For the first time she looked at his receding figure with a sense of
regret and loss.

Magdalen was in the house waiting to give her her tea, dear Magdalen who
was so good, and so safe, such a comforter--_but who knew_. Fay shrank
back instinctively as she neared the house, and then crept upstairs to
her own room, and had tea there.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: "FAY NOTICED FOR THE FIRST TIME HOW LIGHTLY WENTWORTH
WALKED, HOW SQUARE HIS SHOULDERS WERE"]

Wentworth rode home feeling younger that he had done for years. What is
thirty-nine? No age for a thin man. (He was in reality nearly
forty-one.) He was pleased with himself. How quaintly amusing he had
been about the mouse. He regretted, not for the first time, that he
did not write novels, for little incidents like that, which the
conventional mind of the ordinary novelist was incapable of perceiving,
would intertwine charmingly with a love scene. The small service he had
rendered Fay linked itself to a wish to do something more for her--he
did not know exactly what--but something larger than to-day. Any fool,
any bucolic squireen, could have given her a lift home on a cob. He
would like to do something which another person could _not_ do,
something which would cheer her, console her, and at the same time place
him in a magnanimous light.

We all long for an opportunity to act with generosity and tenderness to
the one we love. We need not trouble ourselves to seek for such an
occasion, for though many things fail us in this life the opportunity so
to act has never yet failed to arrive, and has never arrived alone,
always hand in hand with some prosaic hideously difficult circumstance,
which, if we are of an artistic temperament, may appear to us too ugly.

Wentworth had never wished to do anything for the gay little lady who, a
few years ago, had crossed his path. The principal subject of his
cogitations about her had been whether she would be able to adapt
herself to him and his habits, to understand his many-sided wayward
nature, and to add permanently to his happiness; or whether, on the
contrary, she might not prove a bar to his love of solitude, a drag on
his soaring spirit. So I think we may safely conclude that his feelings
for her had not gone to breakneck length. But the germ in his mind of
compassionate protection and instinctive desire to help Fay had in it
the possibility of growth, of some expansion. And what other feeling in
Wentworth's clean, well-regulated, sterilized mind had shown any power
of growth?

The worst of growth is that a small acorn does not grow into a large
acorn as logical persons expect. It ought to, but it does not. It grows
instead into something quite unrecognisable from its small beginnings,
something for which, perhaps, beyond a certain stage, there is no
room,--not even a manger.

Those who love must discard much. Wentworth had not yet felt the need of
discarding anything, and he had not the smallest intention of doing so.
He intended instead to make a small ornamental addition, a sort of
portico, to his life. His mind had got itself made up this afternoon,
and he contemplated the proposed addition with some complacency as
already made.

There is, I believe, a method of planting an acorn in a bottle,
productive of the happiest results--for those who love small results.
You only give the acorn a little water every day,--no soil of course.
The poor thing will push up a thin twig of stem through the bottle neck,
and in time will unfold a few real oak leaves. Men like Wentworth would
always prefer the acorn to remain an acorn, but if it shews signs of
growth, some of them are wise enough, take alarm early enough, to
squeeze it quickly down a bottle neck before it has expanded too much to
resist the passage.

Had Fate in store for Wentworth a kinder, sterner destiny than that, or
would she allow him to stultify himself, to mutilate to his own
convenience a great possibility?



CHAPTER XX

    Look through a keyhole, and your eye will be sore.


During the weeks which followed Fay's confession Magdalen became aware
that she watched her, and aware also that she avoided her, was never
alone with her if she could help it.

At this time Fay began to do many small kindnesses, and to talk much of
the importance of work for others, of the duty of taking an interest in
our fellow creatures. This was a new departure. She had not so far
evinced the faintest interest in the dull routine of home duties which
are of the nature of kindnesses, and had often reproached Magdalen for
spending herself in them. To play halma with zest all the evening with a
parent who must always win, to read the papers to him by the hour, not
while he listened, but while he slept--Fay scorned these humble efforts
of Magdalen's. She shewed no disposition to emulate them; but she did
shew a feverish tendency towards isolated acts of benevolence outside
the home life, which precluded any claim upon her by arousing a hope of
their continuance, which tied her to nothing. Fay began to send boxes of
primroses to hospitals, to knit stockings for orphans, to fatigue
herself with enormous walks over the downs with illustrated papers for
the Saundersfoot work-house.

It was inevitable at this juncture that she should feel some shocked
surprise at the supineness of those around her. Her altruistic efforts
were practically single-handed. She had hoped that when she inaugurated
them, Magdalen at any rate would have followed suit, would have worked
cheerfully under her direction. But Magdalen, whose serene cheerfulness
had flagged of late, fell painfully below her sister's expectation. Fay
came to the conclusion that it was more lack of imagination than
callousness on her sister's part which held her back.

Many careworn souls besides Fay have discovered that the irritable
exhaustion, the continual ache of egotism can be temporarily relieved by
taking an inexpensive interest in others. The remedy is cheap and
efficacious, and it is a patent. Like Elliman applied to a rheumatic
shoulder it really does do good--I mean to the owner of the shoulder.
And you can stop rubbing the moment you are relieved. Perhaps these
external remedies are indispensable to the comfort of those who dwell by
choice, like Fay, in low-lying swampy districts, and have no thought of
moving to higher ground.

Magdalen knew these signs, and sometimes her heart sank.

Was Fay unconsciously turning aside to busy herself over little things
that were not required of her, in order to shut her eyes to the one
thing needful--a great act of reparation?

If Fay was watching Magdalen, someone else was watching Fay. Bessie's
round, hard, staring eyes were upon her, and if Bessie did anything she
did it to some purpose.

One afternoon in the middle of April Bessie came into Magdalen's sitting
room and sat down with an air of concentration.

"I have reason to be deeply ashamed of myself," she said. "I _am_
ashamed of myself. If I tell you about it it is not in order that you
may weakly condone and gloss over my conduct."

Magdalen reflected that Bessie had inherited her father's graceful way
of approaching a difficulty by finding a preliminary fault in his
listener.

Bessie shut her handsome mouth firmly for a moment, and then opened it
with determination.

"I thought that whatever faults I had I was at any rate a lady, but I
find I am not. I discovered something by the merest chance a short time
ago, and since then, for the last fortnight I have been acting in a
dishonourable and vulgar manner, in short, spying upon another person."

"That must have made you miserable."

"It has. I am miserable. But I deserve that. I did not come to talk
about that. The point is this----"

"Bessie, I don't want to hear what you evidently ought not to know."

"Yes, you must, because someone else needs your advice."

"We won't trouble our minds about the someone else."

Bessie had, however, inherited another characteristic trait of her
father's. She could ignore when she chose. She chose now.

"I may as well put you in possession of the facts," she continued. "A
few weeks ago I was coming home by Pilgrim Road. I was not hurrying
because I was struck, as I always am struck--I don't suppose I am
peculiar in this--by the first appearance of spring. Pilgrim Road is a
sheltered place. Spring always comes early there."

"It does."

"I will even add that I was recalling to myself verses of poetry
connected with the time of year, when I saw a couple in front of me.
They were walking very slowly with their backs towards me, taking
earnestly together. They were Fay and Wentworth."

Magdalen made no movement, but her face, always pale, became suddenly
ashen grey.

If Fay were seriously attracted by Wentworth would she ever confess,
ever release Michael!

"There was no harm in their walking together," she said tremulously.

"There was one harm in it," retorted Bessie. "It made me so angry that I
did not know how to live. They did not see me, and I struck up into the
wood, and I had to stay an hour by myself holding on to a little tree,
before I could trust myself to come home."

"It does not help matters to be angry, Bessie. I was angry once for two
years. I said at the time like Jonah that I did well, but I see now that
I might have done better."

"I don't particularly care what helps matters and what does not. I now
come to my own disgraceful conduct. I have spied upon Fay steadily for
the last fortnight. She is so silly she never even thinks she is
watched. And she meets Wentworth in Pilgrim Road nearly every afternoon.
I once waylaid her as if by accident, on her way home, and asked her
where she had been, and she said she had been on her way to Arleigh
wood, but had not got so far, as she was too tired. Too tired! She had
been walking up and down with Wentworth for over an hour. I timed them.
She never meant to go to Arleigh wood. And when they said Good-bye,
he--he kissed her hand. Since Fay has come back to live here I have
gradually formed the meanest opinion of her. She is not truthful. She is
not sincere. She is absolutely selfish. I was inclined to be sorry for
her at first, but I soon saw through her. She did not really care for
Andrea. She only pretended. Everything she does is a kind of pretty
pretence. She does not really care for Wentworth. She is only leading
him on for her own amusement."

"I think it is much more likely that she is drifting towards marriage
with him without being fully aware of what she is doing. But women like
you and me are not in the same position towards men as Fay is.
Consequently it is very difficult for us to judge her fairly."

"I don't know what you mean."

"You and I are not attractive to men. Fay is. You saw Wentworth kiss her
hand. You naturally infer, but you are probably wrong, that Fay had been
leading him on, as you call it."

"It will take a good deal to disabuse me of that at any rate. I believe
my own eyes."

"I should not if I were you. If anyone kissed your hand or mine it would
not only be an epoch in our lives, but also the sign manual of some
ponderous attachment which you, my dear, would carefully weigh, and
approximately value. But do you suppose for one moment that Fay
attaches any importance to such an everyday occurrence!"

"I see what you are driving at, that Fay is not responsible for her
actions. But she is. She must know when she does things or lets them be
done, that will make others suffer."

"If you could look into Fay's heart, Bessie, you would find that Fay is
suffering herself and attributing her pain to others. As long as we do
that, as long as we hold the stick by the wrong end, we must inflict
pain in some form or other. Fay is not happy. You cannot look at her
without seeing it."

"I would not mind so much if it were not for Wentworth," said Bessie
with dreadful courage. "I know it is partly jealousy, but it is not only
jealousy. There are a few crumbs of unselfishness in it. I thought at
first--I reasoned it out with myself and it appeared a logical
conclusion--that father was the ostensible but not the real object of
Wentworth's frequent visits. I took a great interest in his
conversation; it is so lucid, so well informed, so illuminative. I do
not read novels as a rule, but I dipped into a few, studying the love
scenes, and the preliminary approaches to love scenes in order to aid my
inexperience at this juncture. I am sorry to say I fell into the error
that he might possibly reciprocate the growing interest I felt in him,
in spite of the great disparity in age. It was a mistake. I have
suffered for it."

The two roses of Bessie's cheeks bloomed on as unflinchingly as ever.

Magdalen's eyes were fixed on her own hands.

"You would not have suited each other if he had cared for you," she said
after a moment, "for you would not have done him justice when you got to
know him better, any more than you do Fay justice now that you _do_ know
her better. Wentworth is made of words, just as other men are made of
flesh and blood. How would you have kept any respect for him when you
had become tired of words? You are too straightforward, too
sledge-hammer to understand a character like his."

"In that case Fay ought to suit him," said Bessie grimly. "No one, not
even you, can call her straightforward. But I begin to think, Magdalen,
that you actually wish for the marriage."

"I had never thought of it as possible on her side until a few minutes
ago, when what you said took me by surprise. Of course I had noticed the
attraction on his side, but it appeared to me he was irresolute and
timid, and it is better to ignore the faint emotions of half-hearted
people. They come to no good. If you repel them they are mortally
offended and withdraw, and if you welcome them they are terrified and
withdraw."

"I don't think Wentworth intends withdrawing."

"No. These meetings look as if he had unconsciously drifted with the
current till the rowing back would be somewhat arduous." There was a
moment's silence, in which Magdalen recalled certain lofty sentiments
which Wentworth had aired with suspicious frequency of late. She knew
that when he talked of his consciousness of guidance by a Higher Power
in the important decisions of his life he always meant following the
line of least resistance. In this case the line of least resistance
_might_ tend towards marriage.

"It never struck me as possible till now," she said aloud, "that Fay
would think seriously of him."

"I don't suppose she is. She is only keeping her hand in. Don't you
remember how cruel she was to that poor Mr. Bell."

"I am convinced that she is not keeping her hand in."

"Then you actually favour the idea of a marriage." Bessie got up and
stalked slowly to the door. "You will help it on?" she said over her
shoulder.

"No." Magdalen's voice shook a little. "I will do nothing to help it, or
to hinder it."



CHAPTER XXI

    The dawn broke dim on Rose Mary's soul--
    No hill-crown's heavenly aureole,
    But a wild gleam on a shaken shoal.

    --D. G. ROSSETTI.


If Fay's progress through life could have been drawn with a pencil it
would have resembled the ups and downs, like the teeth of a saw, of a
fever chart.

To Magdalen it appeared as if Fay could undergo the same feelings with
the same impotent results of remorse or depression a hundred times. They
seemed to find her the same and leave her the same. But nevertheless she
did move, imperceptibly, unconsciously--no, not quite unconsciously. The
sense--common to all weak natures--not of being guided, but of being
pushed was upon her.

Once again she tried to extricate herself from the pressure of some
mysterious current. There seemed no refuge left in Magdalen. There
seemed very few comfortable people left in the world, to whom a
miserable woman might turn. Only Wentworth. _He did not know._

Perhaps Fay would never have turned to him if she had not first confided
in and then shrunk from Magdalen. For the second time in her life she
longed feverishly to get away from home, the home to which only a year
ago she had been so glad to hurry back, when she had been so restlessly
anxious to get away from Italy. Wentworth was beginning to look like a
means of escape. The duke had at one time worn that aspect. Later on
Michael had looked extremely like it for a moment. Now Wentworth was
assuming that aspect in a more solid manner than either of his
predecessors. She was slipping into love with him, half unconsciously,
half with _malice prepense_. She told herself continually that she did
not want to marry him or anyone, that she hated the very idea of
marriage.

But her manner to Wentworth seemed hardly to be the outward reflection
of these inward communings. And why did she conceal from Magdalen her
now constant meetings with him?

Wentworth had by this time tested and found correct all his intimate
knowledge of Woman, that knowledge which at first had not seemed to work
out quite smoothly.

Nothing could be more flattering, more essentially womanly than Fay's
demeanour to him had become since he had set her mind at rest as to his
intentions on that idyllic afternoon after the storm. (How he had set
her mind at rest on that occasion he knew best.) It seemed this
exquisite nature only needed the sunshine of his unspoken assurance to
respond with delighted tenderness to his refined, his cultured advances.
He was already beginning to write imaginary letters to his friends, on
the theme of his engagement: semi-humourous academic effusions as to how
he, who had so long remained immune, had succumbed at last to feminine
charm; how he, the determined celibate--Wentworth always called himself
a celibate--had been taken captive after all. To judge by the letters
which Wentworth conned over in his after-dinner mind, and especially one
to Grenfell, the conclusion was irresistible to the meanest intellect
that he had long waged a frightful struggle with the opposite sex to
have remained a bachelor--a celibate, I mean--so long.

We have all different ways of enjoying ourselves. In the composition of
these imaginary letters Wentworth tasted joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

In these days Fay's boxes of primroses jostled each other in the
postman's cart, on their way to cheer patients on their beds of pain in
London hospitals.

Fay read the hurried, grateful notes of busy matrons, over and over
again. They were a kind of anodyne.

On a blowing afternoon in the middle of April she made her way across
the down with her basket to a distant hazel coppice to which she had not
been as yet.

A fever of unrest possessed her. She had thought when she confessed to
Magdalen that her misery had reached its lowest depths. But it had not
been so. Her wretchedness, momentarily relieved, had since gone a step
deeper, that was all. She had endeavoured to allay her thirst with a cup
of salt water, which had only increased it to the point of agony.

As she walked a bare tree stretched out its naked arms to waylay her. It
was the very tree under which Michael and she had kissed each other, six
spring-tides ago. She recognised it suddenly, and turned her eyes away,
as if a corpse were hanging in chains from one of its branches. Her
averted eyes fell upon a seagull wheeling against the blue, the
incarnation of freedom and the joy of life. She turned away her eyes
again and hurried on, looking neither to right nor left.

A light wind went with her, drawing her like a "kind constraining hand."

She stumbled across the bare shoulder of the down to the wood below.

Magdalen came by the same way soon afterwards, but not to gather
primroses. Magdalen usually so serene was becoming daily more troubled.
The thought of Michael in prison ground her to the earth. Fay's obvious
wayward misery, which yet seemed to bring her no nearer to repentance,
preyed upon her. She was crushed beneath her own promise of secrecy.
Every day as it passed seemed to cast yet another stone on the heap
under which she lay.

Could she dare to keep that promise? How much longer could she dare to
keep it? And yet if she broke it, what would breaking it avail?
Certainly not Michael's release. No creature would believe her
unsupported word. She had not even been in Italy at the time. She would
only appear to be mad. The utmost she might achieve would be to cast a
malignant shadow over her sister. Even if Fay herself confessed the
difficulties of obtaining Michael's release after this lapse of time
would be very great. Unless the confession came from her they would be
insuperable.

As Magdalen walked her strong heart quailed within her. Long ago in her
passionate youth she had met anguish and had vanquished it alone. But
how to bear the burden of another's sin without sharing the sin? How to
help Fay and Michael? Fay had indeed cast her burden upon her. She knew
not how to endure it, she who had endured so much.

She reached the wood, and entered one of the many aimless paths that
wandered through it. The uneven ground sloped downwards to the south,
and through the manifold branches of the undergrowth of budding hazels
the sea lay deeply blue, far away. The primroses were everywhere among
the trees. A winding side path beckoned to her. She walked a few steps
along it, and came suddenly upon a clearing in the coppice.

She stood still, dazed.

The primroses had taken it for their own, had laid tender hold upon that
little space, cleared and forgotten in the heart of the wood.

Young shoots of hazel and ash pricked up here and there from ivy-grown
stumps, moss gleamed where it could, through the flood of primroses. The
wild green of the mercury, holding its strong shield to the sun, the
violets, and the virgin white of the anemones were drowned in the uneven
waves and billows and shallows of that sea of primroses. They who come
in meekness year by year to roadside hedgerow and homely meadow had come
in power. The meek had inherited the earth.

The light wind impotently came, and vainly went. Overhead a lark sang
and sang in the blue. But none heeded them. The wind and the song were
but a shadow and an echo. They that are the very core of spring hung
forgotten on her garments' fringe. All the passion of the world was
gathered into the still, upturned faces of the primroses, glowing with a
pale light from within. All the love that ever had been, or could be,
all rapture of aspiration and service and self-surrender were mirrored
there.

       *       *       *       *       *

Magdalen wept for Fay, as once in bygone years she had wept for Everard:
as perhaps some woman of Palestine may have wept when Jesus of Nazareth
passed by, speaking as never man spake, and her lover went with him a
little way and then turned back.

       *       *       *       *       *

"There is no sorrow," said the primroses. "There is neither sorrow nor
sin. You are of one blood with us. You have come through into light, as
we have done, and those others are coming, too. There is no sorrow, only
a little pressure through the brown earth. There is no sin, only a
little waking and stirring in the dark. Why then grieve, oh little
faith! They are all waking and coming. For the Hand that made us made
them. The Whisper that waked us, wakes them. The Sun that draws us,
draws them. The Sun will have us come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fay had already passed by that way, had picked a few primroses, and had
gone on. _Was she never to be at peace again?_ Was she never to know
what it is to lie down in peace at night, never to know what it is to be
without fear. Her whole soul yearned for peace, as the sick man yearns
for sleep. Andrea had prayed that she might find peace. Magdalen had
told her where peace lay. But all that she had found was despair.

On her way homewards she came again upon the clearing and stopped short.
The place seemed to have undergone some subtle change. A tall figure
was standing motionless in it. The face was turned away, but Fay
recognised it instantly. As she came close Magdalen turned. For a moment
Fay saw that she did not recognise her, that she was withdrawn into a
great peace and light.

Then recognition dawned in Magdalen's eyes and with it came a look of
tenderness unspeakable.

"Fay," she said in a great compassion. "How much longer will you torture
yourself and Michael? How much longer will you keep him in prison?"

Fay was transfixed.

Those were the same words that Andrea had said on his deathbed. Those
words were alive, though he was dead. Never to any living creature, not
even to Magdalen, had she repeated them. Yet Magdalen was saying them.
She could not withstand them any longer. The very stones would shriek
them out next.

She fell at Magdalen's feet with a cry.

"I will speak," she gasped in mortal terror. "I will speak." And she
clung for very life to her sister's knees, and hid her face in her
gown.



CHAPTER XXII

    To-day unbind the captive,
    So only are ye unbound.

    --EMERSON.


The following afternoon saw Magdalen and Fay driving together to
Lostford, to consult the Bishop as to what steps it would be advisable
to take in the matter of Michael's release. Magdalen felt it would be
well-nigh impossible to go direct to Wentworth, even if he had been at
Barford. But he had been summoned to London the day before on urgent
business. And with Fay even a day's delay might mean a change of mind.
It was essential to act at once.

But to Magdalen's surprise Fay did not try to draw back. When the
carriage came to the door she got into it. She assented to everything,
was ready to do anything Magdalen told her. She was like one stunned.
She had at last closed with the inevitable. She had found it too strong
for her.

Did Fay realise how frightfully she had complicated her position by her
own folly? She lay back in her corner of the brougham with her eyes
shut, pallid, silent. Magdalen held her hand, and spoke encouragingly
from time to time.

You had to be constantly holding Fay's hand, or kissing her, or taking
her in your arms if you were to make her feel that you loved her. The
one light austere touch, the long grave look, that between reserved and
sympathetic natures goes deeper than any caress, were nothing to Fay.

It was a long drive to Lostford, and to-day it seemed interminable.

The lonely chalk road seemed to stretch forever across the down. Now and
then a few heavily-matted, fatigued-looking sheep, hustled by
able-bodied lambs, got in the way. The postman, horn on shoulder, passed
them on his way to Priesthope with the papers.

Once a man on a horse cantered past across the grass at some distance.
Magdalen recognised Wentworth on Conrad. She saw him turn into the
bridle path that led to Priesthope. He had then just returned from
London.

"He is on his way to see Fay," said Magdalen to herself, "and he is
actually in a hurry. How interested he must be in the ardour of his own
emotions at this moment. He will have a delightful ride, and he can
analyse his feelings of disappointment at not seeing her, on his way
home to tea."

Magdalen glanced at Fay, but she still lay back with closed eyes. She
had not seen that passing figure.

Magdalen's mind followed Wentworth.

"Does she realise the complications that must almost certainly ensue
with Wentworth directly her confession is made?

"Will her first step towards a truer life, her first action of
reparation estrange him from her?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Bishop was pacing up and down in the library at Lostford, waiting
for Magdalen and Fay, when the servant brought in the day's papers. He
took them up instantly with the alertness of a man who can only make
time for necessary things by seizing every spare moment.

"Oh! you two wicked women," he said as he opened the _Times_. "Why are
you late? Why are you late?"

They were only five minutes late.

His swift eye travelled from column to column. Suddenly his attention
was arrested. He became absorbed. Then he laid down the paper, and said
below his breath "Thank God."

At that moment Magdalen and Fay were announced.

For a second it seemed as if the Bishop had forgotten them. Then he
recollected and went forward to meet them. He knew that only a matter of
supreme urgency could have made Magdalen word her telegram as she had
worded it, and when he caught sight of Fay's face he realised that she
was in jeopardy.

All other preoccupations fell from him instantly. He welcomed them
gravely, almost in silence.

The sisters sat down close together on a sofa. Fay's trembling hand put
up her long black veil, and then sought Magdalen's hand, which was ready
for it.

There was a short silence. Magdalen looked earnestly at her sister.

Fay's face became suddenly convulsed.

