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Title: Marion Darche - A Story Without Comment
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
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 "Marion Darche - A Story Without Comment" ***

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  MARION DARCHE

  _A STORY WITHOUT COMMENT_


  BY

  F. MARION CRAWFORD
  AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "A ROMAN SINGER," "SANT' ILARIO," ETC.



  New York
  MACMILLAN AND CO.
  AND LONDON
  1893

  _All rights reserved_



  COPYRIGHT, 1893,
  BY F. MARION CRAWFORD.


  Norwood Press:
  J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith.
  Boston, Mass., U.S.A.



MARION DARCHE.



CHAPTER I.


Among the many peculiarities which contribute to make New York unlike
other cities is the construction of what may be called its social map.
As in the puzzles used in teaching children geography, all the pieces
are of different shapes, different sizes and different colours; but
they fit neatly together in the compact whole though the lines which
define each bit are distinctly visible, especially when the map has
been long used by the industrious child. What calls itself society
everywhere else calls itself society in New York also, but whereas in
European cities one instinctively speaks of the social scale, one
familiar with New York people will be much more inclined to speak of
the social map. I do not mean to hint that society here exists on a
dead level, but the absence of tradition, of all acknowledged
precedents and of all outward and perceptible distinctions makes it
quite impossible to define the position of any one set in regard to
another by the ordinary scale of superiority or inferiority. In London
or Paris, for instance, ambitious persons are spoken of as climbing, in
New York it would be more correct to speak of them as migrating or
attempting to migrate from one social field to the next. It is
impossible to imagine fields real or metaphorical yielding more
different growths under the same sky.

The people in all these different sets are very far from being
unconscious of one another's existence. Sometimes they would like to
change from one set to another and cannot, sometimes other people wish
them to change and they will not, sometimes they exchange places, and
sometimes by a considerable effort, or at considerable expense, they
change themselves. The man whose occupations, or tastes, or
necessities, lead him far beyond the bounds of the one particular field
to which he belongs, may see a vast deal that is interesting and of
which his own particular friends and companions know nothing whatever.
There are a certain number of such men in every great city, and there
are a certain number of women also, who, by accident or choice, know a
little more of humanity in general than their associates. They
recognise each other wherever they meet. They speak the same language.
Without secret signs or outward badges they understand instinctively
that they belong to the small and exceptional class of human beings. If
they meet for the first time, no matter where, the conversation of each
is interesting to the other; they go their opposite ways never to meet
again, perhaps, but feeling that for a few minutes, or a few hours,
they have lived in an atmosphere far more familiar to them than that of
their common everyday life. They are generally the people who can
accomplish things, not hard to do in themselves but quite out of the
reach of those whose life runs in a single groove. They very often have
odd experiences to relate and sometimes are not averse to relating
them. They are a little mysterious in their ways and they do not care
to be asked whither they are going nor whence they come. They are not
easily surprised by anything, but they sometimes do not remember to
which particular social set an idea, a story, or a prejudice belongs,
especially if they are somewhat preoccupied at the time. This
occasionally makes their conversation a little startling, if not
incomprehensible, but they are generally considered to be agreeable
people and if they have good manners and dress like human beings they
are much sought after in society for the simple reason that they are
very hard to find.

In New York walking is essentially the luxury of the rich. The
hard-working poor man has no time to lose in such old-fashioned sport
and he gets from place to place by means of horse cars and elevated
roads, by cabs or in his own carriage, according to the scale of his
poverty. The man who has nothing to do keeps half-a-dozen horses and
enjoys the privilege of walking, which he shares with women and
four-footed animals.

The foregoing assertions all bear more or less directly upon the lives
of the people concerned in the following story. They all lived in New
York, they all belonged to the same little oddly-shaped piece in the
social puzzle map, some of them were rich enough to walk, and one of
them at least was tolerably well acquainted with a great many people
in a great many other sets. On a certain winter's morning this latter
individual was walking slowly down Lexington Avenue in the direction of
Gramercy Park. He was walking, not because he was enormously rich, not
because he had nothing to do, and not because he was ill. He was
suffering momentarily from an acute attack of idleness, very rare in
him, but intensely delightful while it lasted.

In all probability Russell Vanbrugh had been doing more work than was
good for him, but as he was a man of extremely well-balanced and
healthy nervous organisation the one ill effect he experienced from
having worked harder than usual was a sudden and irresistible
determination to do absolutely nothing for twenty-four hours. He was a
lawyer by profession, a Dutchman by descent, a New Yorker by birth, a
gentleman by his character and education, if the latter expression
means anything, which is doubtful, and so far as his circumstances were
concerned he was neither rich nor poor as compared with most of his
associates, though some of his acquaintances looked up to him as little
short of a millionaire, while others could not have conceived it
possible to exist at all with his income. In appearance he was of
middle height, strongly built but not stout, and light on his feet. On
the whole he would have been called a dark man, for his eyes were brown
and his complexion was certainly not fair. His features were regular
and straight but not large, of a type which is developing rapidly in
America and which expresses clearly enough the principal national
characteristics--energy, firmness, self-esteem, absence of tradition,
and, to some extent, of individuality--in so far as the faculties are
so evenly balanced as to adapt themselves readily to anything required
of them. Russell Vanbrugh was decidedly good-looking and many people
would have called him handsome. He was thirty-five years of age, and
his black hair was turning a little gray at the temples, a fact which
was especially apparent as he faced the sun in his walk. He was in no
hurry as he strolled leisurely down the pavement, his hands in the
pockets of his fur coat, glancing idly at the quiet houses as he
passed. The usual number of small boys was skating about on rollers at
the corners of the streets, an occasional trio of nurse, perambulator
and baby came into view for a moment across the sunlit square ahead of
him, and a single express-waggon was halting before a house on the
other side of the street, with one of its wheels buried to the hub in a
heap of mud-dyed snow. That was all. Few streets in the world can be as
quiet as Lexington Avenue at mid-day. It looks almost like Boston.
Russell Vanbrugh loved New York in all its aspects and in all its
particulars, singly and wholly, in winter and summer, with the
undivided affection which natives of great capitals often feel for
their own city. He liked to walk in Lexington Avenue, and to think of
the roaring, screaming rush in Broadway. He liked to escape from sudden
death on the Broadway crossing and to think of the perambulator and the
boys on roller skates in Lexington Avenue; and again, he was fond of
allowing his thoughts to wander down town to the strange regions which
are bounded by the Bowery, Houston Street, the East River and Park Row.
It amused him to watch his intensely American surroundings and to
remember at the same time that New York is the third German city in the
world. He loved contrasts and it was this taste, together with his
daily occupation as a criminal lawyer, which had led him to extend his
acquaintance beyond the circle in which his father and mother had dined
and danced and had their being.

He was thinking--for people can think while receiving and enjoying
momentary impressions which have nothing to do with their thoughts--he
was thinking of a particularly complicated murder case in which the
murderer had made use of atropine to restore the pupils of his victim's
eyes to their natural size lest their dilatation should betray the use
of morphia. He was watching the boys, the house, the express-cart, and
the distant perambulator, and at the same time he was hesitating as to
whether he should light a cigarette or not. He was certainly suffering
from the national disease, which is said by medical authorities to
consist in thinking of three things at once. He was just wondering
whether, if the expressman murdered the nurse and used atropine the boy
would find it out, when the door of a house he was passing was opened
and a young girl came out upon the brown stone steps and closed it
behind her. Her gray eyes met his brown ones and they both started
slightly and smiled. The girl's bright colour grew a little more
bright, and Vanbrugh's eyelids contracted a little as he stopped and
bowed.

"Oh--is that you?" asked Miss Dolly Maylands, pausing an instant.

"Good morning," answered Vanbrugh, smiling again as she tripped over
the brown steps and met him on the pavement.

"I suppose your logical mind saw the absurdity of answering my
question," said Dolly, holding out a slender gloved hand.

"I see you have been at your charities again," answered Vanbrugh,
watching her fresh face closely.

"You say that as you would say, 'You have been at your tricks again.'
Why do you tease me? But it is quite true. How did you guess it?"

"Because you began by chaffing me. That shows that you are frivolous
to-day. When you have been doing something serious you are always
frivolous. When you have been dancing you are always funereal. It is
very easy to tell what you have been doing."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Miss Maylands frequently made use of this expression--a strong one in
its way.

"I know I ought," answered Vanbrugh with humility.

"But you are not. You are a hypocrite, like all the rest of them."
Dolly's face was grave, but she glanced at her companion as she spoke.

"Of course I am a hypocrite. Life is too short. A man cannot waste his
time in hacking his way through the ice mountain of truth when he may
trot round to the other side by the path of tact."

"I hate metaphors."

"So do I."

"Why do you use them, then?"

"It is righteous to do the things one does not like to do, is it not?"

"Not if they are bad."

"Oh! then I am good, am I?"

"Perhaps. I never make rash assertions."

"No? You called me a hypocrite just now, and said I was like the rest
of them. Was not that a rash assertion?"

"Oh dear! You are too logical! I give it up."

"I am so glad."

For a few moments they walked along in silence, side by side, in the
sunshine. They were a couple pleasant to look at, yet not very
remarkable in any way. Dolly Maylands was tall--almost as tall as
Vanbrugh, but much fairer. She had about her the singular freshness
which clings to some people through life. It is hard to say wherein the
quality lies, but it is generally connected with the idea of great
natural vitality. There are two kinds of youth. There is the youth of
young years, which fades and disappears altogether, and there is the
youth of nature which is abiding, or which, at most, shrivels and dies
as rose leaves wither, touched with faint colour, still and fragrant to
the last. Dolly's freshness was in her large gray eyes, her bright
chestnut hair, her smooth, clear skin, her perfect teeth, her graceful
figure, her easy motion. But it was deeper than all these, and one
looking at her felt that it would outlast them all, and that they
would all try hard to outlast one another. For the rest, the broad brow
showed thought, if not intellect, and the mouth, rather large for the
proportion of the lower face, but not at all heavy, told of strength
and courage, if not of real firmness. Dolly Maylands was large, well
grown, thin, fresh and thoughtful, with a dash of the devil, but of a
perfectly innocent devil, only a little inclined to laugh at his own
good works and to prefer play to prayers, as even angels may when they
are very young and healthy, and have never done anything to be sorry
for.

"You seem to be walking with me," observed Dolly presently.

"Well--yes--I suppose that is the impression we are giving the
expressman over there."

"And in court, in one of your cases, if he were a witness, he would
probably give the idea that we met in Lexington Avenue by appointment.
By the bye, one does not walk in Lexington Avenue in the morning."

"That is what we are doing," answered Vanbrugh imperturbably.

"You know that it is compromising, I suppose."

"So do you."

"Then why do you do it?"

"Why do we do it? Is that what you meant to ask?"

"I did not mean anything."

"So I supposed, from what you said." Vanbrugh smiled and Dolly laughed
as their eyes met.

"I was here first," said Vanbrugh after a moment.

"Not at all. I have been at least an hour at old Mrs. Trehearne's."

"I may have seen you go in, and I may have waited all that time to
catch you on the door-step."

"So like you! Why are you not defending the chemist who cremated his
fifth wife alive in a retort, or the cashier who hypnotised the head of
his firm and made him sign cheques with his eyes shut, or the
typhus-germ murderer, or something nice and interesting of that sort?
Are you growing lazy in your old age, Mr. Vanbrugh?"

"Awfully!"

"How well you talk. When I have made a beautiful long speech and have
beaten my memory black and blue for words I cannot remember, just to
be agreeable--you say 'awfully,' and think you are making
conversation."

"I am not good at conversation."

"Apparently not. However, you will not have much chance of showing off
your weakness this morning."

"Why not?"

"You might say you are sorry! Why not? Because I am not going far."

"How far?"

"That is a rude question. It is like asking me where I am going. But I
will be nice and tell you--just to make you feel your inferiority. I am
going to see Marion Darche."

"Mrs. Darche lunches about this time."

"Exactly. It is within the bounds of possibility that I may be going to
lunch with her."

"Oh, quite!"

Again there was a short pause as the two walked on together. Dolly took
rather short, quick steps. Vanbrugh did not change his gait. There are
men who naturally fall into the step of persons with whom they are
walking. It shows an imitative disposition and one which readily
accepts the habits of others. Neither Dolly nor her companion were
people of that sort.

"I was thinking of Mrs. Darche," said Dolly at last.

"So was I. Extremes meet."

"They have met in that case, at all events," answered Dolly, growing
serious. "It would not be easy to imagine a more perfectly ill-matched
couple than Marion and her husband."

"Do you think so?" asked Vanbrugh, who was never inclined to commit
himself.

"Think so? I know it! And you ought to know it, too. You are always
there. Nobody is more intimate there than you are."

"Yes,--I often see them."

"Yes," said Dolly looking keenly at him, "and I believe you know much
more about them than you admit. You might as well tell me."

"I have nothing especial to tell," answered Vanbrugh quietly.

"There is something wrong. Well--if you will not tell me, Harry Brett
will, some day. He is not half so secretive as you are."

"That does not mean anything. The word secretive is not to be found in
any respectable dictionary, nor in any disreputable one either, so far
as I know."

"How horrid you are! But it is quite true. Harry Brett is not in the
least like you. He says just what he thinks."

"Does he? Lucky man! That is just what I am always trying to do. And he
tells you all about the Darches, does he?"

"Oh no! He has never told me anything. But then, he would."

"That is just the same, you know."

"What makes you think there is anything wrong?" asked Vanbrugh,
changing his tone and growing serious in his turn.

"So many things--it is dreadful! What o'clock is it?"

"Ten minutes to one."

"Have you time for another turn before I go in?"

"Of course--all the time. We can walk round Gramercy Park and down
Irving Place."

Instinctively both were silent as they passed the door of Marion
Darche's house and did not resume their conversation till they were
twenty paces further down the street. Then Vanbrugh was the first to
speak.

"If it is possible for you and me to talk seriously about anything,
Miss Maylands, I should like to speak to you about the Darches."

"I will make a supreme effort and try to be serious. As for you--"

Dolly glanced at Vanbrugh, smiled and shook her head, as though to
signify that his case was perfectly hopeless.

"I shall do well enough," he answered, "I am used to gravity. It does
not upset my nerves as it does yours."

"You shall not say that gravity upsets my nerves!"

"Shall not? Why not?" inquired Vanbrugh.

Dolly walked more slowly, putting down her feet with a little emphasis,
so to say.

"Because I say you shall not. That ought to be enough."

"Considering that you can stand idiot asylums, kindergartens, school
children, the rector and the hope of the life to come, and are still
alive enough to dance every night, your nerves ought to be good. But I
did not mean to be offensive--only a little wholesome glass of truth as
an appetiser before Mrs. Darche's luncheon."

"Puns make me positively ill at this hour!"

"I will never do it again--never, never."

"You are not making much progress in talking seriously about the
Darches. I believe it was for that purpose that you proposed to drag me
round and round this hideous place, amongst the babies and the nurses
and the small yellow dogs--there goes one!"

"Yes--as you say--there he goes, doomed to destruction in the pound. Be
sorry for him. Show a little sympathy--poor beast! Drowning is not
pleasant in this weather."

"Oh you do not really think he will be drowned?"

"No. I think not. If you look, you will see that he is a private dog,
so to say, though he is small and yellow. He is also tied to the back
of the perambulator--look--the fact is proved by his having got through
the railings and almost upset the baby and the nurse by stopping them
short. Keep your sympathy for the next dog, and let us talk about the
Darches, if you and I can stop chaffing."

"Speak for yourself, Mr. Vanbrugh. You frightened me by telling me the
creature was to be drowned."

"Very well. I apologise. Since he is to live, what do you think is the
matter with the Darche establishment? Let me put the questions. Is old
Simon Darche in his right mind, so as to understand what is going on?
Is John Darche acting honestly by the Company--and by other people? Is
Mrs. Darche happy?"

Miss Maylands paused at the corner of the park, looked through the
railings and smoothed her muff of black Persian sheep with one hand
before she made any reply. Russell Vanbrugh watched her face and
glanced at the muff from time to time.

"Well?"

"I cannot answer your questions," Dolly answered at last, looking into
his eyes. "I do not know the answers to any of them, and yet I have
asked them all of myself. As to the first two, you ought to know the
truth better than I. You understand those things better than I do. And
the last--whether Marion is happy or not--have you any particular
reason for asking it?"

"No." Vanbrugh answered without the slightest hesitation, but an
instant later his eyes fell before hers. She sighed almost inaudibly,
laid her hand upon the railing and with the other raised the big muff
to her face so that it hid her mouth and chin. To her, the lowering of
his glance meant something--something, perhaps, which she had not
expected to find.

"You ask on general--general principles?" she inquired presently, with
a rather nervous smile.

But Vanbrugh did not smile. The expression of his face did not change.

"Yes, on general principles," he answered. "It is the main question,
after all. If Mrs. Darche is not happy, there must be some very good
reason for her unhappiness, and the reason cannot be far to seek. If
the old gentleman is really losing his mind or is going to have
softening of the brain--which is the same thing after all--well, that
might be it. But I do not believe she cares so much for him as all
that. If he were her own father it would be different. But he is John's
father, and John--I do not know what to say. It would depend upon the
answers to the other questions."

"Which I cannot give you," answered Dolly. "I wish I could."

Dolly gave the railings a little parting kick to knock the snow from
the point of her over-shoe, lowered her muff and began to walk again.
Vanbrugh walked beside her in silence.

"It is a very serious question," she began again, when they had gone a
few steps. "Of course you think I spend all my time in frivolous
charities and serious flirtations, and dances, and that sort of thing.
But I have my likes and dislikes, and Marion is my friend. She is older
than I, and when we were girls I had a little girl's admiration for a
big one. That lasted until she got married and I grew up. Of course it
is not the same thing now, but we are very fond of each other. You see
I have never had a sister nor any relations to speak of, and in a
certain way she has taken the place of them all. At first I thought she
was happy, though I could not see how that could be, because--"

Dolly broke off suddenly, as though she expected Vanbrugh to understand
what was passing in her mind. He said nothing, however, and did not
even look at her as he walked silently by her side. Then she glanced at
him once or twice before she spoke again.

"Of course you know what I am thinking of," she said at last. "You must
have thought it all too, then and now, and very often. Of course--you
had reason to."

"What reason?" Vanbrugh looked up quickly, as he asked the question.

"Oh, I cannot go into all that! You understand as well as I do.
Besides, it is not a pleasant subject. John Darche was successful,
young, rich, everything you like--except just what one does like. I
always felt that she had married him by mistake."

"By mistake? What a strange idea. And who should the right man have
been, pray?"

"Oh, no! She thought he was the right man, no doubt. It was the mistake
of fate, or providence, or whatever you call the thing, if it was a
mistake at all."

"After all," said Vanbrugh, "what reason have we, you or I, for saying
that they are not perfectly happy? Perhaps they are. People are happy
in so many different ways. After all, John Darche and his wife do not
seem to quarrel. They only seem to disagree--or rather--"

"Yes," answered Dolly, "that is exactly it. It is not everything one
sees or hears in the house. It is the suspicion that there are
unpleasant things which are neither seen or heard by any of us. And
then, the rest--your questions about the business, which I cannot
answer and which I hardly understand. There are so many people
concerned in an enormous business like that, that I cannot imagine how
anything could be done without being found out."

"However such things are done," answered Vanbrugh, gravely, "and
sometimes they are found out, and sometimes they are not. Let us hope
for the best in this case."

"What would be the best if there were anything to find out?" asked
Dolly, lowering her voice as they paused before Simon Darche's house.
"Would it be better that John Darche should be caught for the sake of
the people who would lose by him, or would it be better for his wife's
sake that he should escape?"

"That is a question altogether beyond my judgment, especially on such
short notice. Shall we go in?"

"We? Are you coming too?"

"Yes, I am going to lunch with the Darches too."

"And you never told me so? That is just like you! You get all you can
out of me and you tell me nothing."

"I have nothing to tell," answered Vanbrugh calmly, "but I apologise
all the same. Shall I ring the bell?"

"Unless you mean to take me round Gramercy Park again and show me more
nurses and perambulators and dirty dogs. Yes, ring the bell please. It
is past one o'clock."

A moment later Miss Dolly Maylands and Mr. Russell Vanbrugh disappeared
behind the extremely well-kept door of Simon Darche's house in
Lexington Avenue.



CHAPTER II.


Simon Darche stood at the window of his study, as Dolly and Vanbrugh
entered the house. He was, at that time, about seventy-five years of
age, and the life he had led had told upon him, as an existence of over
excitement ultimately tells upon all but the very strong. Physically,
he was a fine specimen of the American old gentleman. He was short,
well knit, and still fairly erect; his thick creamy-white hair was
smoothly brushed and parted behind, as his well-trimmed white beard was
carefully combed and parted before. He had bushy eyebrows in which
there were still some black threads. His face was ruddy and polished,
like fine old pink silk that has been much worn. But his blue eyes had
a vacant look in them, and the redness of the lids made them look weak;
the neck was shrunken at the back and just behind the ears, and though
the head was well poised on the shoulders, it occasionally shook a
little, or dropped suddenly out of the perpendicular, forwards or to
one side, not as though nodding, but as though the sinews were gone, so
that it depended altogether upon equilibrium and not at all upon
muscular tension for its stability. This, however, was almost the only
outward sign of physical weakness. Simon Darche still walked with a
firm step, and signed his name in a firm round hand at the foot of the
documents brought to him by his son for signature.

He had perfect confidence in John's judgment, discretion and capacity,
for he and his son had worked together for nearly twenty years, and
John had never during that time contradicted him. Since the business
had continued to prosper through fair and foul financial weather, this
was, in Simon Darche's mind, a sufficient proof of John's great
superiority of intelligence. The Company's bonds and stock had a steady
value on the market, the interest on the bonds was paid regularly and
the Company's dividends were uniformly large. Simon Darche continued to
be President, and John Darche had now been Treasurer during more than
five years. Altogether, the Company had proved itself to be a solid
concern, capable of surviving stormy days and of navigating serenely in
the erratic flood and ebb of the down-town tide. It was, indeed,
apparent that before long a new President must be chosen, and the
choice was likely to fall upon John. In the ordinary course of things a
man of Simon Darche's age could not be expected to bear the weight of
such responsibility much longer; but so far as any one knew, his
faculties were still unimpaired and his strength was still quite equal
to any demands which should be made upon it, in the ordinary course of
events. Of the business done by the Company, it is sufficient to say
that it was an important branch of manufacture, that the controlling
interest was generally in the hands of the Darches themselves and that
its value largely depended upon the possession of certain patents
which, of course, would ultimately expire.

Simon Darche stood at the window of his study and looked out, smoking a
large, mild cigar which he occasionally withdrew from his lips and
contemplated thoughtfully before knocking off the ash, and returning
it to his mouth. It was a very fine cigar indeed, equal in quality to
everything which Simon Darche had consumed during the greater part of
his life, and he intended to enjoy it to the end, as he had enjoyed
most things ever since he had been young. John, he often said, did not
know how to enjoy anything; not that John was in a hurry, or exhibited
flagrantly bad taste, or professed not to care--on the contrary, the
younger man was deliberate, thoughtful and fastidious in his
requirements--but there was an odd strain of asceticism in him, which
his father had never understood. It certainly was not of a religious
nature, but it would have gone well together with a saintly disposition
such as John did not possess. Perhaps indeed, John had the saintly
temperament without the sanctity, and that, after all, may be better
than nothing. He was thinner than his father and of a paler complexion;
his hair was almost red, if not quite, and his eyes were blue--a
well-built man, not ungraceful but a little angular, careful of his
appearance and possessed of perfect taste in regard to dress, if in
nothing else. He bestowed great attention upon his hands, which were
small with slender fingers pointed at the tips, and did not seem to
belong to the same epoch as the rest of him; they were almost
unnaturally white, but to his constant annoyance they had an unlucky
propensity to catch the dust, as one says of some sorts of cloth. If it
be written down that a man has characteristically clean hands, some
critic will be sure to remark that gentlemen are always supposed to
have clean hands, especially gentlemen of the Anglo-Saxon race. It is a
fact, nevertheless, that however purely Anglo-Saxon the possessor may
be, there are hands which are naturally not clean and which neither
ordinary scrubbing nor the care of the manicure can ever keep clean for
more than an hour. People who are in the habit of noticing hands are
well aware of the fact, which depends upon the quality of the skin, as
the reputation for cleanliness itself generally does. John Darche's
hands did not satisfy him as the rest of himself did.

So far as people knew, he had no vices, nor even the small tastes and
preferences which most men have. He did not drink wine, he did not
smoke, and he rarely played cards. He was a fairly good rider and rode
for exercise, but did not know a pastern from a fetlock and trusted to
others to buy his horses for him. He cared nothing for sport of any
kind; he had once owned a yacht for a short time, but he had never been
any further than Newport in her and had sold her before the year was
out. He read a good deal in a desultory way and criticised everything
he read, when he talked, but on the whole he despised literature as a
trifle unworthy of a serious man's attention. His religious convictions
were problematic, to say the least of it, and his outward practice took
the somewhat negative form of never swearing, even when he was alone.
He did not raise his voice in argument, if he ever argued, nor in
anger, though he had a very bad temper. John Darche could probably say
as disagreeable things as any man living, without exhibiting the
slightest apparent emotion. He was not a popular man. His acquaintances
disliked him; his friends feared him; his intimates and the members of
his household felt that he held them at a distance and that they never
really understood him. His father bestowed an almost childish
admiration upon him, for which he received a partial compensation in
John's uniformly respectful manner and unvarying outward deference. In
the last appeal, all matters of real importance were left to the
decision of Simon Darche, who always found it easy to decide, because
the question, as it reached him, was never capable of more than one
solution.

It is clear from what has been said that John Darche was not an amiable
character. But he had one small virtue, or good trait, or good point,
be it called as it may. He loved his wife, if not as a woman and a
companion, at least as a possession. The fact was not apparent to the
majority of people, least of all, perhaps, to Mrs. Darche herself, who
was much younger than her husband and whose whole and loyal soul was
filled with his cast-off beliefs, so to say, or, at least, with beliefs
which he would have cast off if he had ever possessed them.
Nevertheless, he was accustomed to consider her as one of his most
valuable belongings, and he might have been very dangerous, had his
enormous dormant jealousy been roused by the slightest show on her part
of preference for any one of the half-dozen men who were intimate in
the house. He, on his side, gave her no cause for doubting his
fidelity. He was not loving, his manner was not affectionate, he often
lost his temper and said cruel things to her in his cruel way; but so
far as she knew he did not exchange ten words daily with any other
woman, excepting Mrs. Willoughby, her aunt, and Dolly Maylands, her
intimate friend. He was systematic in his daily comings and goings, and
he regularly finished his evenings at one of the clubs. He slept
little, but soundly, ate sparingly and without noticing what was
offered him, drank four cups of tea and a pint of Apollinaris every day
and had never been ill in his life, which promised to be long, active,
uneventful and not overflowing with blessings for any one else.

At first it might seem that there was not much ground for the few words
exchanged by Russell Vanbrugh and Dolly Maylands about the Darches'
trouble before they entered the house. To all appearances, Simon Darche
was in his normal frame of mind and had changed little during the last
five years. So far as any one could judge, the Company was as solid as
ever. In her outward manner and conversation Marion Darche seemed as
well satisfied with her lot as she had been on the day of her marriage,
when John had represented to her all that a man should be,--much that
another man, whom she had loved, or liked almost to loving, in her
early girlhood, had not been. The surface of her life was calm and
unemotional, reflecting only the sunshine and storm of the social
weather under which she had lived in the more or less close
companionship of half a hundred other individuals in more or less
similar circumstances.

There is just enough truth in most proverbs to make them thoroughly
disagreeable. Take, for instance, the saying that wealth is not
happiness. Of course it is not, any more than food and lodging, shoes
and clothing, which are the ultimate forms of wealth, can be called
happiness. But surely, wealth and all that wealth gives constitute a
barrier against annoyance, mental and physical, which has almost as
much to do with the maintenance of happiness in the end, as "climate
and the affections." The demonstration is a simple one. Poverty can of
itself under certain circumstances be a source of unhappiness. The
possession of riches therefore is a barrier against the possibility of
at least one sort of misery and relatively increases the chances of
being happy on the whole. It is tolerably certain, that, without money,
John Darche would have been little short of insufferable, and that his
wife would have been chief among the sufferers. The presence of a great
fortune preserved the equilibrium and produced upon outsiders the
impression of real felicity.

Nevertheless, both Vanbrugh and Dolly Maylands, as has been seen,
considered the fortune unsafe and apparent peace problematic. They were
among the most intimate friends of the Darche household and were
certainly better able to judge of the state of affairs than the
majority. They had doubtless perceived in the domestic atmosphere
something of that sultriness which foreruns a storm and sometimes
precedes an earthquake, and being very much in sympathy with each
other, in spite of the continual chaffing which formed the basis of
their conversation, they had both begun to notice the signs of bad
weather very nearly at the same time.

It must not be supposed that Mrs. Darche confided her woes to her
friend, to use the current expression by which reticent people
characterise the follies of others. It was not even certain at this
time that she had any woes at all, but Dolly undoubtedly noticed
something in her conduct which betrayed anxiety if not actual
unhappiness, and Russell Vanbrugh, who, as has been observed, was
intimately acquainted with many aspects of New York life, had some
doubts as to the state of the Company's affairs. No one is really
reticent. It would perhaps be more just to the human race as a whole to
say that no two persons are capable of keeping the same secret at the
same time. That is probably the reason why there is always some rumour
of an approaching financial crisis, even while it is very much to the
interest of all concerned to preserve a calm exterior. When a great
house is about to have trouble, and even in some cases as much as two
or three years before the disaster, there is a dull far-off rumble from
underground, as though the foundations were trembling. There is a
creaking of the timbers, an occasional and as yet unaccountable
rattling of the panes, and sometimes a very slight distortion of the
lines of the edifice, all proving clearly enough that a crash is at
hand. As no one believes in presentiments, divinations or the gift of
prophecy in these days, it is safe to assume that some one who knows
the history of the thing has betrayed the secret, or has told his wife
that there is a secret to be kept. In the matter of secrets there is
but one general rule. If you do not wish a fact to be known, tell no
one of its existence.

Concerning the particular reasons which led Dolly Maylands and Russell
Vanbrugh to exchange opinions on the subject of the Darches, it is
hardly necessary to speak here. The two were very intimate and had
known each other for a long time, and, possibly, there was a tendency
in their acquaintance to something more like affection than friendship.
The fact that Dolly did not flirt with Vanbrugh in the ordinary
acceptation of that word, showed that she might possibly be in love
with him. As for Vanbrugh himself, no one knew what he thought and he
did not intend that any one should. He had never shown any inclination
to be married, though it was said that he, like many others, had been
deeply attached to Mrs. Darche in former days; and Dolly, at least,
believed that he still loved her friend in his heart, though she had
neither the courage nor the bad taste to ask a question to which he
might reasonably have refused an answer.

The only person in the household who seemed to have neither doubts nor
uneasiness was old Simon Darche, and as it was more than likely that
his intelligence had begun to fail, his own sense of security was not
especially reassuring to others.

While Simon Darche was smoking his large mild cigar at the window, and
while Dolly and Russell Vanbrugh were strolling by the railings of
Gramercy Park, Mrs. Darche was seated before the fire in the library,
and another friend of hers, who has a part to play in this little story
and who, like Vanbrugh, was a lawyer, was trying to interest her in the
details of a celebrated case concerning a will, and was somewhat
surprised to find that he could not succeed. Harry Brett stood towards
Marion Darche in very much the same friendly relation held by Vanbrugh
in Dolly's existence. There was this difference, however, that Brett
was well known to have offered himself to Mrs. Darche, who had refused
him upon grounds which were not clear to the social public. Brett was
certainly not so rich as John, but in all other respects he seemed
vastly more desirable as a husband. He was young, fresh, good-looking,
good-tempered. He belonged to a good New York family, whereas the
Darches were of Canadian origin. He had been quite evidently and
apparently very much in love with Marion, whereas John never seemed to
have looked upon her as anything but a valuable possession, to be
guarded for its intrinsic worth, and to be kept in good order and
condition rather than loved and cherished. Every one had said that she
should have married Brett, and when she chose John every one said that
she had married his money. But then it is impossible to please every
one. Brett was certainly not pleased. He had gone abroad and had been
absent a long time, just when he should have been working at his
profession. It was supposed, not without reason, that he was profoundly
disappointed, but nevertheless, when he returned he looked as fresh and
cheerful as ever, was kindly received by Mrs. Darche, civilly treated
by her husband and forthwith fell into the position of especial friend
to the whole family. He had made up his mind to forget all about the
past, to see as much of Mrs. Darche as he could without falling in love
with her a second time, as he would have called it, and he was doing
his best to be happy in his own way. Within the bounds of possibility
he had hitherto succeeded, and no one who wished well to him or Mrs.
Darche would have desired to doubt the durability of his success. He
had created an artificial happiness and spent his life in fostering the
idea that it was real. Many a better man has done the same before him
and many a worse may try hereafter. But the result always has been the
same and in all likelihood always will be. The most refined and perfect
artificiality is not nature even to him who most earnestly wishes to
believe it is, and the time must inevitably come in all such lives when
nature, being confronted with her image, finds it but a caricature and
dashes it to pieces in wrath.

