Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Cobwebs and Cables
Author: Stretton, Hesba, 1832-1911
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 "Cobwebs and Cables" ***

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



COBWEBS

AND

CABLES.

BY

HESBA STRETTON,

AUTHOR OF "THROUGH A NEEDLE'S EYE," "IN PRISON AND OUT," "BEDE'S
CHARITY," ETC.

NEW YORK: DODD, MEAD & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS.



_AUTHOR'S CARD._

_It is my wish that Messrs. Dodd, Mead & Company alone should publish
this story in the United States, and I appeal to the generosity and
courtesy of other Publishers, to allow me to gain some benefit from my
work on the American as well as English side of the Atlantic._

_HESBA STRETTON._



CONTENTS.


PART I.

CHAPTER

I. ABSCONDED

II. PHEBE MARLOWE

III. FELICITA

IV. UPFOLD FARM

V. A CONFESSION

VI. THE OLD BANK

VII. AN INTERRUPTED DAY-DREAM

VIII. THE SENIOR PARTNER

IX. FAST BOUND

X. LEAVING RIVERSBOROUGH

XI. OLD MARLOWE

XII. RECKLESS OF LIFE

XIII. SUSPENSE

XIV. ON THE ALTAR STEPS

XV. A SECOND FRAUD

XVI. PARTING WORDS

XVII. WAITING FOR THE NEWS

XVIII. THE DEAD ARE FORGIVEN

XIX. AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER

XX. A DUMB MAN'S GRIEF

XXI. PLATO AND PAUL

XXII. A REJECTED SUITOR

XXIII. ANOTHER OFFER

XXIV. AT HOME IN LONDON

XXV. DEAD TO THE WORLD


PART II.

CHAPTER

I. AFTER MANY YEARS

II. CANON PASCAL

III. FELICITA'S REFUSAL

IV. TAKING ORDERS

V. A LONDON CURACY

VI. OTHER PEOPLE'S SINS

VII. AN OLD MAN'S PARDON

VIII. THE GRAVE AT ENGELBERG

IX. THE LOWEST DEEPS

X. ALICE PASCAL

XI. COMING TO HIMSELF

XII. A GLIMPSE INTO PARADISE

XIII. A LONDON GARRET

XIV. HIS FATHER'S SIN

XV. HAUNTING MEMORIES

XVI. THE VOICE OF THE DEAD

XVII. NO PLACE FOR REPENTANCE

XVIII. WITHIN AND WITHOUT

XIX. IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE

XX. AS A HIRED SERVANT

XXI. PHEBE'S SECRET

XXII. NEAR THE END

XXIII. THE MOST MISERABLE

XXIV. FOR ONE MOMENT

XXV. THE FINAL RESOLVE

XXVI. IN LUCERNE

XXVII. HIS OWN CHILDREN

XXVIII. AN EMIGRATION SCHEME

XXIX. FAREWELL

XXX. QUITE ALONE

XXXI. LAST WORDS



COBWEBS AND CABLES



PART I.



CHAPTER I.

ABSCONDED.


Late as it was, though the handsome office-clock on the chimney-piece
had already struck eleven, Roland Sefton did not move. He had not
stirred hand or foot for a long while now; no more than if he had been
bound fast by many strong cords, which no effort could break or untie.
His confidential clerk had left him two hours ago, and the undisturbed
stillness of night had surrounded him ever since he had listened to his
retreating footsteps. "Poor Acton!" he had said half aloud, and with a
heavy sigh.

As he sat there, his clasped hands resting on his desk and his face
hidden on them, all his life seemed to unfold itself before him; not in
painful memories of the past only, but in terrified prevision of the
black future.

How dear his native town was to him! He had always loved it from his
very babyhood. The wide old streets, with ancient houses still standing
here and there, rising or falling in gentle slopes, and called by quaint
old names such as he never heard elsewhere; the fine old churches
crowning the hills, and lifting up delicate tall spires, visible a score
of miles away; the grammar school where he had spent the happiest days
of his boyhood; the rapid river, brown and swirling, which swept past
the town, and came back again as if it could not leave it; the ancient
bridges spanning it, and the sharp-cornered recesses on them where he
had spent many an idle hour, watching the boats row in and out under the
arches; he saw every familiar nook and corner of his native town vividly
and suddenly, as if he caught glimpses of them by the capricious play of
lightning.

And this pleasant home of his; these walls which inclosed his
birth-place, and the birth-place of his children! He could not imagine
himself finding true rest and a peaceful shelter elsewhere. The spacious
old rooms, with brown wainscoted walls and carved ceilings; the tall and
narrow windows, with deep window-sills, where as a child he had so often
knelt, gazing out on the wide green landscape and the far distant,
almost level line of the horizon. His boy, Felix, had knelt in one of
them a few hours ago, looking out with grave childish eyes on the
sunset. The broad, shallow steps of the oaken staircase, trodden so many
years by the feet of all who were dearest to him; the quiet chambers
above where his mother, his wife, and his children were at this moment
sleeping peacefully. How unutterably and painfully sweet all his home
was to him!

Very prosperous his life had been; hardly overshadowed by a single
cloud. His father, who had been the third partner in the oldest bank in
Riversborough, had lived until he was old enough to step into his place.
The bank had been established in the last century, and was looked upon
as being as safe as the Bank of England. The second partner was dead;
and the eldest, Mr. Clifford, had left everything in his hands for the
last five years.

No man in Riversborough had led a more prosperous life than he had. His
wife was from one of the county families; without fortune, indeed, but
with all the advantages of high connections, which lifted him above the
rank of mere business men, and admitted him into society hitherto closed
even to the head partner in the old bank; in spite even of the fact that
he still occupied the fine old house adjoining the bank premises. There
was scarcely a townsman who was held to be his equal; not one who was
considered his superior. Though he was little over thirty yet, he was at
the head of all municipal affairs. He had already held the office of
mayor for one year, and might have been re-elected, if his wife had not
somewhat scorned the homely bourgeois dignity. There was no more popular
man in the whole town than he was.

But he had been building on the sands, and the storm was rising. He
could hear the moan of the winds growing louder, and the rush of the
on-coming floods drawing nearer. He must make good his escape now, or
never. If he put off flight till to-morrow, he would be crushed with the
falling of his house.

He lifted himself up heavily, and looked round the room. It was his
private office, at the back of the bank, handsomely furnished as a bank
parlor should be. Over the fire-place hung the portrait of old Clifford,
the senior partner, faithfully painted by a local artist, who had not
attempted to soften the hard, stern face, and the fixed stare of the
cold blue eyes, which seemed fastened pitilessly upon him. He had never
seen the likeness before as he saw it now. Would such a man overlook a
fault, or have any mercy for an offender? Never! He turned away from it,
feeling cold and sick at heart; and with a heavy, and very bitter sigh
he locked the door upon the room where he had spent so large a portion
of his life. The place which had known him would know him no more.

As noiselessly and warily as if he was a thief breaking into the quiet
house, he stole up the dimly-lighted staircase, and paused for a minute
or two before a door, listening intently. Then he crept in. A low shaded
lamp was burning, giving light enough to guide him to the cot where
Felix was sleeping. It would be his birthday to-morrow, and the child
must not lose his birthday gift, though the relentless floods were
rushing on toward him also. Close by was the cot where his baby
daughter, Hilda, was at rest. He stood between them, and could lay a
hand on each. How soundly the children slept while his heart was
breaking! Dear as they had been to him, he had never realized till now
how priceless beyond all words such little tender creatures could be. He
had called them into existence; and now the greatest good that could
befall them was his death. It was unutterable agony to him.

His gift was a Bible, the boy's own choice; and he laid it on the pillow
where Felix would find it as soon as his eyes opened. He bent over him,
and kissed him with trembling lips. Hilda stirred a little when his lips
touched her soft, rosy face, and she half opened her eyes, whispering
"Father," and then fell asleep again smiling. He dared not linger
another moment, but passing stealthily away, he paused listening at
another door, his face white with anguish. "I dare not see Felicita," he
murmured to himself, "but I must look on my mother's face once again."

The door made no sound as he opened it, and his feet fell noiselessly on
the thick carpet; but as he drew near his mother's bed, her eyes opened
with a clear steady gaze as if she had been awaiting his coming. There
was a light burning here as well as in the night-nursery adjoining, for
it was his mother who had charge of the children, and who would be the
first the nurse would call if anything was the matter. She awoke as one
who expects to be called upon at any hour; but the light was too dim to
betray the misery on her son's face.

"Roland!" she said, in a slightly foreign accent.

"Were you calling, mother?" he asked. "I was passing by, and I came in
here to see if you wanted anything."

"I did not call, my son," she answered, "but what have you the matter?
Is Felicita ill? or the babies? Your voice is sad, Roland."

"No, no," he said, forcing himself to speak in a cheerful voice,
"Felicita is asleep, I hope, and the babies are all right. But I have
been late at bank-work; and I turned in just to have a look at you,
mother, before I go to bed."

"That's my good son," she said, smiling, and taking his hand between her
own in a fond clasp.

"Am I a good son?" he asked.

His mother's face was a fair, sweet face still, the soft brown hair
scarcely touched with white, and with clear, dark gray eyes gazing up
frankly into his own. They were eyes like these, with their truthful
light shining through them, inherited from her, which in himself had won
the unquestioning trust and confidence of those who were brought into
contact with him. There was no warning signal of disloyalty in his face
to set others on their guard. His mother looked up at him tenderly.

"Always a good son, the best of sons, Roland," she replied, "and a good
husband, and a good father. Only one little fault in my good son: too
spendthrift, too lavish. You are not a fine, rich lord, with large
lands, and much, very much money, my boy. I do my best in the house; but
women can only save pennies, while men fling about pounds."

"But you love me with all my faults, mother?" he said.

"As my own soul," she answered.

There was a profound solemnity in her voice and look, which penetrated
to his very heart. She was not speaking lightly. It was in the same
spirit with which. Paul wrote, after saying, "For I am persuaded that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor
things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other
creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord;" "I could wish that myself were separate from
Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." His mother
had reached that sublime height of love for him.

He stood silent, looking down on her with dull, aching eyes, as he said
to himself it was perhaps for the last time. It was the last time she
would ever see him as her good son. With her, in her heart and memory,
all his life dwelt; she knew the whole of it, with no break or
interruption. Only this one hidden thread, which had been woven into the
web in secret, and which was about to stand out with such clear and open
disclosure; of this she had no faint suspicion. For a minute or two he
felt as if he must tell her of it; that he must roll off this horrible
weight from himself, and crush her faithful heart with it. But what
could his mother do? Her love could not stay the storm; she had no power
to bid the winds and waves be still. It would be best for all of them if
he could make his escape secretly, and be altogether lost in
impenetrable darkness.

At that moment a clock in the hall below struck one.

"Well," he said wearily, "if I'm to get any sleep to-night I must be off
to bed. Good-by, mother."

"Good-by?" she repeated with a smile.

"Good-night, of course," he replied, bending over her and kissing her
tenderly.

"God bless you, my son," she said, putting both her hands upon his head,
and pressing his face close to her own. He could not break away from her
fond embrace; but in a few moments she let him go, bidding him get some
rest before the night was passed.

Once more he stood in the dimly-lighted passage, listening at his wife's
door, with his fingers involuntarily clasping the handle. But he dared
not go in. If he looked upon Felicita again he could not leave her, even
to escape from ruin and disgrace. An agony of love and of terror took
possession of him. Never to see her again was horrible; but to see her
shrink from him as a base and dishonest man, his name an infamy to her,
would be worse than death. Did she love him enough to forgive a sin
committed chiefly for her sake? In the depths of his own soul the answer
was no.

He stole down stairs again, and passed out by a side door into the
streets. It was raining heavily, and the wind was moaning through the
deserted thoroughfares, where no sound of footsteps could be heard.
Behind him lay his pleasant home, never so precious as at this moment.
He looked up at the windows, the two faintly lit up, and that other
darkened window of the chamber he had not dared to enter. In a few hours
those women, so unutterably dear to him, would be overwhelmed by the
great sorrow he had prepared for them; those children would become the
inheritors of his sin. He looked back longingly and despairingly, as if
there only was life for him; and then hurrying on swiftly he lost sight
of the old home, and felt as a drowning wretch at sea feels when the
heaving billows hide from him the glimmering light of the beacon, which,
however, can offer no harbor of refuge to him.



CHAPTER II.

PHEBE MARLOWE.


Though the night had been stormy, the sun rose brightly on the
rain-washed streets, and the roofs and walls stood out with a peculiar
clearness, and with a more vivid color than usual, against the deep blue
of the sky. It was May-day, and most hearts were stirred with a pleasant
feeling as of a holiday; not altogether a common day, though the shops
were all open, and business was going on as usual. The old be-thought
themselves of the days when they had gone a-Maying; and the young felt
less disposed to work, and were inclined to wander out in search of
May-flowers in the green meadows, or along the sunny banks of the river,
which surrounded the town. Early, very early considering the ten miles
she had ridden on her rough hill-pony, came a young country girl across
one of the ancient bridges, with a large market-basket on her arm,
brimful of golden May-flowers, set off well by their own glossy leaves,
and by the dark blue of her dress. She checked her pony and lingered for
a few minutes, looking over the parapet at the swift rushing of the
current through the narrow arches. A thin line of alders grew along the
margin of the river, with their pale green leaves half unfolded; and in
the midst of the swirling waters, parting them into two streams, lay a
narrow islet on which tall willow wands were springing, with soft, white
buds on every rod, and glistening in the sunshine. Not far away a lofty
avenue of lime-trees stretched along the banks, casting wavering shadows
on the brown river; while beyond it, on the summit of one of the hills
on which the town was built, there rose the spires of two churches built
close together, with the gilded crosses on their tapering points
glittering more brightly than anything else in the joyous light. For a
little while the girl gazed dreamily at the landscape, her color coming
and going quickly, and then with a deep-drawn sigh of delight she
roused herself and her pony, and passed on into the town.

The church clocks struck nine as she turned into Whitefriars Road, the
street where the old bank of Riversborough stood. The houses on each
side of the broad and quiet street were handsome, old-fashioned
dwelling-places, not one of which had as yet been turned into a shop.
The most eminent lawyers and doctors lived in it; and there was more
than one frontage which displayed a hatchment, left to grow faded and
discolored long after the year of mourning was ended. Here too was the
judge's residence, set apart for his occupation during the assizes. But
the old bank was the most handsome and most ancient of all those urban
mansions. It had originally stood alone on the brow of the hill
overlooking the river and the Whitefriars Abbey. Toward the street, when
Ronald Sefton's forefathers had realized a fortune by banking, now a
hundred years ago, there had been a new frontage built to it, with the
massive red brick workmanship and tall narrow windows of the eighteenth
century. But on the river side it was still an old Elizabethan mansion,
with gabled roofs standing boldly up against the sky; and low broad
casements, latticed and filled with lozenge-shaped panes; and
half-timber walls, with black beams fashioned into many forms: and with
one story jutting out beyond that below, until the attic window under
the gable seemed to hang in mid-air, without visible support, over the
garden sloping down a steep bank to the river-side.

Phebe Marlowe, in her coarse dark blue merino dress, and with her
market-basket of golden blossoms on her arm, walked with a quick step
along the quiet street, having left her pony at a stable near the
entrance to the town. There were few persons about; but those whom she
met she looked at with a pleasant, shy, slight smile on her face, as if
she almost claimed acquaintance with them, and was ready, even wishful,
to bid them good-morning on a day so fine and bright. Two or three
responded to this inarticulate greeting, and then her lips parted
gladly, and her voice, clear though low, answered them with a sweet
good-humor that had something at once peculiar and pathetic in it. She
passed under a broad archway at one side of the bank offices, leading to
the house entrance, and to the sloping garden beyond. A private door
into the bank was ajar, and a dark, sombre face was peering out of it
into the semi-darkness. Phebe's feet paused for an instant.

"Good-morning, Mr. Acton," she said, with a little rustic courtesy. But
he drew back quickly, and she heard him draw the bolt inside the door,
as if he had neither seen nor heard her. Yet the face, with its eager
and scared expression, had been too quickly seen by her, and too vividly
impressed upon her keen perception; and she went on, chilled a little,
as if some cloud had come over the clear brightness of the morning.

Phebe was so much at home in the house, that when she found the
housemaid on her knees cleaning the hall floor, she passed on
unceremoniously to the dining-room, where she felt sure of finding some
of the family. It was a spacious room, with a low ceiling where black
beams crossed and recrossed each other; with wainscoted walls, and a
carved chimney-piece of almost black oak. A sombre place in gloomy
weather, yet so decorated with old china vases, and great brass salvers,
and silver cups and tankards catching every ray of light, that the whole
room glistened in this bright May-day. In the broad cushioned seat
formed by the sill of the oriel window, which was almost as large as a
room itself, there sat the elder Mrs. Sefton, Roland Sefton's foreign
mother, with his two children standing before her. They had their hands
clasped behind them, and their faces were turned toward her with the
grave earnestness children's faces often wear. She was giving them their
daily Bible lesson, and she held up her small brown hand as a signal to
Phebe to keep silence, and to wait a moment until the lesson was ended.

"And so," she said, "those who know the will of God, and do not keep it,
will be beaten with many stripes. Remember that, my little Felix."

"I shall always try to do it," answered the boy solemnly. "I'm nine
years old to-day; and when I'm a man I'm going to be a pastor, like
your father, grandmamma; my great-grandfather, you know, in the Jura.
Tell us how he used to go about the snow mountains seeing his poor
people, and how he met with wolves sometimes, and was never frightened."

"Ah! my little children," she answered, "you have had a good father, and
a good grandfather, and a good great-grandfather. How very good you
ought to be."

"We will," cried both the children, clinging round her as she rose from
her chair, until they caught sight of Phebe standing in the doorway.
Then with cries of delight they flew to her, and threw themselves upon
her with almost rough caresses, as if they knew she could well bear it.
She received them with merry laughter, and knelt down that their arms
might be thrown more easily round her neck.

"See," she said, "I was up so early, while you were all in bed, finding
May-roses for you, with the May-dew on them. And if your father and
mother will let us go, I'll take you up the river to the osier island;
or you shall ride my Ruby, and we'll go off a long, long way into the
country, us three, and have dinner in a new place, where you have never
been. Because it's Felix's birthday."

She was still kneeling on the floor, with the children about her, when
the door opened, and the same troubled and haggard face, which had
peered out upon her under the archway, looked into the room with
restless and bloodshot eyes. Phebe felt a sudden chill again, and rising
to her feet put the children behind her, as if she feared some danger
for them.

"Where is Mr. Sefton?" he asked in a deep, hoarse voice; "is he at home,
Madame?"

Ever since the elder Mr. Sefton had brought his young foreign wife home,
now more than thirty years ago, the people of Riversborough had called
her Madame, giving to her no other title or surname. It had always
seemed to set her apart, and at a distance, as a foreigner, and so quiet
had she been, so homely and domesticated, that she had remained a
stranger, keeping her old habits of life and thought, and often yearning
for the old pastor's home among the Jura Mountains.

"But yes," she answered, "my son is late this morning; but all the world
is early, I think. It is not much beyond nine o'clock, Mr. Acton. The
bank is not open yet."

"No, no," he answered hurriedly, while his eyes wandered restlessly
about the room; "he is not ill, Madame?"

"I hope so not," she replied, with some vague uneasiness stirring in her
heart.

"Nor dead?" he muttered.

"Dead!" exclaimed both Madame and Phebe in one breath; "dead!"

"All men die," he went on, "and it is a pleasant thing to lie down
quietly in one's own grave, where the wicked cease from troubling, and
the weary are at rest. He could rest soundly in the grave."

"I will go and see," cried Madame, catching Phebe by the arm.

"Pray God you may find him dead," he answered, with a low, miserable
laugh, ending in a sob. He was mad; neither Madame nor Phebe had a doubt
of it. They put the children before them, and bade them run away to the
nursery, while they followed up the broad old staircase. Madame went
into her son's bedroom; but in a few seconds she returned to Phebe with
an anxious face.

"He is not there," she said, "nor Felicita. She is in her own
sitting-room, where she likes not to be followed. It is her sacred
place, and I go there never, Phebe."

"But she knows where Mr. Sefton is," answered Phebe, "and we must ask
her. We cannot leave poor Mr. Acton alone. If nobody else dare disturb
her, I will."

"She will not be vexed with you," said Madame Sefton. "Knock at this
door, Phebe; knock till she answers. I am miserable about my son."

Several times Phebe knocked, more loudly each time, until at last a low
voice, sounding far away, bade them go in. Very quietly, as if indeed
they were stepping into some holy place barefooted, they crossed the
threshold.



CHAPTER III.

FELICITA.


The room was a small one, with a dim, many-colored light pervading it;
for the upper part of the mullioned casement was filled with painted
glass, and even the panes of the lower part were of faintly tinted
green. Like all the rest of the old house, the walls were wainscoted,
but here there was no piece of china or silver to sparkle; the only
glitter was that of the gilding on the handsomely bound books arranged
in two bookcases. In this green gloom sat Felicita Sefton, leaning back
in her chair, with her head resting languidly on the cushions, and her
dark eyes turned dimly and dreamily toward the quietly opening door.

"Phebe Marlowe!" she said, her eyes brightening a little, as the fresh,
sweet face of the young country girl met her gaze. Phebe stepped softly
forward into the dim room, and laid the finest of the golden flowers she
had gathered that morning upon Felicita's lap. It brought a gleam of
spring sunshine into the gloom which caught Felicita's eye, and she
uttered a low cry of delight as she took it up in her small, delicate
hand. Phebe stooped down shyly and kissed the small hand, her face all
aglow with smiles and blushes.

"Felicita," said Madame, her voice altering a little, "where is my son
this morning?"

"Roland!" she repeated absently; "Roland? Didn't he say last night he
was going to London?"

"To London!" exclaimed his mother.

"Yes," she answered, "he bade me good-by last night; I remember now. He
said he would not disturb me again; he was going by the mail-train. He
was sorry to be away on poor little Felix's birthday. I recollect quite
distinctly now."

"He said not one word to me," said Madame. "It is strange."

"Very strange," asserted Felicita languidly, as if she were wandering
away again into the reverie they had broken in upon.

"Did he say when he would be back?" asked his mother.

"In a few days, of course," she answered.

"But he has not told Acton," resumed Madame.

"Who did you say?" inquired Felicita.

"The head clerk, the manager when Roland is away," she said. "He has not
said anything to him."

"Very strange," said Felicita again. It was plainly irksome to her to be
disturbed by questions like these, and she was withdrawing herself into
the remote and unapproachable distance where no one could follow her.
Her finely-chiselled features and colorless skin gave her a singular
resemblance to marble; and they might almost as well have addressed
themselves to a marble image.

"Come," said Madame, "we must see Acton again."

They found him in the bank parlor, where Roland was usually to be met
with at this hour. There was an unspoken hope in their hearts that he
would be there, and so deliver them from the undefined trouble and
terror they were suffering. But only Acton was there, seated at Roland's
desk, and turning over the papers in it with a rapid and reckless hand.
His face was hidden behind the great flap of the desk, and though he
glanced over it for an instant as the door opened he concealed himself
again, as if feigning unconsciousness of any one's presence.

"My son is gone to London," said Madame, keeping at a safe distance from
him, with the door open behind her and Phebe to secure a speedy retreat.
The flap of the desk fell with a loud crash, and Acton flung his arms
above his head with a gesture of despair.

"I knew it," he exclaimed. "Oh, my dear young master! God grant he may
get away safe. All is lost!"

"What do you mean?" cried Madame, forgetting one terror in another, and
catching him by the arm; "what is lost?"

"He is gone!" he answered, "and it was more my fault than his--mine and
Mrs. Sefton's. Whatever wrong he has done it was for her. Remember
that, Madame, and you, Phebe Marlowe. If anything happens, remember it's
my fault more than his, and Mrs. Sefton's fault more than mine."

"Tell me what you mean," urged Madame breathlessly.

"You'll know when Mr. Sefton returns, Madame," he answered, with a
sudden return to his usually calm tone and manner, which was as
startling as his former vehemence had been; "he'll explain all when he
comes home. We must open the bank now; it is striking ten."

He locked the desk and passed out of the comfortably-furnished parlor
into the office beyond, leaving them nothing to do but to return into
the house with their curiosity unsatisfied, and the mother's vague
trouble unsoothed.

"Phebe, Phebe!" cried Felix, as they slowly re-entered the pleasant
home, "my mother says we may go up the river to the osier island; and,
oh, Phebe, she will go with us her own self!"

He had run down the broad staircase to meet them, almost breathless with
delight, and with eyes shining with almost serious rapture. He clasped
Phebe's arm, and, leaning toward her, whispered into her ear,

"She took me in her arms, and said, 'I love you, Felix,' and then she
kissed me as if she meant it, Phebe. It was better than all my birthday
presents put together. My father said to me one day he adored her; and I
adore her. She is my mother, you know--the mother of me, Felix; and I
lie down on the floor and kiss her feet every day, only she does not
know it. When she looks at me her eyes seem to go through me; but, oh,
she does not look at me often."

"She is so different; not like most people," answered Phebe, with her
arms round the boy.

Madame had gone on sadly enough up-stairs to see if she could find out
anything about her son; and Phebe and Felix had turned into the terraced
garden where the boat-house was built close under the bank of the river.

"I should be sorry for my mother to be like other people," said Felix
proudly. "She is like the evening star, my father says, and I always
look out at night to see if it is shining. You know, Phebe, when we row
her up the river, my father and me, we keep quite quiet, only nodding at
one another which way to pull, and she sits silent with eyes that shine
like stars. We would not speak for anything, not one little word, lest
we should disturb her. My father says she is a great genius; not at all
like other people, and worth thousands and thousands of common women.
But I don't think you are a common woman, Phebe," he added, lifting up
his eager face to hers, as if afraid of hurting her feelings, "and my
father does not think so, I know."

"Your father has known me all my life, and has always been my best
friend," said Phebe, with a pleasant smile. "But I am a working-woman,
Felix, and your mother is a lady and a great genius. It is God who has
ordered it so."

She would have laughed if she had been less simple-hearted than she was,
at the anxious care with which the boy arranged the boat for his mother.
No cushions were soft enough and no shawls warm enough for the precious
guest. When at length all was ready, and he fetched her himself from
the house, it was not until she was comfortably seated in the low seat,
with a well-padded sloping back, against which she could recline at
ease, and with a soft, warm shawl wrapped round her--not till then did
the slight cloud of care pass away from his face, and the little pucker
of anxiety which knitted his brows grow smooth. The little girl of five,
Hilda, nestled down by her mother, and Felix took his post at the helm.
In unbroken silence they pushed off into the middle of the stream, the
boat rowed easily by Phebe's strong young arms. So silent were they all
that they could hear the rustling of the young leaves on the trees,
under whose shadows they passed, and the joyous singing of the larks in
the meadows on each side of the sunny reaches of water, down which they
floated. It was not until they landed the children on the osier island,
and bade them run about to play, and not then until they were some
distance away, that their merry young voices were heard.

"Phebe," said Felicita, in her low-toned, softly-modulated voice, always
languid and deliberate, "talk to me. Tell me how you spend your life."

Phebe was sitting face to face with her, balancing the boat with the
oars against the swift flowing of the river, with smiles coming and
going on her face as rapidly as the shadows and the sunshine chasing
each other over the fields this May morning.

"You know," she answered simply, "we live a mile away from the nearest
house, and that is only a cottage where an old farm laborer lives with
his wife. It's very lonesome up there on the hills. Days and days go by,
and I never hear a voice speaking, and I feel as if I could not bear the
sound of my own voice when I call the cattle home, or the fowls to come
for their corn. If it wasn't for the living things around me, that know
me as well as they know one another, and love me more, I should feel
sometimes as if I was dead. And I long so to hear somebody speak--to be
near more of my fellow-creatures. Why, when I touch the hand of any one
I love--yours, or Mr. Sefton's, or Madame's--it's almost a pain to me;
it seems to bring me so close to you. I always feel as if I became a
part of father when I touch him. Oh, you do not know what it is to be
alone!"

"No," said Felicita, sighing; "never have I been alone, and I would give
worlds to be as free as you are. You cannot imagine what it is," she
went on, speaking rapidly and with intense eagerness, "never to belong
to yourself, or to be alone; for it is not being alone to have only four
thin walls separating you from a husband and children and a large busy
household. 'What are you thinking, my darling?' Roland is always asking
me; and the children break in upon me. Body, soul, and spirit, I am held
down a captive; I have been in bondage all my life. I have never even
thought as I should think if I could be free."

"But I cannot understand that," cried Phebe. "I could never be too near
those I love. I should like to live in a large house, with many people
all smiling and talking around me. And everybody worships you."

She uttered the last words shyly, partly afraid of bringing a frown on
the lovely face opposite to her, which was quickly losing its vivid
expression and sinking back into statuesque coldness.

"It is simply weariness to me and vexation of spirit," she answered. "If
I could be quite alone, as you are, with only a father like yours, I
think I could get free; but I have never been left alone from my
babyhood; just as Felix and Hilda are never left alone. Oh, Phebe, you
do not know how happy you are."

"No," she said cheerfully, "sometimes when I stand at our garden-gate,
and look round me for miles and miles away, and the sweet air blows past
me, and the bees are humming, and the birds calling to one another, and
everything is so peaceful, with father happy over his work not far off,
I think I don't know how happy I am. I try to catch hold of the feeling
and keep it, but it slips away somehow. Only I thank God I am happy."

"I was never happy enough to thank God," Felicita murmured, lying back
in her seat and shutting her eyes. Presently the children returned, and,
after another silent row, slower and more toilsome, as it was up the
river, they drew near home again, and saw Madame's anxious face watching
for them over the low garden wall. Her heart had been too heavy for her
to join them in their pleasure-taking, and it was no lighter now.



CHAPTER IV.

UPFOLD FARM.


Phebe rode slowly homeward in the dusk of the evening, her brain too
busy with the varied events of the day for her to be in any haste to
reach the end. For the last four miles her road lay in long by-lanes,
shady with high hedgerows and trees which grew less frequent and more
stunted as she rose gradually higher up the long spurs of the hills,
whose rounded outlines showed dark against the clear orange tint of the
western sky. She could hear the brown cattle chewing the cud, and the
bleating of some solitary sheep on the open moor, calling to the flock
from which it had strayed during the daytime, with the angry yelping of
a dog in answer to its cry from some distant farm-yard. The air was
fresh and chilly with dew, and the low wind, which only lifted the
branches of the trees a little in the lower land she had left, was
growing keener, and would blow sharply enough across the unsheltered
table-land she was reaching. But still she loitered, letting her rough
pony snatch tufts of fresh grass from the banks, and shamble leisurely
along as he strayed from one side of the road to another.

Phebe was not so much thinking as pondering in a confused and
unconnected manner over all the circumstances of the day, when suddenly
the tall figure of a man rose from under the black hedgerow, and laid
his arm across the pony's neck, with his face turned up to her. Her
heart throbbed quickly, but not altogether with terror.

"Mr. Roland!" she cried.

"You know me in the dark then," he answered. "I have been watching for
you all day, Phebe. You come from home?"

She knew he meant his home, not hers.

"Yes, it was Felix's birthday, and we have been down the river," she
said.

"Is anything known yet?" he asked.

Though it was so solitary a spot that Phebe had passed no one for the
last three miles, and he had been haunting the hills all day without
seeing a soul, yet he spoke in a whisper, as if fearful of betraying
himself.

"Only that you are away," she replied; "and they think you are in
London."

"Is not Mr. Clifford come?" he asked.

"No, sir, he comes to-morrow," she answered.

"Thank God!" he exclaimed, in a louder tone. When he spoke again he did
so without looking into her face, which indeed was scarcely visible in
the deepening dusk.

"Phebe," he said, "we have known each other for many years."

"All my life, sir," she responded eagerly; "father and me, we are proud
of knowing you."

Before speaking again he led her pony up the steep lane to a gate which
opened on the moorland. It was not so dark here, from under the
hedgerows and trees, and a little pool beside the gate caught the last
lingering light in the west, and reflected it like a dim and dusty
mirror. They could see one another's faces; his was working with strong
excitement, and hers, earnest and friendly, looked frankly down upon
him. He clasped her hand with the strong, desperate grip of a sinking
man, and her fingers responded with a warm clasp.

"Can I trust you, Phebe?" he cried. "I have no other chance."

"I will help you, even to dying for you and yours," she answered. The
girlish fervor of her manner struck him mournfully. Why should he burden
her with his crime? What right had he to demand any sacrifice from her?
Yet he felt she spoke the truth. Phebe Marlowe would rejoice in helping,
even unto death, not only him, but any other fellow-creature who was
sinking under sorrow or sin.

"Come on home," she said, "it is bitterly cold here; and you can tell me
what to do."

He placed himself at the pony's head again, and trudged on speechlessly
along the rough road, which was now nothing more than the tracks made by
cart-wheels across the moor, with deep ruts over which he stumbled like
a man who is worn out with fatigue. In a quarter of an hour the low
cottage was reached, surrounded by a little belt of fields and a few
storm-beaten fir-trees. There was a dull glow of red to be seen through
the lattice window, telling Phebe of a smouldering fire, made up for her
by her father before going back to his workshop at the end of the field
behind the house. She stirred up the wood-ashes and threw upon them some
dry, light fagots of gorse, and in a few seconds a dazzling light filled
the little room from end to end. It was a familiar place to Roland
Sefton, and he took no notice of it. But it was a curious interior.
Every niche of the walls was covered with carved oak; no wainscoted hall
in the country could be more richly or more fancifully decorated. The
chimney-piece over the open hearth-stone, a wide chimney-piece, was
deeply carved with curious devices. The doors and window-frames, the
cupboards and the shelves for the crockery, were all of dark oak,
fashioned into leaves and ferns, with birds on their nests, and timid
rabbits, and still more timid wood-mice peeping out of their coverts,
cocks crowing with uplifted crest, and chickens nestling under the
hen-mother's wings, sheaves of corn, and tall, club-headed
bulrushes--all the objects familiar to a country life. The dancing light
played upon them, and shone also upon Roland Sefton's sad and weary
face. Phebe drew her father's carved arm-chair close to the fire.

"Sit down," she said, "and let me get you something to eat."

"Yes," he answered, sinking down wearily in the chair, "I am nearly
dying of hunger. Good Heavens! is it possible I can be hungry?"

He spoke with an indescribable expression of mingled astonishment and
dread. Suddenly there broke upon him the possibility of suffering want
in many forms in the future, and yet he felt ashamed of foreseeing them
in this, the first day of his great calamity. Until this moment he had
been too absorbed in dwelling upon the moral and social consequences of
his crime, to realize how utterly worn out he was; but all his physical
strength appeared to collapse in an instant.

And now for the first time Phebe beheld the change in him, and stood
gazing at him in mute surprise and sorrow. He had always been careful
of his personal appearance, with a refinement and daintiness which had
grown especially fastidious since his marriage. But now his coat, wet
through during the night, and dried only by the keen air of the hills,
was creased and soiled, and his boots were thickly covered with mud and
clay. His face and hands were unwashed, and his hair hung unbrushed over
his forehead. Phebe's whole heart was stirred at this pitiful change,
and she laid her hand on his shoulder with a timid but affectionate
touch.

"Mr. Roland," she said, "go up-stairs and put yourself to rights a
little; and give me your clothes and your boots to brush. You'll feel
better when you are more like yourself."

He smiled faintly as he looked up at her quivering lips and eyes full of
unshed tears. But her homely advice was good, and he was glad to follow
it. Her little room above was lined with richly carved oak panels like
the kitchen below, and a bookcase contained her books, many of which he
had himself given to her. There was an easel standing under the highest
part of the shelving roof, where a sky-light was let into the thatch,
and a half-finished painting rested on it. But he did not give a glance
toward it. There was very little interest to him just now in Phebe's
pursuits, though she owed most of them to him.

By the time he was ready to go down, supper was waiting for him on the
warm and bright hearth, and he fell upon it almost ravenously. It was
twenty-four hours since he had last eaten. Phebe sat almost out of sight
in the shadow of a large settle, with her knitting in her hand, and her
eyes only seeking his face when any movement seemed to indicate that she
could serve him in some way. But in these brief glances she noticed the
color coming back to his face, and new vigor and resolution changing his
whole aspect.

"And now," he said, when his hunger was satisfied, "I can talk to you,
Phebe."



CHAPTER V.

A CONFESSION.


But Roland Sefton sat silent, with his shapely hands resting on his
knees, and his handsome face turned toward the hearth, where the logs
had burned down and emitted only a low and fitful flame. The little room
was scarcely lighted by it, and looked all the darker for the blackness
of the small uncurtained window, through which the ebony face of night
was peering in. This bare, uncovered casement troubled him, and from
time to time he turned his eyes uneasily toward it. But what need could
there be of a curtain, when they were a mile away from any habitation,
and where no road crossed the moor, except the rugged green pathway,
worn into deep ruts by old Marlowe's own wagon? Yet as if touched by
some vague sympathy with him, Phebe rose, and pinned one of her large
rough working-aprons across it.

"Phebe," he said, as she stepped softly back to her seat, "you and I
have been friends a long time; and your father and I have been friends
all my life. Do you recollect me staying here a whole week when I was a
school-boy?"

"Yes," she answered, her eyes glistening in the dusky light; "but for
you I should have known nothing, only what work had to be done for
father. You taught me my alphabet that week, and the hymns I have said
every night since then before I go to sleep. You helped me to teach
myself painting; and if I ever paint a picture worth looking at it will
be your doing."

"No, no; you are a born artist, Phebe Marlowe," he said, "though perhaps
the world may never know it. But being such friends as you say, I will
trust you. Do you think me worthy of trust, true and honest as a man
should be, Phebe?"

"As true and honest as the day," she cried, with eager emphasis.

"And a Christian?" he added, in a lower voice.

"Yes," she answered, "I do not know a Christian if you are not one."

"That is the sting of it," he groaned; "true, and honest, and a
Christian! And yet, Phebe, if I were taken by the police to-night, or if
I be taken by them to-morrow, I shall be lodged in Riversborough jail,
and tried before a jury of my towns-people at the assizes next month."

"No, it is impossible!" she cried, stretching out her brown,
hard-working hand, and laying it on his white and shapely one, which had
never known toil.

"You would not send me to jail," he said, "I know that well enough. But
I deserve it, my poor girl. They would find me guilty and sentence me to
a convict prison. I saw Dartmoor prison on my wedding journey with
Felicita, Heaven help me! She liked the wild, solitary moor, with its
great tors and its desolate stillness, and one day we went near to the
prison. Those grim walls seemed to take possession of me; I felt
oppressed and crushed by them. I could not forget them for days after,
even with Felicita by my side."

His voice trembled as he spoke, and a quiver ran through his whole
frame, which seemed to thrill through Phebe's; but she only pressed her
pitiful hand more closely on his.

"I might have escaped last night," he went on, "but I stumbled over a
poor girl in the street, dying. A young girl, no older than you, without
a penny or a friend; a sinner too like myself; and I could not leave her
there alone. Only in finding help for her I lost my chance. The train to
London was gone, and there was no other till ten this morning. I
expected Mr. Clifford to be at the bank to-day; if I had only known he
would not be there I could have got away then. But I came here, why I
hardly know. You could not hide me for long if you would; but there was
no one else to help me."

"But what have you done, sir?" she asked, with a tremulous, long-drawn
sigh.

"Done?" he repeated; "ay! there's the question. I wonder if I can be
honest and true now with only Phebe Marlowe listening. I could have told
my mother, perhaps, if it had been of any use; but I would die rather
than tell Felicita. Done, Phebe! I've appropriated securities trusted to
my keeping, pledging some and selling others for my own use. I've stolen
£10,000."

"And you could be sent to prison for it?" she said, in a low voice,
glancing uneasily round as if she fancied she would be overheard.

"For I don't know how many years," he answered.

"It would kill Mrs. Sefton," she said. "Oh! how could you do it?"

"It was for Felicita I did it," he replied absently; "for my Felicita
only."

For a few minutes Phebe's brain was busy, but not yet with the most
sorrowful thoughts. There could be no shadow of doubt in her mind that
this dearest friend of hers, sitting beside her in the twilight, was
guilty of the crime he had confessed. But she could not as yet dwell
upon the crime. He was in imminent peril; and his peril threatened the
welfare of nearly all whom she loved. Ruin and infamy for him meant
ruin and infamy for them all. She must save him if possible.

"Phebe," he said, breaking the dreary silence, "I ought to tell you one
thing more. The money your father left with me--the savings of his
life--six hundred pounds--it is all gone. He intrusted it to me, and
made his will, appointing me your guardian; such confidence he had in
me. I have made both him and you penniless."

"I think nothing of that," she answered. "What should I ever have been
but for you? A dull, ignorant country girl, living a life little higher
than my sheep and cattle. We are rich enough, my father and me. This
cottage, and the fields about it, are our own. But I must go and tell
father."

"Must he be told?" asked Roland Sefton anxiously.

"We've no secrets," she replied; "and there's no fear of him, you know.
He would see if I was in trouble; and I shall be in trouble," she added,
in a sorrowful voice.

She opened the cottage door, and going out left him alone. It was a
familiar place to him; but hitherto it had been only the haunt of happy
holidays, from the time when he had been a school-boy until his last
autumn's shooting of grouse and woodcock on the wide moors. Old Marlowe
had been one of his earliest friends, and Phebe had been something like
a humble younger sister to him. If any one in the world could be
depended upon to help him, outside his own family, it must be old
Marlowe and his daughter.

And yet, when she left him, his first impulse was to rise and flee while
yet there was time--before old Marlowe knew his secret. Phebe was a
girl, living as girls do, in a region of sentiment and feeling, hardly
understanding a crime against property. A girl like her had no idea of
what his responsibility and his guilt were, money ranking so low in her
estimate of life. But old Marlowe would look at it quite differently.
His own careful earnings, scraped together by untiring industry and
ceaseless self-denial, were lost--stolen by the man he had trusted
implicitly. For Roland Sefton did not spare himself any reproaches; he
did not attempt to hide or palliate his sin. There were other
securities for small sums, like old Marlowe's, gone like his, and ruin
would overtake half a dozen poor families, though the bulk of the loss
would fall upon his senior partner, who was a hard man, of unbending
sternness and integrity. If old Marlowe proved a man of the same
inflexible stamp, he was lost.

But he sat still, waiting and listening. Round that lonely cottage, as
he well knew, the wind swept from whatever quarter it was blowing;
sighing softly, or wailing, moaning, or roaring past it, as ceaselessly
as the sound of waves against a fisherman's hut on the sea-coast. It was
crying and sobbing now, rising at intervals into a shriek, as if to warn
him of coming peril. He went to the window and met the black face of the
night, hiding everything from his eye. Neither moon nor star gleamed in
the sky. But even if old Marlowe was merciful he could not stay there,
but must go out, as he had done last night from his own home, lashed
like a dog from every familiar hearth by an unseen hand and a heavy
scourge.

Phebe had not lingered, though she seemed long away. As she drew near
the little workshop she saw the wagon half-laden with some church
furniture her father had been carving, and with which he and she were to
start at daybreak for a village about twenty miles off. She heard the
light tap of his carving tools as she opened the door, and found him
finishing the wings of a spread-eagle. He had pushed back the paper cap
he wore from his forehead, which was deeply furrowed, and shaded by a
few straggling tufts of gray hair. He took no notice of her entrance
until she touched his arm with her hand; and then he looked at her with
eyes, blue like her own, but growing dim with age, and full of the
pitiful, uncomplaining gaze of one who is deaf and dumb. But his face
brightened and his smile was cheerful, as he began to talk eagerly with
his fingers, throwing in many gestures to aid his slow speech. Phebe,
too, smiled and gesticulated in silent answer, before she told him her
errand.

"The carving is finished, father," she said. "Could we not start at
once, and be at Upchurch before five to-morrow morning?"

"Twenty miles; eight hours; easily," he answered; "but why?"

"To help Mr. Sefton," she said. "He wants to get down to Southampton,
and Upchurch is in the way. Father, it must be done; you would never see
a smile upon my face again if we did not do it."

The keen, wistful eyes of her father were fastened alternately upon her
troubled face and her moving hands, as slowly and silently she spelt out
on her fingers the sad story she had just listened to. His own face
changed rapidly from astonishment to dismay, and from dismay to a
passionate rage. If Roland Sefton could have seen it he would have made
good his escape. But still Phebe's fingers went on pleading for him; and
the smile, which she said her father would never see again--a pale, wan
smile--met his eyes as he watched her.

"He has been so good to you and me," she went on, with a sob in her
throat; and unconsciously she spoke out the words aloud and slowly as
she told them off on her fingers; "he learned to talk with you as I do,
and he is the only person almost in the world who can talk to you
without your slate and pencil, father. It was good of him to take that
trouble. And his father was your best friend, wasn't he? How good Madame
used to be when I was a little girl, and you were carving all that
woodwork at the old bank, and she let me stay there with you! All our
happiest days have come through them. And now we can deliver them from
great misery."

"But my money?" he interposed.

"Money is nothing between friends," she said eagerly. "Will you make my
life miserable, father? I shall be thinking of them always, night and
day; and they will never see me again if he is sent to jail through our
fault. There never was a kinder man than he is; and I always thought him
a good man till now."

"A thief; worse than a common thief," said her father. "What will become
of my little daughter when I am dead?"

Phebe made no answer except by tears. For a few minutes old Marlowe
watched her bowed head and face hidden in her hands, till a gray hue
came upon his withered face, and the angry gleam died away from his
eyes. Hitherto her slightest wish had been a law to him, and to see her
weeping was anguish to him. To have a child who could hear and speak had
been a joy that had redeemed his life from wretchedness, and crowned it
with an inexhaustible delight. If he never saw her smile again, what
would become of him? She was hiding her face from him even now, and
there was no medium of communication between them save by touch. He must
call her attention to what he had to say by making her look at him.
Almost timidly he stretched out his withered and cramped hand to lay it
upon her head.

"I must do whatever you please," he said, when she lifted up her face
and looked at him with tearful eyes; "if it killed me I must do it. But
it is a hard thing you bid me do, Phebe."

He turned away to brush the last speck of dust from the eagle's wings,
and lifting it up carefully carried it away to pack in his wagon, Phebe
holding the lantern for him till all was done. Then hand in hand they
walked down the foot-worn path across the field to the house, as they
had done ever since she had been a tottering little child, hardly able
to clasp his one finger with her baby hand.

Roland Sefton was crouching over the dying embers on the hearth, more in
the utter misery of soul than in bodily chilliness, though he felt cold
and shivering, as if stripped of all that made life desirable to him.
There is no icy chill like that. He did not look round when the door
opened, though Phebe spoke to him; for he could not face old Marlowe, or
force himself to read the silent yet eloquent fingers, which only could
utter words of reproach. The dumb old man stood on the threshold, gazing
at his averted face and downcast head, and an inarticulate cry of
mingled rage and grief broke from his silent lips, such as Phebe herself
had never heard before, and which, years afterward, sounded at times in
Roland Sefton's ears.

It was nearly ten o'clock before they were on the road, old Marlowe
marching at the head of his horse, and Phebe mounted on her wiry little
pony, while Roland Sefton rode in front of the wagon at times. Their
progress was slow, for the oak furniture was heavy and the roads were
rough, leading across the moor and down steep hills into valleys, with
equally steep hills on the other side. The sky was covered with a thin
mist drifting slowly before the wind, and when the moon shone through
it, about two o'clock in the morning, it was the waning-moon looking sad
and forlorn amid the floating vapor. The houses they passed were few and
far between, showing no light or sign of life. All the land lay around
them dark and desolate under the midnight sky; and the slow creaking of
the wheels and sluggish hoof-beats of the horse dragging the wagon were
the only sounds that broke the stillness.

In this gloom old Marlowe could hold no conversation either with Phebe
or Roland Sefton, but from time to time they could hear him sob aloud as
he trudged on in his speechless isolation. It was a sad sound, which
pierced them to the heart. From time to time Roland Sefton walked up the
long hills beside Phebe's pony, pouring out his whole heart to her. They
could hardly see each other's faces in the dimness, and words came the
more readily to him. All the burden of his confession was that he had
fallen through seeking Felicita's happiness. For her sake he had longed
for more wealth, and speculated in the hope of gaining it, and tampered
with the securities intrusted to him in the hope of retrieving losses.
It was for her, and her only, he maintained; and now he had brought
infamy and wretchedness and poverty upon her and his innocent children.

"Would to God I could die to-night!" he exclaimed; "my death would save
them from some portion of their trouble."

Phebe listened to him almost as heart-broken as himself. In her
singularly solitary life, so far apart from ordinary human society, she
had never been brought into contact with sin, and its profound,
fathomless misery; and now it was the one friend, whom she had loved the
longest and the best, who was walking beside her a guilty man, fleeing
through the night from all he himself cared for, to seek a refuge from
the consequences of his crime in an uncertain exile. In years afterward
it seemed to her as if that night had been rather a terrible dream than
a reality.

At length the pale dawn broke, and the utter separation caused by the
darkness between them and old Marlowe passed away with it. He stopped
his horse and came to them, turning a gray, despairing face upon Roland
Sefton.

"It is time to leave you," he said; "over these fields lies the nearest
station, where you can escape from a just punishment. You have made us
beggars to keep up your own grandeur. God will see that you do not go
unpunished."

"Hush, hush!" cried Phebe aloud, stretching out her hand to Roland
Sefton; "he will forgive you by and by. Tell me: have you no message to
send by me, sir? When shall we hear from you?"

"If I get away safe," he answered, in a broken voice, "and if nothing is
heard of me before, tell Felicita I will be in the place where I saw her
first, this day six months. Do not tell her till the time is near. It
will be best for her to know nothing of me at present."

They were standing at the stile over which his road lay. The sun was not
yet risen, but the gray clouds overhead were taking rosy and golden
tints. Here and there in the quiet farmsteads around them the cocks
were beginning to crow lazily; and there were low, drowsy twitterings in
the hedges, where the nests were still new little homes. It was a more
peaceful hour than sunset can ever be with its memories of the day's
toils and troubles. All the world seemed bathed in rest and quietness
except themselves. Their dark journey through the silent night had been
almost a crime.

"Your father turns his back upon me, as all honest men will do," said
Roland Sefton.

Old Marlowe had gone back to his horse, and stood there without looking
round. The tears ran down Phebe's face; but she did not touch her
father, and ask him to bid his old friend's son good-by.

"Some day no man will turn his back upon you, sir," she answered; "I
would die now rather than do it. You will regain your good name some
day."

"Never!" he exclaimed; "it is past recall. There is no place of
repentance for me, Phebe. I have staked all, and lost all."



CHAPTER VI.

THE OLD BANK.


About the same hour that Roland Sefton set off under shelter of old
Marlowe's wagon to attempt his escape, Mr. Clifford, the senior partner
in the firm, reached Riversborough by the last train from London. It was
too late for him to intrude on the household of his young partner, and
he spent the night at a hotel.

The old bank at Riversborough had been flourishing for the last hundred
years. It had the power of issuing its own notes; and until lately these
notes, bearing the familiar names of Clifford and Sefton, had been
preferred by the country people round to those of the Bank of England
itself. For nobody knew who were the managers of the Bank of England;
while one of the Seftons, either father or son, could be seen at any
time for the last fifty years. On ordinary days there were but few
customers to be seen in its handsome office, and a single clerk might
easily have transacted all the business. But on market-days and
fair-days the place was crowded by loud-voiced, red-faced country
gentlemen, and by awkward and burly farmers, from the moment its doors
were opened until they were closed at the last stroke of four sounding
from the church clock near at hand. The strong room of the Old Bank was
filled full with chests containing valuable securities and heirlooms,
belonging to most of the county families in the neighborhood.

For the last twenty years Mr. Clifford had left the management of the
bank entirely to the elder Sefton, and upon his death to his son, who
was already a partner. He had lived abroad, and had not visited England
for more than ten years. There was a report, somewhat more
circumstantial than a rumor, but the truth of which none but the elder
Sefton had ever known, that Mr. Clifford, offended by his only son, had
let him die of absolute starvation in Paris. Added to this rumor was a
vague story of some crime committed by the younger Clifford, which his
father would not overlook or forgive. That he was a hard man, austere to
utter pitilessness, everybody averred. No transgressor need look to him
for pardon.

When Roland Sefton had laid his hands upon the private personal
securities belonging to his senior partner, it was with no idea that he
would escape the most rigorous prosecution, should his proceedings ever
come to the light. But it was with the fixed conviction that Mr.
Clifford would never return to England, or certainly not to
Riversborough, where this hard report had been circulated and partly
accepted concerning him. The very bonds he had dealt with, first
borrowing money upon them, and at last selling them, had been bequeathed
to him in Mr. Clifford's will, of which he was himself the executor. He
had, as he persuaded himself, only forestalled the possession of them.
But a letter he had received from Mr. Clifford, informing him that he
was on his way home, with the purpose of thoroughly investigating the
affairs of the bank, had fallen like a thunderbolt upon him, and upon
Acton, through whose agency he had managed to dispose of the securities
without arousing any suspicion.

Early the next morning Mr. Clifford arrived at the bank, and heard to
his great surprise that his partner had started for London, and had been
away the day before; possibly, Madame Sefton suggested with some
anxiety, in the hope of meeting him there. No doubt he would be back
early, for it was the day of the May fair, when there was always an
unusual stir of business. Mr. Clifford took his place in the vacant bank
parlor, and waited somewhat grimly for the arrival of the head clerk,
Acton.

There was a not unpleasant excitement among the clerks, as they
whispered to each other on arrival that old Clifford was come and Roland
Sefton was still absent. But this excitement deepened into agitation and
misgiving as the hour for opening the bank drew near and Acton did not
arrive. Such a circumstance had never occurred before, for Acton had
made himself unpopular with those beneath him by expecting devotion
equal to his own to the interests of the firm. When ten o'clock was
close at hand a clerk ran round to Acton's lodgings; but before he could
return a breathless messenger rushed into the bank as the doors were
thrown open, with the tidings that the head clerk had been found by his
landlady lying dead in his bed.

More quickly than if the town-crier had been sent round the streets with
his bell to announce the news, it was known that Roland Sefton was
missing and the managing clerk had committed suicide. The populace from
all the country round was flocking into the town for the fair, three
fourths of whom did business with the Old Bank. No wonder that a panic
took possession of them. In an hour's time the tranquil street was
thronged with a dense mass of town's-people and country-people, numbers
of whom were fighting their way to the bank as if for dear life. There
was not room within for the crowds who struggled to get to the counters
and present their checks and bank-notes, and demand instant settlement
of their accounts. In vain Mr. Clifford assured them there was no fear
of the firm being unable to meet its liabilities. In cases like these
the panic cannot be allayed by words.

As long as the funds held out the checks and notes were paid over the
counter; but this could not go on. Mr. Clifford himself was in the dark
as to the state of affairs, and did not know how his credit stood. Soon
after midday the funds were exhausted, and with the utmost difficulty
the bank was cleared and the doors closed. But the crowd did not
disperse; rather it grew denser as the news spread like wildfire that
the Old Bank had stopped!

It was at the moment that the bank doors were closed that Phebe turned
into Whitefriars Road. She had taken a train from Upchurch, leaving her
father to return home alone with the empty wagon. It was a strange sight
which met her. The usually quiet street was thronged from end to end,
and the babble of many voices made all sounds indistinct. Even on the
outskirts of the crowd there were men, some pale and some red with
anxiety, struggling with elbows and shoulders to make their way through
to the bank, in the vain hope that it would not be too late. A
strongly-built, robust farmer fainted quietly away beside her, like a
delicate woman, when he heard that the doors were shut; and his wife and
son, who were following him, bore him out of the crush as well as they
could. Phebe, pressing gently forward, and gliding in wherever a chance
movement gave her an opportunity, at last reached the archway at the
side of the house, and rapped urgently for admittance. A scared-looking
man-servant, who opened the door with the chain upon it, let her in as
soon as he recognized who she was.

"It's a fearsome day," he said; "master's away, gone nobody knows where;
and old Acton's poisoned himself. Nobody dare tell Mrs. Sefton; but
Madame knows. She is in the dining-room, Miss Marlowe."

Phebe found her, as she had done the day before, sitting in the oriel
window; but the usually placid-looking little woman was in a state of
nervous agitation. As soon as she caught sight of Phebe's pitiful face
she ran to her, and clasping her in her arms, burst into a passion of
tears and sobs.

"My son!" she cried; "what can have become of him, Phebe? Where can he
be gone? If he would only come home, all these people would be
satisfied, and go away. They don't know Mr. Clifford, but they know
Roland; he is so popular. The servants say the bank is broken; what does
that mean, Phebe? And poor Acton! They say he is dead--he did kill
himself by poison. Is it not true, Phebe? Tell me it is not true!"

But Phebe could say nothing to comfort her; she knew better than any one
else the whole truth of the calamity. But she held the weeping little
woman in her strong young arms, and there was something consoling in her
loving clasp.

"And where are the children?" she asked, after a while.

"I sent them to play in the garden," answered Madame; "their own little
plots are far away, out of sight of the dreadful street. What good is it
that they should know all this trouble?"

"No good at all," replied Phebe. "And where is Mrs. Sefton?"

"Alas, my Phebe!" she exclaimed, "who dare tell her? Not me; no, no!
She is shut up in her little chamber, and she forgets all the world--her
children even, and Roland himself. It is as if she went away into
another life, far away from ours; and when she comes home again she is
like one in a dream. Will you dare to tell her?"

"Yes, I will go," she said.

Yet with very slow and reluctant steps Phebe climbed the staircase,
pausing long at the window midway, which overlooked the wide and sunny
landscape in the distance, and the garden just below. She watched the
children busy at their little plots of ground, utterly unconscious of
the utter ruin that had befallen them. How lovely and how happy they
looked! She could have cried out aloud, a bitter and lamentable cry. But
as yet she must not yield to the flood of her own grief; she must keep
it back until she was at home again, in her solitary home, where nobody
could hear her sobs and cries. Just now she must think for, and comfort,
if comfort were possible, these others, who stood even nearer than she
did to the sin and the sinner. Gathering up all her courage, she
quickened her footsteps and ran hurriedly up the remaining steps.

But at the drawing-room door, which was partly open, her feet were
arrested. Within, standing behind the rose-colored curtains, stood the
tall, slender figure of Felicita, with her clear and colorless face
catching a delicate flush from the tint of the hangings that concealed
her from the street. She was looking down on the crowd below, with the
perplexity of a foreigner gazing on some unfamiliar scene in a strange
land. There was a half-smile playing about her lips; but her whole
attention was so absorbed by the spectacle beneath her that she did not
see or hear Phebe until she was standing beside her, looking down also
on the excited crowd.

"Phebe!" she exclaimed, "you here again? Then you can tell me, are the
good people of Riversborough gone mad? or is it possible there is an
election going on, of which I have heard nothing? Nothing less than an
election could rouse them to such a pitch of excitement."

"Have you heard nothing of what they say?" asked Phebe.

"There is such a Babel," she answered; "of course I hear my husband's
name. It would be just like him if he got himself elected member for
Riversborough without telling me anything about it till it was over. He
loves surprises; and I--why I hate to be surprised."

"But he is gone!" said Phebe.

"Yes, he told me he was going to London," she went on; "but if it is no
election scene, what is it, Phebe? Why are all the people gathered here
in such excitement?"

"Shall I tell you plainly?" asked Phebe, looking steadily into
Felicita's dark, inscrutable eyes.

"Tell me the simple truth," she replied, somewhat haughtily; "if any
human being can tell it."

"Then the bank has stopped payment," answered Phebe. "Poor Mr. Acton has
been found dead in bed this morning; and Mr. Sefton is gone away, nobody
knows where. It is the May fair to-day, and all the people are coming in
from the country. There's been a run on the bank till they are forced to
stop payment. That is what brings the crowd here."

Felicita dropped the curtain which she had been holding back with her
hand, and stepped back a pace or two from the window. But her face
scarcely changed; she listened calmly and collectedly, as if Phebe was
speaking of some persons she hardly knew.

"My husband will come back immediately," she said. "Is not Mr. Clifford
there?"

"Yes," said Phebe.

"Are you telling me all?" asked Felicita.

"No," she answered; "Mr. Clifford says he has been robbed. Securities
worth nearly ten thousand pounds are missing. He must have found it out
already."

"Who does he suspect?" she asked again imperiously; "he does not dare
suspect my husband?"

Phebe replied only by a mute gesture. She had never had any secret to
conceal before, and she did not see that she had betrayed herself by the
words she had uttered. The deep gloom on her bright young face struck
Felicita for the first time.

"Do you think it was Roland?" she asked.

Again the same dumb, hopeless gesture answered the question. Phebe could
not bring her lips to shape a word of accusation against him. It was
agony to her to feel her idol disgraced and cast down from his high
pedestal; yet she had not learned any way of concealing or
misrepresenting the truth.

"You know he did it?" said Felicita.

"Yes, I know it," she whispered.

For a minute or two Felicita stood, with her white hands resting on
Phebe's shoulders, gazing into her mournful face with keen, questioning
eyes. Then, with a rapid flush of crimson, betraying a strong and
painful heart-throb, which suffused her face for an instant and left it
paler than before, she pressed her lips on the girl's sunburnt forehead.

"Tell nobody else," she murmured; "keep the secret for his sake and
mine."

Before Phebe could reply she turned away, and, with a steady,
unfaltering step, went back to her study and locked herself in.



CHAPTER VII.

AN INTERRUPTED DAY-DREAM.


Felicita's study was so quiet a room, quite remote from the street, that
it was almost a wonder the noise of the crowd had reached her. But this
morning there had been a pleasant tumult of excitement in her own brain,
which had prevented her from falling into an absorbed reverie, such as
she usually indulged in, and rendered her peculiarly susceptible to
outward influences. All her senses had been awake to-day.

On her desk lay the two volumes of a new book, handsomely got up, with
pages yet uncut as it had come from the publishers. A dozen times she
had looked at the title-page, as if unable to convince herself of the
reality, and read her own name--Felicita Riversdale Sefton. It was the
first time her name as an author had been published, though for the last
three years she had from time to time written anonymously for magazines.
This was her own book; thought out, written, revised, and completed in
her chosen solitude and secrecy. No one knew of it; possibly Roland
suspected something, but he had not ventured to make any inquiries, and
she had no reason to believe that he even suspected its existence. It
was simply altogether her own; no other mind had any part or share in
it.

There was something like rapture in her delight. The book was a good
book, she was sure of it. She had not succeeded in making it as perfect
as her ideal, but she had not signally failed. It did in a fair degree
represent her inmost thoughts and fancies. Yet she could not feel quite
sure that the two volumes were real, and the letter from the publisher,
a friendly and pleasant letter enough, seemed necessary to vouch for
them. She read and re-read it. The little room seemed too small and
close for her. She opened the window to let in the white daylight,
undisguised by the faint green tint of the glass, and she leaned out to
breathe the fresh sweet air of the spring morning. Life was very
pleasurable to her to-day.