"Fay is in great trouble," said Magdalen. "She has come to tell you
about it. She has suffered very much."

"I can see that," said the Bishop.

"I wish to confess," said Fay in a smothered voice.

"That is a true instinct," said the Bishop. "God puts it into our hearts
to confess when we are unhappy so that we may be comforted. When we come
to see that we have done less well than we might have done--then we need
comfort."

Fay looked from him to Magdalen with wide, hardly human eyes, like some
tiny trapped animal between two executioners.

The Bishop's heart contracted.

Poor, poor little thing!

"Would you like to see me alone, my child?" he said, seeing a faint
trembling like that of a butterfly beginning in her. "All you say to me
will be under the seal of confession. It will never pass my lips."

It was Magdalen's turn to become pale.

"Shall I go?" she said, looking fixedly at her sister.

"Yes," said Fay, her eyes on the floor.

Magdalen went slowly to the door, feeling her way as if half blind.

"Come back," shrieked Fay suddenly. "Magdalen, come back. I shall never
say it all, I shall keep back part unless you are there to hold me to
it. Come back. Come back."

Magdalen returned and sat down. The Bishop watched them both in silence.

"I have confessed once, already," said Fay in a low hurried voice,
"under the promise of silence. Magdalen promised not to say, and I told
her everything, weeks ago. I thought I should feel better then, but it
wasn't any good. It only made it worse."

"It is often like that," said the Bishop. "We try to do something right
but not in the best way, and just the fact of trying shows us there is
a better way--only harder, so hard we don't know how to bring ourselves
to it. Isn't that what you feel?"

"Yes."

"But there is no rest, no peace till we come to it."

"No," whispered Fay. "Never any rest."

"That is God's Hand drawing you," said the Bishop, his mind seeming to
embrace and support Fay's tottering soul. "There are things He wants
done, which He needs us to do for Him, which perhaps only we can do for
Him. At first we don't understand that, and we are so ignorant and
foolish that we resist the pressure of His Hand. Then we suffer."

Fay shivered.

"That resistance is what some people call sin. It is unendurable, the
only real anguish in the world. You see we are not meant to bear it. And
it is no manner of use to resist Him, for God is stronger than we are,
and He loves us too much ever to lose heart with us, ever to blame us,
ever to leave us to ourselves. He sees we don't understand that He can't
do without us, and that we can't do without Him. And at last, when we
feel God's need of us, then it becomes possible"--the Bishop paused--"to
say the difficult word, to do the difficult deed."

Did she understand? Who shall say! Sometimes it seems as if no actual
word reaches us that Love would fain say to our unrest and misery. But
our troubled hearts are nevertheless conscious by some other channel,
some medium more subtle than thought and speech, that Love and Peace
have drawn very near to us. It is only reflected dimly through dear
human faces that some of us can catch a glimpse of "the light that
lighteth every man that cometh into the world."

The small tortured face relaxed between the two calm ones. The sunny
room was quite still. Fear shrank to a shadow.

Suddenly the fire drew itself together with a little encouraging sound.

Fay started slightly, looked at it, and began to speak rapidly in a low
clear voice.

As Magdalen listened she prayed with intensity that Fay might really
tell the Bishop the whole story, as she had told it to herself, that
stormy night in March, half a life-time ago.

The little voice went on and on. It faltered, sank, and then struggled
up again. One point after another was reached in safety, was passed.
Nothing that Fay had already admitted was left out. Gradually, as
Magdalen listened, a faint shame laid hold of her. Her whole life had
for the time centred in one passionate overwhelming desire that Fay
should make to the Bishop as full a confession as she had made to
herself. Now she realised that Fay was saying even more than she had
done on that occasion, was excusing herself less, was blaming others
less.

Fay herself saw no discrepancy between her first and second account of
the tragedy. But then she never did see discrepancies. Her mind had
shifted a little towards the subject, that was all. This mysterious
unconscious shifting of the mind had been hidden from Magdalen, who had
felt with anguish that all she had said on that night of the storm had
had no effect on Fay's mind. She had never seen till now a vestige of
an effect. Fay had shrunk from her persistently afterwards, that was
all.

Strong and ardent souls often wonder why an appeal which they know, if
made to themselves, would clinch them forever into a regenerating
repentance is entirely powerless with a different class of mind. But
although an irresistible truth spoken in love will renovate our being,
and will fail absolutely to reach the mind of another, nevertheless the
weaker, vainer nature will sometimes pick out of the uncomfortable
appeal, to which it turns its deaf ear, a few phrases less distressing
to its _amour propre_ than the rest. To these it will listen. Fay had
retained in her mind Magdalen's vivid description of the love her
husband and Michael had borne her. She had often dwelt upon the
remembrance that she had been greatly loved. During the miserable weeks
when she had virtually made up her mind not to speak, that remembrance
had worked within her like leaven, unconsciously softening her towards
her husband, drawing her towards compassion on Michael.

Now that she did speak again she did not reproach them. She who had
blamed them both so bitterly a few short weeks ago blamed them no
longer. Nor did she say anything about the culpable silence of the real
murderer. That mysterious criminal, that scapegoat who had so far
aroused her bitterest animosity had ceased to darken her mind.

Fay had passed unconsciously far beyond the limitations of Magdalen's
anxious prayer on her behalf. The love of Andrea and Michael, tardily
seen, only partially realised, had helped her at last.

The Bishop listened and listened, a little bent forward, his eyes on
the floor, his chin in his hand. Once he made a slight movement when Fay
reached Michael's arrest, but he quickly recovered himself.

The faint voice faltered itself out at last. The story was at an end.
The Duke was dead and Michael was in prison.

"I have kept him there two years," said Fay, and was silent.

How she had raged against the cruelty of her husband's dying words. What
passionate, vindictive tears she had shed at the remembrance of them.
Now, unconsciously, she adopted them herself. She had ceased to resist
them, and the sting had gone clean out of them.

"Two years," said the Bishop. "Two years. Fast bound in misery and iron.
You in misery and he only in iron. You two poor children."

His strong face worked, and for a moment he shaded it with his hand.

Then he looked keenly at Fay.

"And you have come to me to ask me to advise you how to set Michael and
yourself free?"

"Yes," whispered Fay.

"It was time to come."

There was a short silence.

"And you understand, my dear, dear child, that you can only rescue
Michael by taking heavy blame upon yourself, blame first of all for
having a clandestine meeting with him, and then blame for letting him
sacrifice himself for your good name, and lastly blame for keeping an
innocent man in prison so long."

Fay shook like a leaf.

The Bishop took her lifeless hands in his, and held them. He made her
meet his eyes. Stern, tender, unflinching eyes they were, with a glint
of tears in them.

"You are willing to bear the cross, and endure the shame?" he said.

Two large tears gathered in Fay's wide eyes, and rolled down her
bloodless cheeks.

You could not look at her, and think that the poor thing was willing to
endure anything, capable of enduring anything.

The Bishop looked at her, through her.

"Or would you rather go home and wait in misery a little longer, and
keep him in his cell a little longer: another week--another
month--another _year_! You know best how much longer you can wait."

Silence.

"And Michael can wait, too."

"Michael must come out," said Fay, with a sob. "He was always good to
me."

"Thank God," said the Bishop, and he rose abruptly and went to the
window.

Magdalen and Fay did not move. They leaned a little closer together.
Fay's timid eyes sought her sister's like those of a child which has
repeated its lesson, and looks to its teacher to see if it has done
well.

Magdalen kissed her on the eyes.

"I have said everything, haven't I?"

"Everything."

"I wish I was dead."

Magdalen had no voice to answer with.

The Bishop came back, and sat down opposite them.

"Fay," he said, "as long as you live you will be thankful that you came
to me to-day, that you were willing to make atonement by this great act
of reparation. The comfort of that remembrance will sink deep into your
troubled heart, and will heal its wounds. But the sacrifice is not to be
exacted of you. I had to ask if you were willing to make it. But there
is no longer any necessity for you to make it. Do you understand?"

The Bishop spoke slowly. The two women looked at him with dilated eyes.

"Is Michael dead?" said Magdalen.

"No. Michael is, I believe, well. The murderer of the Marchese di
Maltagliala has confessed. It is in to-day's papers. The Marchese was
murdered by his wife. It was quite sudden and unpremeditated, the work
of an instant of terror. She has made a full confession on her deathbed.
It exonerates Michael entirely. She implores his forgiveness for her
long silence."

The Bishop's last words reached Fay from a great distance. The room with
its many books, and the tall mullioned window with the bare elm branches
across it, were all turning gently together in a spreading dimness. The
only thing that remained fixed was Magdalen's shoulder, and even that
shook a little. Fay leaned her face against it, and let all the rest go.
The window with its tree quivered for a moment across the dark and then
flickered out. The consciousness of tender hands and voices lingered a
moment longer and then vanished too.



CHAPTER XXIII

    All the heavy days are over.--W. B. YEATS.


It was very late when Magdalen and Fay reached home.

Bessie was on the lookout for them, and met them in the hall.

"Wentworth has been here," she said. "He arrived about an hour after you
had started. As you were both out he asked to see me. He was greatly
excited. He had come to tell us that Michael's innocence has suddenly
been proved. He goes to Italy to-morrow. He said he would call here on
his way to the station a little before eleven, to tell you both about
it."

And punctually at a few minutes to eleven Wentworth appeared, and was
ushered into the little white morning-room where Fay was waiting for
him.

The room was full of sunshine. The soft air came gently in, bringing
with it a breath of primroses.

Delight was in the room, tremulous, shining in Fay's eyes. Delight was
in the whole atmosphere. An enormous boundless relief overflowed
everything.

Wentworth was excited, softened, swept out of himself.

He held her soft hand in his. He tried to speak, but he could not. His
eyes filled with tears. He was ashamed.

And when he looked up he saw Fay's eyes were wet, too. His heart went
out to her. She was rejoicing with him. He pulled himself together, and
told her what little he knew; not much more than the bare facts
contained in the papers. It was now known by the Marchesa's confession
that the murder took place inside the Colle Alto gardens. Everyone,
including the police, had believed that the murder took place in the
road, and that the assassin took advantage of the accident of the garden
door being unlocked to drag the body into the garden, and hide it there.
But the Marchesa stated that she stabbed her husband in the garden
suddenly without premeditation, but with intent to kill him, because of
his determination to marry their seventeen year old daughter to a friend
of his, a _roué_, the old Duke of Castelfranco, who drank himself to
death soon afterwards.

The Marchesa stated that she dragged the body behind a shrub, walked
back through the garden to the house with the front of her gown covered
with blood without being noticed, found no attendant in the cloak room,
wrapped herself in a long cloak not belonging to her, told her servants
that the Marchese would follow later, and drove home, partially burned
her gown and the cloak as if by accident, and then awaited events. The
first news she received of her husband's death next morning was
accompanied by the amazing information that Michael had confessed to the
murder.

The Marchesa in her tardy confession stated that she believed Michael,
who had always shown her great sympathy, must have actually witnessed
the crime, and out of a chivalrous impulse towards her, had immediately
taken the guilt of it upon himself.

"That accounts for his extraordinary silence," said Wentworth, "not
only to others, but to myself. He never would say a word pro or con,
even when I told him it was no use trying to persuade me he was guilty.
The mystery is cleared up at last. I shall reach Milan to-night, and I
shall see him to-morrow. And I suppose we may be able to start home the
following day. I say these things, but I don't believe them. I can't
believe them. It all seems to me like some wonderful dream. And you are
like a person in a dream, too, as if a fairy wand had passed over you?"

As he spoke Wentworth suddenly realised that this marvellous, radiant
transformation which he beheld in Fay, which seemed to flow even to the
edges of her lilac gown, was happiness, and that he had never seen her
happy till this moment. She had always looked pathetic, mournful,
listless. Now for the first time he saw her, as it were, released from
some great oppression, and the change was almost that of identity. Her
beauty had taken on a new magic.

There is no joy so rapturous, so perfect as the moment of relief from
pain. There was, perhaps, no creature in the world on this particular
April morning whose happiness approached Fay's. She raised her white
eyelids and smiled at Wentworth.

His well-conducted heart nudged him suddenly like a vulgar, jocular
friend.

"Is all your gladness for Michael?" he said boldly. "Have you none to
spare for me?"

He was in for it.

"You must forgive me if I am too impetuous, too precipitate," he said,
"but won't you make me doubly happy, Fay, before I go." He rose and came
towards her. She looked down, half frightened, and he suddenly felt
himself colossal, irresistible, a man not to be trifled with. "You have
known for a long time that I love you," he said. "Won't you tell me that
you love me a little, too?"

A delightful sense of liberty and newness of life were flowing in
regenerating waves over Fay's spirit.

Wentworth seemed a part of this all-pervading joyousness and freedom.
She made a little half unconscious movement towards him, and in a
moment, that intrepid man, that dauntless athlete of the emotions had
taken her in his arms.



CHAPTER XXIV

    He who gives up the smallest part of a secret has the
    rest no longer in his power.--JEAN PAUL.


The Marchesa's confession made a great and immediate sensation
throughout Italy. Everyone who had known Michael, and a great many who
had not, proclaimed with one consent that his innocence was no news to
them. The possibility that he might be shielding someone had been
discussed at the time of the trial, but had found no shred of
confirmation.

And now the mystery was solved at last, and in the most romantic manner.
Michael had come out with flying colours.

To many minds the romance was enhanced by the fact that the Marchesa was
a gentle, middle-aged, grey-haired woman in no way attractive, whose
whole interest in life centred in her daughter. Michael's transcendent
act of chivalry towards the Marchesa, dramatically acknowledged by her
at last upon her deathbed, appealed even to the most unimaginative
natures. He became the hero of the hour. Telegrams of congratulation
poured in from every quarter. Letters snowed in on him. Even before
Wentworth could reach him enthusiastic strangers had tried to force
their way into his cell. Determined young reporters came out in
gondolas, and it was all the warders and the doctor could do to protect
Michael from invasion.

He sat apparently stunned in his cell, the only person unmoved. Every
servant and warder in that dreary establishment had come to offer him
their congratulations. The other convicts had sent messages. The man in
the next cell, slowly dying of gangrene, had crawled from his pallet to
beat a tattoo on the wall. The doctor was beside himself with joy.

"You must keep calm," he kept saying in wild excitement. "Your brother
will be here to-morrow morning. I implore you to be calm."

And he brought Michael his best pipe, and some of his most cherished
tobacco, and a weird suit of black clothes, and urged him to spend the
evening with him in his own sitting-room.

But Michael shook his head. He had no hatred of his striped blouse. He
was accustomed to it. He said he would prefer to await his brother's
arrival in his cell. He was accustomed to that, too. He felt as if he
could not bear to have everything torn from him at once, as if he should
be lost if all his landmarks were changed. He sat hour by hour, smoking,
and every now and then reading Wentworth's telegram.

He tried to realise it. He said to himself over and over again: "I am
free. I am going away. Wentworth is coming to take me home." But it was
no good. His mind would not take hold.

He looked for the twentieth time at Wentworth's telegram. Wentworth was
hurrying towards him at this moment, would be travelling all night,
would reach him in the morning. Dear, dear Wenty, he would be happy
again now.

Michael groaned.

"It's no kind of use. I _can't_ believe it."

He tried to think of Fay. He should see _her_ soon, touch her hand, hear
her voice. Poor little darling! She had not the courage of a mouse.
Perhaps she was a little glad at his release. Yes. No doubt she had been
pleased to hear it. He hoped she would not feel shy of him at seeing him
again. He hoped she would not thank him.

The door, no longer locked, was suddenly opened, and the head warder
deferentially ushered in a visitor.

A tall, dark man in a tri-coloured sash came in, and the warder
withdrew.

The man bowed and looked with fixity at Michael, who stared back at him,
dazed and confused. Where had he seen that face before?

Ah! _He remembered!_

"I perceive that you have not forgotten me," said the Delegato. "It was
I who arrested you. It was to me that you confessed to the murder of the
Marchese di Maltagliala."

"I remember."

"I never was able to reach any certainty that you were really guilty,"
continued the Delegato. "I was not even convinced that you had had a
quarrel with the Marchese."

"I had no quarrel with him."

"I knew that. That you might be shielding someone occurred forcibly to
my mind. _But who?_"

Michael looked steadily at the official.

"And there was blood upon your hand and sleeve when you confessed."

"There was."

"It was not the Marchese's blood," said the Delegato, drawing a sallow
finger across a blue chin. "It remained a mystery. I will own that it
had not crossed my mind that that fragile and timid lady had killed her
husband, and that as she at last confesses you were shielding her." The
Delegato looked piercingly at Michael.

Michael was silent.

"You have always been silent. Is not the moment come to speak?"

Michael shook his head.

The Delegato bowed.

"I came to ask you to discuss the affair openly," he said, "to relieve
my perplexity as a matter of courtesy. But you will not speak. Then I
will speak instead. When first I read the Marchesa's confession it came
into my mind that the Marchesa, who I believe was your friend, might for
some reason, possibly the sentimental devotion of an older woman for a
young man--such things have been--that she _might_ have confessed on her
deathbed to a crime which she had not committed in order to save you
from--_this_"--he touched the wall of the cell. "I doubted that she
really murdered her husband. _But she did._ I sought out the maid who
had been with her when the Marchese died, and she, before the confession
was published, informed me that she had not undressed the Marchesa on
her return from the Colle Alto party. And that next morning part of the
cloak which was not hers, and part of her gown were found to be burnt as
stated in her confession. It was indeed necessary to burn them. The
Marchesa murdered the Marchese."

There was a long silence.

"I cannot tell whether you witnessed the crime or not. At first I
thought the blood on your hands and clothes might have come from helping
her to drag the body into the garden. But it was not so. At the time I
attached a great importance to the garden door being unlocked. Too
great. It led me astray. The gardener, in spite of his oath that he had
locked it, had probably left it unlocked. We now know from the Marchesa
that the murder took place within the garden, and the locking and
unlocking of the door was an accident which looked like a clue.... But,
if you witnessed the murder, and wished to retire without raising an
alarm, or denouncing that unhappy lady, I ask myself why did you not
open the garden door from within--the key was in the lock, I saw it--and
pass out on to the high road. Why did you, instead, try so hard to
escape over the wall behind the ilexes that you tore your hands on the
cut glass on the top? I found the place next day. There was blood on it.
When you were struggling to escape over that wall you were not anxious
to take the Marchesa's guilt upon yourself. When you were hiding behind
the screen in the Duchess' apartment you were not--_at that
moment_--very determined to shield the Marchesa from the consequences of
her deed. All Italy is ringing with your quixotic, your chivalrous, your
superb action. _Nevertheless_, if I had quitted the Duchess' apartment,
if my natural and trained acuteness had not made one last effort
respecting the screen, _I do not think you would have followed me into
the garden to denounce yourself_."

The Delegato paused.

Michael was quite unmoved. Everything reached him dimly as through a
mist. He partly saw the difficulty in the official's mind, but it did
not interest him. He was cleared. That was enough.

"In two years much is forgotten," said the Delegato, sententiously, "and
it is, perhaps, I alone who recall the more minute details of the case,
because I was present and my interest was overwhelming. I have not
spoken of this to anyone but yourself. I shall not speak of it again. I
have taken a journey to discuss it with you because I had hoped you
would understand my professional interest in unravelling that which
remains still obscure, a mystery, which is daily becoming to me a
greater mystery than before the Marchesa's confession. You have it in
your power to gratify my natural desire for elucidation by an
explanation which can no longer injure you in any way. You are innocent.
It is proved. But even now you will not speak. You prefer to preserve
your attitude of silence to the end. Good! I will intrude on you no
longer. I offer you my congratulations. I deplore your inevitable
imprisonment. I withdraw."

The Delegato bowed yet again and went to the door.

"That of which you will not speak was known to your friend the Duke of
Colle Alto," he said. "_The Duke knew._"

"The Duke is dead," said Michael.

"I am aware of that," said the Delegato, frigidly. He bowed for the last
time, and left the cell, gently closing the door.



CHAPTER XXV

    Est-ce donc une monnaie que votre amour, pour qu'il
    puisse passer ainsi de main en main jusqu'à la mort? Non,
    ce n'est pas même une monnaie; car la plus mince pièce d'or
    vaut mieux que vous, et dans quelques mains qu'elle passe
    elle garde son effigée.--A. DE MUSSET.


Wentworth came in the morning, tremulous, eager, holding Michael by the
shoulders, as he used to do when Michael was a small boy, as he had
never done since.

The brothers looked long at each other with locked hands, water in their
eyes.

"Wenty," said Michael at last, with his grave smile.

And that was all.

They sat down together in silence on the little bed. Wentworth tried to
speak once or twice, but it was no use.

"Fay cried with joy at the news," he said at last, looking with shy
hungry love at his brother. "If you could have seen her radiant face. I
never saw any creature so changed, so transfigured."

A faint flush rose to Michael's face.

"I know how she grieved over your imprisonment. She is the most
tender-hearted woman in the world. I never knew anyone so sympathetic."
Wentworth hesitated. Then he added tremulously. "My great grief has been
her grief, too. She helped me to bear it."

"I did not know she had--minded so much," said Michael, almost
inaudibly.

"You might have guessed it," said Wentworth, "knowing her to be what she
is. She has always been so pale and sad, as if bowed down by trouble.
But directly the news came that you were cleared--I went to see her at
once--if you could only have seen her face, her tears of joy, her
delight."

"Did she send a message, or a note? Just a line. Perhaps you have a
letter with you."

"No, she did not write," said Wentworth, self conscious, but beaming.
"There was not time. There was time for nothing. It was all such a rush.
I only saw her on my way to the station. But I know she won't mind my
telling you, Michael--you ought to know first of anyone--it all seems so
wonderful. But I daresay--no, I see you have guessed it--I daresay I
have said things in my letters that showed you it was coming--it was the
grief about you that first drew us together. Fay and I are going to be
married."

Michael put his hand to his head.

"Everything has come at once," said Wentworth. "I have you again. And I
have her. I've nothing left to wish for."

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael did not leave the prison in the gondola which had brought
Wentworth, and which was waiting to take them both away. The excitement
of his brother's arrival had proved too great, and he fell from one
fainting fit into another. Wentworth was greatly alarmed, but the doctor
was reassuring and cheerful. He said that Michael had borne the news
with almost unnatural calmness, but that the shock must have been great,
and a breakdown was to be expected. He laughed at Wentworth's anxiety
even while he ministered to Michael, and assured him that no one in his
experience had died of joy.

But later in the evening when Wentworth, somewhat pacified, had returned
to Venice for the night, the doctor felt yet again for the twentieth
time that the young Englishman baffled him.

It seemed to him that he was actually relieved when the kind, awkward,
tender elder brother had reluctantly taken his departure, promising to
come back early in the morning.

"Do not distress yourself, you will be quite well enough to leave
to-morrow," the doctor said to him many times. "I expected this
momentary collapse. It is nothing."

Michael's eyes dwelt on the kind face and then closed. There was that in
them which the doctor could not fathom.

He took the food that was pressed on him, and then turned his face to
the wall, and made as if he slept.

And the walls bent over him, and whispered to him, "Stay with us. We are
not so cruel as the world outside."

And that night the dying convict in the next cell, nearly as close on
freedom as Michael, heard all through the night a low sound of strangled
anguish that ever stifled itself into silence, and ever broke forth
anew, from dark to dawn.

The next morning Michael went feebly down the prison steps, calm and
wan, leaning on Wentworth's careful arm, and smiling affectionately at
him.



CHAPTER XXVI

    Les caractères faibles ne montrent de la décision que
    quand il s'agit de faire un sottise.--DANIEL DARC.


