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Title: Madeline Payne, the Detective's Daughter
Author: Lynch, Lawrence L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Madeline Payne, the Detective's Daughter" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

DAUGHTER***


The Great Detective Story.

MADELINE PAYNE, THE DETECTIVE'S DAUGHTER.

by

LAWRENCE L. LYNCH,

(Of the Secret Service.)

Author of "Shadowed by Three," "The Diamond Coterie,"
"Out of a Labyrinth," etc., etc.



[Illustration: "Yes," she cried, wildly, "I know; you need not say
it"--page 219.]



Chicago:
Alex. T. Loyd & Co.
1888.

Copyright, 1883,
Donnelley, Loyd & Co.,
Chicago.

Copyright, 1883,
Alex. T. Loyd & Co.,
Chicago.

Copyright, 1884,
Alex. T. Loyd & Co.,
Chicago.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                  PAGE

I.        MAN PROPOSES                                    9
II.       THE OLD TREE'S REVELATIONS                     16
III.      THE STORY OF A CRIME                           25
IV.       THE DIE IS CAST                                44
V.        A SHREWD SCHEME                                54
VI.       A WARNING                                      64
VII.      A STRUGGLE FOR MORE THAN LIFE                  75
VIII.     THREADS OF THE FABRIC                          98
IX.       GONE!                                         104
X.        BONNIE, BEWITCHING CLAIRE                     113
XI.       A GLEAM OF LIGHT                              121
XII.      A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD                       130
XIII.     MISS ARTHUR'S FRENCH MAID                     137
XIV.      WHEELS WITHIN WHEEL                           143
XV.       CORA AND THE FRENCH MAID MEASURE SWORDS       155
XVI.      FACE TO FACE                                  167
XVII.     GATHERING CLUES                               184
XVIII.    THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP WIELDS THE SURGEON'S
              KNIFE                                     191
XIX.      A DUAL RENUNCIATION                           203
XX.       STRUGGLING AGAINST FATE                       215
XXI.      HAGAR AND CORA                                229
XXII.     TO BE, TO DO, TO SUFFER                       239
XXIII.    SETTING SOME SNARES                           244
XXIV.     A VERITABLE GHOST                             251
XXV.      SOME DAYS OF WAITING                          257
XXVI.     NOT A BAD DAY'S WORK                          265
XXVII.    CLAIRE TURNS CIRCE                            272
XXVIII.   THE CURTAIN RISES ON THE MIMIC STAGE          279
XXIX.     A STARTLING EPISODE                           291
XXX.      WAITING                                       299
XXXI.     MR. PERCY SHAKES HIMSELF                      303
XXXII.    A SILKEN BELT                                 310
XXXIII.   CROSS PURPOSES                                316
XXXIV.    A SLIGHT COMPLICATION                         322
XXXV.     "THOU SHALT NOT SERVE TWO MASTERS" SET AT
             NAUGHT                                     332
XXXVI.    MR. LORD'S LETTER                             337
XXXVII.   "I HAVE COME BACK TO MY OWN!"                 341
XXXVIII.  CORA UNDER ORDERS                             356
XXXIX.    MYSTIFIED PEOPLE                              367
XL.       DAVLIN'S "POINTS."                            378
XLI.      THE DAYS PASS BY                              385
XLII.     A STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM                        389
XLIII.    THE DOCTOR'S WOOING                           397
XLIV.     A FRESH COMPLICATION                          403
XLV.      MRS. RALSTON'S STORY                          409
XLVI.     CORA "STIRS UP THE ANIMALS."                  416
XLVII.    THE BEGINNING OF THE END                      423
XLVIII.   THE SWORD OF FATE                             427
XLIX.     AS THE FOOL DIETH                             442
L.        "AND THEN COMES REST."                        447



[Illustration: "Lucian Davlin was among the arrivals, and at the end
of the depot platform stood the dainty phæton of Mrs. John
Arthur."--page 229.]



MADELINE PAYNE,

THE DETECTIVE'S DAUGHTER.


CHAPTER I.

MAN PROPOSES.


"H'm! And you scarcely remember your mother, I suppose?"

"No, Lucian; I was such a mere babe when she died, I have often
wondered what it would be like to have a mother. Auntie Hagar was
always very kind to me, however; so kind, in fact, that my
step-father, fearing, he said, that I would grow up self-willed and
disobedient, sent her away, and procured the services of the ugly old
woman you saw in the garden. Poor Auntie Hagar," sighed the girl, "she
was sorely grieved at our parting and, that she might be near me,
bought the little cottage in the field yonder."

"Oh!" ejaculated the man, more as if he felt that he was expected to
say something, than as if really interested in the subject under
discussion. "Ah--er--was--a--was the old lady a property holder, then?
Most discharged servants go up and down on the earth, seeking what
they may devour--in another situation."

"That is the strangest part of the affair, Lucian; she had money.
Where it came from, I never could guess, nor would she ever give me
any information on the subject. It was a legacy--that was all I was to
know, it seemed.

"I remember," she continued, musingly, "how very much astonished I was
to receive, from my step-father, a lecture on this head. He took the
ground that my childish curiosity was unpardonably rude, and angrily
forbade me to ask further questions. And I am sure that since that one
instance of wonderful regard for the feelings of Aunt Hagar, he has
not deigned to consider the comfort and happiness of any, save and
always himself."

As the girl's voice took on a tone of scornful sarcasm; as her cheeks
flushed and her eyes flashed while memory recalled the many instances
of unfeeling cruelty and neglect, that had brought tears to her
childish eyes and pain to her lonely heart--the eyes of Lucian Davlin
became bright with admiration, and something more; something that
might have caused her honest eyes to wonder and question, if she had
but intercepted the glance. But her thoughts had taken a backward
turn. Without looking up, perceiving by his silence that he had no
desire to interrupt her, she proceeded, half addressing herself:

"I used to ask him about my mother, and was always informed that he
'didn't care to converse of dead folks.' Finally, he assured me that
he was 'tired of seeing my sickly, ugly face,' and that, as I would
have to look after myself when he was dead and gone, I must be
educated. Therefore, I was sent to the dreary Convent school at M----.
And there I studied hard, looking forward to the time when, having
learned all they could teach me, I might breathe again outside the
four stone walls; for, by my step-papa's commands, I was not permitted
to roam outside the sisters' domains until my studies should reach an
end. Then they brought me back, and my polite step-papa called me an
'educated idiot;' and my good old Hagar cried over me; and I made
friends with the birds, and the trees. Ever since, always avoiding my
worthy ancestor-in-law, I have been wondering what it would be like to
be happy among true friends, in a bright spot somewhere, far away from
this place, where I never have been happy for a day at a time, even as
a child."

"Never, little girl?" The eyes were very reproachful, and the man's
hand was held out entreatingly. "Never, darling?"

She looked up in his face shyly, yet trustfully, and then putting her
hand in his, said: "Never, until I knew you, Lucian; and always since,
I think, except--"

She hesitated, and the color fled out of her face.

"Except when I think that the day draws near when you will leave me.
And when the great world has swallowed you up, you will forget the
'little girl' you found in the woods, perhaps."

A smile flitted across the face of the listener, and he turned away
for a moment to conceal the lurking devil gleaming out of his eyes.
Then, flinging away his half finished cigar, he took both her hands in
his, and looking down into her clear eyes, said:

"Then don't let me go away from you, beauty. Don't stay here to make
dismal meditations among the gloomy trees. Don't pass all the weary
Winter with Curmudgeon, who will marry you to an old bag of gold. Come
with me; come to the city and be happy. You shall see all the glories
and beauties of the gay, bright world. You shall put dull care far
behind you. You shall be my little Queen of Hearts, to love and care
for always. Sweetheart, will you come?"

He was folding her close now, and she nestled in his arms with perfect
trustfulness, with untold happiness shining in her bright eyes. She
was in no haste to answer his eager question, and he smiled again; and
once more the lurking devil laughed out of his eyes. But he held her
tenderly to him, in silence for a time, and then lifted the blushing
face to meet his own.

"Look up, Aileen, my own! Is it to be as I wish? Will you leave this
place with me to-morrow night?"

The girl drew back with a start of surprise. "You--you surely are not
going to-morrow, Lucian," and the gentle voice trembled.

"I must, little one--have just received a letter calling me back to
the city. Your sweet face has already kept me here too long. But I
shall take it back with me, shall I not, love; and never lose it
more?"

The girl was silent. She loved him only too well, and yet this
peremptory wooing and sudden departure struck upon her naturally
sensitive nerves as something harsh and unpleasant. She would not
leave behind much love, would be missed by few friends, and yet--to
leave her home once was to leave it forever, and it was home, after
all. She looked at the man before her, and a something, her good angel
perhaps, seemed, almost against herself, to move her to rebel.

"Why must I go like a runaway, Lucian? I can't bear to bid you go, and
yet, if you must, why not leave me for a little time? My father will
never consent, I well know, but let me tell him, and then go openly,
after he has had time to become familiar with the idea."

"After he has had time to lock you up! Recollect, you are not of age,
Aileen. After he has had time to force you into a marriage with your
broken-backed old lover. After he has had time to poison your mind
against me----"

"Lucian! as if he could do _that_; _he_, indeed!" The girl laughed
scornfully.

[Illustration: "She nestled in his arms with perfect
trustfulness."--page 11.]

It is not difficult to guess how this affair would have terminated.
The man was handsome and persuasive; the girl trustful, loving, and,
save for him, so she thought, almost friendless.

But an unexpected event interrupted the eloquence flowing from the
lips of Lucian Davlin, and set the mind of the girl free to think one
moment, unbiased by the mesmeric power of his mind, eye, and touch.

They were standing in a little grove, near which ran the footpath
leading into the village of Bellair. Suddenly, as if he had dropped
from one of the wide spreading trees, a very fat boy, with a shining
face and a general air of "knowingness," appeared before them.

"I beg pardin, sir," proclaimed he, "but as you told me if a
tellergram come for you, to fetch it here, so I did."

And staring at Madeline the while, he produced a yellow envelope from
some interior region, and presented it to Lucian Davlin, who tore open
the cover, and took in the purport of the message at one glance. His
face wore a variety of expressions: Annoyance, satisfaction, surprise,
all found place as he read. He stood in a thoughtful attitude for a
brief time, and then, as if he had settled the matter in his own mind,
said:

"All right, Mike. Go back now, and tell Bowers to prepare to leave
to-night. I'll come down and send the required answer immediately.
Here, take this."

Tossing him a piece of money, Lucian turned to Madeline, over whose
face a look of sorrowful wonder was creeping.

"'Man proposes,' my dear! Well, I am 'disposed of' for a time. It is
only one night sooner, and, after all, what matter? Will you decide
for me at once, Maidie? Nay, I see you hesitate still, and time just
now is precious. Think till to-night, then; think of the lonely days
here without me; think of me, alone in the big world, wishing and
longing for _you_. I could not even write you in safety. Think fast,
little woman; and when evening comes, meet me here with your answer.
If it must be separation for a time, dear, tell me when I shall come
back for you."

The girl drew a breath of relief. He would come back--that would be
better. But seeing his anxiety to be gone, she only said: "Very well,
Lucian, I will be here."

"Then, good-by till evening."

A swift kiss, and a strong hand clasp, and he strode away.

Trampling down the wayside daisies and tender Spring grasses;
insensible to the beauties of earth and sky; smiling still that same
queer, meaning smile, he took the path leading back to the village.
Reaching the site, where the woody path terminated in the highway, he
turned. Yes, she was looking after him; she would be, he knew. He
kissed his hand, lifted his hat with a courtly gesture, and passed out
of her sight.

"Gad!" he ejaculated, half aloud, "she is a little beauty; and half
inclined to rebel, too. She won't go with me to-night, I think; but a
few weeks of this solitude without me, and my Lady Bird will
capitulate. The old Turk, her step-father, won't raise much of a hue
and cry at her flight, I fancy. Wonder what is the secret of his
antipathy to Miss Payne."

He paced on, wrinkling his brow in thought a moment, and then
whistling softly as his fancies shaped themselves to his liking.
Suddenly he stopped, turned, and looked sharply about him.

"I'll do it!" he exclaimed. "Strange if I can't extract from a broken
down old woman any items of family history that might serve my
purpose. I'll call on the nurse--what's her name--to-night."

He glanced across the meadow to where stood the cottage of Nurse
Hagar, and, as if satisfied with himself and his brilliant last idea,
resumed his walk. Presently his pace slackened again, and he looked at
the crumpled paper which he still retained in his hand, saying:

"It's queer what sent Cora to the city for this flying visit. I must
keep my Madeline out of her way. If they should meet--whew!"

Evidently, direful things might ensue from a meeting between Madeline
Payne and this unknown Cora, for after a prolonged whistle, a brief
moment of silence, and then a short laugh, Davlin said:

"I should wear a wig, at least," and he laughed again. "I wonder, by
Jove! I wonder if old Arthur's money bags are heavy enough to make a
card for Cora. Well, I'll find that out, too."



CHAPTER II.

THE OLD TREE'S REVELATIONS.


Meanwhile, strange feelings filled the heart, and troublesome thoughts
the head, of Madeline Payne.

She looked about her sorrowfully. The leafy wood seemed one of her
oldest, truest friends. Since her mother's death, she had lived, save
for the faithful regard of old Hagar, an unloved life. In the only
home she knew, she felt herself an object of dislike, and met only
cold neglect, or rude repulsion. So she had made a friend of the shady
wood, and welcomed back the birds, in early Springtime, with joyful
anticipation of Summer rest under green branches, lulled and soothed
by their songs.

Wandering here, the acquaintance between herself and Lucian Davlin
had begun. Here six long, bright weeks of the Springtime had passed,
each day finding them lingering longer among the leafy shadows, and
drawing closer about them both the cords of a destiny sad for one,
fatal for each.

Standing with hands clasped loosely before her, eyes down dropped, and
foot tapping the mossy turf, Madeline presented a picture of youth and
loveliness such as is rarely seen even in a beauty-abounding land. A
form of medium height which would, in later years, develop much of
stately grace; a complexion of lily-like fairness; and eyes as deep
and brown, as tender and childlike, as if their owner were gazing,
ever and always, as infants gaze who see only great, grand wonders,
and never a woe or fear.

With a wee, small mouth, matching the eyes in expression, the face was
one to strike a casual observer as lovely--as childishly sweet,
perhaps. Yet there was something more than childishness in the broad
brow, and firm chin. The little white hands were shapely and strong,
and the dainty feet pressed down the daisies softly yet firmly, with
quiet but steady movement.

Many a man has been mistaken in baby mouth, and sweetly-smiling eyes.
And whoso should mistake Madeline Payne, in the time to come, for
"just a child and nothing more," would reckon unwisely, and mayhap
learn this truth too late.

Madeline sat down upon a fallen tree, where she had so often talked
with her lover. She looked up into the wide spreading branches
overhead. There was the crooked bough where she had, often and often,
in past days, sought refuge when troubled by her father's harshness,
or haunted by dreams of the mother she had hardly known. It looked
cool and inviting, as if she could think to better purpose shrouded by
the whispering leaves. She stepped upon the fallen trunk, and
springing upward, caught a bending limb, and was soon seated cosily
aloft, smiling at the thought of what Lucian would say could he see
her there. Long she pondered, silent, motionless. Finally, stirring
herself and shaking lightly an overhanging friendly branch she
exclaimed:

"That will be best! I'll stay here for the present. I'll tell
step-papa that I love Lucian, and will never marry his friend, Amos
Adams, the old fright! I'll try and be very calm, and as dutiful as
maybe. Then, if he turns me out, very well. If he shuts me up--" Her
eyes flashed and she laughed; but there was little of mirth in the
laughter--"Why, then, I _would_ lead him a life, I think! Yes, I'll
bid Lucian good-by, for a little while, and I'll try and not miss him
too much, for--Oh!"

She had been very busy with her own half-spoken thoughts, else she
must have sooner discovered their approach, for now they were almost
underneath her, and they were no less personages than her step-father,
John Arthur, and her would-be suitor, Amos Adams.

Madeline was about to make known her presence, but her ear caught the
fragment of a sentence in which her name held prominent place. Acting
upon impulse, she remained a silent, unsuspected listener.

And so began in her heart and life that drama of pain and passion, sin
and mystery, that should close round, and harden and blight, the
darkening future of Madeline Payne.

A more marked contrast than the two men presented could scarcely be
imagined.

[Illustration: "Madeline presented a picture of youth and
loveliness."--page 17.]

John Arthur might have been, evidently had been, a handsome man, years
ago. But it did not seem possible that, even in his palmiest days,
Amos Adams could have been called anything save a fright. He was much
below the medium height. His head was sunken between his shoulders,
and thrust forward, and each feature of his ugly face seemed at war
with every other; while the glance of his greenish gray eye was such
as would cause a right-minded person involuntarily to cross himself
and utter, with perfect propriety, the Pharisee's prayer.

"The mischief fly away with you, man," said Mr. Arthur, seating
himself upon the fallen tree, and striking at the ground fiercely with
his cane; "what is my dead wife to you? Madeline makes my life a
burden by these same queries. It's none of your business why the
departed Mrs. Arthur left her property to me during my life, and tied
it up so as to make me only nominal master--mine to use but not sell,
not one acre, not a tree or stone; all must go intact to Miss
Madeline, curse her, at my death."

"Um-m, yes. Does the girl know anything of this?"

"If she did, your chances would be slim," said the other, scornfully.
"No; I have taken good care that she should not. She has a vixenish
temper, if she should get waked up to imagine herself 'wronged,' or
any such school-girl nonsense. I shall not live many years--this heart
disease is gaining on me fast; and if the girl is your wife, in case
of my death the fortune is as good as yours, you know. I want to have
peace while I do live; and for this reason, I say, I will give you my
step-daughter in marriage, and you shall give me the note you hold
against me for that old debt, the payment of which would compel me to
live like a beggar for the remainder of my days, and the sum of ten
thousand dollars."

"It's making a wife a rather expensive luxury," quoth old Amos,
seating himself; "but the girl's a beauty--no disputing that point;
and--"

"Of course she is," broke in Arthur, impatiently; "worth that, and
more, to whoever wants her, which, fortunately for you, I don't; she
is only a kill-joy to me. If you want the girl, take her, and be
blessed--I'll give away the bride with all the pleasure in the
world--and 'live happy ever after.'"

[Illustration: "What is my dead wife to you?"--page 20.]

There was not much room for argument between these two. It was simply
a question of exchange, and when old Amos had decided that he was not
paying too dearly for so fair a piece of flesh and blood, they came to
terms without more ado, and being agreed that "it's always best to
strike while the iron is hot," Mr. Arthur suggested that his friend
return with him, accept a seat at his hospitable board, and hear
himself announced formally to Miss Madeline, as her future lord and
master. John Arthur had ever exacted and received passive obedience
from his step-daughter. He had little fear of rebellion now. How could
she rebel? Was she not dependent upon his bounty for her daily bread,
even?

Old Amos troubled his ugly head little if any on this point. He
recognized no higher potentate than gold. He had bought him a wife; he
had but to pay the price and take possession of the property.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madeline Payne sat long on her leafy perch, thinking fast and hard,
the expressions of her face changing rapidly as she revolved, in her
mind, different phases of the situation. Surprise gave place to
contempt, as she eyed the departing plotters from her green
hiding-place. Contempt merged into amusement, as she thought of the
wonderful contrast between the two wooers who had proffered their
respective suits, in a manner so very different, beneath that
self-same tree. A look of fixed resolve settled down upon her
countenance at last, and uncurling herself, she dropped lightly upon
the ground.

[Illustration: "Slowly she turned away and very thoughtful was her
face."--page 24]

Madeline had made up her mind. That it would be useless to say aught
of Lucian, she now knew too well. That she could never defy her
father's commands, and still dwell beneath her father's roof, she also
knew. She hesitated no longer. Fate, stronger than she, had decided
for her, she reasoned. Her mind once made up, she gave in it no place
to fears or misgivings. The strength of will and the spirit of
rebellion, that were dormant in her nature, began to stir into life,
roused by the injustice that would rob her of her own. She not only
had a way of escape, but that way her own inclinations lured her. With
never a fear, never a thought of the days to come, she turned from her
mockery of a home, from her parent, unnatural, unloving, and unloved,
to an unknown, untried world, which was all embodied in one
word--Lucian.

The past held for her many dark shadows; the future held all that she
craved of joy and love--Lucian.

In her outraged heart there was no room for grief. She had heard her
dead mother scorned, and by him who, more than all others, should have
cherished her memory and honored her name. She had heard herself
bartered away, as a parcel of goods, and her very life weighed in the
balance as a most objectionable thing. Her happiness was scoffed at;
her wishes ignored as if without existence, and contrary to all
nature; even her liberty was menaced.

Slowly she turned away, and very thoughtful was her face as she went,
but fixed in its purpose as fate itself: and fearless still as if life
had no dark places, no storm clouds, no despair.

Oh! they were lovely, innocent eyes; and oh! it was a sweet, sweet
mouth! But the eyes never wavered, and the mouth had no trace of
weakness in its dainty curves. You have reckoned without your host,
John Arthur. It is no commonplace school-girl with whom you have to
deal. Madeline Payne possesses a nature all untried, yet strong for
good or evil. Intense in love or hate, fearless to do and dare, she
will meet the fate you bring upon her--but woe to those who have
compassed her downfall! If your hand has shaped the destiny of her
life, she will no less overrule your future and, from afar--perhaps
unrecognized, unseen--mete out to you measure for measure!

The grand old tree is sighing out a farewell. The sunlight is casting
fantastic shadows where her foot, but a moment since, rested. The
leaves glisten and whisper strange things. The golden buttercups laugh
up in the sun's face, as if there were no drama of loving and hating,
sin and atonement, daily enacted on their green, motherly bosom. And
Madeline Payne has put her childhood behind her, and turned her face
to the darkness beyond.



CHAPTER III.

THE STORY OF A CRIME.


Nurse Hagar was displeased. She plied her knitting-needles fiercely,
and seemed to rejoice in their sharp clicking. She rocked furiously
backwards and forwards, and sharply admonished the cat to "take
himself away," or she "would certainly rock on his tail." She "wanted
to do something to somebody, she did!" She looked across the fields in
the direction of Oakley, and dropping her knitting and bringing her
chair to a tranquil state, soliloquized:

"It's always the way with young folks; they don't never remember that
old uns have feelings. They run away after a new face, and if it's a
young one and a handsome one, they turn everybody out of their
thoughts; everybody else. Not that I think that city fellow's a
handsome chap; by no means," she grumbled; "but Maidie does; that's
certain sure. And she won't let me say a word about him--oh, no; I'm a
poor old woman, and my advice is not wanted!"

Hagar resumed her knitting and her rocking with fresh vigor. But her
face relaxed a measure of its grimness as, looking up, her eye rested
on a dainty nosegay, tossed in at the window only that morning, by
this same neglectful young girl.

"She don't mean to forget me, to be sure," she resumed. "She is always
kind and gentle to her old nurse. She is lonesome, of course, and
should have young company, like other girls, but--" here the needles
slacked again--"drat that city chap! I wish he had stayed away from
Bellair."

"Goodness, auntie, what a face! I am almost afraid to come in."

Madeline laughed, despite her anxiety, as Aunt Hagar permitted her
opinion of the "city feller" to manifest itself in every feature.

"Get that awfully defiant look out of your countenance, auntie,"
continued Madeline; "for I'm coming in to have a long talk with you,
and I must not be frightened in the beginning."

The lovely face disappeared from the open window, and in a moment
reappeared in the doorway.

To permit herself to be propitiated in a moment, however, was not in
the nature of Dame Hagar.

"I s'pose you think it's very respectful to pop your saucy head in at
an old woman's window, and set her all of a tremble and then tell her,
because she is not grinning for her own amusement, that she looks
awfully cross, and that you are afraid she will bite you. You are a
nice one to talk of being afraid; you, who never showed an atom of
fear of anything from your cradle up. If you were a bit afraid, when
you were out in the woods, for instance, and meet a long-legged animal
with a smooth tongue, and eyes that ought to make you nervous,
'twouldn't be to your discredit, I think. Of course, I don't mean to
say that you don't meet him quite by accident; oh, no! And I don't
_say_ that he ain't a very nice, respectable sort of chap, whatever I
may _think_. You are just like your poor mother, and if this fellow
with a name that might as well be Devil, and done with it--"

"There, now, auntie--" Madeline's face flushed, and she put the cat
down with sudden emphasis; "I won't let you say bad things of Mr.
Davlin, for I think you would be sorry for it afterward."

She drew a low seat to the side of the old lady, and looking her full
in the face, spoke in a voice low, intense, full of purpose.

"Auntie, it is time you told me more about my mother. You have evaded,
my step-father has forbidden, my questioning, but if I am ever to know
aught of my dead mother's history, I intend to hear it from your lips
to-day."

Surprise for a time held the old woman speechless; a look of sorrow
and affection drove the querulousness out of her face and voice.

"What ails you, child?" she said, wonderingly. "Do you want to make
Mr. Arthur hate me more, and keep you from me entirely? Don't you
know, dearie, how he swore that the day I told you these things, he
would forbid you to visit me; and if you disobeyed, take you away
where I could not even hear of you?"

Tears were in Hagar's eyes, and she held out her wrinkled hands
imploringly. "Don't tease your old nurse, dearie; don't. I can't tell
you these things now, and they could not make you any happier, child.
Wait a little; the time will come--"

"So will old age, auntie; and death, and all the knowledge we want, I
suppose, when it is too late to make it profitable. Well, auntie, I
will tell you something in exchange for my mother's story, and to make
it easier for you to relate it. But first, will you answer a few
questions?--wait, I know what you would say," as the old woman made a
deprecating movement, and essayed to speak. "Hear me, now."

Hagar looked at the girl earnestly for a moment, and then said,
quietly:

"Go on then, dearie."

"First," pursued Madeline; "my father dislikes me very much; is this
the truth?" Hagar nodded assent.

"He dislikes you because you were always good to me." Here she paused,
and Hagar again nodded.

"Because you were attached to my mother." Again she paused, and again
the old woman bowed assent.

"And because"--the girl fixed the eyes of the old nurse with her
own,--"because you were too familiar with my mother's past, and his,
and knew too well the secret of his hatred of me!"

Hagar sat silent and motionless, but Madeline, who had read her answer
in the troubled face, continued: "Very good; I knew all this before,
and I'll tell you what else I know. I know why Mr. John Arthur hates
me!"

Hagar opened her mouth, and shut it again quickly.

"He hates me," pursued Madeline, "because my mother left him her
fortune so tied up that he can only use it; never dispose of it. And
at his death it reverts to me."

Hagar still looked her amazement, and Madeline condensed the remainder
of her force into one telling shot.

"If I would be kind enough to die, he would consider it a great favor.
But as I evidently intend to live long, he desires, of course, to see
me happy. Therefore he has bargained me in marriage to Amos Adams, for
the splendid consideration of a few thousand dollars, and the promise
of a few thousand more _if I die young_!"

Still the bewildered look rested upon the old woman's face, and still
she gazed at the young girl before her. Suddenly, she leaned forward,
and taking the fair head between two trembling hands, gazed long at
her. As if satisfied at last with her scrutiny, she drew a deep,
sighing breath and leaned back in her chair.

"It's true," groaned Hagar; "it's too true! She has found it out, and
my little girl has gone away;--my Baby Madeline is become a woman!
There was never a coward in all the race, and a Payne never forgave!
It has come at last," she wailed, "and now, what will she do?"

Madeline lost not a look nor tone; and when the old woman ceased her
rocking and moaning, she suggested, with a half smile:

"Hadn't I better marry old Adams, auntie, worry them both into
untimely graves, and be a rich young widow?"

Hagar gazed at her in silence. And Madeline, taking her hand in her
own, said: "Shall I tell you how I discovered all this, auntie, dear?"

"Yes, child; go on." And she bent upon the girl a look of attention.

Madeline drew close to her side, and briefly related what had
transpired while she sat in her favorite tree; not stating, by the
bye, how it occurred that she was in the grove at that very opportune
time. Hagar's indignation was unbounded, but she continued to gaze at
Madeline in a strange, half fearful, half wondering, wholly expectant
way, that the girl could not interpret.

"And now, Aunt Hagar," pursued Madeline, seriously, "I want to
understand this matter more fully, and I will not say a word of my
plans until you have told me what I came to hear. I shall not come to
you again for this information; it is surely my right, and time now is
precious."

Madeline half rose, seeing that her nurse still rocked dismally and
looked irresolute. "I can bide my time, and fight my battles alone, if
need be," she continued, coldly. "I won't trouble you again, nurse,"
turning as if to go.

"Stop, child!" cried Hagar; "let an old woman think. I'll tell you all
I can; all I know. Don't turn away from your old nurse, dearie; her
only thought is for your good. Yes; you must not be left in the dark
now,--sit down child; sit down."

Madeline resumed her seat, and old Hagar, after another season of
moaning and rocking, proceeded to relate, with many wanderings from
the point, and many interpolations and opinions of her own, the brief,
sad story of Mrs. Arthur's married life and early death. Bereft of
Hagar's ornamental extras, it was as follows:

Madeline Harcourt, an orphan, and the adopted daughter of a wealthy
bachelor uncle, had incurred his displeasure by loving and marrying
Lionel Payne, handsome, brave to a fault, with no other wealth than
his keen intellect, his unsullied honor, and his loving, manly heart.

[Illustration: "I can bide my time, and fight my battles alone if need
be."--page 30]

Lionel Payne had entered upon the study of law, but circumstances
threw in his way certain mysteries that had long been puzzling the
heads of the foremost detectives, and the young law student
discovered in himself not only a marked taste for the study of
mysteries, but a talent that was remarkable. So he gave up his law
studies to become a detective. He rose rapidly in his new profession,
giving all the strength of his splendid ability to the study of
intricate and difficult cases, and became known among detectives, and
dreaded among criminals, as "Payne, the Expert."

He had lived two happy years with his young wife, and been six months
the proud father of baby Madeline, when he fell a victim to his
dangerous pursuit, shot dead by a bullet from the hand of a fleeing
assassin.

John Arthur had been a fellow law student with Lionel Payne, and he
had followed the career of the young expert with curious interest,
being, as much as was possible to his selfish nature, a friend and
admirer of the rising young detective. And Lionel Payne, open and
manly himself, and seeing no trace of the serpent in the seeming
disinterestedness of Arthur, introduced him proudly into his happy
home. Arthur was struck by the beauty of the young wife, and became a
frequent and welcome visitor.

One day, there came to the office where John Arthur earned his bread
reluctantly, as a salaried clerk, the uncle of Madeline Payne. He had
come to make a will, in which he left all his possessions to his
beloved niece, Madeline, and her heirs forever after. This was several
months before the sudden death of Lionel Payne.

Ten months after she became a widow, Madeline's uncle died. Left alone
with her little child, and with no resources but her own efforts,
Madeline's mother struggled on, ever the object of the kind
watchfulness and unobtrusive care of John Arthur, who professed to
adore the child for the sake of the father, and through the baby
Madeline, gradually won his way in the mother's esteem. Mrs. Payne was
deeply grateful, and her mother's heart was touched by the devotion of
Arthur to her little child. So it came about that, after a time, she
gave him her hand, and all of her heart that was not buried with
Lionel. A little later she learned that her uncle was dead, and she
became mistress of a handsome fortune.

Soon came the knowledge that her husband's heart was not all gold, and
the suspicion, as well, that her uncle's will and its purport had long
been no secret to him. But, partly from force of habit, and partly
because he was not yet quiet hardened, John Arthur kept up his farce
of affection for the child. And while his wife awoke to a knowledge of
many of his short-comings, she always believed in his love for her
little one.

The two elements that were strongest in the nature of John Arthur were
selfishness and pride. From his youth up his idols had been gold and
self. Born into the world minus that "golden spoon" for which he
sighed in youth, and schemed in later years, he had ever felt towards
said world a half-fledged enmity. As he reached the age of manhood,
his young sister was formally adopted by the only surviving relatives
of the two; and becoming in due course of time and nature sole
possessor of a very nice little fortune, afterwards held her head very
high. Later, in consequence of some little indiscretions of her
brother at the time when he was set free in the world--the result of
the popular superstition held by him that "the world owed him a
living,"--she held herself aloof from and ignored him completely.

By degrees Mrs. Arthur's eyes became opened to the true character of
the man she had married. Moments she had of doubting, and then of
fearing that she wronged him too deeply, for her nature was a just
one. It was in one of these latter moods that she made her will,
before she had become aware that even his love for her little girl was
only a well acted lie; believing her secure of love and care during
his life, she made sure that, at his death, her darling should be
supplied with all that money could give. She had long been in the
fatal toils of that dread destroyer, heart disease, and suddenly,
before she had found opportunity for securing her little daughter
further, as she had since begun to realize it was needful to do, she
was seized with a paroxysm that snapped the frail cord of life.

A short time before her death, she had given into the keeping of old
Hagar, a package, to be delivered to little Madeline when she should
become a woman, and with the express wish that, should John Arthur
prove a kind guardian meanwhile, she would burn the journal it
contained, unread.

Old Hagar now placed in Madeline's hands the package, which was found
to contain her mother's most valuable jewels, and the tear-stained
journal, which the girl seated herself to peruse, with sorrowful awe.

The last page being turned, and the sad life of her mother fully
revealed, Madeline bowed her head and wept bitterly, heedless of the
attempt of old Hagar to comfort her, until the name of her step-father
upon the old woman's lips brought her suddenly to her feet, the tears
still on her cheeks, but her eyes flashing, and on her countenance a
look that might have been a revelation to John Arthur, had that
gentleman been there to see. Taking the old woman's hand, and holding
it tightly in her own, the girl said:

"Thanks, auntie, for recalling me. I have no time for tears now.
Listen, and don't interrupt me. My poor mother died with a heart
filled with fears for my future, left to that man's keeping. At the
time of her death, he believed himself her unconditional heir. She
feared for her life with him, and her sickness was aggravated in every
possible manner by him, and I fully believe that, in intent if not in
deed, John Arthur is my _mother's murderer_!"

The old woman's face expressed as plainly as words could do, that she
shared in this belief. The girl went on, in the same rapid, firm tone:

"He killed the mother for gold, and now he would sell her child. He
will fail; and this is but the beginning. As he drove my mother into
her grave, I will hunt him into his! He shall suffer all that she
suffered, and more! I know where you obtained your independence now,
Aunt Hagar; and he hates you doubly because my mother's love provided
for you a home, and for her child a haven in time of need. It was
well. Keep the old cottage open for me, Aunt Hagar. Keep an eye on
John Arthur, for my sake. Never fear for me, whatever happens. Expect
to hear from me at any time, to see me at any moment. Don't answer any
questions about me. A thousand thanks for all your love and kindness,
auntie; good-by."

Before the old woman could recover from her astonishment, or utter a
word, Madeline had kissed her, swiftly taken up the precious package,
and was gone! Hagar hastened to the door, but the girl was speeding
swiftly down the path, and was quickly lost to view.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" moaned Hagar, seating herself in the doorway; "her
father's passion and her mother's pride! Sorrow and trouble before
her, and she all alone; dark, dark, dark; the world against her!
Sorrow and trouble--it's in the blood! And she'll never give it up!
She'll fight her wrongs to the bitter end. Oh, my precious girl!" and
she buried her head in her apron and wept.

The sun's last ray had faded from the highest hill-top. The little
birds had folded their wings and hushed their warblings. Dark clouds
came sweeping up from the west, and one, heavy and black, passed above
the roof of Oakley, bent down, and rested there. Hagar, still
sorrowing in the doorway, saw and interpreted. Dark days to come to
the master of that overshadowed house. Dreary days and bitter
nights--ah, how many, before that cloud should be lifted from over it,
or light hearts beat beneath its roof.

"I beg pardon, madame, you appear in trouble; perhaps I intrude?"

It was Lucian Davlin's soft, lazy voice, and that disagreeable half
smile lurked about the corners of his eyes and mouth.

"I've had more welcome visitors," said the old woman, with more truth
than politeness, and rubbing her eyes with the corner of her apron,
"what do you want?"

"Only a small matter of information, which I believe you can give me."

"Well," said Hagar, testily.

"I want to make a few inquiries about Mr. Arthur of Oakley."

"About Miss Madeline, I suppose you mean. I won't tell you a word--"

"My dear, good woman, I don't ask nor wish any information regarding
that young lady--my inquiries solely concern the father. He is said to
be wealthy!"

"What is John Arthur or his money to you?" she questioned, eying him
with much disfavor.

"Nothing whatever," he indifferently replied. "I merely inquire on
behalf of a friend."

"I'll throw him off the scent if he does mean Madeline," thought the
old woman.

"Well, Mr. whatever your name is, if it will satisfy your friend to
know that Mr. John Arthur is master of Oakley, and everybody knows
there's no finer property in the State, and that he has a yearly
income of ten thousand or more, why, tell him or her so. And you may
as well say, at the same time, that he is too stingy and mean to keep
the one in repair, or spend decently the other. And when he
dies"--here she suddenly checked herself--"well, when he dies, his
heirs, whoever they may be, will inherit all the more because of his
meanness."

"And who, pray, may be his heirs?"

"How should I know who a stingy old reprobate will choose to inherit
after him? I think he has a sister somewhere, but I don't know."

"H'm, thank you--for my friend. Good-night."

Smiling that same Mephistophelian smile, Lucian Davlin sauntered away,
apparently satisfied with himself and what was passing in his mind.

"He'll do," he muttered; "and she'll do him. It will be a good thing
for her, just now, and very convenient for me into the bargain. Cora's
a marvellously fine woman, but little Madeline is fresh as a rose, and
a few months of the city will make her sharp enough. Only let me keep
them apart; that's all." Satisfaction beamed in his eye and smiled on
his lip. "Pretty Madeline will be the envy of half the boulevard."

Now he has neared the trysting tree. "I think I'll just smoke here,
and wait for my pretty bird; this is the place and almost the time."

He smoked and he waited; the time came, and passed; his cigar expired;
the shadows deepened--but still he waited.

And he waited in vain. No light form advanced through, the gathering
night; no sweet voice greeted him.

The time was far past now, and, muttering an oath, the disappointed
lover strode away, and was lost in the night.

Madeline was standing in her own room, the threshold of which John
Arthur had never crossed since the day when a silent form was borne
from it, and laid in that peaceful home, the churchyard. She had just
received the summons, for which, only, she lingered--the command of
Mr. Arthur to attend at the altar of hospitality, and pour, for Mr.
Amos Adams, the tea.

She was attired in a neat dark garment which was vastly becoming. She
had made her toilet with more than usual care, as if, perhaps, to do
honor to her ancient suitor--at least so thought Mr. Arthur, when she
presented herself before him.

She had put her chiefest treasures in a little, a very little,
travelling bag. And now she threw across her arm a large cloak, took
her hat, veil, and bag, and descended softly to the hall below. It was
faintly lighted from the lower end, and Madeline deposited her
belongings in a darkened niche near a door, peeped put into the night
that had come on cloudy and starless, and entered the room where
waited the two conspirators, and supper.

John Arthur was more bland and smiling than Madeline had ever before
known him, while as for old Amos, he nearly lost himself in a maze of
grins and chuckles, but displayed a very unloverlike appetite,
nevertheless, and divided his attention pretty evenly between the
beautiful face of Madeline, and the viands on the table.

Madeline betrayed no sign of surprise at her step-papa's unwonted
cordiality, and no annoyance at the ogling and chuckling of her
antiquated suitor. In truth, she favored him with more than one
expressive smile, the meaning of which he little guessed, as she
contrasted him once more with handsome Lucian Davlin, and smiled again
at the picture of his coming defeat.

The meal was partaken of in comparative silence, all apparently quite
satisfied with their own thoughts--ah, how different! It was not until
old Jane, the servant, had been dismissed that Mr. Arthur drew his
chair a trifle nearer that of his friend, and leaning his arms upon
the table, looked across at Madeline, and said:

"My dear, I believe you are aware of the honor this gentleman desires
to confer upon you? I think I have hinted at the truth upon one or two
occasions?"

Madeline veiled her too expressive eyes behind their long lashes, but
made no reply.

"It is my desire," he continued, surveying with satisfaction the
appearance of humility with which his words were received, "and the
desire of Mr. Adams as well, that we should come to a satisfactory
understanding to-night. We will, therefore, settle the preliminaries
at once:--this is your desire, I think, Mr. Adams?"

"Oh, certainly! Oh, yes, yes," ejaculated old Amos, in a transport of
grins.

"And this will, I trust,"--he was growing more stately and polite
every moment--"this, of course, is satisfactory to you, Miss
Madeline?"

"Perfectly." She looked him full in the face now, and somehow her
glance slightly impaired his feeling of dignity and security.

"Very good; and now having formally accepted the proffered hand of Mr.
Adams--"

"Pardon me, sir, you are too fast. Mr. Adams has not offered
himself."

"Nonsense,"--Mr. Arthur suddenly forgot his politeness--"haven't I
just stated his offer?"

Madeline leaned back in her chair, and looked from one to the other
with a tranquil smile.

"Perhaps; but unfortunately there is a law in existence which
prohibits a man from marrying his grandmother, and likewise objects, I
believe, to a young woman's espousing her step-papa, however much
adored. And as you can't marry me, my dear parent and guardian, why I
object to listening to a proposal from your lips."

John Arthur gazed in angry consternation upon the girl's still smiling
face, but before the impatient words that he would have uttered could
find voice, old Amos, who had interpreted her smiles as being
favorable to himself, came gallantly to the rescue.

"Right! quite right," he chuckled. "Of course, you know, Arthur--Miss
Madeline, ahem--that's what I meant, you know. It's the proper way,"
he gasped; and the general expression of his countenance did not tend
to make his observations the more lucid--"I meant, you know--ah,
well--will you honor me Miss Madeline--by--by your hand, you know?"

This effort of oratory was received with smiling attention by the
girl, who now addressed herself entirely to him, without heeding the
effect of her words upon her step-father, or his interpolations, as
she proceeded.

"Mr. Adams;"--she spoke in a low, even tone, and gradually permitted
the real feelings that were seeking for expression to show themselves
in her every feature--"Mr. Adams, I think I appreciate _as it
deserves_ the honor you desire to bestow upon me; believe me, too,
when I say that I am as grateful as it is proper I should be. But, Mr.
Adams, I am only a mere girl, and you might pay too dearly for me."

"What the deuce does the fool mean?" growled Mr. Arthur.

"I don't dispute the fact that I am a perfectly marketable commodity,
and it is very right and proper that my dear step-papa--who dotes on
me, whose idol I have been for long years--should set a high valuation
upon my unworthy head. Yet this little Arcadian transaction is really
not just the thing for the present century and country. And so, Mr.
Adams, I must beg leave to thank you for the honor you proffer, and,
thanking you, to decline it!"

For a moment no one spoke; there was neither sound nor movement in the
room. John Arthur was literally speechless with rage, and old Amos was
just as speechless from astonishment; while Madeline gazed from one to
the other unmoved. As soon as he could articulate, John Arthur
confronted her, and taking her roughly by the shoulder, demanded:

"What do you mean, you ungrateful jade? What are you talking about?"

"About your contract in flesh and blood, Mr. Arthur. About your very
worthy scheme for putting money in your pockets by making me this
man's wife. If I am to be sold, sir, I will make my own bargain; be
very sure of that; and _this_ is not my bargain!"

"Don't talk to me of bargains, you little idiot! Do you think to defy
me? Do you dare to defy me?"

His rage passed all bounds. She put the width of the table between
them and surveyed him across it, mockingly.

"Listen, girl, I am your lawful guardian; you shall obey me!"

"Really, now, don't, step-papa; you are actually purple in the face!
You might die, you know; think of your heart, do, and take a glass of
water."

Old Adams collapsed in the remote corner whither he had fled. The
miser was not at home in a tempest, and this was already beyond his
depth. He gasped in speechless amaze and affright. Was this the girl
he had thought to mold as his wife, this fearless, defiant creature?
Already he began to congratulate himself upon his lucky escape. "She
would murder me some day," he thought, shuddering.

For the time being, John Arthur was a madman. Defied, mocked, by this
girl who had been a burden to his very life! He raged, he raved, he
cursed; and so raging and raving, he cursed her, and then in vile,
bitter words hurled his anathema at her dead mother's memory.

Then the mocking smile was gone, the taunting voice changed its tone;
and as it changed, old Amos, cowering in his corner, shuddered afresh.
Her whole face underwent a transformation. Her form dilated, she
sprang before her step-father and the ring of her voice checked the
imprecations on his lips.

"Stop," she cried; "don't add the last drop to your already overfull
measure! Don't double the force of the thunderbolt that will strike
you some day! Is it not enough that you have hated me all my life
through; that you have loaded down my childhood with unkind words,
curses, and wishes for my death? Not enough that you follow me with
your hatred because my mother's own will be mine at your death? Not
enough that you would barter my life--yes, my _life_--for gold, sell
my heart's blood for your own ease and comfort? And now must you
pollute the name of my mother, as you polluted her life? Never breathe
her name again; never _dare_ to name her! I, her daughter, tell you
that for her every tear, every heart pang, every sigh, _you_ shall pay
dearly; _dearly!_ I will avenge my mother's wrongs, some day; for _you
are her murderer_!"

[Illustration: "I will avenge my mother's wrongs some day; for _you
are her murderer_."--page 42.]

John Arthur gazed in speechless amaze into the space before him--but
she was gone! The stern, vengeful, set face was no longer there. The
proud, ringing voice was no longer sounding in his ear. The uplifted,
warning, threatening hand menaced him only in memory. And before the
might of her purpose, and the force of her maledictions, he stood as
in a trance.

When he had so far recovered himself as to think of her sudden
disappearance, he went out quickly. The entrance door stood wide open;
the dim light flickered on an empty hall and stairway; the sky was
black with clouds, and never a star; the wind moaned about the house;
and across the meadow came the doleful howl of old Hagar's watch-dog.

But Madeline was not to be found.

Always, in the days to come, he remembered her face as it had looked
on him that night. Often in dreams he would start and cry out, haunted
by the sound of her scornful voice, the spectre of her threatening
hand.



CHAPTER IV.

THE DIE IS CAST.


Lucian Davlin paced the platform of the Bellair depot, in a very
unpleasant frame of mind.

His companion,--half servant, half confederate, wholly and entirely a
rascal,--discerning his mood and, as ever, adapting himself to it, had
withdrawn to a respectful distance. Only the shine of his cigar,
glowing through the darkness, betokened his proximity, or the fact
that the dark platform was not in the sole possession of the sullen
man who paced its brief length, and questioned the Fate in which he
trusted, and which, for once, had played him a sorry trick.

[Illustration: "Gad! to be baffled like this!"--page 46.]

He had been deceived by a mere school-girl. She had not even deigned
him a farewell word. He had lost a fair prize.

"Gad!" he muttered, biting viciously at his cigar, "to be baffled like
this; to lose that little beauty; to be foiled like a moon-struck
idiot and never know how or why! I can't write her, with that cursed
old step-father to interfere. I can't return again very soon. And she
_is_ such a little beauty!"

He paused at the end of the darkened platform, and looked down the
track; in the direction of the grove where they had met, and of
Madeline's home. It was almost time for the train. At the upper end of
the platform, the station master flashed his lantern, tumbled the
luggage closer to the track and examined the checks critically; while
the Man of Tact came out from his retirement and overlooked the
proceeding.

Something was coming down the track, swiftly, silently. He could just
discern a shape moving toward him. It came nearer, and he moved up a
few paces, and turned again where the lantern's rays fell upon him. It
came nearer yet and paused in the shadow. It was a woman's form, and
it beckoned. He approached carelessly.

"Lucian!" She came close to him, and placed her hand upon his arm,
drawing her breath hard and quick.

He drew her farther into the shadow and clasped his arms about her.
"Little one! You have walked fast,--how your heart beats! I had given
you up. Is it 'good by,' dear?"

She silently held up the little chatelaine, which he felt rather than
saw, and took from her hand. In the darkness, he smiled again the old
exultant smile not good to see, and pressing her closer in his arms,
said:

"Don't try to talk, sweet one; see, yonder comes our fiery horse and
soon we will be far on our way. Take my arm, little one, and trust him
who loves you. Look your last at the scene of your past
loneliness,--to-morrow comes the gay world."

Rattling and shrieking, the train approached. Lucian hurried his
companion upon the rear platform; and neither his comrade, who entered
the smoking car without looking about him, nor the station master,
busy with his trunks and valises, observed that a third passenger
quitted Bellair station on the night express.

About them, the passengers nodded, yawned or slept. Outside, swiftly
passing darkness. And every moment was hurrying her farther and
farther away from all familiar scenes and objects, out to a life all
untried, a world all new and strange. But she never thought of this.
She was not elated, neither was she cast down. She felt no fear;--and,
afterwards, she remembered that she indulged in no bright visions of
the future during her swift flight.

She had prepared herself to relate her story, to describe the scene
she had just passed through, to tell him all. But he had other things
to occupy his mind, and bidding her to rest and save all she might
have to relate until the morrow, he relapsed into silence and thought,
only now and then gently speaking a word, and looking after her
comfort with a happy grace possessed by few, and so powerful in the
winning of a woman.

On, on, through the black night--youth and age, joy and sorrow, hope
and despair, good and evil; on together through the night; on, on.
Near to the great city; near to the welcome, dark or bright, awaiting
the journey's end. Blacker grew the night, wilder shrieked the wind in
angry protest against the defiant, fiery, resistless monster upon
whom its rage fell impotent. Now pausing; now rushing on with a shriek
and a roar; nearer, nearer to the scene of the new life, dawning
grimly upon the fair girl, all unconscious, unheeding.

They halted at a wayside station--just one of those little hamlets
only a few miles removed from, and really a part of the great city.
One passenger came on board, sauntering down the coach's length
listlessly, wearily. He threw himself into a reversed seat in a half
reclining attitude, and so his careless, wandering gaze fell first
upon Madeline, seated opposite and very near.

She sees him just as she sees the rest, vaguely. She remembers, later,
that he had a good face and that she had thought it then. But confused
and wearied in mind and body, she feels no inclination to observe or
think. So they were hurried on, and no whisper of her heart, no
quickening of the pulses, or sensation of joy or fear, warned her that
she was sitting under the gaze and in the presence of the good and the
evil forces that were to compass and shape her life.

Open your eyes, oh, Madeline, before it is too late. See the snare
that is spreading beneath your feet; read aright the bright glance
that shines on you from those handsome, fateful eyes. Interpret truly
the smile turned on you now. Alas! what woman ever saw guile in the
eyes of the man she loved? Never one, until those eyes have ceased to
smile upon her, and her fate is sealed. What one ever yet recognized
the false ring of the voice that had never, as yet, addressed her save
in honeyed tones, that seemed earth's sweetest music to her ears?
None, until the voice had changed and forgotten its love words; none,
until it was too late.

What Madeline saw, was a man who was to her the embodiment of all
manly grace, her all of joy and love, of truth and trust. And, sitting
opposite, just a young man with fair curling hair, and frank blue
eyes; with a fine manly face, and an air of refinement. A very nice
young man; but not like her hero.

Not like her hero? No, thank heaven for that, Madeline, else your way
would have been far more drear, else your life might have known never
a ray of sunlight, in the long days to come.

On, on; nearer and yet nearer the long journey's end. Both thinking of
her, but how differently!

One pityingly, sadly, fearing for her fate, longing to save her from
the precipice which she could not see and still wear that look of
sweet trustfulness.

One triumphantly, as of a fair prize gained; a new tribute to his
power and strength; another smile from Chance; one more proof that he
was a favored one of Fortune, and that life ever gave him good things
from out the very best.

They are very near their journey's end now, and Lucian Davlin whispers
briefly to Madeline, and lounges out to give some necessary directions
to the neglected companion of his wanderings.

Hastily the young man opposite rises, and crossing to Madeline bends
over her, speaking hurriedly.

"Pardon me, madame, but are you a stranger to the city?"

"Yes." After giving her answer she wonders why she did it, remembering
that it is from a stranger the question comes, and that it is
therefore an impertinence.

"I thought as much!"--the blue eyes look troubled, and the manly voice
hurries on. "The time may come, I hope it will not, when you will need
a friend. If so, this card bears my address,--take it, keep it, and
believe me, I speak from honest motives and a desire to serve you."

He drops a card in her lap, and as she makes a gesture of repulsion,
he says, entreatingly: "Take it; _in the name of your mother_ I ask
it."

She snatches up the card impulsively, and looks for one moment
straight in his eyes. Then drawing a long sighing breath says, simply,
"I will," and turns away as she puts it in her pocket, never so much
as glancing at it.

"Thank you." He lifts his hat, and resumes his seat and his former
attitude just as Lucian reappears.

Now all was bustle and confusion, the journey's end was reached; and
through the hurrying, jostling crowd, past flickering lamps, and
sleepy guards, they went under the dusky arches of the mammoth city
station, out among the bawling 'bus drivers and brawling hackmen, past
them, until a carriage, that seemed to be in waiting for them just
beyond the noisy crowd, was reached. Stepping into this, they were
about to drive away when, in the shadow, and very near them, Madeline
discerned the form of the Unknown of the railway train. Then Lucian
gave the order from the carriage window, and they rolled away.

The man in the shadow heard, and stepping into the nearest carriage,
repeated the order given by Lucian the moment before, adding: "Quick;
don't lose a moment!"

And thus it was that a carriage passed swiftly by that which contained
Davlin and his companion, and the flash of their vehicle's lamp showed
Madeline the face looking from its window.

Again that face seen in the shadow--how strange, thought she; but her
lover was speaking and she forgot all else.

[Illustration: "Take it; _in the name of your mother_ I ask it.--page
50.]

"Darling, I must leave you soon. I came up to-night on a matter of
business, and to meet a friend who will leave to-morrow early. I must
therefore keep my appointment to-night, late as it is; or rather this
morning, for it is midnight and past. You will not be afraid, dear,
left alone for a little while in a great hotel?"

"I am not afraid, Lucian, but--"

"But lonely; is that it? Well, sweetheart, it's only for a little
while, and to-morrow I will come for you, and all shall be arranged.
We'll have no more separations then. Rest well and at noon to-morrow
be ready; I will be with you then. Meantime, your every want will be
supplied, and let the morrow find my little treasure bright-eyed and
blooming."

"Oh, Lucian, Lucian! how strange this seems. I can't realize it at
all."

He laughed lightly. "Not afraid, little one?"

"Not afraid, Lucian, no; but I can't explain or describe my feelings.
I suppose I need rest; that is all."

"That is all, depend upon it; and here we are. One kiss, Madeline, the
last till to-morrow."

He folded her tenderly in his arms, and then sprang lightly from the
carriage.

Up and down, far as the eye could see, the street lamps glittered, and
as Madeline stepped from the carriage she observed another roll away.
High above her loomed the great hotel, and after midnight though it
was, all here was life and bustle. The scene was novel to the half
bewildered girl. Clinging to her lover's arm, she entered the
reception-room and, sitting opposite the door, saw a form pass in the
direction Lucian had taken, as he went to register her name and order
for her "all that the house could afford."

"I did not give your real name, because of your step-father, you
know," said Lucian, upon his return. "I registered you as Miss Weir,
that name being the first to occur to me."

She looked a trifle disturbed, but said nothing. A few words more and
a servant appeared.

"To conduct you to your room," said Lucian.

Together they moved towards the door; there he lifted his hat, with
profound courtesy, and said in a very audible tone: "Good-night, Miss
Weir; I will call to-morrow noon; pleasant dreams."

"To-morrow noon," she echoed.

As she watched his retreating figure, another passed her; a man who,
meeting her eye, lifted _his_ hat and passed out.

"He again!" whispered the girl to herself; "how very strange."

Alone in her room, the face of this man looked at her again, and
sitting down, she said, wearily: "Who is he? what does he mean? His
name--I'll look at the card."

Taking it from her pocket, she read aloud: Clarence Vaughan, M. D.,
No. 430 B---- street.

"Clarence Vaughan, M. D.," she repeated. "What did he mean? I must
tell Lucian to-morrow; to-night I am too weary to think. Search for
me, John Arthur; find me if you can! To-morrow--what will it bring, I
wonder?"

Weary one, rest, for never again will you sleep so innocently, so free
from care as now. Sleep well, nor dream!

She slept. Of the three who had been brought into contact thus
strangely, Madeline slept most soundly and dreamed the brighter
dreams.

It was the last ray of her sunlight; when the day dawned, her night
began.



CHAPTER V.

A SHREWD SCHEME.


An elegant apartment, one of a suite in a magnificent block such as
are the pride of our great cities.

Softest carpets, of most exquisite pattern; curtains of richest lace;
lambrequins of costly texture; richly-embroidered and velvet-covered
sleepy-hollows and lounging chairs; nothing stiff, nothing that did
not betoken abandonment to ease and pleasure; downy cushions; rarest
pictures; loveliest statuettes; finest bronzes; delicate vases;
magnificent, full length mirrors, a bookcase, itself a rare work of
art, containing the best works of the best authors, all in the richest
of bindings--nothing here that the most refined and cultivated taste
could disapprove, and yet everything bespoke the sybarite, the
voluptuary. A place wherein to forget that the world held aught save
beauty; a place for luxurious revelry, and repose filled with lotus
dreams.

Such was the bachelor abode of Lucian Davlin, as the glowing gas
lights revealed it on the dark night of the arrival of this gentleman
in the city.

Moving restlessly about, as one who was perfectly familiar with all
this glowing richness, only because movement was a necessity to her;
trailing her rich dress to and fro in an impatient promenade, and
twisting recklessly meantime a delicate bit of lace and embroidery
with plump, white fingers--a woman waited and watched for the coming
of Lucian Davlin.

A woman, fair of face, hazel-eyed, sunny-haired, with a form too plump
to be quite classical, yet graceful and prepossessing in the extreme.
A very fair face, and a very wise one; the face of a woman of the
world, who knows it in all its phases; who is able, in her own
peculiar manner, to guide her life bark successfully if not correctly,
and who has little to acquire, in the way of experience, save the art
of growing old gracefully and of dying with an acquitted conscience.

No unsophisticated girl was Cora Weston, but a woman of
eight-and-twenty; an adventuress by nature and by calling, and with
beauty enough, and brains enough, to make her chosen profession
prosperous, if not proper.

She paused before a mirror, carefully adjusting her fleecy hair, for
even in pressing emergencies such women never forget their personal
appearance. This done, she pondered a moment and then pulled the bell.
A most immaculate colored gentleman answered her summons and, bowing
low, stood waiting her will.

"Henry, is it not time that your master were here? The train is
certainly due; are you sure he will come? What did he telegraph you?"

"That he would arrive on the one o'clock express, madame; and he never
fails."

"Very well. If he does not appear soon, Henry, you must go and inquire
if the train has been delayed, and if so, telegraph. My business is
imperative."

The well trained servant bowed again, and, at a signal from her,
withdrew. Left alone, she continued her silent march, listening ever,
until at length a quick footstep came down the passage. Flinging
herself into the depths of a great easy chair, she assumed an air of
listless indifference, and so greeted the new comer.

"Gracious heavens, Cora! what brings you here like this? I thought you
had sailed, and was regretting it by this time."

He hurried to her side and she half rose to return his caress. Then
sinking back, she surveyed him with a lazy half smile. "I wonder if
you are glad to see me, Lucian, my angel; you are such a hypocrite."

He laughed lightly, and threw himself into a seat near her. "Candid
Cora, you are not a hypocrite,--with me," and he looked admiringly yet
impatiently at her. "Come," he said, at length, as she continued to
tap her slender foot lazily, and to regard him silently through half
closed lashes: "what does it all mean? Fairest of women, tell me."

"It means, _Mon Brave_, that I did not sail in the _Golden Rose_; I
only sent my hat and veil."

"Wonderful woman! Well, thereby hangs a tale, and I listen."

"I came back to see--"

"Not old Verage?" he interrupted, maliciously.

"No, hush: he saw me safely on board the _Golden Rose_--very gallant
of him, wasn't it?"

"Rather--yes, considering. And if I did not know Miss Cora Weston so
very well, I should be surprised at all this mystery; as it is, I
simply wait to be enlightened."

"And enlightened you shall be, monsieur."

She threw off her air of listlessness and arose, crossing over and
standing before him, leaning upon a high-backed chair, and speaking
rapidly.

Lucian, meantime, produced a cigar case, lit a weed, and assuming the
attitude and manner she had just abandoned, bade her proceed.

"You see," she said, "I did not like the idea of quitting the country
because of a little difference of opinion between myself and an old
idiot like Verage."

"A difference of some thousands out of pocket for him; well, go on."

"Just so, comrade mine. Well, fortune favored me; she generally does.
I learned, at almost the last moment, that a lady of my acquaintance
had taken passage in the same vessel. I interviewed her, and found her
in the condition of the good people in novels who have seen better
days; her exchequer was at low ebb, and, like myself, she had reasons
which induced her to emigrate. I did not inquire into these, having no
reason to doubt the statement, but I accompanied her on board the
_Golden Rose_, bade her a fond farewell, and bequeathed to her my
street apparel and a trifling sum of old Verage's money. In exchange,
I donned her bonnet and veil, and adopted her rather awkward gait, and
so had the satisfaction of seeing, on my return to terra firma, old
Verage gazing enraptured after my Paris bonnet and floating veil as it
disappeared with my friend, outward bound."

"Well, what next? All the world, your world, supposes you now upon the
briny deep. Old Verage will be rejoiced to find you here in the city;
what then?"

"I think he will," said Cora, dryly, "when he does find me. I did not
come here in the dark to advertise my arrival."

"Bravo, Cora," he patted her hands softly; "wise Cora. You are a
credit to your friends, indeed you are, my blonde beauty."

She laughed softly;--a kittenish, purring laugh.

"Well, Lucian, time flies and I throw myself on your mercy. Recommend
me to some nice quiet retreat, not too far from the city, but at a
safe distance; put me in a carriage, at daylight, which will carry me
out to some by-station, where I can take passage behind the iron
horse, unmolested, for fresh fields and pastures new."

Davlin pondered a moment as if he had not already decided upon his
course of action. He knew the woman he had to deal with, and shaped
his words accordingly. "A retired spot,--let me see. I wonder, by
Jove,"--brightening suddenly, "I think I have the right thing for
you."

"Well, when Lucian Davlin 'thinks' he has a point, that point is
gained; proceed, man of might."

"You see," began Lucian, in a business-like tone, "I took one of my
'skips' for change of scene and recreation."

"And safe quarters until the wind shifted," interrupted she. "Well, go
on."

He laughed softly, "Even so. We children of chance do need to take
flying trips sometimes, but I did not set out for Europe, Cora mine,
and I wore my own clothes home."

"Bravo! But old Verage don't want you, and the wind _has_ changed;
proceed."

"Well, as usual, I found myself in luck, and if I had been a nice
young widow, might have taken Summer quarters in the snug little
village of Bellair."

"Not being a widow, relate your experience as a rusticating gentleman
at large. You excite my curiosity."

Lucian removed his cigar from between his lips, and lazily
contemplated his fair _vis a vis_.

"How long a time must elapse before the most magnificent of blondes
will think it fitting, safe, and," with a slight smile, "expedient to
return and resume her sovereignty here, on this hearth, and," striking
his breast theatrically, "in this heart?"

The "most magnificent of blondes" looked first, approvingly, at her
image displayed in the full length mirror opposite, then coolly at her
interrogator.

"Hum! that depends. The lady you so flatter can't abide dullness and
inaction, and too much stupidity might overcome her natural timidity,
in which case even my ardent old pursuer could not scare me into
submission and banishment. If I could only find an occupation, now,
for my--"

"Peculiar talents," he suggested; "that's just the point. And now, I
wonder if you wouldn't make a remarkably charming young widow?"

"So you have an idea, then, Lucian? Just toss me a bunch of those
cigarettes, please,--thank you. Now a light; and now, if it's not
asking too much, will you proceed to explain yourself, and tell me
what fortunate being you desire me, in the character of a fair widow,
to besiege? What he is like; and why?"

"Admirable Cora! what other woman could smoke a cigarette with such a
perfect air of doing the proper thing; so much of Spanish grace."

"And so much genuine enjoyment," she added, comfortably. "Smoke is my
poetry, Lucian. When far from my gaze, and I desire to call up your
most superb image, I can do so much more comfortably and
satisfactorily inspired by my odorous little Perique."

"Blessed Perique! Cora shall have them always. But back to my widow;
an absence of six months, perhaps, would be a judicious thing just
now, you think?"

"More would be safer," she smiled, "if the Peri can keep aloof from
Paradise so long."

"How would the Peri fancy taking up her permanent abode outside the
walls of Paradise?"

She removed the fragrant gilded cigar in miniature from between two
rosy, pursed-up lips, and surveyed him in mute astonishment.

"Provided," he proceeded, coolly, "provided she found a country home,
bank account, and equipage to her liking, with everything her own way,
and ample opportunities for trips to Paradise, making visits to her
brother and her city friends--and a fine prospect of soon becoming
sole possessor of said country mansion, bank stock, etc.?"

She placed the tiny weed once more between her lips, and sending up
perfumed, curling little volumes of smoke, settled herself more
comfortably and said, nonchalantly, "That depends; further
particulars, please."

It was wonderful how these two understood each other. She knew that he
had for her a plan fully matured, and wasting no time in needless
questionings, waited to hear the gist of the whole matter, assured
from past experience that he would suggest nothing that would be an
undertaking unworthy of her talent, and he knew that she would weigh
his suggestions while they were being made, and be ready with her
decision at the close.

Long had they plotted and prospered together, these two Bohemians of
most malevolent type; and successfully and oft played into each
other's hands. Never yet had the good fortune of the one been devoid
of profit to the other; knowing this, each felt safe in accepting,
unquestioned, the suggestions of the other; and because of this, she
felt assured now that, in this present scheme, there was something to
be gained for him as well as herself.

When the looker-on wonders idly at the strength of ties such as those
which bound together these two, and the length of their duration, he
has never considered their nature--the similarity of tastes,
similarity of pursuits, and the crowning fact of the mutual benefit
derived from such association.

Find a man who lives by successful manipulations of the hand-book of
chance, and who bows to the deity of three aces; who finds victims in
fortified places, and whose most hazardous scheme is surest of
success; who walks abroad the admired of his contemporaries, who envy
him his position as fortune's favorite in proportion as they ply their
own similar trade near the foot of the ladder of chance; who shows to
men the dress and manner of a gentleman, and to the angels the heart
of a fiend--and you will find that man aided and abetted, upheld and
applauded, by a woman, his fitting companion by nature or education.
She is unscrupulous as he, daring as he, finding him victims that his
arm could not reach; plying the finer branch of a dangerous but
profitable trade; sharing his prosperity, rescuing from adversity;
valued because necessary, and knowing her value therefore fearing no
rival.

Cora was beautiful in Davlin's eyes, and secure in his affections,
because she was valuable, even necessary, to him. He cared for her
because in so doing he was caring for himself, and placing any "card"
in her hands was only the surest means of enlarging his own pack.
While she, for whether a woman is good or bad she is ever the slave of
her own heart, recognizing the fact of the mutual benefit resulting
from their comradeship, and improving, in her character of a woman of
the world, every opportunity to profit by him, yet she saw in him the
one man who possessed her love. Though the life she had led had worn
out all the romantic tendencies of her nature, and had turned the
"languishing of her eye" into sharp glances in the direction of the
main chance, still she lavished upon him the best of her heart, and
held his interest ever the equal of her own. After the manner of such,
they were loyal to each other.

"Then," pursued Lucian, "listen, and a tale I will unfold."

In his own way, he proceeded to describe the intended victim; his
home, his wealth, his state of solitude, together with the facts he
had gathered up here and there relative to his leading characteristics
and weaknesses, whereby he might be successfully manipulated by
skilled hands. The boldness of his plan made even Cora start, and
instead of her usually ready decision and answer, she favored him with
a wondering, thoughtful stare.

"You see," concluded Lucian, "he can't live forever at the worst, and
the estate is a handsome one. You could easily make yourself queen
absolute of the situation, and go and come at your own sweet will. I
think as a good brother I should be a magnificent success, and an
ornament to your country mansion in the lazy Summer."

"And if I don't approve of the speculation after a trial, I can commit
suicide or vanish," Cora said, meditatingly.

"Just so," laughed he; "and take the spoons."

"You are sure there are no incumbrances; perfectly sure of that?" she
questioned.

"Perfectly sure. There was a step-daughter, but she ran away with some
foreigner;" here he smiled, and veiled his eyes, lest she should read
aright their expression. "He would not give her a penny, or a crust of
bread, were she to return. He hated her from her earliest day; but she
is not likely to reappear in any case."

"If she should, you might marry her, you know," she suggested,
maliciously.

"So I might," he said, shutting his eyes again; "and we would all
settle down into respectable members of society--charming picture.
But, jesting aside, how do you like the prospect?"

She tossed away her cigarette and, rising, paced the room in silence
for a few moments.

Lucian whistled, softly, a few bars from a favorite opera; then
lighted a fresh cigar, and puffed away, leaning lazily back and
watching her face furtively out of half closed eyes.

"I think," she said, resuming her seat, "that I will take a nearer
view of this 'prospect' of yours."

He nodded his head and waited for her to proceed.

"I think the _rôle_ of widow might interest me for a little time, so
I'll take myself and my 'delicate constitution' down to your promising
haven of rest. I'll 'view the landscape o'er,' and the prospect of an
opportunity for a little sharp practice will make my banishment more
endurable; of course, my resignation will increase as the situation
becomes more interesting."

"Which it is sure to do," he said, rising quickly and crossing to the
window. "The thing is as good as done; you always accomplish what you
undertake; and you'll find the game worth the powder. The fact is,
Cora," he continued, seriously, "you and I have engineered so many
delicate little affairs successfully, here in the city, that, as a
combination, we are pretty well known just now; too well, in fact, for
our own ease and comfort. Your supposed trip to Europe was a lucky
thing, and will throw all officiously-interested ones off your track
completely. I shall limit my operations here for a time; shall make
this merely headquarters, in fact, and 'prospect,' like yourself, in
fresh fields. And now, it being nearly morning, and quite necessary
that you should be on your victorious march, let us consider final
ways and means."