There were golden gleams too upon the future. She would no longer be the
unknown wife of a country banker, moving in a narrow sphere, which was
altogether painful to her in its provincial philistinism. It was a
sphere to which she had descended in girlish ignorance. Her uncle, Lord
Riversdale, had been willing to let his portionless niece marry this
prosperous young banker, who was madly in love with her, and a little
gentle pressure had been brought to bear on the girl of eighteen, who
had been placed by her father's death in a position of dependence. Since
then a smouldering fire of ambition and of dissatisfaction with her lot
had been lurking unsuspected under her cold and self-absorbed manner.

But her thoughts turned with more tenderness than usual toward her
husband. She had aroused in him also a restless spirit of ambition,
though in him it was for her sake, not his own. He wished to restore her
if possible to the position she had sacrificed for him; and Felicita
knew it. Her heart beating faster with her success was softened toward
him; and tears suffused her dark eyes for an instant as she thought of
his astonishment and exultation.

The children were at play in the garden below her, and their merry
voices greeted her ear pleasantly. The one human being who really dwelt
in her inmost heart was her boy Felix, her first-born child. Hilda was
an unnecessary supplement to the page of her maternal love. But for
Felix she dreamed day-dreams of extravagant aspiration; no lot on earth
seemed too high or too good for him. He was a handsome boy, the very
image of her father, the late Lord Riversdale, and now as she gazed down
on him, her eyes slightly dewed with tears, he looked up to her window.
She kissed her hand to him, and the boy waved his little cap toward her
with almost passionate gesticulations of delight. Felix would be a great
man some day; this book of hers was a stone in the foundation of his
fame as well as of her own.

It was upon this mood of exultation, a rare mood for Felicita, that the
cry and roar from the street had broken. With a half-smile at herself,
the thought flashed across her mind that it was like a shout of applause
and admiration, such as might greet Felix some day when he had proved
himself a leader of men. But it aroused her dormant curiosity, and she
had condescended to be drawn by it to the window of the drawing-room
overlooking Whitefriars Road, in order to ascertain its cause. The crowd
filling the street was deeply in earnest, and the aim of those who were
fighting their way through it was plainly the bank offices in the floor
below her. The sole idea that occurred to her, for she was utterly
ignorant of her husband's business, was that some unexpected crisis in
the borough had arisen, and its people were coming to Roland Sefton as
their leading townsman. When Phebe found her she was quietly studying
the crowd and its various features, that she might describe a throng
from memory, whenever a need should arise for it.

Felicita regained her luxurious little study, and sat down before her
desk, on which the new volumes lay, with more outward calm than her
face and movements had manifested before she left it. The transient glow
of triumph had died away from her face, and the happy tears from her
eyes. She closed the casement to shut out the bright, clear sunlight,
and the merry voices of her children, before she sat down to think.

For a little while she had been burning incense to herself; but the
treacherous fire was gone out, and the sweet, bewildering, intoxicating
vapors were scattered to the winds. The recollection of her short-lived
folly made her shiver as if a cold breath had passed over her.

Not for a moment did she doubt Roland's guilt. There was such a
certainty of it lying behind Phebe's sorrowful eyes as she whispered "I
know it," that Felicita had not cared to ask how she knew it. She did
not trouble herself with details. The one fact was there: her husband
had absconded. A dreamy panorama of their past life flitted across her
brain--his passionate love for her, which had never cooled, though it
had failed to meet with a response from her; his insatiable desire to
make her life more full of pomp and luxury and display than that of her
cousins at Riversdale; his constant thraldom to her, which had
ministered only to her pride and coldness. His queen he had called her.
It was all over now. His extraordinary absence was against any hope that
he could clear himself. Her husband had brought fatal and indelible
disgrace upon his name, the name he had given to her and their children.

Her name! This morning, and for many days to come, it would be
advertised as the author of the new book, which was to have been one of
her stepping-stones to fame. She had grasped at fame, and her hand had
closed upon infamy. There was no fear now that she would remain among
the crowd of the unknown. As the wife of a fraudulent banker she would
be only too well and too widely talked of.

Why had she let her own full name be published? She had yielded, though
with some reluctance, to the business-like policy of her publisher, who
had sought to catch the public eye by it; for her father, Lord
Riversdale, was hardly yet forgotten as an author. A vague sentiment of
loyalty to her husband had caused her to add her married name. She hated
to see the two blazoned together on the title-page.

Sick at heart, she sat for hours brooding over what would happen if
Roland was arrested. The assizes held twice a year at Riversborough had
been to her, as to many people of her position, an occasion of
pleasurable excitement. The judges' lodgings were in the next house to
the Old Bank, and for the few days the judges were Roland Sefton's
neighbors there had been a friendly interchange of civilities. An assize
ball was still held, though it was falling into some neglect and
disrepute. Whenever any cause of special local interest took place she
had commanded the best seat in the court, and had obsequious attention
paid to her. She had learned well the aspect of the place, and the mode
of procedure. But hitherto her recollections of a court of justice were
all agreeable, and her impressions those of a superior being looking
down from above on the miseries and crimes of another race.

How different was the vision that branded itself on her brain this
morning! She saw her husband standing at the dock, instead of some
coarse, ignorant, brutish criminal; the stern gravity of the judge; the
flippant curiosity of the barristers not connected with the case, and
the cruel eagerness of his fellow-townsmen to get good places to hear
and see him. It would make a holiday for all who could get within the
walls.

She could have written almost word for word the report of the trial as
it would appear in the two papers published in Riversborough. She could
foretell how lavish would be the use of the words "felon" and "convict;"
and she would be that felon and convict's wife.

Oh, this intolerable burden of disgrace! To be borne through the long,
long years of life; and not by herself alone, but by her children. They
had come into a miserable heritage. What became of the families of
notorious criminals? She could believe that the poor did not suffer from
so cruel a notoriety, being quickly lost in the oblivious waters of
poverty and distress, amid refuges and workhouses. But what would
become of her? She must go away into endless exile, with her two little
children, and live where there was no chance of being recognized. This
was what her husband's sin had done for her.

"God help me! God deliver me!" she moaned with white lips. But she did
not pray for him. In the first moments of anguish the spirit flies to
that which lies at the very core. While Roland's mother and Phebe were
weeping together and praying for him, Felicita was crying for help and
deliverance for herself.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SENIOR PARTNER.


Long as the daylight lasts in May it was after nightfall when Felicita
left her study and went down to the drawing-room, more elegantly and
expensively furnished for her than the drawing-room at Riversdale had
been. Its extravagant display seemed to strike upon her suddenly as she
entered it. Phebe was gone home, and Madame had retired to her own room,
having given up the expectation of seeing Felicita that day. Mr.
Clifford, the servant told her, was still in the bank, with his lawyer,
for whom he had telegraphed to London. Felicita sent him a message that
if he was not too busy she wished to see him for a few minutes.

Mr. Clifford almost immediately appeared, and Felicita saw him for the
first time. She had always heard him called old; but he was a strong,
erect, stern-looking man of sixty, with keen, cold eyes that could not
be avoided. Felicita did not seek to avoid them. She looked as steadily
at him as he did at her. There were traces of tears on her face, but
there was no tremor or weakness about her. They exchanged a few civil
words as calmly as if they were ordinary acquaintances.

"Tell me briefly what has happened," she said to him, when he had taken
a seat near to her.

"Briefly," he repeated. "Well! I find myself robbed of securities worth
nearly £8000; private securities, bond and scrip, left in custody only,
not belonging to the firm. No one but Acton or Roland could have access
to them. Acton has eluded me; but if Roland is found he must take the
consequences."

"And what are those?" asked Felicita.

"I shall prosecute him as I would prosecute a common thief or burglar,"
answered Mr. Clifford. "His crime is more dishonorable and cowardly."

"Is it not cruel to say this to me?" she asked, yet in a tranquil tone
which startled him.

"Cruel!" he repeated again; "I have not been in the habit of choosing
words. You asked me a question, and I gave you the answer that was in my
mind. I never forgive. Those who pass over crimes make themselves
partakers in those crimes. Roland has robbed not only me, but half a
dozen poor persons, to whom such a loss is ruin. Would it be right to
let such a man escape justice?"

"You think he has gone away on purpose?" she said.

"He has absconded," answered Mr. Clifford, "and the matter is already in
the hands of the police. A description of him has been telegraphed to
every police station in the kingdom. If he is not out of it he can
barely escape now."

Felicita's pale face could not grow paler, but she shivered perceptibly.

"I am telling you bluntly," he said, "because I believe it is best to
know the worst at once. It is terrible to have it falling drop by drop.
You have courage and strength; I see it. Take an old man's word for it,
it is better to know all in its naked ugliness, than have it brought to
light bit by bit. There is not the shadow of a doubt of Roland's crime.
You do not believe him innocent yourself?"

"No," she replied in a low, yet steady voice; "no. I must tell the
truth. I cannot comfort myself with the belief that he is innocent."

Mr. Clifford's keen eyes were fastened upon Felicita with admiration.
Here was a woman, young and pallid with grief and dread, who neither
tried to move him by prayers and floods of tears, nor shrank from
acknowledging a truth, however painful. He had never seen her before,
though the costly set of jewels she was wearing had been his own gift to
her on her wedding. He recognized them with pleasure, and looked more
attentively at her beautiful but gloomy face. When he spoke again it was
in a manner less harsh and abrupt than it had been before.

"I am not going to ask you any questions about Roland," he said; "you
have a right, the best right in the world, to screen him, and aid him in
escaping from the just consequences of his folly and crime."

"You might ask me," she interrupted, "and I should tell you the simple
truth. I do so now, when I say I know nothing about him. He told me he
was going to London. But is it not possible that poor Acton alone was
guilty?"

Mr. Clifford shook his head in reply. For a few minutes he paced up and
down the floor, and then placed himself at the back of Felicita, with
his hand upon her chair, as if to support him. In a glass opposite she
could see the reflection of his face, gray and agitated, with closed
eyes and quivering lips--a face that looked ten years older than that
which she had seen when he entered the room. She felt the chair shaken
by his trembling hand.

"I will tell you," he said in a voice which he strove to render steady.
"I did not spare my own son when he had defrauded Roland's father.
Though Sefton would not prosecute him, I left him to reap the harvest of
his deed to the full; and it was worse than the penalty the law would
have exacted. He perished, disgraced and forsaken, of starvation in
Paris, the city of pleasures and of crimes. They told me that my son was
little more than a living skeleton when he was found, so slowly had the
end come. If I did not spare him, can I relent toward Roland? The
justice I demand is, in comparison, mercy for him."

As he finished speaking he opened his eyes, and saw those of Felicita
fastened on the reflection of his face in the mirror. He turned away,
and in a minute or two resumed his seat, and spoke again in his ordinary
abrupt tone.

"What will you do?" he asked.

"I cannot tell yet," she answered; "I must wait till suspense is over.
If Roland comes back, or is brought back," she faltered, "then I must
decide what to do. I shall keep to myself till then. Is there anything I
can do?"

"Could you go to your uncle, Lord Riversdale?" suggested Mr. Clifford.

"No, no," she cried; "I will not ask any help from him. He arranged my
marriage for me, and he will feel this disgrace keenly. I will keep out
of their way; they shall not be compelled to forbid me their society."

"But to-morrow you had better go away for the day," he answered; "there
will be people coming and going, who will disturb you. There will be a
rigorous search made. There is a detective now with my lawyer, who is
looking through the papers in the bank. The police have taken possession
of Acton's lodgings."

"I have nowhere to go," she replied, "and I cannot show my face out of
doors. Madame and the children shall go to Phebe Marlowe, but I must
bear it as well as I can."

"Well," he said after a brief pause, "I will make it as easy as I can
for you. You are thinking me a hard man? Yes, I have grown hard. I was
soft enough once. But if I forgave any sinner now I should do my boy,
who is dead, an awful injustice. I would not pass over his sin, and I
dare not pass over any other. I know I shall pursue Roland until his
death or mine; my son's fate cries out for it. But I'm not a hard man
toward innocent sufferers, like you and his poor mother. Try to think of
me as your friend; nay, even Roland's friend, for what would a few
years' penal servitude be compared with my boy's death? Shake hands
with me before I go."

The small, delicate hand she offered him was icy cold, though her face
was still calm and her eyes clear and dry. He was himself more moved and
agitated than she appeared to be. The mention of his son always shook
him to the very centre of his soul; yet he had not been able to resist
uttering the words that had passed his lips during this painful
interview with Roland's young wife. Unshed tears were burning under his
eyelids. But if it had not been for that death-like hand he might have
imagined her almost unmoved.

Felicita was down-stairs before Madame the next morning, and had ordered
the carriage to be ready to take her and the children to Upfold Farm
directly after breakfast. It was so rare an incident for their mother to
be present at the breakfast-table that Felix and Hilda felt as if it
were a holiday. Madame was pale and sad, and for the first time Felicita
thought of her as being a sufferer by Roland's crime. Her husband's
mother had been little more to her than a superior housekeeper, who had
been faithfully attached to her and her children. The homely, gentle,
domestic foreigner, from a humble Swiss home, had looked up to her young
aristocratic daughter-in-law as a being from a higher sphere. But now
the downcast, sorrowful face of the elder woman touched Felicita's
sympathy.

"Mother!" she said, as soon as the children had run away to get ready
for their drive. She had never before called Madame "mother," and a
startled look, almost of delight, crossed Madame's sad face.

"My daughter!" she cried, running to Felicita's side, and throwing her
arms timidly about her, "he is sure to come back soon--to-day, I think.
Oh, yes, he will be here when we return! You do well to stay to meet
him; and I should be glad to be here, but for the children. Yes, the
little ones must be out of the way. They must not see their father's
house searched; they must never know how he is suspect. Acton did say it
was all his fault; his fault and--"

But here Madame paused for an instant, for had not Acton said it was
Felicita's fault more than any one's?

"Phebe heard him," she went on hastily; "and if it is not his fault, why
did he kill himself? Oh, it is an ill-fortune that my son went to London
that day! It would all be right if he were here; but he is sure to come
to-day and explain it all; and the bank will be opened again. So be of
good comfort, my daughter; for God is present with us, and with my son
also."

It was a sorrowful day at the Upfold Farm in spite of the children's
unconscious mirthfulness. Old Marlowe locked himself into his workshop,
and would see none of them, taking his meals there in sullen anger.
Phebe's heart was almost broken with listening to Madame's earnest
asseverations of her son's perfect innocence, and her eager hopes to
find him when she reached home. It was nearly impossible to her to keep
the oppressive secret, which seemed crushing her into deception and
misery, and her own muteness appeared to herself more condemnatory than
any words could be. But Madame did not notice her silence, and her grief
was only natural. Phebe's tears fell like balm on Madame's aching
heart. Felicita had not wept; but this young girl, and her abandonment
to passionate bursts of tears, who needed consoling herself, was a
consolation to the poor mother. They knelt together in Phebe's little
bedroom, while the children were playing on the wide uplands around
them, and they prayed silently, if heavy sobs and sighs could be called
silence; but they prayed together, and for her son; and Madame returned
home comforted and hopeful.

It had been a day of fierce trial to Felicita. She had not formed any
idea of how searching would be the investigation of the places where any
of her husband's papers might be found. Her own study was not exempt
from the prying eyes of the detectives. This room, sacred to her, which
Roland himself never entered without permission was ransacked, and
forever desecrated in her eyes. This official meddling with her books
and her papers could never be forgotten. The pleasant place was made an
abomination to her.

The bank was reopened the next morning at the accustomed hour, for a
very short investigation by Mr. Clifford and the experienced advisers
summoned from London to assist him proved that the revenues of the firm
were almost as good as ever. The panic had been caused by the vague
rumor afloat of some mysterious complicity in crime between the absent
partner and the clerk who had committed suicide. It was, therefore,
considered necessary for the prosperous re-establishment of the bank to
put forth a cautiously worded circular, in which Mr. Clifford's return
was made the reason for the absence on a long journey of Roland Sefton,
whose disappearance had to be accounted for. By the time he was arrested
and brought to trial the confidence of the bank's customers in its
stability would in some measure be regained.

There was thus a good deal of conjecture and of contradictory opinion
abroad in Riversborough concerning Roland Sefton, which continued to be
the town's-talk for some weeks. Even Madame began to believe in a
half-bewildered manner that her son had gone on a journey of business
connected with the bank, though she could not account for his total
silence. Sometimes she wondered if he and Felicita could have had some
fatal quarrel, which had driven him away from home in a paroxysm of
passionate disappointment and bitterness. Felicita's coldness and
indifference might have done it. With this thought, and the hope of his
return some day, she turned for relief to the discharge of her household
duties, and to the companionship of the children, who knew nothing
except that their father was gone away on a journey, and might come back
any day.

Neither Madame nor the children knew that whenever they left the house
they were followed by a detective, and every movement was closely
watched. But Felicita was conscious of it by some delicate sensitiveness
of her imaginative temperament. She refused to quit the house except in
the evening, when she rambled about the garden, and felt the fresh air
from the river breathing against her often aching temples. Even then she
fancied an eye upon her--an unsleeping, unblinking eye; the unwearying
vigilance of justice on the watch for a criminal. Night and day she felt
herself living under its stony gaze.

It was a positive pain to her when reviews of her book appeared in
various papers, and were forwarded to her with congratulatory letters
from her publishers. She was living far enough from London to be easily
persuaded, without much vanity, that her name was upon everybody's lips
there. She read the reviews, but with a sick heart, and the words were
forgotten as soon as she put them away; but the Riversborough papers,
which had been very guarded in their statements about the death of Acton
and the events at the Old Bank, took up the book with what appeared to
her fulsome and offensive enthusiasm. It had never occurred to her that
local criticism was certain to follow the appearance of a local writer;
and she shrank from it with morbid and exaggerated disgust. Even if all
had been well, if Roland had been beside her, their notices would have
been well-nigh intolerable to her. She could not have endured being
stared at and pointed out in the streets of her own little town. But now
Fame had come to her with broken wings and a cracked trumpet, and she
shuddered at the sound of her own name harshly proclaimed through it.

It soon became evident that Roland Sefton had succeeded in getting away
out of the country. The police were at fault; and as no one in his own
home knew how to communicate with him, no clew had been discovered by
close surveillance of their movements. Such vigilance could be kept up
only for a few months at longest, and as the summer drew toward the end
it ceased.



CHAPTER IX.

FAST BOUND.


Roland Sefton had met with but few difficulties in getting clear away
out of England, and there was little chance of his being identified,
from description merely, by any of the foreign police, or by any English
detective on the Continent who was not as familiar with his personal
appearance as the Riversborough force were. In his boyhood he had spent
many months, years even, in his mother's native village with her father,
M. Roland Merle, the pastor of a parish among the Jura Mountains. It was
as easy for him to assume the character of a Swiss mountaineer as to
sustain that of a prosperous English banker. The dress, the patois, the
habits of the peasant were all familiar to him, and his disguise in them
was as complete as disguise ever can be. The keen eye either of love or
hate can pierce through all disguises.

Switzerland was all fatherland to him, as much so as his native country,
and the county in which Riversborough was situated. There was no
ignorance in him of any little town, or the least known of the Alps,
which might betray the stranger. He would never need to attract notice
by asking a question. He had become a member of an Alpine club as soon
as his boyish thews and sinews were strong enough for stiff and perilous
climbing. He had crossed the most difficult passes and scaled some of
the worst peaks. And there had been within him that passionate love of
the country common to the Swiss which an English Alpine climber can
never feel. His mother's land had filled him with an ardent flame,
smouldering at times amid the absorbing interests of his somewhat
prominent place in English life, but every now and then breaking out
into an irrepressible longing for the sight of its white mountains and
swift, strong streams. It was at once the safest and the most dangerous
of refuges. He would be certainly sought for there; but there he could
most effectually conceal himself. He flew thither with his burden of
sin and shame.

Roland adopted at once the dress of a decent artisan of the Jura--such a
man as he had known in his boyhood as a watchmaker of Locle or the
Doubs. For a few days he stayed in Geneva, lodging in such a street as a
Locle artisan would have chosen; but he could not feel secure there, in
spite of his own certainty that his transformation was complete. A
restless dread haunted him. He knew well that there are in every one
little personal traits, tricks of gesture, and certain tones of voice
always ready to betray us. It was yet too early in the year for many
travellers to be journeying to Switzerland; but already a few straggling
pioneers of the summer flight were appearing in the larger towns, and
what would be his fate if any one of them recognized him? He quitted
Geneva, and wandered away into the mountain villages.

It was May-time, and the snow-line was still lingering low down on the
steep slopes, though the flowers were springing into life up to its
very margin, seeming to drive it higher and higher every day. The High
Alps were still fast locked in midwinter, and with untrodden wastes and
plains of snow lying all around them. The deserted mountain farms and
great solitary hotels, so thronged last summer, were empty. But in the
valleys and the little villages lying on the warm southern slopes, or
sheltered by precipitous rocks from the biting winds, there was
everywhere a joyous stir of awakening from the deep sleep of winter. The
frozen streams were thawed and ran bubbling and gurgling along their
channels, turning water-wheels and filling all the quiet places with
their merry noise. The air itself was full of sweet exhilaration. In the
forests there was the scent of stirring sap and of the up-springing
wild-flowers, and the rosy blossoms of the tender young larch-trees
shone like jewels in the bright sunshine. The mountain-peaks overhead,
gleaming through the mists and clouds, were of dazzling whiteness, for
none of the frozen snow had yet fallen from their sharp, lance-like
summits.

Journeying on foot from one village to another, Roland roamed about
aimlessly, yet as one hunted, seeking for a safe asylum. He bore his
troubled conscience and aching heart from one busy spot to another,
homesick and self-exiled. Oh, what a fool he had been! Life had been
full to the brim for him with gladness and prosperity, and in trying to
make its cup run over he had dashed it away from his lips forever.

His money was not yet spent, for a very little went a long way among
these simple mountain villages, and in his manner of travelling. He had
not yet been forced to try to earn a living, and he felt no anxiety for
the future. In his boyhood he had learned wood-carving, both in
Switzerland and from old Marlowe, and he had acquired considerable skill
in the art. Some of the panels in his home at Riversborough were the
workmanship of his own hands. It was a craft to turn to in extremity;
but he did not think of it yet.

Labor of any kind would have made the interminable hours pass more
quickly. The carving of a piece of wood might have kept him from
torturing his own heart perpetually; but he did not turn to this slight
solace. There were times when he sat for hours, for a whole age, as it
seemed to him, in some lonely spot, hidden behind a great rock or half
lost in a forest, thinking. And yet it was not thought, but a vague,
mournful longing and remembrance, the past and the absent blended in
dim, shadowy reverie, of which nothing was clear but the sharp anguish
of having forfeited them. There was a Garden of Eden still upon earth,
and he had been dwelling in it. But he had banished himself from it by
his own folly and sin, and when he turned his eyes toward it he could
see only the "flaming brand, and the gate with dreadful faces thronged
and fiery arms." But even Adam had his Eve with him, "to drop some
natural tears, and wipe them soon." He was utterly alone.

If his thoughts, so dazed and bewildered usually, became clear for a
little while, it was always Felicita whose image stood out most
distinctly before him. He had loved her passionately; surely never had
any man loved a woman with the same intensity--so he said to himself.
Even now the very crime he had committed seemed as nothing to him,
because he had been guilty of it for her. His love for her covered its
heinousness from his eyes. His conscience had become the blind and dumb
slave of his passion. So blind and dumb had it been that it had scarcely
stirred or murmured until his sin was found out, and it was scarcely
aroused to life even yet.

In a certain sense he had been religious, having been most sedulously
trained in religion from his earliest consciousness. He had accepted the
ordinary teachings of our nineteenth-century Christianity. His place in
church, beside his mother or his wife, had seldom been empty, and
several times in the year he had knelt with them at the Lord's table,
and taken the Lord's Supper, feeling himself distinctly a more religious
man than usual on such occasions. No man had ever heard him utter a
profane word, nor had he transgressed any of the outward rules of a
religious life. It is true he had never made a vehement and
extraordinary profession of piety, such as some men do; but there was
not a person in Riversborough who would not have spoken of him as a
good churchman and a Christian. While he had been gradually
appropriating Mr. Clifford's money and the hard-earned savings of poorer
men confided to him, he had felt no qualm of conscience in giving
liberally to many a religious and philanthropic object, contributing
such sums as figure well in a subscription list; though it was generally
his wife's name that figured there. He had never taken up a subscription
list without glancing first for that beloved name, Mrs. Roland Sefton.

In those days he had never doubted that he was a Christian. So far as he
knew, so far as words could teach him, he was living a Christian life.
Did he not believe in God, the Father Almighty? Yes, as fully as those
who lived about him. Had he not followed Christ? As closely as the mass
of people who call themselves Christians. Nay, more than most of them.
Not as much as his mother perhaps, in her simple, devout faith. But then
religion is always a different thing with women than with men, a fairer
and more delicate thing, wearing a finer bloom and gloss, which does not
wear well in a work-a-day world such as he did battle in. But if he had
not lived a Christian life, what man in Riversborough had done so,
except a few fanatics?

But his religion had been powerless to keep him from falling into subtle
temptations, and into a crime so heinous in the sight of his fellow-men
that it was only to be expiated by the loss of character, the loss of
liberty, and the loss of every honorable man's esteem. The web had been
closely and cunningly woven, and now he was fast bound in it, with no
way of escape.



CHAPTER X.

LEAVING RIVERSBOROUGH.


The weeks passed by in Riversborough, and brought no satisfactory
conclusion to the guarded investigations of the police. A close search
made among Acton's private papers produced no discovery. His will was
among them, leaving all he had to leave, which was not much, to Felix,
the son of his friend and employer, Roland Sefton. There was no
memorandum or letter which could throw any light upon the transactions,
or give any clew to what had been done with Mr. Clifford's securities.

Nor was the watch kept over the movements of the family more successful.
The police were certain that no letter was posted by any member of the
household, which could be intended for the missing culprit. Even Phebe
Marlowe's correspondence was subject to their vigilance. But not a trace
could be discovered. He was gone; whether he had fled to America, or
concealed himself nearer home on the Continent, no one could make a
guess.

Mr. Clifford remained in Riversborough, and resumed his position as head
of the firm. He had returned with the intention of doing so, having
heard abroad of the extravagant manner in which his junior partner was
living. The bank, though seriously crippled in its credit and resources,
was in no danger of insolvency, and there seemed no reason why it should
not regain its former prosperity, if only confidence could be restored.
He had reserved to himself the power of taking in another partner, if he
should deem it advisable; and an eligible one presenting himself, in the
person of a Manchester man of known wealth, the deeds of partnership
were drawn up, and the Old Bank was once more set up on a firm basis.

During the time that elapsed while these arrangements were being made,
Felicita was visibly suffering, and failing in health. So sensitive had
she grown to the dread of seeing any one not in the immediate circle of
her household, that it became impossible to her to leave her home. The
clear colorlessness of her face had taken on a transparency and delicacy
which did not lessen its beauty, but added to it an unearthly grace. She
no longer spent hours alone in her desecrated room; it had grown
intolerable to her; but she sat speechless, and almost motionless, in
the oriel window overlooking the garden and the river; and Felix, a
child of dreamy and sensitive temperament, would sit hour after hour at
her feet, pressing his cheek against her knee, or with his uplifted eyes
gazing into her face.

"Mother," he said one day, when Roland had been gone more than a month,
"how long will my father be away on his journey? Doesn't he ever write
to you, and send messages to me? Grandmamma says she does not know how
soon he will be back. Do you know, mother?"

Felicita looked down on him with her beautiful dark eyes, which seemed
larger and sadder than of old, sending a strange thrill through the
boy's heart, and for a minute or two she seemed uncertain what to say.

"I cannot tell you, Felix," she answered; "there are many things in life
which children cannot understand. If I told you what was true about your
father, your little brain would turn it into an untruth. You could not
understand it if I told you."

"But I shall understand it some day," he said, lifting his head up
proudly; "will you tell me when I am old enough, mother?"

How could she promise him to do that? This proud young head, tossed back
with the expectant triumph of some day knowing all that his father and
mother knew, must be bowed down with grief and shame then, as hers was
now. It was a sad knowledge he must inherit. How would she ever be able
to tell him that the father who had given him life, and whose name he
bore, was a criminal; a convict if he was arrested and brought to
judgment; an outlaw and an exile if he made good his escape? Roland had
never been as dear to her as Felix was. She was one of those women who
love more deeply and tenderly as mothers than as wives. To see that
bright, fond face of his clouded with disgrace would be a ceaseless
torment to her. There would be no suffering to compare with it.

"But you will tell me all about it some day, mother," urged the boy.

"If I ever tell you," she answered, "it will be when you are a man, and
can understand the whole truth. You will never hear me tell a falsehood,
Felix."

"I know that, mother," he replied, "but oh! I miss my father! He used to
come to my bedside at nights, and kiss me, and say 'God bless you.' I
tried always to keep awake till he came; but I was asleep the last time
of all, and missed him. Sometimes I feel frightened, as if he would
never come again. But grandmamma says he is gone on a long journey, and
will come home some day, only she doesn't know when. Phebe cries when I
ask her. Would it be too much trouble for you to come in at night
sometimes, like my father did?" he asked timidly.

"But I am not like your father," she answered. "I could not say 'God
bless you' in the same way. You must ask God yourself for His
blessing."

For Felicita's soul had been thrust down into the depths of darkness.
Her early training had been simply and solely for this world: how to
make life here graceful and enjoyable. She could look back upon none but
the vaguest aspirations after something higher in her girlhood. It had
been almost like a new revelation to her to see her mother-in-law's
simple and devout piety, and to witness her husband's cheerful and manly
profession of religion. This was the point in his character which had
attracted her most, and had been most likely to bind her to him. Not his
passionate love to herself, but his unselfishness toward others, his
apparently happy religion, his energetic interest in all good and
charitable schemes--these had reconciled her more than anything else to
the step she had taken, the downward step, in marrying him.

This unconscious influence of Roland's life and character had been
working secretly and slowly upon her nature for several years. They
were very young when they were married, and her first feeling of
resentment toward her own family for pressing on the marriage had at the
outset somewhat embittered her against her young husband. But this had
gradually worn away, and Felicita had never been so near loving him
heartily and deeply as during the last year or two, when it was evident
that his attachment to her was as loyal and as tender as ever. He had
almost won her, when he staked all and lost all.

For now, she asked herself, what was the worth of all this religion,
which presented so fair a face to her? She had a delicate sense of honor
and truthfulness, which never permitted her to swerve into any byways of
expediency or convenience. What use was Roland's religion without
truthfulness and honor? She said to herself that there was no excuse for
him even feeling tempted to deal with another man's property. It ought
to have been as impossible to him as it was impossible to her to steal
goods from a tradesman's counter. Was it possible to serve God--and
Roland professed to serve Him--yet cheat his fellow-men? The service of
God itself must then be a vanity--a mere bubble, like all the other
bubbles of life.

It had never been her habit to speak out her thoughts, even to her
husband. Speech seemed an inefficient and blundering medium of
communication, and she found it easier to write than to talk. There was
a natural taciturnity about her which sealed her lips, even when her
children were prattling to her. Only in writing could she give
expression to the multitude of her thoughts within her; and her letters
were charming, and of exceeding interest. But in this great crisis in
her life she could not write. She would sit for hours vainly striving to
arouse her languid brain. It seemed to her that she had lost this gift
also in the utter ruin that had overtaken her.

Felicita's white, silent, benumbed grief, accepting the conviction of
her husband's guilt with no feminine contradicting or loud lamenting,
touched Mr. Clifford with more pity than he felt for Madame, who bore
her son's mysterious absence with a more simple and natural sorrow.
There was something irritating to him in the fact that Roland's mother
ignored the accusation he made against him. But when Roland had been
away three months, and the police authorities had given up all
expectation of discovering anything by watching his home and family, Mr.
Clifford felt that it was time something should be arranged which would
deliver Felicita from her voluntary imprisonment.

"Why do you not go away?" he asked her; "you cannot continue to live
mewed up here all your days. If Roland should be found, it would be
better for you not to be in Riversborough. And I for one have given up
the expectation that he will be found; the only chance is that he may
return and give himself up. Go to some place where you are not known.
There is Scarborough; take Madame and the children there for a few
months, and then settle in London for the winter. Nobody will know you
in London."

"But how can we leave this house?" she said, with a gleam of light in
her sad eyes.

"Let me come in just as it is," he answered. "I will pay you a good rent
for it, and you can take a part of the furniture to London, to make
your new dwelling there more like home. It would be a great convenience
to me, and it would be the best thing for you, depend upon it. If Roland
returns he never will live here again."

"No, he could never do that," she said, sighing deeply. "Mr. Clifford,
sometimes I think he must be dead."

"I have thought so too," he replied gravely; "and if it were so, it
would be the salvation of you and your children. There would be no
public trial and conviction, and though suspicion might always rest upon
his memory, he would not be remembered for long. Justice would be
defrauded, yet on the whole I should rejoice for your sake to hear that
he was dead."

Felicita's lips almost echoed the words. Her heart did so, though it
smote her as she recollected his passionate love for her. But Mr.
Clifford's speech sank deeply into her mind, and she brooded over it
incessantly. Roland's death meant honor and fair fame for herself and
her children; his life was perpetual shame and contempt to them.

It was soon settled that they must quit Riversborough; but though
Felicita welcomed the change, and was convinced it would be the best
thing to do, Madame grieved sorely over leaving the only home which had
been hers, except the little manse in the Jura, where her girlhood had
passed swiftly and happily away. She had brought with her the homely,
thrifty ways in which she had been trained, and every spot in her
husband's dwelling had been taken under her own care and supervision.
Her affections had rooted themselves to the place, and she had never
dreamed of dying anywhere else than among the familiar scenes which had
surrounded her for more than thirty years. The change too could not be
made without her consent, for her marriage settlement was secured upon
the house, and her husband had left to her the right of accepting or
refusing a tenant. To leave the familiar, picturesque old mansion, and
to carry away with her only a few of the household treasures, went far
to break her heart.

"It is where my husband intended for me to live and die," she moaned to
Phebe Marlowe; "and, oh, if I go away I can never fancy I see him
sitting in his own chair as he used to do, at the head of the table, or
by the fire. I have not altogether lost him, though he's gone, as long
as I can think of how he used to come in and go out of this room, always
with a smile for me. But if I go where he never was, how can I think I
see him there? And my son will be angry if we go; he will come back, and
clear up all this mystery, and he will think we went away because we
thought he had done evil. Ought we not to come home again after we have
been to Scarborough?"

"I think Mrs. Sefton will die if she stays here," said Phebe. "It is
necessary for her to make this change; and you'd rather go with her and
the children than live here alone without them."

"Oh, yes, yes!" answered Madame; "I cannot leave my little Felix and
Hilda, or Felicita: she is my son's dear wife. But he will come home
some day, and we can return then; you hope so, don't you, Phebe?"

"If God pleases!" said Phebe, sighing.

"In truth, if God pleases!" repeated Madame.

When the last hour came in which Phebe could see Roland's wife, she
sought for her in her study, where she was choosing the books to be sent
after her. In the very words in which Roland had sent his message he
delivered it to Felicita. The cold, sad, marble-like face did not
change, though her heart gave a throb of disappointment and anguish as
the dread hope that he was no longer alive died out of it.

"I will meet him there," she said. But she asked Phebe no questions, and
did not tell her where she was to meet her husband.



CHAPTER XI.

OLD MARLOWE.


Life had put on for Phebe a very changed aspect. The lonely farmstead on
the uplands had been till now a very happy and tranquil home. She had
had no sorrow since her mother died when she was eight years of age, too
young to grieve very sorely. On the other hand, she was not so young as
to require a woman's care, and old Marlowe had made her absolute
mistress of the little home. His wife, a prudent, timid woman, had
always repressed his artistic tendencies, preferring the certainty of
daily bread to the vague chances of gaining renown and fortune. Old
Marlowe, so marred and imperfect in his physical powers, had submitted
to her shrewd, ignorant authority, and earned his living and hers by
working on his little farm and going out occasionally as a carpenter.
But when she was gone, and his little girl's eyes only were watching him
at his work, and the child's soul delighted in all the beautiful forms
his busy hands could fashion, he gave up his out-door toil, and, with
all the pent-up ardor of the lost years, he threw himself absorbingly
into the pleasant occupation of the present. Though he mourned
faithfully for his wife, the woman who had given to him Phebe, he felt
happier and freer without her.

Phebe's girlhood also had been both free and happy. All the seasons had
been sweet to her: dear to her was "the summer, clothing the general
earth with greenness," and the winter, when "the redbreast sits and
sings be-twixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch of the mossy
apple-tree." She had listened to "the eave-drops falling in the trances
of the blast," and seen them "hang in silent icicles, quietly shining to
the quiet moon." There had been no change in nature unnoticed or
unbeloved by her. The unbroken silence reigning around her, heightened
by the mute speech between herself and her father, which needed eyes
only, not lips, had grown so familiar as to be almost dear to her, in
spite of her strong delight in fellowship with others. The artistic
temperament she had inherited from her father, which very early took
vivid pleasure in expressing itself in color as well as in form, had
furnished her with an occupation of which she could never tire. As long
as there was light in the sky, long after the sun had gone down, in the
lingering twilight, loath to forsake the uplands, she was at her canvas
catching the soft gray tones, and dim-colored tints, and clearer masses
of foliage, which only the evening could show.

To supply her need of general companionship there had been so full and
satisfying a sense of friendship between herself and the household at
the Old Bank at Riversborough that one day spent with them gave her
thought for a month. Every word uttered by Roland and Felicita was
treasured up in her memory and turned over in her mind for days after.
Madame's simple and cheerful nature made her almost like a mother to the
simple and cheerful country girl; and Felix and Hilda had been objects
of the deepest interest to her from the days of their birth. But it was
Roland, who had known her best and longest, to whom she owed the
direction and cultivation of her tastes and intellect, who had been
almost like a god to her in her childhood; it was he who dominated over
her simple heart the most. He was to Phebe so perfect that she had never
imagined that there could be a fault in him.

There is one token to us that we are meant for a higher and happier life
than this, in the fact that sorrow and sin always come upon us as a
surprise. Happy days do not astonish us, and the goodness of our beloved
ones awakens no amazement. But if a sorrow comes we cry aloud to let our
neighbors know something untoward has befallen us; and if one we love
has sinned, we feel as if the heavens themselves were darkened.

It was so with Phebe Marlowe. All her earthly luminaries, the greater
lights and the lesser lights, were under an eclipse, and a strange
darkness had fallen upon her. For the first time in her life she found
herself brooding over the sin of one who had been her guide, her
dearest friend, her hero. From the time when as a child she had learned
to look up to him as the paragon of all perfection, until now, as a girl
on the verge of womanhood, she had offered up to him a very pure and
maidenly worship. There was no one else whom she could love as much; for
her dumb and deaf father she loved in quite a different manner--with
more of pity and compassion than of admiration. Roland too had sometimes
talked with her, especially while she was a child, about God and Christ;
and she had regarded him as a spiritual director. Now her guide was lost
in the dense darkness. There was no sure example for her to follow.

She had told her father he would never see her smile again if Roland
Sefton was taken to jail. There had been, of course, an implied promise
in this, but the promise was broken. Old Marlowe looked in vain for the
sweet and merry smiles that had been used to play upon her face. She was
too young and too unversed in human nature to know how jealously her
father would watch her, with inward curses on him who had wrought the
change. When he saw her stand for an hour or more, listlessly gazing
with troubled, absent eyes across the wide-spreading moor, with its
broad sweep of deep-purpled bloom, and golden gorse, and rich green
fern, yet taking no notice, nor hastening to fix the gorgeous hues upon
her canvas while the summer lasted; and when he watched her in the long
dusk of the autumn evenings sit motionless in the chimney corner
opposite to him, her fingers lying idly on her lap instead of busily
prattling some merry nonsense to him, and with a sad preoccupation in
her girlish face; then he felt that he had received his own death-blow,
and had no more to live for.

The loss of his hard-earned money had taken a deeper hold upon him than
a girl so young as Phebe could imagine. For what is money to a young
nature but the merest dross, compared with the love and faith it has
lavished upon some fellow-mortal? While she was mourning over the
shipwreck of all her best affections, old Marlowe was brooding over his
six hundred pounds. They represented so much to him, so many years of
toil and austere self-denial. He had risen early, and late taken rest,
and eaten the bread of carefulness. His grief was not all ignoble, for
it was for his girl he grieved most; his wonderful child, so much more
gifted than the children of other men, whom nature had treated more
kindly than himself, men who could hear and speak, but whose daughters
were only commonplace creatures. The money was hers, not his; and it was
too late now for him to make up the heavy loss. The blow which had
deprived him of the fruits of his labor seemed to have incapacitated him
for further work.

Moreover, Phebe was away oftener than usual: gone to the house of the
spoiler. Nor did she come home, as she had been wont to do, with radiant
eyes, and a soft, sweet smile coming and going, and many a pleasant
piece of news to tell off on her nimble fingers. She returned with
tear-stained eyelids and a downcast air, and was often altogether silent
as to the result of the day's absence.

He strove, notwithstanding a haunting dread of failure, to resume his
old occupation. Doggedly every morning he put on his brown paper cap,
and went off to his crowded little workshop, but with unequal footsteps,
quite unlike his former firm tread. But it would not do. He stood for
hours before his half-shaped blocks of oak, with birds and leaves and
heads partly traced upon them; but he found himself powerless to
complete his own designs. Between him and them stood the image of Phebe,
a poverty-stricken, work-worn woman, toiling with her hands, in all
weathers, upon their three or four barren fields, which were now the
only property left to him. It had been pleasant to him to see her milk
the cows, and help him to fetch in the sheep from the moors; but until
now he had been able to pay for the rougher work on the farmstead. His
neighbor, Samuel Nixey, had let his laborers do it for him, since he had
kept his own hands and time for his artistic pursuit. But he could
afford this no longer, and the thought of the next winter's work which
lay before him and Phebe harassed him terribly.

"Father," she said to him one evening, after she had been at
Riversborough, "they are all going away--Mrs. Sefton, and Madame, and
the children. They are going Scarborough, and after that to London,
never to come back. I shall not see them again."

"Thank God!" thought the dumb old man, and his eyes gleamed brightly
from under their thick gray eyebrows. But he did not utter the words, so
much less easy was it for his fingers to betray his thoughts than it
would have been for his lips. And Phebe did not guess them.

"Is there any news of him?" he asked.

"Not a word," she answered. "Mr. Clifford has almost given it up. He is
an unforgiving man, an awful man."

"No, no; he is a just man," said old Marlowe; "he wants nothing but his
own again, like me, and that a scoundrel should not get off scot free. I
want my money back; it's not money merely, but my years, and my brain,
and my love for thee, and my power to work: that's what he has robbed me
of. Let me have my money back, and I'll forgive him."

"Poor father!" said Phebe aloud, with a little sob. How easy it seemed
to her to forgive a wrong that could be definitely stated at six hundred
pounds! All her inward grief was that Roland had fallen--he himself. If
by a whole sacrifice of herself she could have reinstated him in the
place he had forfeited, she would not have hesitated for an instant. But
no sacrifice she could make would restore him.

"Does Mrs. Sefton know what he has done?" inquired her father.

She nodded only in reply.

"Does she believe him innocent?" he asked.

"No," answered Phebe.

"And Madame, his mother?" he pursued.

"No, no, no! she cannot believe him guilty," she replied; "she thinks he
could free himself, if he would only come home. She is far happier than
Mrs. Sefton or me. I would lay down my life to have him true and honest
and good again, as he used to be. I feel as if I was in a miserable
dream."

They were sitting together outside their cottage-door, with the level
rays of the setting sun shining across the uplands upon them, and the
fresh air of the evening breathing upon their faces. It was an hour they
both loved, but neither of them felt its beauty and tranquillity now.

"You love him next to me?" asked old Marlowe.

"Next to you, father," she repeated.

But the subtle jealousy in the father's heart whispered that his
daughter loved these grand friends of hers more than himself. What could
he be to her, deaf mute that he was? What could he do for her? All he
had done had been swept away by the wrong-doing of this fine gentleman,
for whom she was willing to lay down her life. He looked at her with
wistful eyes, longing to hold closer, swifter communication with her
than could be held by their slow finger-speech. How could he ever make
her know all the love and pride pent up in his voiceless heart? Phebe,
in her girlish, blind preoccupation, saw nothing of his eager, wistful
gaze, did not even notice the nervous trembling of his stammering
fingers; and the old man felt thrown back upon himself, in more utter
loneliness of spirit than his life had ever experienced before. Yet he
was not so old a man, for he was little over sixty, but his hard life
of incessant toil and his isolation from his fellow-creatures had aged
him. This bitter calamity added many years to his actual age, and he
began to realize that his right hand was forgetting its cunning, his eye
for beauty was growing dim, and his craft failing him. The long, light
summer days kept him for a while from utter hopelessness. But as the
autumn winds began to moan and mutter round the house he told himself
that his work was done, and that soon Phebe would be a friendless and
penniless orphan.

"I ought not to have let Roland Sefton go," he thought to himself; "if
I'd done my duty he would have been paying for his sin now, and maybe
there would have been some redress for us that lost by him. None of his
people will come to poverty like my Phebe. I could have held up my head
if I had not helped him to escape from punishment."



CHAPTER XII.

RECKLESS OF LIFE.


If old Marlowe, or Mr. Clifford himself, could have followed Roland
Sefton during his homeless wanderings, their rigorous sense of justice
would have been satisfied that he was not escaping punishment, though he
might elude the arbitrary penalty of the law.

As the summer advanced, and the throng of yearly tourists poured into
the playground of Europe from every country, but especially from
England, he was driven away from all the towns and villages where he
might by chance be recognized by some fellow-countryman. Up into the
mountain pastures he retreated, where he rambled from one chalet to
another, sleeping on beds of fodder, with its keen night air piercing
through the apertures of the roof and walls, yet bringing with it those
intolerable stenches which exhale from the manure and mire lying
ankle-deep round each picturesque little hut. The yelping of the
watch-dogs; the snoring of the tired herdsmen lying within arm's length
of him; the shrill tinkling of cow-bells, musical enough by day and in
the distance, but driving sleep away too harshly; the sickness and
depression produced by unwholesome food, and the utter compulsory
abandonment of all his fastidious and dainty personal habits, made his
mere bodily life intolerable to him. He had borne something like these
discomforts and privations for a day or two at a time, when engaged in
Alpine climbing, but that he should be forced to live a life compared
with which that of an Irish bog-trotter was decent and civilized, was a
daily torment to him.

It is true that during the long hours of daylight he wandered among the
most sublime scenery. Sometimes he scaled solitary peaks and looked down
upon far-stretching landscapes below him, with broad dead rivers of
glaciers winding between the high and terrible masses of snow-clad
rocks, and creeping down into peaceful valleys, where little living
streams of silvery gray wandered among chalets looking no larger than
the rocks strewn around them, with a tiny church in their midst lifting
up its spire of glittering metal with a kind of childish confidence and
exultation. Here and there in deep sunken hollows lay small tarns, black
as night, and guilty looking, with precipices overhanging them fringed
with pointed pine-trees, which sought in vain to mirror themselves in
those pitch-dark waters. And above them all, gazing down in silent
greatness, rose the snow-mountains, very cold, whiter than any other
whiteness on earth, pure and stainless, and apparently as unapproachable
in their far-off loveliness as the deep blue of the pure sky behind
them.

But there was something unutterably awful to Roland Sefton in this
sublimity. A bad man, whose ear has never heard the voice of Nature, and
whose eye is blind to her ineffable beauty, may dwell in such places and
not be crushed by them. The dull herdsmen, thinking only of their cattle
and of the milking to be done twice a day, might live their own stupid,
commonplace lives there. The chance visitor who spent a few hours in
scaling difficult cliffs would perhaps catch a brief and fleeting sense
of their awfulness, only too quickly dissipated by the unwonted toil and
peril of his situation. But Roland Sefton felt himself exiled to their
ice-bound solitudes, cut off from all companionship, and attended only
by an accusing conscience.

Morning after morning, when his short and feverish night was ended, he
went out in the early dawn while all the valleys below were still
slumbering in darkness, self-driven into the wilderness of rock and snow
rising above the wretched chalets. With coarse food sufficient for the
wants of the day he strayed wherever his aimless footsteps led him. It
was seldom that he stayed more than a night or two in the same
herdsman's hut. When he was well out of the track of tourists he
ventured down into the lower villages now and then, seeking a few days
of comparative comfort. But some rumor, or the arrival of some chance
traveller more enterprising and investigating than the mass, always
drove him away again. There was no peace for him, either in the high
Alps or the most secluded valleys.

How could there be peace while memory and conscience were gnawing at his
heart? In a dreary round his thoughts went back to the first beginnings
of the road that had led him hither; with that vague feeling which all
of us have when retracing the irrevocable past, as if by some mighty
effort of our will we could place ourselves at the starting-point again
and run our race--oh, how differently!

Roland could almost fix the date when he had first wished that Mr.
Clifford's bonds, bequeathed to him, were already his own. He
recollected the very day when old Marlowe had asked him to invest his
money for him in some safe manner for Phebe's benefit, and how he had
persuaded himself that nothing could be safer than to use it for his own
purposes, and to pay a higher interest than the old man could get
elsewhere. What he had done for him had been still easier to do for
other clients--ignorant men and women who knew nothing of business, and
left it all to him, gratefully pleased with the good interest he paid
them. The web had been woven with almost invisible threads at the first,
but the finest thread among them was a heavy cable now.

But the one thought that haunted him, never leaving him for an instant
in these terrible solitudes, was the thought of Felicita. His mother he
could forget sometimes, or remember her with a dewy tenderness at his
heart, as if he could feel her pitiful love clinging to him still; and
his children he dreamed of at times in a day-dream, as playing merrily
without him, in the blissful ignorance of childhood. But Felicita, who
did not love him as his mother did, and could not remain in ignorance of
his crime! Was she not something like these pure, distant snowy
pinnacles, inapproachable and repellent, with icy-cold breath which
petrified all lips that drew too near to them? And he had set a stain
upon that purity as white as the driven snow. The name he had given to
her was tarnished, and would be publicly dishonored if he failed in
evading the penalty he merited. His death alone could save her from
notorious and intolerable disgrace.

But though he was reckless of his life, he could not bring himself to be
guilty of suicide. Death was wooing him in many forms, day by day, to
seek refuge with him. When his feet slipped among the yawning crevasses
of the glaciers, the smallest wilful negligence would have buried him in
their blue depths. The common impulse to cast himself down the
precipices along whose margin he crept had only to be yielded to, and
all his earthly woe would be over. Even to give way to the weary
drowsiness that overtook him at times as the sun went down, and the
night fell upon him far away from shelter, might have soothed him into
the slumber from which there is no awaking. But he dared not. He was
willing enough to die, if dying had been all. But he believed in the
punishment of sin here, or hereafter; in the dealing out of a righteous
judgment to every man, whether he be good or evil.

As the autumn passed by, and the mountain chalets were shut up, the
cattle and the herdsmen descending to the lower pastures, Roland Sefton
was compelled to descend too. There was little chance of encountering
any one who knew him at this late season; yet there were still
stragglers lingering among the Alps. But when he saw himself again in a
looking-glass, his face burned and blistered with the sun, and now
almost past recognition, and his ragged hair and beard serving him
better than any disguise, he was no longer afraid of being detected. He
began to wonder in mingled hope and dread whether Felicita would come
out to seek him. The message he had sent to her by Phebe could be
interpreted by her alone. Would she avail herself of it to find him out?
Or would she shrink from the toil and pain and danger of quitting
England? A few weeks more would answer the question.

Sometimes he was overwhelmed with terror lest she should be watched, and
her movements tracked, and that behind her would come the pursuers he
had so successfully evaded. At other times an unutterable heart-sickness
possessed him to see her once more, to hear her voice, to press his
lips, if he dared, to her pale cheeks; to discover whether she would
suffer him to hold her in his arms for one moment only. He longed to
hear from her lips what had happened at home since he fled from it six
months ago; what she had done, and was going to do, supposing that he
were not arrested and brought to justice. Would she forgive him? would
she listen to his pleas and explanations? He feared that she would hate
him for the shame he had brought upon her. Yet there was a possibility
that she might pity him, with a pity so much akin to love as that with
which the angels look down upon sinful human beings.

Every day brought the solution of his doubts nearer. The rains of autumn
had begun, and fell in torrents, driving him to any shelter he could
find, to brood there hour after hour upon these hopes and fears. The fog
and thick clouds hid the mountains, and all the valleys lay forlorn and
cold under clinging veils of mist, through which the few brown leaves
left upon the trees hung limp and dying on the bare branches. The
villagers were settling down to their winter life; and though along the
frequented routes a few travellers were still passing to and fro, the
less known were deserted. It was safe now to go down to Engelberg,
where, if ever again except as a prisoner in the hands of justice, he
would see Felicita.

Impatient to anticipate the day on which he might again see her, he
reached Engelberg a week before the appointed time. The green meadows
and the forests of the little valley were hidden in mist and rain, and
the towering dome of the Titlis was folded from sight in dense clouds,
with only a cold gleam now and then as its snowy summit glanced through
them for a minute. The innumerable waterfalls were swollen, and fell
with a restless roar through the black depths of the forests. The
daylight was short, for the sun rose late behind the encircling
mountains, and hastened to sink again below them. But the place where he
had first met Felicita was dear to him, though dark and gloomy with the
cloudy days. He hastened to the church where his eyes had fallen upon
the young, silent, absorbed girl so many years ago; and here, where the
sun was shining fitfully for a brief half hour, he paced up and down the
aisles, wondering what the coming interview would bring. Day after day
he lingered there, with the loud chanting of the monks ringing in his
ears, until the evening came when he said to himself, "To-morrow I shall
see her once more."



CHAPTER XIII.

SUSPENSE.


Roland Sefton did not sleep that night. As the time drew near for
Felicita to act upon his message to her, he grew more desponding of her
response to it; yet he could not give up the feeble hope still
flickering in his heart. If she did not come he would be a hopeless
outcast indeed; yet if she came, what succor could she bring to him? He
had not once cherished the idea that Mr. Clifford would forbear to
prosecute him; yet he knew well that if he could be propitiated, the
other men and women who had claims upon him would be easily satisfied
and appeased. But how many things might have happened during the long
six months, which had seemed almost an eternity to him. It was not
impossible that Mr. Clifford might be dead. If so, and if a path was
thus open to him to re-enter life, how different should his career be in
the future! How warily would he walk; with what earnest penitence and
thorough uprightness would he order all his ways! He would be what he
had only seemed to be hitherto: a man following Christ, as his
forefathers had done.

He was staying at a quiet inn in the village, and as soon as daybreak
came he started down the road along which Felicita must come, and waited
at the entrance of the valley, four miles from the little village. The
road was bad, for the heavy rains had washed much of it away, and it had
been roughly repaired by fir-trees laid along the broken edges; but it
was not impassable, and a one-horse carriage could run along it safely.
The rain had passed away, and the sun was shining. The high mountains
and the great rocks were clear from base to summit. If she came to-day
there was a splendid scene prepared for her eyes. Hour after hour passed
by, the short autumnal day faded into the dusk, and the dusk slowly
deepened into the blackness of night. Still he waited, late on into the
night, till the monastery bells chimed for the last time; but there was
no sign of her coming.

The next day passed as that had done. Felicita, then, had deserted him!
He felt so sure of Phebe that he never doubted that she had not received
his message. He had left only one thread of communication between
himself and home--a slender thread--and Felicita had broken it. There
was now no hope for him, no chance of learning what had befallen all his
dear ones, unless he ran the risk of discovery, and ventured back to
England.

But for Felicita and his children, he said to himself, it would be
better to go back, and pay the utmost penalty he owed to the broken laws
of his country. No hardships could be greater than those he had already
endured; no separation from companionship could be more complete. The
hard labor he would be doomed to perform would be a relief. His
conscience might smite him less sharply and less ceaselessly if he was
suffering the due punishment for his sin, in the society of his
fellow-criminals. Dartmoor Prison would be better for him than his
miserable and degrading freedom.

Still, as long as he could elude publicity and preserve his name from
notoriety, the burden would not fall upon Felicita and his children. His
mother would not shrink from bearing her share of any burden of his. But
he must keep out of the dock, lest their father and husband should be
branded as a convict.

A dreary round his thoughts ran. But ever in the centre of the circling
thoughts lay the conviction that he had lost his wife and children
forever. Whether he dragged out a wretched life in concealment, or was
discovered, or gave himself up to justice, Felicita was lost to him.
There were some women--Phebe Marlowe was one--who could have lived
through the shame of his conviction and the dreary term of his
imprisonment, praying to God for her husband, and pitying him with a
kind of heavenly grace, and at the end of the time met him at the prison
door, and gone out with him, tenderly and faithfully, to begin a new
life in another country. But Felicita was not one of these women. He
could never think of her as pardoning a transgression like his, though
committed for her sake. Even now she would not stoop so low as to seek a
meeting with one who deserved a penal punishment.

Night had set in, and he was trudging along the road, still heavy with
recent rains, though the sky above was hung with glittering stars, and
the crystal snow on Titlis shone against the deep blue depths, casting a
wan light over the valley. Suddenly upon the stillness there came the
sound of several voices, and a shrill yodel, pitched in a key that rang
through the village, to call attention to the approaching party. It was
in advance of him, nearer to Engelberg; yet though he had been watching
the route from Stans all day, and was satisfied that Felicita could not
have entered the valley unseen by himself, the hope flashed through him
that she was before him, belated by the state of the roads. He hurried
on, seeing before him a small group of men carrying lanterns. But in
their midst they bore a rude litter, made of a gate taken hastily off
the hinges. They passed out of sight behind a house as he caught sight
of the litter, and for a minute or two he could not follow them, from
the mere shock of dread lest the litter held her. Then he hurried on,
and reached the hotel door as the procession marched into the hall and
laid their burden cautiously down.

"An accident?" said the landlord.

"Yes," answered one of the peasants; "we found him under Pfaffenwand. He
must have been coming from Engstlensee Alp; how much farther the good
God alone knows. The paths are slippery this wet weather, and he had no
guide, or there was no guide to be seen."

"That must be searched into," said the landlord; "is he dead?"

"No, no," replied two or three together.

"He has spoken twice," continued the peasant who had answered before,
"and groaned much. But none of us knew what he said. He is dying, poor
fellow!"

"English?" asked the landlord, looking down on the scarred face and
eager eyes of the stranger, who lay silent on the litter, glancing round
uneasily at the faces about him.

"Some of us would have known French, or German, or Italian," was the
reply, "but not one of us knows English."

"Nor I," said the landlord; "and our English speaker went away last
week, over the St. Gothard to Italy for the winter. Send round, Marie,"
he went on, speaking to his wife, "and find out any one in Engelberg who
knows English. See! The poor fellow is trying to say something now."

"I can speak English," said Roland, pushing his way in amid the crowd
and kneeling down beside the litter, on which a rough bed of fir
pine-branches had been made. The unknown face beneath his eyes was drawn
with pain, and the gaze that met his was one of earnest entreaty.

"I am dying," he murmured; "don't let them torture me. Only let me be
laid on a bed to die in peace."

"I will take care of you," said Roland in his pleasant and soothing
voice, speaking as tenderly as if he had been saying "God bless you!" to
Felix in his little cot; "trust yourself to me. They shall do for you
only what I think best."

The stranger closed his eyes with an expression of relief, and Roland,
taking up one corner of the litter, helped to carry it gently into the
nearest bedroom. He was gifted with something of a woman's softness of
touch, and with a woman's delicate sympathy with pain; and presently,
though not without some moans and cries, the injured man was resting
peacefully on a bed: not unconscious, but looking keenly from face to
face on the people surrounding him.

"Are you English?" he asked, looking at Roland's blistered face and his
worn peasant's dress.

"Yes," he answered.

"Is there any surgeon here?" he inquired.

"No English surgeon," replied Roland. "I do not know if there is one
even at Lucerne, and none could come to you for many hours. But there
must be some one at the monastery close by, if not in the village--"

"No, no!" he interrupted, "I shall not live many hours; but promise
me--I am quite helpless as you see--promise me that you will not let any
village doctor pull me about."

"They are sometimes very skilful," urged Roland, "and you do not know
that you must really die."

"I knew it as I was slipping," he answered; "at the first moment I knew
it, though I clutched at the very stones to keep me from falling. Why! I
was dead when they found me; only the pain of being pulled about brought
me back to life. I'm not afraid to die if they will let me die in
peace."

"I will promise not to leave you," replied Roland; "and if you must die,
it shall be in peace."

That he must die, and was actually dying, was affirmed by all about him.
One of the brothers from the monastery, skilled in surgery, came in
unrecognized as a doctor by the stranger, and shook his head hopelessly
when he saw him, telling Roland to let him do whatever he pleased so
long as he lived, and to learn all he could from him during the hours of
the coming night. There was no hope, he said; and if he had not been
found by the peasants he would have been dead now. Roland must ask if
he was a good Catholic or a heretic. When the monk heard that he was a
heretic and needed none of the consolations of the Church, he bade him
farewell kindly, and went his way.

Roland Sefton sat beside the dying man all the night, while he lingered
from hour to hour: free from pain at times, at others restless and
racked with agony. He wandered a little in delirium, and when his brain
was clear he had not much to say.

"Have you no message to send to your friends?" inquired Roland, in one
of these lucid intervals.

"I have no friends," he answered, "and no money. It makes death easier."

"There must be some one who would care to hear of you," said Roland.

"They'll see it in the papers," he replied. "No, I come from India, and
was going to England. I have no near relations, and there is no one to
care much. 'Poor Austin,' they'll say; 'he wasn't a bad fellow.' That's
all. You've been kinder to me than anybody I know. There's about fifty
pounds in my pocket-book. Bury me decently and take the rest."

He dozed a little, or was unconscious for a few minutes. His sunburnt
face, lying on the white pillow, still looked full of health and the
promise of life, except when it was contracted with pain. There was no
weakness in his voice or dimness in his eye. It seemed impossible to
believe that this strong young man was dying.

"I lost my valise when I fell," he said, opening his eyes again and
speaking in a tranquil tone; "but there was nothing of value in it. My
money and my papers are in my pocket-book. Let me see you take
possession of it."

He watched Roland search for the book in the torn coat on the chair
beside him, and his eyes followed its transfer to his breast-pocket
under his blue blouse.

"You are an English gentleman, though you look a Swiss peasant," he
said; "you are poor, perhaps, and my money will be of use to you. It is
the only return I can make to you. I should like you to write down that
I give it to you, and let me sign the paper."

"Presently," said Roland; "you must not exert yourself. I shall find
your name and address here?"

"I have no address; of course I have a name," he answered; "but never
mind that now. Tell me, what do you think of Christ? Does He indeed save
sinners?"

"Yes," said Roland reluctantly; "He says, 'I came to seek and to save
that which was lost.' Those are His own words."

"Kneel down quickly," murmured the dying man. "Say 'Our Father!' so that
I can hear every word. My mother used to teach it to me."