Brett's existence was indeed much more artificial than that of his old
love. He had attempted to create the semblance of a new relation on
the dangerous ground whereon an older and a truer one had subsisted.
She, on her part, had accepted circumstances as they had formed
themselves, and did her best to get what she could out of them without
any attempt to deceive herself or others. Fortunately for both she was
eminently a good woman, and Brett was a gentleman in heart, as well as
in deed.

And now before this tale is told, there only remains the thankless task
of introducing these last two principal figures in their pen-and-ink
effigies.

Of Harry Brett almost enough has been said already. His happy vitality
would have lent him something of beauty even if he had possessed none
at all. But he had a considerable share of good looks, in addition to
his height and well-proportioned frame, his bright blue eyes, his fresh
complexion, and short, curly brown hair. He too, like Vanbrugh,
belonged to the American type, which has regular features, arched
eyebrows, and rather deep-set eyes. The lower part of his face was
strong, though the whole outline was oval rather than round or square.

Rather a conventional hero, perhaps, if he is to be a hero at all, but
then, many heroes have been thought to be quite average, ordinary
persons, until the knot which heroism cuts was presented to them by
fate. Then people discover in them all sorts of outward signs of the
inward grace that can hit so very hard. Then the phrenologists descend
upon their devoted skulls and discover there the cranial localities of
the vast energy, the dauntless courage, the boundless devotion to a
cause, the profound logic, by which great events are brought about and
directed to the end. Julius Cæsar at the age of thirty was a frivolous
dandy, an amateur lawyer, and a dilettante politician, in the eyes of
good society in Rome.

Harry Brett, however, is not a great hero, even in this fiction--a
manly fellow with no faults of any importance and no virtues of any
great magnitude, young, healthy, good-looking, courageous, troubled a
little with the canker of the untrue ideal which is apt to eat the
common sense out of the core of life's tree, mistaken in his attempt to
create in himself an artificial satisfaction in the friendship of the
woman he had loved and was in danger of loving still, gifted with the
clear sight which must sooner or later see through his self-made
illusion, and possessed of more than the average share of readiness in
speech and action--a contrast, in this respect, to Vanbrugh. The
latter, from having too comprehensive a view of things, was often slow
in reaching a decision. Brett was more like Mrs. Darche herself in
respect of quick judgment and self-reliance at first sight, if such a
novel expression is permissible.

As Marion sat before the fire apparently studying its condition and
meditating a descent upon it, after the manner of her kind, she was not
paying much attention to Brett's interesting story about the great
lawyer who had drawn up his own will so that hardly a clause of it had
turned out to be legal, and Brett himself was more absorbed in watching
her than in telling the complicated tale. She was generally admitted to
be handsome. Her enemies said that she had green eyes and yellow hair,
which was apparently true, but they also said that she dyed the one
and improved the other with painting, which was false. Her hair was
naturally as fair as yellow gold, of an even colour throughout, and the
shadows beneath her eyes and the dark eyebrows, which were sources of
so much envy and malice, were natural and not done with little coloured
sticks of greasy crayon kept in tubes made to look like silver
pencil-cases, and generally concealed beneath the lace of the toilet
table or in the toe of a satin slipper.

Marion Darche was handsome and looked strong, though there was rarely
much colour in her face. She did not flush easily. Women who do, often
have an irritable heart, as the doctors call the thing, and though
their affections may be stable their circulation is erratic. They
suffer agonies of shyness in youth and considerable annoyance in
maturer years from the consciousness that the blood is forever surging
in their cheeks at the most inopportune moment; and the more they think
of it, the more they blush, which does not mend matters and often
betrays secrets. Three-fourths of the shyness one sees in the world is
the result of an irritable heart. Marion Darche's circulation was
normal, and she was not shy.

Like many strong persons, she was gentle, naturally cheerful and
generally ready to help any one who needed assistance. She had an
admirably even temper--a matter, like physical courage, which depends
largely upon the action of the heart and the natural quality of the
nerves--and under all ordinary circumstances she ate and slept like
other people. She did not look at all like Helen or Clytemnestra, and
her disposition was not in the least revengeful--a quiet, tall, fair
young woman, whose clear eyes looked every one calmly in the face and
whose strong white hands touched things delicately but could hold
firmly when she chose; carrying herself straight through a crowd, as
she bore herself upright through life. Those who knew her face best
admired especially her mouth and the small, well-cut, advancing chin,
which seemed made to meet difficulties as a swimmer's divides the
water. In figure, as in face, too, she was strong, the undulating
curves were those of elasticity and energy, rather than of indolence
and repose.

As Harry Brett talked and watched her he honestly tried not to wish
that she might have been his wife, and when his resolution broke down
he conscientiously talked on and did his best to interest himself in
his own conversation. The effort was familiar to him of old, and had so
often ended in failure that he was glad when the distant tinkle of the
door bell announced the coming of a third person. John rarely lunched
at home and old Mr. Darche was never summoned until the meal was
served. Brett broke off in the middle of his story and laughed a
little.

"I believe you have not understood a word of what I have been telling
you," he said.

Mrs. Darche looked up suddenly, abandoned the study of the burning logs
and leaned back in her chair before she answered. Then she looked at
him quietly and smiled, not even attempting to deny the imputation.

"It is very rude of me, is it not? You must forgive me, to-day. I am
very much preoccupied."

"You often are, nowadays," answered Brett, with a short, manlike sigh,
which might have passed for a sniff of dissatisfaction.

"I know I am. I am sorry."

The door opened and Dolly Maylands entered the room, followed closely
by Russell Vanbrugh.



CHAPTER III.


Simon Darche was undoubtedly a bore. Since bores exist and there is no
other name for them, the strong word has some right to pass into the
English language. The old gentleman belonged to the unconscious and
self-complacent variety of the species, which is, on the whole, less
unbearable than certain others. Generally speaking, it is true that
people who are easily bored are bores themselves, but there are many
very genuine and intolerable bores who go through life rejoicing and
convinced that their conversation is a blessing and their advice a
treasure to those who get it.

Bores always have one or two friends. Simon Darche had found one in his
daughter-in-law and he availed himself of her friendship to the utmost,
so that it was amazing to see how much she could bear, for she was as
constantly bored by him as other people, and appeared, indeed, to be
his favourite victim. But no one had ever heard her complain. Day after
day she listened to his talk, smiled at his old stories, read to him,
and seemed rather to seek his society than to avoid it. She was never
apparently tired of hearing about John's childhood and youth and she
received the old man's often repeated confidences concerning his own
life with an ever-renewed expression of sympathy.

"I simply could not stand it for a day!" exclaimed Dolly occasionally.
"Why, he is worse than my school children!"

Miss Maylands could not put the case more strongly. Perhaps no one else
could.

"I like him," answered Mrs. Darche. "I know he is a bore. But then, I
suppose I am a bore myself."

"Oh, Marion!" And Dolly laughed.

That was generally the end of the conversation. But Dolly, who was by
no means altogether frivolous and had a soul, and bestowed now and then
considerable attention upon its religious toilet, so to say--Dolly
fancied that Papa Darche, as she called him, took the place of a baby
in her friend's heart. Rather a permanent and antique baby, Dolly
thought, but better than nothing for a woman who felt that she must
love and take care of something helpless. She herself did not care for
that sort of thing. The maternal instinct developed itself in another
direction and she taught children in a kindergarten. The stupid ones
tired her, as she expressed it, but then her soul came to the rescue
and did its best, which was not bad. Dolly was a good girl, though she
had too many "purposes" in life.

Not many minutes after she and Vanbrugh had entered the room on the
morning described in the previous chapters, luncheon was announced.

"Tell Mr. Darche that luncheon is ready, Stubbs," said Marion, and
Stubbs, gray-haired, portly, rosy-cheeked and respectful, disappeared
to summon the old gentleman.

Vanbrugh looked at Brett and both smiled, hardly knowing why. Neither
of them had ever lunched at the house without hearing the same order
given by the hostess. People often smile foolishly at familiar things,
merely because they are familiar. Dolly and Mrs. Darche had sat down
together and the two men stood side by side near a table on which a
number of reviews and periodicals were neatly arranged in order. Brett
idly took up one of them and held it in his hand.

"By the bye," he said, "to-day is not Sunday. You are not ill, I hope."

"Only lazy," answered Vanbrugh.

"So am I," answered Brett after a moment's pause.

There they stood in silence, apathetically glancing at the two ladies,
at the fire and at the window, as two men who know each other very well
are apt to do when they are waiting for luncheon. Brett chanced to look
down at the magazine he held in his hand. It was bound in white paper
and the back of the cover was occupied by a huge advertisement in large
letters. The white margin around it was filled with calculations made
in blue and red pencil, with occasional marks in green. Mechanically
Brett's eyes followed the calculations. The same figure, a high one,
recurred in many places, and any one with a child's knowledge of
arithmetic could have seen that there was a constant attempt to make
up another sum corresponding to it,--an attempt which seemed always to
have failed. Brett remembered that Darche carried a pencil-case with
leads of three colours in it, and he tossed the magazine upon the table
as though he realised that he had been prying into another person's
business. He glanced at Mrs. Darche who was still talking with Dolly,
and a moment later he took up the magazine again and cautiously tore
off the back of the cover, crumpled it in his hands, approached the
fire and tossed it into the flames. Mrs. Darche looked up quickly.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing," answered Brett, "only a bit of paper."

Just then Simon Darche entered the room and all rose to go in to
luncheon together.

The old gentleman shook hands with Dolly and with both the men, looking
keenly into their faces, but mentioning no names. He was cheerful and
ruddy, and a stranger might have expected his conversation to be
enlivening. In this however, he would have been egregiously
disappointed.

"What have you been doing this morning?" asked Mrs. Darche turning to
him.

She had asked the question every day for years, whenever she had
lunched at home.

"Very busy, very busy," answered Mr. Darche.

His hands did not tremble as he unfolded his napkin, but he seemed to
bestow an extraordinary amount of attention on the exact position of
the glasses before him, pushing them a little forwards and backwards
and glancing at them critically until he was quite satisfied.

"Busy, of course," he said and looked cheerfully round the table.
"There is no real happiness except in hard work. If I could only make
you understand that, Marion, you would be much happier. Early to bed
and early to rise."

"Makes a man stupid and closes his eyes," observed Brett, finishing the
proverb in its modern form.

"What, what? What doggerel is that?"

"Did you never hear that?" asked Dolly, laughing. "It is from an
unwritten and unpublished book--modern proverbs."

Simon Darche shook his head and smiled feebly.

"Dear me, dear me, I thought you were in earnest," he said.

"So he is," said Dolly. "We may have to get up at dawn sometimes, but
we are far too much in earnest to go to bed early."

This was evidently beyond Simon Darche's comprehension and he relapsed
into silence and the consumption of oysters. Mrs. Darche glanced
reproachfully at Dolly as though to tell her that she should not chaff
the old gentleman, and Vanbrugh came to the rescue.

"Do you often get up at dawn, Miss Maylands?" he inquired.

"Do I look as if I did?" retorted the young lady.

"How in the world should I know," asked Vanbrugh. "Do I look as though
I associated with people who got up at dawn?"

Brett laughed.

"It always amuses me to hear you and Vanbrugh talk, Miss Maylands."

"Does it, I am so glad," said Dolly.

"Yes, you seem perfectly incapable of saying one word to each other
without chaffing."

Old Mr. Darche had finished his oysters.

"Yes--yes," he observed. "A pair of chaffinches."

A moment of silence followed this appalling pun. Then Mrs. Darche
laughed a little nervously, and Brett, who wished to help her, followed
her example. The old gentleman himself seemed delighted with his own
wit.

"We are beginning well," said Dolly. "Puns and proverbs with the
oysters. What shall we get with the fruit?"

Vanbrugh was inclined to suggest that the dessert would probably find
them in an idiot asylum, but he wisely abstained from words and tried
to turn the conversation into a definite channel.

"Did you read that book I sent you, Mrs. Darche?" he asked.

"Yes," answered the latter, "I began to read it to my father-in-law but
he did not care for it, so I am going on with it alone."

"What book was that, my dear?" inquired the old gentleman.

Mrs. Darche named a recent foreign novel which had been translated.

"Oh, that thing!" exclaimed her father-in-law. "Why, it is all about
Frenchmen and tea parties! Very dull. Very dull. But then a busy man
like myself has very little time for such nonsense. Mr. Trehearne, I
suppose I could not give you any idea of the amount of work I have to
do."

He looked at Vanbrugh as he spoke.

"Trehearne?" Brett repeated the name in a low voice, looking at Mrs.
Darche.

"I know you are one of the busiest men alive," said Vanbrugh quietly
and without betraying the slightest astonishment.

"I should think so," said Simon Darche, "and I am very glad I am.
Nothing keeps a man busy like being successful. And I may fairly say
that I have been very successful--thanks to John, well--I suppose I may
take a little credit to myself."

"Indeed you may," said Mrs. Darche readily.

Every one thought it wise and proper to join in a little murmur of
approval, but Dolly was curious to see what the old gentleman would say
next. She wondered whether his taking Vanbrugh for old Mr. Trehearne,
who had been a friend of his youth and who had been dead some years,
was the first sign of mental decay. From Mrs. Darche's calm manner she
inferred that this was not the first time he had done something of the
kind, and her mind went back quickly to her conversation with Vanbrugh
that morning in Gramercy Park. Simon Darche was still talking.

"The interests of the Company are becoming positively gigantic, and
there seems to be no end to the fresh issues that are possible, though
none of them have been brought to me to sign yet."

Brett looked quickly at Vanbrugh, but the latter was imperturbable.

At that moment the door opened and John Darche entered the dining-room.
His face was a little paler than usual and he seemed tired. Mrs. Darche
looked at him in surprise and her father-in-law smiled as he always did
when he saw his son. Every one present said something more or less
incomprehensible by way of greeting. The new-comer shook hands with
Dolly Maylands, nodded to the rest and sat down in the place which was
always reserved for him opposite his wife.

"I had nothing particular to do, so I came home to luncheon," he said,
by way of explaining his unexpected appearance.

"I am so glad."

"Nothing particular to do!" exclaimed the old gentleman momentarily
surprised into his senses.

"Nothing requiring my presence," answered John Darche gravely. "I was
down town early this morning and cleared off everything. I shall ride
this afternoon."

"Quite right, quite right, my boy!" put in Simon Darche. "You should
take care of your health. You have been doing too much of late. I
suppose," he added, looking about at the others, "that there is not a
man alive who has my son's power of work."

"You do work dreadfully hard, John," said Mrs. Darche.

"But then," said her father-in-law with evident pride, "John leads such
a regular life. He does not drink, he does not smoke, he does not sit
up late at night--altogether, I must say that he takes better care of
himself than I ever did. And that is the reason," continued the old
gentleman with increasing animation, "that he has accomplished so much.
If some of you young men would follow his example you would do a great
deal more in the world. Regular hours, regular meals, no cocktails--oh
I daresay if I had never smoked a cigar in my life I should be good for
another fifty years. John will live to be a hundred."

"Let us hope so," said Vanbrugh blandly.

"What is this particular disagreeable thing you have given me to eat?"
inquired John looking at his wife.

Mrs. Darche looked up in surprise. The remark was quite in keeping with
his usual manner, but it was very unlike him to notice anything that
was put before him.

"I believe it is a shad," she said.

"Yes, I suppose it is," answered John. "The thing has bones in it. Give
me something else, Stubbs."

He got something else to eat and relapsed into silence. The remainder
of the luncheon was not gay, for his coming had chilled even Dolly's
good spirits. Brett and Vanbrugh did their best to sustain the
conversation, but the latter felt more certain than ever that something
serious was the matter. Old Simon Darche meandered on, interspersing
his praise of his son and his boasts of the prosperity of the Company
with stale proverbs and atrocious puns. Almost as soon as the meal was
over the few guests departed with that unpleasant sense of unsatisfied
moral appetite which people have when they have expected to enjoy being
together and have been disappointed.

When every one was gone John Darche remained in the drawing-room with
his wife. He sat down in his chair like a man over-tired with hard
work, and something like a sigh escaped him. Mrs. Darche pushed a small
table to his side, laid his papers upon it and sat down opposite him. A
long silence followed. From time to time she looked up at her husband
as though she expected him to say something, but he did not open his
lips, though he often stared at her for several minutes together. His
unwinking blue eyes faced the light as he looked at her, and their
expression was disagreeable to her, so that she lowered her own rather
than encounter it.

"Are things growing worse, John?" at last she asked him.

"Worse? What do you mean?"

"You told me some time ago that you were anxious. I thought that
perhaps you might be in some trouble."

John did not answer at once but looked at her as though he did not see
her, took up a paper and glanced absently over the columns of
advertisements.

"Oh no," he said at last, as though her question had annoyed him.
"There is nothing wrong, nothing whatever." Again a silence followed.
Mrs. Darche went to her writing-table and began to write a note. John
did not move.

"Marion," said he at last, "has any one been talking to you about my
affairs?"

"No indeed," answered Mrs. Darche in evident surprise at the question,
but with such ready frankness that he could not doubt her.

"No," he repeated. "I see that no one has. I only asked because people
are always so ready to talk about what they cannot understand, and are
generally so perfectly certain about what they do not know. I thought
Dolly Maylands might have been chattering."

"Dolly does not talk about you, John."

"Oh! I wonder why not. Does she dislike me especially--I mean more than
most people--more than you do, for instance?"

"John!"

"My dear, do not imagine that it grieves me, though it certainly does
not make life more agreeable to be disliked. On the whole, I hardly
know which I prefer--my father's perpetual outspoken praise, or your
dutiful and wifely hatred."

"Why do you talk like that?"

Mrs. Darche did not leave her writing-table, but turned in her chair
and faced him, still holding her pen.

"I fancy there is some truth in what I say," he answered calmly. "Of
course you know that you made a mistake when you married me. You were
never in love with me--and you did not marry me for my money."

He laughed rather harshly.

"No, I did not marry you for your money."

"Of course not. You have some of your own--enough--"

"And to spare, if you needed it, John."

"You are very kind, my dear," replied Darche with a scarcely
perceptible touch of contempt in his tone. "I shall survive without
borrowing money of my wife."

"I hope you may never need to borrow of any one," said Marion.

She turned to the table again and began arranging a few scattered notes
and papers to conceal her annoyance at his tone, hoping that her
inoffensive answer might soon have the effect of sending him away, as
was usually the case. But Darche was not quite in his ordinary state.
He was tired, irritable, and greedy for opposition, as men are whose
nerves are overwrought and who do not realise the fact, because they
are not used to it, and it is altogether new to them.

"I am tired of 'yea, yea.' Change the conversation, please, and say
'nay, nay.' It would make a little variety."

"Do you object to my agreeing with you? I am sorry. It is not always
easy to guess what you would like. I am quite ready to give up trying,
if you say so. We can easily arrange our lives differently, if you
prefer it."

"How do you mean?"

"We might separate, for instance," suggested Mrs. Darche.

John was surprised. He had sometimes wondered whether it were not
altogether impossible to irritate his wife's calm temper to some open
expression of anger. He had almost succeeded, but he by no means liked
the form of retort she had chosen. A separation would not have suited
him at all, for in his character the love of his possessions was
strong, and he looked upon his wife as an important item in the
inventory of his personal property. He hesitated a moment before he
answered.

"Of course we might separate, but I do not intend that we should--if I
can help it," he added, as though an afterthought had occurred to him.

"You are not doing your best to prevent it," answered Mrs. Darche.


"Oh!--what are my sins? Are you jealous? This begins to interest me."

"No, I am not jealous, you have never given me any cause to be."

"You think that incompatibility of temper would be sufficient ground,
then?"

"For a temporary separation--yes."

"Ah--it is to be only temporary? How good you are!"

"It can be permanent, if you like."

"I have already told you that I have no idea of separating. I cannot
imagine why you go back to it as you do."

"You drive me back to it."

"You are suddenly developing a temper. This is delightful."

Mrs. Darche made no answer, but occupied herself with her papers in
silence. She could hardly account for the humour in which she was
answering her husband, seeing that for years she had listened to his
disagreeable and brutal sayings without retort. It is impossible to
foresee the precise moment at which the worm will turn, the beast
refuse its load, and the human heart revolt. Sometimes it never comes
at all, and then we call the sufferer a coward. After a pause which
lasted several minutes, John renewed the attack.

"I am sorry you will not quarrel any more, it was so refreshing," he
said.

"I do not like quarrelling," answered Marion, without looking up. "What
good can it do?"

"You are always wanting to do good! Life without contrasts is very
insipid."

Mrs. Darche rose from her seat and came and stood by the fireplace.

"John," she said, "something has happened. You are not like yourself.
If I can be of any use to you, tell me the truth and I will do all I
can. If not, go and ride as you said you would. The fresh air will rest
you."

"You are a good creature, my dear," said Darche looking at her
curiously.

"I do not know whether you mean to be flattering, or whether you wish
to go on with this idle bickering over words--you know that I do not
like to be called a good creature, like the washerwoman or the cook.
Yes--I know--I am angry just now. Never mind, my advice is good. Either
go out at once, or tell me just what is the matter and let me do the
best I can to help you."

"There is nothing to tell, my dear."

"Then go out, or go and talk to your father--or stay here, and I will
go away."

"Anything rather than stay together," suggested Darche.

"Yes--anything rather than that. I daresay it is my fault, and I am
quite willing to bear all the blame, but if we are together in the same
room much longer we shall do something which we shall regret--at least
I shall. I am sure of it."

"That would be very unfortunate," said Darche, rising, with a short
laugh. "Our life has been so exceptionally peaceful since we were
married!"

"I think it has," answered Marion, calmly, "considering your character
and mine. On the whole we have kept the peace very well. It has
certainly not been what I expected and hoped that it might be, but it
has not been so unhappy as that of many people I know. We both made a
mistake, perhaps, but others have made worse ones. You ask why I
married you. I believe that I loved you. But I might ask you the same
question."

"You would get very much the same answer."

"Oh no--you never loved me. I cannot even say that you have changed
much in five years, since our honeymoon. You did not encourage my
illusions very long."

"No. Why should I?"

"I daresay you were right. I daresay that it has been best so. The
longer one has loved a thing, the harder it is to part from it. I loved
my illusions. As for you--"

"As for me, I loved you, as I understand love," said Darche walking up
and down the room with his hands in his pockets. "And, what is more, as
I understand love, I love you still."

"Love cannot be a very serious matter with you, then," answered Marion,
turning from him to the fire and pushing back a great log with her
foot.

"You are mistaken," returned Darche. "Love is a serious matter, but not
half so serious as young girls are inclined to believe. Is it not a
matter of prime importance to select carefully the woman who is to sit
opposite to one at table for a lifetime, and whose voice one must hear
every day for forty years or so? Of course it is serious. It is like
selecting the president of a company--only that you cannot turn him out
and choose another when you are not pleased with him. Love is not a
wild, insane longing to be impossibly dramatic at every hour of the
day. Love is natural selection. Darwin says so. Now a sensible man of
business like me, naturally selects a sensible woman like you to be the
mistress of his household. That is all it comes to, in the end. There
is no essential difference between a man's feeling for the woman he
loves and his feeling for anything else he wants."

"And I fill the situation admirably. Is that what you mean?" inquired
Marion with some scorn.

"If you choose to put it in that way."

"And that is what you call being loved?"

"Yes--being wanted. It comes to that. All the rest is
illusion--dream-stuff, humbug, 'fake' if you do not object to Bowery
slang."

"Are you going out?" asked Mrs. Darche, losing patience altogether.

"No. But I am going upstairs to see the old gentleman. It is almost the
same."

He went towards the door and his hand was on the handle of the lock
when she called him back.

"John--" there was hesitation in her voice.

"Well? What is the matter?" He came back a few steps and stood near
her.

"John, did you never care for me in any other way--in any better
way--from the heart? You used to say that you did."

"Did I? I have forgotten. One always supposes that young girls
naturally expect one to talk a lot of nonsense, and that one has no
choice unless one does--so one makes the best of it. I remember that it
was a bore to make phrases so I probably made them. Anything else you
would like to ask?"

"No--thanks. I would rather be alone."

John Darche left the room and Marion returned to her writing-table as
though nothing had been said, intending to write her notes as usual.
And indeed, she began, and the pen ran easily across the paper for a
few moments.

Then on a sudden, her lip quivered, she wrote one more word, the pen
fell from her fingers, and bowing her head upon the edge of the table
she let the short, sharp sobs break out as they would.

She was a very lonely woman on that winter's afternoon, and the tension
she had kept on herself had been too great to bear any longer.



CHAPTER IV.


In spite of her husband's denial, Marion Darche was convinced that he
was in difficulties, though she could not understand how such a point
could have been reached in the affairs of the Company, which had always
been considered so solid, and which had the reputation of being managed
so well. It was natural, when matters reached a crisis, that none of
her acquaintances should speak to her of her husband's troubles, and
many said that Mrs. Darche was a brave woman to face the world as she
did when her husband was in all likelihood already ruined and was
openly accused on all sides of something very like swindling. But as a
matter of fact she was in complete ignorance of all this. John Darche
laughed scornfully when she repeated her question, and she had never
even thought of asking the old gentleman any questions. She was too
proud to speak of her troubles to Vanbrugh or Brett; and Dolly,
foreseeing real trouble, thought it best to hide from her friend the
fears she entertained. As sometimes happens in such cases, matters had
gone very far without Mrs. Darche's knowledge. The Company was in hands
of a receiver and an inquiry into the conduct of Simon and John Darche
was being pushed forward with the utmost energy by the frightened
holders of the bonds and shares, while Marion was dining and dancing
through the winter season as usual. The Darches were accused of having
issued an enormous amount of stock without proper authority; but there
were many who said that Simon Darche was innocent of the trick, and
that John had manufactured bogus certificates. Others again maintained
that Simon Darche was in his dotage and signed whatever was put before
him by his son, without attempting to understand the obligations to
which he committed himself.

Meanwhile John's position became desperate, though he himself did not
believe it to be so utterly hopeless as it really was. Since this is
the story of Marion Darche and not of her husband, it is unnecessary to
enter into the financial details of the latter's ruin. It is enough to
say that for personal ends he had made use of the Company's funds in
order to get into his own control a line of railroad by which a large
part of the Company's produce was transported, with the intention of
subsequently forcing the Company to buy the road of him on his own
terms, as soon as he should have disposed by stealth of his interest in
the manufacture. Had the scheme succeeded he should have realised a
great fortune by the transaction, and it is doubtful whether anything
could have been proved against him after the event. Unfortunately for
him, he had come into collision with a powerful syndicate of which he
had not suspected the existence until he had gone so far that either to
go on or to retire must be almost certain ruin and exposure. The
existence of this syndicate had dawned upon him on the day described in
the preceding chapters, and the state of mind in which he found himself
was amply accounted for by the discovery he had made.

As time went on during the following weeks, and he became more and more
hopelessly involved, his appearance and his manner changed for the
worse. He grew haggard and thin, and his short speeches to his wife
lacked even that poor element of wit which is brutality's last hold
upon good manners. With his father, however, he maintained his usual
behaviour, by a desperate effort. He could not afford to allow the
whole fabric of the old gentleman's illusions about him to perish, so
long as Simon Darche's hand and name could still be useful. It is but
just to admit, too, that he felt a sort of cynical, pitying attachment
to his father--the affection which a spoiled child bestows upon an
over-indulgent parent, which is strongly tinged with the vanity excited
by a long course of unstinted and indiscriminating praise.

If Marion Darche's own fortune had been invested in the Company of
which her husband was treasurer, she must have been made aware of the
condition of things long before the final day of reckoning came. But
her property had been left her in the form of real estate, and the
surplus had been invested in such bonds and mortgages as had been
considered absolutely safe by Harry Brett's father, who had originally
been her guardian, and, after his death, by Harry Brett himself, who
was now her legal adviser, and managed her business for her. The house
in Lexington Avenue was her property. After her marriage she had
persuaded her husband to live in it rather than in the somewhat
pretentious and highly inconvenient mansion erected on Fifth Avenue by
Simon Darche in the early days of his great success, which was
decorated within, and to some extent without, according to the doubtful
taste of the late Mrs. Simon Darche. Vanbrugh compared it to an
"inflamed Pullman car."

Enough has been said to show how at the time, the Darches were on the
verge of utter ruin, and how Marion Darche was financially independent.
Meanwhile the old gentleman's mind was failing fast, a fact which was
so apparent that Marion was not at all surprised when her husband told
her that there was to be a consultation of doctors to inquire into the
condition of Simon Darche, with a view to deciding whether he was fit
to remain, even nominally, at the head of the Company or not. As a
matter of fact, the consultation had become a legal necessity, enforced
by the committee that was examining the Company's affairs.

John Darche was making a desperate fight of it, sacrificing everything
upon which he could lay his hands in order to buy in the fraudulent
certificates of stock. He was constantly in want of money, and seized
every opportunity of realising a few thousands which presented itself,
even descending to gambling in the stock market in the hope of picking
up more cash. He was unlucky, of course, and margin after margin
disappeared and was swallowed up. From time to time he made something
by his speculations--just enough to revive his shrinking hopes, and to
whet his eagerness, already sharpened by extremest anxiety. He did not
think of escaping from the country, however. In the first place, if he
disappeared at this juncture, he must be a beggar or dependent on his
wife's charity. Secondly, he could not realise that the end was so near
and that the game was played out to the last card. Still he struggled
on frantically, hoping for a turn of the market, for a windfall out of
the unknown, for a wave of luck, whereby a great sum being suddenly
thrown into his hands he should be able to cover up the traces of his
misdeeds and begin life afresh.

Marion was as brave as ever, but she got even more credit for her
courage than she really deserved. She knew at this time that the
trouble was great, but she had no idea that it was altogether past
mending, and she had not renewed the offer of help she had made to her
husband when she had first noticed his distress. In the meantime, she
devoted herself to the care of old Simon Darche. She read aloud to him
in the morning, though she was quite sure that he rarely followed a
single sentence to the end. She drove with him in the afternoon and
listened patiently to his rambling comments on men and things. His
inability to recognise many of the persons who had been most familiar
to him in the earlier part of his life was becoming very apparent, and
the constant mistakes he made rendered it advisable to keep him out of
intercourse with any but the members of his own family. As has been
said, Mrs. Darche had not as yet made any change in her social
existence, but Dolly Maylands, who knew more of the true state of
affairs than her friend, came to see her every day and grew anxious in
the anticipation of the inevitable disaster. Her fresh face grew a
little paler and showed traces of nervousness. She felt perhaps as men
do who lead a life of constant danger. She slept as well and became
almost abnormally active, seizing feverishly upon everything and every
subject which could help to occupy her time.

"You work too hard, Dolly," said Mrs. Darche one morning as they were
seated together in the library. "You will wear yourself out. You have
danced all night, and now you mean to spend your day in slaving at your
charities."

Dolly laughed a little as she went on cutting the pages of the magazine
she held. This was a thing Mrs. Darche especially disliked doing, and
Dolly had long ago taken upon herself the responsibility of cutting all
new books and reviews which entered the house.

"Oh I love to burn the candle at both ends," she answered.

"No doubt you do, my dear. We have all liked to do that at one time or
another. But at this rate you will light your candle in the middle,
too."

"You cannot light a candle in the middle," said Dolly with great
decision.

"If anybody could, you could," said Marion, watching her as she had
often done of late and wondering if any change had come into the young
girl's life. "Seriously, my dear, I am anxious about you. I wish you
would take care of yourself, or get married, or something."

"If you will tell me what that 'something' is I will get it at once,"
said Dolly, with a smile that had a tinge of sadness in it. "I ask
nothing better."

"Oh anything!" exclaimed Mrs. Darche. "Get nervous prostration or
anything that is thoroughly fashionable and gives no trouble, and then
go somewhere and rest for a month."

"My dear child," cried Dolly with a laugh, "I cannot think of being so
old-fashioned as to have nervous prostration. Let me see. I might be
astigmatic. That seems to be the proper thing nowadays. Then I could
wear glasses and look the character of the school-ma'am. Then I could
say I could not dance because I could not see, because of course I
could not dance in spectacles. But for the matter of that, my dear, you
need not lecture me. You are as bad as I am, and much worse--yours is a
much harder life than mine."

Just as Dolly was about to draw a comparison between her own existence
and her friend's, the door opened and Stubbs entered the room bearing a
dozen enormous roses, of the kind known as American beauties. Dolly,
who had a passion for flowers, sprang up, and seized upon them with an
exclamation of delight.

"What beauties! What perfect beauties!" she said. "You lucky creature!
Who in the world sends you such things?"

Mrs. Darche had risen from her seat and had buried her face in the
thick blossoms while Dolly held them.