In a concise, business-like way, they arranged and discussed, the
result of the whole being briefly this:

Cora would drive at early dawn to a suburban station, and from thence
go by rail to a village midway between the city and her final
destination; and there await her luggage, and the arrival of Lucian.
He would join her shortly, and proceed with her to Bellair, in his
character of brother; see her comfortably settled, and leave her to
her new undertaking.

And thus it was that in the gray of morning a veiled lady,
sweet-voiced and elegant in manner, stepped from a close carriage at a
little wayside station, and sped away at the heels of the iron horse.

And thus it was that Lucian Davlin, reappearing in Bellair and
listening in well simulated surprise to the story of the sudden
disappearance of John Arthur's step-daughter, effectually put to
flight any idea--forming in the brains of the few who knew, or
conjectured, that these two had met--that he had aught to do with her
mysterious flitting. In truth, none save old Hagar knew of the
frequency of their clandestine meetings, and she never breathed to
others the thoughts and suspicions that haunted her brain.

And thus it was, too, that Cora Weston, in her new _rôle_ of
languishing widow, secluded carefully from the vulgar gaze, heard
never a word of Madeline's flight. And when, later, the fact was
revealed to her, none save old Hagar could have named the precise date
of the event. So even wise Cora never connected the fate of the
unfortunate girl with the doings of Lucian Davlin.



CHAPTER VI.

A WARNING.


Early morning in the great city, but the buzz and clamor were fairly
under way, and the streets as full of busy, pushing, elbowing life as
if night and silence had never rested above the tall roofs and chimney
pots.

With the rattle of the first cart wheel on the pavement, Madeline had
started broad awake. As the din increased, and sleep refused to return
to the startled senses, all unused to these city sounds, she arose,
and completing her toilet with some haste, seated herself at her
window to look out upon the scene so new to her.

What a world of strange emotions passing and repassing beneath her
eye! What hopes and fears; what carelessness and heartache! How they
hurried to and fro, each apparently intent upon his own thoughts and
purposes.

She gazed down until her vision wearied of the motley, ever-changing,
yet ever the same crowd; and then she reclined in the downy depths of
a great easy chair, closed her eyes, and thought of Lucian. After all,
what meaning had this restless moving throng for her? Only one;
Lucian. What was this surging sea of humanity to her save that,
because of its roar and clamor, they two were made more isolated,
therefore nearer to each other?

The morning wore away, and she began to realize how very soon she
should be with her hero, and then no more of separation. Her heart
bounded at this thought.

Some one tapped softly at her door. She opened it quickly, thinking
only of Lucian. It was not Lucian, however, but a veiled woman who
stepped within the room, closing the door as she came.

Madeline fell back a pace, and gazed at the intruder with a look of
startled inquiry which was, however, free from fear. She had not
thought of it before, it flashed across her mind now that this fact
was odd; but in all her morning's ruminations, she had not once
thought of the mysterious stranger of the railway episode. Yet now the
first words that took shape in her mind, at the entrance of this
unexpected visitor, were "Clarence Vaughan, M. D." She almost spoke
them.

With a quick, graceful movement, the stranger removed the shrouding
veil; and Madeline gazed wonderingly on the loveliest face she had
ever seen or dreamed of. It was a pure, pale face, lighted by lustrous
dark eyes, crowned by waving masses of dark silky hair; exquisitely
molded features, upon which there rested an expression of mingled
weariness and resignation, the look of

    "A soul whose experience
    Has paralyzed bliss."

One could imagine such a woman lifting to her lips the full goblet of
life's sparkling elixir, and putting it away with her own hand, lest
its intoxicating richness should shut from her senses the fragrance of
Spring violets, and dim her vision of the world beyond.

They formed a decided contrast, these two, standing face to face.

One, with the calm that comes only when storm clouds have swept
athwart life's sky, leaving behind marks of their desolating progress,
but leaving, too, calm after tempest; after restlessness, repose.

The other, stretching out her hand like a pleased child to woo the
purple lightning from the distance, buoyant with bright hopes, with
nothing on brow or lip to indicate how that proud head would bear
itself after it had been bowed before the passing storm.

"Pardon me," said the lady, in a sweet contralto. "I think I am not
mistaken; this is the young lady who arrived last evening, and is
registered,"--she looked full in the girl's eyes--"as Miss Weir?"

Madeline's eyes drooped before that searching gaze, but she answered,
simply: "Yes."

[Illustration: "I have not yet introduced myself. Here is my
card."--page 68.]

"You are naturally much astonished to see me here, and my errand is a
delicate one. Since I have seen you, however, I have lost every doubt
I may have entertained as to the propriety of my visit. Will you trust
me so far as to answer a few simple questions?"

The words of the stranger had put to flight the first idea formed in
her mind, namely, that this visit was a mistake. It was intended for
her, and now, who had instigated it? She looked up into the face of
her visitor and said, with her characteristic frankness of speech:

"Who sent you to me?"

The abruptness of the question caused the stranger to smile.

"One who is the soul of honor and the friend of all womankind," she
said, with a soft light in her eyes.

Madeline's eyes still searched her face. "And his name is that," she
said, putting the card of Clarence Vaughan upon the table between
them.

"Yes; and this reminds me, I have not yet introduced myself. Here is
my card."

She placed in the hand of Madeline a delicate bit of cardboard bearing
the name, "Olive Girard."

Silence fell between them for a moment, and then Olive Girard spoke.

"Won't you ask me to be seated, and hear what I wish to say, Miss
Weir?"

She hesitated over the name, and Madeline, perceiving it, said:

"You think Weir is not my name?"

"Frankly, I do," smiled Mrs. Girard; "but just now the name matters
little. Pardon me, but I am more interested in your face than your
name. I came here because it seemed my duty, and to oblige a friend;
now I wish to serve you for your own sake, to be your friend, if you
will let me."

Still Madeline's brain kept thinking, thinking; and she put her
questions rather as commentaries on her own thoughts than as her share
in a conversation.

"Why did Mr. Vaughan send you to me?"

They had seated themselves, at a sign from Madeline, and Mrs. Girard
drew her chair nearer to the girl as she answered:

"Because he feared for you."

"Because he _feared for me_!" Madeline's face flushed hotly; "feared
what?"

"He feared," said Olive Girard, turning her face full upon her
questioner, "what I feel assured is the truth, having seen you--simply
that you do not know aright the man in whose company you came to this
place."

Madeline turned her eyes upon her guest and the blood went slowly out
of her face, but she made no reply, and Mrs. Girard continued:

"I will ask you once more, before I proceed further, do you object to
answering a few questions? Of course I am willing to be likewise
interrogated," she added, smiling.

Over the girl's face a look was creeping that Aunt Hagar, seeing,
could readily have interpreted. She nodded her head, and said briefly:
"Go on."

"First, then," said her interrogator, "are you entirely without
friends in this city? Except, of course," she added, quickly, "your
escort of last night."

"Yes." Madeline's countenance never altered, and she kept her eyes
fully fixed on her companion's face.

"Are--are you without parents or guardian?"

"Yes."

"As I thought; and now, pardon the seeming impertinence of this
question, did you come here as the companion of the man who was your
escort, or did mere accident put you under his charge?"

"The 'accident' that put me in the charge of Mr. Davlin was--myself,"
said the girl, in a full, clear voice. "And he is my only guardian,
and will be."

Olive Girard pushed back her chair, and rising, came and stood before
her, with outstretched hand and pleading, compassionate eyes.

"Just as I feared," she sighed; "the very worst. My poor child, do you
know the character and occupation of this man?"

Madeline sprang to her feet, and putting one nervous little hand upon
the back of the chair she had occupied, moved back a pace, and said,
in a low, set tone:

"If you have come to say aught against Lucian Davlin, you will find no
listener here. I am satisfied with him, and trust him fully. When I
desire to know more of his 'character and occupation,' I can learn it
from his own lips. What warrant had that man," pointing to Clarence
Vaughan's card, "for dogging me here, and then sending you to attempt
to poison my mind against my best friend? I tell you, I will not
listen!"

A bright spot burned on either cheek, and the little hand resting on
the chair back clinched itself tighter.

Olive Girard drew a step nearer the now angry girl, and searched her
face with grave eyes.

"If I said you were standing on the verge of a horrible precipice,
that your life and soul were in danger, would you listen then?" she
asked, sternly.

"No," said Madeline, doggedly, drawing farther away as she spoke; "not
unless I saw the danger with my own eyes. And in that case I should
not need your warning," she added, dryly.

"And when your own eyes see the danger, it will be too late to avert
it," said Olive, bitterly. "I know your feeling at this moment, and I
know the heartache sure to follow your rashness. _What are you, and
what do you hope or expect to be, to the man you call Lucian Davlin?_"
She spoke his name as if it left the taste of poison in her mouth.

The girl's head dropped until it rested on the hands clasped upon the
chair before her; cold fingers seemed clutched upon her heart. Across
her memory came trooping all his love words of the past, and among
them,--she remembered it now for the first time,--among them all, the
word _wife_ had never once been uttered. In that moment, a thought new
and terrible possessed her soul; a new and baleful light seemed
shining upon the pictures of the past, imparting to each a shameful,
terrible meaning. She uttered a low moan like that of some wounded
animal, and suddenly uplifting her head, turned upon Olive Girard a
face in which passion and a vague terror were strangely mingled.

"What are you saying? What are you _daring_ to say to me!" she
ejaculated, in tones half angry, half terror-stricken, wholly pitiful.
"What horrible thing are you trying to torture me with?"

She would have spoken in indignation, but the new thought in her heart
frightened the wrath from her voice. She dared not say "I am to be his
wife," with these forebodings whispering darkly within her.

She turned away from the one who had conjured up these spectres, and
throwing herself upon a couch, buried her face in the cushions, and
remained in this attitude while Olive answered her and for long
moments after; moments that seemed hours to both.

Olive's eyes were full of pity, and her tone was very gentle. Her
woman's quick instinct assured her that words of comfort were of no
avail in this first moment of bitter awakening. She knew that it were
better to say all that she deemed it her duty to say, now, while her
hearer was passive; and stepping nearer the couch, she said:

"Dr. Vaughan, who saw you in the company of a man so well known to him
that to see a young girl in his society he knew could mean no good,
came to me this morning with a brief account of your meeting of last
night. He is too good a physiognomist not to have discovered, readily,
that you were not such a woman as could receive no contamination from
such as Lucian Davlin. He feared for you, believing you to be another
victim of his treachery. Your coming to this hotel assured him that
you were safe for the time, at least; and this being a subject so
delicate that he, a stranger, feared to approach you with it, he
desired me to come to you, and, in case his fears were well founded,
to save you if I could. My poor, poor child! you have cast yourself
upon the protection of a professional gambler; a man whose name has
been associated for years with that of a notorious and handsome
adventuress. If he has any fear or regard for anything, it is for her;
and your very life would be worth little could she know you as her
rival. Judge if such a man can have intentions that are honorable,
where a young, lovely and unsophisticated girl like yourself is
concerned."

She paused here, but Madeline never stirred.

"Come with me," continued Olive, drawing a step nearer the motionless
girl; "accept me as your protector, for the present, at least. Believe
me, I know what you are suffering now, and near at hand you will find
that which will aid you to forget this man."

Madeline slowly raised herself to a sitting posture and turned towards
the speaker a face colorless as if dead, but with never a trace of a
tear. Her eyes were unnaturally bright, and her lips were compressed,
as if she had made, and was strong to keep, some dark resolve.

"What is it that I am to find?" she said, in a low, intense tone.

"A girl, young as you, and once as beautiful," replied Olive, sadly,
"who is dying of a broken heart, and her destroyer is Lucian Davlin."

Madeline gazed at her absently for a moment. "I suppose I had ought to
hate you," she said, wearily; "you have made my life very black.
Lucian Davlin will soon be here,--will you please go?"

"Surely you are going with me?" said Olive, in amaze.

"No."

"You doubt me? Oh, I have not made you feel your danger! You think I
am an impostor!"

"No," said the girl, in the same quiet tone; "something here," putting
her hand upon her bosom, "tells me that you are sincere. My own heart
has abandoned me; it will not let me doubt you, much as I wish to. I
cannot thank you for making my heart ache,--please go."

Still with that air of unnatural calm, she arose and walked to the
window.

Of the two, Olive Girard was by far the more agitated. "Tell me," she
said, in eager entreaty; "oh, tell me, you are not going with _him_?"

Madeline turned sharply around. "I shall not add myself to the list of
his victims," she said, briefly.

And then the two gazed at each other in silence for a moment.

"This is madness," said Olive, at length. "What rash thing do you
meditate? I will not leave you to face this man alone; I dare not do
it."

Madeline came from the window and stood directly before her. "I am not
the weak child you think me. You can do nothing but harm by remaining
here. I will meet Lucian Davlin, and part with him in my own way," she
said, between her teeth.

Olive saw, in the set face, and stern eye, that she was indeed dealing
with a character stubborn as death, and devoid of all fear. She
dreaded to leave her thus, but felt assured that she could do nothing
else.

"Will you come to me afterward?" she asked. "You have no friends here,
you tell me, and you need a friend now. Promise me this and I will
go."

"Thank you," said the girl, wearily; "at least I promise to go to no
one else; good-by."

Turning away, she resumed her position at the window, and never looked
once at Olive after that.

"I will write my address on this card," said Olive. She did so; then
turning on the girl a look full of pitying tenderness, said: "I need
not tell you to be brave; I should rather bid you be cautious.
Remember, your life is worth more than the love and loss of such a
man. Put this behind you, and come to me soon, believing that you are
not friendless."

She lowered her veil and, casting one more wistful glance at the
silent figure by the window, went out and closed the door softly.



CHAPTER VII.

A STRUGGLE FOR MORE THAN LIFE.


It is a fortunate provision of Providence that calamity comes upon us,
in most cases, with a force so sudden and overwhelming that it is
rather seen than felt. As we realize the full torture of an ugly
wound, not when the blow is struck, but after the whole system has
been made to languish under its effects, so a blow struck at the heart
can not make itself fully felt while the mind is still unable to
picture what the future will be like now that the grief has come. We
only taste our bitterest grief when the mind has shaken itself aloof
from the present woe, to travel forward and question what the future
can hold for us, now that our life is bereft of this treasure.

Madeline's condition, after the departure of Olive Girard, was an
exponent of this truth. Fast and hard worked her thoughts, but they
only encountered the ills of the present, and never glanced beyond.

She had set her lover aloft as her ideal, the embodiment of truth,
honor, and manhood. He had fallen. Truth, honor, manhood, had passed
out of existence for her. And she had loved him so well! She loved him
even yet.

The thought brought with it a pang of terror, and as if conjured up by
it, the scenes of the day previous marshalled themselves again for
review. Could it be possible? Was it only yesterday that she listened
to his tender love words, beneath the old tree in Oakley woods? Only
yesterday that her step-father was revealed in all his vileness,--his
plots, his hopes, his fears. Her mother's sad life laid bare before
her; Aunt Hagar's story; her defiance of the two men at Oakley; her
flight; Clarence Vaughan; the strange, great city; Olive Girard; and
now--now, just a dead blank, with no outlook, no hope.

And was this all since yesterday?

What was it, she wondered, that made people mad? Not things like
these; she was calm, very calm. She _was_ calm; too calm. If something
would occur to break up this icy stillness of heart, to convulse the
numbed powers of feeling, and shock them back into life before it was
too late.

She waited patiently for the coming of her base lover, lying upon the
soft divan, with her hands folded, and wondering if she would feel
_much_ different if she were dead.

When the summons came, at last, she went quietly down to greet the man
who little dreamed that his reign in her heart was at an end, and that
his hold upon her life was loosening fast.

When Madeline entered the presence of Lucian Davlin, she took the
initiatory step in the part she was henceforth to play. And she took
it unhesitatingly, as if dissimulation was to her no new thing. Truly,
necessity, emergency, is the mother of much besides "invention."
Entering, she gave him her hand with free grace, and smiled up at him
as he bade her good-morning.

He remarked on her pale cheeks, but praised the brightness of her
eyes, and accepted her explanation that the bustle and the strangeness
was unusual to her, as a natural and sufficient reason for the pallor.

"You will soon grow accustomed to that," he said, as they descended to
the carriage, "and be the rosiest, fairest little woman on the
boulevard, for I mean to drive half the men jealous by taking you
there often."

[Illustration: "She wondered if she would feel _much_ different if she
were dead."--page 76.]

Madeline made no reply, and they entered the carriage.

Davlin was not surprised at her silence; he was prepared for a little
coyness; in fact, for some resistance, and expected to have occasion
for the specious eloquence always at his command. Of course, the
result would be the same,--he had no doubt of that, and so in silence
they reached their destination.

Up a broad flight of stairs, and then a door. Lucian rings, and an
immaculate colored servant appears, who seems as well bred as an
English baronet, and who expresses no surprise at the presence of a
lady there.

Up another flight of softly carpeted stairs, across a wide hall, and
lo! the abode of the sybarite, the apartments of the disciple of
Chance.

"Welcome to your kingdom, fair queen," says Lucian, as they enter.
"This is your abiding place, for a time, at least, and I am your slave
for always," and he kneels playfully before her.

Madeline turns away, and, finding it easiest to do, in her then state
of mind, begins a careless tour of the rooms, making a pretense of
criticism, and finding in even this slow promenade some relief from
absolute quiet and silence.

She guarded her face lest it should display too much of that locked,
sullen calm underneath, and replied by an occasional word and nod to
his running comments upon the different articles undergoing
examination. Fingering carelessly the rare ornaments upon a fine set
of brackets, her eye rested upon an elegant little gold mounted
pistol. She turned away quickly, and they passed to other things.

Her replies became more ready, and she began questioning gravely about
this or that, listening with childlike wonder to his answers, and
winning him into a pleasant bantering humor.

Finally he threw himself upon a chair, and selecting a cigar proceeded
to light it.

Madeline continued to flit from picture to statuette, questioning with
much apparent interest. At last, she paused again before the bracket
which held the tiny toy that had for her a fascination.

"What a pretty little pistol," she said. "Is it loaded?"

"I don't know," replied he, lazily. "Bring it to me; I will see."

He was inwardly wondering at her cool acceptance of the situation; and
felt inclined to congratulate himself. Seeing her look at the little
weapon doubtfully, he laughed and strode to her side, taking it in his
hand.

"It is not loaded," he said. "Did you ever fire a pistol?"

"No; show me how to hold it."

He placed it in her hand, and showed her how to manipulate the
trigger, and to take aim.

"I should like to see it loaded," she said, at last.

"And so you shall."

He smiled, and crossing the room took from a little inlaid box a
handful of cartridges. Madeline watched him attentively, as he
explained to her the operation of loading. At length expressing
herself satisfied, and declining his invitation to try and load it
herself, she turned away.

Davlin extracted the cartridge from the pistol, and returned it to its
place, saying: "You might wish to practice at aiming, and won't want
it loaded."

"I shall not want such practice," she replied.

A rap at the door, and the servant announced that dinner was come.

"I ordered our dinner here, to-day," explained Lucian, "thinking it
would be more cosy. You may serve it, Henry," to the servant.

Dinner was accordingly served, and Lucian found occasion to criticise,
very severely, the manner of his serving man. More than once, his
voice took on an intolerant tone.

Sitting opposite, Madeline saw the man, as he stood behind his
master's chair, dart upon him a look of hatred. Her lips framed a
smile quite new to them; and, after dessert was placed upon the table
and the man dismissed, she said:

"You don't like your servant, I judge?"

"Oh, he's as good as any," replied Lucian, carelessly. "They are
pretty much alike, and all need a setting back occasionally;--on
general principles, you know."

"I suppose so," assented Madeline, indifferently, as if the subject
had lost all interest for her.

Slowly the afternoon wore on, moments seeming hours to the despairing
girl. At length Lucian, finding her little inclined to assist him in
keeping up a conversation, said:

"I am selfish not to remember that you are very tired. I will leave
you to solitude and repose for a little time, shall I?"

"If you wish," she replied, wearily. "I suppose I need the rest."

"Then I will look in upon some of my friends. I have almost lost the
run of city doings during my absence. Meantime, ring for anything you
may need, won't you?"

"I will ring;" and she looked, not at him, but at the bracket beyond.

"Then good-by, little sweetheart. It is now four; I will be with you
at six."

He embraced her tenderly, and went out with that _debonnair_ grace
which she had so loved. She looked after him with a hungry, hopeless
longing in her eyes.

"Oh, why does God make His foulest things the fairest?" she moaned.
"Why did He put love in our hearts if it must turn our lives to ashes?
Why must one be so young and yet so miserable? Oh, mother, mother, are
all women wronged like us?"

Madeline arose and commenced pacing the floor restlessly, nervously.
She had come here with no fixed purpose, nothing beyond the indefinite
determination to defy and thwart the man who had entrapped her. She
had never for a moment feared for her safety, or doubted her ability
to accomplish her object.

A plan was now taking shape in her mind, and as she pondered, she
extended her march, quite unthinkingly, on into the adjoining room,
the door of which stood invitingly open. The first object to attract
her attention was the light traveling coat which Lucian had worn on
the previous day; worn when he was pleading his suit under the trees
of Oakley; and in a burst of anger, as if it were a part of him she
was thinking of so bitterly, she seized and hurled it from her. As it
flew across the room, something fell from a pocket, almost at her
feet.

She looked down at it; it was a telegram, the one, doubtless, that had
called him back to the city the day before. A business matter, he had
said. Into her mind flashed the words of Olive Girard, "a professional
gambler." She would see what this "business" was. Stooping, she picked
up the crumpled envelope, and quickly devoured its contents.

     Must see you immediately. Come by first train; am waiting at
     your quarters.

                                                 CORA.

Madeline went back to the lighter, larger room, and seating herself,
looked about her. Again the words of Olive rung in her ears.

"Cora!" she ejaculated. "He obeyed her summons, and brought _me_ with
him. And she was here only last night--and where has she gone? This
must be the 'notorious,' the 'handsome.' Ah, Lucian Davlin, this is
well; this nerves me for the worst! I shall not falter now. This is
the first link in the chain that shall yet make your life a burden."

She crossed the room and touched the bell.

"Now for the first real step," said Madeline, grimly.

The door opened and the dark face of Henry appeared, bowing on the
threshold.

"Come in, Henry, and close the door," said Madeline, pleasantly. "I
want you to do me a favor, if you will."

Henry came in, and stood waiting her order.

"Will you carry a note for me, Henry, and bring me back an answer? I
want _you_ to take it, because I feel as if I could trust you. You
look like one who would be faithful to those who were kind to you."

"Thank you, lady; indeed I would," said the man, in grateful tones.

Madeline was quick to see the advantage to be gained by possessing the
regard and confidence of this man, who must, necessarily, know so much
that it was desirable to learn of the life and habits of him, between
whom and herself must be waged a war to the very death.

She reasoned rapidly, and as rapidly arrived at her conclusions. The
first of those was, that Lucian Davlin, by his intolerance and
unkindness, had fitted a tool to her hand, and she, therefore, as a
preliminary step, must propitiate and win the confidence of this same
tool left by his master within her reach.

"And will you carry my letter, Henry, and return with an answer as
soon as you can? You will find the person at this hour without any
trouble."

"Master ordered me to attend to your wants," replied the man, in a
somewhat surly tone.

She understood this somber inflection, and said: "He 'ordered' you?
Yes, I see; is your master always as hard to please as to-day, Henry?
He certainly was a little unkind."

"He's always the same, madame," said the man, gloomily. Her words
brought vividly before his mind's eye the many instances of his
master's unkindness.

"I'm sorry he is not kind to you," said the girl, hypocritically. "And
I don't want you to carry this letter because _he_ ordered you. I want
you to do it to oblige _me_, Henry, and it will make me always your
friend."

Ah, Henry, one resentful gleam from your eyes, as you stood behind the
chair of your tyrant, has given to this slight girl the clue by which
to sway you to her will. She was smiling upon him, and the man
replied, in gratitude:

"I'll do anything for you, madame."

"Thank you, Henry. I was sure I could trust you. Will you get me some
writing material, please?"

Henry crossed to the handsome davenport, and found it locked. But when
taking this precaution, Davlin overlooked the fact that Cora's last
gift--a little affair intended for the convenience of travelers, being
a combined dressing case and writing desk, the dividing compartment of
which contained an excellent cabinet photograph of the lady herself,
so enshrined as to be the first thing to greet the eyes of whosoever
should open the little receptacle--was still accessible.

Failing to open the davenport, Henry turned to this; and pressing upon
the spring lock, exposed to the view of Madeline, standing near, the
pictured face of Cora. Spite of his grievances, the sense of his duty
was strong upon him, and he put himself between the girl and the
object of her interest. Not so quickly but that she saw, and
understood the movement. Stepping to his side, she put out her hand,
saying:

"What an exquisite picture--Madame Cora, is it not, Henry?"

She was looking him full in the eyes, and he answered, staring in
astonishment the while: "Yes, miss."

"She is very handsome," mused the girl, as if to herself: "left just
before my arrival, I think?" she added, at a venture.

Again her eyes searched his face, and again he gave a surprised
assent.

"Do you like her, Henry?" questioned she, intent on her purpose.

"She is just like _him_," he said, jerking his head grimly, while his
voice took again a resentful tone. "She thinks a man who is _black_
has no feelings."

He placed pen, ink and paper on the table as he answered, and then
looked to her inquiringly.

"You may wait here while I write, if you will," she said, and took up
the pen.

She had brought away from the G---- House, the two cards of her
would-be friends, and she now consulted them before she asked.

"No. 52 ---- street; is that far, Henry?"

"It's a five minutes' walk," he answered. "I can go and come in twenty
minutes, allowing time for an answer."

"Very good," she said, abruptly, and wrote rapidly:

     _Clarence Vaughan._

            No. 52 ---- street.

     SIR--Having no other friend at hand, I take you at your
     word. I need your aid, to rescue me from the power of a bad
     man. Will you meet me, with a carriage, at the south corner
     of this block, in one hour, and take me to Mrs. Girard, who
     has offered me a shelter? You _know_ the danger I wish to
     escape. Aid me "_in the name of your mother_."

                                          MADELINE "WEIR."

This is what she penned, and looking up she asked: "What is the number
of this place, Henry?"

"91 Empire block," he replied; "C---- street."

She added this, and then folding and enclosing, addressed it to
Clarence Vaughan, M. D., etc.

"There, Henry, take it as quickly as you can; and some day I will try
and reward you."

She smiled upon him as she gave him the letter. He took it, bowed low,
and hurried away.

She listened until the sound of his footstep could be heard no longer.
Then rising quickly, she opened the receptacle that held the portrait
of the woman who, though unseen, was still an enemy. Long she gazed
upon the pictured face, and when at last she closed the case,
springing the lock with a sharp click, she muttered between set teeth:

"I shall _know_ you when I see you, madame."

Crossing to the pistol bracket, she took the little weapon in her
hand, and picking up one of the cartridges left by its careless owner,
loaded it carefully. Having done this she placed the weapon in her
pocket.

She paced to and fro, to and fro; nothing would have been harder for
her than to remain quiet then. Her eyes wandered often to the tiny
bronze clock on the marble above the grate.

Ten minutes; her letter was delivered, was being answered
perhaps;--fifteen; how slowly the moments were going!--twenty; what if _he_
should return, too soon? Instinctively she placed her hand upon the pocket
holding the little pistol. Twenty-five minutes; what if her messenger
should fail her? And that card had clearly stated "office hours three to
five." Twenty-six; oh, how slow, how slow!--twenty-seven; had the clock
stopped? no;--twenty-eight--nine--half an hour.

Where was Henry?

She felt a giddiness creeping over her; how close the air was. Her
nerves were at their utmost tension; another strain upon the sharply
strung chords would overcome her. She felt this vaguely. If she should
be baffled now! She could take fresh heart, could nerve herself anew,
if aid came to her, but if _he_ should come she feared, in her now
half frenzied condition, to be alone, she was so strangely nervous, so
weak!

How plainly she saw it, the face of Clarence Vaughan. Oh, it was a
good face! When she saw it again she could rest. She had not felt it
before, but she did need rest sorely.

Thirty-five minutes,--oh, they had been hours to her; weary, weary
time!

How many a sad watcher has reckoned the flying moments as creeping
hours, while sitting lonely, with heavy eyes, trembling frame, and
heart almost bursting with its weight of suspense--waiting.

Forty minutes--and a footstep in the passage! Her heart almost stopped
beating. It was Henry.

"I had to wait, as he was busy with a patient," said he,
apologetically, handing her the letter she desired.

Madeline tore open the missive with eager fingers, and read:

_Miss Madeline W._:

     Thank you for your faith in me. I will meet you at the place
     and time appointed. Do not fail me. Respectfully,

                                                C. VAUGHAN.

She drew a long breath of relief.

"Thank you, Henry. Now I shall leave this place; promise me that you
will not tell your master where I went or how. Will you promise?"

"I will, miss," said the man, earnestly. "Is this all I can do?"

"If you would be my true friend--if I might trust you, Henry--I would
ask more of you. But I should ask you to work against your master. He
has wronged me cruelly, and I need a friend who can serve me as you
can quite easily. I should not command you as a servant, but ask you
to aid me as a true friend, for I think your heart is whiter than
his."

And Henry was won. Starting forward, he exclaimed:

"He treats me as if I were a dog; and you, as if I were white and a
gentleman! Let me be your servant, and I will be very faithful; tell
me what I can do."

"Thank you, Henry; I will trust you. To-morrow, at noon, call at Dr.
Vaughan's office and he will tell you where you can find me. Then come
to me. You can serve me best by remaining with your master, at
present; and I will try, after I have left this place, to reward you
as you deserve."

"I will obey you, mistress," said the delighted servant. "I shall be
glad to serve where I can hear a kind word. And I shall be glad to
help you settle accounts with _him_. I will be there to-morrow, no
fear for me."

She turned, and put on her wrappings with a feeling of exultation. He
would come soon, smiling and triumphant, and she would not be there!
He should fret and wonder, question and search, but when they met
again the power should be on her side.

She turned to the waiting servant, saying: "I am ready, Henry."

He opened the door as if for a princess. Before Madeline had lifted
her foot from the carpet, her eyes became riveted upon the open
doorway.

There, smiling and _insouciant_, stood _Lucian Davlin_!

Madeline stood like one in a nightmare, motionless and speechless.
Again, and more powerfully, came over her senses that insidious,
creeping faintness; that sickening of body and soul together.

It was not the situation alone, hazardous as it certainly was, which
filled her with this shuddering terror; it was the feeling that
vitality had almost exhausted itself. She suddenly realized the
meaning of the awful lethargy that seemed benumbing her faculties. The
"last straw" was now weighing her down, and, standing mute and
motionless she was putting forth all her will power to comprehend the
situation, grasp and master it.

Like a dark stone image Henry stood, his hand upon the open door, his
eyes fastened upon the man blocking the way.

Davlin, whose first thought had been that the open door was to welcome
his approach, realized in an instant as he gazed upon Madeline, that
he was about to be defied. There was no mistaking the expression of
the face, so white and set. He elevated his eyebrows in an elaborate
display of astonishment.

"Just in time, I should say," removing his hat with mock courtesy, and
stepping across the threshold. "Not going out without an escort, my
dear? Surely not. Really, I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends down
town, for boring me so insufferably, else I should have missed you, I
fear."

No answer; no change in the face or attitude of the girl before him.

"Close that door, sir, and take yourself off," he said, turning to
Henry.

Remembering her words, "You can serve me best here," Henry bowed with
unusual humility, and went out.

[Illustration: "There, smiling and _insouciant_, stood _Lucian
Davlin_!"--page 88.]

"I don't think she is afraid of him," he muttered, as he went down the
hall; "anyhow, I won't be far away, in case she needs me."

Lucian Davlin folded his arms with insolent grace, and leaning lazily
against the closed door, gazed, with his wicked half smile, upon the
pale girl before him.

Thus for a few moments they faced each other, without a word. At
length, she broke the silence. Advancing a step, she looked him full
in the face and said, in a calm, even tone:

"Open that door, sir, and let me pass."

"Phew--w--w!" he half whistled, half ejaculated, opening wide his
insolent eyes. "How she commands us; like a little empress, by Jove!
Might the humblest of your adorers be permitted to ask where you were
going, most regal lady?"

"Not back to the home I left for the sake of a gambler and _roue_,"
she said, bitterly.

"Oh," thought he, "she has just got her ideas awakened on this
subject: believed me the soul of honor, and all that. Only a small
matter this, after all."

"Don't call hard names, little woman," he said aloud. "I'm not such a
very bad man, after all. By the way, I shouldn't have thought it
exactly in your line, to order up my servant for examination in my
absence."

"I am not indebted to your servant for my knowledge concerning you,
sir. I wish to leave this place; stand aside and let me pass."

The red flush had returned to her cheeks, the dangerous sparkle to her
eyes; her courage and spirits rose in response to his sneering
pleasantries. Her nerves were tempered like steel. He little dreamed
of the courage, strength and power she could pit against him.

He dropped one hand carelessly, and inserted it jauntily in his
pocket.

"Zounds; but you look like a little tigress," he exclaimed,
admiringly. "Really, rage becomes you vastly, but it's wearisome,
after all, my dear. So drop high tragedy, like a sensible girl, and
tell me what is the meaning of this new freak."

"I will tell you this, sir: I shall leave this place now, and I wish
never to see your face again. Where I go is no concern of yours. Why I
go, I leave to your own imagination."

"Bravo; what a little actress you would make! But now for a display of
my histrionic talents. Leave this place, against my will, you can not;
and I wish to see your face often, for many days to come. Where you go
I must go, too; and why you go, is because of a prudish scruple that
has no place in the world you and I will live in."

"The world _you_ live in is not large enough for me too, Lucian
Davlin. And you and I part, now and forever."

"Not so fast, little one," he answered, in his softest, most
persuasive tone. "See, I am the same lover you pledged yourself to
only yesterday. I adore you the same as then; I desire to make you
happy just the same. You have put a deep gulf between yourself and
your home; you can not go back; you would go out from here to meet a
worse fate, to fall into worse hands. Come, dear, put off that frown."

He made a gesture as if to draw her to him. She sprang away, and
placing herself at a distance, looked at him over a broad, low-backed
chair, saying:

"Not a step nearer me, sir, and not another word of your sophistry. I
will not remain here. Do you understand me? _I will not!_"

Lucian dragged a chair near the door, and throwing himself lazily
into it, surveyed the enraged girl with a look of mingled
astonishment, amusement, and annoyance.

"Really, this is rather hard on a fellow's patience, my lady. Not a
step nearer the door, my dear; and no more defiance, if you please.
You perceive I temper my tragedy with a little politeness," he added,
parenthetically. "I will not permit you to leave me; do you hear me?
_I will not!_"

His tone of aggressive mockery was maddening to the desperate girl. It
lent her a fresh, last impulse of wild, defiant energy. There was not
the shadow of a fear in her mind or heart now. The rush of outraged
feeling took full possession of her, and, for a second, deprived her
of all power of speech or action. In another instant she stood before
him, her eyes blazing with wrath, and in her hand, steadfast and
surely aimed, a tiny pistol--his pistol, that he had taught her to
load and aim not two short hours before!

He was not a coward, this man; and rage at being thus baffled and
placed at a disadvantage by his own weapon, drove all the mockery from
his face.

He gave a sudden bound.

There was a flash, a sharp report, and Lucian Davlin reeled for a
moment, his right arm hanging helpless and bleeding. Only for a
moment, for as the girl sprang past him, he wheeled about, seized her
with his strong left arm, and holding her close to him in a vice-like
clutch, hissed, while the ghastly paleness caused by the flowing blood
overspread his face:

"Little demon! I will kill you before I will lose you now!
You--shall--not--esca--"

A deathly faintness overcame him, and he fell heavily; still clasping
the girl, now senseless like himself.

[Illustration: "In her hand, steadfast and surely aimed, a tiny
pistol--"--page 92.]

Hearing the pistol shot, and almost simultaneously a heavy fall,
Henry hurried through the long passage and threw open the door. One
glance sufficed, and then he rushed down the stairs in frantic haste.

Meantime, Clarence Vaughan, punctual to the time appointed, had driven
rapidly to the spot designated by Madeline. He was about to alight
from the carriage, when he drew back suddenly, and sat in the shadow
as a man passed up the street.

It was Lucian Davlin, and he entered the building bearing the number
Madeline had given in her note.

Instantly Vaughan comprehended the situation. She had sent for aid in
this man's absence, and his return might frustrate her plans.
Pondering upon the best course to pursue, he descended from the
carriage, and paced the length of the block. Turning in his promenade,
his ear was greeted by a pistol shot. Could it come from that
building? It sounded from there certainly. It was now five minutes
past the time appointed; could it be there was foul play? He paused at
the foot of the stairs, irresolute.

Suddenly there was a rush of feet, and Henry came flying down, the
whites of his eyes looking as if they would never resume their natural
proportions. Clarence intercepted the man as he essayed to pass,
evidently without having seen him.

"Oh, sir!--Oh, doctor, come right up stairs, quick, sir," he
exclaimed.

"Was that shot from here, my man?" inquired Doctor Vaughan, as he
followed up the stairs.

"Yes, sir," hurrying on.

"Any people in the building besides your master and the lady?"

"No, sir; not at this time. This way, sir."

He threw open the door and stepped back. Entering the room, this is
what Clarence Vaughan saw:

Lying upon the floor in a pool of blood, the splendid form of Lucian
Davlin, one arm dripping the red life fluid, the other clasping close
the form of a beautiful girl. His eyes were closed and his face pallid
as the dead. The eyes of the girl were staring wide and set, her face
expressing unutterable fear and horror, every muscle rigid as if in a
struggle still. One hand was clenched, and thrown out as if to ward
off that death-like grasp, while the other clutched a pistol, still
warm and smelling of powder.

It was the work of a moment to stop the flow of blood, and restore the
wounded man to consciousness. But first he had removed the insensible
girl from Davlin's grasp, laid her upon a bed in the inner room and,
removing the fatal weapon from her hand, instructed Henry how to apply
the remedies a skilful surgeon has always about him, especially in the
city.

At the first sure symptoms of slowly returning life, Doctor Vaughan
summoned Henry to look after his master, whom he left, with rather
unprofessional alacrity, to attend to the fair patient in whose
welfare he felt so much interest. As he bent over the still
unconscious girl, his face was shadowed with troubled thought. She was
in no common faint, and feeling fully assured what the result would
be, he almost feared to see the first fluttering return of life.

At last a shudder agitated her form, and looking up with just a gleam
of recognition, she passed into another swoon, thence to another.
Through long weary hours she only opened her eyes to close them,
blinded with the vision of unutterable woe; and so the long night wore
away.

Dr. Vaughan had given brief, stern orders, in accordance with which
Lucian Davlin had entrusted his wound to another surgeon for dressing,
and then, still in obedience to orders, had swallowed a soothing
potion and betaken himself to other apartments.

Henry had summoned a trusty nurse well known to Clarence Vaughan, to
assist him at the bedside of Madeline.

In the gray of morning, pallid and interesting, with his arm in a
sling, Lucian reappeared in the sick room. Evidently he had not
employed all of the intervening time in slumber, for his course of
action seemed to have been fully matured.

"She won't be able to leave here for many days, I should fancy?" he
half inquired in a low tone, sinking languidly into a sleepy-hollow,
commanding a view of the face of the patient, and the back of the
physician.

"Not alive," was the brief but significant answer.

"Not alive! Great heavens, doctor, don't tell me that my miserable
accident will cost the little girl her life!"

"Ah! your accident: how was that?" bending over Madeline.

"Why, you see," explained Davlin, "She picked up the pistol, and not
being acquainted with the use of fire-arms, desired to investigate
under my instructions. Having loaded it, explaining the process by
illustration, she, being timid, begged me to put it up. Laughing at
her fear, I was about to obey, when moving around carelessly, my hand
came in contact with that chair, setting the thing off. The sight of
my bleeding arm frightened her so that I saw she was about to faint.
As I caught her I myself lost consciousness, and we fell together. But
how will she come out, doctor? tell me that; poor little girl!"

"She will come out from this trance soon, to die almost immediately,
or to pass through a fever stage that may result fatally later. Her
bodily condition is one of unusual prostration from fatigue; and
evidently, she has been sustaining some undue excitement for a
considerable time."

"Been traveling, and pretty well tired with the journey. That, I
suppose, taken with this pistol affair--but tell me, doctor, what she
will need, so that I may attend to it immediately."

"If she is living at noon," said Dr. Vaughan, reflectively, "it will
be out of the question to remove her from here, without risking her
life for weeks to come. If she comes out of this, and you will leave
her in my hands, I will, with the aid of this good woman," nodding
toward the nurse, "undertake to pull her through. It will be necessary
that she have perfect quiet, and sees no face that might in any manner
excite her, during her illness and convalescence."

Davlin mused for a few moments before making answer. He did not care
to excite remark by calling in unnecessary attendants. Dr. Vaughan he
knew by reputation as a skilful physician. As well trust him as
another, he thought, and it was no part of his plan to let this girl
die if skill could save her.

In answer to his natural inquiry as to how the doctor was so speedily
on the spot when needed, Henry had truthfully replied that he knew the
medical man by sight, and that, fortunately, he was passing when he
ran down to the street for assistance. Davlin was further convinced
that he, Henry, knew nothing save that the young lady rang for him to
show her out, and he, according to orders, had obeyed.

"Well, sir," Davlin said, at last, "I shall leave the lady and the
premises entirely in your hands, as soon as the crisis has passed.
Then, as my presence might not prove beneficial, while I carry this
arm in a sling, at least, I will run down into the country for a few
days. My man, here, is entirely at your disposal. Don't spare any
pains to pull her through safely, doctor. I will look in again at
noon."

He rose and went softly out of the room, the doctor having answered
him only by a nod of assent.

"Zounds, how weak I feel," he ejaculated. "I hope the girl won't die.
Anyhow, I have no notion of figuring at a death-bed scene. So I'll
just keep myself out of the way until the thing is decided. Then, I'll
run down and let Cora coddle me up a bit. I can explain my wounded arm
as the result of a little affair at the card-table."

Noon came, and slowly, slowly, stern Death relaxed his grasp upon the
miserable girl, for Death, like man, finds no satisfaction in claiming
willing victims. Slowly the life fluttered back to her heart; and
because Death had yielded her up, and to retain it would be to lose
her life, reason forsook her.

Under the watchful care of the skilled nurse, and the ministrations of
the young physician, she now lay tossing in the delirium of fever.

Nothing worse to fear, for days at least, reported the doctor. So the
afternoon train bore Lucian Davlin away from the city and his victim,
to seek repose and diversion in the society of his comrade, Cora.

"She will come out of this now, I think," he muttered. "Then--Oh! I'll
tame your proud spirit yet, my lady! I would not give you up now for
half a million."

And he meant it.



CHAPTER VIII.

THREADS OF THE FABRIC.


What had become of Madeline Payne?

The question went the round of the village, as such questions do. The
servants of Oakley fed upon it. They held secret conferences in the
kitchen, and grew loud and argumentative when they knew John Arthur
was safely out of hearing. They bore themselves with an air of
subdued, unobservant melancholy in his presence, and waxed important,
mysterious and unsatisfactory, when in converse with the towns
folk--as was quite right and proper, for were they not, in the eyes of
mystery hunters, objects of curiosity secondary only to their master
himself?

The somber-faced old housekeeper gave utterance to a doleful croak or
two, and a more doleful prophecy. But after a summons from John
Arthur, and a brief interview with him in the closely shut sacredness
of his especial den, not even the social intercourse of the kitchen
and the inspiration that the prolonged absence of the master always
lent to things below stairs, could beguile from her anything beyond
the terse statement that "she didn't meddle with her master's
affairs," and she "s'posed Miss Madeline knew where she was."

The housemaid, who read novels and was rather fond of Miss Payne,
grieved for a very little while, but found in this "visitation of
providence," as John Arthur piously termed it, food for romance
weaving on her own responsibility. She entertained Peter, the groom,
coachman and general factotum, with divers suggestions and
suppositions, each more soul harrowing than the last, making of poor
Madeline a lay figure upon which she fitted all the catastrophes that
had ever befallen her yellow-covered "heroinesses."

The villagers talked. It was all they could do, and their tongues were
very busy for a time until, in fact, a fresher sensation arrived.
Nurse Hagar was viewed and interviewed; but beyond sincere expression
of grief at her disappearance, and the unvarying statement that she
had not even the slightest conjecture as to the fate of the lost girl,
nothing could be gained from her.

Hagar was somewhat given to rather bluntly spoken opinions of folk who
happened to run counter to her notions in regard to prying, or, in
fact, her notions on any subject. In the present emergency she became
a veritable social hedgehog, and was soon left to solitude and her own
devices.

Whatever were Hagar's opinions on the subject, she kept them
discreetly locked within her own breast. She had received, at their
last interview, a revelation of the depth and force of character which
lay dormant in the nature of Madeline; and she believed, even when she
grieved most, that the girl would return, and that when she came she
would make her advent felt.

John Arthur went to the city "to put the matter in the hands of the
detectives," he said. But as he most fervently hoped and wished that
he had seen the last of his "stumbling--block," and believed that of
her own will she would not return, it is hardly to be supposed that
the Secret Service was severely taxed.

Be this as it may, the Summer days passed and he heard nothing of
Madeline.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime, the neat little hotel that rejoiced in the name of the
Bellair House, displayed on a fresh page of its register the signature
of Lucian Davlin once more, and underneath it that of Mrs. C.
Torrance.

Mrs. C. Torrance was a blonde young widow, dressed in weeds of most
elegant quality and latest style, with just the faintest hint of an
approaching season of half mourning.

Mrs. Torrance had now been an inmate of Bellair House some days, and
she certainly had no reason to complain that her present outlook was
not all that could be desired. Already she had met the object of her
little masquerade, and it was charming to see the alacrity with which
John Arthur placed himself in the snare set for him by these
plotters, and how gracefully he submitted as the cords tightened
around him.

Over and over again Davlin thanked his lucky star for having so
ordered his goings that, on his previous visit, he had never been
brought into immediate contact with John Arthur. Over and again he
congratulated himself that his meetings with Madeline had been kept
their own secret, for he knew nothing of the watchful, jealous eyes of
old Hagar.

On a fine summer morning, or rather "forenoon," for Mrs. Torrance was
a luxurious widow, and her "brother," Mr. Davlin, not at all enamored
of early rising,--on a fine forenoon, then, the pair sat in the little
hotel parlor, partaking of breakfast. They relished it, too, if one
might judge from the occasional pretty little ejaculations, expressive
of enjoyment and appreciation, that fell from the lips of the widow.

"More cream, monsieur? Oh, but this fruit is delicious! And I believe
there is a grand difference in the qualities of city and country
cream."

"The difference in the favor of the country living, eh? I say, Co.,
don't you think your appetite is rather better than is exactly
expected, or in order, for a widow in the second stage of her grief?"

Things were moving just now as Mr. Davlin approved, and he felt
inclined to be jocular.

Cora laughed merrily. Then holding up a pretty, berry-stained hand,
she said, with mock solemnity, "That is the last, my greatly shocked
brother. But didn't you inform Mr. Arthur that we should accept of his
kind offer to survey the woods and grounds of Oakley in his company,
and isn't this the day, and almost the hour?"

"So it is; I had forgotten."

It was not long before the pair were equipped, and sauntering slowly
in the direction of the Oakley estate.

Their morning's enterprise was more than rewarded, and the cause of
the widow was in a fair way to victory, when, after having politely
refused to lunch with Mr. Arthur on that day, and gracefully promised
to dine at Oakley on the next day but one, they bade adieu to that
flattered and fascinated gentleman, and left him at the entrance of
his grounds.

Then they sauntered slowly back, keeping to the wooded path. Arriving
at the fallen tree, the scene of so many interviews between Madeline
and Lucian, Cora seated herself on the mossy trunk and announced her
determination to rest.

Accordingly her escort threw himself upon the soft grass, and betook
himself to his inevitable cigar, while he closed his eyes and allowed
the vision of Madeline to occupy the place now usurped by Cora. Very
absorbing the vision must have been, for he gave an almost nervous
start as Cora's voice broke the stillness:

"Lucian, did you ever see this runaway daughter of Mr. Arthur's?"

Lucian started unmistakably now. Then he employed himself in pulling
up tufts of the soft grass, pretending not to have heard.

"Lucian!" impatiently.

"Eh, Co., what is it?" affecting a yawn.

"I ask, did you ever see this Madeline Payne, who ran away recently?"

"I? Oh, no. Old fellow always kept her shut up too close, I fancy.
They say she was pretty, and you are the first pretty woman I have
seen in these parts, Co."

[Illustration: "More cream, Monsieur?"--page 101.]

"Well, then, I'm sorry you didn't," quoth Cora, "for from motives of
delicacy I really don't care to inquire of others, and I have just
curiosity enough to wish to know how she looked."

"Sorry I can't enlighten you, Co. Get it all out of the old fellow
after the joyful event."

"Umph! Well, _that_ business prospers, _mon brave_. We shall win, I
think, as usual."

"Yes; and never easier, Co."

"Well, I don't anticipate much trouble in landing our fish. But come
along, Lucian, this romantic dell might make you forget luncheon; it
can't have that effect on me."

Cora gathered her draperies about her, and prepared to quit the little
grove, her companion following half reluctantly.



CHAPTER IX.

GONE!


Hours that seemed days; days that seemed years; weeks that seemed
centuries; yet they all passed, and Madeline Payne scarce knew, when
they were actually gone, that they were not all a dream.

Life, after that first yielding of heart and brain, had been a
delirium; then a conscious torture of mind and body; next a burden
almost too great to bear; and then a dreamy lethargy. Heaven be
praised for such moods; they are saviors of life and reason in crises
such as this through which the stricken girl was passing.

Madness had wrought upon her, and her ravings had revealed some
otherwise dark places and blanks in her story to her guardian and
nurses. Pain had tortured her. Death wrestled with her, and then,
because he could inspire her with no fear of him, because she mocked
at his terrors and wooed him, fled away.

In his place came Life, to whom she gave no welcoming smile. But Life
stayed, for Life is as regardless of our wishes as is Death.

Forms had hovered about her; kindly voices, sweet voices, had murmured
at her bedside. At times, an angel had held the cooling draught to her
thirsty lips. At last these dream-creatures resolved themselves into
realities:

Doctor Vaughan, who had ministered to her with the solicitude of a
brother, the gentleness of a woman, and the goodness of an angel.

Olive Girard who, leaving all other cares, was ever at her bedside,
and who came to that place at a sacrifice of feeling, after a
wrestling with pride, bringing a bitterness of memory, and a patient
courage of heart, that the girl could not then realize.

Henry, too, black of skin, warm of heart; who waited in the outer
court, and seemed to allow himself full and free respiration only when
the girl was pronounced out of danger.

Out of danger! What a misapplication of words!

From the scene of conflict, at the last flutter of Death's gloomy
mantle, comes the man of medicine; watch in hand, boots a tiptoe, face
grave but triumphant. His voice bids a subdued farewell to the
somberness proper to a probable death-bed, coming up just a note
higher in the scale of solemnities, as it announces to the eager,
trembling, waiting ones,

"_The danger is past!_"

Death, the calm, the restful, the never weary; Death, the friend of
long suffering, and world weariness and despair; Death, the rescuer,
the sometime comforter--has gone away with empty arms and reluctant
tread, and--Life, flushed, triumphant, seizes his rescued subject and
flings her out into the sea of human lives, perchance to alight upon
some tiny green islet or, likelier yet, to buffet about among black
waters, or encounter winds and storms, upheld only by a half-wrecked
raft or floated by a scarce-supporting spar.

And she is out of danger!

Hedged around about by sorrow, assailed by temptation, overshadowed by
sin. And, "the danger is over!"

Buffeted by the waves of adversity; longing for things out of reach;
running after _ignis fatui_ with eager outstretched hands, and
careless, hurrying feet, among pitfalls and snares. And, out of
danger!

Open your eyes, Madeline Payne; lift up your voice in thanksgiving;
you have come back to the world. Back where the sun shines and the dew
falls; where the flowers are shedding their perfume and song birds are
making glad music; where men make merry and women smile; where gold
shapes itself into palaces and fame wreathes crowns for fair and noble
brows; where beauty crowns valor and valor kisses the lips of beauty.
And where the rivers sparkle in the sunlight, and, sometimes, yield up
from their embrace cold, dripping, dead things, that yet bear the
semblance of your kind--all that is left of beings that were once like
you!

Out of danger!

Where want, and poverty, and--God help us!--vice, hide their heads in
dim alleys and under smoky garret roofs. Where beaten mothers and
starving children dare hardly aspire to the pure air and sunlight, the
whole world for them being enshrined in a crust of bread. Where
thieves mount upwards on ladders beaten from pilfered gold, and
command cities and sway nations. Where wantonness laughs and thrives
in gilded cages, and starves and dies in mouldy cellars.

Out of danger!

Madeline, the place that was almost yours, in the land of the
unknowable, is given to another. The waters of death have cast you
back upon the shores of the living. You are "out of danger!"

What was to become of Madeline, now that they had brought her back to
life? This was a question which occurred to the two who so kindly
interested themselves in the fate of the unknown and headstrong girl.

While they planned a little, as was only natural, yet they knew from
what they had seen of their charge that, decide for her how they
would, only so far as that decision corresponded with her own
inclinations would she abide by it. So they left Madeline's future for
Madeline to decide, and found occupation for their kindliness in
ministering to her needs of the present.

Once during her illness, and just as the light of reason had returned
to the lovely hazel eyes, Lucian Davlin came. But he found the door of
the sick chamber closely shut and closely guarded. The slightest shock
to her nerves would be fatal now,--they told him. And he, having done
the proper thing, as he termed it, and not being in any way fond of
the sight of pain and pallor, yielded with a graceful simulation of
reluctance. Having been assured that with careful nursing, there was
nothing to fear, he deposited a check on his bankers in the hands of
her attendants, and went away contentedly, smiling under his mustache
at the novelty of being turned away from his own door.

He went back to Bellair, to Cora, and to the web they were weaving,
little dreaming whose hands would take up the thread and continue and
complete what they had thus begun.

And now the day has come for Madeline to leave the shelter that she
hates. Pale and weak, she sits in the great easy chair that had served
as a barrier between herself and her enemy, and converses with Olive
Girard while they await the arrival of Clarence Vaughan, who is to
take them from the place so distasteful to all three.

It has been settled that, for the present, Madeline will be the guest
of Olive. What will come after health and strength are fully restored,
they have not discussed much. Olive Girard and Doctor Vaughan had
agreed that all thoughts of the future must bring a grief and care
with them, and the mind of the invalid was in no condition for painful
thought and study. So Olive has been careful to avoid all topics that
might bring her troubles too vividly to mind.

But partly to divert Madeline's mind from her own woes, partly to
enable the unfortunate girl to feel less a stranger among them, she
has talked to her of Doctor Vaughan, of her sister, and at last of
herself.

And Madeline has listened to her description of merry, lovely Claire
Keith, and wondered what she could have in common with this buoyant,
care-free girl, who was evidently her sister's idol. Yet she found
herself thinking often of Olive's beautiful sister. Once, in the brief
absence of Olive, she had said to Doctor Vaughan:

"Mrs. Girard has told me of her sister; is she very lovely? And do you
know her well?"

"She is very fair, and sweet, and good. You will love her when you
know her, and I think you will be friends."

[Illustration: "Pale and weak, she sits in the great easy
chair."--page 108.]

She had not needed this; the tell-tale eye was sufficient to reveal
the fact that it was not, as she had at first supposed, Olive Girard,
but the younger sister, whom Clarence Vaughan loved.

"I might have known," she murmured to herself. "Olive Girard has the
face of one whose love dream has passed away and lost itself in
sorrow; and he looks, full of strength and hope, straight into the
future."

As they sat together waiting, there was still that same contrast,
which you felt rather than saw, between these two. They might have
posed as the models of Resignation and Unrest.

The look of patient waiting was five years old upon the face of Olive
Girard. Five years ago she had been so happy--a bride, beautiful and
beloved. Beautiful she was still--with the beauty of shadow; beloved
too, but how sadly! Philip Girard had been convicted of a great crime,
and for five long years had worn a felon's garb, and borne the anguish
of one set apart from all the world.

The hand that had darkened the life of Olive Girard, and the hand that
had turned the young days of the girl Madeline into a burden, was one
and the same.

Afterwards Madeline listened to the pathetic history of Olive's
sorrow.

Sitting in that great lounging chair, Madeline looked very fair, very
childlike. Sadly sweet were her large, deep eyes, and her hair, shorn
while the fever raged, clustered in soft tiny rings about her slender,
snowy neck and blue-veined temples. She had not been permitted to talk
much during her convalescence, and Olive had as yet gleaned only a
general outline of her story.

"Mrs. Girard," said the girl, resting her pale cheek in the palm of a
thin, tiny hand, "you once said something to me about--about some one
who had been wronged by--" Something sadder than tears choked her
utterance.

As Olive turned her grave clear eyes away from the window, and fixed
them in expectation upon her; Madeline's own eyes fell. She sat before
her benefactress with downcast lids, and the hateful name unuttered.

"I know," said Olive, after a brief silence; "I referred to a girl now
lying in the hospital. She is very young, and has been cruelly wronged
by him. She is poor, as you may judge, and earned her living in the
ballet at the theater. She was thrown from a carriage which had been
furnished her by _him_, to carry her home from some rendezvous--of
course the driver took care of himself and his horses. The poor girl
was picked up and carried to the hospital. She was without friends and
almost penniless. She sent to him--for him; he returned no answer. She
begged for help, for enough to enable her to obtain what was needed in
her illness. Message after message was sent, and finally a reply came,
brought by a messenger who had been bidden to insist upon receiving an
answer. The servant said that his master had directed him to say to
any messenger who called, that he was out of town."

"The wretch! He deserves death!"

Madeline's eyes blazed, and she lifted her head with some of her olden
energy.

"Softly, my dear: 'Thou shalt do no murder.'"

"It is not murder to kill a human tiger!"

Olive made no answer.

"Is she still very ill, this girl?" questioned Madeline.

"She can not recover."

"Shall I see her?"

"If you wish to; do you?"

"Yes."

Another long pause; then Madeline glanced up at her friend, and said
listlessly: "What do you intend to do with me?"

"Do with you?" smiling at her. "Make you well again, and then try and
coax you to be my other sister. Don't you think I need one?"

No answer.

"Life has much in store for you yet, Madeline."

"Yes;" bitterly again.

"You are so young."

"And so old."

"Madeline, you are too young for somber thoughts and repining."

"I shall not repine."

"Good! You will try to forget?"

"Impossible!"

"No; not impossible."

"I do not wish to, then."

"And why?"

"Wait and see."

"Madeline, you will do nothing rash? You will trust me, and confide in
me?"

The girl raised her eyes slowly, in surprise. "I have not so many
friends that I can afford to lose one."

"Thank you, dear; then we will let the subject drop until we are
stronger. And here is the carriage, and Doctor Vaughan."

Out into the sunny Summer morning went Madeline, and soon she was
established in a lovely little room which, Olive said, was hers so
long as she could be persuaded to occupy it. Here the girl rested and,
ministered unto by gentle hands, she felt life coming back.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Lucian?

Late in the afternoon of the day that saw Madeline depart from his
elegant rooms, Mr. Davlin arrived, and found no one to deny him
admittance. All the doors stood ajar, and Henry was flitting about
with an air of putting things to rights. The bird had flown.

He gained from Henry the following: "I don't know, sir, where she
went. A gentleman came with a carriage, and the young lady and the
nurse went away with him."

Lucian was not aware what manner of nurse Madeline had had in her
illness. And Henry, having purposely misled him, enjoyed his
discomfiture.

"She told me to give you this, sir," said he, handing his master a
little package.

Tearing off the wrapper, Lucian held in his hand the little pistol
that had inflicted upon him the wounded arm. From its mouth he drew a
scrap of paper, and this is what it said:

     When next we meet, I shall have other weapons!



CHAPTER X.

BONNIE, BEWITCHING CLAIRE.


Four months. We find Madeline standing in the late Autumn sunset,
"clothed and in her right mind," strong with the strength of youth,
and beautiful with even more than her olden beauty.

Fair is the prospect as seen from the grounds of Mrs. Girard's
suburban villa, and so, perhaps, Claire Keith is thinking.

She is looking down the level road, and at the trees on either hand,
decked in all their October magnificence of scarlet and brown and
gold, half concealing coquettish villas and more stately residences.

The eyes of Madeline were turned away from the vista of villas and
trees, and were gazing toward the business thoroughfare leading into
the bustle of the town; gazing after the receding figure of Doctor
Clarence Vaughan as he cantered away from the villa; gazing until a
turn of the road hid him from her view. Then--and what did she mean by
it?--she turned her face toward Claire with a questioning look in her
eyes--the question came almost to her lips. But the words were
repressed.

Bonnie Clair was thinking of anything but Clarence Vaughan just then.
Presently she turned a bright glance upon her companion, who was
gathering clusters of the fallen maple leaves, with face half averted.

"A kiss for your thoughts, beautiful blonde Madeline. I certainly
think it is ten minutes since Doctor Vaughan departed and silence fell
upon us."

She bent down, and taking her companion's head between two dimpled
hands, pulled it back, until she could look into the solemn brown
eyes.

"Come, now," coaxingly, "what were you thinking?"

Madeline extricated herself from Claire's playful grasp, and replied
with a half laugh: "It must be mutual confession then, you small
highwayman; how do you like my terms?"

"Only so so," flushing and laughing. "I was meditating the propriety
of telling you something some day, and was thinking of that something
just now, but--"

"But," mimicked Madeline, with half-hearted playfulness; "what will
you give me to relieve your embarrassment, and guess?"

"You can't," emphatically.

[Illustration: "When next we meet, I shall have other weapons!"--page
113.]

"Can't I? We will see. My dear, I fear you have left a little corner
of your heart behind you in far-away Baltimore. You didn't come to pay
your annual visit to your sister, quite heart free."

Anyone wishing to gain an insight into the character of Claire Keith
might have taken a long step in that direction could he have witnessed
her reception of this unexpected shot. She opened her dark eyes in
comic amazement, and dropping into a garden chair, exclaimed, with a
look of frank inquiry:

"Now, how ever could you guess that?"

"Because," said Madeline, in a constrained voice, and with all the
laughter fading from her eyes; "Because, I know the symptoms."

"I see," dropping her voice suddenly. "Oh, Madeline, how I wish you
could forget _that_."

"Why should I forget my love dream," scornfully, "any more than you
yours?"

"Oh, Madeline; but you said you had ceased to care for him; that you
should never mourn his loss."

"_Mourn his loss!_" turning upon Claire, fiercely. "Do you think it is
for him I mourn my _dead_; my lost happiness, my shattered dreams, my
life made a bitter, burdensome thing. Mourn him? I have for Lucian
Davlin but one feeling--hate!"

Madeline, as she uttered these last words, had turned upon Claire a
face whose fierce intensity of expression was startling. For a moment
the two gazed into each other's eyes--the one with curling lip and
somber, menacing glance, the other with a startled face as if she read
something new and to be feared, in the eye of her friend.

Claire had been an inmate of her sister's house for four weeks. When
first she arrived, she had heard Madeline's story, at Madeline's
request, from the lips of her sister Olive, and now the girls were
fast friends. Generous Claire had found much to wonder at, to pity and
to love, in the story and the character of the unfortunate girl.
Possessing a frank, sunshiny nature, and never having known an actual
grief, she could lavish sweet sympathy to one afflicted. But she could
not conceive what it would be like to live on when faith had perished
and hope was a mockery. She had never known, therefore never missed, a
father's love and care. Indeed, he who filled the place of father and
guardian, her mother's second husband, was all that a real parent
could be. Claire seldom remembered that Mr. James Keith was not her
father, and very few, except the family of Keith, knew that "Miss
Claire Keith, daughter of the rich James Keith, of Baltimore," was in
truth only a step-daughter.

Mrs. Keith, whose first husband was Richard Keith, cashier in his
wealthy cousin's banking house, had buried that husband when Olive was
five years old, and baby Claire scarce able to lisp his name. In a
little less than two years she had married James Keith, the
banker-cousin, and shortly after the marriage, James Keith had
transferred his business interests to Baltimore, and there remained.

So Claire's baby brothers had never been told that she was not their
"very own" sister, for of Olive they knew little, her marriage having
separated them at first, and subsequently her obdurate acceptance of
the consequences of that marriage.

When the law pronounced her husband a criminal, Mr. Keith had
commanded Olive to abandon both husband and home, and return to his
protection. This, true-hearted Olive refused to do. Her step-father,
enraged at her obstinacy in clinging to a man who had been forsaken by
all the world beside, bade her choose between them. Either she must
let the law finish its work of breaking Philip Girard's heart by
setting her free, or she must accept the consequences of remaining the
wife of a criminal.

Olive chose the latter, and thenceforth remained in her own lonely
home, never even once visiting the place of her childhood.

"He called my husband a criminal," she said, "and I will never cross
his threshold until he has had cause to withdraw those words."

Claire, however, announced her intention of visiting her sister
whenever she chose, and she succeeded, in part, in carrying out her
will, for every year she passed two months or more with Olive.

What a picture the two girls now made, standing face to face.

Madeline, with her lithe grace of form, her pure pale complexion lit
up by those fathomless brown eyes, and rendering more noticeable and
beautiful the tiny rosy mouth, with its satellite dimples; with such
wee white, blue-veined hands, and such a clear ringing, yet
marvelously sweet voice. Madeline was very beautiful, and Claire, as
she looked at her, wondered how any man could bear to lose such
loveliness, or have the heart to betray it; as if ever pure woman
could fathom the depth of a bad man's wickedness.

Bonnie, bewitching Claire! Never was contrast more perfect. A scarf,
like scarlet flame, flung about her shoulders, set off the richness of
her clear brunette skin, through which the crimson blood flamed in
cheek and lip. Eyes, now black, now gray, changing, flashing, witching
eyes: gray in quiet moments, darkening with mirth or sadness, anger or
pain; hair black and silky, rippling to the rounded, supple waist in
glossy waves. Not so tall as Madeline, and rounded and dimpled as a
Hebe.

Bringing her will into service, Madeline banished the gloom from her
face and said, with an attempt at gayety:

"I must be a terrible wet blanket when my ghost rises, Claire. But
come, you have excited my curiosity; let us sit down while you tell me
more of this mighty man who has pitched his tent in the wilderness of
your heart, to the exclusion of others who might aspire."

They seated themselves upon a rustic bench and Claire replied:

"Don't anticipate too much, inquisitor; I have no acknowledged lover,
but--" blushing charmingly, "I have every reason to think that I am
loved fondly and sincerely. He is very handsome, Madeline, and--but
wait, I will show you his picture."

Madeline nodded, and Claire bounded away, to return quickly bearing in
her hand a finely wrought cabinet photograph, encased in velvet and
gilt, _a la souvenaire_. Placing it in her companion's hand, she sat
down with a little triumphant sigh, and gazed over Madeline's shoulder
with a proud, glad look in her eyes.

"Blonde?" suggested Madeline.

"Yes," eagerly; "such lovely hair and whiskers,--perfect gold color;
and fair as a woman."

"So I should judge," and she continued to gaze.

Blonde he was, certainly; hair thrown carelessly back from a brow
broad and white; eyes, light, but with an expression that puzzled the
gazer.

"Eyes,--what color?" she said, without taking her own off the picture.

"Blue; pale blue, but capable of _such_ varying expression."

"Just so," dryly; "they look mild and saintly here, but I think those
eyes are capable of another expression. I could fancy the brain behind
such eyes to be--"

"What?" eagerly.

"Cruel, crafty, treacherous."

"Oh, Madeline!"

"There, there; I didn't say that he,"--tapping the picture--"possessed
these qualities. His eyes are unusual ones; did you ever see his
mouth?"

"What a question--through all those whiskers? no; but he has beautiful
teeth."

"So have tigers. There, dear, take the picture; I am no fit judge,
perhaps. Remember, I once knew a man with the face of an angel, and
the heart of a fiend. Your friend is certainly handsome; let us hope
he is equally good."

"He is; I know it," asserted Claire.

Then she told her companion how she had met him at the house of a
friend; how he was very learned and scientific; very grave and
dignified; and very devoted to herself. And how, beyond these few
facts, she knew little if anything of her blonde hero, Edward Percy.

Madeline received this information in a grave silence, whose chill
affected Claire as well, and after a few moments, as if by mutual
consent, they arose and entered the house.

Olive Girard had been absent a week; gone on a journey, sacred to her
as any Meccan pilgrimage, a visit to the place of her husband's
imprisonment. Every year she made this journey, returning home in some
measure comforted; for she had seen her beloved.

She came back on this evening, as the two girls were mingling their
voices in gay bravura duets--by mutual consent they avoided all songs
of a pathetic order, for reasons which neither would have cared to
acknowledge.

The evening having passed away, Claire found herself in her chamber
gazing at her lover's pictured face and thinking how good, how noble,
it was, and what a little goose she had been to allow anything
Madeline had said to apply to him. A sudden thought occurred to her,
and going to Madeline's door, she tapped gently. The door opened, and
Claire, raising a warning finger, said:

"Madeline, I forgot to tell you that Olive knows nothing of Edward
Percy, and--I don't want to tell her just yet. You will not mention
it?"

"No."

"Then good-night, and pleasant dreams."

"Thank you," in a grave voice; "good-night."

Claire returned to her room and penned a long letter to Edward Percy,
full of sweet confidence, gayety and trustfulness. She reperused his
last letter, said her prayers, or rather read them, for Claire was a
staunch little church-woman, and then slept and dreamed bright dreams.



CHAPTER XI.

A GLEAM OF LIGHT.


