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Title: A Manifest Destiny
Author: Magruder, Julia, 1854-1907
Language: English
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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.

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 A Manifest Destiny

 BY

 JULIA MAGRUDER
 AUTHOR OF "A MAGNIFICENT PLEBEIAN"

 ILLUSTRATED

 NEW YORK AND LONDON
 HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
 1900



 Copyright, 1900, by JULIA MAGRUDER.

 _All rights reserved._



 [Illustration: Page 16
 "BETTINA THREW BACK HER VEIL"]



ILLUSTRATIONS


 "BETTINA THREW BACK HER VEIL"                         _Frontispiece_

 SHE SANK BACK IN HER CHAIR                            _Facing p._ 34

 "'AND WHO IS THIS HANDSOME BOY?'"                         "       60

 "'THE MONEY WAS PARTLY MY OWN'"                           "      100

 "THE VERY SPIRIT OF WIDOWHOOD"                            "      168

 "'TRULY, MY CHILD, IT IS A WRETCHED STORY'"               "      190



A MANIFEST DESTINY



CHAPTER I


Bettina Mowbray, walking the deck of the ocean steamer bound for
England, was aware that she was observed with interest by a great
many pairs of eyes. Certainly the possessors of these eyes were not
more interested in her than she was in the interpretation of their
glances. It was, indeed, of the first importance to her to know that
she was being especially noticed by the men and women of the world,
who in large part made up the passenger list, since her beauty was
her one endowment for the position in the great world which all her
life she had intended and expected to occupy. She was anxious,
therefore, to know whether the personal appearance which had been
rated so high in the obscure places hitherto known to her would or
would not hold its own when she got out into life, as it were.

Therefore, as Miss Mowbray paced the deck, at the side of the erect
elderly woman who had been her nurse and was now her maid, she was
vigilantly regardful of the looks which were turned upon her, and at
times, by straining her ears, she could even catch a word or two of
comment. Both looks and words were gratifying in the extreme. They
not only confirmed the previous verdict passed upon her beauty, but
they gave evidence to her keen intuition that, judged by a higher
standard, she had won a higher tribute.

Yet, ardent as this admiration was on the one side, and grateful as
it was on the other, there the matter stopped. To those who would
have approached her more closely Bettina set up a tacit barrier which
no one had been able to cross, and, after several days at sea, she
was still limited to the society of her maid. Those who had spoken to
her once had been so politely repelled that they had not spoken
again, and many of those who had felt inclined to speak had, on
coming nearer to her, refrained instinctively.

There was something, apart from her beauty, which attracted the eye
and the imagination in this tall girl in her deep mourning. This,
perhaps, was the twofold aspect which her different moods and
expressions gave to her. At one time she looked so profoundly sad,
dejected, almost despairing, that it was easy to connect her mourning
dress with the loss of what had been dearest to her. At another time
there was a buoyancy, animation, vividness, in her look which made
her black clothes seem incongruous in any other sense than that in
which a dark setting is sometimes used to throw into relief the
brilliancy of a jewel.

And these two outward manifestations did, in truth, represent the
dual nature which was Bettina's. Her mother, who had studied her with
a keen and affectionate insight, had often told her that the two
key-notes of her nature were love and ambition. So far, all the ardor
of Bettina's heart had been centred in her delicate, exquisite little
old mother, whom she had loved with something like frenzy; and it was
from the loss of this mother that she was now enduring a degree of
sorrow which might perhaps have overwhelmed her, had not the other
strong instinct of nature acted as an antidote. After some weeks of
what seemed like blank despair, the girl had roused herself with a
sort of desperation, and looked about her to see what was yet left
to her in life. Then it was that ambition had come to her rescue.
With a hardened feeling in her breast she told herself that she could
never love again in the way in which she had loved her mother, so she
must make the most of her opportunity to become a brilliant figure in
the world.

This opportunity, fortunately, was quite within sight. A path had
been opened before her feet by which she might walk to a higher rank
and position than even her extravagant dreams had led her to expect.

In the isolation of her narrow village life she had read in the
papers accounts of the English aristocracy; and to show off her
beauty in such an atmosphere, and be called by a titled name, had
fired her imagination to such a degree that her good mother had had
many a pang of fear for the future of her child.