"I am sure I do not know," she said.

"Oh Marion!" answered Dolly, smiling. "Innocence always was your strong
point, and what a strong point it is. I wish people would send me
flowers like these."

"I have no doubt they do, my dear. Do not pretend they do not. Come and
help me arrange them instead of talking nonsense. Even if it were true
that my life is harder than yours--I do not know why--you see there are
alleviations."

Dolly did not answer at once. She was wondering just how much her
friend knew of the actual state of things, and she was surprised to
feel a little touch of pain when she contrasted the truth, so far as
she knew it, with the negatively blissful ignorance in which Mrs.
Darche's nearest and best friends were doing their best to keep her.

"Of course there are alleviations in your life, just as there are in
mine," she said at last, "changes, contrasts and all that sort of
thing. My kindergarten alleviates my dancing and my cotillons vary the
dulness of my school teaching."

She paused and continued to arrange the flowers in silence, looking
back now and then and glancing at them. Mrs. Darche did not speak, but
watched her idly, taking a certain artistic pleasure in the fitness of
the details which made up the little picture before her.

"But I would not lead your life for anything in the world," added Dolly
at last with great decision.

"Oh, nonsense, Dolly!"

"Are you happy, Marion?" asked Dolly, suddenly growing very grave.

"Happy?" repeated Mrs. Darche, a little surprised by the sudden
question. "Yes, why not? What do you mean by happy?"

"What everybody means, I suppose."

"What is that?"

"Why, wanting things and getting them, of course--wanting a ten cent
thing a dollar's worth, and having it."

"What a definition!" exclaimed Mrs. Darche. "But I really do believe
you enjoy your life."

"Though it would bore you to extinction."

"Possibly. The alternate wild attacks of teaching and flirting to which
you are subject would probably not agree with me."

"Perhaps you could do either, but not both at the same time."

"I suppose I could teach if I knew anything," said Mrs. Darche
thoughtfully. "But I do not," she added with conviction.

"And I have no doubt you could flirt if you loved anybody. It is a pity
you do not."

"Oh, my flirting days are over," answered Marion laughing. "You seem to
forget that I am married."

"Do you not forget it sometimes?" asked Dolly, laughing, but with less
genuine mirth.

"Do not be silly!" exclaimed Marion with a slight shade of annoyance.
She had been helping Dolly with the roses, all of which, with the
exception of two, were now arranged in a vase.

"These will not go in," she said, holding up the remaining flowers.
"You might stick them into that little silver cup."

"To represent you--and the other man. A red and a white rose. Is that
it?"

"Or you and me," suggested Mrs. Darche in perfect innocence. "Why not?"

"Tell me," said Dolly, when they had finished, "who is he?"

"Why, Russell Vanbrugh, of course."

"Oh!" exclaimed Dolly, turning her head away. "Why of course?"

"Oh, because--"

"Why not Harry Brett?" asked Dolly, with the merciless insistence
peculiar to very young people.

In all probability, if no interruption had occurred, the conversation
of that morning would have taken a more confidential turn than usual,
and poor Dolly might then and there have satisfied her curiosity in
regard to the relations between Marion and Russell Vanbrugh.

It would be more correct, perhaps, to use a word of less definite
meaning than relation. Dolly suspected indeed that Vanbrugh loved Mrs.
Darche in his own quiet and undemonstrative fashion, and that this was
the secret of his celibacy. She believed it possible, too, that her
friend might be more deeply attached to Vanbrugh than she was willing
to acknowledge even in her own heart. But she was absolutely convinced
that whatever the two might feel for one another their feelings would
remain for ever a secret. She had gone further than usual in asking
Marion whether she were happy, and whether she had not at some time or
another almost forgotten that she was married at all. And Marion had
not resented the words. Dolly felt that she was on the very point of
getting at the truth, and was hoping that she might be left alone
half-an-hour longer with her friend, when the door opened and Simon
Darche entered the room. At the sight of the two young women his pink
silk face lighted up with a bright smile. He rubbed his hands, and the
vague expression of his old blue eyes gave place to a look of
recognition, imaginary, it is true, but evidently a source of pleasure
to himself.

"Good morning, my dear," he said briskly, taking Marion's hand in both
of his and pressing it affectionately. "Good morning, Mrs. Chilton," he
added, smiling at Dolly.

"Dolly Maylands," suggested Marion in an undertone.

"Dolly? Dolly?" repeated the old man. "Yes, yes--what did you say? What
did you say, Marion? Dolly Chilton? Silly child. Dolly Chilton has been
dead these twenty years."

"What does he mean?" asked Dolly in a whisper. Simon Darche turned upon
her rather suddenly.

"Oh yes, I remember," he said. "You are the little girl who used to
talk about Darwin, and the soul, and monkeys without tails, and steam
engines, when you were seven years old. Why, my dear child, I know you
very well indeed. How long have you been married?"

"I am not married," answered the young girl, suppressing a smile.

"Why not?" inquired Mr. Darche with startling directness. "But
then--oh, yes! I am very sorry, my dear. I did not mean to allude to
it. I went to poor Chilton's funeral."

Just then, Stubbs, the butler, entered again, bearing this time a note
for Mrs. Darche. While she glanced at the contents he waited near the
door in obedience to a gesture from her. Old Mr. Darche immediately
went up to him, and with hearty cordiality seized and shook his
reluctant hand.

"Happy to meet you, old fellow!" he cried. "That is all right. Now just
sit down here and we will go through the question in five minutes."

"Beg pardon, sir," said the impassive butler. It was not the first time
that his master had taken him for an old friend.

"Eh, what!" cried Simon Darche. "Calling me 'sir'? Did you come here to
quarrel with me, old man? Oh, I see! You are laughing. Well come along.
This business will not keep. The ladies will not mind if we go to work,
I daresay."

And forthwith he dragged Stubbs to a table and forced him into a chair,
talking to him all the time. Dolly was startled and grasped Marion's
arm.

"What is it?" she asked under her breath. "Oh, Marion, what is it? Is
he quite mad?"

Mrs. Darche answered her only by a warning look, and then, turning
away, seemed to hesitate a moment. Stubbs was suffering acutely,
submitting to sit on the edge of the chair to which his master had
pushed him, merely because no means of escape suggested itself to his
mechanical intelligence.

"Why can you not sit down comfortably?" asked Mr. Darche, with a show
of temper. "You are not in a hurry, I know. Oh I see, you are cold.
Well, warm yourself. Cold morning. It will be warm enough in Wall
Street to-morrow, if we put this thing through. Now just let me explain
the position to you. I tell you we are stronger than anybody thinks.
Yes sir. I do not see any limit to what we may do."

Marion took a flower from one of the vases and went up to the old
gentleman.

"Just let me put this rose in your coat, before you go to work."

Mr. Darche turned towards her as she spoke, and his attention was
diverted. With a serio-comic expression of devout thankfulness, Stubbs
rose and noiselessly glided from the room.

"Thank you, thank you," said the old gentleman, and as he bent to smell
the blossom, his head dropped forward rather helplessly. "I was always
fond of flowers."

The note which Stubbs had brought conveyed the information that the
three doctors who were to examine old Mr. Darche with a view of
ascertaining whether he could properly be held responsible for his
actions, would come in half an hour. It was now necessary to prepare
him for the visit, and Marion had not decided upon any plan.

It was evidently out of the question to startle him by letting him
suspect the truth, or even by telling him that his visitors belonged to
the medical profession. Mrs. Darche wished that she might have the
chance of consulting Dolly alone for a moment before the doctors came,
but this seemed equally impossible. She silently handed the note to her
friend to read and began talking to the old gentleman again. He
answered at random almost everything she said. It was clear that he was
growing rapidly worse and that his state was changing from day to day.
Marion, of course, did not know that the medical examination was to be
held by order of the committee conducting the inquiry into the
Company's affairs. Her husband had simply told her what she already
knew, namely, that his father was no longer able to attend to business
and that the fact must be recognised and a new president elected. It
would be quite possible, he thought, to leave the old gentleman in the
illusion that he still enjoyed his position and exercised his
functions. There could be no harm in that. To tell him the truth might
inflict such a shock upon his faculties as would hasten their complete
collapse, and might even bring about a fatal result. He had impressed
upon her the necessity of using the utmost tact on the occasion of the
doctors' visit, but had refused to be present himself, arguing, perhaps
rightly, that his appearance could be of no use, but that it might, on
the contrary, tend to complicate a situation already difficult enough.

The only course that suggested itself to Mrs. Darche's imagination, was
to represent the three doctors as men of business who came to consult
her father-in-law upon an important matter. At the first mention of
business, the old gentleman's expression changed and his manner became
more animated.

"Eh, business?" he cried. "Oh yes. Never refuse to see a man on
business. Where are they? Good morning, Mrs. Chilton. I am sorry I
cannot stay, but I have some important business to attend to."

He insisted upon going to his study immediately in order to be ready to
receive his visitors.

"Wait for me, Dolly," said Marion, as she followed him.

Dolly nodded and sat down in her own place by the fireplace, taking up
the magazine she had begun to cut and thoughtfully resuming her
occupation. Under ordinary circumstances she would perhaps have gone
away to occupy herself during the morning in some of the many matters
which made her life so full. But her instinct told her that there was
trouble in the air to-day, and that the affairs of the Darches were
rapidly coming to a crisis. She liked difficulties, as she liked
everything which needed energy and quickness of decision, and her
attachment to her friend would alone have kept her on the scene of
danger.

Marion did not return immediately, and Dolly supposed that she had
determined to stay with the old gentleman until the doctors came. It
was rather pleasant to sit by the fire and think, and wonder, and fill
out the incidents of the drama which seemed about to be enacted in the
house. Dolly realised that she was in the midst of exciting events such
as she had sometimes read of, but in which she had never expected to
play a part. There were all the characters belonging to the situation.
There was the beautiful, neglected young wife, the cruel and selfish
husband, the broken-down father, the two young men who had formerly
loved the heroine, and last, but not least, there was Dolly herself. It
was all very interesting and very theatrical, she thought, and she
wished that she might watch it or watch the developments in the
successive scenes, entirely as a spectator, and without feeling what
was really uppermost in her heart--a touch of sincere sympathy for her
friend's trouble.

Just as she was thinking of all that Marion had to suffer, John Darche,
the prime cause and promoter of the trouble, entered the room, pale,
nervous, and evidently in the worst of humours.

"Oh, are you here, Miss Maylands?" he inquired, discontentedly.

Dolly looked up quietly.

"Yes. Am I in the way? Marion has just gone with Mr. Darche to his
study. This note came a few moments ago and she gave it to me to read.
I think you ought to see it."

John Darche's brow contracted as he ran his eye over the page. Then he
slowly tore the note to shreds and tossed them into the fire.

"I do not know why my wife thinks it necessary to take all her friends
into the confidences of the family," he said, thrusting his hands into
his pockets and going to the window, thereby turning his back upon
Dolly.

Dolly made no answer to the rude speech, but quietly continued to cut
the pages of the magazine, until, seeing that Darche did not move and
being herself rather nervous, she broke the silence again.

"Am I in the way, Mr. Darche?"

"Not at all, not at all," said John, waking, perhaps, to a sense of his
rudeness and returning to the fireplace. "On the contrary," he
continued, "it is as well that you should be here. There will probably
be hysterics during the course of the day, and I have no doubt you know
what is the right thing to do under the circumstances. There seems to
be a horticultural show here," he added, as he noticed for the first
time the vases of flowers on the tables.

"They are beautiful roses," answered Dolly in a conciliatory tone.

"Yes," said John, drawing in his tin lips. "Beautiful, expensive--and
not particularly appropriate to-day. One of my wife's old friends, I
suppose. Do you know who sent them?"

"Stubbs brought them in, a little while ago," Dolly replied. "I believe
there was no note with them."

"No note," repeated John, still in a tone of discontent. "It is rude to
send flowers without even a card. It is assuming too much intimacy."

"Is it?" asked Dolly innocently.

"Of course it is," answered John.

"Half an hour," he said, after a moment's pause. "Half an hour! How
long is it since that note came?"

"About twenty minutes I should think."

"Doctors are generally punctual," observed Darche. "They will be here
in a few minutes."

"Shall you be present?" asked Dolly.

"Certainly not," John answered with decision. "It would give me very
little satisfaction to see my father proved an idiot by three fools."

"Fools!" repeated Dolly in surprise.

"Yes. All doctors are fools. The old gentleman's head is as clear as
mine. What difference does it make if he does not recognise people he
only half knows? He understands everything connected with the business,
and that is the principal thing. After all, what has he to do? He signs
his name to the papers that are put before him. That is all. He could
do that if he really had softening of the brain, as they pretend he
has. As for electing another president at the present moment it is out
of the question."

"Yes, so I should suppose," said Dolly.

John turned sharply upon her.

"So you should suppose? Why should you suppose any such thing?"

"I have heard that the Company is in trouble," answered Dolly, calmly.

John opened his lips as though he were about to make a sharp answer,
but checked himself and turned away.

"Yes," he said more quietly, "I suppose that news is public property by
this time. There they are," he added, as his ear caught the distant
tinkle of the door bell.

"Shall I go?" asked Dolly for the third time.

"No," answered Darche, "I will go out and meet them. Stay here please.
I will send my wife to you presently."



CHAPTER V.


The verdict of the doctors was a foregone conclusion. The family
physician, who was one of the three, the other two being specialists,
stayed behind and explained to John Darche the result of the
examination. There was no hope of recovery, he said, nor even of
improvement. The most that could be done was to give the old gentleman
the best of care so long as he remained alive. Little by little his
faculties would fail, and in a few years, if he did not die, he would
be quite as helpless as a little child.

John Darche was not in a state to receive the information with
equanimity, though he had expected nothing else and knew that every
word the doctor said was true--and more also. He protested, as he had
protested to Dolly half an hour earlier, that Mr. Darche was still a
serviceable president for the Company, since he could sign his name, no
matter whether he understood the value of the signature or not. The
doctor, who, like most people, was aware of the investigation then
proceeding, shook his head, smiled incredulously, asked after Mrs.
Darche and went away, pondering upon the vanity of human affairs and
consoling himself for the sins of the world with the wages thereof,
most of which ultimately find their way to the doctor's bank-book, be
the event life or death.

Old Mr. Darche, supremely unconscious of what had taken place, and
believing that he had been giving the benefit of his valuable advice to
the directors of a western railroad, had lighted one of his very fine
cigars and had fallen asleep in his easy chair in his own study before
it was half finished. Marion had returned to Dolly in the library and
John had sent for his stenographer and had taken possession of the
front drawing-room for the morning, on pretence of attending to the
business which, in reality, had already been withdrawn from his hands
during several weeks.

He was in great suspense and anxiety, for it was expected that the work
of the investigating committee would end on that afternoon. He knew
that in any event he was ruined, and even he felt that it would be
humiliating to live on his wife's income. They would go abroad at once,
he thought, New York had become hateful to him. He had as yet no
apprehension of being deprived of his liberty, even temporarily.
Whatever action was taken against him must be of a civil nature, he
thought. He did not believe that any judge would issue a warrant for
his arrest on such evidence as could have been collected by the
committee. Simon Darche was incapable of remembering what he had done
even a week previously, and since the doctors declared that his mind
was gone, almost anything might be attributed to him--anything, in
fact, about which the slightest trace of irregularity could be
discovered. John had been cautious enough in his actions when he had
been aware that he was violating the law, though he had been utterly
reckless when he had appealed to chance in the hope of retrieving his
losses, and recovering himself. He believed himself safe, and indulged
in speculations about the future as a relief to the excessive anxiety
of the moment.

Mrs. Darche had some right to know the result of the consultation which
had taken place, but her husband either intended to leave her in
ignorance or forgot her existence after the doctors had left the house.
During some time she remained with Dolly in the library, expecting that
John would at least send her some message, if he did not choose to come
himself. At last she determined to go to him.

"I am very busy now," he said as she entered the room and glanced at
the secretary.

"Yes," answered Mrs. Darche, "I see, but I must speak to you alone for
a minute."

"Well--but I wish you would choose some other time." He nodded to the
secretary who rose and quietly disappeared.

"What is it?" asked Darche, when they were alone.

"What did the doctors say?"

"Oh, nothing at all. They talked as doctors always do. Keep the patient
in good health, plenty of fresh air, food and sleep." He laughed sourly
at his own words.

"Is that all?" inquired Marion, rather incredulously. "They must have
said something else. Why, we can all see that he is not himself. There
is something very seriously wrong. I am quite sure that he did not
recognise me yesterday."

"Not recognise you?" said John with the same disagreeable laugh. "Not
recognise you? Do not be silly. He talks of nobody else. I tell you
there is nothing in the world the matter with him, he is good for
another twenty years."

"Thank heaven for that--for the twenty years of life, whether with all
his faculties or not--"

"Yes, by all means let us return thanks. At the present rate of
interest on his life that means at least two millions."

"It hurts me to hear you talk like that about your father," said
Marion, sitting down and watching her husband as he walked slowly up
and down before her.

"Does it? That is interesting. I wonder why you are hurt because he is
likely to live twenty years. You are not very likely to be hurt by his
death."

"Did I ever suggest such a thing?"

"No, it suggested itself."

At this speech Mrs. Darche rose. Standing quite still for a moment, she
looked quietly into his uncertain eyes. He was evidently in the worst
of humours, and quite unable to control himself, even had he wished to
do so. She felt that it would be safer to leave him, for her own temper
was overwrought and ready to break out. She turned towards the door.
Then he called her back.

"I say, Marion!"

"Well."

"What are you making such a fuss about?"

"Have I said anything?"

"No, not much, but you have a particularly uncomfortable way of letting
one see what you would like to say."

"Is that why you called me back?" asked Mrs. Darche on the point of
turning away again.

"I suppose so. It certainly was not for the pleasure of prolonging this
delightful interview."

Once more she moved in the direction of the door. Then something seemed
to tighten about her heart, something long forgotten, and which, if she
tried to understand it at all, she thought was pity. It was
nothing--only a dead love turning in its grave. But it hurt her, and
she stopped and looked back. John Darche was leaning against the high
mantlepiece, shading his eyes from the fire with his small, pointed
white hand. She came and stood beside him.

"John," she said gently, "I want to speak to you seriously. I am very
sorry if I was hasty just now. Please forget it."

Darche looked up, pulled out his watch and glanced at it, and then
looked at her again before he answered. His eyes were hard and dull.

"I think I said that I was rather busy this morning," he answered
slowly.

"Yes, I know," answered Marion, in her sweet, low voice. "But I will
not keep you long. I must speak. John, is this state of things to go on
for ever?"

"I fancy not. The death of one of us is likely to put a stop to it
before eternity sets in," he answered with some scorn.

"We can stop it now if we will but try," said Marion, laying her hand
entreatingly upon his arm.

"Oh yes, no doubt," observed John coldly.

"Let me speak, please, this once," said Mrs. Darche. "I know that you
are worried and harassed about business, and you know that I want to
spare you all I can, and would help you if I could."

"I doubt whether your help would be conducive to the interests of the
Company," observed Darche.

"No--I know that I cannot help you in that way. But if you would only
let me, in other ways, I could make it so much easier for you."

"Could you?" asked John, turning upon her immediately. "Then just lend
me a hundred thousand dollars."

Mrs. Darche started a little at the words. As has been said, she was
really quite in ignorance of what was taking place and had no idea that
her husband could be in need of what in comparison with the means of
the Company seemed but a small sum in cash.

"Do you need money, John?" she asked, looking at him anxiously.

"Oh no, I was only putting an imaginary case."

"I wish it were not merely imaginary--"

"Do you?" he asked, interrupting her quickly. "That is kind."

Marion seemed about to lose her temper at last, though she meant to
control herself.

"John!" she exclaimed, in a tone of reproach, "why will you so
misunderstand me?"

"It is you who misunderstand everything."

"I mean it quite seriously," she answered. "You know if you were really
in trouble for a sum like that, I could help you. Not that you ever
could be. I was only thinking--wishing that in some way or other I
might be of use. If I could help you in anything, no matter how
insignificant, it would bring us together."

John smiled incredulously.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "is that what you are driving at? Do you not think
life is very bearable as we are?"

By this time Marion had completely regained her self-possession. She
was determined not to be repulsed, but there was a little bitterness in
her voice as she spoke.

"No, frankly, John, as we are living now, life is not very bearable. I
cannot exchange half a dozen words with you without quarrelling, and it
is not my fault, John, it is not my fault! Could you not sometimes make
it a little easier for me?"

"By borrowing a hundred thousand dollars?"

A pause followed John's answer, and he walked as far as the window,
came back again and stopped.

"If you think it would be conducive to our conjugal happiness that I
should owe you a hundred thousand dollars, by all means lend it to me.
I will give you very good security and pay you the current rate of
interest."

Mrs. Darche hesitated a moment before she spoke again. She was not
quite sure that he was in earnest, and being determined to make the
utmost use of the opportunity she had created, she dreaded lest if she
pressed her offer upon him he should suddenly turn upon her with a
brutal laugh.

"Do you really mean it, John?" she asked at last. "Will it help you at
all?"

"Oh, if you insist upon it and think it will promote your happiness, I
have no objection to taking it," said Darche coolly. "As a matter of
fact it would be a convenience to-day, and it might help me to-morrow.
It will certainly not be of any importance next week."

"I do not know whether you are in earnest or not, but I am."

Once more she paused. She realised that he was in need of a great deal
of money, and that his scornful acceptance of her offer was really his
way of expressing real interest.

"You shall have it as soon as I can get it for you. If you really need
it I shall be very glad. If you are only laughing at me--well, I can
bear that too."

"No," answered John, speaking much more seriously than hitherto. "It is
a simple matter, of course--but it is quite true that it would be a
convenience to me to have a hundred thousand dollars in cash during the
next twenty-four hours, and after all, it will not make any difference
to you, as so much of your property is in bonds. All you need to do is
to borrow the money on call and give the bonds as collateral."

"I do not understand those things, of course," said Marion in a tone of
grief, "but I suppose it can be managed easily enough, and I shall be
so proud if I am able to help you a little. Oh, John," she added, after
a little pause, "if we could only be as we used to be, everything to
each other."

"I wish we could," John answered with real or assumed gravity. "But in
this existence, there is everything to separate us and hardly anything
to bring us together. You see, I am worried all day long, I never get
any rest and then I lose my temper about everything. I know it is wrong
but I cannot help it, and you must try to be as patient as you can, my
dear."

"I do try, John, I do try, do I not? Say that you know I do." For a
moment she thought she had produced an impression upon him, and a
vision of a happier and more peaceful life rose suddenly before her
ready imagination. But the tone in which he spoke the next words
dispelled any such illusion.

"Oh yes," he said dryly, "I know you do, of course. You are awfully
good--and I am awfully bad. I will reform as soon as I have time. And
now, if you do not mind, I will go and attend to my letters."

"And I will see about getting the money at once," she said, bravely
hiding her disappointment at his change of tone. "I may be able to have
it by this evening."

"Oh yes," he answered with some eagerness, "if you are quick about it.
Well good-bye, and I am really much more grateful than I seem."

His dry unpleasant laugh was the last sound she heard as she left the
room. After all, it seemed perfectly useless, though she did her best
all day and every day.

Marion Darche left her husband more than ever convinced of the
hopelessness of any attempt at a happier and more united existence.
Faithful, brave, loving, a woman of heart rather than head, she
encountered in every such effort the blank wall of a windowless nature,
so to say--the dull opposition of a heartless intelligence incapable of
understanding any natural impulse except that of self-preservation, and
responding to no touch of sympathy or love. Against her will, she
wondered why she had married him, and tried to recall the time when his
obstinacy had seemed strength, his dulness gravity, his brutality
keenness. But no inner conjuring with self could give an instant's
life to the dead illusion. The nearest approach to any real
resurrection which she had felt for years had been the little pang that
had overtaken her when she had turned to leave him and had thought for
one moment that he might be suffering, as she was apt to suffer--this
being, whom she had once misunderstood and loved, whom she loved not at
all now, but to whom she had been lovelessly faithful in word and
thought and deed for years past.

Yet she knew that others had loved her well, most of all Harry Brett,
and girl-like, groping for her heart's half-grown truth she had once
believed that she loved him too, with his boyish, careless ways, his
thoughtless talk and his love of happiness for its own sake. He had
disappointed her in some little way, being over-light of leaf and
flower, though the stem was good to the core; she had looked for
strength on the surface as a child breaks a twig and laughs at the oak
for its weakness; she had expected, perhaps, to be led and ruled by a
hand that would be tender and obedient only for her, and she had turned
from Harry Brett to John Darche as from a delusion to a fact, from a
dream to the strong truth of waking--very bitter waking in the end.

But though she had wrecked heart and happiness, and had suffered that
cold and hunger of the soul which the body can never feel, she would
not change her course nor give up the dream of hope. Worse than what
had been, could not be to come, she said to herself, realising how
little difference financial ruin, even to herself, could make now.

As she took up her pen to write a word to Brett, begging him to come to
her without delay, she paused a moment, thinking how strange it was
that in an extremity she should be obliged to send for him, who had
loved her, to help her to save her husband, if salvation were possible.
She even felt a little warmth about her heart, knowing how quickly
Harry would come, and she was glad that she had known how to turn a
boy's romantic attachment into a man's solid friendship. Brett would
not disappoint her.

She sent Dolly away, and Dolly, obedient, docile and long-suffering for
her friend's sake, kissed her on both pale cheeks and left her,
tripping down the brown steps with a light gait and a heavy heart.



CHAPTER VI.


Marion had sent a messenger down town after Brett, and the latter did
not lose a moment in answering the note in person. He was a little pale
as he entered.

"What is it?" he asked, almost before he had shaken hands.

"It is kind of you to come at once," answered Marion. "I asked you to
come about a matter of business. Sit down. I will explain."

"Can I be of any use?"

"Yes, I want some money, a great deal of money, in fact, and I want it
immediately."

"Are you going to buy a house?" he inquired in some surprise. "How much
do you want?"

"A hundred thousand dollars."

Brett did not answer at once. He looked at her rather anxiously, then
stared at the fire, then looked at her again.

"It is rather short notice for such an amount. But you have nearly as
much as that in bonds and mortgages."

"Yes, I know."

"Well then, there need not be any difficulty. What you have in bonds
you have already, to all intents and purposes. Do I understand that you
want this money in cash?"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Darche with decision, "in cash."

"I suppose a cheque will do as well?" suggested Brett with a smile.

"A cheque?" She repeated the word and seemed to hesitate. "I should
have to write my name on it, should I not?"

"Yes."

During the pause which followed, Marion seemed to be reviewing the
aspects of the transaction.

"The name of the person to whom I give it?" she asked at last, and she
seemed to avoid his glance.

"Yes," answered Brett, surprised at the inexperience betrayed by the
question, "unless you cashed it yourself and took the money in notes."

"No," said Mrs. Darche, as firmly as before. "I want the notes here,
please. What I want you to do, is to take enough bonds and get the
money for me. I do not care to know anything else about it, because I
shall not understand."

"I suppose I ought not to be inquisitive, my dear friend," replied
Brett after a little hesitation, "but I ought to tell you what you do
not seem to realise, that a hundred thousand dollars is a great deal of
money and that you ought not to keep such a sum in the house."

"I do not mean to keep it in the house. It is to be taken away
immediately."

"I see."

He concluded that the money was to be taken from the house by John
Darche, and he determined to prevent such a result if possible.

"May I ask one question?" he inquired.

"I will not promise to answer it." She still looked away from him.

"I hope you will. Do you mean to lend this money to some one? If it
were an ordinary payment you would certainly not want it in notes in
the house."

"How do you know?" asked Marion with some impatience.

"Because no human man of business with whom I have ever had anything to
do likes to trot about town with a hundred thousand dollars' worth of
notes in his pocket. And there is very little doubt in my mind about
what you mean to do with the money. You mean to give it to your
husband. Am I right?"

Mrs. Darche blushed a little and a shade of annoyance crossed her face.

"Why should I tell you what I am to do with it?" she asked.

"Because I am your legal adviser," answered Brett without hesitating,
"and I may give you some good advice."

"Thank you, I do not want any advice."

Another pause followed this declaration, which only seemed to confirm
the lawyer in his surmises.

"I will call it by another name," he said at last in a conciliatory
tone. "I will call it information. But it is information of a kind that
you do not expect. I should certainly not have said anything about it
if you had not sent for me on this business. Is it of any use to beg
you to reconsider the question of lending this money?"

"No, I have made up my mind."

"To lend it to your husband?"

"Dear Mr. Brett," said Marion, beginning to be impatient again, "I said
that I would rather not tell you."

"I fancy that I am not mistaken," Brett answered. "Now my dear friend,
you will be the last to know what every one has known for some time,
but it is time that you should know it. The affairs of the Company are
in a very bad state, so bad indeed, that an inquiry has been going on
into the management. I do not know the result of it yet, but I am very
much afraid that it will be bad, and that it will have very
disagreeable consequences for you all."

"Consequences?" repeated Mrs. Darche. "What consequences? Do you mean
that we shall lose money?"

"I mean that and I mean something more. It is very serious. Your
husband is deeply involved, and his father's name is so closely
associated with his in all the transactions that it seems almost
impossible to say which of the two is innocent."

"Innocent!" cried Marion, laying her hand suddenly upon the arm of her
chair and starting forward, then rising quickly to her feet and looking
down at him. "What do you mean? Why do you use that word?"

The expression had hardly escaped Brett's lips when he realised the
extent of his carelessness. He rose and stood beside her, feeling, as a
man does, that she had him at a disadvantage while he was seated and
she was standing.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "I should have been more careful. I
should have said which of the two is responsible for--"

"Something disgraceful?" interrupted Mrs. Darche whose excitement was
only increased by his hesitation. "For heaven's sake, do not keep me in
this suspense. Speak! Tell me! Be quick!"

"I should not have spoken at all except as your adviser," said Brett.
"Nothing definite is known yet, but something is wrong. As a purely
business transaction it is madness to lend money to John Darche. Can
you believe for a moment that the treasurer of such a Company, that the
men who control such a Company, would ask you to lend them a hundred
thousand dollars at a few hours' notice, if they were not on the very
verge of ruin?"

"No, but that is not what happened."

She stopped short and moved away from him a little, hesitating as to
what she should say next. It was impossible to describe to him the
scene which had taken place between her and her husband.

"I cannot tell you, and yet I want you to know," she said, at last.

"Do you not trust me?" said Brett, hoping to encourage her.

"Certainly. Trust you! Oh yes, I trust you with all my heart."

She turned and faced him again.

"Then tell me," said he. "Tell me what happened in as few words as
possible. Just the bare facts."

"It is the bare facts that are so hard to tell."

She turned away from him again feeling that if she allowed her eyes to
meet his she could not long withhold her confidence.

"I suppose your husband let you guess that there was trouble, so that
you made the offer spontaneously, and then he accepted it."

"Well--yes--no--almost."

Still she hesitated, standing by the writing-table, and idly turning
over the papers.

"I saw that he was worried and harassed and that something was wearing
upon him, and I did so want to help him! I thought it might--no I will
not say that."

"But it will not help matters to throw good money after bad," answered
Brett thoughtfully. "Believe me, there is no more chance of saving this
money you mean to give him, than all the other millions that have gone
through his hands--gone heaven knows where."

"Millions?"

There was surprise in her tone.

"I am afraid so," answered Brett, as though he had no reason in making
any correction in his estimate.

"You must tell me all you can, all you know," said Marion, turning to
him again.

"That would be a long affair," said Brett, "though I know a great deal
about it. But I do not know all, though the situation is simple enough
and bad enough. In spite of the large earnings of the Company, the
finances are in a rotten state and it is said that there are large sums
not accounted for. An inquiry has been going on for some time, and was,
I believe, closed last night, but the result will not be known until
this afternoon."

"What sort of an inquiry?" asked Mrs. Darche, anxiously.

"The regular examination of the books and of all the details which have
gone through the hands of your father-in-law and your husband."

"My father-in-law! Do you mean to say that they are trying to implicate
the old gentleman too?"

Marion's face expressed the utmost concern.

"As president of the Company, he cannot fail to be implicated."

"But he is no more responsible for what he does than a child!" cried
Mrs. Darche, in a tone of protestation.

"I know that, but he is nominally at the head of the administration.
That is all you need know. The rest is merely a mass of figures with
an account of tricks and manipulations which you could not understand."

"And what would happen if--if--"

She leaned towards him unconsciously, watching his lips to catch the
answer.

"I suppose that if the inquiry goes against them, legal steps will be
taken," said Brett.

"Legal steps? What legal steps?"

Brett hesitated, asking himself whether he should be justified in
telling her what he expected as well as what he knew.

"Well--" he continued at last, "you know in such cases the injured
parties appeal to the law. But it is of no use to talk about that until
you know the result of the inquiry."

"Do you mean, do you really mean that John may be arrested?" asked Mrs.
Darche, turning pale.

"At any moment."