A few moments after Claire's door had closed for the last time,
Madeline came cautiously from her room, her slippered feet making no
sound on the softly carpeted floor. Passing Claire's door, she paused
before another, opened it gently, and stood in Olive Girard's
bed-chamber.

Evidently she was expected, for a light was burning softly and Olive
sat near it with a book in her hand, in an attitude of waiting.

Madeline seated herself at the little table as if quite accustomed to
such interviews, and said in a low tone:

"I am so glad you came to-night; are you too tired for a long talk?"

"No; tell me all that has happened since I have been absent."

"Olive, I must go away; back to Bellair," said Madeline, abruptly.

"Madeline, you are mad! To Bellair? Why, _he_ is there often now."

"He will not find me out, never fear. I _must_ go to Bellair within
the week."

Olive leaned forward and scanned the girl's face closely and long. At
last, she said: "Madeline, what is it you meditate? tell me."

"Going back to Bellair; keeping an eye upon the proceedings of Mr.
Arthur; finding out what game that man and woman are playing there;
and baffling and punishing them all."

She had been kept informed, through Henry, into whose hands had fallen
a letter in Cora's handwriting, bearing the Bellair postmark, and
addressed to Lucian Davlin, who, so Henry said, "went down, on and
off," and always appeared satisfied with the result of his journey.

Olive argued long against this resolution, but found it impossible to
dissuade Madeline.

"It is useless," the girl said, firmly. "I should have died but for
the expectation of a time when I could be avenged, and this time I
must bring about. All through my convalescence I have pondered how I
could best avenge my mother's wrongs, and my own. Now Providence has
thrown together the two men who are my enemies; why, I do not yet
know, but perhaps it is that I may make the one a weapon against the
other. And now I want to ask you some questions."

[Illustration: "Olive knows nothing of Edward Percy, and--I don't want
to tell her just yet."--page 121.]

"Ask, then."

"I shall touch upon a painful subject, and I will tell you why. After
you went away, the story of your sorrow remained with me. So I thought
the ground all over, and formed some conclusions. Do you wish to hear
them?"

Olive nodded, wearily.

"You have told me," said Madeline, assuming a calm, business-like
tone, "that Lucian Davlin testified against your husband at his trial.
Now the wounded man, Percy, stated that he recognized the man who
struck him?"

"Yes."

"Well, what was Davlin's testimony?"

"That he saw my husband stealing in the direction of the place where
the wounded man was found, but a few moments before he was struck,
wearing the same hat and hunting-jacket that the injured man testified
was worn by his would-be assassin."

"Oh!" Madeline knitted her brows in thought a moment; then--"Was the
coat and hat Mr. Girard's?"

"Yes; he had thrown them off in the afternoon, while the heat was
intense, and had fallen asleep. When he awoke, he heard them calling
him to supper. It was late in the evening when he remembered his coat
and hat, and went back to look for them. He went just at the time when
the man must have been struck, and his absence told against him in the
evidence."

"Did he find his garments?"

"No; they were found by others, not where he had left them, but nearer
the scene of the crime."

"Ah! And who was the first to discover the injured man?"

"Why, I believe it was Mr. Davlin." Olive looked more and more
surprised at each question. "Why do you ask these things, Madeline?"

The girl made a gesture of impatience. "Wait," she said, "I will
explain in good time." Again she considered. "Was there any
ill-feeling between your husband and Davlin?"

"There was no open misunderstanding, but I know there was mutual
dislike. Philip saw that Davlin was making systematic efforts to win
money from the party, and had therefore persuaded one or two of his
friends to give gaming little countenance. No doubt he kept money out
of the man's pocket."

"And what was the standing of that man and the victim, this Percy?"

"They were much together, and Philip tells me he had sometimes fancied
that Davlin held some power over Percy. Davlin had won largely from
him, and the man seemed much annoyed, but paid over the money without
demur."

"And now, how did your husband stand toward the injured man?"

"That is the worst part of the story. They had had high words only
that very day. Philip had been acquainted with Percy at school, and he
knew so much that was not in his favor, that he was unable to conceal
his real opinion of the man at all times. One day high words arose,
and Philip uttered a threat, which was misconstrued, after the attack
upon Percy. They said he threatened his life. But Percy knew that only
his honor was meant. Davlin knew this, too; must have known it, for he
was aware that the two had met before they came together with the
party."

"I can not see why Lucian Davlin should be your husband's enemy."

"I can understand that he hated Philip for the same reason that a
thief hates the light, and Philip had balked his plans."

"True; and yet--"

"And yet?" inquiringly.

"Bad as the man is, I can see but one motive that could induce even
him to swear away the liberty, almost the life, of a man who never
wronged him."

"Still, he did it," said Olive, with a weary sigh.

"True; and he did it for a motive."

"And that motive--"

"Was the strongest instinct of the human race."

"What?" eagerly.

"Self-preservation."

Olive started up with a half cry. "Madeline, in heaven's name, _what_
do you mean!"

"That Lucian Davlin threw suspicion upon the innocent to screen the
guilty," said the girl, in a low, firm tone.

"And the guilty one, then?"

"Himself. Do you think him too good for it?" sneeringly.

"No, no! oh, no! But this I had never thought of--yet it may be true."

She fell into deep thought; after a time she started up. "I must
consult a detective immediately," she said.

"You must do no such thing," cried Madeline, springing to her feet;
"why did not the detectives find this out before? Because they have
not my reasons for hunting that man down. _I_ found this clue, if it
be one. I claim it; it is my right, and I will have it. If he is to be
undone, it shall be by my hands. I swear it!"

They faced each other in silence.

Slowly Olive recalled to her countenance and voice its usual sweet
calm, and then seated herself and talked long and earnestly with
Madeline.

The little bronze clock on the mantel was on the stroke of two when
the conference ended, and Madeline retired to her own room, but not to
sleep. She sat and thought until the dawn shone in at her window.

One link was missing from the chain; no motive had been discovered for
an attack on Percy by Davlin.

"But I will find it," she muttered. Then, as a new thought occurred to
her, she caught her breath. "Claire's lover is named Percy; can it be
the same? Why did not this occur to me sooner? Why did I not ask for
his first name, and a description of him? If this man and Edward Percy
should be one and the same! Pshaw! the name is not an uncommon one,
and it may be only a coincidence. But your face is a bad one, Edward
Percy, and I shall know it when I see it again."

The sun was not high in the heavens ere Madeline was astir, for her
nature was such that strong excitement rendered rest impossible.
Moving impatiently about the grounds, she saw a familiar form
approaching through the shrubbery, and hastened to meet it.

The black visage of Henry beamed with satisfaction as he made a
hurried obeisance and placed in her hand a letter, saying:

"Master was preparing for a two days' journey when this letter came.
He threw it into his desk, and bade me lock it, and bring him the key.
His back was turned, and I took the letter before I locked the desk.
It was a long one, and from _her_; I thought you might want to see
it."

"Right, Henry," said the girl, quietly, as she opened the letter. "You
will wait for it?"

"Yes, miss; it must not be missing when he comes."

"Certainly not."

She returned to the letter, and this is what she read:

                                       OAKLEY, October 11.

     LUCIAN, _Mon Brave_:

     I am in a fine predicament--have made a startling discovery.
     Mr. A----has been sick, and the mischief is to pay; and his
     sickness has brought some ugly facts to light.

     The old man is _not_ the sole proprietor of the Oakley
     wealth. That girl who ran away so mysteriously, and has
     never been heard of, will inherit at his death. He can
     bequeath his widow nothing. Oh, to know where that girl is!
     If she is alive, my work is useless, my time is wasted. I
     think the old chap must have driven her to desperation, for
     he raved in his delirium of her and her words at parting.
     They must have been "searchers."

     Well, to add to the general interest, Miss Arthur, aged
     fifty or so, is here. She is a juvenile old maid, who has a
     fortune in her own right, and so must be cultivated. She
     dresses like a sixteen-year-old, and talks like a fool,
     principally about a certain admirer, a "blonde
     demi-god"--her words--named Percy.

     Something must be done: things must be talked over. Come
     down and make love to Miss Arthur. _Her_ money is not
     entailed.

     Bring me some Periques and a box of Alexis gloves--you know
     the number. Yours in disgust,

                                      CORA MME. ARTHUR.

Madeline dropped the letter, and stood amazed. What did it mean? "Cora
_Mme._ Arthur!"

Henry stooped for the letter, and the act recalled her to herself. She
thanked him for the service he had done her; told him of her intended
departure; gave him some last instructions, and dismissed him with a
kind good-by.

[Illustration: "I took the letter before I locked the desk."--page
127.]

"It is time to act," she muttered. "Good heavens! the audacity of that
man and woman! She is married to my step-father, if that letter does
not lie; has married him for money, and is baffled there. She hoped to
become _his widow_, aha! The plot thickens, indeed! Goodness! what a
household! That bad old man, the still viler woman, dangerous Lucian
Davlin, and that funny, youthful, cross, 'conceited spinster,' Ellen
Arthur, who has a lover, and his name is--heaven save us--Percy! That
name _will_ mix itself up with my fate web, and why? Percy beloved of
Claire; Percy who brought Philip Girard to his doom; Percy the lover
of a rich old maid, are ye one and the same? Percy! Percy! Percy! I
must cultivate the Percys at any cost."

She turned and entered the house, her head bent, thinking, thinking,
thinking.



CHAPTER XII.

A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAD.


Less than a week after the events last related, and a family group
surrounds the lunch table in the newly furnished morning room of
Oakley.

The fair and fascinating Mrs. Torrance had accomplished the purpose
for which she came to Bellair.

Truly had she said, "There is no fool like an old fool;" for John
Arthur had been an easy victim. He had lost no time with his wooing,
and so, a little less than two months from the day the fair widow came
to Bellair, saw her mistress of John Arthur's household.

A bridal tour was not to her taste, much to the delight of the
bridegroom. So they set about refitting some of the fine old rooms of
the mansion, Cora having declared that they were too gloomy to be
inhabitable.

As it was to her interest to keep up the deception of frank affection,
she had been, during the two months of their honey-moon, a model wife.
But the discovery that John Arthur could leave her nothing save his
blessing, had now been made, and Cora, who was already weary of her
gray-headed dupe, had been for a few days past less careful in her
dissembling.

For this reason John Arthur now sat with a moody brow, and watched her
smile upon her brother with a feeling of jealous wrath.

The bride had thrown off her badge of mourning, and was very glad to
bloom out once more in azure and white and rose--hues which her soul
loved.

Opposite sat Miss Arthur, her sallowness carefully enameled over, her
head adorned with an astonishing array of false braids and curls and
frizzes, jetty in hue to match her eyes, which, so Cora informed
Lucian in private, were "awfully beady."

The lady was perusing a paper, which she suddenly threw down, and said
languidly, while she stirred her chocolate carefully. "Should not this
be the day on which my new maid arrives?"

Miss Arthur, from perusing many novels of the Sir Walter Scott school,
had acquired a very stately manner of speech, and, so she flattered
herself, a very effective one.

"I don't know why Miss Arthur can want a maid; her toilets are always
perfection," remarked Mr. Davlin to the general assembly.

Whereupon, Miss Arthur blushed, giggled, and disclaimed; Mrs. Arthur
disappeared behind a newspaper; and Mr. Arthur emerged from the fog of
thought that had enveloped him, to say brusquely:

"Miss Arthur want a maid? what's all this? A French maid in a country
house--faugh!"

Miss Arthur gazed across at her brother, and said, loftily, and
somewhat unmeaningly:

"It is what I have chosen to do, John." Then to Mr. Davlin, sweetly:
"It is so hard to dispense with a maid when you have been accustomed
to one."

"I suppose so."

"And this one comes so well recommended, you know, by Mrs. Overman and
Mrs. Grosvenor. You have heard of these ladies in society, no doubt,
Mr. Davlin?"

"Oh, certainly," aloud, "not," aside.

"And the name of the maid?" pursued Lucian.

"Her name," referring to the letter, "Céline Leroque--French, I
presume."

"No doubt," dryly.

"Stop him, Miss Arthur," interrupted Cora, prettily; "he will
certainly ask if she is handsome, if you let him open his mouth
again."

Miss Arthur glanced at him suspiciously. "Not having seen her, I could
not inform him," she said, coldly.

"Don't believe my sister," said Davlin, quietly, as he passed his cup.
"Cora, a little more chocolate, please. Miss Arthur, I met Mrs.
Grosvenor at the seaside, two years ago. Her toilets were the marvel
of the day; she protested that all credit was due her maid, who was a
whole 'magazine of French art.' I thought this might be the same."

"I most earnestly hope that it is," pronounced Miss Arthur.

"And I most earnestly hope it isn't," grumbled her brother, who to-day
felt vicious for many reasons, and didn't much care what the occasion
was, so long as it gave him an excuse for growling.

At this happy stage of affairs, the door was opened and the housemaid
announced: "An old lady, who says I am to tell you that her name is
Hagar, wants to see you, sir," addressing Mr. Arthur.

The master of the house started, and an angry flush settled upon his
face. "Send her away. I won't see the old beldam. Send her away."

The girl bowed and was about to retire, when she was pushed from the
doorway with little ceremony, and Nurse Hagar entered. Before the
occupants of the room had recovered from their surprise, or found
voice to address her, she had crossed the room, and paused before John
Arthur. Placing a small bundle upon the table near him, she said:

"Don't think you can order me from your door, John Arthur, when I
choose to enter it. I shall never come to you without good reason, and
I presume you will think me a welcome messenger when you know my
errand."

"Confound you," said the man, angrily, yet with an uneasy look in his
eyes; "if you must chatter to me, come into the library." He arose and
made a step toward the door.

"There is no need," said Hagar, with dignity; "my errand may interest
others here besides yourself. I bring a message from the dead."

John Arthur turned ashen pale and trembled violently. All eyes were
turned upon the speaker, however, and his agitation was unnoticed save
by Hagar.

"Last night," she continued, "a carriage stopped at my door and a
woman came in, bringing that bundle in her hands."

She paused and seemed struggling with her feelings.

"She said," continued Hagar, "that she was requested to come by a
dying girl, else she would have written the message given to her. She
belonged to a charitable society, and visited the hospital every week.
She brought flowers and fruit to one of the patients--a girl who died
asking her to write down what is on this card," holding out a bit of
white cardboard, "and not to tell the officers of the hospital her
true name. She had entered under the name of Martha Gray, and wished
to be buried as such. The lady promised; the girl gave her these
articles, and the lady kept her word, and brought the message. There
is the bundle," in a choking voice, "and here is the card. That is
all. Good-by, John Arthur; be happy, if you can. And may God's curse
fall upon all who drove her to her doom!"

She gathered her shawl about her shoulders and, casting a meaning
glance at Lucian Davlin, passed from the room and the house.

John Arthur sat with eyes riveted upon the card before him. After a
time he turned, and placing it in Davlin's hand, signed to him to read
it, and hurriedly left the room.

The hand that had first stricken the young life, placed the evidence
that the end had come in the hand that had completed what the first
began!

Something of this Lucian Davlin felt, hardened as he was, for he knew,
without waiting for the proof, that the true name of the girl who died
in the hospital was familiar to them all.

"Read!" ejaculated Cora, impatiently, "or give it to me."

Lucian's eyes had scanned the card, and tossing it across to her, he
pushed back his chair and walked to the window. Cora read for the
benefit of her bewildered sister-in-law:

     Madeline Payne, at St. Mary's Hospital, under name of Martha
     Gray, died--brain fever--no friends but nurse.

[Illustration: "May God's curse fall upon all who drove her to her
doom."--page 134.]

On the opposite side of the card was pencilled the full address of old
Hagar, and this was all. Scant information, but it was enough.

Cora pounced upon the bundle and opened it. It contained a little
purse; a few trinkets, which any of the servants could identify as
belonging to Madeline; the cloak she had worn the evening of her
flight; and a pocket-handkerchief with her name embroidered in the
corner.

Satisfaction beamed in the face Cora turned toward Lucian, and away
from Miss Arthur. She was mindful of the proprieties, however, and
turning her eyes back upon the lady opposite, she pressed a dainty
handkerchief to her countenance, and murmured plaintively:

"How very, very shocking, and sad! Poor Mr. Arthur is quite overcome,
and no wonder--that poor, sweet, young girl."

Across Lucian's averted face flitted a smile of sarcasm. How little
she knew of the truth, this fair hypocrite, and how unlikely she was
ever to know now. If Madeline were dead, of what avail was any effort
to break from the olden thraldom--for this is what had been in the
mind of the scheming man.

Cora brushed her handkerchief across her eyes and arose languidly. "I
must go to Mr. Arthur, poor man," she murmured, shaking out her
flounces. "He is terribly shocked, I fear."

Studiously avoiding the necessity of glancing in the direction of Mr.
Davlin, she glided from the room.

And so the news fell in Madeline's home, and its inmates were affected
no more than this:

With Cora a renewal of tenderness toward "Dear John," and an increased
stateliness toward Miss Arthur and the servants. More deference on
Miss Arthur's part towards her brother, and less on his part toward
her, as the possibility of being obliged to ask a small loan faded
away into the past of empty purses and closed up coffers.

Lucian took upon himself the responsibility of visiting the city and
calling at St. Mary's, there to be reassured of the fact that one
Martha Grey had died within its walls and been buried.



CHAPTER XIII.

MISS ARTHUR'S FRENCH MAID.


After this the days flew by very much alike.

Miss Arthur's maid arrived, and proved indeed a treasure, nor was she
as obnoxious to Mr. John Arthur as he had evidently intended to find
her. Perhaps Céline Leroque knew by instinct that the master of Oakley
cherished an aversion to French maids in particular; or perhaps she
was an exceptional French maid, and craved neither the smiles nor
slyly administered caresses, that fell to the lot of pretty _femmes de
chambre_, at least in novels. At any rate, certain it is that Miss
Arthur's maid manifested no desire to be seen by the inmates of the
household, and she had been domiciled for some weeks without having
vouchsafed to either John Arthur or Lucian Davlin more than a fleeting
glimpse of her maidship.

Things were becoming very monotonous to some of the occupants of the
Oakley manor; very, very dull and flavorless.

Cora was growing restless. Not that the astute lady permitted signs of
discontent to become manifest to the uninitiated, but Lucian Davlin
saw, with a mingled feeling of satisfaction and dismay, that the
_rôle_ of devoted wife had ceased to interest his blonde comrade in
iniquity.

The fact gave him a malicious pleasure because, as fate had dared to
play against him, he would have felt especially aggrieved if a few
thorns had not been introduced into the eider down that seemingly
enveloped his fair accomplice.

But he felt some dismay, for he knew by the swift flash of azure eyes
under golden lashes, by the sway of her shoulders as she paced the
terrace, by the nervous tapping of her slippered foot at certain times
in the intervals of table chat--that Cora was _thinking_. And when
Cora thought, something was about to happen.

It was in obedience to one of those swift side glances, that he
followed her from the morning room, one forenoon about three weeks
after the news of Madeline's death had come to them. The day was
bright but chill, and the woman had wrapped herself in a shawl of
vivid crimson, but stood with bared head in the sunlight waiting the
approach of her counterfeit brother.

"Cover your head, you very thoughtless woman," was his brotherly
salutation as he approached, plunging about in his pockets in search
of a cigar the while.

"Bother!" she ejaculated, tossing her golden locks; "my hair needs a
sunbath. I only wish I dare indulge myself further! If you had any
heart you wouldn't torture me so constantly with the odor of those
magnificent Havanas, when you know how my very soul longs for a weed!"

"Poor little woman," laughing maliciously; "fancy Mrs. John Arthur of
Oakley smoking a _Perique_! Isn't it prime, Co.?" puffing out a cloud
of perfumed smoke.

"Prime! bah! I'd like to strangle you, or--"

"Or?--" inquiringly.

"Somebody," laughing nervously.

"Just so; Miss Arthur would be a good subject and that would confer a
favor on me, too, by Jove!"

"I don't want to confer a favor on you. You had much better try and do
me one, I think."

"With all my heart, taking my ability for granted, of course; only
tell me how."

Cora shrugged her crimson-clad shoulders, and they paced forward in
silence for a time. Then as if his stillness had been speech of a
distasteful kind, she ejaculated, crossly, and without turning her
head: "Stuff! you talk too much!"

Lucian smiled maliciously, removed his cigar from between his lips,
described a smoke wreath in mid-air, replaced his weed, and said: "Do
I? then mum's the word;" and he relapsed into silence.

He seemed bent on annoying her, for there was a laughing glimmer in
his eye, and he obstinately refused to attempt to draw her out, and so
make easier whatever she might have to say, for he knew that she had
signaled him out to-day for a purpose.

Mutely he walked by her side, and contentedly puffed at his cigar
until, at length, she turned upon him, and struck petulantly at the
hand that had just removed it from his lips. The weed fell from his
fingers to the ground, and Cora set her slippered heel upon it, as if
it were an enemy, and laughed triumphantly.

"Now we are on a level," she cried. "Do you suppose I intend to give
you that advantage over me?"

"It seems not," with a shrug expressive of resignation and a smile
hidden by his mustache.

He was not the man to be angered, or even ruffled, by these little
feminine onslaughts. In fact, they rather pleased and amused him, and
he had become well accustomed to Cora's "little ways," as he called
them. Deprived of his cigar, he thrust his hands into his pockets and
whistled softly.

"Lucian, if you don't stop looking so comfortable, and content, and
altogether don't-care-ish, I shall do something very desperate," she
exclaimed, pettishly.

"No?" raising his eyebrows in mock incredulity; "you don't tell me. I
thought you were in a little heaven of your own, Mrs. Arthur."

"Oh! you did? Very clever of you. Well, Mr. Davlin, has it occurred to
you that heaven might not be a congenial climate for me?"

"Not while your wings are so fresh, surely? You have scarcely entered
your paradise, fair peri."

"Haven't I?" ironically. "Well, I am tired of manna, anyhow." Cora was
not always strictly elegant in her choice of expressions. "Now,
Lucian, stop parleying, and tell me, when is this going to end?"

"When?"

He stopped and looked down at her intently. Twice they had traversed
the terrace, and now they paused at the termination furthest from the
house. Just before them a diminutive flight of stone steps led down to
a narrow graveled walk, that skirted a velvety bit of lawn, and was in
its turn hedged by some close and high-growing shrubs from the
"Bellair woods," as they were called. Beyond the steps was a gap in
the hedge, and this, cut and trimmed until it formed a compact and
beautiful arch, was spanned by a stile, built for the convenience of
those who desired to reach the village by the shortest route, the
Bellair woods.

"Don't repeat like a parrot, Lucian." Cora raised her voice angrily.
"I say, when is this to end? and how?"

They were just opposite the gap in the hedge and Lucian, looking down
upon Cora, stood facing the opening. As the words crossed her lips,
his eyes fell upon a figure just behind her, and he checked the
conversation by an involuntary motion of the hand.

The figure came toward them. It was Miss Arthur's French maid, and she
carried in her hand a small parcel. Evidently she was returning from
some errand to the village. Miss Arthur's maid had black hair, dressed
very low on the forehead; eyes of some sort, it is to be presumed, but
they were effectually concealed by blue glasses; a rather pasty
complexion; a form that might have been good, but if so, its beauties
were hidden by the loose and, as Cora expressed it, "floppy," style of
jacket which she habitually wore. She passed them with a low "_Bon
jour, madame_," and hurried up the terrace. At least she was walking
swiftly, but not very smoothly, up the terrace when Lucian cast after
her a last disapproving glance.

"Your lady's maid is not a swan nor a beauty," he said, as they by
mutual consent went down the steps.

Cora made no reply to this, seeming lost in thought. They walked on
for a moment in silence.

But Céline Leroque did not walk on. She dropped her package and,
stooping to recover it, cast a swift glance after the pair. They were
sauntering slowly down the hedgerow walk, their backs toward her.

Probably the falling parcel had reminded the French maid of something
forgotten, for she turned swiftly, silently, and without any of her
previous awkwardness retraced her steps and disappeared beyond the
stile.

"What's the row, Co.?" asked Lucian, kicking a pebble with his boot
toe. "You are getting restive early in the game. Can't you keep to
the track for another two months?"

"No."

"What then?"

"This. We must get that fool out of the way."

"Meaning who?"

"She, of course--Ellen Arthur. The woman will make a raving maniac of
me in two months more."

"By Jove! and of me, too, if I don't get out of this."

"We must get rid of her."

"How?"

"I don't know--somehow, anyhow."

"And then?"

"And then--" she gave him a side glance, and laughed unpleasantly.

"And then? You have a plan, my blonde. Out with it; I am a listener."

And he did listen.

Slowly down the hedgerow path they paced, and at the end, halted and
stood for a time in earnest consultation. There was some difference of
opinion, but the difference became adjusted. And they turned toward
the house, evidently satisfied with the result of the morning's
consultation.

Not long after, Miss Arthur's maid returned also.

"I see by the papers that Dr. LeGuise has come back from Europe,
Cora," announced Mr. Davlin from his seat at the lunch table that day.

"Dr. LeGuise! how delightful! Now one will not be afraid to be
sick--our old family physician, you know," to Miss Arthur; "and _so_
skillful. He has been in Europe a year. The dear man, how I long to
see him!"

"Well!" laughed Lucian, "I will carry him any amount of affection,
providing it is not too bulky. I find that I must run up to the city
to-morrow, and of course will look him up."

"Oh!" eagerly, "and find out if he saw the D'Arcys in Paris; and those
delightful Trevanions!" Then, regretfully, "can't you stay another
week, dear?"

"Out of the question, Co., much as I regret it," glancing expressively
at Miss Arthur. "But I shan't forget you all."

"Pray do not," simpered the spinster. "And when do you return?"

"Not for two or three weeks, I fear. But rest assured I shall lose no
time, when once I am at liberty."

During his lazy, good-humored moments, Mr. Davlin had made most
ridiculous love to Miss Arthur, and that lady had not been behind in
doing her part. Now, strange to say, the face which she bent over her
napkin wore upon it a look, not of sorrow, but of relief. And why?



CHAPTER XIV.

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS.


"Take especial care with my toilet this morning, Céline," drawled Miss
Arthur, as she sat before a mirror in her luxuriously appointed
dressing-room.

Wise Cora had seen the propriety of giving to this unwelcome
sister-in-law with the heavy purse, apartments of the best in the
newly fitted-up portion of the mansion.

"I want you to be _especially_ careful with my hair and complexion,"
Miss Arthur continued.

"Yes, mademoiselle," demurely. Then, as if the information might bear
upon the question of the toilet, "Does mademoiselle know that Monsieur
Davlin left an hour ago?"

"Certainly, Céline, but I expect a visitor. He may arrive at any time
to-day, and you must do your very best with my toilet."

"Mademoiselle _est charmante_; slight need of Céline's poor aid,"
cooed the little hypocrite, and the toilet proceeded.

At length, the resources of art having been exhausted, Miss Arthur
stood up, and approved of Céline's handiwork.

"I really do look nicely, Céline; you have done well, very. Now go
send me a pot of chocolate and a bit of toast."

"Yes, mademoiselle."

"And a bit of chicken, or a bird's wing."

"Oui."

"And a French roll, Céline, with perhaps an omelette."

"Pardonne, mademoiselle, but might I suggest we must not forget this,"
touching Miss Arthur's tightly laced waist.

"True, Céline, quite right; the toast, then. And, Céline, remain
down-stairs and when Mr. Percy comes," (her maid visibly started at
the name) "show him into the little parlor, and tell him I am
somewhere in the grounds--you understand? Then come and let me know. I
prefer to have him fancy me surprised, you see," smiling playfully.

"I see; mademoiselle has _such_ tact," and the French maid
disappeared.

"Mr. Percy?" muttered the French maid, in very English accents; "I
will certainly look for your coming, Mr. Percy. Can it be that I am to
meet you at last?"

Mrs. John Arthur was restless that morning. She fidgeted about after
the departure of her brother; tried to play the agreeable to her
husband, but finding this a difficult task, left him to his cigar and
his morning paper, in the solitude of his sanctum, and seizing her
crimson shawl, started out for a turn upon the terrace.

The "little parlor," as it was called, commanded a view of one end of
the terrace walk, but no portion of it was visible from the immediate
front of Oakley mansion, the terrace running across the grounds in the
rear of the dwelling, and being shut off from the front by a thicket
of flowering shrubs and trees.

The hall facing the front entrance to Oakley was deserted now, save
for the figure of Céline Leroque, who was ensconsed in one of the
windows thereof. She had been watching there for more than an hour,
and Cora had promenaded the terrace half that time, when a gentleman
approached the mansion from the front gate-way.

Céline's eyes were riveted upon the coming figure, as it appeared and
disappeared among the trees and shrubbery along the winding walk. At
length he emerged into open space and approached nearer.

Céline Leroque suppressed a cry of astonishment as she anticipated his
ring and ushered him in. A very blonde man, with the lower half of his
face covered with a mass of yellow waving beard; pale blue, searching,
unfathomable eyes; pale yellow hair; a handsome face, the face she had
seen pictured in Claire's souvenir!

Céline Leroque led the way toward the little parlor with a heart
beating rapidly.

"Miss Arthur is in the grounds," she said, in answer to his inquiry.
"I will go look for her;" and she turned away.

Mr. Percy placed his hat upon a little table and tossing back his fair
hair, said: "I think I can see her now."

Approaching the window he looked down upon the terrace.

Céline looked, too, and catching a gleam of crimson, said: "That is
not Miss Arthur."

"Stop a moment, my girl," the man exclaimed.

He was gazing down at Cora, who was walking away from them, with a
puzzled look. "Good God!" he ejaculated, as she turned and he saw her
face.

He checked himself, and withdrawing hastily from the window, took up
his hat as if about to depart. Approaching the window once again, he
looked cautiously forth, and seeing Cora still pacing the terrace in
evident unconcern, he muttered to himself, but quite audibly, "Thank
goodness, she did not see me."

Then turning to Céline: "Girl, who is that woman?"

The girl approached the window: "That, monsieur, is Madame Cora
Arthur."

"A widow, eh?"

"Oh, no, monsieur. Mr. Arthur is the master of Oakley."

"Oh! and madame--how long has she been his wife?"

"She is still a bride, monsieur."

"Still a bride, is she? How exceedingly pleasant." Mr. Percy had
evidently recovered from his panic. "Was she a miss when she married
the master of Oakley?"

"Oh, no, monsieur; a widow."

"Widow?" stroking his whiskers caressingly. "What name?"

"Madame Torrance, monsieur."

"Madame Torrance, eh? Well, my good girl, take this," offering a bank
note. "I really thought that Madame Torrance, I mean Arthur, was an
old friend; however, it seems I was mistaken. Now, my girl, go and
tell that lady that a gentleman desires to see her, and do not
announce me to Miss Arthur yet. May I depend upon you?" glancing at
her keenly.

"You may, monsieur."

Taking the offered money, she made an obeisance, and withdrew.

The little parlor had but one means of egress--through the door by
which Mr. Percy had entered. This door was near the angle of the room;
so near that, as it swung inward, it almost grazed against a huge
high-backed chair, stiff and grim, but reckoned among the elegant
pieces of furniture that are always, or nearly always, uncomfortable.
This chair occupied the angle, and behind its capacious back was
comfortable room for one or two persons, should they fancy occupying a
position so secluded. The act of opening the door completely screened
this chair from the view of any person not directly opposite it, until
such time as the door should be again closed.

As Céline Leroque opened the door and disappeared one might have
fancied, had they been gazing at that not-very-interesting object,
that the high-backed chair moved ever so little.

Céline flew along the hall and down the stairway, tearing viciously at
something as she went. Once in the open air, the brisk autumn breezes
caught something from her hand, and sent little fragments whirling
through space--paper scraps, that might have been dissected particles
of a bank note.

Cora listened in some surprise to the messenger, who broke in upon her
meditations with a trifle less of suavity than was usual in Miss
Arthur's maid.

"A gentleman, to see me! Are you quite sure, Céline?"

Mrs. Arthur, for various reasons, received but few friends, and Céline
thought now that she looked a trifle annoyed.

"Well, Céline, where is the gentleman? Stop," as if struck by a sudden
thought, and changing color slightly, "tell him I am out, but not
until I have got up-stairs," she said; "not until I have had an
opportunity to see him, myself unseen," she thought.

"But, madame," hesitated Céline, "he is in the little parlor. He saw
madame at the upper end of the terrace."

"Confusion! What did he say, girl?" excitedly.

"He said, madame, that he wished to speak with you; that he was an old
friend."

"Well, go along," sharply. "I will see the man."

Céline turned about and Cora followed her almost sullenly. She had
some apprehension as to this unknown caller, but he had seen her, and
whoever he was she must face him, for Cora was no coward.

Céline tripped along thinking intently.

"This man is Edward Percy--Edward Percy, the lover of two women. He
was frightened when he saw this Mrs. Arthur, and my words reassured
him; why? At the mention of a strange caller, she must needs see him
before she permits him an interview--for that is what she meant. Do
they know each other? If so, the plot thickens."

Edward Percy had certainly been agitated at sight of Mrs. Arthur, and
had as certainly recovered when assured that the lady _was_ Mrs.
Arthur. He looked the image of content now, as he lounged at the
window. Under the blonde mustaches, a smile of cunning and triumph
rested; but his eyes looked very blue, very, very calm, very
unfathomable.

"Madame Arthur, sir."

Céline opens the door gently, and admits the form of Cora. Then, as
the two face each other in silence, the door quietly closes, neither
one having glanced toward the girl, who has disappeared.

Cora stands before him, the folds of the crimson shawl falling away
from the plump, graceful shoulders, and mingling with the sweep of her
black cashmere wrapper in rich, graceful contrast. One fair hand
gathers up the crimson fabric and, instinctively, the other thrusts
itself out in a repellant gesture, as the soft voice utters, in tones
of mingled hate and fear: "_You!_"

He laughs softly. "Yes, I. I knew you would be delighted." All the
time he is gazing at her critically, apparently viewing her loveliness
with an approving eye.

And now the woman feels through her whole being but the one
instinct--hate. She has forgotten all fear, and stands before him
erect, pallid, but with eye and lip expressing the bitterness that
rages within her.

"You won't say you are glad to see me? Cruel Alice," he murmurs,
plaintively. "And after all these years, too; how many are they, my
dear?"

"No matter!" fiercely. "They have given the devil ample time to claim
his own, and yet you are upon earth!"

"Yes," serenely; "both of us."

"Both of us, then. How dare you seek me out?"

"My dear wife, I never did you so much honor. I came to this house for
another purpose, and Providence, kind Providence, has guided me to
you."

The woman seemed recalled to herself. Again the look of fear
overspread her face, and looking nervously about her, she said. "For
God's sake, hush! What you wish to say say out, but don't let your
voice go beyond these walls."

"Dear Alice, my voice never was vulgarly loud, was it? recollect, if
you please," in an injured tone.

"Well! well! what do you want with me? Percy Jordan, I warn you--I am
not the woman you wronged ten years ago."

"No; by my faith, you are a handsomer woman, and you carry yourself
like a duchess. Why didn't you do that when you were Mrs.--"

"Hush!" she cried; "you base liar, it did not take me long to find you
out, even then. Don't forget that you have lived in fear of me for ten
long years."

"Just so," serenely; "haven't they been long? But they are ended now,
my dear; my incubus is dead and--"

"But documents don't die," she interrupted; "don't forget that!"

"Not for worlds. For instance, I remember that in a certain church register
may be seen the marriage lines of Alice Ford and--ahem--myself. And
somewhere, not far away, there must be on record the statement that Mr.
Arthur, of Oakley, has wedded the incomparable Mrs. Torrance, a blonde
widow--ahem. Where did you go, my dear, when you left my bed and board so
very unceremoniously?

    "'What had I done, or what hadst thou,
    That through this weary world till now
        I've walked with empty arms.'"

He stretched out those members tragically.

"And I don't forget that I was never legally your wife, as you had
another living," cried Cora, ignoring the latter part of his speech.

"No; of course not. Does Mr. John Arthur know that you were once my--"

"Dupe? no," she interrupted. "Come, time passes; tell me what you
know, and what you want."

"Softly, softly, Mrs. Arthur. I know enough to insure me against being
turned out of Oakley by you; and I want a wife and a fortune."

"I don't understand you."

[Illustration: "The soft voice utters, in tones of mingled hate and
fear, '_You?_'"--page 149.]

"Possibly not, Madame Arthur." Then, with mock emotion: "Might I,
dare I, ask you to give to my keeping, that incomparable maiden, that
houri of houris, your young and lovely sister-in-law, Miss Ellen
Arthur?"

The woman looked at him in silence for a time, and then, flinging
herself upon a couch, burst into a peal of soft laughter. She
understood it all now.

"So you are the expected lover!" she ejaculated, laughing afresh; "and
she is up-stairs, in bright array, waiting for you."

"And I am down here, pleading for permission to address this pearl of
price."

Cora arose and gathered her crimson wrap about her shoulders. "And how
is it to be between us?" she asked coolly.

"My sweet Alice, if you were John Arthur's widow instead of John
Arthur's wife, it should be as if the past ten years were but a
dream."

"Indeed--provided, of course, I were John Arthur's heiress as well."

"Certainly!"

"And how is it that you are once more fortune hunting? Five years ago
you inherited wealth sufficient for your every need."

The elegant Mr. Percy went through the pantomime of shuffling and
dealing cards, then looked at her with a grimace.

"All?" she inquired, as if the action had been words.

"Every ducat," solemnly. "So what is to be my fate, fair destiny?"

Cora mused, then laughed again. "After all, you may prove a friend in
need," she said. "I shan't interfere between you and Miss Arthur; be
sure of that."

Then they fell to settling the preliminaries of a siege upon the heart
of Miss Arthur, together with other little trifles that occurred as
they talked. They had both thrown off their air of hostility, and
were seated opposite each other, conversing quite comfortably, when
the door swung open, and Miss Arthur stood before them; Miss Arthur,
in the full glory of snowy cashmere, with cherry satin facings; Miss
Arthur, with curls waving, and in all her war-paint.

The two plotters arose, and saluted her with much empressement.

Miss Arthur advanced a step and stood beside the high-backed chair,
one hand still resting upon the door. Percy came toward her with
outstretched hands.

"Ah-h-h!" screeched the spinster, "what was that?"

Turning quickly she encountered nothing more formidable than her
French maid, who had evidently hurried to the spot, for she breathed
rapidly, and said, in an anxious manner:

"Pardon, mademoiselle, it is I,--did mademoiselle ring? I thought so."

"You stepped on my dress, girl," said Miss Arthur, sharply. "No, I did
not ring; perhaps Mrs. Arthur did."

"I did ring, Ellen," lied Cora, sweetly, wondering what lucky
providence sent the girl to the door just then. "I rang for you, as
Mr. Percy here, in whom I have discovered a Long Branch acquaintance,
would hardly treat me civilly, so impatient has he been to see Miss
Arthur."

Miss Arthur looked somewhat appeased. "You may go, Céline," she said,
with her most stately air.

Thus she sailed forward to meet Mr. Percy.

Céline departed, smiling an odd little smile. She went to her own room
and sitting down upon the bedside, meditated. Presently she arose, and
walking over to her mirror, gazed at her reflected image, and shaking
her head at it, murmured:

"What a nice little maid you are, Céline Leroque--and how these
people will love you by and by! You now hold in your hands the thread
that will unravel this mixture of mystery, and when the reckoning
comes, it will not be you that falls."

Thoughtfully she paced the little apartment. By and by she threw
herself upon the bed and closed her eyes, still thinking. If she could
only know just how these two had separated--Edward Percy and Cora
Arthur; and what part Lucian Davlin had played in that separation
drama. Did Cora know Lucian ten years ago--did Percy know him for his
rival? Suddenly the girl sprang up, and smiting her two palms
together, exclaimed:

"If these two men were rivals, then we may yet find a reason why
Lucian Davlin should attempt the life of Edward Percy!"

And now what should she do?

Claire Keith's bright face rose before her as she asked herself the
question. Claire must be warned and saved; but how? The girl's brow
darkened.

"She will scorn the man," she muttered, between pale lips, "and then
she will learn to value that other. She will grieve for a time,
perhaps, but not for long; then--then she will become _his_ wife,
while I--What right has she to all the blessings?"

The girl stood motionless, with hands tightly clasped. The conflict
lasted but a moment when, in a firm, clear voice she continued:

"It would be base not to save her from this wretch--and save her I
will; and I will restore to Olive Girard her husband; is that not
payment enough for all they have done for me? But he, Clarence, my
hero--why must I yield him up without a struggle? She does not love
him; she never will love him if I say the word; she is as generous
as--as I am base, I think. No, it is not base to love him, to try to
win him. And why not? I must think, think, think."

All that day and night the girl pondered deeply. In the morning she
arose weary, unrefreshed.

"I will save Claire Keith from the suffering that befell me," she
said. "But she shall not have all the good things of this life, and I
none."



CHAPTER XV.

CORA AND THE FRENCH MAID MEASURE SWORDS.


During the day, Miss Arthur communicated to her maid the fact that Mr.
Percy would remain in Bellair for the present. He was going away for a
day on business; then he would return and take up his abode at the
Bellair inn.

"Would monsieur be absent to-morrow?"

"Yes."

Then, as mademoiselle would not especially need her, would she
graciously give her the day? Her sister had just returned from Paris,
and would very soon leave the city _en route_ for Washington. Her
sister was in the service of Mrs. General Delonne--of course
mademoiselle had heard of Madame Delonne; knew her, perhaps. Céline
much desired to see this sister, and expected to get some valuable
hints from her regarding the very latest French _coiffeurs_, etc.,
etc. In short, could mademoiselle spare her to-morrow, just for one
little day?

Mademoiselle, after due deliberation, perhaps in consideration of the
new _coiffeurs_, graciously consented. This matter was settled while
the dinner toilet of the lady was in progress; and Céline spared no
pains to make her mistress satisfied with herself and all about her.

"How long had Mr. Percy been in the little parlor, Céline, before I
came down?" questioned the lady.

She was still a trifle dissatisfied at having found her lover so
cosily _tête-á-tête_ with her fascinating sister-in-law.

"Oh, a very short time, my lady--I mean mademoiselle."

"And how did he meet Mrs. Arthur?" anxiously.

"Madame was just entering from the terrace; they met in the hall,"
glibly.

"And did they meet like old friends, Céline?"

"Oh, no! mademoiselle; quite formally. At first I fancied he was
really displeased at meeting her--but of course mademoiselle knew the
reason for that," slyly.

"Hush, you foolish girl," said the flattered spinster; "it's all
right, of course." And she relapsed into reverie.

Miss Arthur had exhausted her patience waiting for her tardy admirer,
and, finding her own apartments dull, had come down to the parlor,
thus interrupting the interview, to the disgust of more than one of
those interested.

Mr. Percy had many questions yet to propound to his newly-found wife,
as he called her, and she, knowing him so well, felt a trifle more
uneasy than was comfortable, wondering what use, if any, he intended
to make of the small amount of power he still possessed over her. She
must hold another interview with him, and that soon. Meantime, she
left him to the tender mercies of the happy spinster.

It was late in the evening when she at last found a convenient
opportunity, and crossed the hall in the direction of Miss Arthur's
dressing-room. She was about to open the door and enter, when her
movement was anticipated by Céline, who appeared upon the threshold in
hat and shawl.

Mrs. Arthur seemed not at all abashed, but pushing the girl back into
the room, stepped in herself and closed the door. "You were going out,
Céline?" smiling sweetly.

"Yes, madame," respectfully.

"May I ask where?"

"Certainly, madame. I have leave to go and see my sister to-morrow. I
am going to telegraph her that she may expect me. Can I serve madame?"

Madame pondered a moment.

"Céline," she said, abruptly. "Why did you pretend to answer a ring
this morning, when your mistress came down to the little parlor?"

"I trust madame was not offended," deprecatingly.

"No, no," impatiently; "but I want to understand you."

"Madame shall. Madame must know that my mistress is not always smooth
in temper?"

"Yes," laughing wickedly.

"This morning she bade me admit the gentleman, tell him she was in the
grounds, and then come to her. He came, and almost immediately saw
you, madame, walking on the terrace."

"Stop. How did he act when he saw me, Céline?"

The girl looked at her in apparent hesitation. "Madame will not be
angry with me?"

"No, no."

"He looked almost frightened, and took his hat, as if about to go."

Cora uttered a low, triumphant, "Ah, did he?"

"Then he called me back as I was leaving the room to summon my
mistress, and asked me who you were. I told him. He looked relieved,
said he had mistaken you for an old acquaintance, and bade me ask you
to come to him, and say nothing to Miss Arthur until he desired it."

"I see; but why did you follow her, when she came down? Did she know
we were there?"

"No, madame."

"Then why--"

"Pardon," with a sidelong glance at her face, "but madame is
beautiful, and my mistress is jealous. I thought you might wish me to
do as I did, and I desired to serve you, madame."

Cora eyed her keenly. "But why serve me, Céline?"

"Madame has ever been gracious to Céline," said the girl, lowering her
eyes. "Even a servant appreciates kindness--my mistress never
considers that."

Cora's thoughts flew fast. If she could trust this girl, she might
make her very useful. She had sought this interview to question her
concerning the adventure of the morning, and now might she not be of
still more service?

A few more sharply-put questions were asked, and answered with
corresponding shrewdness. Then Céline detailed, in her own way, her
interview with her mistress on the subject of Mr. Percy's visit.

Cora was at last fully satisfied that, for some reason, Miss Arthur
had aroused a feeling of antagonism in the breast of her maid. She
resolved to profit by this state of affairs. Accordingly, a few
moments later, Céline Leroque flitted out from the house the bearer of
two important messages.

One, in writing, was a telegram to be sent to Lucian Davlin.

The other was a verbal message to be delivered, in some way, to Mr.
Percy before he quitted the grounds of Oakley.

Pausing at a safe distance from the house, Céline produced from her
pocket some waxen matches. She lighted one, having looked cautiously
about her, and spreading open the telegram to Mr. Davlin, read these
words:

     Come down to-morrow without fail. It is most important.

                                                        C.

"So," muttered Miss Arthur's maid as, flinging away the match, she
hurried on her way; "so he must be consulted; he must come down. In
the absence of Percy, too. I wonder if he knows, this Percy, that
Lucian Davlin at present personates the dutiful brother of his fair
lost love." Such a sneer rested on the face of the French maid. "Well!
Mr. Davlin must come and, unfortunately, I can't be present at this
interview. However, I shall be able to judge pretty accurately by
their future movements what was its portent."

Edward Percy, as he chose to call himself, was not aware of the
position held by Lucian Davlin in that household. Cora had seized an
opportunity to murmur to Miss Arthur a soft warning.

"Ellen, dear!" she had said, "pray don't mention Lucian to Mr. Percy,
unless you wish to shorten his stay with us. The fact is, the two had
a slight misunderstanding while we were all at Long Branch, about a
horse or something. Lucian was very much to blame, I think, but they
parted bad friends. It is best never to interfere in men's quarrels,
so I have not mentioned Lucian's name to him at all."

Cunning Céline! Her tact had made this explanation seem a quite
probable one; and as Miss Arthur certainly had no desire to drive Mr.
Percy from Oakley, she assured her "kind, thoughtful Cora," that she
would be very guarded and never once mention Mr. Davlin's name in his
enemy's presence.

Of this fact, of course, Céline was in total ignorance, as she
proceeded on her way, which was not to the telegraph office; at least
not yet.

Hurrying through the Oakley wood in the opposite direction from the
village, she crossed the meadow and approached the cottage of Nurse
Hagar. A light was dimly visible through the paper curtains, but no
sound was heard from within. The girl listened at the door a moment,
and then tapped softly.

Presently slip-shod feet could be heard crossing the uncarpeted floor,
and a key creaked in its lock, after which the door opened, a very
little way, and the old woman's face peered cautiously out into the
night. Then she hastily opened the door wide and admitted the visitor.

"Is it you, dearie?" she asked, rather unnecessarily, surveying her
critically by the light of a flaring tallow candle.

"No, Aunt Hagar, it's not I," laughed the girl; "it's Miss Arthur's
French maid that you see before you. And don't drop that tallow on her
devoted head," lifting a deprecating hand.

"Umph! we seem in great spirits to-night," leading the way back to the
fire-place, beside which stood her easy splint-bottomed chair.

"So we are," assented the girl; "and why shouldn't we be, pray? Aren't
we a very happy French maid, and a very skillful one, and a very lucky
one?"

"How should I know?" grumbled the old woman; "what do I know? I'm only
old Hagar; don't mind explaining anything to me!"

"By which you mean, beware of your wrath if I don't explain things to
you; eh, auntie?"

[Illustration: "Céline looked cautiously around her."--page 159.]

Hagar mumbled something, not exactly intended to be a speech but
simply a small growl, illustrative of her mood. Then, as if her
dignity had been sufficiently asserted, she relaxed her grimness,
and looking kindly down upon the girl, and pushing her toward the big
chair, said:

"But law! child, you look fagged out. Sit down, sit down, and don't
mind an old woman's grumbling."

"Did I ever?" laughed the girl, sinking into the big chair as if
indeed willing to rest. "But I can't sit here long, nursie; my day's
work, or rather my night's work, is not yet finished."

"Not yet? Oh, Madeline, my little nursling, give up these wild plans
and plots; they will bring you no good."

"Won't they?" nodding significantly. "I think they will do me good,
and you, too, Nurse Hagar; and before very long, too. Why, bless you,
these precious plotters won't wait for me to bring them into my net;
they are tumbling in headlong--all of them. They are helping me, with
all their might, to bring about their own downfall. Hagar," and the
girl leaned suddenly forward and looked closely into the old woman's
face, "I want you to come back to Oakley."

Hagar started back as if struck by a knife. She was about to open her
lips and set free a torrent of indignant protest, when the girl lifted
her hand, interrupting her in the old characteristic way.

"Wait until I explain, auntie. I want you to go to Oakley to-morrow,
at the hour when Mr. John Arthur is always supposed to be taking his
after-dinner nap. Just after dinner, I want you to see Madame Cora;
manage it in your own way, but see her you must."

"I won't!" broke in the old woman.

"You will," said the girl, quietly, "when I have told you why."

Drawing her chair close to that occupied by her companion, she resumed
in a low voice:

"Yesterday Miss Arthur sent me to the village to purchase some
trifling articles for the adornment of her precious person. Returning
through the woods, I came upon Mr. Davlin and his 'sister,' conversing
very earnestly, just at the lower end of the terrace. I arrived at the
hedgerow stile just in time to hear madame say, very emphatically,
that something must be done immediately. They were going down the
terrace steps when I passed them, pretending to be in a great hurry.
As soon as their backs were toward me, I turned quickly, and without
noise crossed the stile, followed them on the opposite side of the
hedge, and listened."

Here the speaker paused and looked up, but her auditor was gazing
moodily into the fire, and never stirred nor spoke.

"Madame was saying," resumed the narrator, "that she was heartily
weary of the part she was playing; that its monotony sickened her;
that they had secured the victims, and fate had been kind enough to
remove the only stumbling block in their path, save the old man
himself; that she considered my very sensible demise a direct answer
to her pious prayers."

The old woman shuddered and cast a look of horror upon the speaker.

"They had evidently discussed this matter before, and partially
settled their plans, only the man seemed to think it was too soon to
begin to act. But madame declared that she should do worse if they did
not commence operations at once, and finally she overruled him."

"Of course," savagely.

"Of course. Well, I now lost a little of their conversation, but I
kept the thread of it. You see, I had to move very cautiously, and
sometimes fall behind them a bit, when the leafage became less thick."

Hagar nodded.

"Their plan was a beautiful one, and they have already set it in
motion."

"Already?"

"Already; don't interrupt, please; I will tell you how in good time.
First, then, madame is to fall ill--not desperately ill, but just ill
enough to be interesting, and to alarm the old man. By the way, Mr.
Davlin left this morning for the city; that is one move. He is to
remain in the city until after the illness of madame, who is to refuse
to receive any of the village doctors. Finally, he is to be sent for,
and admonished to bring with him their old family physician, who has
but just returned from Europe. Well, they come, the brother and the
family physician--do you follow me?"

"Yes, yes!" nodding eagerly.

"They come. And the doctor says madame is threatened with a malignant
fever, and orders everybody out of the house. It is needless to say
that Miss Arthur flies instantly; but _le docteur_, interviewing the
half-sick, fidgety old man, discovers that he, too, is threatened with
the fever. Of course, he can not leave then."

Old Hagar's eyes were twinkling, and she was bending forward now in an
eagerly attentive attitude. "No," she breathed, unconsciously.

"Well, the heroic brother will refuse to fly from the fever, and will
implore the skillful man of medicine to remain and minister unto the
sick. The good doctor stays. Of course, such of the servants as are at
all likely to prove troublesome, through possessing a trifle more
brains than is usually alloted to an idiot, will be kindly told that,
rather than endanger their lives, the household will dispense with
their valuable services. Then a nurse, perhaps two, will come down
from the city, and the plotters have the game in their own hands."

Here the girl paused, and leaned back in her chair as if her story
were done.

"And then?" exclaimed Hagar.

"And then!" echoed her companion, bending forward and resting her hand
upon the old woman's wrist; "and then madame will recover--but John
Arthur will remain an invalid and a prisoner! It will be said in the
village that the fever has affected his brain, and his unpopularity,
arising from the fact that he has always shunned and scorned the
village folk, will insure them against intrusive investigators.
Auntie, they have hatched a pretty plot."

"But," objected Hagar, "they will have to stay at Oakley, if he is to
be a prisoner. They won't dare leave him with keepers and--"

"True," the girl interrupted. "I don't know how they will manage the
rest; but having settled this much, madame and her 'brother' paused at
the end of the path. I saw her as she looked up into his face, and
this is what she said: 'When he is once a prisoner, what could be more
natural than that a crazy, sick old man should _die_ some day?' Then
the man replied, 'Nothing;' and they both returned to the house,
without another word."

For some moments silence reigned in Hagar's dwelling. The old woman
seemed either unable, or unwilling, to utter a word of comment upon
the story to which she had been so attentive a listener.

Céline at length arose and said, as she began pacing to and fro before
the old woman. "Well, have you anything to say to this?"

"Yes," quietly.

"Then why don't you speak out? Are you horribly shocked?"

"No."

"No? Well, so much the better!"

Hagar arose, pushed back her chair, crossed the room, and, pulling
back the curtain, looked out into the night. Then turning her
inscrutable old face upon the girl she said, quite calmly:

"Why should not others measure out to John Arthur the same bitter
draught that he filled for your mother, years ago? Bah! it is only
retribution!"

"True," said the girl, sternly. Then, in a guarded tone: "And you
would make no attempt to overturn their finely laid plans?"

"I? _No!_" fiercely. "You? I thought you wanted revenge."

"And so I do,--and will have it."

"How, then?"

"Will you go to Madame Arthur?"

"What for?"

"Ah, now you reason. I will tell you."

Hurriedly she unfolded her plan; and after some differences of
opinion, dame Hagar agreed to play her part in the coming drama.
Having finally arranged Hagar's _rôle_ to their mutual satisfaction,
Céline hurriedly recounted her day's adventures, saying, by way of
_finale_:

"So now you see, nursie, I must hasten and send madame's message on
its way. I shall depend upon you to tell me if Mr. Davlin comes to
Bellair to-morrow, for I have a fancy that madame will manage, in some
way, to prevent his coming to the house, as it was fully settled that
he was not to appear at Oakley until summoned to his sister's
sick-bed."

"I can easily learn if he appears at the Bellair station."

"Exactly; that is all I wish to know. Now I must go and waylay Mr.
Percy. So good night, auntie, and cheer up; our time is coming fast."

"And trouble coming, too; God help us."

The girl turned upon her swiftly, with flashing eyes. "Are you afraid?
Do you want to give it up?"

"I am afraid for you. But give up now; never!"

"Brave old nursie!"

The girl flung both arms about the old woman, and kissed her withered
cheeks.

"Never fear for me; my star is rising. Don't forget your mission,
auntie; good-night."

The "good-night" came back over her shoulder, as the girl was hurrying
down the cottage steps, and Hagar closed the door behind her
retreating figure.



CHAPTER XVI.

FACE TO FACE.


It is surprising to note how many pretexts a resolute, husband-hunting
spinster can find for keeping a victim at her side, long after his
soul has left her, and gone forth with yearning for a downy couch, a
fragrant cheroot, or a fairer face.

Edward Percy could be agreeable, for a reasonable length of time, to a
very ugly woman. But even he felt himself an injured man when, at a
late hour, he said good-night for the eleventh time to his fair
enslaver--literally an enslaver, he thought. As the door of Oakley
manor actually and audibly closed behind him, he heaved a sigh of
gratification, and strode rapidly down the winding avenue.

When the first group of trees had sheltered him from the view of the
infatuated spinster, should she still be gazing after him, Mr. Percy
paused, and standing in the shadow, produced a cigar and was
proceeding to light it, when a hand fell lightly upon his arm, and he
turned with a confused idea that she had followed him, and was about
to lead him back a prisoner. But the figure that he dimly saw was,
certainly, not that of Miss Arthur.

"Pardon, monsieur! but I have a message for you."

"Ye gods!" ejaculated the aggrieved man.

Evidently the girl interpreted his thoughts, for she stifled a laugh
as she said, quickly: "Not from Miss Arthur, monsieur; but from
madame."

"Oh, from madame," drawing a long breath. "Well, even madame will be a
blessed relief; out with it, girl."

"Madame will be grateful, I am sure," said the girl, mockingly.
"Madame desires a word with you--now, to-night. Will you follow me?"

"Where?"

"To madame; she will be in the terrace arbor directly."

"Oh, very well," replacing his cigar in his pocket; "lead on, then."

Céline flitted on before, until the arbor became dimly visible down
the pathway. Then she paused, pointed it out to her companion, and
said: "Madame will soon join you there, sir. Now I must hasten to my
mistress; I have kept her waiting too long."

With a low, mischievous laugh she darted away in the direction of the
house.

Percy turned and gazed after her; then followed a few paces and
watched again, until she disappeared under a wide portico. Heaving a
sigh of relief he turned back toward the arbor.

"I want no eavesdropping," he muttered; "and that minx might listen if
she had time. She is no more a French maid than I am; she forgot her
_monsieur_ just now. But a sham maid is very appropriate for a sham
maiden; now for Alice;" and he entered the arbor.

[Illustration: "I am afraid for you. But give up now; never!"--page
167.]

Had Mr. Percy been able to follow the retreating footsteps of the
objectionable French maid, however, he might have found occasion
to change his opinion of her lack of time for eavesdropping,
and there was excellent opportunity for its practice about the
shrubbery-surrounded arbor.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meantime Ellen Arthur, having reluctantly bidden her "blonde demi-god"
a last good-night, sought her chamber, swelling with satisfaction, and
feeling somewhat hungry. Passing the door of her sister-in-law's
rooms, she encountered Sarah, the romantic housemaid, who was just
entering, bearing wine and a tiny glass. Glancing within, she
encountered the gaze of Cora, who stood holding in her hand some black
lace drapery.

"Horribly late, isn't it?" yawned that lady, nodding good-naturedly.
"Set down the wine, Sarah, and then you may go. I'm so dismally
slumbersome that if I keep you to help me, I shall fall asleep on your
hands. Have some wine, Ellen?"

"No, thanks," said the spinster. "If you don't want Sarah, she may
bring me up a nice lunch as soon as possible. I won't detain you any
longer; good-night."

And Miss Arthur, who had meditated entering and giving Cora the
benefit of some of her maiden dreams and fancies, marched away, a
trifle offended at the manner in which her sleepy sister-in-law had
anticipated and warded off the interview. Cora's good-night floated
after her as she sailed down the corridor. Then she heard the door
closed and the bolt shot into the socket. A little later, the door
opened noiselessly, and a female figure glided down the dark stairways
out into the night, and toward the arbor.

"Céline shall undo my hair," Miss Arthur thought, "and I'll have her
try that new set of braids and puffs, if it is late. I don't feel as
if I could sleep."

But Céline was not dutifully waiting in her mistress's dressing-room.

Sarah appeared with the lunch, and offered her services, but was
summarily dismissed, for Miss Arthur did not deem it wise to initiate
the house servants into the fearful and wonderful mysteries of her
toilet. Therefore, she lunched in solitude and disgust, but heartily,
notwithstanding, having just put off her very elaborate, but rather
uncomfortable evening dress and donned a silken gown, acting as her
own maid.

Then she fidgeted herself into a most horrible temper, and sat
deliberately down before the grate in a capacious dressing-chair,
determined to wait until the girl came, and deliver a most severe and
stately reprimand, the exact words of which she had already determined
upon.

The lady, sitting thus with her feet on the fender, her hands
comfortably clasping the big arms of the dressing chair, and her head
lolling rather ungracefully over its back, fell into slumber.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Mrs. John Arthur had made a midnight appointment with Lucifer, she
would have fortified herself for the encounter by making a "stunning"
toilet. It was one of her fixed principles--she had fixed
principles--never to permit friend or foe of the male persuasion to
gaze upon her charms when they would show at a disadvantage. So when
she entered the arbor, which was suffused with a soft moonlight glow
from a heavily-shaded lamp, for the arbor stood among dense shrubbery,
and but for this lamp would have been in Egyptian darkness, she was
indeed a personification of loveliness.

Ungracious as was his mood, Percy would not have been a beauty-adoring
mortal if he had not paid involuntary tribute to the charms of the
woman who was his bitterest foe. Gazing down upon her a moment, he
said in his soft legato:

"I am almost angry at you for being so beautiful, after having taken
yourself to other lovers, _Ma belle_."

The woman smiled triumphantly, as she threw herself into an easy
chair, and said in her softest, sweetest tone: "And did you expect me
to go mourning for you all these years, sir?"

"I don't think you were ever the woman to do that;" dropping lazily
into a rustic seat near her. "May I smoke?"

Cora nodded.

"Are you sure we are quite safe here?" looking about him. "Somehow, I
am suspicious of that sharp French maid."

"Quite sure," nodding again. "Mr. Arthur was in bed before I came out;
Miss Arthur was ordering up a lunch to her room, and the French maid
must needs be in attendance for an hour or more; and besides, I know
she is not at all dangerous. None of the other servants ever have
occasion to come here, and most of them are in bed by now."

"So your charming sister-in-law eats, does she? After parting from me,
too; ugh!"

"Eats? I should think so," laughing softly; "in her own room, when her
stays are not too tight."

"Spare me!"

He held up both hands in mock deprecation; then, dropping his
bantering tone, said, as he puffed at his cigar:

"But now to business. You did not come out here in such bewitching
toilet to tell me that my charmer eats?"

"Hardly," with a pretty shrug.

"For what, then?"

"To come to an understanding with you," coolly.

"As how?" in the same tone.

"As to our future standing with each other."

"I thought that was settled to-day?"

"Did you? I don't think it was settled."

"Well, what remains, fair Alice?"

"Will you drop that name?"

"For the present, yes; but with reluctance."

"Oh, certainly!" bitterly. "Now, what are we to be henceforth?"

"Friends, of course," knocking the ashes off his cigar.

"You and I may be allies; we can never be friends," she said,
scornfully.

"Don't trouble yourself to be insulting, Mrs.--a--Arthur."

"Then don't make me remember how I have hated you!"

"Have you really hated me? How singular."

"Very!" sarcastically; then: "If you don't drop that disagreeable tone
we shall quarrel. I wish to know what you want with Ellen Arthur."

"Shade of my grandmother! If you don't drop that disagreeable name, I
shall expire. Haven't I had enough of her for one day? Alice, I know
revenge is sweet, but spare me."

"Bother! I must talk about her, else how can we settle anything? Do
you suppose I am going to allow that sweet girl to be deceived?" This
with mock indignation.

"Oh, no; certainly not! Well, if I must, I must. First, then--"

"First, what position do you intend to take towards me?"

"That depends upon yourself."

"On conditions?"

"On conditions."

"Name them."

"I am to be received as an honored guest whenever I shall choose to
visit Oakley."

"Well."

"Next, you are to do all in your power to further my suit with
Miss--you know."

"That's an easy task."

"Lastly, you are to promise me not, now or at any future time, to
declare to any one aught you may know that might be to my
disadvantage."

"That is to say, I am not to tell Ellen Arthur, or others, that you
have two wives--"

"Softly; one, my dear, _one_. Mrs. Percy Jordan, number one, is dead;
you alone are left. You see, Alice, my dear, the thing is reversed.
You have two husbands now, while I--"

"Will have two wives as soon as you can get them!"

"Just so."

"And what guarantee have I that you will not betray me to Mr. Arthur?"

"The very best in the world; mutual interest."

Cora pondered. "I don't see but that you are right," she said, at
last. "It certainly will not be to your interest to attempt to annoy
me now, but how long is this truce to last?" looking at him keenly.

Percy smoked away in tranquil silence.

"Of course, I understand what you mean by a marriage with Miss
Arthur," scornfully. "How long will it take you to squander her
dollars? And after that, what will you do?"

"Question for question, fair cross examiner; how long do you intend
remaining so quietly here, the bond slave of this idiotic old man? And
what will you do when this play is played out?"

"Because I ran away from a profligate young husband, who had decoyed
me into an illegal marriage--illegal for me, but sufficiently binding
to have put you in the penitentiary for a bi--"

"Don't say it, my dear; don't. It's an ugly word, and, after all, are
we not both in the same boat?"

"No," angrily. "Do you think I have been so poorly schooled during
these years that you can make me think now that you have any hold upon
me? Bah! your case is but a flimsy one. When you deceived me into a
marriage with you, you had already another wife. You hid me away in a
suburban box of a cottage, fancying I would be content, like a bird in
a gilded cage. You never dreamed that meek little _I_ would follow
you, and find out from the woman's own lips that she had a prior claim
upon you!"

"Candidly, I didn't credit you with so much pluck," said Percy,
coolly.

"No! and when I charged you with your perfidy, and wept and upbraided
you, and then became pacified when you told me that every proof of
your marriage with that other was in your control, you did not dream
that I would feign submission until I had gained possession of the
proofs of both your marriages, and then run away?"

"And succeed in baffling my search for ten long years," supplemented
he, grandiloquently. "No, fair dame, I did not."

"Your search, indeed! It was not a very eager one."

"Well, in truth it was not. The fact is, your beauty entrapped me into
that very foolish marriage; but I was a trifle weary of blonde
loveliness in tears, etc., so I didn't get out the entire police
force, you see."

"And you wouldn't have found me if you had."

"Indeed! why not?"

"Because, if it will afford you any satisfaction to know at this late
stage of the game, I sailed for Europe the very day I quitted your
house."

"No!" opening his eyes in genuine astonishment. "Had it all cut and
dried? Well, I like that! Why, little woman, if you had only developed
one half the pluck latent in you, before you flitted, I would never
have given you 'just cause,' etc., for leaving me."

The woman smiled triumphantly, but made no other answer.

"Well, what next? I am really becoming interested in your career."

"Sorry I can't gratify your curiosity. My career has been a very
pleasant one--seeing the world; generally prosperous. And this brings
me back to the starting point: why should you think, because I left
you with good cause, ten years ago, that I must necessarily forsake,
sooner or later, a husband who is kindness itself, and who leaves no
wish of mine ungratified?"

"First reason," checking them off on his fingers: "Because you don't
love this old man, and love is the only bond that such women as you
will not break."

"Thanks!" ironically, bending her head.

"Second, because a dull country house, be it ever so elegant, will not
long satisfy you as an abiding place. I have not forgotten your
girlish taste for pomp, pageant and all manner of excitement; a taste
that has doubtless become fully developed by now. Third, because you
have, at this present moment, a lover whom you prefer above all
others, and to whom you will flee sooner or later."

"Perhaps you can substantiate that statement," sneered Cora.

"Well, not exactly; but I know women. My dear, say what you please to
me, but don't expect to be believed if you will insist upon doing the
devoted wife."

"I insist upon nothing," said Cora, rising, "and I have not time for
many more words. Let us come to the point at once: With my life, after
I left you, you have nothing to do; you know nothing of it now, and
you will learn no more from me. Of you, I know this much. I know that
you clung, after your fashion, to the skirts of your unfortunate wife,
spending her income and making her life miserable. I know that six
years ago you inherited a fortune from a distant relative. I know that
from that time you utterly neglected your wife, who had been an
invalid for years; and that soon after she died, heart-broken and
alone."

Percy turned upon her, and scrutinized her face keenly; then, coming
close to her, said, meaningly: "And then I wonder that you did not
come back to me."

For a moment the woman seemed confused, and off her guard. But she had
not sought an interview with this man without fully reviewing her
ground.

"I had ceased to care for you," she said, lifting her unflinching eyes
to his face; "and I did not need your money. Come, enough of the past;
you have squandered your fortune, and now you want another. You want
to put yourself still more into my power by marrying a third wife--so
be it; I consent."

"Not so fast. You are first to promise me to place in my hands, on my
'marriage morn,' those unpleasant little documents which you hold
against me. In return for which you will receive a sum of money, the
amount of said sum to be hereafter arranged. Then we go our separate
ways."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then, painful as it is, I must do my duty. You are to give me your
answer when I return to Bellair; no time for tricks, mind. If the
answer is no, then I interview Mr. John Arthur."

"And you return?--"

"The day after to-morrow."

"Then you shall have my answer. Until then--"

She swept him a stately courtesy, which he returned with a most
elaborate bow.

Without another word from either, they separated; she gliding swiftly
and silently toward the house, he going once more in the direction of
Bellair village.

       *       *       *       *       *

How long she had slept it never afterward occurred to Miss Arthur to
inquire. Something recalled her from the land of visions, and starting
up in her chair she saw Céline, standing demurely before her, her face
wreathed in smiles, and no signs of any uncanny adventure lingering
about her.

Beholding her safe and sound Miss Arthur began to pour out upon the
luckless head of Céline, the vials of wrath prepared for her benefit.

The girl listened with a face indicative of some secret source of
amusement. Noting her look of evident unconcern, and the laughter she
seemed vainly striving to keep under, Miss Arthur brought her tirade
to an abrupt termination, and demanded to know what Miss Céline
Leroque saw, in her appearance, that was so very ludicrous.