When Bettina found herself alone, the one profound attachment of her
heart severed by death, she seemed to have no hope of relief from the
dire oppression of her position, save that which lay in the
possibilities of worldly enjoyment which might be in store for her if
she chose to accept them. These took the form of a definite
opportunity in the person of one whom her mother entirely trusted
and approved, and this in itself was enough for Bettina now. It was
little less than a marvellous prospect for a girl in her position,
but it had come about quite simply.

The rector of the church in the village where Mrs. Mowbray and her
daughter lived was an Englishman of good family, the Rev. Arthur
Spotswood by name. When his young relative, Horace Spotswood, who was
cousin and heir to Lord Hurdly, came to travel in America, it was but
natural that he should visit the rector in his home. Natural, too, it
was that he should there encounter Bettina Mowbray; and as he thought
her the most charming and most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and
as his affections were quite disengaged, it was almost a matter of
course that he should fall in love with her.

So aware of this was Bettina that when one morning she had met and
talked to the young fellow at the rectory, she wound up the account
of the meeting which she gave to her mother by saying, quite simply:

"He will ask me to marry him, mamma, and I shall say yes. So for a
short time I shall be Mrs. Horace Spotswood, the wife of a diplomat
at the Russian court, and ultimately I shall be Lady Hurdly, with a
London mansion, several country places, and one of the greatest
positions in English society."

"My child, my poor child!" said the mother, in a tone of distress,
"what is to be the end of your inordinate ambition for the things of
the world? You have got to discover the vanity and hollowness of them
some time, but what must you suffer on your way to this experience!
Money and position cannot bring happiness in marriage. Nothing can do
that but love."

"But, you see, I propose to have love too," was the gay response. "I
assure you it will not be a difficult matter to love such a man as
this, and I assure you also that he is fathoms deep in love with me
already. He is manly, handsome, healthy, well-bred, and altogether
charming. As to my ever loving any created being as I love you,
mother darling, that, I have always told you, is out of the question;
but I can imagine myself caring a good deal for this young heir of
Lord Hurdly."

"Bettina," said the mother, gravely, laying her hands on her
daughter's shoulder and looking deep into her eyes, "you will have to
come to it by suffering, my child, but you will come to it at
last--the knowledge that even the love which you give to me is slight
and inadequate, and not worthy to be compared with the love which
you will one day feel for the man who, as your husband, shall call
forth your highest feeling. I believe this with firm conviction, and
I beg you not to throw away your chance of a woman's best heritage.
Don't marry this man, or any man, until you can feel that even the
great love you have given me is poor compared with that. Heaven knows
I love you, child, and mother-love is stronger than daughter-love;
but I could not love you so well or so worthly if I had not loved
your father more."

These words, so impatiently listened to, were destined to come back
to Bettina afterward, though at the time she resented the very
suggestion of what they predicted.

Her instinct about young Spotswood had been exactly true. He had
become fascinated with her during their first interview, and had
followed up the acquaintance with ardor, making her very soon a
proposal of marriage.

Lord Hurdly, his cousin, was unmarried, it appeared, and was an
inveterate enemy to matrimony. Horace Spotswood was his nearest of
kin and legal heir. But Lord Hurdly was not over sixty two or three,
and was likely to live a long time. Finding it, perhaps, not very
agreeable to be constantly reminded that another man would some day
stand in his shoes, his lordship had procured for Horace a diplomatic
position at St. Petersburg, where, although the society was
delightful, the pay was small. As his heir, however, Lord Hurdly made
him a very liberal allowance, and with this it was easy for Horace to
indulge his taste for travel. In this way he had come to America,
intending to see it extensively; but he met Bettina, and from that
moment gave up every other thought but the dominant one of winning
her for his wife.

Even when he had asked and been accepted he could not leave her side,
but concluded to await there Lord Hurdly's answer to his letter
announcing his engagement. He was not without certain misgivings on
this point, but he had written so convincingly, as he thought, of
Bettina's beauty, breeding, and fitness for the position of Lady
Hurdly that was to be, that he would not and could not believe that
his cousin would disapprove. Besides, he was too blissfully happy to
grieve over problematical troubles, and so he quite gave himself up
to the joys of his present position and ardent dreams of the future.

