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Title: A Sheaf of Corn
Author: Mann, Mary E., -1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Sheaf of Corn" ***

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A SHEAF OF CORN


BY THE SAME AUTHOR

ROSE AT HONEYPOT
THE PATTEN EXPERIMENT
OLIVIA'S SUMMER
A LOST ESTATE
THE PARISH OF HILBY
THE PARISH NURSE
GRAN'MA'S JANE
MRS. PETER HOWARD
A WINTER'S TALE
ONE ANOTHER'S BURDENS
THERE WAS ONCE A PRINCE
WHEN ARNOLD COMES HOME
MOONLIGHT
THE MATING OF A DOVE
THE FIELDS OF DULDITCH
AMONG THE SYRINGAS
SUSANNAH
THE EGLAMORE PORTRAITS
THE MEMORIES OF RONALD LOVE



A SHEAF OF CORN



BY

MARY E. MANN


"I WENT A PILGRIM THROUGH THE UNIVERSE,
AND COMMUNED OFT WITH STRANGERS AS I STRAYED,
IN EVERY CORNER SOME ADVANTAGE FOUND,
AND FROM EACH SHEAF OF CORN I DREW A BLADE."


METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON

_First Published in 1908_



CONTENTS


                                                     PAGE

WOMEN O' DULDITCH                                       1

CLOMAYNE'S CLERK                                       15

IN A TEA-SHOP                                          33

A CHALK-MARK ON A GATE--Part I                         51

A CHALK-MARK ON A GATE--Part II                        63

"AS 'TWAS TOLD TO ME"                                  77

FREDDY'S SHIP                                          91

A NERVE CURE                                          109

THE PRIVATE WARD                                      135

DORA OF THE RINGOLETS                                 153

PINK CARNATIONS                                       167

A LITTLE WHITE DOG                                    183

IT ANSWERED                                           195

TO BERTHA IN BOMBAY                                   209

AUNTIE                                                223

WILLY AND I                                           243

A BROKEN BOOT                                         255

WHEN DEEP SLEEP FALLETH                               267

THE EXCELLENT JOYS OF YOUTH                           283

CARES OF A CURATE                                     297



A SHEAF OF CORN



WOMEN O' DULDITCH


Dinah Brome stood in the village shop, watching, with eyes keen to
detect the slightest discrepancy in the operation, the weighing of her
weekly parcels of grocery.

She was a strong, wholesome-looking woman of three- or four-and-forty,
with a clean, red skin, clear eyes, dark hair, crinkling crisply
beneath her sober, respectable hat. All her clothes were sober and
respectable, and her whole mien. No one would have guessed from it that
she had not a shred of character to her back.

The knowledge of this incontrovertible fact did not influence the
demeanour of the shop-woman towards her. There was not better pay in
the village, nor a more constant customer than Dinah Brome. In such
circumstances, Mrs Littleproud was not the woman to throw stones.

"They tell me as how Depper's wife ain't a-goin' to get over this here
sickness she've got," she said, tucking in the edges of the
whitey-brown paper upon the half-pound of moist sugar taken from the
scales. "The doctor, he ha'n't put a name to her illness, but 'tis one
as'll carry her off, he say."

"A quarter pound o' butter," Dinah unmovedly said. "The best, please. I
don't fancy none o' that that ha' got the taste o' the shop in it."

"Doctor, he put his hid in at the door this afternoon," Mrs Littleproud
went on; "he'd got his monkey up, the old doctor had! ''Tis a rank
shame,' he say, 'there ain't none o' these here lazy women o' Dulditch
with heart enough to go to help that poor critter in her necessity,' he
say."

"Ler'm help her hisself," said Mrs Brome, strong in her indifference.
"A couple o' boxes o' matches, Mrs Littleproud; and you can gi' me the
odd ha'penny in clo' balls for the disgestion."

"You should ha' heered 'm run on! 'Where be that Dinah Brome?' he say,
'that ha' showed herself helpful in other folks' houses. Wha's she
a-doin' of, that she can't do a neighbour's part here?'"

"And you telled 'm she was a-mindin' of 'er own business, I hope?" Mrs
Brome suggested, in calmest unconcern.

"I'll tell you what I did say, Dinah, bor," the shop-woman said,
transferring the sticky clove-balls from their bottle to her own greasy
palm. "'Dinah Brome, sir,' I say, 'is the most industrousest woman in
Dulditch; arly and late,' I say, 'she's at wark; and as for her
floors--you might eat off of 'em.'" She screwed the half-dozen hard red
balls in their bit of paper, and stowed them lightly in the customer's
basket. "That the lot this week, Dinah?"

Dinah removed her basket from counter to arm. "What'd he got to say for
hisself, then?" she asked.

"'A woman like that can allust make time,' the old doctor he say. 'Tell
her to make time to help this here pore sufferin' woman.' I'm a-sayin'
it as he said it, Dinah. I ain't a-hintin' of it myself, bor."

"Ler'm tell me, hisself, an old interfarin' old fule, and he'll ha' the
rough side o' my tongue," the customer said; and nodded an unsmiling
good-afternoon, and went on her way.

Her way led her past the cottage of the woman of whom they had spoken.
Depper's cottage, indeed, was the first in the row of which Dinah's was
the last--a half-dozen two-roomed tenements, living-room below, bedroom
above, standing with their backs to the road, from which they were
divided by no garden, nor even so much as a narrow path. The lower
window of the two allotted to each house was about four or five feet
from the ground, and was of course the window of the living-room. Mrs
Brome, as she passed that of the first house in the row, suddenly
yielded to the impulse to stop and look within.

A small interior, with furniture much too big for it; a huge chest of
drawers, of oak with brass fittings; a broken-down couch as big as a
bed, covered with a dingy shawl, a man's greatcoat, a red flannel
petticoat; a table cumbered with the remains of wretched meals never
cleared away, and the poor cooking utensils of impoverished, shifty
housekeeping.

The woman of whom they had been speaking stood with her back to the
window. A stooping, drooping skeleton of a woman, who, with weak,
shaking hands, kneaded some dough in which a few currants were stuck,
before laying it on a black-looking baking tin.

"A fine time o' day to bake his fourses cake!" the woman outside
commented, reaching on tiptoe, the better to look in at the window.

The tin having its complement of cakes, the sick woman essayed to carry
it to the oven. But its weight was too much for her; it hung limply in
her weak grasp; before the oven was reached the cakes were on the
ragged carpet of the hearth.

"God in heaven!" ejaculated the woman looking in.

She watched while the poor woman within dropped on all-fours, feebly
trying to gather up the cakes spreading themselves slowly over the
dirty floor.

"If that don't make me sick!" said Dinah Brome to herself as she turned
and went on her way.

The cottage of Dinah Brome, distant from that of Depper's wife by a
score or so of yards, was, in its domestic economy, as removed from it
as the North Pole from the South. Small wonder that Depper--his name
was William Kittle, a fact of which the neighbourhood made no practical
use, which he himself only recalled with an effort--preferred to the
dirt, untidiness and squalor of his own abode the spick-and-span
cleanliness of Dinah Brome's. Small wonder that in this atmosphere of
wholesomeness and comfort, he chose to spend the hours of the Sabbath
during which the public-house was closed; and other hours. Small
wonder, looking at the fine, capable figure of the woman, now bustling
about with teapot and cups, he should esteem Mrs Brome personally above
the slatternly skeleton at his own hearth.

Having made a cup of tea and cut a couple of slices of
bread-and-butter, the owner of the fresh-scrubbed bricks, the fresh
polished furniture, the dazzlingly white hearth, turned her back on her
household gods, and, plate and cup in hands, betook herself, by way of
the uneven bricked passage separating the row of houses from their rows
of gardens at the back, to the house of the wife of Depper.

"I swore I wouldn't," she said to herself as she went along; "but I'm
dinged if the sight o' Depper's old woman a-crawlin' arter them
mamucked up bits o' dough ha'n't tarned my stomach!"

She knocked at the door with the toe of her boot, her hands being full,
and receiving no answer, opened it and went in.

Depper's old woman had fallen, a miserable heap of bones and dingy
clothing, upon the broken-down couch, and had fainted there.

"I'd suner 'twas anyone in the warld than you a-waitin' on me like
this," she said, when, consciousness having returned during the
ministrations of the other woman, her weary eyes opened upon the
healthy face above her.

"And the las' time you telled me to walk out o' your house, I swore I'd
never set fut in it again," Mrs Brome made answer. "But I ha' swallered
worse things in my time than my own wards, I make no doubt; and you ha'
come to a pass, Car'line Kittle, when you ha' got to take what you can
git and be thankful."

"Pass? I ha' come to a pass, indeed!" the sick woman moaned. "You're
wholly right there, bor; wholly right."

"So now you ha' got to drink this here cup o' hot tea I ha' brought ye;
and let me help ye upstairs to yer bed as quick as may be."

"When I ha' baked Depper's fourses cake, and sent it off by 'Meelyer's
little gal--she ha' lent her to me to go back and forth to the
harvest-field, 'Meelyer have--I kin go," the wife said; "not afore,"
hiccoughing loudly over the tea she tried to drink; "not afore--not
afore! Oh, how I wish I could, bor; how I wish I could!"

"You're a-goin', this instant minute," the masterful Dinah declared.

The other had not the strength to resist. "I'm wholly done," she
murmured, helplessly, "wholly done at last."

"My! How ha' you got up these here stairs alone?" Dinah, having
half-dragged, half-carried the feeble creature to the top, demanded of
her, wiping her own brow.

"Crawled, all-fours." Depper's wife panted out the explanation. "And to
git down 'em i' the mornin's--oh, the Lord alone knows how I ha' got
down 'em i' th' mornin's. Thankful I'd be to know I'd never ha' to come
down 'em agin."

"You never will," said Mrs Brome.

"I don't want to trouble you, no fudder. I can fend for myself now,"
the poor woman said, when at length she lay at peace between the
sheets; her face bathed, and the limp grimy fingers; the scant dry hair
smoothed decently down the fallen temples. "I'd rather it'd ha' been
another woman that had done me the sarvice, but I ain't above bein'
thankful to you, for all that. All I'll ask of ye now, Dinah Brome, is
that ye'll have an eye to Depper's fourses cake in th' oven, and see
that 'Meelyer's gal take it and his home-brew, comf'table, to th' field
for 'm."

Dinah, having folded the woman's clothes, spread them for additional
warmth upon the poor bed-covering. "Don't you worrit no more about
Depper," she said, "Strike me, you're the one that want seem' to now,
Car'line."

The slow tears oozed beneath Car'line's closed lids. "I kin fend for
myself if Depper ain't put about," she said.

When Depper returned, with the shades of night, from the harvest-field,
he might hardly have known his own living-room. The dirty rags of
carpet had disappeared, the bricks were scrubbed, the dangerous-looking
heap of clothing had been removed from the sofa, and a support added to
its broken leg; the fireside chairs, the big chest of drawers, redolent
of the turpentine with which they had been rubbed, shone in the
candlelight; the kettle sang on the bars by the side of a saucepan of
potatoes boiling for the meal. It was the sight of Dinah Brome at the
head of affairs, however, which drew his attention from these details.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" Depper said, and paused, door in hand, on his own
freshly-washed step.

"You wipe your feet, afore you come in," said Mrs Brome, masterful as
ever. "Here's yer supper ready. I ain't a-goin' to ate it along of you,
Depper; but I ha' got a ward or two to say to you afore I go."

Depper entered, closed the door behind him, sat down, hat on head, in
the freshly-polished chair by the hearth; he fixed his eyes, his mouth
fallen open, on the fine form of Dinah standing before him, with hands
on hips, arms akimbo, and the masterful gleam in her eyes.

"Depper, yer old woman's a-dyin'" Dinah said.

"Marcy on us! Ye don't tell me that! Kind o' piney, like, fer the las'
six months, my missus ha' bin', but----"

"Now she's a-dyin'. D'ye think I ha'n't got the right use o' my senses,
arter all these years? Wheer ha' yer own eyes been? Look at 'er! No
better'n a skeercrow of a woman, under yer very nose! She's a-dyin', I
tell ye. And, Depper, what du I come here to find? I find a bare
cupboard and a bare board. Not a mite o' nouragement i' th' house, sech
as a pore suff'rin' woman like Car'line's in need of."

"Car'line's a pore manager, as right well you know, Dinah. Ha'n't I
telled ye----?"

"You ha' telled me--yes. But have you played th' husban's part? You ha'
telled me--and I ha' put the fault o' yer poverty home on ter yer pore
missus's shoulders. But since I been here, I ha' seen 'er crawlin' on
'er han's and knees to wait on you, wi' yer fourses i' th'
harvest-field. I ha' heered her manderin' on, 'let things be comf'table
for Depper,' and let her fend for herself. And I can see with half an
eye the bute is on t'other fut, Depper. And this here is what I'm
a-goin' ter say to you, and don't you make no mistake about it: I'm yer
wife's woman while she want me, and none o' yours."

Depper was a small, well-made man, with a curling, grizzled head, and a
well-featured face. It is possible that in his youth the word 'dapper'
may have applied to him; a forgotten fact which perhaps accounted for
his nickname. He gazed with an open mouth and puzzled, blear eyes at
the woman before him.

"You and me," he said slowly, with an utterance suspiciously slow and
thick--"you and me ha' kep' comp'ny, so to speak, fer a sight o' years,
Dinah. We never had no fallin's out, this mander, afore, as I can call
ter mind. I don't rightly onderstan' what you ha' got agin me--come
ter put it into wards."

"I ha' got this agin ye," the valiant Dinah said: "that you ha'
nouraged yer own inside and let your missus's go empty. You ha' got too
much drink aboard ye, now, an' her fit ter die for the want of a drop
o' sperrits. And I ha' got this ter say: that we ha' come to a pass
when I ha' got to make ch'ice twixt you and yer old woman. Arter wha's
come and gone, we t'ree can't hob an' nob, as ye may say, together. My
ch'ice is made, then, and this is how I ha' fixed it up. When yer day's
wark is done, and you come home, I go out o' your house. Sune as yer up
an' away i' th' mornin', I come in and ridd up yer missus and wait on
'er, while the woman's in need of me."

Whether this plan met with Depper's approval or not, Dinah Brome did
not wait to see. "For Car'line's peace o' mind, arter wha's come and
gone, 'tis th' only way," she said to herself and to him; and by it he
had to abide.

It was not for many weeks. The poor unlovely wife, lying in the
dismantled four-poster in the only bedroom, was too far gone to benefit
by the 'nouragement' Mrs Brome contrived to administer. The
sixpenn'orths of brandy Depper, too late relenting, spared from the sum
he had hitherto expended on his own beer--public-house brandy,
poisonous stuff, but accredited by the labouring population of Dulditch
with all but magical restorative powers--for once failed in its effect.
Daily more of a skeleton, hourly feebler and feebler, grew Depper's old
woman; clinging, for all that, desperately to life and the hope of
recovery for the sake of Depper himself.

"Let go the things of this life, lay hold on those of Eternity," the
clergyman said, solemnly reproving her for her worldly state of mind.
"Remember that there is no one in this world whose life is
indispensable to the scheme of it. Try to think more humbly of
yourself, my poor friend, less regretfully of the world you are
hurrying from. Fix your eyes on the heavenly prospect. Try to join with
me more heartily in the prayers for the dying."

She listened to them, making no response, with slow tears falling from
shut lids to the pillow. "'Tain't for myself I'm a-pinin', 'tis for
Depper," she said, the parson being gone.

"All the same, Car'line," Mrs Brome said, sharply admonishing, "I'd
marmar a ward now and agin for myself, as the reverend ha' been
advisin' of ye, if I was you. Depper he can look arter hisself; his
time for prayin' ain't, so ter say, come yet. Yours is. I should like
to hear a 'Lord help me,' now and agin from yer lips, when I tarn ye in
the bed. I don't think but what yu'd be the better for it, pore
critter. Your time's a-gettin' short, and 'tis best ter go resigned."

"I cud go resigned if 'tweren't for Depper," the dying woman made her
moan.

"I can't think what he'll du all alone in th' house and me gone!" she
often whimpered. "A man can't fend for 'isself, like a woman can. They
ha'n't the know ter du it. Depper, he ain't no better'n a child about
makin' the kettle bile, and sechlike. It'll go hard, me bein' put out
o' th' way, wi' Depper."

"Sarve 'm right," Mrs Brome always stoically said. "He ha' been a bad
man to you, Car'line. I don' know whu should speak to that if you and
me don't, bor."

"He ha'n't so much as laid a finger on me since I was ill," Car'line
said, making what defence for the absent man she could.

"All the same, when you're a-feelin' wholly low agin, jes' you say to
yourself, 'Th' Lord help me!' 'Tis only dacent, you a dyin' woman, to
do it. When ye ha'n't got the strength ter say it, I'll go on my knees
and say it for ye, come to that, Car'line," the notorious wrongdoer
promised.

                     *      *      *      *      *

They sent for Depper to the White Hart to come home and see his wife
die.

"I ain't, so ter say, narvish, bein' alone with 'er, and would as lief
see the pore sufferin' critter draw her las' breath as not, but I hold
'tis dacent for man and wife to be together, come to th' finish; an' so
I ha' sent for ye," Mrs Brome told him.

Depper shed as many tears over his old woman as would have been
expected from the best husband in the world; and Car'line let her dying
gaze rest on him with as much affection, perhaps, as if he had indeed
been that ideal person.

"There'll be money a-comin' in fro' th' club," were almost her last
words to him. She was speaking of the burial-club, into which she had
always contrived to pay the necessary weekly pence; she knew it to be
the surest consolation she could offer him.

Depper had made arrangements already for the payment of the eleven
pounds from the burial-club; he had drunk a pint or two extra, daily,
for the last week, the innkeeper being willing to trust him, in
consideration of the expected windfall. The excitement of this handling
of sudden wealth, and the dying of his wife, and the extra drink
combined, completely upset his mental equilibrium. In the first moments
of his widower-hood he was prostrate with emotion.

Dragged downstairs by the strong arm of Dinah Brome, he subsided into
the chair on the hearth, opposite that for ever empty one of his old
woman's; and with elbows on knees and head on hand he hiccoughed and
moaned and wept aloud.

Above, Dinah Brome and that old woman who had a reputation in Dulditch
for the laying-out of corpses, decked the poor cold body in such warmth
of white flannelette, and such garniture of snipped-out frilling as,
alive, Car'line Kittle could never have hoped to attain to.

These last duties achieved, Dinah descended, her arms full of blankets
and pillows, no longer necessary above. These, with much banging and
shaking, she spread upon the downstairs couch, indicating to the still
weeping Depper it was there he was expected to pass the night.

"Bor, you may well blubber!" she said to him, with a kind of
comfortable scorn of him and his sorrow. "You 'ont ketch me a-dryin'
yer tears for ye, and so I tell ye flat. A crule husban' yu ha' been as
any woman ever had. If ever there was a wife who was kep' short, and
used hard, that was _yer_ wife, Depper, my man! Bad you ha' been to her
that's gone to 'er account, in all ways; who should know that better'n
me, I'll ask ye? An' if at las' 'tis come home to ye, sarve ye wholly
right. Tha's all the comfort ye'll get from me, bor."

"Stop along of me!" Depper cried, as, her work being finished, she
moved to the door. "'Taint right as I should be left here alone; and me
feelin' that low, and a'most dazed with affliction."

"Tha's how you've a right to feel," the stern woman said, unmoved by
his tears.

"I keep a-thinkin' of wha's layin' up above theer, Dinah."

"Pity you di'n't think on 'er more in 'er lifetime."

"'Taint nat'ral as I should be left wholly alone with a dead woman.
'Taint a nat'ral thing, I'm a-sayin', for me to du, Dinah, ter pass the
night alone along o' my old missus's corp."

"Bor, 'taint the fust onnat'ral thing you ha' done i' your life," Mrs
Brome said; and went out and shut the door.

An hour or so later Depper opened it, and going hurriedly past the
intervening cottages, knocked stealthily upon the door of Dinah Brome.

She looked out upon him presently from her bedroom window, her dark,
crinkled hair rough from the pillow, a shawl pulled over her nightgown.

"Whu's that a-distarbin' o' me, as ha'n't had a night's rest for a
week, at this time o' night?" she demanded sharply.

"It's me; Depper," the man's voice answered, whisperingly. "Le' me in,
Dinah. I daren't be alone along of 'er no longer. I ha' only got you,
Dinah, now my old woman's gone! Le' me in!"

"You're a rum un ter call yerself a man and a husban'--you are!" Dinah
Brome ejaculated; but she came downstairs and opened her door.



CLOMAYNE'S CLERK


Into the stinging sleet and rain-laden winds of the March morning there
emerged from the door of a physician in Harley Street a boy of
seventeen. He was slightly built, with stooping shoulders, and, meagre
of proportions as he was, was protected from the cruel weather by an
overcoat much too small. As he faced the biting wind, and "all the
vapoury turbulence of heaven," the dusky pallor of his skin took on a
bluey tinge, he shivered and trembled in the grim grasp of the storm.

A few yards from the door a child, dressed in a long, cheap mackintosh,
and carrying within a strap slung over her shoulder a collection of
school books and papers, awaited him.

Into the lustrous dark eyes of the youth she looked, asking with her
anxious blue ones a question she did not put in words; for a minute he
did not answer.

"Come under my umbrella," she said, as they walked on together. "And
turn up the collar of your coat, Peter. Didn't he have a fire for you?"
she asked, with a distrustful glance in the direction of that great
physician whose portals the youth had just quitted.

"There was a roaring fire," Peter said. "It isn't the cold so
much--it's the inside of me that's shivering. Cicely, it's going to be
no use. He doesn't mean to pass me."

Cicely, a fairly well-grown girl of fourteen, with straight thin legs,
straight, thick-hanging, dark hair, a straight, serious face, came to a
stop on the wet pavement. Answering to a tug upon his coat-sleeve, the
youth stopped too.

"He must!" she said. "You shouldn't have left him. You should have
_made_ him, Peter." The tears came into her eyes and her lip shook.
"Oh, Peter, he will--he will!"

"He spotted that place on my throat," Peter said, with dejection.

"I told you to tie a handkerchief over it!"

"Handkerchief? I should think I did! He told me three times before I
took it off. He wouldn't have so much as a rag on me. 'What's this?'
says he. 'A little trouble I had a year or so ago, with a gland that
swelled,' says I. 'It had to be cut, and has been as right as rain ever
since.' Just in that offhand way, Cicely. Quite brisk and cheerful.
'Tubercular, eh?' says he, very soft and thoughtful-like. And I knew it
was all up with me."

"You should have told him it wasn't!" Cicely said, tearfully impatient
of him. "Oh, if I'd been there----!"

"Don't you be afraid! I told him fast enough, or tried to, but he
stopped me. 'That'll do, thank you,' says he. 'I form my own opinion.'
He wouldn't listen."

"Did you stand like that?" Cicely demanded, with a condemning glance at
the stooping, shivering figure beneath the umbrella; "or did you hold
your head up and throw your shoulders back, and push out your chest as
I told you?"

"I stood up as brave as a lion," the young man assured her, his teeth
chattering. "I yarned to him about how fond I was of athletics and
swimming, how many miles I could walk at a stretch. Oh, I wasn't going
to lose the berth for the want of a little gas. Only--" he stopped and
sadly shook his head; "he'd made up his mind," he went on in a drooping
tone. "He'd made it up as soon as he looked at me. 'Keep on with your
walking; live in the open air,' he said. 'You're not fitted for the
office-stool. Stooping all day over a desk would be about the worst
thing you could do. Thank you. That's all. Good-morning.'"

"And you came away? You shouldn't have come away! You should have told
him what it is to you. What you will have to put up with if you can't
get the berth. You should have said, 'You're taking the bread out of my
mouth, you're stealing the coat off my back. It's life and death to
me.' You should have said that, and made him hear. And you came away!"

Peter looked back upon that action, sorrowfully considering it. "I
thought it very affable of him to shake hands," he said, "but he had a
very final way of doing it. And, besides, I didn't care to make a tale
of my private affairs, and seem to cringe. I didn't want him to
think----"

"What does it matter about _him_?" Cicely demanded, with scorn. "Do we
care what _he_ thinks? Oh, Peter, go back to him, dear; do--do go back.
Tell him he _must_ pass you. Tell him it's your chance, your only--only
one. And how you've tried and tried--and this is the only one; and how
cruel everyone is at home--just as if it was your fault that no one--no
one will give you work to do. And tell him you'd rather be dead than go
home and say you'd lost it. Oh, Peter, say that; it is true--it is
true----!"

She was crying. The rain blown on her cheek by the angry wind mingled
with the tears there. She held his wrist--that bony, flat wrist, which
had had its own tale to tell to the examining physician--protruding
from the shabby coat-sleeve, and led him, he nearly unresisting, back
to the door. On the door-step he hesitated, looking at the child with
beseeching dark eyes.

"He's awfully busy--his room's full--he isn't the sort to take
liberties with--I don't want to bother him again."

But she kept a relentless hold upon the wrist, and herself rang the
bell, and when the door opened, pushed him within with remorseless
urgency. "Never mind cringing," she whispered. "Tell him everything.
Tell him how they treat you at home. Don't mind what he thinks."

So, in Peter went, and Cicely, her school-books tucked away under her
arm for the protection afforded by her mackintosh, the rain coming on
faster and faster, walked the pavement, or waited on the doorstep, and
now and again crossed the road in the baseless hope that she might not
find the other side so wet, for a miserable two hours.

"Why, I thought I had finished with you, sir, more than an hour ago,"
the physician said, looking up, not too well pleased, when Peter,
nervously smiling, his dark-curled head with its pale Jewish features
pushed well forward, appeared in the consulting-room again.

The doctor, a fine-looking, red-faced man with keen blue eyes, looked a
giant of health and strength and well-being beside the slight and
meagre form. He was physician to the great firm of Clomayne, Company,
Limited, who never appointed a clerk to their offices without a
favourable report from him. Peter had already passed the educational
test by which they weeded out the applicants to fill their vacancies.
As a typist he had proved himself expert; in shorthand he had attained
the highest speed. Nothing but the medical examination stood between
him and the office-stool, which to him was as much an object of desire
as is a throne to a prince.

"I think, sir," he said, his eyes, very dark and softly luminous, on
the doctor's face,--"I'm afraid you didn't form a very high opinion of
my physique. I wanted to ask you--I wanted to beg you, sir, to pass me.
It would be the making of me, sir, to get to Clomayne's. I've been
trying for more than a year to get a clerkship. The market is so very
full, and I've been unfortunate. This is a great chance for me. I hope
very much, sir, you won't let me lose it."

The doctor looked down from his goodly height upon the stooping
shoulders of the suppliant. "I've got my duty to Clomayne's to perform,
you know," he said. "They send their clerks abroad into all sorts of
climates--very unhealthy, some of them. Climates where you, my poor
fellow, could not live a month."

"I could take my chance," Peter said quickly. "I'm not afraid, sir. I
shouldn't ask any favour. If I died, it would make no difference to
Clomayne's. I mean the inconvenience would be mine."

"My dear fellow, you're a phthisical subject--not to mince matters. You
told me your family history----"

"You asked me, sir," Peter interrupted, with a note of reproach in his
softly thick voice.

"It was my duty to ask. Your father died a year ago of pneumonia, your
mother ten years ago in a decline. Do you ask me to conceal these facts
from Clomayne's?--to say that I consider you in strong health? Then,
you ask what is absolutely impossible. I am sorry, but it is
impossible. I think that is all I have to say on the subject, and--my
time is very short."

"I am going almost at once, sir," Peter said, speaking with an effort
of cheerfulness, but with a load of sorrow and disappointment lying, a
physical weight, upon his heart. "I came because Cicely thought if I
told you 'twas a matter of life and death, sir--. It is that to me,
almost--it is. I'm very good at shorthand--hundred and twenty a minute;
my arithmetic and book-keeping, too, are more than fair. My
hand-writing's good, I might say. My hands don't always shake like
this----"

"My dear boy," the doctor said, with an impatience at once angry and
pitiful, "all that has less than nothing to do with me!"

"But if you'd give me a chance, sir!" His eyes were extraordinarily
bright and pleading, his slight frame shook with eagerness; he made as
though he swallowed something with difficulty. "After all, I shall have
to cringe," he said to himself. "Since my father died, I have had to
depend on my uncle, sir," he went on. "I owe everything to him. He's
very good--but there are a lot of his own children; and there's my
aunt--and she thinks--. My uncle doesn't grudge me anything, he often
says so, but he naturally wants me to be getting my own living--and so
does my aunt; and she doesn't quite understand how difficult it is,
nowadays, to get in to anything--and my cousins don't understand it
either, except Cicely, she's different. Of course, I can't at present
contribute anything for my board and lodging and my clothes." He
stopped, a minute, and looked down at his shabby overcoat, then lifted
his eyes, alight with their soft, irresistible appeal, to the
physician's face; his voice dropped in a kind of awe. "This berth
carries a pound a week, sir. It would be all the world to me to get
it."

"You want me to perjure myself?"

Peter did not shrink from the stern tone, nor blush at the imputation.
"I want you not to take away my chance," he said.

He did not leave for some fifteen minutes longer, and when he did
leave, it was with eyes lit almost to rapture, a glow of happiness on
his pale face, and words of thanks bubbling forth from trembling lips.
The doctor had consented not to conceal the state of the young man's
predisposition to tubercular mischief, but to make the best of his
chance of escaping the family taint. He had promised, too, to explain
matters to one of the managers with whom he was on very friendly terms.
Peter's position at Clomayne's was assured.

"I will never forget it, sir, never!" the boy said, stopping again at
the door of the consulting-room to reiterate the fact. "It will be the
making of me. I shall get on--you'll see I will. There's men that don't
make the most of their chances--but I will. I've got a splendid
one--thanks to your goodness--and I will. I feel it in me. You'll never
regret it."

"Oh, that'll do--that'll do," the doctor said. He was a little ashamed
of his weakness in the matter, knew it was a bad precedent, didn't wish
to hear any more about it. "Haven't you got something warmer to put
on?" he asked. "You're not going out into this pouring rain in that
thin coat?"

"This is my great-coat, sir," Peter explained, with a glance at the
sleeve that exposed the flat red wrist. "And Cicely is waiting outside
for me with an umbrella."

The doctor was sufficiently interested to walk to that window in his
consulting-room which looked upon the street in order to watch the
youth who had taken what was in his experience the very unusual course
of questioning his fiat. He saw the stooping figure of the lad join the
upright one of the child, hurrying to meet him. He almost saw the glad
words of the reversal of his doom upon the young man's lips; he saw the
change on the straight-featured serious face of the child from an
expression of unchildlike anxiety to one of almost womanly joy. The
pair stood for three minutes in the drenching rain before the window,
and even at that crisis Cicely did not forget to hoist her dripping
umbrella over the head so eagerly thrust forward. Then Peter put a thin
wrist through a mackintoshed arm, and looking in each other's faces,
and eagerly talking, unconscious of the eyes that watched them, the wet
impatient people pushing past, the boy and girl walked slowly away.

The doctor touched the bell that would bring his next patient for
inspection, then took one more look through the window. The pair had
taken hands and were running now, running over the clean-washed, shiny
pavement. Cicely turned her face so that he saw it once again, and it
was a laughing face.

"It's something to be young," the doctor said to himself as he turned
away. "Young--and to have the thing you wish for! Yes, even if you're
never to know a day's health while you live, and have got to die a
lingering, painful death in a year or so."

He only saw Peter once after he obtained his heart's desire and the
proud position of a post as a junior clerk in Clomayne's office. It was
on a platform of Liverpool Street Suburban line. He was going down to
Enfield in his professional capacity, and while he waited for his
train, walking up and down, his attention was caught by a figure which
appeared in some way familiar to him standing at the book-stall. A
minute, and he had recognised it as that of the youth who had been so
bent on becoming Clomayne's clerk.

He was better dressed now, and wore a warmer over-coat (for the summer
was over, by now, and winter coming on again), and a more fashionably
shaped bowler. Cicely, in her waterproof still, although there was no
rain, and with her straight, heavy hair upon her shoulders, was by his
side.

The physician, having established in his own mind the identity of the
pair, resumed his pacing to and fro of the platform, and forgot them.
In a minute, a voice at his elbow spoke his name, and glancing down, he
saw, taking off his hat to him, and accosting him with a very eager
look on the duskily pale face, the youth whose name, even, he had
forgotten. A light of triumphant gladness was in the mild darkness of
the eyes.

"Excuse my speaking to you, sir," Peter said, "Cicely would have me
come. She thought you'd be pleased to hear our very good news."

"I'm always glad to hear anyone's good news," the big doctor said.
"Let's see--it's Mr----?"

"I'm the young man at Clomayne's," Peter explained. "You were so
good----"

"I remember perfectly. And how are you getting on?"

"First class, sir. That's what I wanted to tell you. Cicely wanted it
too."

"You like your work?"

"I enjoy my work, sir. I don't have a dull moment. And--" here his
voice sank with the immensity of the tidings with which it was
charged--"you'll be very glad to hear, sir, I'm promoted."

"I am indeed glad. Doubled your pay, have they?"

Peter smiled. "It doesn't affect my pay, sir. But pay isn't everything,
I take it."

"Certainly not," the physician hastened to say. "To be chosen for an
honourable position, for instance----"

"It's like this," Peter said, anxious to proclaim the good fortune
which had befallen him. "Clomayne & Co. are starting another
branch--you may have heard--and there's heavy work entailed. Clomayne's
have had to put on several of their clerks to stop at the office
over-hours. I'm one of those selected."

"I see," the doctor said, meeting with his penetrating blue eyes the
mildly exultant gaze of the black ones.

"I've been at it now for a month," Peter went on. "Instead of getting
home at seven, I'm at the office till nine, and sometimes ten o'clock.
I enjoy it very much. The firm allows us something for our teas. My
fellow-clerks and I have a rattling good time. If it hadn't been for
your kindness, sir, I should never have got to Clomayne's; and I
thought you'd be glad to hear how splendidly I'm doing there."

"And how's the health? Extra hours spent in bending over your desk
aren't very good for you. You haven't yet lost your cough?"

Peter looked away, evidently not caring to be questioned on that theme.
"I've been very fit, thank you, sir," he said. "The mist--it's been a
bit misty in the evenings lately--has got on my chest rather. This,
being Saturday," he further explained, "is a holiday. Cicely and I
always have the Saturday afternoons."

Ah! And how did they spend them, he was asked. In the air, it was
hoped.

Not always, it seemed. For Cicely was fond of pictures, and sometimes
they went to the National Gallery. Cicely was fond of reading too; and
once or twice they had been to Westminster Abbey because she had a
fancy for Poets' Corner. But this afternoon they were going to their
home at Edmonton, and if they could get away again, and if it didn't
rain, they were going to the Chingford hills, for Cicely, of all
things, loved a glorious walk.

"Cicely's a dear kiddie. She's my friend. I'm awfully fond of her," Peter
said. He made the avowal without the slightest embarrassment--from his
infancy, probably, he had not known what it was to feel shy. "Before I
got that berth at Clomayne's, I should have had a rough time at home if
it hadn't been for Cicely. My aunt and my cousins didn't believe in me,
you see, sir. Cicely always did."

The physician looked across to the bookstall where the child still
stood, watchful of him and Peter beneath the shadowing brim of her hat.
Obeying a good-natured impulse, he crossed to her and laid a hand on
her shoulder, and called her "Cicely," and said he had been hearing she
was fond of reading.

"We both are," Cicely said, with a calm, middle-aged self-possession.
"It is the thing Peter and I like best in the world."

"And what sort of reading?" the doctor asked; and learnt that Peter
liked books of adventure and happy stories, but that Cicely loved
poetry, and liked best stories that were sad.

"They make her cry, sir," Peter explained. "She cries, and cries--don't
you, Cicely?--but she likes them too."

So a kind doctor, looking over the wares displayed, bought a volume of
Longfellow's poems, which he gave the girl--he knew nothing of poetry,
but was sure Longfellow must be safe, as his mother had liked him--and
he got for the boy, Wells's _Sea Lady_.

"I don't read such things, myself," he said, "but I've gathered from
the newspapers the man has a quite creditable acquaintance with
science, and does not write sentimental rubbish."

Cicely, regarding the donor with an unsmiling face, said--"Thank you
very much," in her staid, middle-aged way; but Peter, using his tongue
volubly, overwhelmed him with thanks.

"It is kind of you!" he said fervently. "I shall always treasure the
book, and so will Cicely hers. We go to the Library--we've got a
splendid one, you know, in Edmonton, Passmore Edwards gave us. Before I
got to Clomayne's--they didn't want me at home, and I had nowhere else
to go--I spent most of my days in the Library. Of course I've read H.
G. Wells, and I learnt a lot of him by heart to tell Cicely, but I love
to have him for my own. I have very much to be grateful to you for,
sir, and I shall be grateful while I live."

"For how long will that be, poor fellow, I wonder!" the doctor said to
himself as he walked away. He had done the poor boy a kindness, and he
let his mind dwell on him with a pitying pleasure. It was hard that
Fate should grudge to this unfortunate that humble place in the world
of men which he held with such a boyish pride, those poor pleasures in
which he took such innocent delight! He thought of his own son, as the
train bore him away to his consultation, good and fairly satisfactory,
but guarded on every side, petted, pampered. How much would it cost to
bring into his own boy's handsome face the glow of surprised delight
which had overspread the pale features of this poor lad at the gift of
the four-and-sixpenny book.

But even as the thought passed through his mind, his lips curved with a
smile of proud tenderness. The absurdity of the comparison! His own
handsome, well-grown lad, with his fair, frank face and proudly carried
head, and the poor little city clerk--the pallor of ill-health and
confinement on the dusky face; the meagre figure; the head, over-heavy
with its brown curls, thrust forwards, as if in eagerness to reach the
goal before his feet could carry him there.

"Ah, happiness is found in unexpected places, and is a matter of
temperament only, and not of circumstance at all," the doctor told
himself, when Clomayne's clerk and the girl he called Cicely, passed
the door of his first-class carriage, their destination reached. Peter
was holding the girl's sleeve and hurrying her along, his head pushed
forward, and on his face that look of eager joyousness which to the
eyes that watched and that _knew_ was so full of pathos. The voluble
tongue was wagging as the pair trotted past. He heard his own name
mentioned. And so Clomayne's clerk passed from the eyes that watched,
for ever.

"I'll keep an eye on that poor fellow. I'll speak about him to Ladell;
and when he begins to go down-hill, I'll lend a helping hand," the
doctor said, making one of those resolutions that testify surely to the
spiritual part of us, and do honour to the hearts that record them,
even when, as now, they are not kept.

The doctor fully meant to keep his when he made it, but he forgot.

He forgot it, until one sunshiny morning in the spring of the next
year, when, as he sat at his solitary lunch, there was brought to him a
letter. It was in a careful and childish hand, and he read it almost at
a glance as he ate the biscuit and drank the glass of Burgundy which he
allowed himself for his midday meal.

    "DEAR SIR," the letter ran--"Peter was coming to tell you he had
    been promoted again. A junior was wanted to help with some work
    through the Easter holidays. Peter offered and was accepted. He was
    coming to tell you, but he was drowned last night in the River Lea.
    So I thought I would let you know.--Yours affectly., CICELY.

    "P.S. He was not to have had more pay, but it was the honour."

The physician, who had never time for anything but his profession, made
time to go to the funeral of Clomayne's clerk, paying his poor remains
a compliment he had refused to those of many a man of distinguished
name and high estate whose fees he had taken. On a Saturday afternoon
in the sweetest month of the spring-time, he travelled down to Finchley
with Ladell, that manager of Clomayne's who was his friend.

"We asked his people to hurry the funeral by a couple of days, so that
the clerks could come," the official said.

Peter had looked up to this man as to a king among men. A "good-morning"
from him, and a nod in the street in response to an eagerly snatched-off
bowler, left the junior clerk elated in spirits for the day.

"Mr Ladell asked me if I wouldn't like to change places with Jones who
sits nearer the fire," he said once to Cicely, his eyes humid with
gratification. "He'd noticed how cold my hands were when I passed him a
pen. They shake, you know; I can't stop them. It's something to be
noticed like this by him, Cicely! I shall do now!"

"He was only one of the youngsters, of course, and not of much account,
but he'd made a lot of friends. They've got a wreath as big as a
haystack for the poor little man. They've made him into a hero; and
they're all here--good fellows!" Thus the manager to the physician, as
the train bore them along.

"It was simply silly, chucking away a life like that, of course," he
went on. "A little fellow that could barely swim, to fling himself in,
after a casual suicide! A hulking, great beggar who had good reason, no
doubt, for wanting to be rid of his life. He probably wouldn't have
thanked the boy, even if he had saved him--which he didn't."

He had a goodly following, poor Peter! How his eyes would have
glistened, could he have known! Quite a regiment of clerks from
Clomayne's were there, walking two and two; to say nothing of the uncle
who had grudgingly fed him, and the goodly array of cousins who "had
not believed in him." He had been put in a burial-club by his not
too-loving relations; so, although he had gone so long in shabby
clothing, and had known the sorrow of broken boots and wrist-bands that
must be hidden away, he rode in state to his resting-place, drawn by
four horses, in a silver hearse, his coffin covered with flowers.

But his grave was a humble one--the money from the burial-club not
being sufficient to secure him a decent privacy in decay--and very,
very deep. The clerks, crowding forward when the service was over,
could hardly read his name and the account of his few years, on the
silver plate of his coffin, so deep in the bowels of the earth they
laid him--poor Peter! "the joys of all whose life were said and sung!"
His was the first coffin in the grave destined to hold seven more.

The physician, waiting until the rest had turned away, stood for a few
minutes alone, gazing into that profundity.

"Such a chucking away of life!" the admired gentleman who had been
Peter's chief had said. But the physician had his own thought on that
matter.

The poor boy--the foolish, enthusiastic, perhaps hysterical
boy--enjoying the poor blessings that were his with the prophetic
eagerness those doomed to an early death so often exhibit, had taken
his seat upon his office-stool as upon a throne; had blessed God for
his career of junior clerk as for a high imperial lot; then had flung
away, his short race hardly begun, the life he prized. True; but in a
blind belief in his own strength; and for the high purpose, suggested
by the poetry and the books he and Cicely loved and talked over, of
giving himself for another! The physician knew that in giving all he
had but exchanged a year or two of failing power, of the pain and
weakness of daily dying, the grief of finding himself a burden again
upon unwilling shoulders for--what? For the moment of exultation when
into the dark waters of greedy Lea he had flung his poor little body,
clothed as it was in the new coat and trousers of which Cicely and he
had been so proud; the moment of absolute belief in himself and his
strength; the moment more, perhaps, of recognition that he had failed,
but in a great cause. Peter had exhibited an effusive gratitude for the
few favours Life had bestowed upon him; for this last favour of Death's
according the physician knew he might well have been thankful.

That beautiful "floral tribute" for which Clomayne's clerks had
contributed their shillings, had been lowered upon the coffin, together
with one or two humbler, and obviously home-made, wreaths. As the
physician turned away he noticed, lying almost at his feet, a little
bunch of violets, dropped as the flowers had been removed from the
coffin. Attached by a bit of white ribbon to their stalks was a tiny
square of notepaper, and on this was written in the careful but
unformed hand the doctor recognised, "From Cicely."

Holding them thoughtfully for a minute, the physician slowly opened his
fingers; and through all that dismal space, soon to be filled with
other coffins, Cicely's violets fell upon that which bore Peter's name.
Upon the coffin of Clomayne's fortunate junior clerk; in luck's way
still; promoted to the blessed company of those who die in what they
believe to be a good cause.



IN A TEA-SHOP


The duties of the tea-shop were not particularly hard, but to Lucilla,
whose head was filled with memories of a perfect holiday just over, a
little irksome. The church clock, in the market-place upon which the
windows looked, chimed the half-hour past five. The tea-room closed at
six-thirty.

"At last it ringeth to evensong," Lucilla said.

At least, these were the words which repeated themselves in her brain;
what she really said was--"Hot toast for two--sixpence; a pot of
tea--sixpence; how many pieces of cake, sir? Thank you;
cake--fourpence. One shilling and fourpence, if you please."

It had been a busy afternoon, but the couple who paid the
one-and-fourpence, pushing some coppers towards the waitress, who, with
a dignified motion and an aloof-voiced "We do not receive gratuities,"
pushed them back, would in all probability be the last customers.
Lucilla having discovered the man's hat for him, restored to the woman
the wrist-bag and pocket-handkerchief and parcel she would have left
behind her, and watched the pair from the room, yawned aloud as she
piled the soiled teacups, plates, and saucers on the little brown
Japanese tray, and carried them to that screened-off angle of the room
where china was washed and bread and butter cut all the day long.

She returned, yawning still, to dust the crumbs from the little bamboo
table. Half-past five! What, in those delightful fourteen days which
had composed her yearly holiday, had she been doing at that hour? So
precious the memory of that fortnight, so treasured every incident,
almost she could have accounted for each minute of the time.

As she set the chairs straight before the dozen bamboo tables, put each
illustrated paper in its allotted place, her inward gaze was turned
upon scenes she had left behind with the delightful luxuriousness of a
life which, for that small, allotted space, she had been permitted to
live.

She had driven, she had motored, she had paid visits, had danced.
Yes--danced! She paused on that word, and her lips trembled to a smile.

She had read of such an existence, dreamed of it, perhaps; at last, she
had lived it. Would it make her days in the tea-shop--and out of
it--easier?

For one thing, she had returned a little ashamed of her work. "Don't
mention about the tea-shop, even before your cousins, dear," her aunt
had admonished her. Her aunt, being an old-fashioned person who did not
realise that a lady can get her living by any honourable means, in the
present day, and remain a lady still. Lucilla had, of course, obeyed
her aunt's injunction, but had felt, for her own part, not the
slightest repugnance to mention the means by which she gained her
livelihood, until a couple of evenings before she had returned. That
evening of the dance, whose memory brought the quiver of a smile to
Lucilla's lips.

"Suppose I had told him!" she said to herself as she moved from table
to table, mechanically putting all in order. "He asked me how I passed
my time. What would have happened? Would he have gone on dancing with
me, and gone on sitting out with me when I couldn't dance? I'm glad I
didn't tell, even if it did deceive him--even if I am a snob. I'm glad
I had my hour."

She looked out of one of the windows into the market square, around
which the lamps were lighted now, and a pleasing vision rose before her
eyes of herself in her cousin Alice's last year's ball-dress, looking
so supremely happy, and as pretty--he had said that--as a dream. Yes;
she was thankful he would never have to know. What would he think of
her if he could see her now in her full-skirted brown merino frock, her
brown muslin apron, the big white chrysanthemum, which was the emblem
of the tea-shop, embroidered in its corner and on its bib, her high
muslin cap with the stiff strings tied beneath her chin?