Whereupon Miss Céline Leroque dropped upon a hassock, at the feet of
her irate mistress, and laughed outright--actually laughed
unreservedly, in the presence and despite the rage of the ancient
maiden!

[Illustration: "Then you shall have my answer. Until then--"--page
178.]

Then observing that she was preparing another burst of wrath, the
girl appeared to be struggling for composure, and vainly endeavoring
to articulate something, of which Miss Arthur could only catch the
name, "Mr. Percy." Thereupon she fairly bounced out of her chair,
demanding to know "what on earth" Mr. Percy had to do with her maid's
reprehensible conduct.

"Oh, mademoiselle, everything!" gasped Céline. "Only let me explain,
and mademoiselle will laugh, too. Oh, _Mon dieu, Mon dieu_!"

Calming herself by a violent effort, Céline told her story, and its
magic dispelled the wrath of her much neglected, sorely aggrieved
mistress. Such a pretty little story it was, interspersed with sly
looks, knowing nods, and rippling bursts of laughter. Listened to
with, first, disdainful silence; then, growing interest; last,
spasmodic giggles, _apropos_ ejaculations, and much blushing and
maidenly confusion.

"You see, mademoiselle, after you had gone down, I went to my room, to
take just a few little stitches upon some of my poor garments, that I
must wear to-morrow. I don't know how it was, but I sat on my bedside
thinking, after it was done, and fell off asleep."

"Off the bed?"

"Oh! no, no, mademoiselle; off into sleep, I mean. When I awoke I was
anxious to know how much time I had slept away, and came down to your
apartments. You were still in the drawing-room, and I passed on to the
kitchen, surprised to find that it was very late. 'I will hasten,' I
thought, 'and can so go to the village, and telegraph my sister before
my mistress rings for me;' for I didn't think," with a sly look, "that
you would be at liberty _very_ early in the evening. The--what you
name him?--a--operateur, was out, and I had to wait a little time.
Coming back so late, I became afraid of the woods, and took the path
along the highway. Entering at the front and coming up the avenue, I
was about to pass around by the east walk to the side entrance
when,--" stifling a laugh.

[Illustration: "O, Mademoiselle, every thing!" gasped Céline.--page
180.]

"Well?" impatiently.

"When the front door opened and I, standing in the shadow, saw the
light fall upon the face and figure of Monsieur Percy."

"Yes; go on."

"I mention this, mademoiselle, only to show you how I know so
positively that it _was_ monsieur who--oh! oh!" laughing again softly.

"Who?" with increased impatience; "who did what, girl?" eyeing her
suspiciously.

Céline composed herself and continued: "Seeing monsieur, I stopped,
for I did not wish him to discover me abroad so late. So I stood in
the thick shade until he should have passed. He came slowly toward me
and, just about four paces from my hiding-place, paused, turned and
looked, back at the house. I could see him gazing toward the upper
windows, and presently I saw your shadow upon the blind as you entered
your dressing-room. The light shone out from your window, too; and
after looking for a while, I heard him murmur to himself: 'That must
be her window; I believe I am bewitched, for I can't bear to lose its
light,' and then--"

"Stop laughing, you ridiculous girl! And what then?"

"And then, mademoiselle, he began walking up and down within sight of
your window--"

"Ah!" rapturously.

"Oui; and I--oh, mademoiselle, he was in the very path that I must
take to approach the side entrance. And he walked and walked, and I
waited and waited. Then I thought I would try getting around by the
other way, and creep up carefully from the terrace. So I crept along
to the other side, back of the arbor, and up the terrace, and managed
to reach the entrance unseen. _Mon Dieu_, mademoiselle, the door was
locked! I was shut out! What was I to do then? I sat me down in the
shadow of the portico and waited once more. After a terribly long time
I could see that he was not moving up and down. I peeped cautiously,
and he seemed to be departing. Then I came out stealthy as a cat, and
found that he was going away, and the reason--"

"The reason?"

"Oui, mademoiselle; the light in your room had disappeared."

"Disappeared!"

"Oui, mademoiselle. Then I bethought me there might yet be a chance. I
came up to the front entrance and tried the door. It was not locked.
My heart leaped for joy. I blessed the carelessness of the servants,
and stole cautiously in. I came to this room. All was dark; but the
coals there showed me your figure in the chair. I could not mistake
the graceful outlines of mademoiselle. I entered very quietly,
relighted your lamp--some little breeze must have flared it out while
you slept. I was looking at you, and wondering what you would say if
you knew how nearly crazy with love you had driven that stately,
handsome Monsieur Percy, when you awoke."

It is needless to say that, long before Céline had finished her
recital, her mistress was in the best of humors. Indeed, Céline's
volubly uttered, intensely flattering, highly probable recital, had an
exhilarating effect upon her; so much so, that the lady found sleep
now quite impossible. So poor Céline was doomed, after all, to build
the new braids and puffs into a wonderful edifice upon the head of
Miss Arthur, and to repeat over and again the sweet story of "how he
loved her."

The "wee sma'" hours were beginning to lengthen once more when Céline
was released from duty, and went wearily up to her room; wearily, yet
with undimmed eyes, and the mischievous dimples still lurking about
the corners of her mouth.

She muttered: "Bah! it is better than sleep, after all; if only the
others were as easily duped as she!"

By which words, a listener might have been led to suppose that Céline
Leroque had been practising deception upon some confiding individual.



CHAPTER XVII.

GATHERING CLUES.


Claire had been absent all the morning, had gone to make some call; at
least she had said to Olive, at breakfast, "I think I will take the
ponies, Olive, and drive into the city this morning. It is nice out of
doors, and I have made no calls since I came here."

Olive Girard sat alone in her cosy drawing-room. She had been reading,
but the book was somehow not in tune with her mind or mood. She had
allowed it to fall at her feet, where it lay, half opened, while she
drifted away from the present in sorrowful reverie. Lifting her eyes,
she saw a cab drive away from the villa gate, and a form hurrying
along the marble pathway. Springing up, Olive herself threw open the
door, and clasped her arms about--Miss Arthur's French maid! who
returned the caress with much enthusiasm.

"Madeline, my dear child, how glad I am to see you!"

"Even in this disguise?" laughed the girl.

"Even in blue glasses, and that horrid jacket," smiled Olive. "What an
ugly thing it is. Come and take it off, _ma belle_; do," leading the
way up the stairs.

"I come, autocrat, and I shall much enjoy getting out of this
head-gear," shaking her bewigged head. Then abruptly, "Where's
Claire?"

"Out for a drive and some calls," without looking back. "How surprised
and glad she will be to see you. Now, come in and make a lady of
yourself once more." She led the way into Madeline's room. "Are you
tired, dear?"

"Not at all."

"Then come into my boudoir when you are dressed, and we will have a
cosy chat while waiting for Claire."

"I won't be long," responded the girl. "I have a good many things to
say to you, which had better be said before Claire comes."

"Very well; I await your ladyship," and Olive closed the door, leaving
Miss Arthur's maid alone.

"I thought so," muttered she, tearing off the blue glasses; "she has
gone to meet Edward Percy. Poor dupe! it is indeed time to act."

She discarded the ill-fitting jacket, flung away the ugly black wig,
and, in a very few moments, stood arrayed in a pretty, neatly fitting
gown, glowing and lovely,--Madeline Payne once more.

"I wonder if I shall see or hear of _him_," she whispered to herself
as she crossed to Olive's boudoir. "Oh, if I could! It would be one
ray of sunlight only to clasp his hand!"

Olive had been informed of all that Madeline herself knew, of the
doings at Bellair, at the time when the girl went down, disguised as
Céline Leroque. Now, therefore, Madeline lost no time in making Olive
acquainted with, at least a part of, the events that had transpired
during her sojourn in the Oakley mansion, in the capacity of maid. Of
Edward Percy she said not a word, for reasons of her own, wishing to
keep all knowledge of him from Olive for the present.

"You see, I was just in time, Olive," she supplemented, when Mrs.
Girard had expressed her astonishment at the startling revelations of
the past four weeks. "I had not an hour to lose in setting my snare
for these plotters. They little dream what is in store for them. Poor
Kitty! I feel like a wretch when I think of the advantage I took of
her, by making her poor dead body a weapon, as one might say, against
a villain whom she would never have lifted a finger to injure in her
life. But I could see no other way. Do you know, Olive, they are going
to erect a stone over her, bearing my name?"

Olive looked up in surprise. "No! is it possible?"

"Yes, quite. I fancy John Arthur thinks he will feel more thoroughly
assured of my demise, when he can see my name on a marble slab."

"Now, tell me what especial purpose brought you up to town to-day."

Madeline moved restlessly in her chair. "A medley," she said, laughing
uneasily. "A woman's reason; things being quiet, I wanted recreation,
and to tell you of my success thus far. Then, a detective's reason; to
get from you some information bearing upon your own affairs, as
connected with Lucian Davlin. Then I want to see Dr. Vaughan, in his
professional capacity. But mind, Olive, not a word to him of my
discoveries just yet."

"Certainly not, if you do not wish it."

And this was all the mention made by either of Clarence Vaughan.

"You see," began Madeline, after a brief silence, "Mrs. John Arthur
and her quondam brother, hold occasional private interviews. As they
generally prove interesting, I make it a point to be present whenever
possible. Now, from some chance words dropped at different times, I
have been led to think that if I were more fully informed in regard to
this Percy, I might find the missing link. Indeed, I may tell you I
have found a clue, just the shadow of something that, if I could
develop it, might prove of wonderful value to both of us."

"Oh! if you could find out anything that would throw light upon this
dark wrong they have done Philip, these men--"

"Well, Olive, I think we may hope. Now, may I begin to cross-question
you?"

Olive smiled sadly. "Go on, my little lawyer."

"First, then, were you personally acquainted with this Percy?"

"No."

"You have seen him?"

"At the trial; yes."

"Describe him."

"A blonde man, handsome, some would call him, with a soft, languid
voice. I did not observe further."

"Would you know him if you saw him again?"

"Certainly. His was a rather uncommon face, and then the
association--"

"Just so," interrupting her; "and would he know you?"

"I think not. I was heavily veiled, by Philip's order."

"Now, try to recall all that Philip has told you of this man."

"They were college students together. Philip said that Percy was
indolent and vain, and too fond of female society of any sort or
grade. He made wonderful progress in such studies as he chose to apply
himself to, and, had he been less of a sybarite, might have obtained
high rank as a scholar. But he was erratic, full of queer conceits,
and never made himself popular with either professors or students."

"Social standing not good, eh? Now, as to his finances."

Olive looked somewhat surprised at this question, but replied: "His
parents were not well to do, but he was a favorite with a rich old
uncle, who paid his college expenses and made him a liberal allowance.
However, he fell into disgrace just before his class graduated, and
his uncle cast him off. He never took his degree."

"What was the occasion of his disgrace?"

"Some scandalous affair with a mechanic's daughter; the particulars I
did not learn."

"Of course not. They are of no consequence. This happened how long
ago?"

Olive mused. "Philip is now thirty-three; this was twelve years ago."

"Good! Did he hear of Mr. Percy after that?"

"Yes; in less than a year, he married a wealthy woman, ten years his
senior, and a widow, so it was reported. Percy, it is said, denied
this marriage, and continued to live and go and come, like a bachelor.
If the marriage ever occurred, it was kept, for some reason, very much
under the rose. Be this as it may, Percy was always provided with
money from some source. He used to gamble sometimes, but was not an
habitual gamester. Philip said he was too much of a sybarite and
ladies' man to be wedded to such sports."

"Yet he played with Lucian Davlin, and lost heavily?"

"True."

"Well, is this all you have to tell of Mr. Percy?"

"Not quite. About a year before the catastrophe of the hunting party,
the uncle who had cared for him during his college career, died. Percy
inherited his wealth, the old man, after all, making his will in favor
of his graceless nephew." Olive paused for a moment, then added, "I
believe that is all I can tell you of this man. I have not seen or
heard of him since poor Philip was sent to prison."

Madeline sat gazing abstractedly into the grate fire, her hands
clasped in her lap, working restlessly, as was their habit, when she
was thinking deeply. Suddenly a sharp exclamation broke from her lips,
and Olive turned towards her a look of surprised inquiry. But Madeline
was clasping and unclasping her hands nervously, with eyelashes
lowered, and brow knitted in a frown.

"Olive," she said, after a long cogitation, "you have put into my
hands another thread, a very valuable one. Don't ask me any questions
now; I want to get my ideas in shape."

Olive's face wore an anxious look, but she had learned the lesson of
patient waiting, so she quietly acquiesced, and then a long silence
fell between them.

Madeline resumed the conversation, or rather recommenced it. She made
no further mention of that part of the subject nearest the heart of
Olive Girard. She made inquiries as to affairs and recent events at
the village, talked of Claire, and finally said:

"Olive, I want you to go out with me during the day, and perhaps we
had better go early. I must return to Bellair by to-morrow morning's
train, you know."

"Yes; and I am sorry that you stay with us such a very short time.
Where do you intend going, Madeline?"

"To a detective,--that is, if you will repeat your generous offer,
which I so cavalierly declined not long ago, to be my banker for an
indefinite time."

"Gladly, dear child; now you are beginning to be sensible. But the
detective,--may I venture to inquire?" with assumed hesitation.

"You may," laughed Madeline. "And don't give me credit for all the
ingenuity. True, I have racked my poor feminine brain and feminine
instinct, coupled with the knowledge obtained by some keen experience
with Treachery, Despair, and Hate. These grim but very efficient
instructors have aided me materially, simple, inexperienced girl as I
was so recently--or so long ago, as it seems to me. And good old Aunt
Hagar, who has been in this woful world many years--years full of
vicissitudes and sharp life-lessons--is my counsellor and adviser. She
aids me greatly with her shrewdness, and knowledge of the world and
the folk in it. So we have discussed this point together and concluded
that, in order to leave no loopholes open in our nice little net, we
had better have the movements of Mr. Lucian Davlin closely watched
while he is in the city."

"To discover--"

"Who he calls upon, and what manner of man he will choose to assume
the _rôle_ of 'physician from Europe,' etc. Without putting the full
facts of the case into the hands of the officer, we will arrange to
know all about the man who will help Davlin carry out their last
scheme. No train shall leave the city on which he would, by any
possibility, set out for Bellair accompanied by this sham physician,
without the knowledge of our man, or men, of skill. All discoveries
made are to be reported, through you, to Mademoiselle Céline Leroque,
who will receive said reports in _propria persone_, at the Bellair
post-office. Then I must proffer a request, that Doctor Vaughan will
hold himself in readiness to come to Oakley, should I find it
necessary to summon him, accompanied by another physician, or not, as
shall be hereafter decided."

"I don't just see how all this is to end, but these two steps appear
to me to be in the right direction. I am ready to undertake your
commissions, and to act as your banker to the fullest extent of your
needs."

After a few more words they decided that, as Claire did not return,
and time was precious, they would order a carriage immediately after
luncheon, and pay a visit to the detective forthwith. Accordingly,
half an hour earlier than usual, a light repast was served, and
sparingly partaken of. Then having left a message for Miss Keith, who
was momentarily expected, the two friends drove into the city.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP WIELDS THE SURGEON'S KNIFE.


Returning two hours later, they found Claire impatiently waiting their
arrival, radiantly beautiful, and overflowing with joy at sight of her
beloved Madeline.

"You delightfully horrible girl!" she exclaimed, after greetings had
been exchanged, and they had all seated themselves in the
drawing-room. "To think that you are growing more lovely every day,
and that you go and hide all your beauty under an old fright of a wig,
nasty blue spectacles, and deformities of jackets! I declare, it's too
bad! And then to wait on an old spinster who wears no end of false
hair, and false teeth, and false--"

"Puzzled already. So much for not being a lady's maid; Now, I can
enumerate every 'falsehood' assumed by that lady."

Then Madeline gave a ludicrous description of Miss Arthur and her
peculiarities, causing even grave Olive to laugh heartily, and Claire
to exclaim that she should watch the advertisements, and try playing
ladies' maid herself.

Madeline once more recounted, in brief, the state of affairs now
existing at Oakley, or as much as she had told Olive, during which
recital impulsive Claire kept up a running fire of comments,
indicative of surprise, indignation, disgust, and very one-sided
interest.

"I never heard of such a nest of vultures," she exclaimed, excitedly,
when Madeline had completed her story. "Why, it's worse than a chapter
out of a French drama. Goodness gracious, Madeline Payne, I only wish
I could help you deal out justice to these wretches! Where is my fairy
godmother now, that she don't come and convert me into a six-foot
brother, to take some of this burden out of your little weak hands?"

"Not so weak as you may think, you little warrior. These hands,"
holding them up to view, "have a very strong cause, let me tell
you--and you think you would like to help me?" laughing oddly.

"Wouldn't I!" with a fierce nod that made her two companions laugh
again.

The afternoon was wearing away, and Madeline began to grow restless,
at finding no opportunity for saying a word in private to Claire. At
last fortune favored her. Olive, seeing her gardener digging about a
little summer-house, which was a favorite retreat on a warm afternoon,
bethought herself of a plan for adding to its comfort, by laying down
certain vines, etcetera, for next season's growing. So she bade the
girls note how she should have improved her arbor by another season,
and hurried out to begin an argument, that from previous experience
she knew would be hotly contested.

[Illustration: "You delightfully horrible girl!"--page 191.]

This was Madeline's opportunity. And as soon as Olive was out of
hearing, she turned to Claire saying:

"Claire, I have not told you, nor Olive, all that I have discovered.
For reasons, which you will understand later, I have thought it best
to make them known to you first. We must invent some excuse for
absenting ourselves from the parlor for a while."

Claire looked grave and somewhat startled for an instant, but
recovering her composure she said, simply: "I am at your disposal,
dear."

"I think I had better go to my room and lie down," meaningly. "Tell
Olive, when she comes in, that I feel fatigued, and have gone to my
room to rest. Then you had better plead letters to write, and follow
me. Can you manage it?"

"Easily," smiled Claire. "Why, Bonnie, Aileen, this becomes more and
more mysterious and interesting."

"Wait before you pass judgment; now I am gone."

Madeline quitted the drawing-room and sauntered leisurely up-stairs.

When Olive reappeared, Claire carried out the little programme, as
arranged, and hastened to join Madeline, musing as she went:

"What could have induced that odd darling to confide in stupid little
me, while she leaves wise, thoughtful Olive in the dark?"

Madeline was pacing the floor when Claire entered the room. She
motioned her to a chair, and pushed the bolt in the door, thus
rendering intrusion impossible.

"What _can_ you be thinking of, Madeline, with that gloomy face?"
exclaimed Claire, nestling into an easy chair as she spoke.

"I am thinking, Claire," replied Madeline, gazing down at her sadly,
"of the first time I ever saw your sister, and of the errand on which
she came to me. How full of hope I was that morning! How radiant the
day seemed, and how confident I was of happiness to come; as confident
as you are to-day, Claire, darling."

There was something in Madeline's tone that sounded almost like pity,
as she uttered these last words. Claire started and colored, but still
was silent.

"Olive did a brave, generous deed, but at that time I almost hated her
for it," musingly.

"Oh, no, Madeline," interposed Claire, "you don't mean just that, I am
sure. You never really hated our noble, unhappy Olive."

"I felt very wicked, I assure you," smiling faintly. Then, abruptly:
"How should you have felt, similarly placed?"

"I?" wonderingly; "mercy! I can't tell."

"Claire, think," in a tone almost of entreaty. "I want to know--I must
know."

"You must know? Why, Madeline?"

"Because--because I want to find out what is in you; how strong you
are."

Claire looked more and more mystified. "State your case, then," she
said, quietly. "I will try and analyze myself."

"Good; now, Claire Keith, suppose that you love some man very much,
and you trust him without knowing why, for no other reason than that
you love him. When you are happiest, because you have but just parted
from your lover--"

Claire started and colored a little.

"When you are thinking of the time, not far away, when you shall not
part from him any more--suppose that just then I, a friend whom you
have loved, come to you and say: 'This hero of yours is false; he is a
two-faced villain; he has deceived you; he is not honorable; he will
betray you if he can.' What would you answer me?"

Claire lifted her head proudly. "I would make you take back every word
you had uttered, or prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt!"

"And if I proved it?"

"Then I would thank you; and hate myself for having been deceived, and
him for having deceived me."

"Would you grieve for him, Claire?"

Quick as thought came the answer:

"Grieve for him! No; I could no more love a liar and a villain than I
could caress a viper! I tell you, Madeline, I understand your feelings
when you say that you hate Lucian Davlin," shuddering.

"And you would not hate me also for rudely undeceiving you?"

"Hate my best friend; my benefactor? No!"

"I am thankful!"

"But, Madeline, what does all this mean? Is this what you wanted to
say to me? What can my feelings have to do with your case?"

"Claire,"--Madeline's face was very sad again--"this case is _our_
case."

"_Our_ case?"

"Yes, ours; Olive's, yours, mine. And now I am going to test your
strength."

Claire did not look very strong just then.

"You saw Edward Percy to-day."

Claire Keith sprang to her feet. "How do you know that? And what has
he to do with the case?"

"I know it because we, Mr. Percy and myself, came to this city by the
same train, and I could easily surmise that his business here was with
you."

"Well?" haughtily.

"Ah!" sadly; "you are almost angry with me now. But listen, Claire.
Are you perfectly familiar with all the facts connected with poor
Philip Girard's sad disgrace?"

"I think so," coldly.

"You know that he was convicted upon the testimony of Lucian Davlin
and another?"

"Yes."

"Do you recall the name of the man who was wounded, so said the jury,
by Mr. Girard?"

Up sprang Claire, her eyes blazing. "Madeline," she cried, "I see what
you are coming at. You have got into your head the ridiculous idea
that this man Percy and Edward Percy are the same. It is absurd!"

"Why?"

"Because--because it _is_!" Then, as if the matter were
quite settled, "why, he must have been in Europe at the time."

"Claire, you are getting angry with me, and I have a long story to
tell you. But there is an easy way to settle this matter. Are you
willing to let me take the picture you have of Edward Percy, and
accompany me into Olive's presence while I ask her if she ever saw the
original?"

Nothing else could have so effectually quenched Claire's wrath. She
saw that Madeline had some strong reason for her strange words.
Sitting down with paling cheeks and trembling limbs, she thought. Then
looking across at Madeline, she said, wearily:

"I can't understand you at all, Madeline. It never once occurred to
me to connect the man who brought all that trouble upon poor Philip
with my Edward Percy. It does not seem possible that they could be the
same. I had supposed the other Percy to be a man like--like Davlin."

"My dear, did you ever see Davlin?"

"No."

"And you have fancied him a sort of handsome horse jockey, and this
Percy one of the same brotherhood?"

"Perhaps;" smiling a little.

"Claire, Lucian Davlin is an Apollo in person, a courtier in manner,
and a Mephistopheles at heart. And Percy is an abridgement of Davlin."

"I can't see," said Claire, rather frostily, "even if Edward Percy is
the man who was wounded by some unknown person five years ago, why he
must of necessity be a villain and a deceiver. It would be very, very
unpleasant, of course, to find that such were the case. But I could
not hate Edward Percy for that, even if the fact must separate us."

"Claire, Edward Percy is not only the man who helped send your
sister's husband to prison, but he is a villain doubly perjured; a
deceiver, a betrayer. If justice ever gets her due he will end his
days in the penitentiary."

Then, seeing that Claire was about to speak: "Let me finish; now you
shall have your proof."

She recounted all there was to tell, from the day when Claire showed
her the picture and she distrusted the face, to the present moment.

Claire Keith listened in immovable silence; not a muscle quivered. For
many minutes after Madeline had finished her recital, she sat staring
straight before her, like a statue. At length she arose and crossed to
the door, drew back the bolt with a steady hand, put up a warning
finger, and said, in a voice like frozen silver: "Wait;" then
disappeared.

Madeline scarcely had time to wonder what she meant, before Claire was
back, standing before her, calm and cold as an iceberg. She held in
her hand the picture of Edward Percy, with the face turned away, and
this she extended to Madeline.

"It is best that we make no mistakes," she said, quietly; "go show
that to Olive. Don't tell her how it came into your possession; ask
her if it is he. Then come back to me."

"Shall I tell her--" began Madeline.

"Tell her nothing until you have brought me back the picture."

She pushed her toward the door.

Madeline walked down-stairs, sorely puzzled, but thinking fast. "She
fights these facts bravely," she muttered. "Does she doubt, I wonder?"

Olive was sitting before the window, watching the movements of John,
the gardener, when Madeline entered the parlor. Going straight to her,
she placed the picture in her hand, and said:

"Do you know that face?"

Olive Girard gave a startled cry.

"Madeline, how did you come by this?"

"No matter," calmly; "do you know the picture?"

"Yes."

"Who is he?"

"The man who sent my husband to prison--Percy."

Madeline took the picture from her hand. "Are you sure?"

"I could swear to the face after these five years."

"Thank you, Olive. Now be patient; I must go back to my room for a
little while. Don't ask me any questions yet. When I come down I will
tell you how I obtained this, and why I have talked to you so much of
this man."

Madeline walked out of the room, leaving Olive staring after her in
bewilderment.

Claire was sitting in the same attitude as when she left her. "Well?"
she said, raising her eyes.

"She recognized it immediately. She would swear that it is the man who
sent her husband to prison."

"Thank you, dear."

Claire took the picture from her hands, and without once glancing at
it, she bent forward and dropped it into the grate.

Madeline threw herself on her knees at the girl's side. "Oh, Claire,
Claire! I have made you miserable; forgive me."

"What for? You have done me a great service. Do you think I want that
man's love?"

"But Claire--"

"I loved an ideal; that ideal, see;" pointing to the grate. "Do you
think I shall cry after a pinch of ashes?" looking her full in the
face. Then, with a shrug of annoyance. "You have roused poor Olive's
curiosity; she must hear of this miserable discovery of ours, or
yours--bah," stamping her foot angrily, "my pride is hurt more than my
heart!"

"Your pride need not suffer more than it does already, Claire. You
have seen me humbled to the dust; see me so still; and surely it won't
be so very bitter to think that poor Madeline knows that your sunny
life has suffered one little shadow. I will tell Olive all I know of
Edward Percy, save that you have ever seen him. The knowledge that he
has crossed your path can in no way benefit her, or aid us in
unmasking him. Evidently, he does not know that you are in any way
connected with the fortunes of Philip Girard. Let this rest between
us. If this plan suits you, perhaps I had better go and tell my
story to Olive. I have twice postponed a revelation to-day."

[Illustration: "She bent forward, and dropped it into the
grate."--page 200.]

"The plan does suit me. Many, many thanks, dear Madeline," said
Claire, calmly and gently. "And now, as I must, of course, be supposed
to first hear this story after it has been told to Olive, or at that
time, I would prefer being present when you enlighten her. Let us
dress for dinner, go down together, and--I leave the rest to your
tact."

Madeline could readily comprehend that it would be easier for Claire
to sit, with Olive, a listener, than to wait and hear the story from
the lips of her sister. If it were left to Olive to tell, Claire's
face might betray her heart, perhaps. But now, hearing it from
Madeline, and with Olive, whose surprise and dismay at the revelation
would quite effectually cover up any signs of emotion Claire might
manifest, the thing did not appear so difficult.

Madeline signified her approval, and they separated to dress for
dinner.

Claire Keith made her toilet with swift, firm fingers, and all the
while she was thinking fiercely, scornfully. She was not stunned by
the blow that had stricken her love and her pride. Rather, it seemed,
she was quickened into unusual activity and clearness of thought.

After a time, perhaps, she would feel more the sadness, the cruelty,
of the hurt; now she felt the outrage to her pride, and a fierce
self-scorn that she could have ever loved a man so base. She hated
Edward Percy for having deceived her, and equally she despised herself
for having been thus deceived by this specious flatterer.

"You little fool!" she scoffed at her image reflected back from her
mirror. "You are a very idiot among idiots! I wonder where are all
your high notions now. So," giving her hair an angry jerk, "you
perched yourself aloft on a pinnacle, didn't you? You looked down upon
all your sisterhood who were deceived, or betrayed, or sorrowing; and
you wondered how women could be so weak; how they _could_ be deluded
by base men. You looked upon poor dead Kitty, and wondered what was
the flaw in her intellect that made her the slave of a gambler and a
villain. You argued that only an unsophisticated school girl could be
deceived as was poor Madeline. Oh, you have been very proud, and very
high has been your standard of manly worth, Miss Claire Keith! So high
that the man who has occupied it might easily slip from that pedestal
to--Haman's gallows!"

At this point in her tirade, something suspiciously like a sob arose
in her throat, and checked her utterance. But it did not retard her
activity, and in a much shorter time than she usually spent upon an
evening toilet, Miss Keith stood, accoutered and defiantly calm, at
Madeline's door.



CHAPTER XIX.

A DUAL RENUNCIATION.


Madeline Payne had lingered over her toilet, pondering the
incomprehensible manner of Claire Keith. She now stood before her
mirror, brush in hand, thinking.

"Not ready yet?"

If Madeline could believe her eyes, Claire was actually smiling!

"I thought you would be waiting for me," continued Claire, composedly,
pulling a big chair forward, and sitting down where she could look
full in Madeline's face. "But it is just as well; there is something
that I want to say, before we go down. Why don't you go on with your
hair?"

Madeline's hand, brush and all, had dropped to her side, and she was
silently staring at her friend. Without a word she resumed her
employment, looking more at Claire than at her own reflected image.

"You guessed rightly, when you accused me of having seen Mr. Percy
to-day," pursued Claire.

"Accused, Claire?"

"Well, informed, then. I did see him. He wrote me a letter; it was
posted at Bellair; you see," smiling bitterly; "that I have no reason
for doubting anything you have told me."

A new light broke over Madeline's face. "Do you doubt?" she asked,
quickly.

"Not one word!"

"Oh!" drawing a breath of relief. "You were so composed I thought--"

"That I was hoping to disprove your statements? Not at all. And why
should I not be composed? Do you think my heart could break for such a
man?"

"Hearts don't break so easily," said Madeline, gloomily, "but they
ache sometimes."

"Do they?" placing her hand over her heart and smiling faintly. "Well,
mine don't ache either, yet; but it burns."

Madeline stayed her brush again. "No," she murmured, "it don't ache
_yet_."

Claire made a gesture of impatience. "Oh, I know what you mean,
Madeline! By and by my heart will ache, of course--I know that, having
discovered, quite recently, that I am human. One can't feel outraged
and angry always, and sometimes, I suppose, my day-dreams will come
back and haunt me. Well, that is a part of the price we have to pay
for intruding into dreamland when we are not asleep. But this is not
what I began to say. Edward Percy met me to-day, and this is what he
told me: He said he was going away, upon some geological expedition,
and would most likely be gone a year. He wanted me to promise to hold
myself free until he could return and claim me. He would exact no
other promise now, only pledging himself. At the end of a year, all
obstacles to our open engagement would be removed. I, of course,
supposed, then, that the 'obstacles' referred to, were business and
financial ones. Don't think, Madeline, that we have been in the habit
of meeting clandestinely. He visited me openly in Baltimore, but not
often enough to excite remark; and we frequently met at other places,
as he went in the best society there."

Claire paused, but Madeline went on with her toilet in grave silence.

"Madeline, darling, I can't thank you enough for opening my eyes
before it was too late, while it was no worse--and I can't explain my
feelings. I despise him, and I despise myself for being thus duped. It
is my pride that is suffering now but, of course, I know that, despise
the man as I may, my heart will be heavier and my life darker, because
of what I believed him to be. Now let us go to Olive."

Madeline Payne threw her arms impulsively about her friend and
murmured, brokenly:--"Claire, Claire! you are braver than I, and far,
far more worthy. You have a right to be happy, and you shall be."

And in that moment the girl renounced a resolve she had taken, and a
hope she had cherished.

As they descended the stairs together Claire fancied that she looked
paler, and a thought sadder than before.

They found Olive and dinner waiting. As they took their places about
the luxury-laden board, three lovelier women or three sadder hearts
could not have been found in a day's journey.

Of the three, Claire Keith was the calmest, the most self-possessed.
All that was to be related by Madeline, all that Olive was waiting in
anxious expectation to hear, she knew already. The best and the worst
had been revealed to her; her own course was clear before her. So she
ate her dinner with composure, and bore a large share in the table
talk that, but for her, would have been rather vague and spasmodic.

Dinner was an ordeal for Olive, at least, on that day, for her mind
was filled with thoughts of Philip, and wonderment as to how the
picture of the man who had been his ruin came into the possession of
Madeline, who was making herself more and more of a mystery.

Madeline, too, was restless. She wished the revelation were made and
done with. She wondered if she could control the future so far as
Olive was concerned, for she had made her plans, and did not propose
to let the work be taken out of her hands.

When Madeline had related to Olive the events that had been
transpiring at Oakley, she had narrated faithfully the scenes between
Cora and Percy, but she had withheld the name of the latter, a fact
which was not even noticed by Olive, who had not been especially
interested in this last actor upon the scene.

Now, when dinner was over, and they had grouped themselves about the
grate, its ruddy glow illuminating the twilight that was fast giving
place to evening shadows, Madeline retold the story of Percy's first
interview with Cora on his arrival, and his second, in the
summer-house, the overhearing of which had caused that long absence
from Miss Arthur's dressing-room, which necessitated her ingenious and
highly improbable explanation to the aggrieved spinster, with which
the reader is already acquainted.

During this recital the face of Olive Girard was a study. It changed
from curiosity to wonder; from wonder to a dawning hopefulness of
finding in all this a possible clue, that might help her husband to
his freedom. Then despair took the place of hope, as the clue seemed
to elude her grasp. At the end, astonishment and incredulity fairly
took away her breath. She sank back in her chair without uttering a
word.

Madeline waited for comments, but Claire was the first to speak.
During the recital she had been able to think, and to some purpose. As
the disjointed fragments were joined together by Madeline, Claire was
drawing shrewd and close inferences. Now she lifted her head and
asked:

"Madeline, have you formed any sort of a theory, as to how all this
might affect Olive and Philip?"

Madeline looked up in surprise at the question, and answered it by
asking another: "Have you?"

"Yes, but I think Olive would rather hear yours; and mine is, as yet,
but half formed."

Olive had regained a measure of her composure, and now she sat erect,
and said, eagerly:

"Madeline, I have been too much surprised and shocked to think
clearly. Think for me, child, and for mercy's sake, tell me at once
all that you suspect."

"I suspect much," replied the girl, gravely; "but what we want is
_proof_. First we want to find out who is the party who accompanied
Madame Cora, or Alice, as Percy called her, to Europe, for to Europe
she went. Did she know Lucian Davlin ten years ago? Did they go
together to Europe?"

"You want to know, first of all," said Claire, interrupting her, "when
the intimacy of those two did begin. The woman may not have known him
ten years ago. It would be easier to find out if they have been allies
during the past five years."

Madeline turned a look of surprised admiration upon the speaker as she
replied:

"You are right, Claire, and keener than I. Yet, my theory is, that
they were friends before the woman fled from her cottage in the
suburbs. I think the stealing of the marriage certificate has a strong
savor of a man's thoughtful cunning. The woman could not have been so
deep a schemer in those days. Now, Olive, let us suppose that these
two were plotting in unison. Edward Percy's first wife dies, and no
one the wiser about the marriage. Then he inherits his uncle's wealth.
If Edward Percy were to die then, the woman, Cora, could come forward
as his widow, display the proofs of their marriage, and inherit his
fortune. He seems to have no living relatives, but, even should other
heirs appear, she would claim her widow's portion."

"Good heavens!" gasped Olive.

"Wait," pursued Madeline; "now, don't you see, supposing all the rest
true, that if Lucian Davlin attempted the life of this man, with the
view of getting his money, and if he failed in some manner
unknown,--don't you see that, holding over Percy's head the fear of
the law, and the proofs of his having committed bigamy, he might thus
silence him? Then, that the two disliking Philip Girard, and finding
the opportunity to throw suspicion upon him by circumstantial
evidence, would naturally do so."

Olive Girard was fearfully agitated, but, after a few moments, had in
a measure recovered her self-possession. Then the three seemed seized
with a desire to talk all at once. And talk they did,--fast,
earnestly, excitedly at times.

At last, out of many words, they evolved a plan of action, and having
arrived at a definite conclusion, they settled down into partial calm
once more; a calm that was broken by a most agreeable ripple.

Doctor Clarence Vaughan was announced, and ushered into their
presence, all in the same moment.

Doctor Vaughan was glad to see Madeline; that was evident. But while
he expressed his pleasure in frank, brotherly fashion, his eyes
wandered from her face to that of Claire Keith.

It was only a look, but Madeline Payne would have exchanged all the
smiles, hand clasps, and brotherly words she could ever hope to
receive from him, for one such glance from his eyes. But the tender
wistfulness was all for Claire--blind Claire, who saw nothing of it.

Madeline withdrew her hand from his clasp, uttering, as she did so, a
flippant commonplace in response to his hearty greeting, but Claire
had caught the look in his eyes, and the false gayety in Madeline's
voice, and it caused her to wonder.

Heretofore she had lived in a dream of her own, and had been careless
of the varying expressions of those about her. Her dream had been
dispelled, and she seemed now to have a keener eye for the emotion of
others. Troubles of our own, sometimes, open our eyes to the fact that
our friends are not all supremely happy. Then we naturally fall to
speculating as to the cause. This was the case with Claire. She
speculated a little as to why the eyes of Dr. Vaughan rested upon her,
with that half-sad expression in them. Then she wondered why the
spirit of perversity had possessed Madeline, and induced her to extend
to Doctor Vaughan so shabby a welcome. Then, without realizing it, she
fell to observing the manner of these two more closely.

"Well, Miss Payne, what report do you bring from the enemy's country?"
he asked, after a few commonplaces between himself and the mistress of
the house.

"I have not been in the enemy's country, Doctor Vaughan; the enemies
are infesting mine."

"As you please, little warrior," smiled he. "Then may I ask, how goes
the battle?"

"Oh, yes! you may ask," crossing over and seating herself beside
Olive, "but your curiosity must wait. It's a ridiculous, tiresome
story, and wouldn't amuse you much, or interest you, either. I am
going to let Mrs. Girard inflict it upon you, when she thinks you need
a penance."

"I think _you_ need a penance now, Miss Payne, for accusing me of too
much curiosity, and too little interest."

"Oh, I didn't mean that, exactly," shrugging her shoulders carelessly.
"I suppose, of course, a physician is interested to a certain extent
in all his subjects, living or dead; but I can't let you dissect my
mind to-night. Besides," laughing maliciously, "I know you would
recommend leeches and blisters, and maybe a straight jacket, and I
can't be stopped in my charming career just yet."

Clarence Vaughan seemed not in the least offended by the girl's cool
insolence. He smiled indulgently, and when Olive ventured a gentle
remonstrance, he murmured to Claire, with a half laugh: "Miss Madeline
is incomprehensible to me; do you understand her, Miss Keith?"

[Illustration: "Dr. Vaughan was ushered into their presence."--page
209.]

And Claire, looking across at her friend, replied, oddly: "I love
her, Doctor Vaughan, and I begin to understand her, I think."

"Do you?" smiling down upon her. "Then some day will you not interpret
her to me?"

Claire's answer was again given oddly, as, lifting her eyes to his
face, she said, quite gravely: "If it is necessary to do so, perhaps I
will."

Then conversation became general; rather Dr. Vaughan talked, and they
all listened.

Claire found herself thinking that Doctor Vaughan was a noble-looking
man; not alluringly handsome, as was Edward Percy; not possessing the
magnetic fascination that Madeline had described as belonging to
Lucian Davlin. But he had a fine face, nay, a grand face, full of
strength and sweetness; not devoid of beauty, but having in it
something infinitely better, truer, and more godlike than mere
physical beauty can impart to any face.

Then she thought of Madeline, of her loneliness, her sorrow, and her
need of just such a strong, gentle nature to lean upon, to look up to,
and to obey. "She would obey _him_," quoth Claire to herself.

Next she fell to watching Madeline, through half-closed eyelashes. She
saw how the girl listened to his every word; how, when his eyes were
not upon her, she seemed to devour him with a hungry, longing,
sorrowful gaze.

"As if she were taking leave of him forever," thought Claire.

And that is what Madeline was doing. When she came to the city, it was
with the determination to win the love of this man, if it could be
won; to let nothing stand between herself and the fulfillment of that
purpose. But all this had been changed, and seeing how bravely Claire
bore the shock of her lover's baseness, how proudly, how nobly, she
commanded herself, Madeline had abandoned her purpose.

"I am not worthy of him, and she is," she told herself.

When she declared that Claire should be happy, she bade farewell to
her own hope of future happiness. She would help him to win the girl
he loved, and then she would be content to die; aye, more than
content.

To-night, therefore, she was saying in her heart a farewell to this
man, who was so dear to her. She had almost hoped that she should not
meet him again for the present, and yet she was so glad to have seen
him once more. She was glad of his presence, yet fearful lest her good
resolution might be shaken. She would not let him be too kind to her,
rather let him think her ungrateful, anything--what could it matter
now?

"Shall you not come back to the city soon, Miss Payne? Surely your old
home can not be the most charming place, in your eyes," questioned
Clarence, after a time.

"I don't intend returning to the city--at least, not for some time,
Doctor Vaughan."

Clarence looked perplexed.

To break the silence that ensued, Claire crossed to the piano and
began playing soft, dreamy fragments of melody.

Presently Olive took up the conversation, and when Madeline again
turned her face toward him, he was listening to Olive and looking at
Claire. It was the same look, yearning, tender.

Claire, all unconscious of his gaze, was looking at Madeline, as she
played softly on.

As Olive and Clarence talked, Claire saw the face of the girl grow
dark; she saw her eyes full of a hungry, despairing light, and
gradually there crept upon her the remembrance that she had seen that
same look, only not so woful, in the eyes of Clarence Vaughan; that
same look fixed upon herself. Involuntarily her fingers slipped from
the keys, and she turned from the instrument to encounter the same
gaze fastened upon her now; ardent, tender, longing eyes they were,
and her own fell before them.

Claire Keith was troubled. She wanted to be alone, to think. She
murmured an excuse; her head ached; she would retire.

Clarence had noted an unusual brightness in her eye, and a feverish
flush upon her cheek. Now, however, she was quite pale, and as she
extended her hand to him with a strange, new sensation of diffidence
and consciousness, he clasped it for a moment in his own, and said,
earnestly: "You do not look at all well, Miss Keith; you are sure it
is only a headache?"

"Quite sure," smiling faintly.

"Then good-night. I shall enquire after your head to-morrow."

"Thank you," she murmured.

Then nodding to her sister and Madeline, she glided from the room.

It had _all_ come upon her at once. Edward Percy was an impostor;
Edward Percy, as she had believed in him, had never existed. The love
that she had believed hers was hers no longer, or, if it were, she no
longer desired it. Almost simultaneously with this knowledge, came the
unspoken assurance that she was the possessor of a worthier love, a
manlier heart.

She could not feel glad to know this, yet she was not sorry. Somehow
it soothed her to know that she was not a forsaken, loveless maiden.
It was something to possess the love of so good a man, even if she
could make it no return.

But Madeline. Poor Madeline; she loved this man; she needed his love,
she must have it.

Claire pulled back the curtains from her window, and gazed out into
the starlit night. "She needs this love," the girl murmured. "Clarence
Vaughan shall learn to love her, if I can bring it about. Yes, _even
if I loved him_, I would give him up to her."



CHAPTER XX.

STRUGGLING AGAINST FATE.


When Claire left the drawing-room, Madeline had started up as if about
to follow her. Recalling herself, she sat down again, keeping, as
before, near to Olive, and taking as little share in the conversation
as was possible. She dared not trust herself too much; her good
resolves were strong, but not stronger than was the charm of his voice
and presence.

"Let them think me uncivil," she murmured to herself; "what does it
matter now?"

But her trial was not over. Olive and Clarence had held frequent
council together concerning the wayward girl, and how they could best
influence her aright without breaking the letter or spirit of their
promise to her. And the absence of Claire added to their freedom of
speech.

Olive had intimated to Doctor Vaughan that Madeline had taken some,
perhaps unsafe, steps in the pursuit of her enemies. He, understanding
the impetuosity of the girl, as well as her reckless fearlessness,
could not conceal the anxiety he felt.

Acting under an impulse of disinterested kindness, Clarence Vaughan
crossed the room and sat down by Madeline's side.

"Miss Madeline," he said, as respectfully as if to an empress, "we,
Mrs. Girard and myself, cannot get rid of the idea that somehow you
partly belong to us; that we ought to be given a little, just a very
little, authority over you."

There was a shade of bitterness in the girl's answer. "You have the
_right_ to exercise authority over me, if you choose to do so. You are
my benefactors."

They felt the reproof of her words. This keen-witted, uncontrollable
girl, was putting up barrier upon barrier between herself and their
desire to serve her. Very quietly he answered her:

"You do us an injustice, when you suggest that we claim your
confidence on the score of any indebtedness on your part. It has been
our happiness to serve you. If we have not your esteem, if we may not
stand toward you in the light of a brother and sister, anxious only
for your welfare and happiness, then we have no claim upon you."

"My happiness!"

The face was averted, but the lips were pale and drawn, and the words
came through them like a moan.

Olive stirred uneasily. She could see that the girl was suffering,
although she did not guess at the cause.

"Yes," continued Clarence, laying his hand gently upon hers;
"Madeline,--will you let me call you Madeline?--will you let me be
your brother? I have no sister, almost no kin; I won't be an exacting
brother," smilingly. "I won't overstep the limits you set me, but we
must have done with this nonsense about benefactors, and gratitude,
and all that."

No answer, eyes down dropped, face still half-averted, and looking as
if hardening into marble.

"What is my fate?" still holding her hand. "Can you accept so unworthy
a brother?"

"Yes," in such a cold, far-away tone.

He lifted the hand to his lips. "Thank you, Madeline," he said, as if
she had done him high honor.

Madeline felt her courage failing her. How could she listen to him,
talk to him, with anything like sisterly freedom, and not prove false
to her resolve to further his cause with Claire? And yet how could she
refuse him the trust he asked of her?

It was very pleasant to know that he was thus interested in her; she
felt herself slipping quickly into a day-dream in which nothing was
distinct save that there existed a bond between them, that he had
claimed the right to exercise authority over her, and that she was
very, very glad even to be his slave. Listening to his voice, a smile
crept to her lips, and--

                "The eyes smiled too,
    But 'twas as if remembering they had wept,
    And knowing they would some day weep again."

"I don't intend to give up my claims upon Madeline; I elected her my
sister, when I brought her home with me. And I had been flattering
myself that I was to have a companion, but I am afraid she will run
away from me. She ought to take Claire's place in my home, ought she
not? Claire is with me so little," said Olive.

Madeline smiled sadly. "I could never do that," she said; "I could no
more fill Claire's place than I could substitute myself for the rays
of the sun."

"Claire would laugh at you for that speech," said Olive.

"But it is true; is it not?" appealing to Doctor Vaughan.

He colored slightly under her gaze. "We don't want two Claires," he
said; "but you can be yourself, and that will make us happy."

The girl let her eyes fall, and rest upon her clasped hands.

"I would like to make you happy," she said, softly.

"Really?"

"Really," lifting her eyes to his face.

"Then, promise us that you will let us help to right your wrongs, and
that you will come back, like a good sister, and stay with Mrs.
Girard."

Her face hardened. "I can not," she said, briefly.

"You will not," seriously.

No answer.

"Madeline, what is it you wish to do?"

"What I wish to do, I can not. I can tell you what I intend to do,"
sitting very erect.

"Then what do you intend?"

"I intend," turning her eyes away from them both, and fixing them
moodily upon the fire, "to follow up the path in which I have set my
feet. I intend to oust a base adventuress from the home that was my
mother's; to wrest the fortune that is mine from the grasp of a bad
old man, and make him suffer for the wrong he did my mother. I intend
to laugh at Lucian Davlin, when he is safe behind prison bars; to hunt
down and frustrate an impostor, and by so doing, clear the name of
Philip Girard before all the world." Her voice was low, but very firm,
dogged almost, in its tone.

He turned a perplexed face toward Olive.

"What does it all mean?" he asked.

"What she says," replied Mrs. Girard, flushing with suppressed
excitement. "She has found a clue that may lead to Philip's release."

He moved nearer to the girl, and taking her hand, drew her toward him,
until she faced him. "Madeline, is this true?"

"Yes."

"And you will hold me to a promise not to lift a hand to help clear
the name of my friend?" reproachfully.

"Yes," unflinchingly.

"Are you doing right, my sister?"

She attempted to draw away her hand.

"Child, what can you do?"

She turned her eyes toward Olive. "She will tell you what I have done.
I can do much more."

Olive came suddenly to her side. "Oh, Madeline!" she said, "let him
take all this into his hands. It is not fit work for you. It will
harden you, make you bitter, and--"

Madeline wrested her hand away and sprang up, standing before them
flushed and goaded into bitterness.

"Yes," she cried, wildly, "I know; you need not say it. It will harden
me; it has already. It will make me bitter and bad, unfit for your
society, unworthy of your friendship. I shall be a liar, a spy, a
hypocrite--but I shall succeed. You see, you were wrong in offering me
your friendship, Doctor Vaughan. I shall not be worthy to be called
your sister, but," brokenly, "you need not have feared. I never
intended to presume upon your friendship; I never intended to trouble
you after--after my work is done. Ah! how dared I think to become one
of you--I, whom you rescued from a gambler's den; I who go about
disguised, and play the servant to people whom you would not touch.
You are right; after this I will go my way alone."

Her voice became inarticulate, the last word was a sob, and she turned
swiftly to leave the room.

Olive sprang forward with a remorseful cry, but Clarence Vaughan
motioned her back, and with a quick stride was at the door, one hand
upon it, the other firmly clasping the wrist of the now sobbing girl.
Closing the door, which she had partially opened, he led her back,
very gently, but firmly, and placing her in a chair, stood beside her
until the sobs ceased. Then he drew a chair close to her own, and
said, softly:

"My little sister, we never meant this. These are your own morbid
fancies. Because you are playing the part of amateur detective, you
are not necessarily cut off from all your friends. We would not give
you up so easily, and there is too much that is good and noble in you
to render your position so very dangerous to your womanhood. You have
grieved Mrs. Girard deeply by imputing any such meaning to her words.
Can't you understand, child, that it is because we care for you,
because we want to shield you from the hardships you must of necessity
undergo, that we wish you to let us work with and for you?"

Madeline shivered and gave a long, sobbing sigh. He took both listless
hands in his own.

"Now, sister mine, won't you make me a promise, just one?"

Her hands trembled under his. How could she resist him when his
strong, firm clasp was upon her; when he was looking into her eyes
pleadingly, even tenderly; when his breath was on her cheek, and his
voice murmured in her ear? She sat before him, contrite, conquered,
strangely happy; conscious of nothing save a wish that she might die
then and there, with her hands in his. She was afraid to speak and
break the spell. He had said that he cared for her, was not that
enough?

"Tell me, Madeline."

"Yes," she breathed, rather than uttered.

[Illustration: "Yes," she cried, wildly, "I know; you need not say
it"--page 219.]

"Thank you. Now, sister, we are going to trust to your sagacity in
this matter. But you must promise me, as your brother, who is bound to
look after your welfare, that you will take no decisive steps without
first informing us, and that as soon as the work becomes too heavy for
your hands, you will call upon me to help you. My sister will surely
do nothing that her brother cannot sanction?"

She dropped her eyes and said, simply: "I will do what you wish me
to."

"You will give me your confidence, then?"

"Yes."

"Am I to hear a complete history of all that has happened thus far
from Mrs. Girard?"

"Yes."

"And, after hearing it, may I communicate with you?"

She glanced up in surprise.

"Or," continued he; "better still, may I come down to Bellair and talk
things over with you, should I deem it advisable?"

"If you wish;" looking glad.

"Mind, I don't want to intrude; I will not come if you don't desire
it; but I shall wish to come. And you may manage our interviews as you
see fit. I will do nothing to compromise you in the eyes of the people
you are among. May I come?"

"Yes;" very softly, and trembling under his hand.

"Then we will say no more about all this to-night. You have already
abused your strength, and if you don't get rest and sleep we shall
have you ill again, and then what would become of our little
detective?"

Olive came forward with outstretched hands and pleading eyes. "I can't
wait any longer to be forgiven for my thoughtless words," she said.
"Madeline, you will forgive me?"

"Of course Madeline will," replied Clarence. "Now you had better
forgive Madeline for putting such a perverse construction upon your
words, and then we will send her away to get the rest she must have."

"I was abominable, Olive," said the girl, so ruefully that Clarence
laughed outright. "Of course, I know you are too kind to say a cruel
thing. I--I believe I was trying to quarrel with you all; do forgive
me."

"Of course you were trying to quarrel with us; and I haven't a bit of
faith in your penitence now, young lady," said Clarence, rising and
smiling. "I can't believe in you until I am assured that you will go
to bed straightway, and swallow every bit of the wine I shall send up
to you."

"With something nice in it," suggested Olive.

"With something very nice in it, of course. Now, will you obey so
tyrannical a brother, and swallow his first brotherly prescription
without making a face?"

All his kindness and care for her comfort brought a thrill of gladness
to the girl's heart, and some of the old _debonnaire_, half-defiant
light back to her eyes, as she replied, while rising from her chair,
in obedience to a gesture of playful authority from Clarence, "Will I
accept a scolding and go to bed, that means."

Then making a wry face and evidently referring to the wine: "Is it
very bitter?"

"Not very; but you must swallow every drop."

"And I will order the wine," said Olive, touching the bell. "You know,
Dr. Vaughan, that Madeline leaves us in the morning?"

"No?" in surprise. "Must you go so soon?"

"Yes," demurely, "unless I am forbidden."

"We are too wise to forbid you to do anything you have set your heart
on. Then I must tell you good-by here and now, for a little time."

"Or a long one," gravely.

"Not for a long one. 'If the mountain won't come,' you know;--well, if
I don't get _very_ satisfactory reports from you, look out for me."

"You can't get at me," wickedly.

"Can't I? Wait and see. I'll come as your grandfather, or your maiden
aunt."

"Please don't," laughing, "one spinster is enough."

"Well, I won't, then; I think I'll come as your father confessor."

At this Olive joined in the laugh.

"Good-night, Dr. Vaughan."

"Good-night, Miss Payne," with exaggerated emphasis and dignity, but
holding fast to her hand.

She looked at the hand doubtfully, then up into his face.
"Good-night--brother," with pretty shyness.

"That is better," releasing the little hand. "Good-night, sister mine.
Mind you drink every drop of the wine."

"I will!" quite seriously. "Good-night, Olive."

Olive stooped and kissed her cheek. "Good-night, dear," she said, "and
happy dreams."

Dr. Vaughan opened the door for her, and smiled after her as she
looked back from the foot of the stairs. Then closing the door he came
back, and stood on the hearth-rug, looking thoughtful.

"It is a difficult nature to deal with, and in her present mood, a
dangerous one. She is painfully sensitive, and possesses an
exceedingly nervous temperament. Then, that episode with Davlin was
very humiliating to her, and it is constantly in her mind. Evidently
she has lately been under much excitement, and she is hardly herself
to-night. I think, however, if I were you, I would make no further
effort to dissuade her from her purpose. It will do no good, and harm
might come of it."

"Indeed, I will not," said Olive. "How thankful I am that you were
here; your calmness and tact has saved us something not pleasant. I
don't think I could have managed her myself."

"Probably not; and now I will prepare a soothing and sleeping draught,
and then, as it is late, will detain you no longer. Perhaps you had
better see that the draught is administered."

Olive gladly accepted the charge, and shortly after Doctor Vaughan
took his departure, wise and yet blind; blind as to the true cause of
Madeline's outbreak and subsequent submissiveness.

Madeline obeyed to the letter the instructions of Doctor Vaughan. As a
result, she fell asleep almost immediately, before calm thought had
come to dispel her mood of dreamy happiness.

In the morning she awoke quieted, refreshed, and quite mistress of
herself. She did not once refer to the events of the previous evening.
Only, before taking leave of Claire, she whispered in her ear:

"Dear Claire, you can make a noble man happy. Let his love atone to
you for this present bitterness. God bless you both."

It was an odd speech, truly. But as Madeline turned her back upon the
pretty villa, and was driven swiftly to the railroad depot, she
wondered why Claire had responded to it only with a passionate kiss
and with tears in her beautiful eyes.

And Claire, having seen her driven from the door, fled precipitately
to her room. Locking herself in, she fell upon her knees beside a low
chair. Burying her face in her hands she wept bitterly,--not for
herself, but for the girl who was so heroically resigning to another
the man she loved; who was going forth, alone, to encounter hardship,
perhaps danger, to fight single-handed, not only her own battles, but
those of her friends as well.

"And I dared to judge her," said the girl, indignantly. "I presumed to
criticise the delicacy of this grand, brave nature! Why, I ought to be
proud to claim her friendship, and I am!"

From that hour, let Madeline's course seem ever so doubtful, let Olive
fear and doubt as she would, Claire Keith stoutly defended every act,
and averred that Madeline could do nothing wrong. And from that hour,
Claire began to plot upon her own responsibility.

       *       *       *       *       *

In due course Doctor Vaughan called, and was closeted with Olive a
very long time--rather, with Olive and Claire, for this young lady had
surprised her sister, by expressing a desire to hear what Doctor
Vaughan would say of Madeline's adventures. To tell the truth, Claire
had fancied that Clarence would criticise more or less, and it was in
the capacity of champion for the absent that she appeared at the
interview.

After the matter had been fully discussed, Doctor Vaughan addressed
himself to Claire: "Miss Keith, you have been a good listener. Won't
you give us your opinion as to the achievements of our little friend?"

Claire came forward, with a charming mixture of frankness and
embarrassment: "First, let me make the _amende honorable_, Doctor
Vaughan. I presented myself at this interview with the full intention,
and for the express purpose, of waging war upon you both, if
necessary, and I had no doubt that it would be."

Doctor Vaughan looked much astonished.

"But," pursued Claire, "I have misjudged you. I did not think you
would so heartily approve of Madeline's course, and I was bristling
with bayonets to defend her."

"I must own to being of Claire's opinion," interposed Olive, looking
somewhat amused.

Clarence smiled and then looked thoughtful.

"I can easily understand," he said, seriously, "how you ladies might
have looked upon the course Miss Payne has taken, as an objectionable,
even an improper, one. The position in which she has placed herself
is, certainly, an unusual, a startling one for a woman of refinement
and delicacy. But we must consider that the occasion is also an
unusual one, and ordinary measures will not apply successfully to
extraordinary cases. As to the impropriety, no one need fear to trust
his or her honor in the keeping of a woman as brave and noble as
Madeline Payne is proving herself."

"Then you do not censure Madeline for refusing to trust the matter in
the hands of a detective?" questioned Olive.

"The matter _is_ in the hands of a detective, Mrs. Girard; in the
hands of the shrewdest and ablest little detective that could, by any
possibility, have been found. Why, Madeline has accomplished, in a
short time, what the best detectives on our regular force might have
labored at for a year, and then failed of achieving!"

Claire threw a look of triumph at her sister. "Oh, how glad I am to
hear you say all this, and how glad Madeline would be." Then she
checked herself suddenly.

"I can suggest but one improvement upon the present state of things,"
said Clarence, after a moment's reflection. "That is, if we can
persuade Madeline to permit it, and I think we can, we should set two
men at work, neither one to be aware of the employment of the other.
One to trace out as much of the past of this man Percy, as may be. The
other to perform the same office for Davlin. Of course, they would not
be advised of the actual reason for these researches, and so their
investigations would in no way interfere with Madeline's pursuit of
the game at Oakley. I don't think we could improve upon the present
arrangement there."

"And how do you propose to bring this about?" questioned Olive.

"By going down to Bellair, as soon as I can get the necessary
permission from our little _generalissimo_, and talking the matter
over with her. I think she will see the propriety of the move, don't
you?" appealing to Claire.

"I think she will follow your advice," gravely.

"I hope she will," said Olive.

"I _know_ she will do exactly right," asserted Claire, so positively
that they both smiled.

"I think I may venture to agree with you, Miss Keith," said Dr.
Vaughan.

"You had better, both of you, where Madeline is concerned," looking
ferocious.

"I begin to think that valor is infectious," laughed Olive, and
Clarence joined in the laugh.

Altogether the result of their council was pleasing to each of the
three. Olive was hopeful; Clarence was full of enthusiasm, and more
deeply in love than ever with generous Claire; and she was pleased
with his frank admiration of Madeline's courage, and full of hope for
Madeline's future.

"He admires her now. He will love her by and by," she assured herself.



CHAPTER XXI.

HAGAR AND CORA.


Meanwhile, Lucian Davlin had hastened to Bellair in response to Cora's
summons, full of conjectures as to what had "turned up."

When the noon train from the city puffed up to the little platform,
Lucian Davlin was among the arrivals, and at the end of the depot
platform stood the dainty phæton of Mrs. John Arthur. That lady
herself reined in her prancing ponies, and the whole formed an object
of admiration for the few depot loungers.

As Lucian Davlin crossed the platform and took his seat beside the
lady, an old woman hobbled across the track. Casting a furtive glance
in the direction the ponies were taking, she hobbled away toward the
wood.

Miss Arthur's maid had surmised aright. It was no part of Cora's plan
to permit the inmates of Oakley a view of Mr. Davlin on this occasion.
So the ponies were driven briskly away from the town, and when that
was left behind, permitted to walk through the almost leafless woods,
while Cora revealed to Lucian the extent of the fresh calamity that
had befallen them in the advent of Mr. Percy.

"Well, what have you to say to all this?" demanded the lady,
pettishly, after she had disburdened herself of the story, with its
most minute particulars. "This is a pretty state of affairs, is it
not? I am worn out. I wish Oakley and the whole tribe were at the
bottom of the sea!"

"Stuff!" with much coolness; then taking a flask containing some amber
liquid from a breast pocket he held it between his eyes and the light
for critical examination.

"Stuff? where? In that flask?"

"No, in your words. This," shaking the amber liquid, "is simon pure;
best French. Have some? I felt as if I needed a 'bracer' this
morning."

"Up all night, I presume," eyeing him askant.

"Pretty much;" indifferently. "Won't take any? Then, here's confusion
to Percy," and he took a long draught. "Now, then," pocketing the
brandy and turning toward her, briskly, "I'm ready for business. How
the deuce did we let this fellow pounce down upon us like this? I
thought he was safe in Cuba?"

"He will never be safe anywhere, until he gets to--"

"Heaven," suggested he.

"I suppose it was stupid," she went on, gloomily. "But when Ellen
Arthur raved of her dear friend Mr. Percy, how was I to imagine that
among all the Percys on earth, this especial and particular one should
be _the_ Percy. I wrote you that she had a lover of that name; did it
occur to you that it might be he?" maliciously.

"Well, candidly, it did not."

"We were a pair of stupid fools, and we are finely caught for our
pains."

"First statement correct," composedly; "don't agree with the last,
however."

"Why not?"

"Does he know I am on deck?"

"No."

"Didn't inquire after me, or say anything about the documents?"

"No special inquiries."

"Well, then, where is the great danger?"

"Where?" much astonished.

"Yes, where? If you told me all the truth concerning yourself ten
years ago, we can make him play into our hands."

"How?"

"Don't go too fast. When you told me that he believed you to have left
home because of an unkind step-mother, was that true?"

"It was true. I did leave home and come to the city when I was but
sixteen, because my father was a drunkard, and my step-mother abusive,
and we were poor and I was proud."

"Don't doubt that fact;" with an outward gesture of the supple hand.
"But you told him that you had two big step-brothers!"

Cora laughed. "A big brother is an excellent weapon to hold over the
heads of some men," she suggested.

"True," with an amused look. "Why didn't you brandish one over me?"

"Over you?" laughing again. "You and Percy were two different men."

"Much obliged," lifting his hat with mock gravity. "Well, we are 'two
different men,' still; just let your pretty little head rest, and
leave Percy to me."

"I wish to Heaven you had made an end--"

"'Ah-h-h. I have sighed to rest me,'" warbled Davlin. "Cora, my love,
never put your foot on too dangerous ground."

"Well, I do wish so, all the same," said she, with feminine
pertinacity.

"Now, tell me what your plan is. We want to understand each other, and
have no more bungling."

"All you will have to do will be to keep quiet and follow my cue. When
I come down, we must manage it that I meet Percy in Miss Arthur's
absence. The rest is easy; this Mr. Percy will not find his path free
from obstacles, I think."

"What game will you play?"

"Precisely what I am playing now. I am your brother. That will explain
some things that puzzled him some time ago," dryly. "I am your sole
protector, saving the old chap, don't you see."

The woman pondered a moment. "I think it will answer," she said, at
last. "At any rate, it is the best we can do now."

A little more conversation, and Cora was quite satisfied with that and
other arrangements. Then the ponies were headed toward the village,
and driven at a brisk pace, thus enabling Mr. Davlin to catch the
afternoon train back to the city. No one at Oakley was any the wiser
for his visit. It was no uncommon thing for Cora to drive out
unattended, and she returned to the manor in a very good humor,
considering the situation.

Cora's drive had given her an appetite, and she had partaken of no
luncheon. She therefore ordered a very bounteous one to be served in
the red parlor. Mr. Arthur was enjoying his usual afternoon siesta;
Miss Arthur was invisible, for which Cora felt duly thankful; and so
she settled herself down to solitude, cold chicken and other edibles,
and her own thoughts.

Ever and anon she gazed listlessly from the window, letting her eyes
rove from the terrace to the hedgerow walk, the woods beyond, and back
again to the terrace. Suddenly she bent forward, and looked earnestly
at some object, moving toward the stile from the grove beyond. A
moment later, it appeared in the gap of the hedge.

Cora leaned back in her chair, still observant, muttering:

"I thought so! It is that ugly old woman. Now, what in the world does
she want here, for--yes, she is entering the grounds, coming up the
terrace."

True enough, old Hagar was coming slowly along the terrace, taking a
leisurely survey of the window facing that walk, as she did so.
Casting her eyes upward, they met the gaze of Mrs. Arthur. Then, much
to the surprise of that lady, she paused and executed a brief
pantomime, as grotesque as it was mysterious.

Cora drew back in some astonishment, pondering as to whether or no the
old woman might not be partially insane, when Susan, the maid of the
romantic mind, appeared before her, and announced that the object of
her thoughts was in the kitchen, and begged that Mrs. Arthur would
permit her an interview.

Cora was still more surprised. "What can she possibly want with me?"
she asked herself, quite audibly.

"If you please, ma'am," volunteered Susan, "she said that it was
something important; and that she never would have put her foot inside
this house, begging your pardon, only for you."

Flattering though this statement might be, it did not enlighten her
much. So, after a moment's reflection, Mrs. Arthur bade the girl,
"show the old person up."

Accordingly, in another moment almost, old Hagar was bowing very
humbly before the lady with the silken flounces. Susan retired
reluctantly, deeply regretting that she could find no time to stop up
the key-hole with her ear, thus rendering it impossible for prying
eyes to peep through that orifice.

"Well, old woman," began Cora, rather inelegantly, it must be
confessed, "what on earth were you making such a fuss about, down on
the terrace? And what do you want with me?"

A close observer of the human countenance divine would never have
judged, from the small amount of expression that was manifest in the
face of Hagar, that her reply would have been such a very humble one.
"I want to serve you, dear lady."

The "dear lady" pursed up her lips in surprise. "You--want--"

"To warn you, madame."

Cora was dumb with astonishment, not unmingled with apprehension. What
had broken loose now?

"I am only a poor old woman, lady, and nobody thinks that old Hagar
has a heart for the wrongs of others. I said that I would never cross
John Arthur's threshold again; but I have seen your pretty face, going
to and fro through the village streets, and I knew there was no one to
warn you but me."

"Oh, you did," remarked Cora, not knowing whether to be alarmed or
amused, at the old woman's earnestness. "Well, old--what's your name?"

"Hagar, lady."

"Well, old Hagar, do you mean to tell me that I am in any particular
danger just at present?"

"Is the dove in danger when it is in the nest of the hawk?" said
Hagar, closing her eyes tight as she uttered the words, but looking
otherwise very tragical.

Cora laughed musically. "Good gracious, old lady!" She was modifying
her titles somewhat, probably under the influence of Hagar's
flatteries. "You mean to compare me to a dove," laughing afresh,
"in--a hawk's nest? Oh, dear! oh, dear!" wiping her eyes. "Now, then,
please introduce me to the wicked hawk."

Hagar was getting tired of her part, and she made a direct rush at the
point of the business, and with very good dramatic effect. "I mean
your husband," she said, vehemently. "I mean John Arthur. He is a bad
man. If he has not done it already, he will make you miserable
by-and-by."

Cora drew herself up and tried to look severe. "Old lady," she said,
with supernatural gravity, "don't you know that it is very improper
for you to come and talk to me, like this, about my husband?"

"Just hear her!" sniffed Hagar, rather unnecessarily; "all because I
think she is too young, and too pretty, to be sacrificed like the
others--"

"Like the others? What others?"

"Like his first wife. She was young, like you, and a lovely lady. His
cruelty was her death. And then he must worry and abuse her poor
daughter, until she runs away and comes to an untimely end. And now--"

"Now, you fear he will make an end of me?" briskly. "Sit down, old
lady," becoming still more affable. "So Mr. Arthur ill-used his first
wife, my predecessor?"

"Thank you, dear lady; you are very kind to a poor old woman," seating
herself gingerly on the edge of a chair opposite Cora. "Yes, indeed,
he did ill-use her. She was my mistress, and I shall always hate him
for it."

Cora mused. Here was an old servant who hated the master of Oakley;
might she not prove useful, after a time? At any rate, it would be
well to sound her.

"You were very much attached to the lady, no doubt?" insinuatingly.

"Yes; and who would not be? She was very sweet and good, was my poor
mistress. Oh, he is a bad, bad man, madame, and you surely cannot be
very happy with him."

"And he was unkind to his step-daughter, too?" ignoring the last
supposition.

