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Title: A Bachelor's Dream
Author: Duchess, 1855?-1897
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Bachelor's Dream" ***

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[Transcriber's note: Mrs. Hungerford (1855?-1897), _A Bachelor's Dream_,
Prudential Book Co., no date of publication]



A BACHELOR'S DREAM



BY

THE DUCHESS



NEW YORK

THE PRUDENTIAL

BOOK CO.



A BACHELOR'S DREAM.



CHAPTER I.



"Now what can be done?" said the Doctor. "That's the question. What on
earth can I do about it?"

He put this question emphatically, with an energetic blow of his gloved
hand upon his knee, and seemed very desirous of receiving an answer,
although he was jogging along alone in his comfortable brougham. But
the Doctor was perplexed, and wanted some one to help him out of his
difficulty. He was a bachelor, and knew therefore that it was of no use
letting Patrick drive him home in search of a confidant, for at home
the ruling genius of his household was his housekeeper, Mrs. Jessop.
She was a most excellent creature, an invaluable manager of the house,
the tradespeople, and the maid-servants, and a splendid cook; the
Doctor appreciated her highly, but he was not disposed to ask her
advice or to invite her consolation.

He beat his knee a little harder, frowned more severely; finally let
down the window, put out his head, and called smartly:

"Patrick!"

"Sir." Patrick pulled up the slim, clean-limbed brown horse as quickly
as he could in the midst of the hurrying vehicles and hucksters' stalls
which are usually to be found in the Essex Road at about seven o'clock
on Saturday evening, and looked questioningly down at his master.

"Don't go home. Drive me to Petersham Villa," said Dr. Brudenell.

Patrick obeyed rather sulkily. He did not know what his master could
possibly want at Petersham Villa--where he had already been once that
day--and he did know that he himself was exceedingly hungry, and
desirous of getting home. He gave the brown horse an undeserved cut
over the ears with his whip; and when he pulled up he did so with a
jerk which he might easily have avoided.

"I sha'n't be many minutes," said the Doctor, alighting in front of a
comfortable-looking well-kept house, with red gleams of firelight
shining from its parlor windows. "Walk the horse up and down to keep
the cold off, but don't go far."

"It's cowld enough we'll both be, I'm thinkin'," muttered Patrick,
gathering up the reins with a shiver; for it was really a very cold
evening indeed, damp and gray, with a biting east wind.

If the Doctor heard this complaint, he did not heed it, his policy
being, when his henchman was attacked with a fit of grumbling, to let
him recover his good-temper at his leisure. He had hurried up the
snow-white flight of steps, given a vigorous knock at the door, and,
being admitted by a neat maid-servant, was asking if Mrs. Leslie were
at home. Hearing that she was, he crossed the hall with an air of being
perfectly at home, and, after tapping at the door, entered the parlor,
causing a lady who was making tea to utter an exclamation of surprise,
and a young lady who was making toast before the glowing fire to drop a
deliciously-browned slice of bread into the cinders.

"Why, Doctor"--the tea-maker extended a plump hand good-naturedly--"you
again? You are just in time for a cup of tea. I believe you came on
purpose."

"Hardly that; but I shall be glad of one, if I may have it, Mrs.
Leslie," the Doctor returned, emulating her light tone as well as he
could; and, after shaking hands with the younger lady, who got up from
her knees to greet him, he took a seat near the round table, not in the
well-worn, cozy arm-chair in the snuggest corner of the snug room,
which, with its gorgeous dressing-gown thrown across it and slippers
warming before the fire, wad evidently sacred to somebody else.

"Of course--although I fancy you rather despise it as a rule. Not a bit
like my Tom!"

"Ah, you see I'm not like Tom in having some one to make it for me!"

"Well, that's your fault, I suppose," said the lively woman,
vivaciously, as she deftly handled the shining copper kettle. "I told
Kate it was your knock; but she wouldn't believe that you could honor
us with two visits in one day."

"I thought Doctor Brudenell's time was too valuable," observed Kate,
quietly, as she resumed her toasting.

She was not nearly so pretty as her sister, although Mrs. Leslie was
the elder of the two by twelve years. Maria Leslie had taken life so
easily, and turned such a bright face to all its ups and downs, that
time had rewarded her at forty by making her look six or seven years
younger. A downright pretty woman she was, bright-eyed, bright-cheeked,
bright-haired, and so plump and merry that it was a pleasure to look at
her. Kate Merritt was smaller, darker, more grave, and less attractive
altogether. Doctor Brudenell liked them both, but he preferred the
elder, as most people did. He enjoyed a visit to Petersham Villa--it
was almost the only house with whose inhabitants he was upon really
easy and familiar terms, for he was by nature a shy and retiring man.
He had got into the habit of confiding in cheerful Mrs. Leslie, but he
seldom talked to Kate, who was too diffident to make him forget that he
also was inclined to be shy. Indeed he thought so little about her that
he had not even a suspicion that in her quiet, cool, self-controlled,
persistent way, she had made up her mind to marry him. Mrs. Leslie did
know it, and often rated her sister soundly on the subject, with even a
touch of contempt sometimes.

"You are most absurd to keep that silly notion fixed in your head!" she
would declare, impatiently. "He doesn't care a straw for you, child!
Haven't you wit enough to see that? If he only knew what a goose you
were he'd pay you the compliment of thinking you crazy, I tell you.
He's a good fellow--the best fellow in the world after my Tom--but
there's something odd about him in that way. Can't you see that he
hardly knows one woman from another, you silly child? I don't, for my
part, believe that the man has ever been in love in his life at all."

Mrs. Leslie was penetrative, but in this matter she was wrong; for, if
George Brudenell had been asked, he would probably have confessed that
he had been in love twice. True, his first passion had been conceived
at the age of eighteen, its object being the bosom-friend of his only
sister, a young lady who owned to six-and-twenty, and who had laughed
at him mercilessly when the most startling of valentines had made her
aware of the state of things. Then, years after, when he was nearly
thirty, he had become very fond of the daughter of his partner, a
pretty, gentle, winning creature some half a dozen years younger than
himself, who had girlishly adored him. He had been so fond of her and
so used to her, he had grieved so sincerely when, a month before what
was to have been their wedding-day, she died, that he did not realize
in the least that he had reached his present age of forty-three without
having been really in love at all.

He was not unhappy. A studious man, cold, taciturn, and self-contained
as a rule, caring little for general society and devoted to his
profession, the want in his life, the blank in his wifeless and
childless home, was not to him what it would have been to a more
impulsive, less self-reliant nature. If sometimes he instituted an
involuntary comparison between his contracted hoped and interests as
contrasted with those of other men, books, his work, his studies, soon
consoled him. He hardly knew there was a yearning in his breast--a
vague, intangible felling, waiting for a mistress-hand to stir it into
activity--the hand of a woman whom he had never seen.

"And what brings you here a second time, Doctor?" asked Mrs. Leslie,
brightly, as she poured out a cup of tea and handed it to him. "Are you
going to give us some advice gratis?"

"Hardly, Mrs. Leslie; in fact, I want yours."

"Mine?" exclaimed the lady, vivaciously. "It is yours, of course--but
upon what subject?"

"This. You recollect that I told you my sister was coming home from
India with her children?"

"To be sure--I remember. Well?"

"Well, I have a letter from her announcing that, as she has been out of
health for the last month or two, her husband does not wish her to
travel yet. But her children are coming to England--they are on their
way, in fact, and coming to me."

Doctor Brudenell, in making this statement, did not feel comical, but
he looked so, in spite of his grave, refined, scholarly face, and Mrs.
Leslie greeted his words with a burst of hearty laughter.

"My dear Doctor, don't look so tragic! The poor little creatures won't
eat you. So they are coming to you? Well, what is your difficulty?"

"Merely, what am I to do with them?"

"Why, take care of them, of course!"

The Doctor stirred his tea with an air of helpless bewilderment. He
felt that this was all very well as far as it went, and strictly what
he meant to do, of course; but it did not go far enough--it was no
solution of his difficulty. He felt a distinct sense of injury, too.
His sister had got married, which was all very well. She had had eight
children, only three of whom were now alive; and it occurred to him
that, having the children, it was clearly Laura's duty to look after
them. There was en element of coolness in her sending them to him which
he found rather disconcerting. It opened a prospect of unending
domestic tribulation. Laura herself had been an altogether
irrepressible child, loud in voice, restless of movement, tireless of
tongue, insatiable in curiosity, unceasing in mischief. What would his
quiet house be with three editions of Laura running rampant about it?
They would invade his study, disarrange his books, frolic in the
drawing-room, make quiet and peace things of the past. What could he do
with them? What would Mrs. Jessop say? The Doctor shuddered at the
thought; the prospect appalled him.

"You had better get a governess for them," suggested Mrs. Leslie,
briskly.

"A governess!" This was a ray of light, but he was not sure that he did
not prefer darkness. "Oh--a governess?" he repeated, interrogatively.

"Of course! They will be tiresome, you may be sure--all children are,
and Anglo-Indian ones particularly--at least so I should fancy--and you
certainly will not want them disturbing you, while it will never do to
have them running riot over the house. Get a good, sensible,
responsible person, not too young, and you will find that you need
hardly be troubled at all."

The Doctor felt that this counsel was good. It was plain, practical,
feasible. But there remained a difficulty. How was he to become
possessed of the sensible, responsible person who was not too young?

"Advertise," suggested his adviser, tersely.

Of course! How very foolish of him not to have thought of it! The
plainest possible way out of the dilemma.

"Thank you, Mrs. Leslie," said the Doctor, rising and taking up his
hat. "Thank you. I've no doubt that you're perfectly right. I will
advertise."

He shook hands with the ladies--gratefully with the one, indifferently
with the other--and bowed himself out, hurrying to the waiting Patrick,
who had fulfilled his own prophecy in so far that he was by this time
"cowld" in every limb, although his temper was exceedingly warm.

From the window Kate Merritt watched the brougham roll away and then
turned to her sister angrily, tears in her eyes, a hot flush upon her
face. Although she was by nature really obstinate, resolute, and
persistent, she often exhibited upon the surface a childish pettishness
with which her real self was almost absurdly at variance. She spoke now
as a spoilt child might have done.

"How dreadfully disagreeable you are, Maria! It's too bad, I declare! I
believe you do it on purpose--there!"

"Do what on purpose? What in the world do you mean?" cried Mrs. Leslie,
pausing, sugar-tongs in hand.

"You know what I mean!" exclaimed Kate, scarcely able to suppress a sob.

"I declare I do not. This is some fad about Doctor Brudenell, I
suppose," said the elder sister, resignedly. "Do me the favor to be
intelligible, at least, Kate. What is it that you mean?"

"Why did you advise him to advertise?" demanded Miss Merritt.

"Because it was the most sensible advice I could give him. Is that the
grievance? What objection have you to his advertising?"

"That I know very well what it will come to. He'll take your advice,
and advertise, and get some woman into his house who will pet the
children and coax and wheedle him until she gets completely round him,
and then we know what will happen," cried Kate, with her handkerchief
pressed to her eyes.

Mrs. Leslie looked at her, and had some difficulty in restraining a
laugh.

"Nonsense, child! Doctor Brudenell will no more fall in love with his
governess than he will with anybody else. For goodness' sake do try to
be more sensible. A nice opinion of you he would have if he could only
hear and see you now, I must say! I should be ashamed, if I were you,
to spend my time fretting and crying after a man who didn't care a pin
about me, like a love-sick school-girl. Dry your eyes and come to the
table. Whoever the poor man gets for a governess, I hope she may have
more common sense than you, I am sure. And the sooner he advertises for
her the better, if that unruly brood is to be here so soon."

"He would never have thought of advertising but for you," said Kate,
resentfully.

"Probably not!" retorted Mrs. Leslie, tartly. "But now he will do it,
and quickly, if he is sensible."

Mrs. Leslie was wrong. The Doctor did not advertise for a governess,
although when he left he was firmly resolved upon doing so. He drove
home quickly to his handsome house in Canonbury, and enjoyed an
excellent dinner by the bright fire in his comfortable dining-room,
with a renewed appreciation of the excellent Mrs. Jessop. Then he
summoned that lady in his presence, and with very little circumlocution
broke to her the news of the promised invasion and the suggested
panacea. Finding that Mrs. Jessop took the matter on the whole amiably,
he felt considerably relieved in mind, and began placidly to smoke his
pipe over the Times. The leading article was stupid, soporific, the
tobacco soothing, the fire hot; he was just hovering in delicious
languor upon the very borders of dreamland when a knock at the door
roused him abruptly. Of course, he was called out.

Had the call been from a well-to-do patient who fostered a half-fancied
illness, he might have been more put out than he certainly was when,
upon turning into the street, he felt the keen east wind nipping his
ears; but it was from a poor house lying in the midst of a very
labyrinth of squalid back streets and foul courts, and yet but a mere
stone's-throw from his own comfortable dwelling.

The Doctor did all that he could for the patient--a disheveled woman,
who had fallen, while drunk, and cut her head. He bound up the wound,
gave a prescription; and, leaving directions with the voluble Irish
charwoman who filled the place of nurse, left the close, evil-smelling
room, glad to breathe even the tainted air outside, and as quickly as
he could retraced his steps.

He had left the last of the wretched narrow streets behind him, and was
turning into a wider road which led by a short cut to the adjacent
thoroughfare, when he heard a shriek--a terrible cry of agony or
fear--perhaps both--and there, not more than a hundred yards before
him, standing out black against the surrounding gray, two figures were
frantically struggling--a man and a woman.

George Brudenell, slight and wiry in figure, was active and swift as a
boy. He shouted and ran, but, before he could reach the two, the man
had violently wrested his arm free and raised it in the air. There was
a flash of steel as it descended, a shrill cry that broke off into a
moan; and the Doctor, hardly able to check himself, almost stumbled
over the woman as she fell at his feet.



CHAPTER II.



Doctor Brudenell's first rapid glance about him as he recovered his
balance assured him that pursuit would be futile. The man had darted
off down a narrow turning which had led into a maze of streets. Already
his rapid footsteps had ceased to echo on the pavement; he was lost by
this time in the busy restless throng of Saturday night
foot-passengers. The Doctor, abandoning any idea of chasing and
securing him, lost not a moment in doing what he could. The short
street was a new one, having on one side a neglected piece of waste
land, where bricks, gravel, and mortar were flung in confusion; upon
the other a row of half-finished houses. A curve at its upper end hid
the thoroughfare beyond, although the sound of wheels and the hoarse
cries of hucksters were audible to him as he dropped upon one knee, and
gently raised the inert figure. Blood was upon it; he felt it and knew
that it was staining his hand. Had no one heard that dreadful,
thrilling cry but himself? It seemed not. He shouted loudly with the
full power of his lungs:

"Help, help! Murder! Here--help!"

He was heard, for, as he loudly shouted again, voices answered him; and
in a few moments a group of men and women had gathered about him,
eager, excited, questioning. Before he could answer them they made way
for a sergeant of police whom Doctor Brudenell happened to know. He
explained hastily; the knot commented; the sergeant was cool and
professional.