"He would never recognise me; but I'm glad he will never see me,"
Lucilla said.

Then she turned from the window at the sound of a step upon the stairs,
and saw him coming into the room.

He was accompanied by a lady, young and pretty.

"Such a crush, and so badly managed, and so under-waited!" she was
volubly declaring as she came in. "Half a cup of cold tea, and a
quarter of an inch of fishy sandwich was all I got hold of. It was a
splendid thought of yours to turn in here for a feed, Captain Finch. I
couldn't possibly get along on that till dinner-time. Bread and
butter, please, for two, and a good lot of it. Two hungry people.
And--oh, where is the young lady who usually waits?"

It was the attendant from behind the screen who was taking the order, a
girl with a fine figure, a sharp-featured, high-coloured, alert face,
and wearing the brown uniform of the establishment. The other young
lady was engaged elsewhere, she said.

"Oh!" said the customer on a falling note, and repeated in a flatter
tone her order. "I wanted you to see this other girl," she said to
Captain Finch as the waitress moved away. "She is called a beauty. One
or two men rave about her. Women can't judge of these things. I wanted
to hear what you thought of her."

"My word--on such a subject--would be final," the man said.

Lucilla, cutting bread and butter behind the screen, quivered at the
voice, the rather hesitating utterance which was characteristic, the
little laugh at the finish. Ah, what a mercy she had had that minute in
which to dash into the corner and to drive Miss Dawson forth to take
her place! She remembered how beautifully, intoxicatingly deferential
he had been to her in her charming ball-dress, niece to the lady who
was wife of the most influential man in Workingham. Words could not
express how he must despise her if he saw her now.

"They make you judge at all the beauty shows in India, I suppose?" the
lively lady was saying.

"They'd like to. I couldn't stand the fag."

"Poor dear! You appear to be very much exhausted."

"That beastly wedding! I never was so bored in my life."

"That doesn't excuse your yawning in my face."

"Oh, I say! Did I do that, now? I beg your pardon."

"If only this pretty girl I was telling you about had been here!"

"Oh, come! Good-looking women aren't so rare, I know a dozen I can see
any day, Mrs Eaton. But as we're here, can't she be produced?"

The lady tinkled the little bell with which her table was supplied.
"Some walnut cake, please." As it was set on the table, "I hope the
other young lady has not left?" she inquired.

"Oh no, madam."

"A little more hot water."

"An officer, I'll bet my eyes! And a fine-looking fellow! Did you say
he was a pal of yours, miss?" Miss Dawson whispered to Lucilla as she
replenished the jug.

"If they mention me again, say Miss Browne--you can call me that--is
gone home, and isn't coming back any more for a month."

The bell tinkled again.

"I thought perhaps you had forgotten the hot water," the lady said
sweetly.

"No, madam," replied Miss Dawson as she placed the jug on the tray;
"Miss Browne, our other young lady, being gone home, we're a little
short-handed, like. The young person who is taking her place is rather
awkward at the work, and puts us backward," she raised her voice here
that Lucilla might enjoy the joke.

"Ah. I thought things were not quite so nice," the customer said.

"No, madam," acquiesced Miss Dawson, and giggled, and pinched Lucilla
as she retired behind the screen.

The lady at the tea-table was a vivacious creature; she rattled on with
hardly a break in her stream of chatter through the half-hour, during
which she ate all the bread and butter and drank nearly all the tea.
Lucilla, behind her screen, listening for the pleasant tones of the
man's halting speech, grew weary of the high-pitched, untiring voice.

"It is getting late," Captain Finch said at last. "I had better put you
in a cab."

"You aren't going to take me back?"

"Sorry. I've got to buy some things."

When they had left the room and were going downstairs, the woman's
tongue still volubly running, Lucilla came with a soft rush from behind
the screen and looked from the window. The shops round the market place
were brilliantly lighted now; the elegant backs of the couple emerging
from the confectioner's beneath the tea-room were easily visible. The
man raised his stick and hailed a hansom.

"How wonderfully things happen!" mused Lucilla. "He said, I remember,
that he was going to the wedding of a friend; to think that it should
have been here!"

"If you and him are friends, I can't think why you didn't show
yourself," Miss Dawson called from behind her screen.

"I daresay you can't," said Lucilla to herself.

"Where'd you see him first?" Miss Dawson asked. "Did he come up and
speak to you?"

The withering glance which Lucilla cast in the direction of the screen.
"Come up and speak to me!" she repeated.

"And why not, pray? Rubbish!" laughed Miss Dawson, rattling the teacups
she was washing. "What does it matter in the end? Comes to the same
thing when you do know them."

"You and I look at such things from a different point of view."

"Heap of nonsense!" Miss Dawson shrilled. "Your father was a lawyer
that failed and couldn't pay his debts; mine was a bankrupt
greengrocer. Both of 'em's dead now, and one as good as another; and
us, too."

It was not the first time Lucilla had heard the argument; she listened
to it now with compressed lips, in silence. Then she went to the
mantelpiece, made an entry in a memorandum book lying there, tore out
the page, counted the money in the bag which hung at her side, piled it
upon the loose leaf, which she folded around it, preparatory to
carrying it to the desk in the shop below.

"If you don't want to know the man, say you've never met him before,
and bounce it," Miss Dawson called after her in contemptuous tones as
she disappeared.

Two short flights of stairs led from shop to tearoom, and these were
divided by a small landing, where spare cups and saucers and teapots
were stacked. From the upper flight the lower was invisible. Lucilla,
descending, was unaware therefore of the gentleman coming up until she
met him on the square of landing beneath the unshaded gaslight. He held
a great, loose bunch of long-stalked violets in his hand; and he was,
of course, Lucilla's partner at the heavenly dance, Captain Finch.

Lucilla's heart beat tumultuously, her face turned white. "Bounce it,"
said the practical Miss Dawson's voice in her ears. She kept her head
up, therefore did not notice the proffered hand, would have passed the
gentleman by.

"Miss Mavis, I have brought you some violets," he said.

"You are mistaken. My name is Miss Browne," said Lucilla. "I do not
accept flowers from men I do not know."

He stared at her, his lips fallen apart beneath his moustache. "I--was
under the impression we had met at the dance at Workingham Town Hall,"
he said.

She took courage from his hesitating manner, and smiled with great
self-possession. "You are unfortunately mistaken. Will you allow me to
pass?" she said.

Lifting his hat, he moved aside; then turned to watch her make her
deliberate descent. The soft folds of her full brown skirt dropped from
stair to stair; the light from the flaring gas-jet fell on the knot of
brown hair massed between the high, stiff cap and the high, stiff
collar.

"Is that you, miss?"

It was a voice from above which called the superfluous question; he
turned from the contemplation of the young lady in brown, who had now
reached the bottom stair, to that of the young lady in brown who stood
at the top. Towards the latter he mounted with a lingering step, as if
not quite aware that he did so, and followed her into the tea-room.

"That young lady who has just gone down----?" he said.

"Miss Browne, sir."

"Er--is that so--really?" He lost himself, apparently; for the moment
had nothing more to say; until, with a happy inspiration, "and--your
name?" he asked.

"I'm Miss Dawson, sir. Miss Nellie Dawson."

"Really? Pleased to have made your acquaintance. Er--I've--er--brought
you some violets, Miss Nellie Dawson," he said.

He appeared again the next morning, and had lunch at the tea-shop; the
only man among a bevy of women lunching off scones and tea. He was shy
of his isolated position, perhaps, for he held the illustrated paper he
took up rather persistently before his face. At that hour a servant
stood behind the screen and washed the china; both the girls waited.
Above the top of his paper and round its edges he watched the more
elegant of the two moving with noiseless tread among the tables,
standing with bent head in the attitude of dignified attentiveness to
receive orders, carrying her light burden of brown tea tray and Satsuma
china. It was Lucilla he watched, but it was Miss Dawson who waited on
him.

He ordered two poached eggs--the most substantial item on the menu
card. He had to wait a long while for them, and when they were eaten,
and he had given himself time to read his _Punch_ two or three times
through, he apparently discovered himself to be still hungry, for he
ordered two more. By the time these were consumed, and he had
conscientiously looked through _The Ladies' Field_, with which Miss
Dawson had thoughtfully supplied him, the room began to empty.

A couple of ladies, evidently from the country, strayed in. One, in a
low and secret voice demanded stout, which could not be supplied.
Lucilla, with her head at a charming incline, suggested as a substitute
tea, coffee, or chocolate; finally took the order for chocolate,
supplied it; then, there being no one else to wait on, sat down by the
fire, drew a strip of knitting from her apron pocket, began to work on
it.

Captain Finch, rising from his table, pulled down his waistcoat, picked
up his hat and stick, crossed the room, and placed himself before her.
In the hand held in the fall of his back he carried a book.

"I--er--will you allow me--to--pay?" he asked. "Four
eggs--er--coffee--er."

Lucilla, without raising her eyes from the brown silk she was knitting
into a narrow strip, slightly waved a hand in the direction of Miss
Dawson. "The other young lady," she said.

But Miss Dawson, at that moment, was in spirited controversy with an
elderly, handsomely-dressed customer, whose carriage and pair of horses
awaited her at the pastry-cook's door, who could only remember to have
eaten one slice of walnut cake, while Miss Dawson was of opinion that
she had eaten two.

"Am I not permitted to pay Miss--er--Browne--if I prefer to do so?"

"It is the rule for each customer to pay the young lady who waits on
him."

"Thank you. Miss--er--Browne, when I had the happiness to meet you at
the Workingham Town Hall--at that delightful dance----"

"Pardon me. You did not meet me there. I do not dance."

"You spoke of a wish to read one of--er--Bernard Shaw's plays. I've got
this for you." He produced the hand from the small of his back and
tendered her the book.

She laid down her knitting and rose; a belated customer had appeared.
"I am sorry," she said, without looking at man or book. "The lady you
speak of would doubtless think it very kind of you. I have no wish to
read the plays, and could not possibly take the book."

With the slightest inclination of the head she passed him, and, the
menu card in hand, leant over the newcomer.

Left with the book, Captain Finch poised it in his hand, looking rather
stupidly at it for a few minutes; then tossed it to the mantelpiece,
and went from the room.

The clock had struck six when he came in for tea, that evening, and all
the little tables were empty. Miss Dawson, who was second in command,
was, as usual at that hour, behind the screen; he had come in so
quietly that Lucilla had no chance to rush and take her place. Her face
paled as she saw him. The man was persistent, her strength at the
moment small; there was only her pride to carry her through.

The day had been a busy one, she was fagged, and read in his face that
he saw her to be so. His face, although not a clever one, was so
heavenly kind!

"I won't trouble you to fetch any tea," he said. "If I might be allowed
to--er--stay here and talk to you for a few minutes----"

"Tea or coffee, sir?"

"Oh, well, tea, then--confound the stuff!"

He threw down his hat and stick, and stood while she placed the brown
tray, the tiny teapot, the minute muffin-dish before him. "If you know
how I hate to have you--er--wait on me----" he said; but she gave him
no chance to enlarge on the theme.

He sat for a few minutes over the tea-tray, not touching its contents,
and with his eyes on Lucilla's back as she stood at the mantelpiece
making her entries, counting the money in her bag. When she moved to
the door he got up and intercepted her.

"You are Miss Browne while you are in the--er--shop, I understand?" he
said. "I don't care for her--for Miss--er--Browne. It is the girl I met
at the dance I care for, and want to see again. I can't find her here.
Can I--er--find her outside? If I wait at the door for an hour, say,
will you--will she be there?"

Lucilla drew back, with hurt eyes and a reddening face. As if she were
any Miss Dawson, with the pavement for a rendezvous!

"I can't possibly say where you may meet your friends," she told him.
"I, for my part, do not make appointments to meet men who are strangers
to me--in the streets."

She passed him then, and went downstairs, her head held high, although
her heart was sore. She watched, hidden in the shop, for his departure.
It seemed to her impatience a long time before he left.

Miss Dawson was warbling to herself, with rather shrill-throated
gaiety, whisking her full skirt among the bamboo tables, when Lucilla
returned to the tea-room.

"I like your friend, miss," she said. "He hung about for a good time,
waiting for you; but as you didn't choose to come back he's gone."

Lucilla had come in with her arms full of great, bronze-coloured
chrysanthemums, which had been sent in from the flower shop to deck the
tables for the morrow. In silence she went about the work of
replenishing the vases. Miss Dawson quavered some high notes of her
song.

"Did he say that he wanted to see me again?" Lucilla, in spite of
herself, was obliged to ask.

"Dear me, no, miss. He said he stayed to thank me for wearing his
flowers."

Lucilla viciously snapped off the stalk of a giant chrysanthemum. The
Princess violets in the other girl's bosom had been as thorns in her
own, all the day. She glanced at the mantelpiece where she had seen him
toss the book of plays.

"You've got his book as well, I suppose?" she asked.

Miss Dawson gave her high laugh. "Oh yes!" she acknowledged. "I know
it's your leavings; I'm not proud."

She sang in her florid style for a minute or two, then descended to
speech again.

"You wouldn't let your friend wait for you outside, miss," she said.
"You're so mighty particular. I ain't. I told him I had no one to walk
home with me to-night; so he's waiting for me."

Captain Finch brought his erect, handsome form, his kind, foolish face
no more to the tea-room. Lucilla, longing as much as she dreaded to see
him, felt her heart throb at the sound of each manly footstep on the
stair, paled at the sight of coat and trousers of a certain shade,
trembled at the sound of a voice that recalled his hesitating tones.
But he came never again. The "bounce" which Miss Dawson had counselled
had had its effect. Either he now disbelieved the evidence of his own
eyes, or, more probably, he bowed, as a gentleman would, to her desire
to disavow the acquaintanceship.

"A man in his position could not meet on equal ground a girl in mine;
and--and I won't meet him on any other level," she said to herself.
Aloud, she would not speak of him again. Neither did Miss Dawson any
more allude to the gentleman who had presented the violets and the
volume of plays, and with whom she had gone for a walk on the first
evening of their acquaintanceship. Relations between the young women,
never very friendly, had become strained since that evening.

"A girl who could do such a thing!" said Lucilla to herself; and held
her head disdainfully, and curled her lip at the other girl.

But Miss Dawson, if she noticed that scornful attitude, was not at all
impressed by it. She switched her brown skirt with more than her usual
air of jaunty alertness around the chairs and tables, looked in the
little glass behind the screen at which the pair adjusted their caps
and aprons with a smirk of self-satisfaction, and always wore a bunch
of Princess violets in the bosom of her dress. Soon, the string of
amber beads at her throat was discarded in favour of a gold chain and
pearl and turquoise pendant, which Lucilla despised as imitation, of
course, but which, nevertheless, looked real.

Then, one day, at an hour when the tea-room was empty, arrived a
letter, from her influential aunt at Workingham, for Lucilla.

A certain portion of this letter she read again and again; then, the
need to a bursting heart of the outlet of speech being imperative,
spake with her tongue.

"Your advice to me to--bounce it--wasn't very happy advice, Miss
Dawson," she said, with bitterness. "Captain Finch knew all the time.
He knew when he came to this place. He came to see me. He knew I served
in a tea-shop. It made no difference. He went to my uncle the day after
the dance, and spoke--spoke about me----" Her voice was not under
control; she turned away.

Miss Dawson, energetically rubbing a bamboo table on which some coffee
had been spilt, made no answer.

"I wish--I wish--" said Lucilla, with her back turned, a world of
regret in her eyes, "I wish I had not been so silly."

Miss Dawson looked up momentarily from her occupation. "You can put it
all right with him, you know," she said; "Captain Finch is still
hanging round."

"Here?" Lucilla cried. "He went three weeks ago!"

"Not he. Every night of the three weeks he's waited outside to walk
home with me. For the first week he went to talk about you. For a
fortnight he hasn't mentioned your name."

She ceased to rub the table, shook the cloth, folded it with nicety,
the other girl speechlessly regarding her.

"He gives me these every day," Miss Dawson went on, and dashed a hand
towards the violets in her breast. "He gave me this," she lightly
fingered the turquoise and pearl pendant. "I don't wear his ring yet,
our rules not allowing it."

She whisked off with her cloth to the screen, deposited it, reappeared.
"His leave's up in six weeks," she said. "Him and me are to be married
in a month; have a fortnight's fling, and off to India. I chuck this,
at the end of the week. They know, downstairs. I hope you'll like your
new pal when she turns up, miss."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Only once, during the few days that remained, did Lucilla and Miss
Dawson speak of matters not strictly concerned with teas, scones, and
girdle-cakes. It was on the last day of her service in the tea-shop
that the latter brought with her, and flung upon the mantelpiece, the
book of plays which Captain Finch, on his second visit, had deposited
there for Lucilla.

"This was meant for you," she said, "and you may as well have it. Such
stuff isn't in my line, thank goodness! and I can't make head or tail
of it. But there's a word in it I happened upon, first time I opened
the book; and it's stuck in my memory, for it happens to be holy sense,
and not tommy-rot. This is it--or something like it--

"'If you want a thing very badly, go straight for it, and--GRAB it!'"

She put her common face close to Lucilla's disdainful one as, with an
insolent emphasis, she made the quotation, then laughed as she turned
away.

"That is what you should have done--you idiot!" she said.



A CHALK-MARK ON A GATE



PART I


She was junior music-mistress at the high school for girls, and he
mathematical master at the boys' college hard by. On most afternoons of
the week it happened that, their day's work being done, they
encountered as they left the scene of their respective duties, and,
their homes lying within a few doors of each other, walked there
together.

He was a tall man, loosely put together, with iron-grey hair, stooping
shoulders, and a look on his long-featured face at once dreary and
gentle. She was small and dark, alert and pretty, and, from the crown
of her neatly-dressed head, in its plain straw hat, to the soles of her
sensibly shod feet, wholesome-looking.

The day that was soon to melt into evening had been sultry, the
class-rooms airless, their tasks fatiguing. The pavement beneath their
feet was hot; both were glad to breathe what tiny breeze was astir;
both were tired. They walked side by side in that best of all
companionships which demands no effort at sprightliness, nor the
utterance of one word not spontaneously spoken.

"Shall we see you down by the river to-night?" she asked him, at
length.

If he could get away he would go there, he said.

"Do come!" she gently urged him. "It does you good to get away."

Then the man's house was reached. It was one in a street of £30-a-year
houses, with large bow-windows, small gardens, red-and-white striped
curtains to protect green-painted front doors. He made a motion of his
hand, half-heartedly inviting her to enter.

She shook her head.

"I've been in once to-day," she said. "Mrs Kilbourne asked me to get
her something in the town, and I took it in."

"So long as you remember the caution I gave you----"

"You may be quite sure I remember."

As she would have passed on he stopped her.

"One minute," he said. "The rose I told you of is out, to-day."

The tiny garden was fashioned into a square of grass-plot, a bed full
of rose-trees in its midst. The Frau Karl Druschki, recently acquired,
had only one half-unfolded bloom. He gathered it and gave to her as she
stood beyond the iron rails.

"Only one! How could you pull it for me!" she reproached him.

"Absolutely pure white--quite flawless, you see," he said.

His touch lingered on the flower, for he loved roses; then he put it
into her hand, and she went on her way.

In the bow-windowed front room of Horace Kilbourne's house his wife was
lying on the sofa--semi-paralysed, a drunkard.

"That you, Horry dear?" she said, as, with a gloomy, hopeless face he
looked in upon the unlovely sight.

She raised a frowsy head from its pillow, put a dirty hand to her eyes
to shade them from the sun entering the darkened room by the open door,
smiled fatuously upon her husband.

"Come and haul wifey up, and make me comfy, and give me a cup of tea,"
she invited him.

One side of her was helpless. She was a tall and broadly-made woman,
enormously fat. It required the exertion of all his strength to get her
into the desired position. One leg was like a log, and was lifted as if
it did not belong to her. All the cushions had to be shaken up and
replaced, the coverlet respread on her ice-cold feet.

But Kilbourne was used to such services; if his face was lowering as he
performed them, his fingers were deft.

Tea was set forth with no daintiness upon the untidy, coloured cloth of
the centre-table. He poured out a cup and took it to her. She received
it with a coaxing leer in her eyes, looking up at him.

"Just a drop!" she whispered, in a thickened whine. "Just a teeny drop,
Horry!"

He turned his back on her, without a word in reply, and went to his own
tea. Two of the three rounds set forth of unappetising bread-and-butter
he ate, swallowed a great cup of lukewarm tea. His eyes were fixed
drearily upon the dish of biscuits which also graced the meal. He
counted them idly, wondering for how many afternoons the same six had
done duty for the like occasion.

"One leetle, teeny drop!" his wife said again. "You know tea gives me
indigestion without, Horry. One teeny, weeny one!"

She was allowed by the doctor a certain modicum of whisky in the day,
and the dose, for safety's sake, Kilbourne always administered himself.

"You can have it half now and half when you go to bed at night, if you
like," he said at length, and got up and poured the portion from a
bottle, which he locked away again in the sideboard.

She sighed heavily with anticipation as he held it to her, and he felt
her breath upon his face.

"You've been having brandy?" he said.

"No, Horry, no!"

She shook her head, which was already heavily tremulous, and, seeing
fear lest the precious beverage with which she was now supplied should
be filched from her, buried her face in the cup and gulped it down.

"Where'd you get the brandy?" he persisted; and she began feebly to
cry.

"Naughty Horry, to speak to wifey so! Didn't I promise you and the
doctor I wouldn't touch it? And me left without a penny to buy it with!
And only water the whole day long has passed my lips. I'll take an
oath! I wish I may die to-night, Horry, if I've had a drop!"

He turned from her and rang the bell.

"Where did your mistress get the brandy she has had to-day?" he asked
of the pert, untidy-looking maid-of-all-work who appeared.

"Where'd she get it? Out of the bottle, of course. I fetched it for her
away from the grocer's, right enough," the servant said, with an
impudent face and a tossed-up head.

"I thought I had given you orders never to fetch your mistress anything
of the sort?"

"An' the missus she give me orders to fetch it," the girl said. "'Ow do
I know which I'm to mind, between ye? An' me shut up with 'er all the
day, an' 'er a-badgerin'----"

"Take the tea-things. That will do for the present. Go!" he said.

He walked to the foot of the sofa, and looked long at the huge,
unlovely bulk, once the admired form of his handsome wife, that lay
there.

"You disgrace!" he said.

She whimpered afresh, her mouth shaking, the tears running down her
cheeks unrestrained, like those of a child.

"There's a way to speak to a poor, suffering wife!" she whined. "And my
head like splitting open! You might feel for me a little, Horry. Look
at my poor arm!" With her able hand she moved the disabled one towards
him. "It's quite numb. Rub it, Horry," she pleaded, looking weepingly
up at him. "It's numb, yet it aches right up into my throat. And my
poor tongue--poor wifey's tongue--is like fire! Look at it, hubby."

She opened the tremulous mouth, the great, parched tongue lolled out.

He looked at her, not stirring, with hard eyes.

"You disgrace!" he said again.

"Aren't you a disgrace to say so, then?" she whimpered. "Who'd believe
you were my husband, calling me disgraces, and things? No one would
think there was any affection between us, going on like that. And me
with one side of me useless, and a fatty heart, as the doctor told me
plainly, and said I was to take the greatest care. And who should take
care of me if my own husband doesn't? And you stand there glaring at
me, and not a kind word to throw at me! And haven't I always been a
true and loving wife to you?"

He looked at her deliberately, with loathing in his eyes.

"You have been the curse of my life!" he said.

Then he left her.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In half an hour the pert maid-of-all-work came in. She was in walking
costume, a string of pearls about her bare throat, a hat-box in her
hand.

"This 'ere's my luggige," she explained. "You can go through it, if you
like, to make sure I 'aven't took none of your rubbige away with me!
I'm a-going, I am! The master he come and give me notice to leave at
the end o' the month, but I don't choose to stay in no sech a place so
long. I've 'ad enough of a tipsy missus, and an' ouse without an atim
o' comfit! I'm a-goin!"

The woman on the sofa, with the inflamed, red face, the bloodshot,
painful-looking eyes, the loose mouth, looked helplessly upon the
maid-of-all-work.

"A little drop of something to quench my thirst before you go!" she
implored. "I can't get up to fetch it for myself, as you know, Maria;
and my throat's swelled up with being so parched."

"And if you die of it, so much the better!" Maria said frankly. But she
went and pumped some water, all the same, and brought it to her, the
glass dimmed in her red, bare hand. "For all I've had to demean myself
to wait on sich as you, I'm a Christian!" she said.

"A leetle drop of the brandy left, Maria?" the woman asked.

"Trust you for that! Not a drop!"

"Drain the bottle and see, Maria."

"You are a one, you are!" the emancipated servant said. "I ha' seen a
sight o' bad 'uns, but never one like you. And if I was th' master, I'd
up and chuck you inter th' street, see if I wouldn't, and git a little
peace in 'is 'ome with a diff'runt woman than you! 'E wouldn't have to
go far, neither, before 'e found one to 'is mind, master wouldn't, an'
so I tell you! An' as for me, I'm done with you, so there!"

The woman looked after her as she bounced to the door, hiccoughing,
holding the now empty glass in her shaking hand. Her brows were knit;
she seemed in her muddled brain to be considering something.

"The girl Grantley promised she'd come to-day," she said. "She promised
she'd bring me something."

"And did so, right enough. But you 'aven't got no memory nor nothin'!"

"Where is it, then, Maria dear? For my poor head's splitting----"

"Why, in th' basket as stan' agin your sofy, where you put it yourself,
for I see ye do it."

Left to herself, the woman put the glass to her lips, sucked from it
the few drops that hung upon its sides, lay with it in her hand,
alternately looking into it and looking into space, lifting it to her
lips again and again.

The machinery of her mind was too far destroyed for it to work in any
suggested groove. It strayed off the line continually into all sorts of
hazy, dim byways.

A disgrace!

She had broken her word to him, often enough, but he had never before
called her that. It was very cruel of him, and not like a husband to
use such a word to his wife, that had ever a loving word for him when
he came home, and was always waiting for him, so obliging and kind. Her
mother would vouch for that--she had often said she had a loving
nature.

Once she had walked unexpectedly into the little sitting-room at home,
and she had heard her mother saying to Horace--"Julia has a very loving
nature." Why didn't her mother come and say kind things to her now? She
was all alone. If her mother came and sat by her side--

She would like, if she could walk there, to get off the sofa and go to
look for her in that little sitting-room, at home. It was so cool in
there always, with the window open to the garden. There was a basket of
violets on the table. She wondered if they were there now. She would
like to put her lips, that were so hot and uncomfortable, down upon
them--

With difficulty she half turned on the sofa with the idea of reaching
them; but remembered as she did so that her mother had been dead for
years and years, and that there were no violets now.

She cried afresh, and held the empty glass to her lips in the hope a
forgotten drop might trickle down upon them.

Her mother had once scolded her--once when Horace had told tales--and
had said that she had broken her heart. But, for all that, she would
not have liked to hear her called a disgrace.

She wished her husband would come in and put her to bed. He would have
to do it alone to-night, as Maria was gone. Or perhaps old Susan would
come and help. Old Susan had carried her up to bed quite easily, last
night--when she was a child. No sticks, nor bother of people pushing
and dragging--had carried her up as light as a feather, and popped her
into her cool, soft bed, and tucked her up--

"Susan!" she called. "Susan!" And opened her aching eyes to look for
her; and cried again when she remembered why the old servant could not
come, and that she was not a child again any more.

A disgrace!

It wasn't a nice thing to say to such a good wife, and she so
afflicted! He had another name for her when she used to walk about like
other people--like the girl Grantley, for instance, that her husband
always came home from school with. She used to go to meet Horry,
herself, in those days, and go down to the river in the evening with
him, and sit on one of the chairs beneath the trees to watch the boats.
To watch the boats! How they glided along--gently, gently! It made you
sleepy to look at them. She was in one herself now, rocking, rocking;
and the sun was going down behind the trees; and a lot more boats, more
and more, all rocking; and the sound of the oars, and the water lapping
at the sides. She would like to put her hand in the river. It looked so
cool--so cool!

The hand dropped heavily at her side, the glass broke; and she was on
her sofa still, not in a boat at all; and it was the girl Grantley who
sat by the river with Horry.

The girl Grantley! Where was that she had brought? The basket into
which she had dropped it was easily within her reach. Here was the
parcel, fastened as chemists' parcels are fastened. She shook it, and a
gleam came into her eyes. Liquid! Something to drink, to moisten her
burning tongue and swollen throat. No matter what--

                     *      *      *      *      *

Down by the river, on the broad path beneath the trees, where half the
population of the place repaired in the summer evenings, the girl
Grantley walked with her brother, and by their side walked Horace
Kilbourne.

Presently the brother stopped to speak to a friend, and the girl and
the other man walked on--walked through the crowds of people to where
the crowds grew less, and on still, till there was comparative
solitude.

Only the girl talked, telling him of her day's work--of what it had
brought her of pleasure, of what had gone amiss. She had the habit of
talking out her heart to him, bringing him all her difficulties and
distresses.

"It rests me as nothing else does," she told him, when he had listened
to the end, and said what had to be said. "And you? Have you nothing to
tell me?" she asked him.

"Nothing," he said.

She glanced sideways and upwards at him as he towered above her,
walking with drooping head.

"Something has happened," she said softly. "Can't you tell me? It
helps, to tell a friend."

"It is nothing to which I am not well used," he said. "The same old
wretched story. I have never told it in so many words. I am too ashamed
to tell. You know it, well enough. Who is there that does not know?"

She turned on him a face that startled him, who knew it well, and had
learnt by heart, he thought, its many changes.

"Why do you not kill her?" she said.

"Sh-sh-sh!" he whispered, surprised and reproving.

Her vivid face was aflame with passion; almost, it seemed, with hate.

"It would be no crime," she said. "Do you think God wants His world so
cumbered? Why should your life, other people's lives, be destroyed? Are
you to bear a burden like that for ever?"

"Sh-sh-sh!" he whispered again.

He put a hand upon her arm, and gently turned her with him. They began
to retrace their steps.

"I was right never to speak to you about it before," he said presently.
"Mutual confidences are for happy people, Kate. Men burthened with
great sorrows know them to be incommunicable. Forgive me that I for a
moment forgot."

Her passion had died away as quickly as it had blazed forth. She heard
him in silence, a sob in her throat.

Soon they were back in the perambulating crowd, chattering, laughing,
listening to the band upon the river. The broad stream was filled with
boats, in which charmingly-dressed women indolently reclined on
bright-hued cushions. The occupants propelled themselves by means of
lazy hands laid upon the sides of neighbouring boats. Be-flannelled
men, and boys in their slim canoes, slipped here and there among them.
The music mingled harmoniously with the light dip of the paddles, the
soft lapping of the water, the murmuring voices. The sweet scent of
hay, freshly cut in the meadows across the river, was in the air, the
peace of the midsummer evening over all.

Such a happy, prosperous throng; such a concord of sweet sounds and
scents and sights! One man and woman, at least, looked on,
sorrowful-eyed, bitterness within their hearts.

"I am sorry if I shocked you," Kate Grantley said at length. "I thought
if we two spoke together--even of that--face to face----"

"It is impossible," he said. "There are troubles in which no friend can
help, Kate. The friend that is dearest to me in life cannot help me in
mine."

He looked at her steadily, holding her eyes with his own, for a space;
then left her and went on his way.

He went into his house, the door of which stood open to the night.

In the airless, bow-windowed room, upon the untidy sofa where he had
left her, his wife was lying dead.



PART II


No inquest was held on Horace Kilbourne's wife. The doctor had attended
her almost daily. For years her husband had been warned her heart was
in such a condition that she might die suddenly, at any moment. She had
so died. Except that it was a happy release for herself, and for her
husband--that over-tired, good, and patient man--one of Heaven's
mercies, there was nothing to be said. Unless Kilbourne himself, in
remembrance of other days, and in the tenderness of his heart, shed a
tear for her, there was not a soul to weep for drunken Julia Kilbourne.

Although, to the best of his ability, he had lived retired from all
society, and in his sensitiveness to his wife's shame had kept, as well
as he could, her history to himself, it was well known in the town.
There was none who knew who did not respect and pity him. Kind hands
were eagerly put out to him. At last he, who had shrunk from going to
other men's houses because he could not ask them to his own, was free
to do so.

It was a little disappointing that he repulsed all such advances.

The only adverse criticism which had been passed on him had been that,
a heavily burthened man, he had not known how to conceal his
misfortune, but had carried about with him a face as miserable as his
history. That his face would now bear witness to his new-found delight
of liberty was confidently expected.

It was strange that, instead of the looked-for lightening of gloom,
there was, if possible, in his bearing, his wife being safely dead and
buried, an increase of melancholy.

Kate Grantley, who thought she knew him better than the rest, was not
surprised that the little letter she wrote him on the first news of Mrs
Kilbourne's death remained unanswered. The words her pen had written
had come warm from a heart realising the shock, the bewilderment, from
which it was inevitable that he must suffer. But it was a letter which
it would have been painful to him to answer, perhaps. He had known that
she would understand.

She would not be hurt that he ceased to linger for her at the hour they
both came out of school. Often she walked to the street which held her
home and his, with his tall figure a dozen yards in front of her. She
would not hurry a step to overtake him. All in good time. She no more
doubted him--she no more doubted that in due time he would ask her to
be his wife--than she doubted what her answer would be when he did so.
Between them there had been no vulgar philandering; no word of what
might have been, what yet might be, had passed their lips. Yet, deep in
their hearts was guarded an unspoken compact which--she would have
staked her life on it--neither would betray.

But she was unpleasantly startled, coming face to face with him one
day, he walking down his garden path, which she was passing, to find
that he did not even purpose to speak to her. Pretending to fumble at
the lock of the gate, he hung back until she was well in front.

Later on, the pair had encountered in a shop. She had put out a hand to
him, and he had taken it. But there had been hesitation, almost
reluctance, on his part, and it seemed to her that he had looked at her
with intolerable reproach in his eyes.

She was haunted by the remembrance. Was it possible that his wife's
death could have been really a grief to him? Such a grief as that? Or
was the lonely life he was leading, coming upon the shock of finding
the woman dead, telling upon him physically and mentally?

"Go and ask Mr Kilbourne in to supper to-night!" she commanded her
brother. She lived with him in another little bow-windowed house, with
a purple clematis over the bow-window, a crimson rambler over the door,
and about it the same air of sweetness, of neatness, of wholesomeness
its mistress wore. "He is looking ill and wretched. Try to bring him
in."

"I have asked him every day of my life. He won't come," the brother
said. "He gets out of my way when he can," he added. "He does not seem
to wish to be friendly any more."

She looked at him in silence, considering the statement. Kilbourne's
punctiliousness was exaggerated, but she thought she understood it. It
was delicacy carried to an extreme, perhaps, but she was proud to think
it was characteristic of him.

"I don't see why he need be afraid of being civil to me, for all that,"
the brother said, almost as if she had spoken.

The next time Kate Grantley had an opportunity of looking in
Kilbourne's face she was painfully struck by his appearance. The man
was thinner, more worn, years older. His head seemed to droop beneath a
heavier burthen than of yore; he walked as if his feet were shod with
lead.

Several months, in which she had had no word with him, had gone by
since his wife's death. At this rate, before he dared to stretch out a
hand to gather for himself the happiness ready to bloom for him, he
would be dead! She thought she saw that the man, lonely, sensitive, to
a fault, was passing his days in brooding melancholy, in unmerited
self-reproach. He had had more than enough of sadness in his life. For
an idea, a stupid convention of other folks' manufacture, and not worth
respecting, he should have no more. He should not be allowed to take
his own path, to push her on one side again.

Once resolved on any course, she was a very practical young person,
alert to take the opportunity the moment gave.

She overtook him determinedly, one afternoon, as he walked ahead of her
from school, as usual. The holidays, during which neither had left
home, were over; the summer was over, the winter term well begun.

"Mr Kilbourne, will you come into No. 6 for one minute to-day?" she
said. "I particularly wish to speak to you."

He had been ready enough to go there in the old days, with or without
pretext; now he had the look of a man called on to do a thing at which
his soul sickened.

"If you will excuse me----" he said.

But Kate was resolute.

"I cannot excuse you. You must come at once," she said.

She had assumed the little air of authority over him which in her he
had found to be so pleasant. With a look upon his face as if he were
going to his execution, he obeyed.

For many weeks she had gone about, the words she meant to speak to him,
of encouragement, of comradeship, upon her lips; the chance to use them
had never come. Now she would not use them, but would speak to him as
if there had been no hiatus in their communion, as if no tragedy had
come between.

She faced him as they entered the bright little sitting-room, of
exquisite neatness, and sweet with flowers, which had ever seemed such
a haven of rest to him.

"Have you seen Alick?" she began. "Have you heard that they have
promoted him, and that he is to be sent to the Paris branch?" (Alick
was a clerk in one of the banks.)

He had not heard.

"He'll be pleased. It's what he wished for, isn't it?" he asked, not
looking at her, gazing before him with lack-lustre eyes.

Her heart sank as, seeing him close at hand, she noted the change in
him. Although, with his slouching gait and loose-hung limbs and hanging
head, he had never been a smart-looking man, he had yet been one
possessed of great personal nicety; in that matter--in the shipwreck of
his life--being careful not to let himself go. But now there was about
him a look of neglect, making to ache with pity the heart of the woman
who observed it.

Alick was pleased, she admitted, with sinking spirit. "But it is about
myself I want to ask your advice," she went on.

He glanced at her quickly with his deep, sad eyes, and glanced away
again.

"Shall I throw up what I am doing here, and go with Alick? It is this I
want to ask you. My brother could share lodgings with a friend he has
there. He does not really want me; but I used to wish for Paris--long
ago, before we met, you and I. I might meet with a good appointment
there. It is a chance for me. Help me to make up my mind. Shall I go?"

There fell a complete silence between them.

She sat on the music-stool, her back to the open piano, a pretty,
slight girl, with a dark and resolute little face. It confronted the
gloomy one before it now with an expression progressing from
expectation to surprise, to irritation, in its gaze. On her part, she
determined not to say another word to bridge the pause; but it seemed
that the silence would never be broken.

At length he slowly lifted his eyes to hers.

"I think, perhaps, it would be better for you to go," he said.

She sprang up from the stool, turned to the piano, began sorting, with
quick, nervous fingers, the music there.

"You think so? Very well; I'll go, then," she said. "I only wanted to
hear what you would think of it."

He had risen with an air of relief and picked up his hat. He looked in
silence for a minute at her straight back in its trim Norfolk jacket,
at her thick braids of black hair beneath the plain straw hat.

"Of course you know best what you wish," he said hesitatingly.

She placed the freshly arranged music with an air of decision on the
piano.

"I know very well what I wish, thank you," she said.

There was another silence.

"Is that all?" he asked her.

"Quite all. Except"--she turned round upon him and showed him that the
dark skin of her face had whitened, that her eyes were hurt and
angry--"except that Alick has to go next week. I suppose I ought to
give a term's notice; but also, if I don't, I suppose they'll do
without it--I shall be ready to go with him. We shall be busy till we
start. I may not see you to speak to again--this will be our good-bye."

"Is that so?" he said.

She could hardly believe her ears; she held her breath in the cruelty
of the surprise, and set her teeth to help her to bear the pain.

"Ours has been a long friendship," she said, striving to steady her
voice. "Two years--seeing each other every day. Strange, isn't it, how
things come to an end?"

"Except some things which are endless," he said.

She took heart of grace at that.

"You mean Faith?" she asked; "Love?" She looked at him eagerly.

"I mean Pain," he corrected her, and held out his hand.

She would not put hers within it.

"If, after these long two years, you can go like that, your friendship
is not what I thought it. It is not worth a hand-clasp. Good-bye," she
said, and turned her back upon him, not deigning to watch him go.

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Do you go or stay?" her brother asked, when he came in from the bank
that afternoon.

"I--go!" she said, but not with her usual bright promptness; and,
looking at her face across their little tea-table, he saw that it had
lost something of its usual serenity.

"Seen Kilbourne?" he asked.

She told him yes, with an air of careful unconcern; that he had come in
that morning; that she had told him of their contemplated departure,
and had said good-bye to him.

"I used to think----" the brother began, but she cut him short.

"I know. You often said so; don't say it any more," she said. "All that
was a mistake--and absurd."

"You know what they are saying of him, Kate? They are saying he killed
his wife."

Her dark face whitened, her dark eyes opened wide.

"They cannot!"

"They do. They say he couldn't look such a miserable, hangdog wretch
for nothing. The worst is, the boys at the college have got hold of it.
One of the little wretches wrote up on the white wall of his class-room
the other day, 'Who killed his wife?' Bryant, the science master, told
me Kilbourne took no notice, but his face was sea-green for the rest of
the morning."

"He should have thrashed the whole class--thrashed them within an inch
of their lives!"

"Well, he didn't. He did nothing." Alick dropped his voice. "Bryant
told me he looked as if he were afraid," he said.

"What beasts people are to say such things!" she burst out. "And of
such a man! The gentlest, the kindest----"

"I know, my dear. I'm sorry for poor old Kilbourne. I daresay he didn't
kill his wife; but something's happened to him, and she did die
uncommonly sudden. Anyhow, from what Bryant said, it's evident he's
lost his nerve and his courage. At that rate, he'll precious soon lose
his post."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Kate Grantley and Kilbourne, arriving from opposite directions, reached
his gate at the same moment, the next morning. Rudely chalked upon the
stone post was the question which had confronted Kilbourne on his
class-room walls.

He pointed to the words with his stick which shook in his hand; his
face was ashen white.

"Isn't it fitting that you and I should be confronted by that
question?" he asked her.

She stared from the writing to him.

"I don't think it at all fitting!" she said. "Why don't you send for a
policeman, and stop it?"

He pushed open the gate, and, taking no further notice of her, walked
up the little path to his door. Reaching it, he found her behind him.

With that air of girlish authority he had once found so pleasant, "I am
coming in," she said.

He led the way into that bow-windowed room in which Mrs Kilbourne had
died. The pervading aroma of alcohol had left it; airiness and a
certain formal tidiness now reigned in place of stuffiness and neglect;
but the room was perhaps more depressing than before to a sensitive
mind.

The sofa was in the same place; the basket, which had held the things
she liked to have at hand, still stood beside it. The over-large table
at which the unfortunate Julia had so often watched her husband eat his
unappetising meals, and where he still made a pretence of eating them
in sight of the empty sofa, still occupied too much of the available
space.

Kilbourne turned and confronted the girl, who had followed him in. His
eyes shone now, and there was the working of excitement in his face.

"I thought we had said our last words," he began; "I thought that that,
at least, was done with--and you were going away. You have no right to
follow me, Kate, to overthrow me in this fashion. My strength is almost
exhausted; I have tried too much--too much--and all alone----"

"I know," she said, with her fine air of decision. "That is why I have
come. You mustn't be alone any more. You must come with us."

He had tossed away his hat, and thrust his hands which were shaking,
into his coat-pockets. He turned with excitement upon her, but she went
firmly on.

"With Alick and me. You are too good for the post you hold; with your
degrees you can easily get a better one. Come to Paris. Turn your back
upon all that has been depressing and worrying you; upon this
melancholy room"--she gazed round upon the unlovely space--"upon
this"--she waved a peremptory, small hand towards the vacant sofa.

He looked at her with his accusing eyes, with a scarcely controlled
emotion; but she stopped him when he tried to speak.

"We have been good friends," she said. "If I have not helped you
through these two years we have walked as comrades together, you, at
least, have helped me. Helped me so much"--she paused a moment, and the
level tone of her voice quavered musically--"that I cannot lose you;
that I need you terribly still."

"And I!" he burst forth then. "And I! Can you ever picture to yourself
the magnitude of my need of you?"

He clenched the hands in his coat-pockets, and turned his back on her,
and she saw his shoulders heave.

"It is killing me," he said--"killing me--just that."

His voice, which had been raised, sank brokenly. She listened, when it
was silent, to the beating of her heart.

In a minute she went to him and laid a hand upon his arm.

"Then, why?" she asked him, whisperingly. "Why?"

He flung round upon her, and she fell back from the vehement accusing
of his eyes.

"Why?" he repeated. "Why?" He threw a hand at the empty sofa. "There!"
he said. "There--where you ask me to turn my back--my dead wife lies
there--always for me. And she is between you and me for ever."

It sounded to her but the utterance of morbidity. The strange words
were only a token of that from which she had come to save him. She had
the courage to be unmaidenly, to persist.

"I, at any rate, do not see it so," she said. "To have me for your
friend is to do no wrong to your dead wife."

"How can we be friends--you and I?" he asked her; and she, who knew
they could not now be merely that, did not speak.

"I, who for your sake cursed her in my heart," he went on, his shaken
voice hushed to an awe-struck whisper. "You, who put into her hands the
poison which killed her."

"I?" she breathed, and drew back, staring at him, wondering, for one
dreadful moment, had his unhealthy brooding turned his brain. "Killed
her? I?"

"You!" he said, wildly. He went across the room, and shut the door
behind her they had left ajar. "If it had been I myself I could have
borne it; but you--_you_--! I found the empty bottle, that night,
dropped from her hand; the label--'Poison'--and your name----"

"The chloral bottle?" she asked him; and the cloud of fear and dismay
lifted from her eyes, and they were alight with understanding and with
hope. She went swiftly to him and caught his arm. "Horace, do you
remember that you warned me never to give her any narcotic, however
earnestly she might beg for it--that it would not be safe--that she
would kill herself? Do you remember?"

"But you gave it, all the same. Your name was on the bottle----"

"On the bottle--of water," she said. "It never held anything else. I
used to take it home and fill it every day. The doctor told me to do
it--it was a harmless fraud we played on her. She used to drink it,
never doubting, and fall asleep----"

"Kate!"

She held him tightly by his arm, and looked with eyes that were dimmed
with tears of most blessed relief upon the working of his face.

As, later, they went together through the little garden, and passed
again the rudely-chalked question upon the gate--"Shall I stay here
with you, and face the music," Kate Grantley asked, "or will you come
away with me to Paris?"



"AS 'TWAS TOLD TO ME"


Her husband had died suddenly in the third year of their marriage, and
she had been left a young widow with their only child.

The husband had been dead a year--a year passed in close seclusion in
her country home--when she went out on a bright morning of the early
spring, taking her little daughter with her, to gather primroses in the
plantation bordering one extremity of the park around her house.