It happened, however, that Lord Hurdly's letter, when it came, was a
cold, curt, and most decided refusal to consent to the marriage. He
objected chiefly on the score of Bettina's being an American, though
he did not hesitate to say also that he considered his heir a fool to
think of marrying a woman without fortune, when he might so easily do
better. In conclusion, he said that if this infatuated nonsense, as
he called it, went on, he would withdraw his allowance from the very
day of the marriage. He ended by hoping that Horace would come to his
senses, and let him know that the thing was at an end.

Poor Horace! He would fain have kept this letter from Bettina, but
she insisted upon seeing it. Having done so, she became fired with a
keen desire to triumph over this obdurate opposition, and when Horace
asked her if she would still fulfil her pledge, in the face of his
altered fortunes, she agreed with rather more ardor of feeling than
she had hitherto shown.

The truth was, Bettina had disappointed him in this last respect. Her
mother was so obviously and unquestionably her first thought, and her
mother's failing health was so plainly a grief which his love could
not counterbalance, that he at times had pangs of jealousy, of which
he afterward felt ashamed. Was not this intense love for her mother
in itself a proof of her great capacity of loving, and must he not,
with patient waiting, one day see himself loved in like manner?
Still, he chafed under the fact that every day her mother became more
and more the object of her time and attention, so that he saw her now
more rarely and for shorter periods. She always explained this fact
by saying that the invalid was more suffering and in need of her, and
she never seemed to think it possible that this excuse would not be
all-sufficing.

At last a day came which brought him what he had been fearing--a
summons to return to his post of duty. At one time he would have
attempted to get a longer leave, even at some risk; but now, with the
prospect of having his allowance from England withdrawn, he dared not
do so. He knew that it would require great economy for two to live on
what had once seemed so inadequate for one, and he laid the matter
frankly before Bettina. She was full of hope that Lord Hurdly would
relent, and spoke so indifferently about their lack of money that he
loved her all the more for it.

He had some hope, in his ardent soul, that he might persuade Bettina
to be married at once and go with him, but when he ventured to
propose this he found that the mere suggestion of her leaving her
mother, then or ever, made her almost angry. She insisted that her
mother would get better; that when the weather changed she would be
braced up and strengthened, and then, she hoped, a thorough change
would do her good. So her plan was to let her lover go at once, and
some months later, when Mrs. Mowbray should be stronger, they would
go to England together, and there Spotswood could meet her and they
could be married.

With this promise he was obliged to go. It was a new and annoying
experience for him to have to consider the question of money so
closely. True, he was Lord Hurdly's heir-at-law, and he could not be
disinherited, so far as the title and entailed estates were
concerned, but it was wholly within the power of the present lord to
deprive him of the other properties, and he knew Lord Hurdly well
enough to understand that he was tenacious of any position once
taken.

So he said farewell to Bettina with a sad heart. He was ardently
willing to give up money and ease and to endure hardness for her
sake, but he would have wished to feel that the sadness and
depression in which Bettina parted from him had been the echo of what
was in his own heart, rather than, as he was quite aware, the deeper
care and sorrow of her anxiety about her mother's health.

Once away from her, however, the strong flame of his love burned so
vividly that he wrote her, by almost every mail, letters of such
heart-felt love and sympathy and adoration that he could but feel
confident that they would bring him a reply in kind. When at last her
letters did come, they were so short, scant, and preoccupied that
they fell like blows upon his heart. When he thought of the
passionately loving letters that she was getting almost daily, while
he got so rarely these half-hearted and insufficient ones, his pride
became aroused, and he decided that he would imitate her to the
extent of writing more rarely, even if he could not find it in his
heart to write to her coolly, as she did to him. In this way it came
to pass that there was a distinct change in the tone of his letters
to her. As day by day, and sometimes week by week, passed without his
hearing from her, and as her letters, when they came, continued to
speak only of her mother's health and her grief about it, the young
fellow's love and pride were alike so wounded that he forced himself,
so far as his nature and feelings would allow, to imitate her
attitude to him, and to cease the expression of the vehement love
for her in which he got no response.