Brett answered in a low voice. Almost as soon as he had spoken he left
her side and crossed the room as though not wishing to be a witness to
the effect the news must have upon her. Before his back was turned she
sank into a chair and covered her face with her hands. A long pause
followed. Marion was the first to speak.

"Mr. Brett--" she said, and stopped.

"Yes." He came back to her side at once.

"Can you not help me?" she asked earnestly.

"How can I?"

"Is there nothing, nothing that can be done?"

"The whole matter is already beyond my power, or yours, or any one's."

Marion looked steadily at him for several seconds and then turned her
face away, leaning against the mantelpiece.

"I am sure something can be done."

"No, nothing can be done."

He did not move, and spoke in a tone of the utmost decision.

"That is not true," said Marion turning upon him suddenly. "Money can
help him, and we are wasting time. Do not lose a moment! Take all I
have in the world and turn it into money and take it to him. Go! Do not
lose a moment! Go! Why do you wait? Why do you look at me so?"

"It would not be a drop in the bucket," answered Brett, still not
moving.

"All I have!"

"All you have."

"That is impossible," cried Mrs. Darche, incredulously. "I am not
enormously rich, but it is something. It is between four and five
hundred thousand dollars. Is it not? I have heard you say so."

"Something like that," assented Brett, as though the statement did not
alter the case.

Mrs. Darche came close to him, laid her hand upon his arm and gently
pushed him, as though urging him to leave her.

"Go! I say," she cried. "Take it. Do as I tell you. There may be time
yet. It may save them."

But Brett did not move.

"It is utterly useless," he said stolidly. "It is merely throwing money
out of the window. Millions could not stop the inquiry now, nor prevent
the law from taking its course if it is appealed to."

"You will not do it?" asked Marion with something almost like a menace
in her voice.

"No, I will not," said Brett, more warmly. "I will not let you ruin
yourself for nothing."

"Are you really my friend?"

She drew back a little and looked at him earnestly.

"Your friend? Yes--and more--more than that, far more than you can
dream of."

"Will you refuse, do you refuse, to do this for me?"

"Yes, I refuse."

"Then I will do it for myself," she said with a change of tone as
though she had suddenly come to a decision. "I will let my husband do
it for me. You cannot refuse to give me what is mine, what you have in
your keeping."

But Brett drew back and folded his arms.

"I can refuse and I do refuse," he said.

"But you cannot! You have no right."

Her voice was almost breaking.

"That makes no difference," Brett answered firmly. "I have the power. I
refuse to give you anything. You can bring an action against me for
robbing you, and you will win your case, but by that time it will be
too late. You may borrow money on your mere name, but your securities
and title-deeds are in my safe, and there they shall stay."

Marion looked at him one moment longer and then sank back into her
seat.

"You are cruel and unkind," she said in broken tones. "Oh, what shall I
do?"

Brett hesitated, not knowing exactly what to do, and not finding
anything especial to say. It is generally the privilege of man to be
the bearer of whatever bad news is in store for woman, but as yet no
hard and fast rule of conduct has been laid down for the unfortunate
messenger's action under the circumstances. Being at a loss for words
with which to console the woman he loved for the pain he had
unwillingly given her, Brett sat down opposite her and tried to take
her hand. She drew it away hastily.

"No, go away," she said almost under her breath. "Leave me alone. I
thought you were my friend."

"Indeed I am," protested Brett in a soothing tone.

"Indeed you are not."

Marion sat up suddenly and drew back to her end of the sofa.

"Do you call this friendship?" she asked almost bitterly. "To refuse to
help me at such a moment. Do you not see how I am suffering? Do you not
see what is at stake? My husband's reputation, his father's name, good
name, life perhaps--the shock of a disgrace would kill him--and for me,
everything! And you sit there and refuse to lift a finger to help
me--oh, it is too much! Indeed it is more than I can bear!"

"Of course you cannot understand it all now," said Brett, very much
distressed. "You cannot see that I am right, but you will see it soon,
too soon. You cannot save him. Why should you ruin yourself?"

"Why?"

"Is there some other reason," asked Brett, quickly. "Something that I
do not know?"

"All the reasons," she exclaimed passionately, "all the reasons there
ever were."

"Do you love him still?" asked Brett, scarcely knowing what he was
saying.

Marion drew still further back from him and spoke in an altered tone.

"Mr. Brett, you have no right to ask me such a question."

"No right? I? No, perhaps I have no right. But I take the right whether
it is mine or not. Because I love you still, as I have always loved
you, because there is nothing in heaven or earth I would not do for
you, because if you asked me for all I possessed at this moment, you
should have it, to do what you like with it--though you shall have
nothing of what is yours--because, to save you the least pain, I would
take John Darche's place and go to prison and be called a rascal and a
thief before all the world, for your sake, for your dear sake, Marion.
I love you. You know that I love you. Right or wrong--but it is right
and not wrong! There is not a man in the world who would do for any
woman the least of the things I would do for you."

Again he tried to take her hand, though she resisted and snatched it
from him after a little struggle.

"Leave me! leave me!" she cried despairingly. "Let me go!"

"Not until you know, not until you understand that every word I say
means ten thousand times more than it ever meant to any one, not until
you know that I love you through and through with every part of me,
with every thought and action of my life. Look at me! Look into my
eyes! Do you not see it there, the truth, the devotion? No? Is it so
long since I loved you and you said--you thought--you believed for one
little day that you loved me? Can you not remember it? Can you not
remember even the sound of the words? They were so sweet to hear! They
are so very sweet as they come back now--with all they mean now--but
could not mean then!"

"Harry!"

She could not resist pronouncing his name that once.

"I knew it! You loved me then. You love me now. What is the use of
fighting against it, when we love each other so? Marion! Love! Ah God!
At last!"

"Go!"

With a quick movement she sprang to her feet and stood back from him.

"Marion!"

But in a moment it was past. With a gesture she kept him at arm's
length.

"Is that your friendship?" she asked reproachfully.

"No, it is love," he answered almost roughly. "There is no friendship
in it."

"And you talk of helping me!" she cried. "And at such a time as this,
when I am weak, unstrung, you force it all upon me, and drag out what I
have hidden so long. No, no! You do not love me. Go!"

"Not love you!" Again he tried to get near her. "God in heaven! Do not
hurt me so!"

"No," she answered, still thrusting him back. "If you loved me you
would help me, you would respect me, you would honour me, you would not
try to drag me down."

"Drag you down! Ah, Marion!"

He spoke very unsteadily, then turning his face from her he leaned upon
the mantelpiece and watched the fire. A long pause followed. After
awhile he looked up again and their eyes met.

"Harry!" said Mrs. Darche quietly.

"Yes," he answered.

"Come and sit beside me on that chair."

Brett obeyed.

"We must forget this morning," said Marion in her natural tone of
voice. "We must say to ourselves that all this has never happened and
we must believe it. Will you?"

"You ask too much," answered Brett looking away. "I cannot forget that
I have said it--at last, after all these years."

"You must forget it. You must--must--for my sake."

"For your sake?" Still he looked away from her.

"Yes, for my sake," she repeated. "If you cannot forget, I can never
look any one in the face again. Look at me, please," she said, laying
her hand upon his arm. "Look into my eyes and tell me that you will not
remember."

"For your sake I will try not to remember," he said slowly. "But I
cannot promise yet," he added with sudden passion. "Oh no!"

"You will do your best. I know you will," said Marion, in a tone that
was meant to express conviction. "Now go. And remember that I have
forgotten."

"You are very kind," Brett answered with more humility than she had
expected. "You are very good to me. I was mad for a moment. Forgive me.
Try to forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive, for I remember nothing," said Marion with
a faint smile.

"Good-bye, then." He turned to go.

"Good-bye," she answered quite naturally.

"Now come back, please," she said, when he had almost reached the door.
"You are Mr. Brett now, and I am Mrs. Darche. I am in great trouble and
you are my friend, and you must help me as well as you can."

"In any way I can," he answered, coming back to her. "But I will help
only you, I will not help any one else."

"Not even old Mr. Darche?"

"Yes, I do not mean to except him."

"That is right. And we must act quickly. We must decide what is to be
done. We have," she hesitated, "we have lost time--at any moment it may
be too late."

"It is too late now," Brett answered in a sudden change of tone, as
Stubbs the butler suddenly entered the room.

"Please madam," said Stubbs, who was pale and evidently very much
disturbed, "there are some strange gentlemen to see Mr. John Darche,
and when I told them that he was out, they said they would see old Mr.
Darche, and I said that old Mr. Darche was ill and could see no one,
and they said they must see him; and they are coming upstairs without
leave, and here they are, madam, and I cannot keep them out!"



CHAPTER VII.


Bail was refused, and John Darche remained in prison during the weeks
that intervened between his arrest and his trial. He was charged with
making use of large sums, the property of the Company, for which he was
unable to account, with fraudulently tampering with the books and with
attempting to issue certificates of stock to a very large amount,
bearing forged signatures.

The house in Lexington Avenue was very gloomy and silent. Simon Darche,
who was of course in ignorance of what had taken place, had caught cold
and was confined to his bed. It was said that he was breaking down at
last, and that his heart was affected. Dolly Maylands came daily and
spent long hours with her friend, but not even her bright face could
bring light into the house. Russell Vanbrugh and Harry Brett also came
almost every day. Vanbrugh had undertaken Darche's defence, out of
friendship for Marion, and it was natural that he should come. As for
Brett, he could not stay away, and as Mrs. Darche seemed to have
forgiven and forgotten his passionate outbreak and did not bid him
discontinue his visits, he saw no reason for doing so on any other
ground.

He was, on the whole, a very loyal-hearted man, and was very much
ashamed of having seemed to take advantage of Marion's distress, to
speak as he had spoken. But he was neither over-sensitive nor in any
way morbid. Seeing that she intended to forgive him, he did not
distress himself with self-accusations nor doubt that her forgiveness
was sincere and complete. Besides, her present distress was so great
that he felt instinctively her total forgetfulness of smaller matters,
and even went so far as to believe himself forgotten. Meanwhile he
watched every opportunity of helping Marion, and would have been ready
at a moment's notice to do anything whatever which could have
alleviated her suffering in the slightest degree. Nevertheless, he
congratulated himself that he was not a criminal lawyer, like
Vanbrugh, and that it had not fallen to his share to defend John
Darche, thief swindler, and forger. He would have done that, and more
also, as Vanbrugh was doing, for Marion's sake, no doubt, but he was
very glad that it could not be asked of him. It was bad enough that he
should be put into the witness-box to state on his oath such facts as
he could remember to Darche's advantage, and to be cross-examined and
re-examined, and forced through the endless phases of torture to which
witnesses are usually subjected. He was able, at least, to establish
the fact that not the smallest sum had ever, so far as he knew, passed
from the hands of John Darche to his wife's credit. On being asked why,
as Mrs. Darche's man of business, he had not invested any of her money
in the Company, he replied that his father had managed the estate
before him, and that his father's prejudices and his own were wholly in
favour of investment in real estate, bonds of long-established railways
and first mortgages, and that Mrs. Darche had left her affairs entirely
in his hands.

Marion herself gave her evidence bravely and truthfully, doing her best
to speak to her husband's advantage. Her appearance and manner excited
universal sympathy, to use the language of the reports of the case, but
what she said did not tend in any way to exculpate John Darche. On the
contrary, society learned for the first time from her lips that she had
led a most unhappy life. She suffered acutely under the
cross-examination. Being excessively truthful, she gave her answers
without the slightest distortion of fact, while doing her best to pass
over altogether any statement which could injure her husband's defence.
As often happens, what she omitted to say told most heavily against
him, while the little she was forced to admit concerning his father's
condition amply corroborated the medical opinion of the latter's state,
and proved beyond a doubt that he had been during more than a year a
mere instrument in his son's hands. He, at least, was wholly innocent,
and would be suffered to spend his few remaining years in the dreams of
a peaceful dotage.

The court, to use the current phrase, showed Marion every
consideration. That is, she was tacitly admitted from the first to have
had no connection whatever with the crime of which her husband was
accused. To the last, she intended to be present when the judge summed
up the case, in order to help John to the end by seeming to believe in
his innocence. On that very day, however, Simon Darche was so far
recovered as to be able to leave his room for the first time, and her
presence at his side seemed absolutely necessary. It was most important
that all knowledge of what was happening should be kept from him. He
was quite capable of leaving the house if left to himself, and he would
certainly not have submitted to any suggestion to the contrary offered
by Stubbs.

He might stroll into a club or into the house of some old friend, and
some one would be sure to offer him the tactless sympathy which goes
about to betray secrets. Moreover, he had been told, in explanation of
John's protracted absence, that the latter had been obliged to go away
on business, and he had enough memory and power of reasoning left to be
surprised at receiving no letters. He was sure to make inquiries about
John, if left to his own devices. Marion could not leave him. In the
midst of her extreme anxiety she was obliged to pass the greater part
of the day in reading to him, and in trying to divert his mind from the
thought of John and his absence. His love and mistaken admiration for
his son had been the strongest feelings in his life and continued to
the end.

Dolly Maylands would have been faithful to Marion under any imaginable
consequences, with that whole-souled belief and trust which is
girlhood's greatest charm. On the last day of the trial she came in the
morning and did not leave the house again. Brett appeared at intervals
and told Dolly how matters were going.

He was not a man like Vanbrugh, of very varied acquaintances and wide
experience, but in certain quarters he had great influence, and on
Marion's behalf he exerted it to the utmost on the present occasion.
Foreseeing that the verdict must inevitably be unfavourable, and
knowing of Simon Darche's great anxiety about his son's absence, Brett
succeeded in obtaining an order to bring John Darche to see his father
before he should be taken back to prison after the conclusion of the
trial. It was agreed that the police officers should appear dressed as
civilians, and should be introduced with John to the old man's presence
as men of business accompanying his son. John would then have the
opportunity of quieting his father's apprehensions in regard to his
future absence, and he could take leave of his wife if he wished to do
so, though of course he would not be allowed to be even a moment out of
his guardians' sight. The order was ostensibly granted in consideration
of Simon Darche's mental infirmity, and of the danger to his health
which any shock must cause, and which already existed in the shape of
acute anxiety. In reality, the favour was granted as a personal one to
Brett. When everything was arranged, he returned to Lexington Avenue.
He found Dolly alone in the library and told her what he had done.

It was very quiet in the room, and the dusk was stealing away the last
glow of the sunset that hung over the trees and houses of Gramercy
Park. Dolly sat near the window, looking out, her hands clasped upon
one knee, her fair young face very grave and sad. Brett paced the floor
nervously.

"How kind you are!" Dolly exclaimed.

"Kind?" repeated the young man, almost indignantly, and stopping in his
walk as he spoke. "Who would not do as much if he could?"

"Lots of people."

"Not of her friends--not of those who know her. It is little enough
that I can do for any of them. Vanbrugh has done more than I--can do
much more."

"What a fight he has made!" The ready enthusiasm rang in the girl's
clear voice. Then her tone changed she continued. "Yes," she said
thoughtfully, "Marion is lucky to have such friends as you and Russell
Vanbrugh."

"And you yourself, Miss Maylands."

"I? Oh, I do not count. What can a woman do on days like these? I can
only stay here and try to make her feel that I am a comfortable pillow
for her to lay her head upon, when she is entirely worn out. Poor
Marion! She is the bravest woman I ever knew. But then--"

She stopped, hesitating, and Brett, who was almost too much excited to
follow all the words she spoke, was suddenly aware that she had not
finished the sentence.

"What were you going to say?" he asked, struggling desperately to
remember what she had said already.

"I hardly ought--I suppose," objected Dolly. "But then--what can it
matter? He is sure to be found guilty, is he not?"

"Quite sure," Brett answered slowly.

"Well then--Marion must feel that when this last agony is over she will
have much more peace in her life than she has enjoyed for a long time.
I wonder whether it is very wrong to say such things."

"Wrong? Why? We all think them, I am sure. At least, you and Vanbrugh
and I do. As for society, I do not know what it thinks. I have not had
time to ask, nor time to care, for that matter."

"I suppose everybody sympathises with Marion as we do."

"Oh, of course. Do you know? I believe she will be more popular than
before. Everything that has come out in this abominable trial has been
in her favour. People realise what a life she has been living during
all these years--without a complaint. Wonderful woman! That brute
Darche! I wish he were to be hanged instead of sent to the
Penitentiary!"

"He deserves it," answered Dolly with the utmost conviction. "I suppose
Marion will get a divorce."

Again Brett stopped short in his walk and looked at her keenly. The
idea had doubtless passed through his own mind, but he had not heard
any one else express it as yet.

"After all," he said slowly, "there is no reason why she should not."

Then he suddenly relapsed into silence and resumed his walk.

"And then I suppose," said Dolly thoughtfully, "she would marry again."

Brett said nothing to this, but continued to pace the floor, glancing
at the young girl from time to time, and meditating on the total
depravity of innocence.

"She might marry Russell Vanbrugh, for instance," observed Dolly, as
though talking to herself.

This was too much for Brett. For the third time he stopped and faced
her.

"Why Vanbrugh, of all people?" he asked.

"Of all people, Mr. Vanbrugh, I should think," Dolly answered. "Think
of what he has done, how devoted he has been in all this trouble. And
then, the way she spoils him! Any one can see that she is ready to fall
in love with him. If she were not as good as--as anything can be--as
spring water and snow drops and angels' prayers, so to say, she would
be in love with him already. But then, she is, you know."

"I cannot imagine a woman being in love with Vanbrugh," said Brett
impatiently.

"Oh, can't you? I can. I thought he was your best friend."

"What has that to do with it? My best friend might be deaf and lame and
blind of one eye."

"Also, he might not," said Dolly with a smile.

"Oh, well!" exclaimed Brett, turning away, "if you have made up your
mind that Mrs. Darche is to marry Russell Vanbrugh, of course I have
nothing to say. I daresay people would think it a very good match."

"With John Darche alive and in the Penitentiary?" inquired the young
girl, instantly taking the opposite tack.

"As though any one could care or ask what became of him!" cried Brett,
with something like indignation. "Thank heaven we are just in this
country! We do not visit the sins of the blackguard upon the innocent
woman he leaves behind him. Fortunately, there are no children. The
very name will be forgotten, and Mrs. Darche can begin life over
again."

"Whoever marries her will have to take old Mr. Darche as an
incumbrance," remarked Dolly.

"Of course! Do you suppose that such a woman would leave the poor old
gentleman to be taken care of by strangers? Besides, he is a beggar. He
has not so much as pocket-money for his cigars. Of course Mr. Darche
will stay with them. After all, it will not be so bad. He is very quiet
and cheerful, and never in the way."

Brett spoke thoughtfully, in a tone which conveyed to Dolly the
certainty that he had already revolved the situation of Marion's future
husband in his mind.

"Tell me, Mr. Brett," she said, after a short pause, "will anybody say
that she should have sacrificed her own little fortune?"

"People may say it as much as they please," answered the young man
quickly. "No one will ever make me believe it."

"I thought conscientious people often did that sort of thing."

"Yes, they do. But this does not seem to me to be a case for that. The
bogus certificates of stocks never really were on the market. The first
that were issued excited suspicion, and proceedings began almost
immediately. Whatever John Darche actually stole was practically taken
from the funds of the Company. Now the Company is rich, and it was its
own fault if it did not look after its affairs. In some failures, a lot
of poor people suffer. That is different. It has fortunately not
happened here. The stock will be depreciated for a time, but the
Company will continue to exist and will ultimately hold up its head
again. The bonds are good enough. After all, what is stock? Lend me
some money at your own risk and if I have anything I will pay you
interest. If I have nothing, you get nothing. That is what stock
means."

"I know," answered Dolly, whose clear little brain had long been
familiar with the meanings of common business terms. "Yes, you are
quite right. There is no reason why Marion should give anything of her
own."

"None whatever," assented Brett.

If Dolly drew any conclusions from what Brett had said, she kept them
to herself, and a long silence followed, which was broken at last by
the appearance of Russell Vanbrugh, looking pale and tired. He shook
hands in silence and sat down.

"I suppose it is all over?" said Dolly softly, in a tone of
interrogation.

"Yes, just as we feared."

"What has he got?" inquired Brett, lowering his voice as though he
feared that Marion might overhear him, though she was not in the room.

"Five years."

"Is that all?" asked the younger man almost indignantly.

Vanbrugh smiled faintly at the question.

"I am rather proud of it," he answered, "considering that I defended
the case."

"True, I forgot." Brett began to walk up and down again.

Dolly looked at Vanbrugh and nodded to him with a little smile as
though in approval of what he had done. He seemed pleased and grateful.

"You must be dreadfully tired," she said. "Do let me give you some
tea."

"Thanks--I should like some--but some one ought to tell Mrs. Darche.
Shall I? Where is she?"

"I will tell her," said Brett stopping suddenly. "I will send a message
and she will come down to the drawing-room."

He went out, leaving Dolly to comfort Vanbrugh with tea, for he was far
too much excited to sit down or to listen to their conversation. The
whole matter might be more or less indifferent to them, whose lives
could not be affected directly by Mrs. Darche's misfortunes, but he
felt that his own happiness was in the balance. He knew also that, by
the arrangements he had made, John Darche would be brought to the house
in the course of the next hour, before being taken back to prison for
the night, and it was necessary to warn Marion and to see that the old
gentleman was prepared to receive his son.

"How about old Mr. Darche?" inquired Dolly, when she and Vanbrugh were
left alone.

"Every one is sorry for him," said Vanbrugh, "just as every one
execrates John. I get very little credit for the defence," he added,
with a dry laugh.

"How good you are!" exclaimed Dolly.

"Am I? It seems to me it was the least I could do."

"It will not seem so to every one," said Dolly.

"I would do a great deal for Mrs. Darche," said Vanbrugh.

"Yes, I know you would. You--you are very fond of her, are you not?"
She turned her face away as she asked the question.

"I wish to be a good friend to her."

"And something more?" suggested Dolly, in a tone of interrogation.

"Something more?" repeated Vanbrugh, "I do not understand."

"Oh nothing! I thought you did."

"Perhaps I did. But I think you are mistaken."

"Am I?" Dolly asked, turning her face to him again. "I wish--I mean, I
do not think I am."

"I am sure you are."

"This is a good deal like a puzzle game, is it not?"

"No, it is much more serious," said Vanbrugh, speaking gravely. "This
is certainly not the time to talk of such things, Miss Maylands. John
Darche may come at any moment, and as far as possible his father has
been prepared for his coming. But that isn't it. Perhaps I had better
say it at once. We have always been such good friends, you know, and I
think a great deal of your good opinion, so that I do not wish you to
mistake my motives. You evidently think that I am devoted--to say the
least of it--to Mrs. Darche. After all, what is the use of choosing
words and beat about the bush? You think I am in love with her. I
should be very sorry to leave you with that impression--very, very
sorry. Do you understand?"

Dolly had glanced at him several times while he had been speaking, but
when he finished she looked into the fire again.

"You were in love with her once?" she said quietly.

"Perhaps; how do you know that?"

"She told me so, ever so long ago."

"She told you so?" Vanbrugh's tone betrayed his annoyance.

"Yes. Why are you angry? I am her best friend. Was it not natural that
she should tell me?"

"I hardly know."

A pause followed, during which Stubbs entered the room, bringing tea.
When he was gone and Dolly had filled Vanbrugh's cup she took up the
conversation again.

"Are you thinking about it?" she asked, with a smile.

"About what?" Vanbrugh looked up quickly over his cup.

"Whether it was natural or not?"

"No, I was wondering whether you would still believe it."

"Why should I?" asked Dolly.

"You might. In spite of what I tell you. You know very little of my
life."

"Oh, I know a great deal," said the young girl with much conviction. "I
know all about you. You are successful, and rich and popular and happy,
and lots of things."

"Am I?" asked Vanbrugh rather sadly.

"Yes. Everybody knows you are."

"You are quite sure that I am happy?"

"Unless you tell me that you are not."

"How oddly people judge us," exclaimed Vanbrugh. "Because a man behaves
like a human being, and is not cross at every turn, and puts his
shoulder to the wheel, to talk and be agreeable in society, everybody
thinks he is happy."

"Of course." Dolly smiled. "If you were unhappy you would go and sit in
corners by yourself and mope and be disagreeable. But you do not, you
see. You are always 'on hand' as they call it, always ready to make
things pleasant for everybody."

"That is because I am so good-natured."

"What is good nature?"

"A combination of laziness and vulgarity," Vanbrugh answered promptly.

"Oh!"

"Yes," said Vanbrugh. "The vulgarity that wishes to please everybody,
and the laziness that cannot say no."

"You are not a lawyer for nothing. But you are not lazy and you are not
vulgar. If you were I should not like you."

"Do you like me?" asked Vanbrugh quickly.

"Very much," she answered with a little laugh.

"You just made me define good nature, Miss Maylands. How do you define
liking?"

"Oh, it is very vague," said Dolly in an airy tone. "It is a sort of
uncly, auntly thing."

"Oh. I see."

"Do you?"

"Uncles and aunts sometimes marry, do they not?"

"What an idea? They are always brothers and sisters."

"Unless they are uncles and aunts of different people," suggested
Vanbrugh.

At this point they were interrupted by the entrance of Stubbs. That
dignified functionary had suffered intensely during the last few days,
but his tortures were not yet over. So far as lay in his power he still
maintained that absolute correctness of appearance which distinguished
him from the common, or hirsute "head man"; but he could not control
the colour of his face nor the expression of his eyes. He had been a
footman in the house of Marion's father, in that very house in fact,
and had completely identified himself with the family. Had he
considered that he was in the employment of Simon and John Darche, he
would have long since given notice and sought a place better suited to
his eminent respectability. But having always waited upon Marion since
she had been a little girl, he felt bound by all the tenets of
inherited butlerdom--and by a sort of devotion not by any means to be
laughed at--to stand by his young mistress through all her troubles. By
this time his eyes had a permanently unsettled look in them as though
he never knew what fearful sight he might next gaze upon, and the ruddy
colour was slowly but certainly sinking to the collar line. It had
already descended to the lower tips of his ears.

"Beg pardon, Miss Maylands," he said in a subdued tone, "beg pardon,
sir. Mr. John has come with those gentlemen."

Both Dolly and Vanbrugh started slightly and looked up at him. Vanbrugh
was the first to speak.

"Do you not think you had better go away--to Mrs. Darche?" he asked.
"She may want to see you for a minute."

Dolly rose and left the room.

"I suppose they will come in here," said Vanbrugh, addressing Stubbs.

"Yes, sir," answered the butler nervously, "they are coming."

"Well--let us make the best of it."

A moment later John Darche entered the room, followed closely by three
men, evidently dressed for the occasion, according to superior orders,
in what, at police head-quarters, was believed to be the height of the
fashion, for they all wore light snuff-coloured overcoats, white ties,
dark trousers and heavily-varnished shoes, and each had a perfectly
new high hat in his hand. They looked about the room with evident
curiosity.

Darche himself was deathly pale and had grown thinner. Otherwise he was
little changed. As soon as he caught sight of Vanbrugh, he came
forward, extending his hand.

"I have not had a chance to thank you for your able defence," he said
calmly.

"It is not necessary," answered Vanbrugh coldly, and putting his hands
behind him as he leaned against the mantelpiece. "It was a matter of
duty."

"Very well," said John Darche stiffly, and drawing back a step. "If you
do not want to shake hands we will treat it as a matter of business."

"He is pretty fresh, ain't he?" remarked one of the officers in an
undertone to his neighbour.

"You bet he is," answered the other.

"Now I have got to see the old gentleman," said Darche, speaking to
Vanbrugh. "Before I go, I would like to have a word with you. There is
no objection to my speaking privately to Mr. Vanbrugh, I suppose?" he
inquired, turning to the officer.

"Not if you stay in the room," answered the one who took the lead.

Darche nodded to Vanbrugh, who somewhat reluctantly followed him to the
other end of the room.

"I say," he began in a tone not to be overheard by the detectives. "Can
you not give me another chance?"

"What sort of chance?" replied Vanbrugh, raising his eyebrows.

"If I could get through that door," said John looking over Vanbrugh's
shoulder, "I could get away. I know the house and they do not.
Presently, when my father comes, if you could create some sort of
confusion for a moment, I could slip out. They will never catch me.
There is an Italian sailing vessel just clearing. I have had exact
information. If I can get through that door I can be in the Sixth
Avenue Elevated in three minutes and out of New York Harbour in an
hour."

Vanbrugh had no intention of being a party to the escape. He met
Darche's eyes coldly as he answered.

"No, I will not do it. I have defended you in open court, but I am not
going to help you evade the law."

"Do not be too hard, Vanbrugh," said Darche, in a tone of entreaty.
"Things are not half so bad as they are made out."

"If that is true, I am sorry. But you have had a perfectly fair trial."

"Will you not help me get away?" Darche urged knowing that this was his
last chance.

"No."

"Vanbrugh," said John in an insinuating tone, "you used to be fond of
my wife. You wanted to marry her."

"What has that to do with it?" asked Vanbrugh turning sharply upon him.

"You may marry her and welcome, if you let me get through that door. I
shall never be heard of again."

"You infernal scoundrel!" Vanbrugh was thoroughly disgusted. "Now
gentlemen," he said, turning to the officer in charge, "I will bring
Mr. Darche here to see his son. I am sure that for the old gentleman's
sake, out of mere humanity, you will do the best you can to keep up
the illusion we have arranged. He is old and his mind wanders. He will
scarcely notice your presence."

"Yes, sir," the man answered. "You may trust us to do that, sir. Now
then, boys," he said, addressing his two companions, "straighten up,
best company manners, stiff upper lip--keep your eye on the young man.
He is rather too near that door for my taste."

John Darche's face expressed humiliation and something almost
approaching to despair. He was about to make another attempt, and had
moved a step towards Vanbrugh, when he suddenly started a little and
stood still. Marion stood in the open door beyond three detectives. She
touched one of them on the shoulder as a sign that she wished to pass.

"Pardon me, lady," said the man, drawing back. "Anything that we can do
for you?"

"I am Mrs. Darche. I wish to speak to my husband."

"Certainly, madam," and all three made way for her.

She went straight to her husband, and stood before him at the other end
of the room, speaking in a low voice.

"Is there anything I can do for you, John?" she asked so that he could
barely hear her.

"You can help me to get away--if you will." John Darche's eyes fell
before hers.

She gazed at him during several seconds, hesitating, perhaps, between
her sense of justice and her desire to be faithful to her husband to
the very end.

"Yes, I will," she said briefly.

Before she spoke again she turned quite naturally, as though in
hesitation, and satisfied herself that the three men were out of
hearing. Vanbrugh, perhaps suspecting what was taking place, had
engaged them in conversation near the door.

"How?" she asked, looking at John again. "Tell me quickly."

"Presently, when my father comes, get as many people as you can. Let me
be alone for a moment. Make some confusion, upset something, anything
will do. Give me a chance to get through the door into the library."

"I will try. Is that all?"

"Thank you," said John Darche, and for one moment a look of something
like genuine gratitude passed over his hard face. "Yes, that is all.
You will be glad to get rid of me."

Marion looked one moment longer, hesitated, said nothing and turned
away.

"If you have no objections," said Vanbrugh addressing the officer in
charge, "we will take Mr. Darche to his father's room instead of asking
him to come here."

"Yes, sir," answered the detective. "We can do that."

As they were about to leave the room, Brett met them at the door. He
paused a moment and looked about. Then he went straight to Vanbrugh.

"Has he seen him yet?" he asked.

"No, we are just going," answered Vanbrugh.

"Can I be of any use?"

"Stay with Mrs. Darche."

"Shall we go?" he asked, turning to John.

"How brave you are!" exclaimed Brett when they were alone.

"Does it need much courage?" asked Marion, sinking into a chair. "I do
not know. Perhaps."

"I know that there are not many men who could bear all this as well as
you do," Brett answered, and there was a little emotion in his face.

"Men are different. Mr. Brett--" she began after a short pause.

"Yes, do you want to ask me something?"

"Yes, something that is very hard to ask. Something that you will
refuse."

"That would be hard indeed."

"Will you promise not to be angry?" asked Marion faintly.

"Of course I will," Brett answered.

"Do not be so sure. Men's honour is such a strange thing. You may think
what I am going to ask touches it."

"What is it?"

He sat down beside her and prepared to listen.

"Will you help my husband to escape?" asked Marion in a whisper.
"No--do not say it. Wait until I tell you first how it can be done.
Presently I will get them all into this room. Old Mr. Darche is too
ill to come, I am afraid. You have not spoken alone to John yet. Take
him aside and bring him close to this door on pretence of exchanging a
few words. I will make a diversion of some sort at the other end of the
room and as they all look round he can slip out. If he has one minute's
start they will never see him again. Will you do it?"

"You were right," said Brett gravely. "It is a hard thing to ask."

"Will you do it?"

"It is criminal," he answered.

"Will you do it?"

"For God's sake, give me time to think!" He passed his hand over his
eyes.

"There is no time," said Marion anxiously. "Will you do it for me?"

"How can I? how can I?"