A week or two after the news of Michael's proved innocence had convulsed
Hampshire, and before Michael and Wentworth had returned to Barford,
Aunt Aggie might have been seen on a fine May afternoon walking slowly
towards "The Towers." She had let her cottage at Saundersfoot for an
unusually long period, and was marking time with the Blores. Whatever
Aunt Mary's faults might be she was always ready to help her sister in
this practical manner, when Aunt Aggie was anxious to add to the small,
feebly frittered away income, on which her muddled, impecunious
existence depended.

In spite of the most pertinent remarks to the contrary from her sister,
Aunt Aggie believed herself to be an unsurpassed manager of restricted
means. She constantly advised young married couples as to the judicious
expenditure of money, and pressed on Magdalen the necessity of
retrenching in exasperating directions, namely, where a minute economy
entailed a colossal inconvenience.

In her imagination she saw herself continually consulted, depended on,
strenuously implored to give her opinion on matters of the utmost
delicacy, fervently blessed for her powerful spiritual assistance of
souls in jeopardy, and always gracefully attributing the marvellous
results of her intervention to a Higher Power of which she was but the
unworthy channel.

These imaginary scenes were the unfailing solace of Aunt Aggie's
somewhat colourless life, and the consciousness of them in the
background gave her a certain meek and even patient self-importance, the
basis of which was hidden from Lady Blore.

Aunt Aggie had also another perennial source of chastened happiness in
recalling the romance of her youth, those halcyon days before the
Archdeacon had been unsuccessfully harpooned and put to flight by Lady
Blore.

Her clerical love affair perfumed her conversation, as a knife which has
once associated with an onion inevitably reveals, even in estrangement,
that bygone intimacy.

No one could breathe the word Margate without Aunt Aggie remarking that
she had had a dear friend who had evinced a great partiality for
Margate. Were the clergy mentioned in her presence with the scant
respect with which the ministry and other secular bodies have to put up,
Aunt Aggie vibrated with indignation. _She_ had known men of the highest
talents holding preferment in the Church.

But in her imagination her affair of the heart had passed beyond
reminiscence. Far from being buried in the past it remained the chief
factor in her life, colouring and shaping the whole of her future.

Aunt Aggie could at any moment dip into a kind of sequel to that early
history. In the sequel the Archdeacon's wife was, of course, to die;
but, owing to circumstances which Aunt Aggie had not yet thoroughly
worked out, that unhappy lady was first to undergo tortures in some
remote locality, nursed devotedly--poor thing--by Aunt Aggie. The result
of her ministrations was never in doubt from the first. The Archdeacon's
wife was, of course, to succumb, calling down blessings on the devoted
stranger at her bedside, with the enigmatical smile which spoke of some
sacred sorrow.

Aunt Aggie had shed many delicious tears over that deathbed scene, and
the chastened grief of the saintly Archdeacon, quite overshadowed by his
boundless gratitude to herself. At this crisis his overwhelming
desolation wrung from him--with gross disloyalty to the newly dead--a
few disjointed sentences which revealed only too clearly how unsuited to
him his wife had been, how little she had understood him, how lonely his
wedded life had been. She had evidently been one of those tall thin
maypoles of women who have but little tenderness in them.

Aunt Aggie, after giving the children a sample of what a real mother
could be, was to retire to her little home at Saundersfoot. Here the
real joy of the situation was to begin.

After a decent interval the Archdeacon was to be constantly visiting
Saundersfoot, was to be observed visiting Aunt Aggie at Saundersfoot,
singling her out from among the numerous spinsters of that
watering-place to make her the object of reverent attentions. Others
younger and better looking than Aunt Aggie--especially Miss Barnett, the
doctor's sister, who, it was whispered, wore an artificial cushion from
Douglas's under her hair--were to set their caps or cushions at the
dignified Archdeacon, seen pacing the sands. But it was all of no avail.
He had eyes for no one but the gentle, retiring Miss Bellairs. Aunt
Aggie was to become the object of burning jealousy and detraction on the
part of the female--that is to say almost the whole--population of
Saundersfoot. But she herself, while envious calumny raged round her,
went on her way calm and grave as ever.

But the proposal long warded off could not be parried forever. The
frenzied passion of the Archdeacon was at last not to be restrained.
Aunt Aggie had in her mind a set of proposals, all good, out of which it
became harder and harder as time went on to select one. But her answer
was ever the same, a pained but firm refusal. She was happy in her lot.
She was greatly needed where she was. She did not wish to marry. She was
no longer young. This last reason was an enormous concession to realism
on Aunt Aggie's part.

Then came the cream of the whole story. The Archdeacon was to pine
secretly. His work was to be neglected. He was to be threatened with a
nervous breakdown. He was to confide his sorrow to the paternal bosom of
his Bishop. When Aunt Aggie was in her normal state it was the Bishop in
whom the Archdeacon was to confide. But sometimes in the evenings after
a glass of cowslip wine, her imagination took a bolder flight. The
Archbishop himself was to be the confidant of the distracted cleric.
This presented no real difficulty after the first moment, for the
Archbishop was in the flower of his age--the Archdeacon's age--and
might easily have been at school with him. Aunt Aggie had once seen
Lambeth from a cab window as she passed over Westminster Bridge. Under
that historic tower she heard the first subject of the King urge his
brother prelate to take heart, promising assistance.

We will pass over Aunt Aggie's amazed reception of a cordial invitation
to stay at Lambeth, her hesitating acceptance, her arrival, the
magnificent banquet, crowded with ministers and bishops, the fact that
the Archbishop himself singled her out as the object of courtly though
somewhat anxious attentions. And then after dinner Aunt Aggie, in her
plum-coloured satin, was to be unconsciously but skilfully withdrawn
from the glittering throng by the Archbishop. And in his study he was to
make a great, a fervent appeal to her. Aunt Aggie had bought a
photograph of him in order to deaden the shock of this moment. But
nevertheless whenever she reached this point she was always really
frightened. Her hands really trembled. The Archbishop was to ask her
with tempered indignation how much longer she intended to nullify the
labours of his ablest colleague, how much longer her selfish
predilection for celibacy was to wreck the life and paralyse the powers
of a broken-hearted man. Her cruelty was placed before her in glowing
colours. She was observed to waver, to falter. A tear was seen in spite
of her marvellous self-control to course down her cheek. The eye of an
Archbishop misses nothing. With an ejaculation of profound relief he
beckons to a distant figure which appears in a doorway. The Archdeacon
in his evening gaiters rushes in. Aunt Aggie gives way!

After this final feat of the imagination Aunt Aggie generally felt so
worn out by emotion that food was absolutely necessary to her.

On this occasion she sat down quivering on a heap of stones by the
roadside, and drew forth a biscuit which she had secreted at luncheon at
the Vicarage an hour before. It must be owned that she was fond of food,
though not in the same way that most of us are addicted to it. She liked
eating buns out of paper bags at odd moments in the open air, and
nibbling a sponge cake half forgotten and suddenly found in a drawer
with her handkerchiefs. But in justice to her it ought to be added that
she seemed only to care for the kind of provender which yielded the
largest increment in the way of crumbs.

As she sat and nibbled an uneasy recollection stole across her mind.

This recollection was becoming more disconcerting day by day. And yet
she had acted for the best. That fact did not insure to her immunity
from blame on the part of that awful personage, her sister Mary. Good
intentions had never yet received their due as extenuating circumstances
in Lady Blore's sweeping judgments.

If a certain secret chivalrous action of Aunt Aggie's "turned out
wrong," she knew well the intonation in which Lady Blore would ask her
why she had been such a fool. Nevertheless she, Aunt Aggie, had only
done with consummate tact what Mary herself had contemplated doing in
her rough way, and had been persuaded not to do.

Some weeks ago Aunt Aggie had concocted in secret, recopied about twenty
times, and had finally despatched a letter to Lord Lossiemouth anent
Magdalen. It had been the boldest action of her life. At first, even
after she had seen that she was the only person able to deal adequately
with so delicate a matter, she had feared that she would not have the
strength to perform her mission. But strength had apparently been lent
to her for the occasion. The letter had actually been posted.

The moment it was irrevocably gone Aunt Aggie fell into a panic.
Supposing it failed in its object, and that Algernon or Mary discovered
what she had done. She could not even face such a possibility. But then,
supposing on the other hand that her missive united two loving,
estranged hearts, and that dear Magdalen owed her happiness--and a
titled happiness--to her. Then Algernon and Mary would be forced to
admit that she had shown a courage and devotion greater than theirs. "We
only talked, you acted," they would both say, and she would thenceforth
be recognised in her true light, as an incomparable counsellor, and a
judicious, far-seeing friend.

But three weeks had elapsed since Aunt Aggie, stealing out alone, had
dropped that momentous letter into the village post-box. Nothing had
happened. She had not even received an answer. She was becoming
frightened and anxious. _Was he secretly married?_ She wished she had
thought of that possibility before she posted the letter.

Many simple-minded men of disengaged affections, cheerfully pursuing
their virtuous avocations, would be thunderstruck if they knew the dark
suspicions harboured against them in spinster bosoms, that they are
concealing some discreditable matrimonial secret, which alone can
account for their--well--their _extraordinary_ behaviour in not coming
forward!

It has actually been said that real life is not always like a novel.
This feebly false assertion was disproved forever in Aunt Aggie's mind
by the sight of a dog-cart coming rapidly toward her from the direction
of Lostford. She glanced indifferently at it as it approached, and then
her pale eyes became glued to it. In the dog-cart sat Everard Constable,
now Lord Lossiemouth. She had not seen him for fifteen years, but
nevertheless she recognised him instantly. There was no doubt it was he:
thickened and coarsened, but still he. He whirled past leaning back in
his seat, looking neither to right nor left.

Aunt Aggie's heart gave a thump that nearly upset her equilibrium. The
biscuit dropped onto the road, with a general upheaval of crumbs from
all parts of her agitated person.

Lord Lossiemouth!

Going in the direction of Priesthope!

Her letter!

She nearly swooned with joy and pride.

Now Mary and Algernon, now everyone would believe in her.

She raised herself from the heap of stones and with trembling legs
hurried towards "The Towers." She must tell Mary at once.

She found Lady Blore seated at her writing-table in the drawing-room,
which was choked by the eastern and Japanese impedimenta, the draperies,
the krises, the metal bowls, the ivory boxes, which an Indian career
seems so inevitably to entail. Sir John had brought back crates of the
kind of foreign _bric-à-brac_ cheap imitations of which throng London
shop windows. The little entrance hall was stuffy with skins. Horned
skulls garnished the walls, pleading silently for decent burial. Even
the rugs had once been bears.

Aunt Mary was bored with her drawing-room, which looked like a stall at
a bazaar, but, to her credit be it said, that she had never made any
change in it, except to remove a brass idol from the writing-table, at
which she was at this moment sitting.

By one of those sudden instincts which make people like Aunt Aggie the
despair of those with whom they live, she instantaneously conceived the
idea (for no reason except that she was thinking of her own letter) that
her sister was at that moment writing to Lord Lossiemouth.

She "had a feeling" that this was the case. The feeling became in a
second a rooted conviction. The butler came in, arranged an
uncomfortable Indian table, placed a brass tray with tea things on it
before Lady Blore, and asked if there were any more letters for the
post. Aunt Mary was in the act of giving him one when Aunt Aggie
intervened.

"Don't," she said in wild agitation, clasping her hands. "Mary, I beg of
you, I conjure you not to post that letter."

"Why not? I have resolved to give him another chance."

"Keep it back one post, I implore you. I have a reason."

Aunt Mary looked attentively at her sister, and took back the letter.
It was not like her to give way. She seemed less overbearing than usual.

"Well? Why not employ him again?" she said wearily. "The Irish butter is
the cheapest after all. Why do you make such a point of my leaving him."

Aunt Aggie was entirely nonplussed. A thousand similar experiences had
never lessened the shock of the discrepancy between what she expected
her sister to say, and what she actually said.

"I thought, I thought," she stammered, "I felt sure that, I see now I
was wrong, but I had a conviction that that letter--you see I knew you
were thinking of writing--was to, was in short to Lord Lossiemouth."

Aunt Mary's face became magenta colour.

"To Lord Lossiemouth! Why should you think I was writing to him?"

"Well, I could not help knowing--don't you remember how you discussed
the subject with me and dear Magdalen some weeks ago?--that the subject
of a judicious and dignified letter was in your mind."

"I was careful not to mention the subject to Magdalen in your presence.
I see now that you must have listened outside the door."

Aunt Aggie experienced a second shock. How did Mary always spy out these
things?

"I can't think," continued Lady Blore, "how you can lower yourself to
eavesdrop in the way you do; and if you must do these underhand actions,
why you don't conceal them better. When you read a private letter of
mine the other day, because I inadvertently left it for a moment on my
writing-table----"

"You always say you lock up your private letters, you do, indeed, Mary.
_Be_ fair. I could not _tell_ it was private."

"You would have been wiser not to have alluded next day to its contents.
If you had not done so I might not have known you had read it."

Aunt Aggie burst into tears.

"The truth is I am not secretive like you, Mary," she said between her
sobs. "It is as natural to me to be open and trustful with those I love
as it is for you to be the reverse. Whatever I do you think wrong. But
perhaps some day--and that before long--you will be forced to admit----"

At this moment the drawing-room door opened and Colonel Bellairs came
in. He often came to tea at "The Towers," though the meeting seldom
passed off without a sharp brush with Lady Blore.

"Draw up that chair, Algernon," said that lady, with grim but instant
cordiality. "The tea will be ready in a moment."

Colonel Bellairs looked more floridly handsome than usual. He was
evidently in a state of supreme self-satisfaction.

"Fine day," he said, "for the time of year."

At this moment a small parchment face, and bent figure leaning on a
stick, might have been seen peering in through the closed windows. Sir
John looked dispassionately at the family group, and shook his head.
Then he hobbled back to his chair under the cedar. Tea was evidently a
meal to be dispensed with this afternoon.

"I have news for you," said Colonel Bellairs, expanding his chest.

Lady Blore held the tea-pot suspended.

"Everard Constable--Lossiemouth, I should say--is at this moment sitting
in the drawing-room at Priesthope, alone with Magdalen."

Colonel Bellairs was not disappointed in the effect of his words on his
audience.

Aunt Aggie trembled and looked proudly guilty. Lady Blore put down the
tea-pot suddenly, and said, "Thank God!"

Aunt Aggie, her mouth open to speak, began to choke. She looked
piteously from her brother to her sister, struggling in vain to
articulate. It was too cruel that she should be bereft of speech at this
supreme moment.

Lady Blore turned putty pale and magenta colour alternately. A great
relief softened her hard face. There were actually tears in her eyes.
Then she said majestically, but with a tremor in her metallic voice:

"I am not surprised."

"It is my doing," shrieked Aunt Aggie, in the strangled squeak in which
we always explain that it is "only a crumb" gone wrong. And she relapsed
into a fresh spasm.

Lady Blore sternly bade her be silent. Colonel Bellairs was slightly
annoyed.

"It is no use, Mary, your saying you are not surprised, for you are," he
said judicially, "and really," relapsing into complacency, "so am I in a
way. It is fifteen years since I forbade Everard the house. I fear that
I was unduly harsh. I dismissed him, so it was for me to recall him. Now
that the cat is out of the bag I don't mind telling you that I wrote to
him a few weeks ago."

"You--wrote--to--him!" said Aunt Mary in great agitation. "Algernon, you
sent me word by Magdalen that you refused to meddle in the matter."

"I daresay I did. I may not have liked the tone you took about it, Mary.
You are so devilish high-handed. In short, I don't mind telling you that
I was annoyed by your interference in the matter. But after mature
consideration--I turned the matter over in my mind--I was not the least
influenced by your long-winded epistle--that in fact rather put me off
than otherwise--still after a time I wrote a manly, straightforward
letter to Everard, not blinking the facts, and I told him that if his
feelings were unchanged--mark that--as I had reason to believe
Magdalen's were--he was at liberty to come to Priesthope and resume
cordial relations with us all. You observe that I only asked him to come
if his feelings were unchanged. _He is there now._"

It would be impossible to describe the varying emotions which devastated
Lady Blore, as her brother made his announcement. Her hands trembled so
much that she was obliged to give up any pretence of holding her cup. It
chattered against its saucer.

"When did you write?" she asked at last.

"About three weeks ago."

Aunt Mary seemed to make a mental calculation.

"It is my doing. I wrote a month ago," gasped Aunt Aggie. "Algernon, you
must not take the credit of it. I waited till you and Mary had decided
not to write--you know, Mary, you told Magdalen you would not--and
then--and then--I could not stand by and see that dear child's happiness
slip away for want of one bold word, one brave friend to say for her
what she could not say for herself,--I have seen so many lives wrecked
for want of a sympathetic hand to draw two severed hearts
together,--that I wrote. I wrote a month ago. A week before you did."

"I might have known you would do some folly," said Colonel Bellairs with
contempt. "I am glad this did not come to my ears earlier, or I should
have been very angry. It was most unsuitable, most undignified, that you
and I should both write. But," it was evidently impossible for him to be
seriously annoyed by anything on this particular afternoon, "all's well
that ends well. We will say no more about it, Aggie. Don't cry. You
can't help being a fool. But don't do anything of that kind, or of any
kind again. I might not be so easy going next time."

Lady Blore drank down a large cup of tea. Her black silk bosom heaved.
Contrary to all precedent she did not turn on her quaking sister.

"Where are Fay and Bessie?" she asked.

"Fay is spending the afternoon with the Carters, and Bessie is out
somewhere, I don't know where. But I saw her start after luncheon."

"How fortunate! Then you knew he was coming?"

"Yes. I had a telegram from him this morning saying he was in the
neighbourhood, and would come over this afternoon."

"Of course you warned Magdalen?"

"Not I. I knew better than that. She has a cold, so I knew she could not
go out. So directly I had seen him drive up I came off here. I did not
think I was particularly wanted at home. Two is company and three's
none."

"Oh, Algernon, what tact! Most men would never have thought of that,"
said Aunt Aggie.

"Have another cup, Algernon," said Lady Blore graciously.

Colonel Bellairs stroked his moustache. He had another cause, a secret
one, for self-complacency. At last, after many rebuffs from charming
women, thirty years his junior, he was engaged to be married. Should he
mention it? Was not this a most propitious moment? Yes? No. Perhaps
better not. Another time! The lady had accepted him some weeks ago, but
had expressed altruistic doubts as to whether she could play a mother's
part to daughters as old as herself, whether in short, much as she
craved for their society, _they_ might not feel happier, more
independent in a separate establishment, however modest. It was on a
sudden impulse of what he called "providing for the girls," that Colonel
Bellairs had written to Lord Lossiemouth.

The renewal of his engagement to Magdalen would pave the way to Colonel
Bellairs's marriage. He had already decided that Bessie would live with
Magdalen, who would take her out. Fay had her jointure. But he had a not
unfounded fear that his second nuptials would be regarded with profound
disapproval, even with execration, by his sisters.

Magdalen alone knew about it as yet. She had taken the news, which her
father had feared would crush her to the earth, very tranquilly. She was
a person of more frigid affections than he had supposed. He had already
asked her to break the news to Fay and Bessie. Perhaps it would be
better to let her break it to his sisters too. If he did it himself they
might, at the first moment, say things they might afterwards regret.
Yes, he would leave the announcement to Magdalen.



CHAPTER XXVII

                  Our chain on silence clanks.
    Time leers between, above his twiddling thumbs.

    --GEORGE MEREDITH.


Lord Lossiemouth had come into his kingdom. He was rich, but not
vulgarly so. He had a great position, and what his artistic nature
valued even more, the possession of one of the most beautiful places in
England. The Lossiemouth pictures and heirlooms, the historic house with
its wonderful gardens--all these were his.

He had at first been quite dazed by the magnitude of his good fortune.
When it came to him it found him somewhat sore and angry at a recent
rebuff which had wounded his vanity not a little. But the excitement of
his great change of fortune soon healed what little smart remained.

A few months before he succeeded, he had fallen in love, not for the
first time by many times, with a woman who seemed to meet his
requirements. She was gentle, submissive, pretty, easily led, refined,
not an heiress, but by no means penniless.

To his surprise and indignation she had refused him, evidently not
without a certain tepid regret. He discovered that the mother had other
views for her daughter, and that the daughter, though she inclined
towards him, was quite incapable or even desirous of opposing her
mother. She was gentleness and pliability itself. These qualities, so
admirable in domestic life, have a tendency of which he had not thought
before to make their charming owner, if a hitch occurs, subside into
becoming another man's wife. If only women could be adamant until they
reach the altar, and like wax afterwards.

When everything bitter that could be said at the expense of women had
been ably expressed, Lord Lossiemouth withdrew. A month later, when he
was making an angry walking tour in Hungary, he learned from an English
paper, already many days old, of the two deaths which effected his great
change of fortune. He communicated with his lawyer, arranged to return
by a certain date, and continued his tour for another month.

On his return he had gone at once to Lossiemouth, which he had visited
occasionally as a poor and peppery and not greatly respected relation.
Business of all kinds instantly engulfed him. He was impatient,
difficult, _distrait_, slightly pleased with himself at showing so
little gratification at his magnificent inheritance.

On the third day he sorted out the letters which looked like personal
ones, from among a heap of correspondence, the accumulation of many
weeks.

Quantities of envelopes were torn open, and the contents thrown aside,
begging letters, decently veiled congratulations from "old friends" who
had not so far shown any particular desire to make their friendship a
joy to him.

Presently he came upon a long, closely written letter of several sheets,
in a slanting hand, which he was about to dismiss as another begging
letter when his eye fell on the signature. Bellows? Bulteel? Buller?
_Bellairs?_

Aunt Aggie's signature was quite illegible. It was an arranged squiggle
painfully acquired in youth, which through life had resulted in all
kinds of difficulties with tradespeople, and in continual annoyance and
inconvenience to herself. Letters and parcels were frequently directed
to her as A. Buller, Esq. She could only account for this mistake by the
business-like nature of her style and handwriting. She often told her
friends that, unless people knew her personally, her letters were
generally believed to be a man's.

It had never struck Aunt Aggie that Lord Lossiemouth might possibly, in
an interval of fifteen years, have forgotten who _A._ Bellows might be.

But the words "my beloved niece Magdalen" strongly underlined, and the
postmark on the envelope, showed him who A. Bellairs was. He thought he
remembered an old aunt who lived near Priesthope.

He read the long sentimental effusion and bit his lip.

Ah, me! Was that half-forgotten, dim-in-the-distance boyish love of his
to be raked up again now!

He sighed impatiently. Why had Fate parted him and Magdalen? He still
regretted her in a way, when he was depressed or harassed, or disgusted
with the world in general; and he was often depressed and harassed and
disgusted.

More letters. What business had people to give him the trouble of
reading them? The floor was becoming strewn with his correspondence. The
empty fireplace had become a target for crumpled balls of paper.

A short one in a large, scrambling, illiterate hand with a signature
that might mean anything. That tall capital, shaped like a ham, was
perhaps a B.

The letter was written on Priesthope notepaper. "_My daughter
Magdalen._"

This, then, was from Colonel Bellairs.

It was not such a very bad letter, but it was a deplorably unwise one.
When had Colonel Bellairs ever indited a wise one! But he made his
precarious position even less tenable by ignoring the fact that Lord
Lossiemouth's fortunes had altered, by asserting that he had had it in
his mind to write to this effect the previous Christmas but had not had
time. When Colonel Bellairs concocted that sentence he had felt, not
without pride, that it covered the ground of his fifteen years' silence,
and also showed that Lord Lossiemouth's wealth had nothing to do with
his recall. For the letter was a recall.