At last, after a longer interval than usual, he got a letter from
Bettina, which told him that her mother was dead--had, indeed, been
dead and buried almost two weeks before she had roused herself to
write to him.

In the tone of this letter there was a sort of desperate resolution
that showed that a reaction had come on, under the stress of which
she had been roused to act with energy. She announced that as she had
found it intolerable to stay where she was, she would sail for Europe
at once. She fixed the 23d of June as the day on which she had
decided to sail. In reality, however, she actually embarked from New
York just one week earlier. This was in pursuance of a certain plan
which required that she should have one week in London quite free of
Horace before he should come to claim the fulfilment of her promise
to marry him.



CHAPTER II


Bettina was in London. The ocean voyage had done her good, and the
necessary effect of change, variety, new faces, new feelings, new
thoughts, had been to take her out of herself--the self that was
nothing but a grieving and bereaved daughter--and to quicken the
pleasure-loving instincts and thirst for admiration which were as
inherently, though not as prominently, a part of her. There was still
a root of bitterness springing up within her whenever she thought of
her mother's being taken from her, and this very element it was which
urged her to make all she could of life, in the hope of partially
filling the void in her heart. She was not even yet reconciled to the
loss of her mother, and there was a certain defiance of destiny in
her resolution to get some compensation for the wrong she had
sustained in losing what was dearest to her.

On arriving in London, Bettina went to a hotel, and from there made
inquiries as to the whereabouts of Lord Hurdly. Parliament was in
session, and his lordship was in his town house in Grosvenor Square.
Having ascertained the hour at which he was most likely to be at
home, Bettina betook herself at that hour to his house.

She refused to give her name to the servant who answered her ring,
and asked merely that Lord Hurdly might be told that a lady wished to
speak to him on a matter of importance. The servant, after a moment's
hesitation, ushered her into a small reception-room on the first
floor, and requested her to wait there.

She stood for a few moments alone in this room, her heart beating
fast. She wore the American style of deep mourning, which swathed her
in dense, impenetrable black from head to feet, and seemed to add to
her somewhat unusual tallness.

The door opened. Lord Hurdly entered. She had seen photographs of
him, and even through that thick veil would have known him anywhere.
The tall, thin figure, sharp eyes, aquiline nose, clean-shaven face,
and scrupulous dress were all familiar to both memory and
imagination.

He paused on the threshold of the room, as if slightly repelled by
the strange appearance of the shrouded figure before him. Then he
spoke, coldly and concisely.

"You wished to speak to me?" he said. "I have a few moments only at
my disposal."

Bettina raised one hand and threw back her veil, revealing thus not
only her face, but her whole figure clothed in smooth, tight-fitting
black, so plain and devoid of trimming that the exquisite lines were
shown to the best advantage. Her face, surrounded by black draperies,
looked as purely tinted as a flower, and the excitement of the moment
had made her eyes brilliant and flushed her cheeks.

The imperturbability of Lord Hurdly's face relaxed. His lips parted;
a smothered sound, as of surprise, escaped him. Certainly at that
moment Bettina was nothing less than bewilderingly beautiful.

"I have to beg your pardon for coming to you so unceremoniously," she
said. "My excuse is that I have a matter of great importance to speak
to you of."

Her voice was certainly a charming one, and if her accent was such as
he might have found fault with under other circumstances, under these
he found it an added attraction. She had put her own construction on
Lord Hurdly's evident surprise at sight of her, and it was one which
gave her an increased self-possession and added to her sense of
power.

"Let us go into another room," said Lord Hurdly. "I cannot keep you
here, and whatever you may have to say to me I am quite at leisure to
attend to."

He led the way from the room, and Bettina followed in silence. She
had had innumerable dreams of grandeur, poor child! but she had been
too ignorant even to imagine such a place as this house. Its
furnishing and decorations represented not only the accumulated
wealth, but also the accumulated taste and opportunity, of many
successive generations. She felt an ineffable emotion of deep,
sensuous enjoyment in her present surroundings which made her heart
leap at the idea that all these things might some day be hers. Lord
Hurdly looked exceedingly well preserved, and that day might be very
far distant. All the more reason, therefore, she told herself, why
she should make peace between him and Horace, so that she might at
least be sometimes a guest in this house, and be lifted into an
atmosphere where she felt for the first time that she was in her true
element. It was not only the magnificence which she saw on every side
which so appealed to her. It was that air of the best in everything
that made her feel, in Lord Hurdly's presence, as well as in his
house, that civilization could not go further--that life, on its
material side, had nothing more to offer. And Bettina had now reached
a point in her experience where material pleasure seemed to be all
that was left. She quite believed that all of the joy of loving was
buried in the grave of her mother.