She had remembered when she arose in the morning that the day was the
anniversary of her husband's death.

A year only! It had seemed like twenty years. For she was very young,
and fairly rich and much admired, and the life she had hitherto led had
not prepared her to support loneliness and retirement profitably. The
shock of the sudden death had been terrible. She had thought that she
should die of it; but she did not even fall ill. And there was the
child, whom she adored. And later there had arisen a new interest.

The new interest, in the form of Major Harold Walsh, was at her elbow
on this kind morning of sweetest spring. He was a middle-aged man, with
a handsome, hard face and a very tender manner, and he chose, as some
may think inopportunely, the anniversary of the husband's death to make
the widow an offer of marriage.

The widow reminded him of what had happened on that day a year ago,
pointed out that she could not possibly entertain such a proposition so
soon, even cried a little when she spoke of her husband. But in no
other way did she discourage the tender-mannered major with the hard
face.

It would have been well-nigh impossible for a man to make an offer of
marriage with a child of three years old clinging to her mother's
skirts and incessantly babbling in her mother's ear; so the child with
her nurse was sent into the interior of the plantation, in search of
the lovely primroses said to flourish there, while the two elders
wandered with slow steps and down-bent eyes upon the outskirts of the
coppice.

So they would have been content to wander for hours, perhaps--he
begging for assurances that she with an only half-feigned, pretty
reluctance gave--but that their agreeable dalliance was cut short by a
sufficiently alarming interruption.

She did not absolutely dislike him? Liked him--very much, even? That
was well. Years hence, if he waited patiently--and he would try, he
would try to wait--she might even get to love him a little? Was that
asking too much? Well, not just yet, then; he would wait. But he was
not to go away unhappy? Not utterly discouraged? He need not, for what
had taken place between them, debar himself entirely of the delight of
her society, he might--?

It was at that instant of the major's soft-voiced pleading and of the
widow's low, monosyllabic replies, that a voice from out the plantation
on their left smote sharply upon their ears. It called affrightedly
upon Mrs Eddington's name.

The mother, whose mother-love was, and would always be, the strongest
passion of her life, fled into the wood. Following the direction of the
voice, in two minutes she came upon the kneeling form of the nurse; and
the nurse's white and terrified face looked up at her across the
unconscious form of the little child.

"I found her so," the woman got out through chattering teeth. "I sat
reading, and she ran to the other side of the tree. She was talking to
me, and then she didn't talk, and I went round and found--this!"

With shaking fingers the mother tore asunder the broad muslin strings
of the hat upon which the child lay, rent open the dainty dress at the
throat--"Look at mother! Milly! Milly! Look at mother!" she called
wildly, impatiently, fiercely even.

As if in answer to the passionate appeal, the child's dark lashes
stirred for a moment on the transparent cheek; were still; stirred
again; then the dark eyes, so like the dark eyes of the dead father,
opened upon the mother's face.

"Only fainted," the gentleman who had been proposing to officiate as
Milly's stepfather said. He was much relieved that the scene, at which
he had looked on awkwardly enough, was over. That for a three-year-old
child to faint was an unusual, an alarming occurrence, he did not, of
course, understand. Certainly, if Mrs Eddington thought it necessary,
he would go for the doctor. He could probably bring him quicker than a
groom. Should he carry the little Milly home first?

But the mother must carry Milly herself. No; nurse should certainly not
touch her. Never again should nurse, who had let the child for a minute
out of her sight, touch Milly.

Nurse, surreptitiously grasping a frill of the child's muslin frock,
wept, silent and remorseful, as she walked alongside.

Once, the child, who lay for the better part of the half-mile to her
home in a kind of stupor, opened her eyes again beneath her mother's
frightened gaze and was heard to mutter something about some flowers.

"She is asking for the primroses she had gathered!" Mrs Eddington
whispered, in a tone of intensest relief. "Did you bring them, nurse?"

The unfortunate nurse, of course, had not brought them.

"Milly's po'r flo'rs is dead," Milly grieved in the little weak voice
they heard then for the first time. "Milly's daddy took Milly's flo'rs,
and they died."

To that astonishing statement the child adhered during the first days
of her long illness, till she forgot, and spoke of it no more. For any
questioning, she gave no explanation of her words. She never enlarged
upon the first declaration in any way, nor did she even alter the form
of the words in which she gave it expression. Always she alluded to the
curious delusion with a grieving voice, often with tears.

"Dear daddy is dead, darling," the mother said to her in an awed
whisper, kneeling at her side. "He could not come to Milly."

"Milly's daddy took Milly's flo'rs, and they died," the sad little
voice protested; and the child softly whimpered upon the pillow.

"The child can't, of course, even remember her father," Major Walsh
said, with impatience, being sick of the subject and the importance
attached to it. "She was only two when he died."

"How can you tell what a child of two remembers?" Mrs Eddington asked.
"She was very fond of Harry. I think she does remember."

Persistently, in her mind recurred an episode of the last day of her
husband's life. He had carried his little daughter, laughing and
prattling to him, down from the nursery, and had put her in her
mother's arms. The child, when he turned to go, had clung to him.
"Don't leave Milly, daddy. Take Milly too," she cried. Laughing, he had
kissed her. "Not now--not now," he had said--"but later I will come and
take Milly."

Then he had gone out, with a smile still on his face, and had fallen
dead as he walked across the park.

It was inevitable that in these days the memory of her husband should
more fully occupy the young widow's mind. He had died of heart disease;
his child, it was now discovered, had a certain weakness of the heart.
A superstitious feeling that she had not remembered him enough, and
that this was her punishment, took possession of Mrs Eddington's brain.
She remembered with remorse what had been occurring at the moment her
child had fallen insensible among the primroses. On the very
anniversary of her poor Harry's death she had forgotten him so far!
Never would she forget him again.

The words the child spoke had recorded a mere delusion, the doctor told
her, of the little dazed brain in the moment preceding unconsciousness;
but for all that rational view, they awed the mother, haunted her.

"Milly's p'or flo'rs is dead. Milly's daddy took Milly's flo'rs and
they died," Milly had said.

Never would Mrs Eddington leave her child, or forget Milly's daddy
again.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Yet, when the anniversary of poor Harry Eddington's death came round
again, Milly had been for three-quarters of a year running about as of
old; her mother had been for two months the wife of Major Walsh.

They had spent their honeymoon at Major Walsh's own place in Wiltshire,
had stayed for another month in his London house, and they at last
turned their steps in the direction of the home which had been Harry
Eddington's, where his child had been left under the guardianship of
the new Mrs Walsh's mother.

"You used to complain of the dulness of the place and of how buried
alive you were there. You have been away for eight weeks, and you are
mad to get back to it," the husband said, with a jealous eye upon his
bride.

She subdued, judiciously, the joy which had been in her voice. "I am
glad to see the old place again--yes," she said. "Won't it be
delightful for us to be together there, where we first knew each
other?"

"It is the child you want--not me," he said, with grudging reproach.
She found it necessary to make some quite exaggerated statements to
reassure him.

Her mother was in the carriage which met them at the station. "Milly is
staying up, till you come," she told them. "I left her capering wildly
about the nursery with delight."

"I hope she won't over-excite herself," the mother said, and the
grandmother laughed at that anxiety. No child of hers had ever had a
weakness of the heart, and she was inclined to ridicule the idea that
Milly required more care than had been given to her own children.

Full of longing to see her child, Mrs Walsh sprang from the carriage,
and ran up the broad steps to the wide-open doors of her home. Then,
with a happy after-thought, turned on the mat, and held out her hands
to the new husband.

"Welcome--welcome to our home, dear," she said.

He grasped the hands tightly. "After all, I suppose I am a little more
to you than the child?" he asked.

She smiled a flattering affirmative; and at the instant there came a
scream in a child's voice from a room above, followed by an ominous
silence.

When the others reached the nursery from which as they knew, the sound
had come, the mother was already standing there, holding in her arms
the unconscious form of her little girl. From a tiny wound in the
child's white forehead drops of blood were oozing.

"I left her for one minute to fetch the water for her bath," the nurse
was saying, hurriedly excusing herself. "She was running up and down
and round about, calling, 'Daddy, come to Milly! Come, daddy, come!'"

"She fell and struck her head against the sharp corner of this stool,"
Major Walsh said. "Look, it has sharp corners."

The child was only unconscious for a minute. She opened her eyes,
smiled upon her mother, hid her face in her neck, and presently was
whispering a question again and again in her ear.

Mrs Walsh looked up in a bewildered fashion from the little hidden
face. "What does she say?" the grandmother asked.

"She says, 'Where is my daddy gone?'" the mother repeated, faltering a
little over the words, and with scared eyes.

"He is here," said the practical grandmother, and took Major Walsh by
the arm. "We have told her her daddy was coming with her mother," she
explained. "She was more excited about him even than about you,
Millicent. Look up! Here is your daddy, darling."

Slowly the child lifted her head from the mother's shoulder, and looked
at the big man with the hard face now stooping over her--looked for
half a second, shut her eyes again, and again hid her face.

"It isn't my daddy," she said, with a baby whimper, "Milly wants _my_
daddy that came and danced with Milly. Where's my daddy gone?"

Later, when the child had been put to bed, the mother, having hurriedly
dressed for dinner, knelt by the side of the crib to hold her daughter
in her arms; kissing the tiny wound upon her forehead, she asked how it
was she had managed so to hurt herself.

"My daddy came and danced. He whirled Milly round and round," the
little one said, grievingly. She knew nothing more of the occurrence;
it was the only explanation she ever gave.

The look of awe which had been there once before came back to Mrs
Walsh's eyes. Only to the doctor did she ever repeat the child's words.
He, being a man of good common sense, refused of course to be impressed
with the coincidence.

"She made herself giddy by, as she says, whirling round and round. In
the moment of losing consciousness--who can tell by what unintelligible
mental process?--the figure of her dead father, undoubtedly impressed
with unusual clearness on the child's memory, was present with her. A
vision? yes, if you like to call it so; say, rather, a dream in the
instant before unconsciousness. Such a babe as this knows no
distinction between dreams and realities--between the momentarily
disordered mental vision and the ordinary objects of optical seeing."

For the rest, the unsatisfactory condition of the heart was still
existent. Nothing that with care might not be obviated. With the
absence of all excitement, with entire rest of mind and body, the child
would outgrow the evil.

Yet, in spite of this cheerful view of the case, it was long before Mrs
Walsh could successfully conceal the uneasiness and unhappiness she
felt. Her punishment again, she told herself with morbid iteration. She
had turned her back on her child, had forgotten her dead husband; nay,
even in the moment of the child's accident, had she not been in the act
of welcoming another man to that dead husband's home?

So, with a new life just begun for her, and new interests arising on
all hands she found her mind continually dwelling on the days of her
earlier married life. Often, when bent on any expedition with Major
Walsh, dining with their neighbours, receiving them in her home,
walking, driving with him, talking over the details of the business of
the little estate, she was thinking, thinking how she and that other
man had gone here and there, said this and that to each other. How he
had looked, the words he had said; his gestures, his laugh, came
curiously back to her; and her heart sank beneath a constant sense of
self-reproach. How could she not have remembered all this before, and
been true to the claims he had on her--that poor young husband who was
the father of her child?

Once, but that was months later, and she was weak in body as well as
depressed in mind, she sat alone over her bedroom fire as the dark came
on, too tired to dress, and longed for her husband to come in and cheer
her. Then the memory came to her of how once before, a few weeks before
Milly was born, she had so sat in that very room, and had longed
inexpressibly for that other husband; of how she had felt that she
would die of fright and of longing for his comforting presence if he
did not come; of how he had come at last, bringing warmth and love and
courage to her failing heart; of how he had laughed, and said he had
felt she was wanting him, and so had put what he was doing on one side
and hurried to her. And as she thought of this, lying with shut eyes in
her armchair, a curious feeling that he was there again with her in the
room, took possession of her. She was not afraid; she lay quite still,
hardly breathing, feeling "Harry is here! If I open my eyes I shall see
him."

And often, in the weeks that followed, she was haunted by that strange
consciousness of her first husband's presence; the curious, forcible
impression that there was between her and him but a slight veil she
lacked the resolution to rend, but that, rending it one day, she should
see him.

Then Harold Walsh's child was born, and these unhealthy fancies were
naturally vanquished.

It was a son, and there was much rejoicing. Poor little Milly's nose,
it was said, must indeed be put out of joint by this advent of an heir
to his father's large estates.

The child was born at Royle, his father's place, and christened there,
while Milly had stayed on in her own home with her grandmother; the
home where she had been born, where her father and mother had passed
their brief married life together. When the son and heir was two months
old, he came with his father and mother to stay in that house also.
Then her mother and the neighbours who had known her through all her
experiences of joy and of sorrow were glad to see that the Major's wife
had got back her health and spirits and happiness.

The boy was a fine boy, and his mother idolised him; the father,
contrary to general expectation, continued to be very much in love.
They were a prosperous and happy trio, seeming to suffice to
themselves. Little Milly, who had longed for her mother and the new
brother, found herself of comparatively small importance, and decidedly
on the outside of the completed circle.

Who can measure the bitterness, the desolation, which no
after-experience of the unkind tricks of destiny can ever equal, of the
little heart which feels it is not wanted where it longs to cling?

Then Milly's birthday came, and she was six years old; a delicately
lovely child with dark, straight hair, dark eyes, and a complexion
which was as a finger-post to her father's history and her own, and
should have said "Beware!" Milly had always a birthday-party; this year
also she must have one.

But it was not a party such as Milly had been promised; with the small
drawing-room turned into a cave of delights, where a real, white-robed
fairy with silver wings and a wand presided over presents to be given
to Milly and all her little guests. The promise, in the pleasurable
excitement of the Walshs' arrival, had been forgotten by all but Milly.
When Milly demanded its fulfilment it was too late.

So the little guests could only dance--those that were big enough--or
assisted by their elders, in the form of governess or elder sister,
play at forfeits and twilight, and blindman's buff. These innocent
gambols they carried on in the wide entrance hall. Some flags had been
hung, to please Milly, against the heavy beams of the ceiling, and the
gardener had filled every niche and corner with hothouse plants.

Bent, apparently, on spoiling his sister's pleasure, the heir of the
house of Walsh must be taken with a colic on that day. His mother was
anxious about him, fancying him feverish, and insisting on the doctor's
presence. So it came to pass she was oftener sitting in the nursery,
seeing her son jogged, howling lustily, on the nurse's lap, than making
merry with Milly and her friends in the hall.

As the afternoon drew to a close, and carriages began to arrive for the
children and their guardians, Mrs Walsh came out of the nursery, and
standing in the comparative darkness of the corridor, looked down upon
the bright and pretty scene. The children in their dainty white
dresses, with their flushed faces and tossed curls, were as lovely as
the flowers everywhere surrounding them; the music of the chattering
voices, of the clear laughter, was more agreeable to the ear than that
of the piano Milly's governess was playing.

The fun, as is apt to be the case when such a gathering is nearly over,
waxed livelier as the time came for the children to part. "Just one
more game!" Milly's little excited voice was heard pleading--"only one
more!"

It was Kiss in the Ring, the old world favourite they chose, and they
formed themselves into a circle, putting the littlest boy--boys were
scarce among them, and very small--in the centre.

It was in the midst of much laughing and chatter and noise that the two
little girls on either side of Milly Eddington felt her hands turn
ice-cold in theirs, and slowly slip from their grasp. The next instant
she had fallen to the floor between them.

The doctor, luckily on the spot, attending to the baby-brother, was
with her in two minutes. There was nothing to be done. She was dead.

She had been the loveliest and the gayest there, laughing her pretty,
happy laugh, babbling with the rest. Several of the elder guests, it
was afterwards found, had been looking at the child and listening to
her, when all at once she had become silent, had sunk backwards, and
died.

So much they who looked on had seen, but nothing more.

Her mother, standing above, in the shadow of the corridor, and looking
down upon the brightly-lit hall below, had seen this--

She had seen the figure of her first husband--the smile upon his face
with which he had left her and her little daughter on the last day of
his life--come silently into the hall. She had seen him, moving softly,
attracting no notice from them, pass the groups of ladies standing near
the walls, and noiselessly thread his way through the ring of playing
children, till he stood at the back of his own little girl. She had
seen him, smiling still, and clasping his hands tenderly beneath the
child's chin, pull her softly backwards, and lay her dead upon the
floor.



FREDDY'S SHIP


"A day or two, and I must return these people's call," Mrs Macmichel
said to herself as she passed the Rectory gate. "What a bore!"

Two or three days ago the rector and his wife, calling on their new
parishioner at the Court, had found her just returned from lunch with
the shooting party in the field.

"Bad luck, wasn't it?" she asked, later, of the half-dozen men to whom
she was giving tea in the billiard-room. "If I'd stayed to watch you
shoot for another five minutes, I should have escaped them! Not a bad,
dowdy little woman--the man a worse stick in the drawing-room than the
pulpit, if possible. Subjects: his--parish room he wants to build;
hers--son at sea, or going to sea, or has been to sea, or something.
What is it to me? If he is drowned fifty fathoms deep at the bottom of
the sea, do I care?"

"Now, if I only have the good luck to pick on a day when they're out!"
she said as she stepped briskly along; a tall, and handsome, and
fashionable-looking woman, in her hat with the green twisted veil and
the green cock's feathers, her short, workman-like skirt and belted
coat.

Down the short path from the Rectory door to the gate the rector
himself was coming. Mrs Macmichel bowed a condescending head as she
passed on, receiving no form of salutation but a stare from a pair of
vacant eyes in return.

"Well, really! Such people!" the lady said to herself, as she walked
disdainfully on. "Even _here_ you would expect a man would know he is
always expected to take off his hat when a woman bows to him!"

"Mrs Macmichel!" a voice said at her back. A hand was laid upon her
arm. She turned a look of astonished questioning upon the man who had
ventured to touch her.

"Stop, please," he said; his voice was breathless as of one in great
agitation. "Mrs Macmichel, I think you owe my wife a call? I want you
to pay it now--at once----"

"It is very kind of you; I----"

"You mustn't make excuses. You mustn't deny me. You must go; and you
must--stay."

The thought that he might be mad was succeeded as she looked in his
face by the thought that he must be ill. The healthy colour natural to
them had left his large cheeks, their fatness was only flabbiness, the
small eyes were filled with a strange, pleading, protesting misery as
of a man in terrible bodily discomfort.

"Mr Jones, I am afraid you are not well?"

He stopped her with an impatiently thrown-up hand. "It's not that--I'm
all right. It's worse--it's my son----"

"The sailor?"

"News has come that the _Doughty_ has gone down. All lost."

"Your son was in that ship?"

He did not answer, but pressed his lips, which were piteously
quivering, together, and looked at her in staring misery.

"I am going into the village to wire for--confirmation. Till I return
you must keep with my wife."

"But, Mr Jones! I am deeply, deeply sorry; but you must let me
telegraph, and you, yourself, stay with Mrs Jones."

"No. She would know as soon as she saw my face. I stole away--I dare
not see her." He stayed a minute, biting at lips drawn inward over his
teeth. "Our only one!" he said. "No other! When I know--when there is
no hope--no hope--I must tell her. I could wish that she might die
before--that we might both die."

Tears had gushed upon the flabby cheeks; he mumbled his lips for a
minute, unable to speak.

"If there was anything else I could do--anything!" Mrs Macmichel said.
"But this----!"

"You will watch over her till I come back," he said, not even noticing
her remonstrance. "It is a service I ask of you by right of our common
humanity. Go in to her at once, please."

With his hand on her arm he turned her to the gate, and opened it for
her. "Let no one else come near her," he said. "The butcher delivering
our meat gave me the news. He saw it on the newspaper board at the
village shop. Everyone in the village who reads it will come up at once
to tell my wife. Keep them away. She has a weak heart; told suddenly,
she might--Don't let her stir out. Don't let her hold communication
with anyone till I return."

He put up a trembling hand in the direction of his clerical hat, but
lacked the spirit to lift it, and turned hurriedly away.

"But, Mr Jones!" she called. She made a step or two after him. "It will
be so awkward--for her, I mean. She won't understand. You see, I hardly
know your wife."

He raised his strengthless hand for a few inches, and let it fall with
a gesture of hopeless wretchedness. "Oh, what do such things matter?"
he groaned.

She was ashamed to persist. "I thought perhaps someone in the
village--someone she knew----"

"They could do nothing with her," he explained. "If she wanted them to
go, she would tell them to go; she can't tell you. If she wanted to go
into the village, she would go----"

"How soon will you be back?"

"An hour. Two hours. I must wire to Portsmouth, and wait a reply." He
began to walk on again. "When I come back I shall--know," he said, and
shuffled forward, with drooping back, and legs that shook beneath him,
on his way.

Once he turned, and, seeing her still at the gate, pointed a weakly
imperative finger at the house without stopping in his progress.

Hardly crediting that it could be upon her, Flora Macmichel, accustomed
to move in paths so carefully smoothed, to have all ugly things hidden
from her sight, that this task of matchless unpleasantness had been
thrust, she turned and walked slowly towards the Rectory door. There
are so many women in the world, shrieking, gesticulating, ready to rush
into any fray a-brewing; so many quiet and strong and helpful, aching
to take other people's burdens upon their shoulders; she had never
sought to identify herself with one or the other species, holding the
comfortable doctrine that we cannot all be servers, that in the general
scheme those who only stand to be waited on also hold a useful place.

Why need she do this thing? Three weeks ago she had not known these
people existed; three days ago had not set eyes on them. For humanity's
sake, he had said. Well!

But she thought of the mumbling lips, the look of anguish in the poor
eyes, went on, and rang the bell.

Mrs Jones was in, of course. She was sitting over the dining-room fire,
writing a letter. A short, rather fat, rather dumpy woman, with plain
features, an ominous flush on her sallow cheeks, iron-grey hair, and
very large, very luminous dark eyes.

"How very good of you to call so soon!" she said, and got up to
welcome, rather effusively, the rich woman who had come to be a
parishioner. "Let your master know at once that Mrs Macmichel is here,
Mabel," she said to the servant, and gave Mabel a look which indicated
tea was to make its appearance with as little delay as possible. "Are
you walking or driving? Walking? Really? Now, would you rather sit near
the fire or the open window? It is the kind of day--isn't it?--when
either is agreeable."

She had a slightly nervous manner, or she was not quite at ease with
the strange caller. She altered the position of the chairs, rattled the
poker in the fire, pushed away the little table which held the writing
things.

"I was just writing to my son," she said, and smiled, as if sure of her
interest in the subject, at the woman, who, chill to the marrow with
the discomfort of her errand, had taken a chair by the side of the
fire. "I think I told you he is in the navy? He is commanding the
_Doughty_, the new destroyer. Going trips in her every day or so. I
suppose these destroyers are terrible-looking things? Ah! I have never
seen one, but I imagined so. What a comfort to me to know they are,
after all, so safe as Freddy tells me they are."

"Such a mild day for the time of year, isn't it? And such a pretty
stretch of road from the Court here!"

"We often say so!"

"And just the right length for a walk!"

"Exactly a mile and a quarter."

"Really?"

"Exactly! We always called it a mile; but the last time he was home on
leave Freddy measured it with his new cyclometer. 'Now, mother,' he
said, 'please to remember it's a mile and a quarter, and, don't let's
have any dispute about it in future?'"

"It's so nice to know--to an inch or two!"

"Well, Freddy has a very accurate mind. He can't bear anything slipshod
in the way of a statement. Now, you are sure, after your walk, you do
not feel the fire too much? Then move into this chair. You have really
taken the least comfortable in the room. Now, isn't that better?"

Mrs Macmichel said that it was delightfully cosy. She was inwardly
shivering; the tips of her fingers felt like ice. She pulled off her
loose gloves, and held a pair of white hands blazing with jewels to the
flame. She must force herself to talk, and to keep the poor woman off
the topic of her son; but she, who was considered ready-tongued and
ready-witted, sat dumb, she had not a word to say.

"There is so much difference in chairs," she said, at length.

The banality did not affect Mrs Jones to laughter, as the speaker had a
fear it might have done. She seized eagerly on the remark.

"Isn't there? Some are straight in the back, and some slope too much
for comfort; some are too high in the seat for short legs, and some
quite ridiculously low."

"But this is perfect."

"I am so glad you find it so! It is Freddy's. It was one he bought when
he was in barracks. But he sent it to me. It was much too comfortable
to be anywhere but in his own home, he said. Isn't it delightful that
young men are so much attached to their homes, nowadays?"

It was indeed delightful, Mrs Macmichel answered; and added with an
effort the original remark that home was a delightful place.

She supposed it was, the other lady agreed. "I never go away from mine,
my health does not allow me," she said; "and so, perhaps, I can hardly
judge."

She looked round the rather dismal, rather shabby room with a something
critical in her gaze. Perhaps the presence of the fashionably-dressed
woman seated there--a person so evidently out of harmony with her
surroundings--helped her to see the familiar dowdiness with other eyes.
She gave a quick sigh as she looked, then turned to her visitor with
her nervous smile--

"It is a mercy Freddy does not see the old fashion, the shabbiness. He
only sees--home," she said.

Always Freddy! Poor Freddy, who would never see home again!

Searching wildly in her, at this crisis, stagnant mind for anything to
turn the poor woman from her subject, Mrs Macmichel remembered the
Parish Room. Here should be a mine of conversational wealth. She would
work it for all it was worth.

"My husband is so--interested in the scheme," she said, and gulped a
little at the lie. "Tell me over again, please, all those details you
gave me before. He would like to know how much you have in hand; what
you want to complete the room; what the bazaar brought in, and how much
you expect from the concert."

Mrs Jones rose easily to the bait. She rose, too, talking all the time,
to fetch from her writing-case the type-written circular where the
parish's need for such a room was stated, and the paper, in her
husband's handwriting, on which the sums already collected, and their
source, were set forth. A hundred and thirty pounds were still wanted.
What was a sum like that to this millionaire at the Court? And what a
lot of begging, writing, giving of jumble sales, supposing they were
moved to give that sum, would be saved to the Joneses!

Mrs Macmichel took the papers, glanced at them, laid them on her lap,
tried to say yes and no in the right places to the information now
eagerly poured forth to her; tried to keep her eyes from that letter
which the clergyman's wife had been interrupted in writing. It had
fluttered to the floor as she had looked through her writing-case, and
now lay, unheeded by her, at the visitor's feet.

"My own darling boy," it began.

"Such a poor parish." "So much indifference." "So disheartening," fell
on Flora Macmichel's unreceptive ear.

"My own darling boy."

Something other than curiosity, stronger than her will, glued her eyes
to the page.

"Your last dear letter reached me----"

Last! Yes, last indeed!

"Only five shillings and twopence in the bag; and of that, two
shillings were contributed by Mr Jones and myself. Discouraging, is it
not?"

"--This subject we will discuss more fully when you come home again,"
in spite of herself she read the words.

Come home again! Come home again! When the sea gives up its dead!

The servant came in, bringing tea; picked up the letter, returned it to
the table.

"If you please, ma'am, Mrs Pyman have called, and wish to speak with
you."

"Ask her to wait," the mistress said; then glanced at her visitor to
deprecate the anticipated polite protest on her part. "Anne Pyman will
like very much to sit down in the kitchen for a while," she said. But
as the maid withdrew she apparently altered her mind. "This good woman
is the biggest gossip in the village," she explained. "She is always
running up here to tell me this or that which she picks up. I think,
after all, if you would excuse me for one minute----?"

"Of course!" the visitor said, mechanically; then awoke to the
remembrance that she had undertaken to keep Mrs Jones from all outside
intercourse. She turned an anxious look upon her hostess--"I think if
we could have tea----?" she said.

Then she strangled a laugh in her throat--a laugh, sitting in Freddy's
chair! What--what must Freddy's mother think of her!

"Oh, certainly!" Mrs Jones concurred. The large dark eyes, the only
handsome feature she possessed, scanned with a fleeting gaze of inquiry
the other woman's face. "I daresay, after your walk----"

"If you don't mind. Yes. Quite so. Tea is so very refreshing, don't you
think?"

The temptation to say it was the cup which cheered but did not
inebriate crossed her mind, but was combated.

The bread-and-butter handed to her with her tea was thick, the tea had
not been creamed; but if food and drink had been fit for the
entertainment of the gods, she did not think she could have swallowed.
She lifted the bread-and-butter to her lips, then laid it, untasted,
down again, she stirred her tea, and glanced at the clock upon the
mantelpiece. For how long must she sit and talk inanities with this
mother whose only child was lying fathoms deep beneath the sea? She had
been there barely a quarter of an hour. For an hour and three-quarters,
at least, she must sit there still, whatever the other woman thought of
her, however she tried to rid herself of her company.

"You, too, have a son, I believe?" Mrs Jones was saying.

"Yes." She had an only son. His name was Connell. He was six years old.

"And very dear to you, I know!" The eyes of the woman whose only son
was drowned shone with sympathy. They were speaking eyes, really
beautiful with that light in them.

"Very dear to me," responded the woman in Freddy's chair. To her eyes
came a sudden, unexpected rush of tears. Of her own child she felt she
could not speak to this unconsciously bereaved mother.

"And six years old? Ah! Now I must show you what my dear boy was like
at six."

She got up, and fetched from the mantelpiece a photograph of a tiny boy
in a sailor's dress; a plain-featured, ordinary-looking little boy,
with dark eyes too solemn for his age.

"Now, is your boy as big, do you think? We considered Freddy a fine
boy. And whom do you think he takes after?"

"He is like you--about the eyes," Mrs Macmichel said. She gave the
photograph hurriedly back. She could not endure to look upon the eyes
closed now upon their "first dark day of nothingness."

Mrs Jones put the portrait tenderly in its place. "That big photograph
standing above the clock was taken only the other day," she said. "When
he was appointed to the _Doughty_, I wished so much to have him in his
uniform. But the trouble I had to get him to have it taken! For no
inducement in the world but to please me would he appear in uniform
when not on duty, he said."

And now he lay, like Nicanor, "dead in his harness."

Mrs Macmichel was seated directly in front of the enlarged photograph.
Its eyes looked straight into hers as she lifted them, with, it seemed
to her, an infinite sadness.

"Is it not strange that we should both be mothers of only sons?"

It was not, in fact, a very remarkable coincidence, but the visitor
conceded that it was strange.

"It ought to be a bond of sympathy between us."

"Yes."

Mrs Macmichel's eyes were turned uneasily upon the door at which the
servant had suddenly appeared.

"Mrs Pyman is afraid she can't wait any longer now, ma'am. She wouldn't
keep you more'n a minute, if you could speak to her, she says."

Mrs Macmichel put out a hand and gripped the arm of her hostess as she
rose from her seat--"Don't--" she said imploringly, "don't go! We are
so--so comfortable."

She could not but be flattered, although she could not help being
surprised. "Tell Anne Pyman, I am sorry," Mrs Jones said to the maid,
who, however, stood her ground.

"And cook say, the butcher have been, and can she speak to you for a
minute, ma'am?" she asked.

The butcher! He who had brought the terrible news. In her eagerness Mrs
Macmichel turned to the servant standing at the door.

"No," she said, "certainly not! Your mistress cannot come."

The miserable, not to be repressed chuckle of laughter took her again
as the girl withdrew. "You must think me strange," she said to the
lady, gazing at her with astonished eyes. "But I _am_ strange. We are
getting on so well. I don't like to be interrupted. Go on. You were
saying----?"

"About the bond of sympathy: our only children. I'm afraid the
bread-and-butter is too substantial; will you try a bun instead?"

"It is delicious!" Flora Macmichel said, and put the slice again to her
lips, and again placed it unbitten in the saucer.

"There is," said the clergyman's wife in a lowered tone, "something
awful--I mean in the sense of being full of awe--in being entrusted by
God with only one child. Don't you think that much more will be
required of us, and of them--our dear children?"

Mrs Macmichel had not thought of it in that light.

"You see, we have no others to share our devotion, to distract our
attention. Our only one should be, as near as a mother can make him so,
perfect."

"Wouldn't that make him a little--well--uninteresting?"

Mrs Jones's eyes blazed reproof as she answered: "Freddy is not
uninteresting," she said.

Presently her voice dropped to a hushed whisper. "Then, there is the
thought"--she said--"the haunting thought--should he die--should it
please God to take him from us, we lose our all. All!" she repeated;
and the word, spoken in that tone of heavy solemnity, dropped like lead
upon Flora Macmichel's heart.

If she lost Connell there was still, in her case, her husband; but she
thought of the husband of Mrs Jones, and was silent.

"I have a friend," she said, suddenly rousing herself to make one
effort suitable to the occasion, "whose only little girl died last
year. They thought her heart would break, but it did not. She--in a
marvellous way she bore it. Never once did she seem to me to
sorrow--painfully. The child, for long and long after she was dead,
seemed with her, she told me." She leant forward in her chair; her
voice, which was a rather harsh-speaking voice, grew low and earnest.
Was it possible that she--she, Flora Macmichel--had joined the company
of the preachers! "Don't you think that alleviations undreamed of are
always sent?" she asked, smarting tears in her eyes, her voice
breaking.

"Perhaps I ought not to say it," the other woman said, "it is my want
of faith, of which I should be ashamed; but it seems to me that
nothing--nothing--in this world, of course--could atone."

A bell clashed sharply.

By leaning back slightly in her chair, Mrs Jones could get, it seemed,
a side view of the door.

"Dear me! It is the boy from the telegraph office," she said. "I never
see him without the dreadful fear that something may be amiss. Isn't it
old-fashioned of me?"

The flush which told of disease had deepened on her cheeks; she laid a
hand upon her chest as she arose. "If you will excuse me for half a
moment----?"

But Mrs Macmichel had sprung to her feet and was at the door before the
other. "Let me!" she said hurriedly. "I--I have my hat on. You might
take cold----"

"Excuse me!" Mrs Jones cried.

"You really must allow me!" said Mrs Macmichel.

There was quite a scuffle at the door as to which should go out first.

It was the younger and stronger woman who dashed across the hall and
snatched the telegram from the boy upon the steps. She came back,
crushing the orange envelope, unopened, in her hand. Full well she knew
its contents. The authorities had not waited for the father's inquiry,
but had wired the news.

"It was--was for me," she said, gasping out the intelligence.

The dark eyes of the elder woman questioned her sharply. "How
strange--how very strange it should have been sent on here!"

"My husband knew I was coming to make--a long call. He sent it on."

Mrs Jones sat down again before her tea-tray, and in the speaking eyes
was a dawning of suspicion--"I hope nothing is the matter?" she said.
"You will read your telegram, Mrs Macmichel?"

Mrs Macmichel thrust the envelope into the pocket of her coat, and kept
her hand upon it there. "It is from my dressmaker; she is always
bothering," she said.

"But are you sure, as you have not read it?"

"Quite sure. I always know when they come from her."

The hand which seized upon her cup again was shaking. The slice of
bread-and-butter was sodden with the tea which had been spilt on it as
she had put it so hurriedly down. "What were we talking of?" she asked.
"I--it was so interesting. Please go on."

"It was about our dear children," said Mrs Jones slowly. She looked
with a gaze of awakening distrust at her visitor. Her thoughts
evidently turned to her husband. "I will hear if Mr Jones has
returned," she said. "He would be so sorry to miss you----"

She put out her hand to the bell. Mrs Macmichel stopped her hurriedly.
"Don't ring!" she said, in the loud voice of alarm. "Please! I will
stay till Mr Jones comes back, however long he is away. I promise."

Ah, if he would only come! Only half an hour lived through of the two
hours yet! Yet, for worlds she would not be present at the meeting of
the wife and husband, who then would--know!

"I will stay, if you will let me go the very instant he comes," she
added. "If you tell me when you see him coming up the garden path, I
will run."

"He is here!" Mrs Jones said, with an air of relief. "I heard the
garden-gate; I know his step----"

Oh, not for ten worlds would Flora, who had ever shunned the sight of
pain, see that meeting! She almost flung her teacup from her. She
seized the other's hand.

"Good-bye! oh, good-bye!" she said; "I cannot possibly stay another
minute. I am so sorry! Oh, Mrs Jones, will you please remember, I am
nearly dead with sorrow--but I must go."

"She is certainly mad," said the other woman to herself. She was so
astonished that she forgot to rise from her chair, but sat looking
after her vanishing guest with eyes wide with dismay.

On the doorstep the clergyman and the lady encountered. He was panting
as one, all unaccustomed to such exercise, who had run. There was a
look of famished eagerness in his eyes, the unhealthy pallor of his
face was beaded with drops of sweat.

"They told me--at the office--a telegram had been sent," he said.

She snatched it from her pocket and put it in his hand. "I kept it from
her," she said. "Take it, and let me go."

And yet she could not go.

His shaking fingers had torn open the envelope, had clutched the
enclosure. It wavered so, that, standing behind him, she put her arms
round his arms--tall woman as she was--her hands over his, and helped
him to steady it.

"Read it," he said to her; "I can't--I can't see."

So she read aloud to him, in a voice that rose on a note of triumph and
finished in a sob, the single line of the message!

"Not on board the _Doughty_. Tell mother all right."

Mrs Jones, coming to the dining-room door, looked out for one instant
on her husband, apparently clutched in Mrs Macmichel's embrace. In the
next, the lady was speeding with her long stride down the path to the
gate; the clergyman had staggered into a hall chair, a succession of
sounds, something between sobs and hiccoughs, issuing from his throat.

"My dear, has she hurt you?" his wife cried excitedly. "She is
mad--quite mad, I am sure!"

                     *      *      *      *      *

Her husband, catching sight of Mrs Macmichel's face as she entered,
followed her upstairs to her room. She was lying, dressed as she was,
on her bed, with her face hidden.

"My dear, what is the matter? What have you been doing with yourself?"
he asked.

She had been to the Rectory, to call on the Joneses, she told him.

"Well?"

"The _Doughty_ has gone down. All on board lost."

"So I hear. Well?"

"It was their son's ship."

"Well?"

"Freddy's." She sat up and laughed across the sob in her throat. "You
stupid! I am crying because Freddy did not go down in the _Doughty_,"
she said.



A NERVE CURE


"_Well_, what a place!" Julia cried.

I had come to it because of an urgent need of change, because it was by
the sea, because it was cheap, because the advertisement had caught my
eye at a moment when I was weary of vainly protesting that I wished to
go nowhere except to bed.

    "TO LET, during the months of November and December, a six-roomed
    cottage; desirable; furnished; free of charge, with exception of
    caretaker's wage."

A couple of letters from me, a couple in reply from the owner, who was
going for the winter months abroad, and the affair was settled.

Then my people who--although for ten years I have earned my own living,
and helped to keep some of them who have not earned theirs, although I
am five-and-thirty years of age and an absolutely dependable
person--have never let me have my own way in any single matter,
insisted that Julia should come with me. She is my youngest sister. I
have not a word to say against her, of course; only I know that the
things I am content to put up with are never good enough for Julia.

"Well, _what_ a place!" Julia repeated; the shifting of the accent did
not denote, I was sure, a more favourable view.

It certainly was not a pretty cottage. It was also quite out of the
town, in which we had believed it to be situated, standing at the
extremity of an unfinished road which led halfway across the sandy
waste lying between the town of Starbay and the village of Starcliff.

"A garden, back and front," Miss Ferriman had promised me in one of her
letters. There were the gardens, sure enough, but almost as unfinished
as the road. "An airy situation and uninterrupted view of the sea," the
description had continued, and was faithful as far as it went. The
wind, which happened to be blowing a gale, without obstruction of any
kind to break its force, buffeted us remorselessly as, having descended
from the car which had brought us from the station, we struggled up the
path to the door. Half a mile of blowing sand, with sparse, wiry grass
sticking through, was between us and the breakers; yet the ocean, cold
and lead-coloured, was beyond, and not so much as a finger-breadth of
impediment to check the prospect.

"Well, what a _place_!" said Julia again. "Let's go back, Isabella.
Don't let us go in."

But, once inside, we found the sitting-room which was to be ours
comfortable and prettily furnished; our two bedrooms--there were but
three--were also all that was necessary. Mine faced the sea beyond the
melancholy, level Denes, Julia, to my great content, choosing the one
looking out upon the back. The little back garden with its stunted
shrubs, the unmade road beyond, made a melancholy outlook, but one that
suited Julia better than the sea-view.

"The sight of the sea at this time of year gives me the most awful
feeling," she declared. She rounded her shoulders, and pressed her
hands upon a chest made hollow for the occasion, and her knees gave way
under her, to prove how strongly she was affected.

"Then, why did you come to the sea?" I asked, for I was a little tired
of Julia's grumbling.

"I came to look after you and your nerves, Isabella," she reminded me;
"and how could I possibly know I shouldn't like the sea in November
till I had seen it?"

We had ordered tea to be ready for us, and after our long railway
journey we were more than ready for the meal.

"The woman of the house is a most miserable, frightened-looking
creature," Julia remarked. "It is to be hoped that, at any rate, she
will provide us with decently cooked food."

On this score I had no misgivings. Miss Ferriman, in one of her
letters, had laid special stress upon the fact that Mrs Ragg, the
caretaker, was an excellent cook.

She offered us no solacing specimen of her culinary art, however. The
round table in the bay-window of our sitting-room was spread simply
with the materials for brewing tea and for cutting bread-and-butter.

Julia's eyes blazed with hunger and indignation. "This is your fault,
Isabella!" she declared. "What did you order, pray?"

"Something substantial. It is very annoying," I could not help
confessing.

Julia angrily jingled the little bell. "We want something to eat," she
said, as the caretaker appeared. "Cook us two chops, please; as quickly
as possible."

Mrs Ragg looked at us from the doorway with the same gaze of fascinated
terror with which a half-starved crow might regard two wild cats taking
possession of its cage. With her garments of shabby black, her black
untidy hair, her long beak and startled eyes, she had something of the
appearance of a bedraggled, ill-used bird of that species. Her
trembling, clawlike fingers played with the buttons of her dress; her
chin, a very long and pointed feature, seemed to elongate itself
immensely as her mouth fell; she sucked in the sides of her thin
cheeks, and looked with a helpless imploring gaze from Julia to me.

"You have no chops, I suppose?" I interpreted the beseeching gaze.

She had no chops, she confessed.

"What have you, then?" the unpitying Julia persisted. "What have you
got for our breakfast tomorrow? for our dinner? You have provided
something, no doubt?"

The hollows in each meagre cheek of the caretaker deepened, the effect
of the still further elongating of her chin, the starting eyes turned
from my sister to me.

"Julia," I said, with severity, "it will be better not to have two
Richmonds in the field. I, myself, will, with your permission, give Mrs
Ragg what orders are necessary."

Then, in a tone of severity which should have been at once an
encouragement to Mrs Ragg and a reproach to my sister, I asked to have
some eggs boiled for tea.

There were no eggs.

"Go and fetch some," the irrepressible Julia cried.

"I understood the two ladies were to do their shopping themselves," the
caretaker tremblingly explained.

I said of course we would. "Press not a falling man (or woman) too
far," I quoted to Julia, as, the unhappy Mrs Ragg having left us to
ourselves, we sat down to our bread-and-butter.

Julia, although protesting in the finish that hunger still gnawed her
vitals, ate half the loaf. I, who should have been content to put up
with what remained of it for our morning meal, was unable to control my
sister's raging determination to forage that night for food.

"I refuse to starve," she said.

There was, luckily for us, a full moon, or we might easily have lost
the faintly indicated road, lightly strewn as it was with oyster-shells
and broken bricks, and ploughed through the trackless waste of sandy
desert all night. The outskirts of the town reached, there were several
mean-looking streets to pass through, before we found a shop at which
we thought it desirable to trade. As we walked, buffeted by the wind
blowing in from the sea, Julia discoursed of the caretaker of
Sea-Strand Cottage.

"That, mark my words, is a thoroughly bad woman," she declared. "She
wouldn't be such a forbidding-looking creature unless she was wicked.
It wouldn't be fair on the part of the Almighty to have made her so. I
consider her aspect thoroughly sinister."

"Poor frightened, trembling old wretch!" I said.

"Exactly. Why does she tremble? What is she afraid of? In my opinion
she is intending to murder us in our beds."

"You had better go home the first thing in the morning and leave me to
my fate," I told her. To myself I said I did not believe the world
contained another woman with the worrying capacity of Julia. It was
because she was such a disturbing force in the family that they had
been so eager for her to accompany me, I, not without bitterness,
suspected.

At the shop where we bought our chops for breakfast and a chicken for
dinner, I bethought me to enquire of the young woman at the entering
desk if Mrs Ragg, the caretaker of Sea-Strand Cottage, was known to
her. The reply was quite satisfactory. Their cart had always served the
cottage; the woman in charge was a most respectable person; a couple of
ladies who had taken the cottage in the summer had mentioned that she
was also an excellent cook.

The chops were served to us the next morning charred black, uneatable.
I pointed them out to Julia on her appearing, and, with a view to
deprecating her inevitable wrath, frankly so described them. My sister
regarded the lost hopes of our meal with a preoccupied stare; then
turned upon me with the wide distending of her eyelids which I knew
portended a new worry.

"What sort of a night had you?" she asked.

"Excellent. And you?"

"Frightful. My nerves are all on the stretch, in consequence. I give
you warning, Isabella, if you drop your knife or chink your teacup and
saucer I shall scream aloud."

"You didn't sleep?"

"Not a wink."

"Were there noises to disturb you?"

"Not a sound. That was it! Not a din, Isabella."

"That's all right, then."

"Is it? You know my room?--just a lath-and-plaster partition between it
and hers--that woman's. I ought to have heard every movement, even if
she turned in her bed."

"It was very thoughtful of Mrs Ragg to lie so still."

"She was not there, Isabella."

"Not there?"

"I'd stake my life on it. It worried me so at last--I _had_ to listen,
you know--that I got up and put my ear against the partition. The
deadest stillness!"

"But even if she was not there, I don't see it is so very alarming."

"She says she was. I asked her just now if she was sleeping next to me,
and she said yes."

"She was, then."

"She wasn't."

I poured out the tea with impatience. What a constant worry Julia was!
Without appearing to cast a backward thought upon the chops, she
buttered herself a piece of toast.

"Of course, at last, I did fall asleep," she admitted. "And that was
the worst of all. Isabella, I dreamt of that horrible little room next
to mine, and of the reason it was so still."

"Well?"

"I dreamt there was a dead woman in it."

I laughed at that, and Julia, pausing in the act of taking a bite from
her toast, glared angrily at me.

"You are a nice, soothing sort of person to be sent away with one
supposed to be in want of cheering influences!" I said. "You and your
dream of a dead woman!"

"I dreamt one was there," Julia said, going on with her toast. "In my
opinion one _was_ there," she added, doggedly.