"Blundering old idiot," said Lord Lossiemouth, but he had become very
red.

All kinds of memories were surging up in him; Magdalen's crystal love
for him, her indefinable charm, her gaiety, her humility, her shyness,
her exquisite beauty.

Life had never brought him anything so marvellous, so enchanting, as
that first draught of April passion. And he had quenched his thirst at
many other cups since then. His lips had been blistered and stained at
poisoned brims. Why had that furious old turkey-cock parted him and
Magdalen! His heart sank for a moment at the remembrance of his first
love.

But what was the use! The Magdalen he had loved had ceased to exist. The
wand-like figure with its apple-blossom face faded, faded, and in its
place rose up the image of the thin, distinguished-looking grey-haired
woman who had supplanted that marvel. He had met Magdalen accidentally
once or twice in London of late years, and had felt dismayed anger at
the change in her, an offended anger not wholly unlike that with which
he surveyed himself at his tailors', and inspected at unbecoming angles,
through painfully frank mirrors, a thick back and a stout neck and jaw
which cruelly misrepresented his fastidious artistic personality.

He returned to his letters.

Three sheets in a firm, upright hand.

"I do not suppose you remember me," it began, "but I intend to recall
myself to your memory, which I believe to be none of the best. I am the
wife of Sir John Blore, and aunt to Magdalen Bellairs."

He flung the letter down. But this was intolerable, a persecution. And
what fools they were _all_ to write. Had Magdalen set them on?

He groaned with sudden self-disgust. What unworthy thought would come to
him next? Of course she knew nothing of this.

He looked at the date of each letter carefully. Aunt Aggie's according
to her wont had only the day of the week on it, just Tuesday, or it
might be Thursday--but Colonel Bellairs's and Lady Blore's were fully
dated, and about a fortnight apart. Colonel Bellairs had written last.

Lord Lossiemouth divined that each of the three believed him or herself
to be the only one to tackle the subject.

How ghastly! What a cruelly good short story it would make for a
magazine!

Then he read Lady Blore's letter. Apparently it was not pleasant
reading. It seemed to prick somewhat sharply. He winced once or twice,
and spoke angrily to it.

"My good woman, as if I did not _know_ that! Men are always behaving
heartlessly to women in their opinion. It is the normal male state. It
is an established fact that we are all brutes. Why do you want me to
marry your paragon if you have such a low opinion of me?"

Still he could not put the letter down.

"It is possible though improbable," wrote that dauntless woman, "that
your vacillating and selfish character may have improved sufficiently in
the course of years for you to have become aware that you have behaved
disgracefully to a woman, who, if she had had any sense, ought never to
have given you a second thought, who was and still is deeply attached to
you; probably the only person on this earth who has the misfortune to
care two pins about you."

Lord Lossiemouth tried to feel sarcastic. He tried to laugh. But it was
no use. Lady Blore's arrow had penetrated a joint in his harness.

After all he need take no notice of any of these monstrous effusions.

He was disgusted with opening letters. Nevertheless he hurried on.
Perhaps he should find others less intolerable.

A somewhat formal letter from his cousin the Bishop of Lostford, who had
never been cordial to him since his engagement to Magdalen had been
broken off. The Bishop pointed out certain grave abuses connected with
house property at Lostford, at which the late Lord Lossiemouth had
persistently connived, but which he hoped his successor might enquire
into personally and redress.

Quantities of other letters were torn open and aimed in balls at the
empty grate. But at last he came to a long one which he read
breathlessly.

It was from the mother of the girl who had so recently refused him, an
involved tortuous epistle, which implied that the daughter was seriously
attached to him, and hinted that if he were to come forward again he
would not be refused a second time. There was also a short, wavering,
nondescript note with nothing in particular in it from the girl herself.
The mother had evidently made her write.

A very venomous expression settled on Lord Lossiemouth's heavy face. He
suddenly took up a Bradshaw and looked out the trains for Lostford.



CHAPTER XXVIII

    Tard oublie qui bien aime.


On this momentous afternoon Magdalen was sitting alone in the
morning-room at Priesthope somewhat oppressed by an oncoming cold. It
had not yet reached the violent and weeping stage. That was for
to-morrow. She, who was generally sympathetically dressed, was
reluctantly enveloped in a wiry red crochet-work shawl which Bessie had
made for her, and had laid resolutely upon her shoulders before she went
out.

She tried to read, but her eyes ached, and after a time she laid down
her book, and her mind went back, as it had a way of doing--to Fay.

Fay had told her as "a great secret" that she had accepted Wentworth.
She was so transfigured by happiness, so radiant, so absolutely unlike
her former listless, colourless, carping self that Magdalen could only
suppose that two shocks of joy had come simultaneously, the discovery
that she loved her prim suitor, and the overwhelming relief to her
tortured conscience of Michael's release.

Wentworth and Michael were still at Venice. Michael, it seemed, had been
prostrated by excitement, and had been too weak to travel immediately.
But they would be at Barford in a few days' time.

When Magdalen saw Fay entirely absorbed in trying on a succession of new
summer hats, sent for from London in preparation for Wentworth's
return, she asked herself for the twentieth time whether Fay had
entirely forgotten her previous attraction for Michael, or that there
might be some awkwardness in meeting her faithful lover and servant
again, especially as the future wife of his brother.

Two years had certainly elapsed since that sudden flare-up of disastrous
passion, and in two years much can be forgotten. But after two years
everything may still be remembered, as Magdalen knew well. And she
feared that Michael was among those who remember.

Magdalen had that day told Fay of her father's intention of marrying
again, but she took almost no notice of the announcement. To use one of
Aunt Aggie's metaphors, the news "seemed to slide off her back like a
duck."

She only said, "Really! How silly of him!"

As Magdalen thought of Fay the door opened and Bessie, who was supposed
to have gone for a walk, came in.

She had a spray of crab-apple blossom in her hand. She held it towards
Magdalen as if it were a bill demanding instant payment. These little
amenities were a new departure on Bessie's part.

Magdalen's pleasure in the apple blossom seemed to her somewhat
exaggerated, but she made allowances for her, as she had a cold.

"Are you going out again?" asked Magdalen.

"No."

"Then I should like to have a little talk with you. I have something to
tell you."

Bessie sat down.

"I am prepared for the announcement you have to make. I have seen it
coming. It is about Fay."

"No, it is about Father. He has asked me to tell you that he is engaged
to be married."

"Father!"

"Yes, it is not given out yet."

"Father!"

"It is to a Miss Barnett. You may have seen her. The doctor's sister at
Saundersfoot."

"I know her by sight, a tall, showy-looking woman of nearly forty, with
amber hair and a powdered nose."

"Yes."

"Father has sunk very low," said Bessie, judicially. "He must have been
refused by a lot of others, younger and better-looking, and ladies, to
be reduced to taking her. And fancy anyone in their senses being willing
to take Father, with his gout, and his tendency to drink, and his total
disregard of hygiene. Well, she looks a vulgar pushing woman, but I am
sorry for her. And I must own that I am disappointed that if there was
to be an engagement in our family it should be Father. There is not
likely to be more than one going for a home like ours. It is just like
him to grab it."

Magdalen tried not to laugh.

"I've looked round," continued Bessie. "I don't say that at present I
could entertain the thought of marriage myself. I can't just yet, but I
mean to in the future. It's merely a question of time. Marriage is the
higher life. Besides, if one remains unmarried people are apt to think
it is because one can't help it. It would certainly be so in my case.
And I have looked round. There is not a soul in the neighbourhood for
any of us to marry that I can see except Wentworth, who is of course
extremely elderly. Hampshire seems absolutely bare of young men. And if
there are a few sons in some of the houses, they are never accessible.
And the really superior ones like Lord Alresford's only son would never
look at me. It would be waste of time to try. There is positively no
opening in Hampshire unless I marry the curate."

"That reminds me that he is to call this afternoon about the
boot-and-shoe club. I wish, my dear, in the intervals between your
aspirations towards the higher life, you would go through the accounts
with him. My head is so confused with this cold."

"I will. And where on earth are you going to live when Father marries
again? Of course, I shall graduate at Cambridge. He won't oppose that
now. Magdalen, why don't you marry, too?"

"I can't, dear Bessie. No one wants me."

"May I go on?"

"No. Please don't."

"I think I will all the same. Why not marry Lord Lossiemouth after all?
Don't speak. I want to place the situation dispassionately before you. I
have thought it carefully over. You are an extremely attractive woman,
Magdalen. I don't know what it is about you, I fail to analyse it, but
one becomes attached to you. You can make even a home pleasant. And if a
man once cared for you it is improbable that he would cease to care just
because you are no longer young. I take my stand on the basic fact that
there certainly has been a mutual attachment. I then ask myself----"

At this moment the door opened and the footman announced "Lord
Lossiemouth."

The shock to both women was for the moment overwhelming.

Magdalen recovered herself almost instantaneously and welcomed him with
grave courtesy, but she was unable to articulate.

He had seen the amazement in the four eyes turned on him as he came in,
and cursed Colonel Bellairs in his heart. Why had not the old idiot
warned Magdalen of his coming?

He had felt doubtful of his reception. A simulated coldness on
Magdalen's part was, perhaps, to be expected. But for her blank
astonishment he was not prepared.

"This is Bessie," she said in a shaking voice.

Bessie! This tall, splendid young woman. Could this be the tiny child of
three who used to sit on his knee, and blow his watch open.

"I cannot be expected to remember you," said Bessie, advancing a limp
hand. She fixed a round dispassionate eye on his heavy, irritable face,
and found him unpleasant looking.

He instantly thought her odious.

And they all three sat down simultaneously as if by a preconcerted
signal.

"Are you staying in the neighbourhood?" asked Magdalen, as a paralysed
silence became imminent. A faint hectic colour burnt in her cheeks.

Lord Lossiemouth pulled himself together, and came to her assistance.
Together they held back the silence at arm's length.

Yes, he was staying in the neighbourhood--at Lostford in fact. House
property near the river. Liable to floods.

Did he mention the word floods?

Yes. Floods at certain seasons of the year. Time to take measures now
before the autumn, etc.

Magdalen was glad to hear of some measures being taken. Long needed.

Yes, culpable neglect.

A wall?

Yes, a wall. Certainly a wall.

Bessie rose, marched to the door, opened it, hit her body against it,
and went out.

A certain degree of constraint went with her.

"I had your Father's leave to come," he said after a moment. "I should
not have ventured to do so otherwise."

"I wish Father had warned me," she said.

They looked away from each other. Here in this room fifteen years ago
they had parted. Both shivered at the remembrance.

Then they looked long at each other.

Magdalen became very pale. She saw as in a glass what was passing
through his mind; and for a moment her heart cried out against those
treacherous deserters, her beauty and her youth, that they should have
fled and left her thus, defenceless and unarmed to endure his cruel
eyes. But she remembered that he had left her before they did. They had
not availed to stay him. They had only slipped away from her in his
wake. And at the time she had hardly noticed their departure, as he was
no longer there to miss them.

Lord Lossiemouth had come determined to propose to Magdalen, his
determination screwed "to the sticking point" by a deliberately recalled
remembrance of the change the years had wrought in her. He had told
himself he was prepared for that. Nevertheless, now that he was actually
face to face with her, in spite of his regard and respect for her, a
horrid chasm seemed to yawn between them, which only one primitive
emotion can span, an emotion which, like a disused bridge, had fallen
into the gulf years ago.

And yet how marvellously strong, how immortal it had seemed once--in
this same room with this same woman. It had seemed then as if it could
not break, or fall, or fade.

It had broken, it had fallen, it had faded.

As he looked earnestly at her he became aware that though she had been
momentarily distressed a great serenity was habitual to her. The eyes
which now met his had regained their calm. It seemed as if her life had
been steeped in tranquil sunshine, as if the free air of heaven had
penetrated her whole delicate being, and had left its clear fragrance
with her.

Oh! if only they had been married fifteen years ago! What happiness they
might have given each other. How perfect to have owed it all to each
other. How fond he would still be of her. How tender their mutual regard
would still be. Then his present feeling for her would not be amiss.
They ought to be sitting peacefully together at this moment, not in this
intolerably embarrassing personal relation towards each other, but at
ease with each other, talking over their boy at Eton, and the new pony
for their little daughters. He did not want to _begin_ being married to
her now.

She knew what he felt.

"Magdalen," he said, "I am distressed that I have taken you by surprise.
I had hoped that you were prepared to see me. But my coming is not, I
trust, painful to you."

A pulse fluttered in her cheek.

"I am glad to see you," she said. "If I did not seem so the first moment
it was only because I was taken aback."

"A great change has come over my fortunes," he continued, anxious to
give her time, and yet aware that no conversation except on the object
of his visit was really possible. "I am at last in a position to marry."

"When I heard the news I thought that you would probably marry soon."

"Our engagement was broken off solely for lack of means," he continued.
Her eyes dropped. "Now that that obstacle is removed I have come to ask
you, to beg you most earnestly to renew it."

"It is very good of you," she said almost inaudibly. "I appreciate
your--kindness."

He saw that she was going to refuse him. But he was prepared for that
contingency. It was a natural feminine method of readjusting the balance
between them. He would certainly give her the opportunity. He owed it to
her. Besides, the refusal would not be final. He knew from her relations
that she still loved him.

"If your feeling towards me is unchanged will you marry me?"

The door opened, and the footman announced "Mr. Thomson."

The new curate came slowly into the room, his short-sighted eyes peering
about him, a little faggot of papers girdled by an elastic band, clasped
in his careful hand against his breast.

Magdalen started violently, and Lord Lossiemouth experienced a furious
exasperation.

Magdalen mechanically introduced the two men to each other, and they all
three sat down, with the same sudden automatic precision as when Bessie
had been present.

"The days are beginning to lengthen already," said Mr. Thomson. "I have
noticed it, especially the last few days, and the rooks are
clamourous--very clamourous."

"It was to be expected," faltered Magdalen.

"The accounts are, I am glad to say, in perfect order. I am proud to
add, though I fear a statement so unusual may lay me open to a charge of
romancing, that we have a small balance in hand."

How he had looked forward to saying these words. With what a flash of
surprised delight he had expected this astounding, this gratifying
announcement would be received.

He paused a moment to let his words sink in--evidently Miss Bellairs had
not heard.

"Three pounds five and nine," he said.

"It is wonderful," said Magdalen emphatically.

"Quite wonderful. I never heard of a boot-and-shoe club which was not
in debt. Have you?" And she turned to Lord Lossiemouth.

But Lord Lossiemouth's temper was absent. He found the situation
intolerable. He only answered, "Never."

"Bessie is waiting to hear all about it in the schoolroom," continued
Magdalen. "I have asked her to go over the papers with you. She will be
as surprised and delighted as I am. Shall we go and tell her?"

And without waiting for an answer she rose and led the way to the
schoolroom, followed by Mr. Thomson. Bessie was sitting alone there,
staring in front of her, paralysed by Lord Lossiemouth's arrival, and
indignant at the possibility that Magdalen might marry that "horrid old
thing," who was not the least like the charming photograph of him in her
sister's album. However, she grasped the situation, and after an
imploring glance from Magdalen, grappled with all her might with the
boot-and-shoe club.

Magdalen hurriedly tore off the little red shawl and returned to the
morning-room, and closed the door. It was a considerable effort to her
to close it, and by doing so to invite a renewal of Lord Lossiemouth's
offer. But it could not be left open.

"It was not poor Mr. Thomson's fault," she said, "but I wish I could
have saved you this annoyance."

He struggled to recover his temper. Her quivering face shewed him that
she was suffering from the miserable accident of the interruption even
more than he was.

"I was asking you to marry me," he said with courage, but with visible
irritation. "Will you?"

"I am afraid I cannot."

"I knew you would say that. I expected it. But I beg you to reconsider
it, that is if--if your feeling for me is still unchanged."

"It is unchanged."

"Then why not marry me?"

"Because you do not care for me."

"I felt certain you would say that. But I _do_ care for you. Should I be
here if I did not? We are two middle-aged people, Magdalen. The old
raptures and roses would be out of place, but I have always cared for
you. Surely you know that. Have you forgotten the old days?"

"No."

"Neither have I. All we have to do is to forget the years between." As
he spoke he felt that the thing could hardly have been better put.

"I have no wish to forget them."

He had made a great effort to control his temper, but he found her
unreasonable. His anger got the upper hand.

"It is one of two things that makes you refuse me. Either you can't
forgive me, and I daresay I don't deserve that you should, I am not
posing as a faultless character--or you have ceased to love me. Which is
it?"

"I have not ceased to love you," she replied. "Have I not just told you
so? But you would find yourself miserable in the--lop-sided kind of
marriage which you are contemplating. It is unwise to try to make bricks
without straw."

"Then if your mind was so absolutely made up beforehand to refuse me,
why was I sent for?" he stammered, white with anger. He struck the
table with his hand. "What was the use of urging me to come back, if I
was to meet with a frigid, elegantly expressed, deliberately planned
rebuff directly I set foot in the house!"

"Why were you _sent for_?" she said aghast. "Surely you came of your own
accord. _Sent for!_ _Who_ sent for you?"

She sat down feebly. A horrible suspicion turned her faint.

"_Who_ sent for me?" he said venomously. "Why am I here?"

He tore some letters out of his pocket, and thrust them into her hands.
Always sensitive to a slight, he was infuriated by the low cunning, the
desire to humiliate him, with which he imagined he had been treated.
Others could be humiliated as well as himself.

"Read them," he said savagely, and he walked away from her, and stood by
the window with his back to her.

Magdalen read them slowly, the three letters, her father's, Aunt Mary's,
Aunt Aggie's. Then she put them back into their envelopes and wiped the
sweat from her forehead.

Humiliation, shame, despair, the anguish of wounded love, she saw them
creep towards her. She saw them crouch like wild beasts ready to spring,
their cruel eyes upon her. She had known their fangs once. Were they to
rend her again?

She sat motionless and saw them pass, as behind bars, pass quite away.
They could not reach her. They could not touch her.

She looked at the lover of her youth, standing as she had so often seen
him stand at that window in years gone by, with his hands behind his
back, looking out to the sea.

She went softly to him, and stood beside him.

"I am more grieved that I can say about these," she said, touching the
letters. "I did not know the poor dears had written. It was good of you
to come back at the call of these unhappy letters. Will you not burn
them, Everard, and forget them? There is a fire waiting for them."

She put them into his hand. She had not spoken to him by his Christian
name before. His anger sank suddenly. He took them in a shamed silence,
and dropped them into the fire. Magdalen sat down by the hearth, and he
sat down near her. Together they watched them burn.

"I ought to have burnt them yesterday," he said remorsefully.

"I am glad you did not. I am so thankful to see you again, and that
these foolish letters brought you. I have often longed to have a talk
with you.

"It seems unreasonable," continued Magdalen, her clear eyes meeting his,
"but the fact of your asking me to marry you makes it possible for me to
tell you what I have long wished to tell you. I have often thought of
writing it. I did write it once, but I tore it up. It seems as if a
woman _can't_ say certain things to a man till he has said, 'Will you
marry me?' Then it is easy, because then nothing she may say can rouse a
suspicion in his mind that she wants to make him say it."

"I have proposed to you twice, Magdalen. Is not that enough?" His voice
was very bitter. "I venture to prophesy that you will be safe from my
pestering you with a third offer."

"I am sure of it. I never dreamed that you would ask me this second
time. I never thought we should meet again except by chance, as we did a
year ago. But I have had you in my mind, and I have often
feared--often--that I was a painful remembrance to you; that when you
thought of me it was with regret that you had perhaps--it is not so easy
to say after all--that you had spoilt my life."

"I did reproach myself bitterly with having made love to you when you
were so very young and inexperienced, and when I ought to have
remembered that I was not in a position to marry. Your father did rub
that in. As if I could help my poverty."

"Father is not a reasonable person. You were nearly as young as I was.
Looking back now it seems as if we had both been almost children."

"It was a great misfortune for both of us," he said, colouring. He had
not felt it great after the first.

"Not for me," she said. "That is what I have long wished to tell you. It
has been my great good fortune. Not at first--but after a time. I should
never have known love--of that I am sure--unless it had been for you.
You were the only person who could waken it in me. The power to love is
the great gift; to be permitted to know that marvel, to be allowed once
in one's life to touch the infinite. Love opens all the doors. Some
opened in pain, but they did open. I never knew, I never guessed until
long after you had come into my life, and gone away again, how much I
owed to you. Then I began to see, first in gleams, and then plainly.
Your momentary attraction towards me was a tiny spark of the Divine
love, a sort of little lantern leading me home through the dark."

He stared at her amazed. Her transparency transfixed him. What is
superficial is also often deep in clear natures such as Magdalen's, like
a water lily whose stem goes down a long way.

"Love releases us from ourselves, our hard proud selves, and makes
everything possible to flow in to us, happiness, peace, joy, gratitude.
I thank God for having let me know you, for having made me love you. I
might have missed it. I see others miss it. I might have gone through
life not knowing. I might have had to bear the burden of life, without
the one thing that makes it easy. I see other people toiling and
moiling, and getting hopeless and miserable and exhausted till my heart
aches for them. After the first I have never toiled, never grieved,
never despaired. I have been sustained always. For there are not two
kinds of love, Everard, but only one. The love of you is the cup of
water, and the love of God is the well it is taken from.... You had
better go now before anyone else comes in, but I want you to remember
when you think of me that I bless and thank you, and am grateful to you.
I have been grateful for years."

She took his leaden hand in both of hers, and held it for a moment to
her lips.

Lord Lossiemouth's face was pinched and aged. His hand fell out of
hers.

Then his face became suddenly convulsed, frightful to behold, like that
of a man being squeezed to death.

"I never loved you," he said in a fierce, suffocated voice. "I was a
little in love with you, that was all, and that was not much. I soon got
over it."

"I know," she said.

"I felt pain for a time. You were very beautiful, and you were the
first. I was the same as you then. But I found other beautiful women. I
took what I could get out of life, and out of women. I rubbed out my
pain that way. It was not your father who parted us, it was myself. I
would not own it, I was always bitter against him, but it was my fault.
I did not mean to work, and tie myself to an office stool: I had the
chance, but I wanted to travel and see the world. It was not lack of
means that parted us. I said a few minutes ago that it had been the only
obstacle to our marriage, and your eyes dropped. You have known better
all the time, but you wouldn't say. All these years I have put it down
to that. But it was _not_. We were parted by lack of love."

"I know," she said again.

"On my side."

"It was not your fault. We can't love to order, or by our own will. It
is a gift."

"Some of us can't love at all," he said fiercely. "That is about it. We
have not got any room for it if--if it _is_ given us. It could not get a
foothold. It was crowded out. I was often glad afterwards that I did not
tie myself to you. _Glad!_ Do you hear, Magdalen? It left me free to--it
did give me pain when I thought of you. I knew what I had done to you.
I used to tell myself that you gave me up very easily, that you did not
really want me. But I knew in my heart that you did. But it only made me
bitter, and I put the thought away. That time, it is ten years ago; good
God! it is all so long ago, when you nearly died of scarlet fever in
London, I heard of it by chance when you were at your worst, I was
shocked, but I did not really care, for I had long ceased to want you. I
used to visit a certain woman every day in that street, and I once asked
her who the straw was down for, and she said it was for a 'Miss Magdalen
Bellairs.' I was in love with her at the moment, if you can call it
love. I have dragged myself through all kinds of sordid passions
since--we parted."

Tears of rage stood in his eyes. He looked at her through them. It
seemed as if no wounding word under heaven would be left to say by the
time he had finished.