"You told me that you loved me the other day--will you do it for my
sake?"

A change came over Brett's face.

"For your sake?" he asked in an altered tone. "Do you mean it?"

"Yes. For my sake."

"Very well. I will do it." He turned a little pale and closed one hand
over the other.

"Thank you--thank you, Harry." Her voice lingered a little, as she
pronounced his name. "Stay here. I will make them come. It is of no use
to leave them there. It is a mere formality, at best."

"I am ready," said Brett, rising.

Marion left her seat, and crossing the room again tried the door in
question to satisfy herself that it would open readily. She looked out
into the passage beyond and then came back, and passing Brett without a
word left the room.

She was not gone long, and during the minutes of her absence Brett
tried hard not to think of what he was going to do. He could not but be
aware that it was a desperately serious matter to help a convicted
criminal to escape. He thought of the expression he had seen on
Marion's face when he had promised to do it, and of the soft intonation
of her sweet voice, and he tried to think of nothing else.

In a moment more she was in the room again leading old Mr. Darche
forward, his arm linked in hers. John came in on his father's other
side, while Vanbrugh and the three officers followed.

"I understand, I understand, my boy," cried old Darche in his cheery
voice. "It is a grand thing."

John was very pale as he answered, and was evidently making a great
effort to speak lightly.

"Yes, of course. It has turned out much simpler than we expected,
however, thanks to your immense reputation, father. Without your name
we could not have done it, could we, gentlemen?" he asked, turning to
the detectives as though appealing to them.

"No, guess not," answered the three together.

"Good God, what a scene!" exclaimed Brett under his breath.

"Mr. Brett," said Marion approaching him. "You said you wanted to speak
to my husband. Now you must tell me all about it, father," she
continued, drawing the old gentleman towards the fire. "I do not half
understand in all this confusion."

"Why it is as plain as day, child," said Simon Darche, ever ready to
explain a matter of business. "The second mortgage of a million and a
half to square everything. Come here, come close to the fire, my hands
are cold. I think I must have been ill."

"You would never think Mr. Darche had been ill, would you, gentlemen?"
asked Marion, appealing again to the detectives.

"No, guess not," they answered in chorus.

Meanwhile Brett led Darche across the room, talking to him in a loud
tone until they were near the door.

"Your wife will make some diversion presently," he whispered. "I do not
know how. When she does, make for that door and get out."

"Thank you, thank you," said John with genuine fervour, and his face
lighted up. "God bless you, Brett!"

"Do not thank me," answered Brett roughly. "I do not want to do it.
Thank your wife."

"Oh!" exclaimed John Darche, and his eyelids contracted. "My wife! Is
it for her?"

"Yes."

"I will remember that. I will remember it as long as I live."

Brett never forgot the look which accompanied the words.

"Well, be grateful to her anyhow," he said.

At that moment a piercing scream rang through the room. Marion Darche,
while talking to her father-in-law, had been standing quite close to
the fire. When Brett turned his head the front of her dress was burning
with a slow flame and she was making desperate efforts to tear it from
her.

"Good Heavens, you are really burning!" cried Brett as he crushed the
flaming stuff with his bare hands, regardless of the consequences to
himself.

"Did you think that I cried out in fun?" asked Marion calmly.

On hearing his wife's cry John Darche had bestowed but one glance upon
her. It mattered but little to him that she was really on fire. The
detectives had rushed to her assistance and for one moment no one was
looking. He was close to the door. A moment later he had left the room
and turned the key behind him.

"My God!" exclaimed the officer in charge, suddenly. "He has gone! Run,
boys! Stop! One of you take the old one. We will not lose them both."

Old Darche started as though he had suddenly been waked out of a deep
sleep, and his voice rang out loud and clear.

"Hey, what is this?" he cried. "Hello! Detectives in my house?
Disguised too?"

"Yes, sir," answered one of the detectives, seizing him by the wrist
just as the other two left the room in pursuit of John Darche. "And one
of them has got you."

"Got me!" roared the old man. "Hands off, there! What do you mean? Damn
you, sir, let me go!"

"Oh, well," replied the officer calmly, "if you are going to take on
like that, you may just as well know that your son was tried and
convicted for forgery to-day. Not that I believe that you had anything
to do with it, but he is a precious rascal all the same, and has
escaped from your house--"

"I! Forgery? The man is mad! John, where are you? Brett! Vanbrugh! Help
me, gentlemen!"

He appealed to Brett, and then to Vanbrugh who, indeed, was doing his
best to draw the officer away.

"No, no," answered the latter firmly. "I've got one of them--it's all
in the family."

Though Marion's dress was still smouldering and Brett was on his knees
trying to extinguish the last spark with his own hands, she forgot her
own danger, and almost tearing herself away from Brett she clasped the
policeman's hand trying to drag it from Simon Darche's shoulder.

"Oh, sir," she cried in tearful entreaty, "pray let him go! He is
innocent--he is ill! He will not think of escaping. Don't you see that
we have kept it all from him?"

"Kept it all from me?" asked the old gentleman fiercely turning upon
her. "What do you mean? Where is John? Where is John? I say!"

"In handcuffs by this time I guess," said the detective calmly.

"But I insist upon knowing what all this means," continued old Darche,
growing more and more excited, while the veins of his temples swelled
to bursting. "Forgery! Trial! Conviction! John escaping! Am I dreaming?
Are not you three directors of the other road? Good God, young man,
speak!" He seized Brett by the collar in his excitement.

"Pray be calm, sir, pray be calm," answered the young man, trying to
loosen the policeman's sturdy grasp.

By a tremendous effort, such as madmen make in supreme moments, the old
man broke loose, and seizing Marion by the wrist dragged her half
across the room while he spoke. "Tell me this thing is all a lie!" he
cried, again and again.

"The lady knows the truth well enough, sir," said the policeman, coming
up behind him. "She caught fire just right."

For one moment Simon Darche stood upright in the middle of the room,
looking from one to the other with wild frightened eyes.

"Oh, it is true!" he cried in accents of supreme agony. "John has
disgraced himself! Oh, my son, my son!"

One instant more, and the light in his eyes broke, he threw out his
arms and fell straight backwards against the detective. Simon Darche
was dead.



CHAPTER VIII.


There was no lack of sympathy for Marion Darche, and it was shown in
many ways during the period of calm which succeeded her husband's
disappearance and the sudden death of his father. Every one was anxious
to be first in showing the lonely woman that she was not alone, but
that, on the contrary, those who had been her friends formerly were
more ready than ever to proclaim the fact now, and, so far as they were
able, not in words only, but in deeds also.

She was relieved, all at once, of the many burdens which had oppressed
her life during the past years--indeed, she sometimes caught herself
missing the constant sacrifice, the daily effort of subduing her
temper, the hourly care for the doting old man who was gone.

But with all this, there was the consciousness that she was not
altogether free. Somewhere in the world, John Darche was still alive, a
fugitive, a man for whose escape a reward was offered. It was worse
than widowhood to be bound to a husband who was socially dead. It would
have been easier to bear if he had never escaped, and if he were simply
confined in the Penitentiary. There would not have been the danger of
his coming back stealthily by night, which Marion felt was not
imaginary so long as he was at large.

Yet she made no effort to obtain a divorce from the man whose name was
a disgrace. On the contrary, so far as outward appearances were
concerned, she made no change, or very little, in her life. Public
opinion had been with her from the first, and society chose to treat
her as a young widow, deserving every sympathy, who when the time of
mourning should have expired, would return to the world, and open her
doors to it.

There was a great deal of speculation as to the reasons which prevented
her from taking steps to free herself, but no one guessed what really
passed in her mind, any more than the majority of her acquaintances
understood that she had once loved John Darche. It had been commonly
said for years that she had married him out of disappointment because
something had prevented her from marrying another man, usually supposed
to have been Russell Vanbrugh. People attributed to her a greater
complication of motives than she could have believed possible.

In order not to be altogether alone, she took a widowed cousin to live
with her--a Mrs. Willoughby, who soon became known to her more intimate
friends as Cousin Annie. She was a gray, colourless woman, much older
than Marion, kind of heart but not very wise, insignificant but
refined, a moral satisfaction and an intellectual disappointment,
accustomed to the world, but not understanding it, good by nature and
charitable, and educated in religious forms to which she clung by habit
and association rather than because they represented anything to her.
Cousin Annie was one of those fortunate beings whom temptation
overlooks, passing by on the other side, who can suffer in a way for
the loss of those dear to them, but whose mourning does not reach the
dignity of sorrow, nor the selfish power of grief.

Marion did not feel the need of a more complicated and gifted
individuality for companionship. On the contrary, it was a relief to
her to have some one at her side for whom she was not expected to
think, but who, on the contrary, thought for her in all the commonplace
matters of life, and never acted otherwise than as a normal, natural,
human unit. There had been enough of the unusual in the house in
Lexington Avenue, and Marion was glad that it was gone.

Three months passed in this way and the spring was far advanced. Then,
suddenly and without warning, came the news that John Darche had been
heard of, traced, seen at last and almost captured. He had escaped once
more and this time he had escaped, for ever, by his own act. He had
jumped overboard in the English Channel from the Calais boat, and his
body had not been found.

Mrs. Darche wore black for her husband, and Cousin Annie said it was
very becoming. Dolly Maylands thought it absurd to put on even the
appearance of mourning for such a creature, and said so.

"My dear child," answered Marion gently, "he was my husband."

"I never can realise it," said Dolly. "Do you remember, I used to ask
you if you did not sometimes forget it yourself?"

"I never forgot it." Mrs. Darche's voice had a wonderful gravity in it,
without the least sadness. She was a woman without affectation.

"No," said Dolly thoughtfully, "I suppose you never had a chance. It is
of no use, Marion dear," she added after a little pause, and in a
different tone, as though she were tired of pretending a sort of
subdued sympathy, "it is of no use at all! I can never be sorry, you
know--so that ends it. Why, just think! You are free to marry any one
you please, to begin life over again. How many women in your position
ever had such a chance? Not but what you would have been just as free
if you had got a divorce. But--somehow, this is much more solidly
satisfactory. Yes, I know--it is horrid and unchristian--but there is
just that--there is a solid satisfaction in--"

She was going to say "in death," but thought better of it and checked
herself.

"It will not make very much difference to me just yet," said Marion.
"Meanwhile, as I said, he was my husband. I shall wear mourning a short
time, and then--then I do not know what I shall do."

"It must be very strange," answered Dolly.

"What, child?"

"Your life. Now you need not call me child in that auntly tone, as
though you were five hundred thousand years older and wiser and duller
than I am. There are not six years between our ages, you know."

"Do not resent being young, Dolly."

"Resent it! No, indeed! I resent your way of making yourself out to be
old. In the pages of future history we shall be spoken of as
contemporaries."

Mrs. Darche smiled, and Dolly laughed.

"School-book style," said the girl. "That is my morning manner. In the
evening I am quite different, thank goodness! But to go back--what I
meant was that your own life must seem very strange to you. To have
loved really--of course you did--why should you deny it? And then to
have made the great mistake and to have married the wrong man, and to
have been good and to have put up the shutters of propriety and
virtue--so to say, and to have kept up a sort of Sunday-go-to-meeting
myth for years, expecting to do it for the rest of your life, and
then--to have the luck--well, no, I did not mean to put it that
way--but to begin life all over again, and the man you loved not
married yet, and just as anxious to marry you as ever--"

"Stop, Dolly! How do you know?" Marion knit her brows in annoyance.

"Oh! I know nothing, of course. I can only guess. But then, it is easy
to guess, sometimes."

"I am not so sure," answered Marion thoughtfully, and looking at Dolly
with some curiosity.

As for Brett, he said nothing to any one, when the news of John
Darche's death reached New York. He supposed that people would take it
for granted that in the course of time he would marry Marion, because
the world knew that he had formerly loved her, and that she had made a
mistake in not accepting him and would probably be quite willing to
rectify it now that she was free. There had always been a certain
amount of inoffensive chaff about his devotion to her interests. But he
himself was very far from assuming that she would take him now. He knew
her better than the world did, and understood the unexpected
hesitations and revulsions of which she was capable, much better than
the world could.

He took a hopeful view, however, as was natural. For the present he
waited and said nothing. If she chose to go through the form of
mourning, he would go through the form of respecting it while it
lasted. Society is the better for most of its conventionalities, a fact
of which one may easily assure oneself by spending a little time in
circles that make bold to laugh at appearances. A man may break the
social barriers for a great object's sake, or out of true passion--as
sheer necessity may force a man to sleep by the road side. But a man
who habitually makes his bed in the gutter by choice is a madman, and
one who thinks himself above manners and conventionalities is generally
a fool. There is nothing more intolerable than eccentricity for its
own sake, nor more pitiful than the perpetual acting of it to a gallery
that will not applaud.

For some time Brett continued to come and see Marion regularly, and she
did not hesitate to show him that he was as welcome as ever. Then,
without any apparent cause, his manner changed. He became much more
grave than he had ever been before, and those who knew him well were
struck by an alteration in his appearance, not easily defined at first,
but soon visible to any one. He was growing pale and thin.

Vanbrugh strolled into his office on a warm day in early June and sat
down for a chat. Brett's inner sanctum was in the Equitable Building,
measured twelve feet by eight, and was furnished so as to leave a space
of about six feet by four in the middle, just enough for two chairs and
the legs of the people who sat in them. Vanbrugh looked at his friend
and came to the just conclusion that something was materially wrong
with him.

"Brett," he said, suddenly, "let us run over to Paris."

"I cannot leave New York at present," Brett answered, without
hesitation, as though he had already considered the question of going
abroad.

"Not being able to leave New York is a more or less dangerous disease
which kills a great many people," observed Vanbrugh. "You must leave
New York, whether you can or not. I do not know whether you are ill or
not, but you look like an imperfectly boiled owl."

"I know I do. I want a change."

"Then come along."

"No, I cannot leave New York. I am not joking, my dear fellow."

"I see you are not. I suppose it is of no use to ask what is the
matter. If you wanted help you would say so. You evidently have
something on your mind. Anything I can do?"

"No, I wish there were. I will tell you some day. It is something
rather odd and unusual."

Brett was not an imaginative man, or Vanbrugh, judging from his
appearance and manner, would almost have suspected that he was
suffering from some persecution not quite natural or earthly. He had
the uneasy glance of a man who fancies himself haunted by a sight he
fears to see. Vanbrugh looked at him a long time in silence and then
rose to go.

"I am sorry, old man," he said, with something almost like a sigh. "You
live too much alone," he added, turning as he was about to open the
door. "You ought to get married."

Brett smiled in rather a ghastly fashion which did not escape his
friend.

"I cannot leave New York," he repeated mechanically.

"Perhaps you will before long," said Vanbrugh, going out. "I would if I
were you."

He went away in considerable perplexity. Something in Brett's manner
puzzled him and almost frightened him. As a lawyer, and one accustomed
to dealing with the worst side of human nature, he was inclined to play
the detective for a time; as a friend, he resolved not to inquire too
closely into a matter which did not concern him. In fact, he had
already gone further than he had intended. Only a refined nature can
understand the depth of degradation to which curiosity can reduce
friendship.

A day or two later Vanbrugh met Dolly Maylands at a house in Tuxedo
Park where he had come to dine and spend the night. There were enough
people at the dinner to insure a little privacy to those who had
anything to say to one another.

"Brett is ill," said Vanbrugh. "Do you know what is the matter with
him?"

"I suppose Marion has refused him after all," answered Dolly, looking
at her plate.

Vanbrugh glanced at her face and thought she was a little pale. He
remembered the conversation when they had been left together in the
library after John Darche's trial, and was glad that he had then spoken
cautiously, for he connected her change of colour with himself, by a
roundabout and complicated reasoning more easy to be understood than to
explain.

"Perhaps she has," he said coolly. "But I do not think it is probable."

"Mr. Brett does not go to see her any more."

"Really? Are you sure of that, Miss Maylands?"

"Marion has noticed it. She spoke to me of it yesterday. I wondered--"

"What?"

"Whether there had been any misunderstanding. I suppose that is what I
was going to say." She blushed quickly, as she had turned pale a moment
before. "You see," she continued rather hurriedly, "people who have
once misunderstood one another may do the same thing again. Say, for
instance, that he vaguely hinted at marriage--men have such vague ways
of proposing--"

"Have they?"

"Of course--and that Marion did not quite realise what he meant, and
turned the conversation, and that Mr. Brett took that for a refusal and
went away, and lost his appetite, and all that--would it not account
for it?"

"Yes," assented Vanbrugh with a smile. "It might account for it--though
Harry Brett is not a school girl of sixteen."

"Meaning that I am, I suppose," retorted Dolly, anxious to get away
from the subject which she had not chosen, and to lead Vanbrugh up to
what she would have called the chaffing point. But he was not in the
humour for that.

"No," he said quietly. "I did not mean that." And he relapsed into
silence for a time.

He was thinking the matter over, and he was also asking himself
whether, after all, he should not ask Dolly Maylands to marry him,
though he was so much older than she. That was a possibility which had
presented itself to his mind very often of late, and from time to time
he determined to solve the question in one way or the other, and be
done with it. But when he wished to decide it, he found it capable of
only two answers; either he must offer himself or not. Sometimes he
thought he would and then he fancied that he ought to prepare Dolly for
so grave a matter by giving up chaff when they were together. But the
first attempt at putting this resolution into practice was a failure
whenever he tried it. Chaff was Dolly's element,--she pined when she
was deprived of it. The serious part of her nature lay deep, and there
were treasures there, hidden far below the bright tide of rippling
laughter. Such treasures are sometimes lost altogether because no one
discovers them, or because no one knows how to bring them to the
surface.

As he sat by her side in silence, Vanbrugh was impelled to turn
suddenly upon Dolly and ask her to marry him, without further
diplomacy. But he reflected upon the proverbial uncertainty of woman's
temper and held his peace. He had never made love to her, and there had
never been anything approaching to a show of sentiment between them
until that memorable afternoon when the trial was over. Moreover
Russell Vanbrugh was a very comfortable man. Nothing less grammatically
incorrect could express the combination of pleasant things which made
up his life. He was not lonely, in his father's house--indeed, he was
not lonely anywhere. He was contented, rich enough to satisfy all his
tastes, popular in a certain degree among those he liked, peaceful,
never bored, occupying, as it were, a well upholstered stall at the
world's play, when he chose to be idle, and busy with matters in which
he took a healthy, enduring interest when he chose to work. To marry
would be to step into an unknown country. He meant to make the venture
some day, but he had just enough of indolence in his character to
render the first effort a little distasteful. Nevertheless, he was
conscious that he thought more and more of Dolly, and that he was, in
fact, falling seriously in love with her, and foreseeing that there was
to be a change in their relations, there arose the doubt, natural in a
man not over-vain, as to the reception he might expect at her hands.

When Dolly next saw Marion Darche she proceeded to attack the question
in her own way. Marion was still in town, hesitating as to what she
should do with her summer. She had no house in the country. The place
which had belonged to her husband had gone with such little property as
he had still owned at the time of his conviction to repair some of the
harm he had done.

The windows of the library were open, and a soft south-easterly breeze
was blowing up from the square bringing a breath of coming summer from
the park leaves. Those who love New York, even to the smell of its mud,
know the strange charm of its days and evenings in late spring. Like
the charm of woman, the charm of certain great cities can never be
explained by those who feel it to those who do not. There were flowers
in the library, and Dolly sat down near the windows and breathed the
sweet quiet air before she spoke.

"Harry Brett is ill," she said.

"Ill? Seriously?" Marion had started slightly at the news.

"Not ill at home," explained Dolly. "Mr. Vanbrugh spoke of it the other
night."

"Oh--" Marion seemed relieved. "Perhaps that is the reason why he does
not come to see me," she added rather inconsequently, after a moment's
pause.

Dolly turned in her seat and looked into her friend's eyes.

"Marion," she said gravely. "You know that is not the reason why he
does not come."

"I know? What do you mean, Dolly?"

In spite of the genuine and innocent surprise in the tone, Dolly was
not satisfied.

"He has asked you to marry him and you have refused him," she said with
conviction.

"I?"

For a moment Marion Darche stared in amazement. Then her eyes filled
with tears and she turned away suddenly. Her voice was unsteady as she
answered.

"No. He has not asked me to marry him."

"Are you quite sure, dear?" insisted Dolly. "You know men have such odd
ways of saying it, and sometimes one does not quite understand--and
then a word, or a glance--if a man is very sensitive--you know--"

"Do not talk like that," said Marion, a little abruptly.

A short silence followed, during which she moved uneasily about the
room, touching the objects on the table, though they needed no
arrangement. At last she spoke again, out of the dusk from the corner
she had reached in her peregrination.

"If he asked me to marry him, I should accept him," she said in a low
voice.

Dolly was silent in her turn. She had not expected a direct confidence
so soon, and had not at all foreseen its nature, when it came almost
unasked.

"It is very strange!" she exclaimed at last.

"Yes," echoed Marion Darche, quite simply. "It is very strange."

It was long before the mystery was solved, and Dolly did not refer to
it in the meantime. Brett did not go abroad, nor did he leave New York
for more than a few days during the summer, though it was almost
inconceivable that his business should require his constant presence
during the dull season, and he could certainly have left matters to his
partner, had he not had some very good reason for refusing to take a
holiday.

Mrs. Darche took Cousin Annie with her and wandered about during a
couple of months, visiting various places which did not interest her,
falling in with acquaintances often, and sometimes with friends, but
rather avoiding those she met than showing any wish to see much of
them.

To tell the truth, the great majority showed no inclination to intrude
upon her privacy. People understood well enough that she should desire
to be alone and undisturbed, considering the strange circumstances
through which she had passed during the winter and spring. Moreover
Brett's conduct elicited approval on all sides. It was said that he
showed good taste in not following Mrs. Darche from place to place, as
he might easily have done, and as most men in his position undoubtedly
would have done, for it was quite clear that he was seriously in love.
All his friends had noticed the change of appearance and manner, and
others besides Vanbrugh had advised him to take a rest, to go abroad,
to go and shoot bears, in short, to do one of the many things which are
generally supposed to contribute to health and peace of mind. Then it
was rumoured that he was working harder than usual, in view of his
approaching marriage, that he was not so well off as had generally been
supposed, and that he wished to forestall any remarks to the effect
that he was going to marry Mrs. Darche for the sake of her fortune,
which was considerable. In short, people said everything they could
think of, and all the things that are usually thought of in such cases,
and when they had reached the end of their afflictions they talked of
other friends whose doings formed a subject of common interest.

Mrs. Darche did not find much companionship in her cousin, but that was
not exactly what she required or expected of Mrs. Willoughby. She
wanted the gray, colourless atmosphere which the widowed lady seemed to
take about with her, and she liked it merely because it was neutral,
restful and thoroughly unemotional. She did not think of creating new
diversions for herself, nor of taking up new interests. Her life had
been so full that this temporary emptiness was restful to her. She was
surprised at finding how little the present resembled what she had
expected it to be, so long as it had been still a future. As yet, too,
there was an element of uncertainty in it which did not preclude
pleasant reflections. Though she had said to Dolly that Brett's conduct
was changed, she could still explain it to herself well enough to be
satisfied with her own conclusions. Doubtless he felt that it was yet
too soon to speak or even to show by his actions that he had anything
to say. She could well believe--and indeed it was flattering--that he
abstained from seeing her because he felt that in her presence he might
not be able to control his speech. She called up in her memory what had
taken place many months previously when she had sent for him and had
told him that she needed a large sum of money at short notice--how he
had lost his head on that occasion, and allowed words to break out
which both of them had regretted. Since there was now no obstacle in
the way, it would of course be harder for him than ever to act the part
of a disinterested friend, even for the short time--the shortest
possible--during which she went through the form of wearing mourning
for John Darche. She could still say to herself that it was delicate
and tactful on Brett's part to act as he was acting, although she
sometimes thought, or wished, that he might have allowed what was
passing in his mind to betray itself by a glance, a gesture or a gentle
intonation. It was certainly pushing the proprieties to the utmost to
keep away from her altogether. Even when he wrote to her, as he had
occasion to do several times during the summer, he confined himself
almost entirely to matters of business, and the little phrase with
which he concluded each of his communications seemed to grow more and
more formal. There had always been something a little exaggerated in
Harry Brett's behaviour. It had been that perhaps, which in old times
had frightened her, had prevented her from accepting him, and had made
her turn in mistaken confidence to the man of grave moderation and
apparently unchanging purpose who had become her husband.

Dolly Maylands had no such illusions with regard to Brett's conduct,
though she did not again discuss the matter with Russell Vanbrugh. She
was conscious that he felt as she did, that something mysterious had
taken place about which neither of them knew anything, but which was
seriously and permanently influencing Harry Brett's life. Dolly,
however, was more discreet than was commonly supposed, and kept her
surmises to herself. When Mrs. Darche and Brett were discussed before
her, she said as little as she could, and allowed people to believe
that she shared the common opinion, namely, that the two people would
be married before the year was out and that, in the meanwhile, both
were behaving admirably.

Vanbrugh wandered about a good deal during the summer, returning to New
York from time to time, more out of habit than necessity. He made
visits at various country houses among his friends, spent several days
on board of several yachts, was seen more than once in Bar Harbour, and
once, at least, at Newport and on the whole did all those things which
are generally expected of a successful man in the summer holidays. He
wrote to Brett several times, but they did not meet often. The tone of
his friend's letters tended to confirm his suspicion of some secret
trouble. Brett wrote in a nervous and detached way and often complained
of the heat and discomfort during July and August, though he never gave
a sufficient reason for staying where he was.

On the other hand, Vanbrugh found that where he was invited Dolly
Maylands was often invited too, and that there seemed to be a general
impression that they liked one another's society and should be placed
together at dinner.

More than once, Vanbrugh felt again the strong impulse to which he had
almost yielded at Tuxedo. More than once he made a serious attempt to
change the tone of his conversation with Dolly. She did not fail to
notice this, of course, and being slightly embarrassed generally became
grave and silent on such occasions, thereby leading Vanbrugh to
suppose that she was bored, which very much surprised the successful
man of the world at first and very much annoyed him afterwards.

So the summer passed away, and all concerned in this little story were
several months older if not proportionately wiser.



CHAPTER IX.


In the autumn, Marion Darche returned to town, feeling that since she
was to begin life over again, and since her friends had accepted the
fact, there was no reason for not taking the first steps at once. She
intended to live very quietly, occupying herself as best she could, for
she knew that some occupation was necessary to her, now that the whole
busy existence of the last five years was over. She did not know what
to do. She consulted Dolly, and would have liked to consult Brett, but
he rarely called, and then, by design or coincidence, he always seemed
to appear just when some one else was with her.

More than once she had thought of writing to him freely, asking him to
explain the cause of his conduct and to put an end to the estrangement
which was growing up between them. She even went so far as to begin a
letter, but it was never finished and found its way to the fire before
it was half written. She could not, however, keep her thoughts from
dwelling on him, since there was no longer any reason for trying to
forget his existence. She was not lacking in pride, and if she had
believed that Harry Brett no longer loved her, she would have still
been strong enough to bury the memory of him out of sight and beyond
danger of resurrection. But he did not behave in such a way as to
convince her of that. A woman's instinct is rarely wrong in telling her
whether she is loved or not, unless she is confronted with a man of
superior wickedness or goodness. The strength which breeds great
virtues and great vices lends that perfect control of outward manner
which is called diabolical or heroic according to circumstances. Harry
Brett was not such a man. He could keep away from the house in
Lexington Avenue, because for some reason or other he believed it
necessary to avoid Mrs. Darche's society; but he could not simulate
what he did not feel, nor conceal his real feelings when he was with
her. The cold, nervous hand, the quick glance, the momentary
hesitation, the choice of a seat a little too far from her side--all
told Marion that he loved her still, and that he believed himself
obliged to stay away, and was afraid to be alone with her.

At last she made up her mind to do something which should show him
definitely that she now regarded her mourning as a mere formality, and
intended before long to return to her former way of living, as though
nothing had happened. She determined to ask Brett and Vanbrugh and
Dolly to luncheon. It certainly was not a very wild dissipation which
she proposed, but it was the first time she had invited more than one
of them at the same time. And cousin Annie Willoughby petitioned for a
fourth guest by a very gentle and neutral hint. She had a certain
elderly friend, one James Brown, who was the only person living who
seemed able to talk to her for any length of time.

Mr. Brown had been a disappointment to his friends in his youth. He was
regarded as a failure. Great things had been expected of him when he
left college and during several years afterwards. But his so-called
gifts had turned out to be only tastes, and he had never accomplished
anything. He had not the enthusiastic, all-devouring, all-appreciative,
omnivorous nature which makes some amateurs delightful companions and
invaluable flatterers. Though he really knew something about several
subjects no one ever had the slightest respect for his opinion or
judgment. He was an agreeable man, a good-natured gossip, a harmless
critic. He always seemed to have read every word of books which most
people found tiresome and skimmed in half an hour, and he never was
acquainted with the book of the hour until the hour was past. No one
ever understood why he liked Mrs. Willoughby, nor why she liked him,
but if people thought of the matter at all they thought the friendship
very appropriate. Mr. Brown knew everybody in society and was useful in
filling a place, because he was a bachelor, and joined in the hum if
not in the conversation. In appearance he was a bald man with refined
features, a fair beard turning gray, gentle blue eyes, an average
figure, small feet and hands, well-made clothes, a chronic watch-chain
and a ring with an intaglio. His strong point was his memory, his weak
point was his absence of tact.

Marion, who intended that the general conversation of the table should
be followed by a general pairing off after the coffee, reflected that
Mr. Brown would amuse Mrs. Willoughby while Vanbrugh talked to Dolly
and she herself had an opportunity of speaking with Brett. So she asked
Mr. Brown to join the party, and he accepted. Dolly came first, but Mr.
Brown, who was punctuality itself, appeared a moment later. Vanbrugh
arrived next, and last of all Harry Brett, a little late and
apologising rather nervously.

"Did you get my note?" he inquired of Vanbrugh, after the first
greetings and as soon as he could exchange a word with him, unnoticed
in the general conversation.

"No. Anything important? I went out early--before eleven o'clock, and
have not been at home since."

"There was an interesting story of a wreck in the paper this morning,"
said Mr. Brown, addressing the three ladies.

"Stop him," said Brett to Vanbrugh in an energetic whisper. "Now
Brown, my dear fellow," he continued aloud, sitting down beside Mrs.
Darche, "do not begin the day by giving us the Sunday Herald entire,
because we have all read it and we know all about the wreck--"

Mr. Brown, who was used to interruption and to being checked when he
was about to bore people, looked up with mild eyes and protested a
little.

"I say, Brett, you know, you are rather abrupt sometimes, in your way
of shutting people up. But as you say, they have probably all read the
story. I only thought--"

"Only thought!" cried Vanbrugh, taking his cue from his friend. "Only!
As though thinking were not the most important function of the human
animal, next to luncheon--"

"I have not read the story Mr. Brown alludes to," observed Mrs.
Willoughby rather primly.

"Oh--it is all about natural history, and cannibals and latitudes and
people in a boat," said Brett talking very fast. "All that kind of
thing. As for the news I can give you lots of it. Great fire, strike, a
new bacillus in postage-stamp gum--awfully dangerous, Mrs. Willoughby.
Always use a sponge for moistening your stamps or you will get
something--some sort of new disease--what is it, Vanbrugh? You always
know everything."

"Gum-boils," suggested Vanbrugh, without hesitation.

Brett gave him a grateful look, as Mr. Brown's laughter assured him
that the danger was over for the present. But Brett did not desist
until Stubbs opened the dining-room door and they all went in to
luncheon. Mrs. Darche watched him curiously, wondering what was the
matter. She had never before heard him talk so nervously. Vanbrugh had
not the slightest idea of what had happened, but blindly followed
Brett's lead, and helped him to annihilate Mr. Brown, whenever the
latter showed the least inclination to tell a story.

Mr. Brown, however, was an obstinate person. He was not quick on his
feet mentally, so to say, and an insignificant idea had as strong a
hold upon his thoughts as an important one. Somehow he managed to tell
the tale of the wreck to Mrs. Willoughby and Dolly in the little
shifting of companionship which always takes place on leaving table. To
do him justice, he told it very shortly, and Mrs. Darche did not chance
to be listening at the time. Stubbs was offering everybody coffee, and
Marion had a box of cigarettes and was standing before the fireplace
with Vanbrugh and Brett, exchanging a few words with the latter.
Suddenly Mr. Brown's voice rose above the rest.

"Of course," he was saying, "nobody ever knew positively that the man
had really been drowned. But he had never turned up--"

"And probably never will," answered Dolly, glancing nervously at
Marion. But she had caught the words and had turned a little pale.

Vanbrugh looked over to Brown.

"For heaven's sake, Jim," he said, in a low voice. "Talk about
something else, if you must, you know!"

Mr. Brown's face fell as he realised his mistake.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Just like me! I forgot that poor Darche
drowned himself."