"Unkind? He was a wretch. Oh, I could almost murder him for his
cruelty to that poor dead lassie!" fiercely.

"Perhaps he was none too kind to you," suggested Cora.

"Oh, he never treated me like a human being. He hated me because I
tried to stand between her and harm. But he could not get rid of the
sight of me. I have a little home where he can't avoid seeing me
sometimes. I believe, if I kept always appearing before him, he would
go raving mad, he hates me to that extent."

"Um-m! Is that so?"

"Yes, indeed. Why, lady, if I were without house or home, and you, out
of the kindness of your heart, were to take me into your employment as
the very humblest of your servants, I believe he would kill us both."

"You think he would?"

Cora actually seemed to encourage the old woman in her garrulity.

"Oh, I know it. It's not much in the way of charity, or kindness, you
will be able to do in _this_ house. If he don't imprison you in one of
these old closed-up musty rooms, you will be lucky. He is very
dangerous. Sometimes I used to think he must be insane."

Cora started. "Well, Hagar," she said, sweetly, "it's very good of you
to take so much interest in me. He is very cross sometimes, but,
perhaps, it won't be so bad as you fear."

"I hope it won't," rising to go and shaking her head dubiously; "but I
am afraid for you."

"Well," laughing, "I'll try and not let him lock me up, at any rate.
Now, is there anything I can do for you?"

[Illustration: If ever you want to make him feel what it is to make
others suffer, Hagar will help you.--page 238.]

"Oh, no, lady. You looked so pretty, and so good, that I wanted to
warn you; that is all. I should be glad if I could serve you, too, but
I could never serve him. I don't want for anything, dear lady. Now the
old woman will go."

"I won't forget you, Hagar, if I ever need a friend."

Hagar turned toward her. "If you ever want to make him feel what it is
to make others suffer, Hagar will help you."

There was a vindictive light in the old woman's eyes, and she hobbled
out of the room, looking as if she meant all she had said.

Cora sat, for a time, pondering over the interview, and trying to
trace out some motive for insincerity on the old woman's part. But she
could see none. She resolved to investigate a little, and all that
evening was the most attentive and agreeable of wives. Abundant and
versatile was her conversation. Deftly she led the talk up to the
proper point, and then said, carelessly:

"Driving through the village, to-day, I passed that queer old
woman--Hagar, do they call her? She glared at me, oh! so savagely."

"She is an old hag!" Mr Arthur answered, with unnecessary fierceness.
"I don't see what Satan has been about, all these years, that he's not
taken her away to her proper atmosphere."

"Why," in pretty surprise, "I thought she used to be one of your
servants?"

"She was a servant to my first wife," moodily. "I got rid of the
baggage quick enough, when Mrs. Arthur died. She is an old viper, and
put more disobedience into that girl Madeline's head, than I ever
could get out."

"What a horrid old wretch she must be!" shuddering.

Then the conversation dropped, and Cora was satisfied.

"The old woman shall be my tool," she thought, triumphantly.



CHAPTER XXII.

TO BE, TO DO, TO SUFFER.


On the day that followed the events last related, Madeline Payne
returned to Oakley to resume her self-imposed task.

Leaving the train, the girl took the path through the woods. When she
had traversed it half way, she came upon old Hagar, who was seated
upon a fallen log awaiting her. Looking cautiously about, to assure
herself that the interview would have no spectators, Madeline, or
Céline, as we must now call her, seated herself to listen to the
report of Davlin's visit, and the success of Hagar's interview with
Cora.

Expressing herself fully satisfied with what she heard, Céline made
the old woman acquainted with the result of her visit to the city, or
as much of it as was necessary and expedient. Then, after some words
of mutual council, and a promise to visit her that evening, if
possible, the girl lost no time in making her way to the manor, and
straight into the presence of her mistress.

Considering that her maid was--her maid, Miss Arthur welcomed her with
an almost rapturous outburst. Céline had held high place in the
affections of Miss Arthur, truth to tell, since her astonishing
discovery of Mr. Edward Percy, in the character of young Romeo,
promenading within sight of his lady's window.

"Céline," simpered Miss Arthur, while the damsel addressed was
brushing out her mistress's hair, preparatory to building it into a
French wonder; "Céline, I may be wrong in talking so freely to you
about myself and my--my friends, but I observe that you never presume
in the least--"

"Oh, mademoiselle, I could never do that!" cooed the girl, with wicked
double meaning.

"And," pursued Miss Arthur, graciously, "you are really quite a
sagacious and discreet young person."

"Thanks, miladi." Then, as if recollecting herself, "Pardon,
_mademoiselle_, but you are so like her ladyship, _Madame Le Baronne
De Orun_, my very first mistress--"

"Oh, I don't mind it at all, Céline. As I was saying, you seem quite a
superior young person, and no doubt I am not the first who has made
you a sort of _confidante_.

"Merci! no; my lady. _Madame Le Baronne_ used to trust me with
_everything_, and often deigned to ask my advice. But French ladies,
oui, mademoiselle, always put confidence in their maids. And a maid
will die rather than betray a good mistress--"

"Exactly, Céline--are you going to put my hair so high?"

"Very high, _miladi_."

"Oh, well; will it be becoming?"

"Oui; La mode la Francaise," relapsing into ecstacy and French. _"Le
coiffeur comme il faut! Chere amie, le-chef-a-oeuvre!_"

Miss Arthur collapsed, and Céline continued to build up an atrociously
unbecoming pile of puffs and curls in triumphant silence.

Céline never indulged in her native tongue, so she assured her
mistress, except when carried away by momentary enthusiasm, or
unwonted emotion. It was bad taste, she averred, and she desired to
cultivate the beautiful American language.

Presently Miss Arthur made another venture, feeling quite justified
in following in the footsteps of so august a personage as _Madame Le
Baronne_.

"Did you see Mr. Percy after you left Bellair?"

"No, mademoiselle."

"Did you observe if he returned in the same train with yourself?"

"No, mademoiselle." Then, with a meaning little laugh: "Monsieur will
not remain long from Oakley."

Miss Arthur tried to look unconscious, and succeeded in looking
idiotic.

"Pardon, mademoiselle, but I can't forget that night. Mademoiselle is
surely relieved of one fear."

"What is that?"

"The fear of being wooed because of her wealth."

Miss Arthur started, then said: "There may be something in that,
Céline; and it is not impossible that I may inherit more."

"Ah?" inquiringly.

"Yes. Possibly you have learned from the servants that Mr. Arthur lost
a young step-daughter not long ago; just before you came, in fact."

"I don't remember. Did she die, mademoiselle?"

"Yes. She was a very wild, unruly child, a regular little
heathen--oh!"

"Pardon, oh, pardon, did it hurt?" removing a long, spiky hair pin,
with much apparent solicitude.

"A--a little; yes. As I was saying, this ridiculous girl was sent to
school and no expense spared to make a lady of her."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; and then she rewards my brother for all his kindness by running
away."

"_Merci_, mademoiselle!" suddenly recalling her French.

"And then she died among strangers, just as provokingly as she had
lived. She must even run away to die, to make it seem as if her home
was not a happy one."

"What a very wicked young person; how you must have been annoyed."

"We were all deeply grieved."

"And I don't suppose that dead young woman was even grateful for
that."

"Oh, there was no gratitude in her."

"Of course not! Now, mademoiselle, let me do your eyebrows," turning
her about.

"But," pursued Miss Arthur, "when she died, my brother acquired
unconditional control of a large fortune, and you must see that my
brother is getting rather old. Well, in case of his death, a part, at
least, of this fortune will become mine."

"Yes, madame."

"My brother is too much afraid to face the thought of death and make a
new will, and papers are in existence that will give me the larger
portion of his fortune. Of course, Mrs. Arthur will get her third."

Céline was now surprised in earnest.

Miss Arthur had spoken the truth. With shrewd foresight, she had made
John Arthur sign certain papers two years before, in consideration of
sundry loans from her. And of this state of affairs every one, except
their two selves and the necessary lawyer, had remained in ignorance.

The girl's eyes gleamed. This was still better. It would make her
vengeance more complete.

And now Miss Arthur was thrown into a state of girlish agitation by
the appearance of Susan, who announced that Mr. Percy was in the
drawing-room, awaiting the pleasure of his inamorata.

She bade Céline make haste with her complexion and, after the lapse of
something like half an hour, swept down to welcome her lover, with a
great many amber silk flounces following in her wake.

Céline Leroque gazed after her for a moment and then closed the door.
Flinging herself down "at ease" in the spinster's luxurious dressing
chair, she pulled off the blue glasses and let the malicious triumph
dance in her eyes as much as it would.

"Oh, you are a precious pair, you two, brother and sister! The one a
knave, the other a fool! It is really pathetic to see how you mourn my
loss. I have a great mind to--"

Here something seemed to occur to her that checked her mutterings, and
sent her off into a deep meditation. After a long stillness she
uttered a low, mocking laugh that had, too, a tinge of mischief in it.
Rising slowly from the dressing chair she said, as she nodded
significantly to her image reflected back from Miss Arthur's dressing
glass:

"I'll put that idea into execution some nice night, and then won't
there be a row in the castle? Ah! my charming mistress, if you had
spoken one kind or regretful word for poor Madeline, it would have
been better for you!"

What was the girl meditating now? What did she mean?

"Yes, good people at Oakley, I believe I'll take a little private
amusement out of you _all_, while I feel quite in the mood. I won't be
too partial."

Then she betook herself to her own room and let her thoughts fly back
to Olive and Claire and--Clarence.

Presently, for she was very weary, spite of the previous night's
repose, she fell asleep.

Late that evening she flitted through the woods and across the meadow
to the cottage of old Hagar. Sleep had refreshed her and she had
dreamed pleasant dreams. She felt stout of heart, and firm of nerve.

Old Hagar was overjoyed to see a smile in her nursling's face, and to
hear, at times, a laugh, low and sweet, reminding her of olden days.
The girl remained with her old nurse for nearly an hour. When they
parted there was a perfect understanding between them, in regard to
future movements and plans.

No one at Oakley was aware of Lucian Davlin's flying visit; thus much
Céline knew. But of the purport and result of that visit, she knew
nothing. Nor could she guess. She must bide her time, for there seemed
just now little to disturb the monotony of waiting.

One thing was, however, necessary. When the time came for Miss Arthur
to leave Oakley, Céline must remain. To that end she must contrive to
fall out with the spinster, and "fall in" with Madame Cora. If that
lady could not be beguiled into retaining her at Oakley, she must
resort to a more hazardous scheme. She had already taken a step toward
ingratiating herself with Mrs. Arthur, and with tolerable success. She
was maturing her plans and waiting for an opportunity to put them into
action.

No doubt but that by the time she had accomplished her object, if it
could be accomplished, the opposite forces would come into conflict.



CHAPTER XXIII.

SETTING SOME SNARES.


Three days had now passed since Madeline's return from the city. On
the morning of the fourth day, she seized the first leisure moment for
a visit to the post-office. Instead of the single letter from Olive
that she had expected, she found three.

They were enclosed in one wrapper. This she removed on her way back to
Oakley, and found the first, as was the wrapper, addressed in Olive's
hand. The penmanship of the second was fairy-like and beautiful, and
she recognized it as Claire's. At sight of the third, her heart gave a
great bound, and then almost stood still. It was superscribed in a
firm, manly hand, and was, it must be, from Dr. Vaughan.

Once securely locked in her room, Madeline opened the first of her
letters with eager fingers. Yes, Olive's first. The desire to see what
_he_ had said was strong in her heart, but she had decided not to
humor her heart. She held his letter caressingly for a moment and then
putting it beside Claire's opened and read Olive Girard's letter.

It was like Olive's self; sweet, womanly, hopeful, yet sad:

     DEAR MADELINE:

     I am only now beginning to realize the new life and hope you
     have put into my heart. As I think again of what you have
     done and are doing, I cannot but feel faith in your success.
     Oh, if I could but work with you; for you and for Philip!

     Again and again I implore you to pardon me for ever doubting
     your wisdom or strength. If at any time I can aid you--such
     poor aid--my purse is yours, as your cause is mine.

     Claire and Doctor Vaughan will speak for themselves. And as
     I dare make no more suggestions to so wise a woman, I only
     put in a faint little plea. Do, pray, grant Doctor Vaughan's
     request, and may God aid you in all that you do.

                                                   OLIVE.

"Doctor Vaughan's request!" repeated the girl. "Would that I could
grant him not only all his requests, but all his wishes!"

Then she opened Claire's letter.

     MY GRAND MADELINE:

     How proud I am to claim you for my friend! I shall never
     again conduct myself with any degree of meekness toward
     people who have not the happiness of knowing you. And you
     should hear Doctor Vaughan extol you! He says you are wiser
     and braver than any detective. That he would trust you in
     any emergency. That if any one can lift the cloud that hangs
     over poor Philip, it is you.

     My heart tells me that you will yet prove the good angel of
     Philip and Olive, as already you have been mine; and soon, I
     pray, you will become that and more to Doctor Vaughan; you
     must and shall. I shall have no wish ungratified when I can
     see your trials at an end; and yourself, surrounded by us
     who love you, happy at last. Don't let all these other
     claimants push me out of your heart; always keep one little
     place for your loving, grateful

                                                 CLAIRE.

Madeline's eyes were moist when she lifted them from the perusal of
this letter.

"Bright, beautiful, brave Claire," she murmured; "who could help
loving her?"

Then her eyes fell again upon the letter, and she started:

"'You will become that and more to Doctor Vaughan,'" she read. "What
can she mean? Can it be possible that, after all, I have betrayed
myself to her?"

She re-read the letter from beginning to end, her face flushing and
paling.

"Oh!" she whispered softly, "she has read my heart, and we are playing
at cross purposes! What a queer rivalry," the girl actually laughed;
"a rivalry of renunciation. Does she yet know how he loves her, I
wonder?" Then, her face growing graver, "she won't be long in making
that discovery now."

She took up Clarence Vaughan's letter, almost dreading to break the
seal.

     MY BRAVE LITTLE SISTER:

     You perceive, I have commenced my tyranny. And instead of
     being able to grant favors to my new sister, I am reduced to
     the necessity of begging them at her hands. In a word, I
     want to come to Bellair. Not to be a meddlesome adviser; I
     am too firmly a convert to your method of procedure for
     that. Besides, I should have to declare war upon Miss Keith
     if I presumed thus far. But I do desire to further your
     plans, and to this end would make a suggestion that has
     occurred to me since hearing of your marvelous detective
     work.

     Believe me, I cannot express the admiration I feel for your
     daring and tact. I have no longer the faintest scruple as to
     trusting this issue, so important to all of us, in your
     hands. And I am more than proud of such a sister.

     May I come to Bellair, say on Monday next? I will stop at
     the little station a few miles this side of the village, and
     walk or drive over, and find my way to the cottage of your
     old nurse, where you can meet me, unless you have a better
     place to suggest. I shall anxiously await your answer, and
     am your brother to command.

                                     C. E. VAUGHAN.

Madeline's cheeks were flushed, her eyes shining.

"How they all trust me!" she ejaculated; "and they always shall. I
will never be false to their friendship; no, not if to serve them my
heart's blood must become wormwood and gall."

She re-read all her letters, but would not allow herself to linger too
long over that of Clarence Vaughan. She had resolved to have no more
weakness, no more outbreaks of passion. She was very stern with
herself. Even as a friend and brother, she would not allow her
thoughts to dwell too much upon him, until she grew stronger, and more
perfect in her renunciation.

Then she sat down at her humble little table, and answered her
letters.

To Olive she wrote a sweet, cheery note, telling of her gratitude, her
affection, her hope for the future; and then she added a womanlike P.
S. as follows:

     Please say to Doctor Vaughan that I will be at Hagar's
     cottage on Monday evening, but can't tell the precise time I
     may be able to appear. If he follows the main road through
     the village, until he has passed the grounds of Oakley, he
     will have no difficulty in finding the cottage. It stands
     alone, almost in the middle of a field, facing the west, and
     is the first habitation after Oakley.

"I cannot write to him," she said; "at least not now."

Then she wrote Claire a long, cheery letter, saying little of herself,
and much of her friends,--of all save Doctor Vaughan. She _would_ not
mention him tenderly, she _could_ not mention him lightly; so she
would say of him nothing at all.

But if Madeline was astute, Claire, too, was beginning to develop that
quality. So when the latter young lady read this letter, she smiled
and said: "The dear little hypocrite! As if she could deceive me by
this evidently studied neglect. Oh! you proud, stiff-necked, little
detective!"

And their game of cross purposes went on.

Madeline had sealed her letters, and was about to reach for her hat
preparatory to hastening with them to the post office, when her
attention was arrested by a sound, slight but unusual, and not far
away. She stood erect, silent, motionless, listening intently.
Presently the sound was repeated, and then a look of intelligence
passed over the girl's face.

"Some one is in the deserted rooms," she thought. And she abandoned
for the present her purpose of going out.

There was but one way to approach the closed-up rooms, and that way
led past the door of Madeline's room.

A few paces beyond her door, the hall connecting the west wing with
the more modern portion, made a sharp curve and opened into the main
hall of that floor. Céline Leroque opened her door cautiously, having
first donned her not very becoming walking attire. Then she took up
her position just outside the angle of the western hall, and so close
to it that if an approach was made from below, she could easily retire
behind the angle.

[Illustration: "She stood erect, silent, motionless."--page 248.]

She had grown heartily tired of her sentinel task when, at last, a
soft rustle was heard near at hand. Céline turned so quickly into the
narrower hall that she fairly ran upon and stopped--Mrs. John Arthur!
who uttered a sharp exclamation expressive of surprise and annoyance.

Céline poured forth a mixture of French and English, expressive of her
contrition and horror at having "almost overturned madame," and wound
up by saying, "Madame has been to my room? Madame has desired some
service, perhaps? If so, she has only to command."

Cora drew a breath of relief, having sufficiently recovered from the
collision and accompanying confusion, to draw a breath of any kind,
and at once rallied her forces.

"Yes, Céline, I wanted you to do something for me, if you will."

"Anything, madame."

Madame was collecting her thoughts. "I--I wanted to ask if you could
find time to come to my room and try and do something with my hair.
Your hair-dressing is perfect, and I am so tired of my own."

Céline would be only too happy. Should she come now? She had just
returned from the village; she would put off her hat and be at
madame's disposal. But madame was not inclined to be manipulated just
then. Céline might come to her dressing room and do her hair for
dinner--after she was done with Miss Arthur, of course.

So they separated, mutually satisfied.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A VERITABLE GHOST.


What a day of glory it had been to the spinster, this day on which
Madeline had read her three letters, and Cora had explored the shut-up
wing.

And what a day of torture to fastidious Edward Percy, who would have
welcomed any third presence, even Cora or John Arthur--any one,
anything, was better than that long slavery at the feet of a painted
and too-visibly ancient mistress. But even the longest days have an
end. At last he was set at liberty, and he hurried back to the little
inn, literally kicking his way through the Autumn darkness.

The old house of Oakley stood, with its last light extinguished, tall
and somber, against a back-ground of black sky and blacker trees. At
last every soul under its roof was asleep--all but one. That one was
very wide awake and intent on mischief.

Love-making, dear reader, although you may not know it, is a wearisome
business, even if ever so agreeable. Especially is it wearisome to
those like Miss Arthur--maidens whose waists are too tight, whose
complexions will ill-endure lip service, and whose tresses are liable
to become not only dishevelled but dislocated. Therefore, when Miss
Arthur had dismissed her lover, with a sigh of regret, she lost no
time in doffing her glories with a sigh of relief.

Even a very rich and hearty luncheon, which her maid had provided, was
gormandized rather than enjoyed, so tempting did her couch look to the
worn-out damsel.

Miss Arthur had refreshed herself with an hour's uninterrupted repose,
and was revelling in a dreamy Arcadia, hand in hand with her beloved,
when something cold falling on her cheek dispelled her visions. She
started broad awake, and face to face with a horrible reality.

The moon was pouring a flood of silvery light in through the two
windows, facing the south, whose curtains were drawn back, making the
room almost as light as at mid-day.

And there, near her bed, almost within reach of her hand, stood
_Madeline Payne_, all swathed in white clinging cerements, ghastly as
a corpse, hollow-eyed and awful, but, nevertheless, Madeline Payne!
Over her white temples dropped rings of curly, yellow hair, and across
the pale lips a mocking smile was flitting.

Miss Arthur gasped and closed her eyes very tight, but they would not
stay closed. They flew open again to behold the vision still there.
The spinster was transfixed with horror. Cold drops of perspiration
oozed out upon her forehead and trickled down her nose. She clutched
at the bedclothes convulsively, and gazed and gazed.

Wider and wider stared her eyes, but no sound escaped her lips. She
gazed and gazed, but the specter would not vanish. Poor Miss Arthur
was terror-stricken almost to the verge of catalepsy.

In consideration of the persistence with which they return again and
again, according to good authority, ghosts in general must be endowed
with much patience. Be this as it may of the average ghost, certain it
is that this particular apparition, after glaring immovably at the
spinster for the space of five minutes, began to find it monotonous.

Slowly, slowly from among the snowy drapery came forth a white hand,
that pointed at the occupant of the bed with silent menace.

[Illustration: "Near the bed, almost within reach of her hand, stood
_Madeline Payne_, all swathed in white!"--page 252.]

The spell was broken. The lips of Miss Arthur were unclosed, and
shrieks, one following the other in rapid succession, resounded in the
ears of even the most remote sleepers.

With the utterance of her first yell, Miss Arthur had made a desperate
plunge to the further side of her bed, away from the specter; and,
turning her face to the wall, shut out thus the appalling white
vision.

Having once found her voice, Miss Arthur continued to clutch at the
bed clothes, glare at the wall, and shriek spasmodically, even after
her "inner consciousness" must have assured her that the room now held
others beside herself and the ghost, supposing it to be still on the
opposite side of the bed.

Cora, in a state of wild _deshabille_; John Arthur, ditto, and armed
with a cane; Susan and Mary, half in the room and half out; then
Céline Leroque, apparently much frightened, without knowing at what.

A volley of questions from the master of the house, and a return of
courage to the mistress. But Miss Arthur only gathered herself
together, took in a fresh supply of breath, and embarked in another
series of howls.

Nothing was amiss in the room; it could not have been a burglar. The
night lamp was burning dimly behind its heavy shade; on the table were
the fragments of Miss Arthur's lunch; and Mr. and Mrs. Arthur had
found easy access through the closed, but unbolted door.

After a time, a long time, during which Cora and Céline administered
sal volatile and other restoratives, Mr. Arthur douched her with oaths
and ice water, and the servants whispered in a group, the maiden found
voice.

It was a very feeble voice, and it conveyed to her audience the
astounding intelligence that she had seen a ghost--Madeline Payne's
ghost.

Upon hearing her story, John Arthur seemed at first a little startled.
But Cora only laughed, and Céline, glancing significantly at the lunch
table, said, with a slight smile:

"Mademoiselle has nerves, and she may have lunched heartily before
retiring."

John Arthur strode across the room and viewed the _débris_ of
luncheon. "Humph!" he grunted. "Oysters and salads, potted meat and
pastry; strong coffee and lemon syllabub with brandy. Good Lord, I
don't know what should have kept the contents of an entire cemetery
from sweeping down upon your slumbers, you female gourmand. Ghosts
indeed!"

And he stamped out of the room in high dudgeon. His tirade was wholly
lost upon his sister, however, for that lady was whimpering
comfortably and putting all her feeble energy into the effort.

Cora glanced up as the door banged after her lord and master, and
ordered the servants back to bed. Then she turned toward Céline,
saying:

"That door was certainly not locked when we came to it, for I was here
even sooner than Mr. Arthur."

Céline smiled again: "Mademoiselle dismissed me before she had
finished her luncheon. I had disrobed her previously, and she said she
should retire as soon as she drank her coffee. She may have forgotten
the door."

Cora turned toward the bed. "Did you lock your door, Ellen?"

But Ellen did not know; she could not remember if she had or had not.

Then Cora said to Céline: "I am glad to find you so sensible. We shall
have hard work now to convince those ridiculous servants that there is
not a ghost in every corner."

"I do not think that graves open," replied the girl, seriously.

Then she gave her undivided attention to her mistress, who bade fair
to be hysterical for the rest of the night.

Miss Arthur would not be left alone again. No argument could convince
her that the specter was born of her imagination, and therefore not
likely to return. So Cora bade Céline prepare to spend the remainder
of the night in Miss Arthur's dressing room.

Accordingly, Céline withdrew to her own apartment, where her
preparations were made as follows:

First, she shook out the folds of a sheet that hung over a chair, and
restored it to its proper place on the bed. Then she removed from her
dressing stand a box of white powder, and brushed away all traces of
said powder from her garments and the floor. Next, she carefully hid
away a key that had fallen to the floor and lay near the classically
folded sheet. These things accomplished, she made a few additions to
her toilet, extinguished the light, locked her door carefully, trying
it afterward to make assurance doubly sure, and retraced her steps to
relieve Cora, who was dutifully sitting by the spinster's bed, and
beginning to shiver in her somewhat scanty drapery.

As the night wore on, and Miss Arthur became calmed and quiet, the
girl lay back in the big dressing chair, gazing into the grate, and
thinking. Her thoughts were sometimes of Claire, sometimes of
Clarence; of the Girards, and of Edward Percy; then of her success as
a ghostess, and at this she would almost laugh.

But from every subject her mind would turn again and again to one
question, that repeated itself until it took the form of a goblin and
danced through her dreams, when at last she slept, whispering over and
over:

"What is it that Cora Arthur carries in a belt about her waist? what
is it? what is it?"

For the girl had made a strange discovery while Cora was sitting
beside Miss Arthur's bed, clad only in night's scanty drapery.



CHAPTER XXV.

SOME DAYS OF WAITING.


Doctor Vaughan had written that he could find his way with ease to
Nurse Hagar's cottage, and he did.

Swinging himself down upon the dark end of the platform, when the
evening train puffed into Bellair village, he crossed the track, and
walked rapidly along the path that led in the direction of the
cottage. He strode on until the light from the cottage window gleamed
out upon the night, and his way led over the field. Half way between
the stile and the cottage, a form, evidently that of a woman, appeared
before him, and coming in his direction.

The figure came nearer, and a voice, that was certainly not
Madeline's, said: "Is the gentleman going to old Hagar's cottage?"

"Are you Hagar?" replied Clarence, Yankee fashion.

"I am Hagar; and you are?"

"Doctor Vaughan."

"Then pass on, sir; the one you seek is there."

And the old woman waved her hand toward the light and hobbled on.

Clarence stared after her for a moment; but the darkness had devoured
her, and he resumed his way toward the cottage.

In hastening to meet a friend we naturally have, in our mind, a
picture. Our friend will look so, or so. Thus with Clarence Vaughan.
Expecting to meet a pair of deep, sad, beautiful eyes, lifted to his
own; to behold a fair forehead shadowed by soft, shining curls; judge
of Clarence's surprise when the opened door revealed to him a small
being of no shape in particular; a very black head of hair, surmounted
by an ugly maid's cap; and a pair of unearthly, staring blue glasses.

Madeline had chosen to appear "in character" at this interview. She
intended to keep her own personality out of sight, and she felt that
she needed the aid and concealment that her disguise would afford. She
would give Claire's schemes no vantage ground.

So Madeline Payne was carefully hidden away under the wig and pigment
and padding; and Céline Leroque courteseyed demurely as she held the
door open to admit him, and said:

"Good evening, _Monsieur le Docteur_; you perceive I am here before
you."

"Rather, I don't perceive it. _You_ are here before me in a double
sense of the word; yes. And I suppose you call yourself--"

"Céline Leroque, at your service; maid-in-waiting to Miss Arthur, of
Oakley."

Doctor Vaughan laughed.

"Well, won't you shake hands with an American of no special
importance, Céline Leroque?"

She placed her hand in his and then drew forward a chair.

"I hope you found no difficulty in getting out to-night?" he said,
sitting down and looking at her with a half-amused, half-grave
countenance.

"None whatever; I have been suffering with a sick-headache all day."

"And you can get in again unseen?"

"Easily; in the evening the servants are all below stairs."

"But what an odd disguise! Do they never question your blue glasses?"

"Not half so much as they would question the eyes without them. They
believe my eyes were ruined by close application to fine needle-work.
And then--" she pushed up the glasses a trifle, and he saw that the
eyelid, and a line underneath the eye, were artistically
_rouged_--"they all acknowledge that my eyes look very weak."

"I fancy they'll find those eyes have looked too sharply for them, by
and by."

She laughed lightly. "I hope so."

Sitting there in her prim disguise, the girl felt glad to gaze upon
him; felt as if, look as much as she would, she was gazing from a safe
distance.

Dr. Vaughan came straight to the point of his visit, beginning by
requesting a repetition of such portion of the facts she had
discovered as related most particularly to the two men, Davlin and
Percy. Then he made his suggestion. To his surprise it was a welcome
one to the girl.

"That is just what I have had in mind," she said, thoughtfully. "After
reflecting, I have changed my plans somewhat, and I don't see my way
quite so clearly as before."

He was looking at her attentively, but asked no questions.

"Since I came from the city," she resumed, with some hesitation, "I
have thought that I would be glad to talk again with all of you. But
it won't do to incur the risk of more absences, for if I do not
mistake the signs, things will be pretty lively up there," nodding in
the direction of Oakley, "before many days. So perhaps we had better
see what our two heads can develop in the way of counterplot, and you
can make known the result to Olive."

"If your own invention will not serve, I fear mine will be at an utter
loss. But you know how glad I shall be to share your confidence."

"My invention must serve," she said, firmly, and quite ignoring the
latter clause of his speech; "and so must yours. You see, my plan
before going to the city was a comparatively simple one. I intended to
work my way into the confidence of Mrs. John Arthur. Failing in that,
Hagar must have been reinstated, and then the _denouement_ would have
been easy: to get possession of specimens of the medicine prescribed
for Mr. Arthur; to hunt down this sham doctor they are to introduce
into the house; to show John Arthur the manner of wife he has; to make
my own terms with him, and then expose and turn out the whole pack.
But all this must be changed."

"Changed? And how?"

"I can't turn them out of Oakley. I must keep them there, every one of
them, at any cost."

Dr. Vaughan looked puzzled. "We can't allow them to kill that old man,
not even to vindicate poetical justice," he said, gravely.

"No; we can't allow just that. But don't you see, if we turn these
people away now, we defeat a chief end and aim--the liberation of
Philip Girard?"

"True."

"Well, this is why I have changed my plan."

He looked at her with an admiration that was almost homage.

"And you will give up your own vengeance, for the sake of Olive and
her happiness?"

She laughed oddly. "Not at all. I only defer it, to make it the more
complete. Now, listen to what I propose to do, and see if you can
suggest anything safer or better."

And then she unfolded a plan that made Clarence Vaughan start in
amazement, but which, after it was fully revealed, he could not amend
nor condemn. He could see no other way by which all that they aimed at
could be accomplished.

"Of course, the plan has its risks," concluded the girl. "But we could
try no other scheme without incurring the same, or greater. And I
_believe_ that I shall not fail."

"I wish it were not necessary that you should undergo so much; think
what it will be for you," gently.

"Oh, for me, ..." indifferently; "I shall be less of a spy, and more
of an actress,--that is all."

"Then I shall set the detectives at work?"

"Immediately."

"Have you any further instructions, any clue, to give them?"

"Nothing; it is to be simply a research. Neither must know to what end
the information is desired. It will be better to employ your men from
different Agencies, so that one may not know of the other, or his
business."

"And is there nothing more I can do?"

"Nothing, for the present. When once we get these men together, we
shall all have our hands full. Then you can help me, perhaps, as I
suggested."

"Well," sighing, and looking at his watch, "it's a strange business,
and a difficult, for a young girl like you. But we are in your hands;
you are worth a thousand such as I."

"Nonsense," she said, almost angrily. Then, abruptly, "When does
Claire return to Baltimore?"

He started and flushed under her gaze. "I--I really don't know."

"Then, as my brother, I command you to know all about Claire. She is
my special charge to you. And you are to tell her, from me, that I
won't have her go away."

"Then I must do all in my power to detain her? Your command will have
more effect than all of my prayers," he said, softly.

"Well, keep on reiterating my commands and your prayers, then; by and
by she won't be able to distinguish the one from the other. What time
is it?"

He smiled at the sudden change of tone and subject. "Half-past nine,"
he said.

While the words were on his lips, Old Hagar entered.

Clearly it was time to end the interview. Doctor Vaughan must be ready
for the return train, which flew cityward soon, and Céline Leroque
must not be too long absent. So there were a few words more about
their plans, a few courteous sentences addressed to Hagar by Doctor
Vaughan, and then they separated.

The next day two men were at work,--following like sleuth hounds the
trail on which they were put, unravelling slowly, slowly, the webs of
the past that had been spun by the two men who were to be hunted down.

And now came a time of comparative dullness at Oakley. Even eventful
lives do not always pace onward to the inspiring clang of trumpet and
drum. There is the bivouac and the time of rest, even though sleeping
upon their arms, for all the hosts that were ever marshalled to
battle.

[Illustration: "Well, it's a strange business and a difficult."--page
261.]

Céline Leroque found life rather more dreary than she had expected
during these days of inaction. After all, it is easier to be brave
than to be patient. So, in spite of her courage and her
self-sacrifice, she was restless and unhappy.

And she was not alone in her restlessness. It is curious to note what
diverse causes produce the same effects. Cora Arthur was restless,
very restless. The fruit of her labor was in her hands, but it was
vapid, tasteless, unsatisfying. What _her_ soul clamored for, was the
opera, the contact of kindred spirits, the rush and whirl, the smoke
and champagne, and giddiness of the city; the card-won gold, and
painted folly that made the be-all and end-all of life to such as she.

She did not lose sight of the usefulness she trusted to find in Céline
Leroque, however. During these days of _ennui_ and quietude, the two
came to a very good understanding; not all at once, and not at all
definite. Only, by degrees, Cora became convinced that Céline Leroque
cherished a very laudable contempt for her would-be-girlish mistress,
and that she was becoming rather weary in her service. Once, indeed,
the girl had said, as if unable to restrain herself, and while
dressing Mrs. Cora's yellow hair--a task which she professed to
delight in:

"Ah! madame, if only it was _you_ who were my mistress! It is a
pleasure to dress a beautiful mistress, but to be constantly at war
against nature, to make an old one young--faugh! it is labor."

And Cora had been much amused and had held out a suggestion that, in
case of any rupture between mistress and maid, the latter should apply
to her.

But if existence was a pain to Céline, and a weariness to Cora, it was
anguish unutterable to Edward Percy. He would have been glad to put a
long span of miles between his inamorata and himself had he not felt
that, with Cora in the same house as his fair one, it were more
discreet to be on the ground, and watch over his prey pretty closely.
But to this man, who made love to every pretty woman as a child eats
_bon bons_, the task of wooing where his eye was not pleased, his ear
was not soothed, and his vanity not in the least flattered, was
intensely wearisome.



CHAPTER XXVI.

NOT A BAD DAY'S WORK.


The first thing that Doctor Vaughan did on returning from Bellair, was
to seek an interview with Henry, the dark servant of Lucian Davlin.

It was a mixed motive that had first prompted Henry to espouse the
cause of a helpless, friendless girl; a motive composed of one part
inward wrath, long nourished, against the haughty and over-exacting
Lucian, and one part pity for the young girl who, as his experienced
eyes told him, was not such as were the women who had usually been
entertained by his master.

He had expected to assist her to escape from the place, to enjoy his
master's chagrin, and to see the matter end there. But Madeline's
illness had changed the current of events, and strengthened his
determination to stand her friend, if need be, more especially when
Olive, pressing upon him a generous gift, had signified her wish that
he should continue in Madeline's service. She had added that when he
chose to leave his present master, she would see that he fell into no
worse hands, for so long as the sick girl remained under that shelter,
Olive felt that the man must be their servant, not Davlin's. And, to
do him justice, Henry had long since become truly attached to the two
ladies.

He lost no time in responding to the summons of Doctor Vaughan, and
was eager to know of the welfare of the "young lady" and Mrs. Girard.
Doctor Vaughan satisfied him on this point, and then said:

"I am authorized by Miss Payne to see you, and ask some questions that
she thinks you may be able to answer. First, then," said the doctor,
in his kindly manner, "how long have you been with your present
master?"

"Nearly three years, sir."

"And how long has the woman whom he calls Cora been known to you?"

"She has been known to me all that time, sir," replied Henry.

"You first saw her in company with Davlin?"

"No, sir; she came to his rooms when I had been there but a few days,
and ordered me about like a countess. I didn't know the ropes then,
but she made me know my duty soon enough," dryly.

"Evidently, then, she and your master were friends of long standing,
even at that time?"

"Yes, sir."

"You used to hear them talk often, I suppose?"

"I used to hear parts of their talks. They seemed not to care to have
even so much of a machine as I, hear them at all times."

"Now, will you try and recall some of these fragments of talk? Think
if you heard them speak of their travels, together or separately; and
if you can recall the names of any persons or places they have
mentioned."

Henry pondered. "I think," he said, after a time, "that they have been
in Europe together. In fact, I am sure of it."

Doctor Vaughan started. "Oh! that is to the point. You don't recall
any time mentioned?"

"No, sir. They used to talk of luck with the cards, and sometimes
spoke of operas or plays, and almost always disagreed. Sometimes I
would hear him describing men to her, and she seemed to be getting
ready for a part in some 'game' that he was trying to play."

"Very likely."

"Once I heard them having high words about some old man that she had
been fleecing, and he said that she had carried the thing too far; and
that if she did not keep out of the old man's way, she might get into
trouble. I heard the name," putting a forefinger to his forehead and
wrinkling his brows; "it was--was--Verage; 'Old Verage,' she called
him."

"Verage!"

"That was the name; I am sure, sir."

Clarence took out a note-book, and made an entry.

"When did this conversation take place?" he asked.

"Not more than two months before the young lady was brought there,
sir."

"Ah!" Evidently a fresh glimmer of light had been thrown on the
subject. "And you heard nothing more about this old man?"

"No, sir. I think she must have gone away from town at that time, for
I did not see her again, until--" here Henry seemed to catch at some
new thought.

"Until when?" asked Doctor Vaughan, with some eagerness.

"The day before the young lady came," said Henry, in a low tone, and
moving a step nearer the doctor. "Madame Cora came dashing up in a
close carriage, and she wore a heavy veil. I noticed that because she
was rather fond of displaying her face and hair, and I hardly ever saw
her wear anything that would hide them. She came up-stairs and ordered
me to send a telegram, which she had already written, to my master. I
sent it, and she stayed there all day. She sent me out for her meals,
and I served them in the large room. She spent the most of the time in
walking up and down--that was her way when she was worried or
angry--and looking out between the curtains. My master answered the
telegram, but when the midnight train came in, a man who went down in
the country with him, a sort of tool and hanger-on of his, came to me
while I was waiting below, and told me to tell Mistress Cora that the
train was a few minutes late."

"Stop a moment. This man, who was Davlin's companion,--what was his
name?"

"I never heard him called anything but 'The Professor.'"

"The Professor! And how did he look?" making another entry in the
note-book.

"He was a middle-aged man, sir, not so tall as master, rather square
in the shoulders, and stout built. He wore no beard, and was always
smoking a pipe."

"Very good," writing rapidly. "Now, then, let us return to the lady."

"Well, sir, she was very impatient until my master came, and then they
had a long talk. I heard him speak of the old man Verage again, and
she seemed a little afraid, or annoyed, I don't know which. Then he
seemed to be telling her of some new scheme, and there was a great
deal of planning and some chaffing about her going into the country.
Just at daybreak they sent me for a carriage, and she went away in it,
closely veiled as before. He told her he would join her without fail.
I have not seen her since. That same morning he brought the beautiful
young lady to his rooms, and," smiling so as to show all his white
teeth, "I think you know all the rest, sir."

Clarence nodded and then appeared lost in thought. Finally, he lifted
his head from the hand that had supported it, and said:

"Since your master has returned to town, how does he employ his time?"

"Very much as usual."

"And that is in--"

"Gaming."

"Is it true, Henry, that the room below your master's apartments is
fitted up for private gambling?"

Henry stirred uneasily, and looked his answer.

Doctor Vaughan smiled. "I see how it is," he said. "Well, then, this
man, the Professor, do you see much of him of late?"

"A great deal, sir; he is very often with my master at his rooms, but
they never go out together. They have had a great deal of privacy
lately; something new is afoot."

"The man is a sort of decoy-duck, I fancy?"

"Yes; what the gamblers call a capper, or roper-in."

"Well, Henry, I think I won't detain you longer now. Take this,"
putting into his hand a twenty-dollar bill, "and keep your eyes and
ears open. If your master leaves town, observe if the Professor
disappears at the same time."

Henry expressed his gratitude and his entire willingness to keep an
eye upon the doings of Mr. Davlin and the Professor, and bowed himself
out, muttering as he went: "They will make it lively for my fine
master before very long, and I think I am on the side that will win."

Meantime, Clarence Vaughan, quick in thought and action, was hurrying
on his gloves preparatory to a sally forth on a new mission. Henry had
given him a hint that might turn out of much value, for among the
patients then on the young doctor's visiting list, was one Verage,
old, ugly, and fabulously rich.

First of all, Clarence Vaughan called at the Agency which had been
decided upon as the best one to entrust with the investigation
relative to Mr. Edward Percy. He gave his man no clue to the present
whereabouts of his subject, but set him back ten years or more,
sending him to visit the scenes of school episode, and bidding him
trace the life of the man, with the aid of such clues as he thought
best to give, up to that time. Next, he visited another Agency, and
placed a man upon the track of Lucian Davlin.

Then he called a carriage and drove straight to the residence of old
Samuel Verage. It was early in the day for a professional visit or for
a visit of any kind. Nevertheless, Doctor Vaughan was admitted without
delay, to the presence of the master of the house.

Old Samuel Verage sat in his large, softly-cushioned armchair, in a
gorgeously beflowered dressing gown.

He was glowering over the dainty dishes which had lately contained a
bountiful breakfast. Evidently he fancied that the doctor had called
in anticipation of a serious morning attack, or to choke off his too
greedy appetite, for he chuckled maliciously as Clarence entered the
room, and greeted him with,

"Oh! You thought you were ahead of me this time, didn't you? I say,
now, _did_ you think I would be worse this morning?"

Clarence surveyed his patient with considerable amusement.

"You won't suffer from a hearty breakfast. It is the supper that you
must look out for. But my call this morning was, in part, to inquire
about a lady."

"About a lady! Of course, of course; go ahead; who is she?"

"That's precisely what I want to know. The fact is, my business is
rather peculiar, and delicate."

The old man rubbed his hands gleefully. "Good! very good! A mystery
about a woman! Come out with it; don't be backward."

"Very well; the woman that I want to inquire about has been known as
Cora Weston."

Old Verage fairly bounced out of his seat as he yelled: "Cora Weston!
Where is she? What do you know about her?"

"Not quite enough, or I should not have ventured to inquire of you,"
said Clarence, calmly.

Old Verage tumbled into his chair again. "Then you don't know where
she is?" sharply.

"What could you do if I put her in your power?"

"Lock her up in jail, if I wanted to," fiercely.

Little by little Clarence Vaughan extracted from the old man the
details of the plausible scheme by which Davlin and Cora had succeeded
in transferring a very considerable amount of cash from his pockets to
their own. He felt elated at the result of this interview. It placed a
weapon in his hands that might be wielded with telling effect when
time served.

"Well, you may be able to get even with her yet," he said, rising to
go, after Verage had concluded his tirade; "many thanks for giving me
some information. I may be able to return the compliment soon."

"But hold on!" cried Verage, as if seized by a new thought; "I say,
now, what is all this questioning about?"

"Some of her sharp practice has come to my knowledge, and she has
made a little trouble for one of my friends. I want to know all that I
can about her, for it may be necessary to put a stop to her career."

With a renewed expression of his thanks for the information given,
Clarence bowed himself out of the old man's presence, with a sense of
relief at inhaling the fresh, pure air of the outer world. Then he
turned his steps homeward, assured that it had been a good day's work
well done.



CHAPTER XXVII.

CLAIRE TURNS CIRCE.


There was more to tell than to learn, when Clarence called, a day or
two later, at the villa.

The expert who had been dogging the steps of Lucian Davlin, had made
his report, it is true. But that report was a very unsatisfactory
affair:

A man, whom Clarence readily identified with the Professor, was an
almost constant visitor at the rooms of the Man of Luck, but they,
that is, the Professor and Davlin, were never seen on the street
together, nor, indeed, anywhere else. In short, Lucian Davlin had been
closely shadowed, but with no success to speak of. He came and went
just as such a man usually does. And no person that might be made to
answer for a doctor, had been visited by him or had visited him
unless, and this began to appear possible, the Professor himself was
the man.

After a long and serious discussion of the pros and cons of the case,
Olive and Clarence decided they would instruct the detective to
transfer his attentions to the Professor, only keeping a general
_surveillance_ over Davlin. They began to fear that they were watching
the wrong man.

Those were pleasant days to Doctor Vaughan; the days when he rode down
to the pretty villa to consult with Olive and to look at Claire.

And those were pleasant days to Claire as well. Once, and that not
long before, she had taken but little interest in Clarence Vaughan.
She had thought of him very much as had Madeline that first night of
their meeting, when she looked at him sitting near her in a railway
carriage, and regarded him as just a "somewhat odd young man with a
good face." Now, Madeline thought him not only the noblest but the
handsomest of men. And Claire was beginning to agree with her.

But on one thing she was determined. Doctor Vaughan must learn to look
upon her only as a friend, and he must learn to love Madeline. So
Claire and Clarence vied with each other in chanting the praises of
Madeline Payne, and learned to know each other better because of her.

One day when he called, Claire chanced to be alone. Somehow she found
it hard to be quite at her ease when there was no Olive at hand,
behind whom to screen her personality from the eyes that might
overlook that sisterly barrier, but could not overleap it. If his eyes
had said less, or if she could have compelled her lips to say more!
But her usually active tongue seemed to lack for words and she found
herself talking in a reckless and somewhat incoherent manner upon all
sorts of topics, which she dragged forward in order to keep in check
the words which the look in his eyes heralded so plainly.

When she was almost at her wit's end, and tempted to flee ingloriously
in search of Olive, that lady entered and Claire felt as if saved
from lunacy. But she could not quite shake off the consciousness that
had awakened in her, and soon framed an excuse for leaving the room.
Once having escaped, she did not return, nor did Olive see her again
until she came down to dinner, and Doctor Vaughan had gone.

While lingering over that meal, Olive said, after they had talked of
Madeline through three courses, "I think, by-the-by, that Doctor
Vaughan expected to see you again before he went."

If I were writing of impossible heroines, I might say that Claire
looked conscious; but real women who are not all chalk and water, do
not display their feelings so readily to their mothers and sisters. So
Claire Keith looked up with the countenance of an astonished kitten.

"To see me? What for?"

"How should I know, if you don't?" smiling slightly.

"And _how_ should I know?" carelessly.

"Well, perhaps I was mistaken. But why have you kept your room all
this afternoon?"

"I have been packing. Please pass the marmalade."

"Packing!" mechanically reaching out the required dainty.

"Yes, packing. You don't think I came to spend the winter, do you?"

"But this is so sudden."

"Now, just listen, you unreasonable being!" assuming an air of grave
admonition. "Don't you know that I have overstayed my time by almost a
month?"

"Yes, but--"

"Well, don't you know that if I tell you beforehand that I am going,
you always contrive excuses and hatch plots, to keep me at least three
weeks longer?"

"I plead guilty," laughed Olive.

"Well, you see I have staid out my days of grace already. And knowing
your failing, and feeling sure that I could not humor it, I have just
taken advantage of you, and packed my trunks."

"And you won't stay just one more little week?"

Claire laughed gleefully. "What did I say? It is your old cry. Now,
dear, be reasonable. Mamma wants me, and the boys want me. You have
plenty of occupation just now. It will take you one-third of the time
to keep me informed of all that happens."

"Well," sighed Olive, "of course you must go sometime; but you don't
mean to go to-morrow?"

"I do, though."

"What will Doctor Vaughan say?"

"Whatever Doctor Vaughan pleases. I can't lose a day to say good-by to
him, can I?"

"But why didn't you tell him good-by to-day?"

Claire looked up in some surprise. "Upon my word, I never thought of
it."

And she told the truth. She had thought only of how she could avoid
another meeting.

Olive looked puzzled. "And I supposed that you liked Doctor Vaughan,"
she said, after a moment's pause.

"Why, and so I do; I was very careless. Olive, dear, pray make my
adieus to him, and all the necessary excuses. I do like the doctor,
and don't want him to think me rude."

And Olive accepted the commission, and was deceived by it. For she,
absorbed in her own fears and hopes, was not aware of the drama of
love and cross purposes that was being enacted under her very eyes.

When Clarence called, on the next day but one, he found, to his
surprise and sorrow, that the bright face of the girl he loved so well
was to smile upon him no more, at least for a time. Making his call an
unusually brief one, he rode back to the city in a very grave and
thoughtful mood. Or, rather, the gravity and thoughtfulness usual in
him was tinged with sadness.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the same day, almost at the same hour, Claire Keith stood in her
mother's drawing-room, answering the thousand and one questions that
are invariably poured into the ears of a returned traveler.

By and by, drawing back the satin curtain, that shaded the windows of
the drawing-room, Claire gazed out upon the familiar street which
seemed smiling her a welcome in the Autumn sunshine. Finally she
uttered an exclamation of surprise, and turned to Mrs. Keith.

"_Merci!_ Mamma! what has happened to the people across the way? Why,
I can't catch even one glimpse of red and yellow damask, not one
flutter of gold fringe; have the _parvenus_ been taking lessons in
good taste? Positively, every blind is closed, and there isn't a
liveried being to be seen."

Mrs. Keith laughed softly. "I don't know what has happened to the
_parvenus_, my dear, but whether good or bad it has taken them away,
liveries and all. The house has a new tenant, who is not so amusing,
perhaps, but is certainly more mysterious. So, after all, the exchange
may not have been a gain to the neighborhood."

Claire peeped out again. "A mysterious tenant, you say, mamma? That
must be an improvement. What is the Mystery like?"

Mrs. Keith smiled indulgently on her daughter.

"There is not much to tell, my love. I don't know whether the lady
who has taken the house is young or old, handsome or ugly, married or
single. She lives the life of a recluse; has never been seen, at least
by any of us, to walk out. But she drives sometimes in a close
carriage, and always with a thick veil hiding her face. She is tall,
dresses richly, but always in black, although the fabric is not that
usually worn as mourning. She moves from the door to her carriage with
a languid gait, as if she might be an invalid. No one goes there, and
I understand she is not at home to callers, although, of course, I
have not made the experiment myself. There, my dear, I think that is
about all."

"She seems to be a woman of wealth?"

"Evidently; her horses are very fine animals, and her carriage a
costly one. Her servants wear a neat, plain livery, and apparently her
house is elegantly furnished."

"And mamma," said Robbie, who had been standing quietly at her side,
"you forget the flowers."

"True, Robbie. Every day, Claire, the florist leaves a basket of white
flowers at her door."

"I like that," asserted Claire. "She must have refinement."

"She certainly has that air."

"Well," said Claire, laughing lightly, "I shall make a study of the
woman across the way."

With that the subject dropped for the time. But as the days went on,
and she settled herself once more into the home routine, Claire found
that not the least among the things she chose to consider interesting
was the mysterious neighbor across the way.

And now, having put considerable distance between herself and Edward
Percy, she wrote him a few cool lines of dismissal.

And here again the individuality of the girl was very manifest. Many a
woman would have written a scathing letter, telling the man how
thoroughly unmasked he stood in her sight, letting him know that she
was acquainted with all his past and his present, and bidding him make
the most of the infatuation of the last victim to his empty pockets,
the ancient Miss Arthur.

What Claire did was like Claire; and perhaps, after all, she best
comprehended the nature she dealt with. Certainly no tirade of
accusing scorn could have so wounded the self-love of the selfish,
conscienceless man as did her cool farewell missive.

Edward Percy was in a very complaisant mood when Claire's letter
reached him. True, he had received no reply to his two last effusions;
but knowing that Claire must be soon returning to her home, if she had
not already gone, he assured himself that it was owing to this that he
had received no letter as yet. He never doubted her attachment to
himself. That was not in his nature.

Opening a rather heavy packet, as he sat in his cosy sitting-room, out
dropped two letters; two letters full of poetry and fine sentiment,
that his own flexible hand had penned and addressed to Miss Claire
Keith. His letters, and returned with the seals unbroken. He could
scarcely believe the evidence of his senses. His handsome,
treacherous, light-blue eyes darkened and widened with astonishment
and anger.

He never moved in a hurry, never spoke in a hurry, never thought in a
hurry. And slowly it dawned upon his mind to investigate further and
find some clue that would make this unheard-of thing appear less
incomprehensible. Accordingly he took up the envelope that had
contained his rejected letters, and drew from them a brief note:

                                   BALTIMORE, Saturday, 6th.

     It will scarcely surprise Mr. Percy to learn that Miss Keith
     desires now to end an acquaintance that has been, doubtless,
     amusing "intellectually" and "socially" to both.

     Of course, a gentleman so worldly-wise as himself can never
     have been misled by the semblance of attachment, that has
     seemed necessary in order to make such an acquaintance as
     ours at all interesting. A flirtation based upon a "sympathy
     of intellect," must of necessity end sooner or later, and
     has, no doubt, been as harmless to him as to CLAIRE KEITH.

Yes, without doubt Claire knew how to hurt this man most. He was not
permitted to know that she felt the keen humiliation, which a proud
nature must suffer when it discovers that it has trusted an unworthy
object. Instead, he was to feel himself the injured one; the one
humiliated. He, the deceiver, must own himself deceived. When he
believed himself loved, he was laughed at. His own words were flung in
his teeth in an insolent mockery. "A sympathy of intellect;" yes, he
had used these words so often. He had obeyed the beckoning of a Circe,
and now she held out to him his swine's reward of husks.

Edward Percy had been dissatisfied with others, with circumstances,
and surroundings, many a time and oft; but to-day, for the very first
time, he felt dissatisfied with himself.

And Claire had revenged her wrongs twofold.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE CURTAIN RISES ON THE MIMIC STAGE.


Always, in life, little events pave the way for great catastrophes.
The mine burns slowly until the explosive point is reached, and then--

Fate was taking a leisurely gait, seemingly, and moving affairs at
Oakley with a deliberation that was almost hesitating. Nevertheless,
things were moving, and in the wake of little events, great ones
could already be discerned by the plotters and counter-plotters, who
waited and watched.

Céline Leroque was in better spirits than usual, in these days.
Indeed, considering how exceedingly probable it seemed that she would
be turned adrift at any hour by her present mistress, Céline was very
cheerful.

And Miss Arthur had cause to complain. Beyond a doubt her French maid
was becoming careless, very careless. Sometimes Miss Arthur was
inclined to think that her scant locks of well-dyed hair were pulled
quite unnecessarily, while her head was under Céline's hands. But this
she endured like a Spartan, only exclaiming when the torture became
unbearable. And when she finally ventured a protest, disastrous was
the outcome.

With many an apology, Céline fingered the curls and braids, inquiring
with every touch of the hand or adjustment of a hair-pin: "Does that
hurt, mademoiselle?"

Being assured, when the hair-dressing was done, that she had
accomplished the task without inflicting so much as a single twinge of
pain, she held open the door for her mistress, cooing her satisfaction
and beaming with delight.

But alas for the poor spinster! Before she had been half an hour in
the society of her beloved _fiancé_, her unfortunate habit of tossing
and wriggling her head brought Céline's gingerly architecture to
grief. A sudden twist tumbled down full half of the glossy "crown of
glory" from Miss Arthur's head to Mr. Percy's feet, and--we draw a
veil over the confusion of the unhappy spinster.

The lady having retired to her dressing-room to relieve her feelings
and repair damages, a scene was enacted in which the lady did the
histrionics and the maid apologized and giggled alternately, until the
one had exhausted her anthem of wrath and the other her accompaniment
of penitence and giggles.

Then a truce was patched up, which lasted for several days.

Céline had advanced to the verge of disrespect, when speaking of Mr.
Percy, on more than one occasion. Several times she had said that he
"had a familiar look," and she fancied she had seen him somewhere. But
she had always checked herself on the very border-land of
impertinence, and never had been able to tell if she really had before
seen the gentleman or no.

But she had put the spinster on the defensive, and had also excited
her curiosity.

During this time Mrs. John Arthur was slowly dropping into her _rôle_
of invalid. First, she gave up her habitual walks about the grounds
and on the terrace. Then, her drives became too fatiguing. Next, she
found herself too languid to appear at breakfast, and that meal was
served in her room. She was not ill, she protested; only a trifle
indisposed. Let no one be at all concerned for her; she should be as
well as usual in a few days. And Céline, who was very sympathetic, and
was the first to suggest that a physician be consulted, was laughingly
assured that if madame were sick, she, Céline, should be her head
nurse.

Mrs. Arthur had been absent from the family breakfast table for two
days, when Miss Arthur met with a fresh grievance at the hands of
Céline.

Céline had been unusually garrulous, and had been regaling her
mistress with descriptions of the great people, and the magnificent
toilets she had seen, while with some of her former _miladis_.
Suddenly she dropped the subject of a grand ball which had transpired
in Baltimore, where her mistress was the guest of the honorable
somebody, to exclaim:

"It has just come to me, mademoiselle, where I must have seen Monsieur
Percy. It was in Baltimore, and they said--" Here she became much
confused, and pretended to be fully occupied with the folds of her
mistress's dress.

Miss Arthur looked down upon her sharply, and asked, "What did they
say?"

Céline stammered: "Oh, it was only gossip, mademoiselle; nothing worth
repeating, I assure you."

The curiosity and jealousy of the spinster were fully aroused. "Don't
attempt any subterfuges, Céline," she said, in her loftiest tone. "I
desire to know what was said of my--Mr. Percy."

The girl arose to her feet, and with much apparent reluctance,
replied:

"They said, mademoiselle--of course, it was only gossip--that he was
very much of a fortune-hunter, and that he was engaged to some woman
much older than himself, who was immensely rich."

Miss Arthur sat down and looked hard at her maid. "How do you know
that Mr. Percy is that man?"

"Oh! I don't know, my lady--mademoiselle. I only said that I thought I
have seen him in Baltimore; the Mr. Percy they used to talk of there,
must have been another."

Miss Arthur looked like an ancient Sphinx. "Do you think that Mr.
Percy is that man?" she asked.

"_Merci!_ my lady, how can I tell that? It might have been he; and the
old woman there might have disappointed him, you know," artlessly.

Miss Arthur was literally speechless with rage. Without replying, she
rose and swept into the adjoining room, closing the door behind her
with a bang.

Céline smiled comfortably, and went to minister unto Cora, to whom she
confided her belief that Miss Arthur was dissatisfied with her, and
meant to discharge her. "And only think, madame," she said
plaintively, "it is all because, in an unguarded moment, I compared
her to an old woman. It is so hard to remember, always, that you must
not tell an old woman she is not young."

And Cora laughed immoderately, for she much enjoyed her
sister-in-law's discomfiture.

But Miss Arthur did not dismiss the matter from her mind, when she
banged the door upon Céline. Angry as she had been with that damsel,
it was not anger alone that moved her. Jealousy was at work, and
suspicion.

That evening, sitting beside her lover, she said to him, carelessly:
"By the way, Edward, were you ever in Baltimore?"

The gentleman stroked his blonde whiskers, and smiled languidly as he
answered: "In Baltimore? Oh, yes; I think there are few cities I have
not visited." And then something in the face of Miss Arthur made him
inquire, with a slight acceleration of speech: "But why do you ask?"

Miss Arthur considered for a moment, and replied: "My maid, Céline,
thinks that she has seen you there."

She was watching him keenly, and fancied that he looked just a trifle
annoyed, even when he smiled lazily at her, saying: "Indeed! And when
is your maid supposed to have seen me there?"

"I don't know when,"--Miss Arthur was beginning to feel injured; "I
suppose you are well known in society there?"

He smiled and still caressed his chin. "So so," he said,
indifferently.

"Edward!"--the spinster could not suppress the question that was heavy
on her mind--"were you ever engaged to a lady in Baltimore?"

He turned his blue eyes upon her in mild surprise. "Never," he said,
nonchalantly.

She looked somewhat relieved, but still anxious, and the man, after
eyeing her for a moment, placing one hand firmly upon her own, said,
in a tone that was half caress, half command,

"Ellen, you have been listening to gossip about me. Now, let me hear
the whole story, for I see it has troubled you, and I will not have
that."

She, glad to unburden her mind, told him what Céline had said. Perhaps
Céline had counted upon this, and was making, of the unconscious Mr.
Percy, a tool that should serve her in just the way that he did. At
all events, while he listened to the spinster, he assured himself that
if the French maid were not, for some reason, an enemy, she was
certainly a meddler, and that she must quit Miss Arthur's service.

He said nothing to this end that evening. But he fully satisfied Miss
Arthur that he was not the person referred to by the girl. And to
guard against further inquiries or accidents, he told her of several
men of the name of Percy, who were much in society, and might be, any
one of them, the man in question.

And his _fiancé_ was calmed and happy once more.

She was as clay in the potter's hands, and Mr. Percy found it an easy
matter to convince her, a few days later, that her invaluable maid was
not the proper person to have about her. Accordingly, one fine
morning, Céline was informed, in the spinster's loftiest manner, that
her services were no longer desired, and a month's wages were tendered
her, with the assurance that Miss Arthur "had not been blind to her
sly ways, and trickery, and that she had only retained her until she
could suit herself better."

Céline took her _congé_ in demure silence, and sought Mrs. Arthur
forthwith. Cora was really glad that she could at last command the
girl, for many reasons, and they quickly came to an understanding.

Great was the surprise and inward wrath of the spinster when, within
ten minutes from the time Céline had left her presence, a maid without
a mistress, she appeared again before her, and laying upon the
dressing case the month's wages she had received in lieu of a warning,
said:

"Mademoiselle will receive back the month's wages, as I have not been
in the least a loser by her dismissal. I enter the service of madame
immediately."

And then Céline had smiled blandly, bowed, and taken her departure,
leaving the spinster to wonder how on earth she should manage her
hair-dressing, and to wish that Edward had not insisted upon setting
the girl adrift until a substitute had been found.

The fact that the girl was retained in the house annoyed Mr. Percy not
a little. But it did not surprise him that Cora should wish to keep
her. He had long before made the discovery that the sisters-in-law
were not more fond of each other than was essential to the comfort of
both.

Céline had been but two days in the service of her new mistress when
that lady found herself too ill to be dressed for breakfast, even in
her own room, and she kept her bed all day.

John Arthur, in some alarm, had declared his intention of calling a
physician. But Cora objected so strongly that he had refrained. Before
evening came, however, Céline sought him, as he was sitting in what he
chose to call his "study," and said:

"Pardon my intrusion, monsieur, but I am distressed about madame. This
afternoon she is not so well, and surely she should have some
medicine."

The old man wrinkled his brows in perplexity, as he replied: "Yes,
yes, girl; but she won't let me call a doctor."

Céline sighed, and moving a step nearer, murmured: "Monsieur, I will
venture to repeat what madame but now said to me, if I may."

He signed her to proceed.

"Madame said that a stranger would only make her worse; that she would
distrust anyone she did not know; but that if her dear old physician,
who had attended her always in sickness, could see her, she would be
glad. Alas! he was in New York, and she did not like to ask that he
might be sent for. It would seem to you childish."

Of course this speech had been made at Cora's instigation, but it had
the desired effect. John Arthur bounded up, and bade Céline precede
him to his wife's chamber; and the result of his visit was what the
invalid had intended it to be. She was so pretty, and so pathetic, and
so very ill! Céline declared that she was growing more fevered every
moment, and as for her pulse, it was like a trip-hammer.

John Arthur had an unutterable fear of illness, and after trying in
vain to persuade Cora to see one of the village doctors, whom, he
declared, were very good ones, he announced his intention to telegraph
to the city for the doctor who had been her adviser in earlier days.

And to this Cora reluctantly consented. "It seems foolish," she said,
plaintively, "and yet I don't think I _ought_ to refuse to send for
Doctor Le Guise. I feel as if I were really about to be very ill, hard
as I have tried to fight off the weakness that is coming over me."

"And madame is so flushed, and wanders so in her sleep,"--this, of
course, from Céline.

John Arthur arose from the side of the couch with considerable
alacrity, saying: "I will telegraph at once. What is the address?"

Cora lay back among her pillows, with closed eyes, and made no sign
that she heard. He spoke again, and the eyes unclosed slowly, and she
said, with slow languor:

"Send to my brother; he will find him." Then closing her eyes, she
murmured, "I want to sleep now."

Céline turned toward him an awe-struck countenance and motioned him to
be silent. He tip-toed from the room, thoroughly frightened and
nervous, and sent a message to Lucian Davlin forthwith.

When he was safely away, Cora awoke from her nap, and desired Céline
to let in more light. This done, she propped herself up among her
pillows, and taking from underneath one of them a novel, bade her maid
tell everybody that she was not to be disturbed, while she read and
looked more comfortable than ill.

Towards evening, John Arthur looked in, or rather tried to look in,
upon his wife. But Céline assured him that her mistress was sleeping
fitfully and seemed much disturbed and agitated at the slightest
sound, so his alarm grew and increased.

When the evening train came he hoped almost against reason that it
would bring the now eagerly looked for Dr. Le Guise.

But no one came. Later, however, a telegram from Lucian arrived, which
read as follows:

     Doctor can't get off to-night. Will be down by morning
     train.

                              D----.

In the morning, Cora was much worse. She did not recognize her
husband, and called Miss Arthur, Lady Mallory, which made a great
impression upon that spinster.

Céline, who seemed to know just what to do, turned them both out,
which did not displease either greatly, as the brother and sister were
equally afraid of contagion, and were nervous in a sick-room.

At length the doctor arrived, and with him Lucian Davlin, the latter
looking very grave and anxious, the former looking very grave and
wise.

Céline was summoned to prepare the patient for the coming of the
physician. When this had been done, and the wise man arose to go to
his patient, John Arthur and Lucian would have followed him. But he
waved them back, saying: "Not now, gentlemen, if you please; let me
examine my patient first. That is always safest and wisest."

So the three, Lucian, Arthur, and his sister, sat in solemn silence
awaiting the verdict of the doctor from Europe. At last he came, and
the gravity of his face was something to marvel at. Advancing toward
Mr. Arthur, the doctor seemed to be looking him through and through as
he asked:

"Will you tell me how lately you have been in your wife's room."

John Arthur answered him with pallid lips. "We were there this
morning, my sister and I."

The doctor turned toward Miss Arthur, looking, if possible, more
serious than ever.

"I am sorry, very sorry," he said. "And I hope you have incurred no
risks. But it is my duty to tell you that Mrs. Arthur is attacked with
a fever of a most malignant and contagious type, and you have
certainly been exposed."

Mr. Arthur turned the color of chalk and dropped into the nearest
chair. Miss Arthur, who could not change her color, shrieked and fell
upon the sofa. Lucian groaned after the most approved fashion. And
the man of medicine continued,

"Above all things, don't agitate yourselves; be calm. I would advise
you to retire to your own rooms, and remain there for the present. I
will immediately prepare some powders, which you will take hourly. We
will begin in time, and hope that you may both escape the contagion."

[Illustration: "I am sorry, very sorry."--page 288.]

Then he turned to Mr. Davlin. "My dear boy, you had better go back to
the city; at least go away from the house. This is no place for you."

But Lucian shook his head, and said that he would not leave while his
sister was in danger.

The following morning Dr. Le Guise presented himself at the door of
Miss Arthur's dressing-room. After making many inquiries, such as
doctors are wont to terrify patients with, he pronounced upon the
case: She had thus far escaped contagion. But her system was not over
strong; in fact, was extremely delicate. If there was any place near
at hand, suited to a lady like herself, his advice was to go there
without delay. She was not rugged enough to risk remaining where she
was.

Before sunset, Miss Arthur was quartered at the Bellair inn. She had
dispatched Mr. Percy a note the day before, bidding him delay his
visit. Now she was under the same roof with him, greatly to her
delight, and his disgust.

John Arthur had not fared so well at the hands of the learned
physician. He had swallowed his powders faithfully and hopefully, but
the morning found him languid and dismal, with aching brain and
nauseated stomach.

The doctor shook his head, and bade him prepare for a slight attack of
the fever. It promised to be very slight, but he must keep his room,
for a few days at least, and attend to his medicine and his diet.

And so the drama had commenced in earnest.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A STARTLING EPISODE.


Claire Keith had said truly that the woman across the way would prove
interesting to her.

She grew more and more fond of watching for the tall form, with its
trailing robes of black, its proudly-poised, heavily-veiled head, and
slow, graceful movement. Sometimes she saw a white hand pull away the
heavy curtains, and knew that the owner of the hand was looking out
upon the street. But the face was always in shadow. She could not
catch the slightest glimpse of it.

"She has strong reasons for not wishing to be seen and recognized; I
wonder what they are?" Claire would soliloquize at such times.

Then she would chide herself for being so curious. But the fits of
wondering grew stronger, until she came to feel an attraction that was
more than mere curiosity; a sort of proprietorship, as it were, in the
strange lady. She began to wish that she might know her, and at last,
in a very unexpected manner, the wish was gratified.

Claire had returned from a grand ball, weary and somewhat bored.
Disrobing with unusual haste, she sought her couch. She had supposed
herself very sleepy, but no sooner was her head upon the pillow, than
sleep abandoned her, and she tossed restlessly, and very wide awake.

Finding sleep impossible, and herself growing nervous, Claire at
length arose. Throwing on a dressing-gown, she pushed a large chair
to the window, and flinging herself in it, drew back the curtain.
Glancing across the way, she was startled by a light shining out from
the upper windows of the mysterious house. She had looked at that
house when quitting her carriage, because to look had become a habit.
But there had been no light then; not one glimmer. And now the entire
upper floor was brilliantly illuminated.