When she had finished her breakfast, and had withdrawn her thoughts
from the engrossing subject of her dream sufficiently to grumble about
the aching void where the chops should have been, she sprang up from
the table and loudly tinkled the little bell.

"For Mrs Ragg to clear away," she explained to me. "While she is doing
so, and you, Isabella, keep her attention engaged on things below, I am
going upstairs to have a look at her bedroom."

"Absurd!" I ejaculated.

"Aren't you absurd?" Julia cried, and turned upon me with scorn. "To
take up your abode in a little cut-throat hole like this and not to
take the commonest precaution!"

She flew upstairs, then, and Mrs Ragg was in the room.

In order to obey my sister's injunction to keep the woman's attention I
began to talk to her, asking her how long she had lived in Sea-Strand
Cottage. I had just gathered from her grudging, mumbling speech that
she had lived there since the cottage was built, when my sister was in
the room again.

Julia watched the caretaker shovel the things on to the tray, and,
sighing bitterly the while, drag wearily out of the room with them. She
turned to me, then, with a nod eloquent.

"Locked," she enunciated. "The door was locked. Why--why should the
woman want to lock her bedroom door when she is out of it?"

"She returns the compliment you have paid her, and thinks you not to be
trusted," I suggested.

"If I have to climb on the roof and pull off the tiles, I'll see what
is in that room before I go to bed tonight!" Julia declared.

Then Mrs Ragg came back for the tablecloth.

"I slept very badly last night, Mrs Ragg," said Julia.

Mrs Ragg sucked in her cheeks, sighed heavily, made no answer.

"And so did you, I'm afraid. You were very restless. You walked about
half the night."

"Me, miss?" She had folded the cloth, but she dropped it from her
shaking, awkward hands, stooped to recover it, dropped it again.
"Begging your pardon, no, miss."

"Who, then?" Julia asked inflexibly.

The woman turned away with the cloth and shuffled hastily to the door.

"Wait," commanded Julia. "Who, then? There was no one else in your
bedroom besides you, I suppose?"

Mrs Ragg hurriedly rejected the insinuation. She had had a pain in her
chest, she remembered now, and had got up for remedies.

"Of course you heard me rapping on the wall and asking you to keep
still? You heard that, at least, Mrs Ragg?"

"Yes," Mrs Ragg had heard that, certainly. She admitted the fact as if
it had been a sin, with a look of actual horror upon her face.

"You heard?" asked Julia of me in a kind of triumph as we were alone.
"There was not a sound through all the night. I never rapped upon the
wall. Now, why is she lying? It may be nothing to you, but I mean to
know."

Once more that morning, coming from our own rooms, dressed for walking,
Julia tried the caretaker's door. Finding it fast, shook it, and turned
from doing so to find Mrs Ragg, arrived on the scene in her felt shoes,
standing behind her.

"Asking your pardon, miss, that is my room," the woman said; with a
feeble kind of offence she went and put herself before the door.

"We have hired the cottage; I presume we have the right to look even
into your room, if we deem it advisable," Julia said, with her
haughtiest air. "So, you always keep your room locked, Mrs Ragg?"

"When strangers are about I do," Mrs Ragg replied; and although she was
apparently afraid of us she gazed upon us with no goodwill.

As we left the house, Julia called my attention to the fact that the
blind in the room next to her own was drawn. "All the same, I don't
sleep again beneath your Mrs Ragg's roof till I've been into her
bedroom," she declared.

I had come to Starbay for the benefit of the sea. Julia, however, would
not allow me to make nearer acquaintance with it than that possible
from my window, but dragged me into the town again. We put down our
names at one of the circulating libraries, and, it coming on to rain,
could think of no better than to go upstairs to the reading-room.

It happened to have only one other occupant. A man of early middle-age,
who, with the marks of delicate health upon him, had a face which, like
that of "my Uncle Toby's," invited confidence.

Julia, for a minute, as we settled to read, looked across the table at
him with her direct, sea-green gaze; then turned to her paper and
looked no more until she put the paper down and began to talk to him.

It was easy enough to begin with a question about a certain magazine.
"Did they take it there?" and to follow on with half a dozen enquiries
about the town, and the objects of interest in the neighbourhood. I
listened for a minute or two, reflecting how to my young sister any
human document, however casually picked up, exceeded in interest the
finest book ever written, then went on with an article on Education in
which I happened to be interested. I roused myself from my abstraction
to hear Julia mentioning to the strange man the name of Sea-Strand
Cottage as our abode, and describing in her exaggerated fashion its
location and appearance.

"At the utmost end of Everywhere, and looking like secret
assassination, nothing less, when you get there," my sister was saying.

The man, as it happened, knew the place well. "It was the advertisement
of Sea-Strand Cottage which brought me to Starbay," he said. "But when
I saw the place, I----"

"You didn't like it! No more did I!" Julia said.

"However, the caretaker seemed a comfortable sort of body, and I was
assured an excellent cook," the man continued.

Julia, her hands in her coat-pockets, bent her supple body forward
across the table, bringing her eager face nearer to the stranger's.
"Did you see her?--Mrs Ragg?" she asked.

He had seen her.

"Well?"

"She seemed all right," he said; and Julia lay back, disappointed, in
her chair again.

"To me she seems all wrong," she said.

When I thought the conversation had lasted long enough I took Julia
away from the library. Mrs Ragg had declared herself unable to have our
meal ready before three o'clock in the afternoon. We went into a
pastry-cook's therefore, and Julia ate a fair supply of tarts and
custards, and insisted on taking away with her a selection from the
store. "You keep yourself in hand for the chicken cooked by Mrs Ragg; I
intend to be independent of it," she said, and walked home with her
indigestible provender.

As we neared Sea-Strand Cottage we saw, coming towards it from the
opposite direction, our new acquaintance of the reading-room. We met by
the gate.

"I have to do a constitutional of so many prescribed miles every
morning," he said. "After our conversation just now, I naturally bent
my steps in this direction."

"Do walk this way sometimes," Julia said, flashing her smile upon him.
"If, after a few days, you should see nothing of us, you might bring a
policeman with you and search for our remains."

He smiled too, and said he would certainly do so. "I saw two or three
men here as I went by, just now," he said; "they might have been the
assassins you are expecting, but they looked uncommonly like every-day
carpenters and workmen."

"Coming out of the house, do you mean? _Men?_" Julia asked, instantly
on the alert.

"Not from the house--from the outhouse," he corrected and nodded in its
direction.

Julia and I had inspected this empty outhouse that morning, and had
decided to have our travelling-cases moved there. As our eyes turned
towards it now, Mrs Ragg came out from it and softly closed the door
behind her.

"This is the Mrs Ragg about whose desirability we disagree," Julia told
the stranger, who, with his hand to his hat, was bowing to us and
moving on. He stopped for a moment, looked at the caretaker, looked
back to us with a smile.

"The mystery is solved. Your Mrs Ragg and mine are not the same
person," he said.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Julia, who had been round to the back of the house to make inspection,
came running to me with the news that the blind was up in the
caretaker's bedroom, and the window open.

"There is a ladder against the outhouse," she said. "You must come and
help me to fix it, Isabella, and stand on the bottom rung while I climb
to the window."

There was no need for such extreme measures, however. Going upstairs to
escape from my sister's importunity, I found the door of the hitherto
locked room invitingly open. This intelligence being communicated to
Julia, she came rushing upstairs, and dragged me unwillingly into Mrs
Ragg's bedroom with her.

A most commonplace, mean-looking room, the wind blowing through it from
open window to open door. The bed still unmade, but the square box of a
place otherwise clean and tidy.

"What a home of mystery!" I said, with fine sarcasm, to Julia. "Where's
your corpse, my dear?"

Julia gazed with great eyes round the little depressing place. "It
really is exactly like," she said slowly. "The bed stood just there.
But on it, you know, Isabella--on it----"

She shuddered, and gripped my arm. "My teeth chatter. Come away," she
said.

She was generous enough to share her confectionery with me, and her
forethought in bringing it was amply justified. Mrs Ragg had been so
much occupied all the morning that she had forgotten to put the chicken
in the oven until she saw us at the gate, she told us.

"Of course we can't put up with this. We will leave to-morrow," Julia
declared. But I, who had paid the caretaker a week's salary in advance,
was of opinion we should have a little more for our money.

"Put the chicken back in the oven, and I will see to the cooking of
it," Julia said, when we had sufficiently contemplated the more than
half-raw carcase of the fowl. "My sister is an invalid," she continued;
"I am anxious that she should not be quite starved. I will cook the
chicken therefore, and you will be responsible, perhaps, for the
bread-sauce, Mrs Ragg."

The woman, looking alarmedly at her, murmured the word "bread-sauce?"
and sucked in her cheeks.

"You know how to make bread-sauce, Mrs Ragg?"

Mrs Ragg had to confess she did not.

"But how can you possibly have had a reputation as a cook!" my sister
demanded. Her eyes continued to blaze forth the inquiry long after
there was any hope of the woman making a reply.

"I'm afraid you are a helpless creature," Julia told her, with the
stern pitilessness that belongs to youth. "I also do not know how to
make bread-sauce, but I will make it. In the meantime, will you go up
to our rooms, fetch down the empty packing-cases--you will find them
extremely light--and place them in that shed across the yard we saw
empty this morning."

Undoubtedly Mrs Ragg was a helpless creature. She stood uncertainly
before us, her skinny hands playing tremblingly with the buttons of her
dress, and did not attempt to move.

"Do you not hear me? Go at once," Julia commanded.

But I saw that the woman got no nearer to our rooms than the bottom of
the staircase. She stood there, clinging to the rail, and looking
aimlessly upward.

Running upstairs I brought the two light cases down myself.

"There is room for them in the kitchen," Mrs Ragg said. But, carrying
one myself, I told her to bring the other across to the empty shed.
Arrived there, however, we found the door of the shed locked.

"Fetch the key," I ordered.

She stood and looked at me, but did not move.

"Tell me where the key is, and let me fetch it."

The key was lost.

"Why have you taken the trouble to lock an absolutely empty shed?"

She had no reason to give. She had locked it, and the key was lost.

"She has some reason for not wishing us to go into that shed," Julia
said, oracularly, when the circumstance was mentioned to her.

"Absurd!" I said, but I did begin to experience an uncomfortable
suspicion of the woman.

"She has got those men locked up there," Julia continued, with her air
of assurance.

"Nonsense! What for?"

"Murder," said Julia, laconically; and energetically crumbled bread for
the sauce.

"What were two men doing here this morning?" I asked, with assumed
carelessness, of Mrs Ragg when next we encountered.

She mumbled the words "two men?" and stared at me by way of answer.

"We were told two men were here this morning. This is a very lonely
situation, Mrs Ragg. I suppose you would admit no one you don't know
all about?"

She was, she said, always most particular.

"Then, who were these two men, and what were they doing here?"

She did not know.

"Two men here, Mrs Ragg, and you not know it?"

"They weren't here," she said; and I had to leave it so.

I offered to change beds with Julia that night, but she would not hear
of it. "Your room is the more comfortable; keep it," she said. "While
you insist on staying here at the peril of our lives, I will sleep as
well as I can with a dead woman laid forth on the bed next mine, and
two murderers shut up in the shed across the way."

Julia's talk is ever more extravagant even than her notions, but it was
of a disquieting kind. Many of the absurd things she had said in the
day recurred to me in the night, assuming a quite different value. So
that, although I had longed for bed, I found myself, arrived there,
quite disinclined for sleep.

Surreptitiously I watched the caretaker up to bed. She came upstairs,
clinging to the balusters for support, a tired, worn-looking, elderly
woman, with a lank, frail body, and a care-lined, miserable face. How
ridiculous were Julia's suspicions! She not only did not lock her door
to-night, but left it ajar. At intervals I peeped through mine to see
if her light was extinguished; she had not--so poorly dressed she
was--the appearance of one who would indulge in the extravagance of a
candle burning all night. Yet, long after I knew by the creaking of the
spring mattress Mrs Ragg had lain down, I saw the streak of light
shining through the unclosed door.

Fears of fire were added to my other disquietudes. Standing on the
landing, I was hesitating if to knock at her door, and remind her she
had not put out her light, when I was conscious of a movement behind
me. Starting round with a muffled cry, I encountered a tall white
figure, which, with an answering cry, grabbed me by both shoulders.

"What _are_ you doing here, Isabella?"

"How _could_ you frighten me so, Julia!"

We clung together and scolded each other for a minute, then each
returned to her own room. But I not to sleep. Listening acutely for
every sound, yet shrinking from every sound as it came, I tossed and
turned with wide-open, feverish eyes. Suspicious circumstances at which
I had been disposed to laugh in the day, took on a sinister complexion
in the watches of the night. The loneliness of the place, its distance
from every habitation--details to which I held no special distaste
before--got hideously upon my nerves at last. Supposing anything
happened, in what a position did we three women stand! What chance was
there of help?

In my mind I surveyed the prospect from my window. The trackless Denes,
the wild, unfriendly sea. Shuddering, I turned mentally to the outlook
from Julia's room. What of reassuring was there in the rudiments of an
unlighted road across a desert of ugly waste lands?

I was thinking of the road, I suppose, when at last I fell on sleep;
for my dream was a nightmare of toiling over it with Julia, in a
frantic attempt to escape from some horror, none the less terrible for
being undefined, ever close upon our heels.

It was some disturbing but uncertain sound that wakened me from this
dreaming to an inner dream. Just a vision, seen in a flash and gone, of
two men standing in a light thrown from an upper window, and looking up
to it.

From this apparition so vividly presented to my brain, I was awakened
by a repetition of the disturbing sound, soft but distinct now. I flew
up in bed with a beating heart and the certainty that someone,
somewhere, had thrown a clod of earth at a window--not mine; at the
back of the house; Julia's, or Mrs Ragg's.

A minute, and I was out of my bed and into Julia's room. I laid a hand
on my sister's shoulder. "Julia," I whispered, "wake up. I've had such
horrible dreams."

The candle I held in a shaking hand showed the glinting green of
Julia's eyes within their half-opened lids. "I'm so comfy," she
muttered; "I'm having such a lovely sleep. Go back to bed, Isabella."

But I crept into Julia's bed, instead, and clasped her close for the
comfort of her presence.

"I dreamt two men were looking up at a window," I said, "--do keep
awake, Julia. I don't know why it seemed so horrid--nothing has ever
seemed so horrid before. And--you're going off to sleep again,
Julia!--you must listen!--someone flung something at a window. That was
not a dream. I heard it quite distinctly."

"It wasn't at this window," Julia declared, in muffled tones. "What a
nuisance you are, Isabella."

Then in an instant she flung off her sleep and was out of bed. "It must
have been at Mrs Ragg's," she said. "I am going to see."

Shivering, I followed to the landing. The light no longer showed from
Mrs Ragg's door, but the door itself was still ajar. Julia rapped
sharply upon it and called the caretaker's name. When no one answered,
she pushed the door wide, and we saw, by the light of the candle I
carried, that the room was empty.

I scarcely knew why the fact that it was so filled us both with such
dismay. Our faces were white in the candlelight as we looked blankly at
each other; then, seizing hands, we scurried back to Julia's room. A
rush of cold air met us on the landing and our light went out.

"An outer door is open," Julia said.

We shut and locked our own door and stood together in the darkness,
gripping each other, intently listening.

Julia's senses are sharper than mine. "Someone is in the garden--at the
back," she whispered. "I can hear footsteps--footsteps of more than one
person. What shall we do, Isabella? I don't know yet what we ought to
do."

Presently we were kneeling at the window. The moon had set, the night
was quite dark. By degrees, straining our eyes in desperate anxiety, we
made out the stunted form of a shrub or two planted opposite the house;
we knew that the blackness of shadow at our left was the shed whose key
had been lost.

As we looked, the shed door opened. We knew it by the light which
suddenly streamed upon the night. It was the light from a lantern held
high, a light flickering and uncertain. It blinked and trembled and
swayed as if held in a shaking hand. We knew whose was the lean, lank
figure, fitfully revealed, which held it.

"What can she be doing there?" we asked of each other, with chattering
teeth, simultaneously.

Neither answered. There was no need. Too well we knew she was letting
out the men whom, to have them handy for our murder at night, she had
locked in, earlier in the day.

They came presently. The fluttering light gave us unsteady glimpses of
them, and of some large and heavy burden they carried.

"_What_ is it?" I demanded of Julia. My arm ached with her grip of it,
but she did not answer. All her senses were merged in the sense of
seeing. She could not hear, nor feel, nor speak.

Mrs Ragg, holding the lantern high, walked ahead of the obscure group,
which slowly followed. The light illumined her stooping, meagre figure
as she made her way down the path across the back garden to the gate.
Only now and again, by the chance swaying of the lantern, a ray lit the
heavy blackness of the mass moving in her wake.

She stopped with her lantern at the gate. For the minute it took for
them to pass her we saw more plainly the figures of the men going
heavily beneath their burden.

"_What_ is it?" I found myself asking again, expecting no answer,
needing none.

Very softly Julia pushed up the sash of the window, hung her head with
its loose flowing hair into the night.

Presently, the form of Mrs Ragg came slowly back again, down the garden
path. The lantern hung at her side now; its light streaming upward
showed us her white and frightened face. Julia drew in her head, gently
closed the window, turned to me.

"They have driven off--for the present," she said. "I heard the wheels.
Before they return--perhaps--we shall have time to escape."

We had risen to our feet now, but we clung together still. "Julia, what
_was_ it?" I asked, for the third time, quite senselessly. For my eyes
are as good as Julia's, and our opportunities of sight and judgment had
been the same.

"It was a coffin," Julia said, and I knew that through the darkness her
eyes glared with hardly maintained courage upon my face, and that she
shut down her lips firmly over chattering teeth.

Space fails to tell of the remainder of that night: of how we dressed
in feverish haste to escape, and then were afraid to go; of how, having
assured ourselves--by the sense of hearing only, for we thought it best
not to light a candle--of Mrs Ragg's return, and of her retirement for
the second time to bed, and this time to slumber--we depended on our
hearing also for the establishment of the latter fact--we sat and
watched, shivering with cold and apprehension, through the endless
hours for the reappearance of Mrs Ragg's accomplices, straining our
eyes to stare in the direction of the garden path down which we
believed they would come. Of how with the first faint light of dawn
courage came to us to escape.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Julia remembered the name of the hotel at which our chance acquaintance
of the reading-room had mentioned he was staying. As we did not know
his name, it was by good luck that we encountered him on the steps of
the Royal George setting forth on his before-breakfast constitutional.
He showed himself politely sceptical of our story. How Julia's eyes
blazed upon him in surprised and angry reproach for his want of faith,
he has assured her many times since, he can never forget. We insisted
that he should go at once to the police station and fetch constables to
arrest Mrs Ragg on the charge of murder. The alternative course he
proposed appeared to us weakly inadequate. However, he being a man and
we being women, he had his way. We returned with him at once to
Sea-Strand Cottage, the only concession he made to our fears being to
take a policeman with him, to wait outside the house in case he should
be wanted.

"The lonely situation has worked upon your nerves. You have dreamt a
little and imagined the rest," he said, by way of overcoming our
natural repugnance to return.

Julia gave him a scathing glance. "You will see," she said. She
vouchsafed no further word to him, but with an indignant head held
high, walked ahead of him and me as, side by side, we toiled over the
uneven road, the policeman bringing up the rear.

The caretaker, characteristically oblivious of the fact that her
lodgers, who, she had every reason to believe, were still in their
bedrooms, would presently call for their breakfast, was leisurely
eating her own over the newly-lit kitchen fire.

At sight of us, unexpectedly appearing before her, of our protector
with his air of authority, of the policeman, who, contrary to
instructions, introduced himself at the open door, Mrs Ragg rose with a
wavering cry that was like a whine, from her seat. She sucked in her
cheeks till they met, and with her claw-like hands grabbed her shabby
frock where it loosely covered her bosom.

"You are not Mrs Ragg," our companion said.

She grabbed more convulsively at her dress, and made no reply.

"Where is Mrs Ragg?"

"She is dead, sir. Dead," the woman said, and sat down and began to
cry. "She died the very afternoon the ladies came. I had the doctor to
her. You can ask the doctor if you don't believe me. I'd have kept her
alive if I could. She was my dear sister. I had only what she gave
me----"

"And you undertook to impersonate her?"

The poor creature gazed at us with imploring eyes. "'Twas my sister
that ordered it," she said, gasping with terror. "'Twas a pity the
fifteen shillings a week the ladies were to pay should be lost to the
family, my sister said. She put it in my head--she laid her orders on
me before she died; she----"

"And she was laid forth in the bedroom next to mine?" Julia said; "and
moved from there next morning to the shed in the garden."

"And from the shed taken at night to our brother's house, where she is
waiting burial," the woman, now anxious to unburden herself, explained.

But what need is there to set forth any more of such talk? The rest of
the story tells itself. And we have had perhaps more than enough of the
pseudo Mrs Ragg.

Julia and I decided we had had enough also of Sea-Strand Cottage. We
took up our abode temporarily at the Royal George. Our new-made
friend--for after this adventure we could but look on him as a
friend--had lived there for a month and could recommend it. It was in a
busy thoroughfare of the town, houses on either side, at the back, over
the way; men and women passing and repassing; plentiful gas-lamps,
policemen within call. Ah, the blessed feeling of companionship and
security! We had had enough of solitude, darkness, mystery, to last us
for the rest of our lives.

However, the cost of living at the Royal George was greatly more than
the cost of living at the Cottage.

"It is all very well for this man, who evidently has money to live in
such a place," I said to Julia. "But we should quickly become bankrupt.
At the end of a fortnight we will go."

"Make it three weeks," Julia said, "and I shall be engaged to the man
with the money."

I scouted the idea, but stayed--perhaps to prove it impossible.

Or perhaps at my age I knew well that to the young and the confident
nothing is impossible.



THE PRIVATE WARD


He had been seized with sudden illness in the suburban hotel in which
he was staying, and being unknown there, had been removed to the
Princess Mary Cottage Hospital. The dozen beds of the men's ward were
full, and he had been placed in the private ward. He lay now on the
narrow bed, sleeping heavily, the white, bright light of the spring
morning showing mercilessly the havoc selfishness and reckless
self-indulgence had wrought upon a once sufficiently handsome face. The
emaciation of his long form was plainly seen through the single scarlet
blanket which covered it.

The visiting doctor and the nurse stood, one on either side, looking
down on him.

"What sort of night?" asked the doctor.

"Pretty bad," answered the nurse. The patient had been admitted the
previous day, and she had watched by him through the night. "He was
awake till three, and very restless."

"You repeated at three the dose I ordered?"

"Yes. He has lain like this since. When he wakes is he to have it
again?"

"H'm!" said the doctor, deliberating, his eyes on the patient's face.
"We will, I think, halve the dose. We mustn't overdo it; he seems
susceptible to the drug."

He lifted his eyes from the unconscious face of the patient to the
weary face of the nurse, and, as if struck by what he saw there,
studied it with attention.

"You are more than usually tired this morning, sister," he said. "You
must go at once to bed when I leave."

"It is always difficult for me to sleep in the daytime. I shall not
sleep to-day," she said.

"But you are tired?"

"Dead tired."

The doctor observed her in a minute's silence. Her fine, almost regal
form, at which few men looked and turned away, drooped a little this
morning, seemed--but that was impossible--to have faded and shrunk
since yesterday. There was, however, no sinking of the white eyelids
over the pale blue eyes which, set in her darkly tinted face, were a
surprise and a joy to the beholder. The eyelids were reddened now, and
held wide apart, the eyes shining with a dry feverishness painful to
see.

"If you go on night-duty and do not sleep in the day you will be ill,"
said the doctor, gently.

"Not I," said the nurse, roughly.

He was not, perhaps, sorry to miss in that handsome woman the show of
extreme deference with which it was usual for the nurses to treat the
doctors, but her brusqueness a little surprised him. Imagining that she
resented the personal note, he turned, after a minute's quiet perusal
of her face, to the patient.

Having given briefly his directions for his treatment and moved away,
he stopped, looking at him for a minute still.

"His friends been communicated with?" he asked.

She shook her head. "By the look of him should you think he has got any
friends who would care to hear?" she enquired.

Pityingly the doctor threw up his head. "Poor wretch!" he sighed. "What
is his history, I wonder!"

To which Sister Marion made no reply. For she knew.

                     *      *      *      *      *

For the rest of the day she would be off duty. As a rule she took a
brisk walk through the suburban town, passed the rows upon rows of neat
little one-patterned houses, the fine, scattered villa-residences, with
their spotless gardens, reached the common where the goats and the
donkeys were tethered, the geese screamed with stretched necks, the
children rolled and played. Plenty of good air there to fill lungs
atrophied by long night hours in the sick atmosphere of the wards.
Then, at a swinging pace home again to her welcome bed and a few hours'
well-earned sleep.

To-day, beyond the white walls of the hospital, the sun danced
invitingly, the spring breezes were astir. Sister Marion heeded them
not at all. Having left the patient in the private ward to the nurse
who succeeded her, she lingered listlessly in the wide, white corridor
upon which all the wards opened, too preoccupied to remember that she
was doing anything unusual.

There the doctor, having made the round of the wards, found her
lingering still.

"Go to bed!" he said to her, authoritatively. "You will make yourself
ill."

"Not I."

"Go to bed!" he said again, and, although his tone was not less
authoritative, he smiled.

The feverish, pale blue eyes looked at him strangely with a regretful,
wistful gaze, and he melted in a moment into unmixed gentleness. "Why
are you being obstinate to-day? Go and lie down and get to sleep," he
begged her.

"What does it matter if I do not?"

"It matters very much, to you, to your patients, to me. Will you go?"

She said yes, turned slowly away, and, passing down a passage leading
from the central corridor, went to her tiny room. Arrived, she did not
trouble to undress, but throwing off the cap which was tied beneath her
chin, flung herself upon her bed.

"It is the last thing he will ask of me and I shall do it," she said.

She had known that she could not sleep. She put her hand above her
burning eyes and forcibly closed the lids that remained so achingly
open. In the darkness so achieved she must think out her plans; she
must think how to get away from this place without attracting
observation, leaving no trace of her removal, giving no clue to her
destination. It was imperative that the step she decided on should be
taken soon; she must form her project clearly, and there must be no
blundering or mistake. But her overtired brain, refusing to work as she
willed, presented only before her feverish eyes a picture of the young
doctor coming in the spring sunshine down the hospital ward, a bunch of
violets in his coat. How clean, and strong, and helpful he looked! And
his voice--was it not indeed one to obey? It must be her fancy only
that of late it had taken on a softer tone for her.

Her fancy! Her vain, mad fancy!

She flung over upon her bed and forced herself to contemplate what it
was she had to do: To get away from the man who lay in the private
ward; and from the place in which she had found a refuge till her evil
angel had set him upon her track again.

Since the day, ten years ago, when she had married him, what a ruin her
life had been! There had been, again and again, thank Heaven! periods
of peace, periods of regained self-respect, of the enjoyment of the
respect of others. These had been secured by flight only, by
concealment of her whereabouts, and were of varying lengths of
duration. Two years ago, with her hard-earned savings, she had paid his
passage out to Africa. She had not believed him likely to earn the
money to return, and had looked upon him as happily dead to her. Dead,
indeed, perhaps. Until yesterday, when she had helped to lay him,
unconscious, in the bed of the private ward. She guessed easily that he
had learnt she was in the place, and had been about to seek her when he
had been struck down.

If he should mercifully die!

Not he! she said, bitterly. Men sometimes died in _delirium tremens_.
In every kind of illness, by every sort of accident, men died every
day. Good and useful men, husbands of adoring wives, loving fathers of
families, men needed by their country, by humanity, were swept
mercilessly away. Only such carrion as this was left to fester upon the
earth, to poison the lives of decent men and women. The doctor,
standing above him, looking on the defaced image of what God, for some
mysterious purpose, had made, had no thought but to restore to this
foully-damaged frame the spirit and strength to do its evil work.
Nurses, gentle and dutiful women, would give themselves to revive in
all its corrupt activity the temporarily dormant mind and body.

Ought this to be? Where was the righteousness of it--the sense? Since
that drug to which he was "so susceptible" was a deadly one, would it
not be better to give him more of it? To rid society of a pest
dangerous to its peace, to restore to one suffering, striving,
blameless woman the happiness he had cost her?

"Would that be a crime?" she asked, and set her teeth and cried, "No,
no," with hatred in her heart. Then, horrified at herself, flung
herself over on her pillow, and, burying her face from the light of
day, sobbed long with a tearless sobbing, bringing no relief; and so at
last lay still.

                     *      *      *      *      *

She did not know if she had slept or only lain in the quiet and blank
of mercifully deadened misery when, roused by the sound of her name,
she lifted her head to find the matron of the little hospital standing
beside her bed.

"We are having so much trouble with the D.T. patient, sister," she
said. "He must not be left for a moment. I am sorry to wake you so
soon, but will you go to him?"

She was so used to being alert and ready at the call of duty, that she
forgot her plan had been to escape from the hospital at once, and in a
minute was again in the private ward. The doctor was standing beside
the bed, and Sister Marion saw he had been recalled because of the
urgency of the case. For whatever reason, it was such a pleasure to see
him again, to let her eyes rest upon the strong and kind and clever
face--

And then, looking at him, she saw that down the broad brow and the
clean-shaven cheek red blood was streaming.

He put up his hand to wipe the blood from his eyes, and the hand too,
she saw, was gashed and bleeding.

He laughed at her look of surprise and horror. "This gentleman had a
penknife under his pillow," he explained. "I have taken care that he
does not do any more mischief."

He nodded in the direction of the patient, and Sister Marion, glancing
that way, saw that the man lying on his back had his hands tied to the
iron bed-rail above his head. In the reaction from the late attack he
was lying absolutely still, and she saw, to her surprise, that in the
eyes fixed on her face there was recognition.

"He is conscious," she whispered. "Come outside and let me attend to
you."

He followed her to the ward kitchen, the room used by the nurses for
the preparation of the patients' food, but empty now.

The doctor smiled and jested, but the blood flowed, the wound smarted,
he was a little pale.

"He _meant_ to hurt you?" she asked, through her set teeth.

"He meant to murder me, the brute!" the doctor said.

"Never mind," she soothed him; "I am accountable for him now. I will
see to it he never hurts you again."

She felt herself to be a different woman; in some curious way
emancipated. It had needed just the wounding of this man to change her.
She was ashamed no longer to show him what she felt, nor had she any
more a shrinking from doing what she now believed it right to do.

She stood above him as he sat in a new docility before her, and bathed
the cut upon his temple, with lingering, tender touch, pushing back the
hair to get at it. She knelt before him and dressed the cut upon his
hand.

"I managed to do this myself in trying to get the knife away from him,"
the doctor explained.

With his unwounded hand he took an ivory-handled penknife, stained red
with blood, from his pocket, and held it before her eyes. It had been a
gift from her to the man who was now her husband in the early days of
their acquaintance, before the thought of marriage had risen between
them. With all the valuables he had pawned and lost and thrown away,
strange that this worthless gift of the girl whose life he had ruined
should have stuck to him; stranger still that after all those years she
should be able to recognise it beyond possibility of doubt! He held it
towards the basin of water as though to rinse it, but she took it from
him and laid it aside.

"Let it be!" she said. "I shall know what to do with the knife."

The doctor's outside patients might be crying aloud for him; it was
more than noontide, and he should long have been about his work; the
patient in the private ward should have had Sister Marion at his side;
but the pair lingered in the little red-and-white tiled ward kitchen,
bathed in the warm rays of the golden afternoon sun. The dressing of
the wounds was a long business, and to the ministering woman heavenly
sweet.

Over the cut upon his forehead the short, dark hair had to be combed.
By altering the place of parting this was easily done. And Sister
Marion, looking down upon him to see the effect, thrilled to find eyes,
usually cold and preoccupied, fixed in a rapture of adoration upon her
face.

"No woman in the world has such a tender touch as you," he said. "My
mother used to kiss my hurts to make them well. Will you do that too
for me?"

Then the woman with murder in her heart stooped and kissed him tenderly
as a mother upon his brow, knelt for an instant before him, and kissed
his hand.

"Good-bye," she said, "Good-bye;" and without another word left him and
went upon her business to the private ward.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The recognising eyes were upon her as she opened the door. "I did not
have much trouble to find you, this time," the man said. "I didn't even
come here of my own accord. I don't know anything about it, except that
I feel infernally bad. Can't you give me something, Marion?"

"I will give you something presently," she said. "I wish to talk to you
a little first."

"Not until you've untied my hands. What are they tied up for, pray?"

"To keep you from working mischief."

"Have I done anything to that long chap that went out with you? If so
I'll make amends--I'll make any amends in my power."

"You shall make amends. Don't be afraid."

"You speak as if you had not a particle of pity in you; you are as hard
and cold as a stone, as you always were----"

"Not always," she said, grimly--"unluckily for me."

"Any woman who had a grain of pity in her would pity me now. I feel so
frightfully bad, Marion; I believe I am going to die."

"I believe you are."

He called on the name of God at that, and tried ineffectually to rise,
and tugged frantically at the bandages which bound him. She watched
him, standing at the foot of his bed, and could smile as she watched.

"You are afraid to die," she said; "I knew you would be. You were
always a coward."

He cursed her then. His voice was feeble now; it had lost the strength
of delirium. There was something awful in the sound of such words in
such trembling, exhausted tones; yet Marion, listening, smiled on.

"I will not be nursed by you!" he cried. "I won't have you near me,
glaring at me with your Gorgon stare. Send another nurse to me--send
the doctor. Get out of my sight, Gorgon! Don't look at me. Go away!"

The door behind her had been standing a little ajar; she turned round
and shut it. The window was open to the spring air; she closed and
locked it. "Help yourself," she said.

"I'll rouse the place," he threatened, and tried to cry aloud, but his
voice died weakly in his throat. He broke down at that, and began to
whine a little.

"Have some pity," he wept. "I'm a suffering man, and you're a woman,
and I'm in your hands. It's only decent, it's only human, to be sorry
for me--to do something for me. My tongue's like leather; give me
something to drink. A drop of water, even. Why should you begrudge me a
drop of water?"

"There's none in the room," she said; "and I won't leave you to fetch
it. There's only this." She held up to his eyes the quieting mixture
the doctor had ordered. "There is only one dose, unfortunately. If the
bottle had been full, I should have given you the lot, and there would
have been no further trouble. As it is, you can drink what there is.
The time has not come round for it; but time is not going to be of much
matter to you, henceforth; we need not wait for it."

He cursed her in his fainting voice again, and again faintly struggled.
But she held the bottle steadily to his lips, and he drained it to the
last drop.

"That will quiet you," she said, and sat beside him on the bed. From
the pocket of her apron she drew the penknife with which the doctor had
been wounded. "Do you remember this?" she asked him. "There is blood
upon it, but that is going to be wiped out."

He looked at her with eyes from which the consciousness was dying, and
did not struggle any more.

"Do you remember it?" she asked again. "You had cut your name and mine
on a tree in the garden of my home, and you asked for the penknife as a
memento. Is it possible you can have forgotten?"

She spoke to him with great deliberation, holding the penknife before
his eyes, and watching the drooping of the heavy lids.

"Strange, isn't it, that, so much having been flung away, you should
have kept this miserable little keepsake with you till to-day? I
suppose its small blade is its sharp blade still?"

Slowly she opened it, and stood up.

With an effort he opened his eyes upon her. "I am dead with sleep," he
said, in a hollow, far-away voice; "but I can't sleep with my hands
tied. Set me free, Marion! Set me free!"

"It is that I am going to do," she said.

She leant above him then, and, with fingers that never trembled,
unbuttoned the wrists of his flannel shirt and rolled the sleeves back
to his shoulders. How thin the arms were; how plainly the veins showed
up in the white, moist skin. Across one that rose like a fine blue cord
from the bend of the arm she drew the sharp blade of the knife. He gave
but the slightest start, so heavy was he with sleep. She knelt upon his
pillow, leant across him, and in the other arm severed the
corresponding vein.

She had thought that the blood would flow quietly--how it spurted and
spouted and ran! Before she could untie his hands and lay them beneath
the blanket at his sides the white, lean arms were crimson with blood.
At this rate, it would not take him long to die! She rinsed the blood
from the little penknife in a basin of water, and turning down the
blanket, laid it upon his breast.

"You have kept it a good many years," she said, mockingly. "Keep it
still."

Some blood was on her own hands--how could she have been so clumsy!
They were all smeared with blood; they--horrible!--_smelt_ of blood.

She flew towards the basin to rinse them, but before she could reach
it, without a warning sound the door opened, and the matron was in the
room.

With the tell-tale hands behind her back, Sister Marion stood before
her, intervening between her and the bed.

"Your patient is strangely quiet all at once," the matron said.

"He is sleeping," said the nurse.

In spite of herself she had to give way before the matron, who now
stood by the bed.

"It does not seem a healthy sleep," she said. "He has a very exhausted
look. And why is his blanket tucked so tightly round his arms?" She
waited for no explanations, but smoothed the man's ruffled hair and
looked down pityingly upon him. "Even now he has a handsome face," she
said. "Ten years ago he must have been as handsome as a god."

Ten years ago! Who knew how handsome he had been then better than
Sister Marion? In an instant how vivid was the picture of him that rose
before her eyes! The picture of a young man's laughing face--gay,
winning, debonair. A dancing shadow was on his face of the leaves of
the tree by which he stood, and on which he had carved two names--

With an involuntary movement she was beside him, looking down upon the
unconscious face; and wonderful it was to see that all its lines were
smoothing out, and all the marks of years of debauchery. Even the
sallow hue of them seemed to be changing in his cheeks. Extraordinary
that the healthy colour of early manhood should reappear in the cheeks
of a dying man!

In her surprise she called him by his name. Looking up, fearful that
she had betrayed herself to the matron, she found that she was alone
with him again, the door closed. There was absolute silence in the
room, except a soft, drip-dripping from the bed to the floor. No need
to look; she knew what it was. How short a time before the two streams
from the veins, emptying themselves of the life-blood, met beneath the
bed and trickled, trickled to the door! She flung a towel down to sop
up the tiny flood, and saw it swiftly crimson before her eyes. She
turned back to the bed, a great horror upon her now, and saw that the
eyes of the dying man were open and upon her face.

"I loved you," he said. "Once I loved you, Marion!"

The words were like a knife in her heart. She groaned aloud, but could
not speak.

"I have been bad--bad," he went on; "but I will atone. Give me time,
Marion, and I will atone. Save me! Don't send me before my God like
this, without a chance. You are my wife. You swore--swore to stick to
me. Save me!"

In his extremity power had come back to his voice. He struggled
desperately, half raised himself. "Save me!" he shrieked. "Don't send
my soul to perdition!"

She flung the blanket off him, and tried with fingers, that only shook
and helplessly fumbled now, to bind a ligature above the opened vein.

Misunderstanding, he tried to fling her off. "You are tying me again!
Fiend! Fiend!" he cried. He dashed his arms about, fighting for life.
Her enveloping white apron was splashed and soaked with blood. Even on
her face it fell. As it rained, warm and crimson, upon her, she
shrieked aloud.

In an instant the little room was full of surprised and frightened
faces. "She has killed me!" the man screamed. "Killed me! She is tying
me down to see me die!"

"I want to save him--now," Sister Marion strove to say above the
clamour. No one heeded.

"She did this, and this," the man said, showing his wounded arms. "Ask
her! Ask her!"

"It is true," Marion gasped. Oh, the difficulty of getting her tongue
to form words! "But I want to save him--now."

"Too late," the matron said; and hers and all the faces--the room
seemed full of them--looked at her with loathing, shrinking from her,
as she stood before them, spattered with her husband's blood. "The man
is dying fast."

At that instant one of the younger nurses who had been ministering to
the figure upon the bed, lifted up a warning hand. "He is dead!" she
said.

How the faces glared at her! Strange as well as familiar ones--crowds
upon crowds of faces. Faces of the nurses who had been her friends, who
had loved her; faces from out the past--how came they there with their
heart-remembered names!--her mother's face--her mother who was with the
angels of God! All the forces of Heaven and earth testifying against
her who had done the unspeakable deed.

Was there no one on her side--no one who would shield her from the
accusing eyes?

The cry with which she called upon the doctor's name in its frantic
expression of utmost need must have had power to annihilate time and
space, for while the sound of it still thrilled upon the ear the young
doctor was in the room. She turned to him with the joy of one who finds
his saviour.

Standing before her, his hands pressed firmly upon her shoulders, he
bent his head till the strong, kind face almost touched her own.

"Murderer!" he whispered in her ear, and flung her from him.

She lay where he had thrown her; but someone's hands were still pressed
upon her shoulders, a voice was still whispering "Murderer!" in her
ear--or was it--was it "Marion" the voice whispered?

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Marion, how soundly you have slept--and not even undressed! It is
eight o'clock, and time for you to go on night-duty. Doctor is going
his evening rounds."

Only half-awakened, the horror of her dream still holding her, Sister
Marion pushed the nurse away from her, threw herself from her bed, and
flew along the corridor. From the door of the private ward the doctor
was issuing; he stared at her wild, white look, her tumbled, uncovered
hair. She seized him by the arm. "Doctor!" she sobbed. "The man in
there has been cruel to me, but I want to nurse him--I want to save
him! Never, never could I have done him any harm!"

"Why should you have done him any harm?" the doctor asked, soothingly.
"Who would have harmed the poor fellow? Come and see."

He softly opened the door of the private ward, and with his hand upon
her arm, led her in.

The matron and one of the nurses stood on either side of the bed, from
which the scarlet blanket had been removed. The long white sheet which
had replaced it was pulled up over the face of the recumbent form.

"He died an hour ago in his sleep," the matron said. "He did not regain
consciousness after you left him. I have been with him all the time."

Sister Marion, with dazed eyes, looked down upon her hands--slowly,
from one to the other. Clean, clean, thank Heaven! Looked at her
spotless apron, at the sheet showing the sharp outline of the figure on
the bed.

"Was there, upon his breast, a little ivory-handled penknife?" she
asked.

But before they had told her, wonderingly, no, she had fallen on her
knees beside the quiet figure and was sobbing to herself a prayer of
thanksgiving.

"A sensitive, imaginative woman--she has been wakened too suddenly,"
the doctor said.

His gaze dwelt lingering upon her bent, dark head as slowly he turned
away.



DORA OF THE RINGOLETS


"I wish I c'd du my ringolets same as yu kin, mother. When I carl 'em
over my fingers they don't hang o' this here fashion down my back, but
go all of a womble-like; not half s' pretty."

"Tha's 'cause ye twist 'em wrong way, back'ards round yer fingers," the
faint voice from the bed made answer. "Yu ha' got to larn to du 'em,
Dora, don't, yer'll miss me cruel when I'm gone."

The dying woman was propped on a couple of pillows of more or less
soiled appearance; these were raised to the required height by means of
a folded flannel petticoat and dingy woollen frock, worn through all
the twelve years of her married life, but now to be worn no more. On
the man's coat, spread for extra warmth over the thin counterpane, lay
a broken comb and brush. Over her fingers, distorted by hard work, but
pale from sickness and languid with coming death, the mother twisted
the locks, vigorously waving, richly gilded, and dragged them in
shining, curled lengths over the child's shoulders.

Because of the extreme weakness of the hands the process was a
laborious one. A heavier pallor was upon the face, a cold moisture upon
the sunken brow when it was accomplished.

"I'll kape on while I kin--I don' know as I shall ha' the strength much
longer, Dora."

The child twitched her curls from the fingers that lay heavily upon
them and turned on her mother fiercely. "Yu ha' got ter du 'em, then!"
she cried. She glared upon the faint head slipped sideways on the
pillow. "Yu ha'n't got ter put none o' them parts on, du I'll let ye
ter know."

Her eyes were suddenly wide and brilliant with tears; the fading sight
of the mother was dazzled by the yellow shine of them and of the
richly-coloured hair. "My pretty gal!" she breathed; "my pretty Dora! I
ha'n't got no strength, bor."

"I'll let yer ter know!" Dora cried with fury. "I'll hull yer pillars
away, and let yer hid go flop, if ye say yer ha'an't got no strength.
I'll let yer ter know!"

She stopped, because the sobs which had been stormily rising choked
her. She seized in her red little hands the pillow beneath her mother's
head. No word of remonstrance was spoken, the faded eyes gazing wearily
upon the child held no reproof.

"What d'ye look at me, that mander, for? Why don't ye ketch me a lump
o' the hid?" the child cried fiercely; then gave way to the suppressed
sobbing. "Oh, mother, yu ain't a-dyin'? Yu ain't a-dyin' yit?"

She flung her own head on the soiled pillow; all the crisply waving,
long ringlets flew over the mother's sunken chest; one fell across her
parched lips. She moistened them with her tongue, and made a feeble
motion of kissing. A tear slid slowly down her cheek.

"Not yit, my pretty gal," she whispered. "Mother ain't a-goin' ter lave
yer yit."

"Promus! Yer ain't a-tellin' no lies? Yer'll stop along of me till I
kin carl my ringolets myself. I ha' got ter have 'em carled, and there
ain't no one else to du 'em for me."

The mother promised.

"There's Jim and Jack--they don't want ye, mother. Their hairs is
short. They kin play hopstick i' th' midder, alonger th' other boys.
Both on 'em kin put their own collars on. There's on'y me, what have
carls, that'll want yer so. Mother! Mother!"

"Don' I kape on a-tellin' of yer I ain't a-goin'."

There was no time to sob for long on the mother's pillow. Dora was due
at school. She wiped her crimsoned cheeks upon the corner of the sheet,
stood up and put her sunburnt sailor-hat upon the carefully curled
hair. She was neatly dressed in a brown woollen frock nearly covered by
a white, lace-trimmed overall; she wore brown stockings and brown
shoes. The mother watched her to the door with yearning eyes.

"My pretty gal!" she said.

The neighbour who waited on her in moments spared from her own
household labours came in. She held a cup of paste made from cornflour
in her hand, and stirred the mixture invitingly.

"It's time yu had suffin' inside of yer, Mis' Green," she said. "Yu
ha'n't tasted wittels since that mossel o' bread-an'-butter yu fancied
las' night."

She put a spoonful of the food, stirred over a smoky fire, to the
parched lips.

"I'd suner, a sight, have a drink o' water," the sick woman said.
"There ain't nothin' I fare ter crave 'cept water now."

"There ain't no nouragement in water, Mis' Green. Take this here,
instids," the neighbour said firmly.

Two spoonfuls were swallowed with difficulty.

"Come! Tha's as ter should be! That comfort ye, Mis' Green, bor?"