"And I did not come back in order to make amends," he went on. "You know
me very little if you think that. I came back solely out of pique. It
was not those absurd letters which brought me, or held me back. It was
another woman. I wanted to pay her out."

"I thought perhaps it was something like that," said Magdalen.

"It was a virtuous attachment this time. I am nearly forty. I am getting
grey and stout. Young women have a difficulty in perceiving my
existence. It was high time to settle, and to live on some attractive
woman's money. There are thousands of women who must marry someone. So
why not me? I found the attractive woman. I walked into love with her,"
he stammered with anger. "I regarded it as a constitutional. But the
attractive woman, though she liked me a little, weighed the pros and
cons exactly as I had done, and decided not to take her constitutional
in my impecunious company. She refused me when I was poor, and
_now_--now that I am rich--she is willing."

The harsh voice ceased suddenly. Magdalen looked for a moment at the
savage, self-tortured face, and her heart bled.

"That is how I have treated you," he said, choking with passion. "Now
you know the truth of me--for the first time. That is the kind of man I
am, hard and vindictive and selfish to the core: the man whom you have
idealised, whom you have put on a pedestal all these years."

"I have known always the kind of man you were," she said steadily. "I
never idealised you, as you call it. I loved you knowing the worst of
you. Otherwise my love could not have endured through. A foolish
idealism would have perished long ago."

"And then I come down here, on a sudden despicable impulse, intending to
use you as a weapon to strike her with, not that she is worth striking,
poor feeble pretty toy. And I encouraged myself in a thin streak of
patronising sentiment for you. I wrote a little cursed sonnet in the
train how old affection outlasts youthful passion, like violets blooming
in autumn. How loathsome! How incredibly base! And then, when my temper
is aroused by your opposition, I am dastardly enough, heartless enough
to try to humiliate you by shewing you those letters, to try to revenge
myself on you. On you, Magdalen! On you! On you!"

She did not speak nor move. Her face was awed, as the face of one who
watches beside the pangs of death or--birth.

Outside in the amber sunset a thrush piped.

"Magdalen," he said almost inarticulately, "you have never repulsed me.
Don't repulse me now, for I am very miserable. Don't pour your love into
the sand any more. Give it me instead. I am dying of thirst. Give me to
drink. You can live without me, but I can't live without you. I have
tried--I have tried everything. I am not thinking of you, only of
myself. I am only asking for myself, only impelled towards you by my own
needs. Does not that prove to you that I am at last speaking the truth?
Does not that force you to believe me when I tell you that I want you
more than anything in the world. I have wanted you all my life without
knowing it. I don't want to make amends to you for the past. I want you
yourself, for myself, as my wife. I swear to God if you won't marry me I
will marry no one. You are the only woman I can speak to, the only one
who does not fail, who holds on through thick and thin, the only one who
has ever really wanted me. I daresay I shan't make you happy. I daresay
I shall break your heart. God help me, I daresay I shall put my
convenience before your happiness, my selfish whims before your health.
I have always put myself first. But risk it. Risk it, Magdalen. Take me
back. Love me. For God's sake marry me."

Each looked into the other's bared soul.

Something in his desperate face which she had always sought for, which
had always been missing from it--she found.

"I will," she said.

They made no movement towards each other. They had reached a spiritual
nearness, a passion of surrender each to each, which touch of hand or
lip could only at that moment have served to lessen.

"You are not taking me out of pity? You are sure you can still love me a
little?"

"More than in the early days," she said. "For you have not only come to
me, Everard. You have come to yourself."



CHAPTER XXIX

    Me, too, with mastering charm
      From husks of dead days freeing,
    The sun draws up to be warm
        And to bloom in this sweet hour.
      The stem of all my being
        Waited to bear this flower.

    --LAURENCE BINYON.


It would be hardly possible to describe the unholy, the unmeasured
rejoicing to which Magdalen's engagement gave rise in her family. It is,
perhaps, enough to say that the twenty years of her cheerful, selfless
devotion to the domestic hearth had never won from her father and her
two aunts anything like the admiring approval which her engagement at
once elicited. The neighbourhood was interested. Lord Lossiemouth was a
brilliant match for anyone (if you left out the man himself). The
announcement read impressively in the _Morning Post_. The neighbours
remembered that there had been a youthful attachment, an early
engagement broken off owing to lack of means. And now it seemed the
moment he was rich he had come flying back to cast his faithful heart
once more at her feet. It was a real romance. Magdalen was considered an
extraordinarily fortunate woman by the whole countryside, but Lord
Lossiemouth was placed on a pedestal. What touching constancy. What
beautiful fidelity. What a contrast to "most men." "Not one man in a
hundred would have acted in that chivalrous manner," was the feminine
verdict of Hampshire.

A wave of cheap sentiment overflowed the Bellairs family, in which
Colonel Bellairs floated complacently like a piece of loose seaweed, and
in which even Aunt Mary underwent a dignified undulation.

Bessie alone was unmoved.

"You said, 'Yes' too soon," she remarked to Magdalen in private. "I
should never have thought you would be so lacking in true dignity. He
goes away for fifteen years and I should not wonder a bit if he had
thought of someone else in the interim for all you know to the
contrary--men are like that--and then he just lounges in and says 'Marry
me,' and you agree in a second. You might at any rate have made him wait
for his answer till after tea. In my opinion you have made yourself
cheap by such precipitate action. He thinks he has only got to ask, and
he can have."

Magdalen did not answer.

"I don't understand you," continued the pained monitor. "I have always
had a certain respect for you, Magdalen, and when he came back I
supposed you would give in to him in time if he pressed you without
intermission, and was constant for a considerable period--say a couple
of years; but I never thought it possible you would collapse like this.
I fear you have not taken his character sufficiently into consideration.
If I were in your place I should be afraid that Everard would not allow
my nature free scope, or take an interest in my mental development, and
that the sacrifices which make domestic life tolerable might have to be
all on my side. He is absolutely unworthy of you, and his nose is quite
thick. I daresay you have not remarked it, but I did at once. And in my
opinion he ought for his own good to have been made to _realise_ it.
Even Aunt Mary, though she says she entirely approves of the marriage,
admits that you have shown too much eagerness."

Fortunately for Magdalen the interest of the neighbours, and even of her
own family, was speedily diverted to another channel by the return of
Wentworth and Michael to Barford. The enthusiastic welcome which Michael
received from all classes, and from distant families who had never
evinced much cordiality to his elder brother, astonished Wentworth,
touched him to the quick.

"I had no idea we had so many friends," he said repeatedly.

Michael smiled vaguely and took everything for granted. Wentworth was so
anxious to shield him from fatigue and excitement that at first he was
only too thankful that Michael took everything so quietly. But after a
few days he became uneasy at his brother's inertness of mind and body. A
great doctor, however, explained Michael's state very much as the
Italian doctor had done. He was in an exhausted condition. What was
essential to him was rest. He must not be made to see anyone or do
anything he did not like.

"Your brother will regain his health entirely," the great man had said,
"if he is left in peace, and nothing happens to overexcite him. He is
worn to a shadow by that accursed prison. Many men in his condition
can't rest. Then they die. He can. He has the temperament that
acquiesces. He will cure himself if he is left alone. Let him lie in
the sun, and give nature a chance."

In spite of his anxiety Wentworth saw that Michael's bodily strength was
slowly returning. Every afternoon he left him half asleep in the sun,
and rode over to see Fay. Since she had accepted him it had become a
necessity to him to see her every day.

Wentworth had long been bent to the dust under the pain of Michael's
imprisonment. Fay had been bent with anguish to the dust by the weight
of her own silence which had kept him there.

And now in the twinkling of an eye they both stood erect, freed. Life
was transfigured for both at the same instant.

This marvellous moment found them both just when they were deciding
mildly to love each other. It took them and flung them together in a
common overwhelming joy. It almost seemed as if the shock might make a
man of Wentworth.

Did he half know (he was certainly always tacitly guarding himself
against the assumption of such an idea in the minds of others) that he
had so far been left out, not only from the whirl of life--he had
deliberately withdrawn from that--but from the weft of life itself. The
great loom had not swept him in. It had not appeared to need him. Some
of us seem to hang on the fringe of life, of thought, of love, of
everything. We are not for good or ill interwoven into the stuff, part
of the pattern.

Wentworth felt young for the first time in his life, happy for the first
time in his life, really energetic for the first time. A certain languid
fatigue which had been with him from boyhood, which had always lain
mournfully on its back waving its legs in the air like a reversed
Battle, had now been jolted right side upper-most, and was using those
legs, not as proofs of the emptiness of the world, but as a means of
locomotion.

He had at first been enormously raised in his own self-esteem by his
engagement to a young and beautiful woman. He was permanently relieved
from the necessity of accounting to his friends for the fact that he was
still unmarried, reminding them that it was his own fault. Perhaps at
the bottom of his heart a fear lurked, implanted by the brutal Grenfell,
that he was going to be an old maid. That fear was now dispelled. It was
mercifully hidden from Wentworth that Grenfell and the Bishop and most
of his so-called friends would still so regard him even if he were
married.

But gradually and insensibly the many petty reasons for satisfaction
which his engagement to Fay had given him, and even the delight in being
loved, were overshadowed by a greater presence.

At first they had never been silent together. Wentworth liked to hear
his own voice, and prosed stolidly on for hours with exquisite enjoyment
and an eye to Fay's education at the same time, about his plans, his
aspirations, his past life (not that he had had one), the hollowness of
society (not that he knew anything about it), a man's need of solitude,
and the solace of a woman's devotion, its softening effect on a life
devoted hitherto, perhaps, too entirely to intellectual pursuits.

Fay did not listen to him very closely. She felt that his mind soared
beyond her ken. But she was greatly impressed, and repeated little bits
of what he had said to Magdalen afterwards. And she looked at him with
rapt adoration.

"Wentworth says that consideration in little things is what makes the
happiness of married life," she would announce pontifically.

"How true!"

"And he says social life ought to be simplified."

"Indeed! Does he happen to mention how it is to be done?"

"He says it ought to be regulated, and that everyone ought to be at
liberty to lead their own life, and not to be expected to attend cricket
matches and garden parties, if you are so constituted that you don't
find pleasure in them. I used to think I liked garden parties, Magdalen,
but I see I don't now. I care more for the big things of life now. Does
Everard ever talk to you like that when you and he are alone?"

"Never. Never."

"And Andrea never did, either. Wentworth is simply wonderful. You should
hear him speak about fame being shallow, and how the quiet mind looking
at things truly is everything, and peace not being to be found in the
market place, but in a walk by a stream, and how in his eyes a woman's
love outweighs the idle glitter of a social success. Oh! Magdalen, I'm
beginning to feel I'm not worthy of Wentworth. I've always liked being
admired, so different from him. I did not know there were men so
high-minded as he. He makes me feel very petty beside him. And he is so
humble. He says I must not idealise him, that he does not _wish_ it, for
though he may not be worse or better than I think he is only too
conscious of his many deficiencies. But I can't help it. Who could?"

And Fay let fall a tear.

"We needs must love the highest when we see it."

But the highest some of us can see is the nearest molehill.

What Michael and the Duke had failed to do for Fay Wentworth was
accomplishing.

"You are made for each other," said Magdalen, with conviction. "Every
day shows me that you and Wentworth bring out the best in each other.
Perhaps, gradually, you will keep nothing back from each other, tell
each other everything."

"He tells me everything now," said Fay. "He trusts me entirely."

"And you?" said Magdalen. "Do you tell him everything?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wentworth, too, had reached the conviction that he and Fay were made for
each other. He might have starved out the deeper love, the truth and
tenderness of a sincerer nature, if it had been drawn towards him. He
had often imagined himself as being the recipient of the lavished
devotion of a woman beautiful, humble, exquisite and noble, whose truth
was truth itself, and had vaguely wondered why she had not come into his
life. But perhaps if he had met such a woman, and if she had loved him
as he pined to be loved, he would have become suspicious of her, and
would have left her after many vacillations. He did not instinctively
recognise humility and nobility when he met them, because they bore but
slight resemblance to the stiff lay figures which represented those
qualities in his mind. To meet them in reality would have been to him
bewilderment, disappointment, disillusion.

Fay was not only what he seemed to want, what he had feebly longed for.
She was more than this. Her nature was the complement of his. A lack of
shrewdness, of mental grasp, a certain silliness were absolutely
essential to the maintenance of a lifelong devotion to him. Wentworth
had found the right woman to give him what he wanted. Fay had found the
right man.

Love, which had been knocking urgently at their doors for so many futile
years, heard at last a movement as of someone stirring within, and a
hand upon the disused latch.



CHAPTER XXX

    O Yanna, Adrianna,
      They buried me away
    In the blue fathoms of the deep,
      Beyond the outer bay.

    But in the Yule, O Yanna,
      Up from the round dim sea
    And reeling dungeons of the fog
      I am come back to thee!

    --BLISS CARMAN.


Wentworth stood at the open window of the library watching Michael.

Michael was lying on a deck chair on the terrace playing with a puppy.
His face was losing a certain grey drawn look which it had worn since he
had left prison. He looked more like himself since his hair had time to
grow. Wentworth felt that he ought to be reassured about him, but a
vague anxiety harassed him.

Suddenly, without a moment's warning, the puppy fell asleep. Michael
made a movement to reach it, but it was just beyond his grasp.

In an instant Wentworth was beside him, lifting the sleeping mass of
sleek fat on to Michael's knee. Michael's long hands made a little crib
for it.

"He will sleep now for a bit," he said contentedly.

"Do _you_ sleep better?" said Wentworth. He had not forgotten those
first nights at Venice when Michael's feeble step had dragged itself to
and fro in the next room half the night.

"I sleep like a top. I'm asleep half the time."

"You are much better the last few days."

"Oh! I'm all right."

"All Hampshire has been to call. I knew you would be bored, so I did not
let them disturb you."

"Thanks."

"Is there anyone you would like to see?"

"No one that I know of."

"No one at _all_?"

Michael made a mental effort which did not escape Wentworth.

"I should like very much to see--presently--if it could be done----"

"Yes," said Wentworth eagerly. "Of _course_ it can be done, my dear boy.
You would like to see?"

"Doctor Filippi," said Michael, looking deprecatingly at Wentworth. "He
was so good to me. And I am accustomed to seeing him. I miss him all the
time. I wonder whether you would let him come and stay here for his
holiday. He generally takes it in June. And--let me see--it's May now,
isn't it?"

Wentworth's heart swelled with jealousy and disappointment. The jealousy
was of the doctor, the disappointment was about Fay. The larger of the
two emotions was jealousy.

"You have sent Doctor Filippi a very handsome present," he said coldly.
"I chose it for you, a silver salver. I went up to London on purpose at
your wish a week ago."

"Y-yes."

"And I don't think he would care to come here. No doubt he has his own
friends. You must remember a man like that is poor. It would be putting
him to expense."

Michael looked down at the sleeping puppy. He did not answer.

Wentworth was beginning to fear that his brother had an ungrateful,
callous nature. Was Michael so self-absorbed--egotism revolted
Wentworth--that he would _never_ ask to see Wentworth's future wife, the
woman who had shown such unceasing, such tender interest in Michael
himself.

"I hoped there was someone else, someone very dear to me, and a devoted
friend of yours, whom you might like to see again."

Wentworth spoke with deliberation.

"I could send him a cheque. He need not be at any expense," said Michael
in a low voice. His exhausted mind, slower to move than ever, had not
left the subject of Doctor Filippi. His brother's last remark had not
penetrated to it.

Wentworth became scarlet. He made an impatient movement. Then part of
the sense of his brother's last words tardily reached Michael's blurred
faculties.

"An old friend of mine," he said, vaguely flurried. "What old friend?"

"Fay," said Wentworth, biting his lip. "Have you forgotten Fay
_entirely_? How she tried to save you, how she grieved for you? Her
great goodness to you? And what she is to _me_!"

"No," said Michael. "No. I don't forget. Her goodness to me. How she
tried to save me. Just so. Just so. I don't forget."

"Won't you see her? She and Magdalen are driving over here this morning.
You need not see Magdalen unless you like."

"I should like. She is going to be married, too, isn't she? I feel as if
I had heard someone say so."

"Yes, to Lossiemouth. You remember him as Everard Constable, a touchy,
ill-conditioned, cantankerous brute if ever there was one, who does not
care a straw for anyone but himself. I can't think what she sees in him.
But an Earl's an Earl. I always forget that. I have lived so much apart
from the world and its sordid motives and love of wealth and rank that
it is always a shock and a surprise when I come in contact with its way
of looking at things. I never liked Magdalen. I always considered her
superficial. But I never thought her mercenary--till now. But Fay----"

"I will see her, too," said Michael. "Yes, of course. I somehow thought
of Fay as--as--but my mind gets so confused--as at a great distance,
quite removed all this time. Hundreds and hundreds of miles away in
England. Left Italy for good."

"My dear boy, she is living at Priesthope, four miles off. I've told you
so over and over again. I go and see her every day."

"Yes, at Priesthope, of course. Four miles. I know the way. You can go
by Wind Farm, or Pilgrim Road. You did tell me. More cheerful as time
passes on."

Wentworth looked with perplexity at Michael's thin profile. The doctor
had most solemnly assured him that his mind was only muffled and
deadened by his physical weakness. But it sometimes seemed to Wentworth
as if his brother's brain were softening.

He felt a sudden return of the blind despairing rage which was wont to
grip him after his visits to Michael in prison. This inert, cold-blooded
shadow; was this all that was left of his brother?

A great tenderness welled up in his heart, the old, old protective
tenderness of many years. He put his strong brown hand on his brother's
emaciated, once beautiful hand, now disfigured by coarse labour, and
scarred and discoloured at the wrist.

"Get well, Michael," he said huskily.

Michael's hand trembled a little, seemed to shrink involuntarily.

Then a servant appeared suddenly, coming towards them across the grass,
and Wentworth took back his hand instantly.

"The Duchess of Colle Alto and Miss Bellairs are in the library."

"Are you quite sure that you _really_ wish to see them--that it will not
tire you?" said Wentworth.

"Quite sure."

"I will bring them out."

"No. Send one at a time. Fay first."

Michael lay back and closed his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

On this May morning as Fay and Magdalen drove together to Barford,
Magdalen looked at her sister's radiant face, not with astonishment, she
had got over that, but with something more like fear.

The happiness of some natures terrifies those who love them by its
appearance of brittleness. To Magdalen Fay's present joy seemed like a
bit of Venetian glass on the extreme edge of a cabinet at a child's
elbow.

It is difficult for those who have imagination to understand the
_insouciance_ which looks so like heartlessness of the unimaginative.
The inevitable meeting with Michael seemed to cast no shadow on Fay's
spirits; Wentworth's ignorance of certain sinister facts did not seem to
disturb her growing love for him.

Their way lay through a pine wood under the shoulder of the down. The
whortleberry with its tiny foliage made a miniature forest of pale
golden green at the feet of the dark serried trunks of the pines.

Small yellow butterflies hovered amid the topmost branches of this
underfoot forest.

Fay leaned out of the pony carriage and picked from the high bank a
spray of whortleberry with a butterfly poised on it.

"I thought for one minute I might find a tiny, tiny butterfly nest with
eggs in it," she said. "I do wish butterflies had nests like birds,
Magdalen, don't you? But this is a new butterfly, not ready to fly. I
shall hurt it unless I'm careful."

She made her sister stop the pony, and knelt down amid the shimmering
whortleberry, and tenderly placed the sprig with the butterfly still
clinging to it in a little pool of sunshine. But as she did it the
butterfly walked from its twig on to her white hand and rested on it,
opening and shutting its wings.

It was a pretty sight to watch Fay coax it to a leaf. But Magdalen's
heart ached for her sister as she knelt in the sunshine. Words rose to
her lips for the twentieth time, but she choked them down again. What
use, what use to warn those who cannot be warned, to appeal to deaf
ears, to point out to holden eyes the things that belong to their peace?

The vision is the claim, but it must be our own eyes that see it. We may
not look at our spiritual life through another man's eyes.

As Magdalen waited her eyes wandered to the blue haze between the tree
trunks which was the sea, and marked a white band like a ribbon between
the blue and the fields. That was a piece of land newly reclaimed from
the sea. When a tract of land is thus captured, the first year that it
is laid open to the ministry of sun and air and rain it bears an
overflowing crop of white clover. The clover seed has lain dormant,
perhaps a thousand years under the wash of the wave. The first spring
tide after the sea is withdrawn it wakes and rushes up. It was so now in
that little walled-in tract by the shore, where she had walked but
yesterday. Surely it was to be so in Fay's heart, now that the bitter
tides of remorse and selfishness were ceasing to submerge it, now that
at last joy and tenderness were reaching it. Surely, love itself, the
seeds of which lie dormant in every heart, love like a marvellous tide
of white clover, was finding its chance at last, and would presently
inundate her heart.

Then, unharassed, undelayed by vain words and futile appeals from
without--all would go well.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the last moment when the meeting with Michael was really imminent
Fay's _insouciance_ began, as Magdalen feared it might, to show signs of
collapse. It deserted her entirely as they drove up to Barford.

"Come out with me," she whispered in sudden panic, plucking at her
sister's gown, when Wentworth asked her to go and speak to Michael for a
few minutes in the garden. But Magdalen had drawn back gravely and
resolutely, and had engaged Wentworth's attention, and Fay had been
obliged to go alone across the lawn, in the direction of the deck chair.

Her step, lagging and irresolute, was hardly audible on the grass, but
Michael heard it, recognised it. We never forget the footfall, however
light, that has trodden on our heart.

The footfall stopped and he opened his eyes.

Fay was standing before him.

And so they met again at last, those two who had been lovers once. She
looked long at the man she had broken. He was worn down to the last
verge of exhaustion, barely more than a shadow in the suave sunshine.
She would hardly have recognised him if it had not been for the tranquil
steady eyes, and the grave smile. They were all that was left of him, of
the Michael she had known. The rest was unfamiliar, repellant. And his
hands! His hands were dreadful. Oh! if only she had known he was going
to look like that she would never have come. Never, never! Fay
experienced the same unspeakable horror and repugnance as if, walking in
long, daisy-starred grass, she had suddenly stumbled against and nearly
fallen over a dead body.

The colour ebbed out of her face and lips. She stood before him without
a word, shrinking, transfixed.

He looked long at her, the woman for whom he had been content to suffer,
that he might keep suffering from her. Fay's self torture, her
protracted anguish, her coward misery, these were written as it were
anew in her pallid face. They had been partially effaced during the
heedless happiness of the last few weeks, but the sudden shock of
Michael's presence drew in again afresh with a cruel pencil the haggard
lines of remorse and despair.

He had not been able to shield her from pain after all.

"Oh, Fay!" he said below his breath. "How you have suffered."

"No one knows what it has been," she said hoarsely, sinking into a
chair, trembling too much to stand. "I could not live through it again.
I couldn't bear it, and I had to bear it."

"You will never have to bear it again," he said with compassion. "It is
over and done with. You are going to be happy now."

"You have suffered too," she said, reddening.

"Not like you. It has been worst for you. I never guessed that you had
felt my imprisonment so much as I see now by your face you have."

"Not have felt it! Not have suffered from it!" said Fay, amazed.
"Michael, how could I help grieving day and night over it?"

The question almost rose to his lips, "Why then did you not release me?"
But the words were not spoken. There is one pain which we need not bear,
but which some of us never rest till we have drawn it upon ourselves,
that of extorting from the one we love vain excuses, unconscious lies,
feeble, inadequate explanations that explain nothing. Let be. The
excuses, the lies, these shadows of the mind will vanish the moment
Love lights his lamp. Till then their ghost-like presence, their
semblance of reality but show that the chamber of the Beloved is dark.