"Pity you weren't quick enough to nab him, sir!"

He went down upon his knee and turned the light of his lantern upon the
ghastly face.

"H'm! Young, and a spanker to look at, I should say! Wonder if it was
robbery? Is she dead, sir?"

"No." The Doctor laid her gently down, his practiced hand over the
heart. "No; she's not dead. The blow was aimed at her heart, but
something in her dress--a corset, probably--turned the weapon aside.
Call me a cab, somebody. You're off duty, I think, sergeant--can you
come with me?"

"I am, sir. Always happens so when there's anything doing," muttered
the sergeant, discontentedly. "Here's another of our people that ain't,
though," as a second sergeant forced his way through the group,
followed by a constable. "Baxter, you'd best step round and report this
little job, and not lose any time about it, either. It's attempted
murder--that's what the game is. Chap made off as if he'd got springs
in his heels."

The second officer bent down as the first had done, glanced at the
bloodless face, asked a question or two, and started off at a smart
pace, the fringe of the crowd hurrying after him.

The Doctor looked at his companion, repeating:

"Can you come with me? I may want assistance."

"With pleasure, sir! You'll take her to the hospital, I suppose?"

"No. My house is nearer; and, unless the wound is looked to at once, I
don't answer for the consequences. There is no objection, I suppose?"

The sergeant thought there could be no objection, although the hospital
was "the usual thing." The Doctor put aside that consideration
contemptuously. From what he could see of the wound, he was prepared to
state professionally that any delay would be highly dangerous. The
sergeant yielded the point respectfully, but protestingly; and the cab
came, bringing an excited crowd in its train.

There was no lack of proffered help; but the Doctor and the sergeant
lifted the insensible woman into the cab between them. On arriving at
the Doctor's house the two men carried her indoors; then bells rang,
maid-servants hurried, exclaimed, and questioned; and soon the door of
the library was closed upon all except Mrs. Jessop and the Doctor. The
sergeant retired to the dining-room, and meditatively took an inventory
of its furniture and appointments, as he awaited further developments.
Noticing the Doctor's decanter of choice old port, which was still upon
the table where he had left it, the officer helped himself to a
glassful, drinking it with evident relish.

Half an hour passed before the Doctor entered. He took his seat
thoughtfully by the fire, and motioned to the sergeant to draw his
chair nearer.

"The wound is not much--merely a deep flesh-wound," he observed,
abruptly.

"Glad to hear it, I'm sure," returned the sergeant, politely.

"She has lost a great deal of blood, will be much weakened, and is
totally insensible now," Doctor Brudenell continued; "but no vital part
is touched--not the fault of that scoundrel, though, sergeant."

"Ah!" replied the sergeant, intelligently.

The Doctor had motioned to him to help himself to the wine, and he did
so now with contemplative deliberation.

"Then you think it is a case of intended murder, I take it, sir?"

"As far as my judgment serves me--yes. I should say the blow was meant
to kill her--indeed, only the steel of her corset saved her."

"H'm, I thought as much! Now, as to motive, sir; have you got any
theory?"

"Robbery, I suppose. Ah"--as the sergeant shook his head with a wise
air--"you don't think so, then!"

"No, I don't, sir. Maybe, of course, but I doubt it. A man don't use a
knife when his fists will do, as a rule. And look you here, sir," said
the sergeant, leaning forward to place his broad hand for a moment upon
the Doctor's knee--"when you find a fine old gentleman with a bald
crown or a 'spectable old lady with a bag and umbrella, tipped over
neat in a corner, you may put it down to robbery; for you won't find
anything in their pockets, I'll wager. But you find a good-looking
fellow with a ha'porth of rat poison inside of him that he didn't put
there himself, or a young woman stabbed that's as handsome as that
one"--jerking his head toward the door--"and you won't go far wrong if
you put it down to jealousy."

The Doctor sat silently pondering. The sergeant slowly filled his glass
again.

"You've examined her dress, of course, sir? Anything in the pockets?"

"Nothing--absolutely nothing!"

"Nothing torn? No appearance of having been robbed?"

"No. Merely the cut where the blow was given."

"Just so, sir. About the weapon--an ordinary knife, should you say?"

"No; from the appearance and general character of the wound it was
caused by a two-edged blade."

"H'm! Sort of dagger--stiletto kind of thing?" queried the sergeant.

"I should say so."

The sergeant gave a prolonged whistle, with an air of intense
satisfaction.

"Supports my idea, you see, sir. A man going about with a dagger in his
pocket usually means to use it. A case of jealousy--that's what it is!
It's surprising, I'm sure, the way a man will put his neck into a rope
if there's a woman t'other side of it. You wait till this young woman
comes round, and you'll find that that's about the size of it. The work
of some hot-headed young fool she's thrown over, I expect; or, maybe,
she's bolted from her husband, and it's a case of elopement. Shouldn't
wonder, for the handsomer they are the more mischief they get up to.
That's my experience."

"I hope you are mistaken," said the Doctor, rising and looking
thoughtfully at the fire. "I hope you are, but we shall see. Fill your
glass, sergeant!"

"Thank you, sir, I am sure." The sergeant obediently filled his glass
for the fourth time, and held it critically between his eye and the
light. "Well, we shall see, as you say. When do you fancy you'll be
able to speak to her, may I ask?"

"Impossible to say. She may be sensible to-morrow, or the shock may
cause a fever, in which case her condition may become highly dangerous.
I can't possibly say."

"Pity there isn't something about her by which she might be
identified," mused the sergeant, thoughtfully. "But it'll all be in the
papers to-morrow, and it will be odd if it doesn't catch the eye of
some one who knows her. But she's French, if I don't mistake, or at any
rate, not English."

Doctor Brudenell, recalling his impression of the ghastly face as he
had seen it, first in the light of the sergeant's lantern, and
afterward lying upon a pillow hardly whiter than itself, silently
endorsed this opinion. No, decidedly she was not English; but he did
not think she was French. The sergeant thoughtfully emptied his glass,
and set it down upon the table.

"We'll do all we can, of course, but it strikes me that the chances of
nabbing the man don't amount to much unless the young man comes to
herself in time to help us. And, if she does, it's about twenty to one
that she puts us on a wrong scent. Well, I'm on duty again directly,
and I'll be going. Will you step down to the station with me, sir?"

"Certainly, if you think it necessary."

The sergeant thought that "it might be as well," and the Doctor put on
his hat and coat, and walked with his companion to the police-station,
where the inspector on duty, who had received one report already,
listened to his statement, wrote it all down imperturbably, and
approved with some warmth of the sergeant's theory as to "jealousy."
Fists or a knuckle-duster did well enough for robbery, the inspector
observed oracularly; it was only when a man went "a bit off his head"
that he took to daggers; and there was more of that sort of thing
about--presumably meaning jealousy--than any one would credit. Though,
when it came to going it to that extent, the inspector's private
opinion was that no woman was worth it.

"Is there much chance of capturing this man, do you think?" Doctor
Brudenell asked.

Why, that depended. If the young woman came to herself--say
to-morrow--and told the truth, you would know where you were; but if,
on the other hand, the young woman chose to put them on an altogether
false scent--which was rather more likely than not--why, where would
they be?

Feeling that he could not successfully answer this official poser, the
Doctor bade the sergeant and the inspector good-night, and, repeating
his former assurances of perfect willingness to do whatever he could in
the affair, walked out of the police-station. At home, by the
dining-room fire, he found the invaluable Mrs. Jessop waiting for him.

"Well, Mrs. Jessop, and how is our patient now?" he inquired,
cheerfully.

He did not feel cheerful, but Mrs. Jessop had shown some slight
reluctance and resentment at being suddenly called upon to assume the
function of nurse to a totally unknown and much too handsome young
woman, and he thought it only prudent to conciliate her.

"Pretty much the same, sir--hasn't stirred so much as a finger or
opened her eyes; though whether or not it's a natural sleep I couldn't
take upon myself to say."

"I'll step up-stairs again with you in a moment. What I fear is fever,
consequent on the shock. If we can keep off that, she will most likely
awaken sensible enough. I hope so, I am sure, for the sake of catching
that cowardly villain, whoever he was."


"He must have meant to murder her, you think, sir?" inquired Mrs.
Jessop, smoothing her cap-ribbons, thoughtfully.

"I am afraid so. Poor girl! She is quite young?"

"Yes, sir."

"And most remarkably handsome?"

"No doubt, sir."

"She is a foreigner, I fancy. It is most unfortunate that there is
nothing on her by which we can identify her. By the way--I did not
notice--did you see if she wore rings?"

"No, sir."

"Not a wedding-ring?"--"No, sir."

"And not a trinket of any kind about her?"

"Not one, sir."

"Nothing whatever?" persisted the Doctor musingly, as he held out his
hands to the fire. They were cold, for the February night air was keen.

"There was this, sir," said Mrs. Jessop, abruptly.

She held out to him upon the palm of her plump hand a tiny roll of
paper, tied with a wisp of faded red silk.

"Where did you find this?"

"In a little pocket inside the bosom of her gown, sir--it looked as if
it had been made for it."

"Have you read it?"--"No, sir. It's gibberish."

The Doctor untied and unrolled the little packet, then looked at it by
the gaslight. It was covered with characters of a deep red color,
curious and fantastic, and to him absolutely meaningless. It looked
strange, uncanny, witch-like. Was it a charm? The Doctor studied it
wonderingly for a few moments, and then laughed at the thought of such
an absurd fancy assailing him! He rolled up and re-tied the little
packet.

"Well, that won't help us much," he said. "As I thought, we must wait
for light from her, poor girl. Take care of it, Mrs. Jessop; she may
attach some fanciful value to it."

Doctor Brudenell, standing by the bed in the comfortable room, to which
the unknown woman had been carried, looked down at her curiously and
scrutinizingly. Upon the white pillows he saw a pale face lying--a face
that was exquisitely chiseled, the head crowned by a wonderful mass of
thick black hair.

"Beautiful!" he muttered, under his breath, and turning away. "I should
fancy it was jealousy!"

The next day's papers contained a sufficiently thrilling account of the
attempted murder of a lady in Rockmore Street; but, although an
elaborate description of the victim's person and attire was given and
enlarged upon with due journalistic skill, it brought no anxious troop
of friends and relatives to inquire at Doctor Brudenell's door; and the
best efforts of the inspector and his subordinates to track the
would-be murderer came to ignominious grief, for the only person who
could perchance have put them upon his track lay tossing in the
delirium of fever.



CHAPTER III.



"Hang the brats!" exclaimed Dr. Brudenell, angrily. "If this goes on
for long they'll drive me mad, I swear!"

He was annoyed, chafed, irritated, more out of temper than he had ever
been before. The preceding week had been to him a period of purgatory;
the calm of his house was broken; his study was no longer a sanctuary;
the maids were flurried; Mrs. Jessop spoiled the soup. The bachelor,
transformed suddenly into a family-man without any preliminary steps,
was amazed and bewildered; the sufferings of his married acquaintances
filled him with a grotesque feeling of pity, with the sincerest
sympathy. He especially commiserated Laura's husband--for the three
children had turned out to be three emphatic editions of Laura--with
additions.

Just now the uproar which had caused the master of the house to spring
up from his dinner was more than usually vociferous. The three had
escaped from their extemporized nursery, and had shouted and tumbled
tumultuously down the staircase and into the hall. The street door
happened to be open, and the consequences were disastrous. One rushed
down the steps with a scream of triumph, which changed into a shrill
shriek of anger as he was pursued, captured, and brought back by
Patrick, in spite of violent kicking and struggling; another, backing
unconsciously toward the kitchen staircase, overbalanced, and,
descending with a succession of startling bumps, fell into a tray of
glasses with a terrific crash; while the third and youngest, not
precisely comprehending what was the matter, but being of a highly
sympathetic temperament, threw herself upon the devoted Patrick,
screaming, kicking, and scratching furiously; which, added to the
shouts of the youth whom Patrick carried upside down, and the wails of
the unfortunate whom Mrs. Jessop had just rescued from the _débris_ of
the glasses, swelled the uproar into a chorus that was almost deafening.

The Doctor sat down again, and took up his knife and fork with an
energy which sent the gravy flying over the snowy cloth.

"Confound the little wretches! I'll advertise to-morrow!" he said.

The noise outside subsided a little as Mrs. Jessop appeared upon the
scene, but the next moment it broke out again, growing louder as the
staircase was mounted. Evidently Mrs. Jessop intended to put the rebels
to bed--a resolution which did not apparently please them, for Doctor
Brudenell distinctly heard his elder nephew threaten to punch the head
of that worthy woman, while his brother and sister appeared to be
trying to dance upon her toes. Then came a cessation of the hubbub,
sudden and soothing, and the Doctor finished his dinner in peace.

Crossing the hall toward his study a little later, with the intention
of getting a book to add to the enjoyment of a very fine-flavored
cigar, he encountered Mrs. Jessop, somewhat flushed and tumbled, coming
down-stairs, and stopped to speak to her.

"Well, Mrs. Jessop, got rid of your charges for to-night--eh?" he said,
good-humoredly.

"That I haven't, sir, for to go to bed they wouldn't! I've seen a good
many children, but never did I see children so set upon their own way
as them children!" declared Mrs. Jessop, emphatically.

The Doctor felt that this was correct; his opinion being that any
children in the least degree resembling Laura's luckily did not exist
anywhere.

"Oh, spoilt, Mrs. Jessop," he remarked, judicially--"spoilt--that's it!
They'll be better, you'll find, when we get a good strict governess for
them; and that reminds me, I must certainly advertise for one
to-morrow. I don't know how it is that it has slipped my memory for so
long. So they're not in bed, the young rogues--eh?"

"No, sir--they're with Miss Boucheafen."

"With her? You should not have allowed it--you should not have let them
go in?" said the Doctor, quickly and peremptorily.

"I couldn't help it, sir," returned the housekeeper, stolidly. "They
started making such a racket of stamping and screaming outside her door
that she heard and opened it to ask what was the matter. Of course,
they were for rushing in before I could keep them back, and so she
said, Let them stay awhile, and she would keep them still; and so there
they are, and she telling them some fairy-tale nonsense."

"Well, well!" exclaimed the Doctor; and then added, "How does Miss
Boucheafen seem to-day?"

"Better, I think, sir--she seems so. She asked me to say that if you
were at liberty she would be glad if you could spare her a few minutes."

"Tell her I will come up presently," said Doctor Brudenell, going on to
the study. "Don't let those young torments stay there long enough to
tire her, Mrs. Jessop, if you please. She is still very weak."

But, when he went up-stairs half an hour later, he found that Mrs.
Jessop had not yet succeeded in getting the "young torments" out of
Miss Boucheafen's room. Miss Boucheafen was sitting in a great chair by
the fire, her dark hair streaming over her shoulders, and with the
children grouped about her--Floss on her knee, Maggie perched on the
arm of her chair, and Tom kneeling at her feet, all three listening
intently to what she was telling them. What it was the Doctor did not
hear, for the group broke up at his entrance; Tom sprang to his feet,
Maggie jumped down, and Miss Boucheafen let Floss slip from her knees
to the floor.