"And she is dead?" said Roland.

"Years ago," he gasped.

Roland knelt down. How familiar, with what a touch of bygone days, the
attitude came to him; how homely the words sounded! He had uttered them
innumerable times; never quite without a feeling of their sacredness and
sweetness. But he had not dared to take them into his lips of late. His
voice faltered, though he strove to keep it steady and distinct, to
reach the dying ears that listened to him. The prayer brought to him the
picture of his children kneeling, morning and evening, with the
self-same petitions. They had said them only a few hours ago, and would
say them again a few hours hence. Even the dying man felt there was
something more than mere emotion for him expressed in the tremulous
tones of Roland Sefton's voice. He held out his hand to him when he had
finished, and grasped his warmly.

"God bless you!" he said. But he was weary, and his strength was failing
him. He slumbered again fitfully, and his mind wandered. Now and then
during the rest of the night he looked up with a faint smile, and his
lips moved inarticulately. He thought he had spoken, but no sound
disturbed the unbroken silence.



CHAPTER XIV.

ON THE ALTAR STEPS.


It was as the bells of the Abbey rang for matins that the stranger died.
For a few minutes Roland remained beside him, and then he called in the
women to attend to the dead, and went out into the fresh morning air. It
was the third day that the mountains had been clear from fog and cloud,
and they stood out against the sky in perfect whiteness. The snow-line
had come lower down upon the slopes, and the beautiful crystals of frost
hung on the tapering boughs of the pine-trees in the forests about
Engelberg. Here and there a few villagers were going toward the church,
and almost unconsciously Roland followed slowly in their track.

The short service was over and the congregation was dispersing when he
crossed the well-worn door-sill. But a few women, especially the late
comers, were still scattered about praying mechanically, with their eyes
wandering around them. The High Altar was deserted, but candles burning
on it made a light in the dim place, and he listlessly sauntered up the
centre aisle. A woman was kneeling on the steps leading up to it, and as
the echo of his footsteps resounded in the quiet church she rose and
looked round. It was Felicita! At that moment he was not thinking of
her; yet there was no doubt or surprise in the first moment of
recognition. The uncontrollable rapture of seeing her again arrested his
steps, and he stood looking at her, with a few paces between them. It
was plain that she did not know him.

How could she know him, he thought bitterly, in the rough blue blouse
and coarse clothing and heavy hobnail boots of a Swiss peasant? His hair
was shaggy and uncut, and the skin of his face was so peeled and
blistered and scorched that his disguise was sufficient to conceal him
even from his wife. Yet as he stood there with downcast head, as a
devout peasant might have done before the altar, he saw Felicita make a
slight but imperious sign to him to advance. She did not take a step
toward him, but leaning against the altar rails she waited till he was
near to her, within hearing. There Roland paused.

"Felicita," he said, not daring to draw closer to her.

"I am here," she answered, not looking toward him; her large, dark,
mournful eyes lifted up to the cross above the altar, before which a
lamp was burning, whose light was reflected in her unshed tears.

Neither of them spoke again for a while. It seemed as if there could be
nothing said, so great was the anguish of them both. The man who had
just died had passed away tranquilly, but they were drinking of a cup
more bitter than death. Yet the few persons lingering over their morning
devotions before the shrines in the side aisles saw nothing but a
stranger looking at the painting over the altar, and a peasant kneeling
on the lowest step deep in prayer.

"I come from watching a fellow-man die," he said at last; "would to God
it had been myself!"

"Yes!" sighed Felicita, "that would have been best for us all."

"You wish me dead!" he exclaimed, in a tone of anguish.

"For the children's sake," she murmured, still looking away from him;
"yes! and for the sake of our name, your father's name, and mine. I
thought to bring honor to it, and you have brought flagrant dishonor to
it."

"That can never be wiped away," he added.

"Never!" she repeated.

As if exhausted by these passionate words, they fell again into silence.
The murmur of whispered prayers was about them, and the faint scent of
incense floated under the arched roof. A gleam of morning light, growing
stronger, though the sun was still far below the eastern mountains,
glittered through a painted window, and threw a glow of color upon them.
Roland saw her standing in its many-tinted brightness, but her wan and
sorrowful face was not turned to look at him. He had not caught a
glance from her yet. How vividly he remembered the first moment his eyes
had ever beheld her, standing as she did now on these very altar steps,
with uplifted eyes and a sweet seriousness on her young face! It was
only a poor village church, but it was the most sacred spot in the whole
world to him; for there he had met Felicita and received her image into
his inmost heart. His ambition as well as his love had centred in her,
the penniless daughter of the late Lord Riversford, an orphan, and
dependent upon her father's brother and successor. But to Roland his
wife Felicita was immeasurably dearer than the girl Felicita Riversford
had been. All the happy days since he had won her, all the satisfied
desires, all his successes were centred in her and represented by her.
All his crime too.

"I have loved you," he cried, "better than the whole world."

There was no answer by word or look to his passionate words.

"I have loved you," he said, more sadly, "better than God."

"But you have brought me to shame!" she answered; "if I am tracked
here--and who can tell that I am not?--and if you are taken and tried
and convicted, I shall be the wife of the fraudulent banker and
condemned felon, Roland Sefton. And Felix and Hilda will be his
children."

"It is true," he groaned; "I could not escape conviction."

He buried his face in his hands, and rested them on the altar-rails. Now
his bowed-down head was immediately beneath her eyes, and she looked
down upon it with a mournful gaze; it could not have been more mournful
if she had been contemplating his dead face lying at rest in his coffin.
How was all this shame and misery for him and her to end?

"Felicita," he said, lifting up his head, and meeting the sorrowful
farewell expression in her face, "if I could die it would be best for
the children and you."

"Yes," she answered, in the sweet, too dearly loved voice he had
listened to in happy days.

"I dare not open that door of escape for myself," he went on, "and God
does not send death to me. But I see a way, a possible way. I only see
it this moment; but whether it be for good or evil I cannot tell."

"Will it save us?" she asked eagerly.

"All of us," he replied. "This stranger, whose corpse I have just
left--nobody knows him, and he has no friends to trouble about
him--shall I give to him my name, and bury him as myself? Then I shall
be dead to all the world, Felicita; dead even to you; but you will be
saved. I too shall be safe in the grave, for death covers all sins. Even
old Clifford will be satisfied by my death."

"Could it be done?" she asked breathlessly.

"Yes," he said; "if you consent it shall be done. For my own sake I
would rather go back to England and deliver myself up to the law I have
broken. But you shall decide, my darling. If I return you will be known
as the wife of the convict Sefton. Say: shall I be henceforth dead
forever to you and my mother and the children? Shall it be a living
death for me, and deliverance and safety and honor for you all? You must
choose between my infamy or my death."

"It must be," she answered, slowly yet without hesitation, looking away
from him to the cross above the altar, "your death."

A shudder ran through her slight frame as she spoke, and thrilled
through him as he listened. It seemed to them both as if they stood
beside an open grave, on either side one, and parted thus. He stretched
out his hand to her, and laid it on her dress, as if appealing for
mercy; but she did not turn to him, or look upon him, or open her white
lips to utter another word. Then there came more stir and noise in the
church, footsteps sounded upon the pavement, and an inquisitive face
peeped out of the vestry near the altar where they stood. It was no
longer prudent to remain as they were, subject to curiosity and
scrutiny. Roland rose from his knees, and without glancing again toward
her, he spoke in a low voice of unutterable grief and supplication.

"Let me see you and speak to you once more," he said.

"Once more," she repeated.

"This evening," he continued, "at your hotel."

"Yes," she answered. "I am travelling under Phebe Marlowe's name. Ask
for Mrs. Marlowe."

She turned away and walked slowly and feebly down the aisle; and he
watched her, as he had watched the light tread of the young girl eleven
years ago, passing through alternate sunshine and shadow. There was no
sunshine now. Was it possible that so long a time had passed since then?
Could it be true that for ten years she had been his wife, and that the
tie between them was forever dissolved? From this day he was to be dead
to her and to all the world. He was about to pass voluntarily into a
condition of death amid life, as utterly bereft of all that had once
been his as if the grave had closed over him. Roland Sefton was to exist
no more.



CHAPTER XV.

A SECOND FRAUD.


Roland Sefton went back to the room in which the corpse of the stranger
was now lying. The women were gone, and he turned down the sheet to look
at the face of the man who was about to bear his name and the disgrace
of his crime into the safe asylum of the grave. It was perfectly calm,
with no trace of the night's suffering upon it; there was even a faint
vestige of a smile about the mouth, as of one who sleeps well, and has
pleasant dreams. He was apparently about Roland's own age, and a
description given by strangers would not be such as would lead to any
suspicion that there could have been a mistake as to identity. Roland
looked long upon it before covering it up again, and then he sat down
beside the bed and opened the pocket-book.

There were notes in it worth fifty pounds, but not many papers. There
was a memorandum made here and there of the places he had visited, and
the last entry was dated the day before at Engstlenalp. Roland knew
every step of the road, and for a while he seemed to himself to be this
traveller, starting from the little inn, not yet vacated by its peasant
landlord, but soon to be left to icy solitude, and taking the narrow
path along the Engstlensee, toiling up the Joch pass under the mighty
Wendenstöcke and the snowy Titlis, clear of clouds from base to summit
yesterday. The traveller must have had a guide with him, some peasant or
herdsman probably, as far as the Trübsee Alp; for even in summer the
route was difficult to find. The guide had put him on to the path for
Engelberg, and left him to make his way along the precipitous slopes of
the Pfaffenwand. All this would be discovered when an official inquiry
was made into the accident. In the mean time it was necessary to invest
this stranger with his own identity.

There were two or three well-worn letters in the pocket-book, but they
contained nothing of importance. It seemed true, what the dying man had
said, that there was no link of kinship or friendship binding him
specially to his fellow-men. Roland opened his own pocket-book, and
looked over a letter or two which he had carried about with him, one of
them a childish note from Felix, preferring some simple request. His
passport was there also, and his mother's portrait and those of the
children, over which his eyes brooded with a hungry sorrow in his heart.
He looked at them for the last time. But Felicita's portrait he could
not bring himself to give up. She would be dead to him, and he to her.
In England she would live among her friends as his widow, pitied, and
comforted, and beloved. But what would the coming years bring to him?
All that would remain to him of the past would be a fading photograph
only.

So long he lingered over this mournful conflict that he was at last
aroused from it by the entrance of the landlord, and the mayor and other
officials, who had come to look at the body of the dead. Roland's
pocket-book lay open on the bed, and he was still gazing at the
portraits of his children. He raised his sunburnt face as they came in,
and rose to meet them.

"This traveller," he said, "gave to me his pocket-book as I watched
beside him last night. It is here, containing his passport, a few
letters, and fifty pounds in notes, which he told me to keep, but which
I wish to give to the commune."

"They must be taken charge of," said the mayor; "but we will look over
them first. Did he tell you who he was?"

"The passport discloses that," answered Roland; "he desired only a
decent funeral."

"Ah!" said the mayor, taking out the passport, "an English traveller;
name Roland Sefton; and these letters, and these portraits--they will be
enough for identification."

"He said he had no friends or family in England," pursued Roland, "and
there is no address among his letters. He told me he came from India."

"Then there need be no delay about the interment," remarked the mayor,
"if he had no family in England, and was just come from India. Bah! we
could not keep him till any friends came from India. It is enough. We
must make an inquiry; but the corpse cannot be kept above ground. The
interment may take place as soon as you please, Monsieur."

"I suppose you will wish for some trifle as payment?" said the landlord,
addressing Roland.

"No," he answered, "I only watched by him through the night; and I am
but a passing traveller like himself."

"You will assist at the funeral?" he asked.

"If it can be to-morrow," replied Roland; "if not I must go on to
Lucerne. But I shall come back to Engelberg. If it be necessary for me
to stay, and the commune will pay my expenses, I will stay."

"Not necessary at all," said the mayor; "the accident is too simple, and
he has no friends. Why should the commune lose by him?"

"There are the fifty pounds," suggested Roland.

"And there are the expenses!" said the mayor. "No, no. It is not
necessary for you to stay; not at all. If you are coming back again to
Engelberg it will be all right. You say you are coming back?"

"I am sure to come back to Engelberg," he answered, with gloomy
emphasis.

For already Roland began to feel that he, himself, was dead, and a new
life, utterly different from the old, was beginning for him. And this
new life, beginning here, would often draw him back to its birth-place.
There would be an attraction for him here, even in the humble grave
where men thought they had buried Roland Sefton. It would be the only
link with his former life, and it would draw him to it irresistibly.

"And what is your name and employment, my good fellow?" asked the mayor.

"Jean Merle," he answered promptly. "I am a wood-carver."

The deed he had only thought of an hour ago was accomplished, and there
could be no undoing it. This passport and these papers would be
forwarded to the embassy at Berne, where doubtless his name was already
known as a fugitive criminal. He could not reclaim them, for with them
he took up again the burden of his sin. He had condemned himself to a
penalty and sacrifice the most complete that man could think of, or put
into execution. Roland Sefton was dead, and his wife and children were
set free from the degradation he had brought upon them.

He spent the remaining hours of the day in wandering about the forests
in the Alpine valley. The autumn fogs and the dense rain-clouds were
gathering again. But it was nothing to him that the snowy crests of the
surrounding mountains were once more shrouded from view, or that the
torrents and waterfalls which he could not see were thundering and
roaring along their rocky channels with a vast effluence of waters. He
saw and heard no more than the dead man who bore his name. He was
insensible to hunger or fatigue. Except for Felicita's presence in the
village behind him he would have felt himself in another world; in a
beamless and lifeless abyss, where there was no creature like unto
himself; only eternal gloom and solitude.

It was quite dark before he passed again through the village on his way
to Felicita's hotel. The common light of lamps, and the every-day life
of ordinary men and women busy over their evening meal, astonished him,
as if he had come from another state of existence. He lingered awhile,
looking on as at some extraordinary spectacle. Then he went on to the
hotel standing a little out of and above the village.

The place, so crowded in the summer, was quiet enough now. A bright
light, however, streamed through the window of the salon, which was
uncurtained. He stopped and looked in at Felicita, who was sitting alone
by the log fire, with her white forehead resting on her small hand,
which partly hid her face. How often had he seen her sitting thus by the
fireside at home! But though he stood without in the dark and cold for
many minutes, she did not stir; neither hand nor foot moved. At last he
grew terrified at this utter immobility, and stepping through the hall
he told the landlady that the English lady had business with him. He
opened the door, and then Felicita looked up.



CHAPTER XVI.

PARTING WORDS.


Roland advanced a few paces into the gaudy salon, with its mirrors
reflecting his and Felicita's figures over and over again, and stood
still, at a little distance from her, with his rough cap in his hand. He
looked like one of the herdsmen with whom he had been living during the
summer. There was no one else in the large room, but the night was
peering in through half a dozen great uncurtained windows, which might
hold many spectators watching them, as he had watched her a minute ago.
She scarcely moved, but the deadly pallor of her face and the dark
shining of her tearless eyes fixed upon him made him tremble as if he
had been a woman weaker than herself.

"It is done," he said.

"Yes," she answered, "I have been to see him."

There was an accent in her voice, of terror and repugnance, as of one
who had witnessed some horrifying sight and was compelled to bear a
reluctant testimony to it. Roland himself felt a shock of antipathy at
the thought of his wife seeing this unknown corpse bearing his name. He
seemed to see her standing beside the dead, and looking down with those
beloved eyes upon the strange face, which would dwell for evermore in
her memory as well as his. Why had she subjected herself to this
needless pang?

"You wished it?" he said. "You consented to my plan?"

"Yes," she answered in the same monotonous tone of reluctant testimony.

"And it was best so, Felicita," he said tenderly; "we have done the dead
man no wrong. Remember he was alone, and had no friends to grieve over
his strange absence. If it had been otherwise there would have been a
terrible sin in our act. But it has set you free; it saves you and my
mother and the children. As long as I lived you would have been in
peril; but now there is a clear, safe course laid open for you. You will
go home to England, where in a few months it will be forgotten that your
husband was suspected of crime. Only old Clifford, and Marlowe, and two
or three others will remember it. When you have the means, repay those
poor people the money I owe them. And take comfort, Felicita. It would
have done them no good if I had been taken and convicted; that would not
have restored their money. My name then will be clear of all but
suspicion, and you will make it a name for our children to inherit."

"And you?" she breathed with lips that scarcely moved.

"I?" he said. "Why, I shall be dead! A man's life is not simply the
breath he draws: it is his country, his honor, his home. You are my
life, Felicita: you and my mother and Felix and Hilda; the old home
where my forefathers dwelt; my townsmen's esteem and good-will; the work
I could do, and hoped to do. Losing those I lost my life. I began to
die when I first went wrong. The way seemed right in my own eyes, but
the end of it was death. I told old Marlowe his money was as safe as in
the Bank of England, when I was keeping it in my own hands; but I
believed it then. That was the first step; this is the last. Henceforth
I am dead."

"But how will you live?" she asked.

"Never fear; Jean Merle will earn his living," he answered. "Let us
think of your future, my darling. Nay, let me call you darling once
more. My death provides for you, for your marriage-settlement will come
into force. You will have to live differently, my Felicita; all the
splendor and the luxury I would have surrounded you with must be lost.
But there will be enough, and my mother will manage your household well
for you. Be kind to my poor mother, and comfort her. And do not let my
children grow up with hard thoughts of their father. It will be a
painful task to you."

"Yes," she said. "Oh, Roland, we ought not to have done this thing!"

"Yet you chose," he replied.

"Yes; and I should choose it again, though I hate the falsehood," she
exclaimed vehemently. "I cannot endure shame. But all our future life
will be founded on a lie."

"Let the blame be mine, not yours," he said; "it was my plan, and there
is no going back from it now. But tell me about home. How are my
children and my mother? They are still at home?"

"No," she answered; "the police watched it day and night, till it grew
hateful to me. I shall never enter it again. We went away to the
sea-side three months ago, and there our mother and the children are
still. But when I get back we shall remove to London."

"To London!" he repeated. "Will you never go home to Riversborough?"

"Never again!" she replied. "I could not live there now; it is a hateful
spot to me. Your mother grieves bitterly over leaving it; but even she
sees that we can never live there again."

"I shall not even know how to think of you all!" he cried. "You will be
living in some strange house, which I can never picture to myself. And
the old home will be empty."

"Mr. Clifford is living in it," she said.

He threw up his hands with a gesture of grief and vexation. Whenever his
thoughts flew to the old home, the only home he had ever known, it would
be only to remember that the man he most dreaded, he who was his most
implacable enemy, was dwelling in it. And when would he cease to think
of his own birth-place and the birth-place of his children, the home
where Felicita had lived? It would be impossible to blot the vivid
memory of it from his brain.

"I shall never see it again," he said; "but I should have felt less
banished from you if I could have thought of you as still at home. We
are about to part forever, Felicita--as fully as if I lay dead down
yonder, as men will think I do."

"Yes," she answered, with a mournful stillness.

"Even if we wished to hold any intercourse with each other," he
continued, gazing wistfully at her, "it would be dangerous to us both.
It is best for us both to be dead to one another."

"It is best," she assented; "only if you were ever in great straits, if
you could not earn your living, you might contrive to let me know."

"There is no fear of that," he answered bitterly. "Felicita, you never
loved me as I love you."

"No," she said, with the same inexpressible sadness, yet calmness, in
her voice and face; "how could I? I was a child when you married me; we
were both children. There is such a difference between us. I suppose I
should never love any one very much--not as you mean. It is not in my
nature. I can live alone, Roland. All of you, even the children, seem
very far away from me. But I grieve for you in my inmost soul. If I
could undo what you have done I would gladly lay down my life. If I
could only undo what we did this morning! The shadow of it is growing
darker and darker upon me. And yet it seemed so wise; it seems so still.
We shall be safe again, all of us, and we have done that dead man no
wrong."

"None," he said.

"But when I think of you," she went on, "how you, still living, will
long to know what is befalling us, how the children are growing up, and
how your mother is, and how I live, yet never be able to satisfy this
longing; how you will have to give us up, and never dare to make a sign;
how you will drag on your life from year to year, a poor man among poor,
ignorant, stupid men; how I may die, and you not know it, or you may
die, and I not know it; I wonder how we could have done what we did this
morning."

"Oh, hush, hush, Felicita!" he exclaimed; "I have said all this to
myself all this day, until I feel that my punishment is harder than I
can bear. Tell me, shall we undo it? Shall I go to the mayor and deliver
myself up as the man whose name I have given to the dead? It can be done
still; it is not too late. You shall decide again."

"No; I cannot accept disgrace," she answered passionately; "it is an
evil thing to do, but it must be done. We must take the consequences.
You and I are dead to one another for evermore; but your death is more
terrible than mine. I shall grieve over you more than if you were really
dead. Why does not God send death to those that desire it? Good-by now
forever, Roland. I return to England to act this lie, and you must
never, never seek me out as your wife. Promise me that. I would
repudiate you if I lay on my death-bed."

"I will never seek you out and bring you to shame," he said; "I promise
it faithfully, by my love for you. As I hope ever to obtain pardon, I
promise it."

"Then leave me," she cried; "I can bear this no longer. Good-by,
Roland."

They were still some paces apart, he with his shaggy mountain cap in his
hand standing respectfully at a distance, and she, sitting by the low,
open hearth with her white, quiet face turned toward him. All the
village might have witnessed their interview through the uncurtained
windows. Slowly, almost mechanically, Felicita left her seat and
advanced toward him with an outstretched hand. It was cold as ice as he
seized it eagerly in his own; the hand of the dead man could not have
been colder or more lifeless. He held it fast in a hard, unconscious
grip.

"Good-by, my wife," he said; "God bless and keep you!"

"Is there any God?" she sobbed.

But there was a sound at the door, the handle was being turned, and they
fell apart guiltily. A maid entered to tell Madame her chamber was
prepared, and without another word Felicita walked quickly from the
salon, leaving him alone.

He caught a glimpse of her again the next morning as she came
down-stairs and entered the little carriage which was to take her down
to Stansstad in time to catch the boat to Lucerne. She was starting
early, before it was fairly dawn, and he saw her only by the dim light
of lamps, which burned but feebly in the chilly damp of the autumn
atmosphere. For a little distance he followed the sound of the carriage
wheels, but he arrested his own footsteps. For what good was it to
pursue one whom he must never find again? She was gone from him forever.
He was a young man yet, and she still younger. But for his folly and
crime a long and prosperous life might have stretched before them, each
year knitting their hearts and souls more closely together; and he had
forfeited all. He turned back up the valley broken-hearted.

Later in the day he stood beside the grave of the man who was bearing
away his name from disgrace. The funeral had been hurried on, and the
stranger was buried in a neglected part of the churchyard, being
friendless and a heretic. It was quickly done, and when the few persons
who had taken part in it were dispersed, Roland Sefton lingered alone
beside the desolate grave.



CHAPTER XVII.

WAITING FOR THE NEWS.


Felicita hurried homeward night and day without stopping, as if she had
been pursued by a deadly enemy. Madame and the children were not at
Scarborough, but at a quiet little fishing village on the eastern coast;
for Felicita had found Scarborough too gay in the month of August, and
her cousins, the Riversfords, having appeared there, she retreated to
the quietest spot that could be found. To this village she returned,
after being absent little more than a week.

Madame knew nothing of her journey; but the mere fact that Felicita was
going away alone had aroused in her the hope that it was connected in
some way with Roland. In some vague manner this idea had been
communicated to Felix, and both were expecting to see the long-lost
father and son come back with her. Roland's prolonged and mysterious
absence had been a sore trial to his mother, though her placid and
trustful nature had borne it patiently. Surely, she thought, the trial
was coming to an end.

Felicita reached their lodgings utterly exhausted and worn out. She was
a delicate woman, in no way inured to fatigue, and though she had been
insensible to the overstrain of the unbroken journey as she was whirled
along railways and passed from station to station, a sense of complete
prostration seized upon her as soon as she found herself at home. Day
after day she lay in bed, in a darkened room, unwilling to lift her
voice above a whisper, waiting in a kind of torpid dread for the
intelligence that she knew must soon come.

She had been at home several days, and still there was no news. Was it
possible, she asked herself, that this unknown traveller, and his
calamitous fate, should pass on into perfect oblivion and leave matters
as they were before? For a cloud would hang over her and her children
as long as Roland was the object of pursuit. While he was a fugitive
criminal, of interest to the police officers of all countries, there was
no security for their future. The lie to which she had given a guilty
consent was horrible to her, but her morbid dread of shame was more
horrible. She had done evil that good might come; but if the good
failed, the evil would still remain as a dark stain upon her soul,
visible to herself, if to none else.

"I will get up to-day," she said at last, to Madame's great delight. She
never ventured to exert any authority over her beautiful and clever
daughter-in-law--not even the authority of a mildly expressed wish. She
was willing to be to Felicita anything that Felicita pleased--her
servant and drudge, her fond mother, or her quiet, attentive companion.
Since her return from her mysterious journey she had been very tender to
her, as tenderly and gently demonstrative as Felicita would ever permit
her to be.

"Have you seen any newspapers lately?" asked Felicita.

"I never read the papers, my love," answered Madame.

"I should like to see to-day's _Times_," said Felicita.

But it was impossible to get it in this village without ordering it
beforehand, and Felicita gave up her wish with the listless indifference
of an invalid. When the late sun of the November day had risen from
behind a heavy bank of clouds she ventured down to the quiet shore.
There were no visitors left beside themselves, so there were no curious
eyes to scan her white, sad face. For a short time Felix and Hilda
played about her; but by and by Madame, thinking she was weary and
worried, allured them away to a point where they were still in sight,
though out of hearing. The low, cold sun shed its languid and watery
rays upon the rocks and creeping tide, and, unnoticed, almost unseen,
Felicita could sit there in stillness, gazing out over the chilly and
mournful sea. There was something so unutterably sad about Felicita's
condition that it awed the simple, cheerful nature of Madame. It was
more than illness and exhaustion. The white, unsmiling face, the
drooping head, the languor of the thin, long hands, the fathomless
sorrow lurking behind her dark eyes--all spoke of a heart-sickness such
as Madame had never seen or dreamed of. The children did not cheer their
mother. When she saw that, Madame felt that there was nothing to be done
but to leave her in the cold solitude she loved.

But as Felicita sat alone on the shore, looking listlessly at the
fleeting sails which were passing to and fro upon the sea, she saw afar
off the figure of a girl coming swiftly toward her from the village, and
before many moments had passed she recognized Phebe Marlowe's face. A
great throb of mingled relief and dread made her heart beat violently.
Nothing could have brought Phebe away, so far from home, except the news
of Roland's death.

The rosy color on Phebe's face was gone, and the brightness of her blue
eyes was faded; but there was the same out-looking of a strong, simple,
unselfish soul shining through them. As she drew near to Felicita she
stretched out her arms with the instinctive gesture of one who was come
to comfort and support, and Felicita, with a strange, impulsive feeling
that she brought consolation and help, threw herself into them.

"I know it all," said Phebe in a low voice. "Oh, what you must have
suffered! He was going to Engelberg to meet you, and you never saw him
alive! Oh, why did not God let you meet each other once again? But God
loved him. I can never think that God had not forgiven him, for he was
grieved because of his sin when I saw him the night he got away. And in
all things else he was so good! Oh, how good he was!"

Phebe's tears were falling fast, and her words were choked with sobs.
But Felicita's face was hidden against her neck, and she could not see
if she was weeping.

"Everybody is talking of him in Riversborough," she went on, "and now
they all say how good he always was, and how unlikely it is that he was
guilty. They will forget it soon. Those who remember him will think
kindly of him, and be grieved for him. But oh, I would give worlds for
him to have lived and made amends! If he could only have proved that he
had repented! If he could only have outlived it all, and made everybody
know that he was really a good man, one whom God had delivered out of
sin!"

"It was impossible!" murmured Felicita.

"No, not impossible!" she cried earnestly; "it was not an unpardonable
sin. Even if he had gone to prison, as he would, he might have faced the
world when he came out again; and if he'd done all the good he could in
it, it might have been hard to convince them he was good, but it would
never be impossible. If God forgives us, sooner or later our
fellow-creatures will forgive us, if we live a true life. I would have
stood by him in the face of the world, and you would, and Madame and the
children. He would not have been left alone, and it would have ended in
every one else coming round to us. Oh, why should he die when you were
just going to see each other again!"

Felicita had sunk down again into the chair which had been carried for
her to the shore, and Phebe sat down on the sands at her feet. She
looked up tearfully into Felicita's wan and shrunken face.

"Did any one ever win back their good name?" asked Felicita with
quivering lips.

"Among us they do sometimes," she answered. "I knew a working-man who
had been in jail five years, and he became a Christian while he was
there, and he came back home to his own village. He was one of the best
men I ever knew, and when he died there was such a funeral as had never
been seen in the parish church. Why should it not be so? If God is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins, why shouldn't we forgive? If
we are faithful and just, we shall."

"It could never be," said Felicita; "it cannot be the same as if Roland
had not been guilty. No one can blot out the past; it is eternal."

"Yes," she replied, covering Felicita's hand with kisses and tears; "but
oh, we love him more now than ever. He is gone into the land of thick
darkness, and I cannot follow him in my thoughts. It is like a gulf
between us and him. Even if he had been farthest away from us in the
world--anywhere--we could imagine what he was doing; but we cannot see
him or call across the gulf to him. It is all unknown. Only God knows!"

"God!" echoed Felicita; "if there is a God, let Him help me, for I am
the most wretched woman on His earth to-day."

"God cannot keep from helping us all," answered Phebe. "He cannot rest
while we are wretched. I understand it better than I used to do. I
cannot rest myself while the poorest creature about me is in pain that I
can help. It is impossible that He should not care. That would be an
awful thing to think; that would make His love and pity less than ours.
This I know, that God loves every creature He has made. And oh, He must
have loved him, though he was suffered to fall over that dreadful
precipice, and die before you saw him. It happened before you reached
Engelberg?"

"Yes," said Felicita, shivering.

"The papers were sent on to Mr. Clifford," continued Phebe, "and he sent
for me to come with him, and see you before the news got into the
papers. It will be in to-morrow. But I knew more than he did, and I came
on here to speak to you. Shall you tell him you went there to meet
him?"

"Oh, no, no!" cried Felicita; "it must never be known, dear Phebe."

"And his mother and the children--they, know nothing?" she said.

"Not a word, and it is you who must tell them, Phebe," she answered.
"How could I bear to tell them that he is dead? Never let them speak
about it to me; never let his name be mentioned."

"How can I comfort you?" cried Phebe.

"I can never be comforted," she replied despairingly; "but it is like
death to hear his name."

The voices of the children coming nearer reached their ears. They had
seen from their distant playground another figure sitting close beside
Felicita, and their curiosity had led them to approach. Now they
recognized Phebe, and a glad shout rang through the air. She bent down
hurriedly to kiss Felicita's cold hand once again, and then she rose to
meet them, and prevent them from seeing their mother's deep grief.

"I will go and tell them, poor little things!" she said, "and Madame.
Oh, what can I do to help you all? Mr. Clifford is at your lodgings,
waiting to see you as soon as you can meet him."

She did not stay for an answer, but ran to meet Felix and Hilda; while
slowly, and with much guilty shrinking from the coming interview,
Felicita went back to the village, where Mr. Clifford was awaiting her.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE DEAD ARE FORGIVEN.


Roland Sefton's pocket-book, containing his passport and the papers and
photographs, had reached Mr. Clifford the day before, with an official
intimation of his death from the consulate at Berne. The identification
was complete, and the inquiry into the fatal accident had resulted in
blame to no one, as the traveller had declined the services of a
trustworthy guide from Meirengen to Engelberg. This was precisely what
Roland would have done, the whole country being as familiar to him as to
any native. No doubt crossed Mr. Clifford's mind that his old friend's
son had met his untimely end while a fugitive from his country, from
dread chiefly of his own implacable sense of justice.

Roland was dead, but justice was not satisfied. Mr. Clifford knew
perfectly well that the news of his tragic fate would create an
immediate and complete reaction in his favor among his fellow-townsmen.
Hitherto he had been only vaguely accused of crime, which his absence
chiefly had tended to fasten upon him; but as there had been no
opportunity of bringing him to public trial, it would soon be believed
that there was no evidence against him. Many persons thought already
that the junior partner was away either on pleasure or business, because
the senior had taken his place. Only a few, himself and the three or
four obscure people who actually suffered from his defalcations, would
recollect them. By and by Roland Sefton would be remembered as the kind,
benevolent, even Christian man, whose life, so soon cut short, had been
full of promise for his native town.

Mr. Clifford himself felt a pang of regret and sorrow when he heard the
news. Years ago he had loved the frank, warm-hearted boy, his friend's
only child, with a very true affection. He had an only boy, too, older
than Roland by a few years, and these two were to succeed their fathers
in the long-established firm. Then came the bitter disappointment in his
own son. But since he had suffered his son to die in his sins, reaping
the full harvest of his transgressions, he had felt that any forgiveness
shown to other offenders would be a cruel injustice to him. Yet as
Roland's passport and the children's photographs lay before him on his
office desk--the same desk at which Roland was sitting but a few months
ago, a man in the full vigor of life, with an apparently prosperous and
happy future lying before him--Mr. Clifford for a moment or two yielded
to the vain wish that Roland had thrown himself on his mercy. Yet his
conscience told him that he would have refused to show him mercy, and
his regret was mingled with a tinge of remorse.

His first care was to prevent the intelligence reaching Felicita by
means of the newspapers, and he sent immediately for Phebe Marlowe to
accompany him to the sea-side, in order to break the news to her.
Phebe's excessive grief astonished him, though she had so much natural
control over herself, in her sympathy for others, as to relieve him of
all anxiety on her account, and to keep Felicita's secret journey from
being suspected. But to Phebe, Roland's death was fraught with more
tragic circumstances than any one else could conceive. He was hastening
to meet his wife, possibly with some scheme for their future, which
might have hope and deliverance in it, when this calamity hurried him
away into the awful, unknown world, on whose threshold we are ever
standing. But for her ardent sympathy for Felicita, Phebe would have
been herself overwhelmed. It was the thought of her, with this terrible
and secret addition to her sorrow, which bore her through the long
journey and helped her to meet Felicita with something like calmness.

From the bay-window of the lodging-house Mr. Clifford watched Felicita
coming slowly and feebly toward the house. So fragile she looked, so
unutterably sorrow-stricken, that a rush of compassion and pity opened
the floodgates of his heart, and suffused his stern eyes with tears.
Doubtless Phebe had told her all. Yet she was coming alone to meet him,
her husband's enemy and persecutor, as if he was a friend. He would be a
friend such as she had never known before. There would be no vain
weeping, no womanish wailing in her; her grief was too deep for that.
And he would respect it; he would spare her all the pain he could. At
this moment, if Roland could have risen from the dead, he would have
clasped him in his arms, and wept upon his neck, as the father welcomed
his prodigal son.

Felicita did not speak when she entered the room, but looked at him with
a steadfastness in her dark sad eyes which again dimmed his with tears.
Almost fondly he pressed her hands in his, and led her to a chair, and
placed another near enough for him to speak to her in a low and quiet
voice, altogether unlike the awful tones he used in the bank, which made
the clerks quail before him. His hand trembled as he took the little
photographs out of their envelope, so worn and stained, and laid them
before her. She looked at them with tearless eyes, and let them fall
upon her lap as things of little interest.

"Phebe has told you?" he said pitifully.

"Yes," she whispered.

"You did not know before?" he said.

She shook her head mutely. A long, intricate path of falsehood stretched
before her, from which she could not turn aside, a maze in which she was
already entangled and lost; but her lips were reluctant to utter the
first words of untruth.

"These were found on him," he continued, pointing to the children's
portraits. "I am afraid we cannot doubt the facts. The description is
like him, and his papers and passport place the identity beyond a
question. But I have dispatched a trusty messenger to Switzerland to
make further inquiries, and ascertain every particular."

"Will he see him?" asked Felicita with a start of terror.

"No, my poor girl," said the old banker; "it happened ten days ago, and
he was buried, so they say, almost immediately. But I wish to have a
memorial stone put over his grave, that if any of us, I or you, or the
children, should wish to visit it at some future time, it should not be
past finding."

He spoke tenderly and sorrowfully, as if he imagined himself standing
beside the grave of his old friend's son, recalling the past and
grieving over it. His own boy was buried in some unknown common _fosse_
in Paris. Felicita looked up at him with her strange, steady, searching
gaze.

"You have forgiven him?" she said.

"Yes," he answered; "men always forgive the dead."

"Oh, Roland! Roland!" she cried, wringing her hands for an instant.
Then, resuming her composure, she gazed quietly into his pitiful face
again.

"It is kind of you to think of his grave," she said; "but I shall never
go there, nor shall the children go, if I can help it."

"Hush!" he answered imperatively. "You, then, have not forgiven him? Yet
I forgive him, who have lost most."

"You!" she exclaimed, with a sudden outburst of passion. "You have lost
a few thousand pounds; but what have I lost? My faith and trust in
goodness; my husband's love and care. I have lost him, the father of my
children, my home--nay, even myself. I am no longer what I thought I
was. That is what Roland robs me of; and you say it is more for you to
forgive than for me!"

He had never seen her thus moved and vehement, and he shrank a little
from it, as most men shrink from any unusual exhibition of emotion.
Though she had not wept, he was afraid now of a scene, and hastened to
speak of another subject.

"Well, well," he said soothingly, "that is all true, no doubt. Poor
Roland! But I am your husband's executor and the children's guardian,
conjointly with yourself. It will be proved immediately, and I shall
take charge of your affairs."

"I thought," she answered, in a hesitating manner, "that there was
nothing left, that we were ruined and had nothing. Why did Roland take
your bonds if he had money? Why did he defraud other people? There
cannot be any money coming to me and the children, and why should the
will be proved?"

"My dear girl," he said, "you know nothing about affairs. Your uncle,
Lord Riversford, would never have allowed Roland to marry you without a
settlement, and a good one too. His death was the best thing for you. It
saves you from poverty and dependence, as well as from disgrace. I
hardly know yet how matters stand, but you will have little less than a
thousand a year. You need not trouble yourself about these matters;
leave them to me and Lord Riversford. He called upon me yesterday, as
soon as he heard the sad news, and we arranged everything."

Felicita did not hear his words distinctly, though her brain caught
their meaning vaguely. She was picturing herself free from poverty,
surrounded with most of her accustomed luxuries, and shielded from every
hardship, while Roland was homeless and penniless, cast upon his own
resources to earn his daily bread and a shelter for every night, with
nothing but a poor handicraft to support him. She had not expected this
contrast in their lot. Poverty had seemed to lie before her also. But
now how often would his image start up before her as she had seen him
last, gaunt and haggard, with rough hair and blistered skin serving him
as a mask, clad in coarse clothing, already worn and ragged, not at rest
in the grave, as every one but herself believed him, but dragging out a
miserable and sordid existence year by year, with no hopes for the
future, and no happy memories of the past!

"Mr. Clifford," she said, when the sound of his voice humming in her
ears had ceased, "I shall not take one farthing of any money settled
upon me by my husband. I have no right to it. Let it go to pay the sums
he appropriated. I will maintain myself and my children."

"You cannot do it," he replied; "you do not know what you are talking
about. The money is settled upon your children; all that belongs to you
is the yearly income from it."

"That, at least, I will never touch," she said earnestly; "it shall be
set aside to repay those just claims. When all those are paid I will
take it, but not before. Yours is the largest, and I will take means to
find out the others. With my mother's two hundred a year and what I earn
myself, we shall keep the children. Lord Riversford has no control over
me. I am a woman, and I will act for myself."

"You cannot do it," he repeated; "you have no notion of what you are
undertaking to do. Mrs. Sefton, my dear young lady, I am come, with Lord
Riversford's sanction, to ask you to return to your home again, to
Madame's old home--your children's birth-place. I think, and Lord
Riversford thinks, you should come back, and bring up Felix to take his
grandfather's and father's place."

"His father's place!" interrupted Felicita. "No, my son shall never
enter into business. I would rather see him a common soldier or sailor,
or day-laborer, earning his bread by any honest toil. He shall have no
traffic in money, such as his father had; he shall have no such
temptations. Whatever my son is, he shall never be a banker."

"Good heavens, madam!" exclaimed Mr. Clifford. Felicita's stony quietude
was gone, and in its place was such a passionate energy as he had never
witnessed before in any woman.

"It was money that tempted Roland to defraud you and dishonor himself,"
she said; "it drove poor Acton to commit suicide, and it hardened your
heart against your friend's son. Felix shall be free from it. He shall
earn his bread and his place in the world in some other way, and till he
can do that I will earn it for him. Every shilling I spend from
henceforth shall be clean, the fruit of my own hands, not Roland's--not
his, whether he be alive or dead."

Before Mr. Clifford could answer, the door was flung open, and Felix,
breathless with rapid running, rushed into the room and flung himself
into his mother's arms. No words could come at first; but he drew long
and terrible sobs. The boy's upturned face was pale, and his eyes,
tearless as her own had been, were fastened in an agony upon hers. She
could not soothe or comfort him, for she knew his grief was wasted on a
falsehood; but she looked down on her son's face with a feeling of
terror.

"Oh, my father! my beloved father!" he sobbed at last. "Is he dead,
mother? You never told me anything that wasn't true. He can't be dead,
though Phebe says so. Is it true, mother?"

Felicita bent her head till it rested on the boy's uplifted face. His
sobs shook her, and the close clasp of his arms was painful; but she
neither spoke nor moved. She heard Phebe coming in, and knew that
Roland's mother was there, and Hilda came to clasp her little arms about
her as Felix was doing. But her heart had gone back to the moment when
Roland had knelt beside her in the quiet little church, and she had said
to him deliberately, "I choose your death." He was dead to her.

"Is it true, mother?" wailed Felix. "Oh, tell me it isn't true!"

"It is true," she answered. But the long, tense strain had been too much
for her strength, and she sank fainting on the ground.



CHAPTER XIX.

AUTHOR AND PUBLISHER.


It was all in vain that Mr. Clifford tried to turn Felicita from her
resolution. Phebe cordially upheld her, and gave her courage to persist
against all arguments. Both of them cared little for poverty--Phebe
because she knew it, Felicita because she did not know it. Felicita had
never known a time when money had to be considered; it had come to her
pretty much in the same way as the air she breathed and the food she
ate, without any care or prevision of her own. Phebe, on the other hand,
knew that she could earn her own living at any time by the work of her
strong young arms, and her wants were so few that they could easily be
supplied.

It was decided before Phebe went home again, and decided in the face of
Mr. Clifford's opposition, that a small house should be taken in London,
and partly furnished from the old house at Riversborough, where Felicita
would be in closer and easier communication with the publishers. Mr.
Clifford laughed to himself at the idea that she could gain a
maintenance by literature, as all the literary people he had ever met or
heard of bewailed their poverty. But there was Madame's little income of
two hundred a year: that formed a basis, not altogether an insecure or
despicable one. It would pay more than the rent, with the rates and
taxes.

The yearly income from Felicita's marriage settlement, which no
representations could persuade her to touch, was to go to the gradual
repayment of Roland's debts, the poorest men being paid first, and Mr.
Clifford, who reluctantly consented to the scheme, to receive his the
last. Though Madame had never believed in her son's guilt, her just and
simple soul was satisfied and set at rest by this arrangement. She had
not been able to blame him, but it had been a heavy burden to her to
think of others suffering loss through him. It was then almost with
cheerfulness that she set herself to keep house for her daughter-in-law
and her grand-children under such widely different circumstances.

Before Christmas a house was found for them in Cheyne Walk. The Chelsea
Embankment was not then thought of, and the streets leading to it, like
those now lying behind it, were mean and crowded. It was a narrow house,
with rooms so small that when the massive furniture from their old house
was set up in it there was no space for moving about freely. Madame had
known only two houses--the old straggling, picturesque country manse in
the Jura, with its walnut-trees shading the windows, and tossing up
their branches now and then to give glimpses of snow-mountains on the
horizon, and her husband's pleasant and luxurious house at
Riversborough, with every comfort that could be devised gathered into
it. There was the river certainly flowing past this new habitation, and
bearing on its full and rapid tide a constantly shifting panorama of
boats, of which the children never tired, and from Felicita's window
there was a fair reach of the river in view, while from the dormer
windows of the attic above, where Felix slept, there was a still wider
prospect. But in the close back room, which Madame allotted to herself
and Hilda, there was only a view of back streets and slums, with sights
and sounds which filled her with dismay and disgust.

But Madame made the best of the woeful change. The deep, quiet love she
had given to her son she transferred to Felicita, who, she well knew,
had been his idol. She believed that the sorrows of these last few
months had not sprung out of the ground, but had for some reason come
down from God, the God of her fathers, in whom she put her trust. Her
son had been called away by Him; but three were left, her daughter and
her grand-children, and she could do nothing better in life than devote
herself to them.

But to Felicita her new life was like walking barefoot on a path of
thorns. Until now she had been so sheltered and guarded, kept from the
wind blowing too roughly upon her, that every hour brought a sharp
pin-prick to her. To have no carriage at her command, no maid to wait
upon, her--not even a skilful servant to discharge ordinary household
duties well and quickly--to live in a little room where she felt as if
she could hardly breathe, to hear every sound through the walls, to have
the smell of cooking pervade the house--these and numberless similar
discomforts made her initiation into her new sphere a series of
surprises and disappointments.

But she must bestir herself if even this small amount of comfort and
well-being were to be kept up. Madame's income would not maintain their
household even on its present humble footing. Felicita's first book had
done well; it had been fairly reviewed by some papers, and flatteringly
reviewed by other critics who had known the late Lord Riversford. On the
whole it had been a good success, and her name was no longer quite
unknown. Her publishers were willing to take another book as soon as it
could be ready: they did more, they condescended to ask for it. But the
£50 they had paid for the first, though it had seemed a sufficient sum
to her when regarded from the stand-point of a woman surrounded by every
luxury, and able to spend the whole of it on some trinket, looked small
enough--too small--as the result of many weeks of labor, by which she
and her children were to be fed. If her work was worth no more than
that, she must write at least six such books in the year, and every
year! Felicita's heart sank at the thought!

There seemed to be only one resource, since one of her publishers had
offered an advance of £10 only, saying they were doing very well for
her, and running a risk themselves. She must take her manuscript and
offer it as so much merchandise from house to house, selling it to the
best bidder. This was against all her instincts as an author, and if she
had remained a wealthy woman she would not have borne it. She was too
true and original an artist not to feel how sacred a thing earnest and
truthful work like hers was. She loved it, and did it conscientiously.
She would not let it go out of her hands disgraced with blunders. Her
thoughts were like children to her, not to be sent out into the world
ragged and uncouth, exposed to just ridicule and to shame.

Felicita and Madame set out on their search after a liberal publisher on
a gloomy day in January. For the first time in her life Felicita found
herself in an omnibus, with her feet buried in damp straw, and strange
fellow-passengers crushing against her. In no part of London do the
omnibuses bear comparison with the well-appointed carriages rich people
are accustomed to; and this one, besides other discomforts, was crowded
till there was barely room to move hand or foot.

"It is very cheap," said Madame cheerfully after she had paid the fare
when they were set down in Trafalgar Square "and not so very
inconvenient."

A fog filled the air and shrouded all the surrounding buildings in dull
obscurity; while the fountains, rising and falling with an odd and
ghostly movement as of gigantic living creatures, were seen dimly white
in the midst of the gray gloom. The ceaseless stream of hurrying
passers-by lost itself in darkness only a few paces from them. The
chimes of unseen belfries and the roll of carriages visible only for a
few seconds fell upon their ears. Felicita, in the secret excitement of
her mood, felt herself in some impossible world, some phantasmagoria of
a dream, which must presently disperse, and she would find herself at
home again, in her quiet, dainty study at Riversborough, where most of
the manuscript, which she held so closely in her hand, had been written.
But the dream was dispelled when she found herself entering the
publishing-house she had fixed upon as her first scene of venture. It
was a quiet place, with two or three clerks busily engaged in some
private conversation, too interesting to be abruptly terminated by the
entrance of two ladies dressed in mourning, one of whom carried a roll
of manuscript. If Felicita had been wise the manuscript would not have
been there to betray her. It made it exceedingly difficult for her to
obtain admission to the publisher, in his private room beyond; and it
was only when she turned away to go, with a sudden outflashing of
aristocratic haughtiness, that the clerk reluctantly offered to take her
card and a message to his employer.

In a few moments Felicita was entering the dark den where the fate of
her book was in the balance. Unfortunately for her she presented too
close a resemblance to the well-known type of a distressed author. Her
deep mourning, the thick veil almost concealing her face; a straw
clinging to the hem of her dress and telling too plainly of
omnibus-riding; her somewhat sad and agitated voice; Madame's widow's
cap, and unpretending demeanor--all were against her chances of
attention. The publisher, who had risen from his desk, did not invite
them to be seated. He glanced at Felicita's card, which bore the simple
inscription, "Mrs. Sefton."

"You know my name?" she asked, faltering a little before his keen-eyed,
shrewd, business-like observation. He shook his head slightly.

"I am the writer of a book called 'Haughmond Towers,'" she added,
"published by Messrs. Price and Gould. It came out last May."

"I never heard of it," he answered solemnly. Felicita felt as if he had
struck her. This was an unaccountable thing; he was a publisher, and she
an author; yet he had never heard of her book. It was impossible that
she had understood him, and she spoke again eagerly.

"It was noticed in all the reviews," she said, "and my publishers
assured me it was quite a success. I could send you the reviews of it."

"Pray do not trouble yourself," he answered; "I do not doubt it in the
least. But there are hundreds of books published every season, and it is
impossible for one head, even a publisher's, to retain all the titles
and the names of the authors."

"But I hope mine was not like hundreds of others," remarked Felicita.

"Every author hopes so," he said; "and besides the mass that is printed,
somehow, at some one's expense, there are hundreds of manuscripts
submitted to us. Pardon me, but may I ask if you write for amusement or
for remuneration."

"For my living," she replied, with a sorrowful inflection of her voice
which alarmed the publisher. How often had he faced a widowed mother
and her daughter, in mourning so deep as to suggest the recentness of
their loss. There was a slight movement of his hand, unperceived by
either of them, and a brisk rap was heard on the door behind them.

"In a moment," he said, looking over their heads. "I am afraid," he went
on, "if I asked you to leave your manuscript on approbation, it might be
months before our readers could look at it. We have scores, if not
hundreds, waiting."

"Could you recommend any publisher to me?" asked Felicita.

"Why not go again to Price and Gould?" he inquired.

"I must get more money than they pay me," she answered ingenuously.

The publisher shrugged his shoulders. If her manuscript had contained
Milton's "Paradise Lost" or Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield," such an
admission would have swamped it. There is no fate swift enough for an
unknown author who asks for more money than that which a publisher's
sense of justice awards to him.

"I am sorry I can do nothing for you," he said, "but my time is very
precious. Good-morning--No thanks, I beg. It would be a pleasure, I am
sure, if I could do anything."

Felicita's heart sank very low as she turned into the dismal street and
trod the muddy pavement. A few illusions shrivelled up that wintry
morning under that murky sky. The name she was so fearful of staining;
the name she had fondly imagined as noised from mouth to mouth; the name
for which she had demanded so great a sacrifice, and had sacrificed so
much herself, was not known in those circles where she might most have
expected to find it a passport to attention and esteem. It had travelled
very little indeed beyond the narrow sphere of Riversborough.



CHAPTER XX.

A DUMB MAN'S GRIEF.


The winter fogs which made London so gloomy did not leave the country
sky clear and bright. All the land lay under a shroud of mist and vapor;
and even on the uplands round old Marlowe's little farmstead the heavens
were gray and cold, and the wide prospect shut out by a curtain of dim
clouds.

The rude natural tracks leading over the moor to the farm became almost
impassable. The thatched roof was sodden with damp, and the deep eaves
shed off the water with the sound of a perpetual dropping. Behind the
house the dark, storm-beaten, distorted firs, and the solitary yew-tree
blown all to one side, grew black with the damp. The isolation of the
little dwelling-place was as complete as if a flood had covered the face
of the earth, leaving its two inmates the sole survivors of the human
race.

Several months had passed since old Marlowe had executed his last piece
of finished work. The blow that Rowland Sefton's dishonesty had
inflicted upon him had paralyzed his heart--that most miserable of all
kinds of paralysis. He could still go about, handle his tools, set his
thin old fingers to work; but as soon as he had put a few marks upon his
block of oak his heart died with him, and he threw down his useless
tools with a sob as bitter as ever broke from an old man's lips.

There was no relief for him, as for other men, in speech easily, perhaps
hastily uttered, in companionship with his fellows. Any solace of this
kind was too difficult and too deliberate for him to seek it in writing
his lamentations on a slate or spelling them off on his fingers, but his
grief and anger struck inward more deeply.

Phebe saw his sorrow, and would have cheered him if she could; but she,
too, was sorely stricken, and she was young. She tried to set him an
example of diligent work, and placed her easel beside his carving,
painting as long as the gray and fleeting daylight permitted. Now and
then she attempted to sing some of her old merry songs, knowing that his
watchful eyes would see the movement of her lips; but though her lips
moved, her face was sad and her heart heavy. Sometimes, too, she forgot
all about her, and fell into an absorbed reverie, brooding over the
past, until a sob or half-articulate cry from her father aroused her.
These outcries of his troubled her more than any other change in him. He
had been altogether mute in the former tranquil and placid days,
satisfied to talk with her in silent signs; but there was something in
his mind to express now which quiet and dumb signs could not convey. At
intervals, both by day and night, her affection for him was tortured by
these hoarse and stifled cries of grief mingled with rage.

There was a certain sense of the duties of citizenship in old Marlowe's
mind which very few women, certainly not a girl as young as Phebe, could
have shared. Many years ago the elder Sefton had perceived that the
companionless man was groping vaguely after many a dim thought,
political and social, which few men of his class would have been
troubled with. He had given to him several books, which old Marlowe had
pondered over. Now he felt that, quite apart from his own personal
ground of resentment, he had done wrong to the laws of his country by
aiding an offender of them to escape and elude the just penalty. He felt
almost a contempt for Roland Sefton that he had not remained to bear the
consequences of his crime.

The news of Roland's death brought something like satisfaction to his
mind; there was a chill, dejected sense of justice having been done. He
had not prospered in his crime. Though he had eluded man's judgment, yet
vengeance had not suffered him to live. There was no relenting toward
him, as there was in Mr. Clifford's mind. Something like the old heathen
conception of a divine righteousness in this arbitrary punishment of the
evil-doer gave him a transient content. He did not object therefore to
Phebe's hasty visit to Mrs. Sefton at the sea-side, in order to break
the news to her. The inward satisfaction he felt sustained him, and he
even set about a piece of work long since begun, a hawk swooping down
upon his prey.

The evening on which Phebe reached home again he was more like his
former self. He asked her many questions about the sea, which he had
never seen, and told her what he had been doing while she was away. An
old, well-thumbed translation of Plato's Dialogues was lying on the
carved dresser behind him, in which he had been reading every night.
Instead of the Bible, he said.

"It was him, Mr. Roland, that gave it to me," he continued; "and listen
to what I read last night: 'Those who have committed crimes, great yet
not unpardonable, they are plunged into Tartarus, where they go who
betray their friends for money, the pains of which they undergo for a
year. But at the end of the year they come forth again to a lake, over
which the souls of the dead are taken to be judged. And then they lift
up their voices, and call upon the souls of them they have wronged to
have pity upon them, and to forgive them, and let them come out of their
prison. And if they prevail they come forth, and cease from their
troubles; but if not they are carried back again into Tartarus, until
they obtain mercy of them whom they have wronged.' But it seems as if
they have to wait until them they have wronged are dead themselves."

The brown, crooked fingers ceased spelling out the solemn words, and
Phebe lifted up her eyes from them to her father's face. She noticed for
the first time how sunken and sallow it was, and how dimly and wearily
his eyes looked out from under their shaggy eyebrows. She buried her
face in her hands, and broke down into a passion of tears. The vivid
picture her father's quotation brought before her mind filled it with
horror and grief that passed all words.

The wind was wailing round the house with a ceaseless moan of pain, in
which she could almost distinguish the tones of a human voice lamenting
its lost and wretched fate. The cry rose and fell, and passed on, and
came back again, muttering and calling, but never dying away
altogether. It sounded to her like the cry of a belated wanderer calling
for help. She rose hastily and opened the cottage door, as if she could
hear Roland Sefton's voice through the darkness and the distance. But he
was dead, and had been in his grave for many days already. Was she to
hear that lost, forlorn cry ringing in her ears forever? Oh, if she
could but have known something of him between that night, when he walked
beside her through the dark deserted roads, pouring out his whole
sorrowful soul to her, and the hour when in the darkness again he had
strayed from his path, and been swallowed up of death! Was it true that
he had gone down into that great gulf of secrecy and silence, without a
word of comfort spoken, or a ray of light shed upon its profound
mystery?

The cold wind blew in through the open door, and she shut it again,
going back to her low chair on the hearth. Through her blinding tears
she saw her father's brown hands stretched out to her, and the withered
fingers speaking eagerly.

"I shall be there before long," he said; "he will not have to wait very
long for me. And if you bid me I will forgive him at once. I cannot bear
to see your tears. Tell me: must I forgive him? I will do anything, if
you will look up at me again and smile."

It was a strange smile that gleamed through Phebe's tears, but she had
never heard an appeal like this from her dumb father without responding
to it.

"Must I forgive him?" he asked.

"'If ye forgive men their trespasses,'" she answered, "'your heavenly
Father will also forgive yours; but if ye forgive not men their
trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive yours.' It was our
Lord Jesus Christ who said that, not your old Socrates, father."

"It is a hard saying," he replied.

"I don't think so," she said; "it was what Jesus Christ was doing every
day he lived."

From that time old Marlowe did not mention Roland Sefton again, or his
sin against him.

As the dark stormy days passed on he sometimes put a touch or two to the
outstretched wings of his swooping hawk, but it did not get on fast.
With a pathetic clinging to Phebe he seldom let her stay long out of his
sight, but followed her about like a child, or sat on the hearth
watching her as she went about her house-work. Only by those unconscious
sobs and outcries, inaudible to himself, did he betray the grief that
was gnawing at his heart. Very often did Phebe put aside her work, and
standing before him ask such questions as the following on her swiftly
moving fingers.

"Don't you believe in God, our Father in heaven, the Father Almighty,
who made us?"

"Yes," he would reply by a nod.

"And in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, who lived, and died for us, and
rose again?"

"Yes, yes," was the silent, emphatic answer.

"And yet you grieve and fret over the loss of money!" she would say,
with a wistful smile on her young face.

"You are a child; you know nothing," he replied.

For without a sigh the old man was going forward consciously to meet
death. Every morning when the dawn awoke him he felt weaker as he rose
from his bed; every day his sight was dimmer and his hand less steady;
every night the steep flight of stairs seemed steeper, and he ascended
them feebly by his hands as well as feet. He could not bring himself to
write upon his slate or to spell out upon his fingers the dread words,
"I am dying;" and Phebe was not old or experienced enough to read the
signs of an approaching death. That her father should be taken away from
her never crossed her thoughts.

It was the vague, mournful prospect of soon leaving her alone in the
wide world that made his loss loom more largely and persistently before
the dumb old man's mind. Certainly he believed all that Phebe said to
him. God loved her, cared for her, ordered her life; yet he, her father,
could not reconcile himself to the idea of her being left penniless and
friendless in the cold and cruel world. He could have left her more
peacefully in God's hands if she had those six hundred pounds of his
earnings to inherit.

The sad winter wore slowly away. Now and then the table-land around them
put on its white familiar livery of snow, and old Marlowe's dim eyes
gazed at it through his lattice window, recollecting the winters of long
years ago, when neither snow nor storm came amiss to him. But the slight
sprinkling soon melted away, and the dun-colored fog and cloudy curtain
shut them in again, cutting them off from the rest of the world as if
their little dwelling was the ark stranded on the hill's summit amid a
waste of water.



CHAPTER XXI.

PLATO AND PAUL.


Phebe's nearest neighbor, except the farm-laborer who did an occasional
day's labor for her father, was Mrs. Nixey, the tenant of a farmhouse,
which lay at the head of a valley running up into the range of hills.
Mrs. Nixey had given as much supervision to Phebe's motherless childhood
as her father had permitted, in his jealous determination to be
everything to his little daughter. Of late years, ever since old Marlowe
in the triumph of making an investment had communicated that important
fact to her on his slate, she had indulged in a day-dream of her own,
which had filled her head for hours while sitting beside her kitchen
fire busily knitting long worsted stockings for her son Simon.

Simon was thirty years of age, and it was high time she found a wife
for him. Who could be better than Phebe, who had grown up under her own
eyes, a good, strong, industrious girl, with six hundred pounds and
Upfold Farm for her fortune? As she brooded over this idea, a second
thought grew out of it. How convenient it would be if she herself
married the dumb old father, and retired to the little farmstead,
changing places with Phebe, her daughter-in-law. She would still be near
enough to come down to her son's house at harvest-time and pig-killing,
and when the milk was abundant and cheese and butter to make. And the
little house on the hills was built with walls a yard thick, and well
lined with good oak wainscoting; she could keep it warm for herself and
the old man. The scheme had as much interest and charm for her as if she
had been a peeress looking out for an eligible alliance for her son.

But it had always proved difficult to take the first steps toward so
delicate a negotiation. She was not a ready writer; and even if she had
been, Mrs. Nixey felt that it would be almost impossible to write her
day-dream in bold and plain words upon old Marlowe's slate. If Marlowe
was deaf, Phebe was singularly blind and dull. Simon Nixey had played
with her when she was a child, but it had been always as a big, grown-up
boy, doing man's work; and it was only of late that she had realized
that he was not almost an old man. For the last year or two he had
lingered at the church door to walk home with her and her father, but
she had thought little of it. He was their nearest neighbor, and made
himself useful in giving her father hints about his little farm, besides
sparing his laborer to do them an occasional day's work. It seemed
perfectly natural that he should walk home with them across the moors
from their distant parish church.

But as soon as the roads were passable Mrs. Nixey made her way up to the
solitary farmstead. The last time she had seen old Marlowe he had been
ailing, yet she was quite unprepared for the rapid change that had
passed over him. He was cowering in the chimney-corner, his face yellow
and shrivelled, and his eyes, once blue as Phebe's own, sunken in their
sockets, and glowering dimly at her, with the strange intensity of gaze
in the deaf and dumb. There was a little oak table before him, with his
copy of Plato's Dialogues and a black leather Bible that had belonged to
his forefathers, lying upon it; but both of them were closed, and he
looked drowsy and listless.

"Good sakes! Phebe," cried Mrs. Nixey, "whatever ails thy father? He
looks more like dust and ashes than a livin' man. Hast thou sent for no
physic for him?"

"I didn't know he was ill," answered Phebe. "Father always feels the
winter long and trying. He'll be all right when the spring comes."