The faint eyes looked solemnly in the healthy, stolid face above her.
"There's nothin' don't comfort me, Mis' Barrett."

"An' why's the raisen?" the neighbour reprovingly demanded. "Because
yu're a-dyin', Mis' Green, and yu don't give yer mind tu it. I ha' been
by other deathbeds--the Lord reward me for it, as 'tis ter be expected
He will--and I ha'n't never seed a Christian woman so sot agin goin' as
yu are."

The reluctant one shut her eyes wearily; the dropped lids trembled for
a minute, then were raised upon the same hard face.

"She don' look like a labourer's gal, Dora don't," she said faintly.
"She ha'n't got th' mander o' them sort o' truck."

"What then, Mis' Green?" the neighbour inquired, stern with the
consciousness of her own large family of "truck." The supposed
superiority of Dora of the ringolets hurt her maternal pride and raised
a storm of righteous anger in her breast.

Mrs Green did not explain; the discoloured lids fell again waveringly
over the dim eyes, the upper lip was drawn back showing the gums above
the teeth.

It was the mere skeleton of a woman who lay there. She had suffered
long and intensely; no one could look upon her now and doubt that the
hour of discharge was very near. The woman standing above her reasoned
that if a word of reproof or advice was to be given there was not much
time to lose. Often, from open door to open door (for the pair
inhabited a double dwelling), often, across the garden fence, she had
called aloud her opinion of her neighbour's goings on; she would seize
the opportunity to give it once again.

"And why ain't yer Dora like a labourer's gal, then?" she demanded,
shrilly accusing. "Oh, Mis' Green! Don't yu, a-layin' there o' your
deathbed, know right well the why and the wherefore? Ha'n't yu borrered
right and left, ha'n't you got inter debt high and low, to put a hape
o' finery on yer mawther's back? Ha'n't yu moiled yerself, an' yu a
dyin' woman, over her hid o' hair? Put her i' my Gladus's clo'es, an'
see what yer Dora 'ud look like. Har, wi' her coloured shues, an' all!"

"They was giv' her," the dying woman faintly protested. "Her Uncle
Willum sent them brown uns along of her brown hat wi' th' welwet bow."

"Now, ain't yu a-lyin', Mis' Green, as yu lay there o' yer deathbed?
Them tales may ha' flung dust i' th' eyes o' yer old man, them i' my
hid is too sharp for no sech a story. Di'n't I see th' name o' 'Bunn o'
Wotton' on th' bag th' hat come out of? An' don't yer brother Willum
live i' London, and ha'n't he got seven of's own to look arter? Ter
think as I sh'd come ter pass ter say sich wards, an' yu a-layin' there
a-dyin'! Ain't yer ashamed o' yerself, Mis' Green. I'm a-askin' of yer
th' question; ain't yer ashamed o' yerself?"

"No, an' ain't," said Mrs Green, feebly whispering.

Beneath the flickering, bruised-looking lids, tears slowly oozed. The
neighbour felt for a pocket-handkerchief under the pillow, and wiped
them away.

"Fact o' th' matter, Mis' Green," she inflexibly pursued her subject,
"yu ha' made a raglar idle o' that gal; yu ha' put a sight o' finery on
'er back, an' stuffed 'er hid wi' notions; an' wha's a-goin ter become
on 'r when you're gone?"

"I was a-wonderin'," the dying woman said, "s'posin' as I was willin'
to speer this here parple gownd o' mine, rolled onder my pillar--I was
a-wonderin', Mis' Barrett, ef so bein' as yu'd ondertake ter carl my
gal's ringolets, now an' agin, for 'er?"

"No," the other said, spiritedly, nobly proof against the magnitude of
the bribe. "That'd go agin my conscience, Mis' Green. I'm sorrer ter be
a denyin' of yer, but yer mawther's hid o' hair I ha'n't niver approved
on; I can't ondertake it, an' so, I say, straight forrerd, at oncet."

The face so "accustomed to refusings" did not change, no flush of
resentment relieved its waxen pallor or lightened its fading eyes.
"'Tis th' last thing I'm a-askin' of yer," the poor woman said, weakly.
"Try as I kin, I can't live much longer. 'Tis on'y nat'ral I should
think o' Dora an' th' child'en."

"Yu think a sight too much on 'em, bor! 'Tis time yu give 'em up. Yu
lay o' yer deathbed, Mis' Green, an' yu a mis'rable sinner; can't you
put up a prayer to ask th' Lord ter have marcy on yer?"

"No," said Mrs Green.

"'No'--an' why not?"

"Cos I don' keer."

"Don' keer, Mis' Green?"

"No, Mis' Barrett, so's He look arter Dora an' th' child'en, I don't
keer what He du ter me."

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Mother!"

No answer, but a quiver of drooping lids.

"Mother!"

At the sharp terror of the voice the lids lifted themselves and fell
again.

"Yu ain't a-dyin', mother?"

"'Course I ain't."

"Yer promussed! Yer said yer warn't a-dyin'!"

"An' I ain't."

"Then don't kape a-lookin' o' that mander. Lay hold o' th' comb an' du
my ringolets."

The comb was thrust within cold fingers which did not close upon it.

"If so bein' yer don't set ter wark and comb 'em out I'll shake ye.
I'll shake ye, mother, du yer hare? Du yer hare, mother? Th' bell's
gone, an' how'm I ter go ter school an' my ringolets not carled?"

They were not curled that morning, however, for at the sound of the
child's angry, frightened voice Mrs Barrett came running upstairs and
seized her and dragged her from the room.

"Yer baggige, yu! Ter spake i' that mander to a dyin' woman!"

"She ain't a-dyin', then," the child screamed as she was thrust from
the house. "She ain't a-dyin', an' I want my ringolets carled."

Once, when Dora had announced in the hearing of a pupil-teacher that
she was the prettiest girl in the school: "You ain't, then," the older
girl had told her. "You are not pretty at all, Dora, but exactly like
your brother Jim."

"Jim's ugly! You're a-tazin' of me!" Dora had fiercely cried.

"If you hadn't your curls you'd be Jim over again," the teacher had
persisted.

She was a tempestuous little animal. She had flown to her mother with
the horrid insinuation, had sobbed and screamed, and kicked the
innocent, ugly Jim. If she had not her curls!

But she had them. Even this morning, when for the first time she must
appear in school without having them freshly curled, the consciousness
of their weight upon her shoulders was a comfort to the child. As well
as she could without disarranging the set of it, she smoothed each long
curl into order as she walked along. The sun of autumn shone, lying
like a benediction upon the land whose fruits were gathered; among the
hips and haws in the hedges the birds, their family cares all over,
sang lightsomely, with vacant hearts. Happiness was in the air. Perhaps
someone would say how pretty the curls were, to-day. Perhaps, as once,
blessedly, before had happened, a lady riding slowly along the green
wayside might pull up her horse to inquire whose little girl she was,
to give her sixpence, to ask how much she would take for her beautiful
curls.

Ah, with what joy on that happy morning Dora had galloped home to give
the account to her mother! The sixpence had gone to buy the blue ribbon
Dora wore among her locks on Sundays; but how the mother had cheered
up! She had seemed almost well for half an hour that evening, and Dora
had told the tale again and again.

"I was a-walkin' along, like this here, not a thinkin' a mite o' my
ringolets, an' I see th' woman on th' horse keep a-smilin'. So I made
my manners, an' she pulled up 'r horse. 'Whu's little gal be yu?' she
say; 'an' where did yu git yer lovely hair?'"

Her mother had eaten two bits of bread-and-butter, that evening, and
had drunk the tea Dora all alone had made her. How happy it had been!
Perhaps it would all happen again.

Morning school over, she was putting on her hat among a struggling mass
of children anxious to get into the open, where there was a great blue
vault to shout under, and stones to shy, when the schoolmistress from
the empty class-room called her back. The woman stood by her silently
for a minute, one hand on the child's shoulder, the other moving
thoughtfully over the shining fell of hair.

"Don't shout and play with the others to-day, Dora," she said at
length. "Wait till they clear off, and then go right home."

"Yes, tacher."

The schoolmistress waited for another minute, smoothing the curls.

"You're only right a little girl, Dora, but you're the only one. You
must try to be good, and look after poor little Jack and Jim, and your
father--and be a comfort."

"Yes, tacher." Dora took courage beneath the caressing hand: "I like to
be a comfit to mother best," she vouchsafed, brightly daring.

"But your mother----" the governess said, then stopped and turned away
her head; she could not bring herself to tell the child the news of the
mother she had heard that morning, since school began.

So Dora went, sedately for the first few steps, afterwards with a happy
rush, the curls dancing on her shoulders.

"Yer mother is a-dyin', she 'ont be here long; you must try to be a
better gal"; how often of late had that phrase offended her ears! She
had met such announcements with a fury of denial, with storms of tears.
She had rushed to her mother with wild reproach and complaint. "Why
don't ye tell 'm yu ain't a-dyin', stids o' layin' there, that mander.
They're allust a-tazin' of me?"

To-day no one had said the hated words; and mother would like to hear
how teacher had "kep'" her at her side, and coaxed her hair. "I ha'n't
niver seed her du that to Gladus, nor none on 'em," she would say, and
would remind her mother how these less fortunate girls had not her "hid
o' hair."

So, her steps quickened with joyful anticipation, she came running
across the meadow in which was her home.

"Here come Dora," Mrs Barrett, who had been busy in Mrs Green's room,
said to the neighbour who had helped her. Both women peeped through the
lowered blind. "She'll come poundin' upstairs to her mother. There
ain't no kapin' of 'r away; and a nice how-d'ye-do there'll be!"

The elder boy, Jim, whose ugly little face Dora's was said to resemble,
was standing against the gate of the neglected garden. He did not shout
at her, nor throw a stone at her, in the fashion of his usual greeting,
but pulled open the rickety gate as she came up.

"Mother's dead," he whispered, and looked at her with curiosity.

"She ain't, then," Dora said. He drew his head back to avoid the blow
she aimed at it, and shut the gate after her.

Jack, an ugly urchin of five, the youngest of the family, was sitting
on the doorstep, hammering with the iron-shod heel of his heavy boot a
hazel nut he had found on his way home. The nut, instead of cracking,
was being driven deep into the moist earth. He did not desist from his
employment, or lift his head.

"Father's gone for mother's corffin," he said.

The howl he gave when Dora knocked him off the step brought Mrs Barrett
upon the scene. She pulled the girl off the fallen Jack with a gentler
touch than usual.

"You come along upstairs, along o' me," she said.

                     *      *      *      *      *

There was not only the coffin to be ordered in Wotton, but suits of
black for himself and children, besides the joint of meat to be cooked
for the meal after the funeral. Mr Green did not hurry over his
purchases, but went about them with the leisurely attentiveness of one
anxious to do the right thing, but unaccustomed to the business of
making bargains.

His wages had been "made a hand on," lately; there had been brandy and
"sech-like" to buy for the missus; the neighbour to pay, leaving little
more than enough for bread for the rest of them. But now, with this
burying money--! The new-made widower enjoyed the hitherto undreamed-of
experience of knowing that he might put in for a glass at every
public-house he passed, and not exhaust it.

He treated himself to a tin of salmon to have with his supper, when he
got back to Dulditch. While his wife had been well and about, she had
been wont at rare intervals to supply such a "ralish" to the evening
meal. Having the means to indulge himself, his thoughts had at once
travelled to the luxury.

Yet, arrived at home, he had had too much beer to be very hungry, and
the thought of the dead wife, up there, just beyond the ceiling,
destroyed what little pleasure the feast might have held.

"Happen she'd been alive, she'd maybe ha' picked a mossel," he said to
himself.

That she could be totally indifferent to the delicacy, even although
dead and fairly started on her heavenward journeying, was a bewildering
fact his dull brain could scarcely grasp. He got up from the table, and
taking the unshaded lamp, walked heavily upstairs to look upon this
marvel--his wife who was no more.

He was a stolid creature, but was shaken enough to give a sharp growl
of fear when, from the other side of the rigid form upon the bed, a
head was lifted.

"Hello!" he called. "Hello! What yu a-doin' here? Now then! Come out o'
that, yu young warmint; don't, I'll hide ye."

The figure lying by the dead woman slipped to the ground. It wore a
brown frock and a crumpled white overall trimmed with lace.

"Hello!" the man said again. He looked stupidly at his little daughter,
then pulled aside the sheet which covered his wife.

In the waxen face, with lids still half-open above the dull eyes, with
lips drawn back to show the gums, was little change. Beneath the chin a
large white bow of coarse muslin had been tied. It was designed to hide
the thinness of the throat, but gave, besides, a dreadful air of
smartness to the poor corpse. Above the sunken chest the arms were
crossed, but, over them, and over the thin hands, in a burning, shining
mass of resplendent colour lay--

The husband held the lamp nearer, and bent his dull, red face to peer
closer at the scattered heap--the miracle of bronze and red, red living
gold. "Hello!" he said again, then moved the lamp to let its light
shine on his daughter's face, and stared at her.

"Hello!"

"I ha'n't got no one now to carl my ringolets," the child sobbed, her
voice rising high in the scale of rebellious misery; "my ringolets
ain't no good to me no more. I ha' cut 'em off; mother, she kin have
'em. They ain't no good ter me."

The glare of the lamp held awry was upon the broad red face of the girl
with the streaming, yellow eyes, with the unevenly cropped head.

"I thought yu was the boy Jim," her father said.



PINK CARNATIONS


"You see, they are my lucky flowers," she said. "I can't very well wear
them on my wedding-dress, but I'm to have some to go away with. Jack's
going to bring them down from town with him to-night."

I asked of Daphne, who had been the favourite of fortune from her
birth, in whose cup of sweet no bitter had ever mingled, who had walked
for all her happy days along a flowery path, what she meant by such
nonsense.

She was ready enough to give me her absurd girlish reasons.

What she told me was the feeblest folly, of course; but even silly
superstition must be pardoned to such a pretty person; and the words of
a young woman who is going to be married on the morrow must be treated
by a hopeless spinster, I suppose, with, at least, a semblance of
respect. There had been an occasion, it seemed, long ago in her
childhood, when she, having lost from her neck a locket which held her
dead father's portrait, had found it, all search for it having ceased,
on the carnation-bed where she had stooped to pick a flower. On the day
that the news reached them that Hugh, her brother, had won the hurdle
race at Cambridge (one of the chief triumphs, it appeared, of her
eventless life) she had just finished arranging a vase of pink
carnations for her dressing-table. Once, when her mother had been
seriously ill and there had been a fear the disease from which she
suffered was going to take a dangerous turn, she, Daphne, had been
frightened and very unhappy. Longing for, yet dreading the doctor's
arrival, she had watched him descend from his carriage, wearing a pink
carnation in his coat. She had known at once that his verdict on her
mother's state would be favourable; and it was. A burglar had tried to
get in at Daphne's sitting-room window--at least Daphne, on what
appeared to me insufficient evidence, declared that he had done so. The
window-box had fallen to the ground, and had put the burglar to
flight--that is, if there had been one. At any rate it was clearly
proved that the window-box had fallen. It contained, of course, pink
carnations.

And so on to many other instances, chief among which was the fact that
the first time she had beheld the handsome face of the Jack she was to
marry to-morrow she had worn a bunch of her favourite flowers in the
bodice of her white silk dress. Afterwards, on the day of the County
Ball, at which function he had proposed, he had sent her a bouquet
composed entirely of pink carnations, and had chosen one of those
blooms for his own buttonhole.

"Without knowing--without my having even mentioned to him that they
brought me luck!" Daphne assured me, the dark, poetic eyes in her small
face large with the mystery of it. "Do you wonder Jack agrees with me I
_must_ not be without them on my wedding-day?"

By her mother's command, and in order that she might not look, as I am
assured many brides do look, a "perfect rag" on her wedding-day, Daphne
was to rest for a certain number of hours, that afternoon. She was
forbidden, even, to write one of the seventy still remaining out of the
three hundred letters of thanks to the donors of wedding-presents.

She should have to work them off--so many a day--on her honeymoon,
Daphne ruefully supposed. Jack would help. She would make him direct
the envelopes. She bore a grudge apparently against the givers of the
treasures under which the tables in the morning-room were groaning.

"If you could only know what it has been!" she sighed. "However hard I
wrote I couldn't keep pace. No sooner had I wiped one name off the list
than three more presents had come!"

From this onerous duty, however, she was now to desist, and from all
fatigue of receiving the guests who were arriving by different trains
throughout the day. She was to lie at her ease on silken cushions in
that pretty room of her own, upon whose window-box the supposititious
burglar had set his too heavy boot. I was amused to see that the white
chintzes of the chairs and hangings were flowered with pink carnations,
and that garlands of the flower, tied with pink ribbons, formed the
frieze of the white wallpaper.

"Well, you were always a petted and spoilt child," I said to her; "and
I suppose you are going to be so to the end of the chapter."

"Only more so," she said, with her youthful arrogance. "You can't think
what a splendid hand at spoiling Jack is."

I laughed, told her to let me know how much he spoilt her in five
years' time, and left her. For a servant had interrupted our
conversation with the announcement that Mr Mavor, who had returned from
town, would be glad to speak to me.

"Hughie? how absurd!" Daphne said, who wanted to go on talking to me
about her lover. "As if Hughie could possibly have a thing to say to
you which would not keep, Hannah!"

"It is to make me an offer of marriage I have not the slightest doubt,"
I told her, being of an age when a woman can make jokes of that kind
about herself and pretend not to feel the heartprick.

I found the head of the house in the room which had been turned into a
museum of objects of art--precious and not precious--for exhibition on
the morrow. I had known the young man from boyhood, and I saw at once
that something was amiss. He had left for town before my arrival that
morning, and this was our first meeting, but he forgot to come forward
and put out his hand. He stalked past me, instead, and banged the door
by which I had entered; then he seized me by the arm.

"Hannah," he said, "I want to talk to you. I want your advice. We're in
a devil of a mess."

"It's the wedding-dress, or the wedding-cake!" I said, staring at him.
"One of them hasn't come!"

"It's about Marston. Something I only heard to-day. He must not be
allowed to marry my sister."

"Hughie!"

He took his hand from my arm, laid it on one of the tables spread with
the presents. There was a faint ringing of silver and china to show the
hand was not steady. He is a self-contained, sturdily-built,
matter-of-fact young man in the early twenties; quite unlike his
sister, whose appearance is elegantly fragile, who is filled with
nerves, and sensitive to the fingertips.

"I got a letter this morning," he went on, and for a moment fumbled in
his coat-pocket as if with the intention, quickly relinquished, of
showing it. "It was from a woman; telling me of certain incidents in
Marston's career."

"Probably all made up. Lies."

"It isn't. Once for all, don't waste time in saying that. I went up
this morning to the address she gave me. I saw her. She told me worse
than she wrote--poor wretch! I didn't take it for gospel. I got
confirmation, all round. There isn't room for the shadow of a doubt.
She left her husband a year ago for Marston----"

"A year ago? Only a year?"

"A year. The husband got a divorce; this brute refused to marry her."

"Oh, Hugh!"

"It's worse. I can't tell you all. Sufficient that he played the
traitor, the coward, the beast. Left her to face shame, and poverty,
and--everything, alone."

"Can it be so bad! You are certain?"

He lifted the unsteady hand and laid it open, heavily again upon the
table where the Crown Derby coffee services, the silver inkstands,
muffineers and bridge boxes, whose donors had not even been thanked,
jingled with a tiny music once more.

"Certain. Now, don't keep repeating that word, Hannah. I don't want to
waste time producing proofs, but I've got them. It's as certain as
death. And it's not the only thing. Once I was on his track--late in
the day as it was--I learnt more. We live so in a hole, down here, and
nothing like this has ever come near us. We've taken people for what
they seemed to be--as I, ass that I was, took Marston--and never poked
into their histories. The man's got a bad record, all along. Decent
people have closed their doors in his face."

"_What_ will you do, Hugh? What _can_ you do now?"

"Do? Stop the marriage," he said. He glared for a minute upon the
costly display on the table, then turned his back on it all, and
carried his white face to the window. "My sister shall never marry that
scoundrel," he said.

"Daphne's heart will break."

"I know." He looked out on the wintry landscape with gloomy eyes, and a
resolutely held underlip. "That is what my mother says. I do not
believe it; but if it is so, it does not alter what is the right and
only course to take."

"What else does your mother say?"

He moved his shoulders impatiently. "That the wedding must go on; that
it is too late to draw back." He turned swiftly upon me. "Could you
have believed that _my mother_, of all people, could take such a view
as that?"

"I can see how she feels about it. To break it off now is too hideously
painful----"

"And what will it be for Daphne if it goes on? Don't you suppose her
life with a brute like that would be hideously painful?" He held the
back of his hand to his forehead for a moment and shut his eyes tightly
as if in painful thought. "My poor little sister!" he said. "Poor
Dapple!"

I sat down and stared stupidly before me, too overcome by the situation
to be able even to think.

"Your mother says the wedding is to go on; you say it is to be
stopped----"

He pounced upon me. "I am master here," he said.

He had always seemed a boy to me, and I had never known him to exert
his authority before. His mother and young sister had taken their own
way in affairs, and had never been hampered by the consideration that
"Hughie" was a person of importance. Yet, there was no doubt about his
position. Looking at, and listening to him now, I saw that he meant to
have his way; and my conscience told me that his way was the right one.

A word or two more he said to me of incidents in Jack Marston's
history; showed me how it had happened that these were only recently
revealed to him; how, to the Mavors' circle he had been entirely a
stranger; how the few friends of Hugh's who had had any acquaintance
with the man had wondered at the sister's engagement, but thought it no
business of their own.

"Have you made your mother understand you are determined in the
matter?"

"I have told her I will shoot the man before he shall marry my sister."

"And what is she doing? Your mother?"

"She is raving like a madwoman in her bedroom."

The stupendousness of the situation, to which at moments I felt
insensible, kept coming over me in waves of comprehension.

"Well, I don't wonder!" I said.

Long pauses fell between our fragments of speech. He stood before the
square centre table, black-browed, staring at its glittering burden.

The footman appeared at the door. "If you please, sir, Hamley wishes to
know if the dog-cart as well as the brougham and omnibus is to meet the
5.15 this evening?"

His master looked at the man with knit brows, as if making a painful
effort to understand what was said. He pulled out his watch, and for a
minute studied it.

"Tell Hamley," then he said, "not to meet the 5.15 at all. No one will
come by that train. In ten minutes I shall want to send some
telegrams."

The man, staring at the strange order, withdrew.

"You are going to stop the rest of the guests?" I asked.

"Of course. They were coming to the wedding. There will be no wedding."

"And Jack Marston? You can't _telegraph_ this horrible thing to him!"

"Can't I? I shall."

"And Daphne? She is sitting in her room counting the minutes till he
comes to her."

"Hannah, I want you to go and tell her."

"I, Hugh! Why should I be picked out to do such a horrible thing?"

"My mother will not. Daphne has always known you. You have sense----"

"I will not. So that is the finish, Hugh. I haven't got a stone for a
heart. I would cut out my tongue rather than do it."

"Then, I must," he said, turned on his heels and made for the door.

Having reached it and flung it open, he looked back at me with his
distressed, scowling face. "This is how one's friends fail one in an
emergency!" he said.

His scorn, at the moment, was nothing to me, but I was beside myself
with sorrow and dismay. Daphne, with her sweet, small face lying among
her cushions, her dark eyes filled with visions of the lover who was
speeding to her, of the joyful life just opening before her--and
Tragedy, pitiless, relentless, awaiting her! Her messenger, oh so much
more cruel than the messenger of Death, crossing corridors, mounting
stairs, hurrying with the inevitableness of Fate upon her! Was there
nothing to be done? Was there no hand to save?

Hugh was right. Boy as he was, he was acting as a man should act. His
mother, who, to save her ears from the despairing cries of her child,
to avoid the painful explanation to invited guests, the perplexity of
interrupted plans, was willing that the marriage should continue, was
weak, wicked even, perhaps. But I found it in my heart to wish that she
might have her way, that the suffering, since there must be suffering,
should be, at any rate, postponed.

The engagement had been a short one, and circumstances had of late
limited my intercourse with the family; the bridegroom and I had met
but once. Yet now his handsome face rose before me--a face whose only
fault was that it was, perhaps, too handsome. I thought of the tales
Daphne's mother had told me of his extraordinary passion for the girl
with whom he had fallen in love at first sight. Women love love. No
woman is too old to thrill at the story of a lover's ardour. The man
was a sinner, no doubt; to Hugh he seemed a scoundrel; but--

I caught up with Hugh as he was going--very slowly going, poor
boy--round the last turning to his sister's room.

"Hughie," I gasped, breathless with my haste. "You are right--but don't
be brutal. Don't _kill_ the child. Listen. Instead of writing to Jack
Marston, let him come. Let him tell her himself. Give her a chance.
Give him one, even. It is a cruel business, anyhow. Don't let's blunder
into making it worse than it is."

I suppose as he had gone to the accomplishment of his heavy task he had
become more appreciative of its difficulty. He was very fond of his
sister, and must have shrunk with dread from the contemplation of her
pain. Anyhow, his purpose had weakened. With a few words more I got him
to acquiesce in the amended plan.

"How can we be certain he tells her? He will lie to her," he objected.

"We will take measures to be sure he does not."

"He is a specious beggar; she will marry him all the same."

"Then, if he has such an ascendency over her, would she not in any
case? She is of age; her own mistress."

"But not from my house," the boy said.

However, in what I proposed there was respite; and, for better or
worse, I had my way.

I could not return to witness the innocent happiness of Daphne, and I
spent the rest of the afternoon in trying to soothe the agitation of
Daphne's mother; listening to her tirades against her suddenly
masterful son, hearing her protestations of faith in the rectitude of
Jack Marston, alternating with her outbursts of anger and grief at his
hitherto unsuspected villainy.

"Hugh will see him when he arrives, will confront him with the story,"
I told her. "I don't suppose he can utterly deny, but he can palliate.
There will be nothing told to Daphne which she can't forgive. The
wedding will go on."

Calm came to her presently, even cheerfulness--so mercifully is the
mature heart case-hardened to bear its burdens. It is, I am sure of it,
the heart of the young only which can break. Terrible things were
hanging over the house. Sin and shame in the person of Jack Marston
were approaching it by the 5.15 train. Its most idolised inmate was to
be killed with disappointment, or to bind herself on the morrow to a
life of misery, perhaps disgrace; but in the drawing-room was already a
sprinkling of guests, many more were on their way. The wolf may gnaw at
the vitals, but a hostess must wear a smiling face.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The omnibus and the brougham returned duly from the station with the
last expected guests, vehicles containing their luggage and their
servants followed; but the dog-cart, sent specially to meet Jack
Marston, came back empty.

The master of the house heard the intelligence without comment.
Presently he came across to me with an ugly look on his set face.

"The beggar has got wind of it, you see, and has made a bolt," he said.

I hardly know if it was a relief or not to find that this was not the
case. One of the Mayors' newly-arrived cousins, who had seen the
bridegroom at Liverpool Street, had been entrusted with a note to the
bride which satisfactorily explained his absence.

I carried this note in to Daphne as she dressed for dinner. It was only
a hurried scrawl on a leaf torn from a memorandum book, and, having
read it, she passed it on to me.

"Four whole hours before he gets here!" she lamented. "Oh, Hannah!
could anything have been more truly unlucky?"

    "Darling," the pencilled lines ran, "I find those beggars in Covent
    Garden have not sent the carnations. I shall wait till the last
    minute, and if not here must go after them. I dare not come to you
    without the carnations! Have me met by the 9.30. Yours for ever,
    and ever, and ever--JACK."

"My dear, four hours isn't much," I reminded her.

"Four hours is a lifetime," she said.

She stared, positively with tears in her eyes, at her pretty reflection
in the glass. "I don't know how I shall get through this evening," she
said.

I don't know how we all did; but it passed somehow, although it did not
pass gaily. Hugh was too young and honest to hide with any success the
care that harassed him; his glum face at the head of the dinner-table
was discouraging to the most persistent cheerfulness. Mrs Mavor did her
best, but she was ill at ease, and, as must have been patent to all,
strongly disinclined to talk of to-morrow's event. To Daphne,
disappointed of her lover's presence and support, the gathering of the
clans was an ordeal and an embarrassment.

Standing beside her when coffee was brought to her, I heard her ask of
the servant if the dog-cart was yet gone to meet Mr Marston. He
believed it was just upon the start, the man said.

"Let me know as soon as it goes, please," Daphne said, and presently
the footman came in again with the desired intelligence.

I suppose the poor child wanted to follow in fancy the dog-cart along
the silent roads and the dark lanes, beneath the starlit sky; to see it
arrive at the little wayside station in time for the rush and roar of
the train, dashing like a jewelled monster out of the desert of night;
dashing off again, its great ruby eyes shining in its tail, into the
blackness of space, having deposited the one precious item of its
freight on the platform.

A half-hour before Marston could arrive Daphne slipped away. "I shall
wait up for Jack," she said to her mother. "Send him, _the instant he
comes_, to me in my sitting-room."

One by one the ladies of the party followed Daphne's example. The men
went off into the smoking-room. Mrs Mavor and I were left alone. Her
nervousness and excitement, suppressed hitherto, were now at fever
heat. She moved about the room, pushing chairs into fresh positions,
shaking their cushions, taking up and setting down, now this now that
ornament, with trembling fingers pulling out and pushing in flowers in
the vases, not improving their arrangement by any means.

"The question is what Hughie will do," she said for the twentieth time.
"If only he would leave it alone! If he would not interfere! It has
gone so far, only Heaven should intervene. You know, Hannah, we all
marry men with our eyes blinded. Daphne must take her chance like the
rest. Supposing it was you, Hannah; if the man was a--murderer--and you
loved him, and knew that he madly loved you, would you thank anyone for
coming between? You'd marry him, wouldn't you?"

I declined to say how I should proceed with my murderer. If I had it in
me to love a man against my reason and my conscience I could not tell.

"It's eleven o'clock," I said. "I thought you told me he would be here
by half-past ten."

She ceased to fidget with the furniture, and came to the mantelpiece by
which I was standing.

"The clock's wrong," she said. "Fast, a good half-hour." She seized the
little gold carriage clock and shook it in her nervous fingers as if
that would put the matter right. The door opened.

"Here he is!" she said, and started violently, almost dropping the
clock.

It was Hugh who came in, his face pale, a fire of excitement gleaming
in his eyes, his watch in his hand. "He should have been here half an
hour ago. It is as I told you: he has made a bolt," he said.

"The dog-cart is not back?"

"No; but you'll see!"

"Are the men gone to bed, Hugh?"

"No, they're in there"; he gave a backward toss of his head in the
direction of the smoking-room. "It all makes me sick," he said. "I
can't sit there and hee-haw with them."

He took up his position between his mother and me, his hands on the
mantelpiece, his foot on the fender, and gloomed down upon the hearth.

When the hands of the little clock showed that another half-hour had
flown, the door was flung open and Daphne came in.

"Hasn't he come?" she asked. "I thought you were keeping him away from
me, downstairs. Hasn't he even _come_?"

"The train is late," the mother said.

But Daphne was overwrought. She flung herself upon a chair, and
twisting herself so that her arms embraced its back and her face was
hidden, began to cry hysterically.

"There has been an accident," she sobbed, presently, lifting her head.
"Hamley has overturned the dog-cart in the dark; Jack has been pitched
out; there is no one to help,--and you all stand here! You all stand
here!"

She insisted that her brother should go at once on his bicycle to see
what was amiss. Her distress unnerved the boy, and softened him. He
lifted her from the chair, and put his arm round her and led her to the
door.

"You go to bed, Dapple-ducky," he said, calling her by the name he had
given her in childhood. "It's all right, dear. Don't you be a silly.
I'll go along at once and fetch him."

His stern resolve was shaken. If Jack Marston had come then he would
have relented; I think the marriage would have taken place.

But he did not come. He never came.

Halfway to the station Hugh Mavor met the dog-cart returning, the groom
alone seated in it. There had been an accident, he said; a couple of
carriages had run off the line and overturned. He had waited for the
surviving passengers to be brought in. The train bringing them had at
length arrived; Mr Marston was not among them.

The accident had happened ten miles down the line. Hugh got into the
dog-cart and drove to the scene of the disaster.

Mrs Mavor spent the night in Daphne's room. I awaited Hugh, sitting
alone by the drawing-room fire, when he returned at four o'clock in the
morning of what was to have been his sister's wedding-day. He came in,
carrying a florist's tin box in his hand, and I read the news in his
face before he spoke.

"Only three killed. He was one. I saw him. I thought I had to. It was
awful."

He sank into the chair where Daphne had sat, hid his face on its back
as she had done, while his shoulders heaved with painful sobbing. After
a few minutes he turned to me.

"We shall have to tell her," he said. "That is the next thing to do."

He got up, and with shaking fingers, not knowing, I think, that he did
so, pulled the string from the tin box, which lay on the table beneath
the lamp, pulled it open.

"Everything else in the carriage seemed to be in shivers--but this," he
said.

Inside, beneath the snowy wrappings of cotton wool, great perfect
blooms of pink carnations lay. The spicy fragrance rose in our faces;
in the light of the lamp the glowing flowers smiled in their faultless
beauty.

"Poor Dapple's lucky flowers!" the boy said.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Those among us who know more of her dead lover than was ever told to
Daphne are disposed to call them her lucky flowers still.



A LITTLE WHITE DOG


"There!" Elinor cried. "Now, how could you be so careless, Ted?"

"The blessed thing must have jumped of its own accord off the
chimney-piece," Ted said. He looked down at his wife on her knees
beside him, ruefully collecting the fragments of the broken vase. "I
wasn't so much as looking at it, Nell."

"No! If you'd only had the sense to look at it!" Nell sighed. "But you
_will_ stand with your heels on the fender, and you push those great
shoulders of yours against the chimney-board, and smash go all my
ornaments--and a lot you care! However, something had to break to-day,
and it might have been worse."

"How do you mean 'had to'?"

"That great awkward Emily threw down a soup-plate last night; and
I----"

"No, not you, surely, Nell?"

"It wasn't my fault, of course. I was lifting the hand-glass from my
dressing-table as carefully as carefully, and it just dropped out of my
hands! 'That is the second,' I said to myself; 'now I wonder what the
third will be.'"

"And why did you say anything so silly?"

"Have you actually grown to your enormous age, and not known that when
one thing is broken in a house three are broken? Well, you have had an
ineffectual sort of education!"

"You don't believe such rotten rubbish?"

"Don't you? When I tell you of the soup-plate, the hand-mirror, and now
this vase? You can't call it nonsense, because there it is. A proof
before your very eyes. You might as well say it isn't unlucky to see a
single crow----"

"I'd sooner see one of the mischievous brutes any day than fifty."

"--That you may expect things to go pleasantly on the day you put on
your petticoat the wrong side out----"

"I should expect them to take a comic turn on the day I did that,
certainly!"

"What a ribald boy! Now, listen, Ted; be very attentive, and I will
tell you a true, true story. You mustn't laugh the tiniest titter--ah,
now, Ted! you won't laugh, will you?"

They were very young married people, and were not yet disposed to sit
quietly apart and talk to each other. She seized him by the lapels of
his coat now, and shook him to attention, while he, looking down upon
her with the hardly yet familiar pride of possession in his boyish
eyes, swayed his big frame in her grasp, flatteringly yielding to her
small efforts.

"Are you going to attend, sir? Well, then--There was once a young
man----"

"Who met a small vixen called Nell, and she fell in love with him and
made him marry her."

"Ah, now, Ted, do listen!--A young man, and his mother told him never
to walk under a ladder."

"And he did, naughty youth, and a bricklayer fell on him, and he died?"

She pleaded with him. "Seriously, Ted; no nonsense!" So he grasped her
by the elbows and looked gravely in her face.

"It was mother's cousin Harold--really and truly--not a make-up."

"Hurry up, darling. I'm swallowing every word, and it's most awfully
interesting."

"And he didn't believe that kind of thing--just like you, you
know--ladders, and crows, and petticoats, and things. And he was going
out to the West Indies to an awfully good appointment--hundreds a year!
And his mother went for a walk with him on the last day. And they were
building a row of houses----"

"Cousin Harold and his mother?"

"No. _You_ know. And his mother said, 'Don't go under the ladder,
dear'--and he did."

"Naughty boy! Naughty Cousin Harold!"

"You're laughing! Very well, just wait. To tease her, he would. 'Now,
look here,' he said, 'every ladder I come to I mean to go under
_twice_.' And he did. And his mother couldn't stop him, and she cried.
And--that's all----"

"All? But where's the point?"

"I didn't say there was a point. You know about mother's Cousin
Harold."

"I'm hanged if I do."

"He never, never came back."

"Goodness!"

"He never even got there."

"Break it gently, Nell."

"The ship he went in sank, and no one escaped to tell the dreadful
tale."

"And supposing he hadn't walked under ladders, but was alive in the
West Indies, what relation would he be to you and to me?"

She was proceeding to tell him in all good faith, but he stopped her.
"And now," he said, "I will tell you a tale. But first, as my feelings
have been considerably harassed, I will solace myself with a pipe."

She was being taught to fill his pipe, and to light it, and on this
occasion was made to take a couple of draws to prove to herself that
she had not properly cleaned it with the hairpin, according to
instructions given last night. So that the story was long delayed, and
when at length it came it did not amount to much.

"There was once an old man who gave a dinner-party."

"That was daddy," Elinor said, from the arm of the chair where she was
now sitting with her shoulder against his.

"It was on the occasion of the marriage of his only daughter to a
handsome and agreeable young man, the most eligible parti of the
neighbourhood."

"That was you and me," Nell explained, contentedly. "Well, you are a
vain old boy!"

"No interruptions, please," Ted went on, pulling at his pipe. "Although
the occasion was one of rejoicing, there was a melancholy circumstance
connected with it which cast a shadow over the otherwise
sunshiny--'m--sunshine of the scene."

"You're as bad as a newspaper. Go on softly, or you'll never keep it
up. I can't think what's coming."

"The guests sat down thirteen to table----"

"Well, so they did!" Nell recalled. "Now, that is really very clever of
you, Ted. I'd quite forgotten. I was horribly frightened then--but I'd
as clean as clean forgotten!"

"Well, there you are!" Ted said. "There's your moral."

"Where? Where?"

"Why, here we are, all alive and well and kicking; you and me, your
daddy and mummy, your uncles and your cousins and your aunts."

"But supposing one of us wasn't!" Nell remarked sagely. "When you ask
your thirteen to dinner and one dies it must be horrid; and I should
think your guests might--might bring an action against you."

She was holding the hand he had just put up to meet hers, which was
round his neck now, and a thought suddenly struck her. "But the year
isn't up yet, Ted," she said.

The dinner had been an epoch in their young lives; they both remembered
the date was the eighteenth of October. He pointed to the silver
calendar on the chimney-piece, to which the parlour-maid attended.
"This is the eighteenth again," Ted said. "There aren't two eighteenths
of October in one year."

Elinor was back in memories of the event. "Do you remember Aunt Carrie,
and how ill she was? At the very verge of the grave. And how afraid
mummy was she should notice there were thirteen? Now, here she is as
well as any of us, and going to get married again. Ah! What are you
doing, Ted?

"No, Ted! Oh, no, please! My hair will come down!"

"I'm getting another hairpin."

It was such pretty hair, he was always pleased to see it hanging about
her ears, as had been its fashion when he had first met her--not so
long ago. So he fought her for the hairpin while she ducked her head
and threw it backwards, and laughed, and struggled in his grasp; to
submit, of course, at last, to yield up the hairpin, to roast it, red
hot in the fire, to watch it burn its malodorous passage through his
pipe.

That ceremony over, she got him his boots, and would have laced them
for him, and kissed them too, if he would have let her, and did grovel
at his feet to arrange the roll of his stockings for him.

"You _have_ got nice calves, Ted!" she told him. "I don't think I could
love even you if you had sticks of things like Robert Anstey's."

"Oh, Bob's legs'll do all right," Ted said, loyally. He stamped a foot
into the second boot, and in doing so ground some of the broken vase
beneath his heel. He filliped her cheek, then, smiling into her eyes--

"You and your old woman's superstitions!" he said. "Perhaps you don't
know I've a--what d'ye call it?--a portent in my own family--or had
when I had a family," he told her, bending again over his boot. "Well,
I have, then!"

"And what's a portent, silly? I daresay it's nothing to boast of."

"It's a little--white--DOG!"

He barked the last word at her, loud and sharp, his face suddenly
projected into hers. She fell backward and sat on her heels.

"Ted! How horrid of you! What does it do?"

"I haven't the faintest notion."

"Are you making it up?"

"Not I. They all made it up. My father, and my grandfather, and the
whole tribe. They stuck it into each other, and tried to stick it into
me, that whenever one of us is going to die he sees this beastly little
hound."

"Ted!" she was clinging to the calf she admired now, in an agreeable
ecstasy of shuddering. "I wish I had a ghost, too."

"You shall have mine, with pleasure."

"But why didn't you tell me before?"

"I clean forgot it till this minute. My father told me about it when I
was quite a little chap."

"But is it true, Ted?"

"Of course it isn't."

"And did they really see it?"

"They said they did. You may bet your life they didn't."

When he was ready to walk round the little domain he had inherited from
his father, Elinor accompanied him to the gate. "I wouldn't have a
little white dog for a ghost!" she said to him, slightingly, as they
parted. "Anyone could have as good a ghost as that if they tried!"

"Everyone couldn't have an ancestor who had tortured one to death to
spite his wife!" he said.

"You can see a dozen little white dogs any day," she taunted him.

"I saw one more than I wanted yesterday when I was out with my gun," he
admitted. "That new little beast of Anstey's ran in front of me into
every field and frightened the birds. I hardly had a shot."

"Tell Bob to keep it at home," advised Nell.

"I must," Ted acquiesced, and went.

In the course of the morning Bob Anstey, who always appeared some time
during each day, came in. Elinor found him standing up by the
chimney-piece, manipulating the silver calendar.

"You're a day too previous in your calculation," he said. "This isn't
the eighteenth, but the seventeenth, madame."

"Well, how funny!" Elinor cried. "Now I wonder how Aunt Carrie is! I
shall have to tell Ted the year isn't up, after all."

To Anstey that was rather a cryptic utterance, but he asked for no
explanation. These two were full of little jokes, of allusions, of
reminiscences, interesting to them, in which he had no part, close
friends as they were.

"Can you spare Ted to me for an hour or two this afternoon?" he asked.

"She could not," she said, smiling; "she could never spare Ted."

"Then come along with us yourself, madame. I want Ted's opinion of that
mare I've got my eye on at Wenderling. Your ladyship's opinion would be
of value, too."

"Ted has nothing to ride. Did you hear that his horse had wrenched its
shoulder yesterday? A wretch of a little dog ran out of a cottage and
got mixed up with Starlight's feet. Ted jerked the horse round to spare
the dog--and Starlight is as lame as a tree."

They would bicycle then, he decided. The roads were good. They would
get into Wenderling in time for tea, and take it easy, coming home in
the dusk. They must remember to take lamps. They would start at three.

She agreed to all arrangements, swaying herself idly in the
rocking-chair Ted had bought for her; a pretty slip of a girl with a
happy, almost childish face. Anstey little thought as he looked at her
how often and often through all his life he would with his mind's eye
see her so again!

As he was going through the door she called a laughing reproach to him.
"Your abominable dog spoilt my husband's sport yesterday, Mr Anstey.
Why do you keep such a wretch?"

"Which dog?" he asked, pulling up, smiling at her.

"Your horrid little white dog."

"I haven't got a little white dog," he said, and laughed, and went
away.

After all, Elinor did not share the expedition to Wenderling; for at
lunch-time it came on to rain, and Ted would not let her get wet. He
was proud of seeing her rough it sometimes; he delighted to take her
hunting on days when no other lady was in the field, to see her face,
rosy and eager, her bright hair darkened with the wet, the raindrops
hanging on her hat. He kept her beside him, standing silent and patient
in a certain soppy, sodden spot by the river, waiting for the chance of
a wild duck flying homeward above the low-lying mists of the fens. What
did not hurt him could not harm her, in her youth and strength and
spirit, he thought.

"She has the pluck and the staying power of a man," he was proud to
tell Anstey; but was proud, too, now and again, to exercise his new
prerogative of taking care of the wife who was such a recent, dear
possession. Quite unexpectedly, he would veto some proceeding she
proposed.

"I won't have you doing it," he would say with dignity. And she was
equally proud to obey.

"Ted says I mustn't," or "Ted says I may." What, in those golden hours,
did it matter which?

She walked with him, bareheaded, through the drizzling rain to the
house where the bicycles were kept, and felt the tyres with him, and
rubbed a spot of rust off the handle bar, and walked beside him again,
he pushing the machine, down the drive to the road.

"It's a beastly day," Ted said, with an eye cocked at the low-hanging,
steel-coloured clouds. "If Bob wasn't so keen on my seeing this horse,
I'd chuck it and stay with you."

"Come home soon," she begged him; and, "You may be sure I shall come as
soon as I possibly can," he promised her.

"It wasn't Bob's dog that bothered you the other day," she told him as
he stood ready to mount, his foot on the pedal; "Bob hasn't got a
little white dog."

"It must have been that brute that ran out from Barker's under
Starlight's feet the other day, then," he called, and was off.

Nell stood by the gate and watched him till he joined his friend, and,
in spite of the faster falling rain, she watched him still. Before they
reached the bend of the road Ted turned his head; she waved a gay hand
to him, and he, hesitating for a moment, wheeled round and bicycled
back.

"Did you call me, Nell?" he said.

Of course she had not called.

"Bob knew you hadn't, but I thought I heard you call; and then you held
up your hand and beckoned me."

"Nonsense! Nothing of the sort!" she laughed. "Be off, Ted. I shall
never get you home again if you don't start."

"You'll have me home in a twinkling," he promised. And in a flash was
gone.

She turned and ran back, with head bent beneath the downpouring rain,
light-hearted, to her home, not knowing, never guessing that on that
handsome, smiling, healthy face of her young husband she had looked her
last.

For when, a couple of hours later, borne on men's shoulders, he was
carried to his home, he was so crushed and mangled out of his likeness
as his wife had known him that, even by force, they prevented her from
looking upon him.

When time had elapsed--Elinor, for some part of it mercifully numbed or
unconscious, could not have told if hours, days or weeks--Bob Anstey,
at her request, was brought to her. He had been in waiting, knowing
that, sooner or later, that meeting, if they did not die with the pain
of it, must be lived through.