Her heart was beating fast as she entered Lord Hurdly's library and
saw him close the door behind them. It then struck her as being a
little peculiar that he should have brought her here without even
knowing who she was or what she wanted of him.

A doubt, a scarcely possible suspicion, came into her mind.

"Have you any idea who I am?" she said.

"It suffices me to know what you are."

"Ah! I do not understand," she said, puzzled.

"You have come upon me without ceremony, madam," said Lord Hurdly,
with a slightly old-fashioned pomposity in his polished manner, "and
I may therefore ask you to excuse an absence of ceremony in me in
alluding to the impression which you have made upon me. You are a
stranger to me--an American, I judge from your speech. I hope that I
am to be so fortunate as to hear that there is something which I can
do for you."

"There is," Bettina said--"a thing so vital and important to me that,
now I am in your presence, I am afraid to venture to speak, for fear
you may refuse to hear my prayer."

"You are in small danger from that quarter, I assure you. I am ready
to do for you whatever you may ask. Let me, however, put a few
questions before I hear your request. You are wearing mourning. Is
it, perhaps, for your husband?"

"For my mother," said Bettina, with a sudden trembling of the lip and
suffusion of the eyes which gave her a new charm, in revealing the
fact that this young goddess had a human heart which could be quickly
stirred to emotion.

"Forgive me," said Lord Hurdly, with great courtesy. "Forget that I
have roughly touched a spot so sore, and tell me this, if you will:
are you married or unmarried?"

"I am unmarried," said Bettina, beginning to tremble as she found the
important moment upon her; "but I am about to be married. I have made
this visit to London beforehand only to see you. The man I am going
to marry is your cousin and heir, Horace Spotswood."

Lord Hurdly's guarded face betrayed a certain agitation, but the
signs of this were quickly controlled.

He looked straight into her eyes for a few seconds without speaking.
Then he crossed the room and touched an electric button, saying, as
he did so:

"I will get rid of an engagement that I had, so that I may be quite
at leisure to talk with you."

Neither spoke again until the servant had come, taken his
instructions, and gone away, closing the door behind him. There was a
certain determination in Lord Hurdly's manner and expression which
did not escape Bettina. She was sure that her revelation of her
identity had prompted some decisive course of action in his mind, but
what it was she could not guess from that inscrutable face.

"I am now quite free for the morning," her companion said. "Naturally
there is much for us to say to each other. Will you not lay aside
your bonnet and wrap? The day is warm, and that heavy mourning must
distress you."

Certainly his manner was kind. Bettina began to like him and to hope
for success in her object in coming here. Quickly unbuttoning her
black gloves, she unsheathed her lovely hands, which were bare of
rings. Then with a few deft motions she removed her outer wrap and
her bonnet with its long, thick veil.

In so doing she revealed the fact that she had an exquisite head,
with delicious masses of brown hair which looked almost reddish in
its contrast to the dense black of her gown, the smooth severity of
which accentuated every lovely curve of her figure, as it would have
done every defect, had there been defect. This gown was fitted to her
so absolutely that one had the satisfying sense that one looked at
the woman instead of at her clothes. There were fine old portraits on
the wall, of noble ladies who had once done the honors of this great
establishment, but the fairest of them paled before the glowing
loveliness of this girl. For she looked a girl, despite her sombre
garments, and there was a certain timidity in her manner which
strengthened this impression.

Lord Hurdly offered her a seat, and then took another, facing her.

"In engaging yourself to marry Horace Spotswood," he began,
deliberately, "you have made the supreme, if not the irreparable,
mistake of your life."

Bettina's white skin showed the sudden ebb of the blood in her veins
as he said these words.

"Why?" she asked, concisely.