"I'll ask him what's the matter with him," said Mrs. Nixey, drawing his
slate to her, and writing in the boldest letters she could form, as if
his deafness made it needful to write large.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing, save old age," he answered in his small, neat hand-writing.
There was a gentle smile on his face as he pushed the slate under the
eyes of Mrs. Nixey and Phebe. He had sometimes thought he must tell
Phebe he would not be long with her, but his hands refused to convey
such sad warnings to his young daughter. He had put it off from day to
day, though he was not sorry now to give some slight hint of his fears.

"Old! he's no older nor me," said Mrs. Nixey. "A pretty thing it'ud be
if folks gave up at sixty or so. There's another ten years' work in
you," she wrote on the slate.

"Ten years' work." How earnestly he wished it was true! He might still
earn a little fortune for Phebe; for he was known all through the
county, and beyond, and could get a good price for his carving. He
stretched out his hand and took down his unfinished work, looking
longingly at it.

Phebe's fingers were moving fast, so fast that he could not follow them.
Of late he had been unable to seize the meaning of those swift, glancing
finger-tips. He had reached the stage of a man who can no longer catch
the lower tones of a familiar voice, and has to guess at the words thus
spoken. If he lived long enough to lose his sight he would be cut off
from all communion with the outer world, even with his daughter.

"Come close to me, and speak more slowly," he said to her. "I am growing
old and dark. Yet I am only sixty, and my father lived to be over
seventy. I was over forty when you were born. It was a sunny day, and I
kept away from the house, in the shed, till I saw Mrs. Nixey there
beckoning to me. And when I came in the house here she laid you in my
arms. God was very good to me that day."

"He is always good," answered Phebe.

"So the parson teaches us," he continued; "but it was very hard for me
to lose that money. It struck me a dreadful blow, Phebe. If I'd been
twenty years younger I could have borne it; but when a man's turned
sixty there's no chance. And he robbed me of more than money: he robbed
me of love. I loved him next to you."

She knew that so well that she did not answer him. Her love for Roland
Sefton lived still; but it was altogether changed from the bright,
girlish admiration and trustful confidence it had once been. His
conduct had altered life itself to her; it was colder and darker, with
deeper and longer shadows in it. And now there was coming the darkest
shadow of all.

"Read this," he said, opening the "Phædo," and pointing to some words
with his crooked and trembling finger. She stooped her head till her
soft cheek rested against his with a caressing and soothing touch.

"I go to die, you to live; but which is best God alone can know," she
read. Her arm stole round his neck, and her cheek was pressed more
closely against his. Mrs. Nixey's hard face softened a little as she
looked at them; but she could not help thinking of the new turn affairs
were taking. If old Marlowe died, it might be more convenient, on the
whole, than for her to marry him. How snugly she could live up here,
with a cow or two, and a little maid from the workhouse to be her
companion and drudge!

Quite unconscious of Mrs. Nixey's plans, Phebe had drawn the old black
leather Bible toward her, turning over the stained and yellow leaves
with one hand, for she would not withdraw her arm from her father's
neck. She did not know exactly where to find the words she wanted; but
at last she came upon them. The gray shaggy locks of the old man and the
rippling glossy waves of Phebe's brown hair mingled as they bent their
heads again over the same page.

"For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die
unto the Lord: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's. For
to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be
Lord both of the dead and the living."

"That is better than your old Socrates," said Phebe, with tears in her
eyes and a faint smile playing about her lips. "Our Lord has gone on
before us, through life and death. There is nothing we can have to bear
that He has not borne."

"He never had to leave a young girl like you alone in the world,"
answered her father.

For a moment Phebe's fingers were still, and old Marlowe looked up at
her like one who has gained a miserable victory over a messenger of glad
tidings.

"But He had to leave His mother, who was growing old, when the sword had
pierced through her very soul," answered Phebe. "That was a hard thing
to do."

The old man nodded, and his withered hands folded over each other on the
open page before him. Mrs. Nixey, who could understand nothing of their
silent speech, was staring at them inquisitively, as if trying to
discover what they said by the expression of their faces.

"Ask thy father if he's made his will," she said. "I've heard say as
land canno' go to a woman if there's no will; and it'ud niver do for
Upfold to go to a far-away stranger. May be he reckons on all he has
goin' to you quite natural. But there's law agen' it; the agent told me
so years ago. I niver heard of any relations thy father had, but they'll
find what's called an heir-at-law, take my word for it, if he doesn't
leave iver a will."

But, instead of answering, Phebe rushed past her up the steep, dark
staircase, and Mrs. Nixey heard her sobbing and crying in the little
room above. It was quite natural, thought the hard old woman, with a
momentary feeling of pity for the lonely girl; but it was necessary to
make sure of Upfold Farm, and she drew old Marlowe's slate to her, and
wrote on it, very distinctly, "Has thee made thy will?"

The dejected, miserable expression came back to his face, as his
thoughts were recalled to the loss he had sustained, and he nodded his
answer to Mrs. Nixey.

"And left all to Phebe?" she wrote again.

Again he nodded. It was all right so far, and Mrs. Nixey felt glad she
had made sure of the ground. The little farm was worth £15 a year, and
old Marlowe himself had once told her that his money brought him in £36
yearly, without a stroke of work on his part. How money could be gained
in this way, with simply leaving it alone, she could not understand. But
here was Phebe Marlowe with £50 a year for her fortune: a chance not to
be lost by her son Simon. She hesitated for a few minutes, listening to
the soft low sobs overhead, but her sense of judicious forestalling of
the future prevailed over her sympathy with the troubled girl.

"Phebe'll be very lonesome," she wrote, and old Marlowe looked sadly
into her face with his sunken eyes. There was no need to nod assent to
her words.

"I've been like a mother to her," wrote Mrs. Nixey, and she rubbed both
the sentences off the slate with her pocket-handkerchief, and sat
pondering over the wording of her next communication. It was difficult
and embarrassing, this mode of intercourse on a subject which even she
felt to be delicate. How much easier it would have been if old Marlowe
could hear and speak like other men! He watched her closely as she wrote
word after word and rubbed them out again, unable to satisfy herself. At
last he stretched out his hand and seized the slate, just as she was
again about to rub out the sentence.

"Our Simon'd marry her to-morrow," was written upon it.

Old Marlowe sat looking at the words without raising his eyes or making
any sign. He had never seen the man yet worthy of being the husband of
his daughter, and Simon Nixey was not much to his mind. Still, he was a
kind-hearted man, and well-to-do for his station; he kept a servant to
wait on his mother, and he would do no less for his wife. Phebe would
not be left desolate if she could make up her mind to marry him. But
with a deep instinctive jealousy, born of his absolute separation from
his kind, he could not bear the thought of sharing her love with any
one. She must continue to be all his own for the little time he had to
live.

"If Phebe likes to marry him when I'm gone, I've no objection," he
wrote, and then, with a feeling of irritation and bitterness, he rubbed
out the words with the palm of his hand and turned his back upon Mrs.
Nixey.



CHAPTER XXII.

A REJECTED SUITOR.


All the next day Phebe remained very near to her father, leaving her
house-work and painting to sit beside him on the low chair he had carved
for her when she was a child. For the first time she noticed how slowly
he caught her meaning when she spoke to him, and how he himself was
forgetting how to express his thoughts on his fingers. The time might
come when he could no longer hold any intercourse with her or she with
him. There was unutterable sadness in this new dread.

"You used to laugh and sing," he said, "but you never do it now: never
since he robbed me. He robbed me of that too. I'm a poor, helpless, deaf
old man; and God never let me hear my child's voice. He used to tell me
it was sweet and pleasant to hear; and your laugh made every one merry
who heard it. But I could see you laugh, and now I never see it."

She could not laugh now, and her smile was sadder than tears; so she
bent down her head and laid it against his knee where he could not see
her face. By and by he touched her, and she lifted up her tear-dimmed
eyes to his fingers.

"Promise me," he said, "not to sell this old place. It has belonged to
the Marlowes from generation to generation. Who can tell but the dead
come back to the place where they've lived so long? If you can, keep it
for my sake."

"I promise it," she answered. "I will never sell it."

"Perhaps I shall lose my power to speak to you," he went on, "but don't
you fret as if I did not forgive him as robbed me. He learnt to talk on
his fingers for my sake, and I'll say 'God bless him' for your sake. If
we meet one another in the next world I'll forgive him freely, and if
need be I'll ask pardon for him. Phebe, I do forgive him."

As he spoke there was a brighter light in his sunken eyes, and a smile
on his face such as she had not seen since the day he had helped Roland
Sefton to escape. She took both of his hands into hers and kissed them
fondly. But by and by, though it was yet clear day, he crept feebly
up-stairs to his dark little loft under the thatched roof, and lay down
on the bed where his father and grandfather had died before him.

At first he was able to talk a little in short, brief sentences; but
very soon that which he had dreaded came upon him. His fingers grew too
stiff to form the signs, and his eyes too dim to discern even the
slowest movement of her dear hands. There was now no communication
between them but that of touch, and he could not bear to miss the gentle
clasp of Phebe's hand. When she moved away from him he tossed wearily
from side to side, groping restlessly with his thin fingers. In utter
silence and darkness, but hand to hand with her, he at last passed away.

The next few days was a strange and bewildering time to Phebe.
Neighbors were coming and going, and taking the arrangements for the
funeral into their own hands, with little reference to her. The
clergyman of the parish, who lived three miles off, rode over the hills
to hold a solemn interview with her. Mrs. Nixey would not leave her
alone, and if she could have had her way would have carried her off to
her own house. But this Phebe would not submit to; except the two nights
she had been away when she went to the sea-side to break the news of
Roland's death to Felicita and her mother, she had never been absent for
a night from home. Why should she be afraid of that quiet, still form,
which even in death was dearer to her than any other upon earth?

But Mrs. Nixey walked beside her, next the coffin, when the small
funeral procession wound its way slowly over the uplands to the country
churchyard, where the deaf and dumb old wood-carver was laid in a grave
beside his wife. It was almost impossible to shake her off on their
return, but Phebe could bear companionship no longer. She must walk
back alone along the familiar fields, where the green corn was springing
among the furrows, and under the brown hedgerows where all the buds were
swelling, to the open moor lying clear and barren in an unbroken plain
before her. How often had she walked along these narrow sheep-tracks
with her father pacing on in front, speechless, but so full of silent
sympathy with her that words were not missed between them. Their little
homestead lay like an island in a sea of heather and fern, with no other
dwelling in sight; but, oh, how empty and desolate it seemed!

The old house-dog crept up quietly to her, and whined softly; and the
cow, as she went into the shed to milk her, turned and licked her hand
gently, as if these dumb creatures knew her sorrow. There were some
evening tasks to be performed, for the laborer, who had been to the
funeral, was staying in the village with the other men who had helped to
carry her father's coffin, to rest themselves and have some refreshment
in the little inn there. She lingered over each duty with a dreary sense
of the emptiness of the house haunting her, and of the silence of the
hearth where all the long evening must be spent alone.

It was late in February, and though the fern and heather and gorse were
not yet in bud, there was a purple tinge upon the moor fore-telling the
quickly coming spring. The birds that had been silent all winter were
chirping under the eaves, or fluttered up from the causeway where she
had been scattering corn, at the sound of her footsteps across the
little farm-yard. The sun, near its setting, was shining across the
uplands, and throwing long shadows from every low bush and brake. Phebe
mounted the old horse-block by the garden wicket, and looked around her,
shading her eyes with her hands. The soft west wind, blowing over many
miles of moor and meadows and kissing her cheek, seemed like the touch
of a dear old friend, and the thin gray cloud overhead appeared only as
a slight veil scarcely hiding a beloved face. It would not have startled
her if she had seen her father come to the door, beckoning to her with
his quiet smile, or if she had caught sight of Roland Sefton crossing
the moor, with his swift, strong stride, and his face all aglow with
the delight of his mountain ramble.

"But they are both dead," she said to herself. "If only Mr. Roland had
been living in Riversborough he would have told me what to do."

She was too young to connect her father's death in any way with Roland
Sefton's crime. They two were the dearest persons in the world to her;
and both were now gone into the mysterious darkness of the next world,
meeting there perhaps with all earthly discords forgiven and forgotten
more perfectly than they could have been here. She remembered how her
father's dull, joyless face used to brighten when Roland was talking to
him--talking with slow, unaccustomed fingers, which the dumb man would
watch intently, and catch the meaning of the phrase before it was half
finished, flashing back an eager answer by signs and changeful
expression of his features. There would be no need of signs and gestures
where they had gone. Her father, perhaps, was speaking to him now.

Phebe had passed into a reverie, as full of pleasure as of pain, and
she fancied she heard her father's voice--that voice which she had never
heard. She started, and awoke herself. It was growing dusk, and she was
faint with hunger and fatigue. The wintry sun had sunk some time since
behind the brow of the hill, leaving only a few faint lines of clouds
running across a clear amber light. She stepped down from the
horse-block reluctantly, and with slow steps loitered up the garden-path
to the deserted cottage.

It might have been better, she thought, if she had let Mrs. Nixey come
home with her; but, oh, how tired she was of her aimless chatter, which
seemed to din the ear and drive away all quiet thought from the heart.
She had been very weary of all the fuss that had made a Babel of the
little homestead since her father's death. But now she was absolutely
alone, the loneliness seemed awful.

It was quite dark before the fire burned up and threw its flickering
light over her old home. She sat down on the hearth opposite her
father's empty chair, in her own place--the place which had been hers
ever since she could remember. How long would it be hers? She knew that
one volume of her life was ended and closed; the new volume was all
hidden from her. She was not afraid of opening it, for there was a fund
of courage and hope in her nature of which she did not know all the
wealth. There was also the simple trust of a child in the goodness of
God.

She had finished her tea and was sitting apparently idle, with her hands
lying on her lap, when a sudden knock at the door startled and almost
frightened her. Until this moment she had never thought of the
loneliness of the house as possessing any element of danger; but now she
turned her eyes to the uncurtained window, through which she had been so
plainly visible, and wished that she had taken the precaution of putting
the bar on the door. It was too late, for the latch was already lifted,
and she had scarcely time to say with a tremulous voice, "Come in."

"It's me--Simon Nixey," said a loud, familiar voice, as the door opened
and the tall ungainly figure of the farmer filled up the doorway. He
had been at her father's funeral, and was still in his Sunday suit,
standing sheepishly within the door and stroking the mourning-band round
his hat, as he gazed at her with a shamefaced expression, altogether
unlike the bluntness of his usual manner.

"Is there anything the matter, Mr. Nixey?" asked Phebe. "Have you time
to take a seat?"

"Oh, ay! I'll sit down," he answered, stepping forward readily and
settling himself down in her father's chair, in spite of her hasty
movement to prevent it. "Mother thought as you'd be lonesome," he
continued; "her and me've been talking of nothing else but you all
evening. And mother said your heart'ud be sore and tender to-night, and
more likely to take to comfort. And I'd my best clothes on, and couldn't
go to fodder up, so I said I'd step up here and see if you was as
lonesome as we thought. You looked pretty lonesome through the window.
You wouldn't mind me staying a half hour or so?"

"Oh, no," said Phebe simply; "you're kindly welcome."

"That's what I'd like to be always," he went on, "and there's a deal
about me to make me welcome, come to think on it. Our house is a good
one, and the buildings they're all good; and I got the first prize for
my pigs at the last show, and the second prize for my bull the show
before that. Nobody can call me a poor farmer. You recollect painting my
prize-bull for me, don't you, Phebe?"

"To be sure I do," she answered.

"Ay! and mother shook like a leaf when I told her you'd gone into his
shed, and him not tied up. 'Never you mind, mother,' I says, 'there's
neither man nor beast'ud hurt little Phebe.' You'd enjoy painting my
prize-pigs, I know; and there'd be plenty o' time. Wouldn't you now?"

"Very much," she said, "if I have time."

"That's something to look forward to," he continued. "I'm always
thinking what you'd like to paint, and make a picture of. I should like
to be painted myself, and mother; and there'll be plenty o' time. For
I'm not a man to see you overdone with work, Phebe. I've been thinking
about it for the last five year, ever since you were a pretty young
lass of fifteen. 'She'll be a good girl,' mother said, 'and if old
Marlowe dies before you're wed, Simon, you'd best marry Phebe.' I've put
it off, Phebe, over and over again, when there's been girls only waiting
the asking; and now I'm glad I can bring you comfort. There's a home all
ready for you, with cows and poultry for you to manage and get the good
of, for mother always has the butter money and the egg money, and you'll
have it now. And there's stores of linen, mother says, and everything
that any farmer's wife could desire."

Phebe laughed, a low, gentle, musical laugh, which had surprise in it,
but no derision. The sight of the gaunt embarrassed man opposite to her,
his face burning red, and his clumsy hands twisting and untwisting as he
uttered his persuasive sentences, drove her sadness away for the moment.
Her pleasant, surprised laugh made him laugh too.

"Ay! mother was right; she always is," said Nixey, rubbing his great
hands gleefully. "'There'll be scores of lads after her,' says mother,
'for old Marlowe has piles o' money in Sefton's Old Bank, everybody
knows that.' But, Phebe, there aren't a many houses like mine for you to
step right into. I'm glad I came to bring you comfort to-night."

"But father lost all his money in the Old Bank nine months ago,"
answered Phebe.

"Lost all his money!" repeated Nixey slowly and emphatically. There was
a deep silence in the little house, while he gazed at her with open
mouth and astonished eyes. Phebe had covered her face with her hands,
forgetting him and everything else in the recollection of that bitter
sorrow of hers nine months ago; worse than her sorrow now. Nixey spoke
again after a few minutes, in a husky and melancholy voice.

"It shan't make no difference, Phebe," he said; "I came to bring you
comfort, and I'll not take it away again. There they all are for you,
linen and pigs, and cows and poultry. I don't mind a straw what
mother'ill say. Only you wipe away those tears and laugh again, my
pretty dear. Look up at Simon and laugh again."

"It's very good of you," she answered, looking up into his face with
her blue eyes simply and frankly, "and I shall never forget it. But I
could not marry you. I could not marry anybody."

"But you must," he said imperiously; "a pretty young girl like you can't
live alone here in this lonesome place. Mother says it wouldn't be
decent or safe. You'll want a home, and it had best be mine. Come, now.
You'll never have a better offer if you've lost all your money. But your
land lies nighest to my farm, and it's worth more to me than anybody
else. It wouldn't be a bad bargain for me, Phebe; and I've waited five
years for you besides. If you'll only say yes, I'll go down and face
mother, and have it out with her at once."

But Phebe could not be brought to say yes, though Nixey used every
argument and persuasion he could think. He went away at last, in
dudgeon, leaving her alone, but not so sad as before. The new volume of
her life had already been opened.



CHAPTER XXIII.

ANOTHER OFFER.


The next day Phebe locked up her house and rode down to Riversborough.
As she descended into the valley and the open plain beyond her
sorrowfulness fell away from her. Her social instincts were strong, and
she delighted in companionship and in the help she could render to any
fellow-creature. If she overtook a boy trudging reluctantly to school
she would dismount from her rough pony and give him a ride; or if she
met with a woman carrying a heavy load, she took the burden from her,
and let her pony saunter slowly along, while she listened to the homely
gossip of the neighborhood. Phebe was a great favorite along these
roads, which she had traversed every week during summer to attend
Riversborough market for the last eight years. Her spirits rose as she
rode along, receiving many a kindly word, and more invitations to spend
a little while in different houses than she could have accepted if she
had been willing to give twelve months to visiting. It was market-day at
Riversborough, and the greetings there were still more numerous, and, if
possible, more kindly. Everybody had a word for Phebe Marlowe;
especially to-day, when her pretty black dress told of the loss she had
suffered.

She made her way to Whitefriars Road. The Old Bank was not so full as it
had formerly been, for immediately after the panic last May a new bank
had been opened more in the centre of the town, and a good many of the
tradesmen and farmers had transferred their accounts to it. The outer
office was fairly busy, but Phebe had not long to wait before being
summoned to see Mr. Clifford. The muscles of his stern and careworn
features relaxed into something approaching a smile as she entered, and
he caught sight of her sweet and frank young face.

"Sit down, Phebe," he said. "I did not hear of your loss before
yesterday; and I was just about to send for you to see your father's
will. It is in our strong room. You are not one-and-twenty yet?"

"Not till next December, sir," she replied.

"Roland Sefton is the only executor appointed," he continued, his face
contracting for an instant, as if some painful memory flashed across
him; "and, since he is dead, I succeed to the charge as his executor.
You will be my ward, Phebe, till you are of age."

"Will it be much trouble, sir?" she asked anxiously.

"None at all," he answered; "I hope it will be a pleasure; for, Phebe,
it will not be fit for you to live alone at Upfold Farm; and I wish you
to come here--to make your home with me till you are of age. It would be
a great pleasure to me, and I would take care you should have every
opportunity for self-improvement. I know you are not a fine young lady,
my dear, but you are sensible, modest, and sweet-tempered, and we should
get on well together. If you were happy with me I should regard you as
my adopted daughter, and provide accordingly for you. Think of it for a
few minutes while I look over these letters. Perhaps I seem a grim and
surly old man to you; but I am not naturally so. You would never
disappoint me."

He turned away to his desk, and appeared to occupy himself with his
letters, but he did not take in a single line of them. He had set his
heart once more on the hope of winning love and gratitude from some
young wayfarer on life's rough road, whose path he could make smooth and
bright. He had been bitterly disappointed in his own son and his
friend's son. But if this simple, unspoiled, little country maiden would
leave her future life in his keeping, how easy and how happy it should
be!

"It's very good of you," said Phebe, in a trembling voice; "and I'm not
afraid of you, Mr. Clifford, not in the least; but I could not keep from
fretting in this house. Oh, I loved them so, every one of them; but Mr.
Roland most of all. No one was ever so good to me as he was. If it
hadn't been for him I should have learned nothing, and father himself
would have been a dull, ignorant man. Mr. Roland learnt to talk to
father, and nobody else could talk with him but me. I used to think it
was as much like our Lord Jesus Christ as anything any one could do. Mr.
Roland could not open father's ears, but he learned how to talk to him,
to make him less lonely. That was the kindest thing any one on earth
could do."

"Do you believe Mr. Roland was innocent?" asked Mr. Clifford.

"I know he was guilty," answered Phebe sadly. "He told me all about it
himself, and I saw his sorrow. Before that he always seemed to me more
like what I think Jesus Christ was than any one else. He could never
think of himself while there were other people to care for. And I know,"
she went on, with simple sagacity, "that it was not Mr. Roland's sin
that fretted father, but the loss of the money. If he had made six
hundred pounds by using it without his consent, and said, 'Here,
Marlowe, are twelve hundred pounds for you instead of six; I did not put
your money up as you wanted, but used it instead;' why, father would
have praised him up to the skies, and could never have been grateful
enough."

Mr. Clifford's conscience smote him as he listened to Phebe's unworldly
comment on Roland Sefton's conduct. If Roland had met him with the
announcement of a gain of ten thousand pounds by a lucky though
unauthorized speculation, he knew very well his own feeling would have
been utterly different from that with which he had heard of the loss of
ten thousand pounds. The world itself would have cried out against him
if he had prosecuted a man by whose disregard of the laws he had gained
so large a profit. Was it, then, a simple love of justice that had
actuated him? Yet the breach of trust would have been the same.

"But if you will not come to live with me, my dear," he said, "what do
you propose to do? You cannot live alone in your old home."

"May I tell you what I should like to do?" she asked.

"Certainly," he answered. "I am bound to know it."

"Those two who are dead," she said, "thought so much of my painting.
Mr. Roland was always wishing I could go to a school of art, and father
said when he was gone he should wish it too. But now we have lost our
money, the next best thing will be for me to go to live as servant to
some great artist, where I could see something of painting till I've
saved enough money to go to school. I can let Upfold Farm for fifteen
pounds a year to Simon Nixey, so I shall soon have money enough. I
promised father I would never sell our farm, that has belonged to
Marlowes ever since it was inclosed from the common. And if I go to
London, I shall be near Madame and the children, and Mrs. Roland
Sefton."

The color had come back to Phebe's face, and her voice was steady and
musical again. There was a clear, frank shining in her blue eyes,
looking so pleasantly into his, that Mr. Clifford sighed regretfully as
he thought of his solitary and friendless life--self-chosen partly, but
growing more dreary as old age, with its infirmities, crept on.

"No, no; you need not go into service," he said; "there is money enough
of your own to do what you wish with. Mrs. Roland refuses to receive
the income from her marriage settlement till every claim against her
husband is paid off. I shall pay your claim off at the rate of one
hundred a year, or more, if you like. You may have a sum sufficient to
keep you at an art school as long as you need be there."

"Why, I shall be very rich!" exclaimed Phebe; "and father dreaded I
should be poor."

"I will run up to London and see what arrangements I can make for you,"
he continued. "Perhaps Mrs. Roland Sefton could find a corner for you in
her own house, small as it is, and Madame would make you as welcome as a
daughter. You are more of a daughter to her than Felicita. Only I must
make a bargain, that you and the children come down often to see me here
in the old house. I should have grown very fond of you, Phebe; and then
you would have married some man whom I detested, and disappointed me
bitterly again. It is best as it is, I suppose. But if you will change
your mind now, and stay with me as my adopted daughter, I'll run the
risk."

"If it was anywhere else!" she answered with a wistful look into his
face, "but not here. If Mrs. Roland Sefton could find room for me I'd
rather live with them than anywhere else in the world. Only don't think
I'm ungrateful because I can't stay here."

"No, no, Phebe," he replied; "it was for my own sake I asked it. As you
grow older, child, you'll find out that the secret root of nine tenths
of the benevolence you see is selfishness."

Six weeks later all the arrangements for Phebe leaving her old home and
entering upon an utterly new life were completed. Simon Nixey, after
vainly urging her to accept himself, and to give herself and her little
farm and her restored fortune to him, offered to become her tenant at
£10 a year for the land, leaving the cottage uninhabited; for Phebe
could not bear the idea of any farm laborer and his family dwelling in
it, and destroying or injuring the curious carvings with which her
father had lined its walls. The spot was far out of the way of tramps
and wandering vagabonds, and there was no danger of damage being done
to it by the neighbors. Mrs. Nixey undertook to see that it was kept
from damp and dirt, promising to have a fire lighted there occasionally,
and Simon would see to the thatch being kept in repair, on condition
that Phebe would come herself once a year to receive her rent, and see
how the place was cared for. There was but a forlorn hope in Mrs.
Nixey's heart that Phebe would ever have Simon now she was going to
London; but it might possibly come about in the long run if he met with
no girl to accept him with as much fortune.

Before leaving Upfold Farm Phebe received the following letter from
Felicita:

     "DEAR PHEBE: I shall be very glad to have you under my
     roof. I believe I see in you a freshness and truthfulness of nature
     on which I can rely for sympathy. I have always felt a sincere
     regard for you, but of late I have learned to love you, and to
     think of you as my friend. I love you next to my children. Let me
     be a friend to you. Your pursuits will interest me, and you must
     let me share them as your friend.

     "But one favor I must ask. Never mention my husband's name to me.
     Madame will feel solace in talking of him, but the very sound of his
     name is intolerable to me. It is my fault; but spare me. You are the
     dearer to me because you love him, and because he prized your
     affections so highly; but he must never be mentioned, if possible
     not thought of, in my presence. If you think of him I shall feel it,
     and be wounded. I say this before you come that you may spare me as
     much pain as you can.

     "This is the only thing I dread. Otherwise your coming to us would
     be the happiest thing that has befallen me for the last year.

     "Yours faithfully,

     "Felicita."

If Felicita was glad to have her, Phebe knew that Madame and the
children would be enraptured. Nor had she judged wrongly. Madame
received her as if she had been a favorite child, whose presence was the
very comfort and help she stood most in need of. Though she devoted
herself to Felicita, there was a distance between them, an impenetrable
reserve, that chilled her spirits and threw her love back upon herself.
But to Phebe she could pour out her heart unrestrainedly, dwelling upon
the memory of her lost son, and mourning openly for him. And Phebe never
spoke a word that could lead Roland's mother to think she believed him
to be guilty. With a loving tact she avoided all discussion on that
point; and, though again and again the pang of her own loss made itself
poignantly felt, she knew how to pour consolation into the heart of
Roland's mother.

But to Felix and Hilda Phebe's companionship was an endless delight. She
came from her lonely homestead on the hills into the full stream of
London life, and it had a ceaseless interest for her. She could not grow
weary of the streets with their crowd of passers-by; and the shop
windows filled with wealth and curiosities fascinated her. All the stir
and tumult were joyous to her, and the faces she met as she walked along
the pavement possessed an unceasing influence over her. The love of
humanity, scarcely called into existence before, developed rapidly in
her. Felix and Hilda shared in her childish pleasure without
understanding the deep springs from which it came.

It was an education in itself for the children. A drive in an omnibus,
with its frequent stoppages and its constant change of passengers, was
delightful to Phebe, and never lost its charm for her. She and the
children explored London, seeing all its sights, which Phebe, in her
rustic curiosity, wished to see. From west to east, from north to south,
they became acquainted with the great capital as few children, rich or
poor, have a chance of doing. They sought out all its public buildings,
every museum and picture gallery, the birthplaces of its famous men, the
places where they died, and their tombs if they were within London.
Westminster Abbey was as familiar to them as their own home. It seemed
as if Phebe was compensating herself for her lonely girlhood on the
barren and solitary uplands. Yet it was not simply sight-seeing, but the
outcome of an intelligent and genuine curiosity, which was only
satisfied by understanding all she could about the things and places she
saw.

To the children, as well as to Madame, she often talked of Roland
Sefton. Felix loved nothing more than to listen to her recollections of
his lost father, who had so strangely disappeared out of his life. On a
Sunday evening when, of course, their wanderings were over, she would
sit with them in summer by the attic window, which, overlooked the
river, and in winter by the fireside, recounting again and again all she
knew of him, especially of how good he always was to her. There were a
vividness and vivacity in all she said of him which charmed their
imagination and kept the memory of him alive in their hearts. Phebe gave
dramatic effect to her stories of him. Hilda could scarcely remember
him, though she believed she did; but to Felix he remained the tall,
handsome, kindly father, who was his ideal of all a man should be; while
Phebe, perhaps unconsciously, portrayed him as all that was great and
good.

For neither Madame nor Phebe could find it in their hearts to tell the
boy, so proud and fond of his father's memory, that any suspicion had
ever been attached to his name. Madame, who had mourned so bitterly over
his premature death in her native land, but so far from his own, had
never believed in his guilt; and Phebe, who knew him to be guilty, had
forgiven him with that forgiveness which possesses an almost sacred
forgetfulness. If she had been urged to look back and down into that
dark abyss in which he had been lost to her, she must have owned
reluctantly that he had once done wrong. But it was hard to remember
anything against the dead.



CHAPTER XXIV.

AT HOME IN LONDON.


Every summer Phebe went down to her own home on the uplands, according
to her promise to the Nixeys. Felix and Hilda always accompanied her,
for a change was necessary for the children, and Felicita seldom cared
to go far from London, and then only to some sea-side resort near at
hand, when Madame always went with her. Every summer Simon Nixey
repeated his offer the first evening of Phebe's residence under her own
roof; for, as Mrs. Nixey said, as long as she was wed to nobody else
there was a chance for him. Though they could see with sharp and envious
eyes the change that was coming over her, transforming her from the
simple, untaught country girl into an educated and self-possessed woman,
marking out her own path in life, yet the sweetness and the frankness
of Phebe's nature remained unchanged.

"She's growing a notch or two higher every time she comes down," said
Mrs. Nixey regretfully; "she'll be far above thee, lad, next summer."

"She's only old Dummy's daughter after all," answered Simon; "I'll never
give her up."

To Phebe they were always old friends, whom she must care for as long as
she lived, however far she might travel from them or rise above them.
The free, homely life on the hills was as dear to her and the children
as their life in London. The little house, with its beautiful and
curious decorations; the small fields and twisted trees surrounding it;
the wide, purple moors, and all the associations Phebe conjured up for
them connected with their father, made the dumb old wood-carver's place
a second home to them.

The happiest season of the year to Mr. Clifford was that when Phebe and
Roland Sefton's children were in his neighborhood. Felicita remained
firm to her resolution that Felix should have nothing to do with his
father's business, and the boy himself had decided in his very childhood
that he would follow in the footsteps of his ancestor, Felix Merle, the
brave pastor of the Jura. There was no hope of having him to train up
for the Old Bank. But every summer they spent a few days with him, in
the very house where their father had lived, and where Felix could still
associate him with the wainscoted rooms and the terraced garden. When
Felix talked of his father and asked questions about him, Mr. Clifford
always spoke of him in a regretful and affectionate tone. No hint
reached the boy that his father's memory was not revered in his native
town.

"There is no stone to my father in the church," he said, one Sunday,
after he had been looking again and again at a tablet to his grandfather
on the church walls.

"No; but I had a granite cross put over his grave in Engelberg,"
answered Mr. Clifford; "when you can go to Switzerland you'll have no
trouble in finding it. Perhaps you and I may go there together some day.
I have some thoughts of it."

"But my mother will not hear a word of any of us ever going to
Switzerland," said Felix. "I've asked her how soon she would think us
old enough to go, and she said never! Of course we don't expect she
would ever bear to go to the place where he was killed; but Phebe would
love to go, and so would I. We've saved enough money, Phebe and I; and
my mother will not let me say one word about it. She says I am never,
never to think of such a thing."

"She is afraid of losing you as well as him," replied Mr. Clifford; "but
when you are more of a man she will let you go. You are all she has."

"Except Hilda," said the boy fondly, "and I know she loves me most of
all. I do not wonder she cannot bear to hear about my father. My mother
is not like other women."

"Your mother is a famous woman," rejoined Mr. Clifford; "you ought to be
proud of her."

For as years passed on Felicita had attained some portion of her
ambition. In Riversborough it seemed as if she was the first writer of
the age; and though in London she had not won one of those extraordinary
successes which place an author suddenly at the top of the ladder, she
was steadily climbing upward, and was well known for her good and
conscientious work. The books she wrote were clever, though cynical and
captious; yet here and there they contained passages of pathos and
beauty which insured a fair amount of favor. Her work was always welcome
and well paid, so well that she could live comfortably on the income she
made for herself, without falling back on her marriage settlement.
Without an undue strain upon her mental powers she could earn a thousand
a year, which was amply sufficient for her small household.

Though Roland Sefton had lavished upon his high-born wife all the pomp
and luxury he considered fitting to the position she had left for him,
Felicita's own tastes and habits were simple. Her father, Lord
Riversford, had been but a poor baron with an encumbered estate, and his
only child had been brought up in no extravagant ways. Now that she had
to earn most of the income of the household, for herself she had very
few personal expenses to curtail. Thanks to Madame and Phebe, the house
was kept in exquisite order, saving Felicita the shock of seeing the
rooms she dwelt in dingy and shabby. Excepting the use of a carriage,
there was no luxury that she greatly missed.

As she became more widely known, Felicita was almost compelled to enter
into society, though she did it reluctantly. Old friends of her
father's, himself a literary man, sought her out; and her cousins from
Riversford insisted upon visiting her and being visited as her
relations. She could not altogether resist their overtures, partly on
account of her children, who, as they grew up, ought not to find
themselves without friends. But she went from home with unwillingness,
and returned to the refuge of her quiet study with alacrity.

There was only one house where she visited voluntarily. A distant cousin
of hers had married a country clergyman, whose parish was about thirty
miles from London, in the flat, green meadows of Essex. The Pascals had
children the same age as Felix and Hilda; and when they engaged a tutor
for their own boys and girls they proposed to Felicita that her children
should join them. In Mr. Pascal's quiet country parsonage were to be met
some of the clearest and deepest thinkers of the day, who escaped from
the conventionalities of London society to the simple and pleasant
freedom they found there. Mr. Pascal himself was a leading spirit among
them, with an intellect and a heart large and broad enough to find
companionship in every human being who crossed his path. There was no
pleasure in life to Felicita equal to going down for a few days' rest to
this country parsonage.

That she was still mourning bitterly for the husband, whose name could
never be mentioned to her, all the world believed. It made those who
loved her most feel very tenderly toward her. Though she never put on a
widow's garb she always wore black dresses. The jewels Roland had bought
for her in profusion lay in their cases, and never saw the light. She
could not bring herself to look at them; for she understood better now
the temptation that had assailed and conquered him. She knew that it was
for her chiefly, to gratify an ambition cherished on her account, that
he had fallen into crime.

"I worship my mother still," said Felix one day to Phebe, "but I feel
more and more awe of her every day. What is it that separates her from
us? It would be different if my father had not died."

"Yes, it would have been different," answered Phebe, thinking of how
terrible a change it must have made in their young lives if Roland
Sefton had not died. She, too, understood better what his crime had
been, and how the world regarded it; and she thanked God in her secret
soul that Roland was dead, and his wife and children saved from sharing
his punishment. It had all been for the best, sad as it was at the time.
Madame also was comforted, though she had not forgotten her son. It was
the will of God: it was God who had called him, as He would call her
some day. There was no bitterness in her grief, and she did not perplex
her soul with brooding over the impenetrable mystery of death.



CHAPTER XXV.

DEAD TO THE WORLD.


In an hospital at Lucerne a peasant had been lying ill for many weeks of
a brain fever, which left him so absolutely helpless that it was
impossible to turn him out into the streets on his recovery from the
fever, as he had no home or friends to go to. When his mind seemed clear
enough to give some account of himself, he was incoherent and bewildered
in the few statements he made. He did not answer to his own name, Jean
Merle; and he appeared incapable of understanding even a simple
question. That his brain had been, perhaps, permanently affected by the
fever was highly probable.

When at length the authorities of the hospital were obliged to discharge
him, a purse was made up for him, containing enough money to keep him
in his own station for the next three months.

By this time Jean Merle was no longer confused and unintelligible when
he opened his lips, but he very rarely uttered a word beyond what was
absolutely necessary. He appeared to the physicians attending him to be
bent on recollecting something that had occurred in the past before his
brain gave way. His face was always preoccupied and moody, and scarcely
any sound would catch his ear and make him lift up his head. There must
be mania somewhere, but it could not be discovered.

"Have you any plans for the future, Merle?" he was asked the day he was
discharged as cured.

"Yes, Monsieur," he replied; "I am a wood-carver by trade."

"And where are you going to now?" was the next question.

"I must go to Engelberg," answered Merle, with a shudder.

"Ah! to Monsieur Nicodemus; then," said the doctor, "you must be a good
hand at your work to please him, my good fellow."

"I am a good hand," replied Merle.

The valley of Engelberg lies high, and is little more than a cleft in
the huge mass of mountains; a narrow gap where storms gather, and bring
themselves into a focus. In the summer thunder-clouds draw together, and
fill up the whole valley, while rain falls in torrents, and the streams
war and rage along their stony channels. But when Jean Merle returned to
it in March, after four months' absence, the valley was covered with
snow stretching up to the summits of the mountains around it, save only
where the rocks were too precipitous for it to lodge.

He had come back to Engelberg because there was the grave of the
friendless man who bore his former name. It had a fascination for him,
this grave, where he was supposed to be at rest. The handsome granite
cross, bearing only the name of Roland Sefton and the date of his death,
attracted him, and held him by an irresistible spell. At first, in the
strange weakness of his mind, he could hardly believe but that he was
dead, and this inexplicable second life as Jean Merle was an illusion.
It would not have amazed him if he had been invisible and inaudible to
those about him. That which filled him with astonishment and terror was
the fact that the people took him to be what he said he was, a Swiss
peasant, and a wood-carver.

He had no difficulty in getting work as soon as he had done a piece as a
specimen of his skill. Monsieur Nicodemus recognized a delicate and
cultivated hand, and a faithful delineator of nature. As he acquired
more skill with steady practice he surpassed the master's most dexterous
helper, and bid fair to rival Monsieur Nicodemus himself. But Jean Merle
had no ambition; there was no desire to make himself known, or put his
productions forward. He was content with receiving liberal wages, such
as the master, with the generosity of a true artist, paid to him. But
for the unflagging care he expended upon his work, his fellow-craftsmen
would have thought him indifferent to it.

For nine months in the year Jean Merle remained in Engelberg, giving
himself no holiday, no leisure, no breathing time. He lived on the
poorest fare, and in the meanest lodging. His clothing was often little
better than rags. His wages brought him no relaxation from toil, or
delivered him from self-chosen wretchedness. Silent and morose, he lived
apart from all his fellows, who regarded him as a half-witted miser.

When the summer season brought flights of foreign tourists, Merle
disappeared, and was seen no more till autumn. Nobody knew whither he
went, but it was believed he acted as a guide to some of the highest and
most perilous of the Alps. When he came back to his work at the end of
the season, his blackened and swarthy face, from which the skin had
peeled, and his hands wounded and torn as if from scaling jagged cliffs,
bore testimony to these conjectures.

He never entered the church when mass was performed, or any congregation
assembled; but at rare intervals he might be seen kneeling on the steps
before the high altar, his shaggy head bent down, and his frame shaken
with repressed sobs which no one could hear. The curé had tried to win
his confidence, but had failed. Jean Merle was a heretic.

When he was spoken to he would speak, but he never addressed himself to
any one. He was not a native-born Swiss, and he did not seek
naturalization, or claim any right in the canton. He did not seek
permission to marry or to build a house, but as he was skilful and
industrious and thrifty, a man in the prime of life, the commune left
him alone.

He seemed to have taken it as a self-imposed task that he should have
the charge of the granite cross, erected over the man whose death he had
witnessed. He was recognized in Engelberg as the man who had spent the
last hours with the buried Englishman, but no suspicion attached to him.
So careful was he of the monument that it was generally rumored he
received a sum of money yearly for keeping it in order. No doubt the
friends of the rich Englishman, who had erected so handsome a stone to
his memory, made it worth the man's while to attend to it. Besides this
grave, which he could not keep himself from haunting, Engelberg
attracted him by its double association with Felicita. Here he had seen
her for the first and for the last time. There was no other spot in the
world, except the home he had lost forever, so full of memories of her.
He could live over again every instant of each interview with her, with
all the happy interval that lay between them. The rest of his life was
steeped in shadow; the earlier years before he knew Felicita were pale
and dim; the time since he lost her was unreal and empty, like a
confused dream.

After a while a dull despondency succeeded to the acute misery of his
first winter and summer. His second fraud had been terribly successful;
in a certain measure he was duped by it himself. All the world believed
him to be dead, and he lived as a shadow among shadows. The wild and
solitary ice-peaks he sometimes scaled seemed to him the unsubstantial
phantasmagoria of a troubled sleep. He wondered with a dull amazement if
the crevasses which yawned before him would swallow him up, or the
shuddering violence of an avalanche bury him beneath it. His life had
been as a tale that is told, even to its last word, death.



PART II.



CHAPTER I.

AFTER MANY YEARS.


The busy, monotonous years ran through their course tranquilly, marked
only by a change of residence from the narrow little house suited to
Felicita's slender means to a larger, more commodious, and more
fashionable dwelling-place in a West End square. Both Felicita and Phebe
had won their share of public favor and a fair measure of fame; and the
new home was chosen partly on account of an artist's studio with a
separate entrance, through which Phebe could go in and out, and admit
her visitors and sitters, in independence of the rest of the household.

Never once had Felix wavered in his desire to take orders and become a
clergyman, from the time his boyish imagination had been fired by the
stories of his great-grandfather's perils and labors in the Jura.
Felicita had looked coldly on his resolution, having a quiet contempt
for English clergymen, in spite of her friendship for Mr. Pascal, if
friendship it could be called. For each year as it passed over Felicita
left her in a separation from her fellow-creatures, always growing more
chilly and dreary. It seemed to herself as if her lips were even losing
the use of language, and that only with her pen could she find vent in
expression. And these written thoughts of hers, printed and published
for any eye to read, how unutterably empty of all but bitterness she
found them. She almost marvelled at the popularity of her own books. How
could it be that the cynical, scornful pictures she drew of human nature
and human fellowship could be read so eagerly? She felt ashamed of her
children seeing them, lest they should learn to distrust all men's truth
and honor, and she would not suffer a word to be said about them in her
own family.

But Madame Sefton, in her failing old age, was always ready to
sympathize with Felix, and to help to keep him steady to her own simple
faith; and Phebe was on the same side. These two women, with their
quiet, unquestioning trust in God, and sweet charity toward their
fellow-men, did more for Felix than all the opposing influences of
college life could undo; and when his grandmother's peaceful and happy
death set the last seal on her truthful life, Felix devoted himself with
renewed earnestness to the career he had chosen. To enter the lists in
the battle against darkness, and ignorance, and sin, wherever these foes
were to be met in close quarters, was his ambition; and the enthusiasm
with which he followed it made Felicita smile, yet sigh with unutterable
bitterness as she looked into the midnight gloom of her own soul.

It became quite plain to Felicita as the years passed by that her son
was no genius. At present there was a freshness and singleness of
purpose about him, which, with the charm of his handsome young face and
the genial simplicity of his manners, made him everywhere a favorite,
and carried him into circles where a graver man and a deeper thinker
could not find entrance; but let twenty years pass by, and Felix, she
said to herself, would be nothing but a commonplace country clergyman,
looking after his glebe lands and riding lazily about his parish,
talking with old women and consulting farmers about his crops and
cattle. She felt disappointed in him; and this disappointment removed
him far away from her. The enchanted circle of her own isolation was
complete.

The subtle influence of Felicita's dissatisfaction was vaguely felt by
Felix. He had done well at Oxford, and had satisfied his friend and
tutor, Mr. Pascal; but he knew that his mother wished him to make a
great name there, and he had failed to do it. Every day, when he spent a
few minutes in Felicita's library, lined with books which were her only
companions, their conversation grew more and more vapid, unless his
mother gave utterance to some of her sarcastic sayings, which he only
half understood and altogether disliked.

But in Phebe's studio all was different; he was at home there. Though it
was separate from the house, it had from the first been the favorite
haunt of all the other members of the family. Madame had been wont to
bring her knitting and sit beside Phebe's easel, talking of old times,
and of the dear son she had lost so sorrowfully. Felix had read his
school-boy stories aloud to her whilst she was painting; and Hilda
flitted in and out restlessly, carrying every bit of news she picked up
from her girl friends to Phebe. Even Felicita was used to steal in
silently in the dusk, when no one else was there, and talk in her low
sad voice as she talked to no one else.

As soon as Felix was old enough, within a few months of Madame's death,
he took orders, and accepted a curacy in a poor and densely populated
London district. It was not much more than two miles from home, but it
was considered advisable that he should take lodgings near his vicar's
church, and dwell in the midst of the people with whom he had to do. The
separation was not so complete as if he had gone into a country parish,
but it brought another blank into the home, which had not yet ceased to
miss the tranquil and quiet presence of the old grandmother.

"I shall not have to fight with wolves like Felix Merle, my
great-grandfather," said Felix, the evening before he left home, as he
and Phebe were sitting over her studio fire. "I think sometimes I ought
to go out as a missionary to some wild country. Yet there are dangers to
meet here in London, and risks to run; ay! and battles to fight. I shall
have a good fist for drunken men beating helpless women in my parish. I
couldn't stand by and see a woman ill-used without striking a blow,
could I, Phebe?"

"I hope you'll strike as few blows as you can," she answered, smiling.

"How could I help standing up for a woman when I think of my mother, and
you, and little Hilda, and her who is gone?" asked Felix.

"Is there nobody else?" inquired Phebe, with a mischievous tone in her
pleasant voice.

"When I think of the good women I have known," he answered evasively,
"the sweet true, noble women, I feel my blood boil at the thought of any
man ill-using any woman. Phebe, I can just remember my father speaking
of it with the utmost contempt and anger, with a fire in his eyes and a
sternness in his voice which made me tremble with fear. He was in a
righteous passion; it was the other side of his worship of my mother."

"He was always kind and tender toward all women," answered Phebe. "All
the Seftons have been like that; they could never be harsh to any woman.
But your father almost worshipped the ground your mother trod upon;
nothing on earth was good enough for her. Look here, my dear boy, I've
been trying to paint a picture for you."

She lifted up a stretcher which had been turned with the canvas to the
wall, and placed it on her easel in the full light of a shaded lamp. For
a moment she stood between him and it, gazing at it with tears in her
blue eyes. Then she fell back to his side to look at it with him,
clasping his hand in hers, and holding it in a warm, fond grasp.

It was a portrait of Roland Sefton, painted from her faithful memory,
which had been aided by a photograph taken when he was the same age
Felix was now. Phebe could only see it dimly through her tears, and for
a moment or two both of them were silent.

"My father?" said Felix, his face flushing and his voice faltering; "is
it like him, Phebe? Yes, yes! I recollect him now; only he looked
happier or merrier than he does there. There is something sad about his
face that I do not remember. What a king he was among men! I'm not
worthy to be the son of such a man and such a woman."

"No, no; don't say that," she answered eagerly; "you're not as handsome,
or as strong, or as clever as he was; but you may be as good a man--yes,
a better man."

She spoke with a deep, low sigh that was almost a sob, as the memory of
how she had seen him last--crushed under a weight of sin and flying from
the penalty of crime--flashed across her brain. She knew now why there
had lurked a subtle sadness in the face she had been painting, which she
had not been able to banish.

"I think," she said, as if speaking to herself, "that the sense of sin
links us to God almost as closely as love does. I never understood Jesus
Christ until I knew something of the wickedness of the world, and the
frailty of our nature at its best. It is when a good man has to cry,
'Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy
sight,' that we feel something of the awful sinfulness of sin."

"And have you this sense of sin, Phebe?" asked Felix in a low voice. "I
have thought sometimes that you, and my mother, and men like my father
and Mr. Pascal, felt but little of the inward strength of sin. Your
lives stand out so clear and true. If there is a stain upon them it is
so slight, so plainly a defect of the physical nature, that it often
seems to me you do not know what evil is."

"We all know it," she answered, "and that shadow of sorrow you see in
your father's face must bear witness for him to you that he has passed
through the same conflict you may be fighting. The sins of good men are
greater than the sins of bad men. One lie from a truthful man is more
hurtful than all the lies of a liar. The sins of a man after God's own
heart have done more harm than all the crimes of all the Pagan
emperors."

"It is true," he said thoughtfully.

"If I told you a falsehood, what would you think of me?"

"I believe it would almost break my heart if you or my mother told me a
falsehood," he answered.

"I could not paint this portrait while your grandmother was living,"
said Phebe, after a short silence; "I tried it once or twice, but I
could never succeed. See; here is the photograph your father gave me
when I was quite a little girl, because I cried so bitterly at his going
away for a few months on his wedding trip. There were only two taken,
and your mother has the other. They were both very young; he was only
your age, and your mother was not twenty. But Lord Riversford was dead,
and she was not happy with her cousins; and your grandfather, who was
living then, was eager for the match. Everybody said it was a great
match for your father."

"They were very happy; they were not too young to be married," answered
Felix, with a deep flush on his handsome face. "Why should not people
marry young, if they love one another?"

"I would ask Canon Pascal that question if I were you," she said,
smiling significantly.

"I have a good mind to ask him to-night," he replied, stooping down to
kiss Phebe's cheek; "he is at Westminster, and Alice is there too. Bid
me good speed, Phebe."

"God bless you, my Felix," she whispered.

He turned abruptly away, though he lingered for a minute or two longer,
gazing at his father's portrait. How like him, and yet how unlike him,
he was in Phebe's eyes! Then, with a gentle pressure of her hand, he
went away in silence; while she took down the painting, and set it again
with its face to the wall, lest Felicita coming in should catch a sight
of it.



CHAPTER II.

CANON PASCAL.


The massive pile of the old Abbey stood darkly against the sky, with not
a glimmer of light shining through its many windows; whilst behind it
the Houses of Parliament, now in full session, glittered from roof to
basement with innumerable lamps. All about them there was the rush and
rattle of busy life, but the Abbey seemed inclosed in a magic circle of
solitude and stillness. Overhead a countless host of little silvery
clouds covered the sky, with fine threads and interspaces of dark blue
lying between them. The moon, pale and bright, seemed to be drifting
slowly among them, sometimes behind them, and faintly veiled by their
light vapor; but more often the little clouds made way for her, and
clustered round, in a circle of vaguely outlined cherub-heads, golden
brown in the halo she shed about her. These child-like angel-heads,
floating over the greater part of the sky, seemed pressing forward, one
behind the other, and hastening into the narrow ring of light, with a
gentle eagerness; and fading softly away as the moon passed by.

Felix stood still for a minute or two looking up from the dark and
silent front of the Abbey to the silent and silvery clouds above it.
Almost every stone of the venerable old walls was familiar and dear to
him. For Phebe, when she came from the broad, grand solitude of her
native moors, had fixed at once upon the Abbey as the one spot in London
where she could find something of the repose she had been accustomed to
meet with in the sight of the far-stretching horizon, and the unbroken
vault of heaven overarching it. Felicita, too, had attended the
cathedral service every Sunday morning, since she had been wealthy
enough to set up a carriage, which was the first luxury she had allowed
herself. The music, the chants, the dim light of the colored windows,
the long aisle of lofty arches, and the many persistent and dominant
associations taking possession of her memory and imagination, made the
Abbey almost as dear to Felicita as it was through its mysterious and
sacred repose to Phebe.

Felix had paced along the streets with rapid and headlong haste, but now
he hesitated before turning into Dean's Yard. When he did so, he
sauntered round the inclosure two or three times, wondering in what
words he could best move the Canon, and framing half a dozen speeches in
his mind, which seemed ridiculous to himself when he whispered them half
aloud. At last, with a sudden determination to trust to the inspiration
of the moment, he turned his steps hurriedly into the dark, low arches
of the cloisters.

But he had not many steps to take. The tall, somewhat stooping figure of
Canon Pascal, so familiar to him, was leaving through one of the
archways, with head upturned to the little field of sky above the
quadrangle, where the moon was to be seen with her attendant clouds.
Felix could read every line in his strongly marked features, and the
deep furrows which lay between his thick brows. The tinge of gray in his
dark hair was visible in the moonlight, or rather the pale gleam caused
all his hair to seem silvery. His eyes were glistening with delight, and
as he heard steps pausing at his side, he turned, and at the sight of
Felix his harsh face melted into almost a womanly smile of greeting.

"Welcome, my son," he said, in a pleasant and deep voice; "you are just
in time to share this glorious sight with me. Pity 'tis it vanishes so
soon!"

He clasped Felix's hand with a warm, hearty pressure, such as few hands
know how to give; though it is one of the most tender and most refined
expressions of friendship. Felix grasped his with an unconscious grip
which made Canon Pascal wince, though he said nothing. For a few minutes
the two men stood gazing upward in reverent silence, each brain busy
with its own thoughts.

"You were coming to see me?" said Canon Pascal at last.

"Yes," answered Felix, in a voice faltering with eager emotion.

"On some special errand?" pursued Canon Pascal. "Don't let us lose time
in beating about the bush, then. You cannot say anything that will not
be interesting to me, Felix; for I always find a lad like you, and at
your age, has something in his mind worth listening to. What is it, my
son?"

"I don't want to beat about the bush," stammered Felix, "but oh! if you
only knew how I love Alice! More than words can tell. You've known me
all my life, and Alice has known me. Will you let her be my wife?"

The smile was gone from Canon Pascal's face. A moment ago, and he,
gazing up at the moon, had been recalling, with a boyish freshness of
heart, the days of his own happy though protracted courtship of the dear
wife, who might be gazing at the same scene from her window in his
country rectory. His face grew almost harsh with its grave
thoughtfulness as his eyes fastened upon the agitated features of the
young man beside him. A fine-looking young fellow, he said to himself;
with a frank, open nature, and a constitution and disposition unspoiled
by the world. He needed nobody to tell him what his old pupil was, for
he knew him as well as he knew his own boys, but he had never thought
of him as any other than a boy. Alice, too, was a child still. This
sudden demand struck him into a mood of silent and serious thought; and
he paced to and fro for a while along the corridor, with Felix equally
silent and serious at his side.

"You've no idea how much I love her!" Felix at last ventured to say.

"Hush, my boy!" he answered, with a sharp, imperative tone in his voice.
"I loved Alice's mother before you were born; and I love her more every
day of my life. You children don't know what love means."

Felix answered by a gesture of protest. Not know what love meant, when
neither day nor night was the thought of Alice absent from his inmost
heart! He had been almost afraid of the vehemence of his own passion,
lest it should prove a hindrance to him in God's service. Canon Pascal
drew his arm affectionately through his and turned back to pace the
cloister once more.

"I'm trying to think," he said, in a gentler voice, "that Alice is out
of the nursery, and you out of the schoolroom. It is difficult, Felix."


"You were present at my ordination last week," exclaimed Felix, in an
aggrieved tone; "the Church, and the Bishop, and you did not think me
too young to take charge of souls. Surely you cannot urge that I am not
old enough to take care of one whom I love better than my own life!"

Canon Pascal pressed Felix's arm closer to his side.

"Oh, my boy!" he said, "you will discover that it is easier to commit
unknown souls to anybody's charge, than to give away one's child, body,
soul, and spirit. It is a solemn thing we are talking of; more solemn,
in some respects, than my girl's death. I would rather follow Alice to
the grave than see her enter into a marriage not made for her in
heaven."

"So would I," answered Felix tremulously.

"And to make sure that any marriage is made in heaven!" mused the Canon,
speaking as if to himself, with his head sunk in thought. "There's the
grand difficulty! For oh! Felix, my son, it is not love only that is
needed, but wisdom; yes! the highest wisdom, that which cometh down
from above, and is first pure, and then peaceable. For how could Christ
Himself be the husband of the Church, if He was not both the wisdom of
God and the love of God? How could God be the heavenly Father of us all,
if He was not infinite in wisdom? Know you not what Bacon saith; 'To
love and to be wise is not granted unto man?'"

"I dare not say I am wise," answered Felix, "but surely such love as I
bear to Alice will bring wisdom."

"And does Alice love you?" asked Canon Pascal.

"I did not think it right to ask her?" he replied.

"Then there's some hope still," said the Canon, more joyously; "the
child is scarcely twenty yet. Do not you be in a hurry, my boy. You do
not know what woman is yet; how delicately and tenderly organized; how
full of seeming contradictions and uncertainties, often with a blessed
meaning in them, ah, a heavenly meaning, but hard to be understood and
apprehended by the rougher portion of humanity. Study them a little
longer, Felix; take another year or two before you fix on your life
mistress."

"You forget how many years I have lived under the same roof as Alice,"
replied Felix eagerly, "and how many women I have lived with; my mother,
my grandmother, Phebe, and Hilda. Surely I know more about them than
most men."

"All good women," he answered, "happy lad! blessed lad, I should rather
say. They have been better to thee than angels. Phebe has been more than
a guardian angel to thee, though thou knowest not all thou owest to her
yet. But a wife, Felix, is different, God knows, from mother, or sister,
or friend. God chooses our kinsfolk for us; but man chooses his own
wife; having free will in that choice on which hangs his own life, and
the lives of others. Yet the wisest of men said, 'Whoso findeth a wife
findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord.' Ay, a good wife
is the token of such loving favor as we know not yet in this world."

The Canon's voice had fallen into a low and gentle tone, little louder
than a whisper. The dim, obscure light in the cloisters scarcely gave
Felix a chance of seeing the expression of his face; but the young man's
heart beat high with hope.

"You don't say No to me?" he faltered.

"How can I say No or Yes?" asked Canon Pascal, almost with an accent of
surprise. "I will talk it over with your mother and Alice's mother; but
the Yes or No must come from Alice herself. What am I that I should
stand between you two and God, if it is His will to bestow His sweet
boon upon you both? Only do not disturb the child, Felix. Leave her
fancy-free a little longer."

"And you are willing to take me as your son? You do not count me
unworthy?" he exclaimed.

"I've boys of my own," he answered, "whose up-growing I've watched from
the day of their birth, and who are precious to me as my own soul; and
you, Felix, come next to them. You've been like another son to me. But I
must see your mother. Who knows what thoughts she may not have for her
only son?"

"None, none that can come between Alice and me," cried Felix
rapturously. "Father! yes, I shall know again what it is to have a
father."

A sob rose to his throat as he uttered the word. He seemed to see his
own father again, as he remembered him in his childhood, and as Phebe's
portrait had recalled him vividly to his mind. If he had only lived till
now to witness, and to share in this new happiness! It seemed as if his
early death gathered an additional sadness about it, since he had left
the world while so much joy and gladness had been enfolded in the
future. Even in this first moment of ineffable happiness he promised
himself that he would go and visit his father's foreign grave.



CHAPTER III.

FELICITA'S REFUSAL.


Now there was no longer a doubt weighing upon his spirit, Felix longed
to tell his mother all. The slight cloud that had arisen of late years
between them was so gossamer-like yet, that the faintest breath could
drive it away. Though her boy was not the brilliant genius she had
secretly and fondly hoped he would prove, he was still dearer to
Felicita than ought else on earth or, indeed, in heaven; and her love
for him was deeper than she supposed. On his part he had never lost that
chivalrous tenderness, blended with deferential awe, with which he had
regarded her from his early boyhood. His love for Alice was so utterly
different from his devotion to her, that he had never compared them, and
they had not come into any kind of collision yet.

Felix sought his mother in her library. Felicita was alone, reading in
the light of a lamp which shed a strong illumination over her. In his
eyes she was incomparably the loveliest woman he had ever seen, not even
excepting Alice; and the stately magnificence of her velvet dress, and
rich lace, and costly jewels, was utterly different from that of any
other woman he knew. For Mrs. Pascal dressed simply, as became the wife
of a country rector; and Phebe, in her studio, always wore a blouse or
apron of brown holland, which suited her well, making her homely and
domestic in appearance as she was in nature. Felicita looked like a
queen in his eyes.

When she heard his voice speaking to her, having not caught the sound of
his step on the soft carpet, Felicita looked up with a smile in her dark
eyes. In a day or two her son was about to leave her roof, and her heart
felt very soft toward him. She had scarcely realized that he was a man,
until she knew that he had decided to have a place and a dwelling of his
own.

She stretched out both hands to him, with a gesture of tenderness
peculiar to herself, and shown only to him. It was as if one hand could
not link them closely enough; could not bring them so nearly heart to
heart. Felix took them both into his own, and knelt down before her; his
young face flushed with eagerness, and his eyes, so like her own,
fastened upon hers.

"Your face speaks for you," she said, pressing one of her rare kisses
upon it. "What is it my boy has to tell me?"

"Oh, mother," he cried, "you will never think I love you less than I
have always done? See, I kiss your feet still as I used to do when I was
a boy."

He bent his head to caress the little feet, and then laid it on his
mother's lap, while she let her white fingers play with his hair.

"Why should you love me less than you have always done?" she asked, in a
sweet languid voice. "Have I ever changed toward you, Felix?"

"No, mother, no," he answered, "but to-night I feel how different I am
from what I was but a year or two ago. I am a man now; I was a boy
then."

"You will always be a boy to me," she said, with a tender smile.

"Yet I am as old as my father was when you were married," he replied.