Marion recovered herself quickly and came forward, offering her box of
cigarettes to everybody, while Brett carried the little silver spirit
lamp.

"You must all smoke and make yourselves happy," she said with a smile.
"Cousin Annie does not mind it in the least."

"Well, of course," began Mrs. Willoughby, primly polite, "nowadays--"

"There is nobody like you, Mrs. Darche," said Vanbrugh, accepting the
offer. "Thanks."

"They are your especial kind," answered Marion.

"I know they are--that is what I mean. How you spoil me!"

Marion went on.

"Mr. Brown?"

"Yes, thank you. I do smoke sometimes," answered Mr. Brown, hesitating
in the matter between his allegiance to Mrs. Willoughby, who
disapproved of smoking in the drawing-room, and his duty to his
hostess, who encouraged it.

"I hope you always do," said Marion. "When a man does not smoke--Mr.
Brett, take one."

She had stopped herself, remembering that her husband had not been a
smoker, but Mr. Brown finished the sentence for her with his usual
tact.

"Yes," he said, lighting his cigarette, "men who do not smoke always
seem to me to be suspicious characters."

"Dolly, try one," said Marion, trying not to hear him.

"Oh, Marion!" Dolly laughed.

"Try it," said Vanbrugh, sitting down beside her.

The party had paired off, and Marion found herself near the window with
Brett, beside a table covered with photographs and etchings.

"I wonder why Miss Maylands should seem shocked," began Brett, entering
into conversation rather awkwardly. "I have no doubt that she, and you,
and perhaps Mrs. Willoughby, have all tried a cigarette in secret, and
perhaps you have liked it?"

"If I liked cigarettes I would smoke them," said Mrs. Darche, with
decision.

"Do you always do what you like?"

"In little things."

"And how about the big things?" inquired Brett.

"I like to have other people take care of them for me."

"What people?" As he asked the question he absently took a photograph
from the table and looked at it.

"People who know me," said Marion.

"Meaning me?"

"If you like."

"If I like!" exclaimed Brett. Then, having broken the ice, as it were,
his voice suddenly changed. "There is nothing I like so much, there is
nothing I would rather do than take care of you and what belongs to
you."

"You have shown it," answered Mrs. Darche gently. She took the
photograph from Brett's hand and looked at it, in her turn, without
seeing it.

"I have tried to, once or twice," said Brett, "when you needed help."

"Indeed you have. And you know that I am grateful too."

"I do not care to know that," he replied. "If I ever did anything for
you--it was only what any other man would have done in my place--it was
not for the sake of earning your gratitude."

"For what then?"

Brett hesitated a moment before he answered, and then turned from her
towards the window as he spoke.

"It was not for the sake of anything."

"Mere caprice, then?" asked Marion, watching him closely.

"No, not that."

"I suppose your motives are a secret?" Marion laughed a little, perhaps
at her own curiosity.

"Yes." Brett pronounced the single word with great earnestness.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Marion.

"Yes. And I shall be very sorry if you ever find out what that secret
is."

"How mysterious!"

"Yes, is it not?"

Brett had suddenly assumed a tone of indifference. As he spoke Vanbrugh
and Dolly rose and came forwards towards the table.

"If you have quite finished not looking at those photographs, give them
to me, Brett," said Vanbrugh. "Miss Maylands wishes to see them."

"Oh, take them by all means," answered Brett, thrusting a dozen or more
into his hands. "As I was saying, Mrs. Darche, I am the worst judge of
architecture in the world--especially from photographs."

"Architecture, eh?" observed Vanbrugh, as he re-crossed the room with
Dolly. "Rather hard on photographs of etchings from portraits."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Dolly, laughing softly and looking back at Brett
and Mrs. Darche. "They talk of love's temple, you know, and building up
one's happiness--and lots of things of that sort--the architecture of
the affections."

"You seem to care," said Vanbrugh, sitting down and laying the
photographs upon his knees.

"Do I? Do you not?"

"I--oh, well, in a sort of a fatherly way, I suppose." He held up one
of the photographs upside down and looked at it.

"Yes. Now I care in a sort of a sisterly way, you know. It is very much
the same thing, I fancy."

"Is that all?" asked Vanbrugh with a short laugh. "I thought you had
made up your mind."

"About what?"

"About Harry Brett."

Dolly looked at him in surprise and drew herself up a little stiffly.
"What about him?"

"I do not mean to be rude, nor inquisitive, nor anything of the
sort--so I think I had better turn the conversation."

"But you do not. You are waiting for me to say something. Do you think
I am afraid? Do you think I am like all the girls you meet and dance
with, and repeat your pretty speeches to?"

"Repeat is graceful," said Vanbrugh, "considerate--so kind of you."

"I do not feel kind," answered Dolly emphatically, "and I am not at all
afraid of telling the truth."

"Considering your interest in Sunday schools that is what I should
expect."

"I am just as fond of dancing and enjoying myself as any one else,"
said Dolly, relenting, "though I do take an interest in Sunday
schools."

"Fashionable charities and dissipations, as Brett calls them--I see."

"Do not see in that tone of voice, please--if what you see has anything
to do with me."

"Which it has," said Vanbrugh. "Mrs. Darche is one of your charities, I
suppose--and Harry Brett is one of your dissipations."

"You are too complicated," answered Dolly, really not understanding.
"Say it in American, will you not?"

"You love Brett, and you are nice to Mrs. Darche, though you hate her,"
said Vanbrugh in a tone which left Dolly in doubt as to whether he was
in earnest or only chaffing. She paused a moment and stared at him
before she answered, and then to his great astonishment spoke with more
coldness than he was accustomed to.

"Precisely," she said. "I love Mrs. Darche and I hate Brett because he
does not ask her to marry him as he should, now that Darche has been
dead so long. I am sorry, Marion," she said, turning to Mrs. Darche,
and going up to her rather suddenly, "dear--I really must be going."

"Already?" exclaimed Marion in surprise, "it is not three o'clock?"

"Almost," said Dolly, "and I have lots to do--ever so many people
waiting for me at a Committee, and then a visit I must make, and a
frock to try on--and then if we are to dine at seven so as to be
dressed in time for the tableaux there is no afternoon at all."

"How busy you are! Yet you always look so fresh! How in the world do
you do it?"

"A large appetite and a clear conscience--" suggested Brett, who seemed
to be more than usually absent-minded.

Dolly glanced at him rather angrily as she shook hands with her friend.
"Good-bye, dear Marion. It has been ever so nice! Good-bye."

She left the room. Vanbrugh was annoyed and discomforted by her sudden
departure, but he made the best of the situation, and after closing the
door behind her, sat down beside Mrs. Willoughby, who was listening to
one of Brown's stories.

"I suppose she is angry with me," said Brett to Marion. "What did I
say? I was thinking of something else."

"Then why did you choose that moment for speaking of her?" asked Mrs.
Darche reproachfully. "You really must take care, you will make
enemies."

"Of course. What does it matter?"

"It matters to me, if you make enemies of my friends."

"That is different," said Brett. "But seriously--do not people forgive
a lack of tact sometimes--being a little absent-minded? Look at Jim
Brown."

"That is quite another thing," Marion answered. "Yes--I heard what he
was telling as we came into the room after the luncheon. Of course it
was tactless. Of course no man in his senses should talk in a loud
tone, before me, of a man falling overboard at sea and being drowned,
still less--"

"What?" asked Brett.

A short pause followed the question, and when Marion answered it, it
was evident that she was making an effort.

"Still less of the possibility that such a man might be heard of again
some day."

"That at least is improbable," said Brett, very gravely.

"I shivered when I heard what he said."

"I do not wonder."

In the meantime, at the other end of the room, Mr. Brown was enjoying
at last the supreme satisfaction of talking without reserve about the
story he had seen in the papers that morning.

"One never knows what to believe," said Mrs. Willoughby.

"Believe nothing," said Vanbrugh with much conviction. "In particular,
my dear Mrs. Willoughby, do not believe in Brown's tales. He is a
perfectly idle man, and he does nothing but sleep and talk, because he
has a liver and cannot eat. A man who has nothing to do requires a
great deal of sleep and a great deal of conversation."

"I say, Russell, old man," protested Mr. Brown with a good-humoured
laugh, "this is rather unkind. Where would you get your conversation if
I did not supply you with the items? That is what one's best friends
come to, Mrs. Willoughby, in this bustling world. And why should not
people eat, sleep, and talk,--and do nothing else if they have time?
But as for this story, I never pretended that it was anything but
newspaper gossip--not even that--a sensation item, manufactured down
town, perhaps. 'Woman burned alive in Jersey City,'--five lines--'Deny
the report,'--five lines more--that is the sort of thing. But this is a
strange coincidence, or a strange story. It might almost be poor
Darche's case, with a sensational ending."

"Oh, well," answered Vanbrugh, who by this time quite understood the
meaning of Brett's strange conduct before luncheon, "of course it is
only a sensational paragraph, and belongs to your department, Brown.
But as you say, the coincidences are extraordinary. A man says he fell
overboard from a Channel boat, and was picked up by an Italian bark,
which took him to Valparaiso after all sorts of adventures. The weak
point in these stories generally is that the man never seems to take
the trouble to communicate with his relations from the first port he
reaches, and takes an awful lot of trouble to get shipwrecked somewhere
on the way. But in this case that is the strong point. What did you say
the fellow's name was?"

"Why, my dear man, that is three-quarters of the coincidence. He calls
himself John Drake. Transpose the 'r' and the 'a,' and that looks
uncommonly like John Darche."

"No doubt," said Vanbrugh; "but then there is nothing peculiar about
'John.' If he had been christened 'Eliphalet Xenophon' it would have
been considerably stranger. Besides if he really were Darche he would
not call himself either Darche or John."

"How can you suggest anything so dreadful!" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby.

"Why 'dreadful'?" asked Mr. Brown.

"Only think of it," said Mrs. Willoughby. "An escaped suicide--I mean,
a convict who escaped and killed himself."

"And you think that the disgrace of having committed suicide will cling
to him in after life, so to say--in Sing-Sing?" inquired Mr. Brown.

"Do not make me out more stupid than I really am." Cousin Annie assumed
a deprecatory expression. "Do you not think that a man like
Darche--convicted of a crime--escaped--if he suddenly re--re--What is
the word?"

"Imperfectly resurrected," suggested Vanbrugh.

"Oh yes! Anything! If he came back to life, and yet was supposed to be
dead, and was trying to begin all over again and to make a fresh start,
and that kind of thing--under another name--"

"In order to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing his widow marry some one
else?" asked Vanbrugh, with less discretion than usual.

"I did not mean that," said Mrs. Willoughby quickly. "Poor Marion! Poor
Marion! What time is it, Mr. Brown?"

"Three."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed cousin Annie.

"Dear me!" echoed Vanbrugh.

"Yes, it is later than I thought," said Mr. Brown.

By a common impulse, all three rose at once and crossed the room to
take leave of their hostess.

"What, are you all going?" asked the latter.

"Do you know what time it is, Marion?" And not waiting for an answer,
Mrs. Willoughby held out her hand.

"It is awfully late," observed Vanbrugh, by way of explanation.

"Thank you so much," said Mr. Brown, shaking hands warmly.

"Yes, it is later than I thought." Brett looked at his watch, though by
this time he had made up his mind to outstay the others.

"Well--if you must go--"

Marion did not show any anxiety to detain her guests as they filed out
of the room.

"You did not mean me to go away with the crowd, did you?" asked Brett,
as the door closed behind Mr. Brown.

"Not if you wished to stay," answered Marion, taking her favourite
chair near the fire. "Take another cigarette. Sit down."

"And make myself at home? Thanks."

"If you can," said Mrs. Darche with a pleasant laugh.

"Did you hear what they were saying to each other over there while we
were talking?" inquired Brett, who by this time seemed to have
recovered from the unnatural embarrassment he had shown at first. He
had rather suddenly made up his mind that Marion ought to know
something about the story in the papers.

"No. Did you?" she asked.

"Yes."

"I do not like that." Mrs. Darche did not seem pleased. "It was not
nice of you--to be able to talk as you were talking, and to listen to
the conversation of other people at the same time."

"Do you know what they were saying?" asked Brett.

"No, certainly not."

"It is not a pleasant subject. They were talking about that paragraph
in the papers again. Of course there is nothing in the story, and yet
it is very strange. May I speak of it?"

"Is it of any use?" asked Mrs. Darche, beginning to suspect what was
coming.

"I hardly know," Brett answered, "and yet if it should turn out there
is even the smallest grain of truth--"

"There cannot be. I know there cannot be," she repeated, after a
moment's pause, as though she had gone over the whole question in the
interval. "Oh, what is the use of suggesting such things?"

"Yes," answered Brett. "You know there cannot be any truth in it--even
if he were alive he would not come back. I know it, and yet if he
should, it would be so horrible that I cannot help thinking of it. You
know what it would mean if that man were to return."

"I know what it would mean to me. Do not speak of it, please."

"I must, I cannot help it. I feel as if something were driving me to
speak. You did not hear the whole story. They said the man was picked
up in mid-channel by an Italian ship more than _seven months_ ago."

"Seven months ago!"

"Even the time would fit the truth. But then--stop. Was he a swimmer?
Yes--of course--I remember him at Newport." Brett answered his own
question. "The ship--a bark they called it--was outward bound, and
could not put in again. She was on her way to Valparaiso. You know
where that is, all the way round by the Straits of Magellan. Something
happened to her, she got wrecked or something--they say that a lot of
the crew were killed and eaten up by the cannibals in Terra del Fuego.
John Drake--"

"John Drake!" Marion exclaimed.

"Yes, another coincidence. John Drake--horribly like is it
not?--managed to escape with the second mate, the carpenter, and the
cabin boy, got across to the Patagonian country--there are lots of
details. They wandered about for ever so long, and at last turned up
somewhere. They were all Italians, and Drake, who had no papers, was
shipped off again by the Consul on board of another Italian ship. That
accounts for six months, with the bad weather they had. Then there is a
long blank. And now this John Drake turns up here--"

"Yes--but--after all, if he changed his name, he would change it
altogether." She stopped and looked at him, for the argument seemed
conclusive.

"That is not the only point that is not clear," Brett answered. "But
the names are so dreadfully alike."

"But there is a very great difference!" Marion exclaimed. "There are a
great many Drakes--but Darche is a very uncommon name."

"That is the reason why he changed it so little."

"Oh, why do you suggest such a possibility--of what use is it? Why?"
She rose suddenly and began to move about the room.

"Because I am a fool, I suppose," Brett answered, not moving from his
seat. "But I cannot help it. The idea has taken hold of me and I cannot
get rid of it. I feel as though that man had risen from the dead to
wreck your life."

"It would be a wreck indeed!" said Marion in a low voice that had a
sort of horror in it. "You could not save me this time--not even you."

"And yet--"

"What?"

"No--I ought not to say it."

"Mysteries again?" Marion stopped beside him and looked down into his
face.

"The same, if you choose to call it a mystery."

"I wish you would speak out, my dear friend," said Marion gravely. "I
feel all the time that there is something in your mind which you wish
to say to me, but which you will not, or cannot, or dare not say. Am I
right?"

"To some extent."

"I do not think you understand what friendship really means."

"Friendship?" Brett exclaimed. "For you? No, perhaps I do not. I wish I
did. I would give a great deal if I could."

"I do not in the least understand," said Marion, sitting down again.
"You, my best friend, tell me in the most serious, not to say
mysterious way, that you do not know what friendship means, when you
are proving every day that you do. I hate secrets! Very few friendships
will bear them. I wish there were none between us."

"Ah, so do I!"

"Then let there be none," said Marion in a tone that was almost
authoritative. "Why should there be? In the dear old times when I was
so unhappy and you were so good to me, we had no secrets, at least none
that I knew of. Why should we have any now?"

"The very reason why there must be one at all is the secret itself.
Will you not believe me if I tell you that it would hurt you very much
to know it?"

"It is hard to believe, and I"--she laughed--"I can confess to a
reasonable amount of curiosity on the subject."

"Do not be curious," said Brett, very gravely, "please do not be
curious. You might find it out and I should never forgive myself."

"But if I forgave you--"

"That would make no difference. That would not make the smallest
difference."

"What! Not to you?" Mrs. Darche glanced at him in surprise.

"Not to me," answered Brett with decision. "The harm would be done."

"Utterly incomprehensible!" exclaimed Marion as though speaking to
herself. "I cannot help asking you again," she said turning to Brett
again. "Tell me, has it anything to do with my husband?"

"Yes it has."

"Then tell me! Tell me, for heaven's sake!" By this time she was
growing anxious.

"Not for the world," said Brett firmly.

"You do not know how unkind you are. You do not know--you do not know
how much your friendship is to me, and how you are letting this
wretched mystery come between us."

"I know better, better than you can guess."

"And you are keeping it to yourself because you are afraid of hurting
me--hurting me!" she repeated bitterly. "As though I were not past
hurting, these many months, as though I had not been through most all
that a woman can bear and live, and yet I have borne it and have lived.
No, I am wrong. I can still be hurt. Two things could hurt me. If by
some horrible miracle John came back to life, and if--" She paused and
hesitated.

"What?" asked Brett, who hardly seemed to be listening to her.

"If you allowed anything to break up this friendship of ours. But the
one is impossible. John is dead, and I have lived down the shame of his
memory, and the other--no, it would be your fault."

"It would hurt you much more to know what I am keeping from you than to
lose my friendship, or rather your friendship for me," said Brett,
shaking his head. "Mine you cannot lose, whatever you do. I am giving
you the best proof of it now."

"And do you mean to say that after all that came out in those dark
days, that after the trial and conviction, and my husband's escape and
his horrible end, that there is still worse behind?--that he left
something which you know and I do not know, but which, if I knew it,
could still have the power to wreck my life and break what is the best
part of me--yes, I am not ashamed to say so--the best part of me--our
friendship. I am not tired of the sound of that word yet, nor shall be.
Do you mean that? Do you really mean what you say?"

"Yes," answered Brett, who had nodded at each of her questions. "I mean
that there is something which I know, and of which the knowledge might
ruin the happiness you have found since you have been alone. And yet
you ask me to tell you what it is, when no possible good could come
from your knowledge of it."

"Yes, I do," said Marion, emphatically. "And as for my happiness, you
are killing it with every word you say. You have knocked from under my
feet the security of my position and you have taken the good out of
what was best by saying that a word from you would spoil it. What is
there left now but to tell me the truth?"

"Your belief in me, if you ever had any--and I know that you had, as I
hope that you still have."

"My belief in you?" Marion paused, looked at him and then turned away.
"Yes, but the more I believe in you, the more I must believe every word
you say--"

While she was speaking, Stubbs opened the door, and entered the room,
bringing a card.

"The person wishes to see you, madam," he said, holding out the silver
salver.

Mrs. Darche's face betrayed some annoyance at the interruption as she
took up the card and read the name. "W. H. Wood, Associated Press. What
does this mean?" she asked turning to Brett. "Do you know the man?"

"Evidently a reporter," said Brett.

"Tiresome people," exclaimed Mrs. Darche. "I wonder what in the world
he wants. Perhaps he has made a mistake. At all events there is no
reason why I should see him. Say that I am engaged," she added, turning
to Stubbs.

"Wait a minute, Stubbs," said Brett, calling after the man. "Do not
send him away," he added, turning to Marion. "Let me see him."

"Why?" she asked.

"I have an idea that he has come about that story that has got into the
papers," said Brett in a low voice.

"Impossible!" exclaimed Mrs. Darche with great emphasis.

"No," objected Brett, "there is just a possibility, and if it should be
that, some one had better see him. Something very disagreeable might be
written, and it is better to stop it at once."

"Very well," said Mrs. Darche, yielding. "If you really think it is
better, see him here. Ask Mr. Wood to come in," she said to Stubbs, as
she passed him and went out.



CHAPTER X.


Brett stood before the fireplace as the reporter entered the room--a
quiet, pale young man with a pinched face, smooth brown hair and thin
hands which somehow conveyed the impression of sadness.

"I asked to see Mrs. Darche," he said apologetically.

"Mrs. Darche is engaged," answered Brett. "I am a friend of hers and
will answer any questions so far as I can."

"Thank you. I have no doubt, sir, that you are often troubled by us.
You know the reporter has to be everywhere. I will not take any more of
your time than I can help. I understand that Mrs. Darche and her
friends are to take part in some tableaux for a charitable purpose at
the end of the week--"

"I fancy there is some mistake about that," said Brett. "Mrs. Darche is
in mourning."

"Precisely," said Mr. Wood. "I daresay Mrs. Darche would be glad to
have the report denied. I understand, then, that there are not to be
any tableaux."

"I believe there is to be something of the kind, but Mrs. Darche has
nothing to do with the affair--beyond giving her advice, I think. She
would certainly not care very much to be talked of in the papers just
now."

"Just so," replied Mr. Wood readily. "I quite understand that there is
a prejudice against it, and of course Mrs. Darche's name shall not
appear. But you do not know what a great interest our readers take in
social doings. Our paper has a very large circulation in the West."

"I am very glad to know it. Would it not be enough just to mention the
fact that there are to be some tableaux for a charity?"

"If you would give me a hint about the subjects. Historical? One or two
names would be very useful."

"Really I do not think that any of us care to see our names in the
paper," said Brett.

"I will be as discreet as you wish--Mr.--"

"My name is Brett."

"Mr. Brett," repeated the reporter, making a note. "May I inquire, Mr.
Brett, if you yourself take a part in the entertainment?"

"Well--yes--I do."

"Any particular costume?"

"Yes--" Brett hesitated slightly and smiled. "Yes. Particular costumes
are rather the rule in tableaux."

"I do not wish to be indiscreet, of course."

"No, I daresay not. I believe I am to be Darnley."

"Thank you." Here Mr. Wood made another note. "Miss Maylands as Queen
Mary Stuart? Is the report correct?"

"I believe so," answered Brett, coldly.

"Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Brett. If you could oblige me with one or
two more names I could fix it nicely."

"I suppose, Mr. Wood, that you mean to say something about it whether I
tell you or not?"

"Well, now, Mr. Brett," replied the reporter, assuming a more
confidential manner, "to be quite frank, that is just what happens. We
do not like to tire people out with questions they do not care to
answer, but the social column has to be filled somehow, and if we do
not get the news for it, it is sometimes made up in the office."

"So I have often been led to believe from reading it," said Brett.
"There are to be three tableaux, from well-known pictures, in which
Miss Maylands, Mr. Russell Vanbrugh, myself, and a few others are to
take part. The affair is to take place, I think, at Mrs. Trehearne's
house."

"Thank you, Mr. Brett. Dancing afterwards?"

"I do not know."

"Pardon me. Supper furnished by Delmonico, I suppose?"

"Well I really have not asked. I daresay."

"Thank you, Mr. Brett. Delmonico." Mr. Wood's pencil noted the fact.
Brett began to think that he had had enough of the interview, and
deliberately lighting a cigarette looked at the reporter. "Anything
else you would like to know, Mr. Wood?"

"Well, since you have been so very obliging, Mr. Brett, I would like to
ask you a question."

"All right," said Brett, resignedly. "Go ahead."

"Mrs. Darche is a widow, I understand."

"Yes."

"Mr. Darche was the unfortunate victim of an accident several months
ago, I believe?"

"Yes."

"Then of course there can be no truth in the story that he arrived in
New York yesterday?"

"What story?" Brett asked, turning sharply upon the young man.

"I thought perhaps you might have seen it in this morning's paper,"
answered Wood quietly. "But perhaps you would not have noticed it, as
there was a misprint in the name. A man came to the office yesterday
and told the editor in charge that Mr. John Darche, who fell overboard
last spring from a steamer, and was supposed to have been drowned, had
turned up, and that he had seen him. I guess he was a crank. There are
lots of them hanging around the office, and sometimes they get a drink
for a bit of sensation."

"Oh! is that the way news is manufactured?" inquired Brett, with some
contempt.

"Not in our office, Mr. Brett," replied the reporter, drawing himself
up. "You can see for yourself that we only get our information from
the most reliable sources. If that were not so, I should not have
disturbed you to-day. But as there is no doubt in your mind that Mr.
Darche is positively dead, I daresay that Mrs. Darche would be glad to
have the report of her husband's return contradicted?"

"I do not think it matters much, since the name was printed Drake."

"Pardon me," said Wood. "Some of the papers printed it correctly, and
others are going to do so. I just saw two gentlemen from an evening
paper, and they have got it straight for this afternoon."

"You do not mean to say that the papers believe the story?" asked Brett
in real or affected surprise.

"Oh no, Mr. Brett, they give it for what it is worth."

"With headlines a foot high, I suppose?"

"Well, perhaps some of the papers will do so," answered the young man
with a smile.

Brett's manner changed as he realised that he could not afford to let
the reporter take away a wrong impression. He sat down and pointed to
a chair. "Take a cigarette, Mr. Wood."

"No, I thank you, I do not smoke. Thank you."

Mr. Wood sat down upon the edge of the chair beside Brett, who looked
at him fixedly for a moment before speaking. "I do not suppose that it
is necessary for me to repeat that this story is an absurd fabrication,
and that if there is a man who is going about and calling himself John
Darche, he ought to be in jail."

"Certainly, Mr. Brett, I am quite of that opinion."

"Then would you mind helping me to get hold of him? Where is the man to
be heard of?"

"That is another matter, Mr. Brett. I shall be happy to see that the
report is denied. But whether the man is an impostor or not, it will be
hard to find him. That will not matter. We will explain everything
to-morrow morning, and it will all be forgotten by the next day. You
say you are quite sure, Mr. Brett, that Mr. Darche was not picked up
when he fell overboard?"

"Sure!" answered Brett, authoritatively.

"I see," said Wood. "Thank you. I understand that it was in winter, in
rough weather, and that the efforts made to save him were in vain."

"On the contrary, it was a calm, warm night in May. It is certainly
strange that they should not have been able to save him. That ought to
prove beyond question that he sank at once."

"There is no doubt about that, I should think," replied the reporter
without much conviction. "I won't detain you any longer, Mr. Brett. The
report shall be denied at once. Will you allow me to use your name as
authority for these details?"

"Everybody knows the story."

"Pardon me. Our paper has a very large circulation in the West, and a
well-known name like yours lends great weight to any statement."

"I did not know that my name was so particularly well known," observed
Brett.

"Why, certainly, Mr. Brett. Your yacht won a race last year. I remember
it very well."

"That might be a claim to distinction, but I never had a yacht."

"Not fond of the sea, Mr. Brett?"

"Oh, yes, I like it well enough," said Brett, rising, as though he
wished it understood that the interview was at an end. "You will
distinctly deny this report, will you not?"

"You can rely upon me to say just what you have said to me, Mr. Brett."

"Very well. Thank you. Then you will be good enough to say that there
is not a word of truth in it, and warn people against the man who calls
himself Darche?"

"Certainly, certainly. Thank you, Mr. Brett. Good morning, Mr. Brett."

"Good morning."

Brett followed the reporter with his eyes till the door closed behind
him. He felt as though he had distinctly got the worst of it in the
encounter, and yet he could not see how he could have said less. And
that was how stories got about, he thought. If he had not seen the
reporter,--if the latter had been turned away as Mrs. Darche had
intended, the story of Darche's return would have been reported again
and again. That, at least, thought Brett, was prevented for the
present.

Nevertheless, as he stood alone during those few moments before sending
word to Marion that the reporter was gone, Brett's face betrayed his
terrible anxiety. He hesitated. More than once his hand went out
towards the bell and dropped again by his side. At last he made up his
mind, touched the button, and sent Stubbs with his message to Mrs.
Darche.

"Well?" she asked as she entered the room.

"It is all right," he answered. "It was about the charity tableaux. I
did not want to go away without seeing you, so I sent Stubbs--"

"You are not going this moment?" Marion looked at him in surprise.

She was further than ever from understanding him. He seemed to act
suddenly and irrationally. A quarter of an hour earlier he had been
almost his old self, in spite of his strange references to a mystery
which he could not communicate to her, and now he had changed again and
resumed the incomprehensible manner he had affected of late. He seemed
anxious to get away from her, even at the cost of seeming rude. Then,
as he held out his hand to say good-bye, he surprised her more than
ever.

"If you will allow me," he said, "I will come back in the course of the
afternoon."

"Certainly," she answered, staring at him as she shook hands.

A moment later he was gone, leaving Marion in considerable perplexity
and some anxiety of mind.

When Brett left the house he went in search of Vanbrugh, whom he
ultimately found at a club. The conversation which had taken place
between three men who were spending the long afternoon between
letter-writing, the papers, and gossip, is worth recording.

It was about five o'clock. The names of the men were Goss, Greene, and
Bewlay, and they were rather insignificant persons, but gentlemen, and
all acquainted with the actors of this story. Goss was seated in a deep
leathern easy-chair with a paper. Greene was writing a letter, and
Bewlay was exceedingly busy with a cigar while waiting for some one to
say something.

"Well!" exclaimed Goss. "That beats the record!"

"I say," said Greene, looking up and speaking sharply, "I wish you
would not startle a fellow in that way. My nerves are not of the best
any way. What is the matter?"

"Oh, nothing in particular," said the first speaker. "John Darche has
come back to life again. I thought he was drowned last May."

"Stuff!" ejaculated Greene, testily.

"All right. I do not want to disturb your correspondence."

"What is that about John Darche?" inquired Bewlay, delighted at hearing
a voice.

"Some rubbish or other," answered Goss. "It is the fashion to resurrect
people nowadays--sort of way the newspapers have of getting ahead of
the day of judgment. If this goes on, that entertainment will not
draw."

"What is it, any way?"

"Headlines to begin with. 'The return of the prodigal--John W. Darche,
alive and asking questions. Accident--not suicide--interview with Mr.
Henry C. Brett.'"

"What the dickens has Brett got to do with it?" asked Greene, looking
up from his letter again.

"They say he is engaged to marry Mrs. Darche," said Bewlay, in
explanation.

"That is another ridiculous story," answered Greene. "I happen to know
he is as good as engaged to Miss Maylands."

"Let me see the paper, please," said Bewlay.

"No, I will read it," said Goss, shifting his position so as to get a
better light. "Then you can all hear. 'Our reporter called this
afternoon at the house of Mrs. John W. Darche, the beautiful and
accomplished widow who so long dispensed her hospitality in Lexington
Avenue. The beauteous lady was doubtless engaged in the consideration
of the costumes for certain charity tableaux in which her mourning
prevents her from taking a part, but in which her artistic taste and
advice are invaluable to the performers, and our reporter was received
by Mr. Henry C. Brett, the well-known lawyer, yachtsman, and patron of
the turf, who is to play the part of Darnley to Miss Maylands' Queen
Mary of Scotland in the artistic treat which awaits the favoured and
charitable to whom invitations have been tendered. Mr. Brett was kind
enough to answer a few questions regarding the report of Mr. John
Darche's return to New York which appeared in the morning papers. Mr.
Brett affected to treat the story with unconcern, but it was evident
from his anxious manner and from his somewhat nervous bearing that he
was deeply moved, though he bravely "took arms against the sea of
troubles." Mr. Brett said repeatedly in the course of the conversation
that the story was an absurd fabrication, and if there was a man going
around calling himself John Darche he ought to be in jail. He professed
to be quite sure that Mr. Darche was dead, but was obliged to admit
that there was no evidence forthcoming to certify to the tragedy. "The
accident," said Mr. Brett, "happened on board of a channel steamer more
than seven months ago. It was a calm, warm night in May. Two ladies
were lying in their chairs on the quarter-deck engaged in conversation.
Suddenly in the mysterious gloom they noticed the muffled figure of a
gentleman passenger leaning over the rail hard by them. A moment later
the figure was gone. There was a dull splash and all was over. They at
once realised the horrid situation and cried aloud for help, but there
seems to have been no one else on deck in that part of the boat. Many
minutes elapsed before they could explain what they had seen, and the
necessary orders were given for stopping the steamer. The Captain then
retraced his course, lowered a number of boats, and every effort was
made to prosecute the search until far into the night when the steamer,
which carried mails, was reluctantly obliged to resume her way. His
body," said Mr. Brett in conclusion, "was never found." Mr. Brett, as
was very natural, was more than anxious that the report should be
denied, but in the face of the facts he himself stated with such
pellucid clearness, it is impossible to say conscientiously that the
story of Mr. Darche's return may not be true. The fact remains that a
gentleman whose name is undoubtedly Darche is now in New York, and if
he is really Mr. John Darche of Lexington Avenue, steps will be taken
to set all doubts at rest before twenty-four hours have expired.' I
daresay you are not surprised at my exclamation now, after reading
that," said Goss, looking round at his hearers. "Pretty serious for
Brett."

"Pretty serious for Mrs. Darche," observed Greene.

"Pretty serious for everybody," said Bewlay, smoking thoughtfully.

"That is," suggested Greene, "if it is not all a fake, which is
probably the truth about it."

"Has anybody seen Brett here?" inquired Goss.

At this point the conversation was interrupted by the entry of Mr.
Brown, who was also a member of the club.

"Is Brett here?" he asked, looking about.