"Oh, uncle, I wish you hadn't come!" cried Tom.

"It was such a yuvly 'tory!" lamented Maggie, whose five-year-old
vocabulary was but limited; while Floss, whose name was short for
Ferdinand, and who had perhaps not yet fully recovered from the shock
of his tumble down the kitchen stairs, contented himself with surveying
his relative with an implacable expression as he sucked his thumb.

"I will finish the story to-morrow, perhaps," said Miss Boucheafen,
quietly; "go to bed now. See--Mrs. Jessop is waiting for you."

They went without a murmur--indeed, they hardly looked sulky, but
walked off in the wake of Mrs. Jessop, very unlike Laura's children,
the Doctor thought. He was amazed, and stood for a few moments, after
the door had closed behind them, quite silent, and looking at Alexia
Boucheafen.

A month had passed since the night of the attempted murder in Rockmore
Street, and, although during that time she had lived under his roof,
George Brudenell knew no more of this girl than her name. One thing,
however, he did know, and was growing to know better day by day--that
she was beautiful, with a beauty that was to him unique, startling; he
had seen none like it before. She had risen as the children left the
room, and stood with her hand resting upon the mantel-shelf, her eyes
gazing downward at the fire, her head above the level of his. He looked
at her, thinking how beautiful she was, and thinking--not for the first
time either--that he was not sure whether that very beauty did not
repel rather than charm him. For it seemed to have at once the glitter
of ice and the hardness of stone; her large, dark, bright eyes seemed
to pierce him, but they never touched his heart; a smile sometimes
broke the perfect lines of her lips, but never reached those eyes; the
natural play of her features seemed to be checked; she appeared to be
as incapable of tears as of laughter, of grief as of joy; no rush of
warm blood ever tinted the strange pallor of her cheeks with crimson;
her voice was rich and full, but there was a jarring note in its
melancholy music; the girl was like marble--breathing, moving, living,
but marble still.

The Doctor waited for her to speak; but, either from perversity or
indifference, she stood like a statue, and would not even raise her
eyes. He was forced to break the silence, which embarrassed him, and he
knew that he spoke awkwardly.

"I think," he said, "that you wished to speak to me?"

"Yes, sir, if you please."

This was another anomaly--her words were always of a meek and
submissive character, but her voice, her look, her gestures were those
of a queen. The Doctor felt this, but hardly its incongruity, as she
slowly resumed her seat and signed to him to be seated also.

"I am quite at your service, of course," he replied, as he sat down;
"but first let me ask how you are feeling?"

"I am well," she answered, gravely. "A little weak, still, perhaps, but
it will pass. I wish--ah, pardon me, I am forgetting that I am not to
thank you, sir!"

She had attempted to thank him before, when she first recovered her
senses and realized her position, but he had sensitively deprecated
that. On that same day she had told him her name, told him that she was
French, that in England she was friendless, and that of what little she
possessed she had been robbed by the man whom he had seen attack her--a
man whom she had never seen before; and this was all that he knew about
her. He wanted to know more, but he sat before her wondering how to
phrase his questions. In spite of his curiosity he would have deferred
them had it been possible, but it was not possible; and he broke the
silence timidly, for as he spoke she looked at him full in the face
with her dark eyes.

"Miss Boucheafen, if you are strong enough to allow of it--"

"As I said, sir, I am well."

"I must, with your permission, ask you a few questions." He hesitated,
almost confused under her steady gaze. "I am presuming that you would
rather reply to me than be questioned by a police-officer?"

"I do prefer it, sir."

"Then," said the Doctor, "this man who so murderously attacked you--you
can tell nothing about him?"

"Nothing, sir--I know nothing."

"Absolutely nothing?"

"Absolutely!"

"You do not know his motive?"

"Ah, sir--you forget! He robbed me."

"True, true!" the Doctor returned, a slight flush tinting his cheeks,
for he fancied that he detected a mocking gleam in her eyes, a
suspicion of a smile curving her lips.

"True--I had forgotten. Pray pardon me," he said, "but the attack was
so violent, the blow so savage, the weapon must have been so keen, that
it is almost impossible to connect it with a mere attempt to commit a
paltry robbery. I thought, and the police thought, that it was a case
of intended murder."

"Ah, sir, they are clever, your police, but they sometimes make
mistakes! Is it not so?"

Doctor Brudenell's face flushed crimson. Was she laughing at him? It
looked like it. He was taken aback, discomfited. He did not know how to
go on, but she gave him no chance, for she spoke herself, emphasizing
her words by rapid gestures and much energetic waving of her white
hands.

"Listen, then, sir. This is all I know--that this man followed me--why,
I have no idea--that he came upon me suddenly in the solitary street
and asked me for money; that, when I refused it, he tore my purse away;
that, as I seized his arm and screamed, he wrenched it free, and struck
me with what you tell me was a dagger. I know no more but what you tell
me--nothing."

George Brudenell, listening and looking, believed after all his own
fancy was but a fancy. The theory of the sergeant and the inspector was
only a theory, a mere empty possibility, unsupported by fact. He
abandoned both ideas forthwith.

"Miss Boucheafen, could you recognize this man?"

"I think not--I am sure not." She shook her head, her eyes fixed
musingly upon the fire. "It was dark. No--I could not recognize him."

"Nor could I, unfortunately."

"And yet you saw him?"

"I saw him, yes--but only well enough to know that he was young, tall
and dark. And such a description would apply equally well to a hundred
men within a stone's throw of the house at the present moment."

"True," admitted Alexia Boucheafen, calmly.

"Since you can give me absolutely no clue, I am afraid that the chances
of capturing him, particularly after the lapse of a month, are so small
as to be worth nothing."

"Less than nothing," she assented. "It would be better to abandon the
endeavor."

"I am afraid that is what will have to be done, from sheer lack of
ground to work upon. But it is horrible," said the Doctor, rising with
an unusual display of excitement--"absolutely horrible to think of this
scoundrel's going scot free! It is abominable that such things should
be possible in the heart of a great city such as this!"

A smile parted the girl's lips, but it did not light up her drooping
eyes. The smile seemed to imply that such a city held secret stranger
things than that. Doctor Brudenell did not see the smile; he was a
clever man, but it would have been far beyond his fathoming if he had
seen it. He returned to his chair and sat down again.

"In asking my questions, Miss Boucheafen, I have forgotten yours. I
assume that you wished to ask me some."

"Yes." She looked straight into his eyes again, and her slender hands
were clasped firmly together; he fancied he detected an expression of
doubt and anxiety in her glance. "Sir, I have said that I am almost
strong--you know that I am so. It follows, then, that I shall be able
soon to leave here."

Yes, it certainly followed that such an event would take place--the
Doctor acknowledged it, but at the very thought he experienced a
strange sense of loss. She was so young, so beautiful, so friendless.
Where would she go? What would she do? He was silent, and waited for
her to continue speaking. It seemed that she drew courage from his
look, for, after she had glanced at him with eager scrutiny, she went
on abruptly:

"I shall be able to leave, but I do not desire it. I am alone, I am
friendless, penniless. Doctor Brudenell, I beg you, let me remain!"

"Remain?" he echoed in bewilderment.

"Yes. Why should I not? I have been a governess; it was to be a
governess that I came to this England of yours--it is a governess that
you require for the children, your nephews and niece-- Your housekeeper
told me so but a little while ago. I should be industrious; I could
teach them well. Suffer me, then, to remain."

The Doctor hesitated, feeling uneasy, astonished, puzzled. Did she mean
it? Did she fully realize what she was doing--she, young, beautiful,
talented--in pleading to be tied down to the dull routine of a
nursery-governess? Did she remember that beneath his roof her position
might be questioned by carping feminine tongues? He remembered it--not
for his own sake, but for hers; but he only answered, overcoming his
first feeling of surprise:

"But my dear young lady, you must be perfectly aware that your
attainments are far beyond those required for the teaching of such
young children as these."

"Ah, sir, yes! But are beggars then choosers?"

Doctor Brudenell got up, walked to the window and back again.

"It is a fact," he said, slowly, "that in London you have no friends?"

"Yourself," she replied.

"And beyond?"

"Not one."

"Then, until you wish to leave, or until some more suitable and
congenial sphere of work is opened for you, remain, my child."

George Brudenell, speaking thus, had forgotten her beauty, her
queen-like dignity, and remembered only her youth and helplessness. He
went down-stairs with an odd feeling, thinking how quickly, with what
almost disconcerting rapidity, she had, after her point was gained,
recovered that icy composure of manner; remembering, too, how cold and
lifeless her hand had lain in his when she gave it in saying
good-night. But he was glad that she was going to stay; he had that
curious sense of relief from tension which is the result of anxiety
removed, as though to protect her, to befriend and keep her safe, were
an object which had long lain near his heart. He was a little
astonished, but he explained his feeling to himself. She was too young
and far too beautiful to live friendless in the modern Babylon called
London.

He rang for Mrs. Jessop, and explained to that excellent woman this new
phase of affairs. Mrs. Jessop, respectfully listening, received the
news in a manner which could hardly be termed gracious, but prudently
gave but small expression to her opinions. Mrs. Jessop's situation in
the Doctor's household was a very comfortable one, and she did not
desire to lose it; but Mrs. Jessop's eyes were as keen as those of most
women, a fact which she often insisted upon when talking to various
confidential friends--so keen, indeed, that they sometimes descried
things which did not exist. At present, however, Mrs. Jessop merely
told herself that, if Miss Boucheafen had not been quite so handsome,
her chance of remaining in her present quarters would not have been by
any means so great.

Mrs. Jessop, having formed this astute conviction, walked out of the
dining-room, and went down to her snug sitting-room, where, sitting
down by the fire, she fell to darning a table-cloth while she thought
things over. She had arrived at a conclusion that would have astonished
her master, and she chanced to want more cotton, and rose to get it
from her work-box. And among the reels and hanks of tape she saw
something that astonished her.

"I declare," said Mrs. Jessop to herself, "if I haven't forgot to give
it to her after all!"

"It" was the only thing which had been found upon Alexia Boucheafen,
the tiny roll of paper, covered with its grotesque red characters and
tied with its piece of faded silk. Rather ashamed of her forgetfulness
and neglect, the housekeeper took it and went up-stairs at once to the
new governess's room.

Alexia was sitting by the fire, almost as Doctor Brudenell had left
her, her chin drooping upon her hands, her face almost hidden by her
hair. She started at Mrs. Jessop's entrance, flung back the black
tresses, and looked up.

"What is it?"

"I'm sure I'm very sorry, miss," Mrs. Jessop faltered, finding herself
forced into somewhat reluctant respect before the bright gaze of the
imperious eyes, "and I hope you'll excuse my forgetfulness. I quite
forgot until just this moment to give you this."

For a moment the girl stared languidly at the extended hand, then with
a cry sprang suddenly from her chair, seized the little packet, and
pressed it passionately to her lips and to her breast.

"Ah," she cried, "he did not take it--he did not take it--he did not
take it"--incoherently repeating the words and redoubling her strange
caresses.

"Take it, miss!" exclaimed the astonished Mrs. Jessop. "Why, what
should he want to take it for, the murdering villain? And how could he
take it, seeing that it was fast inside the bosom of your gown?"

"Go!" cried Alexia, pointing to the door with an imperious gesture.
"Leave me to myself!"

The housekeeper went with the impression that Miss Boucheafen had
fallen upon her knees beside her chair, and that she was sobbing harsh
suffocating sobs beneath the shining veil of her streaming hair.



*          *          *          *          *          *          *



Peace returned to the Doctor's household; the children were calmed,
manageable; they stood in awe of their governess, but they liked her;
in the staid Canonbury house Miss Boucheafen was popular. Her name was
the only stumbling-block. Her pupils could not pronounce it, the
servants blundered over it, and Mrs. Jessop declared it "heathenish."
By slow degrees it was dropped, and she became merely "Mademoiselle."



CHAPTER IV.



"Children," said Miss Boucheafen, abruptly, "you have been good to-day,
and it is fine. We will go out."

The children, engaged in turning their nursery into a very fair
imitation of Pandemonium and in driving the unhappy nursemaid nearly
mad, stopped their various operations at these words from their
governess as she entered, and stared at her--partly perhaps because
they were not conscious of having been less troublesome than they
usually were, but more because of her last sentence. Did Mademoiselle
really say, "We will go out?" She had been their governess for six
weeks now, and during all that time had not once been outside the
street door.

"Do you mean you'll take us?" cried Tom, the eldest and the
readiest-tongued.

"Shan't go with Ellen, I shan't!" muttered Floss, sulkily.

"Nasty Ellen--won't go with Ellen!" whimpered Maggie, with a thumb in
her mouth.

"You will all go with me and Ellen," said Alexia, quietly, beginning
with her deft fingers to remove grubby pinafores and brush tumbled
hair. "Will you get ready, Ellen? And do not waste time, please, or we
shall lose the best part of the afternoon."

Ellen departed willingly. She was not sure that she liked Mademoiselle,
but there was no doubt that she intensely detested her daily task of
taking the three "troublesome brats" for their walk. If Mademoiselle
liked to try it--well, Ellen only breathed a fervent wish that she
might like it--"that's all!"

Miss Boucheafen, making great haste over the toilet of her pupils, had
them ready and was ready herself before Ellen, and filled up the spare
time by pacing the hall from end to end as she waited. Not hastily--the
perfect grace of her every motion was too complete for haste--not even
impatiently, for the set expression of her face never changed, and no
flush of excitement tinted the ivory pallor of her cheeks. If her eyes
were a little brighter, a little wider open than usual, it was very
little. Mrs. Jessop, passing through the hall as the governess and
pupils waited, confessed to herself, with reluctant honesty, as she
looked at the stately young figure in its plain dark dress, that there
was no denying that "Ma'm'selle" did look like a queen.

It was the beginning of May, and, for a wonder, hot and bright enough
almost for July; the afternoon sun shone down warm and brilliant. As
Alexia stepped out into its glare, she stopped and almost staggered,
putting her hand to her throat, while she shivered violently. The
round-eyed maid, watching, was quite sympathetic. No wonder she felt
odd, poor young lady, remembering what had happened to her the last
time she was out!

"Where shall we go?" demanded Tom, tugging at Alexia's hand.

"Want to go an' see Mrs. Yeslie," murmured Maggie.

"I'm going to look at the shops," declared Floss with emphasis. "I can
spend my shilling if I want to, Uncle George said!"

"No, no--not to-day," demurred the governess, quickly. "Listen,
children. The shops you can see any day--to-morrow, perhaps; but to-day
we will go somewhere else."

"Where else?" demanded Floss, critically, with a fond look at the
shilling which he had drawn out of his knickerbocker pocket.

"Into the park," said Alexia. "We will all ride there in a tram-car.
You will like that?"