Felicita's face grew white, and she leaned back in her chair with a
sudden feeling of faintness. It was years since the boy had spoken of
his father; why should he utter his name now? He had raised his head
when he felt her move, and her dim and failing eyes saw his face in a
mist, looking so like his father when she had known him first, that she
shrank from him, with a terror and aversion too deep to be concealed.

"Roland!" she cried.

He did not speak or move, being too bewildered and wonderstruck at his
mother's agitation. Felicita hid her face in her white hands, and sat
still recovering herself. The pang had been sudden, and poignant; it had
smitten her so unawares that she had betrayed its anguish. But, she felt
in an instant, her boy had no thought of wounding her; and for her own
sake, as well as his, she must conquer this painful excitement. There
must be no scene to awaken observation or suspicion.

"Mother, forgive me," he exclaimed, "I did not mean to distress you."

"No," she breathed with difficulty, "I am sure of it. Go on Felix."

"I came to tell you," he said gravely, "that as long as I can
remember--at least as long as we have been in London and known the
Pascals--I have loved Alice. Oh, mother, I've thought sometimes you
seemed as fond of her as you are of Hilda. You will be glad to have her
as your daughter?"

Felicita closed her eyes with a feeling of helpless misery. She could
hardly give a thought to Felix and the words he uttered; yet it was
those words which brought a flood of hidden memories and fears sweeping
over her shrinking soul. It was so long since she had thought much of
Roland! She had persuaded herself that as so many years had passed by
bringing to her no hint or token of his existence, he must be dead; and
as one dead passes presently out of the active thoughts, busy only with
the present, so had her husband passed away from her mind into some dim,
hidden cell of memory, with which she had long ceased to trouble
herself.

Her husband seemed to stand before her as she had seen him last, a
haggard, way-worn, ruined man, beggared and stripped of all that makes
life desirable. And this was only six months after he had lost all. What
would he be after thirteen years if he was living still?

But if it had appeared to her out of the question to face and bear the
ignominy and disgrace he had brought upon her thirteen years ago, how
utterly impossible it was now. She could never retrace her steps. To
confess the deception she had herself consented to, and taken part in,
would be to pull down with her own hands the fair edifice of her life.
The very name she had made for herself, and the broader light in which
her fame had placed her, made any repentance impossible. "A city that is
set on a hill cannot be hid." Her hill was not as lofty as she had once
fancied it would be; but still she was not on the low and safer level
of the plain. She was honorably famous. She could not stain her honor by
the acknowledgment of dishonor. The chief question, after all, was
whether Roland was alive or dead.

Her colorless face and closed eyes, the expression of unutterable
perplexity and anguish in her knitted brows and quivering lips, filled
Felix with wonder and grief. He had risen from his kneeling posture at
her feet, and now his reverential awe of her yielded to the tender
compassion of a man for a weak and suffering woman. He drew her beloved
head on to his breast, and held her in a firm and loving grasp.

"I would not grieve or pain you for worlds," he said falteringly, "nor
would Alice. I love you better than myself; as much as I love her. We
will talk of it another day, mother."

She pressed close to him, and he felt her arms strained about him, as if
she could not hold him near enough to her. It seemed to him as if she
was striving to draw him into the very heart of her motherhood; but she
knew how deep the gulf was between her and him, and shuddered at her own
loneliness.

"It is losing you, my son," she whispered with her quivering lips.

"No, no," he said eagerly; "it is not losing me, but finding another
child. Don't take a gloomy view of it, mother. I shall be as happy as my
father was with you."

He could not keep himself from thinking of his father, or of speaking of
him. He understood more perfectly now what his father's worship of his
mother had been; the tenderness of a stronger being toward a weaker one,
blended with the chivalrous homage of a generous nature to the one woman
chosen to represent all womanhood. There was a keener trouble to him
to-night, than ever before, in the thought that his mother was a widow.

"Leave me now, Felix," she said, loosing him from her close embrace, and
shutting her eyes from the sight of him. "Do not let any one come to me
again to-night. I must be alone."

But when she was alone it was only to let her thoughts whirl round and
round in one monotonous circle. If Roland was dead, her secret was
safe, and Felix might be happy. If he was not dead, Felix must not marry
Alice Pascal. She had not looked forward to this difficulty. There had
been an unconscious and vague feeling in her heart that her son loved
her too passionately to be easily pleased by any girl; and, almost
unawares to herself, she had been in the habit of comparing her own
attractions and loveliness with those of the younger women who crossed
his path. Yet there was no personal vanity in the calm conviction she
possessed that Felix had never seen a woman more beautiful and
fascinating than the mother he had always admired with so much
enthusiasm.

She was not jealous of Alice Pascal, she said to herself, and yet her
heart was sore when she said it. Why could not Felix remain simply
constant to her? He was the only being she had ever really loved; and
her love for him was deeper than she had known it to be. Yet to crush
his hopes, to wound him, would be like the bitterness of death to her.
If she could but let him marry his Alice, how much easier it would be
than throwing obstacles in the way of his happiness; obstacles that
would seem but the weak and wilful caprices of a foolish mother.

When the morning came, and Canon Pascal made his appearance, Felicita
received him in her library, apparently composed, but grave and almost
stern in her manner. They were old friends; but the friendship on his
side was warm and genial, while on hers it was cold and reserved. He
lost no time in beginning on the subject which had brought him to her.

"My dear Felicita," he said, "Felix tells me he had some talk with you
last night. What do you think of our young people?"

"What does Alice say?" she asked.

"Oh, Alice!" he answered in an amused yet tender tone; "she would be of
one mind with Felix. There is something beautiful in the innocent,
unworldly love of children like these, who are ready to build a nest
under any eaves. Felicita, you do not disapprove of it?"

"I cannot disapprove of Alice," she replied gloomily; "but I do
disapprove of Felix marrying so young. A man should not marry under
thirty."

"Thirty!" echoed Canon Pascal; "that would be in seven years. It is a
long time; but if they do not object I should not. I'm in no hurry to
lose my daughter. But they will not wait so long."

"Do not let them be engaged yet," she said in hurried and sad tones.
"They may see others whom they would love more. Early marriages and long
engagements are both bad. Tell them from me that it is better for them
to be free a while longer, till they know themselves and the world
better. I would rather Felix and Hilda never married. When I see Phebe
so free from all the gnawing cares and anxieties of this life, and so
joyous in her freedom, I wish to heaven I could have had a single life
like hers."

"Why! Felicita!" he exclaimed; "this is morbid. You have never forgiven
God for taking away your husband. You have been keeping a grudge against
Him all these years of your widowhood."

"No, no!" she interrupted; "it is not that. They married me too soon, my
uncle and Mr. Sefton. I never loved Roland as I ought. Oh! if I had
loved him, how different my life would have been, and his!"

Her voice faltered and broke into deep sobs, which cut off all further
speech. For a few minutes Canon Pascal endeavored to reason with her and
comfort her, but in vain. At length he quietly went away and sent Phebe
to her. There could be no more discussion of the subject for the
present.



CHAPTER IV.

TAKING ORDERS.


The darkness that had dwelt so long in the heart of Felicita began now
to cast its gloom over the whole household. A sharp attack of illness,
which followed immediately upon her great and inexplicable agitation,
caused great consternation to her friends, and above all to Felix. The
eminent physician who was called in said her brain had been over-worked,
and she must be kept absolutely free of all worry and anxiety. How
easily is this direction given, and how difficult, how impossible, in
many cases, is it to follow! That any soul, except that of a child, can
be freed from all anxiety, is possible only to the soul that knows and
trusts God.

All further mention of his love for Alice was out of the question now
for Felix. Bitter as silence was, it was imperative; for while his
mother's objections and prejudices were not overcome, Canon Pascal
would not hear of any closer tie than that which already existed being
formed between the young people. He had, however, the comfort of
believing that Alice had heard so much of what had passed from her
mother, as that she knew he loved her, and had owned his love to her
father. There was a subtle change in her manner toward him; she was more
silent in his presence, and there was a tremulous tone in her voice at
times when she spoke to him, yet she lingered beside him, and listened
more closely to all he had to say; and when they left Westminster to
return to their country rectory the tears glistened in her eyes as they
had never done before when he bade her good-by.

"Come and see us as soon as it will not vex your mother, my boy," said
Canon Pascal; "you may always think of our home as your own."

The only person who was not perplexed by Felicita's inexplicable conduct
and her illness, was Phebe Marlowe, who believed that she knew the
cause, and was drawn closer to her in the deepest sympathy and pity. It
seemed to Phebe that Felicita was creating the obstacle, which existed
chiefly in her fancy; and with her usual frankness and directness she
went to Canon Pascal's abode in the Cloisters at Westminster, to tell
him simply what she thought.

"I want to ask you," she said, with her clear, honest gaze fastened on
his face, "if you know why Mrs. Sefton left Riversborough thirteen years
ago?"

"Partly," he answered; "my wife is a Riversdale, you know, Felicita's
second or third cousin. There was some painful suspicion attaching to
Roland Sefton."

"Yes," answered Phebe sadly.

"Was it not quite cleared up?" asked Canon Pascal.

Phebe shook her head.

"We heard," he went on, "that it was believed Roland Sefton's
confidential clerk was the actual culprit; and Sefton himself was only
guilty of negligence. Mr. Clifford himself told Lord Riversdale that
Sefton was gone away on a long holiday, and might not be back for
months; and something of the same kind was put forth in a circular
issued from the Old Bank. I had one sent to me; for some little business
of my wife's was in the hands of the firm. I recollect thinking it was
an odd affair, but it passed out of my mind; and the poor fellow's death
quite obliterated all accusing thoughts against him."

"That is the scruple in Felicita's mind," said Phebe in a sorrowful
tone; "she feels that you ought to know everything before you consent to
Alice marrying Felix, and she cannot bring herself to speak of it."

"But how morbid that is!" he answered; "as if I did not know Felix,
every thought of him, and every motion of his soul! His father was a
careless, negligent man. He was nothing worse, was he, Phebe?"

"He was the best friend I ever had," she answered earnestly, though her
face grew pale, and her eyelids drooped, "I owe all I am to him. But it
was not Acton who was guilty. It was Felix and Hilda's father."

"And Felicita knew it?" he exclaimed.

"She knew nothing about it until I told her," answered Phebe. "Roland
Sefton came to me when he was trying to escape out of the country, and
my father and I helped him to get away. He told me all; and oh! he was
not so much to blame as you might think. But he was guilty of the crime;
and if he had been taken he would have been sent to jail. I would have
died then sooner than let him be taken to jail."

"If I had only known this from the beginning!" said Canon Pascal.

"What would you have done?" asked Phebe eagerly. "Would you have refused
to take Felix into your home? He has done no wrong. Hilda has done no
wrong. There would have been disgrace and shame for them if their father
had been sent to jail; but his death saved them from all danger of that.
Nobody would ever speak a word against Roland Sefton now. Yet this is
what is preying on Felicita's mind. If she was sure you knew all, and
still consented to Felix marrying Alice, she would be at peace again.
And I too think you ought to know all. But you-will not visit the sins
of the father upon the son----"

"Divine providence does so," he interrupted; "if the fathers eat sour
grapes the teeth of the sons are set on edge. Phebe, Phebe, that is only
too true."

"But Roland's death set the children free from the curse," answered
Phebe, weeping. "If he had been taken, they would have gone away to some
foreign land where they were not known; or even if he had not died, we
must have done differently from what we have done. But there is no one
now to bring this condemnation against them. Even old Mr. Clifford has
more than forgiven Roland; and if possible would have the time back
again, that he might act so as to reinstate him in his position. No one
in the world bears a grudge against Roland."

"I'm not hard-hearted, God knows," he answered, "but no man likes to
give his child to the son of a felon, convicted or unconvicted."

"Then I have done harm by telling you."

"No, no; you have done rightly," he replied, "it was good for me to know
the truth. We will let things be for awhile. And yet," he added, his
grave, stern face softening a little, "if it would be good for Felicita,
tell her that I know all, and that after a battle or two with myself, I
am sure to yield. I could not see Alice unhappy; and that lad holds her
heart in his hands. After all, she too must bear her part in the sins of
the world."

But though Phebe watched for an opportunity for telling Felicita what
she had done, no chance came. If Felicita had been reserved before, she
inclosed herself in almost unbroken silence now. During her illness she
had been on the verge of delirium; and then she had shut her lips with a
stern determination, which even her weak and fevered brain could not
break. She had once begged Phebe, if she grew really delirious, to
dismiss all other attendants, so that no ear but hers might hear her
wanderings; but this emergency had not arisen. And since then she had
sunk more and more into a stern silence.

Felix had left home, and entered into his lodgings, taking his father's
portrait with him. He was not so far from home but that he either
visited it, or received visitors from it almost every day. His mother's
illness troubled him; or otherwise the change in his life, his first
step in independent manhood, would have been one of great happiness to
him. He did not feel any deep misgivings as to Alice, and the
blessedness of the future with her; and in the mean-time, while he was
waiting, there was his work to do.

He had taken orders, not from ambition or any hope of worldly gain,
those lay quite apart from the path he had chosen, but from the simple
desire of fighting as best he might against the growing vices and
miseries of civilization. Step for step with the ever-increasing luxury
of the rich he saw marching beside it the gaunt degradation of the poor.
The life of refined self-indulgence in the one class was caricatured by
loathsome self-indulgence in the other. On the one hand he saw, young as
he was, something of the languor and weariness of life of those who have
nothing to do, and from satiety have little to hope or to fear; and on
the other the ignorance and want which deprived both mind and body of
all healthful activity, and in the pressure of utter need left but
little scope for hope or fear. He fancied that such civilization sank
its victims into deeper depths of misery than those of barbarism.

Before him seemed to lie a huge, weltering mass of slime, a very
quagmire of foulness and miasma, in the depths and darkness of which he
could dimly discern the innumerable coils of a deadly dragon, breathing
forth poison and death into the air, which those beloved of God and
himself must breathe, and crushing in its pestilential folds the bodies
and souls of immortal men. He was one of the young St. Michaels called
by God to give combat to that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan,
which was deceiving the old world.



CHAPTER V.

A LONDON CURACY.


The district on which his vicar directed Felix to concentrate his
efforts was by no means a neglected one. It was rather suffering from
the multitude of laborers, who had chosen it as their part of the great
vineyard. Lying close to a wealthy and fashionable neighborhood, it had
long been a kind of pleasure-ground, or park for hunting sinners in, to
the charitable and religious inhabitants of the comfortable dwellings
standing within a stone's throw of the wretched streets. There was
interest and excitement to be found there for their own unoccupied time,
and a pleasant glow of approbation for their consciences. Every
denomination had a mission there; and the mission-halls stood thickly on
the ground. There were Bible-women, nurses, city missionaries, tract
distributors at work; mothers' meetings were held; classes of all sorts
were open; infirmaries and medical mission-rooms were established; and
coffee-rooms were to be found in nearly every street. Each body of
Christians acted as if there were no other workers in the field; each
was striving to hunt souls into its own special fold; and each
distributed its funds as if no money but theirs was being laid out for
the welfare of the poor district. Hence there were greater pauperism and
more complete poverty than in many a neglected quarter of the East End,
with all its untold misery. Spirit-vaults flourished; the low
lodging-houses were crowded to excess; rents rose rapidly; and the
narrow ill lighted streets swarmed with riff-raff after nightfall, when
the greater part of the wealthy district-visitors were spending their
evening hours in their comfortable homes, satisfied with their day's
work for the Lord.

But Felix began his work in the evenings, when the few decent working
men, who still continued to live in the Brickfields, had come home from
their day's toil, and the throng of professional beggars and thieves,
who found themselves in good quarters there, poured in from their day's
prowling. It was well for him that he had an athletic and muscular
frame, well-knitted together, and strengthened by exercise, for many a
time he had to force his way out of houses, where he found himself
surrounded by a crew of half-drunken and dangerous men. Presently they
got to know and respect him both for his strength and forbearance, which
he exercised with good temper and generosity. He could give a blow, as
well as take one, when it was necessary. At one time his absence from
church was compulsory, because he had received a black eye when
defending a querulous old crone from her drunken son; he was seen about
the wretched streets of the Brickfields with this too familiar
decoration, but he took care not to go home until it was lost.

With the more decent inhabitants of the district he was soon a great
favorite; but he was feared and abhorred by the others. Felix belonged
to the new school of philanthropic economy, which discerns, and protests
against thoughtless almsgiving; and above all, against doles to street
beggars. He would have made giving equally illegal with begging. But he
soon began to despair of effecting a reformation in this direction; for
even Phebe could not always refrain from finding a penny for some poor
little shivering urchin, dogging her steps on a winter's day.

"You do not stop to think how cruel you are," Felix would say
indignantly; "if it was not for women giving to them, these poor little
wretches would never be sent out, with their naked feet on the frozen
pavement, and scarcely rags enough to hide their bodies, blue with cold.
If you could only step inside the gin-shops as I do, you would see a
drunken sinner of a father or a mother drinking down the pence you drop
into the children's hands. Your thoughtless kindness is as cruel as
their vice."

But still, with all that fresh ardor and energy which is sneered at in
the familiar proverb, "A new broom sweeps clean," Felix swept away at
the misery, and the ignorance, and the vice of his degraded district. He
was not going to spare himself; it should be no sham fight with him. The
place was his first battlefield; and it had a strong attraction for him.


So through the pleasant months of spring, which for the last four years
had been spent at Oxford, and into the hot weeks of summer, Felix was
indefatigably at work, giving himself no rest and no recreation, besides
writing long and frequent letters to Mrs. Pascal, or rather to Alice.
For would not Alice always read those letters, every word of them? would
she not even often be the first to open them? it being the pleasant
custom of the Pascal household for most letters to be in common,
excepting such as were actually marked "private." And Mrs. Pascal's
answer might have been dictated by Alice herself, so exactly did they
express her mind. They did not as yet stand on the footing of betrothed
lovers; but neither of them doubted but that they soon would do so.

It was not without a sharp pang, however, that Felix learned that the
Pascals were going to Switzerland for the summer. He had an intense
longing to visit the land, of which his grandmother had so often spoken
to him, and where his father's grave lay. But quite apart from his duty
to the district placed under his charge, there was an obstacle in the
absolute interdiction Felicita laid upon the country where her husband
had met with his terrible death. It was impossible even to hint at going
to Switzerland whilst she was in her present state of health. She had
only partially recovered from the low, nervous fever which had attacked
her during the winter; and still those about her strove their utmost to
save her from all worry and anxiety.

The sultry, fervid days of August came; and if possible the narrow
thoroughfares of the Brickfields seemed more wretched than in the
winter. The pavements burned like an oven, and the thin walls of the
houses did not screen their inmates from the reeking heat. Not a breath
of fresh air seemed to wander through the low-lying streets, and a
sickly glare and heaviness brooded over them. No wonder there was fever
about. The fields were too far away to be reached in this tiring
weather; and when the men and women returned home from their day's work,
they sunk down in silent and languid groups on their door-steps, or on
the dirty flag-stones of the causeway. Even the professional beggars
suffered more than in the winter, for the tide of almsgiving is at its
lowest ebb during the summer, when the rich have many other and
pleasanter occupations.

Felix walked through his "parish," as he called it, with slow and weary
steps. Yet his holiday was come, and this was the last evening he would
work thus for the present. The Pascals were in Switzerland; he had had a
letter from Mrs. Pascal, with a few lines from Alice herself in a
postscript, telling him she and her father were about to start for
Engelberg to visit his father's grave for him. It was a loving and
gracious thing to do, just suited to Canon Pascal's kindly nature; and
Felix felt his whole being lifted up by it to a happier level. Phebe and
Hilda were gone to their usual summer haunt, Phebe's quaint little
cottage on the solitary mountain-moor; where he was going to join them
for a day or two, before they went to Mr. Clifford, in the old house at
Riversborough. His mother alone, of all the friends he had, was
remaining in London; and she had refused to leave until Phebe and Hilda
had first paid their yearly visits to the old places.

He reached his mission-room at last, through the close, unwholesome
atmosphere, and found it fairly filled, chiefly with working men, some
of whom had turned into it as being a trifle less hot and noisy than the
baking pavements without, crowded with quarrelsome children. It was,
moreover, the pay-night for a Providence club which Felix had
established for any, either men or women, who chose to contribute to it.
There was a short and simple lecture given first; and afterwards the
club-books were brought out, and a committee of working men received the
weekly subscriptions, and attended to the affairs of the little club.

The lecture was near its close, when a drunken man, in the quarrelsome
stage of intoxication, stumbled in through the open door. Felix knew him
by sight well; a confirmed drunkard, a mere miserable sot, who hung
about the spirit-vaults, and lived only for the drink he could pour down
his throat. There had been a vague instinctive dread and disgust for the
man, mingled with a deep interest he could not understand, in Felix's
mind. He paused for an instant, looking at the dirty rags, and bleared
eyes, and degraded face of the drunkard standing just in the doorway,
with the summer's light behind him.

"What's the parson's name?" he called in a thick, unsteady voice. "Is it
Sefton?"

"Hush! hush!" cried two or three voices in answer.

"I'll not hush! If it's Sefton, it were his father as made me what I am.
It were his father as stole every blessed penny of my earnings. It were
his father as drove me to drink, and ruined me, soul and body. Sefton!
I've a right to know the name of Sefton if any man on earth does. Curse
it!"

Felix had ceased speaking, and stood facing his little congregation,
listening as in a dream. The men caught the drunken accuser by the arms,
and were violently expelling him, but his rough voice rose above the
noise of the scuffle.

"Ay!" he shouted, "the parson won't hear the truth told. But take care
of your money, mates, or it'll go where mine went."

"Don't turn him out," called Felix; "it's a mistake, my men. Let him
alone. He never knew my father."

The drunkard turned round and confronted him, and the little assembly
was quiet again, with an intense quietness, waiting to hear what would
follow.

"Your father's name was Roland Sefton?" said the drunkard.

"Yes," answered Felix.

"And he was banker of the Old Bank at Riversborough?" he asked.

"Yes," said Felix.

"Then what I've got to say is this," went on the rough, thick voice of
the half-drunken man; "and the tale's true, mates. Roland Sefton, o'
Riversborough, cheated me out o' all my hard earnings--one hundred and
nineteen pounds--as I'd trusted him with, and drove me to drink. I were
a steady man till then, as steady as the best of ye; and he were a fine,
handsome, fair-spoken gentleman as ever walked; and we poor folks
trusted him as if he'd been God Almighty. There was a old deaf and dumb
man, called Marlowe, lost six hundred pound by him, and it broke his
heart; he never held his head up after, and he died. Me, it drove to
drink. That's the father o' the parson who stands here telling you about
Jesus Christ, and maybe trusted with your money, as I trusted mine with
him as cheated me. It's a true tale, mates, if God Almighty struck me
dead for it this moment."

There was such a tone of truth in the hoarse and passionate tones, which
grew steadier as the speaker gained assurance by the silence of the
audience, that there was not one there who did not believe the story.
Even Felix, listening with white face and flaming eyes, dared not cry
out that the accusation was a lie. Horrible as it was, he could not say
to himself that it was all untrue. There came flashing across his mind
confused reminiscences of the time when his father had disappeared from
out of his life. He remembered asking his mother how long he would be
away, and did he never write to her? and she had answered him that he
was too young to understand the truth about his father. Was it possible
that this was the truth?

In after years he never forgot that sultry evening, with the close,
noisome atmosphere of the hot mission-hall, and the confused buzzing of
many voices, which after a short silence began to hum in his ears. The
drunkard was still standing in the doorway, the very wreck and ruin of a
man; and every detail of his loathsome, degraded appearance was burnt in
on Felix's brain. He felt stupefied and bewildered--as if he had
received almost a death-blow. But in his inmost soul a cry went up to
heaven, "Lord, Thou also hast been a man!"

Then he saw that the cross lay before him in his path. "Whosoever will
come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow
me." It had seemed to Felix at times as if he had never been called upon
to bear any cross. But now it lay there close before him. He could not
take another step forward unless he lifted it up and laid it on his
shoulders, whatever its weight might be. The cross of shame--the bearing
of another's sin--his father's sin. His whole soul recoiled from it. Any
other cross but this he could have borne after Christ with willing feet
and rejoicing heart. But to know that his father was a criminal; and to
bear the shame of it openly!

Yet he could not stand there longer, fighting his battle, in the
presence of these curious eyes so keenly fastened upon him. The clock
over the door showed upon its dial only a minute or two gone; but to
Felix the time consumed in his brief foretaste of the cross seemed
years. He gathered together so much of his self-possession as could be
summoned at a moment's notice, and looked straight into the faces of his
audience.

"Friends," he said, "if this is true, it is as new to me as it is to
you. My father died when I was a boy of ten; and no one had a heart hard
enough to tell me then my father was a rogue. But if I find it is true,
I'll not rest day nor night till this man has his money again. What is
his name?"

"Nixey," called out three or four voices; "John Nixey."

Again Felix's heart sank, for he knew Simon Nixey, whose farm lay
nearest to Phebe's little homestead; and there was a familiar ring in
the name.

"Ay, ay!" stammered Nixey; "but old Clifford o' the Bank paid me the
money back all right; only I'd sworn a dreadful oath I'd never lay by
another farthin', and it soon came to an end. It were me as were lost as
well as the money."

"Then what do you come bothering here for," asked one of the men, "if
you've had your money back all right? Get out with you."

For a minute or two there was a scuffle, and then the drunkard was
hustled outside and the door shut behind him. For another half hour
Felix mechanically conducted the business of the club, as if he had been
in a dream; and then, bidding the members of the little committee good
night, he paced swiftly away from his district in the direction of his
home.



CHAPTER VI.

OTHER PEOPLE'S SINS.


"But why go home?" Felix stopped as he asked himself this question. He
could not face his mother with any inquiry about the mystery that
surrounded his father's memory, that mystery which was slowly
dissipating like the mists which vanish imperceptibly from a landscape.
He was beginning to read his mother's life in a more intelligible light,
and all along the clearer line new meanings were springing into sight.
The solitude and sadness, the bitterness of spirit, which had separated
her from the genial influences of a society that had courted her, was
plain to him now at their fountain-head. She had known--if this terrible
thing was true--that shame, not glory, was hers; confusion of face, not
the bearing of the palm. His heart ached for her more than for himself.

In his heart of hearts, Felix had triumphed greatly in his mother's
fame. From his very babyhood the first thought impressed upon his mind
had been that his mother was different from other women; far above them.
It had been his father who had given him that first impression, but it
had grown with strong and vigorous growth from its deep root, through
all the years which had passed since his father died. Even his love for
Alice had not touched his passionate loyalty and devotion to his mother.
He had rejoiced in thinking that she was known, not in England alone,
but in other countries into whose language her books had been
translated. Her celebrity shone in his eyes with a very strong and
brilliant splendor. How could he tell her that he had been thrust into
the secret of his father's infamy!

There was only Phebe to whom he could just yet lay open the doubt and
terror of his soul. If it was true that her father, old Marlowe, had
died broken-hearted from the loss of his money, she would be sure to
know of it. His preparations for his journey to-morrow morning were
complete; and if he chose there was time enough for him to catch the
night train, and start at once for Riversborough. There would be no
sleep for him until some of these tormenting questions were answered.

It was a little after sunrise when he reached Riversborough, where with
some difficulty he roused up a hostler and obtained a horse at one of
the inns. Before six he was riding up the long, steep lanes, fresh and
cool with dew, and overhung with tall hedgerows, which led up to the
moor. He had not met a living soul since he left the sleeping town
behind him, and it seemed to him as if he was in quite a different world
from the close, crowded, and noisome streets he had traversed only a few
hours ago. In the natural exhilaration of the sweet mountain air, and
the silence broken only by the singing of the birds, his fears fell from
him. There must be some mistake which Phebe would clear up. It was
nothing but the accusation of a besotted brain which had frightened him.

He shouted boyishly when the quaint little cottage came in sight, with a
thin column of blue smoke floating upward from its ivy-clad chimney.
Phebe herself came to the door, and Hilda, with ruffled hair and a
sleepy face, looked out of the little window in the thatched roof. There
was nothing in his appearance a few hours earlier than he was expected
to alarm them, and their surprise and pleasure were complete. Even to
himself it seemed singular that he should sit down at the little
breakfast-table with them, the almost level rays of the morning sun
shining through the lattice window, instead of in the dingy parlor of
his London lodgings.

"Come with me on to the moors, Phebe," he said as soon as breakfast was
over.

She went out with him bareheaded, as she had been used to do when a girl
at home, and led him to a little knoll covered with short heath and
ferns, from which a broad landscape of many miles stretched under their
eyes to a far-off horizon. The hollow of the earth curved upwards in
perfect lines to meet the perfect curve of the blue dome of the sky
bending over it. They were resting as some small bird might rest in the
rounded shelter of two hands which held it safely. For a few minutes
they sat silent, gazing over the wide sweep of sky and land, till Felix
caught sight of a faint haze, through which two or three spires were
dimly visible. It was where Riversborough was lying.

"Phebe," he said, "I want you to tell me the naked truth. Did my father
defraud yours of some money?"

"Felix!" she cried, in startled tones.

"Say only yes or no to me first," he continued; "explain it afterward.
Only say yes or no."

Through Phebe's brain came trooping the vivid memories of the past. She
saw Roland again hurrying over the moors from his day's shooting to
mount his horse, which she had saddled for him, and to ride off down the
steep lanes, with a cheery shout of "Good-night" to her when he reached
the last point where she could catch sight of him; and she saw him as
his dark form walked beside her pony that night when he was already
crushed down beneath his weight of sin and shame, pouring out his
burdened heart into her ears. If Felix had asked her this question in
London it might have hurt her less poignantly; but here, where Roland
and her father filled all the place with the memory of their presence,
it wounded her like the thrust of a sword. She burst into a passion of
tears.

"Yes or no?" urged Felix, setting his face like a flint, and striking
out blindly and pitilessly.

"Yes!" she sobbed; "but, oh, your father was the dearest friend I ever
had!"

The sharp, cruel sound of the yes smote him with a deadly force. He
could not tell himself what he had expected to hear; but now for a
certainty, his father, whom he had been taught to regard as a hero and a
saint, proved no other than a rogue.

It was a long time before he spoke again, or lifted up his head; so long
that Phebe ceased weeping, and laid her hand tenderly on his to comfort
him by her mute sympathy. But he took no notice of her silent fellowship
in his suffering; it was too bitter for him to feel as yet that any one
could share it.

"I must give up Alice!" he groaned at last.

"No, no!" said Phebe. "I told Canon Pascal all, and he does not say so.
It is your mother who cannot give her consent, and she will do it some
day."

"Does he know all?" cried Felix. "Is it possible he knows all, and will
let me love Alice still? I think I could bear anything if that is true.
But, oh! how could I offer to her a name stained like mine?"

"Nay, the name was saved by his death," answered Phebe sadly. "There are
only three who knew he was guilty--Mr. Clifford, and your mother, and I.
If he had lived he might have been brought to trial and sent to a
convict prison; I suppose he would; but his death saved him and you.
Down in Riversborough yonder some few uncharitable people might tell you
there was some suspicion about him, but most of them speak of him still
as the kindest and the best man they ever knew. It Was covered up
skilfully, Felix, and nobody knew the truth but we three."

"Alice is visiting my father's grave this very day," he said
falteringly.

"Ah! how like that is to Canon Pascal!" answered Phebe; "he will not
tell Alice; no, she will never know, nor Hilda. Why should they be told?
But he will stand there by the grave, sorrowing over the sin which
drove your father into exile, and brought him to his sorrowful death.
And his heart will feel more tenderly than ever for you and your mother.
He will be devising some means for overcoming your mother's scruples and
making you and Alice happy."

"I never ran be happy again," he exclaimed. "I never thought of such a
sorrow as this."

"It was the sorrow that fell to Christ's lot," she answered; "the burden
of other people's sins."

"Phebe," he said, "if I felt the misery of my fellow-man before, and I
did feel it, how can I bear now to remember the horrible degradation of
the man who told me of my father's sin? It was a drunkard----"

"John Nixey," she interrupted; "ay, but he caught at your father's sin
as an excuse for his own. He was always a drinking man. No man is forced
into sin. Nothing can harm them who are the followers of God. Don't lay
on your father's shoulders more than his own wrong-doing. Sin spreads
misery around it only when there is ground ready for the bad seed. Your
father's sin opened my soul to deeper influences from God; I did not
love him less because he had fallen, but I learned to trust God more,
and walk more closely with Him. You, too, will be drawn nearer to God by
this sorrow."

"Phebe," he said, "can I speak to Mr. Clifford about it? It would be
impossible to speak to my mother."

"Quite impossible," she answered emphatically. "Yes, go down to
Riversborough, and hear what Mr. Clifford can tell you. Your father
repented of his sin bitterly, and paid a heavy price for it; but he was
forgiven. If my poor old father could not withhold his forgiveness,
would our heavenly Father fall short of it? You, too, must forgive him,
my Felix."



CHAPTER VII.

AN OLD MAN'S PARDON.


To forgive his father--that was a strange inversion of the attitude of
Felix's mind in regard to his father's memory. He had been taught to
think of him with reverence, and admiration, and deep filial love. As
Felicita looked back on the long line of her distinguished ancestry with
an exaltation of feeling which, if it was pride, was a legitimate pride,
so had Felix looked back upon the line of good men from whom his own
being had sprung. He had felt himself pledged to a Christian life by the
eminently Christian lives of his forefathers.

Now, suddenly, with no warning, he was called upon to forgive his father
for a crime which had made him amenable to the penal laws of his
country; a mean, treacherous, cowardly crime. Like Judas, he had borne
the bag, and his fellow-pilgrims had trusted him with their money; and,
like Judas, he had been a thief. Felix could not understand how a
Christian man could be tempted by money. To attempt to serve Mammon as
well as God seemed utterly comtemptible and incredible to him.

His heart was very heavy as he rode slowly down the lanes and along the
highway to Riversborough, which his father had so often traversed before
him. When he had come this way in the freshness and stillness of the
early morning there had been more hope in his soul than he had been
aware of, that Phebe would be able to remove this load from him; but now
he knew for a certainty that his father had left to him a heritage of
dishonor. She had told him all the circumstances known to her, and he
was going to learn more from Mr. Clifford.

He entered his old home with more bitterness of spirit than he had ever
felt before in his young life. Here, of all places in the world,
clustered memories of his father; memories which he had fondly cherished
and graved as deeply as he could upon his mind. He could almost hear the
joyous tones of his father's voice, and see the summer gladness of his
face, as he remembered them. How was it possible that with such a hidden
load of shame he could have been so happy.

Mr. Clifford, though a very old man, was still in full and clear
possession of his faculties, and had not yet given up an occasional
attention to the business of the bank. He was nearly eighty years of
age, and his hair was white, and the cold, stern blue eyes were watery
and sunken in their sockets. Some years ago, when Samuel Nixey had given
up his last hope of winning Phebe, and had married a farmer's daughter,
his mother, Mrs. Nixey, had come to the Old Bank as housekeeper to Mr.
Clifford, and looked well after his welfare. Felix found him sitting in
the wainscoted parlor, a withered, bent, old man, seldom leaving the
warm hearth, but keen in sight and memory, living over again in his
solitude the many years that had passed over him from his childhood
until now. He welcomed Felix with delight, holding his hands, and
looking earnestly into his face, with the half-childlike affection of
old age.

"I've not seen you since you became a parson," he said, with a sigh;
"ah, my lad, you ought to have come to me. You don't get half as much as
my cashier, and not a tenth part of what I give my manager. But there!
that's your mother's fault, who would never let you touch business. She
would never hear of you taking your father's place."

"How could she?" said Felix, indignantly. "Do you think my mother would
let me come into the house my father had disgraced and almost ruined?"

"So you've plucked that bitter apple at last!" he answered, in a tone of
regret. "I thought it was possible you might never have to taste it.
Felix, my boy, your mother paid every farthing of the money your father
had, with interest and compound interest; even to me, who begged and
entreated to bear the loss. Your mother is a noble woman."

A blessed ray of comfort shot across the gloom in Felix's heart, and lit
up his dejected face with a momentary smile; and Mr. Clifford stretched
out his thin old hand again, and clasped his feebly.

"Ah, my boy!" he said, "and your father was not a bad man. I know how
you are sitting in judgment upon him, as young people do, who do not
know what it is to be sorely tempted. I judged him, and my son before
him, as harshly as man could do. Remember we judge hardest where we love
the most; there's selfishness in it. Our children, our fathers, must be
better than other folk's children and fathers. Don't begin to reckon up
your father's sins before you are thirty, and don't pass sentence till
you're fifty. Judges ought to be old men."

Felix sat down near to the old man, whose chair was in the oriel window,
on which the sun was shining warmly. There below him lay the garden
where he had played as a child, with the river flowing swiftly past it,
and the boat-house in the corner, from which his father and he had so
often started for a pleasant hour or two on the rapid current. But he
could never think of his father again without sorrow and shame.

"Sin hurts us most as it comes nearest to us," said old Mr. Clifford;
"the crime of a Frenchman does not make our blood boil as the crime of
an Englishman; our neighbor's sin is not half as black as our kinsman's
sin. But when we have to look it in the face in a son, in a father, then
we see the exceeding sinfulness of it. Why, Felix, you knew that men
defrauded one another; that even men professing godliness were
sometimes dishonest."

"I knew it," he answered, "but I never felt it before."

"And I never felt it till I saw it in my son," continued the old man,
sadly; "but there are other sins besides dishonesty, of a deeper dye,
perhaps, in the sight of our Creator. If Roland Sefton had met with a
more merciful man than I am he might have been saved."

For a minute or two his white head was bowed down, and his wrinkled
eyelids were closed, whilst Felix sat beside him as sorrowful as
himself.

"I could not be merciful," he burst out with a sudden fierceness in his
face and tone, "I could not spare him, because I had not spared my own
son. I had let one life go down into darkness, refusing to stretch out
so much as a little finger in help, though he was as dear to me as my
own life; and God required me yet again to see a life perish because of
my hardness of heart. I think sometimes if Roland had come and cast
himself on my mercy, I should have pardoned him; but again I think my
heart was too hard then to know what mercy was. But those two, Felix, my
son Robert, who died of starvation in the streets of Paris, and your
father, who perished on a winter's night in Switzerland, they are my
daily companions. They sit down beside me here, and by the fireside, and
at my solitary meals; and they watch beside me in the night. They will
never leave me till I see them again, and confess my sin to them."

"It was not you alone whom my father wronged," said Felix, "there were
others besides you who might have prosecuted him."

"Yes, but they were ignorant, simple men," replied Mr. Clifford, "they
need never have known of his crime. All their money could have been
replaced without their knowledge; it was of me Roland was afraid. If the
time could come over again--and I go over and over it in my own mind all
in vain--I would act altogether differently. I would make him feel to
the utmost the sin and peril of his course; but I would keep his secret.
Even Felicita should know nothing. It was partly my fault too. If I had
fulfilled my duty, and looked after my affairs instead of dreaming my
time away in Italy, your father, as the junior partner, could not have
fallen into this snare. When a crime is committed the criminal is not
the only one to be blamed. Consciously or unconsciously those about him
have been helping by their own carelessness and indolence, by cowardice,
by indifference to right and wrong. By a thousand subtle influences we
help our brother to disobey God; and when he is found out we stand aloof
and raise an outcry against him. God has made every one of us his
brother's keeper."

"Then you too have forgiven him," said Felix, with a glowing sense of
comfort in his heart.

"Forgiven him? ay!" he answered, "as he sits by me at the fireside,
invisible to all but me, I say to him again and again in words inaudible
to all but him:

    'Even as I hope for pardon in that day,
    When the great Judge of heaven in scarlet sits,
    So be thou pardoned.'"

The tremulous, weak old voice paused, and the withered hands lay feebly
on his knees as he looked out on the summer sky, seeing nothing of its
brightness, for the thoughts and memories that were flocking to his
brain. Felix's younger eyes caught every familiar object on which the
sun was shining, and knitted them up for ever with the memory of that
hour.

"God help me!" he cried, "I forgive my father too; but I have lost him.
I never knew the real man."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE GRAVE AT ENGELBERG.


On the same August morning when Felix was riding up the long lovely
lanes to Phebe Marlowe's little farmstead, Canon Pascal and Alice were
starting by the earliest boat which left Lucerne for Stansstad, in the
dewy coolness of the dawn. The short transit was quickly over, and an
omnibus carried them into Stans, where they left their knapsacks to be
sent on after them during the day. The long pleasant walk of fourteen
miles to Engelberg lay before them, to be taken leisurely, with many a
rest in the deep cool shades of the woods, or under the shadow of some
great rock. The only impediment with which Alice burdened herself was a
little green slip of ivy, which Felix had gathered from the walls of her
country home, and which she had carried in a little flower-pot filled
with English soil, to plant on his father's grave. It had been a sacred,
though somewhat troublesome charge to her, as they had travelled from
place to place, and she had not permitted any one to take the care of it
off her hands. This evening, with her own hands, she was going to plant
it upon the foreign grave of Roland Sefton; which had been so long
neglected, and unvisited by those whom he had left behind him. That
Felicita should never have made a pilgrimage to this sacred spot was a
wonder to her; but that she should so steadily resist the wish of Felix
to visit his father's resting-place, filled Alice's heart with grave
misgivings for her own future happiness.

But she was not troubling herself with any misgivings to-day, as they
journeyed onward and upward through the rich meadows and thick forests
leading to the Alpine valley which lay under the snowy dome of the
Titlis. Her father's enjoyment of the sweet solitude and changeful
beauty of their pathway was too perfect for her to mar it by any
mournful forebodings. He walked beside her under the arched aisles of
the pine-woods bareheaded, singing snatches of song as joyously as a
school-boy, or waded off through marshy and miry places in quest of some
rare plant which ought to be growing there, splashing back to her
farther on in the winding road, scarcely less happy if he had not found
it than if he had. How could she be troubled whilst her father was
treading on enchanted ground?

But the last time they allowed themselves to sit down to rest before
entering the village, Canon Pascal's face grew grave, and his manner
toward his daughter became more tender and caressing than usual. The
secret which Phebe had told him of Roland Sefton had been pondered over
these many weeks in his heart. If it had concerned Felix only he would
have felt himself grieved at this story of his father's sin, but he knew
too well it concerned Alice as closely. This little ivy-slip, so
carefully though silently guarded through all the journey, had been a
daily reminder to him of his girl's love for her old playfellow and
companion. Though she had not told him of its destiny he had guessed it,
and now as she screened it from the too direct rays of the hot sun it
spoke to her of Felix, and to him of his father's crime.

He had no resolve to make his daughter miserable by raising obstacles to
her marriage with Felix, who was truly as dear to him as his own sons.
But yet, if he had only known this dishonest strain in the blood, would
he, years ago, have taken Felix into his home, and exposed Alice to the
danger of loving him? Felix was out of the way of temptation; there was
no stream of money passing through his hands, and it would be hard and
vile indeed for him to fall into any dishonest trickery. But it might be
that his children, Alice's children, might tread in the steps of their
forefather, Roland Sefton, and pursue the same devious course. Thieves
breed thieves, it was said, in the lowest dregs of social life. Would
there be some fatal weakness, some insidious improbity, in the nature of
those descending from Roland Sefton?

It was a wrong against God, a faithless distrust of Him, he said to
himself, to let these dark thoughts distress his mind, at the close of a
day such as that which had been granted to him, almost as a direct and
perfect gift from heaven itself. He looked into the sweet, tranquil face
of his girl, and the trustful loving eyes which met his anxious gaze
with so open and frank an expression; yet he could not altogether shake
off the feeling of solicitude and foreboding which had fallen upon his
spirit.

"Let us go on, and have a quiet dinner by ourselves," said Alice, at
last, "and then we shall have all the cool of the evening to wander
about as we please."

They left their resting-place, and walked on in silence, as if they were
overawed by the snow-clad mountains and towering peaks hanging over the
valley. A little way off the road they saw a poor and miserable hut,
built on piles of stones, with deep, sheltering eaves, but with a broken
roof, and no light except such as entered it by the door. In the dimness
of the interior they just caught sight of a gray-headed man, sitting on
the floor, with his face hidden on his knees. It was an attitude telling
of deep wretchedness, and heaviness of heart; and though neither of them
spoke of the glimpse they had had, they drew nearer to one another, and
walked closely together until they reached the hotel.

It was still broad daylight, though the sun had sunk behind the lofty
mountains when they strolled out again into the picturesque, irregular
street of the village. The clear blue sky above them was of the color of
the wild hyacinth, the simplest, purest blue, against which the pure and
simple white of the snowy domes and pinnacles of the mountain ranges
inclosing the valley stood out in sharp, bold outlines; whilst the dark
green of the solemn pine-forests climbing up the steep slopes looked
almost black against the pale grey peaks jutting up from among them,
with silver lines of snow marking out every line and crevice in their
furrowed and fretted architecture. Canon Pascal bared his head, as if he
had been entering his beloved Abbey in Westminster.

"God is very glorious!" he said, in a low and reverent tone. "God is
very good!"

In silence they sauntered on, with loitering steps, to the little
cemetery, where lay the grave they had come to seek. They found it in a
forlorn and deserted corner, but there was no trace of neglect about the
grey unpolished granite of the cross that marked it. No weeds were
growing around it, and no moss was gathering upon it; the lettering,
telling the name, and age, and date of death, of the man who lay beneath
it, was as clear as if it had just come from the chisel of the graver.
The tears sprang to Alice's eyes as she stood before it with reverently
bowed head, looking down on Roland Sefton's grave.

"Did you ever see him, father?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

"I saw him once," he answered, "at Riversdale Towers, when Felix was
still only a baby. He was a finer and handsomer man than Felix will ever
be; and there was more foreign blood in his veins, which gave him greater
gaiety and simpler vivacity than Englishmen usually have. I remember how
he watched over Felicita, and waited on her in an almost womanly fashion;
and fetched his baby himself for us to see, carrying him in his own arms
with the deft skill of a nurse. Felix is as tender-hearted, but he would
not make a show of it so openly."

"Cousin Felicita must have loved him with her whole heart," sighed
Alice, "yet if I were in her place, I should come here often; it would
be the one place I loved to come to. She is a hard woman, father; hard,
and bitter, and obstinate. Do you think Felix's father would have set
himself against me as she has done?"

She turned to him, her sad and pensive face, almost the dearest face in
the world to him; and he gazed into it with penetrating and loving eyes.
Would it not be best to tell the child the secret this grave covered,
here, by the grave itself? Better for her to know the truth concerning
the dead, than cherish hard and unjust thoughts of the living. Even if
Felicita consented, he could not let her marry Felix ignorant of the
facts which Phebe had disclosed to him. Felix himself must know them
some day; and was not this the hour and the place for revealing them to
Alice?

"My darling," he said, "I know why Felicita never comes here, nor lets
her children come; and also why she is at present opposed to the thought
of Felix marrying. Roland Sefton, her husband, the unhappy man whose
body lies here, was guilty of a crime; and died miserably while a
fugitive from our country. His death consigned the crime to oblivion; no
one remembered it against her and her children. But if he had lived he
would have been a convict; and she, and Felix, and Hilda would have
shared his ignominy. She feels that she must not suffer Felix to enter
our family until she has told me this; and it is the mere thought and
dread of such a disclosure that has made her ill. We must wait till her
mind recovers its strength."

"What was it he had done?" asked Alice, with quivering lips.

"He had misappropriated a number of securities left in his charge,"
answered Canon Pascal, "Phebe says to the amount of over £10,000; most
of it belonging to Mr. Clifford."

"Is that all?" cried Alice, the color rushing back again to her face,
and the light to her eyes, "was it only money? Oh! I thought it was more
dreadful than that. Why! we should never blame cousin Felicita because
her husband misappropriated some securities belonging to old Mr.
Clifford. And Felix is not to blame at all; how could he be? Poor
Felix!"

"But, Alice," he said, with a half smile, "if, instead of being buried
here, Roland Sefton had lived, and been arrested, and sent to a convict
prison for a term of imprisonment, Felicita's life, and the life of her
children, would have been altogether overshadowed by the disgrace and
infamy of it. There could have been no love between you and Felix."

"It was a good thing that he died," she answered, looking down on the
grave again almost gladly. "Does Felix know this? But I am sure he does
not," she added quickly, and looking up with a heightened color into her
father's face, "he is all honor, and truth, and unselfishness. He could
not be guilty of a crime against any one."

"I believe in Felix; I love him dearly," her father said, "but if I had
known of this I do not think I could have brought him up in my own home,
with my own boys and girls. God knows it would have been a difficult
point to settle; but it was not given to my poor wisdom to decide."

"I shall not love Felix one jot less," she said, "or reverence him less.
If all his forefathers had been bad men I should be sure still that he
was good. I never knew him do or say anything that was mean or selfish.
My poor Felix! Oh, father! I shall love him more than ever now I know
there is something in his life that needs pity. When he knows it he will
come to me for comfort; and I will comfort him. His father shall hear me
promise it by this grave here. I will never, never visit Roland
Sefton's sin on his son; I will never in my heart think of it as a thing
against him. And if all the world came to know it, I would never once
feel a moment's shame of him."

Her voice faltered a little, and she knelt down on the parched grass at
the foot of the cross, hiding her face in her hands. Canon Pascal laid
his hand fondly on her bowed head; and then he left her that she might
be alone with the grave, and God.



CHAPTER IX.

THE LOWEST DEEPS.


The miserable, delapidated hut at the entrance of Engelberg, with no
light save that which entered by the doorway, had been Jean Merle's
home since he had fixed his abode in the valley, drawn thither
irresistibly by the grave which bore Roland Sefton's name. There was
less provision for comfort in this dark hovel than in a monk's cell. A
log of rough, unbarked timber from the forest was the only seat, and a
rude framework of wood filled with straw or dry ferns was his bed. The
floor was bare, except near the door, the upper half of which usually
stood open, and here it was covered with fine chips of box and oak-wood,
and the dust which fell from his busy graver, the tool which was never
out of his fingers while the light served him. There was no more
decoration then there was comfort; except that on the smoke-stained
walls the mildew had pencilled out some strange and grotesque lines, as
if some mural painting had mouldered into ruin there. Two or three
English books alone, of the cheap continental editions, lay at one end
of a clumsy shelf; with the few cooking utensils which were absolutely
necessary, piled together on the other. There was a small stove in one
corner of the hovel, where a handful of embers could be seen at times,
like the eye of some wild creature lurking in the deep gloom.

Jean Merle, though still two or three years under fifty, was looked upon
by his neighbors as being a man of great, though unknown age. Yet,
though he stooped in the shoulders a little, and walked with his head
bent down, he was not infirm, nor had he the appearance of infirmity.
His long mountain expeditions kept his muscles in full force and
activity. But his grey face was marked with many lines, so fine as to be
seen only at close quarters; yet on the whole forming a wrinkled and
aged mask as of one far advanced in life. In addition to this
singularity of aspect there was the extraordinary seclusion and sordid
miserliness of his mode of existence, more in harmony with the
passiveness of extreme old age, than with the energy of a man still in
the prime of his days. The village mothers frightened their children
with tales about Jean Merle's gigantic strength, which made him an
object of terror to them. He sought acquaintanceship with none of his
neighbors; and they avoided him as a heretic and a stranger.

The rugged, simple, narrow life of his Swiss forefathers gathered around
him, and hedged him in. They had been peasant-farmers, with the
exception of the mountain-pastor his grandfather, and he still
well-remembered Felix Merle, after whom his boy had been called. All of
them had been men toiling with their own hands, with a never-ceasing
bodily activity, which had left them but little time or faculty for any
mental pursuit. This half of his nature fitted him well for the life
that now lay before him. As his Swiss ancestors had been for many
generations toil-worn and weather-beaten men, whose faces were sunburnt
and sun-blistered, whose backs were bent with labor, and whose weary
feet dragged heavily along the rough paths, so he became. The social
refinement of the prosperous Englishman, skin deep as it is, vanished in
the coarse and narrow life to which he had partly doomed himself, had
partly been doomed, by the dull, despondent apathy which had possessed
his soul, when he first left the hospital in Lucerne.

His mode of living was as monotonous as it was solitary. His work only
gave him some passing interest, for in the bitterness of his spirit he
kept himself quite apart from all relation with his fellow-men. As far
as in him lay he shut out the memory of the irrevocable past, and
forbade his heart to wander back to the years that were gone. He strove
to concentrate himself upon his daily toil, and the few daily wants of
his body; and after a while a small degree of calm and composure had
been won by him. Roland Sefton was dead; let him lie motionless, as a
corpse should do, in the silence of his grave. But Jean Merle was
living, and might continue to live another twenty years or more, thus
solitarily and monotonously.

But there was one project which he formed early in his new state of
existence, which linked him by a living link to the old. As soon as he
found he could earn handsome wages for his skilled and delicate work,
wages which he could in no way spend, and yet continue the penance which
he pronounced upon himself, the thought came to him of restoring the
money which had been intrusted to him by old Marlowe, and the other poor
men who had placed their savings in his care. To repay the larger amount
to which he was indebted to Mr. Clifford would be impossible; but to
earn the other sums, though it might be the work of years, was still
practicable, especially if from time to time he could make safe and
prudent speculations, such as his knowledge of the money-market might
enable him to do, so as to insure more rapid returns. At the village inn
he could see the newspapers, with their lists of the various continental
funds, and the share and stock markets; and without entering at all into
the world he could direct the buying in and selling out of his stock
through some bankers in Lucerne.

Even this restitution must be made in secret, and be so wrapped up in
darkness and stealth that no one could suspect the hand from which it
came. For he knew that the net he had woven about himself was too strong
and intricate to be broken through without deadly injury to others, and
above all to Felicita. The grave yonder, and the stone cross above it,
barred the way to any return by the path he had come. But would it be
utterly impossible for him to venture back, changed as he was by these
many years, to England? It would be only Jean Merle who would travel
thither, there could be no resurrection for Roland Sefton. But could not
Jean Merle see from afar off the old home; or Phebe Marlowe's cottage on
the hill-side; or possibly his mother, or his children; nay, Felicita
herself? Only afar off; as some banished, repentant soul, drawing a
little nearer to the walls of the eternal city, might be favored with a
glimpse of the golden streets, and the white-robed citizens therein, the
memory of which would dwell within him for evermore.

As he drew nearer the end he grew more eager to reach it. The dull
apathy of the past thirteen years was transformed into a feverish
anticipation of his secret journey to England with the accumulated
proceeds of his work and his speculations; which in some way or other
must find their way into the hands of the men who had trusted him in
time past. But at this juncture the bankers at Lucerne failed him, as
he had failed others. It was not simply that his speculations turned
out badly; but the men to whom he had intrusted the conduct of them,
from his solitary mountain-home, had defrauded him; and the bank broke.
The measure he had meted out to others had been measured to him again.
Whatsoever he had done unto men they had done unto him.

For three days Jean Merle wandered about the eternal frosts of the
ice-bound peaks and snow-fields of the mountains around him, living he
did not himself know how. It was not money he had lost. Like old Marlowe
he realized how poor a symbol money was of the long years of ceaseless
toil, the days of self-denial, the hours of anxious thoughts it
represented. And besides this darker side, it stood also for the hopes
he had cherished, vaguely, almost unconsciously, but still with strong
earnestness. He had fled from the penalty the just laws of his country
demanded from him, taking refuge in a second and more terrible fraud,
and now God suffered him not to make this small reparation for his sin,
or to taste the single drop of satisfaction that he hoped for in
realizing the object he had set before him. There was no place of
repentance for him; not a foot-hold in all the wide wilderness of his
banishment on which he could stand, and repair one jot a little of the
injury he had inflicted upon his fellow-men.

What passed through his soul those three days, amidst the ice-solitudes
where no life was, and where the only sounds that spoke to him were the
wild awful tones of nature in her dreariest haunts, he could never tell;
he could hardly recall it to his own memory. He felt as utterly alone as
if no other human being existed on the face of the earth; yet as if he
alone had to bear the burden of all the falsehood, and dishonesty and
dishonor of the countless generations of false and dishonorable men
which this earth has seen.

All hope was dead now. There was nothing more to work for, or to look
forward to. Nothing lay before him but his solitary blank life in the
miserable hut below. There was no interest in the world for him but
Roland Sefton's grave.

He descended the mountain-side at last. For the first time since he had
left the valley he noticed that the sun was shining, and that the whole
landscape below him was bathed in light. The village was all astir, and
travellers were coming and going. It was not in the sight of all the
world that he could drag his weary feet to the cemetery, where Roland
Sefton's grave was; and he turned aside into his own hut to wait till
the evening was come.

At last the sun went down upon his misery, and the cool shades of the
long twilight crept on. He made a circuit round the village to reach the
spot he longed to visit. His downcast eyes saw nothing but the rough
ground he trod, and the narrow path his footsteps had made to the
solitary grave, until he was close to it; and then, looking up to read
the name upon the cross, he discerned the figure of a girl kneeling
before it, and carefully planting a little slip of ivy into the soil
beneath it.



CHAPTER X.

ALICE PASCAL.


Alice Pascal looked up into Jean Merle's face with the frank and easy
self-possession of a well-bred English woman; coloring a little with
girlish shyness, yet at the same time smiling with a pleasant light in
her dark eyes. The oval of her face, and the color of her hair and eyes,
resembled, though slightly, the more beautiful face of Felicita in her
girlhood; it was simply the curious likeness which runs through some
families to the remotest branches. But her smile, the shape of her eyes,
the kneeling attitude, riveted him to the spot where he stood, and
struck him dumb. A fancy flashed across his brain, which shone like a
light from heaven. Could this girl be Hilda, his little daughter, whom
he had seen last sleeping in her cot? Was she then come, after many
years, to visit her father's grave?

There had always been a corroding grief to him in the thought that it
was Felicita herself who had erected that cross over the tomb of the
stranger, with whom his name was buried. He did not know that it was Mr.
Clifford alone who had thus set a mark upon the place where he believed
that the son of his old friend was lying. It had pained Jean Merle to
think that Felicita had commemorated their mutual sin by the erection
of an imperishable monument; and it had never surprised him that no one
had visited the grave. His astonishment came now. Was it possible that
Felicita had revisited Switzerland? Could she be near at hand, in the
village down yonder? His mother, also, and his boy, Felix, could they be
treading the same soil, and breathing the same air as himself? An agony
of mingled terror and rapture shot through his inmost soul. His lips
were dry, and his throat parched: he could not articulate a syllable.

He did not know what a gaunt and haggard madman he appeared. His grey
hair was ragged and tangled, and his sunken eyes gleamed with a strange
brightness. The villagers, who were wont at times to call him an
imbecile, would have been sure they were right at this moment, as he
stood motionless and dumb, staring at Alice; but to her he looked more
like one whose reason was just trembling in the balance. She was alone,
her father was no longer in sight; but she was not easily frightened.
Rather a sense of sacred pity for the forlorn wretch before her filled
her heart.

"See!" she said, in clear and penetrating accents, full, however, of
gentle kindness, and she spoke unconsciously in English, "see! I have
carried this little slip of ivy all the way from England to plant it
here. This is the grave of a man I should have loved very dearly."

A rapid flush of color passed over her face as she spoke, leaving it
paler than before, while a slight sadness clouded the smile in her eyes.

"Was he your father?" he articulated, with an immense effort.

"No," she answered; "not my father, but the father of my dearest
friends. They cannot come here; but it was his son who gathered this
slip of ivy from our porch at home, and asked me to plant it here for
him. Will it grow, do you think?"

"It shall grow," he muttered.

It was not his daughter, then; none of his own blood was at hand. But
this English girl fascinated him; he could not turn away his eyes, but
watched every slight movement as she carefully gathered the soil about
the root of the little plant, which he vowed within himself should
grow. She was rather long about her task, for she wished this madman to
go away, and leave her alone beside Roland Sefton's grave. What her
father had told her about him was still strange to her, and she wanted
to familiarize it to herself. But still the haggard-looking peasant
lingered at her side, gazing at her with his glowering and sunken eyes;
yet neither moving nor speaking.

"You know English?" she said, as all at once it occurred to her that she
had spoken to him as she would have spoken to one of the villagers in
their own country churchyard at home, and that he had answered her. He
replied only by a gesture.

"Can you find me some one who will take charge of this little plant?"
she asked.

Jean Merle raised his head and lifted up his dim eyes to the eastern
mountain-peaks, which were still shining in the rays of the sinking sun,
though the twilight was darkening everywhere in the valley. Only last
night he had slept among some juniper-bushes just below the boundary of
that everlasting snow, feeling himself cast out forever from any glimpse
of his old Paradise. But now, if he could only find words and
utterance, there was come to him, even to him, a messenger, an angel
direct from the very heart of his home, who could tell him all that last
night he believed that he should never know. The tears sprang to his
eyes, blessed tears; and a rush of uncontrollable longing overwhelmed
him. He must hear all he could of those whom he loved; and then, whether
he lived long or died soon, he would thank God as long as his miserable
life continued.

"It is I who take care of this grave," he said; "I was with him when he
died. He spoke to me of Felix and Hilda and his mother; and I saw their
portraits. You hear? I know them all."

"Was it you who watched beside him?" asked Alice eagerly. "Oh! sit down
here and tell me all about it; all you can remember. I will tell it all
again to Felix, and Hilda, and Phebe Marlowe; and oh! how glad, and how
sorry they will be to listen!"

There was no mention of Felicita's name, and Jean Merle felt a terrible
dread come over him at this omission. He sank down on the ground beside
the grave, and looked up into Alice's bright young face, with eyes that
to her were no longer lit up with the fire of insanity, however intense
and eager they might seem. It was an undreamed-of chance which had
brought to her side the man who had watched by the death-bed of Felix's
father.

"Tell me all you remember," she urged.

"I remember nothing," he answered, pressing his dark hard hand against
his forehead, "it is more than thirteen years ago. But he showed to me
their portraits. Is his wife still living?"

"Oh, yes!" she answered, "but she will not let either of them come to
Switzerland; neither Felix nor Hilda. Nobody speaks of this country in
her hearing; and his name is never uttered. But his mother used to talk
to us about him; and Phebe Marlowe does so still. She has painted a
portrait of him for Felix."

"Is Roland Sefton's mother yet alive?" he asked, with a dull, aching
foreboding of her reply.

"No," she said. "Oh! how we all loved dear old Madame Sefton! She was
always more like Felix and Hilda's mother than Cousin Felicita was. We
loved her more a hundred times than Cousin Felicita, for we are afraid
of her. It was her husband's death that spoiled her whole life and set
her quite apart from everybody else. But Madame--she was not made so
utterly miserable by it; she knew she would meet her son again in
heaven. When she was dying she said to Cousin Felicita, 'He did not
return to me, but I go to him; I go gladly to see again my dear son.'
The very last words they heard her say were, 'I come, Roland!'"

Alice's voice trembled, and she laid her hand caressingly on the name of
Roland Sefton graved on the cross above her. Jean Merle listened, as if
he heard the words whispered a long way off, or as by some one speaking
in a dream. The meaning had not reached his brain, but was travelling
slowly to it, and would surely pierce his heart with a new sorrow and a
fresh pang of remorse. The loud chanting of the monks in the abbey close
by broke in upon their solemn silence, and awoke Alice from the reverie
into which she had fallen.