Michael was silent. Though his body and mind were half dead, his spirit
was alive and clear, moving swiftly where the spent mind could not
follow.

"How could I help breaking my heart over the thought of you in prison?"
said Fay again, wounded to the quick.

She stared at him, indignant tears smarting in her eyes. Another long
look passed between them, on her side bewildered, pained, aghast at
being so misunderstood, on his penetrating, melancholy, full of
compassionate insight, that look which seems to herald the parting
between two unequal natures, but which is in reality a perception that
they have never met.

"I knew you would rejoice when I was set free," he said tranquilly,
smiling at her. "Ah! Here are Magdalen and Wentworth. How radiant she
looks!"

When Magdalen and Fay had departed, and Wentworth had seen them to the
carriage, he came back and sat down by Michael.

"Not over-tired?" he said, smiling self-consciously, and poking holes in
the turf with his stick.

"Not in the least."

"She was looking a little pale to-day." It was obvious that he wished to
talk about Fay.

"She is more beautiful than ever," said Michael, willing to give his
brother a leg-up.

"Isn't she!" said the affianced lover expansively. "But it isn't her
beauty I love most, it is her _character_. She is so feminine, so
receptive, so appreciative of the deeper side of life, so absolutely
devoted. Her heart has been awakened for the first time, Michael. She
has, I feel sure, never been loved before as I loved her."

"I imagine not."

"I can't believe she ever cared for the Duke. I saw him once, and he
gave me the impression of a very cold-blooded individual."

"I don't think he was cold-blooded."

"Evidently not the kind of man capable of drawing the best out of a
woman like Fay."

"Perhaps not."

The man who felt himself capable of this feat prodded a daisy and then
went on:

"You used to see a good deal of them in Rome before--while you were
_attaché_ there. Did you gather that it was a happy marriage, a true
union?"

"Not very happy."

"I daresay he was selfish and inconsiderate. That is generally the crux
in married life. Fay has had an overshadowed life so far, but I shall
find my chief happiness in changing all that. It will be my object to
guard her from the slightest touch of pain in future. The masculine
impulse to shield and protect is very strongly developed in me."

"It is sometimes difficult to guard people," said Michael half to
himself.

"I hope some day," Wentworth went on shyly, colouring under his tan,
"your turn may come, that you may meet the right woman, and feel as I do
now. It will be a revelation to you. I am afraid it may seem exaggerated
in a person like myself, who am essentially a man's man. (This was a
favourite illusion of Wentworth's.) But some day you will understand,
and you will find as I have done that love is not just slothfully
accepting a woman's slavish devotion."

"Indeed!"

"No, Michael, believe me, it is something far greater. It is living not
only for self, but as for her sake. To take trouble to win the smile of
one we love, to gladly forego one's momentary pleasures, one's
convenience, in order to serve her. That is the best reward of life."

Michael's eyes filled with tears. He felt a hundred years older than
Wentworth at that moment. A tender pained compassion welled up within
him. And with it came a new protective comprehension of the man beside
him who had cherished him from his childhood onwards.

He put out his hand and gripped Wentworth's.

"God bless you, Wenty," he said.

And for a moment they who were so far apart seemed very near together.



CHAPTER XXXI

      She sees no tears,
    Or any tone
    Of thy deep groan
      She hears:
      Nor does she mind
    Or think on't now
    That ever thou
      Wast kind.

    --HERRICK.


It quickly became plain to Magdalen that Fay's peace of mind had been
shaken by her interview with Michael. She had vouchsafed no word
concerning it on her way home. But in the days that followed she
appeared ill at ease, and a vague and increasing unrest seemed to
possess her. Magdalen doubted whether she had as yet asked herself what
it was that was disturbing her tranquillity. But it was at any rate
obvious that she shrank from seeing Michael again, and that she was at
times dejected in Wentworth's presence.

Wentworth perceived the change in her, and attributed it to a most
natural and pardonable jealousy of Michael to which, while he made the
fullest allowance for it, he had no inclination to yield.

Michael had for a moment seemed to take more interest in life after
Fay's visit, and although he had quickly relapsed into apathy Wentworth
told himself that he was anxious to foster this nascent interest by
another meeting between him and Fay. At the same time he desired to
rehearse the part of central figure poised between two great devotions
which was to be his agreeable _rôle_ in the future. For Michael would of
course live with them after his marriage with Fay. And if there were any
ebullitions of jealousy between Fay and Michael--Wentworth dwelt with
complacency on the possibility--he felt competent to deal with them with
tact and magnanimity, reassuring each in turn as to their equal share in
his affections.

Michael at any rate showed no disinclination to meet Fay again, and even
evinced something verging on a desire to see Magdalen. And presently
Wentworth arranged to drive him over to luncheon at Priesthope.
Throughout life he had always liked to settle, even in the most trivial
matters, what Michael should do, with whom he should associate. The
situation was not new, nor was there any novelty in Michael's
pliability.

But when the day came Wentworth arrived without his brother, and
evidently out of temper. Magdalen asked if Michael were less well, and
was curtly assured that he was steadily improving. The luncheon dragged
through somehow as under a cloud. Colonel Bellairs was fortunately
absent on a visit to Miss Barnett at Saundersfoot. His absence was the
only silver lining to the cloud. Fay hardly spoke. Magdalen was thankful
that her prickly Lord Lossiemouth had departed the day before.

After luncheon, when they were sitting on the terrace over their coffee,
Bessie left them, and Magdalen was about to do the same, when Wentworth
said suddenly:

"I left Michael with the Bishop of Lostford. That is why he is not here
now. The Bishop is inducting the new Rector of Wrigley this afternoon,
and he sent a wire this morning--he is always doing things at the last
moment--he never considers others--to say that he would call at Barford
on his way to see Michael. Michael is his godson, and he has always been
fond of him. I left them together."

Magdalen and Fay sipped their coffee in silence.

"Michael had been as inert and apathetic as usual," continued Wentworth
sullenly, "until the Bishop appeared. The Bishop took him off into the
garden, though I said I did not like his going out so soon after
dressing--he was only just up--and it was perfectly plain they did not
want me. I believe that was why they went out. I was of no account. The
Bishop has always been like that, your friend one day, and oblivious of
you the next. But he and Michael seemed to have a great deal to say to
each other. I watched them from the library walking up and down. Michael
can walk quite well when he wants to. Then when the victoria came
round--I thought he would find that less fatiguing than the dogcart--I
went to tell him that it was time to start, but he only stared vaguely
at me, and the Bishop took his arm and said that you must excuse him for
this once, as he did not mean to let him go at that moment. So I came
away without him."

"There will be many more opportunities of seeing us, and one must clutch
what few chances one can of seeing the Bishop," said Magdalen.

"When I went to warn Michael that the carriage was there," continued
Wentworth, "he did not see me till I was quite near--there was a bush
between--and I could not help hearing him say, 'That was half an hour
before I was arrested.'"

There was an uneasy silence.

"It seems," said Wentworth with exceeding bitterness, "that I have not
Michael's confidence. The Bishop has it, but I, his only brother. Oh,
no. He can talk to the Bishop about his imprisonment, but to me--not a
word, not a single word. At first when we were together at Venice I
asked him quietly about it once or twice. I asked him why he had never
said a word to _me_ about it at the time, why he had not confided to me
at any rate that he was shielding the Marchesa, but I soon saw that the
subject distressed him. He always became confused, and he never would
reply. Once, since we were back at Barford, when he seemed clearer, I
asked him most earnestly to tell me one thing, whether he actually
witnessed the murder of the Marchese by his wife, as she supposed, and
what had first put it into his head to take the blame on himself. But it
seemed that any allusion to the subject exhausted and worried him. I
said to him at last: 'Do you still hate talking of it as much as ever?'
And he said 'yes.' I could understand that, and from that day to this I
never alluded to it again. But though he won't say a word to me, it
seems he can to others."

The miserable jealousy in Wentworth's face touched Magdalen.

"He knew you had strained every nerve to save him," said Wentworth,
turning to Fay. "Has he ever shown his gratitude for what you tried to
do for him?"

"N-no," stammered Fay.

"His imprisonment has changed his nature, that is what it is. He went in
alive, and he has come out dead. He has ceased to care for anything or
anyone. He has been killed by inches. He was so affectionate as a boy. I
was father and mother to him. He used to trot after me like a little
dog. And if anyone had his whole confidence I had. I was everything to
him. My one fear of marrying has always been that he might feel pained
at seeing another person first with me." (Wentworth had never had this
altruistic misgiving, but he stated it with conviction.) "But now he is
not the same. I suppose he still has some affection for me. He shows it
sometimes by a kind of effort. He seemed to wake up a bit after you came
over, Fay. I think he had a sort of glimpse from things I said to him of
what love can be, and just for a moment he was more like his old self,
and appeared to enter into my feelings. But he soon sank back again. As
often as not he seems to shrink from any real conversation. We sometimes
sit whole evenings together without speaking. He does not really want me
any more, or anyone. He talked at first a little about the Italian
doctor, but he never mentions him now. And as for my marriage, as for
being distressed by my caring for someone else," resentfully, "he is
absolutely indifferent. You would think that Fay and I, the two people
of all others who have done most for him, who have grieved most over
him, who have shown him most affection, were nothing to him."

There was a ghastly silence.

"I don't blame him," said Wentworth with something nearer passion than
he had ever experienced before, in which even his petty jealousy was
momentarily extinguished. "At least, I can't look at him and remain
angry with him. It breaks my heart to see him like this, so callous, so
regardless of all I have suffered on his account. I don't blame him. He
is not himself. His brain is weakened by his poor body. No. The person I
do blame is that accursed woman who allowed him to suffer for her, who
skulked behind him for two endless years, who let him sacrifice his life
for hers, who never had the courage to say the word, and take her crime
upon herself, and get him out of his living grave."

Fay became cold as death in the May sunshine. What ghost was this which
was taking form before her? What voice was this, how could it be
Wentworth's voice, which was saying at last aloud with passion what that
other accusing voice within had so hoarsely, so persistently whispered
from its cell, during the long years? Her brain reeled.

"The Marchesa did repent," said Magdalen.

Wentworth laughed harshly.

"Oh, yes. On her deathbed, in order to save her soul. She wanted to be
right with the next world. But how could she go on, year in year out,
letting him burn and freeze alternately in that vile cell? She must have
known, someone must have told her, what his life was like. How well I
remember, Fay, your saying: 'Why does not the real murderer confess? How
can he go on letting an innocent man wear out his life in prison,
bearing the punishment of his horrible crime?' How little we both knew.
I always supposed the assassin was a man, a common criminal of the
lowest order. Yet it seems there are women in the world, educated,
refined women, who can remorselessly pinch a man's life out of him with
their white hands. The Marchesa has murdered two people, first her
husband, and then my boy, my foolish, quixotic, generous Michael. May
God forgive her! I never will!"



CHAPTER XXXII

    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you.

    --W. B. YEATS.


    Je veux aimer, mais je ne veux pas souffrir.

    --A. DE MUSSET.


In the days that followed the Bishop's visit Michael's mind showed signs
of reasserting itself. He was as quickly exhausted as ever, and with
fatigue came the old apathy and helpless confusion of ideas. But his
languid intelligence had intervals of increasing clearness. His face
took on at these times a strained expression, as if he dimly saw
something with which he felt powerless to cope. We see such a look
sometimes, very piteous in its impotence, in the faces of the old, when
an echo reaches them of the anguish of the world in which they once
lived, which they have well nigh forgotten.

Michael's body, which had so far profited by the inertness of his
faculties, resented the change, and gave unmistakable signs of
relinquishing the slight degree of strength it had regained.

Wentworth became suddenly frantically anxious once more, and in a moment
the wrongs on which he was brooding were forgotten. He decided to go to
London the same day under the guise of business, and to consult the
great doctor privately about Michael, perhaps arrange to bring him back
with him.

"I wish you would drive oftener," he said to Michael before he left.
"It's much better for you than walking up and down. Why not, if you feel
inclined, as you will be alone all day, drive over to Priesthope this
afternoon. I said you would come the first day you could. It's only four
miles, just an easy little drive."

An indefinable change passed over Michael's vacant face at the mention
of Priesthope. His eyes became fixed. He looked gravely at his brother,
as if the latter had solved some difficult problem.

"It's a good idea," he said slowly. "I ought to have gone before,
but----"

"The Bishop stopped you most inconsiderately last time."

"Did he? I don't remember being stopped. Oh! yes, yes, I do. But if I
_had_ gone that day---- But anyhow I will go to-day."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fay was sitting alone in the morning-room at Priesthope, pretending to
read, when Michael was announced.

When he had been conveyed to a chair and had overcome the breathlessness
and semi-blindness that any exertion caused him he saw that she looked
ill, and as if she had not slept.

"I ought to have come before," he said mechanically, making a great
mental effort and putting his hand to his head. "I meant to come,
but----" he looked hopelessly at her. He had evidently forgotten what he
intended to say.

"The day you were coming with Wentworth the Bishop stopped you," said
Fay drearily. Every word that Wentworth had said that afternoon was
still echoing discordantly in her brain.

"That's it. The Bishop," said Michael with relief. "He told me, we had a
long talk"--his mind was clearing rapidly--"how you meant to save me."

"Yes, I meant to do it," said Fay, looking at him with miserable eyes.
"But the Marchesa, the same day--it was in the papers."

"I know, I know. The Bishop told me. He said I ought to know that you
had been willing to make the sacrifice. I have come to thank you, Fay,
and to ask you to forgive me for misjudging you. You see I was not aware
you--had thought of it."

"It's for you to forgive me, Michael, not me you. And you don't bear me
a grudge, do you? I somehow don't feel as if you did. And--oh, Michael,
you never, never will say anything or do anything, will you--you
_could_, you know--to stop my marrying Wentworth?"

Michael's eyes turned on her almost with scorn.

"When first we met again, that second time in Italy," he said gently,
"do you remember it by the tomb in the gardens? There were roses all
over it. I never saw such roses. Perhaps there were none like them. Then
I had no faintest thought or hope of marrying you, though I had not
forgotten you, Fay. I had put it all away, buried it. You were another
man's wife. Now that we meet again--_the position is the same_."

Fay looked at Michael.

The impersonal detached look which she had set herself to extinguish
that day amid the roses, which had been in his face when she saw him
first as a lad, which she had _twice_ extinguished, was in his eyes
again. There was no pain in them now, any more than there had been when
they leaned together beside the tomb: only the shadow of something
exceeding sharp, endured, accepted, outlived. Michael looked through
her, beyond her.

"And yet the position is not quite the same," he said tranquilly, "for
then you were married to a man you did not love, and now you are to
marry a man you--Oh! Fay, you _do_ care for Wentworth, don't you?"

"I would not have kept _him_ in prison for a day," she said, and hid her
face in her hands.

If only it might have been Wentworth who had sacrificed himself for her
with what desperate rapidity she would have rescued him. How calm her
agonised heart would be now. Fay was beginning to learn that it is ill
to take a service save from the hand we love. And perhaps, too, in her
heart she knew that Wentworth would never have sacrificed himself for
her, for Michael possibly, but not for her.

"Wentworth is worth caring for," said Michael. "Not worth caring for in
part, a bit here and a bit there, who is? but worth caring for
_altogether_. I have loved him all my life. I love him more than anyone
in the world. You asked me just now not to say anything to stop his
marrying you. But that is just what I've come about. I am so afraid of
his marriage with you being stopped."

Fay raised her face out of her hands, and stared at him.

"It's the only thing I've ever known him really wish for, almost keen
about. He can't care much about things, not as other men care. He has
always waited to see whether things will come to him of themselves, and
then if they didn't he thought it was a wise Providence taking them
away, showing him the vanity of setting his heart on anything, while all
the time it's his own nature really that makes things somehow slip away
from him. People slip away from him. I've seen it happen over and over
again. He can't take hold like other men. He does not put himself out
for any one, you know, and he doesn't realise that other people _do_; he
has no idea how men like the Bishop and Grenfell and the Archbishop
stand by each other, and hold together through thick and thin. Wentworth
has no friends, but he doesn't know it. He has only you and me. The
Bishop said we must remember that, and that if--anything happened to
shake his--his feeling for either of us, his belief in either of us, it
would be cruelly hard on him."

"Why should anything happen," said Fay faintly, "if you don't tell him?"

"I shan't tell him on purpose, you may be sure of that, but since--since
the Bishop came over I'm certain he suspects something, I don't know
what, and I have to be careful all the time. Fay, I've grown so stupid
and muddle-headed since I've been in--in _Italy_ that I _can't_ remember
what I may say and what I mayn't about that time. My only safety is in
absolute silence, and lately that has begun to vex him. And he asks such
odd questions, which I don't see the meaning of at first, like traps. He
often tells me he never asks any questions, but he does, indirect ones,
all the time. I'm getting afraid of being alone with him. Sometimes I
think if I stay much longer at Barford I'm so idiotic he'll get it out
of me. Has he asked you any leading questions?"

"No. Once he asked if you showed any gratitude for what I had done for
you in the past. And I said no. It was the first time I had told him a
lie, for it was a lie except in the actual words."

"Aren't you afraid," said Michael gently, "that it may not be the only
one, that perhaps there may be some more?"

There was a long pause.

"I think Wentworth will find out some day," he went on. "I'm _sure_ he
will. Then, Fay, it might be too late for you and me to save him from a
great pain. He might feel that we had both betrayed him."

Fay turned her quivering face towards him.

"Oh, no. I haven't done that. It's you I betrayed, Michael. I'm so
thankful it was _you_, and not him."

"I was yours to keep or to throw away. You could do what you liked with
your own. But it is not the same for Wentworth. Wentworth belongs--to
_himself_."

In her heart she knew it. Love had shown even her certain things about
the man she loved.

"And I am afraid he might feel it if he found out that you had let me
stay--in Italy."

"I'd give anything I have," she said with a sob; "I'd give both my
hands, I'd give my being pretty, which I think so much of, and he thinks
so much of, I'd give anything if only I had not--done that, if I could
only undo that. Sometimes I wake in the morning and think I haven't done
it, that it's only a dream. And it's like Heaven! I cry for joy. And
then the knowledge comes. I did not know, Michael, what I was doing.
But since you came back I've _seen_; since I loved Wentworth I've
_seen_--what I've done to you; just brushed you aside when you got in
the way, and left you to die."

He looked at her in silence. It had come, the moment of anguished
realisation that he had foreseen for her, but it had come to her through
love for another. That to which his great love would fain have drawn
her, she had reached at last by a lesser love than his.

"I have been cruel to Wentworth. I might have tried to get you out for
his sake if not for yours. He never had a moment's happiness while you
were shut up. But I didn't. I didn't really care for him then. I only
tried at last to get you out, because I could not bear the misery of it
any longer. I have never cared for anyone but myself--till now. I see
now that I have been hard and cruel. I have always thought myself gentle
and loving and tender-hearted, like you thought me, poor, poor Michael.
You have paid for that. Like Wentworth thinks me now. Oh, Michael, _must
Wentworth pay too_?"

Michael looked at her with compassion. "I am afraid he must. But do not
let him pay a penny more than is necessary. You still have it in your
power to save him part of the--the expense. Let him pay the lesser price
instead of the greater. Tell him, instead of letting him find out."

Silence.

"It is the only thing to do, Fay."

No answer.

"I am afraid you do not love him after all," said the inexorable voice.

Again silence.

Michael dragged himself feebly from his chair, and took her clenched
hands between both of his.

"Love him a little more," he said. "Take the risk and tell him
everything--while there is still time. Listen, Fay, and try to forgive
me if I seem cruel. You thought you loved me once. But it was not enough
to risk anything for me. You threw me away by your silence because you
found the truth too difficult. Don't, don't throw Wentworth away too,
because the truth is difficult. Fay, believe me," Michael's voice shook,
"it's hard to find out you've been deceived. It's hard to be betrayed."
His voice had sunk to a broken whisper. "Don't put him through it. You
wouldn't if you--if you knew what it was like."

       *       *       *       *       *

Magdalen, coming in half an hour later found Fay lying on her face on
the sofa alone. She looked, poor little creature, with her outstretched
arms, not unlike a cross on which Love might very well be crucified
anew. It does not matter much whether it is on a cross of wood, or of
fear, or of egotism, that we nail Love to his slow death.

Fay loved for the first time. Was she going to crucify that love, to
pierce its upholding hands, to betray that benign saviour, come so late
but come at last, to help her in her sore need?



CHAPTER XXXIII

    His own thought drove him like a goad.--TENNYSON.


"Now," said the great doctor to Michael next day, "I have been hustled
down here against my will by Mr. Maine. I'm wanted elsewhere. I
calculate my time at a pound a minute. Out with it. What is it that's
worrying you?"

Michael did not answer.

The great man groaned. But his eyes were kindly.

"You want something you have not got, eh? like the rest of us. We are
all in the same steam launch."

"I don't want anything, thanks."

"In love?"

"No."

"Quite sure? I have always observed that people who are in love are
desperately offended at the bare supposition that such a thing is
possible. Things might be arranged, you know. Young women aren't
intended by nature to live single any more than you are. Would a few
weeks in London meet the case? The season's just beginning. No theatres,
of course, and no late hours. Your brother here seems made of money,
though he will soon be ruined if he goes on sending for me. For I always
charge double if I'm sent for unnecessarily. Come, sir, what _do_ you
want?"

"I don't know," said Michael, half amused. He was still exhausted by his
expedition to Priesthope of the previous day. "I don't want anything,
thanks. I'm--all right."

"What do you say to a change?"

"I had not thought of that," said Michael with a flicker of interest.
"Now you mention it--yes. That's the very thing. I should like--a
change."

Wentworth came forward at once.

"Norway?" he said eagerly, "or Switzerland. We must be guided by you,
doctor. Or a yacht? You used to be fond of yachting, Michael. We will go
anywhere you like."

Michael's face fell.

The doctor leaned back and examined his finger tips. He had seen what he
wanted.

"The yacht won't do," he said with decision. "And Norway's out of the
question. Much too far. In fact, there's only one place that will do."

"Where is that?" said Wentworth.

"I don't know yet. Where is it, Mr. Carstairs?"

"I should like," said Michael, colouring painfully, for he knew he was
going to hurt Wentworth, "I should like to go to Lostford; not for long,
just for a little bit."

"Lostford!" exclaimed Wentworth, amazed. "Lostford, down in that hole.
Oh! no."

"Well, and why not Lostford?" said the doctor with asperity. "Mr.
Carstairs shows his sense. He is not up to a long journey. Quite near.
Interesting cathedral. Cultivated society. I should have suggested
Lostford myself if he had not."

"I will ride over and take rooms at the 'Prince Consort' to-day," said
Wentworth meekly.

"You will do no such thing. Are you taking leave of your senses. Your
brother is not fit to stay in a rackety hotel."

"The Bishop has asked me," said Michael faintly, "to spend a week or two
with him whenever I like. I believe--it's very quiet there."

"The Bishop!" said Wentworth. "It would be far from quiet at the Palace.
Worse than an hotel. The Bishop lives in a perpetual turmoil."

Then he suddenly stopped short, and became very red. Michael preferred
the Bishop to himself.

"It's a good idea," said the doctor. "I know the Bishop. Splendid man.
The best of company." He got up with decision. "My orders are, Mr.
Carstairs, that you proceed to Lostford without delay. How far is it?
Six miles. Go to-morrow." Then he turned to Wentworth. "You will go over
and see him in a week's time, and report to me."

"You think him worse," said Wentworth nervously to the doctor in the
hall.