"Because he is no match for you, and because your marrying him would
not only place you on a lower plane than where you belong, but it
would also so seriously injure his position in life that there would
be no possible chance for him to retrieve it until my death. I am
comparatively a young man, and likely to live a long time. Apart from
that, I may marry. I had no expectation or intention of doing so, but
his recent defiance of me has made me sometimes feel inclined to the
idea. I have so far changed in my feeling on this subject that if I
could meet and win a woman to my mind, I would marry at once. What
then would become of Horace? He has a mere pittance besides his pay,
which is a ridiculous sum for a man to marry on. He has wronged you
in putting you in such a position, and you have equally wronged him."

Bettina had turned very white as he spoke. The picture he drew was
bad enough in itself, but to have it sketched before her in her
present surroundings made it infinitely worse.

"If we have wronged each other, we have done it ignorantly," she
said. "He assured me that you were determined never to marry, and he
counted on your past kindness and your attachment to him--"

She broke off, her voice shaken.

"On the same ground I counted on him," said Lord Hurdly. "He was in
no position to marry against my will, and in engaging to do so he
defied me. Let him take the consequences."

"Then you are determined not to relent?" Bettina faltered. "You will
not forgive him for the offence of proposing to make me his wife?"

"I did not say that," returned Lord Hurdly, with a subtle change of
tone. "I certainly should not forgive him for marrying you, but for
proposing to do so I am ready enough to forgive him, provided he
comes to his senses at that point and goes no further. In that event
I am ready not only to continue the handsome income that I have
allowed him, but to give him outright the principal of it."

Bettina had never pretended that she was deeply in love with Horace
Spotswood. Indeed, she had quite decided within herself that she was
incapable of such a state of feeling, and it was her belief that the
fervor and intensity of love which she had given to her mother had
taken the place of what some women give to their husbands. Still, she
looked upon her prospective marriage to him as one of the fixed facts
of the universe, and Lord Hurdly's words bewildered her.

Keener than this surprise, however, was her sense of humiliation at
the implacable offence which Lord Hurdly had taken at his heir's
proposed marriage with herself. That he had wished Horace to marry
she knew; it was therefore the woman whom he had chosen that Lord
Hurdly resented.

She rose to her feet, feeling herself giddy, and knowing that she was
white with agitation. Her one idea was to get away--to escape the
scrutiny of the intense gaze which was fixed upon her.

"I must go. I beg your pardon for coming," she said, with a proud
coldness, reaching for her wrap.

"You must not go. I owe you endless thanks for coming, and I will
show you that you have to congratulate yourself also on this
interview. If you went now, you would defeat all the good that may
come of it. Sit down, I beg of you, and hear me out."

His manner was not only urgent, it was also kind, and nothing could
have been more respectful than his every look and tone.

Bettina sat down again and waited.

"What is it that has shocked you?" he said. "Is it because of your
great love for Horace--or is it his for you which you are thinking of
most?"

"I do not see that I am bound to answer you that question," said
Bettina, proudly. "My reasons are sufficient for myself."

"You are in no way bound, my dear young lady, but you would be wise
to answer me. I have every disposition to act as your friend in this
matter, and you would be making a mistake to turn away from me
without hearing what I have to say. If you are imagining that the
young fellow with whom you have an engagement of marriage would be
rendered inconsolable by the loss of you, when it would be made up to
him by the possession of a fortune, perhaps you overestimate things."

"What things?" she said, still cold and withheld in her manner, her
pale face very set.

"The unselfishness of man's love in general, and of this man's in
particular," he said; "and, for another thing, yourself. It seems a
brutal thing to say, but if you believe that that hotheaded,
undisciplined boy is capable of a sustained affection against such
odds of fortune as this case presents, then I disagree with you, and
I know him better than you do."

Bettina's face flushed.

"He does love me--he does!" she cried, in some agitation. "I have
been cold and careless toward him, and have told him that my heart
was buried in my mother's grave." At these words her voice trembled.
"He knows how hard it is for me to think of another kind of love just
yet; but he has been kindness itself, and has written me the dearest,
lovingest letters that ever a woman had. If they have been a little
rarer and colder lately, it is only because of my own shortcomings
toward him. I shall try to atone for them now. Since I realize how
great an injury I have done to him, I shall try to be his
compensation for it."