"Can you tell me nothing about him?" she asked. "Talk to me as if I was
his child."

"I have nothing to tell you," answered Jean Merle. "I remember nothing
he said."

She looked down on the poor ragged peasant at her feet, with his gaunt
and scarred features, and his slowly articulated speech. There seemed
nothing strange in such a man not being able to recall Roland Sefton's
dying words. It was probable that he barely understood them; and most
likely he could not gather up the meaning of what she herself was
saying. The few words he uttered were English, but they were very few
and forced.

"I am sorry," she said gently, "but I will tell them you promised to
take care of the ivy I have planted here."

She wished the dull, gray-headed villager would go home, and leave her
alone for awhile in this solemn and sacred place; but he crouched still
on the ground, stirring neither hand nor foot. When at last she moved as
if to go away, he stretched out a toil-worn hand, and laid it on her
dress.

"Stay," he said, "tell me more about Roland Sefton's children; I will
think of it when I am tending this grave."

"What am I to tell you?" she asked gently, "Hilda is three years younger
than me, and people say we are like sisters. She and Felix were brought
up with me and my brothers in my father's house; we were like brothers
and sisters. And Felix is like another son to my father, who says he
will be both good and great some day. Good he is now; as good as man can
be."

"And you love him!" said Jean Merle, in a low and humble voice, with his
head turned away from her, and resting on the lowest step of the cross.

Alice started and trembled as she looked down on the grave and the
prostrate man. It seemed to her as if the words had almost come out of
this sad, and solitary, and forsaken grave, where Roland Sefton had lain
unvisited so many years. The last gleam of daylight had vanished from
the snowy peaks, leaving them wan and pallid as the dead. A sudden chill
came into the evening air which made her shiver; but she was not
terrified, though she felt a certain bewilderment and agitation creeping
through her. She could not resist the impulse to answer the strange
question.

"Yes, I love Felix," she said simply. "We love each other dearly."

"God bless you!" cried Jean Merle, in a tremulous voice. "God in heaven
bless you both, and preserve you to each other."

He had lifted himself up, and was kneeling before her, eagerly scanning
her face, as if to impress it on his memory. He bent down his gray head
and kissed her hand humbly and reverently, touching it only with his
lips. Then starting to his feet he hastened away from the cemetery, and
was soon lost to her sight in the gathering gloom of the dusk.

For a little while longer Alice lingered at the grave, thinking over
what had passed. It was not much as she recalled it, but it left her
agitated and disturbed. Yet after all she had only uttered aloud what
her heart would have said at the grave of Felix's father. But this
strange peasant, so miserable and poverty-stricken, so haggard and
hopeless-looking, haunted her thoughts both waking and sleeping. Early
the next morning she and Canon Pascal went to the hovel inhabited by
Jean Merle, but found it deserted and locked up. Some laborers had seen
him start off at daybreak up the Trübsee Alps, from which he might be
either ascending the Titlis or taking the route to the Joch-Pass. There
was no chance of his return that day, and Jean Merle's absence might
last for several days, as he was eccentric, and bestowed his confidence
on nobody. There was little more to be learned of him, except that he
was a heretic, a stranger, and a miser. Canon Pascal and Alice visited
once more Roland Sefton's grave, and then they went on their way over
the Joch-Pass, with some faint hopes of meeting with Jean Merle on their
route, hopes that were not fulfilled.



CHAPTER XI.

COMING TO HIMSELF.


When he left the cemetery Jean Merle went home to his wretched chalet,
flung himself down on his rough bed, and slept for some hours the
profound and dreamless sleep of utter exhaustion. The last three nights
he had passed under the stars, and stretched upon the low
juniper-bushes. He awoke suddenly, from the bright, clear moonlight of a
cloudless sky and dry atmosphere streaming in through his door, which he
had left open. There was light enough for him to withdraw some money
from a safe hiding-place he had constructed in his crazy old hut, and to
make up a packet of most of the clothing he possessed. There were
between twenty and thirty pounds in gold pieces of twenty francs
each--the only money he was master of now his Lucerne bankers had failed
him. A vague purpose, dimly shaping itself, was in his brain, but he was
in no hurry to see it take definite form. With his small bundle of
clothes and his leathern purse he started off in the earliest rays of
the dawn to escape being visited by the young English girl, whom he had
seen at the grave, and who would probably seek him out in the morning
with her father. Who they were he could find out if he himself returned
to Engelberg.

_If_ he returned; for, as he ascended the steep path leading up to the
Trübsee Alp, he turned back to look at the high mountain-valley where he
had dwelt so long, as though he was looking upon it for the last time.
It seemed to him as if he was awaking out of a long lethargy and
paralysis. Three days ago the dull round of incessant toil and
parsimonious hoarding had been abruptly broken up by the loss of all he
had toiled for and hoarded up, and the shock had driven him out like a
maniac, to wander about the desolate heights of Engelberg in a mood
bordering on despair, which had made him utterly reckless of his life.
Since then news had come to him from home--stray gleams from the
Paradise he had forfeited. Strongest of them all was the thought that
these fourteen years had transformed his little son Felix into a man,
loving as he himself had loved, and already called to take his part in
the battle of life. He had never realized this before, and it stirred
his heart to the very depths. His children had been but soft, vague
memories to him; it was Felicita who had engrossed all his thought. All
at once he comprehended that he was a father, the father of a son and
daughter, who had their own separate life and career. A deep and
poignant interest in these beings took possession of him. He had called
them into existence; they belonged to him by a tie which nothing on
earth, in heaven, or in hell itself could destroy. As long as they lived
there must be an indestructible interest for him in this world. Felicita
was no longer the first in his thoughts.

The dim veil which time had drawn around them was rent asunder, and they
stood before him bathed in light, but placed on the other side of a gulf
as fathomless, as impassable, and as death-like as the ice-crevasses
yawning at his feet. He gazed down into the cold, gleaming abyss, and
across it to the sharp and slippery margin where there could be no
foot-hold, and he pictured to himself the springing across that horrible
gulf to reach them on the other side, and the falling, with outstretched
hands and clutching fingers, into the unseen icy depths below him. For
the first time in his life he shrank back shivering and terror-stricken
from the edge of the crevasse, with palsied limbs and treacherous
nerves. He felt that he must get back into safer standing-ground than
this solitary and perilous glacier.

He reached at last a point of safety, where he could lie down and let
his trembling limbs rest awhile. The whole slope of the valley lay below
him, with its rich meadows of emerald green, and its silvery streams
wandering through them. Little farms and chalets were dotted about, some
of them clinging to the sides of the rocks opposite to him, or resting
on the very edge of precipices thousands of feet deep, and looking as if
they were about to slip over them. He felt his head grow giddy as he
looked at them, and thought of the children at play in such dangerous
playgrounds. There were a few gray clouds hanging about the Titlis, and
caught upon the sharp horns of the rugged peaks around the valley. Every
peak and precipice he knew; they had been his refuge in the hours of his
greatest anguish. But these palsied limbs and this giddy head could not
be trusted to carry him there again. He had lost his last hope of making
any atonement. Hope was gone; was he to lose his indomitable courage
also? It was the last faculty which made his present life endurable.

He lay motionless for hours, neither listening nor looking. Yet he
heard, for the memory of it often came back to him in after years, the
tinkling of innumerable bells from the pastures below him, and around
him; and the voices of many waterfalls rushing down through the
pine-forests into the valley; and the tossing to and fro of the
interwoven branches of the trees. And he saw the sunlight stealing from
one point to another, chased by the shadows of the clouds, that gathered
and dispersed, dimming the blue sky for a little time, and then leaving
it brighter and deeper than before. He was unconscious of it all; he was
even unaware that his brain was at work at all, until suddenly, like a
flash, there rose upon him the clear, resolute, unchangeable
determination, "I will go to England."

He started up at once, and seized his bundle and his alpenstock. The
afternoon was far advanced, but there was time enough to reach the
Engstlenalp, where he could stay the night, and go on in the morning to
Meiringen. He could be in England in three days.

Three days: so short a time separated him from the country and the home
from which he had been exiled so many years. Any day during those
fourteen years he might have started homeward as he was doing now; but
there had not been the irresistible hunger in his heart that at this
moment drove him thither. He had been vainly seeking to satisfy himself
with husks; but even these, dry and empty, and bitter as they were, had
failed him. He had lost all; and having lost all, he was coming to
himself.

There was not the slightest fear of detection in his mind. A gray-haired
man with bowed shoulders, and seamed and marred face, who had lost every
trace of the fastidiousness, which had verged upon foppery in the
handsome and prosperous Roland Sefton, ran no risk of recognition, more
especially as Roland Sefton had been reckoned among the dead and buried
for many a long year. The lineaments of the dead die with them, however
cunningly the artist may have used his skill to preserve them. The face
is gone, and the memory of it. Some hearts may long to keep it engraven
sharp and clear in their remembrance; but oh, when the "inward eye"
comes to look for it how dull and blurred it lies there, like a
forgotten photograph which has grown faded and stained in some
seldom-visited cabinet!

Jean Merle travelled, as a man of his class would travel, in a
third-class wagon and a slow train; but he kept on, stopping nowhere for
rest, and advancing as rapidly as he could, until on the third day, in
the gray of the evening, he saw the chalk-line of the English coast
rising against the faint yellow light of the sunset; and as night fell
his feet once more trod upon his native soil.

So far he had been simply yielding to his blind and irresistible longing
to get back to England, and nearer to his unknown children. He had heard
so little of them from Alice Pascal, that he could no longer rest
without knowing more. How to carry out his intention he did not know,
and he had hardly given it a thought. But now, as he strolled slowly
along the flat and sandy shore for an hour or two, with the darkness
hiding both sea and land from him, except the spot on which he stood, he
began to consider what steps he must take to learn what he wanted to
know, and to see their happiness afar off without in any way endangering
it. He had purchased it at too heavy a price to be willing to place it
in any peril now.

That Felicita had left Riversborough he had heard from her own lips, but
there was no other place where he was sure of discovering her present
abode, for London was too wide a city, even if she had carried out her
intention of living there, for him to ascertain where she dwelt. Phebe
Marlowe would certainly know where he could find them, for the English
girl at Roland Sefton's grave had spoken of Phebe as familiarly as of
Felix and Hilda--spoken of her, in fact, as if she was quite one of the
family. There would be no danger in seeking out Phebe Marlowe. If his
own mother could not have recognized her son in the rugged peasant he
had become, there was no chance of a young girl such as Phebe had been
ever thinking of Roland Sefton in connection with him; and he could
learn all he wished to know from her.

He was careful to take the precaution of exchanging his foreign garb of
a Swiss peasant for the dress of an English mechanic. The change did not
make him look any more like his old self, for there was no longer any
incongruity in his appearance. No soul on earth knew that he had not
died many years ago, except Felicita. He might saunter down the streets
of his native town in broad daylight on a market-day, and not a
suspicion would cross any brain that here was their old townsman, Roland
Sefton, the fraudulent banker.

Yet he timed his journey so as not to reach Riversborough before the
evening of the next day; and it was growing dusk when he paced once more
the familiar streets, slowly, and at every step gathering up some sharp
reminiscence of the past. How little were they changed! The old
grammar-school, with its gray walls and mullioned windows, looked
exactly as it had done when he was yet a boy wearing his college-cap and
carrying his satchel of school-books. His name, he knew, was painted in
gold on a black tablet on the walls inside as a scholar who had gained
a scholarship. Most of the shops on each side of the streets bore the
same names and looked but little altered. In the churchyard the same
grave-stones were standing as they stood when he, as a child, spelt out
their inscriptions through the open railings which separated them from
the causeway. There was a zigzag crack in one of the flag-stones, which
was one of his earliest recollections; he stood and put his clumsy boot
upon it as he had often placed his little foot in those childish years,
and leaning his head against the railings of the churchyard, where all
his English forefathers for many a generation were buried, he waited as
if for some voice to speak to him.

Suddenly the bells in the dark tower above him rang out a peal, clanging
and clashing noisily together as if to give him a welcome. They had rung
so the day he brought Felicita home after their long wedding journey. It
was Friday night, the night when the ringers had always been used to
practise, in the days when he was churchwarden. The pain of hearing them
was intolerable; he could bear no more that night. Not daring to go on
and look at the house where he was born, and where his children had been
born, but which he could never more enter, he sought out a quiet inn,
and shut himself up in a garret there to think, and at last to sleep.



CHAPTER XII.

A GLIMPSE INTO PARADISE.


I cannot tell whether it was fancy merely, but the morning light which
streamed into his room seemed more familiar and home-like to him than
it had ever done in Switzerland. He was awakened by one of those sounds
which dwell longest in the memory--the chiming of the church bells
nearest home, which in childhood had so often called to him to shake off
his slumbers, and which spoke to him now in sweet and friendly tones, as
if he was still an innocent child. The tempest-tossed, sinful man lay
listening to them for a minute or two, half asleep yet. He had been
dreaming that he was in truth dead, but that the task assigned to him
was that of an invisible guardian and defender to those who had lost
him. He had been present all these years with his wife, and mother, and
children, going out and coming in with them, hearing all their
conversation, and sharing their family life, but himself unseen and
unheard, felt only by the spiritual influence he could exercise over
them. It had been a blissful dream, such as had never visited him in his
exile; and as the familiar chiming of the bells, high up in the belfry
not far from his attic, fell upon his ear, the dream for a brief moment
gathered a stronger sense of reality.

It was with a strange feeling, as if he was himself a phantom mingling
with creatures of flesh and blood, that he went out into the streets.
His whole former life lay unrolled before him, but there was no point at
which he could touch it. Every object and every spot was commonplace,
yet invested with a singular and intense significance. Many a man among
the townsfolk he knew by name and history, whose eyes glanced at him as
a stranger, with no surprise at his appearance, and no show of suspicion
or of welcome. Certainly he was nothing but a ghost revisiting the
scenes of a life to which there was no possible return. Yet how he
longed to stretch out his hand and grasp those of these old towns-people
of his! Even the least interesting of the shopkeepers in the streets,
bestirring themselves to meet the business of a new day, seemed to him
one of the most desirable of companions.

His heart was drawing him to Whitefriars Road, to that spot on earth of
all others most his own, but his resolution failed him whenever he
turned his face that way. He rambled into the ancient market square,
where stood a statue of his Felicita's great uncle, the first Baron
Riversdale. The long shadow of it fell across him as he lingered to look
in at a bookseller's window. He and the bookseller had been
school-fellows together at the grammar-school, and their friendship had
lasted after each was started in his own career. Hundreds of times he
had crossed this door-sill to have a chat with the studious and quiet
bookworm within whose modest life was so great a contrast with his own.
Jean Merle stopped at the well-remembered shop-window.

His eyes glanced aimlessly along the crowded shelves, but suddenly his
attention was arrested, and his pulses, which had been beating somewhat
fast, throbbed with eager rapidity. A dozen volumes or more, ranged
together, were labelled, "Works by Mrs. Roland Sefton." Surprise, and
pride, and pleasure were in the rapid beatings of his heart. By
Felicita! He read over the titles with a new sense of delight and
admiration; and in the first glow of his astonishment he stepped quickly
into the shop, with erect head and firm tread, and found himself face
to face with his old school-fellow. The sight of his blank,
unrecognizing gaze brought him back to the consciousness of the utter
change in himself. He looked down at his coarse hands and mechanic's
dress, and remembered that he was no longer Roland Sefton. His tongue
was parched; it was difficult to stammer out a word.

"Do you want anything, my good man?" asked the bookseller quietly.

There was something in the words "my good man" that brought home to him
at once the complete separation between his former life and the present,
and the perfect security that existed for him in the conviction that
Roland Sefton was dead. With a great effort he commanded himself, and
answered the bookseller's question collectedly.

"There are some books in the window by Mrs. Roland Sefton," he said,
"how much are they?"

"That is the six shilling edition," replied the bookseller.

Jean Merle was on the point of saying he would take them all, but he
checked himself. He must possess them all, and read every line that
Felicita had ever written, but not now, and not here.

"Which do you think is the best?" he asked.

"They are all good," was the answer; "we are very proud of Mrs. Roland
Sefton, who belongs to Riversborough. That is her great uncle yonder,
the first Lord Riversdale; and she married a prominent townsman, Roland
Sefton, of the Old Bank. I have a soiled copy or two, which I could sell
to you for half the price of the new ones."

"She is famous then?" said Jean Merle.

"She has won her rank as an author," replied the bookseller. "I knew her
husband well, and he always foretold that she would make her mark; and
she has. He died fourteen years ago; and, strange to say, there was
something about your step as you came in which reminded me of him. Do
you belong to Riversborough?"

"No," he answered; "but my name is Jean Merle, and I am related to
Madame Sefton, his mother. I suppose there is some of the same blood in
Roland Sefton and me."

"That is it," said the bookseller cordially. "I thought you were a
foreigner, though you speak English so well."

"There was some mystery about Roland Sefton's death?" remarked Jean
Merle.

"No, no; at least not much," was the answer. "He went away on a long
holiday, unluckily without announcing it, on account of bank business;
but Mr. Clifford, the senior partner, was on his way to take charge of
affairs. There was but one day between Roland Sefton's departure and Mr.
Clifford's arrival, but during that very day, for some reason or other
unknown, the head clerk committed suicide, and there was a panic and a
run upon the bank. Unfortunately there was no means of communicating
with Sefton, who had started at once for the continent. Mr. Clifford did
not see any necessity for his return, as the mischief was done; but just
as his six months' absence was over--not all holiday, as folks said, for
there was foreign business to see after--he died by accident in
Switzerland. I knew the truth better than most people; for Mr. Clifford
came here often, and dropped many a hint. Some persons still say the
police were seeking for Roland; but that is not true. It was an
unfortunate concatenation of circumstances."

"You knew him well?" said Jean Merle.

"Yes; we were school-fellows and friends," answered the bookseller, "and
a finer fellow never breathed. He was always eager to get on, and to
help other people on. We have not had such a public-spirited man amongst
us since he died. It cuts me to the heart when anybody pretends that he
absconded. Absconded! Why! there were dozens of us who would have made
him welcome to every penny we could command. But I own appearances were
against him, and he never came back to clear them up, and prove his
innocence."

"And this is his wife's best book," said Jean Merle, holding it with
shaking, nerveless hands. Felicita's book! The tears burned under his
eyelids as he looked down on it.

"I won't say it is the best; it is my favorite," replied the bookseller.
"Her son, Felix Sefton, a clergyman now, was in here yesterday, asking
the same question. If you are related to Madame Sefton, you'll be very
welcome at the Old Bank; and you'll find both of Madame's grand-children
visiting old Mr. Clifford. I'll send one of my boys to show you the
house."

"Not now," said Jean Merle. If Mr. Clifford was living yet he must be
careful what risks he ran. Hatred has eyes as keen as love; and if any
one could break through his secret it would be the implacable old man,
who had still the power of sending him to a convict prison.

A shudder ran through him at the dread idea of detection. What would it
be to Felicita now, when her name was famous, to have it dragged down to
ignominy and utter disgrace? The dishonor would be a hundred-fold the
greater for the fair reputation she had won, and the popularity she had
secured. And her children too! Worse for them past all words would it be
than if they were still little creatures, ignorant of the value of the
world's opinion. He bade the bookseller good-morning, and threaded his
way through many alleys and by-lanes of the old town until he reached a
ferry and a boat-house, where many a boat lay ready for him, as they
had always done when he was a boy. He seated himself in one of them, and
taking the oars fell down with the current to the willows under the
garden-wall of his old home.

He steered his boat aside into a small creek, where the willow-wands
grew tall and thick, from which he could see the whole river frontage of
the old house. Was there any change in it? His keen, despairing gaze
could not detect one. The high tilted gables in the roof stood out clear
against the sky, with their spiral wooden rods projecting above them.
The oriel window cast its slowly moving shadow on the half-timber walls;
and the many lattice casements, with their small diamond-shaped panes,
glistened in the sun as in the days gone by. The garden-plots were
unchanged, and the smooth turf on the terraces was as green and soft as
when he ran along them at his mother's side. The old house brought to
his mind his mother rather than his wife. It was full of associations
and memories of her, with her sweet, humble, self-sacrificing nature.
There was repose and healing in the very thought of her, which seemed
to touch his anguish with a strong and soothing hand. Was there an echo
of her voice still lingering for him about the old spot where he had
listened to it so often? Could he hear her calling to him by his name,
the name he had buried irrecoverably in a foreign grave? For the first
time for many years he bent down his face upon his hands, and wept many
tears; not bitter ones, full of grief as they were. His mother was dead;
he had not wept for her till now.

Presently there came upon the summer silence the sound of a young,
clear, laughing voice, calling "Phebe;" and he lifted up his head to
look once more at the house. An old man, with silvery white hair was
pacing slowly to and fro on the upper terrace, and a slight girlish
figure was beside him. That was old Clifford, his enemy; but could that
girl be Hilda? A face looked out of one of the windows, smiling down
upon this young girl, which he knew again as Phebe Marlowe's. By and by
she came down to the terrace, with a tall, fine-looking young man
walking beside her; and all three, bidding farewell to the old man,
descended from terrace to terrace, becoming every minute more distinct
to his eyes. Yes, there was Phebe; and these others must be his girl
Hilda and his son Felix. They were near to him, every word they spoke
reached his ears, and penetrated to his heart. They seemed more
beautiful, more perfect than any young creatures he had ever beheld. He
listened to them unfastening the chain which secured the boat, and to
the creaking of the row-locks as they fitted the oars into them. It was
as if one of his own long-lost days was come back again to earth, when
he had sat where Felix was now sitting, with Felicita instead of Hilda
dipping her little white hand into the water. He had scarcely eyes for
Phebe; but he was conscious that she was there, for Hilda was speaking
to her in a low voice which just reached him. "See," she said, "that man
has one of my mother's books! And he is quite a common man!"

"As much a common man, perhaps, as I am a common woman," answered Phebe,
in a gentle though half-reproving tone.

As long as his eyes could see them they were fastened upon the receding
boat; and long after, he gazed in the direction in which they had gone.
He had had the passing glimpse he longed for into the Paradise he had
forfeited. This had been his place, appointed to him by God, where he
could have served God best, and served Him in as perfect gladness and
freedom as the earth gives to any of her children. What lot could have
been more blessed? The lines had fallen unto him in pleasant places; he
had had a goodly heritage, and he had lost it through grasping
dishonestly at a larger share of what this world called success. The
madness and the folly of his sin smote him with unutterable bitterness.

He could bear to look at it no longer. The yearning he had felt to see
his old home was satisfied; but the satisfaction seemed an increase of
sorrow. He would not wait to witness the return of his children. The old
man was gone into the house, and the garden was quiet and deserted. With
weary strokes he rowed back again up the river; and with a heavier
weight of sorrow and a keener consciousness of sin he made his way
through the streets so familiar to his tread. It was as if no eye saw
him, and no heart warmed to him in his native town. He was a stranger in
a strange place; there was none to say to him, here or elsewhere on
earth, "You are one of us."



CHAPTER XIII.

A LONDON GARRET.


There was one other place he must see before he went out again from this
region of many memories, to which all that he could call life was
linked--the little farmstead on the hills, which, of all places, had
been his favorite haunt when a boy, and which had been the last spot he
had visited before fleeing from England. Phebe Marlowe he had seen; if
he went away at once he could see her home before her return to it. Next
to his mother and his wife, he knew that Phebe was most likely to
recognize him, if recognition by any one was possible. Most likely old
Marlowe was dead; but if not, his senses would surely be too dull to
detect him.

The long, hot, white highway, dusty with a week's drought, carried back
his thoughts so fully to old times that he walked on unconscious of the
noontide heat and the sultriness of the road. Yet when he came to the
lanes, green overhead and underfoot, and as silent as the
mountain-heights round Engelberg, he felt the solace of the change. All
the recollections treasured up in the secret cells of memory were
springing into light at every step; and these were remembrances less
bitter than those the sight of his lost home had called to mind. He felt
himself less of a phantom here, where no one met him or crossed his
path, than in the streets where many faces looking blankly at him wore
the well-known features of old comrades. By the time he gained the
moorlands, and looked across its purple heather and yellow gorse, his
mind was in a healthier mood than it had been for years. The low
thatched roof of the small homestead, and the stunted and twisted trees
surrounding it, seemed like a possible refuge to him, where for a little
while he might find shelter from the storm of life. He pressed on with
eagerness, and found himself quickly at the door, which he had never met
with fastened.

But it was locked now. After knocking twice he tried the latch, but it
did not open. He went to the little window, uncurtained as usual and
peered in, but all was still and dark; there was not a glimmer of light
on the hearth, where he had always seen some glimmering embers. There
was no sign of life about the place; no dog barking, no sheep bleating,
or fowls fluttering about the little farm-yard. All the innocent,
joyous gayety of the place had vanished; yet he could see that it was
not falling into decay; the thatch was in repair, the dark interior,
dimly visible through the window, was as it used to be. It was not a
ruin, but it was not a home. A home might have received him with its
hospitable walls, or a ruin might have given him an hour's shelter. But
Phebe's door was shut against him, though it would have done him good to
stand within it once more, a penitent man.

He was turning away sadly, when a loud rustic voice called to him; and
Simon Nixey, almost hidden under a huge load of dried ferns, came into
sight. Jean Merle stepped down the stone causeway of the farm-yard to
open the gate for him.

"What are you doing here?" he inquired suspiciously.

"A wood-carver, called old Marlowe, used to live here," he answered,
"what has become of him?"

"Dead!" said Simon; "dead this many a year. Why, if you know anything
you ought to know that."

"What did he die of?" asked Jean Merle.

"A broken heart, if ever man did," answered Simon; "he'd saved a mint o'
money by scraping and moiling; and he lost it all when there was a run
on the Old Bank over thirteen years ago. He couldn't talk about it like
other folks, poor old Dummy! and it struck inwards, as you may say. It
killed him as certain as if they'd shot a bullet into him."

Jean Merle staggered as if Simon had struck him a heavy blow. He had not
thought of anything like this, old Marlowe dying broken-hearted, and
Phebe left alone in the world. Simon Nixey seemed pleased at the
impression his words had produced.

"Ay!" he said, "it was hard on old Marlowe; and drove my cousin, John
Nixey, into desperate ways o' drinking. Not but all the money was paid
up; only it was too late for them two. Every penny was paid, so as folks
had nothing to say against the Old Bank. Only money won't bring a dead
man back to life again. I offered Phebe to make her my wife before I
knew it'ud be paid back; but she always said no, till I grew tired of
it, and married somebody else."

"And where is she now?" inquired Jean Merle.

"Oh! she's quite the fine lady," answered Simon. "Mrs. Roland Sefton,
Lord Riversdale's daughter that was, took quite a fancy to her, and had
her to live with her in London; not as a servant, you know, but as a
friend; and she paints pictures wonderful. My mother, who lives
housekeeper with Mr. Clifford, hears say she can get sixty pounds or
more for one likeness. Think of that now! If she'd been my wife what a
fortune she'd have been to me!"

"Has she sold this place?" asked Jean Merle.

"There it is," he replied; "she gave her father a faithful promise never
to part with it, or I'd have bought it myself. She comes here once a
year with Miss Hilda and Mr. Felix, and they stay a week or two; and
it's shut up all the rest of the time. I've got the key here if you'd
like to look inside at old Dummy's carving."

How familiar, yet how different, the interior of the cottage seemed! He
knew all these carvings, curious and beautiful, which lined the walls
and decorated every article of the old oak furniture. But the hearth was
cold, and there was no pleasant disorder about the small house telling
its story of daily work. In the deep recess of the window-frame, where
the western sun was already shining, stood old Marlowe's copy of a
carved crucifix, which he had himself once brought from the Tyrol, and
lent to him before finding a place for it in his own home. The sacred
head was bowed down so low as to be almost hidden under the shadow of
the crown of thorns. At the foot of the cross, in delicately small old
English letters, the old man had carved the words, "Come unto me all ye
that be weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He remembered
pointing out the mistake that he had made to old Marlowe.

"I like it best," said the dumb man; "I have often been weary, but not
with labor; weary of myself, weary of the world, weary of life, weary of
everything but my Phebe. That is what Christ says to me."

Jean Merle could see the old man's speaking face again, and the fingers
moving less swiftly when spelling out the words to him, than when he was
talking to Phebe. Weary! weary! was it not so with him? Could any man on
earth be more weary than he was?

He loitered back to Riversborough through the cool of the evening, with
the pale stars shining dimly in the twilight of the summer sky;
pondering, brooding over what he had seen and heard that day. He had
already done much of what he had come to England to do; but what next?
What was the path he ought to take now? He was in a labyrinth, where
there were many false openings leading no-whither; and he had no clue to
guide him. All these years he had lain as one dead in the coil he had
wound about himself, but now he was living again. There was agony in the
life that he had entered into, but it was better than the apathy of his
death in life.

He returned to London, and hired a garret for a small weekly rent, where
he would lodge until he could resolve what to do. But week after week
passed without bringing to his mind the solution of the problem.
Remorse had given place to repentance; but despair had not been
succeeded by hope. There was nothing to hope for. The irrevocable past
stood between him and any reparation for his sin which his soul
earnestly desired to make. An easy thing, and light, it would have been
to put himself into the power of his enemy, Mr. Clifford, and bear the
penalty of the law. He had suffered a hundred fold more than justice
would have exacted. The broken law demanded satisfaction, and it would
have been a blessed relief to him to give it. But that could never be.
He could never bear the penalty of his crime without dragging Felicita
into depths of shame and suffering deeper than they would have been if
he had borne it at first. The fame she had won for herself would lift up
his infamy and hers to the intolerable gaze of a keen and bitter
publicity. He must blacken her fair reputation if he sought to appease
his own conscience.

He made no effort to find out where she and his children were living.
But one after another, in the solitude of his garret, he read every book
Felicita had written. They gave him no pleasure, and awoke in him no
admiration, for he read them through different eyes from her other
readers. There was great bitterness of soul for him in many of the
sentences she had penned; now and then he came upon some to which he
alone held the true key. He felt that he, her husband, was dwelling in
her mind as a type of subtle selfishness and weak ambition. When she
depicted a good or noble character it was almost invariably a woman, not
a man; it was never a man past his early manhood. However varied their
circumstances and temperaments, they were in the main worldly and mean;
sometimes they were successful hypocrites, deceiving those nearest and
dearest to them.

It was a wholesome penance to him, perhaps, but it shook and troubled
his soul to its very depths. His sin had ruined the poor weakminded
drunkard, John Nixey, and hastened the end of dumb old Marlowe; these
consequences of it must, at any time, have clouded his own after-life.
But it had also wrought a baneful change in the spirit of the woman whom
he loved. It was he who had slain within her the hope, and the love, and
the faith in her fellow-men which had been needed for the full
perfecting of her genius.



CHAPTER XIV.

HIS FATHER'S SIN.


When Felix returned from his brief and clouded holiday to his work in
that corner of the great vineyard, so overcrowded with busy husbandmen
that they were always plucking up each others' plants, and pruning and
repruning each others' vines, till they made a wilderness where there
should have been a harvest, he found that his special plot there had
suffered much damage. John Nixey, following up the impression he had so
successfully made, had spread his story abroad, and found ears willing
to listen to it, and hearts willing to believe it. The small Provident
Club, instituted by Felix to check the waste and thriftlessness of the
people, had already, in his short absence, elected another treasurer of
its scanty funds; and the members who formed it, working men and women
who had been gathered together by his personal influence, treated him
with but scant civility. His evening lectures in the church
mission-house were sometimes scarcely attended, whilst on other days
there was an influx of hearers, among whom John Nixey was prominent,
with half-a-dozen rough and turbulent fellows like himself, hangers-on
at the nearest spirit-vaults, who were ready for any turn that might
lead to a row. The women and children who had been accustomed to come
stayed away, or went to some other of the numerous preaching-places, as
though afraid of this boisterous element in his little congregation.

Now and then, too, he heard his name called out aloud in the streets by
some of Nixey's friends, as he passed the prospering gin-palaces with
their groups of loungers about the doors; but though he could catch the
sound of the laugh and the sneer that followed him, he could take no
notice. He could not turn round in righteous indignation and tell the
fellows, and the listening bystanders, that what they said of his father
was a lie. The poor young curate, with his high hopes and his
enthusiastic love of the work he had chosen for the sake of his
fellow-men, was compelled to pass on with bowed head, and silent lips,
and a heart burdened with the conviction that his influence was
altogether blighted and uprooted.

"It isn't true, sir, is it, what folks are tellin' about your father?"
was a question put to him more than once, when he entered some squalid
home, in the hope of giving counsel, or help, or comfort. There was
something highly welcome and agreeable to these people, themselves
thieves or bordering on thievedom, in the idea that this fine, handsome,
gentlemanly young clergyman, who had set to work among them with so much
energy and zeal, was the son of a dishonest rogue, who ought to have
been sent to jail as many of them had been. Felix had not failed to make
enemies in the Brickfields by his youthful intolerance of idleness,
beggary, and drunkenness. The owners of the gin-palaces hated him, and
not a few of the rival religious sects were, to say the least,
uncharitably disposed towards one who had drawn so many of their
followers to himself. There was very little common social interest in
the population of the district, for the tramping classes of the lowest
London poor, such as were drawn to the Brickfields by its overflowing
charities, have as little cohesion as a rope of sand; but Felix was so
conspicuous a figure in its narrow and dirty streets, that even
strangers would nudge one another's elbows, and almost before he was
gone by narrate Nixey's story, with curious additions and alterations.

It was gall and wormwood to Felix that he was unable to contradict the
story in full. He could say that his father had never been a convict;
but no inducement on earth could have wrung from him the declaration
that his father had never been guilty of fraud. Sometimes he wondered
whether it would not be well to own the simple truth, and endure the
shame: if he had been the sole survivor of his father's sin this he
would have done, and gone on toilsomely regaining the influence he had
lost. But the secret touched his mother even more closely than himself,
and Hilda was equally concerned in it. It had been sacredly kept by
those older than he was, and it was not for him to betray it. "My poor
mother!" he called her. Never, before he learned the secret burden she
had borne, had he called her by that tender and pitiful epithet; but as
often as he thought of her now his heart said, "My poor mother!"

As soon as Canon Pascal returned to England Felix took a day's holiday,
and ran down by train to the quiet rectory in Essex, where he had spent
the greater portion of his boyhood. Only a few years separated him from
that careless and happiest period of his life; yet the last three months
had driven it into the far background. He almost smiled at the
recollection of how young he was half-a-year ago, when he had declared
his love for Alice. How far dearer to him she was now than then! The one
letter he had received from her, written in Switzerland, and telling him
in loving detail of her visit to his father's grave, would be forever
one of his most precious treasures. But he was not going to share his
blemished name with her. He had had nothing worthy of her, or of his
father, to lay at her feet, whilst he was yet in utter ignorance of the
shame he had inherited; and now? He must never more think of her as his
wife.

She was at home, he knew; but he sternly forbade himself to seek for
her. It was Canon Pascal he had come down to see, and he went straight
on to his well-known study. He was busy in the preparation of next
Sunday's sermons, but at the sight of Felix's dejected, unsmiling face,
he swept away his books and papers with one hand, whilst he stretched
out his hand to give him such a warm, strong, hearty grip as he might
have given to a drowning man.

"What is it, my son?" he asked.

There was such a full sympathetic tone in the friendly voice speaking to
him, that Felix felt his burden already shared, and pressing less
heavily on his bruised spirit. He stood a little behind Canon Pascal,
with his hand upon his shoulder, as he had often placed himself before
when he was pleading for some boyish indulgence, or begging pardon for
some boyish fault.

"You have been like a true father to me, and I come to tell you a great
trouble," he began in a tremulous voice.

"I know it, my boy," replied Canon Pascal; "you have found out how true
it is, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are
set on edge.' Ah! Felix, life teaches us so, as well as this wise old
Book."

"You know it?" stammered Felix.

"Phebe told me," he interrupted, "six months since. And now you and I
can understand Felicita. There was no prejudice against our Alice in her
mind; no unkindness to either of you. But she could not bring herself to
say the truth against the husband whom she has wept and mourned over so
long. And your mother is the soul of truth and honor; she could not let
you marry whilst we were ignorant of this matter. It has been a terrible
cross to bear, and she has borne it in silence. I love and revere your
mother more than ever."

"Yes!" said Felix with a sob. He had not yet seen her since coming to
this fateful knowledge; for Phebe and Hilda had joined her at the
sea-side where they were still staying. But if his father had gone down
into depths of darkness, his mother had risen so much the higher in his
reverence and love. She had become a saint and a martyr in his eyes; and
to save her from a moment's grief seemed to be a cause worth dying for.

"I came to tell you all," he went on, "and to say I cannot any more hope
that you will give Alice to me. God alone knows what it costs me to give
her up: and she will suffer too for a while, a long while, I fear; for
we have grown together so. But it must be. Alice cannot marry a man who
has not even an unblemished name to offer to her."

"You should ask Alice herself about that," said Canon Pascal quietly.

A thrill of rapture ran through Felix, and he grasped the shoulder, on
which his hand still rested, more firmly. What! was it possible that
this second father of his knew all his disgrace and dishonor, how his
teeth were set on edge by the sour grapes which he had not eaten, and
yet was willing that Alice should share his name and his lot? There was
no fear as to what Alice would say. He recollected how Phebe spoke, as
if her thoughts dwelt more on his father's sorrow and sad death, than on
his sin; and Alice would be the same. She would cover it with a woman's
sweet charity. He could not command his voice to speak; and after a
minute's pause Canon Pascal continued--

"Yes! Alice, too, knows all about it. I told her beside your father's
grave. And do you suppose she said, 'Here is cause enough for me to
break with Felix'? Nay, I believe if the sin had been your own, Alice
would have said it was her duty to share it, and your repentance. Shall
our Lord come to save sinners, and we turn away from their blameless
children? Yet I thought it must be so at first, I own it, Felix; at
first, while my eyes were blinded and my heart hardened; and I looked at
it in the light of the world. But then I be-thought me of your mother.
Shall not she make good to you the evil your father has wrought? If he
dishonored your name in the eyes of a few, she has brought honor to it,
and made it known far beyond the limits it could have been known through
him. The world will regard you as her son, not as his."

"But I came also to tell you that I wish to leave the country," said
Felix. "There is a difficulty in getting young men for our colonial
work; and I am young and strong, stronger than most young men in the
Church. I could endure hardships, and go in for work that feebler men
must leave untried; you have taken care of that for me. Such a life
would be more like old Felix Merle's than a London curacy. You let your
own sons emigrate, believing that the old country is getting
over-populated; and I thought I would go too."

"Why?" asked Canon Pascal, turning round in his chair, and looking up
searchingly into his face.

In a few words, and in short broken sentences, Felix told him of Nixey's
charge, and the change it had wrought in the London curacy, upon which
he had entered with so much enthusiasm and delight.

"It will be the same wherever I go in England," he said in conclusion;
"and I cannot face them boldly and say it is all a falsehood."

"You must live it down," answered Canon Pascal; "go on, and take no
notice of it."

"But it hinders my work sadly," said Felix, "and I cannot go on in the
Brickfields. There might be a row any evening, and then the story would
come out in the police-courts; and what could I say? At least, I must
give up that."

For a few minutes Canon Pascal was lost in thought. If Felix was right
in his apprehension, and the whole story came out in the police-court,
there were journals pandering to public curiosity that would gladly lay
hold of any gossip or scandal connected with Mrs. Roland Sefton. Her
name would ensure its publicity. And how could Felicita endure that,
especially now that her health was affected? If the dread of disclosing
her secret to him had wrought so powerfully upon her physical and mental
constitution, what would she suffer if it became a nine days' talk for
the world?

"I will get your rector to exchange curates with me till we can see our
way clear," he said. "He is Alice's godfather, you know, and will do it
willingly. I am going up to Westminster in November, and you will be
here in my place, where everybody knows your face and you know theirs.
There will be no question here about your father, for you are looked
upon as my son. Now go away, and find Alice."

When Felix turned out of Liverpool Street station that evening, a tall,
gaunt-looking workman man offered to carry his bag for him. It was
filled with choice fruit from the rectory garden, grown on trees grafted
and pruned by Canon Pascal's own hands; and Felix had helped Alice to
gather it for some of his sick parishioners in the unwholesome
dwelling-places he visited.

"I am going no farther than the Mansion House," he answered, "and I can
carry it myself."

"You'd do me a kindness if you'd let me carry it," said the man.

It was not the tone of a common loafer, hanging about the station for
any chance job, and Felix turned to look at him in the light of the
street-lamp. It was the old story, he thought to himself, a decent
mechanic from the country, out of work, and lost in this great labyrinth
of a city. He handed his bag to him and walked on along the crowded
thoroughfare, soon forgetting that he was treading the flagged streets
of a city; he was back again, strolling through dewy fields in the cool
twilight, with Alice beside him, accompanying him to the quiet little
station. He thought no more of the stranger behind him, or of the bag he
carried, until he hailed an omnibus travelling westward.

"Here is your bag, sir," said the man.

"Ah! I'd forgotten it," exclaimed Felix. "Good night, and thank you."

He had just time to drop a shilling into his hand before the omnibus was
off. But the man stood there in front of the Mansion House, motionless,
with all the busy sea of life roaring around him, hearing nothing and
seeing nothing. This coin that lay in his hand had been given to him by
his son; his son's voice was still sounding in his ears. He had walked
behind him taking note of his firm strong step, his upright carriage and
manly bearing. It had been too swift a march for him, full of exquisite
pain and pleasure, which chance might never offer to him again.

"Move on, will you?" said a policeman authoritatively; and Jean Merle,
rousing himself from his reverie, went back to his lonely garret.



CHAPTER XV.

HAUNTING MEMORIES.


Felicita was slowly recovering her strength at the sea-side. She had
never before felt so seriously shaken in health, as since she had known
of the attachment of Felix to Alice Pascal; an attachment which would
have been quite to her mind, if there was no loss of honor in allowing
it whilst she held a secret which, in all probability, would seem an
insuperable barrier in the eyes of Canon Pascal.

This secret she had kept resolutely in the background of her own memory,
conscious of its existence, but never turning her eyes towards it. The
fact that it was absolutely a secret, suspected by no one, made this
more possible; for there was no gleam of cognizance in any eye meeting
hers which could awaken even a momentary recollection of it. It seemed
so certain that her husband was dead to every one but herself, that she
came at last almost to believe that it was true.

And was it not most likely to be true? Through all these long years
there had come no hint to her in any way that he was living. She had
never seen or heard of any man lingering about her home where she and
her children lived, all whom Roland loved, and loved so passionately.
Certainly she had made no effort to discover whether he was yet alive;
but though it would be well for her if he was dead--a cause of rest
almost amounting to satisfaction--it was not likely that he would remain
content with unbroken and complete ignorance of how she and her children
were faring. If he had been living, surely he would have given her some
sign.

There was a terrible duty now lying in her path. Before she could give
her consent to Felix marrying Alice, she must ascertain positively if
her husband was dead. Should it be so, her secret was safe, and would
die with her. Nobody need ever know of this fraud, so successfully
carried out. But if not? Then she knew in herself that her lips could
never confess the sin in which she had shared; and nothing would remain
for her to do but to oppose with all the energy and persistence possible
the marriage either of her son or daughter. And she fully believed that
neither of them would marry against her will.

Her health had not permitted her hitherto to make the exertion necessary
for ascertaining this fact, on which her whole future depended--hers and
her children's. The physician whom she had consulted in London had urged
upon her the imperative necessity of avoiding all excitement and
fatigue, and had ordered her down to this dull little village of
Freshwater, where not even a brass band on the unfinished pier or the
arrival of an excursion steamer could disturb or agitate her. She had
nothing to do but to sit on the quiet downs, where no sound could
startle her, and no spectacle flutter her, until the sea-breezes had
brought back her usual tone of health.

How long this promised restoration was in coming! Phebe, who watched for
it anxiously, saw but little sign of it. Felicita was more silent than
ever, more withdrawn into herself, gazing for hours upon the changeful
surface of the sea with absent eyes, through which the brain was not
looking out. Neither sound nor sight reached the absorbed soul, that was
wandering through some intricate mazes to which Phebe had no clue. But
no color came to Felicita's pale face, and no light into her dim eyes.
There was a painful and weird feeling often in Phebe's heart that
Felicita herself was not there; only the fair, frail form, which was as
insensible as a corpse, until this spirit came back to it. At such times
Phebe was impelled to touch her, and speak to her, and call her back
again, though it might be to irritability and displeasure.

"Phebe," said Felicita, one day when they sat on the cliff, so near the
edge that nothing but the sea lay within the range of their sight, "how
should you feel if, instead of helping a fellow-creature to save himself
from drowning, you had thrust him back into the water, and left him,
sure that he would perish?"

"But I cannot tell you how I should feel," answered Phebe, "because I
could never do it. It makes me shudder to think of such a thing. No
human being could do it."

"But if you had thrust the one fellow-creature nearest to you, the one
who loved you the most," pursued Felicita, "into sin, down into a deeper
gulf than he could have fallen into but for you--"

"My dear, my dear!" cried Phebe, interrupting her in a tone of the
tenderest pity. "Oh! I know now what is preying upon you. Because Felix
loves Alice it has brought back all the sorrowful past to you, and you
are letting it kill you. Listen! Let me speak this once, and then I will
never speak again, if you wish it. Canon Pascal knows it all; I told
him. And Felix knows it, and he loves you more than ever; you are dearer
to him a hundred times than you were before. And he forgives his
father--fully. God has cast his sin as a stone into the depths of the
sea, to be remembered against him no more forever!"

A slight flush crept over Felicita's pale face. It was a relief to her
to learn that Canon Pascal and Felix knew so much of the truth. The
darker secret must be hidden still in the depths of her heart until she
found out whether she was altogether free from the chance of discovery.

"It was right they should know," she said in a low and dreamy tone; "and
Canon Pascal makes no difficulty of it?"

"Canon Pascal said to me," answered Phebe, "that your noble life and the
fame you had won atoned for the error of which Felix and Hilda's father
had been guilty. He said they were your children, brought up under your
training and example, not their father's. Why do you dwell so bitterly
upon the past? It is all forgotten now."

"Not by me," murmured Felicita, "nor by you, Phebe."

"No; I have never forgotten him," cried Phebe, with a passionate sorrow
in her voice. "How good he was to me, and to all about him! Yes, he was
guilty of a sin before God and against man; I know it. But oh! if he had
only suffered the penalty, and come back to us again, for us to comfort
him, and to help him to live down the shame! Possibly we could not have
done it in Riversborough; I do not know; but I would have gone with you,
as your servant, to the ends of the earth, and you would have lived
happy days again--happier than the former days. And he would have proved
himself a good man, in spite of his sin; a Christian man, whom Christ
would not have been ashamed to own."

"No, no," said Felicita; "that is impossible. I never loved Roland; can
you believe that, Phebe?"

"Yes," she answered in a whisper, and with downcast eyes.

"Not as I think of love," continued Felicita in a dreary voice. "I have
tried to love you all; but you seem so far away from me, as if I could
never touch you. Even Felix and Hilda, they are like phantom children,
who do not warm my heart, or gladden it, as other mothers are made happy
by their children. Sometimes I have dreamed of what life would have been
if I had given myself to some man for whom I would have forfeited the
world, and counted the loss as nothing. But that is past now, and I feel
old. There is nothing more before me; all is gray and flat and cold, a
desolate monotony of years, till death comes."

"You make me unhappy," said Phebe. "Ought we not to love God first, and
man for God's sake? There is no passion in that; but there is
inexhaustible faithfulness and tenderness."

"How far away from me you are!" answered Felicita with a faint smile.

She turned her sad face again towards the sea, and sat silent, watching
the flitting sails pass by, but holding Phebe's hand fast in her own, as
if she craved her companionship. Phebe, too, was silent, the tears
dimming her blue eyes and blotting out the scene before her. Her heart
was very heavy and troubled for Felicita.

"Will you go to Engelberg with me by-and-by?" asked Felicita suddenly,
but in a calm and tranquil tone.

"To Engelberg!" echoed Phebe.

"I must go there before Felix thinks of marrying," she answered in short
and broken sentences; "but it cannot be till spring. Yet I cannot write
again until I have been there; the thought of it haunts me intolerably.
Sometimes, nay, often, the word Engelberg has slipped from my pen
unawares when I have tried to write; so I shall do no more work till I
have fulfilled this duty; but I will rest another few months. When I
have been to Engelberg again, for the last time, I shall be not happy,
but less miserable."

"I will go with you wherever you wish," said Phebe.

It was so great a relief to have said this much to Phebe, to have broken
through so much of the icy reserve which froze her heart, that
Felicita's spirits at once grew more cheerful. The dreaded words had
been uttered, and the plan was settled; though its fulfilment was
postponed till spring; a reprieve to Felicita. She regained health and
strength rapidly, and returned to London so far recovered that her
physician gave her permission to return to work.

But she did not wish to take up her work again. It had long ago lost the
charm of novelty to her, and though circumstances had compelled her to
write, or to live upon her marriage settlement, which in her eyes was to
live upon the proceeds of a sin successfully carried out, her writing
itself had become tedious to her. "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
and there is much vexation of spirit, as well as weariness of the flesh,
in the making of many books. She had made enemies who were spiteful,
and friends who were exacting; she, who felt equally the irksomeness of
petty enmities and of small friendships, which, like gnats buzzing
monotonously about her, were now and then ready to sting. The sting
itself might be trivial, but it was irritating.

Felicita had soon found out how limited is the circle of fame for even a
successful writer. For one person who would read a book, there were
fifty who would go to hear a famous singer or actor, and a hundred who
would crowd to see a clever acrobat. As she read more she discovered
that what she had fondly imagined were ideas originated by her own
intellect, was, in reality, the echo only of thought long since given to
mankind by other minds, in other words, often better than her own. Her
own silent claim to genius was greatly modified; she was humbler than
she had been. But she knew painfully that her name was now a
hundred-fold better known than it had been while she was yet only the
wife of a Riversborough banker. All her work for the last fourteen years
had placed it more and more prominently before the public. Any scandal
attaching to it now would be blazoned farther and wider, in deeper and
more enduring characters, than if her life as an author had been a
failure.

The subtle hope, very real, vague as it was, that her husband was in
truth dead, gathered strength. The silence that had engulfed him had
been so profound that it seemed impossible he should still be treading
the same earth as herself, and wearing through its slow and commonplace
days, sleeping and waking, eating and drinking like other men. Felicita
was not superstitious, but there was in her that deep-rooted,
instinctive sense of mystery in this double life of ours, dividing our
time into sleeping and waking hours, which is often apt to make our
dreams themselves omens of importance. She had never dreamed of Roland
as she did of those belonging to her who had already passed into the
invisible world about us. His spirit was not free, perhaps, from its
earthly fetters so as to be able to visit her, and haunt her sleeping
fancies. But now she began to dream of him frequently, and often in the
daytime flashes of memory darted vividly across her brain, lighting up
the dark forgotten past, and recalling to her some word of his, or a
glance merely. It was an inward persecution from which she could not
escape, but it seemed to her to indicate that her persecutor was no more
a denizen of this world.

To get rid of these haunting memories as much as possible, she made such
a change in her mode of life as astonished all about her. She no longer
shut herself up in her library; as she had told Phebe, she resolved to
write no more, nor attempt to write, until she had been to Engelberg.
She seemed wishful to attract friends to her, and she renewed old
acquaintanceships with members of her own family which she had allowed
to drop during these many years. No sooner was it evident that Felicita
Sefton was willing to come out of the extremely quiet and solitary life
she had led hitherto, and take her place in society both as Lord
Riversdale's daughter and as the author of many popular books, than the
current of fashion set towards her. She was still a remarkably lovely
woman, possessing irresistible attractions in her refined face and soft
yet distant manners, as of one walking in a trance, and seeing and
hearing things invisible and inaudible to less favored mortals. Quite
unconsciously to herself she became the lion of the season, when the
next season opened. She had been so difficult to know, that as soon as
she was willing to be known invitations poured in upon her, and her
house was invaded by a throng of visitors, many of them more or less
distantly related to her.

To Hilda this new life was one of unexpected and exquisite delight.
Phebe, also, with her genuine interest in her fellow-creatures, and her
warm sympathy in all human joys and sorrows, enjoyed the change, though
it perplexed her, and caused her to watch Felicita with anxiety. Felix
saw less of it than any one, for he was down in Essex, leading the
tranquil and not very laborious life of a country curate, chafing a
little now and then at his inactivity, yet blissful beyond words in the
close daily intercourse with Alice. There was no talk of their marriage,
but they were young and together. Their happiness was untroubled.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE VOICE OF THE DEAD.


In his lonely garret in the East End, Jean Merle was living in an
isolation more complete even than that of Engelberg. There he had known
at least the names of those about him, and their faces had grown
familiar to him. More than once he had been asked to help when help was
sorely needed, and he had felt, though not quite consciously, that there
was still a link or two binding him to his fellow-men. But here, an unit
among millions, who hustled him at every step, breathed the same air,
and shared the common light with him, he was utterly alone. "Isolation
is the sum total of wretchedness to man," and no man could be more
completely isolated than he.

Strangely enough, his Swiss proclivities seemed to have fallen from him
like a worn-out garment. The narrow, humble existence of his peasant
forefathers, to which he had so readily adapted himself, was no longer
tolerable in his eyes. He felt all the force and energy of the life of
the great city which surrounded him. His birthright as an Englishman
presented itself to his imagination with a splendor and importance that
it had never possessed before, even in those palmy days when it was no
unthought-of honor that he might some day take his place in the House
of Commons. He called himself Jean Merle, for no other name belonged to
him; but he felt himself to be an Englishman again, to whom the life of
a Swiss peasant would be a purgatory.

Other natural instincts were asserting themselves. He had been a man of
genial, social habits, glad to gather round him smiling faces and
friendly voices; and this bias of his was stirring into life and shaking
off its long stupor. He longed, with intense longing, for some mortal
ear into which he could pour the story of his sins and sufferings, and
for some human tongue to utter friendly words of counsel to him. It was
not enough to pour out his confessions before God in agonizing prayer;
that he had done, and was doing daily. But it was not all. The natural
yearning for man's forgiveness, spoken in living human speech, grew
stronger within him. There was no longer a chance for him to make even a
partial reparation of the wrong he had committed; he felt himself
without courage to begin the long conflict again. What his soul hungered
for now was to see his life through another man's eyes.

But his money, economize it as he might, was slowly melting away. Unless
he could get work--and all his efforts to find it failed--it would not
do to remain in England. At Engelberg had secured a position as a wood
carver, and his livelihood was assured. There, too, he possessed a
scanty knowledge of the neighbors, and they of him. It would be his
wisest course to return there, to forget what he had been, and to draw
nearer to him the simple and ignorant people, who might yet be won over
to regard him with good-will. This must be done before he found himself
penniless as well as friendless. He set aside a certain sum, when that
was spent he must once more be an exile.

Until then, it was his life to pace to and fro along the streets of
London. Somewhere in this vast labyrinth there was a home to which he
had a right; a hearth where he could plant himself and claim it for his
own. He was master of it, and of a wife, and children; he, the lonely,
almost penniless man. It would be a small thing to him to pay the
penalty the law could demand of him. A few years more or less in
Dartmoor Prison would be nothing to him, if at the end of them he saw a
home waiting for him to return to it. But he never sought to look at the
exterior even of that spot to which he had a right. He made no effort to
see Felicita.

He stayed till he touched his last shilling. It was already winter, and
the short, dark days, with their thick fogs, made the wintry months
little better than one long night. To-morrow he must leave England,
never to return to it. He strayed aimlessly about the gloomy streets,
letting his feet bear him whither they would, until he found himself
looking down through the iron railings upon the deserted yard in front
of the Houses of Parliament. The dark mass of the building loomed
heavily through the yellow fog, but beyond it came the sound of bells
ringing in the invisible Abbey. It was the hour for morning prayer, and
Jean Merle sauntered listlessly onwards until he reached the northern
entrance and turned into the transept. The dim daylight scarcely lit up
the lofty arches in the roof or the farther end of the long aisles, but
he gave no heed to either. He sank down on a chair and bent his gray
head on the back of the chair before him; the sweet solemn chanting of
the white-robed choristers echoed under the roof, and the sacred and
soothing tones of prayer floated pest him. But he did not move or lift
his head. He sat there absorbed in his own thoughts, and the hours
seemed only as floating minutes to him. Visitors came and went, chatting
close beside him, and the vergers, with their quiet footsteps, came one
by one to look at this motionless, poverty-stricken form, whose face no
man could see, but nobody disturbed him. He had a right to be there, as
still, and as solitary, and as silent as he pleased.

But when Canon Pascal came up the long aisle to evening prayers and saw
again the same gray head bowed down in the same despondent attitude as
he had left it in the morning, he could scarcely refrain himself from
pausing then and there, before the evening service proceeded, to speak
to this man. He had caught a momentary glimpse of his face, and it had
haunted him in his study in the interval, until he had half reproached
himself for not answering to that silent appeal its wretchedness had
made. But he had had no expectation of seeing it again.

It was dark by the time the evening service was over, and Canon Pascal
hastily divested himself of his surplice, that he might not seem to
approach the stranger as a clergyman, but rather as an equal. The Abbey
was being cleared of its visitors, and the lights were being put out one
by one, when he sat down on the seat next to Jean Merle's, and laid his
hand with a gentle pressure on his arm. Jean Merle started and lifted up
his head. It was too dark for them to see each other well; but Canon
Pascal's voice was full of friendly urgency.

"They are going to close the Abbey," he said; "and you've been here all
day, without food, my friend. Is there any special reason why you should
pass a long, dark winter's day in such a manner? I would be glad to
serve you if I can. Perhaps you are a stranger in London?"

"I have been seeking the guidance of God," answered Jean Merle, in a
bewildered yet unutterably sorrowful voice.

"That is good," replied Canon Pascal; "that is the best. But it is good
also at times to seek man's guidance. It is God, doubtless, who has sent
me to you. As His servant, I earnestly desire to serve you."

"If you would listen to me under a solemn seal of secrecy!" cried Jean
Merle.

"Are you a Catholic?" asked Canon Pascal. "Is it a confessor you want?"

"I am not a Catholic," he answered; "but there is a strong desire in my
soul to confess. My burden would be lighter if any man would share it,
so far as to keep my secret."

"Does it touch the life of any fellow-creature?" inquired Canon Pascal;
"is there any great crime in it?"

"No; not what you are thinking," he said; "there is sin in it; ay, and
crime; but not a crime like that."

"Then I will listen to it under a solemn promise of secrecy, whatever it
may be," replied Canon Pascal. "But the vergers are waiting to close the
Abbey. Come with me; my home is close by, within the precincts."

Jean Merle had risen obediently as he spoke, but, exhausted and weary,
he staggered as he stood upon his feet. Canon Pascal drew his arm within
his own. This simple action was to him full of a friendliness to which
he had been long a stranger. To clasp another man's hand, to walk
arm-in-arm with him, he felt keenly how much of implied brotherhood was
in them. He was ready to go anywhere with Canon Pascal, almost as a
child guided and cared for by an older and wiser brother.

They passed out of the Abbey into the cloisters, dimly lighted by the
lamps, which had been lit in good time this dark November evening. The
low, black-browed arches, which had echoed to the footsteps of
sorrow-stricken men for more than eight hundred years, resounded to
their tread as they walked beneath them in silence. Jean Merle suffered
himself to be led without a question, like one in a dream. There seemed
some faint reminiscence from the past of this man, with his harsh
features, and kindly, genial expression, the deep-set eyes, beaming with
a benign light from under the rugged eyebrows, and the firm yet friendly
pressure of his guiding arm; and his mind was groping about the dark
labyrinth of memory to seize his former knowledge of him, if there had
ever been any. There was a vague apprehension about him lest he should
discover that this friend was no stranger, and his tongue must be tied,
even though what he was about to say would be under the inviolable seal
of secrecy.

They had not far to go, for Canon Pascal turned aside into a little
square, open to the black November sky, and stopping at a door in the
gray, old walls, opened it with a latch-key. They entered a narrow
passage, and Canon Pascal turned at once to his study, which was close
by. As he pushed open the door, he said, "Go in, my friend; I will be
with you in a moment."

Jean Merle saw before him an old-fashioned room with a low ceiling.
There was no light besides the warm, red glow of a fire, which was no
longer burning with yellow flame, but which lit up sufficiently the
figure of a woman seated on a low stool on the hearth, with her head
resting on the hand that shaded her eyes. It was a figure familiar to
him in his old life--that life which lay on the other side of Roland
Sefton's grave. He had seen the same well-shaped head, with its soft
brown hair, and the round outline of the averted cheek and chin, a
thousand times in old Marlowe's cottage on the uplands, sitting in the
red firelight as she was sitting now. All the intervening years were
swept away in an instant--his bitter anguish and unavailing
repentance--the long solitude and gnawing remorse--all was swept clean
away from his mind. He felt the strength and freshness of his boyhood
come back to him, as if the breeze of the uplands was blowing softly yet
keenly across his throbbing and fevered temples. Even his voice caught
back for the moment the ring of his early youth as he stood on the
threshold, forgetting all else but the sight that filled his eyes.
"Phebe!" he cried; "little Phebe Marlowe!"

The cry startled Phebe, but she did not move. It was the voice of one
long since dead that rang in her ears--dead, and faithfully mourned
over; and every nerve tingled, and her heart seemed to stay its
beating. Roland Sefton's voice! She did not doubt it or mistake it. The
call had been too real. She had answered to it too many times to be
mistaken now. In those days of utter silence, when dumb signs only had
passed between her and her father, Roland's pleasant voice had sounded
too gladly in her ears ever to be forgotten or confounded with another.
But how could she hear it now? The voice of the dead! how could it reach
her? A strange pang of mingled joy and terror paralyzed her. She sat
motionless and bewildered, with a thrill of passionate expectation
quivering through her. Let Roland speak again; she could not answer his
first call!

"Phebe!" She heard the cry again; but this time the voice was low, and
lamentable, and despairing. For in the few seconds he had been standing,
arrested on the threshold, the whole past had flitted through his brain
in dismal procession. She lifted herself up slowly and mechanically from
her low seat, and turned her face reluctantly towards the spot from
which the startling call had come. In the dusky, red light stood the
form of the one friend to whom she had been faithful with the utter
faithfulness of her nature. Whence he came she knew not--she was afraid
of knowing. But he was there, himself, and not another like him. There
was a change, she could see that dimly; but not such a change as could
disguise him from her. Of late, whilst she had been painting his
portrait from memory, every recollection of him had been revived with
keener vividness. Yet the terror of beholding him again on this side of
death struck her dumb. She stretched out her hands towards him, but she
could not speak.

"I must speak to Phebe Marlowe alone," said Jean Merle to Canon Pascal,
and speaking in a tone of irresistible earnestness. "I have that to say
to her which no one else can hear. She is God's messenger to me."