"Finsbury Park?" questioned Tom. "Oh, all right! I don't mind. Only, I
say, let's go up to the water where the ducks are!"

"Yes--let's," added Floss, restoring the shilling to his pocket.

"Want's some buns to feed 'em wiv, poor fings," murmured Maggie, with
pathetic intonation.

"Yes, you shall go [to] the water and have the buns," said Alexia. She
had been walking rapidly all this time--almost too rapidly for the
little feet trotting beside her--and did not pause or speak until they
reached Highbury Corner, which was more crowded and busy than usual
this warm afternoon. A tram-car was waiting, and she hurried her
charges into it, taking no heed of Tom's desire to sit where he could
see the horses, or of Floss's loudly-expressed determination to ride on
the roof. She took her seat, and, leaning back, drew her black gossamer
veil tightly over her face, and closed her eyes, seeming to become
totally oblivious of her surroundings.

Ellen, sitting with Maggie on her knee, distracted by Tom's ceaseless
questions upon the one side and by Floss's incessant demands to be put
out on the roof upon the other, felt a little sulky and injured. Really
it was too bad of mademoiselle! If she came out with the children she
might at least take her share in amusing and keeping them quiet. Ellen,
at any rate, was not sorry when the park-gates were reached. A
plentiful supply of buns was procured, and the children, with shrill
screams and whoops of delight, started off for the ducks and the water.

"Oh, dear," cried the nursemaid, quite dismayed at suddenly finding
herself alone with the governess, "they'll lose themselves, Ma'm'selle!
There's such a many other children about we shall never find 'em."

"Keep them in sight, then," said Alexia. "Follow them, Ellen. You had
better not wait for me. My head aches, and I cannot walk fast."

"But we shall lose you, too, Ma'm'selle," demurred the girl,
hesitatingly.

"No, no; I will follow you slowly. Go; they may fall into the water if
you linger."

"Miss Maggie's nigh sure to, with they buns!" said the girl, taking the
alarm, and without any more loitering she darted after the runaways.

Alexia did not follow. For a moment she stood on the broad gravel walk
looking about her. Groups of figures were scattered about the smooth
turf--young ladies with novels; old ladies with crochet and poodles;
nurse- [here a lack in the original text] The girl looked, not at, but
around and beyond them; her great eyes seemed to be searching, as if
surprised at not seeing something, and yet dreading to see it. Then
their expression changed; for a moment her figure swayed; the next she
was walking gracefully, slowly, languidly, toward a rustic seat which
stood upon the smooth greensward in a somewhat lonely spot. It stood at
an angle formed by two flower-beds, and was backed by a clump of
shrubbery. Upon it there was one figure seated--that of a man.

The governess approached this figure slowly. A middle-aged man,
loosely-dressed, hair turning gray, dark-complexioned, with a scar on
his cheek, a scar such as a slash with a keen-edged knife might have
made. She approached and passed him; she did not look at him; he did
not look at her; he appeared to be quite absorbed in absently cutting
and fashioning a rough stick with the aid of a large clasp-knife. He
gazed before him abstractedly, brushed the splinters of wood from his
knee, and laid the knife down upon the seat beside him, the edge of the
blade uppermost. The girl shuddered; the ivory pallor of her cheeks
grew gray beneath her veil. She passed on round the clump of bushes and
returned. The man had abandoned his whittling, and, with his chin upon
his hand, whistled as he looked down at the grass at his feet. His
right hand played absently with the open knife; now the edge was
upward, now downward, now he half closed it, then opened it wide again.
Alexia Boucheafen's breath came rapidly; one violent throb of her heart
almost suffocated her; but, graceful, upright, stately, she passed the
seat as though it were vacant; she did not appear to glance at the man
sitting there, toying with the knife, and whistling under his breath.
She passed him, and, as she did so, her gloved hand made a swift
motion, and a white object gleamed upon the turf behind her. A paper
had fluttered from her fingers, and lay close to the rustic seat.

Tom, Floss, and Maggie, flinging pieces of bun to voracious ducks, were
delighted--far too absorbed to remember their governess; and Ellen,
finding herself fully occupied in keeping their hats on their heads and
themselves outside the railings that surrounded the lake, had also
forgotten Miss Boucheafen completely. The girl was quite startled when
she saw the tall dark figure suddenly beside her, the great bright eyes
shining through the black veil. And how pale she was--her cheeks were
quite white!

"Lor, Ma'm'selle," she cried, with loud-voiced sympathy, "how bad you
do look!"

"I'm tired," said Alexia abruptly. "Children, are you ready to go?"

"Ready? Why, we ain't had half a walk!" demurred Tom.

"I'm hungry!" exclaimed Floss, tugging at Miss Boucheafen's gown.
"Maggie went an' threw all the buns to the ducks, she did--little
stupid."

"You 'tory, I never! You eatened two yourself, you did," Maggie
declared indignantly. "You's a geedy boy--a dedful geedy boy! Isn't he
a geedy boy, Ma'm'selle?"

"Never mind, we will get more buns as we go out," said Alexia. "Come
now, children. I am tired--my head aches. We will come some other
time--to-morrow perhaps--and stay longer. Come now."

They walked away from the water, and gained the broad path leading to
the gates. Alexia slackened her pace, and, releasing Floss's hand, but
still retaining Maggie's, fell slightly behind, sauntering slowly,
playing with the buttons of her cloak, keeping her eyes fixed straight
before her. They were passing a seat close to the edge of the path,
upon which a man was sitting--a middle-aged, loose-jointed man with
gray hair. A bright object lay at his feet--a small ball of gorgeous
tints; the child saw it, uttered a delighted cry, and struggled to
release her hand. It was released and she started to pick up the prize.
It was hardly in her grasp when she screamed out, frightened, for the
man with the gray hair had taken hold of her arm, and was speaking to
her, not roughly, although his voice was harsh and stern.

"My little one--see, the lady has dropped this paper. Give it to her;
and as for this bauble, take it. Go!"

He released her. The child was scared, but she held in one hand the
paper he had given to her, in the other the gay-colored ball. He
pointed peremptorily after the tall retreating figure of Alexia
Boucheafen, and, frightened at his frowning face, the child darted
toward "Ma'm'selle."

"Ma'm'selle, Ma'm'selle!" She tugged at the governess's dress, at her
hand. "'Ook what he dave me!"--holding up the ball. "Nice, nice man,
vewy nice! Floss s'an't have it, he s'ant--Floss a geedy boy. He dived
it me for meself. Oh, an' yes!"

With a sudden remembrance of something less absorbing than the ball,
she held up the paper--a mere folded scrap. Alexia seized it eagerly,
held it fast in her hands, asked almost inaudibly:

"Who gave it to you, child?"

"Him did. You droppened it. Him," said the child, turning round to
point. Then she cried out blankly, "Oh, him's gone!"

Miss Boucheafen glanced behind her hastily. The seat by which the
gay-colored ball had lain was empty. She opened the paper, and read
within it, written in a blood-red color, the one word "Absolved!"

         *          *          *          *          *

Doctor Brudenell found his nephews and niece unusually excited and
talkative when, as was his custom, he came up after his dinner to see
them in Miss Boucheafen's pleasant sitting-room. The rides in the
tram-cars, the park, the buns, and the ducks were enlarged upon in
turn; and then Maggie produced her ball, and plunged onto such broken
and lavish praises of the "vewy nice man" that the Doctor looked at the
governess for enlightenment.

"A gentleman in the park, sir, gave her the ball," explained Miss
Boucheafen gravely.

"And zou a letter!" cried Maggie.

"And also returned me a paper that I had dropped," amended Alexia.

"I see. Well, don't smash more windows with the ball than you can
help," said the Doctor, putting his niece down upon her feet.

He rose and approached the stately young governess, standing, beautiful
in the light of lamp and fire, one hand drooping at her side, the other
lying upon the marble of the mantel-piece, hardly whiter and hardly
colder. George Brudenell had begun to think that her coldness and
gravity suited her beauty--laughter, blushes, dimples would have
spoiled it. Her frigid manner did not repel him now; it had a charm for
him which no warmth and graciousness could have had; and yet,
perversely he longed intensely to see her both kind and sweet. How
beautiful she was! He glanced at her reflected face in the mirror, and
winced and frowned and bit his lip, seeing his own beside it. A small,
plain, dark, clean-shaven man--he was her very antithesis.
Intellectual-looking, pleasant, refined he might perhaps claim to be
considered; but how utterly, painfully unattractive he must be to her!

"I am glad to hear that you have been out, Mademoiselle," he said
kindly.

"The day was so fine--it tempted me," replied Alexia.

"A very good thing; the confinement was telling upon you," resumed the
Doctor. "Let me advise you to try to get out once at least every day."

"I shall do so, sir, with your permission--now."

"Now that the first plunge is taken," he remarked good-humoredly.
"Well, that is wise. Do not go too far, or let these youngsters trouble
you too much either out of doors or in, and you will soon feel the
benefit."

"You are very good, sir," murmured the governess; "but I am quite
well--indeed, quite strong."

"You must let me be the best judge of that, Mademoiselle. I am afraid
you have overtaxed your strength to-day. You are looking tired."

"I am not so, indeed. Not at all too tired to play, if you desire it."

"Thank you, Mademoiselle," said the Doctor simply.

There was a piano in the room, a tolerable one; and Alexia moved slowly
toward it and sat down. It had become quite an institution, this
half-hour's playing which she gave the Doctor when he came up-stairs to
bid the children good-night. He was disappointed if by any chance she
missed it, perhaps because he hardly saw her at any other time, and
because it was something to be able from his distant seat to watch her
as she played. He learned her attitudes, her expressions, the poise of
her head, the curve of her full throat by heart at these times.

He did not care for music, and had no knowledge of the airs she played,
but he knew that he had heard no playing like hers. The magic of her
fingers made the instrument speak.

Thanking her now, he did not leave the room as usual, but lingered even
after the children had said good-night and gone to bed. Alexia looked
at him questioningly, and he began to speak--awkwardly, as she saw, but
with how much reluctance she did not suspect.

"Mademoiselle, you will pardon my recalling it. But you recollect when
you first expressed a wish to remain here?"

"Yes."

She spoke quite quietly, but her eyes involuntarily widened and her
lips parted. She put her hand to her bosom, felt the stiffness of paper
there, and then the hand fell at her side again, and she sat looking at
the fire.

"You recollect," resumed George Brudenell, with a reluctant troubled
glance at her averted face, "that I told you then how perfectly aware I
was that the post you wished to fill was completely below your
capabilities--that in it you would be thrown away, in short--and that
at the best it could only be considered as an occupation for you until
something better should offer?"

"I remember, sir."

The Doctor hesitated; that "sir," with its stiffness, its cool, formal,
respect, jarred upon him more and more day by day; and she hardly ever
failed to use it. He was too diffident to remonstrate with a few gay
words, as a more confident, easy man would have done, and chafed under
it in silence.

"I am happy to tell you that something has offered."

It was a lie, and he knew it; the thought of losing her, cold and
statuesque as she was to him, made him miserable, filled his heart with
a keen pain--a pain which had brought very near the inevitable
revelation that he was bound to make to himself. Alexia raised her head
and looked at him, but she did not speak. He went on:

"It is in the family of one of my patients--not as governess, but as
companion to his wife. They are wealthy, and she is a refined,
cultivated, and kindhearted woman; you could, I think, hardly fail to
be comfortable with her, if you care to accept the post." He paused
again, but finding her still silent, went on. "That you would be upon
terms of perfect equality I need not say. This lady--Mrs. Latimer--
would like to see you, if you care to think further of it."

Alexia looked into his face with her great sombre eyes.

"Sir, do you then wish me to leave here?"

"Wish?" he echoed.

Was there really a sorrowful, almost reproachful, intonation in her
voice? He was foolish enough to fancy so, weak enough to encourage this
sudden rapid beating of his heart.

"Because, if not," she went on gently, "I would rather stay here, if I
may."

"Mademoiselle, are you sure of that? Consider."

"Quite sure. I am comfortable--here it is home; you have been so kind
to me! Ah, sir, do not send me away!" She spoke entreatingly, eagerly,
and to herself she added, pressing her hands again upon her breast, "If
he sends me from the house, I am lost."

"My child," said George Brudenell simply, again remembering only how
young she was as he spoke to her thus protectingly, "stay if you wish,
and as long as you wish. You shall leave only when you yourself desire
it."

"I shall not do that," murmured Alexia softly; and then, having no
further excuse for remaining, he went away.

The Doctor fell into a reverie before his study fire presently, and
forgot the book upon his knee. He had the pleasant consciousness of an
uncongenial task conscientiously performed, and without its anticipated
unwelcome results being left behind. It was not an idea of his own
which had caused him to inquire among his patients for a suitable
situation for Alexia Boucheafen, but the hints, and then downright
urgings, of his friend Mrs. Leslie. Both she and Kate Merritt had seen
the governess, for in her kindness of heart the elder lady had paid
more than one visit to Laura's children. Mrs. Leslie had been
astonished at Alexia's beauty and stateliness, sympathetic and
questioning over her story, and, upon hearing that she was to remain in
the Doctor's house, had been amazed. A conventional-minded woman, with
all her kindness of heart, Mrs. Leslie had been shocked. Perhaps she
might not have been so had there been no scandalized and indignant
influence upon her own side; but Kate had been excessively voluble upon
this incipient fulfillment of her predictions, and had let her sister
have very little peace indeed. Finally, Mrs. Leslie had summed up the
whole case to the Doctor by assuring him that it would never do.

Well, it would have to do, he decided, when he roused himself
sufficiently to know what he had been thinking about. The girl should
stay if she preferred it, that was certain, in spite of all the
opinions in Christendom. He rather enjoyed this outrage upon the
proprieties, forgetful altogether that the same thought had been in his
own mind. He was glad to know that she was tranquil and safe. Nothing
more, consciously, yet.



CHAPTER V.



"Ma'm'selle, didn't you say we could go to the park again, if we were
good?" said Tom, looking up from a smeary attempt to get a simple
addition sum "to prove," and sucking his pencil doubtfully as he
surveyed the result.

"Don't want to go to the park; want to go to the shops an' spend my
shilling," exclaimed Floss, dropping a prodigious blot upon his copy of
capital "B's," and instantly smearing it over the page with his arm.

"S'all go to the park, I s'all! Wants to see the ducks, pour fings, an'
the nice man," cried Maggie, as usual completing the trio, and screwing
up her face over the mysteries of "a, b, ab."

"Can't we go, Ma'm'selle?" demanded Tom.

"Go where?" asked Alexia. She had been leaning against the
window-frame, staring out blankly. Her face was paler than usual, the
lines of the mouth more rigid, her hair even more coldly absent and
abstracted. Her pupils had spoken to her half a dozen times, and she
had not heard them, would not have heard them now, had not Tom tugged
impatiently at her gown.

"Why, to the park, as we did last week? Can't we go?"

"I don't know; we will see. Get on with your lessons now. What is that?
Come in."