Claire rubbed her eyes and looked again. Then, with a cry of alarm,
she sprang to her feet and rang her bell violently.

From the roof of the house a single flame had shot up, and Claire
realized the cause of that strange illumination. The upper floor was
in flames!

She turned up the gas and commenced making a hurried toilet. By the
time the sleepy servant appeared in answer to her ring, she was
wrapping a worsted shawl about her head and shoulders, preparatory to
going out.

"Rouse papa and the servants, James!" she commanded, sharply. "Number
two hundred is on fire! Go instantly!"

Giving the startled and bewildered James a push in the direction of
her father's sleeping-room, she darted down the stairs. She unbolted
and unchained the street door, and hurried straight across to number
two hundred, where she rang peal after peal.

The tiny flame had grown a great one by this time, and almost
simultaneously with her ring at the door, the hoarse fire-alarm bell
roared out its warning.

It seemed an age to the girl before she heard bolts drawn back. Then
the face of an elderly male servant peered cautiously out through a
six-inch opening. In sharp, quick tones Claire told him that the roof
was in flames. The statement seemed only to paralyze the man.

Claire gave the door an excited push and spoke to him again. But he
never moved until a voice, that evidently belonged to the lady of the
house, said: "What is it, Peter?"

Claire answered for him: "Madame, the roof of your house is in flames!
Alarm your servants and make your escape!"

Through the doorway Claire saw a white hand laid on the man's
shoulder, and suddenly he became galvanized into life.

Then the chain fell, and the door opened wide.

Claire and the mysterious lady were face to face.

By this time the people were moving in the street, and from the
windows of Claire's home, lights were flashing.

The woman drew back at the sound of the first footstep, and seemed to
hesitate, with a look of uneasiness upon her face. Instantly Claire
spoke the thought that had been in her mind when she rang the bell:
"Madame, your house will soon be surrounded by strangers. Secure such
valuables as are at hand and come with me across to my home. There you
will be safe from intruders."

The lady raised her hand, and saying, simply, "Wait," hurried up the
broad stairs.

Now all was confusion. Down the street came the rushing fire engines;
servants ran about frantically, and people went tearing past Claire in
the crazy desire to seize something and smash it on the paving stones,
thereby convincing themselves that they were "helping at a fire."
Regardless of these, Claire stood at her post like a little sentinel.
Just as the first engine halted before the house, the mistress of all
that doomed grandeur crossed its threshold for the last time. Then she
turned to Claire, and the two hurried silently through the throng, and
across the street. The door was fortunately ajar. The servants and
Mr. Keith were all outside, so the girl and her companion had been
unobserved.

Claire led the way straight to her own room. Ushering in her
companion, she closed the door upon chance intruders, and turned to
look at her. The stranger had appeared at the door in a dressing-gown
of dark silk, and this she still wore, having thrown over it a long
cloak, and wrapped about her head, so as to almost entirely conceal
her features, a costly cashmere shawl. This she now removed, and
revealed to the anxious gaze of Claire the face of a woman past the
prime of life;--a face that had never been handsome, but which bore
unmistakable signs of refinement and culture in every feature. The
eyes were large, dark-gray, and undeniably beautiful. The hair was
wavy and abundant; once it had been black as midnight, but now it was
plentifully streaked with gray. The face was thin and almost
colorless. The hands were still beautiful, with long slender fingers
and delicate veining; the very _beau ideal_ of aristocratic hands.

This much Claire saw almost at a glance. Then the lady said, in a low,
sweet voice that was in perfect unison with the hands, and eyes, and
general bearing:

"I cannot tell you, dear young lady, how much I thank you for your
courage and hospitality. I could not have endured the going out upon
the street in that throng."

Claire laughed softly, and said, with characteristic frankness: "I
guessed that, madame, for I must confess to having, on more than one
occasion, seen that you do not desire observation."

[Illustration: "The mistress of all the doomed grandeur crossed the
threshold for the last time."--page 293.]

The stranger looked at her with evident admiration. "You were kinder
and more thoughtful for a stranger than I have found most of our sex,
Miss ----; I beg your pardon; I am so much of a hermit that I don't
even know your name."

"My name is Keith,--Claire Keith."

Then the girl crossed to the window and looked over at the burning
building, while the stranger sank wearily into a chair.

"Your house is going fast, madame. I fear nothing can be saved," said
Claire. "The upper floor is already gone."

The stranger smiled slightly, but never so much as glanced out at her
disappearing home.

"I hope my landlord is well insured," she said. "As for me, I have my
chiefest valuables here," drawing from underneath the cloak, which she
had only partially thrown off, a small casket, and a morocco case that
evidently contained papers. "I keep these always near me; as for the
rest, there is nothing lost that money cannot replace."

Claire looked a trifle surprised at her indifference to the
destruction of her elegant furniture, but made no answer. And the
stranger fell into thoughtful silence.

A rap sounded on the door, and a gentle voice outside said: "Claire,
dear, are you there?"

The girl turned upon the stranger a look of embarrassed inquiry. "That
is mamma," she said.

The lady smiled half sadly at her evident perturbation, and replied,
with a touch of dignity in her tone, "Admit your mother, my dear. I
was about to ask for her."

Claire drew a sigh of relief and opened the door.

"My child," began Mrs. Keith, as she hurriedly entered the room,
"James tells me that you--"

Here she broke off as her eyes fell upon the stranger, and Claire
hastened to say: "Mamma, this is the lady whose house is burning. I
ran over there as soon as I saw the first flame and asked her to come
here."

Mrs. Keith was not only a lady, but a woman of good sense, and she
turned courteously toward the intruder, saying, "You did quite right,
my dear. I trust you have not been too seriously a loser by this
misfortune, madame."

The lady had risen. Now she stepped forward and said, in her
unmistakably high-bred tones, "I have suffered no material injury, I
assure you. And your daughter has done me a great kindness. I was
about to ask if I might see you, as I felt that it was to you, as the
mistress of this house, that I owed some explanation regarding myself,
before accepting further hospitality from your daughter."

Mrs. Keith bowed gravely, and the stranger continued,

"My name is Mrs. Ralston. I have lived for nearly ten years a secluded
life, having been an invalid. Messrs. Allyne & Clive are my bankers,
and have been for years. Mr. Allyne is an old family friend. If you
will ask your husband to call upon him, you will be assured that I am
not a mysterious adventuress."

Mrs. Ralston smiled slightly, and Mrs. Keith smiled in return as she
said, cordially: "Your face and manner assure me of that, Mrs.
Ralston. And now will you not permit me to show you a room where you
can rest a little, for it is almost morning, and your night's repose
has been sadly disturbed."

"I must accept your hospitality, Mrs. Keith, and ask to be allowed to
intrude upon you until I can communicate with Mr. Allyne, and he can
find me a suitable place of residence."

"Don't let that trouble you, pray. We shall be happy to have you
remain our guest," and Mrs. Keith turned to leave the room.

Mrs. Ralston held out her hand to Claire, and that impulsive young
lady clasped it in both her own, as they bade each other good-night.
And so the mysterious lady was actually under the same roof with the
girl who had been so much interested in her and her possible history.

Mr. Allyne was well known to Mr. Keith, and a man whom he highly
esteemed. On the following day, at the request of Mrs. Ralston, he
called at the banking-house of Allyne & Clive.

On learning that Mrs. Ralston was the guest of his brother banker, and
of the demolition of her house, Mr. Allyne was doubly surprised. And
his statement concerning the lady was not only satisfactory but highly
gratifying. She had been left an orphan in her girlhood, and was from
one of the oldest and proudest of Virginia's old and proud families.
She had now no very near relatives, and having separated from a
worthless husband, had lived mostly in Europe. She had resumed her
family name, and although the husband from whom she had withdrawn
herself, had squandered nearly half her fortune, she was still a
wealthy woman. He spoke in highest terms of praise of her mind and
accomplishments, and assured Mr. Keith that she was not only a woman
of unusual refinement and culture, but one also of loftiest principles
and purest Christianity. If it were not that it would be the very
place where this worthless husband would be likeliest to find her, he
would not allow her to occupy any home save his own. And, lastly, Mr.
Allyne stated that if he, Mr. Keith, could prevail upon Mrs. Ralston
to remain under his roof, he would do Mr. Allyne a great favor.

"For," concluded that gentleman, "she lives too secluded, and she is
so well fitted for such society as that of your wife and daughter; she
is a woman to grace any household."

Mr. Keith returned home and faithfully reported all that he had heard
concerning their guest.

Claire had been very much in love with the grave, stately lady from
the first, and after a morning's chat with her, Mrs. Keith was not far
behind in admiration.

And the woman who had lived alone so much, found this cheery little
family circle very pleasant, so when Claire and her mother begged her
with much earnestness to remain with them, she did not refuse.

"I cannot resist the invitation which I feel to be so sincere," she
said. "I will remain with you for a time, at least, but I am too much
of a hermit to tarry long where there is such a magnet as this,"
turning to Claire.

And Claire laughingly declared that she would forswear society, and
don a veil of any thickness, if only Mrs. Ralston would share her
isolation.

So she stayed with them, and soon became as a dearly loved sister to
Mrs. Keith; while between herself and Claire, an attachment, as
unusual as it was strong, sprang into being. They drove together, read
together, talked together by the hour, and never seemed to weary of
each other's society.

Enthusiastic Claire wrote to Olive and Madeline, giving glowing
descriptions of her new found friend. But because of the events that
were making Olive and Madeline doubly dear to her, and because she
could not speak of them to a stranger, however loved and trusted,
Claire said little to Mrs. Ralston of her sister or of the little
heroine of Oakley.



CHAPTER XXX.

WAITING.


The expert who had been tracing out the goings and doings of Percy,
made his report.

After it had been thoroughly reviewed by Clarence and Olive, they were
forced to confess that they were not one whit the wiser. The detective
had found how and where Percy had squandered much of his fortune, but
had brought to light absolutely nothing that could be of use to his
employers. And so they abandoned the investigation in that direction.

But when the report of the Professor's case was sent in, they found
more cause for congratulation. First, it had been discovered that the
Professor had visited three different physicians, all of them men
bearing reputations not over spotless. Next he had made sundry
purchases from two different chemists; and third, last and all
important, he had been dogged to the bazaar of a dealer in theatrical
wares, where he had purchased a wig, beard, and other articles of
disguise.

Two days had passed since the above discoveries were reported. Then
the detective called upon Dr. Vaughan and informed him that Mr. Davlin
and the Professor, the latter disguised with wig, beard and
spectacles, had taken the early morning train that very day, and that
he, the detective, had been lounging so near that he heard Davlin call
for two tickets to Bellair.

And then they knew that the siege had begun.

Three days later, Olive received the following letter, which speaks
for itself:

                                OAKLEY, WEDNESDAY EVENING.

     DEAR OLIVE:

     The engagement has opened in earnest.

     Last evening, Mr. D. and _le Docteur_, between them,
     frightened the two maids out of the house. This morning I
     succeeded in scaring away the old housekeeper, which made a
     shortage in servants. Old Hagar happened along just then _by
     some chance_, and declared herself not at all afraid of
     contagion; so madame bade her brother employ her. The cook
     remains, as _Monsieur_ and _le Docteur_ must eat. My meals
     are served in madame's dressing-room, and shared by that
     lady.

     Courage, my friend, our time is almost here. And I am yours
     till death,

                                   M----.

This letter was perused by Olive and Clarence with almost breathless
eagerness and interest. And then they found themselves once more
waiting eagerly for fresh tidings from the "seat of war," as Clarence
termed it.

At last came a letter from Madeline that aroused them as the clarion
stirs those arrayed for battle. It ran as follows, bearing neither
date nor signature:

     TO ARMS, MY FRIENDS!

     If you were among the village gossips to-day, this is what
     you would hear, for it is what is fast spreading itself
     through the town:

     The lady up at the mansion has been very ill, but is now
     better. Her husband took the fever from her, and, being old
     and his constitution enfeebled by the dissipation of his
     earlier days, he came near dying. Now they hope that he will
     live, although the danger is not yet passed. But _if he does
     live_ he will never be himself again. The fever has affected
     his brain, and he will be _hopelessly mad_.

     That is what the villagers know.

     What they do not know is, that Mr. D---- and the _doctor_
     have already fitted up two rooms in the most secluded part
     of the closed-up wing, and that the "insane" man will be
     removed to those rooms to-night.

     One fact concerning _le Docteur_, your expert has failed to
     discover, is that at some time the man has made a study of
     medicine. This is only a theory of mine, not a discovery;
     but when I tell you what he did, I think that you both will
     agree with me. A few days ago the _doctor_ walked down to
     the village one morning, and coolly presented himself at the
     door of Doctor G----'s office.

     Doctor G---- is the least popular and least skillful of the
     three physicians here, but of course the city man was not
     supposed to know that. He, the city doctor, informed Doctor
     G---- that although his employer had not desired it, as he
     had perfect confidence in the present treatment of Mr.
     A----, still it was always his practice to consult with
     another physician.

     So he desired Doctor G---- to accompany him to O---- and see
     his patient; not that he had any doubts about the disease,
     but because, in case of a serious termination, it was always
     a consolation to the friends to know that every precaution
     had been taken. Doctor G---- came, to find the patient in a
     bedrugged stupor. He endorsed everything _le Docteur_ chose
     to say, and went away feeling much puffed-up because of
     having been called in to consult with a New York physician.

     You see they are moving very carefully, and do not intend to
     have any doubts raised.

     Miss A---- of course remains in the village, and receives
     reports daily concerning her brother, and her Knight is
     still at her elbow.

     Henry has been here for a week, and does not dream of my
     identity.

     Hagar and myself, between us, have managed to get possession
     of a specimen of every drug that has been administered to
     Mr. A----, also of the harmless nostrums that are dealt out
     to madame for appearance's sake.

     There is but one thing more that I must accomplish, and that
     must be done to-night, if possible. If I succeed in this,
     two days more will see me _en route_ for the city. If I
     fail--then I must remain here, if I can, and try again. In
     any case, I must make my new move within the week. So look
     out for the chrysalis; it remains for you to develop it into
     the butterfly.

This letter chanced to arrive during one of Doctor Vaughan's afternoon
visits, and Olive read it aloud to him, saying at the end, and almost
without taking breath,

"Something she must accomplish first. If she has secured the
medicines, and they are safe not to run away in her absence, then what
is it she means?"

Clarence shook his head, saying: "I have no idea. She speaks as if the
thing, whatever it is, was attended with some risk."

"And this explains Henry's absence," Olive said, tapping the letter in
her lap. "No doubt he was summoned without any previous warning. Of
course, he is a mere tool for his master. They will hardly dare let
him see their game."

"Hardly; but if they were not using him to Madeline's satisfaction,
she would have revealed herself to him."

"True."

"We are approaching a crisis now. If this new movement fails,--but I
hardly think it will."

Olive looked up in alarm. "Oh, don't suggest failure," she exclaimed.
"She _must_ succeed. What will become of poor Philip if she does not?"

Clarence lifted his face reverently. "I believe that the Power above
us, who permits evil to be because only from pain and sorrow comes
purification, has not permitted the life of this beautiful young girl
to be darkened in vain. Out of her wrongs, and her sorrows, and her
humiliation, He will allow her own hands to shape not only a strong,
true, earnest womanhood for herself, but the weapons which shall
deliver the innocent, and bring the guilty to justice."

And Olive felt comforted, and her hope took new wings.



CHAPTER XXXI.

MR. PERCY SHAKES HIMSELF.


It was noontide at Oakley, and a December sun was shining coldly in at
the window of Mrs. Cora Arthur's dressing-room. Within that cozy room,
however, all was warmth and brightness. A cheerful fire was blazing
and crackling in the grate. Sitting before the fire, wrapped in a
becoming dressing-gown of white cashmere, was Cora herself, looking a
trifle annoyed, but remarkably well withal. Wonderfully well,
considering how very ill she had been.

Lounging near her, his feet lazily outstretched toward the fire, was
Lucian Davlin.

"What did you write to Percy?" he inquired, consulting his watch.

"Just what you told me; that I had something of importance to
communicate, and desired him to call to-day at two," replied Cora.

"But--aren't you looking a little too well for a lady who has been so
desperately ill? It won't do to arouse his suspicions, you know."

Cora crossed to her dressing-case, went carefully over her face with a
puff-ball, and did some very artistic tracing in India ink under and
over each eye. Then she turned toward him triumphantly. "There!" she
exclaimed, "now I shall draw the curtains," suiting the action to the
word, "and then, when I lie on this couch, my face will be entirely in
the shadow, while from the further window there will come enough light
to enable him to recognize you."

At this moment a rap was heard at the door. Cora threw herself upon
the invalid's couch, and lay back among the pillows. When she had
settled herself to her satisfaction, Mr. Davlin opened the door,
admitting Céline Leroque.

"Monsieur Percy is below, madame," said the girl, glancing sharply at
the form in the darkened corner.

"Come and draw these coverings over me, Céline, and then go and bring
him up," replied Cora.

Then she glanced at Lucian, who said, carelessly: "Well, my dear, I
will go down to the library."

Céline adjusted the wraps and pillows and then went out, closely
followed by Lucian. She was not aware that Mr. Percy was expected, the
message having been sent by Henry. And she was not a little anxious to
know the nature of the interview that was about to be held.

Mr. Percy, conducted to Cora's door by Céline, entered the room with
his usual lazy grace, and approached the recumbent figure in the
darkened corner, saying, in a tone of hypocritical solicitude:

"Madame, I trust you are not overtaxing your strength in thus kindly
granting me an interview."

He knew so well how to assume the manner best calculated to throw her
off her guard and into a rage.

But Cora, understanding his tactics, and her own failing, was prepared
for him. In tones as smooth as his own she answered:

"You are very good, and I find my strength returning quite rapidly. In
fact," and here a double meaning was apparent, as she intended it
should be, "I think I shall soon be _stronger_ than before my
illness."

There was silence for a moment. Evidently Mr. Percy was not inclined
to help her to put into words whatever she had in her mind.

"I sent for you," she continued, "because I have something to say
before you meet with a person who, as you are likely to remain one of
this pleasant family, you must of necessity, and for policy's sake,
meet with the outward forms of politeness." Here she paused as if from
exhaustion, and he, lifting his fine eyebrows slightly, kept silence
still.

Cora, beginning to find her part irksome, hurried to its conclusion.
"You have heard, no doubt, of the presence of my brother in this
house. I sent for you that you might meet him, and I desired my maid
to show you to this room first, that I might venture a word of warning
and advice. My brother is not the stranger that you evidently imagine
him. Beyond the fact that you and I were once married, that I of my
own will forsook you, and the reason, or part of the reason for so
doing, he knows little of our affairs. For my sake he will make no use
of that knowledge. But I think it best that you understand each other.
Will you please ring that bell?"

He obeyed her, looking much mystified and somewhat apprehensive.
Céline appeared promptly, and disappeared again in answer to Cora's
command:

"Show my brother here, Céline."

When the door opened, he turned slowly and met the cool gaze
of--Lucian Davlin!

That personage approached the invalid, saying: "You sent for me to
introduce me to this gentleman, I suppose, Cora?"

Mr. Percy arose slowly, and the two confronted each other, while Cora
nodded her head, as if unable to answer his words.

As Percy advanced the light from the one window that had been left
unshrouded fell full upon the two men, who gazed upon each other with
the utmost _sang froid_. Two handsomer scoundrels never stood at bay.
And while the dark face expressed haughty insolence, the blonde
features looked as if, after all, the occasion called for nothing more
fatiguing than a stare of indolent surprise.

Cora's voice broke the silence: "Mr. Davlin is my brother, Mr. Percy.
Please stop staring at each other, gentlemen, and come to some sort of
an understanding."

"Really, this is a most agreeable surprise," drawled Percy, looking
from one to the other with perfect coolness.

[Illustration: "Mr. Percy arose slowly, and the two confronted each
other."--page 306.]

"And quite dramatic in effect," sneered Davlin, flinging himself
into a chair. "Sit down, Percy; one may as well be comfortable. How's
the fair spinster to-day?"

Percy waved away the question, and resumed his seat and his languid
attitude, saying: "Upon my word this _is_ quite dramatic."

Davlin laughed, airily. "Even so. I hope the fact that this lady is my
sister will explain some things to you more satisfactorily than they
have hitherto been explained. And if so, we had better let bygones
drop."

Percy turned his eyes away from the speaker, and let them rest upon
the face of Cora. Again ignoring the remark addressed to him, he said,
slowly: "I don't see any very strong family resemblance."

"I don't suppose you ever will," retorted Davlin, coolly.

"And I don't precisely see the object of this interview," Percy
continued.

Davlin made a gesture of impatience, and said, sharply: "Hang it all,
man, the object is soon got at! It's a simple question and answer."

Percy brushed an imaginary particle of dust off his sleeve with the
greatest care, and then lifted his eyes and said, interrogatively:
"Well?"

"Will you have war or peace?"

"That depends."

"Upon what?"

"The terms."

"Well!"

"Well?"

"What do you want?"

Percy examined his finger nails, attentively, as if looking for his
next idea there. "To be let alone," he said, at last.

Davlin laughed. "And to let alone?"

"Of course."

"Then we won't waste words. Rely upon us to help, rather than hinder
you. There's no use bringing up old scores. If you vote for an
alliance of forces, very good."

Percy nodded, and then rising, said: "Well, if that is all, I will
take my leave. No doubt quiet is best for Mrs. Arthur," bowing
ironically. "By-the-by," meaningly, "when you find yourself in the
village, Davlin, it might not be amiss to show yourself at the inn."

"Quite right," said Davlin, gravely. "Possibly I may look in upon you
to-morrow."

Mr. Percy nodded; made a graceful gesture of adieu to Cora, who
murmured inaudibly in reply; and the two men quitted her presence.

In a few moments Davlin returned to Cora, smiling and serene. "I told
you we could easily manage him," he said. "He won't trouble himself to
go to war, save in his own defence. You did the invalid beautifully,
Co., and I feel quite satisfied with the present state of things."

But Mr. Percy had not looked and listened for nothing. He went
straight to his room, and shutting himself in, began to think
diligently. Finally he summed up his case on his fingers as follows:

"First, are they brother and sister? I don't believe it. Second,
taking it for granted they are not, what is their game? If the old man
dies, and if I can ferret out the mystery, for I believe there is one,
_who knows but that two fortunes may come into my hands_? I must watch
them, and to do that, Ellen must go back to Oakley, and they must
invite me to be their guest!"

Mr. Percy arose and shook himself, mentally and physically

But alas for Céline! She had heard almost every word of the interview,
through the key-hole of a door leading into an adjoining room, and it
had told her nothing, save that there was to be peace between the two
men, and that there had been, perhaps, war.



CHAPTER XXXII.

A SILKEN BELT.


Mr. Percy and Miss Arthur were openly engaged now, and were anxiously
waiting for the recovery of the sick at Oakley, in order to celebrate
their marriage.

The spinster was in a frame of mind to grant almost any favor to her
lover to-night. And when at last she, herself, led up to the subject
she wished to broach, he foresaw an easy victory.

"Oh, Edward," she sighed, with a very dramatic shudder, "you cannot
think how I dread to-morrow's ordeal, the visit to my brother! Suppose
poor John were to rave at me,--me, his own sister!"

He took the hand that was quite as large as his own, and caressed it
reassuringly. "I don't think there is the slightest danger, Ellen,
dear, but I am convinced I must attend you to-morrow. I shall feel
better to be with you."

"Oh, Edward!" sighed the maiden, enraptured at this declaration of
tenderness, "you are so careful of me."

He smiled and still caressed her hand, saying: "Listen, darling,"
drawing her nearer to him, "I don't like to have you here; it is not a
fit place for you. And I find that remarks are being made. This I
cannot endure. Besides, I do not think it right for you or me to leave
your brother so entirely at the mercy of--Mrs. Arthur. Promise me that
you will consult a physician to-morrow, and as soon as the danger of
contagion is past, you will go back."

"But I can't bear to leave _you_, Edward."

"And you shall not. I will come to Oakley too."

"You? Oh, how nice! Have they asked you to come?"

"I saw Mrs. Arthur's brother to-day, and we settled that."

"Oh, _did_ you? Then you are good friends again?"

He turned upon her a look of inquiry. "Again?"

"Yes; Cora told me not to speak of Mr. Davlin to you, as you were not
good friends, and it might make you less free to come to the house."

Mr. Percy's eyebrows went up perceptibly. "Mrs. Arthur is very
thoughtful; but she was mistaken; our little misunderstanding has not
made us serious enemies."

"Oh, how nice!" rapturously.

"_Very_ nice," dryly. "Now you will be a good girl and go back soon?"

"I don't think Cora will be over anxious to have me come back," she
said, looking like a meditative cat-bird. "I know she kept that Céline
in the house to spite me."

"I can readily understand how she might be jealous of you, dear.
Perhaps she fears your influence over your brother. At any rate, your
duty lies there. When it is time to do so, don't consult her or
anyone; take possession of your former apartments, and stand by your
brother in his hour of need."

Miss Arthur promised to comply with her lover's request, and he
managed at last to escape from her, and seek the repose which he
preferred to such society.

All this time John Arthur was a prisoner in the west wing. He was
attended by the doctor sometimes, by Céline occasionally, and by Henry
almost constantly since the arrival of that sable individual.

Lucian Davlin, having no taste for the work, kept aloof as much as
possible. Himself and Dr. Le Guise, as he called his confederate, had
labored hard and, with the assistance of old Hagar, had put the rooms
in proper condition for the occupancy of a lunatic. And a lunatic John
Arthur certainly was. Once before his removal, and once since, he had
been seized with a paroxysm of undeniable insanity.

John Arthur had been, and still was, the dupe of his supposed
brother-in-law and Dr. Le Guise. We have all heard of natures that can
be frightened into sickness, almost into dying; of an imaginary
disease. John Arthur's was one of these. And, with a little aid from
Dr. Le Guise, he had been really quite ill.

Henry had been constituted his keeper, a position which he filled with
reluctance, and there was a fair prospect that sooner or later he
would break into open mutiny. Although he could not guess at the
nature of the game his master was playing, yet he felt assured that it
was something desperate, if not dangerous.

He had promised "his young lady," as he called Madeline, to remain in
Mr. Davlin's service until she bade him withdraw, and but for this
would hardly have submitted to remain John Arthur's keeper on any
terms. Henry had a certain pride of his own, and that pride was in
revolt against this new servitude.

He had not met Cora here, and had no idea that she was an inmate of
the house.

Dr. Le Guise had relieved Henry on the morning of the day that Miss
Arthur ventured, for the first time since her flight, within the walls
of Oakley manor, escorted by Mr. Percy. He had detected some signs of
fever, although Mr. Arthur declared himself feeling better, and
administered a powder to check it.

Soon the patient began to show signs of increasing restlessness, and
by the time Henry appeared to announce that Miss Arthur desired an
interview with Dr. Le Guise, he began to wrangle with his physician
and gave expression to various vagaries.

Consigning his charge to Henry, with the remark that he "must watch
him close, and not let him get hold of anything," Dr. Le Guise hurried
down to the drawing-room.

The doctor listened to Miss Arthur attentively, while she made known
her desire to return to the manor if the danger of contagion was at an
end. Then he replied, hurriedly:

"Quite right; quite admirable. But if you will take my advice, I
should say, don't come just yet. There will be no danger to you, in
going to your unfortunate brother for just a few moments--a very
few--and then going straight out of the house into a purer atmosphere.
But to remain here now, to breathe this air just yet--my dear lady, I
could not encourage that; the danger would be too great."

And then he led the way straight in to John Arthur's presence,
explaining as they went that the cause of his removal from his own
rooms was to escape the fever impregnations still clinging there.

John Arthur was sitting in the middle of his bed, beating his pillows
wildly, and imploring Henry, between shrieks of laughter, to come and
kiss him, evidently mistaking him for some blooming damsel. As the
damsel declined to come, the lunatic became furious, and hurled the
pillows, and afterwards his night-cap, at him, with blazing eyes and
cat-like agility. This done, he began to rock himself to and fro, and
shout out the words of some old song to an improvised tune that was
all on one note.

Dr. Le Guise turned to Mr. Percy, whispering: "You see; that's the way
he goes on, only worse at times."

Mr. Percy turned away. The fair spinster who had been clinging to him
in a paroxysm of terror, attempted to faint, but remembering her
complexion thought better of it and contented herself with being half
led, half carried out, in a "walking swoon." And both she and Mr.
Percy felt there was no longer room to doubt the insanity of her
brother.

Having seen them depart, Dr. Le Guise sought out Mr. Davlin. Finding
him in Cora's room, he entered and informed the pair of the desire
Miss Arthur had manifested to come back to her brother's roof, and of
his mode of putting off the evil day of her return.

"Humph!" ejaculated Davlin, "what does it mean? I saw Percy in the
village this morning, and he told me quite plainly that he desired an
invitation to quarter himself upon us."

"And what did you say?" gasped Cora.

"Told him to come, of course, as soon as it was safe to do so."

"Well!" said Cora, dryly, "I don't think it will be very safe for
either of them to come just at present."

"Oh, well," said the doctor, cheerfully, "we have got seven long days
to settle about that. And if they insist upon coming, and _then catch
the fever_, they mustn't blame me."

And Dr. Le Guise looked as if he had perpetrated a good joke.

John Arthur's insanity was as short-lived as it was violent. He lay
for the rest of the day quiet and half stupefied. When night came on,
he sank into a heavy slumber.

At twelve o'clock that night, all was quiet in and about the manor.

Cora Arthur was sleeping soundly, dreamlessly, as such women do sleep.
In the room adjoining hers, Céline Leroque sat, broad awake and
listening intently. At last, satisfied that her mistress was sleeping,
Céline arose and stole softly into the room where she lay.

Softly, softly, she approached the couch, passing through a river of
moonlight that poured in at the broad windows. Then she drew from a
pocket, something wrapped in a handkerchief.

Noiselessly, swiftly, she moved, and then the handkerchief, shaken
free from the something within, was laid upon the face of the sleeper,
while the odor of chloroform filled the room.

Nimbly her fingers moved, pulling away the coverings, and then the
clothing, from the unconscious body. It is done in a moment. With a
smothered exclamation of triumph, she draws away a _silken belt_, and
removing the handkerchief, glides noiselessly from the room.

She steals on to her own room in the west wing. Here she locks the
door and, striking a light, hurriedly rips the silken band with a tiny
penknife, and draws from thence two papers.

One glance suffices. Replacing the papers, she binds the belt about
her own body, and then envelopes herself in a huge water-proof, with
swift, nervous fingers.

And now, for the second time, this girl is fleeing away from Oakley.
Out into the night that is illuminated now by a faint, faint moon;
through the bare, leafless, chilly woods, and down the path that
crosses the railway track not far from the little station. Once more
she follows the iron rails; once more she lingers in the shadows,
until the train thunders up; the night train for New York. Then she
springs on board.

For the second time, Madeline Payne is fleeing away from Oakley and
all that it contains; fleeing cityward to begin, with the morrow, a
new task, and a new chapter in her existence.

But no lover is beside her now; for that love is dead in her heart.
And no Clarence breathes in her ear a warning, for now it is not
needed. Since that first June flitting, she has learned the world and
its wisdom, good and evil.

And the cloud that Hagar saw on that June night, hangs dark above the
house of Oakley.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

CROSS PURPOSES.


An irate pair were seated at breakfast the morning after Céline's
flitting. And while they ate little, they talked much and earnestly,
sometimes angrily. They had arrived at the conclusion, which, although
erroneous, had been foreseen by the astute Céline, namely: That the
robbery had been committed at the instigation of Mr. Percy, and that
Céline had been brought over and used by him as a tool.

It was evident that something must be done, and that quickly.

While these papers were in the hands of Percy, as undoubtedly they
were at that moment, it were best to keep that gentleman as much as
possible under their own eye.

[Illustration: "With a smothered exclamation of triumph she draws away
a _silken belt_!"--page 315.]

Yesterday, it had seemed desirable that Miss Arthur and her _fiancé_
should be kept out of the house of Oakley. To-day, they agreed that
the quicker the pair took up their abode beneath its hospitable roof,
the sooner they, Mr. Davlin and his accomplice, would breathe
freely. If they could get the two in the same house with themselves,
they might yet outwit Mr. Percy--with the aid of their friend and
ally, the sham doctor, if in no other way. Meantime, they would not
make the robbery known; or rather, they would inform the servants and
all others whom it seemed desirable to enlighten, that the girl,
Céline, had possessed herself of certain jewels and of Mrs. Arthur's
purse, and fled with her spoils.

Accordingly, Hagar was summoned and told of the base ingratitude of
the French maid. Whereupon she was much astonished, and ventilated her
opinions of French folk in general, and that one in particular.
Through Hagar, the other servants, now few in number, were informed of
the defalcation, and the extent of damage done by Miss Céline Leroque.
Then the kitchen cabinet held a session forthwith, and settled the
fate of their departed contemporary, being ably assisted by Hagar.

The Professor was made no wiser than were the rest of the tools who
served the plotters. But he was somewhat surprised upon being desired,
by Mr. Davlin, to equip himself for a walk, the object of which was to
allay the alarm of Miss Arthur and her friend, and invite them to the
manor forthwith. Said invitations were to be followed up with the
doctor's assurance that, having made a more minute examination, he was
fully satisfied that there was no fear of contagion from Mrs. Arthur,
and but little from her husband; none, in fact, unless they desired to
be much in his room.

The worthy pair set out for the village, and were so fortunate as to
meet Mr. Percy on the very threshold of the inn. Having exchanged
greetings and cigars, and having discussed the weather and various
other interesting topics, the gentlemen sent up their compliments to
Miss Arthur.

They were soon admitted into the presence of that lady, where more
skirmishing was done, during which Dr. Le Guise unburdened himself, as
per programme, and then Mr. Davlin fired his first shot.

"By-the-by, Miss Arthur, you may congratulate yourself that you did
not retain that impostor of a French maid longer in your service."

Lucian had purposely placed himself near the spinster, and where he
could observe the face of Percy without seeming to do so. But that
gentleman was glancing lazily out at the window, and his face was as
expressionless as putty. Lucian uttered a mental, "Confound his _sang
froid_," as he continued:

"She has robbed my sister of jewels and money to the tune of a couple
of thousand, and has cut and run."

"Goodness gracious, Mr. Davlin!" shrieked the spinster.

But Percy only turned his head lazily, and elevated his eyebrows in
mute comment.

"Yes," laughing lightly, "I suppose the hussy fancied that she had
made a heavier haul still. My sister had about her person some papers,
or rather _duplicates of papers that are deposited in a safer place_.
The jade took these also, thinking, no doubt, that they were of value
or, perhaps, without examining them to see that they were worse than
worthless to her."

"Oh, Mr. Davlin, what an artful creature! I was sure she was not quite
to be trusted. But who would have supposed that she would dare--"
gushed Miss Arthur.

"Oh, she is no doubt a professional; belongs to some city 'swell mob,'
begging your pardon. But I shall run up to the city to-night, I think,
and try and see if the detectives can't unearth her."

Still no sign from Percy; not so much as the quiver of an eyelid.

So Mr. Davlin came straight to the issue, thinking that surely Mr.
Percy would betray something here; perhaps would refuse to come to
Oakley. In such case, Lucian felt that he should be tempted to spring
upon and throttle him from sheer desperation.

But again he was mistaken, for no sooner was his invitation extended,
than Mr. Percy accepted it with evident gratification, saying, in his
easy drawl: "Shall be delighted to change my quarters. Anything must
be an improvement upon this. And as your--ah, Dr. Le Guise--says there
is positively no danger, Miss Arthur will of course be rejoiced to
return to her proper place."

And of course Miss Arthur assented.

Before leaving, Mr. Davlin arranged that the carriage should come for
Miss Arthur the next day, and that a porter should immediately
transfer their luggage to Oakley.

"My faith," mused he, as he strode back to tell Cora of his mission;
"but he carries it with a high hand. I didn't think there was so much
real devil in him. He is playing a fine game, but I don't think he can
dream that we suspect him. If we can deceive him in this, and get him
into the house, we will be able to accomplish his downfall, I think."

Meantime, Edward Percy was viewing the matter from his own
stand-point.

"Luck is running into my hand," he assured himself. "They are
evidently a little bit afraid of me; there's nothing more
awe-inspiring than a cool front, and I certainly carry that. Once at
Oakley, it will be strange if I don't fathom their little mystery. If
they are doing mischief there, I won't be behind in claiming the
lion's share of the spoils."

According to arrangement, Miss Arthur and her lover were transferred
to Oakley on the following day, and there the game of cross purposes
went on.

Cora received Miss Arthur with much cordiality, averring that she had
missed the society of "dear Ellen," more than she could tell, and
declaring that now she should begin to get well in earnest.

Messrs. Davlin and Percy affected much friendliness, and watched each
other furtively, day and night.

Dr. Le Guise reported an unfavorable change in his insane patient and
forbade them, one and all, to enter his room.

Cora and Davlin protested against the doctor's cruel order, but in
vain. Mr. Percy made no objections, but kept his eyes open. One
evening, the second of his stay at the manor, he saw, while coming up
the stairs with slippered feet, the form of Mr. Davlin as it
disappeared around the angle leading to the west wing. Then Mr. Percy
stole on until he stood at the door of the wing. Satisfying himself
that Davlin was actually within the forbidden room, he waited for
nothing further, but glided quietly back to his own door, looking as
imperturbable as ever and saying to himself:

"There is a mystery; and we, _rather I_, am not to see Mr. Arthur at
present. Well, I don't want to see him; but _I hold the clue_ to your
little game, my fair second wife."

Lucian Davlin went to the city, but he did not set a detective on the
track of Céline Leroque. He chose his man, one who had served him
before, and set him about something quite different. Then he returned,
feeling quite satisfied and confident of success.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A SLIGHT COMPLICATION.


And what of Céline, or Madeline, as we may call her once more?

She had said, when writing to Olive, that her stay in the city must be
very brief. But even her strong will could not keep off the light
attack of fever that was the result of fatigue and exposure to night
breezes. And the morning following her arrival at the villa, found her
unable to rise from her bed.

Dr. Vaughan was summoned in haste, and his verdict anxiously waited
for. "It was a slight fever attack," he said, "but the wearied-out
body must not be hurried. It must rest."

And he forbade Madeline to leave her room for a week at least, unless
she wished to bring upon herself a return of her summer's illness.

Much to his surprise and gratification, Madeline did not rebel, but
replied, philosophically: "I can't afford to take any risks now; I
will be good. But you must watch my interests."

During the first day of her "imprisonment," as she laughingly called
it, Clarence and Olive were put in possession of all the facts that
had not already been communicated by letter.

Upon one thing they were all agreed, namely, that it would be wise for
Clarence to make another journey to Bellair.

"They won't be able to accomplish much during the week that I must
remain inactive," said Madeline. "But it will be safest to know just
what they are about. Besides, I have reasons for thinking that Henry
is growing dissatisfied, and it is to our interest to keep him where
he is for the present. Had a suitable opportunity offered, I should
have made him aware of my identity. But as it did not present itself,
I left it with Hagar to inform him that he was serving me by
remaining."

Dr. Vaughan prepared to visit Bellair on the second day after the
arrival of Madeline. But almost at the moment of starting there came a
summons from one of his patients, who was taken suddenly worse.
Thinking to take a later train he hastened to the sick man; but the
hour for the last train arrived and passed, and still he stood at the
bedside, battling with death. So it transpired that nearly three days
had elapsed since the flitting of Céline Leroque, when Dr. Vaughan
entered the train that should deposit him at dusk in the village of
Bellair.

It had been prearranged by Madeline and Hagar that, in case of any
event which should delay the return of the former on the day
appointed, the latter was to visit the post-office and look for
tidings through that medium. Madeline had been due at Oakley the day
before, and so, of course, to-day Hagar would be in attendance at the
office.

Dr. Vaughan had written, at the moment of quitting his office to visit
his patient, a hasty supplement to Madeline's letter, stating that he
was delayed one train, but not to give him up if he did not appear
that evening. He would certainly come on the next day's train.

Clarence was somewhat fatigued as he entered the railway carriage,
having spent the entire previous night at the bedside of his patient.
He went forward to the smoking car, thinking to refresh himself with a
weed.

Four men were engrossed in a game of cards not far from him. As they
became more deeply interested, and their voices more distinct above
the roar of the cars, something in the tones of one of the men caught
his ear, reminding him of some voice he had sometime heard or known.
The speaker sat with his back to the young man, and nothing of his
countenance visible save the tips of two huge ears. These, too, had a
familiar look.

Clarence arose and sauntered to the end of the car, in order to get a
view of the face that, he felt assured, was not unknown to him.

The man was absorbed in his game and never once glanced up. Our hero
having taken a good look at the not very prepossessing face, returned
to his seat. He had recognized the man. It was Jarvis, the detective
who had been recently employed by him to shadow Lucian Davlin.

It was not a remarkable thing that Jarvis should leave the city on the
same train with himself, but the circumstance, nevertheless, set
Clarence thinking. Could it be possible that the man had found
something to arouse his suspicions, and was he following up the clue
on his own account?

Clarence felt an unaccountable desire to know where the detective was
going. If he were going to Bellair, then he must be bought over. If he
were going to Bellair, he, Clarence, must know it before the village
was reached. It was hardly probable that the man's destination was
identical with his own, but he had now determined to run no risks.

Throwing back his overcoat, and setting his hat a trifle on one side,
Clarence sauntered up to the group of card players, assuming an
appearance of interest in the game. As he paused beside them, Jarvis
swept away the last trick of a closely-contested game, and then said,
consulting his watch the while:

"There's for you! I've got just three-quarters of an hour to clean you
out in, so come on."

[Illustration: "Jarvis swept away the last trick of a
closely-contested game."--page 324.]

Three-quarters of an hour! The exact time it would take to run to
Bellair.

Clarence shifted his position so as to put himself behind the two men
seated opposite Jarvis. As he did so, the expert glanced up,
encountering the eye of Dr. Vaughan.

"How are you?" said that young man, nonchalantly.

Jarvis shot him a keen glance of intelligence, and replied, in the
same off-hand tone: "High, you bet!"

Jarvis was attired like a well-to-do farmer; and Clarence guessed, at
a glance, that his three companions were strangers, two of them being
commercial tourists, without a doubt, and the third, a ruddy-looking
old gent, who might have been anything harmless. Taking his cue from
the "make up" of the detective, Clarence, after giving him an
expressive glance, said, easily, "Sold your stock?"

Jarvis cocked up one eye as he replied, while shuffling the cards:
"Every horn!"

"Want to buy?"

Jarvis looked him straight in the eye. "Want to sell?"

"Yes, rather."

Jarvis dealt round with great precision, and then said: "All right,
Cap. I'll talk with you when I get through this game."

Clarence nodded, and presently sauntered away. As soon as his back was
turned, Jarvis jerked his thumb toward him, saying, confidentially:

"Young fellow; swell farmer; big stock-raiser." And then he plunged
into the game with much enthusiasm.

Clarence resumed his seat and, for a few moments, thought very
earnestly. The words of the detective had confirmed his suspicion. He
now felt assured that Jarvis was bound for Bellair, and if so he was,
no doubt, in the employ of Lucian Davlin, for some unknown purpose.
What that purpose was, he must know at any cost.

By the time his plans were fairly matured, he observed that the group
of card-players was breaking up. In another moment, Jarvis lounged
lazily along and threw himself down upon the seat beside him.

In little more than half an hour they would be due in Bellair, and
what Clarence desired to say must be said quickly. Taking out his
cigar-case, he offered the man a weed, which was accepted with
alacrity, and while it was being lighted, Clarence said: "Are you
especially busy now?"

"N-o; only so-so."

"Learned anything more in regard to my man?"

"Davlin?" interrogatively.

"Yes."

"No," puffing contentedly; "we don't move in a case after it's paid
off."

"I see," smiling; and then, making his first real venture: "Could you
do some work for me to-morrow?"

Jarvis looked keenly at him, and Clarence hastened to say, with
perfect, apparent, candor:

"The fact is I have been put back by a patient, and my own personal
affairs have been neglected. So I have been unable to look you up at
the office, in order to put a little matter into your hands. To-day I
am called away unexpectedly." Then, as if struck by a sudden thought,
"How long will you be out of town?"

Jarvis shook his head. "Don't know."

"By Jove, what a pity. I'd rather have you than any other man, and I
won't stand about money; but my work won't keep long."

The doctor's flattery and the detective's avarice combined, had the
desired effect. Jarvis unbent, and became more communicative. "Fact
is," he said, squaring about, "I don't know my lay just yet."

"No?" inquiringly: "Going far out?"

"No."

"Well," as if about to drop the conversation, "I'm sorry you can't do
the job. It's big pay and success sure. The truth is," lowering his
voice confidentially, "there are two parties beside myself interested,
and both have plenty of money. It's a snug sum to the man who does our
work."

The detective looked grave, and then became confidential in his turn.

"The fact is,"--he was fond of using "facts" when it was possible to
lug one in--"I am sent out to a small town as a sub."

"A sub.?"

"Yes; substitute. You see, one of our men was detailed to do some work
for a chap who came to the Agency from this little town. It was a case
of record hunting. Well, the man went out last night all O. K.; he was
a little on the sport when off duty, but a tip-top chap when at work.
Well, he got into a gambling brawl, and this morning they brought him
in, done up."

"Done up?"

"Yes; killed, you know."

"Oh!"

"And so, you see, I am ordered down here to take the instructions of
my gentleman, in the place of my pard, who won't receive any more
orders here below."

"Then you don't yet know precisely what is required of you?"

"No; I was packed off at half an hour's notice, and don't even know
the name of my employer. I have my instructions and his address here,"
tapping his breast pocket. "I believe the party lives out of town, at
some manor or other."

Clarence was thinking very fast. There was but one "Manor" in or near
Bellair. He looked at his time-card; there was but one town between
them and that village. Holding the card in his hand he said:

"Well, I will try and tell you what I want done; that is, if there is
time--how soon do you leave the train?"

Jarvis now scented a fat job, and thinking only of getting the
particulars of that replied, rather incautiously, as he consulted the
time-card in the hand of Clarence.

"By goshen! it's only two stations off--Bellair."

"Oh! Bellair, eh?"

Jarvis nodded ruefully, and then asked: "Where do you land?"

Clarence smiled a little as he replied: "Wait until you hear my
business, then you will know where I am going."

"All right; fire away."

And the expert settled himself into a listening attitude. "The truth
is, Jarvis, I want you back on the old case."

"What, the gambler's?"

"Yes, Davlin; he is about at the end of his rope, and will, in a short
time, be trying to quit the country. Did you ever see the woman who is
his partner in iniquity? You heard considerable of her while looking
up this business."

"Heard of her? I should think so. Never saw her, though."

"No matter; you may see her soon. You see, they are now at work upon a
fine piece of rascality. She has actually married an old man,
supposing him to be wealthy, and Davlin is figuring as her brother.
In reality, the old man, their victim, holds only a life interest in
the property. So you see, even if they succeed with the thing in hand,
they won't make much. And the person who will inherit, after the old
gentleman passes away, is aware of their real character and is ready
to spring upon them at the proper moment."

Jarvis gave a long, low whistle.

"Now, then, there is another crime--one that occurred some years ago,
with which this man and woman are connected, and they are allowed to
go free for a little time in order to complete the evidence in this
second case."

Jarvis nodded sagely.

"So you see there will be double fees, and large ones. First, from the
heir, and next, from the parties interested in the last case. The two
are friends, in fact, and work together. Of course, I should expect to
act according to the rules of your office, and I know that you are
paid by your manager, but--if you can put me in possession of all the
movements of Lucian Davlin for the next week, in addition to the
salary paid you by your head officials, I will promise you one
thousand dollars. If, later, you can supply the missing evidence, it
shall be five thousand."

Jarvis looked hastily behind him. "Is he in this train?"

"No."

"Then were the dev--"

"Wait," interrupted Clarence. "I'll tell you where he is. But first
you may attend to the business on which you came to Bellair. You may
obey the instructions you shall receive to the letter. But I must know
what it is you are bidden to do."

Jarvis knitted his brows and finally said, as if giving up a knotty
problem, "Make things plainer; I am befogged."

"Plainly, then," said Clarence, "you are going to Bellair; and,"
drawing out his pocket-book, "you are not retained as yet for this
work?"

"No."

"Well," placing a one hundred dollar bill in his hand, "I retain you
for my case, here and now, and you may accept the other fee if you
like."

"How?"

"Look at the address of your new client."

Jarvis took from his pocket a number of cards, shuffled them off
deftly and, selecting the right one at last, read slowly the name of
his unseen employer. Then he glanced quickly up at Clarence, re-read
his card, and leaning back upon the cushion, shook with silent
laughter.

"Well, if you ain't the rummest one yet! And I'm your man! Why, bless
my soul, you are a lawyer and detective all in one!"

Clarence smiled, but he knew this was the highest compliment that
Jarvis was capable of. "Then I may depend upon you?" he asked.

"You bet!"

They were nearing the village of Bellair now, and Clarence, who did
not intend to let Jarvis know too much concerning his movements, gave
him some hasty instructions, and ended by asking: "When do you go back
to the city to report?"

"By the next train. Davlin is expecting me, and I shall take his
orders and then go back."

"Very well; I'll see you in town to-morrow. Now, as it won't do to
risk the chance of being seen together, I will go into the other car."
And Clarence sauntered away.



CHAPTER XXXV.

"THOU SHALT NOT SERVE TWO MASTERS" SET AT NAUGHT.


Meanwhile, as they steamed into the village, which was the destination
of both, Mr. Jarvis soliloquized, as he caressed his wallet pocket:

"I know who will butter my bread. Davlin is as slippery as an eel, and
will end in trouble. Dr. Vaughan is a man of his word, and I don't
need his bond. I'm sure of one thousand, if not of five. And I never
was over fond of this gentleman gambler."

It may be remarked that Davlin was a man pretty well known by the
police and detectives. A gambler riding the top wave of success might
have found more favor in the eyes of Jarvis. But he knew, because of
his previous investigations, that Davlin was not "flush" at that time.

Clarence kept carefully out of sight when the train reached the
village. Springing lightly to the ground, on the opposite side from
the platform, he walked swiftly away, unnoticed in the darkness. Once
more he crossed the field and knocked at the door of Hagar's cottage,
and this time it was Hagar who admitted him.

Eagerly he listened, while the old woman told him how very fast Cora
was recovering now; how they had got Miss Arthur and Percy back into
the house; and how very careful both Cora and Lucian were to treat
them politely. Madeline had not confided to Hagar the story of Olive,
and the old woman knew no more of Edward Percy than that he was, as
she termed it, "a handsome hypocrite."

Clarence questioned Hagar closely. Had they made any attempt to find
the one who took the papers?

"No," Hagar replied; "they had said that Céline Leroque had stolen
money and jewels, but they had not said one word about any papers."

Last of all, she told him how, fearing that Henry was becoming too
restive, and fearing, also, the effect of too much of the Professor's
medicine upon the somewhat enfeebled system of the prisoner, she had
made known to Henry the fact that he was working in the cause of his
young lady. On learning this, and having it proved to his
satisfaction, for he was at first inclined to be skeptical, he had
been much delighted, and had since carried out the orders of Madeline
as transmitted through Hagar.

Their conversation lasted a full hour, and then, having learned all
that could be learned from that source, and having delivered all of
the messages sent by Madeline, he bade the old woman a kind
good-night, and retraced his steps across the field and back to the
village.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the night train halted at Bellair, Jarvis seated himself in the
smoking-car, feeling quite self-satisfied. When the train moved on, he
lighted a very black cigar, and began to contemplate the situation.

"Well, how do we stand now?"

As the voice of Clarence Vaughan fell upon his ear, Jarvis bounded
from his seat like an india rubber ball and stared wildly at the young
man who had dropped down into the seat beside him as if from the
ceiling.

"Well, you are a rum one," said he, at last. "Might I ask where you
came from?"

"From the ladies' carriage."

"Oh!" with the air of having made a discovery. "So you ride out of the
city in a smoking-car for the purpose of riding back in the ladies'
carriage?"

Clarence laughed again, settled himself comfortably in his seat and
took out his cigar case. "Not exactly," proceeding to light a weed. "I
am on pretty much the same business that you are, to-night." Then,
taking a big puff, "I have been to Bellair, like yourself."

"The deuce you have!"

"Yes; how did your business prosper?"

Jarvis eyed him sharply. "Perhaps you know already."

"Perhaps I do. You have not got to look for stolen diamonds, have
you?"

Jarvis laughed derisively.

"Or stolen money?" pursued Clarence.

Jarvis shrugged his shoulders.

"Or stolen--_papers_?"

Jarvis began to look foxy.

"Or a runaway young woman?"

Jarvis thought furiously for a moment; then turning square upon his
interlocutor, said, significantly: "So there are stolen papers?"

Clarence smiled, but said nothing.

"And," pursued Jarvis, "when one loses one's papers, say deeds, or
a--marriage certificate, one naturally thinks of hunting the records
for proofs that such papers existed."

"And that is your work?"

Jarvis nodded.

"Take you out of the city?"

"Only a few miles."

Clarence reflected for a time, and then said: "You can do your work,
but report all discoveries _to me_."

Jarvis assented, and they continued to talk of the matter in hand
until the city was reached. Then, having made an appointment for the
coming day, and agreed to let the work of shadowing the gambler or,
rather, his business, remain a "private spec." to Jarvis, they
separated.

Thoroughly wearied, Clarence sought his bachelor apartments and the
repose he so much needed.

Early the next day he was up, and after paying a visit to his patient,
he turned his steps, or the steps of his horse, in the direction of
the villa.

He found Madeline sitting up, feeling much better, and looking
altogether lovely. Drawing their chairs near together in front of the
crackling grate fire, the three discussed the result of the journey to
Bellair. Having first related the news imparted by Hagar, Dr. Vaughan
turned to Madeline and asked:

"What is your theory, sister mine, in regard to this change at Oakley?
Why have they turned about and taken up Miss Arthur and her _fiancé_
with such sudden affection. Have you guessed?"

The girl smiled up at him as she replied: "Certainly; have not you?"

"You incorrigible little lawyer! Yes, but give us yours first."

"Why," said Madeline with a light laugh, "I suppose they have been
suspecting the wrong party. They think that I was an emissary of Mr.
Percy's."

"Undoubtedly that is the truth," assented Clarence.

"And," added Madeline, "believing the documents in his possession, it
is easy to understand that they prefer having the gentleman under the
same roof with themselves."

"True; now, the question that interests us is, how long will it be
before they find out their mistake?"

"I think," said the girl, reflectively, "that their game will be
covert, not open, attack, from the fact that they have kept the loss
of the papers so carefully from the servants. If this is true, they
will move cautiously, and aim to convince the man that they do not
suspect him."

Clarence nodded.

"You see the necessity for action, do you not?" Madeline said, after a
silence. "I must make my next move within a few days."

"I don't fancy that we need fear any new developments that will be
dangerous to our cause just yet."

Then he told them of his meeting with the detective, and its results,
adding: "You see, Jarvis can withhold his reports to suit our
convenience, and you can grow strong, feeling secure."

Meantime, Jarvis set about his task of record hunting. He was
energetic and resolute as a sleuth hound on the scent; so he soon made
one or two discoveries.

One day, very cleverly gotten upon as a dapper lawyer, he dropped in
at the office of Messrs. Lord & Myers, bankers. Mr. Lord was an old
man with a shrewd, twinkling eye; and as the sham lawyer had selected
his time wisely, he found the old banker alone.

They were closeted in close converse for nearly half an hour, at the
end of which time, the dapper lawyer took his departure, looking
rather downcast; and Mr. Lord, with his little eyes brighter than
ever, sat down and penned a letter to his friend and brother banker,
Mr. Allyne, of Baltimore.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

MR. LORD'S LETTER.


The friendship that had sprung up between Claire Keith and Mrs.
Ralston, grew and strengthened as the days went by.

Claire's enthusiasm had overflowed in more than one letter to Olive.
The oft-repeated wish that her new friend and her much loved sister
might meet, had at last drawn from that somewhat preoccupied sister a
very cordial invitation to bring Mrs. Ralston to New York.

When this invitation came, Claire, feeling that it was now time to
unfold to her friend the sad pages of Olive's history, sought her for
that purpose. But as she deemed that the time had not yet come for
telling anyone of the hoped-for lifting of the cloud, especially as to
do so she must tell too of Madeline, she refrained from mentioning the
names of the actors in that miserable drama.

Mrs. Ralston was deeply interested in the story of Olive's sorrow; and
having heard it, she felt a stronger desire than before to see this
beautiful, sad-hearted sister, who was so beloved by Claire. Bending
down she kissed the fair face, flushed with the excitement Claire
always felt when recounting her sister's wrongs, and those of Philip
Girard, and said, tenderly:

"Thank your sister in my name, my darling. And tell her that I will
certainly avail myself of her kind invitation, at some future time."

Claire's eyes danced eagerly. "Oh, I wish we could go now--at least,
soon."

Fate chose to grant Claire's desire in a most unexpected manner, for
while they were still sitting, talking, in the semi-twilight, the
library door opened and a servant announced Mr. Allyne, to see Mrs.
Ralston. At once Mrs. Keith and her daughter arose to leave the room.
But Mrs. Ralston said, earnestly:

"Pray, do not go; there can be no need for a private interview."

And as at that moment Mr. Allyne himself appeared on the threshold,
the ladies all advanced to welcome him, and, this ceremony being over,
resumed their seats.

"I have just received this letter from Mr. Lord," said Mr. Allyne,
after some moments of general conversation. "Read it, and then tell me
your opinion of its contents."

The lady took the letter, looking the while somewhat anxious. As she
read, the look of apprehension deepened. When at last she dropped the
letter, her hands were trembling visibly, and her face was pale and
agitated. For a moment she sat in silence, her eyes full of fear and
her hands working nervously. Then she seemed to recover herself by a
powerful effort of will. Taking up the letter, she placed it in the
hand of Mrs. Keith, saying: "Read it, dear friend."

Mrs. Keith took the letter and read:

                                        NEW YORK, Dec. 7th.

     WM. ALLYNE, ESQ.,

     _Dear Sir:_--A man assuming to be a lawyer called on me this
     afternoon, and requested information regarding our friend,
     Mrs. Ralston. If I am not much mistaken he is in reality a
     detective--I think I remember him in the Mallory case--and
     is, doubtless, looking up evidence in regard to the lady's
     second and most unfortunate marriage, either at the
     instigation of her vagabond husband or some of his supposed
     heirs.

     If you know the present address of Mrs. R., it would be well
     to communicate with her, as some of her old servants are now
     in this city, at service, and this fellow might ferret out
     something through them.

     Having no authority to act in the matter, I could do no more
     than baffle this man's inquiries so far as I was concerned,
     much as I desire to serve the lady when I know the way.

     One thing: the fellow evidently believes in the story of her
     death.

                     Yours, etc.,             J. M. LORD.

The three, Mrs. Ralston, Claire and Mr. Allyne, listened in silence
while Mrs. Keith read this letter. When at last she raised her eyes,
Mrs. Ralston said:

"I must go to New York immediately, Mrs. Keith, and do, pray, allow
Claire to accompany me. I must accept of the hospitality of Mrs.
Girard, and I can not go alone."

Mrs. Keith looked grave for a moment. Then, she said: "Mr. Allyne, is
it necessary that Mrs. Ralston should go at once?"

"I think it advisable," replied Mr. Allyne. "Once in New York, Lord
can receive Mrs. Ralston's instructions, and act for her. In cases
like these I don't think it is best to trust to correspondence."

"And, oh! don't let us delay a moment! Once there, I can keep my old
servants, who are all true friends, from inadvertently betraying me.
And I can trust Mr. Lord to find out who is the instigator of this
search," said Mrs. Ralston, eagerly. "Mr. Allyne, when can we start;
how soon?"

"Not earlier than to-morrow morning."

"Claire, can you be ready on such short notice?" asked the now anxious
lady.

"I? Oh, yes, indeed!" laughed the girl. "I could be ready in an hour!
I do detest waiting--don't you, Mrs. Ralston?"

"Very much, just now," said that lady, making an effort to smile;
"forgive me, dear friends, but I am really unstrung. The thought of
being hunted by that man is too horrible, after these years of
peace."

"Then don't think of it, dear Mrs. Ralston," cooed Claire. "You will
be as safe as safe in the seclusion of my sister's villa. And you can
set things straight soon, when we have arrived. There can't be much to
fear, can there, Mr. Allyne?"

"Nothing very formidable," said the banker, rising to take his leave.
"Pray, don't exaggerate the trouble, Mrs. Ralston. Prompt attention,
such as Lord will give the matter, will make all safe. Besides, he is
not hunting _you_; the man thinks you dead."

"True; I had forgotten," said the lady, looking somewhat reassured.
"Claire, we will pack to-night, and then try and be content until it
is time to go."

"Meantime, I will telegraph to Lord and let him know that you will
come, and when," said Mr. Allyne, taking up his hat to depart.

The morning of their departure dawned clear and bright. Claire was in
extravagant spirits, while even Mrs. Ralston seemed to catch the
infectious cheeriness of the day, and her companion's mood.

When they were about to enter the carriage that was to take them to
the depot, a letter was put into the hand of Miss Keith. She flung
back her veil and leaning back among the cushions perused it in
attentive silence. Having finished, she looked up with a little frown
upon her brow, and exclaimed:

"How very provoking!"

Mrs. Ralston looked alarmed. "Is your sister ill?"

"Oh, no; it's Madeline."

"The young girl I have heard you speak of?"

"Yes."

"Is _she_ ill?"

"No; she got well, just to avoid me; she is gone."

"Gone?"

"Yes; or will be, when we arrive. Why, how stupid I am not to explain!
Madeline Payne has been with Olive nearly a week. She has been sick,
but is better, and will leave there to-day."

Claire had said but little concerning Madeline, fearing lest in her
enthusiasm she should say too much. But she had revolved many plans
for bringing about a meeting between Mrs. Ralston and her "brave
girl."



CHAPTER XXXVII.

"I HAVE COME BACK TO MY OWN!"


Quite the pleasantest of all the rooms that had been so sumptuously
fitted up, when "Mrs. Torrance" came to Oakley, a bride, was the back
drawing-room. At least it was pleasantest in Winter. Its large windows
faced south and west, and all of the Winter sunshine fell upon them,
glowing through crimson curtains, and helping the piled-up anthracite
in the grate to bathe the room in a ruddiness of crimson and golden
bronze.

On this particular December day, the air was crisp and cold, and full
of floating particles of hoar frost, while the winter sun shone bright
and clear. Outside, one felt that it was an exceedingly cold sun. But
viewed from within, it looked inviting enough, and one felt inspired
to dash out into the frosty air and try if they could not walk _a la_
hippogriffe, without touching their feet to the ground.

Some such thought was floating through the mind of Mrs. John Arthur,
who was progressing in her convalescence very rapidly now, and who
had, on this day, made her second descent to the drawing-rooms.

She had donned, for the first time since her illness, a dinner-dress
of rosy silk, its sweeping train and elbow sleeves enriched with
flounces of black lace. As there was, at present, no need to play the
invalid--herself and Davlin being the sole occupants of the room--she
was sweeping up and down its length like a caged lioness.

By and by she swerved from her course, and coming to the grate, put a
daintily shod foot upon the bronze fender. Resting one hand on a
chair, and looking down upon Davlin, who was lounging before the fire
in full dinner costume, she said, abruptly:

"How very interesting all this is!"

Davlin made no sign that he heard.

"Do you know how long we have been playing this little game, sir?"

The man smiled, in that cool way, so exasperating always to her, and
lifting one hand, began to tell off the months on his fingers.

"Let me see, ball opened in June, did it not?"

She nodded impatiently.

"June!" He was thinking of his June flirting with Madeline Payne, and
involuntarily glanced at the windows from whence could be seen the very
trees under which they had wandered, himself and that fair dead girl, in
early June. "Yes, the last of June--I remember,"--reflectively.

"And pray, from what event does your memory date?" exclaimed Cora,
with strong sarcasm.

He glanced up quickly. "Why, _Ma Belle_, from your introduction to the
hills and vales of Bellair, and the master of Oakley."

"Oh, I thought it was from the time you received your pistol wound."

Davlin smiled. "Yes, that scratch _was_ given in June; but I don't
date from trifles, Co."

"Oh! Well, I fancy it was not the fault of the hand that aimed the
bullet, or rather of the _heart_, that you got a 'mere scratch.' I
never believed in your card-table explanation of that affair, sir."

"Well, don't call _me_ to account for _your_ want of faith."

"I believe you promised yourself revenge on the fellow who shot at
you. Why didn't you take it?"

Lucian stooped down and brushed an imaginary speck from his boot toe,
saying, as he did so: "I was forestalled."

"How?"

"The--fellow--is dead."

"Oh, well, I don't care about dead men--what I am anxious about is
this--"

"Oh, yes," maliciously. "Return to subject under discussion. You
embarked in this enterprise in June--"

"Bother," impatiently.

"Late in Summer, bagged your game; in early Autumn, fitted up this
jolly old rookery--"

Cora gave a sniff of disdain.

"Next--well, you know what next. We haven't been two months at this
last job."

"Nevertheless I am tired of it."

"No?"

"I won't stay here a prisoner much longer!"

Davlin came close to her, and letting one hand rest upon her shoulder,
placed the other over hers, which still lay upon the chair back.

"Cora, we won't quarrel about this. The situation is as trying to me
as to you; more so. But our safety lies in moving with caution, and--I
will not permit you to compromise us by any hasty act. You
understand!"

His eyes held her as in a spell, and when, after a moment, the hand
fell from her shoulder and his eyes withdrew their mesmeric gaze, the
woman shrunk from under the one detaining hand and turned sullenly
away, looking like a baffled leopardess.

Davlin resumed his seat and his former careless attitude. Cora walked
to the window and looked down upon the scene below.

At length the man asked, carelessly: "Where's Percy?"

"Down there," nodding toward the terrace, a portion of which was
visible from her point of view. "And, of course, my lady is in her
room watching from her window. When he throws away his cigar, and
turns toward the house, she will come down; not before."

Davlin laughed at her emphasis, and while the sound still vibrated on
the air, the woman turned, and flinging herself upon a divan, said:

"There, she is coming!"

Complain as she might in private, Cora had acted her part to
perfection. Between herself and Miss Arthur, there now existed an
appearance of great cordiality and friendliness. While she treated
Percy with utmost politeness and hospitality, the remembrance of ten
years ago acted as an effectual bar to anything like coquetry, where
he was concerned.

Scarcely had Cora settled herself comfortably upon her divan, when the
door opened noiselessly, and Miss Arthur sailed in, diffusing through
the room the odor of Patchouli as she came. She was, as usual, a
marvel of beflounced silk, false curls, rouge, and pearl powder. Her
face beamed upon Cora in friendliness as she approached her, saying,
with much effusion:

"Oh, you poor child, how delightful to see you once more among us, and
looking like yourself."

Lucian arose and gallantly wheeled forward a large easy chair, saying:
"And how charming you look, Miss Ellen; you make poor Cora appear
quite shabby by contrast."

Cora cast a rather ungrateful glance at the gentleman, and the
spinster simpered, "Oh, you horrid man! Brothers are so ungrateful!"

At this juncture, as Cora had predicted, Mr. Percy presented himself,
and the four fell into attitudes, in front of the grate--Percy leaning
on the back of Miss Arthur's chair, and Cora and Davlin in their
former places.

"_Merci_," said Miss Arthur, pretending to stifle a yawn, "why can't
we all be out in this keen air and sunshine? If there were but snow on
the ground!"

"Snow!" cried Cora, annoyed out of her usual assumption of feebleness;
"don't mention it, if you don't want me to die. We won't have snow, if
you please, until I can drive in a cutter."

Percy laughed softly; his laugh was always disagreeable to Cora, as
having an undercurrent of meaning intended for her alone. And Davlin
said:

"Hear and heed, all ye gods of the wind and weather."

"Well, laugh," said Cora, half laughing herself, "but I am beginning
to feel ambitious. Do let's try to set something afoot to make us feel
as if we were alive, and glad that we were."

"Agreed, Cora," cried Miss Arthur, gushingly, "only tell us what it
shall be."

"Suggest, suggest;" this from Davlin.

The spinster glanced up coquettishly, "Edward, you suggest."

Percy caressed his blonde whiskers thoughtfully, and letting his eyes
rest carelessly on Cora, said, meaningly: "Let's poison each other!"

"Or commit suicide!" retorted Cora, coolly.

"Let's be more sensible," said Davlin. "Let's organize a matrimonial
society, get up a wedding, and go on a journey."

"Anything that will break the monotony," said Cora, while the fair
spinster giggled and put her hands before her face.

At that moment the monotony _was_ broken.

While the words were still lingering on the lips of the fair
convalescent, the door was opened wide by old Hagar, who said, as if
she had been all her life announcing the arrival of great ones at the
court of St. James:

"_Miss Madeline Payne!_"

Then she stepped back, and a vision appeared before them which struck
them dumb and motionless with surprise.

Across the threshold swept a young lady, richly robed in trailing silk
and velvet and fur; with a face fair as a star-flower, haughty as the
face of any duchess; with amber eyes that gazed upon them
contemptuously, masterfully, fearlessly; with wave upon wave of golden
brown hair, clustering about the temples and snowy neck; and with
scarlet lips half parted in a scornful smile.

She swept the length of the room with matchless grace and
self-possession, and pausing before the astonished group, said, in a
voice clear as the chime of silver bells:

"Good-evening, ladies and gentlemen! I believe I have not the honor of
knowing--ah, yes, this is Miss Arthur; _Aunt Ellen_, how do you do?"

There are some scenes that beggar description, and this was such an
one.

[Illustration: "_Miss Madeline Payne!_"--page 346.]

Miss Arthur, who clearly recognized in this lovely young lady the
little Madeline of years ago, was so stricken with astonishment that
she utterly forgot how appropriate it would be to faint.

Cora sat like one in a nightmare.