"Shall I leave you with this stranger, Phebe?" asked Canon Pascal.

She made a gesture simply; her lips were too parched to open.

"My dear girl, I will stay, if you please," he said again.

"No," she breathed, in a voice scarcely audible.

"There is a bell close at your hand," he went on, "and I shall be within
hearing of it. I will come myself if you ring it however faintly. You
know this man?"

"Yes," she answered.

She saw him look across at her with an encouraging smile; and then the
door was shut, and she was alone with her mysterious visitor.



CHAPTER XVII.

NO PLACE FOR REPENTANCE.


They stood silent for a few moments;--moments which seemed hours to
Phebe. The stranger--for who could be so great a stranger as one who
had been many years dead?--had advanced only a step or two from the
threshold, and paused as if some invisible barrier was set up between
them. She had shrunk back, and stood leaning against the wall for the
support her trembling limbs needed. It was with a vehement effort that
at last she spoke.

"Roland Sefton!" she faltered.

"Yes!" he answered, "I am that most miserable man."

"But you died," she said with quivering lips, "fourteen years ago."

"No, Phebe, no," he replied; "would to God I had died then."

Once more an agony of mingled fear and joy overwhelmed her. This dear
voice, so lamentable and hopeless, so well remembered in all its tones,
told her that he was still living, whom she had mourned over so many
years. But what could this mystery mean? What had he passed through?
What was about to happen now? A tumult of thoughts thronged to her
brain. But clearest of all came the assurance that he was alive,
standing there, desolate, changed, and friendless. She ran to him and
clasped his hands in hers; stooping down and kissing them, those hard
worn hands, which he left unresistingly in her grasp. These loving, and
deferential caresses belonged to the time when she was a humble country
girl, and he the friend very far above her.

"Come closer to the fire, your hands are cold, Mr. Roland," she said,
speaking in the old long-disused accent of her early days, as she might
have spoken to him while she was yet a child. She threw a few logs on
the fire, and drew up Canon Pascal's chair to the hearth for him. She
felt spell-bound; and as if she had been suddenly thrust back upon those
old times.

"I am no longer Roland Sefton," he said, sinking down into the chair;
"he died, as you say, many a long year ago. Do not light the lamp,
Phebe; let us talk by the firelight."

The flicker of the flames creeping round the dry wood played upon his
face, and her eyes were fastened on it. Could this man really be Roland
Sefton, or was she being tricked by her fancy? Here was a scarred and
wrinkled face, blistered and burnt by the summer's sun, and cut and
frost-bitten by the winter's cold; the hair was gray and ragged, and the
eyes far sunk in the head met her gaze with a despairing and uneasy
glance, as if he shrank from her close scrutiny. His bowed shoulders and
hands roughened by toil, and worn-out mechanic's dress, were such a
change, that perhaps, she acknowledged it reluctantly to herself, if he
had not spoken as he did she might have passed him by undiscovered.

"I am Jean Merle," he said, "not Roland Sefton."

"Jean Merle?" she repeated in a low, bewildered tone, "not Roland
Sefton, but Jean Merle?"

But she could not be bewildered or in doubt much longer. This was Roland
indeed, the hero of her life, come back to her a broken-down, desolate,
and hopeless man. She knelt down on the hearth beside him, and laid her
hand compassionately on his.

"But you are Roland himself to me!" she cried. "Oh! be quick, and tell
me all about it. Why did we ever think you were dead?"

"It was best for them all," he answered. "God knows I believed it was
best. But it was a second sin, worse than the first, Phebe. I did the
man who died no wrong, for he told me as he lay dying that he had no
friends to grieve for him, and no property to leave. All he wanted was a
decent grave; and he has it, and my name with it. The grave at Engelberg
contains a stranger. And I, Jean Merle, have taken charge of it."

"Oh!" cried Phebe, with a pang of dread, "how will Felicita bear it?"

"Felicita has known it; she consented to it," said Jean Merle. "If she
had uttered one word against my desperate plan, I should have recoiled
from it. To be dead whilst you are yet in the body; to have eyes to see
and ears to hear with, and a thinking brain and a hungry heart, whilst
there is no sign, or sound, or memory, or love from your former life;
you cannot conceive what that is, Phebe. I was dead, yet I was too
keenly alive in Jean Merle, the poor wood-carver and miser. They thought
I was imbecile; and I was almost a madman. I could not tear myself away
from the grave where Roland Sefton was buried; but oh! what I have
suffered!"

He ended with a long shuddering sigh, which pierced Phebe to the heart.
The joy of seeing him again was vanishing in the sight of his suffering;
but the thought uppermost in her mind was of Felicita.

"And she has known all along that you were not dead?" she said, in a
tone of awe.

"Yes, Felicita knew," he answered.

"And has she never seen you, never written to you?" she asked.

"She knows nothing of me," he replied. "I was to be dead to her, and to
every one else. We parted forever in Engelberg fourteen years ago this
very month. Perhaps she believes me to be dead in reality. But I could
live no longer without knowing something of you all, of Felix and Hilda;
and I came over to England in August. I have seen all of you, except
Felicita."

"Oh! it was wicked! it was cruel!" sobbed Phebe, shivering. "Your mother
died, believing she was going to rejoin you; and I, oh! how I have
mourned for you!"

"Have you, Phebe?" he said sorrowfully; "but Felicita has been saved
from shame, and has been successful. She is too famous now for me to
retrace my steps, and get back into truthfulness. I can find no place
for repentance, let me seek it ever so carefully and with tears."

"But you have repented?" she whispered.

"Before God? yes!" he answered, "and I believe He has forgiven me. But
there is no way by which I can retrieve the past. I have forfeited
everything, and I am now shut out even from the duties of life. What
ought I to have done, Phebe? There was this way to save my mother, and
my children, and Felicita; and I took it. It has prospered for all of
them; they hold a different position in the world this day than they
could have done if I had lived."

"In this world, yes!" answered Phebe, with a touch of scorn in her
voice; "but cannot you see what you have done for Felicita? Oh! it would
have been better for her to have endured the shame of your first sin,
than bear such a burden of guilt. And you might have outlived the
disgrace. There are Christian people in the world who can forgive sin,
even as Christ forgives it. Even my poor father forgave it; and Mr.
Clifford, he is repenting now that he did not forgive you; it weighs him
down in his old age. It would have been better for you and Felicita if
you had borne the penalty of your crime."

"And our children, Phebe?" he said.

"Could not God have made it up to them?" she asked. "Did He make it
necessary for you to sin again on their account? Oh! if you had only
trusted Him! If you had only waited to see how Christ could turn even
the sins of the father into blessings for his children! They have missed
you; it may be, I cannot see clearly, they must miss you now all their
lives. It would break their hearts to learn all this. Whether they must
know it, I cannot tell."

"To what end should they know it?" he said. "Don't you see, Phebe, that
the distinction Felicita has won binds us to keep this secret? It cannot
be disclosed either to her or to them. I came to tell it to the man who
brought me here under a seal of secrecy."

"To Canon Pascal?" she exclaimed.

"Pascal?" he repeated, "ay? I remember him now. It would have been
terrible to have told it to him."

"Let me think about it," said Phebe, "it has come too suddenly upon me.
There must be something we ought to do, but I cannot see it yet. I must
have time to recollect it all. And yet I am afraid to let you go, lest
you should disappear again, and all this should seem like a dreadful
dream."

"You care for me still, Phebe?" he answered mournfully. "No, I shall not
disappear from you; I shall hold fast by you, now you have seen me
again. If that poor wretch in hell who lifted up his eyes, being in
torments, had caught sight of some pitying angel, who would now and then
dip the tip of her finger in water and cool his tongue, would he have
disappeared from her vision? Wouldn't he rather have had a horrible
dread lest she should disappear? But you will not forsake me, Phebe?"

"Never!" replied Phebe, with an intense and mournful earnestness.

"Then I will go," he said, rising reluctantly to his feet. The deep
tones of the Abbey clock were striking for the second time since he had
entered Canon Pascal's study, and they had been left in uninterrupted
conversation. It was time for him to go; yet it seemed to him as if he
had still so much to pour into Phebe's ear, that many hours would not
give him time enough. Unconstrained speech had proved a source of
ineffable solace and strength to him. He had been dying of thirst, and
he had found a spring of living waters. To Phebe, and to her alone, he
was still a living man, unless sometimes Felicita thought of him.

"If you are still my friend, knowing all," he said, "I shall no longer
despair. When will you see me again?"

"I will come to morning service in the Abbey to-morrow," she answered.



CHAPTER XVIII.

WITHIN AND WITHOUT.


After speaking to Canon Pascal for a few minutes, with an agitation and
a reserve which he could not but observe, Phebe left the house to go
home. In one of the darkest corners of the cloisters she caught sight of
the figure of Jean Merle, watching for her to come out. For an instant
Phebe paused, as if to speak to him once more; but her heart was
over-fraught with conflicting emotions, whilst bewildering thoughts
oppressed her brain. She longed for a solitary walk homewards, along the
two or three miles of a crowded thoroughfare, where she could how feel
as much alone as she had ever done on the solitary uplands about her
birth-place. She had always delighted to ramble about the streets alone
after nightfall, catching brief glimpses of the great out-door
population, who were content if they could get a shelter for their heads
during the few, short hours they could give to sleep, without indulging
in the luxury of a home. When talking to them she could return to the
rustic and homely dialect of her childhood; and from her own early
experience she could understand their wants, and look at them from their
stand-point, whilst feeling for them a sympathy and pity intensified by
the education which had lifted her above them.

But to-night she passed along the busy streets both deaf and dumb,
mechanically choosing the right way between the Abbey and her home,
nearly three miles away. There was only one circumstance of which she
was conscious--that Jean Merle was following her. Possibly he was afraid
in the depths of his heart that she would fail him when she came to
deliberately consider all he had told her. He wronged her, she said to
herself indignantly. Still, whenever she turned her head she caught
sight of his tall, bent figure and gray head, stealing after her at some
distance, but never losing her. So mournful was it to Phebe, to see her
oldest and her dearest friend thus dogging her footsteps, that once or
twice she paused at a street corner to give him time to overtake her;
but he kept aloof. He wished only to see where she lived, for there also
lived Felicita and Hilda.

She turned at last into the square where their house was. It was
brilliantly lighted up, for Felicita was having one of her rare
receptions that evening, and in another hour or two the rooms would be
filled with guests. It was too early yet, and Hilda was playing on her
piano in the drawing-room, the merry notes ringing out into the quiet
night. There was a side door to Phebe's studio, by which she could go in
and out at pleasure, and she stood at it trying to fit her latch-key
into the lock with her trembling hands. Looking back she saw Jean Merle
some little distance away, leaning against the railings that enclosed
the Square garden.

"Oh! I must run back to him! I must speak to him again!" she cried to
her own heart. In another instant she was at his side, with her hands
clasping his.

"Oh!" she sobbed, "what can I do for you? This is too miserable for you;
and for me as well. Tell me what I can do."

"Nothing," he answered. "Why, you make me feel as if I had sinned again
in telling you all this. I ought not to have troubled your happy heart
with my sorrow."

"It was not you," she said, "you did not even come to tell me; God
brought you. I can bear it. But oh! to see you shut out, and inside,
yonder, Hilda is playing, and Felix, perhaps, is there. They will be
singing by-and-by, and never know who is standing outside, in the foggy
night, listening to them."

Her voice broke into sobs, but Jean Merle did not notice them.

"And Felicita?" he said.

Phebe could not answer him for weeping. Just yet she could hardly bring
herself to think distinctly of Felicita; though in fact her thoughts
were full of her. She ran back to her private door, and this time opened
it readily. There was a low light in the studio from a shaded lamp
standing on the chimney-piece, which made the hearth bright, but left
all the rest of the room in shadow. Phebe threw off her bonnet and cloak
with a very heavy and troubled sigh.

"What can make you sigh, Phebe?" asked a low-toned and plaintive voice.
In the chair by the fire-place, pushed out of the circle of the light,
she saw Felicita leaning back, and looking up at her. The beauty of her
face had never struck harshly upon Phebe until now; at this moment it
was absolutely painful to her. The rich folds of her velvet dress, and
the soft and costly lace of her head-dress, distinct from though
resembling a widow's cap, set off both her face and figure to the utmost
advantage. Phebe's eyes seemed to behold her more distinctly and vividly
than they had done for some years past; for she was looking through them
with a dark background for what she saw in her own brain. She was a
strikingly beautiful woman; but the thought of what anguish and dread
had been concealed under her reserved and stately air, so cold yet so
gentle, filled Phebe's soul with a sudden terror. What an awful life of
self-approved, stoical falsehood she had been living! She could see the
man, from whom she had just parted, standing without, homeless and
friendless, on the verge of pennilessness; a dead man in a living world,
cut off from all the ties and duties of the home and the society he
loved. But to Phebe he did not appear so wretched as Felicita was.

She sank down on a seat near Felicita, with such a feeling of
heart-sickness and heart-faintness as she had never experienced before.
The dreariness and perplexity of the present stretched before her into
the coming years. For almost the first time in her life she felt
worn-out; physically weary and exhausted, as if her strength had been
overtaxed. Her childhood on the fresh, breezy uplands, and her happy,
tranquil temperament had hitherto kept her in perfect health. But now
she felt as if the sins of those whom she had loved so tenderly and
loyally touched the very springs of her life. She could have shared any
other burden with them, and borne it with an unbroken spirit and an
uncrushed heart. But such a sin as this, so full of woe and bewilderment
to them all, entangled her soul also in its poisonous web.

"Why did you sigh so bitterly?" asked Felicita again.

"The world is so full of misery," she answered, in a tremulous and
troubled voice; "its happiness is such a mockery!"

"Have you found that out at last, dear Phebe?" said Felicita. "I have
been telling you so for years. The Son of Man fainting under the
Cross--that is the true emblem of human life. Even He had not strength
enough to bear His cross to the place called Golgotha. Whenever I think
of what most truly represents our life here, I see Jesus, faltering
along the rough road, with Simon behind Him, whom they compelled to bear
His cross."

"He fainted under the sins of the world," murmured Phebe. "It is
possible to bear the sorrows of others; but oh! it is hard to carry
their sins."

"We all find that out," said Felicita, her face growing wan and white
even to the lips. "Can one man do evil without the whole world suffering
for it? Does the effect of a sin ever die out? What is done cannot be
undone through all eternity. There is the wretchedness of it, Phebe."

"I never felt it as I do now," she answered.

"Because you have kept yourself free from earthly ties," said Felicita
mournfully; "you have neither husband nor child to increase your power
of suffering a hundred-fold. I am entering upon another term of
tribulation in Felix and Hilda. If I had only been like you, dear Phebe,
I could have passed through life as happily as you do; but my life has
never belonged to myself; it has been forced to run in channels made by
others."

Somewhere in the house behind them a door was left open accidentally,
and the sound of Hilda's piano and of voices singing broke in upon the
quiet studio. Phebe listened to them, and thought of the desolate,
broken-hearted man without, who was listening too. The clear young
voices of their children fell upon his ears as upon Felicita's; so near
they were to one another, yet so far apart. She shivered and drew nearer
to the fire.

"I feel as cold as if I was a poor outcast in the streets," she said.

"And I, too," responded Felicita; "but oh! Phebe, do not you lose heart
and courage, like me. You have always seemed in the sunshine, and I have
looked up to you and felt cheered. Don't come down into the darkness to
me."

Phebe could not answer, for the darkness was closing round her. Until
now there had happened no perplexity in her life which made it difficult
to decide upon the right or the wrong. But here was come a coil. The
long years had reconciled her to Roland's death, and made the memory of
him sacred and sorrowfully sweet, to be brooded over in solitary hours
in the silent depths of her loyal heart. But he was alive again, with
no right to be alive, having no explanation to give which could
reinstate him in his old position. And Felicita? Oh! what a cruel,
unwomanly wrong Felicita had been guilty of! She could not command her
voice to speak again.

"I must go," said Felicita, at last. "I wish I had not invited visitors
for to-night."

"I cannot come in this evening," Phebe answered; "but Felix is there,
and Canon Pascal is coming. You will do very well without me."

She breathed more freely when Felicita was gone. The dimly-lighted
studio, with the canvases she was at work upon, and the pictures she had
painted hanging on the walls, and her easels standing as she had left
them three or four hours ago, when the early dusk came on, soothed her
agitated spirit now she was alone. She moved slowly about, putting
everything into its place, and feeling as if her thoughts grew more
orderly as she did so. When all was done she opened the outer door
stealthily, and peeped out. Yes; he was there, leaning against the
railings, and looking up at the brilliantly-lighted windows. Carriages
were driving up and setting down Felicita's guests. Phebe's heart cried
out against the contrast between the lives of these two. She longed to
run out and stand beside him in the darkness and dampness of the
November night. But what good could she do? she asked bitterly. She did
not dare even to ask him in to sit beside her studio fire. The same roof
could not cover him and Felicita, without unspeakable pain to him.

It was late before the house was quiet, and long after midnight when the
last light was put out. That was in Phebe's bedroom, and once again she
looked out, and saw the motionless figure, looking black amidst the
general darkness, as if it had never stirred since she had seen it
first. But whilst she was gazing, with quivering mouth and tear-dimmed
eyes, a policeman came up and spoke to Jean Merle, giving him an
authoritative shake, which seemed to arouse him. He moved gently away,
closely followed by the policeman till he passed out of her sight.

There was no sleep for Phebe; she did not want to sleep. All night long
her brain was awake and busy; but it found no way out of the coil. Who
can make a crooked thing straight? or undo that which has been done?



CHAPTER XIX.

IN HIS FATHER'S HOUSE.


When Phebe entered Westminster Abbey the next day the morning service
was already begun. Upon the bench nearest the door sat a working-man,
in worn-out clothes, whose gray hair was long and ragged, and whose
whole appearance was one of poverty and suffering. She was passing by,
when a gleam of recognition in the dark and sunken eyes of this poor man
arrested her. Could he possibly be Roland Sefton? The night before she
had seen him only in a friendly obscurity, which concealed the ravages
time, and sorrow, and labor had effected; but now the daylight, in
revealing them, cast a chill shadow of doubt into her heart. It was his
voice she had known and acknowledged the night before; but now he was
silent, and, revealed by the daylight, she felt troubled and
distrustful. Such a man she might have met a thousand times without once
recalling to her memory the handsome, manly presence and prosperous
bearing of Roland Sefton.

Yet she sat down beside him in answer to that appealing gleam in his
eyes, and as his well-known voice joined hers in the responses to the
prayers, she acknowledged him again in her heart of hearts. And now all
thought of the sacred place, and of the worship she was engaged in, fled
from her mind. She was a girl at home again, dwelling in the silent
society of her dumb father, with this voice of Roland Sefton's coming to
break the stillness from time to time, and to fill it with that sweetest
music, the sound of human speech. If he had lost every vestige of
resemblance to his former self, his voice only, calling "Phebe" as he
had done the evening before, must have betrayed him to her. Not an
accent of it had been forgotten.

To Jean Merle Phebe Marlowe was little altered, save that she had grown
from a simple rustic maiden into a cultivated and refined woman. The
sweet and gentle face beside him, with the deep peaceful blue of her
eyes, and the sensitive mouth so ready to break into a smile, was the
same he had seen when, on that terrible evening so many years ago, he
had craved her help to escape from his dreaded punishment. "I will help
you, even to dying for you and yours," she had said. He remembered
vividly how mournfully the girlish fervor of her manner had impressed
him. Even now he had no one else to help him; this woman's little hand
alone could reach him in the gulf where he lay; only the simple, pitiful
wisdom of her faithful heart could find a way for him out of this misery
of his into some place of safety and peace. He was willing to follow
wherever she might guide him.

"I can see only one duty before us," she said, when the service was
over, and they stood together before one of the monuments in the Abbey;
"I think Mr. Clifford ought to know."

"What will he do, Phebe?" asked Jean Merle. "God knows if I had only
myself to think of I would go into a convict-prison as thankfully as if
it was the gate of heaven. It would be as the gate of heaven to me if I
could pay the penalty of my crime. But there are Felicita and my
children; and the greater shock and shame to them of my conviction now."

"Yet if Mr. Clifford demanded the penalty it must even now be paid,"
answered Phebe; "but he will not. One reason why he ought to know is
that he mourns over you still, day and night, as if he had been the
chief cause of your death. He reproaches himself with his implacability
both towards you and his son. But even if the old resentment should
awaken, it is right you should run the risk. Why need it be known to any
one but us two that Felicita knew you were still alive?"

"If we could save her and the children I should be satisfied," said Jean
Merle.

"It would kill her to know you were here," answered Phebe, looking round
her with a terrified glance, as if she expected to see Felicita; "she is
not strong, and a sudden agitation and distress might cause her death
instantly. No, she must never know. And I am not afraid of Mr. Clifford;
he will forgive you with all his heart; and he will be made glad in his
old age. I will go down with you this evening. There is a train at four
o'clock, and we shall reach Riversborough at eight. Be at the station to
meet me."

"You know," said Jean Merle, "that the lapse of years does not free one
from trial and conviction? Mr. Clifford can give me into the hands of
the police at once; and to-night may see me lodged in Riversborough
jail, as if I had been arrested fourteen years ago. You know this,
Phebe?"

"Yes, I know it, but I am not afraid of it," she answered.

She had not the slightest fear of old Mr. Clifford's vindictiveness. As
she travelled down to Riversborough, with Jean Merle in a third-class
carriage of the same train, her mind was very busy with troubled
thoughts. There was an unquiet joy stirring in the secret depths of her
heart, but she was too full of anxiety and bewilderment to be altogether
aware of it. Though it was not more than twenty-four hours since she had
known otherwise, it seemed to her as if she had never believed that
Roland Sefton was dead, and it appeared incredible that the report of
his death should have received such full acceptance as it had everywhere
done. Yet though he had come back, there could be no welcome for him. To
her and to old Mr. Clifford only could this return from the grave
contain any gladness. And was she glad? she asked herself, after a long
deliberation over the difficulties surrounding this strange
reappearance. She had sorrowed for him and comforted his mother in her
mourning, and talked of him as one talks fondly of the dead to his
children; and all the sacred healing of time had softened the grief she
once felt into a tranquil and grateful memory of him, as of the friend
she had loved most, and whose care for her had most widely influenced
her life. But she could not own yet that she was glad.

Old Mr. Clifford was sitting in the wainscoted dining-room, his favorite
room, when Phebe opened the door silently, and looked in with a pale and
anxious face. His sight was dim, and a blaze of light fell upon the
dark, old panels, and the old-fashioned silver tankards and bright brass
salvers on the carved sideboard. Two or three of Phebe's sunniest
pictures hung against the oaken panels. There was a blazing fire on the
hearth, and the old man, with his elbows resting on the arms of his
chair, and his hands clasped lightly, was watching the play and dance of
the flames as they shot up the chimney. Some new books lay on a table
beside him, but he was not reading. He was sitting there in utter
loneliness, with no companionship except that of his own fading
memories. Phebe's tenderness for the old man was very great; and she
paused on the threshold gazing at him pitifully; whilst Jean Merle,
standing in the hall behind her, caught a glimpse of the hearth so
crowded with memories for him, but occupied now by one desolate old man,
before the door was closed, and he was left without.

"Why, it's little Phebe Marlowe!" cried Mr. Clifford gladly, looking
round at the light sound of a footstep, very different from Mrs. Nixey's
heavy tread; "my dear child, you can't tell what a pleasure this is to
me."

He had risen up, and stood holding both her hands and looking fondly
into her face.

"This moment I was thinking of you, my dear," he said; "I was inditing a
long letter to you in my head, which these lazy old fingers of mine
would have refused to write. Sandon, the bookseller, has been in here,
bringing these books; and he told me a queer story enough. He says that
in August last a relation of Madame Sefton's was here, in Riversborough;
and told him who he was, in his shop, where he bought one of Felicita's
books. Why didn't Sandon come here at once and tell us then, so that you
could have found him out, Phebe? You and Felix and Hilda were here. He
was a poor man, and seemed badly off; and I guess he came to inquire
after Madame. Sandon says he reminded him of Roland--poor Roland! Why,
I'd have given the poor fellow a welcome for the sake of that
resemblance; and I was just thinking how Phebe's tender heart would have
been touched by even so faint a likeness."

"Yes," she murmured.

"And we could have lifted him up a little; quite a poor man, Sandon
says," continued Mr. Clifford; "but sit down, my dear. There is no one
in the wide world would be so welcome to me as little Phebe Marlowe, who
refused to be my adopted daughter."

He had drawn a chair close beside his own, for he would not loose her
hand, but kept it closely grasped by his thin and crooked fingers.

"You have altogether forgiven Roland?" she said tremulously.

"Altogether, my dear," he answered.

"As Christ forgives us, bearing away our sins Himself?" she said.

"As Christ forgave us," he replied, bowing his head solemnly.

"And if it was possible--think it possible," she went on, "that he could
come back again, that the grave in Engelberg could give up its dead, he
would be welcome to you?"

"If my old friend Sefton's son, could come back again," he said, "he
would be more welcome to me than you are, Phebe. How often do I fancy
him sitting yonder in Sefton's chair, watching me with his dear eyes!"

"But suppose he had deceived us all," she continued, "if he had escaped
from your anger by another fraud; a worse fraud! If he had managed so as
to bury some one else in his name, and go on living under a false one!
Could you forgive that?"

"If Roland could come back a repentant man, I would forgive him every
sin," answered Mr. Clifford, "and rejoice that I had not driven him to
seek death. But what do you mean, Phebe? why do you ask?"

"Because," she answered, speaking almost in a whisper, with her face
close to his, "Roland did not die. That man, who was here in August, and
called himself Jean Merle, is Roland himself. He saw you, and all of us,
and did not dare to make himself known. I can tell you all about it.
But, oh! he has bitterly repented; and there is no place of repentance
for him in this world. He cannot come back amongst us, and be Roland
Sefton again."

"Where is he?" asked the old man, trembling.

"He is here; he came with me. I will go and fetch him," she answered.

Mr. Clifford leaned back in his arm-chair, and gazed towards the
half-open door. His memory had gone back twenty years, to the last time
he had seen Roland Sefton, in the prime of his youth, handsome, erect,
and happy, who had made his heart ache as he thought of his own
abandoned son, lying buried in a common grave in Paris. The man whom he
saw entering slowly and reluctantly into the room behind Phebe, was
gray-headed, bent, and abject. This man paused just within the doorway,
looking not at him but round the room, with a glance full of grief and
remembrance. The eager, questioning eyes of old Mr. Clifford did not
arrest his attention, or divert it from the aspect of the old familiar
place.

"No, no, Phebe!" exclaimed Mr. Clifford, "he's an impostor, my dear.
That's not my old friend's son Roland."

"Would to God I were not!" cried Jean Merle bitterly, "would to God I
stood in this room as a stranger! Phebe Marlowe, this is very hard; my
punishment is greater than I can bear. All my life comes back to me
here. This place, of all other places in the world, brings my sin and
folly to remembrance."

He sank down on a chair, and buried his face in his hands, to shut out
the hateful sight of the old home. He was inside his Paradise again; and
behold, it was a place of torment. There was no room in his thoughts for
Mr. Clifford, it was nothing to him that he should be called an
impostor. He came to claim nothing, not even his own name. But the
avenging memories of the past claimed him and held him fast bound. Even
last night, when in the chill darkness of the November night he had
watched the house which held Felicita and their children, his pain had
been less poignant than now, within these walls, where all his happy
life had been passed. He was unconscious of everything but his pain. He
could not hear Phebe's voice speaking for him to Mr. Clifford. He saw
and felt nothing, until a gentle and trembling hand pressing on his
shoulder feebly and as tenderly as his mother's made him look up into
the gray and agitated face of Mr. Clifford bending over him.

"Roland! Roland!" he said, in a voice broken by sobs, "my old friend's
son, forgive me as I forgive you. God be thanked, you have come back
again in time for me to see you and bid you welcome. I bless God with
all my heart. It is your own home, Roland, your own home."

With his feeble but eager old hands he drew him to the hearth, and
placed him in the chair close beside his own, where Phebe had been
sitting, and kept his hand upon his arm, lest he should vanish out of
his sight.

"You shall tell me nothing more to-night," he said; "I am old, and this
is enough for me. It is enough that to-night you and I have pardoned
one another from 'the low depths of our hearts.' Tell me nothing else
to-night."

Phebe had slipped away from them to help Mrs. Nixey to prepare a room
for Jean Merle. It was the one that had been Roland Sefton's nursery,
and the nursery of his children, and it was still occupied by Felix,
when he visited his old home. The homely hospitable occupation was a
relief to her; but in the room that she had left the two men sat side by
side in unbroken silence.



CHAPTER XX.

AS A HIRED SERVANT.


From a profound and dreamless sleep Jean Merle awoke early the next
morning, with the blessed feeling of being at home again in his
father's house. The heavy cross-beams of black oak dividing the ceiling
into panels; the low broad lattice window with a few upper panes of old
stained glass; the faded familiar pictures on the wall; these all awoke
in him memories of his earliest years. In the corner of the room, hardly
to be distinguished from the wainscot, was the high narrow door
communicating with his mother's chamber, through which he had often, how
often! seen her come in softly, on tiptoe, to take a look at him. His
own children, too, had slept there; and it was here that he had last
seen his little son and daughter before fleeing from his home a
self-accused criminal. All the happy, prosperous life of Roland Sefton
had been encompassed round by these walls.

But the dead past must bury the dead. If there had ever been a deep,
buried, hidden hope, that a possible return to something of the old life
lay in the unknown future, it was now utterly uprooted. Such a return
was only possible over the ruined lives and broken hearts of Felicita
and his children. If he made himself known, though he was secure against
prosecution, the story of his former crime would revive, and spread
wider, joined with the fair name of Felicita, than it would have done
when he was merely a fraudulent banker in a country town. However true
it might be what Phebe maintained, that he might have suffered the
penalty of his sin, and afterwards retrieved the past, whilst his
children were too young to feel the full bitterness of the shame, it was
too late to do it now. The name he had dishonored was forever forfeited.
His return to his former life was hedged up on every hand.

But a new courage was awaking in him, which helped him to grapple with
his despair. He would bury the dead past, and go on into the future
making the best of his life, maimed and marred as it was by his own
folly. He was still in the prime of his age, thirty years younger than
Mr. Clifford, whose intellect was as keen and clear as ever; there was a
long span of time stretching before him, to be used or misused.

"Come unto Me all ye that be weary, and heavy laden, and I will give
you rest." He seemed to see the words in the quaint upright characters
in which old Marlowe had carved them under the crucifix. He had fancied
he knew what coming to Christ meant in those old days of his, when he
was reputed a religious man, and was first and foremost in all religious
and philanthropic schemes, making his trespass more terrible and
pernicious than if it had been the transgression of a worldly man. But
it was not so when he came to Christ this morning. He was a
broken-hearted man, who had cut himself off from all human ties and
affections, and who was longing to feel that he was not forsaken of the
universal Brother and Saviour. His cry was, "My soul thirsteth for thee;
my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and weary land, where no water is."
It was his own fault that he was in the dry and weary wilderness; but
oh! if Christ would not forsake him then, would dwell with him, even in
this desert made desolate by himself, then at last he might find peace
to his soul.

There was a deep inner consciousness, the forgotten but not obliterated
faith of his boyhood and youth, before the world with its pomps and
ambitions had laid its iron hand upon him, that Christ was with him,
leading him day by day, if he would but follow nearer to God. Was it
impossible to follow His guidance now? Could he not, even yet, take up
his cross, and be willing to fill any place which he could yet fill
worthily and humbly; expiating his sins against his fellow-men by truer
devotion to their service, as Jean Merle, the working-man; not as Roland
Sefton, the prosperous and fraudulent banker?

This return to his father's house, and all its associations, solemn and
sacred with a peculiar sacredness and solemnity, seemed to him a pledge
that he could once more be admitted into the great brotherhood and home
of Christ's disciples. Every object on which his eye rested smote him,
but it was with the stroke of a friend. A clear and sweet light from the
past shed its penetrating rays into the darkest corners of his soul.
Forgiven! God had forgiven him; and man had forgiven him. Before him lay
an obscure and humble path; but the heaviest part of his burden was
gone. He must go heavy-laden to the end of his days, treading in rough
paths; but despair had fled, and with it the sense of being separated
from God and man.

He heard the feeble yet deep old voice of Mr. Clifford outside his door
inquiring from Mrs. Nixey if Mr. Merle was gone down-stairs yet. He made
haste to go down, treading the old staircase with something of the
alacrity of former days. Phebe was in the dining-room, and the servants
came in to prayer as they had been used to do forty years ago when he
was a child. An old-world tranquillity and peacefulness was in the
familiar scene which breathed a deep calm over his tempest-tossed
spirit.

"Phebe has been telling me all," said Mr. Clifford, when breakfast was
over; "tell me what can be done to save Felicita and the children."

"I am Jean Merle," he answered with a melancholy smile, "Jean Merle, and
no one else. I come back with no claims, and they must never know me.
Why should I cross their path and blight it? I cannot atone for the
past in any way, except by keeping away forever from them. I shall
injure no one by continuing to be Jean Merle."

"No," said Phebe, "it is too late now, and it would kill Felicita."

"This morning a thought struck me," he continued, "a project for my
future life, which you can help me to put into execution, Phebe. I have
an intolerable dread of losing sight of you all again; let me be at
least somewhere in England, when you can now and then give me tidings of
my children and Felicita."

"I will do anything in the world to help you," cried Phebe eagerly.

"Then let me go to your little farm," he answered, "and take up your
father's life, at least for a time, until I can see how to make myself
of greater use to my fellow-men. I will till the fields as he did, and
finish the carvings he has left undone, and live his simple, silent
life. It will be good for me, and I shall not be banished from my own
country. I shall be a happier man then than I have any right to be."

"Have you no fear of being recognized?" she asked.

"None," he replied. "Look at me, Phebe. Should you have known me again
if I had not betrayed myself to you?"

"I should have known you again anywhere," she exclaimed. But it was her
heart that cried out that no change could have concealed him from her;
there was a dread lying deep down in her conscience that she might have
passed him by with no suspicion. He shook his head in answer to her
assertion.

"I will go out into the town," he continued, "and speak to half-a-dozen
men who knew me best, and there will be no gleam of recognition in their
eyes. Recollect Roland Sefton is dead, and has been dead so long that
there will be no clear memory left of him as he was then to compare with
me. And any dim resemblance to him will be fully accounted for by my
relationship to Madame Sefton. No, I am not afraid of the keenest eyes."

He went out as he had said, and met his old townsmen, many of whom were
themselves so changed that he could barely recognize them. The memory of
Roland Sefton was blotted out, he was utterly forgotten as a dead man
out of mind.

As Jean Merle strayed through the streets crowded with market-people
come in from the country, his new scheme grew stronger and brighter to
him. It would keep him in England, within reach of all he had loved and
had lost. The little place was dear to him, and the laborious, secluded
peasant life had a charm for him who had so long lived as a Swiss
peasant. By-and-by, he thought, the chance resemblance in the names
would merge that of Merle into the more familiar name of Marlowe; and
the identity of his pursuits with those of the deaf and dumb old man
would hasten such a change. So the years to come would pass by in labor
and obscurity; and an obscure grave in the little churchyard, where all
the Marlowes lay, would shelter him at last. A quiet haven after many
storms; but oh! what a shipwreck had he made of his life!

All the morning Mr. Clifford sat in his arm-chair lost in thought, only
looking up sometimes to ply Phebe with questions. When Jean Merle
returned, his gray, meditative face grew bright, with a faint smile
shining through his dim eyes.

"You are no phantom then!" he said. "I've been so used to your company
as a ghost that when you are out of sight I fancy myself dreaming. I
could not let Phebe go away lest I should feel that all this is not
real. Did any one know you again?"

"Not a soul," he answered; "how could they? Mrs. Nixey herself has no
remembrance of me. There is no fear of my being known."

"Then I want you to stay with me," said old Mr. Clifford eagerly; "I'm a
lonely man, seventy-seven years old, with neither kith nor kin, and it
seems a long and dreary road to the grave. I want one to sit beside me
in these long evenings, and to take care of me as a son takes care of
his old father. Could you do it, Jean Merle? I beseech you, if it is
possible, give me your services in my old age."

"It will be hard for you," pleaded Phebe in a low voice, "harder than
going out alone to my little home. But you would do more good here; you
could save us from anxiety, for we are often very anxious and sorrowful
about Mr. Clifford. I can take care that you should always know before
Felix and Hilda come down. Felicita never comes."

How much harder it would be for him even Phebe could not guess. To dwell
within reach of his old home was altogether different from living in it,
with its countless memories, and the unremitting stings of conscience.
To have about him all that he had lost and made desolate; the empty
home, from which all the familiar faces and beloved voices had vanished;
this lot surely was harder than the humble, laborious life of old
Marlowe on the hills. Yet if any one living had a claim upon him for
such self-sacrifice, it was this feeble, tottering old man, who was
gazing up into his face with urgent and imploring eyes.

"I will stay here and be your servant," he answered, "if there appears
no reason against it when we have given it more thought."



CHAPTER XXI.

PHEBE'S SECRET.


For the first time in her life those who were about Phebe Marlowe felt
that she was under a cloud. The sweet sunny atmosphere, as of a clear
and peaceful day, which seemed to surround her, had fled. She was absent
and depressed, and avoided society, even that of Hilda, who had been
like her own child to her. Towards Felicita there was a subtle change in
Phebe's manner, which could not fail to impress deeply her sensitive
temperament. She felt that Phebe shrank from her, and that she was no
longer welcome to the studio, which of all places in the world had been
to her a place of repose, and of brief cessation of troubled thought.
Phebe's direct and simple nature, free from all guile and worldliness,
had made her a perfect sympathizer with any true feeling. And Felicita's
feeling with regard to her past most sorrowful life had been absolutely
real; if only Phebe had known all the circumstances of it as she had
always supposed she did.

Phebe was, moreover, fearful of some accident betraying to Felicita the
circumstance of Jean Merle living at Riversborough. There had never
been any direct correspondence between Felicita and Mr. Clifford, except
on purely business matters; and Felix was too much engrossed with his
own affairs to find time to run down to Riversborough, or to keep up an
animated interchange of letters with his old friend there. The
intercourse between them had been chiefly carried on through Phebe
herself, who was the old man's prime favorite. Neither was he a man
likely to let out anything he might wish to conceal. But still she was
nervous and afraid. How far from improbable it was that through some
unthought-of channel Felicita might hear that a stranger, related to
Madame Sefton, had entered the household of Mr. Clifford as his
confidential attendant, and that this stranger's name was Jean Merle.
What would happen then?

She was burdened with a secret, and her nature abhorred a secret. There
was gladness, almost utterly pure, to her in the belief that there was
One being who could read the inmost recesses of her heart, and see, with
the loving-kindness of an Allwise Father, its secret faults, the errors
which she did not herself understand. That she had nothing to tell to
God, which He did not know of her already, was one of the deepest
foundations of her spiritual life. And in some measure, in all possible
measure, she would have had it so with those whom she loved. She did not
shrink from showing to them her thoughts, and motives, and emotions. It
was the limit of expression, so quickly reached, so impassable, that
chafed her; and she was always searching for fresh modes of conveying
her own feeling to other souls. Possibly the enforced speechlessness in
which she had passed her early years had aided in creating this
passionate desire to impart herself to those about her in unfettered
communion, and she ardently delighted in the same unreserved confidence
in those who conversed with her. But now she was doomed to bear the
burden of a secret fraught with strange and painful consequences to
those whom she loved, if time should ever divulge it.

The winter months passed away cheerlessly, though she worked with more
persistent energy than ever before, partly to drive away the thoughts
that troubled her. She heard from Mr. Clifford, but not more frequently
than usual, and Jean Merle did not venture upon sending her a line of
his hand-writing. Mr. Clifford spoke in guarded terms of the comfort he
found in the companionship of his attendant, in spite of his being a sad
and moody man. Now and then he told Phebe that this attendant of his had
gone for a day or two to her solitary little house on the uplands, of
which Mr. Clifford kept the key, and that he stayed there a day or two,
finishing the half-carved blocks of oak her father had left incomplete.
It would have been a happier existence, she knew, for himself, if Jean
Merle had gone to dwell there altogether; but it was along this path of
self-sacrifice and devotion alone lay the road back to a Christian life.

One point troubled Phebe's conscience more than any other. Ought she not
at least to tell Canon Pascal what she knew? She could not help feeling
that this second fraud would seem worse in his estimation than the first
one. And Felicita, the very soul of truth and honor, had connived at it!
It seemed immeasurably more terrible in Phebe's own eyes. To her money
had so small a value, it lay on so low a level in the scale of life,
that a crime in connection with it had far less guilt than one against
the affections. And how unutterable a sin against all who loved him had
Roland and Felicita fallen into! She recalled his mother's mourning for
him through many long years, and her belief in death that she was going
soon to rejoin the beloved son whom she had lost. Her own grief she put
aside, but there was the deep, boyish sorrow of Felix, and even little
Hilda's fatherlessness, as the children had grown up through the various
stages of childhood. It might have been bad for them to bear the stigma
of their father's shame, but still Phebe believed it would have been
better for every one of them to have gone bravely forward to bear the
just consequences of sin.

She went down into Essex to spend a day or two at Christmas, carrying
with her the fitful spirit so foreign to her. The perfect health that
had been hers hitherto was broken; and Mrs. Pascal, a confirmed invalid,
to whom Phebe's physical vigor and evenness of temper had been a
constant source of delight and invigoration, felt the change in her
keenly.

"She has something on her mind," she said to her husband; "you must try
and find it out, or she will be ill."

"I know she has a secret," he answered, "but it is not her own. Phebe
Marlowe is as open as the day; she will never have a secret of her own."

But he made no effort to find out her secret. His searching, kindly eyes
met hers with the trustfulness of a frank and open nature that
recognized a nature akin to its own, and Phebe never shrank from his
gaze, though her lips remained closed. If it was right for her to tell
him anything of the stranger who had been about to make him his
confessor, she would do it. Canon Pascal would not ask any questions.

"Felix and Alice are growing more and more deeply in love with each
other," he said to her; "there is something beautiful and pleasant in
being a spectator of these palmy days of theirs. Felicita even felt
something of their happiness when she was here last, and she will not
withhold her full approbation much longer."

"And you," answered Phebe, with an eager flush on her face, "you do not
repent of giving Alice to the son of a man who might have been a
convict?"

"I believe Alice would marry Felix if his father had been a murderer,"
replied Canon Pascal; "it is too late to alter it now. Besides, I know
Felix through and through, he is himself; he is no longer the son of any
person, but a true man, one of the sons of God."

The strong and emphatic tone of Canon Pascal's words brought great
consolation to Phebe's troubled mind. She might keep silence with a good
conscience, for the duty of disclosing all to Canon Pascal arose simply
from the possibility that his conduct would be altered by this further
knowledge of Roland and Felicita.

"But this easy country life is not good for Felix," she said in a more
cheerful tone; "he needs a difficult parish to develop his energies. It
is not among your people he will become a second Felix Merle."

"Patience! Phebe," he answered, "there is a probability in the future,
a bare probability, and dimly distant, which may change all that. He may
have as much to do as Felix Merle by and by."

Phebe returned to her work in London with a somewhat lighter heart. Yet
the work was painful to her; work which a few months before would have
been a delight. For Felicita, yielding to the urgent entreaties of Felix
and Hilda, had consented to sit for her portrait. She was engaged in no
writing, and had ample leisure. Until now she had resisted all
importunity, and no likeness of her existed. She disliked photographs,
and had only had one taken for Roland alone when they were married, and
she could never bring herself to sit for an artist comparatively a
stranger to her. It was opposed to her reserved and somewhat haughty
temperament that any eye should scan too freely and too curiously the
lineaments of her beautiful face, with its singularly expressive
individuality. But now that Phebe's skill had been so highly cultivated,
and commanded an increasing reputation, she could no longer oppose her
children's reiterated entreaties.

Felicita was groping blindly for the reason of the change in Phebe's
feeling towards her, for she was conscious of some vague, mysterious
barrier that had arisen between her and the tender, simple soul which
had been always full of lowly sympathy for her. But Phebe silently
shrank from her in a terror mingled with profound, unutterable pity. For
here was a secret misery of a solitary human spirit, ice-bound in a
self-chosen isolation, which was an utter mystery to her. All the old
love and reverence, amounting almost to adoration, which she had,
offered up as incense to some being far above her had died away; gone
also was the child-like simplicity with which she could always talk to
Felicita. She could read the pride and sadness of the lovely face before
her with a clear understanding now, but the lines which reproduced it on
her canvas were harder and sterner than they would have been if she had
known less of Felicita's heart. The painting grew into a likeness, but
it was a painful one, full of hidden sadness, bitterness, and
infelicity. Felix and Hilda gazed at it in silence, almost as solemn and
mournful as if they were looking on the face of their dead mother. She
herself turned from it with a feeling of dread.

"How much do you know of me?" she cried; "how deep can you look into my
heart, Phebe?" Phebe glanced from her to the finished portrait, and only
answered by tears.



CHAPTER XXII.

NEAR THE END.


Felicita had followed the urgent advice of her physicians in giving up
writing for a season. There was no longer any necessity for her work,
as some time since the money which Roland Sefton had fraudulently
appropriated, had been paid back with full interest, and she began to
feel justified in accepting the income from her marriage settlement.
During the winter and spring she spent her days much as other women of
her class and station, in a monotonous round of shopping, driving in the
parks, visiting, and being visited, partly for Hilda's sake, and partly
driven to it for want of occupation; but short as the time was which she
gave to this life, she grew inexpressibly weary of it. Early, in May she
turned into Phebe's studio, which she had seldom entered since her
portrait was finished. This portrait was in the Academy Exhibition, and
she was constantly receiving empty compliments about it.

"Dear Phebe!" she exclaimed, "I have tried fashionable life to see how
much it is worth, and oh! it is altogether hollow and inane. I did not
expect much from it, but it is utter weariness to me."

"And you will go back to your writing?" said Phebe.

Felicita hesitated for a moment. There was a worn and harassed
expression on her pale face, as if she had not slept or rested well for
a long time, which touched Phebe's heart.

"Not yet," she answered; "I am going on a journey. I shall start for
Switzerland to-night."

"To Switzerland! To-night!" echoed Phebe. "Oh, no! you must not, you
cannot. And alone? How can you think of going alone?"

"I went alone once," she answered, smiling with her lips, though her
dark eyes grew no brighter, "and I can go again. I shall manage very
well. I fancied you would not care to go with me," she added, sighing.

"But I must go with you!" cried Phebe; "did I not promise long ago? Only
don't go to-night, stay a day or two."

"No, no," she said with feverish impatience, "I have made all my
arrangements. Nobody must know, and Hilda is gone down into Essex for a
week, and my cousins fancy I am going to the sea-side for a few days'
rest. I must start to-night, in less than four hours, Phebe. You cannot
be ready in time?"

But she spoke wistfully, as if it would be pleasant to hear Phebe say
she would go with her. For a few minutes Phebe was lost in bewildered
thought. Felicita had told her some months ago that she must go to
Engelberg before she could give her consent to Felix marrying Alice, but
it had escaped her memory, pushed out by more immediate and more present
cares. And now she could not tell what Jean Merle would have her do. To
discover suddenly that he was alive, and in England, nay, at
Riversborough itself, under their old roof, would be too great a shock
for Felicita. Phebe dared not tell her. Yet, to let her start off alone
on this fruitless errand, to find only an empty hut at Engelberg, with
no trace of its occupant left behind, was heartless, and might prove
equally injurious to Felicita. There was no time to communicate with
Riversborough, she must come to a decision for herself, and at once. The
white, worn face, with its air of sad determination, filled her with
deep and eager pity.

"Oh! I will go with you," she cried. "I could never bear you to go
alone. But is there nothing you can tell me? Only trust me. What trouble
carries you there? Why must you go to Engelberg before Felix marries?"

She had caught Felicita's small cold hand between her own and looked up
beseechingly into her face. Oh! if she would but now, at last, throw off
the burden which had so long bowed her down, and tell her secret, she
could let her know that this painful pilgrimage was utterly needless.
But the sweet, sad, proud lips were closed, and the dark eyes looking
down steadily into Phebe's, betrayed no wavering of her determined
reticence.

"You shall come with me as far as Lucerne, dear Phebe," she answered,
stooping down to kiss her uplifted face, "but I must go alone to
Engelberg."

There was barely time enough for Phebe to make any arrangements, there
was not a moment for deliberation. She wrote a few hurried words to Jean
Merle, imploring him to follow them at once, and promising to detain
Felicita on their way, if possible. Felicita's own preparations were
complete, and her route marked out, with the time of steamers and trains
set down. Through Paris, Mulhausen, and Basle she hastened on to
Lucerne. Now she had set out on this dreary and dolorous path there
could be no rest for her until she reached the end. Phebe recognized
this as soon as they had started. It would be impossible to detain
Felicita on the way.

But Jean Merle could not be far behind them, a few hours would bring him
to them after they had reached Lucerne. Felicita was very silent as they
travelled on by the swiftest trains, and Phebe was glad of it. For what
could she say to her? She was herself lost in a whirl of bewilderment,
and of mingled hope and fear. Could it possibly be that Felicita would
learn that Jean Merle was still living, and the mode and manner of his
life through this long separation, and yet stand aloof from him, afar
off, as one on whom he had no claim, claim for pity and love? But if she
could relent towards him, how must it be in the future? It could never
be that she would own the wrong she had committed openly in the face of
the world. What was to happen now? Phebe was hardly less feverishly
agitated than Felicita herself.

It was evening when they arrived at Lucerne, and Felicita was forced to
rest until the morning. They sat together in a small balcony opening out
of her chamber, which overlooked the Lake, where the moonbeams were
playing in glistening curves over the quiet ripples of the water. All
the mountains round it looked black in the dim light, and the rugged
summit of Pilatus, still slightly sprinkled with snow, frowned down upon
them; but southward, behind the dark range of lower hills, there stood
out against the almost black-blue of the sky a broken line of pale,
mysterious peaks, which might have been merely pallid clouds lying along
the horizon but for their stedfast, unaltering immobility. They were the
Engelberg Alps, with the snowy Titlis gleaming highest among them; and
Felicita's face, wan and pallid as themselves, was set towards them.

"You will let me come with you to-morrow?" said Phebe, in a tone of
painful entreaty.

"No, no," she answered. "I could not bear to have even you at Engelberg
with me. I must visit that grave alone. And yet I know you love me, dear
Phebe."

"Dearly!" she sobbed.

"Yes, you love me dearly," she repeated sorrowfully, "but not as you
once did; even your heart is changed towards me. If you went with me
to-morrow I might lose all the love that is left. I cannot afford to
lose that, my dear."

"You could never lose it!" answered Phebe. "I love you differently? Yes,
but not less. I love you now as Christ loves us all, more for God's sake
than our own; and that is the deepest, most faithful love. That can
never be worn out or repulsed. As Christ has loved me, so I love you, my
Felicita."

Her voice had fallen into an almost inaudible whisper, as she knelt down
beside her, pressing her lips upon the thin, cold hands lying listlessly
on Felicita's lap. It had been as an impulsive girl, worshipping her
from a lowly inferiority, that Phebe had been used long ago to kiss
Felicita's hand. But this was the humility of a great love, willing to
help, and seeking to save her. Felicita felt it through every fibre of
her sensitive nature. For an instant she thought it might be possible
that Phebe had caught some glimmer of the truth. With her weary and dim
eyes lifted up to the pale crests of the mountains, beneath which lay
the miserable secret of her life, she hesitated as to whether she could
tell Phebe all. But the effort to admit any human soul into the inner
recesses of her own was too great for her.

"Christ loves me, you say," she murmured, "I don't know; I never felt
it. But I have felt sure of your love; and next to Felix and Hilda you
have stood nearest to me. Love me always, and in spite of all, my dear."

She lifted up her bowed head and kissed her lips with a long and
lingering kiss. Then Phebe knew that she was bent upon going alone and
immediately to Engelberg.

       *       *       *       *       *

The icy air of the morning, blowing down from the mountains where the
winter's snow was but partially melted, made Felicita shiver, though her
mind was too busy to notice why. Phebe had seen that she was warmly
clad, and had come down to the boat with her to start her on this last
day's journey; but Felicita had scarcely opened her pale lips to say
good-by. She stood on the quay, watching the boat as long as the white
steam from the funnel was in sight, and then she turned away, blind to
all the scenery about her, in the heaviness of heart she felt for the
sorrowful soul going out on so sad and vain a quest. There had been no
time for Jean Merle to overtake them, and now Felicita was gone when a
few words from her would have stopped her. But Phebe had not dared to
utter them.

Felicita too had not seen either the sunlit hills lying about her, or
Phebe watching her departure. She had no thought for anything but what
there might be lying before her, in that lonely mountain village, to
which, after fourteen years, her reluctant feet were turned. Possibly
she might find no trace of the man who had been so long dead to her and
to all the world, and thus be baffled and defeated, yet relieved, at the
first stage of her search. For she did not desire to find him. Her heart
would be lightened of its miserable load, if she should discover that
Jean Merle was dead, and buried in the same quiet cemetery where the
granite cross marked the grave of Roland Sefton. That was a thing to be
hoped for. If Jean Merle was living still, and living there, what should
she say to him? Wild hopes and desires would be awakened within him if
he found her seeking after him? Nay, it might possibly be that he would
insist upon making their mutual sin known to the world, by claiming to
return to her and her children. It seemed a desperate thing to have
done; and for the first time since she left London she repented of
having done it. Was she not sowing the wind to reap the whirlwind? There
was still time for her to retrace her steps and go back home, the home
she owed altogether to herself; yet one which this man, whom she had not
seen for so long a time, had a right to enter as the master of it. What
fatal impulse had driven her to leave it on so wild and fruitless an
errand?

Yet she felt she could no longer live without knowing the fate of Jean
Merle. Her heart had been gnawing itself ever since they parted with
vague remorses and self-accusations, slumbering often, but now aroused
into an activity that could not be laid to rest. This morning, for the
first time, beneath all her perplexity and fear and hope to find him
dead, there came to her a strange, undefined, scarcely conscious
tenderness towards the miserable man, whom she had last seen standing in
her presence, an uncouth, ragged, weather-beaten peasant. The man had
been her husband, the father of her children, and a deep, keen pain was
stirring in her soul, partly of the old love, for she had once loved
him, and partly of the pity she felt for him, as she began to realize
the difference there had existed between her lot and his.

She scarcely felt how worn out she was, how dangerously fatigued with
this rapid travelling and the resistless current of agitation which had
possessed her. As she journeyed onwards she was altogether unconscious
of the roads she traversed, only arousing herself when any change of
conveyance made it necessary. Her brain was busy over the opinion, more
than once expressed by Phebe, that every man could live down the evil
consequences of his sin, if he had courage and faith enough. "If God
forgives us, man will forgive us," said Phebe. But Felicita pondered
over the possibility of Roland having paid the penalty of his crime, and
going back again to take up his life, walking more humbly in it
evermore, with no claim to preeminence save that of most diligently
serving his fellow-men. She endeavored to picture herself receiving him
back again from the convict prison, with all its shameful memories
branded on him, and looking upon him again as her husband and the father
of her children; and she found herself crying out to her own heart that
it would have been impossible to her. Phebe might have done it, but
she--never!

The journey, though not more than fourteen miles from Stans to
Engelberg, occupied several hours, so broken up the narrow road was by
the winter's rains and the melting snow. The steep ascent between
Grafenort and Engelberg was dangerous, the more so as a heavy
thunderstorm broke over it; but Felicita remained insensible to any
peril. At length the long, narrow valley lay before her, stretching
upwards to the feet of the rocky hills. The thunderstorm that had met
them on the road had been raging fiercely in this mountain caldron, and
was but just passing away in long, low mutterings, echoed and prolonged
amid the precipitous walls of rock. Tall, trailing, spectre-like clouds
slowly followed each other in solemn and stately procession up the
valley, as though amid their light yet impenetrable folds of vapor they
bore the invisible form of some mysterious being; whether in triumph or
in sorrow it was impossible to tell. The sun caught their gray crests
and tinged them with rainbow colors; and as they floated unhastingly
along, the valley behind them seemed to spring into a new life of
sunshine and mirth.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE MOST MISERABLE.


It was past noon when Felicita was driven up to the hotel in the
village, where, when she had last been at Engelberg, she had gone to
look upon the dead face of the stranger, who was to carry away the sin
of Roland Sefton, with the shame it would bring upon her, and bury it
forever in his grave. It seemed but a few days ago, and she felt
reluctant to enter the house again. In two or three hours when the
horses were rested, she said to the driver, she would be ready to return
to Stans. Then she wandered out into the village street, thinking she
might come across some peasant at work alone, or some woman standing
idly at her door, with whom she could fall into a casual conversation,
and learn what she had come to ascertain. But she met with no solitary
villager; and she strayed onward, almost unwittingly in the direction of
the cemetery. In passing by the church, she pushed open one of the
heavy, swinging doors, and cast a glance around; there was no one in
sight, but the gabble of boys' voices in some vestry close by reached
her ear, and a laugh rang after it, which echoed noisily in the quiet
aisles. The high altar was lit up by a light from a side-window and her
eye was arrested by it. Still, whether she saw and heard, or was deaf
and blind, she scarcely knew. Her feet were drawn by some irresistible
attraction towards the grave where her husband was not buried.

She did not know in what corner of the graveyard it was to be found; and
when she entered the small enclosure, with its wooden cross at the head
of every narrow mound, she stood still for a minute or two,
hesitatingly, and looking before her with a bewildered and reluctant
air, as if engaged in an enterprise she recoiled from. A young priest,
the curé of the nearest mountain parish, who visiting the grave of one
of his parishioners lately buried at Engelberg, was passing to and fro
among the grassy mounds with his breviary in his hands, and his lips
moving as if in prayer; but at the unexpected sight of a traveller thus
early in the season, his curiosity was aroused, and he bent his steps
towards her. When he was sufficiently near to catch her wandering eye,
he spoke in a quiet and courteous manner--

"Is madame seeking for any special spot?" he inquired.

"Yes," answered Felicita, fastening upon him her large; sad eyes, which
had dark rings below them, intensifying the mournfulness of their
expression, "I am looking for a grave. The grave of a stranger; Roland
Sefton. I have come from England to find it."

Her voice was constrained and low; and the words came in brief, panting
syllables, which sounded almost like sobs. The black-robed priest looked
closely and scrutinizingly into the pallid face turned towards him,
which was as rigid as marble, except for the gleam of the dark eyes.

"Madame is suffering; she is ill!" he said.

"No, not ill," answered Felicita, in an absent manner, as if she was
speaking in a dream, "but of all women the most miserable."

It seemed to the young curé that the English lady was not aware of what
words she uttered. He felt embarrassed and perplexed: all the English
were heretics, and how heretics could be comforted or counselled he did
not know. But the dreamy sadness of her face appealed to his compassion.
The only thing he could do for her was to guide her to the grave she
was seeking.

For the last nine months no hand had cleared away the weeds from around
it, or the moss from gathering upon it. The little pathway trodden by
Jean Merle's feet was overgrown, though still perceptible, and the
priest walked along it, with Felicita following him. Little threads of
grass were filling up the deep clear-cut lettering on the cross; and the
gray and yellow lichens were creeping over the granite. Since the snow
had melted and the sun had shone hotly into the high-lying valley there
had been a rapid growth of vegetation here, as everywhere else, and the
weeds and grass had flourished luxuriantly; but amongst them Alice's
slip of ivy had thrown out new buds and tendrils. The priest paused
before the grave, with Felicita standing beside him silent and
spell-bound. She did not weep or cry, or fling herself upon the ground
beside it, as he had expected. When he looked askance at her marble face
there was no trace of emotion upon it, excepting that her lips moved
very slightly, as if they formed the words inscribed upon the cross.

"It is not in good order just at present," he said, breaking the
oppressive silence; "the peasant who took charge of it, Jean Merle,
disappeared from Engelberg last summer, and has never since been seen or
heard of. They say he was paid to take care of this grave; and truly
when he was here there was no weed, no soil, no little speck of moss
upon it. There was no other grave kept like this. Was Roland Sefton a
relation of Madame?"

"Yes," she whispered, or he thought she whispered it from the motion of
her lips.

"Madame is not a Catholic?" he asked.

Felicita shook her head.

"What a pity! what a pity!" he continued, in a tone of mild regret, "or
I could console her. Yet I will pray for her this night to the good God,
and the Mother of Sorrows, to give her comfort. If she only knew the
solace of opening her heart; even to a fellow-mortal!"

"Does no one know where Jean Merle is?" she asked, in a low but clear
penetrating voice, which startled him, he said afterwards, almost as
much as if the image of the blessed Virgin had spoken to him. With the
effort to speak, a slight color flushed across the pale wan face, and
her eyes fastened eagerly upon him.

"No one, Madame," he replied; "the poor man was a misanthrope, and lived
quite alone, in misery. He came neither to confession nor to mass; but
whether he was a heretic or an atheist no man knew. Where he came from
or where he went to was known only to himself. But they think that he
must have perished on the mountains, for he disappeared suddenly last
August. His little hut is falling into ruins; it was too poor a place
for anybody but him."

"I must go there; where is it?" she inquired, turning abruptly away from
the grave, without a tear or a prayer, he observed. The spell that had
bound her seemed broken; and she looked agitated and hurried. There was
more vigor and decision in her face and manner than he could have
believed possible a few moments before. She was no longer a marble image
of despair.

"If Madame will go quite through the village," he answered, "it is the
last house on the way to Stans. But it cannot be called a house; it is
a ruin. It stands apart from all the rest, like an accursed spot; for no
person will go near it. If Madame goes, she will find no one there."

With a quick yet stately gesture of farewell, Felicita turned away, and
walked swiftly down the little path, not running, but moving so rapidly
that she was soon out of sight. By and by, when he had had time to think
over the interview and to recover from his surprise, he followed her,
but he saw nothing of her; only the miserable hovel where poor Jean
Merle had lived, into which she had probably found an entrance.

Felicita had learned something of what she had come to discover. Jean
Merle had been living in Engelberg until the last summer, though now he
had disappeared. Perished on the mountains! oh! could that be true? It
was likely to be true. He had always been a daring mountaineer when
there was every motive to make him careful of his life; and now what
could make it precious to him? There was no other reason for suddenly
breaking off the thread of his life here in Engelberg; for Felicita had
never imagined it possible that he would return to England. If he had
disappeared he must have perished on the mountains.

Yet there was no relief to her in the thought. If she had heard in
England that he was dead there would have been a sense of deliverance,
and a secret consciousness of real freedom, which would have made her
future course lie before her in brighter and more tranquil light. She
would at least be what she seemed to be. But here, amid the scenes of
his past life, there was a deep compunction in her heart, and a profound
pity for the miserable man, whose neighbors knew nothing about him but
that he had disappeared out of their sight. That she should come to seek
him, and find not even his grave, oppressed her with anguish as she
passed along the village street, till she saw the deserted hut standing
apart like an accursed place, the fit dwelling of an outcast.