A tap had sounded at the door, which was now opened, and the Doctor
entered. The children scrambled down from their seats and ran to him.
Miss Boucheafen, turning from the window, arched her straight brows
with an expression of questioning surprise. For Doctor Brudenell to
appear in the school-room at that hour in the morning was an
unprecedented event.

"Good-morning, Mademoiselle." He took the cold, carelessly-yielded hand
into his own for a moment. "Don't let me disturb you. I simply came up
to express my hope that you were not alarmed last night."

"Alarmed?" echoed Alexia.

"Then you did not hear it?"--with a look of mingled relief and
astonishment. "Well, I am glad of it. But you must sleep very soundly.
You were the only person in the house who was not aroused."

"I sleep very soundly." She looked at him keenly, noting that his face
was drawn and that his eyes were dull, showing that he had not slept.
"I did not know there was anything wrong. Not here, I hope?"

"No, not here exactly; but it is a most horrible thing." He drew a pace
nearer to her, dropping his voice so that the sharp little ears that
were all eagerly listening should not catch the words. "A most horrible
thing. A murder, Mademoiselle!"

"A murder?" repeated Alexia.

"Nothing less; and not a hundred yards away from this door."

Miss Boucheafen had leaned back, almost fallen, against the
window-frame. She was so pale that he said hastily:

"I beg your pardon--I spoke too abruptly. I have frightened you."

"No, no; I am not frightened. Go on, pray! How was it? Who was it?"

"As to who it was--a man. As to how it was, he was stabbed to the
heart," answered the Doctor shortly.

"And he was found dead, and brought here?"

"Yes, at three o'clock this morning, and brought here by the police.
But he was dead, and had been dead for at least half an hour. I could
do nothing."

"How horrible--how very horrible!" murmured Alexia. "Did you say, sir,
that he was an old man?"

"No; he is little more than a lad--a mere boy--nineteen or twenty at
the most. A handsome lad too; I should fancy he was not English."

"Is there any clue as to who did it?" questioned the governess.

"Not that I know of yet. The police have had no time to work, you see,"
he reminded her gently.

"Ah, yes; I was forgetting, sir! Have they taken it away?"

"From here? Not yet. It must be removed to the mortuary to await the
inquest, of course." He hesitated, and then added, in a voice which, in
spite of all his efforts, was almost tender, "You are not afraid of its
being here, are you?"

"Afraid!" A smile, as curious as fleeting, parted the beautiful lips of
Alexia Boucheafen. "No, I am not afraid. I asked, because---- Sir, may
I see it?"

"See it?" George Brudenell was so startled and shocked that he doubted
if he had heard aright. "Surely, Mademoiselle, you do not mean what you
say?"

"Yes--if I may." She spoke quite steadily and coldly. "I should like to
see him--this poor murdered boy, if I may. I have never seen death, and
I should like to know how it looks to be stabbed to the heart."

Surely a strange uncanny fancy in this lovely young creature! There was
something morbid about it, which the Doctor did not like; it almost
repelled him until he recollected how nearly this very fate had been
hers. He did not like assenting, but already he was so weak with regard
to her that he could refuse her nothing. So he said reluctantly:

"Come now then, if you wish."

Quite quietly, only bending her head by way of reply, she followed him
out of the room and down-stairs to an apartment on a level with the
hall, where the murdered man had been carried. On the threshold he
stopped, looking at her doubtfully.

"Mademoiselle, are you sure of yourself? This is no sight for you."

"Yes," she answered steadily. "Pray do not fear, sir; I shall not
faint. Let me see."

He stood aside and let her enter the darkened room. The blinds were
drawn down, cooling liquids had been sprinkled about, there was nothing
to horrify, nothing to disgust. The rigid figure, covered with white
drapery, lay stretched upon the table. Without faltering, Alexia
advanced, and, removing with a steady hand the cloth at the upper end,
looked at the dead face thus revealed.

A boy's face, indeed, beautiful even in death, smooth-cheeked, the dark
down on the delicate upper lip hardly perceptible, the black hair
clustering upon the white forehead almost like a child's. The governess
looked at it long and steadily, and one hand went to her bosom as she
raised her eyes to the Doctor's.

"Tell me--did he suffer much?"

"No--impossible. Death must have been almost instantaneous. I doubt if
he was able to cry out. Pray come away, Mademoiselle--you will faint. I
should not have let you see this."

A voice in the hall called the Doctor. He was wanted, had been sent for
in haste, some one was dying. He went quickly to the door to reply.
Alexia Boucheafen bent down, her hand gently swept the hair from the
dead boy's forehead, and for a moment her lips rested upon it.

"Poor boy," she murmured--"you were too young, too weak! It was cruel.
I did my best to save you, but I could not."

"Mademoiselle, pray come," said the Doctor, turning from the door.

"I am coming, sir," replied the governess; and with that she gently
replaced the sheet, and followed him quietly from the room.


         *          *          *          *          *

Doctor Brudenell had a busy day, a day so filled with work that, coming
after his sleepless night, it exhausted him. It was later than usual
when he reached home, to find his dinner spoiled and Mrs. Jessop's
temper ruffled. So tired was he that, when the meal was over, he fell
asleep in his chair, entirely forgetting for once his regular visit to
Miss Boucheafen's sitting-room to bid the children good-night. But his
thoughts were all of her; and he dreamed of her as he sat--dreamed that
she was in some trouble, grief, danger, of which he did not know the
nature, and was helpless to relieve.

Vague as it was, the dream was to him dreadful, and the struggle that
he made to find her, to save her, was so intense that he awoke--awoke
to see her standing within a yard or two of his chair, a letter in her
hand, the usual calmness of her face gone, her very lips unsteady. He
started to his feet, and seized her hand--the dream still clung about
him, and he did not realize her reality. Then he exclaimed, seeing the
change in her:

"Mademoiselle, what is it? What is the matter? You are in trouble."

"Yes," she said faintly. She was trembling, and he gently induced her
to sit in the chair from which he had risen. "Pray pardon me, sir," she
said; "but I am troubled. I do not know what to do, and"--she faltered,
glancing at him--"it seemed natural to come to you."

Sensible, practical George Brudenell was far from sensible and
practical when in the presence of those glorious eyes, which looked at
him beseechingly. He did not know it; but he had entirely bidden adieu
to common-sense where Alexia Boucheafen was concerned. He said gently:

"What's the matter? Tell me? Am I to read this?"

"If you will." She let him take the letter; and he saw that it was
written in a boyish, wavering hand, and that it commenced
affectionately with her name. It was short, for the signature, to which
his eyes turned instinctively, was upon the same page, and was, "Your
brother, Gustave Boucheafen."

The Doctor repeated it aloud.

"Your brother, Mademoiselle?"

"You have heard me speak of my brother, sir?"

"Certainly--yes! But I thought he was in Paris."

"I thought so too. He was there three months ago, when I last heard
from him. But the post he held was poor, miserable, he hated it; and he
was threatening then to leave it and come to England, as I had one. He
did so a month ago, and has found that the bad could be worse, for he
writes that he is penniless, sir, and starving."

"And he writes to you for help, poor child!" exclaimed the Doctor
pityingly.

"Yes. But, ah, sir, he is so young--a boy! He is two years younger than
I am--only nineteen," Alexia urged deprecatingly. "And whom should he
ask, poor Gustave? We have no other kin who care for us."

"Where is your brother?" inquired the Doctor.

"Close here, in London; but I forget the address." She pointed to the
letter, which he still held. "Sir, if you read you will understand
better far than I can explain."

Doctor Brudenell read the letter--just such a letter as a foolish,
impulsive, reckless boy might write, and certainly describing a
condition that was desperate enough. The Doctor returned it, and asked
doubtfully:

"Mademoiselle, what do you wish me to do? You wish to help him?"

"Ah, sir--yes!" she cried eagerly, and then stopped, faltering. "But I
have no money," she said, her head drooping.

The Doctor walked to the end of the room, came back, and stood beside
her.

"My poor child, I understand you; but it must not be. Why should the
little you earn go to your brother? At the best it would help him only
for a very little time, for I see that he says he has no present
prospect of employment. In a week or two he would be in his present
state again. Something else must be done."

"Ah, sir, it is easy--so easy to speak!" said the governess bitterly.
"What else can be done? Who is there that will help him, poor Gustave?
He is even poorer, more helpless than I, for in all this England he has
not even one friend."

It needed only these words and the glance that accompanied them to turn
the doubtful notion that was in the Doctor's mind into a resolve. But
he had a sufficient sense of his own imprudence even now to hesitate a
little before speaking again.

"Mademoiselle," he said gently, "I know that a lad such as your brother
must be often placed at a great disadvantage in his endeavors to get on
if, as you say, he is alone and friendless. Being a foreigner increases
the difficulty, no doubt. You must let me see if I cannot remedy it."

"You will help him!" cried Alexia eagerly. She rose, her face flushing,
her eyes sparkling. It was the first time he had seen them shine so,
the first time that a crimson flush had dispelled that curious ivory
pallor; her beauty dazzled him; he thought her grateful for the help
offered to a brother whom she loved. In her heart, with perfect
coolness, she was thinking him a fool, and triumphing in the victory
which she foresaw that she would win through his folly. It was her
first full knowledge of her power over him. "Tell me what I must do?"
she exclaimed.

"Write to your brother, and tell him to come here," returned the
Doctor. He spoke quickly, refusing to doubt or falter. "I have no doubt
I shall be able to help him to a fitting situation before long. Until
then he must remain here. You will have at least the satisfaction of
knowing that he is safe then. You--you do not object to the
suggestion?" he added with sudden humility, afraid that he might have
spoken too coolly, too imperatively. With a sudden movement she seized
his hand and pressed it.

"Object--I? Ah, sir, how can I, when you are so good, so more than
kind?" She stopped, faltering. "My poor Gustave shall thank you--I
cannot. For what can I say but, Thank you a hundred times!"

"Tut, tut!" said the Doctor lightly, recovering his self-possession as
she released his hand. "You make too much of it--it is nothing. I am
only too pleased to be able to serve you. You will write to your
brother?"

"At once, sir." She was turning to the door, when a thought occurred to
him--a last lingering touch of prudence and caution made him say:

"Mademoiselle, you have not told me. How did your brother know where
you were--where to write to you?"

"By the papers, sir--by what you call the reports of police," she said,
turning and replying without the least hesitation. "It was the first
thing that he saw, my poor boy, that account of me. But he would not
come here or let me know he was in England, lest I should be troubled
about him, and he did not wish me to know, besides, that he was poor
and distressed. I am sure of that, although he does not tell me."

She left the room, and ran fleetly up-stairs to her own sitting-room.
The children were in bed, and there was no one to see her as she drew
her writing-case toward her, and wrote swiftly:

"I have succeeded; my cause was won before I had time to plead it. You
are at liberty to come here. If, once here, you will succeed in doing
what you desire, I cannot tell. It is your affair, not mine. I have
done my part. Come then, and remember yours--my brother."

          *          *          *          *          *

Doctor Brudenell, paying his visit to the governess's sitting-room the
next evening to bid his nephews and niece good-night, found there, not
the children, but a stranger. His momentary look of surprise vanished
as he recollected; and, while he spoke a few rather embarrassed words
of greeting and welcome, he keenly scanned Gustave Boucheafen.

He was a handsome young fellow, tall, slender, and dark, and looking
very boyish, in spite of some deep lines on the white forehead and
about the small, tightly-compressed lips. His clothes were shabby,
almost threadbare; there was an air of carelessness, even recklessness,
about him, and yet there was something that was far more easy to feel
than to describe which proclaimed him to be a gentlemen. All this the
Doctor noted as he took the soft slim hand, and answered as briefly as
he could the voluble speech of thanks which the young man tendered him,
speaking in English less correct than Alexia's and with a certain
extravagance of expression and manner which discomfited George
Brudenell, and which he decided was wholly French.

But, although embarrassed, as he always was by anything fresh and new,
he spoke very kindly and encouragingly to the brother, conscious always
of the sister's beautiful eyes resting gently upon him; and, after a
few questions asked and answered, he left the two to themselves, and
was called out shortly afterward to attend a very stout old gentleman
whom he had warned six months before to take his choice between present
port-wine and future apoplexy. The old gentleman, being as obstinate as
old people of both sexes occasionally are, had heroically chosen the
port; and now, according to the account of a flushed messenger, he was
enduring the punishment prophesied, and was purple already. The weary
Doctor took up his hat resignedly and went out. Alexia Boucheafen,
standing idly leaning against the window-frame, negligently listening
to what her companion was saying, saw her employer hurrying down the
steps and along the hot pavement, upon which the sun had been shining
fiercely all day.

"He has gone out," she said, looking round, with a curious inflection
in her voice, as though that fact had a bearing upon the conversation
that had gone before.

"Already?" cried the young man eagerly. "Better than I hoped. And does
he leave his study, laboratory--what does he call it?--unlocked?"

"Yes."

"You are sure?"

"Am I likely to be mistaken?"

"Of course not--no!" He moved across to the door. "Well, come, show me!
Come!"

"You are in a hurry," said the governess, not stirring.

"What would you have me do?" he demanded impatiently. "Can we let time
and opportunity slip together, with what we have to do?"

"Have we not done enough for the present?" she asked slowly. Calm and
cold as she was, a slight irrepressible shudder shook her frame, and he
eyed her incredulously.

"Your note used to be different," he said, with a meaning glance.
"Enough? What do you mean?"

"I saw it." She looked at him steadily, with unflinching eyes. "I saw
him!"

"You did?"

"I did."

"You! What possessed you?"

"I hardly know. I could not help it. I had a fancy that I must."

"You with fancies, you with whims and caprices!" He laughed a laugh of
fierce mockery, strode across the room, took her slender wrist in his
hand and felt the pulse. "Ah, you are ill, your nerves are out of
order, or"--in a different tone--"you suffer from a lapse of memory,
perhaps!"

"What do you mean?"--wrestling herself free, and drawing her level
brows together in a sudden threatening frown.

He went on as though he had not heard her:

"I hoped that your one relapse would be your last, and pleaded for you,
thinking so. It was no easy matter to win you--even you--absolution."

"Bah!" she retorted scoffingly. "Think you I do not know why it was
granted? I am valuable, am I not?"

"You were."

"Were!" she cried. "Am I less now because, looking at that dead boy, I
for once remembered that I was a woman? You doubt me! Who are you to
dare do it? What have you done for the Cause that will weigh in the
scales against what I have done? Show me the paltry pin-prick of
suffering that you place against my agony?"

"Hush!" he said, in a low tone, and glancing round warningly, evidently
taken aback by her sudden vehemence. "You mistake me. I wished merely
to remind you."

"Goad me, rather!" she retorted with unabated passion. "I forget! I
forget either the blood of the dead or the tortures of the living! I
forget the oath I swore with this in my hand!"

Her fingers had been restlessly plucking at the bosom of her gown, and
now she held out upon her open hand the tiny roll of red-marked paper.
She looked at it for a few moments with dilating eyes, while the color
died out of her face and left it impassive marble again. Then she
slowly restored the little roll to her breast and turned to the door.