He had expected to see her lying helpless and strengthless with hidden
face. She was standing up against the darkened windows at the end of
the long room furthest from the door. He started, walking slowly,
almost as if he was groping his way, among the familiar chairs and
tables, in her direction. But when half the space was traversed, and
she still stood there, uttering no word, dully watching him, his
courage failed, and he stopped short. It was the sight of Ted's chair,
his pipes on the bracket beside it, the picture of him, smiling, in the
silver frame on the mantelpiece, which unmanned him. He had prayed that
he might have strength to support the girl-widow in this interview; and
he found himself suddenly giving way before her, sobbing like a child;
while Elinor looked on tearlessly from afar, dangling the tassel of the
window-blind in her hand.

When at length he somewhat mastered his grief and looked up, she had
come quite close to him, but she did not speak.

"I thought you might like to hear," Anstey said, in sorrow-muffled
voice; and she nodded her head for him to go on.

"He--talked of you nearly all the way," he began. "He said how----"

She stopped him. "Not that," she said, "not yet. The other--the other!"

By some instinct he knew what she meant. "It was going down the
Wenderling Hill," he said, "just as we got into the town. You know that
steepish hill? Halfway down was a brewer's waggon. We were going at a
good stroke, not saying anything, for the moment. We got up to the
waggon. 'There's that infernal white dog again,' he said. And I heard
him call loudly, 'Get out of the way, you brute!' He swerved violently
on one side, as if the dog were in his path--I don't know how it
happened; God knows _why_ it happened!--he was flung right under the
wheels. He--thank God, he did not suffer, Nell, or know a moment's
terror or regret. He died instantly."

Elinor was silent for long. She sat, with brow clasped tightly in both
hands, looking intently upon the carpet at his feet, trying, he
thought, to understand, to get into a mind too confused to work
receptively what he was saying to her. Presently, still tightly holding
her head, but with more of comprehension in her face, she looked up.

"And the dog?" she asked him. "The little white dog?"

"It's a strange thing about the dog," he told her slowly. "There wasn't
one!"



IT ANSWERED


"And besides all that, the poor little woman is ill," he said. "She
didn't complain much, but she looked like a ghost to-day."

"What is the matter with her now?" his wife asked.

She was lying back in her chair as if she, herself, were a little tired,
and her long white hands busied themselves with four knitting-needles
from which depended the leg of a knickerbocker-stocking intended for
the shapely limb of Everard Barett.

He looked quickly at her with an air of suspicion and offence. "Now?"
he repeated. "What does '_now_' mean, spoken in that tone? I don't want
to talk about Vera if you don't want to hear. You call the little woman
your friend, and ask in that tone, 'What's the matter with her _now_?'"

Mrs Barett knitted on in silence during the agitated minute in which
her husband kicked away the chair on whose seat his feet had been
stretched, sat up, punched the cushion behind him three times with a
vicious fist, and, finding it even then fail intelligently to support
his head, flung it across the room.

"'Matter with her _now_!'" he snorted to himself, in a tone as unlike
that mimicked as possible.

"Vera seems to be generally full of complaints, that's all," the wife
said.

He gave her a furious glance, and stretched a hand backwards for the
newspaper that lay on the table behind him. "We will change the
subject," he said, loftily.

"She has her husband, who is devoted to her," Mrs Barett reminded him,
disregarding the remark.

For answer the man moved impatiently, and angrily slapped one of his
slippered feet over the other.

She smiled upon her knitting. "I daresay her husband isn't the style of
man you admire, but he is devoted to her all the same," she said.

"Pappy idiot!" Mr Barett ejaculated. He worked himself deeper into his
chair, and held his newspaper before his face.

His wife knitted on, and presently said, as if of the outcome of her
thought, "I will go in and see Vera to-morrow, of course."

The newspaper rustled defiantly as it was turned over.

"You know very well, Everard, if Vera is really ill there is no one
more sorry than I. Of course, I shall not neglect her."

He was mollified by that, and lowered the paper sufficiently to gaze
over the top of it into the fire. "It would be rather unfair if you
did; and, considering all the little woman did for you when baby was
born, a little like ingratitude into the bargain," he said. "You can't
have forgotten all she did?"

No. She had not forgotten, Mrs Barett admitted.

"Here every day of her life, and sometimes all day long--neglecting her
own home, and----"

"I remember perfectly, dear," said Lucilla. "What of it?"

Her husband repeated the question in a tone of exasperation, got up,
threw away his newspaper, fidgeted about the room, moving the chairs
out of his way, staring at the ornaments. "What of it?" he asked. "I
suppose, knowing she was there, and seeing after things--saving me
bother in giving orders, coming between me and that infernal nurse, and
so on--was a comfort to you, wasn't it?"

Mrs Barett, intent on her knitting, made no reply.

His position was strong; he repeated his question: "Wasn't it, I say?"

"It was a comfort to you, I suppose," Lucilla said, then. "We will
leave it there."

He gave her a quick glance, angrily questioning. He had temporarily
anchored against the fender now, and stood with his heels on it, his
hands in his pockets.

"I suppose that it was a comfort to me was something, at any rate?" he
asked. He shrugged an angry shoulder. "I was the one that had to go
through the misery of it, I know that. I shan't easily forget the time
before, when Billy was born, and I was shut up for a solid three weeks
with your mother! Heavens! going about with a face like a funeral!
Looking at me as if I was a monster every time I took up my hat to go
out! I should think Vera Butt was a comfort to me! It wasn't as if you
had been really ill. You know you were always saying you wanted to get
up and come downstairs to be with us, weren't you?"

"I certainly should have liked better to be with you," Lucilla
admitted.

"Well, and Vera said, 'Here's Luce lying tucked up as jolly as a
sandboy, why shouldn't we be jolly too?'"

"Exactly; and she wasn't fretful, or complaining, or hysterical once,
all the time, was she?"

His thoughts travelled back over the memories of the weeks of which
they spoke; the weeks in which he had first begun to find Vera
attractive. He saw the face which in that time he had, not without
surprise, discovered to be pretty; he thought of the fun they had made
between them, and heard her chattering, gay voice, and listened to
their mingled laughter. A smile moved his lips for an instant; he
looked up, caught his wife's eye, and had a sudden feeling of looking
foolish in her sight.

"She was a good little woman, when we wanted her, and I'm sorry if
she's ill. That's all," he said. "The Butts aren't very well off, and
she doesn't get the comforts a woman wants in illness."

"I'll go and see after her to-morrow," Lucilla said.

It had become the custom of Everard Barett to go for a stroll the last
thing at night, to get a "mouthful of air before turning in," as he
said. When, later on this evening, he looked in upon his wife before
starting for his walk, he found her standing by the hearth, gazing
thoughtfully down into the fire.

"If you're thinking of dropping in at the Butts," she said, "you might
take a few grapes to Vera. There are just a couple of bunches left.
Shall I get them?"

He was putting himself into his topcoat, and he reddened a little with
the exertion. "Oh, grapes?" he said; "I took them this afternoon. I saw
them standing about, and----"

"Oh, that's all right," Lucilla said. "So long as she had them! And is
that where the violets went? I wanted some in, to-day, and gardener
said they had all been gathered out of the frame. Did you take the
violets, too, to Vera?"

"I daresay I did," said Everard, turning his back.

"You daresay?"

"Well, I did, then. How should I know you wanted them, or that there
was going to be a piece of work about a handful of violets?"

With that he went, and pulled the door to with a slightly unnecessary
emphasis.

Everard Barett was the sleeping partner in a large manufacturing firm
in that provincial town. He drew his comfortable income from this
source, but had very little else to do with the business; and so it was
that time hung heavily on his hands. Yet, every now and then, a
business zeal would seize him, or a weariness of doing nothing, and he
would have himself driven down to the great malodorous factory by the
river, to put away a few hours. From thence he would return in a far
more cheerful spirit than was his on his unoccupied days.

On the morrow of the above conversation he came back from such a
dutiful visit, and going into the drawing-room in search of his wife,
he found, lying on the sofa drawn up to the fire, not Lucilla, but the
lady who of late had dwelt so dangerously in his thoughts--Vera Butt.

She had assumed a charming attitude, which she only changed to throw
out a welcoming hand as he came forward. "Here I am," she said. "It's
really me. Isn't Luce an angel?" She smiled at him, showing all her
teeth, stretching back her head on the pillow to bring her full, round
throat into prominence, shutting her eyes. "Oh, it is good to be here!"
she said.

It was good to see her there, he murmured, but not without a little
embarrassment. For, it is one thing for a man to make love to another
man's wife during a half-hour's call at her house, and another to do
the same when she has taken up a permanent position in his own wife's
drawing-room.

"I'm to stay here till Fred comes back," Vera told him, opening her
eyes upon him. (Fred was the husband.) "He won't be home for another
fortnight, at least. Are you prepared to tolerate me for a fortnight?"

He thought he was, he smiled; he sat down on the divan not far from her
sofa and gazed at her in a rather shamefaced way.

"In a company of three, one must be _de trop_. I only hope it won't be
me," she said.

She was such a nice little woman! With anyone else he might have
thought it "good cheek" to imagine it possible his wife or he could be
_de trop_ in their own house.

"What talks we'll have!" she went on. "Do you remember when Luce was
ill we laughed so loud at some ridiculous thing you said when we were
going up to her room that the horrid nurse came out and was rude, and
asked us to be quiet?"

Everard remembered the occasion with resentment. It was he who had made
the witty remark, certainly, but it had been Vera who had boisterously
laughed.

"I never laugh, at home," she told him. "And if Fred does, I am ready
to fly. I can't bear any sudden noise. Luce is going to have nurse take
the babies always down the back stairs, for fear I should hear them as
they come out and in. She has given orders they're not to come into
this part of the house at all while I'm here."

"Of course not," Everard said. But he thought of his little Billy, who
was two years old, and who was allowed to spend half an hour with his
father twice each day. His son was very near to his heart. He wondered
how he should make up to Billy for those lost half-hours.

"It is delightful!" Vera said. "I think I should like to lie here for
ever, only the firelight to see by, and you sitting just there to talk
to me."

"We mustn't talk if it hurts your head," Everard said, with tender
caution.

"Well, you to sit there and keep silence, then," she amended.

The divan was not very comfortable. He could not echo her wish that he
should sit so, for ever, silent.

"How is the poor head to-day?" he asked.

"It is like fire," she told him. "Feel."

She hitched herself upward, leant on her elbow, and stretched her neck
forward, bringing her face within easy distance of his own. What could
he do but kiss her forehead?

He had a very gay look when he burst in upon his wife, who was dressing
for dinner.

"So you got her here?" he said. "Isn't that giving you a lot of
trouble, Luce?"

"We mustn't think of the trouble," Lucilla told him. "I shall not be
able to be with her always, but fortunately you and she get on so
well----"

"Oh, I daresay I can find time to sit with her, now and then, if that's
all you want me to do," he acquiesced, looking down his nose.

"She seems really sadly," Lucilla told him. "Her head is bad, and her
nerves--she's all nerves! Then, she has a sort of seizure, now and
then----"

"Heavens!"

"Yes. She suddenly becomes, she says, rigid. Can't move hand or foot."

"I say, that must be bad. And what do we do then, Luce?"

"Well," said Lucilla, calmly surveying herself in the glass, and
turning her long neck to get a view of her elegant back, "in that case
you will have to carry her up to bed, and I shall have to undress her
and send for the doctor."

"I carry her!" he said to himself, doubtfully, again and again as he
dressed. "She's something of a lump for any man to carry."

He was considered a handsome man by himself and his friends; by no one
could he be considered a fine one. Lucilla--he admired her long,
graceful figure still--was as tall as he, and he knew himself lacking
in muscular strength. "I hope she won't become rigid here," he said.

She had all her meals served in the drawing-room, and she partook of
every course, and had a really fine appetite. Plates with biscuits,
with grapes, basins with beef-tea, glasses of milk, champagne bottles,
were always standing around her sofa.

"It is making rather a piggery of the place," Everard said more than
once to his wife.

It was a matter of importance to him, because he found he was expected,
both by his wife and Mrs Butt, to spend all his time there. Lucilla,
with her nursery, her conservatories, her interest in parochial
matters, had never been exacting; he had come and gone without
explanation, as it pleased him. But a half-hour unaccounted for came,
with Vera, to mean a sulk, to mean tears, to mean, eventually, a
nagging such as in all his life Lucilla had never given him. Certainly,
if he had prized Vera Butt's society in the days when he could get very
little of it, he had his fill now.

A meal being over, Lucilla would say--"I have such and such a thing to
do; you go in, dear, and keep Vera amused for an hour." And the hour
would stretch to two hours--till the next meal, even. And during that
time Vera gave him no rest. She would call upon him incessantly to tell
her things, to amuse her.

"Surely something interesting must have happened! Does nothing _ever_
happen in this house?" she would pout. "You used to say funny
things--do you remember how we laughed when Luce was ill? Say something
funny now, to keep me going?"

He, with inward resentment, would decline to be funny at command, and
she would pass on to the reproachful stage, and so, by easy passage, to
the stages of tears and sulks and semi-insensibility; when he would
have to dab her forehead with eau-de-Cologne, and rub her hands, or to
lift her head higher with his arm beneath the pillow.

"I'm a married man, but I never was called on to do this kind of thing
before," he would say to himself.

And at last--"I'm hanged if I'm not getting fairly sick of it," he
said.

Then came a day when, before going to his place by the invalid's sofa,
he ran up to the nursery and fetched Billy down.

"All nonsense," he said to himself as he carried the child, perched on
his shoulder and delightedly holding on by his hair, downstairs. "She
screams and cries enough herself; suppose Billy takes his turn!"

"Look here!" he said as the pair entered, "here's Boy Billy come to see
you."

Boy Billy struggled down from the paternal shoulder, ran across the
room as fast as his fat legs would take him, and with a delighted cry
of "mummy! mummy!" hurled himself upon the lady on the sofa. To fly
back to his father, with outflung arms and a scream of terror, when,
instead of the fair, blooming face of his mother with the auburn waves
of hair, the sallow cheeks, the tossed black hair, the great dark eyes
of Mrs Butt met his infantile gaze.

The howl that Billy gave in the first pang of that disappointment was
certainly out of place in a sick-room. Everard, with one glance at the
figure on the sofa, flinging itself into a sitting posture, and gazing
at him in an outraged frenzy, caught his boy in his arms and fled with
him upstairs.

"My's mummy! My's mummy! Billy wants my's mummy!" the child screamed.

His mummy was sitting over the fire in her own room, and her husband,
bursting in, deposited Billy on her lap. The sobs died away against her
breast, but Everard went down on his knees and smoothed and patted the
beloved little head, and talked the foolish language of consolation his
fatherhood had taught him.

"Ugly lady!" the child cried, in his broken voice. "Not Billy's
mummy--ugly lady!"

"Billy's is a pretty mummy, isn't she, darling?" the man tenderly said.

"Billy's mummy loves her precious boy," Lucilla murmured.

"'Oves daddy, too," the child sobbed, feeling the father's touch.

She smiled upon the kneeling young man. "Loves dear daddy, too," she
said.

It had been only a foolish flirtation--just the snatching at something
to fill his empty days. Everard Barett's heart had been his wife's all
along. He knew it for a certainty, looking at the woman and her child
together, kneeling before them, with a sudden conviction of his own
unworthiness, and folly, and absurdity.

"We all love each other, little man," he said. "If we three stick
together, we're all right, Boy Billy--we're all right, Luce."

He got upon his feet presently. "I'm going to the Works this afternoon,
dear," he said. "And after dinner I thought I'd go in and take a hand
at bridge with the Worleys. I'm afraid you'll have rather a time of it,
poor old girl."

"I'm afraid you will, when you come home again," Lucilla said.

He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I say, haven't we had almost
enough?" he asked. "A fortnight's a deuce of a time! She's all very
well, but it's jollier when we're alone, Luce. I want us to be alone
again."

When he came home to dinner, his wife met him in the hall. "Everard,"
she said, "it's come."

"In the name of heaven, what?"

"The Rigor. _You_ know. She can't move. Can't stir hand nor foot. All
the afternoon she was in a terrible way, crying, and--well, actually
fighting me. Then the Rigor came on."

"I'll run for the doctor," he said. He had an aghast face.

"All done. He's here. He's waiting for you to carry Vera to bed."

"Let him carry her himself!" Everard said, fiercely. "Look here, I'm
best out of this. I'll go and dine somewhere."

"My dear, you can't run away like that," she said, and, of course,
prevailed.

It was as Lucilla had said. Vera was rigid. She looked up at Everard
with a smile of satisfaction at that fact. "What do you think of me
now?" it seemed to ask. "Am I the sort of woman to turn your back on,
and neglect?--a woman who at once becomes as stiff as a broomstick?"

"She must be got upstairs and undressed," the doctor said to Barett.

"Lean on me and try to walk," Barett implored the patient.

She gave a defiant smile. "If my life depended on it I could not move a
toe," she said.

"If I took her head, and you her feet?" Everard suggested to the
doctor--a plan at once negatived by Vera.

"I won't be carried in that fashion," she said. "I am not a long woman,
like Luce," she added. "Fred carries me with perfect ease."

"I think you can manage it, Mr Barett," the doctor said.

There was no help for it. Everard stooped to the task. He ought to have
been a happy man, perhaps, with that burden in his arms. It was not as
such he described himself to his wife afterwards.

Halfway up the stairs he tripped, and she screamed.

"Grip me! Grip me! Don't let me drop over the balusters!" she called.

He laboured on, the cords bursting in his forehead, his legs bending,
his throat swelling, his arms two seats of agony. Lucilla, who had gone
before, cleared the mats out of his way. "It isn't much farther," she
whispered.

"He is not grasping me right," Mrs Butt cried in a terrified voice.
"It's not how Fred grasps me. I am as easy as a child when he carries
me. Oh! I shall drop--he is going to let me drop!"

He thought he was, but made a superhuman effort, and tottered on.
Having reached level ground he stopped, then started on again with a
staggering run. In piloting her through the bedroom door he banged her
head against the frame, and Vera gave a howl of rage and pain.

The next minute she found herself hurled upon the bed.

She remained as she fell, upon her face, uttering suffocating moans of
angry shame and misery.

Everard waited not a second to watch her there. He reeled from the
room, and reaching the landing again, sank down there, ignominiously,
sitting on the carpet, his back to the wall, a wreck of his spruce,
dapper self, having bodily and spiritually reached the bounds of
endurance.

They telegraphed for her husband. "Let him come and take her home, and
carry her himself!" Everard said, savagely. "It's his place to carry
her, not mine. We've done our part--let her go."

He came as soon as the train could bring him. Lucilla was able to tell
him truthfully that his wife had lain and called upon his name all
night.

"He is kneeling by her bedside and kissing her, and crying over her,"
Lucilla told her husband, running down to him, her own eyes wet with
tears. "Isn't it a mercy he loves her so?"

"There's nothing whatever the matter with her, you know," Everard said.
"The doctor's just been telling me. Nothing whatever."

"I knew that all along," Lucilla told him.

He took her hand and looked in her face, and his own grew red.
"Confession is good for the soul, and you and I should have no secrets,
Luce," he said. "That little woman upstairs--you'll think me an awful
ass. She and I--she----"

Lucilla nodded, without looking at him. "I knew that all along, too,"
she said.

"You knew? Yet you asked her here?"

He held her before him, and looked in her face, and kissed her.

"I don't believe any other woman would have done that. That was a risky
thing to do, Luce," he said.

"But it answered," Lucilla said to herself as she turned away.



TO BERTHA IN BOMBAY


He is a big, heavily-made, healthy-looking man of young middle-age. He
came into the coffee-room as I was sitting at breakfast, and having
looked slowly round the room, he placed himself with much deliberation
opposite me, at the little table which I had secured to myself. The act
did not prejudice me in his favour. There was room and to spare at a
large centre table where a dozen men were sitting; two of the smaller
tables were empty. There was something about him I need not bore you by
describing which stamps the colonial man. From such, one knows what to
expect. He called for a carte and ordered porridge and a sole, and they
were some time in bringing his breakfast.

However, as you know, I have not arrived at thirty years without having
learnt to endure a prolonged gaze with perfect appearance of
indifference.

"I hope you have no objection to my sharing your table?" he said; and I
replied, as I went on with my meal, that I had none.

"You have an open window, and a view of the sea," he remarked, and I
assented, and added that on such a morning these things were desirable.

Then his porridge came, and I proceeded with my toast and marmalade,
and the letter I had from you in Bombay, which lay beside my plate.
Your writing is never too legible, Berthalina, and my head and eyes
were aching, that morning, and I felt less rested than when I had gone
to bed. My limbs ached too, and while I looked at those crossed lines
of yours, without gathering the sense of what I read, I was wondering
if, in the broiling heat of this sultry weather, I had taken cold, and
was going to be laid up in this strange place, alone in a hotel. Have I
told you that, since the cramming for this last horrid exam. has sent
me, to an extent, off my mental equilibrium, I have a constant terror
of falling ill? It was that which had given me such a fit of horrors
when I saw my bedroom, the night before. Here, by the orders of a
peremptory doctor, for change of air and the sea-breeze, I find myself,
after vainly tramping the town for lodging, in a tiny back room of a
huge hotel, with a window which will only open two inches at the top,
and a ceiling and four walls crushing in on me like the lid and sides
of a coffin! For prospect, I have a window like my own, at about five
yards' distance, a few feet of red brick, and a leaden water-pipe!

If I were to be ill in this hole! The fear of it kept me awake and
feverish for hours; but falling asleep at last, I had the most vivid
and delicious dream. I felt myself irresistibly called by something--I
don't know what, the murmur of the sea, perhaps; and I thought I
escaped from that entombment, and walked in my night-gown down a long
corridor, to a door at the other side of the house. The door yielded,
in that ridiculous way in which all obstacles yield in dreams, and I
went through a room which I should know again among ten thousand rooms,
to the window--a big window thrown wide open; and through it the
sea--the sea--the sea! Such a sea! As effulgent, moon-silvered,
glorious, as we may look on in Paradise, Berthalina, if God hears the
"silly sailor-folk," as Kipling has undertaken that He will.

Ah! The sea, as revealed by the coffee-room window, sparkling in
sunshine, dotted with fishing-boats, the white bathing-machines
defining its margin, is but a vulgar thing, compared with the sea of my
dream.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" The man opposite put the question quite
unconcernedly, but I was back in the description of your triumphant
dinner-party, and was unpleasantly startled. I answered with a little
temper, therefore, that of course I believed in them; and I did not
encourage him to further conversation by a glance in his direction.

Had I seen any? he inquired; and I answered "Hundreds." After a minute,
repenting of my incivility, I put your letter down, and told him that
that was why he saw me getting my breakfast before him. And I even
explained--for why need a self-respecting woman be disagreeable even to
an unknown colonial in an ill-made flannel suit, and with rough
hair?--that I had been working too hard lately, and that the shades of
people, dead or in distant lands, well-known and half-forgotten, had
taken to appearing before me, when I lifted my eyes from my book.

"In fact, I have come here to get rid of ghosts," I told him; and he
said he hoped I had not come to the wrong place. "Why, you surely don't
think 'The Continental' haunted?" I inquired.

Then he told me, with an appearance of perfect gravity, that a ghost
had visited him last night.

"It is just possible that _my_ ghosts have lost their way in this
bewildering place and have strolled in to you, by mistake," I
suggested.

"You don't happen to have seen any since you came here?"

"I only came last night."

"And you didn't see one?"

"No! Do I look as if I had?"

"Not the ghost of a terrified man, for instance, flying up in bed?"

"Good gracious, no! Why?"

"I thought you might have done," he said, and went on with his
breakfast.

You'll say he talked such nonsense to get me to look at him,
Berthalina; and of course I did. He has not the appearance of a seer of
ghosts: a huge, heavy man, with a hump on a big, characterful nose; a
powerful jaw, and very quick, blue eyes beneath shaggy eyebrows. The
talk of ghosts seemed out of place on such firm lips.

"Was your ghost that of a terrified man, etc.?" I asked him, in spite
of myself.

He gave a vigorous shake of his head. "Thank heavens, no!" he said. "In
that case I shouldn't have given it two thoughts."

"Of what then?"

"Of a beautiful woman."

He spoke with much deliberation, and his eyes upon my face were
serious.

"What was she like? Describe her."

He turned away to reach a bit of bread from a neighbouring table. "She
was very much like you," he said.

You may be sure I let him see then that he had gone too far.

                     *      *      *      *      *

I was standing by the door of my disgraceful little bedroom, dressed
for walking, when I saw him again. He was mounting the broad stairs
with his head bent, and not wishing to pass the man on my way down, I
waited till he had disappeared within the door of his room. That door,
with the width of the house between, was directly opposite mine. As it
opened, there came to me the first glimmer of the light which was to
burst on me in all its terrible force a minute later.

When he had reappeared, in his great loose grey flannels, his straw hat
on his head, a book in his hand, and had gone downstairs, I flew along
the corridor and pushed open the door of the room he had left.
Berthalina, it was the room of my dream! Those details which had
impressed themselves so clearly on my sleeping vision last night were
here in the flesh--well not exactly in the flesh, but--. I stood at the
window, wide open from the bottom; the sea lay sparkling in the
sunlight--

Of course, you remember the time when I stayed with you, my dear
friend, after that crisis in my stupid life of which you and only one
other knew? You haven't forgotten how I terrified you nearly to death
by walking in my sleep to your room? and how, afterwards, you insisted
on keeping the key of my bedroom door under your own pillow? To the
best of my belief I have never sleep-walked either before or since that
time. The certainty came to me now, as I stood at the man's window,
that I had done it again last night!

                     *      *      *      *      *

"And what have you been doing with yourself, all day?"

I had turned my back on the pier bands, on the crowds of the esplanade,
and had wandered as far as my legs would carry me along the beach--a
hard, smooth beach of yellow sand--and was sitting there, with only the
waves for company, when the voice of the man I had successfully dodged
all day spoke at my back.

"You were not at lunch, nor at the table d'hôte, to-night," he added;
and I did not consider that the statement demanded comment.

He came and sat beside me, and gathered up his knees into his arms and
looked out to sea. "I suppose the beach is free to all?" he remarked;
and my silence did not gainsay him.

"I am like you," he went on: "I care nothing for all that," he jerked
his head in the direction of the town and the populace. "I'm never
afraid of my own company. And you?"

"I prefer it to all other company," I assured him, and told the lie
with the acrimony of truth.

"And you have been by the sea all day?"

"I have been tramping the town looking for rooms."

"You are not comfortable at the hotel?"

"I prefer apartments."

"Perhaps for a young woman, alone, it is better."

Now for my opportunity.

"I have not been alone until this morning," I told him steadily. "My
sister left me by the early train; before breakfast."

"You probably miss her very much?"

"I do. She scarcely ever leaves me. We have everything in common. She
is my twin-sister. You could scarcely tell the one from the other,
apart."

The information did not flow from me as I desired, but was, rather,
gasped out--or so it seems to me on looking back.

I felt him turn his eyes on me--they look absurdly blue and youthful in
his sun-reddened, middle-aged face--but I think I mentioned this
before. You know how I love a man's hair clipped to the bone,
Berthalina? My dear, this one wears his in a mop! I must admit,
however, it is a soft kind of hair, and does not arrange itself badly.

"We even share the same bed," I went on. I had to twist my fingers
together painfully to maintain the necessary levelness of the
indifferent voice. "But that is a matter of precaution."

"Of precaution?"

"My sister is--a sleep-walker," I said, and waited, with the sound of
the sea and the band and the multitude in the near distance booming in
my head. "Even last night--I awoke to find our door open," I added.
"She had wandered in her sleep."

I had said it; but I declare to you, Berthalina, the effort left me
weak as a baby. Before you make up your mind to a career of perfidy,
dear, go through a course of physical training. You want the strength
of a Sandow, I assure you.

I waited with inward trembling for his comment. He made none, but
pointed out to me instead the colour of the brown sail of a little
fishing-boat almost stationary on the placid sea, the light of the
sinking sun upon it. A big steamer came into sight upon the
horizon-line. A bare-legged man, pushing a shrimping-net before him,
waded through the shallow waters, close inshore.

"This is very pleasant," he said. "You did not mention if you were
successful in obtaining rooms?"

I shook my head. "But I leave here in four days."

"And until then?"

"I must remain at the hotel--where I think it is about time I
returned."

He rose, as I did. "Have you any objection to my walking at your side?"
he asked, and walked there without waiting for permission. "I am a
lonely man, and a stranger here," he volunteered. "And you?"

I told him that I was used to being alone; that there was no one now
belonging to me--

"With the exception of your twin sister who never leaves you," he
reminded me, and went on at once to tell me of his life, which had been
passed for many years in Australia. His sister who lived with him died
there eight years ago, he is forty years old, he has made money, and
has come home for a holiday.

All this, and much more I learnt. He seems quite eager to impart
personal information--or perhaps I did not learn it all then, but
afterwards. For there has been no getting away from the man,
Berthalina; you may believe that my will was good.

At night, I got the chambermaid to lock me in that atrocious little
cabin of mine. (Oh, I know you are laughing, Berthalina; good gracious!
what a fool I feel about it all.) I knew that he was an early riser,
and I did not go down the next morning till I felt sure that he would
be enjoying the sea-breezes, and that the coffee-room would be nearly
empty. There he was, patiently keeping guard over the table in the
window! He strode across to me (he is so huge and self-assured and
important-looking, that everyone turns to watch him, and the waiters
fly at a glance). "I have kept our table," he said, "and I have taken
the liberty to order for you the same breakfast you had yesterday."

After that, I gave up trying to avoid him. I had put everything right
in his mind, and it was only for four days! Then I must be getting
back, and looking out for ways and means to earn the money I have
borrowed to pay my fees and keep me at the hospital. Oh dear! How it
all weighs on my mind!

"And so you are going to be a doctor?" he said once, I don't know at
which meeting. How can I tell--there were so many!

"I am a doctor," I corrected him.

"Well, I am a doctor too," he said. "And perhaps that is the reason I
loathe the thought of any woman meddling in that profession."

"I don't particularly like it myself," I told him. "It was necessary
for me to be something, and I had enthusiasm enough to begin with;
but----"

"What is your sister?" he asked me suddenly; it took me by surprise,
but I told him, with blushes, that she was a doctor too.

"I wonder what my brother will say to that?" he pondered. "You look
surprised. Is there any reason I should not have a brother? He is a
doctor like myself, and shares my prejudices."

"Those prejudices don't affect my sister," I took courage to remark.

"They should. No decent woman can afford to despise the prejudices of a
decent man. The place of a young and beautiful woman is not----"

"I did not tell you she was young or beautiful. I--she--we are thirty
years old; and 'pretty,' 'interesting,' 'fine-looking,' are the most
complimentary epithets which have ever been applied to us."

"We don't all see with the same eyes," the man said.

It was on our last evening that I sate on a chair in the hotel gardens;
he came and smoked his cigar beside me.

"You go to-morrow?" he said.

I nodded.

"And you don't purpose to tell me where you go?"

I shook my head. How can I have him coming to my place with that story
of my sister--?

"So here, for ever, we say good-bye. I go back to my practice in
Sydney; and you----?"

I said nothing to fill up the pause.

"Four days!" he mused, and was silent.

The band was playing on the pier; the strains of that pretty thing
Hayden Coffin sings in _The Greek Slave_ came sorrowfully to us across
the sea and the sand. The people in their smart seaside costumes went
trooping past.

"Not a face I know in all these thousands," he said, and waved the hand
which held the cigar to include pier, parade, beach. "Not a face known
to you. Under such circumstances two people get to know each other in
four days as well as in years of ordinary intercourse. When I say
good-bye to you, I shall feel that I am parting with a very dear
friend. A friend I shall hardly know how to replace, or even to live
without. After four days! Absurd, is it not?"

"May I tell you about my brother?" This was after a long pause, during
which I had been inwardly shrinking from the dreary struggle before me,
and wishing--wishing--wishing that life was all holiday. "He is my twin
brother. Curious, isn't it? You don't think so? Oh, of course we know
there are twin brothers as well as twin sisters; but--. Still, let me
tell you a rather curious fact with regard to him.

"The night before that morning when I had the happiness to meet you, he
was staying in this hotel--he left by that convenient train before
breakfast, you know, the early one--and he had a strange experience. He
was lying awake in bed--the moon was very bright, it was that which
kept him awake--when the door of his room opened, and a woman, young
and beautiful, in her night-gear, with her dark hair, 'straight as
rain,' hanging down her back and over her shoulders, and with eyes full
of all my brother loves to see in a woman's eyes, came into his room.
He is not a nervous man, and he saw at once the woman, who in the
moonlight was lovely as a vision, walked in her sleep. He held his
breath, fearing to disturb her. She went to the window, stretched out
her arms to the sea, bathed her hands and her adorable face in the
moonlight, drank in, in grateful breaths, the cool sea air, and passing
silently through his room, left him as she came.

"You think that an interesting experience for my brother, do you not?
But I have not quite finished.

"My brother is a man not without sentiment, although he has attained to
middle life without marrying. He has more sentiment, in fact, than in
his young days, when he decided it was best for man to live alone. He
has seen cause to doubt the wisdom of that creed. He is not without
regrets and longings, thoughts of what might have been, and what might
yet be. Fairly successful and happy in his career, he has yet come to
think that a woman's love and companionship are perhaps just those
things he has missed which might have crowned his life.

"Having arrived at such a pass, he was moved by that vision of the
night--mightily moved. And he swore to himself that the woman who had
come to him like that--a living, breathing, beautiful woman, and yet
almost in an angel's guise--was the woman he would seek out and marry,
if he could prevail on her to have him.

"Tell me what you think of that resolve of my brother's," he asked me
presently. He turned from watching the passing crowd and looked for the
first time in my face; and then he got upon his feet. "You will perhaps
give me your opinion later?" he said. "You will think about it, and let
me hear when I come back?"

I did not wait for his coming back. I went to my room and stayed there.
I don't know if he looked for me at our table in the window next
morning, for I did not go to the coffee-room for breakfast. And by
eleven o'clock I was sitting in the ladies' drawing-room--empty as
Sahara at that hour--with my hotel bill in my hand, wondering how it
was possible that such a little, little holiday should have cost so
very much.

Then he came into the room. He sat down opposite to me at the round
table, and I saw that he had a telegram in his hand.

"I have bad news for you," he said. "Your twin sister is dead."

"Oh!" I breathed. What could I do but sit there turning red and white,
and looking like a fool before him?

"It is a sad and curious coincidence that my twin brother expired at
the same instant. What is there for us to do but to console each
other?"

He reached out a hand, palm upwards, to me across the table. "You will
find life pleasanter as a doctor's wife than as a doctor," he said.
"And----"

But I have told you enough till next mail, Berthalina. By that time,
perhaps, you will have prepared yourself for the rest of what he said
to me, and what I answered.

I wonder if you will think I have been a sensible and self-restrained
woman all my life to act like a rash, precipitate fool in the finish?

I wonder!



AUNTIE


"And _now_, pray, what are you gnashing your teeth about? You never
rested until I'd made Auntie promise to stay with us. I didn't wish for
her; she didn't wish to come; but, as she's here, the least we can do
is to behave decently to her."

"Who said we shouldn't behave decently to her?"

"Well, to see you standing there cursing and gnashing your teeth while
you brush your hair!"

"I don't curse, or gnash my teeth, or even brush my hair in public, do
I?"

"Oh, of course, it's the wife who has the monopoly of all such pleasing
demonstrations!" the wife said. Then she pushed her arms through the
short sleeves of the blouse she was going to wear, in honour of Auntie,
at dinner that night, and presented her back to Augustus Mellish in
order that he might perform a husband's part and fasten the garment.

"You, who have never been in her delightful home at Surbiton, don't
know the luxurious sort of life Auntie leads," Mrs Mellish went on.
"Travels with her maid, generally; but I told her we could not put her
up. Keeps four servants; never does a thing for herself, but is
pampered and made much of in every way. Money, of course. There isn't
anything in _Auntie_ to call forth all that devotion."

"Money is a useful thing," the husband said. "I wish your infernal
dressmaker wouldn't make your things so tight. That's the second nail
I've broken, confound it!"

"Gnashing again! If I were to swear and go on in that ridiculous way
over every little thing I do for you, I wonder what you'd think of it!
Brushing your hats, ironing your ties, putting your trousers into
stretchers--and if I ask you to fasten a few buttons, you blaspheme. If
you had the worries on your shoulders I have on mine! Cook's in one of
her tempers to-day, just because I was anxious for things to go without
a hitch, for Auntie. There's a piece of salmon, at half-a-crown a
pound, bought because Auntie would think just nothing of the price, and
is all the year round _accustomed_ to salmon; cook is certain to send
it in bleeding or to boil it to a rag. You, at your office all day
long, with nothing to think about, and when you come home everything
running on oiled wheels----"

"Oh, I've heard all that before. My life is all perfect joy, according
to you," Augustus said. And in such inspiring intercourse the Mellishes
passed the few minutes of their _tête-à-tête_.

In the drawing-room, Auntie awaited them: a large, matronly-looking
spinster, with a heavy face and frame, a non-intelligential gaze from
dull brown eyes. Not a promising visitor, from a social point of view.
She was expensively attired, her garments rustling richly when she
moved. Her dark hair was fashionably piled on the top of her head.

She sat in a chair farthest from the window which she regarded
distrustfully, it being slightly open. In the railway carriage coming
down she had felt sure there was a draught, and now her neck was a
little stiff.

She thought slightingly of Grace's drawing-room; indeed, the whole
establishment wore a paltry air, to her thinking, who had a
predilection for the ornately massive in style. But if Grace had been
foolish enough to marry a lawyer, in a town already too full of
lawyers, and he young, and with his way to make, what could she expect?
Alfred's daughter should surely have done better than that, Auntie said
to herself.

Still, later on, she was bound to admit that the lawyer and his wife
did their best to make her comfortable, and showed her every attention.
Augustus, or Gussie, as Grace instructed her to call him, seemed an
agreeable person, although no one could consider him a good-looking
one--not half good-looking enough for Grace, who had been considered a
beauty. So black he was about the shaven portion of his face, his
close-cropped hair, and great eyes, so white everywhere else. Auntie,
who associated health with a brick-red complexion like her own, decided
that he could not be a strong man. She spoke to her niece about him
after dinner.

"He's chalk-white," she said.

Grace was not at all alarmed for her husband's health. "He's always
like that," she said. "He's never had a day's illness. I do hope you
and Gussie will like each other, Auntie. I can tell you, he's bent on
pleasing you."

"He seemed agreeable," Auntie said. "Has he got nerves?" she asked.

"Nerves!" repeated Grace, opening her eyes. "Dear, no! Only like other
people's. Why?"

"I only asked the question," Auntie said. "When he isn't talking or
eating, his mouth still works; and when he smiles he shows his gums. I
thought it was nerves."

"Oh, that's just a habit he's got. He only does it when strangers are
present."

"I hope Henry won't catch it," Auntie said. "Children are imitative."

"No fear about Henry. Henry takes after me--colour and all," Mrs
Mellish said. She was a brown-haired woman, with cheeks like a damask
rose, and Henry was the only child of the house, and was away at a
boarding-school.

During the evening a neighbour and his wife came in. He and she and the
two ladies played bridge, while Gussie looked on or fidgeted aimlessly
about the room, taking up and putting down again books and papers,
looking into empty ornamental jars, continually comparing his own watch
with the drawing-room clock.

"To tell you the truth, he always goes out in the evening," Grace
informed Auntie, while seeing her to her bedroom. "He has his club, you
know. They play rather high. I don't think he cares for our careful
little game. If you don't mind, I think I shall tell him to go there
to-morrow night. He does worry me so when he prowls about the
drawing-room."

"Let him go, by all means. I don't mind at all," Auntie acquiesced.

"I knew she'd win. They always do, when they've money, and don't want
to," Mellish said to his wife, talking over the evening's game. "Played
threepence a hundred, didn't she?"

"Isn't it mean of her!" Grace said. "With a purse full of
sovereigns--for I saw them when she gave it to me to pay the cab--and
thirty more, she told me, in her jewel-case. By the way, the servants
asked for their wages again to-day, Gussie."

"Oh, I daresay! Ask your aunt to pay them."

"I should like to see myself stooping to ask such a thing of Auntie!"

"You don't mind stooping to ask money of me every time you open your
mouth."

"I wonder you can dare to say it! I haven't had a penny from you, for a
week. I hadn't even the half-crown to buy the child the new paint-box
he wrote for."

"Henry? Does he want a paint-box? He shall have it, poor little chap. I
will see about it tomorrow."

                     *      *      *      *      *

"Once he's gone to the office, don't you see him any more, all day?"
Auntie asked, as the front door closed on the master of the house, next
morning.

"Not till dinner. He has a biscuit for his lunch, or goes without it.
He isn't a man to care for food at any time."

"No. He isn't what I call a restful man," Auntie said, and spread
herself more at her ease in her chair. "He isn't one, I should say, to
enjoy the comforts of home."

"Oh, as for that, I don't care for a man always in your way among the
chairs and tables," Mrs Mellish said. "Gussie isn't a woman's man, you
see, Auntie. He's about as clever as they're made, Gussie is; and when
they're like that they're _men's_ men; and I like them better so."

Grace's red cheeks were redder. She was a quick-tempered, high-spirited
young woman. "Hands off! he's mine," her manner, more than her words,
said to Auntie, who would have liked to listen to a few wifely
confidences as she and her niece sat _tête-à-tête_ through the long
morning.

                     *      *      *      *      *

They lived in a provincial town, and on the second night of Auntie's
stay they went to the theatre, at which a London company happened to be
performing.

Grace loved the play, and was in high spirits, making an extra toilette
for the occasion. She was not half through it when her husband, who had
hurried over his dressing, left her and went downstairs. He had heard
Auntie, who was always too early for everything, and made a merit of
it, leave her room. He found her in the drawing-room, pulling a pair of
long white gloves over her large hands and arms.

"I have been stupid enough to leave myself short of cash," Mellish
said, beginning lightly at once, almost before he had closed the door
behind him. "I wonder if you could oblige me, Auntie, with a few pounds
for a couple of days? Say ten or fifteen? Just to carry me on till my
money-ship comes in."

Auntie, working on her tight gloves, looked at him; his tone was
carefully careless, but his face, which she had called chalk-white, was
surely whiter yet. His question being asked, his lips still moved.

"How Grace can bear to sit opposite to him at meals every day, I don't
know!" Auntie said to herself. "He gives me the creeps."

She drew in her lower lip loosely beneath her teeth, her gaze grew
blanker; never a clever-looking woman, now she looked a fool. Slowly
she shook her head.

"No. I am afraid I can't," she said. "I'm afraid I can't spare it. I
only brought as much as I should want to get me back home again."

There was a minute's unbroken silence. Gussie's smile, always so
pronounced, spread across his gums till his face looked as if it were
cut in two.

"I can let you have half a sovereign," Aunty suggested.

"Oh, thank you; it's of no consequence," Gussie said, making a gesture
of refusal. He walked about the room as if hurriedly seeking for
something he never found.

Auntie, with her unintelligent gaze divided between his movements and
the glove which so reluctantly covered her arm, offered a tardy
explanation.

"I never lend money," she said. "It was my father's dying request that
I never should. I owe it to him to regard it."

"Quite so; of course," Gussie said. "The matter just came into my head.
I merely mentioned it. Pray don't give it a thought."

As they drove to the theatre, Auntie remarked that she should insist on
paying for her ticket and her share of the cab, a suggestion at which
Gussie and Grace were hospitably offended. She asked, then, if the
house was safe, left with only the maid-servants to protect it. In
order to reassure her, Augustus informed her that he was intending to
go home once in the course of the evening to make sure that things were
all right.

"Not that it matters to me," Auntie told him; "for I have brought my
valuables with me--jewellery and money, too. I always take them with
me, in strange places. I could never enjoy the play if my mind were not
at rest. I wear a bag concealed in the skirt of my dress on purpose."

"Ah! I wish I could make Grace as thoughtful!" Gussie said.

"Give me Auntie's money and jewels, then see!" Grace cried.

"And I suppose you go to bed with them, too?" Gussie admiringly
inquired. "Grace has never so much as carried up the plate-basket."

He was quite right. Auntie did go to bed with them, always putting the
bag containing them under her pillow.

"A wise precaution!" said Gussie.

"I'm a heavy sleeper," Auntie explained. "A robber might break in and
take my property, and I never hear him; but let him touch the pillow
beneath my head, and I'm wide awake on the moment."

"Yes, but--" said Augustus Mellish, and smiled, "a few drops of
chloroform on a handkerchief held over your face, Auntie, and where
would you and your jewellery be then?"

They were at the theatre, by that time, and Auntie did not answer. But
when she went to bed that night she thought of what Grace's husband had
said. She had a little difficulty with breathing, being a stout woman,
and a horror of suffocation. The idea of that handkerchief held over
her face was terrible. She loved her money and her jewels, but loved
more her comfort and her life.

"Once they stopped my breath, I should never wake up again!" she said
to herself; and, deciding to alter her usual procedure, she returned
her treasure from the bag hidden in her skirts to her jewel-case.

The play had been a moving one. Grace, very susceptible to emotion, had
laughed and cried beside her; but Auntie was a phlegmatic person. The
comedy was just make-believe. She thought more, as she undressed, of
Augustus's request for a loan than of the heart-stirring episodes of
the drama. She had been wise not to begin lending him money, but to say
at once, straight out, "_No._" He had asked for only a few pounds; if
she had given them, he would have gone on to ask for more, in all
probability. Auntie liked Grace well enough, rather better than most
people, perhaps; but Grace had pleased herself in getting married; the
man she had taken must keep her. He had no claim on Grace's Auntie.

With such thoughts in her mind, as soon as her head touched the pillow,
she slept.

She awoke with a sickly, suffocating smell in her nostrils; and her
eyes opened wide upon a face bent above her own. She had slept with a
small lamp burning beside her, and by its dim light it seemed to her
that the face was black.

As she gazed, the face receded. Its owner drew backwards, pulling one
empty hand from beneath her pillow. The other hand held the
handkerchief whose odour she had felt upon mouth and nostrils.

Auntie flew up in bed. "Burglar!" she cried.

It was the only word spoken between them. The whole incident was over
in a half-minute. By the time that epithet had burst without volition
from her lips the robber, with his black-veiled face, had slunk to the
door and was gone.

With an agility she had not displayed since girlhood, Auntie sprang
from the bed, and, clutching the bag containing her money and jewels,
furiously rang the bell.

Mrs Mellish, in her nightgown, came running into the room.

"Oh, Auntie! Are you ill? Are you on fire?" she cried.