The short ladder that led to it was half broken, but she could climb it
easily; and the upper part of the door was partly open, and swinging
lazily to and fro in the light breeze that was astir after the storm.
There was no difficulty in unfastening the bolt which held the lower
half; and Felicita stepped into the low room. She stood for awhile, how
long she did not know, gazing forward with wide open motionless eyes,
the brain scarcely conscious of seeing through them, though the sight
before her was reflected on their dark and glistening surface. A corner
of the roof had fallen in during the winter, and a stream of bright
light shone through it, irradiating the dim and desolate interior. The
abject poverty of her husband's dwelling-place was set in broad
daylight. The windowless walls, the bare black rafters overhead, the
rude bed of juniper branches and ferns, the log-seat, rough as it had
come out of the forest--she saw them all as if she saw them not, so busy
was her brain that it could take no notice of them just now.

So busy was it that all her life seemed to be hurrying and crowding and
whirling through it, with swift pictures starting into momentary
distinctness and dying suddenly to give place to others. It was a
terrifying and enthralling phantasmagoria which held her spell-bound on
the threshold of this ruined hovel, her husband's last shelter.

At last she roused herself, and stepped forward hesitatingly. Her eyes
had fallen upon a book or two at the end of a shelf as black as the
walls; and books had always called to her with a voice that could not be
resisted. She crept slowly and feebly across the mouldering planks of
the floor, through which she could see the grass springing on the turf
below the hut. But when she lifted up the mildewed and dust-covered
volume lying uppermost and opened it, her eyes fell first upon her own
portrait, stained, faded, nearly blotted out; yet herself as she was
when she became Roland Sefton's wife.

She sank down, faint and trembling, on the rough block of wood, and
leaned back against the mouldy walls, with the photograph in her hand,
and her eyes fastened upon it. His mother's portrait, and his
children's, he had given up as evidence of his death; but he had never
parted with hers. Oh! how he had loved her! Would to God she had loved
him as dearly! But she had forsaken him, had separated him from her as
one who was accursed, and whose very name was a malediction. She had
exacted the uttermost farthing from him; his mother, his children, his
home, his very life, to save her name from dishonor. It seemed as if
this tarnished, discolored picture of herself, cherished through all his
misery and desolation, spoke more deeply and poignantly to her than
anything else could do. She fancied she could see him, the way-worn,
haggard, weather-beaten peasant, as she had seen him last, sitting here,
with the black walls shutting him out from all the world, but holding
this portrait in his hands, and looking at it as she did now. And he had
perished on the mountains!

Suddenly all the whirl of her brain grew quiet; the swift thoughts
ceased to rush across it. She felt dull and benumbed as if she could no
longer exert herself to remember or to know anything. Her eyes were
weary of seeing, and the lids drooped over them. The light had become
dim as if the sun had already set. Her ears were growing heavy as though
no sound could ever disturb her again; when a bitter and piercing cry,
such as is seldom drawn from the heart of man, penetrated through all
the lethargy creeping over her. Looking up, with eyes that opened
slowly and painfully, she saw her husband's face bending over her. A
smile of exceeding sweetness and tenderness flitted across her face, and
she tried to stretch out both her hands towards him. But the effort was
the last faint token of life. They had found one another too late.



CHAPTER XXIV.

FOR ONE MOMENT


She had not uttered a word to him; but her smile and the tender gesture
of her dying hands had spoken more than words. He stood motionless,
gazing down upon her, and upon Phebe, who had thrown herself beside her,
encircling her with her arms, as if she would snatch her away from the
relentless grasp of death. A single cry of anguish had escaped him; but
he was dumb now, and no sound was heard in the silent hut, except those
that entered it from without. Phebe did not know what had happened, but
he knew. Quite clearly, without any hope or self-deception, he knew that
Felicita was dead.

The dread of it had haunted him from the moment that he had heard of her
hurried departure in quest of him. When he read Phebe's words, imploring
him to follow them, the recollection had flashed across him of how the
thread of Lord Riversdale's life had snapped under the strain of unusual
anxiety and fatigue. Felicita's own delicate health had been failing for
some months past. As swiftly as he could follow he had pursued them; but
her impatient and feverish haste had prevented him from overtaking them
in time. What might have been the result if he had reached her sooner
he could not tell. That there could ever have been any knitting together
again of the tie that had ever united them seemed impossible. Death
alone, either hers or his, could have touched her heart to the
tenderness of her farewell smile and gesture.

In after life Jean Merle never spoke of that hour of agony. But there
was nothing in the past which dwelt so deeply or lived again so often in
his memory. He had suffered before; but it seemed as nothing to the
intensity of the anguish that had befallen him now. The image of
Felicita's white and dying face lying against the darkened walls of the
hovel where she had gone to seek him, was indelibly printed on his
brain. He would see it till the hour of his own death.

He lifted her up, holding her once more in his arms, and clasping her to
his heart, as he carried her through the village street to the hotel.
Phebe walked beside him, as yet only thinking that Felicita had fainted.
His old neighbors crowded out of their houses, scarcely recognizing Jean
Merle in this Monsieur in his good English dress, but with redoubled
curiosity when they saw who it was thus bearing the strange English lady
in his arms. When he had carried her to the hotel, and up-stairs to the
room where he had watched beside the stranger who had borne his name, he
broke through the gathering crowd of onlookers, and fled to his familiar
solitudes among the mountains.

He had always told himself that Felicita was dead to him. There had not
been in his heart the faintest hope that she could ever again be
anything more to him than a memory and a dream. When he was in England,
though he had not been content until he had seen his children and his
old home, he had never sought to get a glimpse of her, so far beyond him
and above him. But now that she was indeed dead, those beloved eyes
closed forever more from the light of the sun, and the familiar earth
never again to be trodden by her feet, the awful chasm set between them
made him feel as if he was for the first time separated from her. Only
an hour ago and his voice could have reached her in words of entreaty
and of passionate repentance and humble self-renunciation. They could
have spoken face to face, and he might have had a brief interval for
pouring out his heart to her. But there had been no word uttered between
them. There had been only that one moment in which her soul looked back
upon him with a glance of tenderness, before she was gone from him
beyond recall. He came to himself, out of the confused agony of his
grief, as the sun was setting. He found himself in a wild and barren
wilderness of savage rocks, with a small black tarn lying at his feet,
which just caught the glimmer of the setting sun on its lurid surface.
The silence about him was intense. Gray clouds stretched across the
mountains, out of which a few sad peaks of rock rose against the gray
sky. The snowy dome of the Titlis towering above the rest looked down on
him out of the shadow of the clouded heavens with a ghostly paleness.
All the world about him was cold and wan, and solemn as the face of the
dead. There was death up here and in the valley yonder; but down in the
valley it bore too dear and too sorrowful a form.

As the twilight deepened, the recollection of Phebe's loneliness and her
distress at his absence at last roused him. He could no longer leave
her, bewildered by this new trouble, and with slow and reluctant steps
he retraced his path through the deep gloom of the forests to the
village. There was much to be turned over in his mind and to be decided
upon before he reached the bustling hotel and the gaping throng of
spectators, marvelling at Jean Merle's reappearance under circumstances
so unaccountable. He had met with Phebe as she returned from starting
Felicita in the first boat, and they had waited for the next. At
Grafenort they had dismissed their carriage, thinking they could enter
the valleys with less observation on foot; and perhaps meet with
Felicita in such a manner as to avoid making his return known in
Engelberg. He had turned aside to take shelter in his old hut, whilst
Phebe went on to find Felicita, when his bitter cry of pain had called
her back to him. The villagers would probably take him for a courier in
attendance upon these ladies, if he acted as one when he reached the
hotel. But how was he to act?

Two courses were open to him. There was no longer any reason to dread a
public trial and conviction for the crime he had committed so many years
ago. It was quite practicable to return to England, account plausibly
for his disappearance and the mistake as to identity which had caused a
stranger to be buried in his name, and take up his life again as Roland
Sefton. It was improbable that any searching investigation should be
made into his statements. Who would be interested in doing it? But the
old memories and suspicions would be awakened and strengthened a
hundred-fold by the mystery surrounding his return. No one could compel
him to reveal his secret, he had simply to keep his lips closed in
impenetrable silence. True he would be a suspected man, with a
disgraceful secrecy hanging like a cloud about him. He could not live so
at Riversborough, among his old towns-people, of whom he had once been a
leader. He must find some new sphere and dwell in it, always dreading
the tongue of rumor.

And his son and daughter? How would they regard him if he maintained an
obstinate and ambiguous silence towards them? They were no longer little
children, scarcely separate from their father, seeing through his eyes,
and touching life only through him. They were separate individuals,
living souls, with a personality of their own, the more free from his
influence because of his long absence and supposed death. It was a young
man he must meet in Felix, a critic and a judge like other men; but with
a known interest in the criticism and the judgment he had to pass upon
his father, and less apt to pass it lightly. His son would ponder deeply
over any account he might give of himself. Hilda, too, was at a
sensitive and delicate point of girlhood, when she would inevitably
shrink from any contact with the suspicion and doubt that would surround
this strange return after so many years of disappearance.

Yet how could he let them know the terrible fraud he had committed for
their mother's sake and with her connivance? Felix knew of his other
defalcations; but Hilda was still ignorant of them. If he returned to
them with the truth in his lips, they would lose the happy memory of
their mother and their pride in her fame. He understood only too well
how dominant must have been her influence over them, not merely by the
tender common ties of motherhood, but by the fascinating charm of her
whole nature, reserved and stately as it had been. He must betray her
and lessen her memory in their sorrowful esteem. To them, if not to the
world, he must disclose all, or resolve to remain a stranger to them
forever. During the last six months it had seemed to him that a humble
path lay before him, following which he might again live a life of lowly
discipleship. He had repented with a bitter repentance, and out of the
depths into which he had fallen he had cried unto God and been
delivered. He believed that he had received God's forgiveness, as he
knew that he had received men's forgiveness. Out of the wreck of his
former life he had constructed a little raft and trusted to it bearing
him safely through what remained of the storm of life. If Felicita had
lived he would have remained in the service of his father's old friend,
proving himself of use in numberless ways; not merely as an attendant,
but in assisting him with the affairs of the bank, with which he was
more conversant, from his early acquaintanceship with the families
transacting business with it, than the stranger who was acting manager
could be. He had not been long enough in Riversborough to gain any
influence in the town as a poor foreigner, but there had been a hope
dawning within that he might again do some good in his native place, the
dearer to him because of his long and dreary banishment. In time he
might perform some work worthy of his forefathers, though under another
name. If he could so live as to leave behind him the memory of a sincere
and simple Christian, who had denied himself daily to live a righteous,
sober, and godly life, and had cheerfully taken up his cross to follow
Christ, he would in some measure atone for the disgrace Roland Sefton's
defalcations had brought upon the name of Christ.

This humble, ambitious career was still before him if he could forego
the joy of making himself known to his children--a doubtful joy. For
had he not cut himself from them by his reckless and despairing
abandonment of them in their childhood? He could bring them nothing now
but sorrow and shame. The sacrifice would be on their side, not his. It
needs all the links of all the years to bind parents and children in an
indestructible chain; and if he attempted to unite the broken links it
could only be by a knowledge of their mother's error as well as his. Let
him sacrifice himself for the last and final time to Felicita and the
fair name she had made for herself.

He was stumbling along in the dense darkness of the forest with no gleam
of light to guide him on his way, and his feet were constantly snared in
the knotted roots of the trees intersecting the path. So must he stumble
along a dark and rugged track through the rest of his years. There was
no cheering gleam beckoning him to a happy future. But though it was
thorny and obscure it was not an ignoble path, and it might end at last
even for him in the welcome words, "Well done, good and faithful
servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

His mind was made up before he reached the valley. He could not unravel
the warp and woof of his life. The gossamer threads of the webs he had
begun to weave about himself so lightly in the heyday of his youth and
prosperity and happiness had thickened into cables and petrified; it was
impossible to break through the coil of them or find a way out of it.
Roland Sefton had died many years ago. Let him remain dead.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE FINAL RESOLVE.


It was dark, with the pitchy darkness of a village street, where the
greater part of the population were gone to bed, when he passed through
Engelberg towards the hotel, where Phebe must be awaiting his return
anxiously. In carrying out his project it would be well for him to have
as little as possible to do with the inmates of the hotel, and he
approached it cautiously. All the ground-floor was dark, except for a
glimmer of light in a little room at the end of a long passage; but the
windows of the _salon_ on the floor above were lit up, and Jean Merle
stepped quietly up the staircase unheard and unseen.

Phebe was sitting by a table, her head buried in her arms, which rested
upon it--a forlorn and despondent attitude. She lifted up her face as he
entered and gazed pitifully into his; but for a minute or two neither of
them spoke. He stood just within the door, looking towards her as he had
done on the fateful night when Felicita had told him that she chose his
death rather than her share of the disgrace attaching to his crime. This
day just drawn to a close had been the bitterest fruit of the seed then
sown. Jean Merle's face, on which there was stamped an expression of
intense but patient suffering, steadfastly met Phebe's aching eyes.

"She is dead!" she murmured.

"I knew it," he answered.

"I did not know what to do," she went on after a slight pause, and
speaking in a pitiful and deprecating tone.

"Poor Phebe!" he said; "but I am come to tell you what I have resolved
to do--what seems best for us all to do. We must act as if I was only
what I seem to be, a stranger to you, a passing guide, who has no more
to do with these things than any other stranger. We will do what I
believe she would have desired; her name shall be as dear to us as it
was to her; no disgrace shall stain it now."

"But can you never throw off your disguise?" she asked, weeping. "Must
you always be what you seem to be now?"

"I must always be Jean Merle," he replied. "Roland Sefton cannot return
to life; it is impossible. Let us leave her children at least the tender
memory of their mother; I can bear being unknown to them for what
remains to me of life. And we do no one any harm, you and I, by keeping
this secret."

"No, we wrong no one," she answered. "I have been thinking of it ever
since I was sure she was dead, and I counted upon you doing this. It
will save Felix and Hilda from bitter sorrow, and it would keep her
memory fair and true for them. But you--there will be so much to give
up. They will never know that you are their father; for if we do not
tell them now, we must never, never betray it. Can you do it?"

"I gave them up long ago," he said; "and if there be any sacrifice I can
make for them, what should withhold me, Phebe? God only knows what an
unutterable relief it would be to me if I could lay bare my whole life
to the eyes of my fellow-men and henceforth walk in their sight in
simple honesty and truthfulness. But that is impossible. Not even you
can see my whole life as it has been. I must go softly all my days,
bearing my burden of secrecy."

"I too shall have to bear it," she murmured almost inaudibly.

"I shall start at once for Stans," he went on, "and go to Lucerne by the
first boat in the morning. You shall give me a telegram to send from
there to Canon Pascal, and Felix will be here in less than three days. I
must return direct to Riversborough. I must not perform the last duties
to the dead; even that is denied to me."

"But Felicita must not be buried here," exclaimed Phebe, her voice
faltering, with an accent of horror at the thought of it. A shudder of
repugnance ran through him also. Roland Sefton's grave was here, and
what would be more natural than to bury Felicita beside it?

"No, no," he cried, "you must save me from that, Phebe. She must be
brought home and buried among her own people. Promise to save her and me
from that."

"Oh, I promise it," she said; "it shall never be. You shall not have
that grief."

"If I stayed here myself," he continued, "it would make it more
difficult to take up my life in Riversborough unquestioned and
unsuspected. It can only be by a complete separation now that I can
effect my purpose. But I can hardly bear to go away, Phebe."

The profound pitifulness of Phebe's heart was stirred to its inmost
depths by the sound of his voice and the expression of his hopeless
face. She left her seat and drew near to him.

"Come and see her once more," she whispered.

Silently he made a gesture of assent, and she led the way to the
adjoining room. He knew it better than she did; for it was here that he
had watched all the night long the death of the stranger who was buried
in Roland Sefton's grave. There was little change in it to his eyes. The
bare walls and the scanty homely furniture were the same now as then.
There was the glimmer of a little lamp falling on the tranquil figure on
the bed. The occupant of this chamber only was different, but oh! the
difference to him!

"Do not leave me, Phebe!" he cried, stretching out his hand towards her,
as if blind and groping to be led. She stepped noiselessly across the
uncarpeted floor and looked down on the face lying on the pillow. The
smile that had been upon it in the last moment yet lingered about the
mouth, and added an inexpressible gentleness and tenderness to its
beauty. The long dark eyelashes shadowed the cheeks, which were suffused
with a faint flush. Felicita looked young again, with something of the
sweet shy grace of the girl whom he had first seen in this distant
mountain village so many years ago. He sank down on his knees, and shut
out the sight of her from his despairing eyes. The silent minutes crept
slowly away unheeded; he did not stir, or sob, or lift up his bowed
face. This kneeling figure at her feet was as rigid and as death-like as
the lifeless form lying on the bed; and Phebe grew frightened, yet dared
not break in upon his grief. At last a footstep came somewhat noisily up
the staircase, and she laid her hand softly on the gray head beneath
her.

"Jean Merle," she said, "it is time for us to go."

The sound of this name in Phebe's familiar voice aroused him. She had
never called him by it before; and its utterance was marked as a thing
irrevocably settled that his life henceforth was to be altogether
divorced from that of Roland Sefton. He had come to the last point which
connected him with it. When he turned away from this rigid form, in all
the awful loveliness of death, he would have cut himself off forever
from the past. He laid his hand upon the chilly forehead; but he dared
not stoop down to touch the sweet sad face with his lips. With no word
of farewell to Phebe, he rushed out into the dense darkness of the night
and made his way down the valley, and through the steep forest roads he
had traversed only a few hours ago with something like hope dawning in
his heart. For in the morning he had known that he should see Felicita
again, and there was expectation and a gleam of gladness in that; but
to-night his eyes had looked upon her for the last time.



CHAPTER XXVI.

IN LUCERNE.


Phebe found herself alone, with the burden of Jean Merle's secret
resting on her unshared. It depended upon her sagacity and tact whether
he should escape being connected in a mysterious manner with the sad
event that had just transpired in Engelberg. The footstep she had heard
on the stairs was that of the landlady, who had gone into the salon and
had thus missed seeing Jean Merle as he left the house. Phebe met her in
the doorway.

"I have sent a message by the guide who brought me here," she said in
slowly pronounced French; "he is gone to Lucerne, and he will telegraph
to England for me."

"Is he gone--Jean Merle?" asked the landlady.

"Certainly, yes," answered Phebe; "he is gone to Lucerne."

"Will he return, then?" inquired the landlady.

"No, I suppose not," she replied; "he has done all he had to do for me.
He will telegraph to England, and our friends will come to us
immediately. Good-night, Madame."

"Good-night, Mademoiselle," was the response. "May you sleep well!"

But sleep was far away from Phebe's agitated brain that night. She felt
herself alone in a strange land, with a great grief and a terrible
secret oppressing her. As the night wore on a feverish dread took
possession of her that she should be unable to prevent Felicita's burial
beside Roland Sefton's grave. Even Felix would decide that it ought to
be so. As soon as the dawn came she rose and went out into the icy
freshness of the morning air, blowing down from the snow-fields and the
glaciers around her.

The village was beginning to arouse itself. The Abbey bells were
ringing, and at the sound of them, calling the laborers to a new day's
toil, here and there a shutter was thrown back or a door was opened, and
light volumes of gray wood-smoke stole upwards into the still air. There
was a breath of serenity and peace in this early hour which soothed
Phebe's fevered brain, as she slowly sauntered on with the purpose of
finding the cemetery, where the granite cross stood over the grave that
had occupied so much of her thoughts since she had heard of Roland
Sefton's death. She reached it at last and stood motionless before it,
looking back through all the years in which she had mourned with
Roland's mother his untimely death. He whom she had mourned for was not
lying here; but did not his life hold deeper cause for grief than his
death ever had? Standing there, so far from home, in the quiet morning,
with this grave at her feet, she answered to herself a question which
had been troubling her for many months. Yes, it was a right thing to do,
on the whole, to keep this secret--Felicita's secret as well as
Roland's--forever locked in her own heart. There was concealment in it
closely verging, as it must always do, on deception. Phebe's whole
nature revolted against concealment. She loved to live her life out in
the eye of day. But the story of Roland Sefton's crime, and the penance
done for it, in its completeness could never be given to the world; it
must always result in some measure in misleading the judgment of those
most interested in it. There was little to be gained and much to be
sacrificed by its disclosure. Felicita's death seemed to give a new
weight to every reason for keeping the secret; and it was safe in her
keeping and Mr. Clifford's: when a few years were gone it would be hers
alone. The cross most heavy for her to bear she must carry, hidden from
every eye; but she could bear it faithfully, even unto death.

As her lips whispered the last three words, giving to her resolution a
definite form and utterance, a shadow beside her own fell upon the
cross. She turned quickly and met the kindly inquisitive gaze of the
mountain curé who had led Felicita to this spot yesterday. He had been
among the first who followed Jean Merle as he carried her lifeless form
through the village street; and he had run to the monastery to seek what
medical aid could be had there. The incident was one of great interest
to him. Phebe's frank yet sorrowful face, turned to him with its
expression of ready sympathy with any fellow-creature, won from the
young priest the cordial friendliness that everywhere greeted her. He
stood bareheaded before her, as he had done before Felicita, but he
spoke to her in a tone of more familiar intercourse.

"Madame, pardon," he said, "but you are in grief, and I would offer you
my condolence. Behold! to me the lady who died yesterday spoke her last
words--here, on this spot. She said not a word afterwards to any human
creature. I come to communicate them to you. There is but little to
tell."

It was so little that Phebe felt greatly disappointed; though her eyes
grew blind with tears as she thought of Felicita standing here before
this deceptive cross and calling herself of all women the most
miserable. The cross itself had had no message of peace to her troubled
heart. "Most miserable," repeated Phebe to herself, looking back upon
yesterday with a vain yearning that she had been there to tell Felicita
that she shared her misery, and could help her to bear it.

"And now," continued the curé, "can I be of any service to Madame? You
are alone; and there are a few formalities to observe. It will be some
days before your friends can arrive. Command me, then, if I can be of
any service."

"Can you help me to get away," she asked, in a tone of eager anxiety,
"down to Lucerne as quickly as possible? I have telegraphed to Madame's
son, and he will come immediately. Of course, I know in England when a
sudden death occurs there are inquiries made; and it is right and
necessary. But you see Madame died of a heart disease."

"Without doubt," he interrupted; "she was ill here, and I followed her
down the village, and saw her enter Jean Merle's hut. I was about to
enter, for she had been there a long time, when you appeared with your
guide and went in. In a minute there was a cry, and I saw Jean Merle
bearing the poor lady out into the daylight and you following them.
Without doubt she died from natural causes."

"There are formalities to observe," said Phebe earnestly, "and they take
much time. But I must leave Engelberg to-morrow, or the next day at the
latest, taking her with me. Can you help me to do this?"

"But you will bury Madame here?" answered the curé, who felt deeply
what interest would attach to another English grave in the village
burial-ground; "she told me yesterday Roland Sefton was her relative,
and there will be many difficulties and great expenditure in taking her
away from this place."

"Yes," answered Phebe, "but Madame belongs to a great family in England;
she was the daughter of Baron Riversborough, and she must be buried
among her own people. You shall telegraph to the consul at Geneva, and
he will say she must be buried among her own people, not here. It does
not signify about the expenditure."

"Ah! that makes it more easy," replied the curé, "and if Madame is of an
illustrious family--I was about to return to my parish this morning; but
I will stay and arrange matters for you. This is my native place, and I
know all the people. If I cannot do everything, the abbot and the
brethren will. Be tranquil; you shall leave Engelberg as early as
possible."

It was impossible for Phebe to telegraph to England her intention of
returning immediately to Lucerne; for Felix must have set off already,
and would be on his way to the far-off valley among the Swiss
mountains, where he believed his father's grave lay, and where his
mother had met her death. Phebe's heart was wrung for him, as she
thought of the overwhelming and instantaneous shock it would be to him
and Hilda, who did not even know that their mother had left home; but
her dread lest he should judge it right to lay his mother beside this
grave, which had possessed so large a share in his thoughts hitherto,
compelled her to hasten her departure before he could arrive, even at
the risk of missing him on the way. The few formalities to be observed
seemed complicated and tedious; but at last they were ended. The
friendly priest accompanied her on her sorrowful return down the rough
mountain-roads, preceded by the litter bearing Felicita's coffin; and at
every hamlet they passed through he left minute instructions that a
young English gentleman travelling up to Engelberg was to be informed of
the little funeral cavalcade that was gone down to Lucerne.

Down the green valley, and through the solemn forests, Phebe followed
the rustic litter on foot with the priest beside her, now and then
reciting a prayer in a low tone. When they reached Grafenort carriages
were in waiting to convey them as far as the Lake. It was only a week
since she and Felicita had started on their secret and disastrous
journey, and now her face was set homewards, with no companion save this
coffin, which she followed with so heavy a spirit. She had come up the
valley as Jean Merle had done, with vague, dim hopes, stretching vainly
forward to some impossible good that might come to him when he and
Felicita stood face to face once again. But now all was over.

A boat was ready at Stans, and here the friendly curé bade her farewell,
leaving her to go on her way alone. And now it seemed to Phebe, more
than ever before, that she had been living and acting for a long while
in a painful dream. Her usually clear and tranquil soul was troubled and
bewildered as she sat in the boat at the head of Felicita's coffin, with
her dear face so near to her, yet hidden from her eyes. All around her
lay the Lake, with a fine rapid ripple on the silvery blue of its
waters, as the rowers, with measured and rhythmical strokes of their
oars, carried the boat's sad freight on towards Lucerne. The evening sun
was shining aslant down the wooded slopes of the lower hills, and dark
blue shadows gathered where its rays no longer penetrated. That
half-consciousness, common to all of us, that she had gone through this
passage in her life before, and that this sorrow had already had its
counterpart in some other state of existence, took possession of her;
and with it came a feeling of resigning herself to fate. She was worn
out with anxiety and grief. What would come might come. She could exert
herself no longer.

As they drew near to Lucerne, the clangor of military music and the
merry pealing of bells rang across the water, jarring upon her faint and
sorrowful heart. Some fête was going on, and all the populace was
active. Banners floated from all the windows, and a gay procession was
parading along the quay, marching under the echoing roof of the long
wooden bridge which crossed the green torrent of the river. Numberless
little boats were darting to and fro on the smooth surface of the Lake,
and through them all her own, bearing Felicita's coffin, sped swiftly on
its way to the landing-stage, on which, as if standing there amid the
hubbub to receive it, her sad eyes saw Canon Pascal and Felix.

They had but just reached Lucerne, and were waiting for the next steamer
starting to Stans, when Felix had caught sight of the boat afar off,
with its long, narrow burden, covered by a black pall; and as it drew
nearer he had distinguished Phebe sitting beside it alone. Until this
moment it had seemed absolutely incredible that his mother could be
dead, though the telegram to Canon Pascal had said so distinctly. There
must be some mistake, he had constantly reiterated as they hurried
through France to Lucerne; Phebe had been frightened, and in her terror
had misled herself and them. No wonder his mother should be
ill--dangerously so, after the fatigue and agitation of a journey to
Engelberg; but she could not be dead. Phebe had had no opportunity of
telegraphing again; for they had set off at once, and from Basle they
had brought on with them an eminent physician. So confident was Felix
in his asseverations that Canon Pascal himself had begun to hope that he
was right, and but that the steamer was about to start in a few minutes,
they would have hired a boat to carry them on to Stans, in order to lose
no time in taking medical aid to Felicita.

But as Felix stood there, only dimly conscious of the scene about them,
the sight of the boat bringing Phebe to the shore with the covered
coffin beside her, extinguished in his heart the last glimmering of the
hope which had been little more than a natural recoil from despair. He
was not taken by surprise, or hurried into any vehemence of grief. A
cold stupor, which made him almost insensible to his loss, crept over
him. Sorrow would assert itself by and by; but now he felt dull and
torpid. When the coffin was lifted out of the boat, by bearers who were
waiting at the landing-stage for the purpose, he took up his post
immediately behind it, as if it were already the funeral procession
carrying his mother to the grave; and with all the din and tumult of the
streets sounding in his ears, he followed unquestioningly wherever it
might go. Why it was there, or why his mother's coffin was there, he did
not ask; he only knew that she was there.

"My poor Phebe," said Canon Pascal, as they followed closely behind him,
"why did you start homewards? Would it not have been best to bury her at
Engelberg, beside her husband? Did not Felicita forgive him, even in her
death?"

"No, no, it was not that," answered Phebe; "she forgave him, but I could
not bear to leave her there. I was with her just as she died; but she
had gone up to Engelberg alone, and I followed her, only too late. She
never spoke to me or looked at me. I could not leave Felicita in
Engelberg," she added excitedly; "it has been a fatal place to her."

"Is there anything we must not know?" he inquired.

"Yes," she said, turning to him her pale and quivering face, "I have a
secret to keep all my life long. But the evil of it is spent now. It
seems to me as if it is a sin no longer; all the selfishness is gone
out of it, and Felix and Hilda were as clear of it as Alice herself; if
I could tell you all, you would say so too."

"You need tell me no more, dear Phebe," he replied; "God bless you in
the keeping of their secret!"



CHAPTER XXVII.

HIS OWN CHILDREN.


The tidings of Felicita's death spread rapidly in England, and the
circumstances attending it, its suddenness, and the fact that it had
occurred at the same place that her husband had perished by accident
many years before, gave it more than ordinary interest and excited more
than ordinary publicity. It was a good deal talked of in literary
circles, and in the fashionable clique to which she belonged through her
relationship with the Riversford family. There were the usual kindly
notices of her life and works in the daily papers; and her publisher
seized the occasion to advertise her books more largely. But it was in
Riversborough that the deepest impression was made, and the keenest
curiosity aroused by the story of her death, obscure in some of its
details, but full of romantic interest to her old towns-people, who were
thus recalled to the circumstances attending Roland Sefton's
disappearance and subsequent death. The funeral also was to be in the
immediate neighborhood, in the church where all the Riversfords had been
buried time out of mind, long before a title had been conferred on the
head of the house. It appeared quite right that Felicita should be
buried beside her own people; and every one who could get away from
business went down to the little country churchyard to be present at the
funeral.

But Phebe was not there: when she reached London she was so worn out
with fatigue and agitation that she was compelled to remain at home,
brooding over what she had come through. And Jean Merle had not trusted
himself to look into the open grave, about to close over all that
remained of the woman he had so passionately loved. The tolling of the
minute-bell, which began early in the day and struck its deep knell
through the tardy hours till late in the evening, smote upon his ear and
heart every time the solemn tone sounded through the quiet hours. He was
left alone in his old home, for Mr. Clifford was gone as one of the
mourners to follow Felicita to the grave; and all the servants had asked
to be present at the funeral. There was nothing to demand his attention
or to distract his thoughts. The house was as silent as if it had been
the house of death and he himself but a phantom in it.

Though he had been six months in the house, he had never yet been in
Felicita's study--that quiet room shut out from the noise both of the
street and the household, which he had set apart and prepared for her
when she was coming, stepping down a little from her own level to be his
wife. It was dismantled, he knew; her books were gone, and all the
costly decorative fittings he had chosen with so much joyous anxiety.
But the panelled doors which he had worked at with his own hands were
there, and the window, with its delicately tinted lattice-frames,
through which the sun had shone in daintily upon her at her desk. He
went slowly up the long staircase, pausing now and then lost in thought;
and standing, at last before the door, which he had never opened without
asking permission to enter in, he hesitated for many minutes before he
went in.

An empty room, swept clean of everything which made it a living
habitation. The sunshine fell in pencils of colored light upon the bare
walls and uncarpeted floor. It bore no trace of any occupant; yet to him
it seemed but yesterday that he had been in here, listening to the low
tones of Felicita's sweet voice, and gazing with silent pride on her
beautiful face. There had been unmeasured passion and ambition in his
love for her, which had fatally changed his whole life. But he knew now
that he had failed in winning her love and in making her happy; and the
secret dissatisfaction she had felt in her ill-considered marriage had
been fatal both to her and to him. The restless eagerness it had
developed in him to gain a position that could content her, had been a
seed of worldliness, which had borne deadly fruit. He opened the
casement, and looked out on the familiar landscape, on which her eyes
had so often rested--eyes that were closed forever. The past, so keenly
present to him this moment, was in reality altogether dead and buried.
She had ceased to be his wife years ago, when she had accepted the
sacrifice he proposed to her of his very existence. That old life was
blotted out; and he had no right to mourn openly for the dead, who was
being laid in the grave of her fathers at this hour. His children were
counting themselves orphans, and it was not in his power to comfort
them. He knelt down at the open window, and rested his bowed head on
the window-sill. The empty room behind him was but a symbol of his own
empty lot, swept clean of all its affections and aspirations. Two thirds
of his term of years were already spent; and he found himself bereft and
dispossessed of all that makes life worth having--all except the power
of service. Even at this late hour a voice within him called to him, "Go
work to-day in my vineyard." It was not too late to serve God who had
forgiven him and mankind whom he had wronged. There was time to make
some atonement; to work out some redemption for his fellow-men. To
Roland Sefton had arisen a vision of a public and honorable career,
cheered on by applause of men and crowned with popularity and renown for
all he might achieve. But Jean Merle must toil in silence and
difficulty, amid rebuffs and discouragements, and do humble service
which would remain unrecognized and unthanked. Yet there was work to do,
if it were no more than cheering the last days of an old man, or
teaching a class of the most ignorant of his townsfolk in a night
school. He rose from his knees after a while, and left the room,
closing the door as softly as he had been used to do when afraid of any
noise grating on his wife's sensitive brain. It seemed to him like the
closing up of the vault where she was buried. She was gone from him
forever, and there was nothing left but to forget the past if that were
possible.

As he went lingeringly down the staircase, which would henceforth be
trodden seldom if ever by him, he heard the ringing of the house-bell,
which announced the return of Mr. Clifford and of Felix and Hilda, who
were coming to stay the night in their old home, before returning to
London on the morrow. He hastened down to open the door and help them to
alight from their carriage. It was the first time he had been thus
brought into close contact with them; but this must happen often in the
future, and he must learn to meet them as strangers, and to be looked
upon by them as little more than a hired servant.

But the sight of Hilda's sad young face, so pale and tear-stained, and
the expression of deep grief that Felix wore, tried him sorely. What
would he not have given to be able to take this girl into his arms and
soothe her, and to comfort his son with comfort none but a father can
give? He stood outside the sphere of their sorrows, looking on them with
the eyes of a stranger; and the pain of seeing them so near yet so far
away from him was unutterable. The time might come when Jean Merle could
see them, and talk with them calmly as a friend, ready to serve them to
the utmost of his power; when there might be something of pleasure in
gaining their friendship and confidence. But so long as they were
mourning bitterly for their mother and could not conceal the sharpness
of their grief, the sight of them was a torture to him. It was a relief
to him and to Mr. Clifford when they left Riversborough the next
morning.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

AN EMIGRATION SCHEME.


Several months passed away, bringing no visitor to Riversborough, except
Phebe, who came down two or three times to see Mr. Clifford, whose
favorite she was. But Phebe never spoke of the past to Jean Merle. Since
they had determined what to do, it seemed wiser to her not to look back
so as to embitter the present. Jean Merle was gradually gaining a
footing in the town as Mr. Clifford's representative, and was in many
ways filling a post very few could fill. Now and then, some of the elder
townsmen, who had been contemporary with Roland Sefton, remarked upon
the resemblance between Jean Merle and their old comrade; but this was
satisfactorily accounted for by his relationship to Madame Sefton: for
Roland, they said, had always had a good deal of the foreigner about
him, much more than this quiet, melancholy, self-effacing man, who never
pushed himself forward, or courted attention, yet was always ready with
a good sound shrewd opinion if he was asked for it. It had been a lucky
thing for old Clifford that such a man had been found to take care of
him and his affairs in his extreme old age.

Felix had gone back to his curacy, under Canon Pascal, in the parish
where he had spent his boyhood and where he was safe against any attack
upon his father's memory. But in spite of being able to see Alice every
day, and of enjoying Canon Pascal's constant companionship, he was ill
at ease, and Phebe was dissatisfied. This was exactly the life Felicita
had dreaded for him, an easy, half-occupied life in a small parish,
where there was little active employment for either mind or body. The
thought of it troubled and haunted Phebe. The magnificent physical
strength and active energy of Felix, and the strong bent to heroic
effort and Christian devotion given to him in his earliest years, were
thrown away in this tranquil English village, where there was clearly no
scope for heroism. How was it that Canon Pascal could not see it? His
curacy was a post to be occupied by some feebler man than Felix; a man
whose powers were only equal to the quiet work of carrying on the labors
begun by his rector. Besides, Felix would have recovered from the shock
of his mother's sudden death if his time and faculties had been more
fully occupied. She must give words to her discontent, and urge Canon
Pascal to banish him from a spot where he was leading too dull a life.

Canon Pascal had been in residence at Westminster for some weeks, and
was about to return to his rectory, when Phebe went down to the Abbey
one day, bent upon putting her decision into action. The bitterness of
the early spring had come again; and strong easterly gales were blowing
steadily day after day, bringing disease and death to those who were
feeble and ailing, yet not more surely than the fogs of the city had
done. It had been a long and gloomy winter, and in this second month of
the year the death rates were high. As Phebe passed through the Abbey on
her way to his home in the cloisters, she saw Canon Pascal standing
still, with his head thrown back and his eyes uplifted to the noble
arches supporting the roof. He did not notice her till her clear,
pleasant voice addressed him.

"Ah, Phebe!" he exclaimed, a swift smile transforming his grave, marked
face, "my dear, I was just asking myself how I could bear to say
farewell to all this."

He glanced round him with an expression of unutterable love and pride
and of keen regret. The Abbey had grown dearer to him than any spot on
earth; and as he paced down the long aisle he lingered as if every step
he took was full of pain.

"Bid farewell to it!" repeated Phebe; "but why?"

"For a series of whys," he answered; "first and foremost, because the
doctors tell me, and I believe it, that my dear wife's days are numbered
if she stays another year in this climate. All our days are numbered by
God, I know; but man can number them also, if he pleases, and make them
longer or shorter by his obedience or disobedience. Secondly, Phebe, our
sons have gone on before us as pioneers, and they send us piteous
accounts of the spiritual needs of the colonists and the native
populations out yonder. I preach often on the evils of over-population
and its danger to our country, and I prescribe emigration to most of the
young people I come across. Why should not I, even I, take up the
standard and cry 'Follow me'? We should leave England with sad hearts,
it is true, but for her good and for the good of unborn generations, who
shall create a second England under other skies. And last, but not
altogether least, the colonial bishopric is vacant, and has been offered
to me. If I accept it I shall save the life most precious to me, and
find another home in the midst of my children and grand-children."

"And Felix?" cried Phebe.

"What could be better for Felix than to come with us?" he asked; "there
he will meet with the work he was born for, the work he is fretting his
soul for. He will be at last a gallant soldier of the Cross, unhampered
by any dread of his father's sin rising up against him. And we could
never part with Alice--her mother and I. You would be the last to say No
to that, Phebe?"

"Oh, yes!" she answered, with tears standing in her eyes, "Felix must go
with you."

"And Hilda, too," he went on; "for what would become of Hilda alone
here, with her only brother settled at the antipodes? And here we shall
want Phebe Marlowe's influence with old Mr. Clifford, who might prevent
his ward from quitting England. I am counting also on Phebe herself, as
my pearl of deaconesses, with no vow to bind her, if the happiness and
fuller life of marriage opened before her. Still, to secure all these
benefits I must give up all this."

He paused for a minute or two, looking back up the narrow side aisle,
and then, as if he could not tear himself away, he retraced his steps
slowly and lingeringly; and Phebe caught the glistening of tears in his
eyes.

"Never to see it again," he murmured, "or if I see it, not to belong to
it! To have no more right here than any other stranger! It feels like a
home to me, dear Phebe. I have had solemn glimpses of God here, as if it
were indeed the gate of heaven. To the last hour of my life, wherever I
go, my soul will cleave to these walls. But I shall give it up."

"Yes," she said, sighing, "but there is no bitterness of repentance to
you in giving it up."

"How sadly you spoke that," he went on, "as if a woman like you could
know the bitterness of repentance! You have only looked at it through
other men's eyes. Yes, we shall go. Felix and Hilda and you are free to
leave Mr. Clifford, now he is so admirably cared for by this Jean Merle.
I like all that I hear of him, though I never saw him; surely it was a
blessing from God that Madame Sefton's poor kinsman was brought to the
old man. Could we not leave him safely in Merle's charge?"

"Quite safely," she answered.

"I have a scheme for a new settlement in my head," he continued, "a
settlement of our own, and we will invite emigrants to it. I can reckon
on a few who will joyfully follow our lead, and it will not seem a
strange land if we carry those whom we love with us. This hour even I
have made up my mind to accept this bishopric. Go on, dear Phebe, and
tell my wife. I must stay here alone a little longer."

But Phebe did not hasten with these tidings through the cloisters. She
walked to and fro, pondering them and finding in them a solution of many
difficulties. For Felix it would be well, and it was not to be expected
that Alice would leave her invalid mother to remain behind in England as
a curate's wife. Hilda, too, what could be better or happier for her
than to go with those who looked upon her as a daughter, who would take
Alice's place as soon as she was gone into a home of her own? There was
little to keep them in England. She could not refuse to let them go.

But herself? The strong strain of faithfulness in Phebe's nature knitted
her as closely with the past as with the present; and with some touch of
pathetic clinging to the past which the present cannot possess. She
could not separate herself from it. The little home where she was born,
and the sterile fields surrounding it, with the wide moors encircling
them, were as dear to her as the Abbey was to Canon Pascal. In no other
place did she feel herself so truly at home. If she cut herself adrift
from it and all the subtly woven web of memories belonging to it, she
fancied she might pine away of home-sickness in a foreign land. There
was Mr. Clifford too, who depended so utterly upon her promise to be
near him when he was dying, and to hold his hand in hers as he went
down into the deep chill waters of death. And Jean Merle, whose terrible
secret she shared, and would be the only one to share it when Mr.
Clifford was gone. How was it possible for her to separate herself from
these two? She loved Felix and Hilda with all the might of her unselfish
heart; but Felix had Alice, and by and by Hilda would give herself to
some one who would claim most of her affection. She was not necessary to
either of them. But if she went away she must leave a blank, too dreary
to be thought of, in the clouded lives of Mr. Clifford and poor Merle.
For their sakes she must refuse to leave England.



CHAPTER XXIX.

FAREWELL.


But it was more difficult than Phebe anticipated to resist the urgent
entreaties of Felix and Hilda not to sever the bond that had existed
between them so long. Her devotion to them in the past had made them
feel secure of its continuance, and to quit England, leaving her behind,
seemed impossible. But Mr. Clifford's reiterated supplications that she
would not forsake him in his old age drew her as powerfully the other
way. Scarcely a day passed without a few lines, written by his own
feeble and shaking hand, reaching her, beseeching and demanding of her a
solemn promise to stay in England as long as he lived. Jean Merle said
nothing, even when she went down to visit them, urged by Canon Pascal to
set before Mr. Clifford the strong reasons there were for her to
accompany the party of emigrants; but Phebe knew that Jean Merle's life,
with its unshared memories and secrets, would be still more dreary if
she went away. After she had seen these two she wavered no more.

It was a larger party of emigrants than any one had foreseen; for it was
no sooner known that Canon Pascal was leaving England as a colonial
Bishop, than many men and women came forward anxious to go out and found
new homes under his auspices. He was a well-known advocate of
emigration, and it was rightly deemed a singular advantage to have him
as a leader as well as their spiritual chief. Canon Pascal threw himself
into the movement with ardor, and the five months elapsing before he set
sail were filled with incessant claims upon his time and thought, while
all about him were drawn into the strong current of his work. Phebe was
occupied from early morning till late at night, and a few hours of deep
sleep, which gave her no time for thinking of her own future, was all
the rest she could command. Even Felix, who had scarcely shaken off the
depression caused by his mother's sudden death, found a fresh
fountain-head of energy and gladness in sharing Canon Pascal's new
career, and in the immediate prospect of marrying Alice.

For in addition to all the other constant calls upon her, Phebe was
plunged into the preparations needed for this marriage, which was to
take place before they left England. There was no longer any reason to
defer it for lack of means, as Felix had inherited his share of his
mother's settlement. But Phebe drew largely on her own resources to send
out for them the complete furnishing of a home as full of comfort, and
as far as possible, as full of real beauty, as their Essex rectory had
been. She almost stripped her studio of the sketches and the finished
pictures which Felix and Hilda had admired, sighing sometimes, and
smiling sometimes, as they vanished from her sight into the packing
cases, for the times that were gone by, and for the pleasant surprise
that would greet them, in that far-off land, when their eyes fell upon
the old favorites from home.

Felix and Hilda spent a few days at Riversborough with Mr. Clifford, but
Phebe would not go with them, in spite of their earnest desire; and Jean
Merle, their kinsman, was absent, only coming home the night before they
bade their last farewell to their birth-place. He appeared to them a
very silent and melancholy man, keeping himself quite in the background,
and unwilling to talk much about his own country and his relationship
with their grandmother's family. But they had not time to pay much
attention to him; the engrossing interest of spending the few last hours
amid these familiar places, so often and so fondly to be remembered in
the coming years, made them less regardful of this stranger, who was
watching them with undivided and despairing interest. No word or look
escaped him, as he accompanied them from room to room, and about the
garden walks, unable to keep himself away from this unspeakable torture.
Mr. Clifford wept, as old men weep, when they bade him good-by; but
Felix was astonished by the fixed and mournful expression of inward
anguish in Jean Merle's eyes, as he held his hand in a grasp that would
not let him go.

"I may never see you again," he said, "but I shall hear of you."

"Yes," answered Felix, "we shall write frequently to Mr. Clifford, and
you will answer our letters for him."

"God bless you!" said Jean Merle. "God grant that you may be a truer
and a happier man than your father was."

Felix started. This man, then, knew of his father's crime; probably knew
more of it than he did. But there was no time to question him now; and
what good would it do to hear more than he knew already? Hilda was
standing near to him waiting to say good-by, and Jean Merle, turning to
her, took her into his arms, and pressed her closely to his heart. A
sudden impulse prompted her to put her arm round his neck as she had
done round old Mr. Clifford's, and to lift up her face for his kiss. He
held her in his embrace for a few moments, and then, without another
word spoken to them, he left them and they saw him no more. The marriage
was celebrated a few days after this visit, and not long before the time
fixed for the Bishop and his large band of emigrants to sail. Under
these circumstances the ceremony was a quiet one. The old rectory was in
disorder, littered with packing cases, and upset from cellar to garret.
Even when the wedding was over both Phebe and Hilda were too busy for
sentimental indulgence. The few remaining days were flying swiftly past
them all, and keeping them in constant fear that there would not be
time enough for all that had to be done.

But the last morning came, when Phebe found herself standing amid those
who were so dear to her on the landing-stage, with but a few minutes
more before they parted from her for years, if not forever. Bishop
Pascal was already gone on board the steamer standing out in the river,
where the greater number of emigrants had assembled. But Felix and Alice
and Hilda lingered about Phebe till the last moment. Yet they said but
little to one another; what could they say which would tell half the
love or half the sorrow they felt? Phebe's heart was full. How gladly
would she have gone out with these dear children, even if she left
behind her her little birth-place on the hills, if it had not been for
Mr. Clifford and Jean Merle!

"But they need me most," she said again and again to herself. "I stay,
and must stay, for their sakes." As at length they said farewell to one
another, Hilda clinging to her as a child clings to the mother it is
about to leave, Phebe saw at a little distance Jean Merle himself,
looking on. She could not be mistaken, though his sudden appearance
there startled her; and he did not approach them, nor even address her
when they were gone. For when her eyes, blinded with tears, lost sight
of the outward-bound vessel amid the number of other craft passing up
and down the river, and she turned to the spot where she had seen his
gray head and sorrowful face he was no longer there. Alone and sad at
heart, she made her way through the tumult of the landing-stage and
drove back to the desolate home she had shared so long with those who
were now altogether parted from her.



CHAPTER XXX.

QUITE ALONE.


It was early in June, and the days were at the longest. Never before had
Phebe found the daylight too long, but now it shone upon dismantled and
disordered rooms, which reminded her too sharply of the separation and
departure they indicated. The place was no longer a home: everything was
gone which was made beautiful by association; and all that was left was
simply the bare framework of a living habitation, articles that could be
sold and scattered without regret. Her own studio was a scene of litter
and confusion, amid which it would be impossible to work; and it was
useless to set it in order, for at midsummer she would leave the house,
now far too large and costly for her occupation.

What was she to do with herself? Quite close at hand was the day when
she would be absolutely homeless; but in the absorbing interest with
which she had thrown herself into the affairs of those who were gone she
had formed no plans for her own future. There was her profession, of
course: that would give her employment, and bring in a larger income
then she needed with her simple wants. But how was she to do without a
home--she who most needed to fill a home with all the sweet charities
of life?

She had never felt before what it was to be altogether without ties of
kinship to any fellow-being. This incompleteness in her lot had been
perfectly filled up by her relationship with the whole family of the
Seftons. She had found in them all that was required for the full
development and exercise of her natural affections. But she had lost
them. Death and the chance changes of life had taken them from her, and
there was not one human creature in the world on whom she possessed the
claim of being of the same blood.

Phebe could not dwell amid the crowds of London with such a thought
oppressing her. This heart-sickness and loneliness made the busy streets
utterly distasteful to her. To be here, with millions around her, all
strangers to her, was intolerable. There was her own little homestead,
surrounded by familiar scenes, where she would seek rest and quiet
before laying any plans for herself. She put her affairs into the hands
of a house-agent, and set out alone upon her yearly visit to her farm,
which until now Felix and Hilda had always shared.

She stayed on her way to spend a night at Riversborough--her usual
custom, that she might reach the unprepared home on the moors early in
the day. But she would not prolong her stay; there was a fatigue and
depression about her which she said could only be dispelled by the sweet
fresh air of her native moorlands.

"Felix and Hilda have been more to me than any words could tell," she
said to Mr. Clifford and Jean Merle, "and now I have lost them I feel as
if more than half my life was gone. I must get away by myself into my
old home, where I began my life, and readjust it as well as I can. I
shall do it best there with no one to distract me. You need not fear my
wishing to be too long alone."

"We ought to have let you go," answered Mr. Clifford. "Jean Merle said
we ought to have let you go with them. But how could we part with you,
Phebe?"

"I should not have been happy," she said, sighing, "as long as you need
me most--you two. And I owe all I am to Jean Merle himself."

The little homely cottage with its thatched roof and small lattice
windows was more welcome to her than any other dwelling could have been.
Now her world had suffered such a change, it was pleasant to come here,
where nothing had been altered since her childhood. Both within and
without the old home was as unchanged as the beautiful outline of the
hills surrounding it and the vast hollow of the sky above. Here she
might live over again the past--the whole past. She was a woman, with a
woman's sad experience of life; but there was much of the girl, even of
the child, left in Phebe Marlowe still; and no spot on earth could have
brought back her youth to her as this inheritance of hers. There was an
unspoiled simplicity about her which neither time nor change could
destroy--the childlikeness of one who had entered into the kingdom of
heaven.

It was a year since she had been here last, with Hilda in her first
grief for her mother's death; and everywhere she found traces of Jean
Merle's handiwork. The half-shaped blocks of wood, left unfinished for
years in her father's workshop, were completed. The hawk hovering over
its prey, which the dumb old wood-carver had begun as a symbol of the
feeling of vengeance he could not give utterance to when brooding over
Roland Sefton's crime, had been brought to a marvellous perfection by
Jean Merle's practised hand, and it had been placed by him under the
crucifix which old Marlowe had fastened in the window-frame, where the
last rays of daylight fell upon the bowed head hidden by the crown of
thorns. The first night that Phebe sat alone, on the old hearth, her
eyes rested upon these until the daylight faded away, and the darkness
shut them out from her sight. Had Jean Merle known what he did when he
laid this emblem of vengeance beneath this symbol of perfect love and
sacrifice?

But after a few days, when she had visited every place of yearly
pilgrimage, knitting up the slackened threads of memory, Phebe began to
realize the terrible solitude of this isolated home of hers. To live
again where no step passed by and no voice spoke to her, where not even
the smoke of a household hearth floated up into the sky, was intolerable
to her genial nature, which was only satisfied in helpful and pleasant
human intercourse. The utter silence became irksome to her, as it had
been in her girlhood; but even then she had possessed the companionship
of her dumb father: now there was not only silence, but utter
loneliness.

The necessity of forming some definite plan for her future life became
every day a more pressing obligation, whilst every day the needful
exertion grew more painful to her. Until now she had met with no
difficulty in deciding what she ought to do: her path of duty had been
clearly traced for her. But there was neither call of duty now nor any
strong inclination to lead her to choose one thing more than another.
All whom she loved had gone from London, and this small solitary home
had grown all too narrow in its occupations to satisfy her nature. Mr.
Clifford himself did not need her constant companionship as he would
have done if Jean Merle had not been living with him. She was perfectly
free to do what she pleased and go where she pleased, but to no human
being could such freedom be more oppressive than to Phebe Marlowe. She
had sauntered out one evening, ankle-deep among the heather, aimless in
her wanderings, and a little dejected in spirits. For the long summer
day had been hot even up here on the hills, and a dull film had hidden
the landscape from her eyes, shutting her in upon herself and her
disquieting thoughts. "We are always happy when we can see far enough,"
says Emerson; but Phebe's horizon was all dim and overcast. She could
see no distant and clear sky-line. The sight of Jean Merle's figure
coming towards her through the dull haziness brought a quick throb to
her pulse, and she ran down the rough wagon track to meet him.

"A letter from Felix," he called out before she reached him. "I came out
with it because you could not have it before post-time to-morrow, and I
am longing to have news of him and of Hilda."

They walked slowly back to the cottage, side by side, reading the
letter together; for Felix could have nothing to say to Phebe which his
father might not see. There was nothing of importance in it; only a
brief journal dispatched by a homeward-bound vessel which had crossed
the path of their steamer, but every word was read with deep and silent
interest, neither of them speaking till they had read the last line.

"And now you will have tea with me," said Phebe joyfully.

He entered the little kitchen, so dark and cool to him after his sultry
walk up the steep, long lanes, and sat watching her absently, yet with a
pleasant consciousness of her presence, as she kindled her fire of dry
furze and wood, and hung a little kettle to it by a chain hooked to a
staple in the chimney, and arranged her curious old china, picked up
long years ago by her father at village sales, upon the quaintly carved
table set in the coolest spot of the dusky room. There was an air of
simple busy gladness in her face and in every quick yet graceful
movement that was inexpressibly charming to him. Maybe both of them
glanced back at the dark past when Roland Sefton had been watching her
with despairing eyes, yet neither of them spoke of it. That life was
dead and buried. The present was altogether different.

Yet the meal was a silent one, and as soon as it was finished they went
out again on to the hazy moorland.

"Are you quite rested yet, Phebe?" asked Jean Merle.

"Quite," she answered, with unconscious emphasis.

"And you have settled upon some plan for the future?" he said.

"No," she replied; "I am altogether at a loss. There is no one in all
the world who has a claim upon me, or whom I have a claim upon; no one
to say to me 'Go' or 'Come.' When the world is all before you and it is
an empty world, it is difficult to choose which way you will take in
it."

She had paused as she spoke; but now they walked on again in silence,
Jean Merle looking down on her sweet yet somewhat sad face with
attentive eyes. How little changed she was from the simple,
faithful-hearted girl he had known long ago! There was the same candid
and thoughtful expression on her face, and the same serene light in her
blue eyes, as when she stood beside him, a little girl, patiently yet
earnestly mastering the first difficulties of reading. There was no one
in the wide world whom he knew as perfectly as he knew her; no one in
the wide world who knew him as perfectly as she did.

"Tell me, Phebe," he said gravely, "is it possible that you have lived
so long and that no man has found out what a priceless treasure you
might be to him?"

"No one," she answered, with a little tremor in her voice; "only Simon
Nixey," she added, laughing, as she thought of his perseverance from
year to year. Jean Merle stopped and laid his hand on Phebe's arm.

"Will you be my wife?" he asked.

The brief question escaped him before he was aware of it. It was as
utterly new to him as it was to her; yet the moment it was uttered he
felt how much the happiness of his life depended upon it. Without her
all the future would be dreary and lonely for him. With her--Jean Merle
did not dare to think of the gladness that might yet be his.

"No, no," cried Phebe, looking up into his face furrowed with deep
lines; "it is impossible! You ought not to ask me."

"Why?" he said.

She did not move or take away her eyes from his face. A rush of sad
memories and associations was sweeping across her troubled heart. She
saw him as he had been long ago, so far above her that it had seemed an
honor to her to do him the meanest service. She thought of Felicita in
her unapproachable loveliness and stateliness; and of their home, so
full to her of exquisite refinement and luxury. In the true humility of
her nature she had looked up to them as far above her, dwelling on a
height to which she made no claim. And this dethroned king of her early
days was a king yet, though he stood before her as Jean Merle, still
fast bound in the chains his sins had riveted about him.

"I am utterly unworthy of you," he said; "but let me justify myself if I
can. I had no thought of asking you such a question when I came up
here. But you spoke mournfully of your loneliness; and I, too, am
lonely, with no human being on whom I have any claim. It is so by my own
sin. But you, at least, have friends; and in a year or two, when my last
friend, Mr. Clifford, dies, you will go out to them, to my children,
whom I have forfeited and lost forever. There is no tie to bind me
closely to my kind. I am older than you--poorer; a dishonor to my
father's house! Yet for an instant I fancied you might learn to love me,
and no one but you can ever know me for what I am; only your faithful
heart possesses my secret. Forgive me, Phebe, and forget it if you can."

"I never can forget it," she answered, with a low sob.

"Then I have done you a wrong," he went on; "for we were friends, were
we not? And you will never again be at home with me as you have hitherto
been. I was no more worthy of your friendship than of your love, and I
have lost both."

"No, no," she cried, in a broken voice. "I never thought--it seems
impossible. But, oh! I love you. I have never loved any one like you.
Only it seems impossible that you should wish me to be your wife."

"Cannot you see what you will be to me," he said passionately. "It will
be like reaching home after a weary exile; like finding a fountain of
living waters after crossing a burning wilderness. I ought not to ask it
of you, Phebe. But what man could doom himself to endless thirst and
exile! If you love me so much that you do not see how unworthy I am of
you, I cannot give you up again. You are all the world to me."

"But I am only Phebe Marlowe," she said, still doubtfully.

"And I am only Jean Merle," he replied.

Phebe walked down the old familiar lanes with Jean Merle, and returned
to the moorlands alone whilst the sun was still above the horizon. But a
soft west wind had risen, and the hazy heat was gone. She could see the
sun sinking low behind Riversborough, and its tall spires glistened in
the level rays, while the fine cloud of smoke hanging over it this
summer evening was tinged with gold. Her future home lay there, under
the shadow of those spires, and beneath the soft, floating veil
ascending from a thousand hearths. The home Roland Sefton had forfeited
and Felicita had forsaken had become hers. There was deep sadness
mingled with the strange, unanticipated happiness of the present hour;
and Phebe did not seek to put it away from her heart.



CHAPTER XXXI.

LAST WORDS.


Nothing could have delighted Mr. Clifford so much as a marriage between
Jean Merle and Phebe Marlowe. The thought of it had more than once
crossed his mind, but he had not dared to cherish it as a hope. When
Jean Merle told him that night how Phebe had consented to become his
wife, the old man's gladness knew no bounds.

"She is as dear to me as my own daughter," he said, in tremulous
accents; "and now at last I shall have her under the same roof with me.
I shall never be awake in the night again, fearing lest I should miss
her on my death-bed. I should like Phebe to hold my hand in hers as long
as I am conscious of anything in this world. All the remaining years of
my life I shall have you and her with me as my children. God is very
good to me."

But to Felix and Hilda it was a vexation and a surprise to hear that
their Phebe Marlowe, so exclusively their own, was no longer to belong
only to them. They could not tell, as none of us can tell with regard to
our friends' marriages, what she could see in that man to make her
willing to give herself to him. They never cordially forgave Jean
Merle, though in the course of the following years he lavished upon
them magnificent gifts. For once more he became a wealthy man, and stood
high in the estimation of his fellow-townsmen. Upon his marriage with
Phebe, at Mr. Clifford's request, he exchanged his foreign surname for
the old English name of Marlowe, and was made the manager of the Old
Bank. Some years later, when Mr. Clifford died, all his property,
including his interest in the banking business, was left to John
Marlowe.

No parents could have been more watchful over the interests of absent
children than he and Phebe were in the welfare of Felix and Hilda. But
they could never quite reconcile themselves to this marriage. They had
quitted England with no intention of dwelling here again, but they felt
that Phebe's shortcoming in her attachment to them made their old
country less attractive to them. She had severed the last link that
bound them to it. Possibly, in the course of years, they might visit
their old home; but it would never seem the same to them. Canon Pascal
alone rejoiced cordially in the marriage, though feeling that there was
some secret and mystery in it, which was to be kept from him as from all
the world.

Jean Merle, after his long and bitter exile, was at home again; after
crossing a thirsty and burning wilderness, he had found a spring of
living water. Yet whilst he thanked God and felt his love for Phebe
growing and strengthening daily, there were times when in brief
intervals of utter loneliness of spirit the long-buried past arose again
and cried to him with sorrowful voice amid the tranquil happiness of the
present. The children who called Phebe mother looked up into his face
with eyes like those of the little son and daughter whom he had once
forsaken, and their voices at play in the garden sounded like the echo
of those beloved voices that had first stirred his heart to its depths.
The quiet room where Felicita had been wont to shut herself in with her
books and her writings remained empty and desolate amid the joyous
occupancy of the old house, where little feet pattered everywhere except
across that sacred threshold. It was never crossed but by Phebe and
himself. Sometimes they entered it together, but oftener he went there
alone, when his heart was heavy and his trust in God darkened. For there
were times when Jean Merle had to pass through deep waters; when the
sense of forgiveness forsook him and the light of God's countenance was
withdrawn. He had sinned greatly and suffered greatly. He loved as he
might never otherwise have loved the Lord, whose disciple he professed
to be; yet still there were seasons of bitter remembrance for him, and
of vain regrets over the irrevocable past.

It was no part of Phebe's nature to inquire jealously if her husband
loved her as much as she loved him. She knew that in this as in all
other things "it is more blessed to give than to receive." She felt for
him a perfectly unselfish and faithful tenderness, satisfied that she
made him happier than he could have been in any other way. No one else
in the world knew him as she knew him; Felicita herself could never have
been to him what she was. When she saw his grave face sadder than usual
she had but to sit beside him with her hand in his, bringing to him the
solace of her silent and tranquil sympathy; and by and by the sadness
fled. This true heart of hers, that knew all and loved him in spite of
all, was to him a sure token of the love of God.


THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cobwebs and Cables" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home