"Come," she said. "I will show you."



CHAPTER VI.



Doctor Brudenell realized very often the fact that the life of a London
medical man, however large his practice and solvent his patients, is
not by any means an enviable one. Once upon a time, when a red lamp had
been a novelty, and the power to write "M. D." after his ordinary
signature a delicious dignity, a patient had been to him a prodigy,
something precious for its rarity, even if it called him away from his
dinner or ruthlessly rang him up in the middle of the night. But that
was a long time ago, in the days of his impecunious youth; and now, in
his prosperous middle-age, he would often have willingly bartered a
good many patients for a little more leisure.

This was particularly the case upon a hot, oppressive night a week
later, a night such as London generally experiences in August. It was
Saturday, and certainly it was not pleasant, after a week of fatiguing
work, to be summoned as soon as he had got into his bedroom, at
considerably past eleven o'clock at night, to attend a patient who
resided somewhere in the wilds of Holloway.

However, there was no help for it; and the Doctor, philosophically
resigning himself, and taking care to be sure that his latch-key was in
his pocket, spoke a word to Mrs. Jessop, as a precaution against that
worthy woman's putting up the chain of the hall door before she went to
bed, and let himself out. It was a fine night, hot as it was, with a
large bright moon hardly beginning to wane, and myriads of stars.
Doctor Brudenell, as good and quick a walker now as he had been twenty
years before, thought lightly of the distance between his own house and
that of his patient, and soon reached his destination. It was little
that he could do--in fact, he had been sent for without real need--and
it was not much after twelve o'clock when he reached the railway-arch
which spans the Holloway Road. He stopped for a moment, and looked up,
thinking what a black bar it seemed in the yellow moonlight, and how
oddly quiet the streets were, which all day long were teeming with
noisy life. Most of the shops were closed, and only a few straggling
foot-passengers were to be seen. Only for a moment did he thus glance
about him, taking his hat off to push the damp hair from his forehead,
for his quick walk had made him warm. Then he walked on under the arch,
to stop before it was half traversed, for a hand suddenly placed upon
his shoulders brought him to a halt.

"Your pardon, sir," said a voice in his ear. "You are a doctor, I
believe?"

"I am!" The Doctor tried in the gloom of the arch to make out the face
of the inquirer, but in vain. He could only tell that it was a young
man by his voice and gestures, and he saw that he was considerably
taller than himself.

"Doctor Brudenell, I think?"

"I am Doctor Brudenell. What is wanted?"

"Yourself, sir, if you please. A person--my--brother--is ill--almost
dying, it is feared. Will you accompany me to him? There is no time to
be lost."

"What is the matter with him?" asked the Doctor.

"Sir, you will know when you see him. I"--with a deprecatory shrug of
the shoulders--"can I tell?"

"But is it a fit, a fever, an accident? What is it?" asked Doctor
Brudenell impatiently. "You must know that."

"Sir, it cannot be a fever, since an hour ago he was well. Pray, sir,
will you come? He is very ill. Delay is dangerous."

The man moved on as he spoke, and the Doctor moved with him, for his
arm was still clasped by the stranger's strong supple fingers. But
outside the archway he stopped.

"Stay! Why do you come to me? Have you no regular medical attendant?"

"We have not, sir. As to why I come to you--I have heard of you, that
is all. I reached your house almost as you left it, and have followed
you, and waited. Pray come, sir, I entreat you. There is a carriage
waiting here."

A carriage was standing just outside the arch--an ordinary-looking
close carriage, drawn by a light-colored horse, and driven by a
coachman who was singularly muffled up, considering the heat of the
night. The Doctor mechanically noticed that there were no lamps to the
carriage, as, in obedience to the eager pressure of his companion's
hand, he got in. The other followed, shutting the door smartly behind
him, and the vehicle started instantly.

Doctor Brudenell, leaning back in his corner, looked curiously--as well
as the dimness of the carriage would let him--with the keen eyes of a
man accustomed to weigh and observe, at his companion, who, with his
hands in his pockets and his hat pulled down over his brows, appeared
to be half asleep. He was a very handsome man, that was certain--face
dark and clear cut, complexion swarthy, figure at once lithe and
muscular, and some years under thirty. There was a turn of the throat,
a trick of movement, when he presently changed his position restlessly,
that perplexed the watcher. The Doctor fancied that he must have seen
this man before, but he could not remember where.

"Is it far?" he asked suddenly. It must be, he thought. They had been
in the carriage at least a quarter of an hour; the horse had been going
at a swift trot, and now there was no sign of slackening speed.

The young man started, and opened his eyes.

"It is not now, sir. We shall soon be there--in time, I hope."

He stamped twice upon the floor of the carriage impatiently, as though
in anxiety; but the sound seemed to act as a signal, for the driver
instantly whipped up the horse, and the speed was increased--almost
doubled. The curtains of the windows were down, and the Doctor drew one
of them aside and peered out. They were in a street he did not know,
badly paved, badly lighted, squalid, flanked by rows of high mean
houses, half of which seemed empty, for hardly a light shone from their
windows. He looked round.

"Where are we?"

"We are close there, sir."

"But what street is this? I don't know it in the least."

"Sir, I do not know it; but I know that in a moment we shall be there."

The Doctor sank back into his corner again resignedly. He was fatigued,
sleepy, put out. Just then he most heartily wished that this young man
had found some one else to attend to the wants of his brother. He must
be crazy--to have gone all that distance after a doctor, and then to
follow and accost one in the street! It was as queer a thing in its way
as his twenty years in the profession had brought to his knowledge.
Thinking over this his eyelids drooped; he no longer saw the dim figure
of his companion and was startled when presently the carriage stopped
with a jerk. In a moment the young man had opened the door, sprung out,
and was saying:

"We are here. Alight, sir, if you please."

Doctor Brudenell, confused and sleepy still, did so, looking about him.
He was in a narrow paved court, entirely unlighted, closed in at the
lower end by what seemed to be a huge deserted stack of warehouses and
fenced upon the farther side by the blank walls and regular rows of
narrow windows of what had evidently been a manufactory; but the
windows were broken; a door hung swinging upon its hinges; it was
evident that this place was unused and deserted too. Upon the side
where he stood were a couple of old houses, bare and desolate, with
broken windows, broken railings--dark, silent--the most dismal houses
the Doctor had ever seen.

At the door of the first of these, where a faint light was visible in
one of the lower windows as the carriage stopped, the young man tapped
cautiously with his hand three times. In another moment the door was
softly opened, the figure of the opener being lost in the gloom within.
On the broken door-step the Doctor hesitated; he was not a timid man,
but this all seemed very strange. However, he obeyed the pressure of
the hand laid upon his arm, and entered; glancing behind him as he did
so, he saw that the carriage had disappeared.

The door was gently closed; and he stood in absolute darkness,
hesitating, wondering. He fancied he heard cautious feet stealing
across the bare floor of the hall; but not another sound broke the
oppressive brooding silence of the close, musty-smelling old house. In
another moment he would have spoken, have demanded the meaning of all
this, when a faint gleam of light appeared at the end of the hall, and
from the lower stairs a man's hand and arm became visible, holding a
lamp. A hand was laid upon his arm at the same moment, and the voice of
his summoner spoke quietly in his ear:

"Your patient is ready, sir. Come, if you please."

The speaker went toward the stairs, and the light was withdrawn. The
Doctor followed him for a few paces, then stopped abruptly.

"Down-stairs!" he said incredulously.

"Sir, he was too bad to be moved."

"I see. Go before, if you please."

The light glimmered faintly at the foot of the staircase again, and the
Doctor followed his conductor down, noting that the steps were dirty
and bare, that the stone passage-way at the bottom was also dirty and
bare, that, for all the indications that there were to the contrary,
this was an absolutely unfurnished house. As he reached the last stair
he looked keenly at the man who held the lamp--a middle-aged man,
loose-jointed and loosely dressed, with iron-gray hair and a scar upon
his cheek. He spoke with a slightly foreign accent, and, with a bow,
moved aside from the doorway in which he stood.

"You are welcome, sir; I thank you. Enter, if you please."

Doctor Brudenell did so, then started and stopped involuntarily. A sick
man, a man on the point of dying--were they mad enough to keep him in a
room such as this? A room? A sty, rather! The door was stone, with a
few sacks spread upon it; the windows were secured by crazy shutters,
the only table was formed by boards laid upon two old barrels, and the
two or three chairs were broken. The only other piece of furniture or
semblance of furniture was an old couch, the horse-hair covering
tattered, straggling pieces of the stuffing hanging down. Lying upon it
was the figure of a man, with some roughly-applied bandages about his
head and face.

Strange as it all was, the sight of this man, the cause of his being
there, restored to the Doctor his professional coolness and
self-possession. He was a medical man--this was his patient. He
advanced, and with rapid deft fingers removed the bandages, laying bare
a face so horribly disfigured that, practiced as he was, he felt his
own turn pale. He spoke quickly and aloud, knowing that the sick man
was insensible, and looking at the other two.

"What's this? What has happened to this man? He is burnt!"

"As you say, sir." The gray-haired man, still holding the lamp, bowed.

"Most horribly burnt--and with chemicals. Is it not so?"

"It is, sir."

"There has been an explosion. He was trying to do something with
them--probably combine them--he made a mistake in his method or
calculations, and they exploded," said the Doctor rapidly.

"Again you are right, sir." The two men exchanged swift glances of
mingled admiration and contempt--admiration of the Doctor's quickness
and lucidity, contempt of him for being there. He did not see them; he
was continuing his examination of the insensible man. The injuries to
the head and face were the worst, but the throat, chest, and arms were
also burned severely. Doctor Brudenell rose from the knee upon which he
had sunk down to pursue his examination.

"You should have told me what the case was," he said sternly, looking
at the young man. "You bring me here in ignorance, and I am absolutely
helpless. I have no materials for treating injuries such as these. I
require lint, oil, bandages."

"They are here," said the gray-haired man quietly; and as his
companion, in obedience to a motion of his hand, left the room, he
looked at the Doctor, and asked anxiously, "Sir, can you save his life?"

"I don't know--it depends upon his constitution--of which I know
nothing--and the care that is bestowed upon him. But"--with a glance
round the wretched apartment--"he will not live if he stays here."

"He will not stay here."

The Doctor said no more, for the young man came back with bandages,
lint, and oil. All three had evidently been purchased in anticipation
of their being wanted. The Doctor applied them as well as he could, by
the dim light of the lamp. The patient moved and moaned, but he did not
open his eyes or show any signs of consciousness; the other two did not
speak once. His task concluded, the Doctor turned to them abruptly.

"He had better be moved at once; he cannot pass the night here--indeed,
he should have been got up-stairs at the first. If there is any
assistance that you can call it will be as well. He is utterly
helpless. He must be carried."

"Good!" said the elder man quietly, and with the suspicion of a mocking
smile at the corners of his mouth. "Explain, sir, if you please.
Carried where?"

"Up-stairs, of course!"

"Up-stairs!" Both men laughed, but only the elder echoed the word.
"Impossible, sir!" he said coolly.

"But I tell you he must be moved!" exclaimed the Doctor impatiently.
"You have risked his life already by your delay."

"Reassure yourself, sir," said the other, in the same tone as before.
"He shall be moved--I have said it!"

"Then where, if not up-stairs?"

"Out of the house."

"Out of the house--in this condition? You must be out of your mind! It
will kill him!"

Doctor Brudenell was excited. He rebelled against this treatment of his
patient--as his patient. As merely a man he would not have cared.

"Kill him--so be it!"

The speaker shrugged his shoulders, with a smile that expanded the scar
on his cheek, and the Doctor involuntarily moderated his tone. He
instinctively recognized that he had spoken too bluntly, too hastily to
this man, who looked impenetrable.

"You must really understand," he urged, "the great risk of what you are
about to do. This man's condition is dangerous now; the shock to the
system may be so great that even with the best of care he will not
recover. By doing what you propose you seriously jeopardize what chance
he has of life. When do you intend to move him?"

"Sir, at once!"

"What--now--in the middle of the night?"

"Exactly, sir."

"Preposterous!" the Doctor cried excitedly. "It shall not be done!"

"Indeed. And who, sir, will prevent it?"

"If necessary, I will."

The man put down the lamp upon the boards that served as a table, put
his hands to his sides, and laughed. Not loudly or heartily, but with
intense mocking enjoyment, as at something too grotesquely absurd for
speech. Then suddenly, exerting a surprising amount of strength for so
old a man, he put his two hands upon the shoulders of the
slightly-built Doctor, and, holding him so, stood looking down at him
tauntingly, laughing still.

"You will--you will prevent! Monsieur the Doctor, you are a hero. You
are alone, you don't know where, with you don't know whom; it is one
o'clock in the morning, no one in your household knows where to find
you, and yet you will prevent! You stand in a house where your body
might remain undiscovered for years; but still you defy, you threaten!
By Heaven, my noble physician, you are brave!"

He loosened his hold and leaned against the improvised table, laughing
still in the same suppressed manner, and glancing at the young man, who
replied to this dreadful mirth with a sarcastic smile.

George Brudenell, almost staggering as the strong hands released him,
was stupefied for the moment. He was no coward, but he suddenly
realized the utter helplessness of his position. Where was he? He did
not know. Who were these men, who met alone in this deserted house at
midnight? He did not know. He was a weaker man than either; and how
many more of them might there not be hidden within hearing distance
now? If they chose to do him violence--to murder him, in short--he
would be totally incapable of offering any adequate resistance. He was
trapped, and he felt it; for the moment the knowledge appalled him, but
he strove to regain both his wits an courage.

"You have the advantage, sir," he said, addressing the elder man; "and
you use your superiority of numbers well. As for this man, you take the
responsibility if you move him. It is none of mine! I have done what I
can, and all I can. Show me to the door."

"A moment, sir, if you please!" The younger man looked at the elder
with a glance of remonstrance, as though he thought his companion in
his last speech and action had gone too far. "You are forgetting an
important item, sir--your fee."

"I want no fee, and will take none! Show me to the door, I say!"

He turned toward the doorway. By himself he would have stumbled up the
stairs down which he had been enticed; but the elder man seized him by
the shoulder. He spoke now in a tone almost as courteous as that which
he had just used had been insulting.

"Your pardon! A moment, sir, if you please. You were called here----"

"Trapped here!" interposed the Doctor angrily.

"Well, well"--the other spoke blandly, soothingly, as though to a
restive child--"trapped here, if you will. A word--what does it matter?
Permit me to finish. There are two things to do, sir, and you have done
but one."

"I will do nothing more!"

George Brudenell was thoroughly master of himself again now, and he
flung off the hand upon his shoulder. The young man moved and stood
between him and the door, and the elder resumed coolly:

"A difficult thing, since it has something like death to answer
for"--with a glance at the senseless disfigured form upon the couch;
"but an easy thing--a mere bagatelle to a man such as you--a skillful
chemist, a practiced handler of chemicals. Monsieur, you will do what
yonder bungler failed to do--you will, if you please, combine these
chemicals."