"And you think you will succeed? I doubt it."

Something in his manner impressed her in spite of herself. Perhaps he
saw that it was so, for he pushed his advantage.

"Compare the length and opportunities of my intercourse with him and
yours," he said. "You would be acting the part of absolute folly not
to listen to me now. In the end you will be as free to act as you
were in the beginning. Only let me remind you that his future is
involved as well as your own."

He saw that this argument told.

"I am willing to listen," she said.

"I am grateful to you," he answered, with that air of finished
politeness which makes the best graces of a young man seem crude, and
which Bettina was not too ignorant to appreciate at its proper value.

"I have known Horace as child and boy and man--if he may yet be
called a man," he said, with a light touch of scorn. "You have known
him in one capacity and state only--that of a lover, a _rôle_ he can
no doubt play very prettily, and one in which, despite his youth, he
is far from being unpractised. He has been in love oftener than it
behooves me to say or you to hear--quite harmless affairs, of course,
but they prove to one who has watched him as I have that his nature
is fickle and capricious. I confess that when I heard you say, just
now, that his letters of late had been rarer and less ardent, I could
not wholly attribute it to the reason which so quickly satisfied you.
As a rule, these intensely ardent feelings are not of long duration,
and I know well both the intensity and the brevity of Horace's
attacks of love. It was for this very reason that I so resented the
idea of his marrying without my advice. I foresaw that he would soon
weary of any woman. All the more reason, therefore, for his choosing
one who was suited to him, apart from the matter of his loving her. I
knew he had not the staying quality--that he was quite incapable of a
sustained affection. I therefore considered his taste in the matter
less than my own. As he was my heir in the event of my not marrying,
I felt that I had the right to demand that he should marry suitably
to his position."

"I regret that he should have made an engagement which has
disappointed you," said Bettina, a slight curl at the corners of her
lips.

"I regret it also; but you may remember that at the beginning of this
interview I spoke of this mistake on your part and on his as great,
though not perhaps irreparable."

He was looking at her keenly, and he saw that his words had no effect
upon her except to mystify her.

"I do not see any way to its reparation," she said, and was about to
continue, when he interrupted her.

"I have pointed out the way--a rupture of the engagement by mutual
consent."

"A consent that he would never give," said Bettina, with a certain
pride of confidence.

"And you?" he asked.

"Nor I either," she said, "unless I were convinced that he wished
it."

"It would perhaps be not impossible to convince you of that, granted
a little time," said Lord Hurdly. "But, apart from his wish, have you
no consideration for his interest? His position in diplomacy is at
present insignificant, but he has talents and a chance to rise,
unless that chance be utterly frustrated by his embarrassing himself
with a family--a condition that would be death to his career. Ask any
one you choose, and they will tell you that there cannot be two
opinions about this. Besides, through my help he has been able to
live like a man of fortune. His allowance, however, will be stopped
on the day of his marriage, if he persists in such a course. If he
abandons it, he will find himself with the principal as well as the
interest at his disposal. So situated, he has every chance to rise.
Under the other conditions, he inevitably falls. What would become of
him ultimately is too dreary a line of conjecture to dwell upon."

Bettina's face was paler still. The tears sprang to her eyes--tears
of mortification and keen regret. The thought of her mother pierced
through her, and the consciousness that she had no longer the refuge
of that gentle heart to cast herself upon almost overcame her. Pride
lent her aid, however, and she rallied quickly.

"You have fully demonstrated to me," she said, "that I have injured
your cousin in promising to marry him. I did it in ignorance,
however. With the facts before me which you have just given, I should
perhaps have acted differently. Regret now, however, is useless."

"On the contrary, this is one of the rare cases in which regret is
not useless. The reparation of your mistake is in your own hands."

The possibility of doing what he urged flashed through Bettina's
mind. Horace would certainly be infinitely better off without her, in
every rational and material sense; and at this stage of Bettina's
development the rational and material were predominant. But what of
her, apart from Horace? This thought found vent in words.

"You have been looking at this subject from your own point of view,"
she said, "and perhaps naturally. I must, however, think of an aspect
of the case in which you have no interest. I am absolutely alone in
the world, and if, for your cousin's sake, I made this sacrifice--"

In spite of herself her voice faltered.