The stout lady, strengthless and breathless, was lying in a chair, the
jewel-case clasped laxly with one arm.

"A robber has been here," she gasped. "A robber, with black on his
face, and a chloroformed handkerchief."

"Oh, Auntie! Auntie! Never!"

"Where is your husband? Is he in your room?"

No. For Augustus, ever a restless sleeper, had thought he heard
something stirring in the room beneath, and, later, a footstep on the
stair. He had risen, therefore, had taken the pistol, which always lay
loaded by his side, and gone down to investigate.

Auntie opened her mouth to speak, but closed it without a sound; her
eyes, with their most vacant stare, were turned upon her niece; she
gathered her underlip loosely beneath her teeth.

It was not until the servants, also aroused by the bell, but having
waited to dress, came to Auntie's room, that Mrs Mellish was at liberty
to run down to seek her husband.

There was no doubt about the house having been entered, she said, on
her return; Auntie had by no means _dreamt_ the burglar.

("No!" interpolated Auntie, with a solemnly emphatic shake of the
head.)

A window broken in the kitchen, and a wide-open sash had showed the
exploring Gussie the means of ingress. In the dining-room it was
evident that a couple of glasses of brandy had been drunk, but none of
the silver on the sideboard had been touched. Too clearly, Auntie and
her possessions had been the objects of the attempt.

Auntie nodded gloomy affirmation, trembling and gasping in her chair.
Where was Gussie, she asked; and showed relief and satisfaction when
told he had gone to give notice of the affair to the police. But not
even the promise that the servants and Grace would sit beside her and
watch her while she slept would induce the poor lady to go to bed
again.

"Not in this house. Never again in this house," she protested.

And even when morning brought a cessation of panic and a certain sense
of security to all, she could not be persuaded to change her mind.

"I should die if I ever trusted myself to fall asleep under this roof
again," she said. "Let me get away from it as soon as possible. I am
fifty years of age, but I've never had a bad shock before in my life. I
won't risk a second."

The swarthy, fat, foolish face was pale and flabby and aged from the
night's adventure and the sleepless hours following.

"Auntie, I am sure you are not well enough to travel," Grace said. But,
with a grim determination, Auntie persisted.

"The first train. I should like to get away by the very first."

"It isn't our fault, remember," Grace said, firing up. "It isn't as if
we _arranged_ a burglary for you, Auntie."

There was a train at 10.15 a.m., and of this Auntie would avail
herself.

No policeman came to the house. Augustus did not return.

"He and the detectives have got on a track, and are following it up,"
his wife said. "Trust Gussie!"

When the ladies were about to sit down to breakfast, and still the
master of the house had not returned, Grace was a little surprised. The
neighbour who had played bridge with them came in. He had heard of the
burglary, and was come to offer assistance, he said. He picked up a
couple of newspapers lying by Mr Mellish's empty plate.

"You let those alone! Gussie hasn't seen them yet," Gussie's wife said.
The Mellishes were on terms of great intimacy with the neighbour.

"I'll take them, all the same," he laughed. "Send Gus to me for them if
he wants them."

"I tell you what! I think I'll just 'phone up to the office to see if
Gussie's there," Grace said. "I don't see the fun of being kept in the
dark like this. I should like to know what's going on, and if they've
caught anyone."

The face of the friendly neighbour changed as she disappeared to carry
out this intention. He walked close to Auntie and whispered in her ear:

"Don't let her get hold of a newspaper," he said. "There's disagreeable
news. I heard it last night. Mellish has got into a scrape--forgery,
they say. I hope to heaven he's got away--H-s-s-sh!"

There was no need of the caution. Auntie, with the grand talent for
silence which distinguished her, sat with a sucked-in lip looking
heavily after the retreating neighbour, when Grace returned. Grace,
bright and pretty in her neat morning blouse, made a laughing dash at
the papers in the neighbour's hand. He flourished them a moment above
her head and retired.

"Gussie's not at the office," Mrs Mellish said. "He's on the track of
your burglar, Auntie, you bet. He'll catch him, too! You'll be wanted
to identify him; could you swear to him, do you think?"

Auntie very hurriedly declared her inability to do this. "All the upper
part of his face was covered," she said.

But she thought of a black-shaved chin below the mask, and a jaw that
had worked silently, in a way of late familiar to her; and she found
herself quite unable to do justice to her niece's eggs and bacon.

                     *      *      *      *      *

At the door of the first-class railway compartment by which Auntie was
to travel Grace stood.

"Gussie will be furious when he comes back and finds you gone," she
said. "He'll catch the man, to the deadest certainty. He's got the
brains of the whole police force in his own head. You should have
stayed to enjoy the excitement."

Auntie, whitened and flabby-looking under her smart violet toque,
reiterated the statement that she could not have stayed another night.

"It's been a great shock. I feel as if I might never recover from it;
and I wish with all my heart I had never come," she said.

"Well, since you wish it, I wish it, too," Grace retorted, kindling.
"We must console ourselves that it has not been for long, and try to
forget all about it."

"I shall be glad to be back in my own home," Auntie said.

She looked so changed from the well-satisfied, prosperous Auntie whom
Grace had welcomed to her home two days before, that Mrs Mellish's
resentment faded as she regarded her.

"You are sure you like best to travel alone?" she asked her, with
anxious kindness.

Yes. Auntie preferred her own company. If a man got in at any of the
stations, she said, so upset were her nerves, she would certainly be
ill with the fright.

So Mrs Mellish found the guard and intimated to him that the lady
wished to be undisturbed. Auntie stopped him when, in his officious
zeal, he was about to lock the carriage door.

"I can't bear the feeling of being locked in," she said. "It makes me
lose my breath."

She leaned out of the window, and kissed her niece with more
demonstrativeness than was her custom. "You know my address if
you--want anything. Good-bye," she said.

"Good-bye," Grace said, and shook a hand at the window. "Don't forget
to eat your sandwiches--you had no breakfast, you know. You've got some
brandy-and-water in your flask, remember. Take care of yourself.
Good-bye."

"Silly old goose! Making such a fuss, at her age!" she said to herself
as she walked away. "Well, after all, it's a relief she's gone. I'm
sure I never wanted her. It was Gussie's idea, not mine."

Evidently the story of the burglary had got about. Mrs Mellish noticed
several people turning to look at her with unwonted interest as she
walked along.

On inquiring of the servants, she found the master had not returned.

On his dressing-table, as she took off her hat, she noticed a neat
little oblong parcel lying. It was addressed in Augustus's writing, "To
my darling Henry, with all his father's love."

Grace smiled to herself. "Gussie remembered the paint-box," she said.
"He never forgets the boy."

She took the little parcel, and posted it to her son.

As the train sped on, Auntie, expanding herself in her corner, felt a
revival of health and spirits.

She had escaped, thanks be to God. But for her mercifully awakening
before the chloroform had taken effect, she would at the present moment
be lying a corpse on the visitors' bed of her niece's house, done to
death by her niece's husband. Once under the chloroform--she was
certain of it--she could not have revived.

She could not endure to think of the house in which she had been
attacked, and on which she had now mercifully been permitted to turn
her back. The sun had shone brightly within its spotless windows this
morning; fresh flowers had decked the breakfast-table; a neat servant
had brought in the coffee. Grace, at her end of the table, pretty and
rosy and young, had talked away, only pleasantly excited by the night's
adventure, in her quick, alert manner. And over it all was hanging this
cloud of ruin, horror, disgrace! Let Auntie banish the ever-recurring
picture, if possible, from her mind. Surely she had done well to get
away!

But as the train sped on, Grace's image, pretty, brisk, capable,
floated persistently before her eyes. She heard her quick speech, her
laugh. She was Auntie's own flesh and blood--Alfred's daughter. Some
people, who did not appreciate how keenly she felt discomfort, and how
dreadfully anything at all unpleasant upset her, might say she should
have stayed at Grace's side, and not left her alone to face what was
coming: they might say it to each other, that is. No one had the right
to censure Auntie.

"What good could I do? I should only have been in the way," she said;
"best to keep out of it all."

The train sped on. At every station the attentive guard walked by,
turned an observant eye, touched his cap. The old girl was good for
two-and-six at the journey's end, perhaps; also, perhaps, she would
thank him and give him nothing. A guard can never be sure. Still--!

How could Grace, who had been such a nice bright little girl, and who
used to go to Auntie for her holidays, years ago, and give very little
trouble, considering, have tied herself to that mouthing black and
white man, with his restless little shaking hands, endlessly fidgeting?
When she partook of a late supper Auntie sometimes had bad dreams, and
awoke with her heart beating into her mouth. She knew what her
nightmare would be for the future!

There were Grace's sandwiches. To divert her thoughts she took the
little packet from the bag which held her money and jewels, and drew
out also her silver flask. Years ago her doctor had told her never to
travel without a little brandy. She looked at the sandwiches, unscrewed
the flask, but found sight and scent to be enough that morning, and put
both aside.

It had seemed a long journey, but now London was near. They stopped at
Broxbourne. Auntie was not quite sure if this station they flew by was
Ponder's End or Angel Road; she put her head out of the window to try
to catch the name on the lamps and benches, failed to do so, and lay
back again in her corner.

What was that? A stirring, a bulging outward of the valances of the
opposite seat. Something was emerging. A man. Dragging himself forth on
his stomach, gathering himself up to his hands and knees, rising to his
full height, collapsing, a dusty, degraded bundle of clothes, in the
further corner of the carriage.

"Guard!" shrieked Auntie. "Gua----!"

The word died on her stiff blue lips. She, too, collapsed in her
corner, and lay stonily staring at the face staring back at her: a face
with desperation in its hunted eyes, with black chin, and chalk-white
cheek and brow, and a mouth restlessly mumbling with no sound.

Beside the man, on the flat-topped division of the seat, a pistol lay;
but the fingers of the small white hand which held it were nerveless.
In his bearing was no menace--only the unstrung droop of despair.

So they faced each other without a word--the man and woman who for the
last two days had played the _rôles_ of attentive host and gratified
guest.

And the train sped on. Away from the sunny little house, the dainty,
capable housewife, the security, the shelter, the heaven of home; away
from peace and guiltlessness; away from a life in which the "gnat-like
buzzings of little cares" had once been its heaviest burden, to a life
in death of danger, of degradation, of bottomless despair.

As the train slackened speed for the next station, the man arose,
dropped the pistol in his pocket; his hand stole out to the handle of
the door. Cautiously he looked forth over flat landscape of building
site, of brickfield, of the huge tanks and lush vegetation of sewage
farms. Gently he pushed the door a little open, and, holding it,
paused, as more slowly, slower still the train sped on.

There was a shrinking touch upon his arm, and Auntie, livid, heavily
breathing, pointed to the silver flask filled with brandy, to the
parcel of sandwiches Grace had cut for her, chatting happily the while,
that morning. The man took them without a word, and pushed them in the
pocket of his coat.

The train was slackening still. Auntie grasped her bag, with weak,
half-paralysed fingers drew out the bag of money and jewels for which
the man had groped last night beneath her pillow, put it in his hand.
There came a sound in Augustus Mellish's throat that might have been a
sob or a strangled word; then the door opened wider; a moment, and he
had slipped from sight.

The station was passed, and the train sped on, bearing Auntie, sole
occupant of the carriage, her journey nearly done.

At St Pancras the guard, the chances of half-crown or no half-crown
still agitating his mind, came to the door of the first-class carriage
he had taken under his special supervision. He touched his cap with a
smile expressive of felicitation that, thanks to his unremitting care,
the lady had reached the end of her travels undisturbed and in peace
from intrusion.

But Auntie was lying back in her corner, dead.



WILLY AND I


When we were little--Willy and I--oh, such a weary long year ago!--we
lived in a big house, in a wide, quiet street in the old town of
Norwich. Now, although the house was so big, there was allotted to it
only a small square of garden; a garden exquisitely kept and fostered;
a garden to smell the roses in, blushing on their neat rows of
standards; to walk in, holding father's or mother's hand; even,
wondrous treat! to take our tea in, sometimes, sitting demurely, we
two, with a couple of dolls and a few lead soldiers from Willy's last
new box for company, at the little round table whose root was buried
deep in the ground beneath the red may-tree. A garden for such mild
pleasures, but not for play. A garden that was the delight of our
city-bred father, who protected the sprouting mignonette seeds from
depredations of snail and slug, who trained with tenderest care the
slenderest shoots of sweet-pea and canariense, who tied and pruned and
watered with his own hands when office hours were over. A broken toy
would have been as great an offence in that treasured spot as a stray
cat; a little footmark on the verbena bed, a kicked-up stone on the
gravel walk, were punishable offences. No room for us two children
there.

And so, besides the nursery where our toys and books were kept and
where our soberer hours were passed, there was given up to our use at
the top of the house a large attic, which was called our play-room.

It is quite desirable for children to run wild at times, it is good for
them to shout, to scream, to jump, to ramp--good for girls as well as
boys. And if you girls who read this have not a big garden where you
may do these things unmolested, I counsel you to demand respectfully of
your parents a play-room such as was this of ours. I don't for a minute
advise you to copy Willy and me in aught--for we were often and often a
naughty pair--I only suggest that your parents should copy ours in
making over to you an empty room.

We had not many toys there. On looking back I think we spent our time
mostly in struggles on the floor, rolling over and over each other with
screams and shouts; with roarings as of wild animals emphasising the
fact that we were not Willy and his little sister Polly, but a great
large lion and a huge black bear in mortal combat. We played at French
and English too. It takes a lot of yelling from lusty lungs, a lot of
stamping and jumping on hollow boards, for one little girl to represent
at all adequately a mighty and victorious army. Of Willy, as not only
his countless followers but as Napoleon at their head, a good deal was
also required. With all our vigour, we were only ordinary flesh and
blood and we always grew tired at last, and then we sat down quietly
upon the floor and looked through our closed window at the window
opposite.

There was only a narrow passage between our house and the next; walking
through it with outstretched arms you could touch the house walls on
either side. Unless you leaned quite out of the window, so high up were
we, you could not see the little dark-paved court beneath; and a close
wire screen covering the window was believed to prevent the possibility
of our looking out at all. But Willy, to whose bold, adventurous spirit
I felt my own but a feeble companion, had contrived with his
pocket-knife to undo the four screws which attached the wooden
framework of the screen to the window-frame. So that the obstacle being
at will removed, and I holding desperately to his knickerbockered legs,
the boy could look out upon the black pavement beneath, or drop a
marble from his pocket upon the head of a passer-by.

It was not the dark passage, however, which as a rule claimed our
attention, but the window exactly opposite our own. We could see quite
plainly into the room, and its occupant could see into ours.

This was a small young man with a pale face. So much I remember of him;
and the fact that the sight of prominent dark eyes and a runaway chin
always recalls to me this episode in my childhood's career, inclines me
to believe that that conformation of features was his.

The room had been empty like our own till one day a bed had been set up
in it, and a chair and a washstand; and after that the young man had
appeared.

"It isn't his play-room, it's his bedroom; he's another lodger at
Miller's," Willy informed me.

When we were not at play we used to sit at the window and watch him. He
did not go to an office, like our father. He seemed to have nothing to
do. Sometimes he stood before the window and looked across at us, but
oftenest he lay on his back on his bed and stared at the ceiling.

"I should jolly well like to have my bedroom up here, and never take
off my clothes when I go to bed," Willy said, enviously.

It is curious to remember what a new interest that silent watcher of us
gave to our gambols. It was with one eye on the pale young man at the
window that I marched to the tune of Old Bob Ridley on the field of
Waterloo; and Willy became so painfully realistic in giving me my
quietus, when I lay dying and at his mercy after the battle, that I had
to turn on my face and cry secretly, he hurt me so.

One day--a very sunshiny day, I remember, the sky above our neighbour's
roof was a bright blue--we were holding a lively representation of a
circus we had visited the day before. Willy, with the carriage whip
brought up from the hall, took the place of the gentleman in the ring,
while I as the piebald palfrey galloped on all fours spiritedly round
the place, or pranced proudly on my hind legs, to command. We were
spurred on to more vivacious action by the knowledge that our neighbour
had opened his window wide, and was standing before it. When we tired
of our equestrian performances, and took up our position opposite him,
he, for the first time, nodded and smiled at us, and presently motioned
to us to throw up our window likewise.

Proud and pleased at this mark of attention, we speedily tore down the
screen, and, both of us going to work together in our eagerness, flung
the window wide.

"Nothing like being friendly with your neighbours," the young man said.
"You seem pretty lively across there--how do you do?"

We said, both at once, that we were quite well, thank you; that this
was our play-room; and we asked him how he liked being a lodger. We
asked him many things, besides. Was he ill, or only very tired, that he
lay on his bed so much? Did he have his dinner up there, or did he go
down to get it as we did? Did he eat what he liked, or what Miss Miller
liked to give him? Was he fond of Miss Miller? We hated her because
once she had seen Willy leaning out of the window and had told father,
who had had the horrid screen put up.

I don't remember what answers he made to all these questions, piped
forth in eager little voices, whose words tripped each other up in
their hurry, but I know he said he thought the screen a babyish
contrivance and advised us, now we had taken it down, not to put it
back again. I reminded Willy that father would be very cross if we did
not, and Willy reminded me that father being out for two nights,
_that_ didn't matter. We cautioned our neighbour not to let Miss
Miller know the window was open or she would be at her tale-telling
again, and he, on his part, advised our keeping the fact of his being
now such friends with us secret from the servants. He hated servants,
he told us, as much as Miss Miller; and Willy admitted that ours were
certainly sneaks and not to be trusted. I told him that Willy and I
often had secrets, and volunteered the information that I had once kept
one from mother for two whole nights!

He should think we were very lonely with father and mother away, and
only cats of servants left to us, he said; and asked what we should
like best in the world to play with.

We both with one breath cried "a kitten;" because that was the one
coveted treasure which had been persistently denied us hitherto.

Then he said that he most fortunately happened to possess the sweetest
kitten in all the world, of which he would be happy to make us a
present; and Willy said, in deep-toned satisfaction, "would he really,
though?" and I got on my feet to jump for joy.

It was just then that nurse's voice came calling us to say good-bye to
our father and mother. So we slammed down the window in our new
friend's face, and pushed the screen back into position, and, bursting
with our secret, Willy and I went galloping down the stairs.

Oh, those uncarpeted, twisting stairs! Now that Willy and I have "grown
up and gone away," do they creak gaily beneath the happy feet of
children still, I wonder, or only groan with the heavy tread of sober
grown-ups? Often and often now, while

        "In the elders' seat
    Resting with quiet feet,"

I fall asleep and dream I come to the foot of those enchanted stairs,
where for my little companion and me stupid law and irksome restraint
ceased, and the liberty we craved began. Then, once more, Willy and I,
whose hands will never meet again on earth, mount hand in hand to the
region we loved.

We drove with our father and mother to the station, and, coming back,
found we had the tiresome formality of our nursery tea to get through
before we were free to make tracks for our happy hunting-ground above.

The young man was waiting there, before his open window, his hands in
his trousers-pockets. We tore down the screen, flung up our own window.
"Have you got it?" we called to him, breathlessly. "Is it there? The
kitten?"

It was in his coat-pocket; a little sandy kitten which trembled
exceedingly through all its fluffy fur, and piteously mewed. He held it
forth to us, finger and thumb about its tiny neck, across the narrow
way; but stretch as far as we could we could not reach it. Willy
undertook to catch it if it were thrown, but the young man said that
for worlds he would not endanger the life of the kitten, and I implored
him to run no risks.

"What is that standing up by the side of your bed?" Willy asked him,
pointing. "It was not there before--that long board?"

It was a plank, the young man informed us. He was going to make it into
a box. He was a carpenter by trade. Didn't we know it?

We told him no, and artlessly informed him we had thought he was a
gentleman, assuring him politely at the same time we were glad he was
not.

Then Willy suggested that the plank should bridge the space from his
room to ours, and that the kitten should be induced to walk on it.

The young man welcomed the idea as an excellent one, but feared when
Kitty saw the great depth below she might turn giddy and fall. Done in
the dark, now, she would not see, nor have any fear.

But nurse made us go to bed before dark we told him, and we so longed
for the precious kitten.

We should know it would be there, he said. Leave the screen down, and
the window open all night, and we should know it would be there, and
could bring it its breakfast, the first thing in the morning.

With this prospect we were obliged to be content; but although at
present, separated from our new treasure, we stayed in its
neighbourhood as long as we could, learning from the obliging young man
many wrinkles for the education and upbringing of the kitten, which
would have to live in the play-room, its bread and milk obtained by
cunning and subterfuge from under nurse's nose.

Inexpressibly I longed to have the little thing in my possession; for
with its present owner, despite his love for it, it seemed less happy
than I could wish--stowed away, heedless of its feelings, in his
coat-pocket, or exposed on the narrow window-ledge, where it shivered,
and mewed, and squeezed up to shelter, in an agony of terror lest it
might fall.

We stayed with it until we were called to bed, but it was not of the
kitten alone we talked. It gave us much pleasure to find what interest
our new friend took in us. He even troubled to inquire where, exactly,
in our house, which was built like Miss Miller's, did we sleep--how
near to mother's room, how far from the servants? As you went up from
the back passage to the great square front landing, our mother's door
was the one that faced you--he knew that--

We laughed, and told him _no_, and cried out in our new delightful
friendliness how stupid he was! That was our nursery door, and then
came our night nursery, and then mother's, and--so on.

It was with much reluctance we tore ourselves away when nurse called;
the wind from the open window blew chill upon us as we nodded good-bye
to our friend. He waved the mewing kitten to us in farewell. It
protested loudly, its little fluffy hind legs clawing despairingly at
the empty air.

                     *      *      *      *      *

In the afternoon of the next day our parents were home again, brought
back by a telegram which told them that their house had been robbed,
the strong box in our mother's room broken open, and all the easily
portable articles of plate taken from the housemaid's pantry.

We had policemen in the house, all the morning, policemen were closeted
with our father when he came home. Willy, in a suddenly disorganised
household, free from nursery rule, trotted about, proud of his courage
in thus daring, at a policeman's heels. Now and again, I would hear him
coming at a rush upstairs to report progress to me, who would not leave
the play-room.

All the bars of the doors and shutters were untouched. The thief must
have been let into the house, the policeman said; and our father, who
trusted all his servants, was furious with the policeman.

A policeman wasn't a man to be afraid of when you knew him; why
wouldn't I come and see this one? He--Willy, quite a hero that
morning--would take care of me.

Then away, with excited face and flying feet, downstairs again. And
presently, a quieter step upon the stairs--a step I knew well then,
hear often in the lonely silence now, shall surely know amid the sound
of all the myriad feet that tread the golden floor when I hear it
again--and my mother was in the room.

"Where is my little girl, and what is she hiding away for? And what
have you got in your lap, and why are you crying, Polly?" she asked.

Then she turned back my little skirt which hid it, and there was the
kitten; sobbing wildly, I flew up and pushed it into her arms.

"The man--the man at the window--promised it," I cried, incoherently.
"And I wanted it because it was so unhappy--and we left the window
open--and I loved it so. And it had to walk the plank--and Willy and me
thought it was asleep, and I picked it up--and it was dead."

Soon, lying with the dead kitten in her arms, I had sobbed out
something of the story. "It is a secret--a secret," I told her, wildly;
"don't let Willy and the man at the window know I told!"

She carried me away, before the policeman and my father had mounted to
the attic. It was Willy, shaken and frightened now, who had to tell the
story of the unscrewed screen, the open window, the plank laid across.

They said it was the young man at the window who came over on the
plank, sitting on it and pulling himself along; they said he brought
the kitten, as he had promised, having first choked the life out of it
lest it should mew, and wake the house. They said that when they caught
the robber, Willy and I would have to go and look at him and say, "That
is the man." We used to lie shaking in our beds at night, dreading the
hour when we should be called on to do this duty.

But they never got the jewellery back, they never caught the robber.

As time went on, Willy, who was always brave for his age, grew braver,
and would often declare he, if policemen were present, and the robber
in hand-cuffs, would not be afraid to look upon him; but be sure that
I, who thought of the murdered kitten, had never a wish to see the
young man with the prominent black eyes and the runaway chin again.

                     *      *      *      *      *

I made a pilgrimage to that wide street the other day, and stopped
before that big old house where we two had lived as children, where I
had played so contentedly second fiddle to Willy. Willy, who was so
eager to act the leading part, so determined to enjoy, to do, to
conquer; Willy

    "Whose part in all the pomp that fills
    The circuit of the summer hills
    Is that his grave is green!"

I stepped into the narrow passage between the two houses, and looking
up, saw that the present neighbours, friendlily inclined, had slung a
rope across from window to window, upon which towels hung to dry. I
could see only the projecting ledge of the window through which our
little faces used to peep and the projecting ledge of that upon which
the kitten had shivered and mewed. But I looked long at these, and at
the tiny slip of blue sky above, and then came home and wrote this
story.



A BROKEN BOOT

    "Oh, the insufferable eyes of these poor might-have-beens."


Every morning of the spring and early summer he had walked down that
sun- and shadow-flecked suburban road, and rested on that particular
iron chair. The butcher's and fishmonger's boys going their rounds, the
policeman on his beat, the postman wearily footing it, the daily
governess returning from her morning's occupation, had become used to
his appearance there; and he watched each one going upon his or her
business, wistful-eyed.

To-day, on one of the chairs planted by the thoughtfulness of the
ever-solicitous Town Council at intervals along the road, a tramp had
also placed himself. He was a tramp of a dirty and unprepossessing
appearance, and having cast a sidelong glance at the well-dressed,
handsome, and distinguished-looking young man beside him, he had begun
in hoarse, faint tones to beg of him. The voice was evidently that of a
hungry man; but to the appeal no response was made, unless there was
reply of a sort in a painfully crimsoning cheek and an averted gaze.
The tramp pointed to his feet, the ragged boots grey with dust of weary
miles, the naked toe peeping through. The gentleman faintly shook the
head that he continued to hold aside. With an effort the tramp got upon
his feet.

"D--n you!" he said. "May your belly go as empty as mine. May hell-fire
blister your feet as mine are blistered!"

The man left alone upon the iron bench looked after the tramp shuffling
painfully away, with no anger or condemnation in his eyes, only a
submissive sadness.

"Poor devil!" he said. "Poor devil! What a beast I must seem to him."

Once again his fingers, hopeless as his eyes, felt over the region of
his coat and waistcoat-pockets, wandered nervelessly to his
trousers-pockets--empty all! How many a time had they flown there in
the last few weeks to make the same discovery--a discovery causing a
shock at first, surprise, incredulity, anger; of late, mechanically
only, quite hopelessly.

And only a short time ago his pockets had been so well lined! He had
been in debt, it is true, but money had been forthcoming for who cared
to take. No beggar, however "professional," however visibly lying, had
ever asked of him in vain. He had squandered, in a society his father's
son should never have known, the fortune his father had left him; his
extravagance had been mad, his self-indulgence unlimited; but it must
be told of him that the occasion on which he most bitterly felt his
present poverty was such an one as this. He missed so much--all that
made life worth living in that foolish whirl "from gilded bar to gilded
bar" which was all his manhood's experience: his credit at his
tailor's, the cigars he had smoked and given away, his daily games of
billiards (the one thing at which he had excelled in all his wasted
life was billiards, his fingers sometimes itched with the longing to
feel the cue in his hand again), all the thousand extravagances of such
a young man's day. But up to the present it was this alone which made
poverty intolerable,--the having to refuse when Want asked of him.

He watched the tramp hobbling painfully into the distance, and in his
pale blue eyes came that pricking which is of tears.

"His blistered feet!" he said. "His blistered feet!"

And then very slowly he lifted one of his own long legs and laid it at
the ankle upon the other knee, and touching his slender, high-arched
foot very gingerly, he bent his head and examined his own boot.

Yes; there, sure enough, was the crack in the leather he had first
discovered yesterday, and which had caused him a sleepless night. The
first crack in his last pair of boots!

The lower lip of that small mouth which had been used to laugh at such
foolish nothings, and which now so easily drooped to grieving, fell
open as he looked. The crack was quite close to the sole and was
scarcely noticeable yet, but it would take--how few days! to widen to a
considerable gap! Then the people of the town in which he had been
born, through which he had ridden his father's horses, and driven his
father's carriages, would notice that he walked about in broken boots!
To-day he had been careful to come by back ways to that favourite road
whose sunshine and shadow he had run over so often as a boy; to his
seat on that chair which was placed beneath the hedge of the garden in
whose house he had been born.

Three months ago, when to his overwhelming astonishment it was first
made clear to him that he had no longer a penny under heaven, he had
gone in his bewilderment to his brother, a man whose share of the
patrimony had not been squandered--had been put out to usury rather,
bringing in thirty, forty, a hundredfold--a man living in luxury and
holding the respect of his fellow-townsmen.

"You can come to me," the brother had said. "Eat at my table, sleep
beneath my roof. I shall not turn my back upon my brother. But I shall
not pay any bills for you, nor shall I allow you a farthing of
money--you have shown us the use you make of money. You will find it
inconvenient to be without, and I advise you therefore to get work."

So, for three months he had availed himself of his brother's hospitality,
and the brother had kept his word. For three months he had crossed in
the muddiest part of the street because he had feared to look the
crossing-sweeper in the face, he had avoided the placarded blind man,
the paralytic woman who had known him well. He carefully made _détours_
to escape these, and the shoeblack boys with whom he had been held in
high favour. As for the people of his own class--the world is not all
unkind, but it is very busy, very forgetful--none remembered to seek
him. He had been surrounded by associates of a sort; and he found
himself quite alone.

For the first week or so he had thought it would be an easy thing to
find employment; a few rebuffs where he had looked for a helping hand,
a curt refusal or two, seemed to show him it was an impossibility. He
had no knowledge of book-keeping, he could not take a clerkship;
business men, with a mere glance at his handsome, delicate features, at
the shrinking, deprecating glance of his eyes, at his white, nervous
fingers, his faultless dress, decided that he was no good.

"Work? Yes. But at what can I work?" he had asked his brother at
length, flushing and hesitating; for since he had been a recipient of
his bounty he had become afraid of his highly-respected relatives, and
of the wife who looked at him with hard eyes as he took his place at
the table.

To that question no answer but a sour smile of a dragged-down lip and a
shrug of the shoulder had come, followed by the reminder that there was
always a crossing to sweep.

"I would rather sweep a crossing than lead the life you are leading,"
the brother had said.

And the other had acquiesced. It would be better, certainly; but--

For a young man of aristocratic appearance and faultlessly cut clothes
to take a place at a crossing in his native town, and beg of the
passers-by, some of whom would be personal friends, for coppers,
requires moral courage; he had been all his life, hence his
misfortunes, a moral coward.

So, of late, only spasmodically, and with a hopelessness that prepared
defeat, did he make efforts to find occupation. But he was not
naturally an idle man nor in all directions incompetent, and he watched
the people passing to office, shop, workroom, with a gaze which had
grown unspeakably wistful.

                     *      *      *      *      *

When the hour for the midday meal arrived, he had been wont to return
to his brother's house, but to-day he had something else to do.

The road being emptied of the stream of passers-by which flowed more
fully at that time, he got up and walked to the gate of the house where
he had been born, and looked long within, upon the garden. It had
always been a beautiful garden, full of flowering shrubs, and wide
lawns, and winding, box-edged paths. Very little had it altered since
to him it had seemed all the world, and he had the fancy to follow now
about its sunny, shadowy ways into all its pleasant haunts, the figure
of a little boy who had played there long ago.

It had been a lonely child who had played there, his only brother being
too old to play, and he had gone about the garden-ways, carrying his
absurd jumble of childish fancies, incredible aspirations, baby
ambitions, on untiring little feet. It pleased the young man at the
gate to follow him in fancy, from spot to spot, always in the sunshine,
always with flowers around him, and the whisper of trees about him, and
the song of birds overhead.

Leaving behind him the gay flower-beds upon which the creeper-covered
house looked forth, into many a leafy nook and shrub-bound fastness the
phantom little form ran happily. Where the trees grew tall and close
above an undergrowth of shepherd's-parsley and blue-bell had been a
favourite resort of the child's. When the eyes of the young man
followed him there, and saw him stop beside the smooth trunk of a
silver birch, he knew that a new knife had been given him that day, and
that he was going to carve his own name upon the bark. He knew that,
the task being accomplished, the child would fetch his mother, and lead
her to the tree to see how deep the knife cut, and how always--always
the name would be there!

Once, being tired with overmuch play, the child had fallen asleep
against that tree, and had wakened to hear his mother's voice
calling,--

                     *      *      *      *      *

The young man came back to the iron bench, his figure drooping. The
lower lip had fallen open, showing the small, regular teeth. Into the
face, "accustomed to refusals," into the wistful gaze of the pale blue
eyes, something of awe had crept. Presently he put up his boot upon his
knee, and once more his eyes fell upon the crack in the side. He moved
his foot within the boot--certainly a bulging showed; by to-morrow the
stocking would be seen.

To-morrow! Yes. He nodded his handsome head with eyes upon the boot and
breathed the word to himself.

How long ago it seemed since this tragedy of the broken boot had
befallen! Could it have been but yesterday? Was that possible?

His great need had developed his strategical powers, and accident had
seemed to further his design. Quick upon the discovery, he had
encountered his brother's page on his way to his brother's shoemaker,
bearing that relative's shoes to be repaired. Seizing the opportunity,
he had hastily divested himself of his own boot and had added that to
the page's burden.

His spirits so easily arose; such a load by that simple manoeuvre had
been lifted from his heart! He pushed his feet into his slippers and
came whistling downstairs to lunch. He had a perfect ear, and his
whistle was most melodious and sweet; the canaries in the dining-room
windows awoke and joined in shrilly. His brother, standing, with sour,
sarcastic face, upon the hearth, held fastidiously between finger and
thumb an article which apparently it was not agreeable to him to touch.

"I met Payne taking my boots," he said; "he had managed to get hold of
one of yours by mistake. I rescued it. I think we don't employ the same
bootmaker."

                     *      *      *      *      *

The young man's cheek did not burn any longer as he recalled that
incident. He felt nothing now, no anger, no bitterness. To such as he
it is so easy to forgive. Forgiveness had ever flowed from him in sheer
weakness. It had been the habit of his life to love and admire his
brother--he loved and admired him still. He did not think that he
himself would have been quite so hard on a poor devil in his place; but
his brother was a strong man and he a weak one--no doubt his brother
was right.

It was certain he was not a cruel man--did he not owe him the bread he
ate? Had he not shed tears over the death of a dog a day or two before?
The dog had been in incurable pain, and a pill which had been procured
from the chemist had caused that pain instantly to cease. The master
had given the order of execution, and had turned away from the gaze of
the suffering brute with the waters of sensibility in his eyes.

And how quietly the dog had died! One instant in convulsions of pain,
and the next still--quite still! The young man who had carried with him
from childhood a great dread of death had been much impressed. After
all, could it be so terrible?

Only one little pill had sufficed to produce that great change--would
suffice to kill two or three dogs, the chemist had said. But the young
man had brought away with him a second dose for fear of accident. As he
looked with unseeing eyes at the broken boot, his finger and thumb held
the second little pill securely in the corner of his waistcoat pocket.

He was afraid of death; but, as a child believes, he believed in God.
Through the recklessness, the wildness, the "joyous folastries" of
youth there had clung to him still the feeling that God was above him;
there beyond the stars; he had felt His smile sometimes, or grown cold
beneath His frown. He had not read, nor thought; nor had he listened to
clever talk on the absurdities of a worn-out faith, the uselessness of
an obsolete creed. His business had been with enjoying himself
simply--with none of those things. Of every other foolishness on earth
his lips had babbled, but not blasphemies. He had not trodden the
downward path with lingering steps, he had gone precipitately to his
ruin; but at least his eyes had been on the stars.

It was for this reason, perhaps, that, although he sat there, a
miserable failure, driven by the heartless might of the world to the
last extremity, there was yet a light upon his brow, and about his
weakly-parted lips a sweetness sometimes absent from brows and lips of
more admirable men.

If he went, beneath scented lime-tree, past gay-flowered border, to
peep through a certain wistaria-festooned window he should see his
father with pipe and book in the accustomed chair, the mother would
look up from her sewing. A recollection came to him of how once in
those childish years which had been so much with him of late a sudden
sense of overpowering loneliness had come upon him as he played. He had
rushed to that window to comfort his little soul with the sight of the
familiar faces, and had found the room empty. He recalled the terror
that had fallen upon him, the horror of desolation. He would not risk
the shock of disillusion. He saw them quite plainly, as his eyes seemed
fixed on the broken boot, but he would not disturb them. No. When the
time came and he entered the gate he would not go near the house, but
would make his way through the shrubbery in which the lawn ended, and
would seek that wilderness which had been his playground.

The wild hyacinths were blue about the roots of the tree on which his
name was cut--how low down the sprawling letters were!--the pet name by
which his mother had called him. If he fell asleep with his back
against the trunk she might come and call him by it again.

It was because he had not slept all night that he was so tired. He had
tossed and turned, tossed and turned upon his bed, seeking in his
muddled, ineffectual brain for an escape from the disgrace of the
broken boot. Quite suddenly there had presented itself to him the way
of escape--the only way--the way he intended to take.

The feathery leaves of the shepherd's-parsley would wave above the
broken boot. He would fall so blessedly asleep--so blessedly! The dog,
he remembered, had not stirred.

The present master of the wistaria-covered house was driven past him,
as he sat in the roadside chair, to turn in at the familiar gate; the
afternoon sun, sinking towards evening, shone on the smart phaeton, the
glossy-sided horse. Lesser men walked by him briskly to their humble
dwellings, little children, belated from school or at play, rushed on.
He grudged to no man his success, he looked on without bitterness at
the joy of life--he blamed no one, envied no one. He had gone astray
somehow, and was stranded and lost; but it was without rancour, or
enmity, or spite that he, a lonely outsider, watched the "flowing,
flowing, flowing, of the world."

So, at length, he rose from his place, pushed open the gate, laying a
tender touch upon the latch that such dear hands had pressed in days
gone by. So he made his way, going with unerring step, beneath the
overbranching of copper-beech, lilac, and red may, to the
flower-carpeted wilderness where, with bluebells about its roots and
feathery foliage waving high around its trunk, stood that silver
birch-tree upon whose smooth bark he had long ago carved his name.



WHEN DEEP SLEEP FALLETH


Ten days of honeymooning passed in a big hotel at Brighton. Ten days of
feeling himself--he who, living, a man of wealth, in a small provincial
town, was used to find himself talked about, looked up to, considered
on every side--curiously unimportant and of no account. Then back with
his bride to the imposing if somewhat gloomy-looking old house to which
a dozen years ago he had brought home his first wife.

They had left Brighton early in the morning, and reached home as the
winter's afternoon was closing in. In the drawing-room, where many a
time she had seen his wife perform that office, the Bride poured out
tea for him.

"At last," he said, and stood upon the rug before the fire, cup in
hand, and smiled at her. "This is pleasant, isn't it?"

With a smile up at him, and a full glance of the dark melancholy eyes
he so much admired, she let him know that indeed she thought it
pleasant.

Her costly fur coat, one of his wedding-gifts to her, was tossed over
the back of her chair; the firelight gleamed on heavy gold ornaments at
wrists and throat. She had been a poor woman, clothing, not dressing,
herself, till in her eight-and-thirtieth year all the fine things which
money could buy were suddenly lavished upon her. So soon the feminine
mind accustoms itself to that change! Every woman is born to fine
raiment, meant to be softly swathed, richly decked, daintily tired.
Cheated of her inheritance though she be, it is as natural to her as
her own skin when at length she comes into it. The Bride felt a sense
of well-being, but no strangeness.

The room in which she sat was perhaps a little overcrowded with
beautiful things. In the days which were past, which she did not
trouble too much to remember, she had sat here on Sunday
afternoons--her one holiday, and always spent with the good-natured
wife of the man she had married--and had told herself that the room
bore too evident stamp of the wealth of the master of the house, and
the too sumptuous tastes of the mistress. Yet, now that it was her own,
so desirable in itself seemed each piece of furniture, so beautiful
each ornament, it would be difficult, she felt, to decide what to
banish.

The man's gaze followed hers, speculatively, roaming over the costly
objects. He was by no means anxious to make a display of his wealth.

He dreaded above all things the charge of vulgarity, distrusting his
first wife's taste, not being quite sure of his own. A compactly built,
well-featured man of middle size and pale complexion; a man careful and
correct in speech, manner and dress; in his gently reserved, modest
bearing giving no sign that he had raised himself far above his origin,
that his wealth was new.

"Do what you like here," he said to his wife, as if reading her
thoughts. "Alter the disposition of the furniture--do away with it
altogether. I am by no means wedded to things as they are."

He crossed as he spoke to a rosewood cabinet placed against the
opposite wall. On its polished surface, above its innumerable little
shelves and drawers, a Crown Derby tea and coffee service was set
forth. Standing in the midst, propped between a basin and a cup, was
the unframed photograph of a woman. This the man removed. Holding it
loosely between his finger and thumb, still talking to his wife, he
returned with it to his old position on the hearth.

"I have not set foot in this room since--for a year," he said. "I
thought I would leave everything till you came. Do just as you like."

"You are so good to me----" she began, and then started forward in her
chair. "Oh, don't, don't, love!" she cried. "Don't burn her picture!"

She was too late. For one instant the face of the first wife looked up
at her, smiling, fat, fatuous, from the heart of the glowing coals,
then, with a stab of the poker, wielded by a remorseless hand, vanished
in the blaze.

"Oh, love!" she sighed, reproachfully, "Oh, love!"

"Why not?" he asked, with a smile which went no further than his
close-set lips. He put down the poker on the hearth and rose up again.
"She must have laid in a stock of hundreds of those photographs," he
said. "The servants appear to have an inexhaustible supply. In spite
of--discouragement--they kept my dressing-room and study-table
garnished with them till I ordered them to desist."

The new wife looked away from him into the fire in a minute's silence.
"It seems cruel," at last she said, with an obvious effort. "I wish you
had not burnt it, love. At least, not to-night. In this big house there
should be room for me and--her photographs."

When she found that their bedroom was to be the same which he and his
former wife had occupied, she was uncomfortably surprised.

The servant who showed her to that apartment in time for her to change
her dress for dinner was the middle-aged woman, calling herself
parlour-maid, but who had acted as lady's-maid, factotum, confidante to
the dead wife. She had made confidantes of all who would listen, poor
woman, pouring out the secrets of her heart, and, as far as she knew
them, of her husband's heart, into any stranger's ears.

"Can I be of any assistance to you, madam?" the maid had inquired; and
madam, in order not to give offence, accepted for a time her services.

"I like to do my hair myself," she said, "but if you brush it for me I
shall be glad."

She did not like this servant who had been on terms of close
familiarity with the other woman; while, outwardly acquiescent, she
allowed herself to be buttoned into a dressing-gown by the hard, bony
fingers, in spirit she protested.

As the pins were taken out of the heavy dark hair, and the braids
untwisted, the eyes of the new mistress and the eyes of the old servant
met again and again in the glass. And the thought came to the bride:
how often in that same glass those slanting eyes of the maid must have
encountered other eyes! Eyes of shallow blue beneath a fringe of
yellow-dyed, tousled locks.

The reflection was not a comforting one, and warm and cosy as was the
brightly-lit room, she shivered. Hastily casting down her gaze it fell
upon a photograph of her husband, taken ten years or so ago, shrined in
its silver frame amid the silver accessories of the dressing-table. In
order to break a silence which was getting on her nerves--

"Is that the picture which was always here?" she asked.

"Always," the servant replied. "It stood opposite one of my late
mistress, taken at the same time, and framed in the same way. After my
late mistress's death my master wished to have her photographs removed.
He destroyed many of them. I think he destroyed the last to-day."

"Now, how in the world did she know that?" the Bride asked herself,
guiltily conscious of the tell-tale face in the looking-glass,
reddening before the servant's inquisitive eyes.

"After all, I will brush my hair myself," she said hastily. "I am used
to doing it."

The servant, with no sign of either pleasure or displeasure on her
shut-up, solemn face, withdrew.

"The silver-backed brushes on the table are those of my late mistress,"
she said from the door--"my master's last present to her. In the drawer
beneath the looking-glass I think you will find your own brushes."

She found them there, and, lying beneath them, face upwards, a
photograph of the dead wife.

The two women for years had called each other friend, but the Bride
started back from the smiling presentment of the face now as if it had
been some loathable thing. Started back, and shut the drawer.

Yet, in a minute had recovered herself, had taken out the picture, and
laid it on the table before her, forcing herself to look long into the
face that from among the medley of silver-topped bottles, pans and
jars, smiled up at her.

As she looked, an inexplicable feeling of uneasiness and insecurity
took possession of her. The fat, fatuous, and smiling face! It seemed
to look with an air of contemptuous toleration upon her as an
interloper; to say with its shallow gaze--"These are Mine. All this is
Mine. It is I, you understand, who am mistress here."

Fascinated by this fancied new expression in the once expressionless
eyes, the Bride looked and looked again--looked till the happy present
slipped away from her and she was back in the unhappy past. The humble
friend, her own poor toilette so soon made, sitting, by gracious
permission, to watch the magnificent toilette of the other woman. In
her bitter heart she felt again the scorn which her mind had always
secretly held for this poor-witted, vulgar creature, who had not the
brains to adapt herself to her husband's altered circumstances, who
angered and shamed him beneath his still exterior, to his face, and
gave him away to the first who would condescend to listen, behind his
back. Who had sat before the dressing-table, watching in the glass the
wide expanse of her bare bosom and white arms, and had boasted of her
jewels and her dress. Babbled of things which should have been sacred
between her husband and herself. How that woman sitting beside her,
with the poor dress and the melancholy, dark eyes, hated her! With what
an agony of pity she pitied the husband! Of what good were money,
position, power to him with such a wife as this! She hated her. Hated
her, as she sat before the glass, smiling at the reflection of her fair
big arms and neck; hated her as, later at the dinner-table, she watched
the husband's face, listening against his will to the woman gabbling
forth some bit of information which the dullest-witted present knew she
was expected to keep to herself.

Still lost to her surroundings in her reverie, the Bride heard again
the outburst of foolish laughter with which the wife had once publicly
declared her husband could keep nothing from her because of his habit
of talking in his sleep. What she wished to know that in the daytime he
would not tell her, she got from him at night by asking questions he
never failed to answer while he slept.

She had hated her; and at last the poor creature, whose smiling face
lay there beneath her fascinated gaze, had known it, and with the
inferior force of her inferior nature had hated back. She had
learnt--who knew how?--of the love between the woman who had been her
friend and her own husband. The eyes had smiled no longer then.