"I will not!" The Doctor's temper was roused; the thought that he had
been so tricked made him forget the danger he was in. He spoke without
any signs of fear now, and faced the pair. Comprehension he had not,
but suspicion he had, and he spoke it out hardily. "I will not!" he
repeated. "Whatever villainy it is that you perpetrate here, I will
have no hand in it. To whatever atrocious use it is that you design to
put the things you speak of, I say that I am glad that they have turned
upon one scoundrel at least. It is useless to put these chemicals
before me--I swear that I will not touch them! I would sooner cut off
my right hand!"

"_Ma foi_, monsieur"--again the elder man smiled!--"you are likely, if
you remain obstinate, to lose more than that! Come--consider,
sir,--reflect. You are helpless, and we are impatient; your summer
nights are short, and we have much to do. Come, then--speak!"

"Ah," cried the younger man suddenly, but in the suppressed tones which
both seemed to use habitually--"Hush!"

Doctor Brudenell had heard nothing--could hear nothing, although he
listened eagerly; but it seemed that the sound, whatever it might have
been, had alarmed the two men. It was evidently repeated, for the lamp
was put out instantly, and he felt himself forcibly thrust into what
seemed to be a cupboard and heard the key turned in the lock.

For a few moments George Brudenell was dazed again--stupefied. He was
so utterly amazed that he could hardly believe that it was not all a
dream. Was this the latter half of the nineteenth century....was he in
the heart of London? Then suddenly he realized his position, tried to
suppress his very breathing and the beating of his heart, for there was
a sound of footsteps upon the creaking stairs, some one else entered
the room, there was the scratching of a match, and a pale thread of
light crept under the door of his prison, showing that the lamp had
been relighted. He listened intently, jealously, straining every nerve
to hear and to understand. Voices whispered; he could distinguish the
tones of the two men, but not their words, the muffled muttering was
too low; then there came a cry, followed by a rapid movement toward the
door which shut him from these strange whisperers--more, a hand was
even laid upon the lock and the key was partly turned. Then there came
a scuffle, almost a struggle, a sound of something being dragged along
the bare boards, and the voice of the elder man muttering fiercely,
threateningly. The Doctor, as the footsteps retreated and the savage,
repressed sounds died away into a distant murmur, leaned against the
damp wall of his prison, and fought with a fresh perplexity. The
new-comer into that gloomy house of wickedness and mystery was a woman!
He had heard the sweep of heavy skirts as his door was approached, and
that one shrill, hardly-stifled cry had surely been in a woman's voice!
Then the pale thread of light was withdrawn, the sound of footsteps
moved toward the door, and a horrible fear assailed him. Was he to be
left there to break his way out into light or to die in darkness? The
notion was horrible; his self-control failed him; and with his clenched
hands he hammered upon the panels of the door, calling out loudly that
he would not be left there, trapped like a rat, and appealing to them
to let him out.

There was a pause, more hurried, unintelligible whispering, then
footsteps drew near the door, and outside a voice spoke--the elder
man's.

"Be silent, and no harm will be done you. Be patient, sir, and you
shall be released."

"When?" demanded Doctor Brudenell.

"When we have done what we have to do. Until then, silence!"

Again the footsteps and the light withdrew, and the Doctor was left in
absolute silence and complete darkness, to fight as well as he could
with his sense of utter helplessness and the violent beating of his
heart. The struggle lasted only for a short time as he found out
afterward, but in the passing it seemed an age. Then the pale gleam of
light crept again beneath the door, and there came the sound of
footsteps; the two men had returned. He could hear that they were
raising a heavy body with painful difficulty, for there were low moans
and one deep groan--they were moving the almost dying man.

Another and longer interval of profound darkness, of brooding silence
followed, until the footsteps again returned, the door was thrown open,
and he stepped out, dazed by the light, feeble as it was. The lamp was
held by the man with the scar on his cheek, the couch upon which the
wounded man had lain was empty; a faint trace of light shone through
the chinks of the crazy shutters--it was almost morning.

"You are free, sir," said his captor calmly and in a tone of perfect
indifference, cutting short the useless words of wrath and indignation
which fell from the Doctor's lips. "Go, and hasten, if you please; the
night is nearly over! The carriage in which you came waits."

"I shall not use it; I will go alone, and on foot." He stepped toward
the door, anxious just then for nothing except to get free of the
detested house, but, as before, the man's hand was brought down upon
his shoulder.

"Your pardon, sir--you will go as you came, and with the same
companion. You need not fear--no harm of any kind will be done you. I
have pledged my word that you shall depart as you came, and I will keep
it. Good! Depart then, if you please."

Realizing the utter futility of lingering or speaking, Doctor Brudenell
was prudent. He obeyed without remonstrance or delay. He mounted the
stairs, crossed the bare hall, and left the house. In a moment his arm
was seized by the younger man, he was hustled into the carriage which
had brought him, and driven off at a pace so swift that he had the
sense at once to abandon the design of leaping out which he had hastily
formed. But that would have been impossible had the vehicle moved
slowly, for the eyes of his companion were keenly on the alert, as he
could not fail to see. Not a word upon either side had been spoken
when, some half an hour later, the carriage suddenly stopped, he was
thrust out as strongly and roughly as he had been hustled in; and, as
he stood, dazed by the events of this extraordinary night and the rush
of fresh sweet air, the coachman drove rapidly away.

George Brudenell looked about him like one bereft of reason. He had no
idea of the route by which he had been driven, and it was only after
looking for some time at the houses about him that he discovered where
he was, for he felt  as perplexed and confused as though he had been
voyaging through the air in a balloon. Slowly he recognized his
surroundings--he was close upon the confines of Victoria Park. Not a
sound broke the silence, not a form was visible, the dawn was
brightening rosily in the east. He drew out his watch; it was just
three o'clock on Sunday morning.



CHAPTER VII.



It was not to be wondered at that Doctor Brudenell, coming down to
breakfast at the usual time some five hours later, should have looked
what Mrs. Jessop called "as pale as the very table-cloth itself," or
that he should have but little desire either for the meal or his Sunday
paper. The very children, coming in by and by to bid him good-morning
before going to church, loudly expressed their astonishment in a shrill
trio as to Uncle George's funny looks, and rather rebelled at the
unusually curt greeting and dismissal which he gave them. Even the
governess's eyes opened a little wider as she looked at him, but she
gave him her hand with her usual shadowy smile, and expressed no
interest or surprise. Not that she would have learned anything had she
been as concerned as she was indifferent, for George Brudenell,
reflecting upon and recalling his adventure of the night before, fully
realizing his own position, had come to the conclusion to dismiss and
forget it if he could, and to speak of it to no one.

The Doctor was a shrewd man, and, understanding his fellow-men in their
mental as well as their physical natures, knew very well that such a
story, if it were not entirely discredited, would be at any rate
doubted and caviled at. The general opinion would be that there was
some truth in it, but not much. He was a sensitive man, disliking and
dreading ridicule, and he came to the conclusion that no possible good
could result from his publishing the story. He did not know the
men--the street, the house, and the locality were alike unknown to him.
When speech could do no good, could throw no light, silence became
wise. He would be silent.

He fell asleep in his comfortable chair presently, and waking up in a
couple of hours, was cheerful--more cheerful than usual. It happened
that he was not called out, and that there were no visits that he was
absolutely obliged to make, and so he spent the day about the house and
garden, enjoying his leisure almost boyishly. He romped with the
children in the garden, swung them, played ball with them, would have
even run races with them perhaps, as they earnestly besought him to do,
had the weather been cooler. Suddenly he caught sight of the perfect
face of Alexia Boucheafen at a window, with her brother beside her,
and, meeting her dark eyes, was a little abashed for the moment. He did
not play with the children any more, and the young rebels wondered why,
after being in such an absolutely seraphic temper, he should turn cross
so suddenly. Perhaps it was not her watching that vexed him, but the
scrutiny of that other pair of eyes. For, slowly and reluctantly,
George Brudenell had by this time made up his mind that, with every
desire to like this handsome young Gustave Boucheafen, he could not do
so.

"Prejudice, no doubt," said the Doctor to himself, when presently,
after having discreetly quieted his nephews and niece by a gift of
sixpence each, he sat down to smoke a cigar in his study; "but upon my
word I shall be glad when the young fellow is out of the house. Well,
this post at Langley's will be a pretty good chance for him if he
chooses to stick to it. If he has any sense he will. I'll tell her this
evening, by the way."

He did not see Alexia again until the children were sleeping and the
twilight was fading at the approach of night. Then, looking from his
study window, he saw her, tall and erect, in her black dress, pacing
the gravel walk beside the trimly-kept lawn. Her brother was at her
side again, and they were talking earnestly, absorbedly--he with his
usual redundancy of gesture, she with unfailing calmness. It seemed
that they were arguing about something--he urging, she resisting--for
presently she flung off the hand which he had placed upon her arm, and
turned her back upon him. His face darkened, the lines about his mouth
grew hard, he spoke a word or two, regarding her with a curious smile;
and then, turning upon his heel, without waiting for a reply, went into
the house. Doctor Brudenell paused, stood hesitating for a few moments,
then went out and joined her.

She would have moved away as he approached her, but, with his usual
diffident, shy manner toward her, he begged her to remain for a little
while, as he had something to say. Then she turned and walked beside
him--her eyes fixed intently upon him in the gray dusk. Had he kept his
eyes upon her face, instead of nervously looking away, he would have
seen upon it curiosity, and signs of apprehension too scornful and
contemptuous for fear.

"I will only keep you a moment, Mademoiselle. I wanted to say, that
with regard to your brother----"

"Yes, sir."

"I am glad to tell you that I have been successful in my efforts on his
behalf. There is, in the business-house of a friend of mine, a post
vacant which I think will probably suit him, and which he is likely to
fill creditably. Indeed, I may say that it only awaits his acceptance
to-morrow."

Her eyes had wandered away from his face when he began to speak; now
they came back quickly, gleaming brightly in the dusk. He was taken
aback, and yet he wondered why, for she merely repeated:

"To-morrow?"

"I was merely going to add that to-morrow an interview will probably
settle the business."

"Ah, sir--you see you are so kind, so good! How can I thank you--what
can I say?"

George Brudenell, listening, looking, lost his head. He had meant to
tell her what he had to tell quietly and coolly, make light of the
thanks which only embarrassed him, and so go back soberly to his book
and cigar again. But he met her eyes, heard her voice, and the resolve
was gone. He never knew what it was that he said to Alexia
Boucheafen--in what words he clothed his passion, in what phrases he
pleaded. He only knew that she listened for a moment impassively, that
the next time the cold blankness of her face was gone, that it was
replaced by a look of scorn, incredulity, pity, contempt--he did not
know what--that an instant later she had wrenched away the hand he had
taken, had burst into a laugh that rang out shrilly in the gloom, and
that he was standing alone, bewildered, thinking that her laugh had
sounded like an echo of the laugh that he had heard last night in that
mysterious house--the laugh of the gray-haired man with the scar upon
his cheek.

Alexia Boucheafen, moving with a rapidity unlike her usual slow
graceful motion, had rushed into the house and up to her sitting-room.
Her brother was there, evidently waiting for her, but he was not
waiting for anything like this. She looked at him for a moment, then
drew herself into a chair, and shrieked with hysterical laughter.
Gustave Boucheafen was cautious. He hurried to the door, shut and
locked it, returned and grasped her arm firmly.

"What is this? Control yourself--consider!"

Her wild laughter was already dying away; it was evident that she had
to exercise rigid self-control to prevent it from turning to still
wilder sobbing. She sat for a few moments with her hands pressed over
her eyes, her breast heaving convulsively. When she looked at him,
rising as she did so, her eyes dilated and gleamed.

"This night," she said--"this night of all others to choose!"

"To choose for what?"

"To make love to me! Think of it!"

"Bah! What did I tell you but just now?" he returned sullenly,
releasing her arm. "You laughed. Fool as he was--tool as you had made
him, he was not fool enough for that, you said. Eh--was he not? I knew
how it would be. Did I not tell you so before I even entered this
house?" Looking at her, he laughed grimly. "What a fool--an idiot!"

"Bah!" she retorted, with a bitter smile. "What, think you, does he
know? I could laugh at myself, for I am almost sorry!"

"For him?"

"Why not? He is a good man in his way, and he has been kind. Don't look
at me like that!" she cried with sudden passion, a swift rush of blood
tinting the pallor of her cheeks. "What do you think he is to me, this
man, but the tool I have made him? He has not harmed me--he represents
nothing that has harmed me; and I would not hurt him, as I would not
hurt a child."

"Ah, that is all?" He looked at her keenly. "Good--and yet last
night----"

"Well," she said defiantly, "last night I saved him. What then? He
could do us no harm--he had done us good, and our use for him was
nearly over--I may say now that it is over."

"Unless we fail."

"Fail!" she echoed contemptuously.

"What did you say to him?" he asked after a moment's pause.

"Nothing. What should I say? I rushed away. What does it matter? I
shall not see him again."

"True." He glanced at the clock. "Eight," he said, turning toward the
door, as though to close the conversation by leaving the room. "You
will not forget the time?"

"I shall not."

"And," he added warningly, "you will not blench--this time?"

She did not hear him. She had drawn from her breast the tiny roll of
red-marked paper; and, holding it upon the palm of her hand, was
looking at it with a curiously intent and bitter smile.

"Good!" said Gustave Boucheafen, with satisfaction; and he went out and
left her.



CHAPTER VIII., AND LAST.



George Brudenell, having passed a restless and troubled evening, passed
also a restless and dream-haunted night, coming down to breakfast the
next morning jaded and out of sorts. He could not for a moment dismiss
from his memory that interview in the garden last night, or explain to
himself the meaning of Alexia Boucheafen's extraordinary conduct. What
was he to understand from it? Had her behavior been prompted by
astonishment, indecision, or annoyance? He did not know; and he could
make nothing of it. The Doctor ate no breakfast; but came to the
conclusion that he must see her again, and that as soon as possible;
his earnestness and anxiety conquered his diffidence. He rang the bell
for Mrs. Jessop, and asked if Mademoiselle were down-stairs yet? He
wished to see her.

Mrs. Jessop, looking curiously at her master, went and returned. No,
Mademoiselle was not down yet; she had complained last night of
headache. Was it anything very particular; and should she be called?
Not on any account. The Doctor picked up the paper that he had
forgotten to read, and went to his consulting-room.

It was empty, for it was not yet his usual hour for receiving patients.
To fill up the time and to escape from his own thoughts he opened the
paper. The first thing that caught his eye and changed his indifference
to involuntarily interest was the announcement, in the most sensational
terms, of two supposed dynamite outrages which had taken place on the
previous night, resulting in the partial wreck of one house and the
almost total destruction of another, together with the death of the
Russian police-agent who lived in it.