Percy was conscious of but one feeling. True to his nature even here,
he was staring at this vision of beauty, thinking only, "how lovely!
how lovely!"

And Lucian Davlin? At the first sight of that face, the first sound of
that voice, he had felt as if turning to stone, incapable of movement
or speech. At that moment, had Cora once glanced toward him, his face
must have betrayed his secret. But her eyes were fixed on Madeline.

Davlin felt a tempest raging within his bosom. Madeline alive! This
glowing, brilliant, richly robed, queenly creature--Madeline! Again in
his ears rang her farewell words. Quick as lightning came the thought:
she was his enemy, she would denounce him! And yet, throughout every
fiber of his being, he felt a thrill of gladness. Again there surged
in his heart the mad love that had sprung into being when she had so
gloriously defied him. She was not dead, and he was glad!

Old Hagar had closed the door after her young mistress; and now she
stood near it, calm and immovable as a block of ice.

Madeline Payne stood, for a moment, gazing laughingly into the amazed
face of the spinster. Then she said: "Come, come, Aunt Ellen, don't
stare at me as if I were a ghost! Introduce me to your friends. Is
this lady my new step-mamma?"

Cora roused herself from her stupor, and said, haughtily: "I am _Mrs.
Arthur_, and the mistress of the house!"

"Ah! then you _are_ my new step-mamma? And you have been very ill, I
understand. Pray, don't rise, madame; you look feeble." Then, turning
again to Miss Arthur: "Don't you intend to speak to me, Aunt Ellen?"

"But," gasped the spinster, "I thought, that--you--"

"Oh, I see! You thought that I was dead, and you have been grieving
for me. Well, I will explain: I ran away from my respected papa
because he had selected for me a husband not at all to my taste. Not
desiring to return immediately, I seized an opportunity that came in
my way, and bestowed my name upon a poor girl who died in the
hospital, thus making sure that my anxious friends would abandon all
search for me. However, I have thought better of my decision, and so I
return to my own home to take my position under the _chaperonage_ of
my pretty step-mamma, as the _Heiress of Oakley_!"

These last words opened the eyes of Cora to the new "situation."
Springing to her feet, she forgot for the moment all her weakness, and
cried, wrathfully: "You cannot come here with such a trumped-up story!
Madeline Payne is dead and buried. You are a base impostor!"

Madeline turned tranquilly towards the spinster. "Aunt Ellen, _am_ I
an impostor?"

"No," said Ellen Arthur, sullenly; "you are Madeline Payne. Any one in
the village could testify to that."

Madeline turned to Cora. "Step-mamma, I forgive you. It _is_ hard to
find the entailed estate of Oakley slipping out of your hands, no
doubt, but this world is full of disappointments."

Cora's eyes sought Lucian. That gentleman, who had, outwardly at
least, regained his composure, telegraphed her to be silent.

Miss Payne asked: "Which of these gentlemen is your brother, Mrs.
Arthur?"

Lucian stepped forward with his usual grace, saying; "I am Mrs.
Arthur's brother, Miss Payne. Pray, let me apologize for her
discourteous reception of you; she has been very ill, and is nervous."

Madeline sank into a chair and surveyed him coolly, while she said:
"It is not necessary to apologize for your sister, Mr.--"

"Davlin," supplied Miss Arthur.

"Davlin," repeated Madeline, as if the name had fallen upon her ears
for the first time. "No doubt we shall be the best of friends by and
by. I certainly have to thank her for making so marked an improvement
in these old rooms," glancing about her.

Here the still confused Miss Arthur, in obedience to a sign from her
lover, said: "Miss Madeline, this is my friend, Mr. Percy."

Mr. Percy advanced, bowing like a courtier. The young lady scrutinized
him coolly, saying, with a gleam of mischief in her eyes: "I am
delighted to meet any friend of my aunt's."

Then she turned to Davlin again: "But where is my step-papa? I have
kept myself partially informed of events here. Is he still unable to
be about?"

Davlin looked very serious: "Miss Payne, I fear that my unhappy
brother-in-law will never recover his reason."

Madeline uttered an exclamation expressive of concern, and said: "Oh,
Mr. Davlin, then don't let him know that I am here; at least not yet.
I am so afraid of the insane. I couldn't bear to see him now."

Cora drew a breath of relief, on hearing this. But Lucian, who knew
the girl better, began to fear her, and mentally resolved to define
his own position as speedily as possible. One thing was evident; it
was no part of her plan to betray him, at least not yet.

"Nurse," said Madeline, turning to Hagar, "see that a room is prepared
for me immediately, and send a servant to the station for my luggage.
Also, prepare a room for my maid, who is below, and tell her to get me
out a dinner dress immediately."

Then turning to Cora, "Step-mamma, you look fatigued. Do go to your
room and rest before dinner. Mr. Davlin, at what hour do you dine?"

He explained their reason for dining so early, and she said, as she
turned again to Cora,

"Do lie down, step-mamma; there is still a half-hour before dinner.
And now I will go look after my maid."

She swept them all a stately courtesy, and Percy springing forward to
open the door, she thanked him with a charming side glance, and passed
from the room like a young princess.

There was dead silence among them for a full minute after the door had
closed behind her. Then Percy turned with a disagreeable smile upon
his face, and said:

"You don't stand in need of something exciting _now_, do you,--Mrs.
Arthur?"

This was too much. Cora sprang to her feet and casting one meaning
glance toward Davlin, swept from the room, erect and firm, utterly
regardless of the fact that her exit was quite incompatible with the
invalid _rôle_ she had been sustaining.

An angry flush overspread the face of Lucian Davlin, as he realized,
after one quick look at the face of Percy, how thoroughly she had
betrayed herself. He was too good a diplomat, however, to quit the
field without a stroke in his own behalf. So giving a low whistle he
turned toward the spinster, saying:

"See what excitement will do. One would think she had the strength of
two of us."

To which Percy responded, dryly: "She certainly did not step like an
invalid."

Then the three stood looking aimlessly at each other or anything,
seemingly not at all inclined to converse.

After a few moments of listless gazing out at the window, Lucian
turned upon his heel and quitted the room. He was too wise to approach
Cora in her present mood. Even had he thought it advisable, he felt
little inclination to see and converse with her or anyone then. Like a
man in a dream, he wandered out and down the wide hall. Almost
unconsciously he opened the library door, and crossing to the great
double window, leaned against the casement and looked out.

Again his eyes rested upon the grove where he had so often wandered
with the lovely girl who, to-day, had so coolly ignored him. Then she
had clung to him with trusting affection; now,--how did she look upon
him now? Could the love that she surely had felt for him in those
Summer days, have entirely died out in her heart? Did not a woman's
love outlast her anger? And was he not the same man, with the same
will-power, and the same strength of magnetism?

Where had she been all these months? And how came she here now, robed
liked a princess; she, who had certainly left her home penniless?
Clearly, she had found friends. Who were they? And what did they know
of matters here at Oakley?

For once Mr. Davlin was at a loss how to act. Would it be safe to
stay? Would it be wise to go? Would he be able to control Cora in this
new emergency? One thing was certain: The heiress of Oakley meant to
be mistress in her mother's house, and she was in a fair way to
possess the throne.

Lucian turned away from the window, and from the scene that mocked
him, muttering: "I will see her alone, let come what will. I will make
one struggle to regain my power over her, and if I succeed--"

Evidently the wily gambler could not testify as to what would be
likely to follow. For the second time since his partnership with Cora,
he found that lady a stumbling-block by no means despicable.

On leaving the drawing-room, Cora rushed up the stairs, and throwing
open the door of her dressing-room, fairly precipitated herself across
the threshold, forgetting in her blind rage to close the door behind
her. She stood still for an instant, and then, springing to the
window, threw it wide open, letting in a flood of wintry air. For a
moment she leaned across the sill, drinking in deep draughts of the
frosty ether. Then dashing down the sash, she turned swiftly, and
encountered a pair of bright black eyes that looked in at her from the
secure darkness of the hall. Sweeping across the room, she confronted
the owner of the eyes, demanding haughtily:

"Who are you? And how dare you spy at my door?"

The woman--for it was a woman--came forward and said, respectfully:
"If you please, I am Miss Payne's maid, and I was just bringing up
some things from the hall, ma'am," lifting to view a chatelaine and
shawl strap. "I didn't mean to annoy you. I was only surprised to see
such a pretty young lady here."

Miss Payne's maid was a large woman of a very uncertain age, arrayed
in sober black, not at all like the usual ladies' maid. But she seemed
so very respectful, and full of contrition at having annoyed such a
"pretty lady," that Cora made no further assault upon her, but closed
the door with unusual emphasis instead, and gave way once more to the
wrath that was filling her soul.

To be baffled like this now; now, when her schemes were approaching
fruition; now, when this fair domain, this splendid fortune, was just
within her grasp, to have it plucked from her hand by a mere girl, who
mocked her while she said, "this wealth is mine, this house is mine;
woman, you have schemed in vain!"

And this was not all. She had bound herself hand and foot. She had
jeopardized her liberty, for what might not occur, now that this girl
could demand access to the imprisoned old man, her step-father? If she
dared, she would go away that very night. But no; this would only
confirm suspicion, if suspicion were entertained.

Not the least drop in her cup of bitterness, was the knowledge that
Edward Percy was secretly enjoying her discomfiture. As she thought of
him, and his look when she swept past him, Cora stopped short in her
angry promenade, and frowned fiercely. Then she crossed to her mirror
and surveyed her agitated face, saying, half aloud:

"At least I will rob him of that pleasure; baffled as I may be, he
shall never enjoy my discomfiture! I can act a part yet. And Edward
Percy shall find that if my schemes are to be overthrown, his, too,
may suffer. He rejoices to see me thwarted; I will thwart him, let it
cost what it may!"

And Cora began to smooth her rumpled locks, and put her somewhat
disarranged toilet in order, with swift, firm fingers. While she was
thus occupied, there came a tap upon her door. Recognizing it at once,
as Davlin's knock, she said, "come," and never once lifted her eyes
from her task.

Lucian, finding that the dinner hour was at hand, and beginning to
fear that Cora might still further commit herself, had thought it
wisest to come and see what was the state of her feelings, and
endeavor to persuade her to play out her part. He entered the room
with some apprehension; but seeing her so composed, came close as she
stood before her dressing-glass and said, as he gazed down at the
flounce she was busy adjusting:

"Now is the time for pluck, Co. You will come down?"

Cora gave a last touch to the silk and lace and then, letting the
sweeping train fall from her hand, and standing very erect before him,
said:

"Yes, I shall go down. Do you suppose I will let that man think that I
am completely annihilated? There; don't talk to me now! I shall not
forget myself again, never fear. But after dinner, come to me here.
You were wise enough to bring me into this charming 'corner,' now let
your wisdom take me out of it, or I will extricate myself in my own
way."

Again the iron hand fell upon her shoulder, as her partner in iniquity
hissed in her ear:

"And I intend that you shall not be a fool! Our game is not lost. Let
me once get the lay of the land, and we may win yet."

She turned her eyes upon him with angry incredulity. "How, pray?"

"Wait and see!"

She made no reply, but, taking up her dainty handkerchief, turned to
leave the room, motioning him to precede her. In the hall, she paused
at the head of the stairs, saying:

"Go down; I will come directly."

"What are you going to do?"

"Go down," she repeated; "I know what I am doing."

She went slowly down the hall in the direction of the room before
which stood Madeline's luggage that had just arrived from the little
station.

Lucian gazed after her in some amazement, watched her tap softly,
heard the door open, saw her enter the room, and then went slowly
down-stairs.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

CORA UNDER ORDERS.


When Cora entered the room, Madeline Payne stood before her mirror,
while her maid, kneeling beside her, arranged the folds of lustrous
azure silk that fell about the slender form.

The door had been opened by Hagar, who could scarcely keep her eyes
off the beautiful face and form of her young mistress, and who was, in
consequence, making very slow progress with the work of putting away
the garments that had been discarded in favor of the lovely dinner
dress.

Madeline realized fully that the part she was now playing was even
more difficult and distasteful than that which she had abandoned. But
she was resolute. To go back now would be worse than death. While she
felt a thrill of repugnance as she saw the fair, sensual face of John
Arthur's wife reflected in her mirror, she turned with smiling
countenance, saying:

"Is it you, step-mamma? How kind of you! Am I delaying the dinner?"

"No more than I am," smiled Cora, in return. "I thought you might like
me to wait for you, as you are so much of a stranger to your old
home."

"Oh, I am not at all timid, I assure you; but it is nicer to go
together. Am I almost ready, Strong?"

"Almost, Miss Payne."

"How quickly your maid dresses you," said Cora, resolved to keep the
conversational ball rolling.

"Oh, yes; Strong knows how to pack things so that what you want first
is uppermost, and I had my dinner dress in a hand traveling-case."
Then, turning about she asked, abruptly: "Have you a good maid,
step-mamma?"

Cora laughed nervously as she replied: "I have no maid, good or bad.
My maid ran away a week ago, after robbing me and nearly killing me
with chloroform."

"Mercy, what a wretch! What have you done with her?"

"We have not found her."

"Did you look?"

"Yes; detectives are looking for her now."

"Well, I hope they will find her. Now I am ready; come, step-mamma."

And together the two descended the stairs.

Three faces reflected three degrees of surprise, as the ladies entered
the drawing-room with every appearance of good feeling and mutual
satisfaction. Davlin and Percy took their cue immediately. The only
one whom an observer would have pronounced not quite at ease, was Miss
Ellen Arthur, who stared from one to the other rather more than was
polite, and who sustained her part in the conversation in a very
nervous, fragmentary manner.

Dinner being announced, Mr. Davlin promptly offered his arm to
Madeline, who accepted it with perfect nonchalance. They followed Cora
to the dining-room, themselves followed by Miss Arthur and Percy.

Where four people separately, and each for his own end, determine to
appear cordial and perfectly at ease, each one bent upon completely
blinding the other three, there must of a necessity be much
conversation, and more or less hilarity, whether real or assumed.

These four, who were waging upon each other secret and deadly war, ate
and drank together; and while Madeline regaled them with a fictitious
account of herself during the time she had been supposed dead, the
others listened and commented, and vied with each other in paying
hypocritical court to the heiress of Oakley.

"You see, step-mamma," said Madeline, as they lingered over their
dessert, "I was never ignorant of what was going on here. My old nurse
kept me informed. When I sent you the fiction of my death, I had no
intention of returning, for I had determined never to live at Oakley
during my step-father's reign. But upon hearing of his insanity, I
resolved to come back, being now, of course, the real head of the
house. Mr. Arthur being _non compos mentis_, I, as heiress, assume
control of my own."

If a wish could have killed, Cora would have closed forever that
insolent smiling mouth. But she felt herself powerless.

Davlin, with inimitable tact, came to her rescue: "Cora will be only
too glad to welcome the queen back to her own. Indeed, she has been
for some time declaring her intention of abdicating, for a time at
least, and taking Mr. Arthur south to some medicinal springs. But the
doctor fears the change will not benefit him."

Madeline turned her eyes upon Cora. "She can't go just yet," she said,
with odd decision; "I want her society. Where is your doctor, Mr.
Davlin?"

"He is up-stairs with his patient, Miss Payne. He usually joins us at
breakfast, but not often at dinner."

The truth was that Lucian, not feeling upon safe ground, had advised
the "doctor" to keep discreetly out of the way of this shrewd young
lady for the present, lest her keen questions should draw out
something not to their advantage.

Miss Payne turned to Cora again. "You have perfect confidence in the
skill of this doctor, step-mamma?"

"Oh, yes!" said Cora, positively; "he has been known to me a very long
time. Besides, we had in one of the Bellair doctors, who agreed with
Dr. Le Guise in every particular."

"Well, I must see this learned gentleman to-morrow, and my step-papa
also, I think. Step-mamma, you look fatigued; dining is too much for
your strength. Let us leave the gentlemen to their wine and cigars."

As if she had been presiding at that table all her life, Miss Payne
arose, bowed to the two men, and preceding the two astonished ladies,
swept from the dining-room.

Cora, as she followed the graceful figure, could hardly restrain her
mortification and rage. She felt a longing amounting almost to frenzy,
to spring upon the girl and stab her in the back.

The two men did not linger long in the dining-room. Each felt anxious,
for reasons of his own, to be again in the presence of Miss Payne, and
so soon joined the ladies in the drawing-room.

After a little more hypocrisy on all their parts, Cora arose to retire
to her apartments, declaring that the excitement of Miss Payne's
arrival had made her forgetful of herself and her health, and that she
began to feel her fictitious strength departing.

Madeline, too, arose, and offering her arm to Cora, said that she
would also retire. Nodding a careless good-night to the three deserted
ones, she left the room, with the fair invalid leaning languidly upon
her arm.

To the surprise and dissatisfaction of Cora, Madeline not only
accompanied her to her own apartment, but entered with her. Having
closed the door carefully behind them, she turned about, and dropping
all her assumed gayety and friendliness, said with the air of a queen
commanding a subject:

"Now, Mrs. Arthur, let us understand each other!"

The sudden and marked change of her voice and manner startled the
woman out of all her self-possession. She stood staring in the stern
face of the girl with all of the audacity frightened out of her own.

Cora was an adventuress to the tips of her fingers. She was fond of
intrigue; she possessed a certain kind of courage; but she was, after
all, at heart, a coward. She was quite willing to compromise her soul
for gain, but not her body. In short, she loved herself too well to
find any piquancy in personal danger.

Since the loss of the papers and the flight of Céline Leroque had
shaken her feeling of security, Cora had been restive and anxious to
bring this plot to a climax. She had found it not at all to her taste
to have Percy holding over her head a sword, be it ever so slender.
And now, as she confronted Madeline, all her selfishness was alarmed.
She waited in absolute fear the next words from the lips of her enemy.

"You need not weary yourself by playing the invalid in my presence,
madame," pursued the girl. "I am quite well aware that your illness
has been all a sham. I know, too, that you have found the _rôle_ of
invalid very irksome."

The eyes of Cora widened still more, and all the color fled from her
lips. But she made a fierce struggle and, although she could not
summon up her usual insolence, she managed to gasp out, half
defiantly: "What do you mean?"

"You understand my meaning," replied the girl, with contempt. "I mean
that you are in my power, and that you must obey my will."

For a moment Cora's anger outweighed her fear. She came a step nearer
and said, sneeringly: "Indeed, Miss Payne! That remains to be seen!"

"True," assented Madeline, coldly. "First, then, you had better
instruct your friend, Dr. Le Guise, not to administer _hasheesh_ to
Mr. Arthur to-morrow, in order to have him properly insane when I
visit him."

Cora's knees bent under her, and all the color fled out of her face.
But she rallied her flying courage enough to say: "Explain yourself,
Miss Payne."

Madeline drew toward her Cora's easiest lounging chair, and seated
herself therein with much deliberation, saying, as she did so:

"You had better sit down, Mrs. Arthur; there is no necessity for a
display of anger, or for any more attempts at deception. The one is as
useless as the other is transparent. And I have considerable to say to
you."

Cora moved sullenly toward a chair and sank into it, feeling like a
woman in a nightmare.

"First, then, for your position," pursued Madeline. "It is sufficient
to say that I know of your scheme to dispose of Mr. Arthur and inherit
the wealth you supposed to be his."

Cora was beginning to feel a return of combativeness, and she
exclaimed quickly: "That is false!"

"I know," pursued her inquisitor, ignoring her retort, "that this man
you call 'Dr. Le Guise,' is your tool and--_I have had every drug that
has been prescribed by him analyzed by city physicians!_"

Cora saw that she was indeed undone, and began to fight with the
recklessness of despair. "I don't believe you!" she cried, reckless
that she was committing herself. "That old spy, Hagar, has fancied
these things. How could you get the medicines?"

"Not through Hagar."

"How then?"

"_Just as I got the certificate of your marriage with Mr. Percy._"

The woman sprang to her feet. "You--you are--"

"Céline Leroque, madame!" with an imitation of the ladies' maid
accent.

Cora fell back in her chair panting.

"Now," resumed Madeline, "why don't you reflect that, if it were my
intention to denounce you, I could have done that long ago. Are you
not aware that my step-father is my enemy?"

"Not--in that way."

"In that way precisely. John Arthur tortured my mother until she died
heart-broken. He made my childhood miserable, and shut me up in a
convent to pass my girlhood in loneliness. He bartered me in marriage
to a man older and uglier than himself, for ten thousand dollars. Then
I defied him to his face; swore to revenge upon him my mother's wrongs
and mine; and ran away. Do you understand now why I have allowed you
to persecute John Arthur?"

Cora's courage began to revive. "I think I do," she said, slowly.

"You see, Mrs. Arthur, it is in my power to arrest you; first, for
Bigamy, and second, for Attempted Poisoning."

Cora looked at her coolly. "But you won't do either," she said.

"Won't I? And why not?"

"Because, to do either, you must bring your own name into too
prominent notice."

Madeline laughed scornfully.

[Illustration: "You--you are--!" "_Céline Leroque_, madame."--page
362.]

"You forget," she said, "I left my home for revenge. I feigned to be
dead--I returned to Oakley in disguise--for revenge. Do you think that
I will let my pride stay me when, by exposing you, I can complete my
vengeance upon John Arthur?"

Cora's countenance fell. She had not viewed the matter in just that
light. She made no answer, and Madeline continued:

"Don't flatter yourself that I shall hesitate, if I cannot effect my
purpose otherwise. I am not disposed just now to war with you, but if
you do not see fit to accept my terms, then I must turn against you."

"What do you want of me?" sullenly.

"I want you to continue as we have begun. I want Miss Arthur, Mr.
Percy, and your brother, to believe us the best of friends. Above all,
I want John Arthur to think us allies."

"And what then?"

"Then, you will be safe so far as I am concerned. Then, when I have
accomplished my purpose and hold in my hands the keys to the Oakley
coffers, you shall have money, and shall go hence to resume your
career in whatever field you choose."

"What security have I for all this?"

"My word!"

"And if I reject your terms?"

Madeline smiled oddly.

"What is to prevent my leaving this place now, to-night?" said Cora.

Madeline laughed, saying: "Do you want to try that?"

"If I did, what then?"

"Then--you would not be permitted to leave these premises!"

"Ah! you have spies in this house!"

"Yes; and out of it. There is no chance for you to escape. There is
no chance for any one to escape. Mrs. Arthur, is this man that you
call your brother really such, or is he, too, in your plot?"

Cora looked at her keenly, but it was no part of Madeline's plan to
let her know that she had ever seen Lucian Davlin before that evening.
Her face was as calm and inscrutable as the face of the sphinx.

"No," said Cora, at length "my brother does not know of it."

"I am glad of that," replied Madeline. "But, for fear of any
deception, he will be kept under _surveillance_; and if anything is
communicated to him I shall surely know it."

"Why did you rob me of those papers?" asked Cora, abruptly.

"Because," said Madeline, leaning forward, "you and I have a common
enemy."

"What! not Percy?"

"Yes, Percy!"

Cora looked amazed. "But--have you known him before?"

"I never saw him until he came to Oakley."

"I can't see how he has incurred your enmity here."

"He has not incurred my enmity here. I hated him before I ever saw
him."

"Why?"

"Because he has wronged a friend who is as dear to me as life."

"Oh!"

"Don't puzzle your brain over this; you won't be enlightened. It is
sufficient for you to know that you can serve me if you choose,
because we are both enemies of the same men." Then, rising, "Now
choose; will you remain here as my ally, or leave in disgrace, and a
prisoner, as my enemy?"

Cora reflected, and finally said: "I accept your terms."

"Very good; and now for precautions. You must allow me to supply you
with a maid."

"What?"

"You are an invalid; I am well and strong. What could be more natural
than that I should desire you to have every care and comfort that I
can desire? I shall give you my maid; she will supply the place of
Céline Leroque."

"I won't have her," cried Cora, angrily. "I won't have a jailer."

"Certainly not; you will have my maid, however. I will get another
to-morrow."

"I won't have her!"

"Nonsense." Madeline stepped quickly to the door and opened it.
"Strong," she said, softly.

Instantly in stepped Strong, who had been just outside awaiting the
orders of her mistress.

"Strong," said Madeline, "I am going to let you wait upon Mrs. Arthur.
She is in delicate health, and needs a maid. You must be _very
attentive_, and don't let her get into any draughts. You can sleep in
the dressing-room; and if she is not _well cared for_, I shall hold
you accountable."

Cora looked at the big, robust woman, so appropriately called Strong,
and felt that she was indeed a prisoner.

Strong bowed in silent submission to the will of her late mistress,
and turned her broad visage upon her new one.

Madeline moved to leave the room, saying, with a return to her former
manner: "Good-night, step-mamma; try and go down to breakfast with me
in the morning, won't you?"

Without waiting for a reply, she opened the door and swept across the
hall, and Cora heard her door close behind her. Not deigning a single
glance at Strong, Cora sat tapping her foot upon the carpet and
reviewing the situation. After some angry musing, the practical side
of her nature began to assert itself. She reflected that she was not,
after all, in immediate danger; and that she would be still, to all
outward appearance, the mistress of Oakley. There was not much to fear
just now, and she would keep her eyes open.

Meantime, she would not be unnecessarily uncomfortable. And so, being
by nature indolent, she decided to make the most of the unwelcome
Strong. Turning toward the statue-like figure near the door, she
galvanized it into life by saying:

"Strong, get my dressing-gown from that closet, and then take off my
dress."

And Strong commenced her duties with cheerful alacrity.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

MYSTIFIED PEOPLE.


John Arthur sat before a smoldering fire, gazing moodily down at the
charred embers that had lost their glow and only showed a dark red
light here and there, as if to assure one that there was fire in the
grate.

He was thinner than of old. His face wore a sickly pallor. His hands
that clutched the arms of his invalid's chair worked incessantly,
indicating surely that his nerves were in anything but a state of
calm. He was feeble, too, in body; but his mind, spite of the verdict
of the Bellair physician and the drugs of the Professor, was still
unimpaired.

In the solitude of the two rooms, out of which he had not once
stepped since first he was removed to the west wing, he had had ample
time for reflection; but he had by no means arrived at a state of
mental beatitude.

He had found it useless to struggle, useless to bluster, to argue or
to plead. Henry was a merciless jailer, and Dr. Le Guise a sarcastic
one.

His breakfast had been served, and stood upon the table beside him;
but he scarcely glanced at it. When Henry came in from the ante-room
to remove the things, he said, without looking up: "Go ask Le Guise to
come to me."

Henry carried away the tray, deposited it in the ante-room, locked the
door of the chamber carefully, and made his way to the breakfast-room.

At that moment, the incongruous mixture called the family, were there
assembled, including the Professor. The latter was just then
discussing the condition of his patient with Miss Payne, in blissful
ignorance of the fact that the young lady was fully conversant with
his mode of treatment, and the true condition of her step-father's
health.

"You see, my dear young lady," the Professor said, pompously, "his is
the worst form of insanity; the very worst. When a patient raves
constantly we know precisely what to do with him. But when he is, at
times, to all appearance, as sane as yourself, and yet liable at any
moment to blaze out a perfect madman, one dislikes to treat him as a
madman, and yet it is not safe to consider him a sane being."

Madeline nodded, with a splendid assumption of profound interest.

"It's a sad case," she said, pensively. "I almost dread the
interview."

"I think he is quite collected this morning, and he may be calm
throughout. I hope so, for I should not like to have you witness one
of his tantrums."

"I have seen him in tantrums when he was considered sane," said the
girl, with an odd intonation.

Then looking up, she saw Henry, who had entered the room and stood
staring at her in speechless amazement. Hagar had informed him that
his young mistress was in the house. But he was not prepared for the
vision of loveliness that the girl presented, as she turned toward him
clad in her morning robe of snowy cashmere bordered with swansdown,
and trailing after her like a train of snow. Luckily no one noted his
start of surprise and quick glance of recognition, and Madeline said:

"Is not that my step-father's attendant, doctor? I think he wants
you."

The "doctor" beckoned Henry to approach, and said, affably: "Well, and
how is our patient, Henry?"

"About as usual, sir. But he wants to see you."

"Oh, he does? Poor soul, I'll come directly, Henry." Then, turning to
Madeline: "Shall I break to him the news of your arrival?"

"No; not unless you think it unsafe to surprise him."

"On the contrary, an agreeable surprise might prove beneficial."

The Professor, who had received sundry instructions from Davlin,
assumed to be ignorant of the fact that the patient supposed his
step-daughter dead.

Smiling a little at the hypocrisy of the man, who pretended to have at
heart the interest of a patient supposed to be in an excessively
nervous state, yet was quite ready to expose that patient to the shock
of meeting, without previous preparation, one supposed to be dead and
in her grave, Madeline turned, and with a gesture brought Cora to her
side.

"Is Dr. Le Guise aware that my step-papa believes me to be dead?" she
asked.

Cora and the Professor looked dubiously at one another for an instant.
Then the former, seeing her cue in the face of the latter, said: "He
is not."

"Well, step-mamma, I am going up to see him soon, and, on second
thought, it will be best to have the doctor inform him of my
resurrection."

Cora nodded.

"And," pursued the girl, "I will only say that I desire you, doctor,
to inform him that I feigned death for reasons of my own. That I am
here in the flesh, and will appear in his presence soon. When you have
prepared him for my coming, have the goodness to come down and tell
me."

Saying this she turned away, after which the Professor quitted the
room to obey the summons of his patient.

Lucian Davlin had witnessed the interview, the summons and the
departure, from a distance. He had found no opportunity for conversing
with Cora, as yet, and was sorely puzzled by the present aspect of
affairs.

He had watched the two narrowly, but he found himself unable to read
the true meaning lurking beneath the soft words that fell from the
lips of Madeline. He could hear no jar in the music of her voice,
could catch no glance that would give the lie to her honeyed words.
She was playing her part like a born actress.

He had not expected to see Cora accept the situation without a
struggle. He was glad to find that there was to be no scene, and
yet--somehow he felt himself at a disadvantage.

He had viewed the situation from his stand-point, however, and had
decided upon his course of action.

First, he was resolved not to quit the field until he had made a
desperate attempt to regain his power over the heiress of Oakley.
Second, he would use stratagem in order to obtain an interview with
her.

In due time, Dr. Le Guise came among them once more, and announced to
Madeline his readiness to conduct her into the presence of his
patient.

"He is quite prepared to see me, then?" questioned Madeline.

"Quite, although I left him a trifle agitated and upset."

As they paused at the door leading from the hall of the west wing, she
said:

"I will go in alone, Dr. Le Guise."

"As you please." Then, as it were an afterthought. "I really believe,
for your own safety, you had better keep Henry near you."

"I shall be in no danger," she replied, and entered the outer chamber,
closing and locking the door after herself.

In answer to her knock, the door of the ante-chamber was unlocked and
opened by Henry. Madeline swept across the threshold and extended her
hand to the faithful fellow, saying:

"Henry, I am glad to see you. I hope you do not find your present
duties too heavy?"

"Not since I knew I was serving you, miss," said the man,
respectfully.

"You are serving me, Henry. I need you here very much; and rest
assured you shall have your reward for all you have done or may do for
me."

Evidently the prospect of reward was not unpleasing to him. His
countenance beamed satisfaction.

"And, Henry," continued his mistress, "attend to this. You are not, on
any account, to give your charge any more of the medicine prepared for
him by the doctor."

A look of surprise shone from the eyes of the negro, but he answered
simply, like the well-trained servant he was: "Yes, miss."

"Above all, Henry, you are to let the doctor think that you administer
all that he gives you."

Henry signified that he fully understood and would obey his
instructions. Then he opened the inner door, and John Arthur and
Madeline Payne stood once more face to face!

For a moment, the two eyed each other in silence. Then John Arthur
said, with a sneer on his lip, and in a tone which proved clearly that
time and imprisonment had not taught him meekness:

"So, you young jade, what escapade have you been up to now? And how
dare you come back here like a young princess? Why don't you keep out
of my house?"

Madeline laughed scornfully. "_Your_ house!--But I forgive you,
step-papa; of course you are not accountable for your words."

Her tone was mockery itself. The man found it difficult to restrain
his wrath as he looked in her scornful face and said: "Don't dare to
pretend to believe that I am crazy! Are you in league against me,
too?"

Wishing to draw from him just how much of the baseness of Cora he
believed in, or suspected, she dropped her voice and asked, in assumed
surprise: "Is it possible that you believe some one to be plotting
against you?"

"Is it _possible_! How else could I be kept shut up a prisoner in my
own house?"

The girl seemed to ponder. "Who is your enemy?" she asked.

"Every one in this house."

"What! Surely not your wife?"

"I'm not so certain of that."

"But she, too, has been sick."

"Have they locked _her_ up?" snapped he.

Madeline smiled. "Well, not exactly; she is not allowed much liberty,
though."

"Why won't she come and see me?"

"Mercy! She is too delicate."

"Seems to me you are well informed for one so lately arrived."

"I _am_ well informed, Mr. Arthur. But I am not a late arrival."

"What do you mean?" sullenly.

"Just what I say," with an odd laugh. "I have been in this house since
you were first put in these rooms."

He sat like one stupefied. At last he sprang up and fairly yelled, "In
the fiend's name, explain this chicanery. Why are you here? Who is
keeping me a prisoner, and wherefore? Is it _you_, you little virago?"

"Softly, step-papa; one thing at a time. I am here because _you_ are
here," she said in a voice of unruffled calm. "Who is keeping you a
prisoner, you ask? I am."

Once more he seemed on the point of giving way to a paroxysm of rage,
but controlled himself and said, sullenly:

"I suppose I may thank you for my imprisonment from first to last."

"You may thank me if you choose, but it will be bestowing your
gratitude upon the wrong party. I did not lock you up. I simply
permitted it."

"And why have you leagued with my wife--curse her--to shut me up like
a thief?"

"Why?" her voice rising in angry scorn, "Do you ask me _why_? Why did
you make my mother almost a prisoner in her own home? Why did you
crush her in life, and blaspheme her in death? Why did you drive her
daughter from the home that was hers, to escape from your cruelty,
your insults, your avarice? John Arthur, how dare you ask me _why_ you
are here!"

Again the flashing eye, the ringing, wrathful voice, the white,
uplifted hand. They menaced him again, as on that June evening when
she had defied him and then fled out into the darkness, not to return,
save in dreams, until now.

Again he felt a thrill of terror, and he sat before her mute and
cowering. At last he found voice to say: "Do you mean that you intend
to keep me a prisoner?"

Her eyes met his full. They were cold as snow and resolute as fate.
"You will never leave these rooms until you accede to the terms I have
to propose."

Her audacity fairly stunned him. He fell back a pace as he said:
"What--terms?"

"First, you are to agree to resign the guardianship of my property.
Second, you are to leave Oakley forthwith and forever, and to keep
ever and always away from me and all that is mine."

"Bah!" he cried, angrily, "do you think I am a fool? I won't resign my
guardianship; the property is _mine_, not yours!"

"Then I will choose a new guardian immediately. How ignorant of law
you are, step-papa! Don't you know that you are legally _dead_? Don't
you know that a lunatic can't hold property? Legally, I can choose a
guardian to-morrow."

"You she-devil! But I am not a lunatic!" sneered he.

"How obtuse you are, step-papa! You _are_ a lunatic; we have the
certificates of two physicians to that effect; and that is all the law
requires. Now, be reasonable; what can you do?"

"I'll get out, by heavens," he yelled; "and I'll put you in State's
prison for false imprisonment!"

She turned upon him with the utmost composure. "My dear sir, you have
not one witness to prove that you are a sane man. There are many to
prove that you have been subject to violent fits of madness."

She turned again, and he, no longer seeking to control his rage,
sprang toward her, uttering a volley of curses.

During their entire interview, Henry had stood like a sentinel at the
outer door of the ante-room, while that leading into the chamber of
the prisoner stood wide open. At the first accent of rage, he darted
forward; and as the girl sprang away from her step-father, that
gentleman felt himself seized and hurled with scant ceremony to the
middle of the room.

"Don't you try that, sir!" cried Henry, in high wrath. "You won't find
me a friend, if you do."

"So," panted the old man, "this is one of your hirelings, is it? And
pray, sir, what is this young fiend to pay you for your services?"

"That's my affair," responded the man, coolly. "You can't buy me off;
and if you try that game again, you will get yourself into a straight
jacket."

Madeline laughed, and said: "There, Henry, you need not be alarmed for
me. But when you report this attack to the doctor, tell him that I
think he had better take measures to secure his safety and yours, in
case your patient should be again seized with a fit of violence."

John Arthur immediately saw that he had damaged his own cause.

"You had better sleep upon my proposition, Mr. Arthur," said Madeline,
from the threshold. "If you pine for liberty, send for me. And don't
think, for a moment, that I shall allow you to go free without taking
the necessary precautions to insure myself against any trouble you
might desire to make me. Adieu, Mr. Arthur." And she swept from the
room.

John Arthur stood for many minutes in the same place and attitude.
When his anger would permit him, he began to wonder. She had come and
gone, and how much the wiser was he? Where had she been all these
months? Why had she allowed them to think her dead? Who were her
friends, for friends she must have found? Why had her presence in the
house, if she had been here, been kept from him? How had she gained
the ascendancy over every one in that house? He thought so long and
intensely that he started up, at last, almost beginning to fear that
he was becoming mad.

When Dr. Le Guise again came into his presence, he began to question
him. But it was labor lost. Dr. Le Guise would not admit that he was a
sane man. Dr. Le Guise knew nothing, absolutely nothing, outside the
range of his professional duties. He was sorry for his patient; very
sorry. He assumed to take all assertions on the part of Mr. Arthur as
so many fresh evidences of insanity.

[Illustration: "Don't try that, sir!" cried Henry, in high
wrath.--page 375.]

He was very grave, was Dr. Le Guise, but not to be moved. In fact, the
prisoner fancied that he could observe in the doctor's tone, manner,
and countenance, an unusual degree of complacency, and relish for his
position and authority. And the prisoner was right. The reason for
the doctor's placidity of manner was simply this:

Madeline on leaving the rooms of the west wing, had encountered the
worthy "doctor" just at the turn of the passage, and she had paused,
saying:

"Dr. Le Guise, you were right about my unfortunate step-father. He is
quite mad, and really a dangerous charge. An ordinary fee is too
little to offer you, considering what you have undertaken. I don't
know what terms my step-mamma has made with you, but I will volunteer
to double her price. You will be amply remunerated, and must consider
the house and everything in it at your disposal, so long as you keep
your patient safe, and do not permit him to do any mischief."

The astute Professor had taken in the full meaning of her words, which
served to quiet the fears that had haunted him since the advent of
Miss Payne; fears that the young lady would prove to be an enemy, and
one keen enough to fathom the secret they were keeping hidden in the
west wing.

He had seen that, for some reason, neither Cora nor Davlin dared, or
did, oppose her. Now he fancied he understood the reason; it was
because they did not fear her, for her interests were in common with
theirs.

"He is certainly a dangerous man," said the Professor, gravely; "I
will obey your instructions to the letter."



CHAPTER XL.

DAVLIN'S "POINTS."


Madeline having left the morning-room, accompanied by the too
observant Professor, Lucian saw at once his opportunity for a few
words with Cora. Without too great an appearance of haste, he moved
across the room, pausing before the fire, in front of which Miss
Arthur was seated, and addressing to her a few careless words. Then he
glanced at Percy, who sat at the most remote corner of the room,
assuming to be much interested in some geological specimens in a
little cabinet.

Cora divined his intention. She knew, too, that this was the very best
place for an interview, which she desired to make a brief one, being
somewhat afraid of committing herself if she allowed him to ask too
many questions. So she moved over to the window, and seated herself in
a low chair.

She had decided upon her own present course of action. She would play
her part well while she remained at Oakley, and she would escape from
it as soon as she had succeeded in blinding the eyes of her jailers,
for she mentally acknowledged them as such.

When Davlin at length crossed the room, and dropped carelessly down in
the chair at her side, she lifted her eyes to his, and said,
inquiringly: "Well?"

He looked at her keenly for a moment. Then, not to lose any time by
useless words, came straight at the point.

"Time's precious, Co. We can't attract attention by a long dialogue,
and yet we must talk things over. When can I find you alone?"

"Not at all for a day or two."

"Why not?" elevating his eyebrows.

Cora rested her head upon her hand in such a way as to conceal from
those at the opposite end of the room, the expression of her face, and
said:

"Because I want to be sure that we can talk without being observed.
Miss Payne seems very friendly, and has given me her maid because,
she says, an invalid needs waiting on, and she sleeps in my
dressing-room. I don't want to excite suspicion by sending her away,
in order to admit you, and--I don't see that there is much to be
said."

Lucian seemed weighing her words for a moment. Then he asked: "What do
you make of Miss Payne?"

"What do you make of her?" she retorted, quickly.

"Nothing, as yet."

"No more do I."

Another brief silence, and then he asked: "Do you think there is any
immediate danger--for us?"

"As how?"

"From him: Arthur."

Now came Cora's grand coup. She felt pretty sure that Lucian knew of
her interview with Madeline, and believed that she would be telling
him no news when she said:

"Listen! She went with me to my room last night, and she asked a good
many questions about him. And I am sure of this: she is no friend to
him, and if she sees no reason for suspecting any of us, she won't
trouble herself about him. She told me that she ran away from home
because she had been so oppressed by him, and that his attempt to
marry her off, in order to put money in his own pocket, was only one
among many of the things she had endured at his hands. Of one thing I
am sure: the old man may be a stumbling-block to us, but he is an
object of positive hatred to her."

Cora uttered this combination of truth and falsehood without the least
compunction. If she could have warned him of the danger hanging over
them without jeopardizing herself, she would have done so. But that,
she knew, was impossible.

He had planned this "game" which now bade fair to be such an utter
failure, and if anyone must suffer, why, let it be him. And then, too,
she reasoned, she had not gathered from the words of Madeline that she
suspected Mr. Davlin of duplicity of any kind. As for the Professor,
Cora cared little what became of him. She could gain nothing and
might, doubtless would, lose much by warning him.

Lastly, Cora assured herself that were their positions reversed, and
Lucian the one who saw that his own safety lay in leaving her to her
fate, he would not scruple to make her his scapegoat. And in this she
was quite right.

Again the man seemed to puzzle over some knotty, mental question. Then
he arose, and leaning against the window frame in a favorite attitude,
glanced across at Percy and the spinster as he asked, slowly: "Did she
say anything about me?"

Cora looked up in genuine surprise. "About you? No; why should she?"

"I mean," he said, "did she say anything to cause you to think that
she suspected us?"

"No," shortly; "why should she? She never saw either of us until
yesterday."

"What do you think brought her back here just now?"

"It's easy enough to see why she came back. She has heard of the
insanity of Mr. Arthur, and has come, as she said, to take possession
of her own."

Another pause; then Cora said: "Is the Professor 'up' to anything
new?"

"No."

"Then don't let him take the alarm. It would hurt us. We can't run
now, and I don't think we have much to fear. We will lose the
money--that's all."

Lucian looked out upon the evergreens and graveled walks of Oakley,
and said, under his breath: "Will we?"

Then he turned upon his heel and sauntered out of the room.

The question that was then uppermost in his mind, the question that
had been since the first shock of her reappearance had given him time
to think, was, why had Madeline returned to Oakley?

Was it, as she alleged, because she had changed her mind, and wanted
to be mistress of her own? Or was it because he was there? If he could
convince himself that the latter reason was the true one, then he
would know how to act.

She had kept herself informed of affairs at Oakley. Then she must have
known of the fact that the so-called brother of John Arthur's wife was
Lucian Davlin. She must have known that. Of course she knew it. Did
not her manner on the evening of her arrival prove that? Not for one
instant did she lose her self-possession. Had his presence been
unexpected, she could hardly have restrained every sign of emotion, of
recognition. Clearly, she was prepared for their meeting.

Ah! now he was getting at things. If she came to Oakley, knowing him
to be established there as a member of the family, she came
_expecting_ to meet him. She was not afraid of him, then. She was not
averse to meeting him. Perhaps--he began to think it highly
probable--she came solely to meet him. If so, did she come for love,
or--for revenge?

If she came for revenge why did she not denounce him? But no, she
would hardly do that. What woman would? But she might have assumed
toward him a more hostile attitude.

Finally, his masculine vanity helped him to a conclusion. A woman
seldom forgets her first love so easily, and he could meet her so
differently now. She had _not_ forgotten her love for him. He could
win it back, and her forgiveness with it. And then--then, if he could
but manage Cora, what would hinder him from marrying her, and being
in clover ever after! He was tired of roving; they could go to the
city; he need not give up gaming, and--he really loved the girl; had
loved her since the day she had escaped from his snare.

Having arrived at this stage in his day-dream, he began to feel
buoyant. And when he heard from the Professor the result of Madeline's
visit to her step-father, his complacency was at high tide.

"It's all in a nutshell to me," said the Professor, as they smoked
their confidential cigars in the privacy of Lucian's own room. "Mind,
I don't suppose she _is_ up to our game; she can't be, you know; but
she is pretty thoroughly convinced that what she thinks is his
insanity, is but temporary."

"How do you know that?" interrupted Lucian, sharply.

"Not from anything _she_ said; I had very few words with her. But look
here, Davlin, isn't this a clear case enough? When I went up to see
the old fool, after their interview, I find him in a paroxysm of rage.
Of course he makes his complaint; his _ravings_ informed me of this:
She told him that she did not really think him very crazy herself, but
two doctors _did_, and she didn't feel called to dispute them. She
told him that he could not prove himself sane in any court in America;
and that he, being insane, was dead in law; and she was going to
choose another guardian."

Lucian Davlin fairly bounded from the chair. "That's it!" he
ejaculated under his breath.

"Then," pursues the Professor, puffing away tranquilly, "she comes
straight from this interview and meets me, to whom she says that, 'It
is a most deplorable and dangerous case; that he is really liable to
attack me or Henry at any moment; that I must take every precaution
and guard against his sudden attack, even if I were forced to confine
him still more closely; and that she had suspected him of partial
insanity long ago.' Now, what do you think of that?"

Precisely what he thought it was not Mr. Davlin's intention to tell.
One idea, however, he expressed promptly enough: "I think," he said,
leaning a little forward and looking full at his companion, "that you
had better take the advice of Miss Payne. Confine him close, the
closer the better; but don't drug him any more at present!"

The Professor nodded serenely as he said: "Right, quite right. Just
what I was about to suggest."

He might have added that he had resolved upon taking the course
indicated, even if the suggestion had not been made. "The young lady
holds the winning cards," he had assured himself. "I will take her
orders before I get myself in too deep!" His "too deep" meant deep as
the grave.

And now Lucian had a new subject for conjecture. If Miss Payne
proposed to appoint for herself a guardian, who would she select? Who
had been caring for her during all these months? Was it man or woman?

The only information she had volunteered had been implied rather than
spoken. In answer to Miss Arthur's rather abrupt query at the
breakfast table, as to how she had managed to prosper so well in a
strange city where she had no friends, the girl had replied, with a
little laugh:

"I suppose it has never occurred to either yourself or Mr. Arthur that
I might have found out some of my mother's friends. I was put in
possession of my mother's journal on the very day that I ran away from
Oakley. I am not so friendless as you may think."

Lucian was again puzzled, but knowing the girl as he did, he was not
prepared to believe that a guardian, in the form of a lover, would
appear. He was now convinced that Cora, whom at first he had somewhat
doubted, was not for some unknown reason attempting to deceive him.

The Professor's story had corroborated hers, and given him, as he
expressed it, "a fresh point" in his game. But alas for Lucian! Every
fancied discovery only beguiled him farther and farther from the
truth, and rendered him more and more blind to the chains that were
being forged about him.



CHAPTER XLI.

THE DAYS PASS BY.


Several days passed and still Lucian Davlin had not found the much
wished for opportunity to converse with Madeline. Neither had he been
able to find Cora alone. Visit her room when he would, there was the
burly waiting-maid. Finally Cora had warned him, with some asperity,
that his "actions looked rather suspicious," and then he obeyed her
gentle hint and remained aloof.

Two days after the bestowal of Strong, the maid, upon the
not-too-grateful Cora, an angular, grenadier-looking female presented
herself at the servants' entrance, announcing that she was "the new
maid;" and she was installed as high priestess of Madeline's
apartments without loss of time.

The servants below stairs made comments, as servants will. Even Miss
Arthur, Percy, and Davlin agreed in calling the two maids,
respectively, "Grenadier" and "Griffin."

But only Cora knew that the two were better learned in the art of
spying than in matters of the toilet. She knew herself to be under
continual surveillance. Above stairs or below, Madeline or Hagar,
Strong or Joliffe were not far away. And yet she had not abandoned her
plan of escaping.

One morning, Cora, looking from the window of her dressing room, saw
two men moving about in the grounds below. Upon commenting upon their
presence there, Strong had answered, readily;

"Yes, madame, Joliffe tells me that they are here to sink a well. Miss
Payne has decided to have a fountain among those cedar trees, and they
are to go to work immediately."

"But a well in winter! They can't dig."

"They don't dig; they bore. It's to be a fountain, madame."

But in spite of the "fountain" explanation, Cora knew that the house
was guarded from without as well as from within.

"It's no use to warn Lucian, or anybody, now," she thought. "It would
only get us all into worse trouble."

But still she did not abandon the thoughts of her own escape.

And now began a time of trial for poor Ellen Arthur. Madeline Payne,
after studiously ignoring the two men for some days, began to unbend.
She commenced by conversing with Percy, listening to his slow and
stately sentences, smiling her approval, and completely captivating
that susceptible gentleman. Then, by degrees, she drew Lucian into the
conversation, and smiled upon and listened to him.

All this Cora observed, wondering what the girl was trying to do;
while the spinster looked on in untold agony, fearful lest this fair
sorceress should avenge herself for some of her childish grievances by
robbing her of her lover.

Meanwhile Lucian Davlin interpreted all this in his own favor. "She
is proud and still resentful," he thought. "And she is using Percy as
a medium of approach to me."

At last Lucian, growing impatient, resorted to an old, old trick. He
watched his opportunity, and one evening, as Madeline was following
Cora from the drawing-room, the door of which he was holding open for
their exit, he pushed into her hand a small scrap of paper.

She would have dropped it; her first impulse was to do so, but Cora
turned as her hand was about to loosen its clasp upon the fragment. So
she passed on, carrying it with her to her own room. There she opened
it and read these pencilled words:

     For God's sake do not torture me longer. You have condemned
     me without a hearing. Be as merciful as you are strong and
     lovely. At least let me see you alone, when I can plead for
     myself.

Half an hour later, Hagar tapped at his door. When he opened it, she
put in his hand a bit of paper, on which were these faintly-pencilled
lines:

     If you desire my friendship, you must date our acquaintance
     from this week. You never knew me in the past.

"And she is right," muttered he; "the Madeline Payne of last summer,
and the Madeline Payne of now, are to each other as the chrysalis to
the butterfly, in beauty; as the kitten to the panther, in spirit; as
the babe to the woman, in mind. That Madeline pleased me; this one, I
love."

So he accepted the position, and did not give up striving to draw from
her some special word, or look, or tone, that he need not feel
belonged as much to Percy as to himself.

Meantime Percy was revolving various things in his learned head.

He had been, as a matter of course, deeply impressed with her beauty,
and he had been much puzzled as well.

Having witnessed her arrival, he had fully expected rebellion from
Cora, for Cora was not the woman to be barred out from a prospective
fortune and make no sign. But there was no war, and no indications of
battle. Cora and the heiress were wonderfully friendly. Mr. Percy
could not understand it.

The manner of Davlin toward him had not changed in the least,
remaining as studiously polite as when he was so cordially invited to
take up his abode under the hospitable roof of Oakley.

That of Cora was decidedly different. While before she addressed him
with a sort of conciliating courtesy, and had seemed desirous of
furthering his plans and hastening on his marriage with Miss Arthur,
she now manifested an almost contemptuous indifference, not only to
himself, but to his _fiancé_.

True to her nature, Cora was gathering up what gleams of satisfaction
she could. When she had become assured that it was not Percy who held
possession of her stolen papers, and that the girl in whose hands they
were was more his enemy than hers, she rejoiced in his discomfiture to
come. Seeing that it was no longer necessary to propitiate her enemy,
she indulged in the luxury of acting out her hatred, when she could
without betraying to Davlin this change, which might require an
explanation.

That some sort of understanding existed between Miss Payne and Cora,
Percy instantly surmised, and every day confirmed the belief. That
Miss Payne held the power, he also believed. So believing, he began to
wonder if it were not better to "be off with the old love," and seek
to win the heiress, for the vanity of Mr. Percy inspired him to
believe that it would not be a hopeless task. He had heard, however,
of that person who, "between two stools," fell to the ground, and he
was careful not to reveal to Miss Arthur the laxity of his affections.

And so the days moved on.

Percy dividing his attention between his _fiancé_ and Miss Payne;
studying the latter, and closely watching Davlin and Cora.

That last named lady smiling and lounging below stairs, sulking and
smoking above, and always under surveillance.

Davlin, having assured Cora that he was acting from motives politic,
paying open court to Madeline.

That young lady calmly acting her part, thoroughly understanding and
heartily despising them all.

John Arthur alternately raging and sulking, obdurately refusing to
accede to his step-daughter's terms, and vowing to escape and wreak
vengeance upon every one of them.

"Dr. Le Guise," calm as a Summer morning, and taking more real ease
and comfort than all the others combined.

Hagar watchful and anxious.

The two new maids making themselves popular in the kitchen, and
"sleeping with their eyes open."

       *       *       *       *       *

And still no clue by which Madeline and her efficient _aides de camp_
could unravel the web of doubt that still clung about, and kept a
prisoner, the long-suffering Philip Girard.



CHAPTER XLII.

A STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM.


After some days of outward calm, came a ripple upon the surface of
events.

It had been a dull, cloudy day, with occasional gusts of wind and
rain; wind that chilled to the very marrow, and rain that froze as it
fell.

The three men, Davlin, Percy and the Professor, had been constrained
to abandon their customary morning walk, with cigar accompaniment, up
and down the terrace. And the well-borers had been obliged to stop
their work.

Mrs. Arthur had kept her room and her bed all day long, afflicted by a
raging toothache. Strong was kept at her side, almost constantly
applying hot water, laudanum and various other local applications. As
the day advanced, the sufferer seemed growing worse; and when Madeline
came in to administer consolation, and see if the woman were really
ill, Cora sent for Dr. Le Guise, vowing she would have the tooth out,
and every other one in her head, if the pain did not stop. But when
the Professor arrived, her courage failed her. She drew back at the
sight of the formidable forceps, saying that she would "try and endure
it a little longer; it seemed a bit easier just then."

All this Madeline noted. Retiring from the room she signaled to Strong
to follow her out. "What do you think of her?" questioned Madeline of
the latter, as the door closed between them and Cora.

Strong looked dubious. "I really don't know what to think, Miss
Payne," she said. "If it is shamming, it is the best I ever saw."

"True," answered Madeline; "I am at a loss. You had better apply some
test, Strong, and--keep all your medicines out of her reach. Don't let
her get any laudanum, or anything; and presently report to me. She
must not be left alone, however; when I send Joliffe in, do you come
to me."

Madeline passed on to her own room, and Strong returned to her
patient.

When Joliffe went to her relief, Strong presented herself before
Madeline, saying: "I can't think she is shamming, Miss Payne. I
suggested a mustard blister, and she never made a murmur. I put it on
awful strong, and she declared that it was nothing to the pain. When I
took it off her cheek was red as flannel, and she wanted it put on
again. She says it relieves her, and thinks if the pain don't come
back she will sleep. I made sure of the bottles all the same," added
Strong. "I have used a lot of chloroform on her, but of course some
would evaporate." And she held up to view a half-filled chloroform
vial.

She was right; full half an ounce had "evaporated," during the brief
minute when she had stood in the hall to confer with Madeline.

Altogether, Strong had a hard day.

Cora kept her continually on her feet. The blinds must be opened, and
shut again, every fifteen minutes. The room was too hot, and the fire
must be smothered. Then it was too cold, and the fire must be
stimulated to a blaze. And no one could wait upon her but Strong.

As night came on, the paroxysms of pain returned in full force, and
Strong was implored once more to apply the soothing mustard.

When Madeline looked in at ten o'clock, Cora was groaning in misery,
and Strong was applying a blister. When she again looked in, an hour
later, the invalid, with blistered face and fevered eyes, feebly
declared herself a "trifle easier," and Strong was bathing her head
with _eau de Cologne_.

Madeline soon retired to her room, and her couch. But for half an
hour longer, Cora kept the now yawning Strong at her side. Then she
said:

"Go now and get some rest, Strong. Leave the mustard on my face, and
then I think I can sleep. I am getting drowsy now."

Strong replaced the mustard, and raked up the fire. Then she looked
carefully to the fastenings of the doors, and returned to the bedside.
Already her mistress was in a heavy slumber.

Putting in her pocket the keys of both doors, Strong retired to the
dressing-room and, loosening her garments, threw herself down wearily
upon a couch, and was soon sleeping the sleep of the just, and
breathing heavily.

For some moments after the loud breathing told that her maid was
asleep, Cora lay quietly, but with eyes wide open. Then she stirred,
making a slight noise, but the heavy breathing continued as before.

Cora now raised herself up on her elbow and again listened. Still the
heavy breathing. Again she moved audibly, at the same time calling
softly: "Strong!"

But Strong slumbered on.

Quickly snatching the bandages from her much enduring face, Cora
sprang lightly from the bed. Taking something from under her pillows,
she stole noiselessly into the dressing-room and up to the couch of
the sleeping Strong. In another instant there was a pungent odor in
the room, and something white and moist lay over the musical proboscis
of the slumbering giantess.

In five minutes more, Cora Arthur stood arrayed in a dark traveling
suit, with a pair of walking boots in one hand, and the key of her
chamber door in the other. Swiftly and silently as a professional
house-breaker, she opened the door and passed out, closing it quietly
behind her.

Like a shadow she glided down the now unlighted stairway, and through
the dark and silent hall, in the direction of the dining-room. Turning
to the left, she paused before a side door, the very door through
which Madeline had escaped on a certain eventful June night, and
noiselessly undid the fastenings. In another moment she was outside,
and the door had closed behind her.

She drew a long breath of relief, and sat down to put on her shoes.
Her escape was well timed; the train for the city, the midnight
express, was due in twenty minutes. Strong would hardly waken before
that time, and then--she would be flying across the country at the
heels of the iron horse.

Rising to her feet, she took one step in the darkness--only one. Then
a light suddenly flashed before her eyes, a heavy hand grasped her
arm, and a gruff voice said: "This is a bad night for ladies to be
abroad. You had better go back, ma'am!"

Cora made a desperate effort to free herself, but the hand held her as
in a vise, and the bull's eye of the dark lantern flashed in her face
as the speaker continued:

"Yes, you are the identical one I am looking for. Got a red
face--toothache didn't make you a trifle lightheaded, did it? Come,
turn about, quick!"

And Cora knew that Madeline Payne had not been as blind as she had
seemed. It was useless to struggle, useless to protest. The strong
hand pushed her toward the entrance. The man gripped the lantern in
his teeth, while he opened the door, and pushing her through, followed
after. Closing the door again, and never once releasing his hold upon
her, he forced her unwilling feet to retrace their steps, saying, as
they ascended the stairs:

"Show the way to your own room, if you don't want me to rouse the
house."

Quivering with rage, Cora pointed to the door, and was immediately
ushered, with more force than politeness, back into her own
dressing-room and the presence of her still insensible maid.

"Now, then," said her tormentor, "where is Miss Payne's room? No
nonsense, mind; I'm not a flat."

Cora, thoroughly convinced of the truth of this statement, sullenly
directed him to Madeline's door.

"Stand where you are," was the next command of the man; "it might jar
your tooth to move."

And Cora stood where he had left her, while he aroused Miss Payne and
communicated to her the news of the night's exploit.

In a very few moments Joliffe appeared, and without so much as casting
a glance at Cora, set herself to arouse the stupefied Strong--a feat
which was soon accomplished, for the woman had nearly exhausted the
effects of her sleeping potion. A moment later, and Madeline appeared
upon the threshold. After surveying the scene in silence for an
instant, she entered the room, closed the door, and said with a laugh
that set Cora's blood boiling: "So you were tired of our society, and
fancied that you could outwit me? Undeceive yourself, madame; it is
not in your power to escape from my hands, and whatever fate I choose
to adjudge you."

Then turning to the man, she said: "You have done well, Morris; this
kind of work you will find more profitable than well-boring. You may
go now."

The man bowed respectfully, and silently quitted the room.

Then Madeline addressed Joliffe: "You will stay here the remainder of
the night. Let Strong sleep; she is not to blame for permitting her
charge to escape, and she will be more wary in future."

[Illustration: "This is a bad night for ladies to be abroad!"--page
393.]

Then turning again to Cora, who had flung herself in a chair and sat
gazing from one to the other in sullen silence, she said, with a smile
on her lips: "You should not work against your own interests, Mrs.
Arthur. Had you succeeded in escaping on the midnight express, who,
think you, would have been summoned to meet you on your arrival in the
city?"

"Doubtless an officer," replied the woman, doggedly. "I might have
known you for a sleuth hound who would guard every avenue."

"Thanks; you do me honor. I should not have summoned an officer,
however; there is some one else waiting anxiously to welcome you
there."

"Indeed," sarcastically; "who?"

"_Old Verage._"

Cora started up in her chair. "For God's sake, _what_ are you?"

"A witch," said the girl, demurely. "I am as old as the world, and can
fly through the air on a broomstick, so don't think to escape me
again, step-mamma. I trust you will enjoy your brief repose, for it
will soon be morning, and if I don't see your fair face at the
breakfast table, I shall not be content."

Cora put two fingers to her blistered cheek, saying: "You can't ask me
to come down with this face."

"True, I can't. Good-night, step-mamma; it would have been better if
you had let the doctor pull that tooth."

And Miss Payne swept away, leaving the would-be fugitive to her own
reflections.



CHAPTER XLIII.

THE DOCTOR'S WOOING.


Mrs. Ralston had become to Olive Girard as one of the family. There
was a strange affinity between the two women, who had known so much of
sorrow, so many dark, dark days. As yet, however, there was not entire
confidence. Mrs. Ralston knew nothing of the movements then on foot to
liberate the husband of her hostess; and Olive knew no more of Mrs.
Ralston's past than had been communicated by Claire, which was in
reality but very little.

Dr. Vaughan had become an ardent admirer of the grave, sweet, pale
lady, who had, in her turn, conceived a very earnest admiration for
him.

Always a close student of the human countenance, Mrs. Ralston had not
been long in reading in the face of the young man his regard for
Claire Keith. Having discovered this, she studied him still more
attentively, coming, at last, to the conclusion that he was worthy of
her beloved Claire.

But Claire appeared ever under a strange restraint in the presence of
Dr. Vaughan. She seemed always to endeavor to keep either her sister
or her friend at her side, as if she found herself more at ease while
in their proximity. Evidently she was keeping close guard over
herself. And just as evidently she was glad to be in the presence of
Clarence Vaughan when supported by her sister and friend, and safe
from a _tête-á-tête_.

Mrs. Ralston was really troubled by this apparent misunderstanding, or
whatever it might be, that rendered Claire less cordial towards Dr.
Vaughan than she would have been to one who was only a friend, and far
less worthy of friendship. She mentally resolved, when a fitting
opportunity should occur, to endeavor to win the confidence of the
girl, for she saw that two natures, formed to love each other, were
drifting apart, with no prospect of a better understanding. And that
opportunity came sooner than she had expected.

One day, a day destined to be always remembered by the chief actors in
our strange drama, Mrs. Ralston seated herself at a davenport in Mrs.
Girard's pretty library to write a letter to Mr. Lord. The promptness
and energy of that good man had completely baffled the acute
detective, and the danger which Mrs. Ralston had so much feared, the
danger of being discovered by her worthless husband, was now past.

She had entered the library through the drawing-room and, both rooms
being untenanted, had left the door of communication between them half
open.

Sitting thus, she heard the door of the drawing-room open, and the
rustle of feminine garments betokened the entrance of one of her
friends. Presently soft ripples of music fell upon her ear, and she
knew that it was Claire who was now at the piano, playing dreamily,
softly, as if half fearful of awakening some beloved sleeper.

After a few moments, the ripple changed to a plaintive minor
accompaniment, that had in it an undertone as of far-off winds and
waves. Then the full, clear voice of the girl rang out in that most
beautiful of songs, which alone should make famous the genius of Jean
Ingelow and Virginie Gabriel:

    "When sparrows build and the leaves break forth,
        My old sorrow wakes and cries."

The singer sang on, all unconscious that two listeners were noting the
passion and pain in her voice:

    "How could I tell I could love thee to-day,
       When that day I held not dear?
    How could I know I should love thee, away,
       When I did not love thee near?"

As the last note died away in sorrowful vibrations, Mrs. Ralston, in
the library, was conscious of tears trickling down her cheek.

At the same moment there was a discordant crash among the piano keys,
and Claire's voice was saying, almost angrily: "Dr. Vaughan! how came
you here? How dared you--"

There was a suspicious tremor in her voice, and she stopped speaking,
as if too proud to show how very much she had been thrown off her
guard.

"Forgive me, Miss Keith," the deep voice of Clarence Vaughan
responded. "Believe me, I did not intend my presence as an
impertinence. Your servant admitted me, and I thought it not wrong to
enter unannounced, although I hardly hoped to find you alone. Surely
you do not blame me for my silence while you sang?"

Claire made no reply. She was strongly tempted to fly and let Clarence
Vaughan think what he would. But before she could stir, he had moved a
step nearer and was looking straight down in her eyes.

"Claire," he said, in tones of reverential tenderness, "I have waited
for the time to come when I might say to you what you must let me say
now. You have seemed to avoid me of late; I can not guess why. And
to-day, as I listened to your song, a new thought, a new fear, has
entered my mind. Claire, tell me, have you read the love that has
been in my heart since I first saw your face, and have you sought to
shun me because you love another?"

While he was uttering this speech, Claire Keith had regained her
self-command, and her answer now came low and clear: "Dr. Vaughan, you
have not guessed aright. I have not avoided you because I love
another."

"Claire, nature did not make you an actress. There was love in your
voice when you sang that song!"

"Thank you," coolly; "I have been taught to sing with expression."

"Claire, Claire Keith, I beg you answer me truly; do you really
dislike me? You say you do not love another; could you learn to love
me?"

No answer.

"Tell me, Claire, do you not know how deeply I love you?"

Silence.

"Claire, Claire, speak to me. End this suspense. Will you not try to
love me?"

She moved away from him, and avoiding his eyes, answered in an odd,
hard voice: "No, Dr. Vaughan, I will not try to love you."

His next words were uttered almost tremulously. "Ah! I understand. I
have displeased you; tell me how."

"You have never displeased me. You are goodness itself. Let me pass,
Doctor Vaughan; I must not listen to you."

"Must not? Then you do avoid me?"

"Yes," almost inaudibly.

"Why?" stepping before her and cutting off her retreat.

"I won't tell you. Yes, I will, too. Oh, how blind you are! How can
you love me when--when there is some one better, better a thousand
times, and braver, too. Some one whose life needs your love, because
it has been so loveless always. I won't love you. I won't listen to
you. If you want me to be your friend, make the life that is giving
its best to others, as happy as it deserves to be. And--don't ever
talk--like this--to me again."

Before he could open his lips, or put out a hand to detain her, she
had rushed from the room.

Clarence Vaughan gazed after the flying form in speechless grief and
amazement. Then flinging himself into a chair, he bowed his head upon
his hands in sorrowful meditation. Sitting thus he did not perceive
the approach of some one, who laid a hand lightly upon his bowed head,
murmuring: "Blind! blind! blind!"

Starting up, he saw the face of Mrs. Ralston bending toward him and
wearing an expression of mingled compassion and amusement.

"Forgive me," she said, her countenance resuming its usual gravity. "I
was in the library, and heard all. I listened willfully, too, for I
have been observing you and Claire, and I want to help you."

Clarence dropped disconsolately back in his chair. "If you have heard
all," he said, "you know that it is useless to try to help me."

Mrs. Ralston laughed outright. "If you were not blind you would not
need my help," she said. "As it is, you do."

"Mrs. Ralston, what do you mean?"

"I mean that your battle is half won. If you will explain to me one
half her words, I will explain to you the other half."

"You are laughing at me," he said, wearily. "What can you explain?"

"That ridiculous girl commanded you to bestow your love upon some more
worthy object; some one who was living for others; or some such words.
Whom did she mean, may I ask?"

He started up as if inspired by a new thought. "I see!" he exclaimed;
"She must have meant--a very dear friend of hers."

He could not say the name that was in his thought. It would sound like
egotism.

"That is sufficient," said the lady. "Now, I am going to betray
Claire, as she has betrayed this other one. You foolish fellow, can't
you see that the child loves you and is striving to do a Quixotic
thing by giving you up to her friend? Think over her words and manner,
and don't take her at her bidding. If this other, to whom Claire
commands you to turn, is a true woman, she would not thank you for the
offer of a preoccupied heart."

"She is a true woman," said Clarence, emphatically. "And as dear to me
as a sister could be, but--"

"Then let her be a sister still," said Mrs. Ralston, quietly. "And
don't lose any time in persuading Claire that she is wronging herself
as well as you; and that you would be wronging still more this friend
whom you both love, were you to offer her so pitiful a thing as a hand
without a heart. She is a true woman, you say. If so, she would never
forgive that. Believe me, Dr. Vaughan, there are even worse depths of
sorrow than to have loved worthily--and lost."

Mrs. Ralston turned and went softly from the room.

For a few moments, Clarence Vaughan stood wrapped in thought. Then his
face became illuminated as he said, half aloud: "What a fool I have
been, that I should have so misunderstood that dear girl! Oh, I can be
patient now, and bide my time."

And now his reverie was broken in upon by Olive, who entered
hurriedly, saying: "Doctor Vaughan, are you here alone? I thought
Claire was with you."