The Bride lay back in her chair, motionless, while before her mind's
eye rose the altered face of the woman who, deceived for long, was
deceived no more--who knew! With her there had been no self-respecting
reticence, no decency of secret tears. She had heaped insult upon the
woman who had wronged her, she had led her husband a life of hell.

That time had been, mercifully, of short duration. A little illness of
which no one took account, had ended all for the unhappy wife, had been
the beginning of a joy beyond words for the other two. She had kept her
bed for two days, suffering from a nervous attack, accompanied by
excruciating neuralgia, and had died quite suddenly from the bursting
of a vessel on the brain.

It had been, of course, in this room she had died. Upon the bed, there.
And her husband, sleeping beside her, had not known that she was dead.
Slowly the Bride, as if fearing what she might see, looked over her
shoulder. The room, with a bright fire, and lit by electric light, was
as cheerful as day. But as her eyes, slowly travelling back again, met
their own reflection in the glass, she saw in them a haunted look which
frightened her. She flew to her feet; snatching the portrait from the
table, she hurriedly crossed the room and flung it to the flames.

"He is right. Why not?" she said. "To burn a picture is
nothing--nothing! And it has given me horrible thoughts."

It was difficult to banish them.

When the newly-married pair were alone in the drawing-room after
dinner, and she was seated at the piano, she asked him, through the
chords she was softly touching, if there was not another room in the
house they could take for their sleeping-chamber.

"Certainly," he said; "most certainly if she wished."

He, himself, had not slept there since the night of his first wife's
death, he told her. Told her, too, that before leaving for their
wedding-trip, he had given orders to have one of the other rooms
prepared against their return. The reason this had not been done, the
invaluable parlour-maid had informed him, was because the wardrobe he
had particularly desired to be moved there had proved too big for the
niche which was to have received it. Wardrobe or no wardrobe, however,
since she wished it, they would migrate on the morrow.

"You do wish it?" he asked her.

She nodded, softly striking her chords.

"I wonder why? You are no more superstitious or fanciful than I."

She shook her head, bending forward to study the score of the music on
the desk, one of Sullivan's operas they had heard together at Brighton.
He, sitting close behind her, his chin touching her shoulder, had fixed
his eyes on the music too, although he could not read a note of it.
"Horrid thoughts came to me there," she said. "I don't think, love, I
shall ever like to be alone in that room."

He named the invaluable maid. "Have her up to dress you," he advised.

The Bride shrugged her shoulders, and her fingers moved more quickly in
a livelier movement. "We will change the room," she said.

Later, he had placed himself on the rug at her feet, and she, leaning
forward in the armchair drawn over the fire, had her arm about his neck
while he talked to her of himself, she questioning. Of his early life
he talked, and what had been for and what against him; of his later
success, and his old ambitions.

"All achieved now," he said, and turned to smile at her the curious,
characteristic smile accomplished by a twist of a closed lip.

"I have not bored you?" he asked her with anxiety, when the evening was
over. "Except to you, I have never in my life talked of myself. It is a
luxury in which I must not too much indulge."

She reassured him with the zeal of the newly-wedded, much loved and
loving wife. "Promise me that you will always tell me all, that you
will never keep a secret from me," she said; and he promised, smiling
upon her with his twisted lip.

"If you do," she cried, fondly threatening, "I shall know it,
Sleep-talker! I shall ask you in your sleep and you will tell me all."

That, under those circumstances, he should probably tell her much that
had no foundation in fact, and much that it would by no means please
her to hear, he warned her.

She fancied by his tone that he was annoyed, and hastily asserted that
she had been in fun, that not for a moment could she seriously
entertain such an intention.

"What you do not wish to tell me, be sure I do not wish to hear," she
told him.

He stood by the open drawing-room door and watched her as she ran
lightly upstairs.

Conscious of his eyes following her, the knowledge of his love and
admiration warm at her heart, she went into their brightly-lit bedroom.
For years she had lived such an unloved life, watching her youth fade,
fighting only for bread to keep herself alive in a world where none
wanted her. Since, in this man's eyes she was still so young and fair,
let her look at herself!

She crossed the room to the looking-glass with a quick, exultant step,
but having reached the dressing-table, drew back with almost a cry.
Standing on it in its old place, facing her husband in his silver
frame, was the silver-framed portrait with the elaborately-dressed fair
hair, the smiling, shallow eyes of the first wife.

The Bride stifled the little cry upon her lips, but with her heart
beating thickly, fell back from the dressing-table, and leant against
the foot of the bed.

A moment's thought reassured her. There was nothing, after all,
disturbing in the reappearance of a photograph which had been
displaced. The invaluable maid with her slanting eyes, with, perhaps,
her stupid devotion to a memory, was responsible.

At the thought the Bride's nerves steadied themselves, but her anger
arose. She moved to the bell--but stopped. Better not to create talk
among the servants by the order she had meditated; rather let this
portrait of the dead wife follow the rest.

But when she held it, frame and all, over the fire, she relented and
drew it back. "It is not like me to be a superstitious fool. I will
not," she said. "She is in her grave, and I am--here. In a way I did
not wish, but could not help, I spoilt the last year of her life. She
is dead, buried out of mind, shovelled away under the earth, that a joy
undreamt of might come to me. This poor triumph at least she shall
have, to keep her old place on the table. I will never dress in the
morning without remembering I am in her place. When I prepare for my
bed at night she shall not be forgotten."

"'Les morts que l'on fait saigner dans leur tombe se vengent
toujours!'" she quoted to herself as she undressed; and while she
prided herself upon being above superstition, decided upon the above
method of propitiating the Shade.

In the night she had a dream which bathed her in the sweat of terror.
Opening her dreaming eyes upon the dressing-table which faced the foot
of the bed she saw the figure of the dead wife standing there. Its
back, clothed in its long nightdress, was turned to her, but in the
glass which had so often reflected it she saw the foolish, fat face,
the over-curled, fair hair. She saw, too, that the figure held in one
hand its own photograph, while, with a pencil held in the other it
wrote, smiling the while its own fatuous smile, on the reverse of the
picture.

In her dream the Bride knew this vision to be a dream, a knowledge
which by no means lessened the horror of it. "I must awake or die!" she
said, and in a minute seemed broad awake.

It was morning; the sunshine flooding the room shone, with a brilliance
which hurt the eyes upon the silver frame of the picture on the
dressing-table. Nothing else was there; all the silver-topped pans and
jars and bottles had disappeared; even the companion photograph was no
longer to be seen; only the face of her one-time friend smiled and
smiled and seemed to beckon from the strangely brilliant, dazzling
frame.

With the horror of the dream no whit abated, the Bride rose heavily
from her bed, dragged mysteriously attracted feet, that yet seemed
weighted with lead, across the floor to the dressing-table; picked up
in a hand that fumblingly obeyed the motion of her will, the picture.

Upon the back, written in the dead woman's familiar scrawl were the
date of her death, and the words, "Died by my own hand."

In the desperate effort to cast the picture from her paralysed grasp,
the Bride awoke.

She was really awake at last, and lying, faint with the dews of
remembered terror, upon her bed, her head upon her husband's shoulder.

Thank God, awake at last! How horrible that had been!

Clinging to him in terror at first, she presently extricated herself
from the man's encircling arm, and switched on the light. She dared not
lie in the darkness with the thoughts that assailed her. Never for one
instant before had the possibility of the wife's self-destruction
occurred to her. Yet, all at once, how probable, how almost certain it
seemed.

Died by her own hand! How easy it would have been! An overdose of the
opiate the doctor was giving her to ease her pain. And she, weary of
life--life made suddenly hideous to her; all her foolish vanities
killed, her delight in herself, her belief in her friend, her faith in
her husband. The gilding all stripped from the bauble which till then
had made her happy. How possible! Nay, was it possible longer to doubt
it?

And who was responsible? The woman who lay in her place, staring out
into the room which had witnessed that foolish, harmless life, which
had witnessed that tragic death; and the man sleeping beside her. They
two.

Slowly, lest she should disturb him, the Bride raised herself upon her
elbow, looked upon the sleeping face.

It was a face still unfamiliar to her in sleep. The always close-shut
mouth was open, the straight-cut upper lip was strained tightly over
the gums with a look almost of suffering, the eyes and temples looked
as if sunken in pain. Feeling her gaze upon him, the man's lids half
lifted themselves, an incoherent word or two fell from the stretched
lips, the head moved restlessly upon the pillow.

Did he too guess this thing? Did he know?

"If he does he will never tell it to me," the Bride said to herself,
knowing well he would spare her that pain.

In the next moment she was leaning over him, calling him in soft,
distinct tones by his name.

"Love," she said, "do you hear me?"

He moaned, turning upon his back. The heavy jaw came fully into view,
and the too thick throat which in the daytime the tall, close collar
hid. With a light touch she swept the hair which, clinging low over his
brow, so disguised it, backward.

"I hear," he answered in the thick, difficult voice of the sleeper.

"Love, I love you," she said. "Tell me, do you love me?"

A pause; then, "With my soul," he answered heavily.

"And--that other wife? Tell me, love."

The answer had always to be waited for, and seemed to come in unwilling
response to the command of an intelligence afar off.

"Hate--I hated her," the sleeper said.

"She knew it--at last. Did she--did she _kill_ herself? Tell me the
truth, love, as you love me."

No answer but a strangled muttering, a head that moved as if in pain.
The eyes watching him saw that the sleeper was tortured.

"But this once," she said to herself, "I must ask--I will know."

She bent over, without touching him, and put her lips down close to his
ear. "Swear to tell me the truth," she said in her distinct, arresting
whisper.

Long she waited, watching lips that writhed before speaking, eyes that
seemed to ache to open and were sealed by an invisible hand. At length
in the low, stumbling, unwilling voice came the response--"I swear."

"Did--she--kill--herself?"

"No!"

"Oh, love! Are you certain? Will you swear it?"

"I swear it," said the muffled voice.

"Why are you so sure? Why? Oh, tell me! Listen: she said she died by
her own hand."

"A lie. It is a lie. I killed her."

                     *      *      *      *      *

Hours later, the light of morning, outshining the electric light, found
the woman, the heavily slumbering man beside her, gazing, with a
stricken face and eyes which looked as if sleep had been banished from
them for ever, upon the new, unwelcome day.

Brightly the rays of the ascending sun struck upon the silver-framed
portrait on the dressing-table, upon the smiling presentment of the
fatuous-faced, shallow-eyed, dead wife.



THE EXCELLENT JOYS OF YOUTH

    "No head without its nimbus of gold-coloured light."


He had that delicately tinted infantine complexion which only
accompanies red hair; his eyes were brightly blue; his features well
chiselled, with the exception of the lips, which were clumsily cut and
loosely held together. He came down to breakfast in a not very
agreeable mood, for he had been drinking for the last week, and this
was the first time he had been thoroughly sober for that period. His
head ached, his tongue was hot and leathery; he kept his hands in his
trousers-pockets because they shook heavily, and he did not want the
lodging-house servant to see.

The pockets were quite empty. He could not tell where the last few
pounds had gone--if he had lost them at that game of poker he
remembered playing before he fell asleep, or if they had been stolen
since. He did not remember, and it would be worse than useless to
inquire. Not a penny was left to him, and he had not a notion where a
penny was to come from--even to pay for the breakfast which he had no
appetite to eat.

With a heavy gloom upon his face, he stood and looked at the meal
spread for him for several minutes before he sat down to table. There
was smoked haddock, and he shook his head at it; scrambled eggs, and
having looked at the dish he hastily covered it from sight. Beneath the
sideboard a few bottles of soda-water were lying. He opened one, and,
there being no glass at hand, poured the contents into his
breakfast-cup, then drank with a thirst which threatened the cup as
well as what it held.

Then he sat down to the table and stared at his reflection in the
teapot.

"God! What a fool I've been," he said. "And what the devil am I to do
now?"

Two or three letters lay beside his plate; he flicked them apart with
his shaking finger. "Bills--bills--bills!" he said. "All bills!"

Unopened, he chucked them one by one into the fire, but stopped at the
last. "A lawyer's fist," he said, regarding the ominously legal-looking
hand-writing. "Someone threatening proceedings again. Let 'em proceed!"

He was about to throw that communication also in the fire, but paused
in the act, and laid it down by his plate again, putting another plate
on the top of it to conceal it from his sight.

He took up the knife, old and worn and sharpened at the point, which
lay by the loaf of bread, and looked at its edge.

"This is how poor old Fleming got out of the scrape," he said. "And
Fleming wasn't in a worse hole than I am."

But he turned the knife upon the bread instead of his own throat, and
having begun with an expression of distaste upon the salt fish, his
appetite arrived with eating, and, that dish disposed of, he attacked
the buttered eggs, and found himself in a fair way to make a good meal.
For, in spite of his intemperate habits, he had an invariably good
appetite--an almost indomitable cheerfulness also. The inability to
take himself and his misfortunes seriously had been at the bottom of
all his failures. With his family history and his temperament he was
foreordained to disaster; but he met it smiling, with the courage which
was more the outcome of indifference than of heroism.

"Which is the way to the workhouse, Polly?" he inquired of the little
lodging-house servant who came to clear the table.

He had filled his pipe and had turned his chair to the fire. His blue
eyes shone as brightly, his red hair was watered as carefully free of
curl, his person was as neat and spruce and daintily cared for as if he
had been the most immaculate of mothers' sons.

Polly, at her first place, and with an unbounded admiration and regard
for the lodger who, if he did make a sight of work splashing about in
his bath, was always free with his shillings and full of his fun,
looked at the young man distrustfully.

"What you got to do wi' th' work'us?" Polly asked resentfully, and
seized the bread under one arm and the remains of the haddock under the
other.

"If folks have no money and don't want to starve, what do they do?" he
asked, puffing at his pipe.

"They work," said Polly, laconically; pushed open the door with her
foot, deposited the dishes in the yard-wide hall beyond, and returned
for the rest of the breakfast-things.

"They work if they're lucky and born poor," he said. "But if they're
like me they can't work, Polly, because they don't know how, and no one
will give them the chance to learn. No. It'll have to be the workhouse,
my good girl."

Upon which Polly snuffled loudly, and her tears fell--splash--upon the
plates she was carrying away. It was not the first time that the
workhouse had been threatened; the dread of her life was that the
threat should be carried into effect. So she cried, and her poor little
red hands shook as she shuffled the plates together.

"Here's a letter," she snuffled.

"Fling it on the fire, Polly."

"'Tain't opened. I 'ont, then. You should ope your letters."

"Open it for me, then."

So the little maid-of-all work opened, and, in obedience to his orders,
she being a sixth-standard scholar, and not stumbling once at a hard
word, read the letter.

And as she read, the young man sat upright in his chair, pulled the
pipe from lips which had fallen open in astonishment, and fixed
unblinking eyes of innocent blue upon the handmaiden.

For in legal phraseology, the sense of which, if not the words, was a
sore stumbling-block to Polly, the letter set forth that by the death
of a certain James Playford, legatee under the will of Mr Daniel
Thrower's uncle, a sum of money had been released which now, according
to the said will, was to be divided between the said uncle's nephews
and nieces. Due deduction having been made for this and that, Mr Daniel
Thrower's share was found to amount to the sum of £98, 17s. 6d., for
which a cheque was herewith enclosed.

"Do you mean to say he's sent the money?" Mr Daniel Thrower demanded,
in the accents of incredulity.

"There ain't no money--not a farden--only a bit o' paper," Polly said,
with disappointment.

Dan seized the cheque from her hand. "All right!" he said; "I shan't go
to that institution we spoke of just yet, Polly. We've got another
chance, my girl."

Truth to say, he had had several in his life, but this seemed to him
the happiest which had ever befallen. After each drunken outburst he
made resolution that it should be the last, and remained a strictly
temperate person till the madness seized him again. The resolution he
made as he sat gazing at the cheque he held in his hand, being the
last, was the one he meant to keep. Years ago an elder brother had gone
out to New South Wales, had bought some land there, and had prospered.
He was not a very sympathetic brother, and had not responded to the
suggestion that the ungain-doing Dan should take himself, his bad
fortune, his unsatisfactory habits, also to New South Wales to settle
down beside him.

Dan was of opinion, however, that, once there, this brother would find
a difficulty in getting rid of him. He thought with longing of that
clean and healthy life, the escape from the slough into which his feet
would always wander while he remained here. The means to escape he now
held in his hand!

"Here I keep on sinking, sinking!" Dan said to himself, illustrating
the process with a movement of the hand which held the cheque.
"Bill--he's as hard as nails, but he'll hold me up. I shall begin over
again. I shall be free of this infernal embroglio. I shall write my
name on a clean page----"

He would not stop to repent; he would look out the first steamer that
sailed; he would pay his debts--they were not, after all, many, for he
had a constitutional objection to cheating people, and always paid when
he could. He would say good-bye to the man for whose friendship's sake
he had come here, and would shake the dust of the miserable little town
where he had played the fool of late from his feet. It was three or
four days, he remembered, since he had seen the friend of whom he
thought; he would have news to take him now! So slipping the letter
which contained the cheque into his pocket, he walked out into the
April sunshine of the little High Street, and betook himself to
Gunton's lodgings.

Gunton was the not altogether satisfactory assistant to the one doctor
in the place. Going thus early, he would catch him before he started on
his rounds.

No need to hurry, Dan! Before the good people of Hayford shall see
again the young doctor flying round on his long legs to visit the
pauper patients, or clattering in Doctor Owen's tall gig over the
cobblestones of the High Street on his way to those invalids of least
consideration entrusted to his care, the last trump shall sound.

He was not in the little sitting-room where Dan and he had smoked so
many pipes together. The visitor was striding across the passage to the
bedroom, also on the ground-floor, when the landlady issued therefrom;
and the landlady was in tears.

"I have kep' these apartments respectable and comf'table, and not a
week unlet, these seventeen year, come Michaelmas," she sobbed. "And
never have I had a death in 'em before."

Dan recoiled before the word. "Death?" he said.

And she repeated the word. "Poor Mr Gunton, he have had one of his
throats, and he was took worse yesterday morning. He kep' askin' for
you, sir, and no one could say where you was; and now he have sent me
to fetch you, whatever happen, and to say as he's a-dyin'!"

"It's one of his jokes," Dan said; but he had grown grey about the
lips, and his mouth fell open.

He pushed open the bedroom door, half expecting to be greeted by a
smothered laugh from Gunton, and a whispered account of the last trick
he'd played the old woman.

But Gunton, poor fellow, who had laughed and played his foolish jests,
and got into mischief industriously all through his short life, had
laid his mirth aside to-day. He had done but indifferently well the few
tasks allotted him, shirking them when he could; the business he had
now on hand was a very serious one, and there was no slipping out of
it. He had to die.

He told his friend so in so many words. "What's o'clock now?" he asked.
"Eleven? By two I shall be dead."

Dan tried not to believe. "I'll go for the doctor--I'll fetch a nurse!"
he said.

The other stayed him with his difficult speech. "Don't waste time. It's
no good," he said. "I've seen men die like this. I know. Owen was here
till ten minutes ago. I told him last night it was all up. You know
what an old ass it is--he wouldn't listen. He listens now. He's wired
for ----" (naming a man locally celebrated in the profession). "He's
driven, himself, to Fakenham for a nurse. I shall be dead before they
get here. I told him so--the old ass! He's wired for my mother--she'll
be too late. You can say I sent my love, Dan----"

All this in a hoarse, broken voice, interrupted by loud and painful
breathing, and now and again by a short, rough cough.

"I didn't know you were seedy, old man! I'd have come at once," Dan
said. "I've been on the spree again, for a day or so. It's the end. I'm
not going to play the fool that fashion any more!"

"The end of my sprees!" poor Gunton said. "We've had one or two
together, Dan. Don't look at me. I ain't pleasant to watch. Sorry. It
won't be for long. Dan--my watch and studs, and a chain I never
wore--they're"--he lifted a cold hand and tried to point to a little
heap of trinkets lying on the drawers at the foot of the bed--"they're
for you. Take them, will you? Take them now."

Dan nodded. "I'll take 'em, thank you, old man," he said, and sobbed
suddenly. "Don't worry, Ted. Don't try to talk, dear old boy."

"I've got to. You know about Kitty. I was going to marry her next week.
I took her away from the shop--made her give up her living. She's
bought things to marry me. She can't pay for them. You--you----"

A struggle here, upon which Dan, in spite of himself, turned his back.

"I know," he said, brokenly. "I'll pay for them. I'll see to her. It'll
be all right, Ted."

"No! My mother," the dying boy said; "tell her. She won't be pleased.
Ask her to give Kitty a hundred pounds from me--with my love.
Promise--promise."

"I promise," Dan said. "Anything--anything, dear old man. I know what
you'll want done--don't, for God's sake, talk any more."

But for another hour of misery, of battling for breath, hideous to
suffer and heart-breaking to witness, he would attempt to talk,
irrationally at times, but now and again with a startling coherence.
His mind ran on that gift of a hundred pounds. He sent message after
message to the little shop-girl for whom, with the senseless
prodigality of such youth, he had proposed to fling away his future.
Again and again he adjured his friend to tell his mother what a good
little girl Kitty was, how she had stuck to him and been a brick.

They said he was a clever fellow in his profession, the long-haired,
long-legged young doctor, with his harum-scarum ways and his ready
laugh. He had made a true diagnosis of his own case. Before doctors and
nurses could be got to him he was dead.

"Don't look at me," was the last he said. "Pull the sheet over my
face--don't look."

And so, with the thoughtfulness for others which had proclaimed him
Gentleman in that inferior society where it had pleased him to move, he
hid his suffering from the man who sat weeping like a woman beside him,
and died.

                     *      *      *      *      *

It was Dan, his face blurred and swollen by crying, his usually
darkened and subdued red hair proclaiming its curly nature in all the
fierceness of its roseate hue--Dan, who at that moment would rather
have been in any other place on earth--who received the bereaved
mother, led her to the door of the death-chamber, and retired in
miserable solitude to await the interview, to avoid which he would
gladly have blown out his brains.

She came to him at last, a long, lean woman who had bent a stubborn
back to many sorrows. A meek, unsubdued woman. The lankiness of limb,
and the lankness of feature and hair, sufficiently pleasing in poor
Ted, stretched forth at his long length yonder, were not such agreeable
characteristics in the mother. Narrow face--narrow nature. In the thin
features, contracted nostrils, close, small mouth, Dan might have read
poor hope for Kitty.

"I have taken his jewellery," she said in her toneless voice. "I
thought it best not to leave it about in a lodging-house. I miss a
ring--a ring I gave him on his last birthday. Can you tell me where it
is?"

She spread the watch, the chain, the sleeve-links, a certain pearl stud
which Dan had noticed once or twice in his shirt when poor Gunton wore
dress clothes, upon the table--all the poor, invaluable trifles which
had lain on the drawers in that pathetic little heap bequeathed to the
dead man's friend. "The ring is missing, you see," she said. She tied
up the articles in a spare white handkerchief and slipped them into the
pocket of her dress.

"Everything of his has become doubly precious to me," she said.
"Perhaps you will be so good as to make inquiries about the ring."

Dan roused himself. Here was his opportunity. "I think the ring----" he
began. "I think he gave the ring to Kitty, you know--the girl he was
engaged to," he got out.

"Engaged?" the lady repeated. "My boy engaged--and without my
knowledge!"

"We don't tell our mothers everything, I'm afraid," Dan said. He made a
ghastly attempt to smile, to get back to his habitual easy manner which
had forsaken him. "'Twouldn't be for our mothers' peace of mind----"

She interrupted him with cold dislike. "I know nothing of you and your
mother," she said. "I know that there was perfect confidence between my
son and me."

It was hard, after that, to tell her the story, but he told it, and saw
her narrow face change from its frozen grieving to a still more frozen
anger. She would not believe, or she affected not to believe, the
story. A girl out of a little country shop to _marry_--her boy!

"You have no right to take away his character so, and he not here to
defend himself!" she said. "He--I perceive that he has consorted with
low company since he has been here; but he is a gentleman--my son, by
birth and education."

"He _was_ a gentleman," Dan said gently. Was--was? Ted _was_! Ted, who
had been so alive, so "in it" in the jovial sense always--was! The word
choked poor Dan, but he stumbled on, and told of the poor fellow's last
charge to him, his last request to his mother.

Sometimes, in his confidential moments, Ted had spoken of this mother
of his. "She is a good woman," he had said; "I suppose she never did,
or said, or thought a wicked thing in her life."

She might be good, but she had now a heart as hard as the nether
millstone. She did not choose to credit the story. She would not do her
dear son's memory such an insult as to believe it. She looked with
suspicion as well as dislike upon the poor friend with the rumpled red
hair, with the fair skin, blurred and mottled, as such fair skins are
wont to be, by his weeping. It was quite possible, she told herself in
her miserable little wisdom, that he had made up the tale for his own
ends. The hundred pounds was for himself, or at least he would share
it. She would not believe; and presently she would hear no more.

"I must now really ask you to leave me alone," she said. "Your good
feeling will show you that I have enough to bear."

"And you refuse to do this last thing poor Ted asked of you?" Dan said
to her.

"I have no proof that he asked it," she answered.

And with that insult ringing in his ears, Dan went.

He pulled the door to upon him with a muttered oath on his lips; but he
was not so enraged as another man would have been in his place. The
"old girl" wasn't behaving well; but in Dan's experience, so many
people did not behave well; and as it happened, the thing could be put
right. If it had been yesterday, how helpless he would have been in the
emergency! But old Playford's death had come just in the nick of time.
As for himself and his chance--his last chance--well! He looked across
at that other door behind which Ted lay. Ted and he had stuck together
through ill report and good, had helped each other out of many a
scrape, had had such good times!

Dan looked for a moment at the closed door, then stepped across the
yard of matting and opened it.

Many a time he had run in without waiting for admission to his friend's
lodgings, had pushed open the door to call a word to the young doctor,
already gone to bed or not yet got up, perhaps. So, once more he opened
the door far enough to admit his red head, and looked in. Ted was dead,
he knew; but it takes time to reconcile us to the fact that the dead
are also deaf, senseless, past grieving or comfort.

"It's all right, old man; don't you worry. I'll see to it," Dan said.



CARES OF A CURATE


                                                 "November 6th, 1901.

"... You were with me much down at H---- in the spring, and saw many of
the ins and outs of a certain affair then going on in which I was
personally interested, and which took up a large portion of my time;
and I think I owe it to you, Charles, to let you know how to all that
foolishness there came a finish. This 'excellent bachelor' is not to be
spoilt by matrimony. She wouldn't have me. And so on, and so on. I
spare you all particulars, and you see that I am alive to tell the
tale. It made things a little difficult at H----. I got away as soon as
I could and met with another curacy in this place, and I write to you
on the evening of my arrival. It looks a cheerful, pretty little spot,
but I haven't shaken down yet, and thoughts of H----, and of last May
when you were with me, keep turning up in my mind to-night.

"My vicar seems all right. I thought it very decent of him to meet me
himself at the station. He apologised for having insisted on an answer
to his written question--was I a confirmed bachelor? The ladies of the
parish were in favour of a celibate curate, he said, and he himself did
not want to be bothered by a man who would be getting married directly,
and going away. I told him there would not be any fear of misdemeanour
of that kind with me.

"He brought me on here--well no, he didn't, that was what I wished him
to do. He took me to the vicarage and gave me tea. His daughter gave
it, rather. You'd like the daughter. Not very young, and not pretending
to be; filled with good sense, a practical, companionable sort of body.
She, too, was good enough to approve my estate of confirmed
bachelorhood. She said they had found things work so much pleasanter on
these lines. The last three of her father's curates had been devoted to
the single life. I asked, for the sake of conversation, what had become
of them, and she told me, without the change of a muscle of her face,
that they had married. The vicar awoke to the subject of our
conversation here, and said that they had married his three other
daughters.

"'Jessica is the only one left me now,' he said.

"'Jessica must always be left or what will become of you?' the sensible
young woman said.

"A great many women would have felt it a little awkward, but she was
quite unembarrassed. She very kindly put on her hat to show me the way
to my rooms. Even came in, and sat talking for an hour. She said quite
naturally that the best thing a woman got out of advancing years was
the possibility of making of a man a friend. She is thirty-five, and
isn't ashamed of the fact. Altogether a refreshing woman.

"My rooms are not like those at H----. Do you remember that evening in
May when your sister had been on the river with the Hysopps, and she
and Tom and the mother came in, and they brought Mary? The moon was on
the water, and we would not have in the lamps, but sat and talked in
that light. Well, there's no river here, and the moon doesn't shine,
and there are one or two other things missing! But Mrs Bust, my
landlady--what a name!--appears a decent sort, and to judge by my
supper to-night, an excellent cook.

"By the way, every available jug and jar and glass is filled with
chrysanthemums. No less than seven ladies, whose names she gave me, had
brought up bunches during the day, Mrs Bust said.

"This really looks extremely kind of the people. I thought it such a
pretty way of welcoming a stranger....

                     *      *      *      *      *

                                                  "26_th November_.

"I'm not in the least offended. Why should I be? I know, as you say,
that lookers-on see most of the game, and I am sure that you are
perfectly genuine in your advice. But I have had enough, thank you. It
will last me my life. Besides, you are mistaken--she wouldn't. A girl
like that with four hundred a year--I always knew the money was a
bar--why should she? I've got no illusions about myself, as a rule. I
was a fool ever to think it possible. Thank you--but don't say any more
about it. I ask it as a favour. I have rolled a stone against that
door, you understand. 'Want but a few things and complain of nothing'
shall be my motto; and although at a certain time of my life I wanted a
good deal, at least I won't complain.

"If only there were fewer women in the world! Fewer in B----, perhaps,
would answer my purpose. The fact of my being a confirmed bachelor
makes them feel safe with me, I suppose, but the fact is I can't stir
for them, Charles; I stifle with them. I wish you'd run down and take
some of the pressure off. I wish a few other good fellows would come
and rescue me. Her mother said that Mary (the forbidden topic!) was not
suited for a clergyman's wife, that she hated useful work. Perhaps that
was why I liked her so much. She never bored me. These women--!

"They are as kind as angels. I'm going to run my pen through the above.

"I've got in a piano--you know my weakness for strumming? My landlady's
daughter shares that weakness. I hear the piano begin before I reach
the garden gate, I hear it shut with a bang as I come in at the door.
Waltzes, played very quick, and galops with the loud pedal down and an
impromptu bass. Her mother suggested to me that Cissy should come in
and play to me in the evenings sometimes. I did not exactly jump at the
offer, and Mrs Bust, to remove a possible objection in my mind,
explained that of course she had not intended to leave her daughter
_alone_ with me; she herself could bring her sewing and chaperon her,
she said.

"I am beginning to dread my meals because this good woman waits on me.
I have begged to be allowed to pour out my own glass of beer and to
reach my own salt-cellar. No use.

"Mrs Carter, an influential parishioner, living at a nice place called
The Lawns (I haven't counted how many there are of them, but have
noticed a few yards of grass-plot at the side of the house), said to me
the other day that she believed I was a woman-hater. I had encountered
fifteen of them at her house and was in a desperate mood. I said I was.
I thought I was safe with Mrs Carter. I've met each one of that fifteen
since, and she has in every case stopped to say to me--'Oh, I hear
you're a woman-hater!' They all seemed to be mightily pleased. It put
me in a stupid position. I managed to say something civil to each; but
I have a bone to pick with Mrs Carter! She is always poking her fun at
every one, and wants to know if I don't make an exception in favour of
Jessica.

"Jessica!!

"She and I get on together, however. So we need; for she is an ardent
worker in the parish, and morn and noon and dewy eve are she and I
thrown together. Often, when I think to have an hour to myself for
reading or writing, she comes to my room and sits over the fire with
me, her petticoats carefully lifted, her feet on the fender--I am
tempted to wish her at Jericho; but she is a good sort....

                     *      *      *      *      *

                                                   "5_th December_.

"Many thanks for your brilliant suggestion. Very thoughtful of you.
Jessica is not in the least that kind of woman. She might have been
married ten years ago if she had liked. She told me all about it. The
last man who married the sister _meant_ to have Jessica.

"I say, there's a tragedy, Charles! To feel as you do about the woman
you want to marry, and to have to go through it with another!

"She's a splendid manager and organiser, and a devoted worker. She told
me yesterday that if ever she did consent to marry it would have to be
her father's curate; she would neither leave the parish nor her father,
she said. A lot of women would have been embarrassed in saying that,
and I can see the expression of your face as you read it. Spare your
gibes. Jessica is miles above the ordinary tricks and wiles and
falsities of women. You'd know it if you saw her. A stout,
strong-looking young woman in thick boots and short skirts; a
weather-beaten, serviceable being.

"It must have been for her sterling qualities those other men were in
love with Jessica. All the same, dreadful, doubtless, to lose her.

"I note your news of H----. I have cut off all relations with that
place. People there don't know where I am. Have forgotten that I exist,
most likely. Do not trouble to send me any further information.

"Ah, my dear Charles! If I only might do my work for the next world
after a manly fashion, as other men do the work of this! These women
won't let me. They are in everything. They meddle and mar and make
mischief. Half of the Fifteen (can you halve them?) are at loggerheads
with the other half because of words I am reported to have said. They
quarrel with each other, but, heaven help me! they won't quarrel with
me. They make me perpetual presents, they ask me endless questions,
they consult me in difficulties of their own ingenious making and
always cropping up. Half of them have husbands they might go to,
children to occupy their time. One is at least sixty--!

"A girl and her mother have been here to see me to-day. Mother
indignant, girl in floods of tears. Some one of the Fifteen had said
that the girl was 'running after' me. Me, with my thirty-eight years,
my fortune of a hundred and fifty a year! Can't you see my blushes on
the paper as I write it? Had her daughter by look, by word, by deed,
done anything to deserve that cruel slander, the mother wanted to know?
Then, was I not ashamed such things should be said? God knows I am
ashamed, but what can I do? They are always saying such things one of
another. How can I stop it?

"'You must not be so civil to them,' Jessica says.

"I assure her that without positive rudeness I can't be less civil than
I am.

"'Then, be rude to them,' counsels Jessica.

"How can one man, standing alone, immersed in rummage sales, parish
concerts, mothers' meetings, school teas, and other feminine functions,
be rude to Fifteen women at once? Between you and me, I have tried it,
in my desperation, in individual cases, and it has no effect. I have
discovered you can't please a woman better than to bully her.

"'You must marry Jessica,' Mrs Carter says. 'Married to Jessica you
will find yourself a mere man, a very ordinary person.'

"'I should want an extraordinary nerve to do it,' I was on the point of
saying, but remembered in time how she had reported me to the Fifteen.
The pulpit is becoming the only place where I can enjoy the luxury of
free speech. Words spoken in any less public place are brought back to
me distorted past recognition.

"Heigho! I am always grumbling. As a fact, people put themselves out in
the most flattering manner to be kind to me; I suppose I am as
comfortable here as I should be in any place after H----.

"Little Cissy Bust found out that I was fond of flowers. Since then she
pulls off a chrysanthemum every morning from the plant in her mother's
window, and lays it beside my plate. Sweet of the little thing, but I
watch with dismay the blooms lessening on the maternal plant. The
mother is a good sort, in her way, but as I've been working in it all
day I don't care to be bothered with the tittle-tattle of the parish
when I come home at night. She is always bringing me delicacies off her
own table. I have to eat them, because she stops to see me do it....

                     *      *      *      *      *

                                                  "19_th December_.

"How many afternoon tea-cloths have I had given me since I came,
Charles? Guess.

"Nine. I haven't the smallest use for one of them. I never get the
chance of having tea at home in the afternoon, being always under the
obligation to eat muffins in this lady's house or that. Jessica came in
through wind and rain one day and said she'd like to have a cup. Here
seemed my opportunity. I showed her the nine and facetiously asked her
to choose; or should I spread them all at once? She always has too much
in hand to stop to jest over trifles; she waved the tea-cloths aside,
and seized her cup off Mrs Bust's tray, and went on talking shop. I
don't want to decry Jessica. She's worth all the rest put together.
While they gabble, she does things. If Mrs Carter (who hates the sight
of her, by the way) and the rest of them would only let us alone!

"So the engagement at H---- is broken off! It must be a blow to poor
Holt, but I never thought him suited to her. Who is, I wonder? What a
madness it was to think that she and I could pull together. Imagine
that little teasing, irresponsible child in such a box as this, bored
to death by these interminable women! For all her naughtiness and her
folly she was wiser than I. But I am wiser now.

"Of course, if you hear of any fresh engagements or new freaks of the
young lady, you will let me know at once.

"Mrs Bust was insolent about that cup of tea. I greatly hope Jessica
did not notice the way she banged the tray down. She said afterwards
that no _single_ lady should come to a _single_ gentleman's rooms,
let alone take a meal with him. If there were other rooms to be had I
would not put up with this creature. My dear Charles, I'm getting to
be, in reality, what I've had the credit for being all along--a
woman-hater.

"I go a good bit to Mrs Carter's. Her house is comfortable, and she is
an amusing creature. Sees jokes, and cheers one up. She teases me about
my beset condition, and tries to get me to _say_ things. She calls me
Job, and the Fifteen my comforters. Neither witty nor appropriate, but
it pleases Mrs Carter. She says the least I can do is to give the nine
donors of the nine tea-cloths tea. I frankly told her of the difficulty
with Bust, who is inexorable on the matter of etiquette. It will be all
right if she comes, Mrs Carter says. She is so set on it, I've had to
give in. I've asked them. They're coming on Thursday.

"Oh, my dear old man, how my head aches!

"Mrs Carter keeps sending me up chickens, jellies, game, and things.
She says I've shrunk three stone since I came. It's love, she says, and
I shan't be all right till I'm married to Jessica.

"What rot women talk!

"Can this be true? She declares to me that the vicar told her in
confidence he would soon be losing his daughter from his house, if not
from his parish.

"You see the inference. There is not another even faintly eligible
bachelor in the whole _charming_ place. (Use your own epithet in place
of the underlined word. I should rather like to hear you do it).

"I said, straight out, she had no business to repeat to me what,
however silly, had been said in her private ear. She was quite
unimpressed. 'In such a place as this what should we do if we did not
repeat things?' she asked.

"She told me, as a huge joke, that her husband had overheard the
servants saying she called me by my Christian name! Carter went to her
for an explanation. No doubt she had chosen to call me 'Job,' or some
nonsense of the kind, when the servants were in the room. She's
delighted, and says Carter was quite annoyed.

"He's about the only Man in the woman-ridden place; after this I shall
be ashamed to look him in the face.

"When Mrs Bust was taking away my supper to-night she requested me not
in future to speak to her daughter as 'Cissy.' It was so very _marked_.
I was not in the mood to receive the rebuff calmly, and she simmered
down. Young girls got such strange ideas in their heads, she said. It
was better not to be _too_ familiar!

"Poor little Cissy, aged sixteen, and her flower on my plate! I've had
a certain pleasure in that unfailing mark of a little girl's goodwill;
but to receive a flower from _Miss Bust_! I shall hurl it into the
coal-box in the morning....

                     *      *      *      *      *

                                               "2_nd January_ 1902.

"You harp a great deal on one string, old man. I know you mean it
kindly, I know you'd like to see things put right for me in that
quarter, but do believe I've had enough. I don't pretend--to you--it
was a pleasant experience. I won't deny it was a nasty knock--but it's
over, and Richard's himself again.

"You ask about the tea. Oh, well, there was no tea. At the last minute
Mrs Bust refused to make tea for Mrs Carter. To the other nine she did
not actively object--safety in numbers, I suppose--but Mrs Carter, it
seems, had asked her during the progress of my last cold if she had
neglected to air the sheets for my room. Such impertinence from any
woman no lady could suffer, Mrs Bust informed me. Into her house Mrs
Carter shall never set foot again. Seeing that I had laid in the cakes
and sweeties and rubbish for the tea she suggested that she herself and
Cissy should be of the company. In that case the most particular, she
assured me, would have nothing to get hold of. I scrupled not to make
plain to her that her plan did not commend itself to me.

"Mrs Carter is delighted, and tells the story, with additions,
everywhere. She asked the nine to her own house and I had to show up.
Carter was to have come home but of course he didn't. Small blame to
him. By the way, he has become positively uncivil to me lately. In my
hearing, the other night, he said something about the clergy 'for ever
smothered with women's petticoats, and with their feet under better
men's tables.' I have liked Carter hitherto, and shall have it out with
him when I get the chance.

"You see, Charles, that girl fooled me thoroughly. I thought she liked
me. You thought it yourself; you said so. I thought she meant me to
know she liked. She is so young, so pretty, so rich in everything the
world holds of value. If I had not fancied encouragement I never should
have made the attempt. To come down such a crusher! Perhaps what you
say is right. She may seem to think kindly of me now, she may even have
spoken to your sister of the episode as you say; but let me put myself
in the same place again and the same thing would happen. I'm not
blaming her. God knows I don't blame her. I blame myself for being a
blind ass. I hope she'll be happy, poor little girl. I want her to be.
With all her irresponsibleness and her outside naughtiness and
frivolity, her carelessness of men's feelings, her nonsense, and her
teasing, pretty ways, I know that she is good at heart, sound, and sane
and sweet. I want her to be happy!

"There is a girl among my Fifteen--she is quite young and has to be
protected against herself. She has haunted me. When I got home she
would be lurking in the dark of the road, when I went out I met her
coming round the corner. Notes in her childish scrawl have fallen on
me, thick as autumn leaves. I have had to see her mother at length.
Mother, for my pains, told me roundly I was not a gentleman. I declare
to you she abused me like a pickpocket, Charles.

"But this silly child had the excuse of youth. There is another of
nearly three times her age to whom I had thought it safe to be civil.
Well, it wasn't. She pursued me even within my own strong-hold, the
pulpit. In a moment's weakness I had owned to her that I liked
violets--pah! I am sick of the scent of them now. On Sunday morning I
found a bunch of them, done up after a well-known fashion, with dried
maiden-hair as a background, laid beside the pulpit cushion. I had good
reason to know from whence it came. I said to her when she waylaid me
on my homeward course that the woman who cleaned the church would have
to be reprimanded. She had let fall a bunch of flowers from her frowsy
dress upon the pulpit desk and had left them there. An unpardonable
piece of negligence.

"'I thought you liked violets?' the foolish old woman said, looking
ashamed; and I told her hardily that I loathed the sight of them and
hoped never to look upon one again.

"This all seems only laughable to you. I can hear you snigger over
it--and me! Laugh at me, but don't hate me as I do myself. A man
nearing forty years of age, not particularly anything--either clever,
or eloquent, or good-looking, or attractive. Don't I know it all? I
can't write of it----

"And yet this one thing more I must tell you before I close.

"As I parted from the sensible, self-respecting, self-contained Jessica
the other day--I protest to you my reliance on her womanly dignity and
sturdy reasonableness has been to me as the shadow of a great rock in a
weary land--I ran against her father, the old vicar. He put his hand on
my shoulder, and looked at me with a kind of playful reproof in the
face.

"'Ah, how long is this shilly-shallying to go on?' he asked.

"... I broke off there to see Mrs Carter. It has hitherto been a relief
to see her. The only laughing I've done since I've been here has been
with her. She did not laugh to-day. She came to me because she had no
other friend, she said. She could not trust the gabbling womankind. Her
husband had changed to her. He had become all at once unreasonable and
unkind. He had told her that he did not trust her. He would no longer
allow her to go to church, he had forbidden her to receive me again in
his house.

"In utter bewilderment I could only ask her why. And then she burst
into tears, and then--then there was another scene.

"Mrs Bust was no doubt listening at the door. At any rate she burst in
upon us. I, for my part, was not sorry, but poor Mrs Carter--! Poor?
Fool, idiot!

"She is forty years of age, her husband is a decent, honourable sort of
fellow who worships her----

"That finishes the Carter friendship.

"If it were not for Jessica--good, matter-of-fact, reliable Jessica,
welcome contrast to these hysterical, half-mad women, who laugh at and
despise her--where should I be, Charles?...

                     *      *      *      *      *

                                                   "1_st February_.

"You have been a true friend to me and to her. I shall see you soon
(D.V.), and then no doubt I shall say--nothing. But you will remember
that I am grateful to you to the last drop of my heart's blood--and so
is she.

"Now as for B.... The finish has come; it came to-day. Let us sing and
give thanks with the best member that we have! All the same, the end
has been a shock, and I wish it had come in some other way.

"She came in here at eleven this morning. You know who--Jessica. I
thought she came to talk over last night's concert. It was a failure.
The room was as empty as the church has been of late. Those--women (my
cloth prohibits me from supplying the adjective, Charles. I leave it
with satisfaction in your hands) with their gabble have robbed me of my
last shred of character. I assure you I am regarded as a libertine in
the place--a professional breaker of hearts, a Don Juan bragging of my
conquests! Each of those Fifteen has her own tale to tell of her own
wrongs and of my deceit. They hold indignation meetings in Mrs Carter's
house. I shouldn't care the value of one of their hairpins, but one
does not like to see the church empty; and it is not agreeable, having
gone to the bother of getting up a concert, to sing to empty benches.
It was not, however, to talk over the concert she had come.

"She had come to tell me she thought it would be better for us
thoroughly to understand each other. I said I thought we had done so
from the first. She told me she hoped so, but that we were going to
speak out plainly now. She despised the underhand methods of other
women, she said, and when she wanted to know a thing she went to the
person capable of giving an answer and asked a direct question.

"Then she asked me, 'Did I mean to make her an offer of marriage?'

"In so many words she asked me, and never flinched.

"And I didn't flinch. I was so indignant, so outraged!

"'No!' I said.

"I hope I did not shout the word, but the room seemed to echo with it,
somehow.

"'You mean that?' she asked; and I said that I meant it fervently.

"She got up and went to the door. There she waited, her hands in her
coat-pockets, staring at the door. 'Of course you know that you have
behaved disgracefully?' she said. 'I should never have trusted myself
so much in your society but that I believed you to be an honourable
man. I find you are not. If my father were younger he would punish you
as you deserve. As it is--.'

"As it is, thank goodness, she went. Where's the good of bothering you
with more of her invective?

"And I am going; to make room for another curate--another confirmed
bachelor.

"She did not spare me of course. Among other agreeable things she said
that I was a heartless Brute, and she hoped I should get what I
deserved.

"I shall get a lot more than I deserve, between you and me, Charles.
For, thanks to you and your pegging away, I wrote and asked little Mary
once again if she would have me.

"And a letter has come from her this blessed morning to say that she
will...."

                     *      *      *      *      *

COLSTON AND CO. LTD., PRINTERS, EDINBURGH





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