It was just at this time that some such paragraph formed the chief
sensational "tit-bit" of almost every newspaper, and outraged public
opinion was ready to run wild upon the subject. The Doctor, excited,
horrified, interested, read the account. The two explosions had taken
place almost simultaneously, and had evidently been caused by the same
kind of infernal machine, whether containing dynamite or some other
explosive was not quite certain. As for the police-agent who had been
killed, it was known that he had been threatened by some secret
society, supposed to have lurking-places in various parts of London, he
having a year or two before been mainly instrumental in the breaking up
of a Nihilist society in Russia, and in bringing to the scaffold its
chief and most active member, a young Russian of noble birth. The
second explosion, which had done less damage, and was happily
unattended by any serious results beyond the partial wrecking of the
house, was at the private residence of a well-known English Detective.
The latest news was that there was a clue to the perpetrators of both
outrages.

Doctor Brudenell tossed aside the paper, shrugging his shoulders as at
a madman's irresponsible rashness and folly, and turned his attention
to the patient who just then came in. That patient and the many
succeeding patients thought the Doctor odd this morning, brusque,
absent, constrained, gruff. He was thinking of Alexia, wondering what
she would say to him, wondering still more what he would say to her.
The room was empty at last; and he went back to the dining-room and
rang again for Mrs. Jessop. He could not face the day's round of work
without seeing her first. Mrs. Jessop was asked to inquire if
Mademoiselle could see him now. The housekeeper went, and returned
looking rather puzzled. Mademoiselle was not down-stairs yet, although
her breakfast was cold and the children were waiting to begin their
lessons. Mrs. Jessop was alarmed; her master wondered, and felt anxious.

"She may be ill," he said; "you say she complained last night. Go and
see. Stay--I'll come up-stairs with you!"

He did so. At the governess's door Mrs. Jessop knocked softly and
waited, knocked loudly and waited. Then, in obedience to a gesture from
the Doctor, she tried to open the door. The handle yielded instantly;
and she, looking in, cried out:

"Sir, she isn't here!"

The bed was untouched, had not been slept in. The housekeeper looked
frightened at the Doctor's white face as he glanced round the room.

"Call her brother. He has not been seen either. Quick!"

A couple of curious maids, lingering on the stairs, ran up the next
flight to obey. There was the sound of knocking at panels, a pause, and
a cry at which George Brudenell felt his heart turn cold, for he
understood what it meant. That room was vacant too!

He sent all the women away, and examined Alexia's apartment himself.
There was not a line of writing, not a trace or clue of any sort to
explain this mystery. A few articles of clothing were scattered
carelessly about on the chairs and on the sofa; a faded flower which
she had worn yesterday in the bosom of her gown lay upon the
toilet-table. The poor blossom was dry and withered; he took it up in
his hand, crushed it, and flung its powdery fragments from him. Then he
came out, shut the door, and went straight down-stairs and out to his
waiting carriage.

George Brudenell, afterward looking back upon that day, wondered how he
got through it; but he did, and reached home at last, to be met by Mrs.
Jessop, who, in the last stage of amazement, indignation, and
perplexity, informed him that Mademoiselle and her brother had not yet
made their appearance. He had expected that, and, cutting short the
good woman's garrulous comments and questions, sent her away. He left
his dinner untouched, and went into his consulting-room; and, as he
waited for the usual influx of patients, strove to understand, to
think. People came in, and he attended to them and watched them go;
they told him, some of them, that he looked out of sorts and pale, and
he laughed, saying that he was all right. The evening wore away, it
grew late, every one in the house had retired but himself. It was
nearly twelve o'clock; and he was still sitting, with his head in his
hands, trying to solve the problem that perplexed him. Suddenly he
started up, and listened. There were footsteps outside--rapid,
cautious--a key was placed in the lock, and the door yielded. He darted
out into the hall, and grasped the arm of the stealthily-entering
figure.

"Alexia!"

With a swift gesture she signed to him to go back into the room,
entered after him, and cautiously shut and locked the door. Then with
another rapid movement she pulled aside her veil and stood looking at
him. He was too astonished to speak, but he saw that she was
breathless, intensely pale, that her dress was slightly disordered, and
that in the eyes which he knew that he had never understood there was
an expression which he could read at last--a look of mingled defiance
and fear.

"Sir, will you save me?"

"Save you!" In his bewilderment he could only confusedly echo her
words. She moved a pace nearer to him.

"Yes, save me. Last night you said you loved me; but I do not plead to
you for that. I plead because I am a woman, alone, friendless, lost
without your aid. Sir, will you give it--will you save me?"

"From whom? From what?"

"From the hands of the police, who are now, as I speak, on my track;
from the Russian Government, to which I shall be delivered; from the
death, or worth than death, which their sleuth-hounds will mete out to
me."

"Death! Good heavens, what have you been doing?"

She laughed, glanced round the room, caught up the paper which lay
where he had put it down, and pointed to the column which he had read.

"That!" she cried.

"That? What do you mean?"

"I mean that I killed that man," she answered, deliberately. "I placed
the infernal machine by his door, and so took the vengeance which I
swore to take a year ago, when he took prisoner and gave to torture and
death my lover. I failed once, I failed twice; last night I succeeded.
He is dead!"

"You murdered this man?

"Yes, as my lover was murdered, as my brother was murdered, as my
mother and my sister are being murdered in Siberia, as my father died,
murdered in the dungeons of St. Peter and St. Paul. And for what? For
daring to act, to speak, to read, to think; for striving to be men and
women, for revolting against the horrible tyranny which crushed them as
it crushes millions! That was their crime. Bah! what do you know, you
English, of brutality, of force, of cruelty, of slavery? You play with
the words, and think you have the thing!"

She looked at him as he shrank from her, horrified, unable to grasp or
believe her words. Again she laughed bitterly, and, putting her hand
into the bosom of her dress, drew out a little roll of paper, and held
it toward him. The Doctor drew back. It had suddenly become horrible.
He faltered:

"What is it?"

"The last lines of farewell which my lover contrived to have sent to me
from his prison the day before they butchered him," she answered,
steadily. "He bade me farewell, and called upon me to avenge him. It
was redder then than now, for even the blood of an innocent man fades
with time; and he wrote this with his blood. With it in my hand, with
the memory of his face, when they dragged him away from me forever,
always before me, I swore I would obey his last prayer. It is done. His
murderer is dead!"

She spoke with an air of dreary triumph, a dreadful exultation that
chilled her listener's blood. This was not the woman he had loved, upon
whom he had poured out all his long-guarded stores of devotion and
passion--this terrible, beautiful, avenging Medusa! His utter confusion
and bewilderment were patent to her; as he sank into a chair, she drew
a pace nearer to him, speaking rapidly, never pausing except when he
himself interrupted her, never halting for a word.

"Sir, listen! I am in your power, since without your aid I cannot
escape. I should have been a prisoner now had I not thought of you and
had about me the key of your door. I thought you would save me--I think
you will, for I have already saved you."

"Me!" he exclaimed, wonderingly.

"You! Think you I do not know where you were taken on Saturday night?"

"You knew! Then----"

"I was there--yes. I knew you would be waylaid and taken there. I knew
what you would be asked to do--first, to attend to the injuries of the
foolish one among us who had tried to do what he could not do;
secondly, to finish what he had begun. You are a braver man than I
thought you, and you refused. Without those chemicals we were helpless,
for it is those that were used last night. In that deserted house--our
meeting-place at intervals for the past year--your dead body might have
lain undiscovered for months--would have lain undiscovered in all
probability--for you were dealing with desperate men, and you defied
them. I went there, as I have done twice before since I lived here, and
I pleaded for you and saved you. But I could not have done it except
for one thing--I took with me what they wanted. Gustave understands
chemicals, and how to combine them; he came here, after I had lied to
you about him--for all that story that I told you was one great lie,
told because I knew something of my power over you, and that you would
probably act as you did--hoping that he could here possess himself of
the chemicals that were needed, and which we could not obtain without
too great risk of discovery. You believed every word of the story with
which I befooled you; he came here, and obtained them easily."

Her audacity, her frankness were almost brutal. His bewilderment was
subsiding, but he revolted more and more, understanding so little of
the horrible tree of which such a woman as this was the poisoned and
poisoning fruit.

"Your brother?" he said, withdrawing from her a little farther. "How
did he become possessed of them here?"

"My brother!" she cried, laughing. "He is not my brother; his name is
Boucheafen no more than mine. My name! I have almost forgotten what it
is, I have borne so many that are false; were I to tell you it you
would be no wiser. Where, you ask, did he get the chemicals? From your
laboratory. We stole them; look, examine, and you will find them
missing!"

She stopped, turning with dilating eyes toward the window, as footsteps
approached. They passed, and she turned back again, once more drawing a
step nearer to him, fascinating him with the light of her brilliant
inflexible eyes.

"Sir, listen again. You have been deceived, as I have shown, but you do
not know how much. You recollect the day upon which you saw me first?"

"Yes."

"I told you that I had been robbed; it was a lie. The man that you saw
attack me meant to murder me."

"To murder you?"

"Yes. Sir, once more. You don't know what they are, these secret
societies, these hidden leagues moulded by Russian oppression and
tyranny, these cliques, of which hate, vengeance, extermination, are
the watchwords. Knowing so well what treachery is, they are jealous of
the faith of their members. Death punishes treachery, and I had been
treacherous, and death was my sentence. The Cause avenges itself; the
appointed man accepted his appointed task. The man who threatened you
that night--that old man, our chief--saved me."

George Brudenell passed his hand over his forehead. The feeling which
had assailed him when he was a prisoner in the mysterious house
assailed him again--the involuntary doubt as to the reality of what he
saw and heard. Still with her relentless eyes fixed upon him, she went
on:

"I had been treacherous--I will tell you how. There belonged to us a
lad, a boy, almost a child--he was innocent, simple; he was our errand
boy, cat's-paw--what you will; and he did what you have done, fell in
love with me--because I am beautiful, perhaps. Bah! Many men have
loved me--it is nothing. We suspected him, thought him false; with the
Cause to suspect is to condemn. He was condemned, and to me was
allotted the task of striking him. I meant to do it, I swore to do it.
At the last moment my courage failed me--perhaps I pitied him--and I
spared him. The sentence passed upon him was passed also upon me."

"And he?"

"He?" She met his look with a gloomy smile. "The Cause does not forgive
unless for its own good, as it afterward forgave me. Our chief absolved
me, for I was useful--so useful that my one act of treachery, my one
moment of weakness, was condoned. For him--what was he? An
untrustworthy tool merely. Another hand struck the blow which I had
been appointed to strike. He died as I nearly died." She stopped and
smiled in the same gloomy way. "No suspicion struck you when his body
lay there yonder, and I stood beside you, looking at his dead face!"

"That boy!" cried George Brudenell, horrified.

"That boy," she assented.

There was a pause, during which the Doctor rose and drew back from the
tall, splendidly-poised figure, as firm and erect as he had ever seen
it. He did not realize yet the blow that had fallen upon him, the blank
in his life that would come later; but he felt as though he were
struggling in a sea of horror, and was unable to disguise his shrinking
from her, his avoidance of her, the woman to whom yesterday he had
offered his love humbly, and whom he had besought to be his wife. He
asked coldly, not looking at her:

"What can I do?"

"Sir, I have told you--save me. We were seen last night, the clue was
followed up, and we were surprised an hour ago in our most secret
meeting-place. Three of us were taken--all would have been but for the
darkness, and that we knew so well each winding of the place. Where the
others are I do not know. Sir, help me! I am penniless, your
police--blood-hounds!--are on my track. Every moment that I stay here
makes the danger greater. To-day I am a creature you hate, scorn,
shrink from; but yesterday I was the woman you loved--help me, then! I
am young to die--I saved you! Answer, will you save me?"

"I will help you," said George Brudenell, quietly.

         *          *          *          *          *

Time has effaced many things from Doctor Brudenell's memory, but it can
never blot out his mental picture of that night--the drive through the
silent street to the distant railway-station, from which a train could
be taken to carry them to the sea, the waiting through the dragging
hours until the tardy dawn broke, the fear, the stealth, the suspicion,
the watching, the rapid flight through the early morning, that ended
only when the blue water--so cruelly bright, untroubled, and tranquil
it looked!--was audible and visible. Not a word had he spoken to his
companion through the night, nor did either of them break silence until
they stood upon the deck of the vessel which was to bear her to the New
World which has rectified so many of the mistakes of the Old.


The deck was being cleared of those who were to return to the shore,
when, for the last time, she turned her beautiful eyes upon his face.

"Farewell, Monsieur," she said, quietly; and he echoed:

"Farewell, Mademoiselle."

          *          *          *          *          *

Good Mrs. Jessop never discovered which patient it was to whom her
master had been called in the dead of the night, and who had kept him
away for the best part of twenty-four hours; and she never could
understand what that "foreign young woman"--a person concerning whom
she was for a long time exceedingly voluble and bitter--could possibly
mean by running off in that scandalous way. But there were several
other things that Mrs. Jessop did not understand--for instance, why the
doctor for the next few weeks lost his appetite so completely, was so
"snappish and short," and seemed to care for nothing but the newspaper;
and she was quite scandalized when he actually spent a whole day, as
she, by dint of judiciously "pumping" Patrick, contrived to ascertain,
in attending the trial of those "horrid wretches of dynamitards," where
he heard the case, and heard the sentence of five years' penal
servitude passed upon a gray-haired man with a scar upon his cheek.

          *          *          *          *          *

Laura has come home now, and the children are a great deal bigger and
even more tiresome than ever. She thinks her brother is very stupid not
to marry, and often roundly tells him so. But the Doctor takes her
suggestion very quietly; he is too old now, he says, and, besides, as
he reminds Laura, it was never "in his line."



Typographical errors silently corrected:


Chapter 1: _He hardly hardly knew_ silently corrected as _He hardly
knew_

Chapter 1: _see yon now_ silently corrected as _see you now_

Chapter 2: _indorsed this opinion_ silently corrected as _endorsed
this opinion_

Chapter 2: _he say a pale face_ silently corrected as _he saw a pale
face_

Chapter 4: _and in driving their nursery incmfwycmfwycmfwypppp driving
the unhappy nursemaid nearly mad_ silently corrected as _and in driving
the unhappy nursemaid nearly mad_

Chapter 5: _poor Gustave, He is_ silently corrected as _poor Gustave?
He is_

Chapter 5: _show me! Come!_ silently corrected as _show me! Come!"_

Chapter 5: _I did?_ silently corrected as _I did._

Chapter 6: _in another momen the door_ replaced by _in another moment
the door_

Chapter 6: _absolutely, unfurnished_ silently corrected as _absolutely
unfurnished_

Chapter 7: _What is this?"_ silently corrected as _What is this?_

Chapter 8: _well-knows English_ silently corrected as _well-known
English_

Chapter 8: _was vacant too."_ Silently corrected as _was vacant too._

Chapter 8: _He went all_ silently corrected as _He sent all_

Chapter 8: _he sad ever seen_ silently corrected as _he had ever seen_

Chapter 8: _he reminds, Laura_ silently corrected as _he reminds Laura_





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