"Just what I was asking," answered Goss. "I suppose you have seen
this?"

"About Darche? Yes. I am afraid it is true."

"What! You do not believe it?" Greene was the most sceptical of the
party.

"Have you seen him?" asked Bewlay.

"No," answered Mr. Brown. "I have not seen him, but I mean to before
long. This is much too serious to be flying about in the papers like
this. Imagine what would happen if it fell into Mrs. Darche's hands.
Why it is enough to kill any ordinary woman on the spot! To think that
that infernal blackguard may not be dead after all."

"You seem to feel rather strongly on the subject," observed Greene.
"Are you engaged to marry Mrs. Darche too?"

"Nonsense!" ejaculated Brown. "I am in earnest. Just put yourself in
her position."

"For my part I had rather not," replied Goss with a smile. "But I agree
with Brown. A more unmitigated blackguard than John Darche never
breathed the unholy air of Wall Street. The only decent thing about him
was his suicide, and now virtue is to be cheated of that."

"Mrs. Darche never speaks of him, I believe?" The question came from
Bewlay.

"He did not return the civility," said Goss. "I have heard him talk
about his wife in this very room--well--I won't say how, but he was a
brute."

"Judging from your language you must be talking about Darche," said a
fifth speaker. Vanbrugh had entered the room.

"Yes," answered Brown, "we were. The damning was going on, but we had
not got to the faint praise. What do you think about all this,
Vanbrugh?"

"The question must be settled one way or the other before to-night,"
answered the last comer. "If Darche is really alive the fact must be
kept quiet until to-morrow and then some one must tell his wife. I
propose that we elect a committee of action, give up our dinner parties
if we have any, and go and find the fellow."

"That sounds like good advice," said Brown.

"We might as well look for a Chinaman in Pekin," put in Greene, "as to
try to hunt out any particular tough in the Bowery at this time of
day."

"We can try any way," said Mr. Brown, who was of a hopeful temperament.
"I am not engaged to dine anywhere, are you, Vanbrugh?"

"No."

"Then come along." They turned towards the door and were just going out
when Brett met them, looking very white.

"Hello, Brett!" exclaimed Brown. "You are the very man we have been
looking for. Come along with us and find John Darche."

"Wait a minute," said Vanbrugh, interposing. "Have you seen this
interview?" He took the paper from Greene and gave it to Brett, who
read rapidly while the others looked on, talking in undertones.

"Damn!" he exclaimed, turning to the others. "Have you all been reading
this stuff? I hope you do not believe that is what I said? A man came
to the house after luncheon. You fellows had just gone and I was going.
Mrs. Darche did not want to see him, but I advised her to let me tell
him what ought to be said about this affair. He tried to pump me about
the charity tableaux and then asked me about Darche. I told him that it
was all an absurd fabrication, and he promised to say so and to deny
all reports. And this is the result."

"Of course it is," said Greene. "The natural result of putting yourself
into any reporter's hands."

"I would like to say a word for the reporter," said Mr. Brown mildly.
"The paper is not his. He does not edit it. He does not get a share of
the profits, and when he interviews people he merely is doing what he
has undertaken to do. He is earning his living."

"Marriage and death and reporters make barren our lives," observed
Greene sourly, and some of the men laughed.

"I say, Brett, how much of this did you actually say?" asked Vanbrugh.

"Not a word, it seems to me. And yet I see some of my own phrases
worked in." He picked up the paper and looked at it again. "Yes, I did
say that it was a warm May night. I did say that his body was never
found. Yes, that is true enough. How the deuce does the fellow manage
to twist it so?"

"Does it not strike you that the reporter has only shown you your own
account in the light in which other people will look at it?" inquired
Mr. Brown, sententiously.

"Oh, confound it all, Brown, how can you say such a thing?" exclaimed
Brett.

"Well, I will explain," replied Mr. Brown. "Here are the facts, by your
own showing. On a warm evening in spring, and in calm weather, John
Darche fell overboard. I do not say he threw himself overboard, though
it was said that he did, to get away from the detective, possibly it
may have been an accident after all. We do not know. He was seen to go
over by some one, possibly by two ladies. It was very likely at
supper-time. We do not know that either. But it is quite sure that
there were not many people about. The ladies screamed, as was natural,
called for help and all that sort of thing. But on a calm May night
those channel boats run very fast. They did not cry out 'man
overboard!' as a sailor would have done, and very probably five minutes
elapsed before the Captain gave the order to stop. In that time the
boat would have run a mile and a half. It could not stop inside of half
a mile. Well, do you know anything about the tides and currents in the
Channel? The steamer could not have gone back to the point at which
Darche was lost much inside of twenty minutes. In that time the current
may have carried him a mile or more in one direction or the other.
Every one remembers that Darche was a good swimmer. As it happened in
May, he was not burdened with an overcoat, or thick boots, and there
are always vessels about in the Channel. Why is it so very improbable
that he should have been picked up by one, outward bound--"

While he was speaking, Brett played nervously with an unlighted cigar,
which he held in his hand.

"A sailing-vessel outward bound from England to South America would not
be in the Channel," observed Vanbrugh.

"Nobody said she was from England," retorted Brown. "She may have been
from Amsterdam. A great many Italian vessels take in cargo there."

"Surely she would have stopped and put Darche ashore," said Greene with
conviction. But the others laughed.

"You are not much of a sailor," said Brown. "You cannot stop a
sailing-vessel, as you express it, and run into any harbour you like as
though she were a steam-tug. To put back might mean a loss of two or
three weeks to the captain. Upon my soul, Vanbrugh, I cannot see why it
is so improbable."

"You are not in earnest, Brown?" asked Brett anxiously.

"I am, though. A case like that happened not very long ago. Everybody
knows about it. It is a fact. A man came back and found his wife
married to somebody else."

"Enoch Arden!" suggested Greene contemptuously.

"Precisely the same thing. The man had been living somewhere near San
Francisco. After he came back he found his wife had married an old
friend of his--a very good fellow. He would not break her heart, so he
went off to live by himself in the Rockies."

"I wish you would stop!" exclaimed Brett, almost livid.

"I wonder it does not strike you in the same way," continued Mr. Brown,
unmoved. "You are a lawyer, Vanbrugh. Now just argue the case, and meet
my points."

"Well really, you do put the case pretty strongly," answered Vanbrugh
thoughtfully. "If you look at it in that way, there certainly is a bare
shadow of a possibility that Darche may have come back."

"Good God, Vanbrugh, don't!" cried Brett.

"I cannot quite help it." Vanbrugh drew Brown a little aside and spoke
in a lower tone, but Brett, who could scarcely control himself, moved
up behind them. "Look here, Brown," said Vanbrugh, "we ought not to
talk like this before Brett. After all, it is a mere possibility, one
chance in a thousand."

"Considering the peculiarities of the name," argued Mr. Brown, "there
are more chances than that."

"Possibly. But why should he go to the newspaper office instead of
hiding altogether, or getting away from New York by the next steamer?"

"That is true," assented Mr. Brown.

"I say, you fellows," cried Brett, coming between them. "Stop that,
won't you? You are both infatuated. Why, you must be mad! Everybody
knows he is dead."

"It is certainly probable," said Mr. Brown doubtfully, "but it is not
sure."

"Do not get excited, Brett," said Vanbrugh. "There are a lot of men
looking on. Go home and leave it to us. We will find the man and see
him before to-night."

"I am going with you," said Brett resolutely.

"No, you are not," said Vanbrugh, looking at him curiously. "You are no
good. You are losing your head already. Go home and keep quiet."

"Yes, it would be much better," urged Mr. Brown. "Besides, two of us
are quite enough."

"You do not really believe it," Brett said suddenly, after a moment's
hesitation.

"Oh no, I suppose not," answered Vanbrugh with affected indifference.

"Cheer up, old man!" said Mr. Brown. "There may not be anything in it
after all."

"May not!" exclaimed Brett. "I ought not to be here, anyhow," he added,
speaking to Vanbrugh. "He may ring at her door at any moment." And
without further words he disappeared into the hall.

"Brett seems to be pretty badly rattled," remarked Greene.

"Yes," answered Goss. "Strange, is it not? Yet you are quite sure that
he is to marry Miss Maylands?"

"It is not safe to be sure of anything," said Greene, going back to
the writing-table and folding his letter.

"I believe it is true that he has come back," mused Bewlay, relighting
his cigar.

"There certainly is a possibility," said Vanbrugh.

"Of course there is," assented Mr. Brown.

"I almost believe it myself," said Greene, rising and going out with
his letter.

"It is a queer story, is it not?" observed Goss.

"Yes," answered Bewlay. "It has made me quite thirsty."

"Well, this is a good stopping-place," replied the other. "Ten minutes
for refreshments."



CHAPTER XI.


Vanbrugh and Mr. Brown lost no time, for the former knew exactly what
to do. Within three-quarters of an hour they had been to headquarters
in Mulberry Street, had ascertained that there was ground for the
report that John Darche had returned, that the police were making haste
to secure him and that he had paused the night without much attempt at
concealment, in a sailors' lodging-house on the east side. They found
the place without difficulty, and were informed that the man Darche had
gone out in the morning, leaving his few effects in charge of the
lodging-house keeper. The house was watched by detectives. Vanbrugh
asked Brown to stay at the Mulberry Street Station until dinner-time
and then to bring him news at Mrs. Darche's in Lexington Avenue,
whither he at once returned, fearing some trouble and anxious to give
timely warning.

He knew enough of criminals to suspect that Darche, finding himself in
New York very much against his will and doubtless without money, would
in all likelihood attempt to obtain money from his wife to aid him in
making his escape. He would probably not waste time in writing, but
would appear in person at the house, just before dinner when he would
know that Marion must be at home, and he would have little or no
difficulty in forcing his way into her presence.

This was what he foresaw in case the man proved to be really John
Darche. The police were satisfied that there was no mistake, and that a
fortunate accident had thrown the escaped criminal into their hands.
Nevertheless, Vanbrugh had doubts on the subject. The coincidence of
name was possible, if not probable, and no one had given him any
description which would have applied any more to John Darche than to
any other man of his age and approximately of his complexion. The
lodging-house keeper was evidently under the impression that the man,
whoever he was, must be a sailor; but any one familiar with sea-faring
men knows that, apart from some peculiarity of dress there is often
very little to distinguish them from landsmen, beyond the fact that no
seaman ever wears spectacles, and that most sailors have bronzed faces.
But a landsman is easily imposed upon by a "guernsey," a jack-knife, a
plug of tobacco, and a peculiar taste in swearing.

When Brett had left Marion Darche so abruptly, she had gone to her
morning-room and shut herself up to think, with no especial result,
except that she was very unhappy in the process. She would not even see
Dolly Maylands, who came in soon afterwards, but sent her word to have
tea in the library with Cousin Annie. She herself, she said, would come
down later. She begged Dolly to stay to dinner, just as she was.

Dolly was busy as usual, but she was anxious about her friend and about
Brett, and her own life seemed very perplexing. Men were very odd
creatures, she thought. Why did Brett hesitate to ask Marion to marry
him, since he was in love with her, unless he were sure that Marion
loved Vanbrugh, or at least liked him better? And if Vanbrugh were not
himself in love with Marion, an idea which Dolly scouted with wrath,
why did he not offer himself to her, Dolly Maylands? Considering that
the world was a spheroid, thought Dolly, it was a very crooked stick of
a world, after all.

"All alone, Dolly?" asked Mrs. Willoughby, entering the library.

"Yes," answered Dolly. "I am all alone, and I am tired, and I want some
tea, and Marion is lying down, and everything is perfectly horrid. Do
sit down and let us have a cosy talk, all by ourselves."

"Why will people scramble through life at such a rate?" And Mrs.
Willoughby installed her gray self in an easy-chair. "I have told
Marion fifty times since last summer that she will break down unless
she gives herself a rest."

"My dear Mrs. Willoughby," said Dolly. "Marion is a very sensible woman
and manages her existence on scientific principles. She really gets
much more rest than you or I, not to mention the fact--well, I suppose
I ought not to say it."

"What? Why not?"

"Well, I was thinking that since poor Mr. Darche was drowned, life
must have seemed like one long rest to Marion."

"Oh Dolly, how unkind!" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, and then paused a
moment before she continued. "But I suppose there is some truth in it.
What is that proverb? 'De--de--mort--'"

"'De mortuis nil nisi--something like bones,'" answered Dolly with a
laugh.

"What? What is that?"

"Oh nothing. It only means that everybody should say the nicest
possible things when people are dead. That was what you meant. But I
should think the living would appreciate them more."

"Yes, yes," assented Mrs. Willoughby vaguely. "I daresay he would."

"He? Who is he?" asked Dolly with affected surprise.

"Oh I do not mean anything, my dear. I hardly think that Marion will
marry again."

"I suppose they are admirably suited to each other?"

"Who?"

"Who? Why Marion and Mr. Vanbrugh. Who else?" Dolly watched Mrs.
Willoughby's face.

"Oh, I was not thinking of that. I meant Mr.--hm--" She interrupted
herself in fear of indiscretion. "Your dress will be complete now with
the lace, will it not, Dolly?"

"Oh yes," answered Dolly in a careless tone. "It was just like Mr.
Vanbrugh, was it not, to take all that trouble to find the very thing I
wanted?"

"A man will take a great deal of trouble, my dear, when he wants to
please somebody he is fond of."

"Yes--but me," suggested Dolly, just to see what Cousin Annie thought.

"Why not you? Should you like some tea, Dolly?"

"Why not me? I suppose because I am Marion's friend," Dolly answered.

"Oh yes, if you put it in that way--"

Mrs. Willoughby was interrupted by the appearance of Stubbs bringing in
the tea.

"Is Mrs. Darche at home if any one calls, Stubbs?" she inquired.

"No, madam. Mrs. Darche is upstairs and not at home." He paused a
moment to see whether Mrs. Willoughby meant to say anything more, and
then left the room.

"Dear Mrs. Willoughby, I do so want to ask you a question," said Dolly,
beginning to pour the tea.

"What is it, my dear?"

"One lump or two?" inquired Dolly with hesitation.

"Is that all?" asked Mrs. Willoughby with a slight laugh.

"Not quite," answered Dolly. "Do you take milk?"

"Please, and one lump. What is the question, child?"

"No," said Dolly, laughing herself. "It was foolish and inquisitive,
and all sorts of horrid things. I think I had better not ask it."

"About Marion and Mr. Brett?"

"Why?" Dolly asked, looking up quickly, and then hesitating. "Is there
anything? I mean--yes, that is what I meant to ask."

"Well, my dear," answered Mrs. Willoughby in a confidential tone, "to
tell the truth I am glad to talk to somebody about it, for it is on my
mind, and you know that Marion does not like to answer questions."

"Yes, I know. Well, so you think there is something between them?"

"My dear, of course there is," said Mrs. Willoughby without hesitation.
"And I am quite sure that something has happened lately. In fact, I
believe they are engaged to be married."

"Do you really? And--and--where does Mr. Vanbrugh come in?"

"Mr. Vanbrugh? I am sure I do not know. Perhaps he will be Harry
Brett's best man."

"If they could see themselves as others see them," reflected Dolly
under her breath, before she answered the remark. "They would make a
handsome couple, would they not? But you are quite mistaken, dear Mrs.
Willoughby--oh, you are quite--quite mistaken." She looked down and
sipped her tea.

"How do you know that?" asked Mrs. Willoughby. "How can you be so sure?
Do you not see how they go on together, always sitting in corners and
talking in undertones?"

"Do you not see how Marion spoils Mr. Vanbrugh, and gets his special
brand of cigarettes for him, and always asks him to dinner to fill up a
place, and altogether behaves like an idiot about him? You must be
blind if you do not see that. Let me give you another cup of tea?"

"Thanks, I have not finished," said Cousin Annie. "Of course, my dear
child, no two people ever look at things from the same point of view,
but I was thinking--"

Stubbs opened the door again.

"Mr. Vanbrugh," he announced.

"He knew you were here, my dear," said Mrs. Willoughby in a whisper.
"He has come to see you."

"Will you be good-natured and forgive my spoiling your tea?" asked
Vanbrugh, as he entered the room.

"We will try," said Dolly.

"Sit down," said Mrs. Willoughby, "and have some with us."

"Thanks," answered Vanbrugh. "I am even ruder than I seem, for I am in
a hurry. Do you think I could see Mrs. Darche? For a minute?"

"I daresay," replied Cousin Annie, doubtfully.

"Of course you can. She is upstairs and not at home." Dolly laughed.

"So Stubbs told me," said Vanbrugh, "and I came in to ask you to help
me. I am very glad I have seen you first. I know it is late and I will
not keep you a moment. There is something that I must say. I have just
been at the club for a moment and Brown came in and four or five
others. There is certainly an impression that John Darche has really
come back again."

"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Willoughby, thoroughly startled.

"Oh, how awful!" exclaimed Dolly in real distress. "But you were all
saying after luncheon that it was impossible."

"I know," said Vanbrugh. "I know we were. But it looks otherwise now.
There was so much talk about it that I proposed to Brown to try and
find the man. We have been down town since then, to Mulberry Street.
There certainly is a man knocking about under the name of John Darche,
who landed from an Italian vessel last night."

"Have you seen him?" asked Dolly. "Oh, poor Marion!"

"Dreadful, dreadful!" repeated Mrs. Willoughby, staring at Vanbrugh.

"No," answered the latter in reply to Dolly's question, "we have not
seen him, but we shall have him this evening."

"Here?" exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, looking round nervously.

"Here in this house?"

"Yes--or at least, under our hand," said Vanbrugh. "Brown is waiting
for information at the Mulberry Street Station."

"To bring him here to-night?" asked Cousin Annie, with increasing
anxiety.

"No, to keep him from coming."

"And you have come to warn Marion?" inquired Dolly.

"Yes, in a way," answered Vanbrugh. "But not to tell her, of course. I
want her to give strict orders about any odd-looking persons who may
present themselves. I mean to tell her that I am afraid some reporter
may try to get in, and that the man at the door must be very careful."

"I will go to her," said Mrs. Willoughby, rising. "Mr. Vanbrugh--if he
comes, if it is really he, he cannot be turned away from what was his
own house."

"No, but he shall be stopped at the door, and I will go out and talk to
him and persuade him to escape, or to come and see me in the morning,
if he is mad enough to stay."

"Yes, that is sensible," answered Cousin Annie. "Shall I speak to my
niece myself, or shall I make her come down?"

Vanbrugh hesitated a moment and looked at Dolly, who answered by an
almost imperceptible nod.

"I think," said Vanbrugh, "that to put her to any inconvenience would
make the matter look more serious than we wish her to think it is. Do
you think you could explain, Mrs. Willoughby? Give her the idea that
the newspaper man who was here to-day may come back--or some other
person, or two or three. Anything of that sort."

"I will do my best," answered Mrs. Willoughby. "You will wait until I
come back, will you not?"

"Of course," replied Vanbrugh, as she left the room.

"Do you think it is really true?" asked Dolly.

"I do not know what to think. Putting all the facts we have together,
there is certainly a possibility."

"I am very, very sorry," said Dolly, after a short pause.

"Poor Mrs. Darche!" exclaimed Vanbrugh. "After all these months of
freedom she has had, it will break her heart."

"I was not thinking of Marion," answered Dolly.

"Of whom, then?" asked Vanbrugh.

"Of--of--some one else."

"Yes, I know."

"Yes," repeated Dolly with marked sympathy. "Will you not let me make
you a nice cup of tea, Mr. Vanbrugh?"

"No, thanks."

"Will you not light a cigarette?" asked Dolly. "Here are some of your
own."

"No, thanks," answered Vanbrugh absently. "I have just smoked."

"Do sit down and warm yourself," said Dolly, pushing a chair towards
the fire.

"Well--thanks--I suppose Mrs. Willoughby will be gone some minutes.
Have you thought of what might happen if Darche were alive?" he asked,
reverting to the subject uppermost in his mind.

"I do not like to think of it. But I cannot help thinking of it," she
answered almost inaudibly. "I know that I cannot, and I hate myself and
everybody."

"We may have to think of it seriously in three or four hours," said
Vanbrugh. "Brown will bring me word. He will dine with me, and I will
be within reach in case anything happens."

"What a head you have!" exclaimed Dolly. "You ought to be a general."

"It is simple enough, it seems to me, as simple as going back to stop
an express train when there has been an accident on the line."

"Yes, but it is always the one particular man who has more sense than
the rest who thinks of stopping the express train."

"I suppose so," answered Vanbrugh indifferently. "The man who has his
eyes open. It is odd, is it not, that the happiness of so many people
should be at stake on one day?"

"So many?"

"Well, three at least."

"Three? Are there not four?" asked Dolly, with a smile.

"There is Stubbs, of course," said Vanbrugh thoughtfully; "not to
mention a lot of people who would not be particularly glad to see
Darche back, on general principles. Well, I am sorry for them all, but
I was not thinking of them especially."

"Whom were you thinking of?"

"Some one not concerned in the matter--some one, I cannot say nearest;
think of something that rhymes with it. You are fond of hymns and that
sort of thing."

"Dearest?" suggested Dolly.

"Yes, 'dearest'; that rhymes, does it not?"

"Yes, that rhymes," assented Dolly, with a little sigh. "Whom were you
thinking of?" she asked.

"A person."

"What an answer! And what an expression! I suppose the name of the
person is a profound secret?"

"It has been a secret for some time," said Vanbrugh.

"Oh!--then you have a faithful disposition?" asked Dolly with a laugh.

"I hope so," answered Vanbrugh, smiling.

"Any other virtues?"

"Lots," he laughed in his turn.

"I am so glad."

"Why?"

"Virtue makes people so nice and safe," said Dolly, "and helps them to
bear misfortune, and to do almost everything except enjoy themselves."

"What an appalling code for a Sunday school teacher!"

"Do not laugh. I have had an offer."

"Of marriage?" asked Vanbrugh, looking at her.

"No. If I had, I would not tell you. I have been offered twenty-five
dollars a month to teach at a Sunday school--a visitor, who did not
know me, you see, and wished to engage me."

"And you refused?"

"Yes. Foolish of me, was it not? Twenty-five dollars--just think!"

"It is a lot of money," laughed Vanbrugh.

"Several pairs of gloves," said Dolly gravely. "But I refused. You know
the proverb--'be virtuous and you will be happy, but you will not have
a good time.'"

"And you mean to have a good time. I have always been meaning to--but
it is rather dull, all by myself. I am not young enough to be gay
alone--nor old enough to enjoy being sour."

"There is a remedy--get married!" Dolly smiled, looked grave, and then
smiled again.

"That is almost easier done than said, if one does not mind whom one
marries."

"And you do mind, I suppose?"

"Yes--I am foolish enough to care," answered Vanbrugh, glancing at her.

"To care for some particular person--is that rude, or indiscreet, or
horrid of me?"

"Very! But I will forgive you on one condition."

"I never accept conditions."

"Unconditional surrender? Is that it?"

"Of course," Dolly answered without hesitation.

"I surrender unconditionally--at discretion."

"Oh--very well. Then I will be nice and ask what the condition was for
the sake of which you kindly proposed to forgive me for what I did not
do. Come--what is it?"

"You asked if I cared for one particular person," said Vanbrugh,
gently.

"Yes. Do you?" He could hardly distinguish the words.

"I will tell you, if you will answer the same question."

"You answer first."

"Yes. That is the answer." His hand stole out towards hers.

"Yes--that is the other answer."

"Do two positives make a negative?" asked Vanbrugh, as their hands met.

"No--not in mathematics," laughed Dolly, a little awkwardly, and
withdrawing her fingers from his. "Two negatives make a positive,
sometimes."

"A positive 'no'?" asked Vanbrugh, incredulously.

"Sometimes."

"But we were both saying 'yes.'"

"We are both saying 'yes,'" repeated Dolly slowly.

"Could we not go a step farther?"

"How?" Dolly started a little and looked at him. "I do not
understand--I thought--"

"What did you think?"

"I do not know what to think." She hesitated.

"Will you not let me help you to decide?" For the first time in their
acquaintance, Vanbrugh's voice grew tender.

"I--I am almost afraid--"

"Afraid of me?"

"Of you? Oh no, you do not frighten me at all--but I am just a
little--" again Dolly hesitated, then as though making a great effort
she tried to speak severely. "Mr. Vanbrugh, you must not play with me!"

"Miss Maylands, you have played with me a long time," answered Vanbrugh
softly.

"I?"

"Yes."

"Have I? I--I did not mean to," she added thoughtfully.

"Perhaps we have both played in earnest," suggested Vanbrugh.

"But you play with so many people--"

"With whom, for instance?" asked Vanbrugh.

"With Marion, for instance," said Dolly.

"With Mrs. Darche?" Vanbrugh's voice expressed genuine astonishment.
"What an extraordinary idea! As though Brett were not my best friend!"

"What of that?"

"Oh, do not pretend that you do not understand--especially to-day, when
they are both so unhappy--you will do something that will hurt them if
you are not careful."

"I wonder--" Dolly did not complete the sentence, but turned away as
though leaving it to him.

"I know. So you must not talk of my flirting with Mrs. Darche. It is
not just to her nor kind to me--and you do not mean to be unkind to me,
do you?"

"To you--of all people!" Her voice was very gentle.

"Of all people in the world, dear?"

"Yes--I think so--of all people." She nodded slowly, and then looked up
and let her eyes meet his.

"You think so--you are not quite sure?" asked Vanbrugh, although there
was no longer any doubt.

"I am always sure of what I think." Dolly smiled, still looking at him.

"And this is not play any more? This is quite earnest?"

"Quite--quite--" While she was speaking his face was suddenly close to
hers and his lips touched her cheek. "Oh!--I did not mean--"

"I did," said Vanbrugh emphatically.

"I see you did," answered Dolly, blushing scarlet.

"Will you not see again--" He leaned towards her again.

"Oh, no! Not on any account!" she cried, pushing him away and laughing.
"Besides"--the handle of the door turned as she was speaking--"there
are people coming. Oh--I can feel it!" she whispered, rising
precipitately with her hands to her cheek. "But I am so happy!" she
added, with one more look as she broke from him.

Dolly whispered the last words as Mrs. Willoughby re-entered the room,
and Vanbrugh rose to his feet, hardly realising that the crisis of his
life had been reached with a laugh and a kiss, but quite as happy as
Dolly herself in his thoroughly undemonstrative way. Both were,
perhaps, a little ashamed of themselves when they remembered Marion
Darche's trouble, and contrasted her anxiety with their own visions of
a sunny future; and both felt all at once that they were out of place;
if they could not be together without a third person, they wished to be
alone.

"I do not really believe that anything will happen," said Vanbrugh,
speaking to Mrs. Willoughby. "I do not believe either, that this man is
Mrs. Darche's husband, for there is every reason to be sure that John
Darche was actually drowned. But in case anything should happen, pray
send for me at once. I shall be at home and shall not go out this
evening. Good-night, Miss Maylands."

"I am going, too," said Dolly, rather suddenly. "Do you think," she
added, turning to Mrs. Willoughby, "that it would be very dreadful if
Mr. Vanbrugh took me as far as the corner?"

"What is there dreadful in it?" asked Mrs. Willoughby, who was
old-fashioned and remembered the times when young men used to take
young girls to parties, and walked home with them unchaperoned.

"Very well, then, will you take me, Mr. Vanbrugh? My maid has not come
yet. I only want to go to Mrs. Trehearne's and tell her it is all right
about that lace."

"I shall be delighted," answered Vanbrugh, his handsome face lighting
up in a way Dolly had never seen.

They had not been gone more than five minutes when Brett rang at the
door again and asked for Mrs. Darche. Stubbs looked at him for a
moment, and then said that he would inquire. Brett waited in the
library, by the deserted tea table, for Cousin Annie had betaken
herself to her own room as soon as Dolly and Vanbrugh left, and he
wondered who had been there. It was some time before Marion appeared.

"I am glad to see you again," she said, quietly, and holding out her
hand. "You went away so suddenly--as though you were anxious about
something."

"I am."

"And you have made me anxious, too. You were telling me that a great
and final misfortune is hanging over my head. You do not know me. You
do not understand me. You do not see that I would much rather know what
it is, and face it, than live in terror of it and trust altogether to
you to keep it from me."

"But do you not know after all these years, that you can trust me? Do
you not trust me now?"

"Yes," Marion answered after a pause. "As a man, my dear friend, I
trust you. You do all that a man can do. I can even give you credit,
perhaps, for being able to do more than you or any other man can do.
But there is more. There is something yet. Be as faithful as you may,
as honest as God has made you, and as brave and as strong as you
are--you cannot control fate. You do not believe in fate? I do. Well,
call it that you please. Circumstances arise which none of us, not the
strongest of us, can govern. Whatever this secret is, it means a fact,
it means that there is something, somewhere, which might come to my
knowledge, which might make me unutterably miserable, which you some
day may not be able to keep from me. Does it not?"

"Yes, it does," said Brett, slowly. "I cannot deny that. You might, you
may, come to know of it without my telling you."

"Then tell me now," said Marion earnestly. "Is it not far better and
far more natural that this, whatever it may be, should come to me
directly from you, instead of through some stranger, unawares, when I
am least prepared for it, when I may break down under the shock of it?
Do you not think that you, my best friend, could make it easier for me
to hear, if any one could?"

"If any one could, yes," answered Brett in a low voice.

"And if no one can, then you at least can make it less cruel. Let me
know now when I am prepared for it by all you have said--prepared to
hear the most dreadful news that I can possibly imagine, something far
more dreadful, I am sure, than anything really could be. Let me hear of
it from you of all other men."

"No, no, do not ask me!" He turned from her as though he had finally
made up his mind. "Of all men, I should be the last to hurt you. And
there is no certainty, perhaps not even a probability, that you should
ever know it if I do not tell you."

"Ah, but there is!" she cried, insisting. "You have said so. You told
me that a moment ago. No--you must tell me. I will not let you go until
you do. I will not leave anything unsaid that I can say--that a woman
can say--"

"No, no!"

"Harry, I must know. I will know." She laid her hand upon his arm.

"For heaven's sake!" exclaimed Brett in the utmost distress.

"Harry! You loved me once--" Her voice vibrated audibly.

"Once!" Brett started violently, and turned if possible, paler.

"You made me think so."

"Marion, Marion, don't!"

"I will. Do you remember, Harry, long, long ago when we were almost boy
and girl, how you promised, faithfully, sacredly, that if ever I needed
you, that if ever I asked your help--"

"And you married John Darche instead of me," said Brett, interrupting
her.

"Yes, and I married John Darche," answered Marion, gravely.

"Because you loved him and not me."

"Because I thought,--no, I will not go back to that. There is a nearer
time than that in the past, a day we both remember, a day that I am
ashamed of, and yet--well you have not forgotten it either. That
morning--not so many months ago. It was on that day--that day when my
husband was arrested. It was in this very room. You told me that you
loved me, and I--you know what I did. It was bad. It was wrong. Call it
what you please, but it was the truth. I let you know that I loved you
as well as you loved me and better, for I had more to lose. John was
alive then. He is dead now--long dead. If I was ashamed then, I am not
ashamed now--for I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am showing whether
I trust you or not, whether I believe in you, whether I am willing to
stake my woman's pride on your man's faithfulness. I loved you then,
and I showed you that I did. Harry! I love you now--and I tell you so
without a blush."

Brett trembled as though in bodily fear, glanced at her and turned
away.

"Great God!" he exclaimed under his breath.

"And you--Harry--you still--Harry--look at me! What is it?"

With wide and loving eyes she looked at him, expecting every instant
that he would turn to her. But he did not move. Then suddenly, with a
low cry, as though she were mortally hurt, she fell back upon the sofa.

"Oh, my God! you do not love me!"

Her voice was broken and weak, but he heard the words. He turned at
last, looked at her, and then knelt down at her side.

"Marion, Marion! dear!" he whispered lovingly, again and again. But she
pushed him away. Then he rose to his feet and sat beside her, looking
down into her face. "Yes," he said gravely, "you must know my secret
now."

"Yes, I know your secret now, your miserable secret." She turned her
face from him against the cushion.

"No, you do not know it," he said. "You do not even guess it. But I
must tell you now. Take care. Be strong, be brave. It will hurt you."

While he was speaking Mrs. Darche rose from the sofa and her expression
slowly changed as she realised that he had something grave to tell her.
She rose slowly, steadying herself, but not taking her eyes from his
face.

"Tell me, please. I am ready."

"John Darche is alive, and I have known it almost from the first."

It seemed to Brett that nothing he had ever done in his life had been
half so hard. Marion stared at him for a moment, and then once more
sank slowly into her seat and covered her face.

"Do you understand me now?" he asked after a long pause. "Do you see
now why I have fought so hard against telling you this thing?"

"It is better so," she answered in a low and indistinct tone. "It was
better that I should know it now." Then she was silent for a long time.
"And is that all you have to tell me after all that I have told you?"
she asked at last, as though in a dream.

"All? All, dear?" Suddenly his resolution broke down. "You know it is
not all. I love you--that is all, indeed--and more than I have the
right to say or you to hear."