He made no answer to this remark, but said, as he took her proffered
hand: "I ran down to tell you that I have taken the detectives off.
Jarvis is still in our pay, in case of emergency. He has sent his
report to Davlin, and a scant one it was. Of course, Davlin is glad to
have him withdraw; that is, if he knows, as he must, that the papers
are not in Percy's hands."

"Then all depends upon Madeline now?"

"All depends upon Madeline."

"Poor Philip," sighed Olive, "what would he say if he knew that his
fate rests in the hands of a mere girl?"

"If he knew of that 'mere girl' what we know, he would say that his
fate could not rest in better hands. No man ever had a more efficient
champion, nor one half so brave and beautiful."

They had not dared to tell Philip of the hope that was daily growing
stronger in their hearts; if they failed, he should be thrust back
into no gulf of black darkness because they had cheated him with a
false hope.



CHAPTER XLIV.

A FRESH COMPLICATION.


On leaving so abruptly the companionship of Dr. Vaughan, Claire rushed
straight to her room. Closing and locking the door, she flung herself
down upon a couch and indulged in a hearty cry. She was at once happy
and sorry, angry and pleased. Presently, Claire sat up and began to
review things more calmly.

"What a wretched little dunce I am!" she soliloquized. "And what must
he think of me! Well!" with a little sigh, "the worse his opinion of
me, the better for Madeline. And here I am this minute, in spite of
myself, actually rejoicing in my heart because he has not done the
very thing I have resolved that he should do. But he never will know
it. Neither shall any one else. I won't give him another chance to
talk to me; no, not if I have to take to my heels ten times a day.
It's only right that I should give him up; I, indeed, who fancied
myself in love with a white-handed, yellow-haired villain."

At this point in her meditations, some one rapped softly at her door.

"Claire, dear," said a soft voice, "open your door; I want to come
in."

It was Mrs. Ralston, and Claire advanced slowly and turned the key in
the lock.

"I--I thought it was somebody else," she said, hypocritically. "Come
in, Mrs. Ralston."

Thus invited, the lady entered. Without making a comment on the
disturbed appearance of her young friend, she crossed to the window,
and sitting down in a cosy dressing-chair, said: "Come directly here,
young lady, and sit down on that ottoman."

Looking somewhat surprised, the girl obeyed.

"Claire, my child, I have a confession to make. I was in the library
while you sang: 'When sparrows build.'"

The girl's cheek flushed and then paled; but she made no answer.

"And," pursued Mrs. Ralston, "I heard more than your song."

No reply.

"And more than your words!"

"More than--my--my words?"

"Yes; I heard your heart's secret."

Claire's face drooped. "What do you mean?" she asked, deprecatingly.

"My darling, I mean that your heart spoke through your voice, and it
belied your words. Why did you deny your love for so noble a man?"

Claire raised her head. "I didn't!" she said, suddenly, as if driven
to bay.

"No," smiled Mrs. Ralston. "You were a wily little serpent. But you
deceived him."

"I don't care," doggedly.

"Now you are telling a fib!"

"Well, I am not sorry, then," getting hold of her monitor's hand. "Why
do you turn against poor me, when I am trying to do my duty?"

"Because you are not doing your duty."

"Yes, I am; indeed, I am. You don't know."

"Then tell me, and let me be your friend and adviser."

"But you can't advise," objected Claire, "because you don't know
the--the other one."

"Well, I do know you."

"There it is!" burst forth the champion of the absent. "You know me,
but you don't know what a worthless, unattractive little imp I am
compared to her. You don't know her, but you shall! And when you do,
poor me will have to take a seat lower down in the tabernacle of your
affections."

"I wonder if this 'other' would so readily resign her lover to you?"
she said.

"Would she!" flashed Claire. "Would she _not_? Has she not? Ah, if you
knew her, you would never say that!" Then suddenly capturing the other
hand of the lady, she said, in quieter but very grave tones: "Can you
listen to a long story, Mrs. Ralston; rather to several stories
combined in one? I am going to tell you what I have so much wanted you
to know--the story of Madeline Payne."

Mrs. Ralston expressed her more than willingness to hear all that
Claire had to tell, and the girl settled down comfortably on the
ottoman at the feet of her friend, and began at the beginning. It was
indeed a long story, for Claire omitted nothing. As she told how
Madeline had exposed to her the baseness of Percy, Mrs. Ralston
started up, her face pale as death, and then sank back in her chair.

"Percy!" she cried. "What--what is his other name?"

Claire stared at her in amazement. "What is it, Mrs. Ralston--you are
ill?"

"No," almost gasped the lady; "tell me--his name."

"I did not intend to speak his name," Claire said, slowly. "It is
Edward Percy."

Mrs. Ralston was on her feet in an instant, her face flushing with
excitement. "Come with me!" she almost shrieked. "Quick! to my room."

Wondering vaguely, Claire followed.

Mrs. Ralston almost flew to her apartment. She flung open the door,
and in an instant was on her knees beside a trunk, opening trays and
searching for something eagerly.

"Look!" she cried, suddenly thrusting out something toward Claire;
something from which she averted her own face. "Look, did you ever see
that face?"

The girl gave one glance and uttered a sharp cry. It was a miniature
painted on ivory; painted years ago, but she knew it only too well.

Mrs. Ralston regained her feet, trembling so that she could scarcely
stand.

"Where did you get it?" cried Claire. "It is he; Edward Percy!"

Mrs. Ralston started forward and took the picture from her hand. "_It
is my husband!_" she whispered.

With the words on her lips, she fell heavily to the floor, in a dead
faint.

When Mrs. Ralston awoke to consciousness, she was lying upon her bed,
with Dr. Vaughan bending over her, Olive standing near, and Claire a
little aloof, looking pale and anxious. Her first thought was of the
picture.

"Where is it?" she murmured, addressing Claire, who stepped forward
eagerly.

"It is here, dear Mrs. Ralston," said Claire. "I caught it from your
hand after you fell. I thought--" And then she hesitated.

"I understand," she said, looking at the girl fixedly. "Drop it from
your hand, Claire; drop it _there_," pointing to the grate. "It has
done its work; we need never look upon it again."

Claire obeyed her silently. For the second time she had consigned to
the flames the pictured face of Edward Percy.

To the surprise of the three who had so lately seen her coming slowly
back from the swoon, so like death, Mrs. Ralston raised herself to a
sitting posture, and then slowly arose from the bed and stood upright
before them, and there was a flush on her cheek, and a light in her
eyes that was new to that usually pale, sad face.

"Dear friends," she said, turning toward Clarence and Olive, who had
been watching the burning of the picture with surprised and somewhat
curious eyes, "I am quite recovered; and I want to think. Will you
please leave me alone, quite alone, for a little while?"

Olive, Claire and Clarence went slowly and silently down to the
drawing-room, Claire keeping very close to her sister and carefully
avoiding the eyes of the young man. Seating herself beside Olive,
Claire told, in her own way, all that she knew of the affair.

"I wanted to tell Mrs. Ralston of Madeline," she commenced, "and, not
to omit anything, I told her poor Philip's story,--all about the two
men, and how the man, Percy, had appeared at Oakley as the lover of
Miss Arthur. When I spoke his name, she ran to her room, almost
dragging me with her, and--"

Suddenly she paused, horrified at a sudden thought. How could she
explain to these two, who knew nothing of her "affair" with Edward
Percy--who did not dream that she had ever seen his face--her ability
to recognize the picture Mrs. Ralston had shown her?

"And?" interrogated Olive.

Clarence Vaughan saw that there was a reason for her hesitation, and
while wondering what it could be, came to her rescue. "And fainted, of
course," said he. "Well, she is better now, and perhaps we shall hear
the conclusion of the mystery all in good time."

If she had dared, Claire would have given him a glance of gratitude.
As it was, she only averted her face and felt herself a great
hypocrite.

Doctor Vaughan was to remain for lunch; and while he talked quietly
with Olive, Claire sat considering what they would say if they knew
all. Presently her reverie was interrupted by the entrance of a
servant, who said:

"Mrs. Ralston wishes Miss Keith to come to her."

Claire started up, and without a word to either her lover or her
sister, hurried into the presence of her friend.

Mrs. Ralston advanced to meet the girl as she entered the room, and
laying a hand upon her shoulder, said: "I understood you to say that
your sister knows nothing of your acquaintance with that man. Am I
right?

"Yes."

"And you do not wish her to know?"

Claire hesitated. "I did not then think it was wrong to conceal it
from her," she said, finally; "but now, if you think it best, I will
try and tell her."

"But I do not think it best, my darling. I should have been convinced
of his identity even had I not used the picture as a test. We will say
nothing on that subject. And now, let us go down-stairs, for we have
work to do!"

So saying, she led the way from the room and Claire followed,
wondering how all this was to end.



CHAPTER XLV.

MRS. RALSTON'S STORY.


Mrs. Ralston entered the drawing-room with the light of a new and
strong purpose shining in her eyes.

"Dear friends," she said, "sit near me and give me your attention. I
have a story to tell, and I must not fatigue myself too much in the
telling."

Without a word, Clarence moved forward an easy chair. As she seated
herself, they all grouped about her with grave, expectant faces.

"I will make brief mention of myself," said the lady, sinking back in
the luxurious chair with a slightly weary smile. "My life has never
been a bright one. Married for the first time at the age of sixteen,
my childhood was prematurely blighted, and my first real trouble fell
upon me. It was not a happy marriage, and during the years of my first
husband's life, I became more and more alienated from my relatives.

"When at last my husband died, I was thirty-six years old, and owing
to ill-health, looked much older. But--I was wealthy. Then I met a
man, younger than myself, and very handsome. I was weak and foolish. I
believed in him and--married him. For four years he squandered my
money and made my life a burden. At last, when I could endure no
longer, and when, because he had inherited a fortune from some
relative, I knew he would trouble himself little as to particulars, I
caused him to believe me dead and buried.

"In reality I was in better health than usual, and while he was
spending his new fortune and fancying me in the grave, I sailed for
Europe. Before I departed, however, I saw him once more, myself
unseen. It is this part of my story that will make your hearts glad."

She paused for a moment, and her three listeners gazed into each
other's faces in silent wonder.

"I was going to Europe in company with some friends of Mrs. Lord who,
of course, knew my secret. They twice postponed their time for
sailing, and while waiting for them I went with my maid to a little
mountain inn where travelers only came for a day, and then went on up
the mountain.

"When I first arrived, the garrulous hostess made frequent mention of
a hunting party that had gone up the mountain a few days before,
stopping for dinner at the inn. I had been nearly two weeks in my
mountain retreat when my maid came rushing in, one day, crying out
that the hunting party had come back, and that one of their number had
been badly hurt.

"Well, they brought the wounded man up-stairs, and put him in the room
that adjoined my sleeping apartment. The partitions between were of
the sham kind--merely boards papered over. After he was settled, and
the hum of many voices died away, I went into my little bed-room.

"I had scarcely entered when a voice from the next room, a man's
voice, deep and full, although then subdued, startled me. I listened
unthinkingly. 'There's no use in being weak about this business,' he
said. 'Of course, you can make me trouble if you like, but hang me,
Percy, I can't see how it will benefit you.'

"I see you are amazed, Doctor Vaughan, and Mrs. Girard is turning
pale. You are beginning to guess the truth. Yes, it _was_ Edward Percy
who answered the first speaker, and--Edward Percy is my husband."

Again she paused for a moment. One could have heard a pin drop, so
breathlessly eager, so silent, were her listeners. No one stirred or
spoke, and she soon resumed:

"At the first sound of the other voice, I sank down sick with fear
lest the man should, in some way, find me out. Sitting there, I heard
him say, in the half fretful, wholly languid tones that I knew so
well, 'It's easy to talk as you do; show me wherein it will be to my
advantage, if you don't want me to knock down your pretty story. Curse
you, what did you try to murder me for?"

"Then the other answered impatiently: 'I tell you, man, I was
mistaken. I took you for him. Now listen: Neither you nor I love the
fellow, and we each hold a trifle of power over the other. You can
refute my statement, if you like, and accuse me of attacking you. In
that case I may be imprisoned; but that won't keep you above water
long. If I am arrested for assault with intent to kill, you will soon
find yourself in the next cell, accused of the still more serious
crime of bigamy. On the other hand, if you let the matter rest as it
is, and let _him_ take his chances, I won't use those little documents
I hold, which prove conclusively that you married a second wife while
the first was living. Come, what do you say?'

"I remember their very words; not one syllable escaped me then, or has
drifted from my mind since. And I could have predicted what the next
words of my husband would be. I know his weakness so well, and I knew,
too, then, for the first time, that my vague suspicions had been too
true--that he had indeed been false to me, more than false.

"'I will do this,' said he, halting at every few words. 'If you will
give me back the money you won from me up there, and will give me up
those papers, we will not quarrel over this affair. We will let His
Majesty take the consequences of your act, if you choose. I like him
even less than I do you. But the money I must have.'

"The other replied: 'I'll do it.' Then the money was counted out and
the 'papers' changed hands.

"While they talked, I was seized with an unaccountable desire to see
the man I had once loved. I heard my maid moving in the next room, and
I arose and went to her. She was a quick-witted creature, and knew
just what to do. She made me put on a hat and veil, and throw a shawl
about me, and then bade me go down-stairs, while she knocked at the
door of the sick-room. When I heard it open I was to come up, and
while she made a pretense of offering her services, in case of need, I
could obtain, over her shoulder, a view of the occupants of the room.
Her ruse was successful. When I ascended the stairs, I obtained a full
view of the two men. I should know the dark face of the tall stranger
if I came upon it in Africa.

"To do myself justice, I never once thought of the wrong they were
doing their victim; never realized that it was my duty to denounce
them. Having seen the face of my husband I had but one idea, one
desire; to get away, anywhere, the farther the better.

"Early the next morning, I was _en route_ to the city, and there, to
my infinite relief I found my friends ready to sail. When at last I
was actually on the ocean, and realized that I was safe from
discovery, I began to think of the victim whose name I had not heard.
But it was too late then, and I tried to ease my conscience by
thinking that, after all, as Edward was not dangerously hurt, it might
not turn out a serious matter. I watched the papers, but somehow the
accounts of the trial all missed me."

As she ceased speaking, her eyes rested sadly upon the face of Olive,
and she started forward suddenly, saying: "Doctor, she is going to
faint!"

"No," gasped Olive, half-rising, "I, I--"

And she fell forward to be caught in the ready arms of Clarence
Vaughan. When at last they succeeded in arousing her from that
death-like stupor, and she could sit up and look about her, slowly
recalling events, Mrs. Ralston stepped readily into the position of
leader, and turning to Claire, said:

"Go and see that lunch is served immediately, dear. We have much to do
before night, and must not work fasting."

"Oh," cried Olive, as Claire disappeared, "is this true? Will Philip
be released at last, released with every doubt cleared away, every
suspicion removed? Tell me, I cannot realize it."

"It is true, dear Mrs. Girard; and now you must not give way to
weakness. We dare not lose time. Dr. Vaughan, yourself, and I, in
putting these facts in the hands of the right parties, must hasten the
legal process by which Philip will be released."

When Claire Keith returned, she found them deep in a discussion as to
the quickest way of effecting the release of Philip Girard.

"Let me settle it," she said, imperiously. "To-day you will go to see
Philip's lawyers, and when this stupid law process is put in motion,
Olive--I know her--will go straight and set herself down outside the
very prison gates. But your beautiful laws can lock an honest man up
much quicker than they can let him out, and can serve a warrant sooner
than do a tardy act of justice. So, if you please, I am going down to
Oakley to arrest that vile Lucian Davlin, and get him off poor
Madeline's hands."

"You!" cried the two ladies in the same breath.

"Yes, I! Philip won't want anyone but Olive, and Olive will snub me
unmercifully if I venture to offer myself as an escort. I'm going to
do myself the honor of seeing Mr. Davlin arrested."

"Claire is right," said Mrs. Ralston; "the man must be arrested
immediately."

"And," interrupted Olive, "you must all three go to Bellair; that is,"
looking at Mrs. Ralston, "if--"

"If I will go?" interrupted that lady. "Yes, I, too, intend to be
present when Miss Payne gives her enemy up to justice."

[Illustration: "No!" gasped Olive, half rising; "I--I--"--page 413.]

"Are you in earnest about going to Bellair, Miss Keith?" Clarence
Vaughan asked. "Shall you go, really?"

Claire bestowed upon him a willful little nod over her shoulder,
saying, as she did so: "I shall, 'really.' I am confident that
something will happen there, and I want a chance to faint!"



CHAPTER XLVI.

CORA "STIRS UP THE ANIMALS."


It was evening--the evening of the day on which Mrs. Ralston had made
her startling revelation. Madeline Payne stood alone in her own room,
looking moodily out upon the leafless grove that was fast taking on a
covering of snow.

The storm that had been impending for days, had broken at last. For
two hours the snow had been falling thickly, steadily, in great
feather-like flakes, which quickly covered the brown earth, and
clothed the naked treetops with a fair, white garment.

Madeline had been standing, motionless and moody, for many minutes.
Her eyes were full of dissatisfaction, and her lips were compressed.
She had been taking a mental review of the situation, and its present
aspect was far from pleasing.

"What a knot," she soliloquized; "what a difficult, baffling,
miserable knot! To be kept thus inactive just because the last knot in
the tangle will not come straight--good gracious, how like a pun that
sounds! How much longer must I smile upon these wretches? How much
longer must I conceal my real feelings? I will put my forces into
action, and make my last, desperate venture, for this is becoming
intolerable. I must force, or buy, this secret from Edward Percy, at
the cost of his safety, or my fortune, if need be."

She pressed her face against the frosted pane, peering down through
the gathering night and the snow.

"Mercy!" she ejaculated, "who on earth can be plowing through this
storm? And on what errand? It looks like--and, as I live, it is, yes,
it is, Mr. Edward Percy! He is too dainty to expose himself for
nothing. I must look into this."

While she was musing at the window, Cora, curled up behind one of the
crimson curtains of the red parlor, had become the possessor of a
valuable secret.

She had entered the room but a few moments before. Finding it dimly
lighted, and heated to a Summer temperature, she ensconced herself _a
la Sultana_ in one of the deep window embrasures, and lay sulkily
watching the flying snowflakes and the fast coming night. Presently
the sound of approaching footsteps, and almost simultaneously the
opening of the door, disturbed her quiet. With a quick movement, she
drew the curtains together and sat, a silent listener, to a brief
dialogue.

The new comers were Miss Arthur and Edward Percy. After a few
sentences had been interchanged, Percy left the room, and then it was
that Madeline saw him take his way toward the village.

Presently Miss Arthur also quitted the room; and going straight
up-stairs, Cora knocked at Madeline's door. "Now, then," muttered she,
"I'll stir up the animals."

Madeline did not look especially gratified at sight of her visitor,
but Cora entered with scant ceremony. Pushing the door shut with
unnecessary emphasis, she turned upon her, saying, rather
ungraciously:

"I have made a discovery of which, I think, you will thank me for
telling you. And I am going to tell you because I can't spoil their
plans, but you can, and I want to see them spoiled."

"Your frankness is commendable," said Madeline, ironically. "Go on!"

"Percy and the old maid are going to be privately married to-morrow
morning."

"How do you know?"

Cora related the particulars of her ambush, and gave a concise report
of the conversation of the lovers.

"He has gone to the village on that very business now," Cora said.
"She is to walk down to the clergyman's house, and he is to meet her
there. Then they will come back, and no one to be the wiser."

Madeline laughed. "Be at ease," she said. "I will try and prevent the
necessity for such a disagreeable walk as that would be for so fragile
a lady. We won't have a wedding just yet."

"What a cool one you are!" cried Cora. "If you were not my enemy, I
could admire you vastly."

"Don't, I beg of you," said the girl, gravely. "I am sufficiently
humiliated by being obliged to deal with you as an enemy."

Cora flushed angrily. "Then I should think the humiliation of being
made love to by my brother, would overcome you," she sneered.

"It does, almost," replied the girl, wearily.

"Then let me do you another favor. Mr. Davlin is no more my brother
than he is yours."

Madeline's answer fairly took her breath away. "Madame, you are very
good, but I have known that from the first."

"What!" gasped the woman; adding, after a moment of silence, "Is he
your lover as well as--"

"Yours?" finished Madeline. "And what then, Mrs. Arthur?"

"Then," hissed Cora; "then, I hate you both."

Madeline laughed bitterly. "As you have told me a secret, and as I
don't want to remain in your debt, I will tell you one in return.
Lucian Davlin _is_ my lover, but I am his bitterest foe!"

Cora came closer and looked her eagerly in the face. "What has he done
to you?" she asked, breathlessly.

"You may find out later; just now we are even. Understand, no word of
warning to him, if you value your safety. Obey my wishes, and when I
am done with you, you may go free. Attempt any treachery, and I will
give you up to justice."

"I shan't put myself in jeopardy for him now, whatever I might have
done. You may believe that."

"I think I may," replied Madeline, dryly.

When Cora retired to her own room, to chuckle over the discomfiture in
store for the spinster and Mr. Percy, and to wonder wrathfully what
the mystery concerning Miss Payne and Lucian could mean, Madeline
stood for many minutes lost in thought.

Finally she threw herself down upon a couch, uttering a half sigh, and
looking utterly weary and perplexed. A moment later, Joliffe entered
noiselessly, as usual, and the girl said to her:

"When Miss Arthur retires for the night, which won't be for some time,
do you see Mr. Percy when he is _alone_, mind, and tell him Miss Payne
desires him to wait her pleasure in the library."

Joliffe bowed and went out again like a cat.

When, at last, the other members of that incongruous family circle
were safely out of the way, Madeline, warned by the everpresent,
soundless Joliffe, awaited in the library the coming of Mr. Percy.

Wondering much what the haughty heiress could have to communicate to
him, and dimly hoping that the tide was turning in his favor, Mr.
Percy entered the presence of the arbiter of his fate. Bowing like a
courtier, he approached her.

"Miss Payne has deigned to honor me with an interview," he said, in
his slowest, softest, most irresistible manner. "I can never be
sufficiently grateful."

Madeline motioned him to a seat opposite her own, saying, with an odd
smile: "You shall, at least, have an opportunity for repaying your
debt of gratitude, sir, and that immediately."

Percy took the seat indicated and bowed gravely. "Command me, Miss
Payne."

"It rests with you," Madeline began, "whether we shall be from
to-night neutral toward each other, or enemies."

"Enemies!" he exclaimed. "Oh, that would be impossible."

Madeline was full of inward rage. She longed to lean across the table
and dash her hand full in that smiling blonde face. But she looked at
him instead quite tranquilly, and said, with a queer smile: "Then you
would do me a favor, even at your own personal--inconvenience, Mr.
Percy?"

"Would I not?" fervently. "Only command me, Miss Payne."

"I will take you at your word, then. Mr. Percy, you will oblige me
very much by putting off your marriage with Miss Arthur one week
longer."

Here was a bomb-shell. It electrified the languid gentleman. He became
suddenly animated by fear. "What--what do you mean, Miss Payne?"
starting half out of his seat and nervously sitting down again.

"Precisely what I say, sir. It does not please me to have my relative
leave my house to be married in this clandestine manner. There, don't
ask me how I discovered what you thought was a profound secret. You
see I did discover it. Will you put off this romantic marriage--to
oblige me?"

Percy was trying very hard to think. If he could believe it was
because he had found favor in her eyes, that she asked this. But no;
even his vanity could not credit that suggestion. Of late she had
openly shown a preference for Davlin. What, then, could be her motive?
Could it be that at the instigation of Cora she had sought this
interview?

He rallied his forces and replied: "Miss Payne, you have taken me by
storm. If I may not ask how you made this discovery, may I not, at
least, beg to know why you make this demand?"

"I have told you; it shocks my sense of propriety."

"Pardon me if I say there must be another motive."

"You are pardoned," coolly; "now, do you grant my request?"

Percy arose from the table flushed and angry. "Pardon me, Miss Payne,
you demand too much."

"Nevertheless, I _do_ demand it."

"And I beg to decline."

"Then I must deal with Miss Arthur. The knowledge that you have one
wife in the grave, and another under this very roof, may have the
desired effect upon _her_."

Percy dropped back in his chair, pale as ashes. All was lost, then.
Cora had betrayed him! But he resolved not to commit himself. Perhaps
Madeline had only verbal information. While he was trying to frame a
speech, however, she knocked this last prop from under him.

"I may as well assure you that parleying is useless. I have known,
from the first moment you entered this house, just upon what terms you
stood with Mrs. Arthur. Don't trouble yourself to ask how I know.
Perhaps you have been puzzled to know why Mrs. Arthur and her brother
so suddenly became cordial and invited you to Oakley, where you so
much desired to be. Let me enlighten you. They fancied that you had
regained possession of important documents--two marriage certificates,
in fact--for they had lost them."

"What?" ejaculated Percy.

"And--I found them," added Madeline.

His countenance fell again.

"They are in my possession," pursued she. "Shall I show them to Miss
Arthur, or not?"

"It can't make much difference now," said the man, sullenly.

"Let us understand each other fully," said Madeline. "I am not acting
in concert with Cora Arthur. She is even more in my power than you
are. I have no desire to undeceive Miss Arthur. Neither do I wish you
to leave Oakley. On the contrary, I want you here; you can be of
service to me, by and by. And I pledge you my word that so long as you
remain under this roof, those papers shall not be used against you."

"And if I don't choose to remain?"

Madeline laughed. "Then you must take the consequences," she said,
carelessly.

"And what will they be?"

"Exposure and arrest."

Percy drew pen, ink, and paper toward him. "What shall I write to the
clergyman?" he asked, sullenly.

"Whatever you choose. And I will send it. Make your peace with Miss
Arthur, too, in your own way."

"And when I leave Oakley, what then?" he grunted.

"Then, if you have fulfilled the conditions, I will burn the papers in
your presence, and you are free henceforth."

"There is the note," he said, flinging it toward her as soon as
written. "After all, I may as well be in your power as in hers," and
again he arose to go from the room.

"I am glad you take so sensible a view of it," retorted she, looking
up from her perusal of his note. "Good-night, Mr. Percy."

And thus cavalierly dismissed, Mr. Percy bowed, somewhat less
gallantly than when entering, and left the room.

"So, that is nipped in the bud," soliloquized Madeline, as she went
wearily to her own room once more. "When will this miserable
complication unravel itself, or be unraveled?"

Little did she dream how soon she would receive an answer to this
question.



CHAPTER XLVII.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.


The next morning dawned clear and beautiful. Over head, one unbroken
expanse of blue; under foot, a mantle of soft, white ermine. All the
trees were transformed into fairy-like, silver-robed, pearl-studded,
plume-adorned wonders. Diamonds floated in the air, and sunbeams
lighted up the whole with dazzling brilliancy. Everything was white,
pure, wonderful, and the whole enclosed in a monster chrysolite;
earth, air, and sky, were shut within a radiant sphere that had never
an outlet.

Madeline had passed an almost sleepless night. But when she arose,
with the first gleam of sunlight, and looked upon this new, white,
imprisoned world, she felt strong for a fresh day's battle.

"I must go out," she said to herself; "out into this sparkling air. I
can breathe in the brightness; I know I can. I almost feel as if I
could catch it, and weave it into my life."

She hastily donned her wraps and set off for a brisk walk, no matter
where, through that glorious Winter glow.

Under the snow-laden arms of the grand old trees, out of the grounds
of Oakley. Before she realized it she was half way down the path
leading to the village.

Something that jarred upon her sense of the beautiful, awakened her to
herself, and she turned suddenly about.

"How dare ugly little brown bears come out in the white glitter," she
muttered, whimsically. "I will turn about; he spoils the fairy
picture. I had forgotten there were boys, or men, in the world."

Something came panting behind her. The "brown bear" had accelerated
his pace, and now came up at a round trot.

"Hold on a minit; darned if I can see who ye air in this snow," he
cried, pausing before her and rubbing his eyes vigorously. "All right;
I thought it was you," he added, after considerable blinking. "I've
got a tellygram for ye, Miss Payne; orders were not to give it to
anyone but you, so I chased ye sharp."

Madeline laughed outright as she took the telegram from his hand. The
boy, without waiting for her words of thanks, took to his heels,
shouting back over his shoulder: "No answer!"

Madeline gazed for a moment after the flying figure, and wonderingly
opened the message. This is what she read:

     Be at H----'s to-night when evening train comes down. We are
     ready for action; have found a witness.

                                              C. V.

Madeline lifted her eyes from the scrap of paper and looked about her
incredulously, as if she expected to find some explanation shining in
the air.

"Ready for action," she murmured. "That means--can it mean that Lucian
Davlin is at last in our power? Can those detectives have solved the
mystery? Oh! how can I wait until night!"

She fairly flew along now, eager to keep in motion. On, on she went,
over the stile, through the glittering white-robed grove; on, until
she reached Hagar's cottage. It was locked and deserted, as she knew,
but she cared not for that. She must walk somewhere, then why not
here?

For a moment she stood on the snow-laden door stone, and gazed about
her. Then swiftly, as swiftly as before, she flew down the path--the
same path she had taken on the Summer day when she had heard from
Hagar's lips her mother's story. When she reached the tree in whose
arms she had nestled so often, where she had listened to the bargain
between her step-father and decrepit old Amos Adams, and where she had
been wooed by Lucian Davlin--she paused. There, coming toward her, was
Lucian Davlin himself.

"What a fatality!" muttered the girl. "He is coming to meet me; has
been watching me, perhaps."

She stood calmly gazing up at the snow-laden branches, and again she
saw herself standing underneath them, a hesitating girl, wondering if
she could let her lover go away alone. Then she turned her head and
her eyes met those of Lucian Davlin.

"Good morning, Miss Payne," he said, lifting his hat with his usual
grace. "I am happy to know that we have one taste in common--a love of
nature in this disguise. Is not the wintry world beautiful?"

"Beautiful, indeed," replied Madeline, resuming her walk homeward.
"The trees are fairy palaces. It is lovelier than Summer, is it not?"

"It is very lovely," gazing not at the trees but down into her face,
"but--so cold."

She understood his meaning and replied, calmly: "Cold? Yes; it is not
Summer."

"No," he assented, with a sad intonation, "it is not Summer. Miss
Payne, Madeline, will it ever be Summer again?"

Madeline looked up and about her, and smiled as she did so. "Yes," she
replied, "it will be Summer--soon."

He had turned and retraced his steps at her side. She was walking
swiftly again, and for some time neither spoke. When they entered the
grounds of the manor, he said, half deprecatingly:

"Madeline, may I ask this one question?"

"Yes," quietly.

"I saw you pause under that tree and look about you," he said, slowly;
"was it because you thought of other days, and of me?"

Slowly she turned her face toward him, saying, simply: "Yes."

They were nearing the entrance, and he half stopped to ask his next
question. "Will you tell me what were your thoughts, Madeline?"

Slowly she ascended the steps, and at the door turned and faced him:
"I will tell you to-night."

And with a ripple of laughter on her lips, she entered the hall of
Oakley.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

THE SWORD OF FATE.


Evening at Oakley.

At last the long day was done: the day that to Madeline Payne had
seemed almost endless. At last, too, the early evening hours had
dragged themselves away, and the time of her triumph was at hand.

From out Hagar's cottage a silent party issued, and took their way
across the snow to the little stile just above the terrace walk. Here
they paused for a moment. Some one was loitering on the terrace, where
the shadows fell thickest. Madeline stepped through the gap, saying
softly: "Joliffe!"

Immediately the form emerged from the shadow. It was the cat-like
waiting-maid.

"It's all right, Miss," she said, in a whisper. "They are all in the
drawing-room, but I think they are getting uneasy."

"Well, I will not keep them in suspense long," said Madeline, and in
the darkness she smiled triumphantly. "Lead on, Joliffe."

Silently they moved on, and paused again at the side entrance; the one
from which Cora had endeavored to escape but a short time before.
Madeline opened the door, and in another moment she, with Mrs.
Ralston, Claire Keith, Clarence Vaughan and two strangers, stood
within the walls of Oakley.

They moved on like shadows to the rear end of the hall, up the
servant's stairway, and straight to the west wing. Evidently they
were expected here too, for in obedience to a light tap, the door
opened, and they passed quietly within the outer room of John Arthur's
prison suite.

"Close the door, Henry," said Madeline.

This being done, she turned and surveyed her comrades.

"So far, good," she pronounced. "Now, can you make yourselves
comfortable here for a little while? Hagar and Joliffe will know just
what to do as soon as I have, myself, viewed the field of battle; or
perhaps I had better pilot you in person."

"As you please," said the foremost of the strangers. "I think we
understand each other."

"Then we won't lose time," said Madeline. "Henry, call Dr. Le Guise."

Henry tapped at the door of the inner room, and in a trice the worthy
Professor stood in their midst. He glanced from one to another in
amazement, and the look of confidence forsook his face. He had not
been prepared to see these strangers, and his first thought was, of
course, for his own safety.

"Have no uneasiness, sir," said Madeline, seeing the fear in his face;
"these ladies and gentlemen will not interfere with you. They are here
because it is desirable that the people below should not know of their
proximity just yet. You are about to aid us, and need have no fear for
yourself."

The Professor drew a breath of relief.

While this conversation was going on, Mrs. Ralston and Claire had
removed their wraps, as if they knew quite well what they were about,
which, indeed, they did. Now, as Madeline did likewise, preparatory to
entering the room of the prisoner, they seated themselves, looking
grave, but perfectly composed. Dr. Vaughan said a few quiet words to
Henry, and the two strangers stood "at ease," looking as indifferent
as statues.

Entering the inner room; in company with the Professor, Madeline found
John Arthur pacing restlessly up and down.

"I wish you to go down-stairs with us for a few moments," said
Madeline. "It is to your own interest to do so. It is the easiest and
surest way of imparting to you what you must know, and, when you know
all, I shall be your jailer no longer. It shall then remain for you to
decide whether you will accept my terms, and end your days with at
least a semblance of honor, or whether you will remain here to be
pointed at as a man disgraced and dishonored, and deservedly so. When
you have seen justice done to those who have wronged you more than
they have me, for little as I desire to serve you circumstances have
constituted me your avenger--you will be free to act as you may see
fit."

With this she turned and abruptly quitted the room, leaving John
Arthur fairly stunned by her words, yet utterly unable to comprehend
their full meaning. Returning to the ante-room, Madeline found Hagar
awaiting her.

"Well, Hagar," said the girl, "we are ready to go down; is the library
lighted?"

"Yes, Miss Madeline."

"And the door leading to the drawing-room?"

"Is closed, Miss."

"Then go down, Hagar; open the library door, and leave it open. Move
the fire screen opposite the door leading to the drawing-room. When we
are all within the library turn out the light. That is all."

Hagar moved away to do her bidding, smiling grimly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Time was dragging, in the drawing-room.

Cora was there, not from choice, but because Madeline had so ordered
it, and the aggrieved lady was not at all inclined to conversation.

Miss Arthur, who was hoping for a _tête-á-tête_ with her lover, was
alarmingly glum. She had accepted, in good faith, his statement that
he had received a note from the clergyman, saying that he had been
suddenly called away and would be absent some days, but she did not
quite understand why another would not do as well. Somehow, all that
day, she had found no opportunity for hinting to her lover that a
Unitarian minister lived quite near.

Finding the ladies so little disposed to be entertained, the two men
retired within themselves, each after his own peculiar fashion.

Lucian Davlin lounged, in his favorite manner, in a big arm chair, and
absorbed himself in the mazes of "_Lalla Rookh_."

Percy, seated sidewise on a sofa directly opposite a large mirror,
gazed languidly at his own reflected image, and furtively at the two
women opposite, stroking his handsome blonde whiskers the while.

At last Miss Arthur broke the silence by saying, with a side glance
toward Cora: "There is one thing that I have not yet asked to be
enlightened about. Perhaps you could explain the mystery, Mrs. Arthur?
I mean the appearance of Madeline at my bedside not long ago--or her
ghost."

Cora uttered a disagreeable laugh, and then replied: "How should I be
able to explain? I am not the keeper of Miss Payne, or 'her ghost.'"

"Probably not; however, you are so friendly, so sisterly, I might say,
that I thought perhaps--"

"You thought perhaps my step-mamma was in the secret?" said the voice
of a new comer.

All eyes were turned toward the library, where Madeline Payne stood,
clad in a walking dress, and looking fairly radiant with suppressed
excitement.

"You misjudge my step-mamma, Aunt Ellen." As she speaks, Madeline
advances toward the silent group, leaving the library door ajar. "I
will explain that singular phenomenon. I intend to clear up all the
mysteries to-night--here--now. First, then, about the ghost: It was I,
Miss Arthur, Madeline Payne, in the flesh."

Lucian Davlin's book lies on his knee neglected now.

Edward Percy's face has lost its look of languor.

Cora is flushing red and then paling, while she wonders inwardly if
her time has come; if she is to be exposed to a last humiliation.

"We will settle another point," continues Madeline, imperturbably, while
she rests one arm upon a cushioned chair back, and looks coolly from one to
another. "Some of you have felt sufficient interest in me to wonder why I
sent home, to my sorrowing friends, the false statement of my death. I will
explain that. When I left home it was with wrath in my heart, and on my
lips the vow that I would come back and with power in my hands. I had
wrongs to avenge, and I swore to be mistress of my own, and to bring home
to a bad man the heartache and bitterness he had measured out to another.
Well, I did not know just how this was to be accomplished, but Providence,
or fate, showed me the way. Then I saw the necessity for coming back to
Oakley, and to pave the way for my new advent, I sent Nurse Hagar with the
false account of my death. A girl had died in the hospital--a poor,
heart-broken, homeless, friendless, wronged, little unfortunate,--'Kitty
the Dancer' she was called in the days when she was fair to see, and men,
bad men, set snares for her feet."

What ails Lucian Davlin? He is compressing his lips, and struggling
hard for an appearance of composure.

Madeline goes calmly on. "The poor girl died forlorn. She had been
wooed by a vile man, a gambler. She had been to meet him and was
returning from a rendezvous when the carriage that was conveying her
to her poor lodging was overturned, and she was taken up a helpless,
bleeding mass, and carried to the hospital. Then she sent for this
heartless villain, again and again. She implored him to come to her,
at least to send assistance, for she was destitute--a pauper. He
refused, this thing, unworthy the name of man. He was setting other
snares. He had no time, no pity, for his dying victim. Well, she died,
and was buried as Madeline Payne, while I, standing beside her coffin,
prayed to God to make my head wise, and my heart strong, that I might
hunt down, and drive out from the haunts of men, her soulless
destroyer."

Madeline pauses, and three pair of eyes gaze at her with genuine
wonder. But the eyes of Lucian Davlin are fixed upon vacancy, and with
all the might of his powerful will he is struggling to appear calm.

Madeline turns her eyes calmly from his face to Cora's, and seems to
see nothing of this, as she resumes:

"Some strange fatality had made this man the bane of other lives, that
were to be brought into contact with mine. I found that the happiness
of two noble beings was being wrecked by this same man. One of these
two had been my benefactor, had saved me from a fate worse than death,
so I set myself to hunt this man down. And here I found that I could
accomplish two objects at one stroke. I found that the man was playing
into my hands. I followed him in disguise. Little by little I gained
the knowledge of his secrets, enough to send him to State's prison,
and more than enough. But one thing was wanting. For that I waited;
for that I breathed the same air with creatures whom my soul loathed,
and now that one missing link is supplied. At last, I am free! At
last, I can throw off the mask! At last, I can say to the destroyer of
poor Kitty, to the man who swore away the liberty of another to screen
himself--Lucian Davlin, I have hunted you down! I have held you here
to be taken like a rat in a trap! Officers, seize him! He has been my
prisoner long enough!"

Was it a transformation scene?

While she is uttering those last words, suddenly the room becomes full
of people, and Lucian Davlin is writhing in the grasp of the two
officers; struggling hopelessly, baffled completely, maddened with
rage and shame. When at last he has ceased to struggle, because
resistance is so utterly useless, he turns his now glaring eyes upon
the brave girl whose life he had sought to wreck, and hisses:

"Don't forget to mention how you first came to the conclusion that I
had wronged you! Don't forget to state that you ran away from Bellair
with me; that you lodged in my bachelor quarters; that--"

A heavy hand comes in forcible contact with the sneering mouth, as one
of the officers says, gruffly: "None o' that, my lad. I'd sooner gag
you than not, if you give me another chance."

But Madeline answers him with a scornful laugh: "That I shot you in
your own den? Coward! do you think my friends do not know all? Here
stands the man who saw me in your company that night," pointing to
Clarence Vaughan; "and here," turning to Claire, "is the sister of the
woman who came to me, at Dr. Vaughan's request, and told me who and
what you were! It was these two who nursed me during my illness, and
who have been, from first to last, my friends. Bah! man, you have been
only a dupe. Your servant, your doctor, your detectives, are all in my
service! I have fooled you to the top of your bent, and kept you under
this roof until we had found the proof that it was you, and not Philip
Girard, who struck this man," pointing to Percy, "and robbed him, five
years ago."

With a muttered curse, Lucian Davlin flings himself down in the seat
he had lately occupied, the watchful officers, pistol in hand,
standing on either side of him.

Edward Percy, for the first time since her entrance, withdraws his
eyes from Madeline's face and casts a frightened glance about him.
Having done this, he feels anything but reassured.

Near the outer door stand the two "well-diggers," who have entered
like spirits, and now look as if, for the first time since their
advent in Oakley, they feel quite at home. Nearest to Madeline stands
Clarence Vaughan. Back of these, a little in the shadow, two
others--two women. One stands with her face turned away, and he can
only tell that the form draped in the rich India shawl is tall and
graceful. But the other--she moves out from the shadow and her eyes
meet his full.

Great heavens! it is Claire Keith!

He moves restlessly, his fair face flushing and paling. The first
impulse of his coward heart is flight. But the two "well-diggers" are
not surmountable obstacles. He turns his face again toward the Nemesis
who is now gazing scornfully at him.

"I have no intention of neglecting any one of you four," she says,
icily. "Edward Percy, I told you last night that I would burn certain
papers in your presence. I am quite ready to keep my word. There will
be no use for them after to-night. But I shall not stifle the
testimony of living witnesses against you." Then she raised her voice
slightly. "Dr. Le Guise, bring in your patient."

John Arthur, pallid with fear and rage, stands upon the threshold of
the drawing-room, closely attended by the Professor and Henry.

Then Madeline turned to the now terror-stricken Cora. "Come forward,
Mrs. John Arthur," she says, scornfully. "It is time to let you
speak!"

When Edward Percy turns his eyes toward Claire, she has instinctively
moved nearer to Madeline's side, at the same time favoring him with a
look so fraught with contempt that the villain lowers his eyes, and
turns away his face. As Madeline now addresses the fair adventuress,
Claire again moves. She has been standing directly between Cora and
her Nemesis. Now she takes up a position quite apart from her friends,
and near the officer who guards Lucian Davlin on the right.

Cora sees that all is lost. But she recalls the promises of safety
given her by Madeline, and nerves herself for a last attempt at cool
insolence. Her quick wits have taken in the situation. Now she
understands why Madeline has led Davlin on, and why her hatred of him
is so intense. Now she knows the meaning of the words that last night
seemed so mysterious: "Lucian Davlin is my lover, but I am his
bitterest foe." Now, as she steps forward, the hate she feels shining
in her eyes, and with a growing air of reckless bravado as she glances
at him, Cora, too, is Lucian Davlin's bitter foe.

"Cora!" The name comes from the lips of John Arthur, almost in a cry.

But she never once glances toward him. She fixes her eyes upon
Madeline's face and doggedly awaits her command.

"Tell us what you know of this man," Madeline says, pointing to Edward
Percy: "and be brief."

Cora turns her eyes slowly upon the man. She surveys him with infinite
insolence, and then she turns with wonderful coolness toward Ellen
Arthur.

"Miss Arthur," she says, with a malicious gleam in her eyes, "this
will interest you. I knew that man ten years ago. I was making my
first venture out in the world, and it was a very bad one. I fell in
love with his pretty face, and married him. Before long I discovered
that matrimony was a mania of Mr. Percy's--by-the-by, he sailed under
another name then. I found that he had another wife living; a woman he
had married for her money. Well, being sensitive, I took offense, and
after a little, I ran away from him, carrying with me the certificates
of his two marriages, which I had taken some pains to get possession
of. After that--"

Cora pauses suddenly and glances toward Madeline.

"After that you went to Europe. You may pass over the foreign tour,
and take up the story five years later," subjoins Madeline, coldly.

"After that, I went to Europe," echoes Cora. "And five years later
found me in Gotham."

"Be explicit now, please: no omissions," commands Madeline.

"Five years ago, then," resumes Cora, "that gentleman there,"
motioning to Davlin, but never turning her face toward him, "came to
me one day with the information that my dear husband was a rich man,
thanks to some deceased old relative, and that his other wife was
dead. For some reason this other marriage had been kept very secret,
and my friend there argued that in case anything happened to Percy, I
might come in as his widow, and claim his fortune. Well, Mr. Percy did
not die, more's the pity. Instead of that he lived and squandered his
money in less than three years. He was hurt, somehow, and a certain
Mr. Philip Girard was falsely accused and convicted for attempted
murder."

"Who was the real would-be assassin?" asked Madeline, sternly.

"Lucian Davlin," emphatically.

Madeline turns swiftly to Percy. "Mr. Percy, explain, if you wish to
lighten your own burden, by what means did that man persuade you to
let him go free?"

"By--threatening me with an action for--"

"Bigamy!" finished Cora.

The villain, bereft of all hope and courage, stood white and
trembling, under the eyes of his accusers and judges.

"I am letting these people hear you tell these things because I want
that man,"--pointing to John Arthur, who had long since collapsed into
a big chair--"to hear all this from your own lips," says Madeline.

Turning again to Cora, she says:

"Lucian Davlin made use of the papers--the certificates you had stolen
from Edward Percy--to intimidate that gentleman, and secure himself
from danger. Am I correct?"

"Yes," replies Cora, casting a malignant glance from one to the other
of the accused men.

"Very good. Now we will pass on four or more years. You were in some
little trouble last June, Mrs. Arthur. Explain how you came to
Bellair."

"How?"

"Yes, for what purpose. And at whose instigation."

Cora hesitated, and Davlin moved uneasily.

"Don't think that you will damage your cause by making a full
statement," suggested Miss Payne, meaningly. "Answer my questions,
please."

Again Cora glances at Davlin. Then turning toward Madeline she assumes
an air of defiant recklessness, and answers the questions promptly. "I
came at Lucian Davlin's suggestion, and because he had induced me to
think that I could easily become--what I am."

"And that is--"

"Mrs. Arthur, of Oakley!" with a mocking laugh.

The old man in the chair utters a loud groan, but no one heeds him.
All eyes are fixed upon Madeline and Cora.

"You plotted to become John Arthur's wife?" pursues Madeline,
relentlessly.

"Yes."

"And--his widow?"

No reply.

"You planned to keep him a prisoner?"

"Yes."

"And Lucian Davlin, your pretended brother, was your accomplice?"

"Yes."

Madeline turns swiftly toward her step-father, as she does so moving
nearer toward Edward Percy.

"John Arthur, are you satisfied?" she asks, sternly. "Shall the
knowledge of your disgrace go beyond this room? Do you choose to
remain here and be pointed at by every boor in Oakley, as the man who
married an adventuress, a gambler's accomplice? or will you accept my
terms?"

John Arthur lifts his head, then staggers to his feet. "Curse you!" he
cries. "Curse you all! What proof have I that these people will
respect my feelings?"

"You have my word," replies the girl, coolly. "These gentlemen of the
Secret Service are not given to gossip. Mr. Davlin will have but
little opportunity for circulating scandal where he is going. Mr.
Percy, and your wife, will hardly remain in the neighborhood long
enough to injure you here, unless by your own choice. Your sister will
scarcely betray you, and the rest are my friends. Choose!"

Pallid with rage and shame, the old man turned toward Cora.

"You she-devil!" he screams, "this is your work--"

"No," interposes Madeline, calmly, "it is _your_ work, John Arthur!
What you have sown, you are reaping. Will you have all your guilty
past, your shameful present, made known? Or will you leave my mother's
home and mine, and cease to usurp my rights? Choose!"

Every eye is turned upon the old man and his questioner. Every ear is
intently listening for his answer.

Every ear, do we say? No; one man is only feigning rapt attention; one
mind is turning over wicked possibilities, while the others await,
with different degrees of eagerness or curiosity, John Arthur's
answer.

"Needs must when the devil drives," says the baffled old man, turning
toward the door. "I will go, and I leave my curse behind me!"

This is the moment which Lucian Davlin has watched. While all eyes are
turned toward John Arthur, he bends suddenly forward. He has wrenched
the pistol from one of his guardians, and the weapon is aimed at
Madeline's heart!

Instantaneously there is a quick, panther-like spring, and Claire
Keith's little hand strikes the arm that directs the deadly weapon.
There is a sharp report, but the direction of the bullet is changed.

Madeline Payne stands erect and startled, while Edward Percy falls to
the floor, the blood gushing from a wound in his breast. In another
instant, Lucian Davlin lies prostrate, felled by a blow from one
detective, while the other bends over him and savagely adjusts a pair
of manacles.

The others, even to Cora, group themselves about the wounded man. Dr.
Vaughan kneels beside him a moment, then he lifts his eyes to meet
those of Madeline.

"It is a death wound," he says.

"Prepare a couch in the next room directly. He must not be carried
up-stairs."

When this order has been obeyed, and the injured man has been removed,
Madeline returns to the drawing-room, untenanted now save by the
officers and their prisoner. They are waiting there until the midnight
train shall be due, and the time approaches. Moving quite near to the
now silent, sullen villain, the girl surveys him with absolute
loathing.

"The goddess you worship has deserted you, Lucian Davlin," she says,
slowly. "It was not in the book of chance that you should triumph over
or outwit me. The bullet you designed for me has completed the work
you began five years ago. Go, to live a convict, or die on the
scaffold, and when you think upon the failure of your villainous
schemes, remember that this retribution has been wrought by a woman's
hand! Officers, take him away!"

Through the darkness they hurry him, from the sights and scenes of
Oakley and Bellair--forever. His goddess has indeed forsaken him. When
the two officers take leave of him at the prison, he has had his last
glimpse of the outside world.

[Illustration: "Edward Percy falls to the floor, the blood gushing
from a wound in the breast!"--page 439.]

From the moment when he failed in his attempt upon the life that had
defied him, no word had escaped his lips. Silent, moody, and utterly
hopeless, this proud-spirited, evil-hearted Son of Chance, enters
the prison gates, and, as they close upon him, we have done with
Lucian Davlin, a _convict for life_!



CHAPTER XLIX.

AS THE FOOL DIETH.


Edward Percy is dying--was dying when they lifted him from the
drawing-room carpet, and gently laid him on the couch hastily prepared
by Hagar and the frightened servants. They have watched beside him
through the night, and now, in the gray of the morning, Clarence
Vaughan still keeps his vigil.

The wounded man moves feebly, and turns his fast dimming eyes toward
the watcher. "I thought--I saw--some one," he says, brokenly, "when--I
fell. Who--was--the lady?"

His voice dies away, as Clarence, bending over him, answers gently:
"You mean the lady that stood near the door, whose face was turned
away?"

"Yes," in a whisper; "was it--my--wife?"

Clarence turns toward the window where Mrs. Ralston sits, out of view
of the sick man.

She moves forward a little. "Tell him," she says, in a low voice.

Edward Percy is a dying man, but his mind was never clearer. He
perfectly comprehends the explanations made by Clarence. He had
recognized the face of his wife when he lay bleeding at her feet. He
closes his eyes and is silent for some moments. Then he asks, in that
dying half-whisper, the only tone he ever will use: "You
think--I--will--die?"

"You cannot live," replies Clarence, gravely.

Again the wounded man shuts his eyes and thinks; then: "How long--will
I--last?" he questions.

"I can keep you alive twenty-four hours--not longer," says Clarence,
after a pause.

"Then--I must talk now."

Clarence goes to a table, and pours something into a tiny glass. This
he brings, and putting it to the lips of the patient, says: "Try and
swallow this. It is a stimulant. Then lie quiet for a few moments;
after that you may talk."

This is done, and for a time there is silence in the room. Then the
wounded man whispers, with an appearance of more strength: "Tell
_her_--to come here."

Mrs. Ralston moves forward, and he looks at her long and attentively.
Then, with a turn of his olden coolness: "You grew tired of me," he
said.

"Yes," she replies, in a low, sad voice, "I grew tired of you; very
tired. But don't talk of those days now. You are too near the end;
think of that!"

"I do," he said, slowly. "But I can't alter the past--and--I don't
know--about the future. I want--to see a--notary."

"Don't you want to see a clergyman?"

"What for? If I am dying--it's of no use to play--hypocrite. I don't
believe in--your clergyman. I admit that--I wronged--you," he
continues, gazing at Mrs. Ralston, "and I deceived Miss Keith. If you
two--can forgive me--I will take my chances--for the rest."

Mrs. Ralston bends above him with a face full of pity, but in which
there is no love. "I forgive you, Edward; and so will Claire, fully.
But you did her very little harm. She was not long deceived. Do you
want to see her?"

"Yes; and--don't let Alice--Cora, you call her--come near me."

Truly, this dying sinner is not a meek one, not a very repentant one.

When they ask him if he will see Miss Arthur, his reply is
characteristic. "Does she want--to see--me?"

No; she has not asked to see him, they say. But of course she would be
glad to come to him.

"Let her alone," he says, "she don't want to see me. If she did, it
would be to scratch out--my eyes--because she is--cheated out
of--being married. She isn't hurt. She is too big a fool."

When Claire comes to his bedside, accompanied by Madeline, he says:
"Miss Claire--I loved you better than any woman I ever knew--truly.
If--you had been Mr. Keith's heiress--I would never have come to
Oakley. I thought you were--his heiress when--I wooed you--in
Baltimore. But you are the only woman--who ever beat me--and puzzled
me. You did not care much, after all."

To Madeline he says, after he has swallowed a second stimulant: "But
for you, I would not be here. You women have hunted me down. But you
are as brave--as a lioness--a little Nemesis. I--won't--bear malice."

At noon, the notary comes, and Edward Percy makes an affidavit as to
the truth of the testimony that will convict Lucian Davlin. It is the
affidavit of a fast dying man.

All day Mrs. Ralston sits beside him. And Clarence Vaughan watches the
slowly ebbing life tide. Once he seems struggling to say something,
and his wife bends down to catch what may be some word of penitence.

"Bury--me like a gentleman."

This is what he says, and Clarence Vaughan smiles bitterly as he
thinks, "selfish and egotistical to the last."

Night comes on and the end is very near. Over the dying face flits a
malignant shadow, and he makes a last effort to speak. Again the
watchers bend nearer.

"I hope--they will--hang Davlin," he breathes, feebly.

The two listeners recoil with horror, at the sound of the vindictive
wish from dying lips.

These are the last words of Edward Percy. Slowly go the minutes, and
deeper grow the shadows. Again Clarence Vaughan bends above the couch,
and then he says: "Your vigil is ended, Mrs. Ralston. He is dead."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, while the house is hushed to a quiet, one portion of the
household asleep, the other keeping the death-watch, Cora again tries
to escape from Oakley. But this time Strong is not to be caught
napping, and the vanquished adventuress resigns herself to her fate.

Two days more, and then Edward Percy is buried, according to his
request, "like a gentleman."

All that is known outside of Oakley concerning his death is that he
was shot by Lucian Davlin, between whom, and himself, some feud had
existed.

And John Arthur and Cora remain, and "keep up appearances" to the
last.

Dr. Le Guise, or the Professor, has stayed too, for appearance sake.
But the day after they have buried Edward Percy, he goes, and very
gladly, back to the city. Madeline keeps her promise; he goes free,
and none save the few ever know that Dr. Le Guise is an impostor.

At the same time John Arthur turns his back upon Oakley forever.
"Appearances" are observed to the last. He goes, tenderly attended by
the Professor, by Cora, and by his sister. Goes much muffled, and
enacting the _rôle_ of invalid.

They are taking the sick man South; this is what the villagers think.

But when the train reaches the city, this select party disbands. John
Arthur becomes active once more and, with his sister, hurries away in
the nearest cab, while the Professor and Cora separate by mutual
consent.

And here we will leave them--all but Cora.

She has escaped Scylla only to fall upon Charybdis. As she hurries
along through the familiar streets, her plans are laid. She will go to
Lucian Davlin's rooms; nobody will be there to dispute her possession
for a day or two to come, and she has possessed herself of the keys,
left behind as useless by their outlawed owner.

When she ascends the steps, some one, who is lounging past the
premises, looks at her narrowly. As she disappears behind the swinging
outer door, this lounger becomes wonderfully alert, and hastens away
as if he had just discovered his mission.

Two hours later, as Cora descends the stairs and emerges into the
street, the vision of a monkey-faced old man appears before her. And
while another lays a firm detaining hand upon her arm, the old man,
fairly dancing with glee, cries out:

"Ah, ha! here you are, my pretty sharper! I didn't have these premises
watched for nothing, did I? Now I have got you! Bring her along,
officer, bring her along. She won't dodge us this time."

And Cora is hurried into a cab, closely followed by old Verage, who
chatters his doubtful consolation, and laughs his eldritch laughter,
and finally consigns her to prison to answer to a charge of
swindling.



CHAPTER L.

"AND THEN COMES REST."


At last Oakley is rid of its _intriguants_, its plotters and
impostors.

And Madeline and Claire sit alone in the chamber of the former,
talking of the strange events that have so lately transpired--of
Philip Girard's vindication, of Lucian Davlin's punishment, of Edward
Percy's death.

It is the day following that of the burial, and Mrs. Ralston is lying
asleep in her own room, with old Hagar in near attendance.

"Poor Mrs. Ralston," says Claire, after a long pause in their
converse. "She is thoroughly worn out, and yet, weary as she was, she
must have talked with you for hours, Madeline, after we came back from
the grave."

Over Madeline's face flits an odd, half-sad smile, as she replies,
dreamily:

"Yes, we talked a long time, dear; Mrs. Ralston was then in the mood
for talking. Can't you understand how one may be nervously active, may
be at just that stage of bodily weariness when the mind is intensely
alive? The excitement of all she had lately undergone was still upon
her, and the mind could not resign itself to rest while anything
remained unsettled or under a cloud."

"Oh, I can understand how that may be." Then, after a pause, "so
something remained to be settled?"

"Yes."

"And, between you, you disposed of the difficulty?"

"Yes."

Another silence. Then Madeline turns to look at her companion.

"Why don't you ask me what the 'difficulty' was?"

No answer.

"But you want to know?"

Claire laughs nervously.

"And I want to tell you," pursues Madeline. "First, we talked of
ourselves."

"Oh!" ejaculates Claire, looking immensely relieved.

"Yes, we talked of ourselves first; and we have become great friends."

"Of course!" cries Miss Enthusiasm; "I knew you would."

"We have decided to give our new friendship a severe test."

"How?" asks Claire, forgetting her caution.

"By visiting Europe in each other's society."

Claire springs up excitedly. "Madeline Payne, you don't mean it! You
_can't_! You _shall_ not; there! Europe, indeed. You are crazy! I
won't hear of it!" stamping her foot emphatically.

Madeline leans back in her chair and laughs; then suddenly becomes
grave.

"But I do mean it, Claire, my darling," she says, softly. "And I'll
tell you what else I mean. Sit down here, close beside me and listen."

Instinctively Claire obeys.

"Now, then," continues Madeline, "you know what an odd, uncultivated
sort of a life mine has been, and you know that this little world of
mine has not been a very bright one. Well, ever since I could read and
think, I have longed to see Italy, and France, and England, and
Germany, and the Holy Land. My work is done here. There is nothing now
to prevent my going--no duty to perform, no one to keep me here. I
could not find a better friend and companion than Mrs. Ralston, and
she is very anxious to go, and to take me with her. You are all very
dear to me, but no one needs me now more than she, nor so much. And,
Claire, don't make any mistakes about me. I am not going away
sorrowfully, or with any heavy weight upon my spirits. I am going to
enjoy and make the most and best of the life and youth God has given
me. I am going for change, and recreation, and rest. I have been
acting the part of an avenger here, a stern, unforgiving Nemesis, but
I would do over again all that I have done, if need be. I am not half
so good as you. I can not submit with meekness to injustice and wrong.
I shall fight my enemies, if I have more to fight, until the end of
the chapter. And now I have a confession to make."

Claire stirs uneasily. "Don't," she says, deprecatingly: "I don't want
to hear a confession."

"But I want to make one, and you must listen. First, however, let me
tell you that during my talk with Mrs. Ralston, I heard about a
certain interview, wherein a ridiculous young lady discarded the man
she loved, because she fancied she would wrong some one else if she
admitted her love for him, and accepted his. Well--don't turn your
face away--that was foolish. But my blunder was a downright wicked
one. Yes, Claire, I will tell all the truth. When you and I stood
together out under the trees, and talked of Clarence Vaughan; when you
showed me the picture and told me the little pastoral about Edward
Percy; I knew that Clarence Vaughan loved you--and I thought I loved,
nay, I did love, _him_.

"When I came down here and found so soon that Edward Percy was--so
utterly unworthy, we will say, because he is dead, I felt at once that
you must be undeceived.

"Then a great temptation came to me, and I said to myself, 'When she
becomes disenchanted, and ceases to love this man, she will learn to
value the other and more noble lover; she will learn to love him!'

"All night long, before I came to undeceive you, and to warn Olive, I
battled with a great temptation. And I yielded to it. Listen, Claire,
while I tell you how base I was.

"When I set out for the city in the morning, I said to myself: 'Claire
Keith is the soul of truth and honor. She is generous to a fault. If I
let her see how much I care for Clarence Vaughan, I shall appeal to
her pity and her honor, without the aid of words. She will never
listen to his suit; she will try to advance my interest; she will
become my ally.' See, dear, how truly I judged you.

"Well, I came. I told you of Percy's baseness, and when I saw how
brave you were; how full of scorn for the dishonest man; how
impossible it was for one so unworthy to drag you down, or darken your
life because of his baseness; I was filled with shame and remorse. I
knew then that I was unworthy your friendship, or of a good man's
love.

"Standing in your presence, humiliated by your pure nobility, I
repented, and I resolved to give up all thought of Clarence Vaughan. I
did give him up.

"But, Claire, although I did not know it, my very penitence must have
committed me, and while I was renouncing my designs, you were
resolving to further them. In some manner I must have betrayed
myself."

There is a moment's pause. Claire Keith's face is buried in her hands,
and Madeline, bending toward her, cries out, remorsefully:

"Claire! Claire! Look up and believe me. As God hears me, that is past
and dead. See how I am humbling myself, and do not doubt me."

Claire's head rears itself suddenly. She flings herself forward
impetuously, and clasps her arms about her friend.

"Madeline, stop!" she cries, brokenly; "I won't hear you slander
yourself. Don't I know you too well to doubt you! But I won't have a
lover; I won't love any one but you."

Again the laugh comes to Madeline's lips.

"Little Miss Impulse!" she says, tenderly. "But, sister Claire, I am
not done yet. I am going to put you on the penitent's stool now. Just
imagine yourself in my place for a little. Do you think I could have
made this confession to you if my weakness were not a thing of the
past? You know I never could. I am not ashamed to confess that I did
love Clarence. But I should be more than ashamed, under all the
circumstances, if I could not say with truth that that love is a thing
of the past. As my dearest friend, my brother, if you will, I shall
always love him; but no more than that. I am not sorry that I have
loved him, for I am a better woman because of it. But, I repeat it,
that love is a thing of the past. Claire, do you not believe?"

They gaze into each other's eyes for a moment. Then Claire says: "I
believe, Madeline."

A smile brightens the brown eyes now, and their owner says: "Then
don't you see that you have made a mistake--one that, for my sake, you
must rectify?"

Claire begins to look rebellious. "No, I don't," she cries, blushing
scarlet. "You wicked girl, you have been getting me into a trap!"

Madeline says, very gravely:

"Claire, I want you to trust me in this, as you all have in other
things. I want you to let me feel that I have not made the friends I
love best, unhappy. I shall leave you soon: if I have been your
friend, let me have my way in this one thing. If you don't, all the
rest will have been in vain. See, my drama is ended; my enemies are
punished. Now let me make my dear ones happy. Do you know, John Arthur
has put a new thought in my head. 'Confound you,' he growled; it was
his parting benediction, 'I might have known your father's blood ruled
you. I might have looked for cunning and intrigue from that confounded
Expert's Daughter.' It is true, Claire; I am the daughter of an
Expert, a detective, brave and shrewd. Hagar says that I am like my
father, and that I have inherited his talents. When I recall the knot
we have just unravelled, the war we have just waged, I can but think
that my father's chosen calling may have become mine. If the world
ever grows stale, if I pine for change or excitement or absorbing
occupation, I can go to my father's chief and say, 'I am the daughter
of Lionel Payne, the Expert, and I have inherited a measure of my
father's talents.' Do you think he will trust his knotty cases to the
Expert's Daughter?"

"I think he will, if he is wise. But, Madeline, all this is folly. You
will never leave us. Olive wants you; we all want you."

"And you will all have enough of me. But, Claire, do not ask me to
stay now. It is better for me, better for all, that I go away. I must
let old memories die out. I want to forget old scenes. I want rest. I
need to school my wayward nature, to teach my heart to beat calmly,
my soul to possess itself in peace. Claire, I must go."

Just here, some one taps softly. It is a servant who holds in her
hands a telegram from Olive to Madeline, which runs thus:

     All is well. Philip and I start for home to-night. Meet us
     there without fail, all of you.

                                        OLIVE.

They read it together, and then Claire burst into tears--tears of joy
and thankfulness.

"Philip is free once more! Oh, Madeline, Madeline; and it was you who
saved him; it was _you_!"

Madeline pushes the message into her hand, saying: "If I have done
such wonderful things, why do you refuse to obey me? Go, now, and take
this good news to Clarence Vaughan. And mind you, don't come back, for
I am going to tell Mrs. Ralston."

Half laughing, half crying, Claire is compelled to go down to the
library alone. Clarence Vaughan is there, pacing thoughtfully up and
down.

Claire enters softly, the paper ostentatiously displayed in her hand.
But he looks straight at the blushing, bashful, tear-stained face. Her
eyes, half glad, half shy, wholly tell-tale, fall before his own. And
the lover who has waited in patience for his opportunity, seizes it
now and makes it a moment of victory.

"I have brought you good news, Dr. Vaughan."

He comes straight toward her, and imprisons both little hands,
together with the "news" they contain.

"You have brought me yourself, then, and I have been lying in wait for
this opportunity. Claire, shall you ever run away from me again?"

It is useless to rebel. His voice tells her that he knows too much,
and that he will not be evaded any more.

She gives him one glimpse of her face, and then she is clasped in his
strong, loving arms, and from this safe haven, after a time, she tells
her good news, struggling prettily to free herself from the loving
imprisonment.

"Philip is free, and is coming home."

"Of course; why not, darling? There is no accusation against him now."

"Madeline is going away with Mrs. Ralston. Don't you think she is too
bad? Can't we make her stay?"

A look of regretful sadness rests for a moment upon his countenance.
Then he says, very tenderly:

"My little darling, Madeline has earned the right to her own perfect
liberty. After the fierce schooling through which she has passed,
believe me, there is nothing left for us to teach her. She has grown
beyond us. Let her have her will, for she knows best what will give
her the rest, the forgetfulness, the absorbing interest in other
things, that her strong nature needs. Madeline has much to unlearn,
much to forget; and she knows this. She is growing to understand her
strong, brave self, to value her strength. She will never be an idler,
never sink into the ranks of the commonplace. If, after a time, she
finds for herself a worthy love, she will be the tenderest, the truest
of wives. But she is sufficient unto herself. She has beauty, genius,
force, a strong will, a splendid intellect. We shall watch her course
from afar, and I am much mistaken if we do not, some day, hear great
things of our Madeline."

Claire draws herself gently from the restraining arm, and turns her
blue eyes upon him.

[Illustration: "She sinks to her knees, and leaning out, absorbs the
restfulness, the peace, the white, pure glory of the dawn."--page
456.]

"Madeline will never marry," she says softly, sadly. "You are right;
she is above us, beyond us. God has made her sufficient unto herself."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is dawn, gray dawn.

Madeline Payne rises from a long untroubled sleep, and flings wide her
shutters.

What is this that she sees?

All below her an unbroken mantle of white; all about and above, the
waving of snowy plumes, and floating, misty-white loveliness.

The world is clothed in a new garment; the foot-prints of her enemies
are hidden, are blotted from the face of the earth. The pathway to the
cemetery where they lately bore Edward Percy, is obliterated, too. The
grave of the erring man is covered with heaven's whitest, purest
mantle of charity and forgetfulness.

Above, below, all about her, is silence and whiteness and peace.

She sinks to her knees, and leaning out, absorbs into herself the
restfulness, the peace, the white, pure glory, of the dawn.

"It is a token," she murmurs, softly. "It is God's benediction on my
new day, on my new life. It is the beginning of rest. There is nothing
old in this fresh, white world. Let the snow mantle rest thus upon my
past life. Ah, how rich I am! How rich in friends; how strong in that
I have been able to do some good, to make my beloved happy. Never let
me repine at my fate. I am rich, and strong, and free. This new,
white, beautiful world is mine, when I wish to wander. My friends are
mine, when I wish to rest, and find a home."

Ah, 'tis good to know--

    "God's greatness shines around our incompleteness;
        Round our restlessness, _His rest_."

Up from the east shoots an arrow of gold, and a bar of roseate light.
Higher yet, and the world is aglow with mystic, glittering loveliness.
Diamonds sparkling everywhere; snow plumes waving; the earth's white
unbroken mantle gleaming and sparkling, and stretching away to meet
the golden glow at the horizon's edge.

Kneeling there, with her white hands clasped upon the window ledge,
the glory of the morning falls over her like a benediction; lighting
up the golden hair; pouring its radiance into the solemn brown eyes;
kissing the pure pale cheeks; breathing peace, and rest, and hope into
the long-tried, but conquering heart of THE EXPERT'S DAUGHTER.

THE END.



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