"No," said the doctor emphatically, watching his motor sliding to the
door, "but he is not better. He is anxious about something, and he can't
afford to be anxious. He is not in a fit state to have a finger ache
with impunity."

"He has nothing to be anxious about," said Wentworth. "And if he had a
trouble I should be the first to hear of it. I have his entire
confidence--at least, I had till lately. I must own he has become very
changed of late. Of course, I never appear to notice it, but----"

"Quite right. Quite right. I wish others were as sagacious as you are.
Let him go to Lostford for a week or two--and get you off his nerves,"
the doctor added to himself as the motor shot down the beech avenue.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later Wentworth was sitting idly watching the stream of
Piccadilly from the windows of his club. The same day that Michael had
gone to Lostford he had discovered that he had business in London. He
would have found it difficult to say what his business there was. But
one of Wentworth's many theories about himself was that he was a very
busy man. He had so constantly given "urgent business" as a reason for
evading uncongenial social engagements that he had finished by believing
himself to be overwhelmed with arduous affairs. So he went to London,
and visited a publisher anent his forthcoming history of Sussex, and
dined with a man whom he met at Lord's, whom he had not seen for years,
and wrote daily to Fay, expressing ardent but vague hopes that he might
be able to "get away" from London by the end of the week.

He was in no hurry to return.

A vague fear of something grievously amiss with Michael, he knew not
what; an unformulated anxiety weighed upon him. And he was jealous.
Jealousy had brought him up to London. He was not going to remain
deserted at Barford. Jealousy was keeping him there now. He had seen
that Michael was glad to get away from him, that he had caught at the
doctor's suggestion of a change. His sullen heart was very sore about
Michael. Why did he _want_ to leave him? Where would he meet anyone more
devoted to him than himself? What could any man do for another that he
had not done for Michael? Was it true then, after all, what he had so
often heard was the fate of men of deep affections like himself, that
they give all, and are given nothing in return.

A sudden exclamation made him look up.

"Why, Maine, is it you?"

A tall, bald man was holding out his hand to him. For a moment Wentworth
did not recognise him. Then he remembered him. Lord John Alington.

He shook hands with tepid civility, but Lord John always mistook a
pained recognition for an enthusiastic welcome. He drew up a chair at
once.

"Now this is what I call luck," he said, his red face beaming. "And so
your brother is freed at last. Only heard the news when I landed from
Norway a week ago. I congratulate you with my whole heart. I never was
so glad about anything before." And Lord John sawed Wentworth's limp
hand up and down.

"I was present, you know," he went on. "Made a great impression on me.
Sobered me for a long time I can tell you. I saw Carstairs come forward
and give himself up. Never had such a shock in my life."

"I remember now you were there."

"Rather. And I was dead certain from the first that he had never done
it. I always said so. And now at last the mystery is cleared up. And I
was proved right. He hadn't. But fancy shielding that old Marchesa with
her long teeth. Why, she was forty if she was a day. Who would ever have
thought of it!"

"No one did," said Wentworth.

"_I_ didn't. I may tell you frankly that I did _not_. The Marchesa! I
knew her. But it never so much as crossed my mind that she had massacred
her old hubby. 'Good God! The Marchesa!' Those were my exact words when
I heard a week ago. Is Carstairs in London? I should like just to shake
him by the hand."

"He is not in town. He is still feeling the effects of his
imprisonment."

"I should like to have seen him. It was my fault he was found you know.
I said 'Perhaps he's behind the screen.' Dreadfully sorry. Wish I
hadn't. Only my fun. Never thought he was there, or anyone. I've never
forgotten his coming out from behind the screen. But what I want to know
is," Lord John tapped Wentworth on the arm with his eyeglass, and
lowered his voice confidentially, "_why he ever went behind it_. That's
what has been puzzling me ever since I read the Marchesa's confession.
If he wanted to shield her, why the deuce did he hide at all? Why not
strike a noble attitude bang in the middle of the room--from the first?"

Wentworth looked at him astonished. The vague suspicion of the last
weeks that Michael was concealing something from him was taking shape at
last.

There was no doubt that Lord John had got hold of a listener.

"No, no, Maine. When Carstairs was hiding behind the screen he was not
dying with anxiety to take the Marchesa's crime on his white
shoulders--not at that moment. That explanation don't wash. I believe I
know a better one."

Wentworth became very red.

"The Duchess's maid! Did you ever see her? No, evidently not. You've no
time for looking at young maids. Taken up with contemplating an old
maid in the glass. You miss a lot, I can tell you. She was the prettiest
little baggage I've set eyes on for years. And she was not of an iron
virtue. But she wouldn't look at a little thing like me. Can't think
why. Come, now, don't look so demure. We aren't all plaister saints like
you. _I'm_ not, in spite of my Madonna face. Wasn't that the truth? The
Marchesa story is for the gallery. But you and I are behind the scenes.
Mum's the word. But wasn't that why Carstairs was hanging about the
house after everyone else had gone just for the same reason that I
was--to get a word with that little hussy?"

At that moment a tall, middle-aged man came into the room, and Lord
John's roving eye fell upon him. He sprang to his feet.

"Lossiemouth," he said, seizing the latter's unwilling hand. "Why,
you're the very man I wanted to see. Congratulations, my dear chap. All
my heart. Ship come in, and ancestral halls, and going to be married
too, all in one fell swoop. Know Miss Bellairs a little. Jumped with her
in the same skipping rope in childhood's happy hours, danced with her at
her first ball. Madly in love with her. Never seen her since."

Wentworth escaped.

The chamber of his soul had been long in readiness, swept and garnished
for the restless spirit that had returned to it--not alone.



CHAPTER XXXIV

    Est-il indispensable, qu'on s'élève à un point d'où le
    devoir n'apparaisse plus comme un choix de nos sentiments
    les plus nobles, mais comme une silencieuse nécessité de
    toute notre nature.


The following afternoon Fay was sitting in the little morning-room at
Priesthope, trying to write a letter, a long, long letter. Wentworth's
last note to her, just arrived by the second post, was open before her,
telling her that he could not return for two days. And then the door
opened gently and he was before her.

She turned a white, miserable face towards the door. Then as she
suddenly recognised him the colour rushed to her face, and she flew to
him with a cry and locked him in her arms, kissing his shoulder, his
coat, his hands.

He was thunderstruck. Could a few days' absence so profoundly move these
delicate, emotional creatures, whom an all-wise Providence had made
almost too susceptible to masculine charm! He had never seen Fay like
this. But then, he had never seen anything like anything. She withdrew
herself suddenly, and stood a little apart, her face and neck one
carnation of soft shame.

"But you are in London," she said, her lip quivering, her eyes falling
before his. "I have your own word for it that you are still in London."
And she pointed at his letter. "I was not expecting to see you."

A joy so great that it was akin to pain laid its awakening hand on him.

"I am glad you were not expecting me," he said, in a voice that he
hardly recognised as his own. "I'm thankful."

And he drew her back into his arms more moved than he had ever been.

Yes. He was loved. He loved and was loved. He had not known the world
contained anything as great as this. He had always thought that life at
its best was a solitary thing, that passion was a momentary madness with
which he did not care to tamper, that celibacy was a cheap price to pay
for his independence. But he and this woman were one. This was rest and
peace and joy and freedom. This was what he had always wanted, without
knowing he wanted it. One of the many barriers between them went down.
He thought it was the only one.

They sat a long time in silence, his head against her breast. Her face
had become pinched and sharp, the lovely colour had faded. All its
beauty and youth had gone out of it. Her terrified eyes stared at the
wall.

"Speak! Speak now," said the inner voice. "You were too late last time.
Speak now."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am very miserable, Fay," in a whisper against her cheek.

Her arms tightened round him.

"Not so miserable now I am with you, but----"

It seemed to Fay that she was holding to her breast the point of the
sword that was to stab her to death.

He raised his head, and she saw that there were tears in his eyes. Twice
she had seen tears in those narrow grey eyes before: once when he had
talked to her of Michael in prison, and once when Michael was
exonerated.

They had drawn a little apart.

"When I came here I had not meant to tell you anything about it, I had
decided not to, but--Fay, I can't believe it, I haven't slept all night,
I have known for two days, I only found it out by the merest accident
that that has happened which I never thought could happen, something
impossible." Wentworth's lip quivered. "Michael has deceived me, not by
mistake, not just for a moment, but systematically, purposely--for
years."

There was anger as well as pain in his voice.

"It was about the murder of the Marchese," he said hoarsely, "but I
don't care what it was about. That is not the point. He has deceived me
for reasons of his own. I don't know what they were. And I am afraid, my
darling, he has not stopped there. I am afraid he has deceived you too.
I am afraid he hoodwinked you when he persuaded you to let him hide in
your room. Why did he hide if he wanted to shield the Marchesa? Don't
you see that there was no sense in his hiding, though I never thought of
it till--lately? I always believed in him implicitly, as you have done.
I thought him just the kind of person who _would_ sacrifice himself for
a woman. I can understand doing it. It appeals to a nature like mine. I
was deeply hurt by his reserve about it, since he came home, but I never
thought, it never struck me for one single second that it concealed
anything discreditable."

"It does not," said Fay suddenly.

"My dearest, I am afraid there is no doubt it _does_. What was Michael
doing in the garden at that time of night. You forget that. I am the
last person in the world to think him capable of anything disgraceful,
but I can't resist the conclusion that he was waiting--Oh! Fay, your
ears ought not to be polluted by such things--was waiting about in the
garden because he was attracted by someone in the house."

He felt her hand quiver in his.

How womanly she was, how pure. How could any man have had the heart to
throw dust in those innocent eyes. He kissed the cold hand reverently.

"I hate to speak of such a thing to you, and it somehow seems out of the
question when I think of Michael's character. I had brought him up so
carefully. I had impressed on him my own high code of morals from the
first. And yet--and yet--I am afraid, dearest, that Michael must have
been hanging about to have a word with--don't start so, why do you
tremble?--with your maid."

There was a moment's silence. Fay shook her head. She was unable to
articulate.

"Then why was he there? You must have been very much surprised and
alarmed at his coming to your room so late. And unless he had given you
some reason, you would not have tried to hide him. We always come back
to that. Fay, why _did_ Michael hide?"

Fay struggled to speak. Her white lips moved, but no sound came forth.

"You and the Duke tried to save him from being discovered. We all know
that. The Duke told me so himself."

Another silence. Fay's face became convulsed.

"You are no diplomatist, Fay, thank God. I see very well, my darling,
that you know more than you will say. It is plain to me that in the
goodness of your soul you are trying to shield Michael--_for the second
time_."

He kissed her on the forehead and rose to go.

"Stop!" said Fay, almost inarticulately. "It isn't the second time. I
didn't shield him last time. I let him slide. But I will now ... I want
to tell you ... I must tell you ... Michael has been here, he came when
you were away in London. And he has begged me,--Oh, Wentworth, he has
implored me to--tell you everything."

Wentworth became very red. His face hardened.

"_He_ has begged you to tell me! He has gone behind my back and tried to
depute you to do it, to plead his cause for him. He has not even the
courage to come to me himself. No, Fay, I am going. It is no use
imploring me to stay. I'm not going to listen to you making excuses for
him. I don't blame you, but you ought not to have agreed to do it.
Whatever I ought to know I must hear from Michael himself. I shall go
over and see him to-morrow morning. Even you, dearest, must not come
between--Michael and me."



CHAPTER XXXV

    Aimer quelqu'un, c'est à la fois lui ôter le droit, et lui
    donner la puissance de nous faire souffrir.


The following morning the Bishop and Michael were sitting in the library
at Lostford Palace. The Bishop was reading a letter, while Michael
watched him, sunk in an arm-chair.

Presently the Bishop thrust out his under lip, and gave back the letter
to Michael.

"Wentworth has dipped his pen in gall instead of in his inkpot," he
said. "For real quality and strength give me the venom of a virtuous
person. The ordinary sinner can't compete with him. Evil doers are out
of the running in this world as well as in the next. I often tell them
so. That is why I took orders. What do you suppose Wentworth suspects
when he says Alington has suggested a discreditable reason for your
being in the di Collo Alto villa that night, and that he is not going to
allow you to skulk behind a woman any longer? He will be here directly
to extort what he is pleased to call 'the truth.' What are you going to
say?"

"I don't know," said Michael. "That is the worst of me. I never know."

The Bishop frowned and rubbed his chin.

"I see one thing," continued Michael, "and that is that it's all
important that he should not break with Fay."

"That will be his first step--if he knows the truth."

"I am afraid it will, and yet--that's the pity of it, she will last
longer than I shall, and he does like her--a little--which is a great
deal for him. You don't believe it, but he really does. And he'll want
her more than ever--when I'm gone."

The Bishop looked keenly at his godson.

Michael had never before alluded to his precarious hold on life. It was
obvious that he was only considering it now in its bearings on
Wentworth's future.

"Can a man who has grown grey looking at himself in the glass, and
recording his own microscopic experiences in a diary, can such a man
_forgive_?" said the Bishop. "Forgiveness is tough work. It needs
knowledge of human nature. It needs humility. I forgave somebody once
long ago. And it nearly was the death of me. I've never been the same
man since."

"Wentworth will have his chance," said Michael. "It's about all we can
do for him."

"We all know he says he can, but then he says such a lot of things. He
dares to say he loves his fellow men. But I've never yet found that
assertion coincide with any real _working_ regard for them. There are
certain things which those who care for others never say, and that is
one of them. The egoist on the contrary is always asserting of himself
what he ought in common decency to leave others to say of him,--only
they never do. Wentworth actually told me not so long ago that he was
intent on the service of others. I told him it was for those others to
mention that interesting fact, and that nobody had lied about him to
that extent so far in my diocese."

"He always says that there is perfect confidence between us," said
Michael. "I've heard him say so ever since I can remember, and I've
heard him tell people that I always brought him my boyish troubles. But
I never did, even as a boy, even when I got into a scrape at Eton. My
tutor stood by me in that. Wentworth never could endure him. He said he
was such a snob. But snob or not, he was a firm friend to me. And I
never told him even at the first of my love for Fay. I somehow could
not. You simply can't tell Wentworth things. But he has got it into his
head that I always have, and that this is the first time I have kept
anything from him. If I had only Fay's leave to tell him! It is the only
thing to do."

The door opened, and to the astonishment of both men, Fay and Magdalen
came in. Fay looked as exhausted, as hopeless, as she had done three
months ago when Magdalen had brought her to make her confession to the
Bishop in this very room.

She evidently remembered it. She turned her lustreless eyes on him and
said, "Magdalen did not make me come this time. I have come myself. Do
you think, is there any chance, Uncle John, that God will have mercy on
me again, like He did before?"

"Do you mean by God having mercy, that Wentworth will still marry you if
he knows the truth?"

She did not answer. That was of course what she meant.

She looked from one to the other of her three friends with a mute
imploring gaze. Their eyes fell before hers.

"I have not slept all night," she said to the Bishop. "Magdalen stayed
with me. And we came quite early because I had to come. Wentworth must
be told. It isn't because Magdalen says so. She hasn't said so, though I
know she felt he ought to be told from the first. And it isn't because
he's sure to find out. And oh! Michael, it isn't for your sake, to put
you right with him. It ought to be, but it isn't. But I can't let him
kiss me any more, and not say. It makes a kind of pain I can't bear. It
has been getting worse and worse ever since Michael came back, only I
did not know what it was at first, and yesterday----" she stopped short,
shuddering. "He came to see me yesterday," she said in a strangled
voice. "He was so dear and good, so wonderful. There never was anyone
like him. It is in my heart that he will forgive me. And he trusts me
entirely. I can't deceive him any more."

The eyes of Michael and Magdalen met in a kind of shame. Those two who
had loved her as no one else had loved her, who had understood her as no
one else had understood her, saw that they had misjudged her. They had
judged her by her actions, identified her with them. And all the time
the little trembling "pilgrim soul" in her was shrinking from the pain
of those very actions, was growing imperceptibly apart from them, was
beginning to regard them with horror, not because they had caused
suffering to others, but because they had ended by inflicting anguish
upon herself. The red-hot iron of our selfishness with which we brand
others becomes in time hot at both ends. We don't know at first what it
is that is hurting us, why it burns us. But our blistered hands, cling
as they will, must needs drop it at last. Fay's cruel little white hand
had let go.

Michael took it in his and kissed it.

"Wentworth is coming here this morning," said the Bishop gently. "He may
arrive at any moment. Stay here and speak to him. And ask him to forgive
you, Fay. You need his forgiveness."

"I don't know how to tell him," gasped Fay. "I tried yesterday, and I
couldn't."

"Let me tell him," said Michael, and as he spoke, the door opened once
more, and Wentworth was announced.

He had got ready what he meant to say. The venomous sentences which he
had concocted during a sleepless night were all in order in his mind.

Who shall say what grovelling suspicions, what sordid conjectures, had
blocked his inflamed mind as he drove swiftly across the downs in the
still June morning? He meant to extort an explanation from his brother,
to have the whole subject out with him once for all. He should not be
suffered to make Fay his accomplice for another hour. His tepid spirit
burned within him when he thought of Michael's behaviour to Fay. He said
to himself that he could forgive that least of all.

He had expected to find Michael alone, or possibly the Bishop only with
him, the Bishop who _knew_. He was disconcerted at finding Fay and
Magdalen there before him.

A horrible suspicion that Magdalen also knew darted across his mind.

It was obvious to him that he had broken up a conference, a conspiracy.
His bitter face darkened still more.

"I don't know what you are all plotting about so early in the morning,"
he said. "I must apologise for interrupting you. I seem to be always in
the way now-a-days. People are always whispering behind my back. But I
have come over to see Michael. I want a few plain words with him without
delay, and I intend to have them."

"That is well," said the Bishop, "because you are about to have them. We
were speaking of you when you came in."

"I wish to see Michael alone," said Wentworth, stung by the Bishop's
instant admission of being in his brother's confidence.

He looked only at Michael, who, his eyes on the ground, was leaning
white as death against the mantelpiece.

"Do you wish us to go, Michael?" said the Bishop.

"I wish you all to stay," he said, raising his eyes for a moment. His
hand shook so violently that he knocked over a little ornament on the
mantelpiece, and it fell with a crash into the fireplace. His voice
shook, too, but his eyes were steady. His great physical weakness,
poignantly apparent though it was, seemed a thing apart from him, like a
cloak which he might discard at any moment.

"I cannot say all I have to say before others," said Wentworth fiercely,
"even if they are all his confederates in trying to keep me in the dark,
all, that is, except Fay. We know by experience that she can shield a
man who has something to hide even from his best friends. We know by
experience that dust can be thrown in her unsuspecting eyes."

"You have been kept in the dark," said the Bishop with compassion; "you
have not been fairly treated, Wentworth, you have much to forgive."

In spite of himself Wentworth was awed. He had a sudden sense of
impending calamity. He looked again at Michael.

Michael's hand shook. His whole body shook. His lips trembled
impotently.

Wentworth sickened with shame. His love was wounded to the very depths
to see his brother like this, as it had never been wounded even by the
first sight of him in his convict's blouse.

"I always trusted you," he said with a groan, putting up his hand so as
to shut out that tottering figure. "I don't know what miserable secret
you're keeping from me, and I don't care. It isn't _that_ I mind. It is
that--whatever it was, however disgraceful it was, you should have kept
it from me. God knows I only wanted to help you. Surely, surely,
Michael, you might have trusted me. What have I done that you should
treat me as if I were an enemy? I thought I was your friend."

No one spoke.

"After all, I don't know that I care to hear. Why should I care. It's
rather late in the day to hear now what everyone knows except me, what
I've been breaking my heart over, racking my brains over as you well know
for these two endless years, what you aren't even now telling me of your
own accord, what you have been persuaded to by this--this"--Wentworth
looked at the Bishop--"this outsider, this middle man."

A great jealousy and bitterness were compressed into the words "middle
man."

"You have got to hear," said Michael, and the trembling left him.

He turned towards his brother, still supporting himself with one hand on
the mantelpiece. The two stern faces confronted each other, and Magdalen
for the first time saw a likeness between them.

"I have kept things from you. You are right there," said Michael,
speaking in a low, difficult voice. "But I never intentionally deceived
you till the Marchese was murdered. Long before that, four years before
that, I fell in love."

Wentworth's heart contracted. He had always feared that moment for
Michael, had always awaited it with a little store of remedial maxims.
He had felt confident that Michael had never even been slightly
attracted by any woman. How often he had said to himself that if there
had been any attraction he should have been the first to know of it. Yet
the incredible truth was being thrust at him that Michael had struggled
through his first love without drawing upon the deep wells of
Wentworth's knowledge.

"The woman I fell in love with was Fay. She was seventeen. I was
nineteen."

The room went round with Wentworth.

"Fay," he said, in blank astonishment, "Fay!" Then a glare of light
broke in on him.

"Then it was she," he stammered, "not her maid, as that brute Alington
said--it was she--she herself that----"

"It was her I went to see the night I was arrested. I was deeply in love
with her."

Michael paused a moment, and then added gently, "She never cared for
me. I did not see that clearly at the time, because I was blinded by my
own passion. I have seen it since."

Wentworth made no movement.

"I decided to leave Rome. Fay wrote to me that I ought to go. I went to
say good-bye to her in the garden the night the Marchese was murdered.
While I was in the garden, the murder was discovered and the place was
surrounded, and I could not get away. I hid in Fay's boudoir. The Duke
came in and explained to Fay what had happened. It was the first I knew
of it. Then, when they searched the house and I saw that I must be
discovered in another moment, I came out and gave myself up as the
murderer, because I could not be found hiding in Fay's rooms at night.
It was the only thing to do."

Fay took a long breath. What a simple explanation it seemed after all.
Why had she been so terrified? Wentworth could not blame her seriously
now.

"I never tried to shield the Marchesa," Michael went on. "That was her
own idea. I only wanted to shield Fay from being--misconstrued. The Duke
understood. He saw me hiding behind the screen, and tried to save me. He
told me so next day. The Duke was good to me from first to last."

Wentworth turned a fierce, livid face towards his brother.

"Have I really got at the truth at last?" he said. "How can I tell? The
Duke could have told me, but he is dead. Did he really connive at your
romantic passion for his wife? If I may venture to offer an opinion,
that part of the story is not quite so well thought out as the rest,
though it is excessively modern. Anyhow he is dead. You tell me he saw
you behind the screen in his wife's rooms at midnight, and felt no need
of an explanation. How like an Italian. But he is dead. And you forced
your love on another man's wife, though you own she did not return it,
wormed yourself into her rooms at night, and then--_then_--yes, I begin
to see a grain of truth among these heaps of lies--then when by an evil
chance, an extraordinary stroke of bad luck, there was danger of your
being discovered, then you persuaded her, the innocent, inexperienced
creature whom you would have wronged if you could--you worked upon her
feelings, you made her into your accomplice, you persuaded her to hide
you.... You mean cur!... You only sneaked out of your hole when escape
was absolutely impossible. And so the truth, or some garbled part of it,
is choked out of you at last. No wonder you were silent all these years.
No wonder you would not speak. No wonder you let your poor dupe of a
brother break his heart over your silence. Credulous fool that I have
been from first to last. So help me God, I will never speak to you
again."

The violent, stammering voice ceased at last.

Fay shivered from head to foot, and looked at her lover.

Both men had forgotten her. Their eyes never left each other.
Wentworth's fierce face was turned with deadly hatred upon his brother.
Michael met his eye, but he did not speak.

There was death in the air.

Suddenly as in a glass she saw that Michael was saving her again, was
sacrificing himself for a second time at enormous cost, the cost of his
brother's love.