"A right! What is right? Where is right now?"

"Where you are, dear." He was holding both her hands in his.

Then all at once a light came into her face.

"And we can make the rest right, too! Are there no laws? Is there no
justice? If this man who has ruined both our lives is not dead--ah! but
he is! I know he is. What proof have you? How can you stand there and
tell me that I am still bound and tied to a man whose very name is a
stain on me, whose mere memory is a disgrace."

"How do I know?" repeated Brett. "It is simple enough. He has written
to me. I have his letters. Do you care to see them? Do you know what he
says? What he repeats whenever he writes? He began a few days after we
heard of his supposed death. I know the letter by heart. 'My dear
Brett--I am not dead at all. I know that you love my wife, but I do not
propose that you should be happy at my expense. If you try to marry
her I shall be at the wedding to forbid the banns.'"

"He wrote that? He wrote that in his own hand?" The strange emotions
that were chasing each other in her heart found quick expression in her
face.

"And he has written it often. Would it have made you happier to know it
during all these months? Or could I have looked you in the face as an
honourable man and told you that I loved you when I alone knew that
your husband was alive?" He had drawn back from her now and stood
leaning against the mantelpiece with folded arms.

"Oh, I see it all! I see it all now!" she said. "How brave you have
been! How good! And now he is coming back to find some new way of
hurting us! Oh it is too much! I thought I had borne all. But you were
right. There was more to bear."

"Do you know?" Brett began after a moment's pause. "In spite of this
story that was in the papers to-day I find it hard to believe that he
has really come back. He was quite capable of starting the story
himself from a distance for the sake of giving you pain, but he knows
as well as we do that if he comes here he comes to serve his time in
prison."

Marion seemed to be trying to think over the situation.

"Stop!" she said at last. "You know that there was a woman, too, though
we never spoke of her, you and I. But every one knew it. People used to
pity me for that before they knew the rest. Do you not think it
possible that she may have written those letters to you?"

"Oh, no! I know John Darche's handwriting. I have good cause to know
it."

"Yes, I suppose you are right," answered Marion thoughtfully. "Did any
one man ever accumulate so much wickedness in a lifetime? He was not
satisfied with one crime. And yet he was not the only bad man in the
world. What does a girl know of the man she is to marry? She sees him
day after day, of course, but she only sees the best side of him. She
knows nothing of what he does, nor of what he thinks when he is not
with her, but she imagines it all, in her own way, with no facts to
guide her. Then comes marriage. How could I know?"

"Indeed, it would have been hard for any girl to guess what sort of man
John Darche was."

"Please do not talk about that."

"And how do you know that I am any better man than John Darche?" asked
Brett, suddenly. "What do you know of my comings and goings when I am
not here, or how I spend my time? How do you know that I am not bound
by some disgraceful tie, as he was? I have been in all sorts of places
since we said good-bye on that winter's evening. Do you remember? I
have wandered and worked, and done ever so many things since then. How
do you know that there is not some woman in my life whom I cannot get
rid of?"

He had not changed his position while speaking. When he paused for her
answer she went up to him, laying her hands upon his shoulders and
looking into his face.

"Harry! is there any other?"

"No, dear." But his eyes answered before he spoke.

"I knew it. You have answered your own question. That is all."

"Thank you." As she drew back he caught her hand and held it, and his
words came fast and passionately. "No. That is not all. That is not
half. That is not one-thousandth part of what I ought to say. I know
it. Thank you? My whole life is not enough to thank you with. All the
words I ever heard or know are not enough--the best of words mean so
little. And they never do come to me when I want them. But those little
words of yours are more to me than all the world beside. I do thank you
with all my strength, with all my heart, with all my soul, and I will
live for you with all three. Why should I say it? You know it all,
dear, much better than it can be said, for you believe in me. But it is
good to say--I wish it could have been half as good to hear."

She had listened to each word and looked for each passing expression
while he spoke. She looked one moment longer after he had finished, and
then turned quietly away.

"It is good to hear--if you only knew how good!" she said softly. "And
words are not always empty. When they come from the heart, as ours do,
they bring up gold with them--and things better than gold."



CHAPTER XII.


A long silence followed. Neither of them, perhaps, realised exactly
what had passed, or if they did, actual facts seemed very far away from
their dreamland. Marion was the first to feel again the horror of the
situation, tenfold worse than before he had last spoken.

"Oh, I cannot bear it!" she said suddenly. "I cannot bear it now--as I
could. Really alive, after all--and this story to-day? Have you found
out nothing? Have you nothing more to tell me?"

"Yes, there is something to tell you."

"What?"

"Bad news."

"Bad? Worse than--"

"I am afraid so," answered Brett.

"You have told me that he is alive." She laid her hand upon his arm.
"Do not tell me that he is here! You said you could not believe it!"

"If I do not, it is only because I have not seen him with my own eyes.
I did not mean to tell you--until--" he stopped.

"Tell me!" cried Marion. "Tell me everything quickly! If you tell me--I
can bear it, if you tell me--but not from any one else. Where is he?
When did he come? Is he arrested again? Is he in prison?"

"No, not yet. He is in a sailors' lodging-house--if it is he."

"How do you know it? Oh, how can you be so sure, if you have not seen
him?"

"None of us have seen him," answered Brett, barely able to speak at
all. "Vanbrugh and Brown--they went to find him--I found Brown in
Mulberry Street, waiting for news--you know the Police Headquarters are
there. Vanbrugh had left him--then I came up town again--to you."

"Russell Vanbrugh has been here," said Marion, trying to collect her
thoughts. "He told Cousin Annie to give strict orders about reporters."

"He was afraid that Darche might come to try and get money from you--"

"Money! I would give--God knows what I would give."

"I do not believe he will come," said Brett, assuming a confidence he
did not feel. "He must know that the house is watched already."

Marion's expression changed. Her face turned paler. The lines deepened
and her eyes grew dark. She had made a desperate resolution. She took
Brett's hand and looked at him in silence for a moment.

"Good-bye--dear," she said.

She would have withdrawn her hand, but Brett grasped it and pressed it
almost roughly to his lips.

"Good-bye," she said again.

It was almost too much to ask of any man. Brett held her hand fast.

"No--not good-bye," he answered with rising passion. "It is not
possible. It cannot be, Marion--do not say it."

"I must--you must."

"No--no--no!" he repeated. "It cannot be good-bye. Remember what you
said. Is this man who was dead to you and to all the world, if not to
me, to ruin both our lives? Are we to bow our heads and submit
patiently to such a fate as that? If I had told you long ago that he
was alive, as I alone knew he was, would you not have done your best to
free yourself from such a tie, from a man--you said it yourself--whose
very name is a stain, and whose mere memory is a disgrace?"

"No," answered Marion resolutely, and withdrawing her hands. "I mean
it. This is our good-bye, and this must be all, quite all. Do you think
I would ever accept such a position as that? That I could ever feel as
though the stain were wiped out and the disgrace forgotten by such a
poor formality as a divorce? No! Let me speak! Do not interrupt me yet.
If I had known six months ago that John was still alive, I would have
done it, and I should have felt perhaps, that it meant something, that
I was really free, that the world would forget the worst part of my
story, and that I could come to you as myself, not as the wife of John
Darche, forger and escaped convict. But I cannot do it now. It is too
late, now that he has come back. No power on earth can detach his past
from my present, nor clear me of his name. And do you think that I
would hang such a weight as that about your neck?"

"But you are wrong," answered Brett, earnestly. "Altogether wrong. The
life you have lived during these last months has proved that. Have you
ever heard that any one in all the world you know has--I will not say
dared--has even thought of visiting on you the smallest particle of
your husband's guilt? Oh, no! They say the world is unkind, but it is
just in the long run."

"No. People have been kind to me--"

"No. Just, not kind."

"Well, call it what you will," Marion answered, speaking in a dull tone
which had no resonance. "People have overlooked my name and liked me
for myself. But it is different now. A few good friends may still come,
the nearest and dearest may stand by me, but the world will not accept
without a murmur the man who has married the divorced wife of a
convict. The world will do much, but it will not do that. And so I say
good-bye again," she continued after a little pause, "once more this
last time, for I will not hamper you, I will not be a load upon you. I
will not live to give you children who may reproach you for their
mother's sake. We shall be what we were--friends. But, for the
rest--good-bye!"

"Marion! Do not say such things!"

"I will, and I must say them now, for I will not give myself another
chance," she answered with unmoved determination. "What has been, has
been, and cannot be undone. I did wrong months ago on that dreadful
morning, when I let you guess that I might love you. I did wrong on
that same day, when I prayed you for my sake to help John to escape,
when I made use of your love for me, to make you do the one
dishonourable action of your life. I have suffered for it. Better, far
better, that my husband should have gone then and submitted to his
sentence, than that I should have helped him--made you help me--"

"At the risk of your own life," said Brett, interrupting her.

"There was no risk at all, with you all there to help me, and I knew
it."

"There was," said Brett, insisting. "You might have burned to death.
And as for what I did, I hardly knew that I was doing it. I saw that
you were really on fire and I ran to help you. No one ever thought of
holding me responsible for what happened when my back was turned. But
I would have done more, and you know I would. And now you talk of
injuring me, if you divorce that man and let me take your life into
mine! This is folly, Marion, this is downright madness!"

Marion looked at him in silence for a moment.

"Harry, would you do it in my place?" she asked suddenly.

"What?"

"If your wife had forged, had been convicted, and sentenced, and you
had the public disgrace of it to bear, would you wish to give me your
name?"

Brett opened his lips to speak, and then checked himself and turned
away.

"You see!" she exclaimed, still watching him.

"No, that would be different," he said at last in a low voice.

"Why different? I see no difference at all. Of course you must say so,
any man would in your place. But that does not make it a fact. You
would rather cut off your right hand than ask me to marry you with such
a stain on your good name. You can have nothing to answer to that, for
it is hard logic and you know it."

"Call it logic, if you will," he answered coming up to her. "It does
not convince me. And I will tell you more. I will not yield. I would
not be persuaded if I knew that I could be, for I will convince you, I
will persuade you that the real wrong and the only wrong is whatever
parts a man and a woman who love as we love; who are ready, as you know
we are ready, to give all that man and woman can, each for the other,
and who will give it, each to the other, in spite of everything, as I
will give you my life and my name and everything I have before I die,
whether you will have it or not!"

"If I say that I will not accept such a sacrifice, what then?"

"You will accept it," said Brett in a tone of authority.

"Ah, but I will not! Harry!" cried Marion, with a sudden change of
voice, "I know that all you say is true. I know how generous you are,
that you would really do all you say you would. I need not say that I
thank you. That would mean too little. But I will not take from you
one-thousandth part of what you offer. I will not taint your life with
mine. You could not answer my question. You could not deny what I
said--that if you were in my place, you would suffer anything rather
than ask me to marry you. I know--you say it is different--but it is
not. Disgrace is just as real from woman to man as from man to woman,
and you shall not have it from me nor through me. That is why I say
good-bye. That is why you must say it too--for my sake."

"For your sake?"

"Yes," she answered. "Do you think that I could ever be happy again? Do
you not see that if I married you now, I should be haunted through
every minute of my life by the bitter presence of the wrong done you?
Do you not know what I should feel if people looked askance at you, and
grew cold in their acquaintance, and smiled to each other when you went
by? Do you think that would be easy to bear? Yes, it is good-bye for
my sake, as well as yours. Not lightly--you know it. It means good-bye
to love, and hope, and if I live, it means the loss of freedom, too,
when John Darche is released from prison."

"What!" cried Brett. "Do you mean to say that you would ever let him
come back to you?"

"I mean that I will not be divorced. And he would come back to me--he
will come back for help, and I must give it to him when he does."

"Receive that man under your roof!" He could not believe that she was
in earnest.

"Yes. Since he is alive he is still my husband. When he comes back
after undergoing his sentence I shall have to receive him."

"When you know that you could have a divorce for the asking?"

"Which I would refuse if it were thrust upon me," she answered firmly.

"That would be mad indeed. What can that possibly have to do with me?"

"This," she said. "We are speaking this last time. I will not be
divorced from him; do you know why? Because if I were--if I were
free--I should be weak, and marry you. Do you understand now? Try and
understand me, for I shall not say it again--it is too hard to say."

"Not so hard as it is to believe."

"But you will try, will you not?"

"No."

The monosyllable had scarcely escaped from his lips, short, energetic
and determined, when he was interrupted by Stubbs, who seemed destined
to appear at inopportune moments on that day. He was evidently much
excited, and he stood stock still by the door. At the same time there
was a noise outside, of many feet and of subdued voices. Stubbs made
desperate gestures.

"Mr. Brett, sir! Will you please come outside, sir!" He was hardly able
to make himself understood.

"What is the matter?" asked Marion, severely.

"I cannot help it, sir! Indeed I cannot, Madam!" protested the
distressed butler.

Brett understood.

"There is trouble," he said quickly to Marion, holding out his hands as
though he wished to protect her, and touching her gently. "Please go
away. Leave me here."

"Trouble?" She was not inclined to yield.

"Yes. It must be he--if you have to see him, this is not the place."

"But--"

With his hands, very tenderly, he pushed her toward the door at the
other end of the room, the same through which John Darche had once
escaped. She resisted for a moment--then without a word she obeyed his
word and touch and went out, covering her eyes with her hand.

"Now then, what is it?" asked Brett, turning sharply around as he
closed the door.

"I could not help it, sir!" Stubbs repeated. "There is a man in the
hall as says he is Mr. John--leastwise he says his name is John Darche,
though he has got a beard, sir, which Mr. John never had, as you may
remember, sir, and there is a lot of policemen in plain clothes and
otherwise, and Mr. Brown says they are pressmen, and the driver of the
cab, and Michael Curly, and the expressman--"

"What do all these people want?" inquired Brett, sternly. "Turn them
out."

"It is a fact, sir, just as I tell you--and so help me the powers, sir,
here they are coming in and I cannot keep them out--I cannot, not if I
was a dozen Stubbses!"

Before he had finished speaking, a number of men had pushed past him
into the room, led by Mr. Brown, very much out of breath and trying his
best to control the storm he had raised.

"What is this disturbance, Brown?" asked Brett angrily. "Who are these
people?"

"It is the man, Brett!" cried Mr. Brown triumphantly, and pushing
forward a burly and bearded individual in a shabby "guernsey" with a
black rag tied in a knot round his neck. "Now just look at him, and
tell me whether he has the slightest resemblance to John Darche."

"He is no more John Darche than I am! Take him away!"

"Out with you!" cried Stubbs, only too anxious to enforce the order.

"He said he was John Darche," said one of the men from Mulberry Street.

The man refused to be turned out by Stubbs and stood his ground,
evidently anxious to clear himself. He was an honest-looking fellow
enough, and there was a twinkle in his bright blue eyes as though he
were by no means scared, but rather enjoyed the hubbub his presence
created.

"No, sir," he said in a healthy voice that dominated the rest. "I am no
more John Darche than you are, sir, unless that happens to be your
name, which I ask your pardon if it is. But I said I was, and so the
bobbies brought me along. But this gentleman here, he showed me the
papers, that there was trouble about John Darche, so I just let them
bring me, which I had no call to do, barring I liked, being a sailor
man and quick on my feet."

"Well then, who are you?" asked Brett. "And where is John Darche?"

"John Darche is dead, sir, and I buried him on the Patagonian shore."

"Dead?" cried Brett. The colour rushed to his face, and for a moment
the room swam with him. "Can you prove that, my man?"

"Well, sir, I say he is dead, because I saw him die and buried
him--just so, as I was telling you."

This was more than Stubbs could bear in his present humour.

"Dead, is he? Mr. John's dead, is he? This man says he is dead, and he
comes here saying as he is him."

"Be quiet, Stubbs," said Brett. "Tell your story, my man, and be quick
about it," he added.

"Yes, sir," said the man, taking his hands from his pockets, and
standing squarely before Brett. "That is what I came to do if these
sons of guns will let me talk. John Darche was working his passage as
cook, sir, and we was wrecked down Magellan way, and some was drowned,
poor fellows, and some was taken off, worse luck for us. But I said I
would stick to the ship if Darche would, and we should get salvage
money. We had not much of a name to lose, either of us, so we tried it,
but the cook was not much to boast of for a sailor man, and we could
not bring her through, and she went to pieces on the Patagonian shore.
The cook, that was John Darche, he caught his death, what with too much
salt water, and too little to eat, and died two days after we got
ashore. So I buried him. And seeing as my own name wan't of much use
to me, being well known about those parts for a trifle of braining a
South American devil in Buenos Ayres, I took his, which wan't no more
use to him neither, and somehow or other I got here, by the help of
Almighty God and an Eyetalian captain, and working my passage and
eating their blooming boiled paste. And I soon found out what sort of a
name I had taken from my dead mate, for he seems to have been pretty
well known to these here gentlemen. But I daresay as you can swear,
sir, that I ain't John Darche he as you knew, and maybe as I ain't
wanted on my own account, these gentlemen will come and have a drink
with me and call quits."

"Have you got anything to prove this story?" Brett asked, when the man
had finished.

"Well, sir, there's myself to prove it," said the sailor. "I don't know
that I should care for more proof. And there's my dead mate's watch,
too. He had a watch, he had. He was a regular swell though he was
working his passage as cook. But I had to leave it with my uncle this
morning."

Brett drew a long breath and clasped his hands nervously together.

"I suppose you can set this man at liberty, upon my declaration that he
is not John Darche, and after hearing his story," he said, turning to
the police officer who stood near the sailor.

"Oh yes, sir," answered the latter. "I guess that will be all right. If
not, we'll make it right in five minutes."

"Well then, I must ask you to go away for the present--and as quickly
as possible. Take that with you, my man, and come and see me to-morrow
morning. My name is Brett. The butler will write my address for you."

"I don't want your money, sir," said the sailor.

"Oh yes, you do," answered Brett, with a good-humoured smile. "Go and
get your watch out of pawn and bring it with you."

"Very well, sir," said the sailor.

As they were going out, it struck Brett that he perhaps owed something
to Mr. Brown who, after all, had taken a great deal of trouble in the
matter.

"Mrs. Darche will be very much obliged to you, Brown," he said. "But I
am not sure that the matter is ended. It would be awfully good of you
to put the thing through, while I break the news to Mrs. Darche. Could
you not go along with them and see that the man is really set at
liberty?"

Mr. Brown was a good-natured man, and was quite ready to do all that
was asked of him. Brett thanked him once more, and he left the house
with the rest.

When they were all gone, Stubbs came back, evidently very much relieved
at the turn matters had taken.

"Please go into the drawing-room," said Brett, "and ask Mrs. Darche to
come here one moment, if she can speak to me alone, and keep every one
else out of the room. You understand, Stubbs."

"Yes, sir," answered the butler. "But it is the Lord's own mercy, sir,
especially the watch." He left the room in search of Mrs. Darche.

Scarcely a moment elapsed before she entered the room.

"Stubbs said you wanted to see me," she said in a voice that shook with
anxiety.

Brett came forward to meet her, and standing quite close to her, looked
into her eyes.

"Something very strange has happened," he said, with a little
hesitation. "Something--something very, very good--can you bear the
shock of a great happiness, dear?"

"Happiness," she repeated. "What is it? Oh, yes!" she exclaimed,
suddenly understanding. "Oh! thank God, I see it in your eyes! It is
not true? He is not here?--oh, Harry!"

"Yes. That is it. The whole story was only a fabrication. He is not
here. You see I cannot let you wait a moment for the good news. It is
so good. So much better even than I have told you."

"Better!" she cried as the colour rose to her pale cheeks. "What could
be better? Oh, it is life, it is freedom--it is almost more than I can
bear after this dreadful day!"

"But you must bear more," said Brett, smiling.

"More pain?" she asked with a little start. "Something else?"

"No. More happiness."

"Ah, no! There is no more!"

"Yes there is. Listen. There is a reason why the story could not be
true, why it is absolutely impossible that it should be true."

"Impossible?" She looked up suddenly. "You cannot say that."

"Yes I can," he answered. "We have seen the last of John Darche. He
will never come back."

"Never?" cried Marion. "Never at all? What do you mean?"

"Never, in this world," Brett answered gravely.

She seized his arm with sudden energy and looked into his face.

"What? No--it cannot be true! Oh, do not deceive me, for the love of
Heaven!"

"John Darche is dead."

"Dead!" In the pause that followed, she pressed her hand to her side as
though she could not draw breath.

"Oh! no! no--it cannot be true. It is another story. Oh, why did you
tell me?"

"It is true. The man who was with him when he died was here a moment
ago."

"Ah, you were right," she said faintly. "It is almost too much."

Brett's arm went round her and drew her towards him.

"No," he answered, speaking gently in her ear, "not too much for you
and me to bear together. Think of all that has died with him--think of
all the horror and misery and danger and fear that he has taken out of
the world with him. Think that there is nothing now between you and me.
Nothing--not the shadow of a nothing. That our lives are our own now,
and each the other's, yours mine, mine yours, forever and always. Ah,
Marion, dear, is that too much to bear?"

"Almost," she said as her head sank upon his shoulder. "Ah, God! that
hell and heaven should be so near."

"And such a heaven! Love! Darling! Sweetheart! Look at me!"

"Harry!" She opened her eyes. "Love! No--find me other words for all
you are to me."

She drew his face down to hers and their lips met.

THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *



LIST OF WORKS

BY

MR. F. MARION CRAWFORD.

       *       *       *       *       *

IN THE PRESS. A NEW NOVEL.

PIETRO GHISLERI.

12mo, cloth, $1.00. In the uniform edition of Mr. Crawford's Novels.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE NOVEL. WHAT IT IS.

By F. MARION CRAWFORD, author of "Children of the King," "Saracinesca,"
etc., etc. Uniform with the pocket edition of William Winter's Works.
With photogravure portrait. 18mo, cloth, 75 cents.

*.* Also a large-paper limited edition. 12mo, $2.00.

"Mr. Crawford in the course of this readable little essay touches upon
such topics as realism and romanticism, the use of dialect, the abuse
of scientific information, the defects of historical fiction. Mr.
Crawford's discussion of what does and what does not constitute the
novel will be read with eager interest by the large company of his
sincere admirers in this country."--_Beacon._

       *       *       *       *       *

CHILDREN OF THE KING.

A Tale of Southern Italy. 12mo, cloth, $1.00.

"A sympathetic reader cannot fail to be impressed with the dramatic
power of this story. The simplicity of nature, the uncorrupted truth of
a soul, have been portrayed by a master-hand. The suddenness of the
unforeseen tragedy at the last renders the incident of the story
powerful beyond description. One can only feel such sensations as the
last scene of the story incites. It may be added that if Mr. Crawford
has written some stories unevenly, he has made no mistakes in the
stories of Italian life. A reader of them cannot fail to gain a
clearer, fuller acquaintance with the Italians and the artistic spirit
that pervades the country."--M. L. B. in _Syracuse Journal_.

       *       *       *       *       *

MACMILLAN & CO. take pleasure in announcing that they have added the
following volumes (with the author's latest revisions) to their uniform
edition of the Works of Mr. F. Marion Crawford, thereby enabling them
to issue a complete edition of all his novels:

A ROMAN SINGER. New Edition, revised and corrected. TO LEEWARD. PAUL
PATOFF. AN AMERICAN POLITICIAN. New Edition, revised and partly
rewritten.

       *       *       *       *       *

F. MARION CRAWFORD'S NOVELS

NEW UNIFORM AND COMPLETE EDITION.

=12mo, cloth. Price $1.00 each.=

"Mr. F. Marion Crawford is," as Mr. Andrew Lang says, "the most
'versatile and various' of modern novelists. He has great adaptability
and subtleness of mind, and whether dealing with life in modern Rome or
at the court of Darius at Shushan, in the wilds of India or in the
fashionable quarter of New York, in the Black Forest or in a lonely
parish of rural England, he is equally facile and sure of his ground; a
master of narrative style, he throws a subtle charm over all he
touches."

       *       *       *       *       *

TO BE PUBLISHED IN JUNE:

PIETRO GHISLERI.

  =Children of the King.=
  =Don Orsino=, A sequel to "Saracinesca" and "Sant' Ilario."
  =The Three Fates.=
  =The Witch of Prague.=
  =Khaled.=
  =A Cigarette-maker's Romance.=
  =Sant' Ilario=, A sequel to "Saracinesca."
  =Greifenstein.=
  =With the Immortals.=
  =To Leeward.=
  =A Roman Singer.=
  =An American Politician.=
  =Paul Patoff.=
  =Marzio's Crucifix.=
  =Saracinesca.=
  =A Tale of a Lonely Parish.=
  =Zoroaster.=
  =Dr. Claudius.=
  =Mr. Isaacs.=

       *       *       *       *       *

F. MARION CRAWFORD'S NOVELS.

12MO. BOUND IN CLOTH.

WITH THE IMMORTALS.

Price, $2.00.

Altogether an admirable piece of art worked in the spirit of a thorough
artist. Every reader of cultivated tastes will find it a book prolific
in entertainment of the most refined description, and to all such we
commend it heartily.--_Boston Saturday Evening Gazette._


GREIFENSTEIN.

Price, $1.50.

"Greifenstein" is a remarkable novel, and while it illustrates once
more the author's unusual versatility, it also shows that he has not
been tempted into careless writing by the vogue of his earlier
books.... There is nothing weak or small or frivolous in the story. The
author deals with tremendous passions working at the height of their
energy. His characters are stern, rugged, determined men and women,
governed by powerful prejudices and iron conventions, types of a
military people, in whom the sense of duty has been cultivated until it
dominates all other motives, and in whom the principle of "noblesse
oblige" is so far as the aristocratic class is concerned, the
fundamental rule of conduct. What such people may be capable of is
startlingly shown.--_New York Tribune._


SANT' ILARIO.

_A SEQUEL TO "SARACINESCA."_

Price, $1.50.

The author shows steady and constant improvement in his art. "Sant'
Ilario" is a continuation of the chronicles of the Saracinesca
family.... A singularly powerful and beautiful story.... Admirably
developed, with a naturalness beyond praise.... It must rank with
"Greifenstein" as the best work the author has produced. It fulfils
every requirement of artistic fiction. It brings out what is most
impressive in human action, without owing any of its effectiveness to
sensationalism or artifice. It is natural, fluent in evolution,
accordant with experience graphic in description, penetrating in
analysis, and absorbing in interest.--_New York Tribune._


A CIGARETTE-MAKER'S ROMANCE.

Price, $1.25.

It is a touching romance, filled with scenes of great dramatic
power.--_Boston Commercial Bulletin._

It is full of life and movement, and is one of the best of Mr.
Crawford's books.--_Boston Saturday Evening Gazette._

The interest is unflagging throughout. Never has Mr. Crawford done more
brilliant realistic work than here. But his realism is only the case
and cover for those intense feelings which, placed under no matter what
humble conditions, produce the most dramatic and the most tragic
situations.... This is a secret of genius, to take the most coarse and
common material, the meanest surroundings, the most sordid material
prospects, and out of the vehement passions which sometimes dominate
all human beings to build up with these poor elements scenes and
passages, the dramatic and emotional power of which at once enforce
attention and awaken the profoundest interest.--_New York Tribune._


MR. ISAACS.

A Tale of Modern India. Price, $1.50.

If considered only as a semi-love story it is exceptionally
fascinating, but when judged as a literary effort it is truly
great.--_Home Journal._

Under an unpretentious title we have here the most brilliant novel, or
rather romance, that has been given to the world for a very long
time.--_The American._

No story of human experience that we have met with since "John
Inglesant" has such an effect of transporting the reader into regions
differing from his own. "Mr. Isaacs" is the best novel that has ever
laid its scenes in our Indian dominions.--_The Daily News._

A work of unusual ability.... It fully deserves the notice it is sure
to attract.--_The Athenæum._

A story of remarkable freshness and promise, displaying exceptional
gifts of imagination.--_The Academy._


DR. CLAUDIUS.

A True Story. Price, $1.50.

An interesting and attractive story, and in some directions a positive
advance upon "Mr. Isaacs."--_New York Tribune._

"Dr. Claudius" is surprisingly good, coming after a story of so much
merit as "Mr. Isaacs." The hero is a magnificent specimen of humanity,
and sympathetic readers will be fascinated by his chivalrous wooing of
the beautiful American countess.--_Boston Traveller._


ZOROASTER.

Price, $1.50.

The novel opens with a magnificent description of the march of the
Babylonian court to Belshazzar's feast, with the sudden and awful
ending of the latter by the marvelous writing on the wall which Daniel
is called to interpret. From that point the story moves on in a series
of grand and dramatic scenes and incidents which will not fail to hold
the reader fascinated and spell-bound to the end.--_Christian at Work._

The field of Mr. Crawford's imagination appears to be unbounded.... In
"Zoroaster" Mr. Crawford's winged fancy ventures a daring flight....
Yet "Zoroaster" is a novel rather than a drama. It is a drama in the
force of its situations and in the poetry and dignity of its language,
but its men and women are not men and women of a play. By the
naturalness of their conversation and behavior they seem to live and
lay hold of our human sympathy more than the same characters on a stage
could possibly do.--_The Times._


A TALE OF A LONELY PARISH.

Price, $1.50.

It is a pleasure to have anything so perfect of its kind as this brief
and vivid story.... It is doubly a success, being full of human
sympathy, as well as thoroughly artistic in its nice balancing of the
unusual with the commonplace, the clever juxtaposition of innocence and
guilt, comedy and tragedy, simplicity and intrigue.--_Critic._


SARACINESCA.

Price, $1.50.

His highest achievement, as yet, in the realms of fiction. The work has
two distinct merits, either of which would serve to make it
great,--that of telling a perfect story in a perfect way, and of giving
a graphic picture of Roman society in the last days of the Pope's
temporal power.... The story is exquisitely told.--_Boston Traveller._

One of the most engrossing novels we have ever read.--_Boston Times._


MARZIO'S CRUCIFIX.

Price, $1.50.

Now this is brought out in this little story with the firmness of
touch, a power and skill which belong to the first rank in art.... We
take the liberty of saying that this work belongs to the highest
department of character painting in words.--_Churchman._

"Marzio's Crucifix" is another of those tales of modern Rome which show
the author so much at his ease. A subtle compound of artistic feeling,
avarice, malice, and criminal frenzy is this carver of silver chalices
and crucifixes.--_The Times._


THE WITCH OF PRAGUE.

_A FANTASTIC TALE._

With numerous Illustrations by W. J. HENNESSY.

Price, $1.00.

"The Witch of Prague" is so remarkable a book as to be certain of as
wide a popularity as any of its predecessors. The keenest interest for
most readers will lie in its demonstration of the latest revelations of
hypnotic science.... But "The Witch of Prague" is not merely a striking
exposition of the far-reaching possibilities of a new science; it is a
romance of singular daring and power.--_London Academy._


KHALED:

_A TALE OF ARABIA._

Price, $1.25.

The story is powerful; it is pervaded by fine poetic feeling, is
picturesque to a remarkable degree, and the local color is
extraordinary in its force and truth. Of the many admirable
contributions to the literature of fiction that Mr. Crawford has made,
this book is, on the whole, the most artistic in construction and
finish, and the thorough artist is apparent at every stage of the
story. His plot is intensely dramatic, but he has never permitted it to
sway him to the extent of slighting any of the more minute details
under the impulse of merely telling what he has to tell. He holds his
theme firmly in hand and controls instead of being controlled by it.
The characters have been drawn with the greatest care and stand out in
bold relief and fine contrast. The atmosphere of the East is in every
page, in every utterance.--_Boston Saturday Evening Gazette._

Throughout the fascinating story runs the subtlest analysis, suggested
rather than elaborately worked out, of human passion and motive, the
building out and development of the character of the woman who becomes
the hero's wife and whose love he finally wins being an especially
acute and highly-finished example of the story-teller's art.... That it
is beautifully written and holds the interest of the reader, fanciful
as it all is, to the very end, none who know the depth and artistic
finish of Mr. Crawford's work need be told.--_The Chicago Times._

MACMILLAN & CO.,

112 FOURTH AVENUE, NEW YORK.


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's notes:

Head-quarters and headquarters each used once, retained.

p. 110: Original shows-- I am really much more grateful then I seem.>
Inconsistent with other uses of "then" and "than" in the text. Changed
to "than".

p. 131: Original shows-- I can never look any one in the face again. "Look
at me, please," she said > double-quote before Look removed.

p. 168: Original shows-- "I! Forgery The man is mad!" > Added "?" after
forgery.

p. 311: Original shows-- pocket edition of Willian Winter's Works >
Verified typo, changed to William.

p. 314, 315, 316, header "F. MARION CRAWFORD'S NOVELS. 12MO. BOUND IN
CLOTH." at top of each page removed. Retained on p. 313 (beginning of
section) only.

p. 311, 312, 313, 314,315, footer of "MACMILLAN & CO.,112 FOURTH
AVENUE, NEW YORK." at bottom of each page removed. Retained on p. 316
(last page) only.





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