"Michael!" said Fay with a sob, "Michael, I can't bear it. You are
trying to save me again, but I can't bear to be saved any more. I have
had enough of being saved. I won't be saved. It hurts too much. I won't
let you do it a second time. I have had enough of being silent when I
ought to speak, I have had enough of hiding things, and pretending, and
being frightened."

Fay saw at last that the truth was her only refuge from that unendurable
horror which was getting up out of its grave again. She fled to it for
very life, and flung herself upon it.

She took Michael's hand, and turning to Wentworth began to speak
rapidly, with a clearness and directness which amazed Magdalen and the
Bishop.

It all came out, the naked truth; her loveless marriage, the great
kindness of her husband towards her, her determination bred of idleness
and vanity to enslave Michael anew when he came to Rome, his resistance,
his decision to leave Italy, her inveigling him under plea of urgency to
come to the garden at night, his refusal to enter the house, her frantic
desire to keep him, his determination to part from her.

There was no doubt in the minds of those who listened in awed silence
that here was the whole truth at last.

Fay looked full at Wentworth and then said: "He asked me why I had sent
for him, what it was that he could do for me. And I said--I said--'Take
me with you.'"

"No," said Michael, wincing as under a lash, "No, you did not. Fay, you
never said that."

"You did not hear it, but I said it."

Michael staggered against the mantelpiece.

Wentworth had not moved. His face had become frightful, distorted.

"I am a wicked woman, Wentworth," said Fay. "I tried to make him in love
with me. I tried to tempt him. I could make him love me, but not do
wrong. And then I let him take the blame when he was trapped. I had
trapped him there first. He did not want to come. I forced him to come.
I let him spoil his life to save my wretched good name. He is right when
he told you just now that I never loved him. The love was all on his
side. He gave it all. I took it all, and I went on taking it. It was I
who kept him in prison quite as much as the Marchesa. It was I who let
him burn and freeze in his cell. A word from me would have got him out."

Wentworth laughed suddenly, a horrible, discordant laugh.

They had rotted down before his eyes to loathsome unrecognisable
corpses--the man and the woman he had loved.

Fay looked wildly at him.

"But you are good," she said faintly. "You won't, Wentworth, you won't
cast me off like--like I did Michael."

He did not look at her.

He took up his gloves and straightened the fingers as his custom was.

"There is no longer anything which need detain me here," he said to the
Bishop, and he moved towards the door.

"Nothing except the woman whose fate is in your hands," said the Bishop
gently. "What of her? She deserted Michael because her eyes were holden.
Now you can make the balance even if you will. But will you? You can
repay cruelty with cruelty. You can desert her with inhumanity even
greater than hers, because you do it with your eyes open. But will you?
Is it to be an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth? She loves you
and is at your mercy, even as Michael was once at hers. You can crush
her if you will. But will you?"

"Wentworth!" said Fay, and she fell at his feet, clasping his knees.

His face was as flint, as he looked down at her, and tried to push away
her hands.

"Let him go, my child," said the Bishop sternly, and he took Fay's
hands, and held them. "It is no use trying to keep a man who does not
love you. Go, Wentworth. You are right. There is nothing to keep you
here. In this room there are two people, one of whom has sinned and has
repented, and both of whom love you and have spoken the truth to you.
But there is no love and truth in you to rise up and meet theirs. You do
not know what love and truth are, even when you see them very close. You
had better go."

"I will go," said Wentworth, his eyes blazing. And he went out and shut
the door behind him.

Fay's hands slipped out of the Bishop's, her head fell forward, and she
sank down on the floor. The Bishop and Magdalen bent over her.

Michael looked a moment at her, and swiftly left the room. He overtook
Wentworth in the hall, groping blindly for his hat.

"Come in here," said Michael, "I want a word with you," and he half
pushed Wentworth into a room leading out of the hall. It was a dreary
little airless apartment with a broken blind, intended for a
waiting-room but fallen into disuse, and only partially furnished, the
corners piled with great tin boxes containing episcopal correspondence.

Michael closed the door.

"Wentworth," he said breathlessly, "you don't see. You don't understand.
Fay loves you." He looked earnestly at Wentworth as if the latter were
acting in some woeful ignorance, which one word would set right. He
seemed entirely oblivious of Wentworth's insulting words towards
himself.

"I see one thing," said Wentworth, "and that is that I'm not inclined to
marry your cast-off mistress."

Michael closed with him instantly, but not before Wentworth had seen the
lightning in his eyes; and the two men struggled furiously in the dim,
airless little room with its broken blind.

Wentworth knew Michael meant to kill him. The long, scarred hands had
him by the throat, were twisting themselves in the silk tie Fay had
knitted for him. He tore himself out of the grip of those iron fingers.
But Michael only sobbed and wound his arms round him. And Wentworth knew
he was trying to throw him, and break his back.

Wentworth fought for his life, but he was over-matched. The awful,
murderous hands were feeling for his neck again, the sobbing breath was
on his face, the glaring eyes staring into his. The hands closed on his
throat once more, squeezing his tongue out of his mouth, his eyes out of
his head. He made a last frightful struggle to wrench the hands away.
But they remained clutched into his flesh, choking his life out of him.
There was a thin, guttural, sawing noise mixed in with the sobbing. Then
all in a moment the sobbing ceased, he felt the hands relax, and then an
avalanche of darkness crashed down on him, and buried him beneath it.



CHAPTER XXXVI

    That game of consequences to which we all sit down, the
    hanger-back not least.--R. L. STEVENSON.


Down, very deep down. Buried in an abyss of darkness, shrouded tightly
in a nameless horror that pressed on eyes and breath and hands and
limbs.

At last a faint sound reached Wentworth. Far away in some other world a
clock struck. His numbed faculties apprehended the sound, and then
forgot it when it ceased.

At last he felt himself stir. He found himself staring at a glimmer of
light. He could not look at it, and he could not look away from it. What
was it? It had something to do with him. It grew more distinct. It was a
window with a broken blind.

Someone close at hand began to tremble. Wentworth sat up suddenly and
found it was himself. He was alone, lying crumpled up against the wall
where he had been flung down. He knew where he was. He saw the piles of
tin boxes. He remembered.

He leaned his leaden throbbing head against the wall, and wave after
wave of sickness even unto death shuddered over him. Michael had tried
to kill him. His stiff wrenched throat throbbed together with his head.
For a long time he did not move.

At last the clock struck again.

He staggered to his feet as if he had been called, and looked with
intentness at a fallen book and upset inkstand. There was a quill pen
balancing itself in an absurd manner with its nib stuck in the cane
bottom of an overturned chair. He took it out and laid it on the table.
He saw his hat in a corner, stooped for it, missed it several times, and
then got hold of it, and put it on. There was a little glass over the
mantelpiece. A ghastly face with a torn collar was watching him
furtively through it. He turned fiercely on the spy and found the face
was his own. He turned up his coat and buttoned it. Then he went to the
half-open door and looked out.

His ear caught a faint sound. Otherwise the house was very still.

A maid servant on her knees with her back to him was washing the white
stone floor of the hall at the foot of the staircase. Another servant,
also with her back to him, was watching her.

"Then it is early morning," he said. And he walked out of the room, and
out of the house, through the wide open doors. A fine rain was falling,
but he did not notice it. He passed out through the gates and found
himself in the road. He stopped unconsciously, not knowing what to do
next.

A fly dawdling back to the town from the station, passed him, and pulled
up, as he hesitated.

"Station, sir?" said the driver.

"No, Barford," said Wentworth, and he got in. The fly with its faded
cushions and musty atmosphere seemed a kind of refuge. He breathed more
freely when he was enclosed in it.

As in the garden of Eden desolation often first makes itself felt as a
realisation of nakedness. We must creep away. We must hide. We have no
protection, no covering.

Wentworth cowered in the fly. He passed without recognising them all the
old familiar landmarks, the twisting white road that branched off to
Priesthope, the dew ponds, the half hidden, lonely farms. He was in a
strange country.

He looked with momentary curiosity at a weather-worn sign post which
pointed forlornly where four roads met. It was falling to pieces with
age, but yet it must have been put up there since the morning. He had
never seen it before. He shouted to the driver that he had taken the
wrong road. The man pointed with his whip to where, a mile away, the
smoke of Barford rose among its trees. The landscape suddenly slid into
familiar lines again. He recognised it, and sank back, confused and
exhausted. The effort of speaking had hurt his throat horribly. Was he
going mad? How could his throat hurt him like this--if it wasn't--if
Michael had not----

He thrust thought from him. He would wait till he got home, till his own
roof was safely over him, the familiar walls round him.

This was his gate. Here was his own door, with his butler looking
somewhat surprised, standing on the steps.

He found himself getting out, and giving orders. He listened to himself
telling the servant to pay the fly and to send word by it to his
dog-cart to return home. Of course he had gone to Lostford in the
dog-cart. He had forgotten that.

Then he heard his own voice ordering a whiskey and soda to be brought
to him in the library. And he walked there.

The afternoon post had arrived with the newspapers and he took up a
paper. But it was printed in some language unknown to him, though he
recognised some of the letters.

How long had he been gone, an hour, a day, a year?

He looked at the clock.

Half-past two. But this great shock with which the air was still rocking
might have stopped it. He put his ear to it. Strange! It was going. And
it always stopped so easily, even if the housemaid dusted it.

Was it half-past two in the afternoon or in the night?

There was a band of sunshine across the floor and outside the gardens
and the downs were steeped in it.

Perhaps it was day.

The butler brought in a tray, and placed it near him.

"Have you had luncheon, sir?"

Wentworth thought a moment, and then said "yes."

"And will Mr. Michael return to-day, sir?"

Wentworth remembered some old, old prehistoric arrangement by which
Michael was to have come back with him to Barford this afternoon.

"No," he said, the room suddenly darkening till the sunshine on the
floor was barely visible. "No. He is not coming back."

The man hesitated a moment, and then left the room.

Wentworth groped for the flagon of whiskey, poured out a quantity, and
drank it raw. Then he waited for the nightmare to lift.

His mind cleared gradually. His scattered faculties came sneaking back
like defeated soldiers to camp. But they had all one tale of disaster
and one only to tell. He must needs believe them.

_Michael had tried to kill him._ Whatever else shifted that remained
true.

Wentworth bowed his stiffening head upon his hands, and the sweat ran
down his face.

Michael had tried to kill him, and had all but succeeded. Oh! if only he
had quite succeeded. If only his life had not come back to him! He had
died and died hard in that little room. And yet here he was still alive
and in agony.

Michael first. That thought was torture. Then Fay. That thought was
torture. The woman he had so worshipped, on whom he had lavished a
wealth of love, far greater than most men have it in them to bestow, had
deceived him, had been willing to be his brother's mistress.

Why had he ever believed in Fay and Michael? Had he not tacitly
distrusted men and women always from his youth up? Had he not gauged
life and love and friendship at their true value years ago? Why had he
made an exception of this particular man and woman? They were no worse
than the rest.

What was any man or woman worth? They were all false to the core. What
was Fay? A pretty piece of pink and white, a sensual lure like other
women, not better and not worse. And what was Michael but a man like
other men, ready to forget honour, morality, everything, if once his
passions were aroused. It was an old story, as old as the hills, that
men and women betray each other. It was as old as the psalms of David.

Pah! what a fool he was to allow his heart to be wrung by what was only
the ordinary vulgar experience of those who were so silly as to mix
themselves up with their fellow creatures.

He had only himself to thank.

Well, at any rate, he was free now. He was awake now. He was not going
to put his hand in the fire a second time.

He was going abroad immediately. He would start to-morrow morning. In
the meanwhile, he would go and see somebody, call somewhere, be in high
spirits somewhere with others. They (they were Fay and Michael) would
hear of that afterwards, would see how little he cared.

He seized up his hat and went out. But when he had walked a few hundred
yards he sank down exhausted on a wooden seat in the alder coppice
overhanging the house, and remained there. The baby pheasants crept in
and out, all round him. Their little houses, each with an anxious
step-mother in it, were set at regular intervals along the grassy path.
Only yesterday he had walked along that path with the keeper, and had
thought that in the autumn he and Michael would be shooting together
once more.

They would never shoot together again.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the dusk fell he heard a sound of wheels. His dog-cart returning from
Lostford, no doubt. It did not turn into the court-yard, but came on up
to the house. Wentworth peered down through the leaves.

It was the Bishop's dog-cart. He recognised the groom who drove it. To
his amazement he saw Lord Lossiemouth get out. After some parley he went
into the house.

Why should he have come?

Oh! of course, how dense he was. He had been sent over on an embassy by
Magdalen and the Bishop. They wanted to hush up the fight, and bring
about a reconciliation between him and Fay. He should be told Fay was
making herself ill with crying. His magnanimity would be appealed to by
that pompous prig. Well, he had had his journey for nothing. Wentworth
saw his servants looking for him, and hid himself in the coppice.

A couple of hours later he left the wood, and went down the steep path
to the gardens. It was nearly dark now. Lights twinkled in the house.
The lamp in the library laid a pale finger of light upon the lawn,
through the open glass doors.

Wentworth went up to it, and then as he was about to enter, shrank back
astonished.

Lord Lossiemouth was sitting there with his back to the window.
Wentworth stood a long time looking at him. He was evidently waiting for
him to come in. He sat stolidly on as if he were glued to his chair,
smoking one cigarette after another.

At last he got up. Surely he would go now. He walked to the bookshelves
that lined the walls, inspected the books, selected one, and settled
himself with a voluminous sigh in his arm-chair once more.

Wentworth stole away across the grass as noiselessly as he had come, and
disappeared in the darkness.



CHAPTER XXXVII

                  Age by age,
    The clay wars with His fingers and pleads hard
    For its old, heavy, dull, and shapeless ease.

    --W. B. YEATS.


Wentworth never knew how he spent the night, if indeed that interminable
tract in which time stopped could have been one night. It was longer
than all the rest of his life put together. In later years, in peaceful
later years, confused memories came to him of things that he must have
seen then, but of which he took no heed at the time; of seeing the
breath of animals like steam close to the ground; of stumbling suddenly
under a hedgerow on a huddled, sleeping figure with a white face, which
struggled up unclean in the clean moonlight, and menaced him in a foul
atmosphere of rags.

And once, many years later, when he was taking an unfamiliar short cut
across the downs, he came upon a little pool in an old chalk pit, and
recognised it. He had never seen it by day, but he knew it. He had
wandered to it on a night of moon and mist, and had seen a fox bring
down her cubs to drink just where that twisted alder branch made an arch
over the water.

Wentworth sat by that chalk pit on the down utterly spent in body and
mind hour after hour, till the moon, which had been tangled in the alder
stooped to the violet west with one great star to bear her company. Who
shall say through what interminable labyrinths, through what sloughs,
across what deserts, his tortured mind had dragged itself all night? The
sun had gone down upon his wrath. The moon had gone down upon his wrath.

The land was grey. The spectral horses moving slowly in the misty fields
were grey. A streak of palest saffron light showed where the dim earth
and dim sky met.

A remembrance came to him of a summer dawn such as this, years and years
ago, when Michael had been dangerously ill, and how his whole soul had
spent itself in one passionate supplication that he might not be taken
from him.

       *       *       *       *       *

A tender green transparent as the light seen through a leaf in May was
welling up the sky. Two tiny clouds floated in it like rafts of rose
colour upon a sea of glass.

       *       *       *       *       *

A deep and bitter sense of injustice was growing within him with the
growing light.

A hundred times during the night he had recalled in cold anger every
word of that final scene in the library, his own speech, his own
actions, his great wrongs, his unendurable pain.

And yet again it returned upon him, always with Fay's convulsed face,
and clinging hands, always with the Bishop's scathing words of
dismissal. Their horrible injustice rankled in his mind, their
abominable cruelty to himself revolted him. Hideous crimes had been
committed against him, but _he_ had done no evil, unless to love and to
trust were evil. Why then was he to be thus thrust into the wrong, thus
condemned unheard, cast forth with scorn because he had not obediently
fallen in with the Bishop's preposterous demand on him to condone
everything? _It was not to be expected of him._

Suddenly the faces of the others watching him after Fay's confession
rose before him, the Bishop's, Magdalen's, Michael's. He saw that they
had not expected it of him either--not even Michael. Only in Fay's
up-raised eyes as she held him by the knees had there been one instant's
anguished hope. Only in hers. And that had been quickly extinguished.
_He had extinguished it himself._

       *       *       *       *       *

The little clouds turned to trembling flame. The whole sky flushed and
then paled. A thread of fire showed upon the horizon. It widened. It
drew into an arch. The sun rose swiftly, a sudden ball of living fire;
and in a moment the smallest shrub upon the down, the grazing horses,
the huddled sheep, were casting gigantic shadows across the whole world.

A faint sound of wheels was growing clearer and nearer.

Wentworth saw a dog-cart coming towards him along the great white road.
As he looked it pulled up and then stopped. A man got out and came
towards him. The raw sunlight caught only his face and shoulders. He
seemed to wade towards him waist deep through a grey sea.

Lord Lossiemouth again!

Lord Lossiemouth's heavy tired face showed sharp and white in the garish
light.

"I have been looking everywhere for you," he said, not ungently. "I
waited half the night at Barford, and then went on to Saundersfoot
station, and then to Wrigley. Your servants thought you might possibly
have gone there. But you had not been seen there. Magdalen sent me to
tell you you must go back to the Palace. Your brother is very ill. He
had an attack of hæmorrhage apparently just after you and he parted in
the hall. I promised her not to go back without you. Shall we drive
on?"



CHAPTER XXXVIII

    Alles vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichniss.--GOETHE.


Michael was dying. All night Magdalen and the Bishop, with nurse and
doctor, fought for his life, vainly strove to stem the stream of blood
with which his life was ebbing away.

He had been found by Lord Lossiemouth and a servant lying unconscious at
the foot of the staircase in the hall. He had been carried into a room
on the ground floor. Everything had been done, but without avail.
Michael was dying, suffocating in anguish, threshing his life out
through the awful hours, in wild delirium.

He was in prison once more, beating against the bars of his narrow
window looking out over the lagoon. His hoarse strangled voice spoke
unceasingly. His hands plucked at his wrists, and then dropped exhausted
beneath the weight of the chains which dragged him down.

Magdalen would fain have spared Fay the ordeal of that vigil. But the
Bishop was inexorable. He bade her remain. And shrunk away in a corner,
shivering to her very soul, Fay listened hour by hour to the wild feeble
voice of her victim, back once more in the cell where he had been so
silent, where the walls had kept his counsel so well. She saw
something--at last--of what he had endured for her, of what he had made
so light.

At last the paroxysm passed. Michael pushed back the walls with his
hands, and then suddenly gave up the struggle.

"They are closing in on me," he said. "I cannot keep them back any
longer."

The contest ceased all in a moment. He lay back motionless with
half-closed eyes, his face blue against the white pillows. The blood had
ceased at last to flow from his colourless lips. Death was very near.

He knew no one. Not the Bishop, not Magdalen who kept watch beside him,
listening ever for Wentworth's step outside.

In the dawn Michael's spirit made as if to depart, but it seemed as if
it could not gain permission.

The light grew.

And with the light the laboured breathing became easier. He stirred
feebly, and whispered incoherently from time to time. He was still in
his cell. Wentworth's name, the Italian doctor's, rose to his lips.
Then, after a pause, he said suddenly:

"The Duke is dead. She will come now."

There was a long silence. He was waiting, listening.

The Bishop and Magdalen held their breath. Fay knew at last what it is
to fail another. She had failed Michael. Wentworth had failed her.

"Fay!" Michael said, "come soon."

She had to bear it, the waiting, the faltered anguish, the suspense, the
faint reiterated call to deaf ears.

The Bishop got up from his knees beside Michael, and motioned Fay to
take his place. She went timidly to the low couch and knelt down by it.

"Speak to him," said the Bishop sternly.

"Michael!" she said.

He knew her. All other voices had gone from him, but hers he knew. All
other faces had faded from him, but hers he knew. He looked full at her.
Love stronger than death shone in his eyes.

"Fay," he said in an awed voice--"at last."

She had come to release him, after the Duke's death, as he knew she
would.

She leaned her white cheek a moment against his in speechless
self-abasement.

He whispered to her.

"Have I served you?"

She whispered back, "Yes."

He whispered again, "Do you still love me?" The words were quite
inaudible.

Again she said, "Yes."

Again a movement of the lips, but no sound.

He looked at her with radiant questioning eyes.

Again she murmured, "Yes."

It had to be like that. He had always known that this moment had to
come. Had he not foreseen it in some forgotten dream?

A great trembling laid hold on Michael, and then a stillness of
exceeding joy.

In the silence the cathedral bells chimed out suddenly for early
service. The sound of the bells came faintly to him as across wide
water, the river of death widening as it nears the sea. It was all part
of his dream. The bells of Venice were rejoicing with him, in this his
blessed hour.

He was freed at last, free as he had never been, free as the seagull
seen through the bars that could no longer keep him back. Useless bars,
why had he let them hold him so long? He was out and away, sailing over
the sheening water in a boat with an orange sail; in a boat like a
butterfly with spread wings; sailing away, past the floating islands,
past that pale beautiful grief of sea lavender--he laughed to see it
shine so beautiful--sailing away into a pearly morning, under a luminous
sky.

The prison was far away now. Left behind. There was a great knocking at
its gates, hurried steps upon the stairs, and a voice crying urgently
through the bars.

But he could not stay to listen. He was too far away to hear. The voice
was to him but like the thin harsh cry of the sea-mew wheeling near,
blended in with the marvel of his freedom. He took no heed of it. He was
afloat on the great sea-faring tide. Far away before him, but nearer,
nearer, and yet nearer, the sea gleamed in trembling ecstasy.

       *       *       *       *       *

"He does not know me. He does not hear me," said Wentworth, on his knees
beside Michael, raising a wild, desperate face to Magdalen. Was
Michael's last look of deadly hatred to remain with him through life?

"Speak to him again, Fay," said Magdalen. "Tell him Wentworth is here."

Fay was still kneeling on the other side. The two lovers' eyes met
across the man they had murdered.

"Michael," the tremulous voice whispered.

"Louder," said Wentworth hoarsely.

"Michael," said Fay again.

But Michael's face was set. He was sunk in a great rest, breathing deep
and slow, deeper and slower yet, his long arms faintly rising and
falling with each breath.

"Oh, Fay. For God's sake make him hear," said Wentworth with a cry.

The Bishop and Magdalen standing apart looked at each other.

"He has forgiven her, though he does not know it," he said below his
breath.

Fay stooped down. She raised Michael in her arms, and laid his head on
her breast, turning his fading face to his brother.

"Michael," she whispered into his ear, with a passion which would have
cloven death itself. "Come back, come back and say one word to
Wentworth."

       *       *       *       *       *

Very near the sea now. Very near the great peace and light. This was the
real life at last. All the rest had been a vain shadow, a prison where
he had dwelt a little while, not seeing that this great all-surrounding
water, which had seemed to hem him in, was but a highway of light.

Who were these two with him in the boat? Who but the two he loved best!
Who but Fay and Wentworth! They were all floating on together in
exceeding joy. They were very near him. He felt them one on each side,
but the light was so great that he could not see them. His head was on
Fay's breast. His hand was in Wentworth's hand. It was all as in dim
dreams he had longed for it to be.

Fay's voice reached him, pressed close to his ear, like the sound of the
sea, held in its tiniest shell.

He opened his eyes and his brother's white face came to him for a
moment, like sea foam, blown in from the sea of love to which he was
going, part of the sea.

"Wenty!" he said, and smiled at him.

And like blown foam upon a breaking wave, the face passed.

And like the whisper in the shell under the hush of the surge, the voice
passed.

The shadow which we call life--passed.


THE END





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