Lord Hurdly drew his chair a little nearer to her. His eyes were
fixed upon her with a yet more intent gaze as he said, with
directness and decision:

"You are quite mistaken. It is this aspect of the case which concerns
me chiefly. If, as is undoubtedly true, the prevention of this most
mistaken marriage would be an advantage to Horace, to you it may be a
far greater gain, and to me it may be the fulfilment of all that I
have ever desired in life."

"What do you mean?" she said, bewildered.

"I mean that the supreme desire of my heart is, and has been from the
moment my eyes rested on you, to make you Lady Hurdly absolutely and
at once, instead of your waiting for a name and position which, after
all, may never come to you."

Her heart beat so that her breathing came in smothered gasps. The
piercing demand of his eyes was almost terrifying to her. She saw
that he was absolutely in earnest, and the commiseration which she
felt for Horace struggled with the dazzling temptation which this
opportunity offered to that strong ambition which was so great an
element in her essential nature.

"Do not be shocked or startled by the suddenness of my proposal," he
said. "I trust that you will come to see that it is eminently wise
and reasonable. When I said the marriage was an unsuitable one, I was
thinking more of you than of Horace. Your beauty, your manner, your
voice, your words, your whole ego and personality, show you to have
been born for a great position. It is a case of manifest destiny. The
fortune and the social rank that I can bestow are all too little for
you; I should like to be able to put a queen's crown on your
beautiful head. But such as I am--a man who has made his impression
on the current history of his country, and who, though no longer
young in the crude sense that counts only by months and years, is
still by no means old--and such things as I have and can command, I
lay at your feet, begging you humbly to impart to them a value which
they have never had before, by accepting them and becoming the sharer
of my name, my position, and my fortune, and the mistress of my
heart."

He had risen and was standing in front of her with the resolution of
a strong purpose in his eyes. But she could not meet them, those
dominating, searching eyes. The thoughts that his words had given
rise to were too agitating, too uncertain, too tormenting to her. The
thought of giving Horace up pained her more than she would have
believed, while the vision of the grandeur so urged upon her, which
not ten minutes gone she had seen dashed like a full beaker from her
thirsty lips, tormented her as well. It was to her a vast sacrifice
to think of resigning such possibilities, yet at the first she had no
other thought but to resign them. The arguments for Horace's future
career which had been urged upon her also played their part in her
consciousness now, and the seething confusion of images in her brain
made her senses swim.

Lord Hurdly must have seen her agitation, for he hastened to say:

"I have been too hasty. You must forgive me. Do not try to answer me
at present. I see that you are overwrought. Let me beseech you to
rest a little while. I will send for the housekeeper."

"No, no! I must go," she answered, starting to her feet. But she had
overestimated her strength. She sank back in her chair.

He went himself and brought her a glass of wine, talking to her with
a soothing reassurance as she drank it. He reproached himself for
having been too hurried, too rash, but pleaded the earnestness of his
hopes as an excuse. When she had taken the wine she wanted to go, but
he entreated her so humbly not to punish him too deeply for his fault
that when he begged her to let him call the housekeeper to sit with
her until luncheon, which he implored her to take before leaving, she
acquiesced, too fagged out mentally to take any decided position of
her own.

To the housekeeper Lord Hurdly explained that this lady was in deep
trouble--a fact sufficiently attested by her heavy mourning--and
would like to rest awhile before eating some luncheon. Bettina saw
herself regarded with a respectful awe which she had never had a
taste of before. The housekeeper, with the sweetest of voices and
kindest of manners, promised to do all in her power, and Lord Hurdly
withdrew.

[Illustration: "SHE SANK BACK IN HER CHAIR"]

Bettina could not talk. She lay back on the lounge and submitted to
be gently fanned and having salts occasionally held to her nose. But
all her effort was to compose her thoughts--a difficult attempt, as
the image of her mother was the one which insisted on taking the
pre-eminence in her mind. She ordered it down, with a sort of
bitterness. Had her mother been alive, she would have gladly fled
from this puzzle into which her life had tangled itself, and gone
back to America to rest and mother-love. So she told herself, at
least. But then followed the reflection that in her mother's death
the refuge of love's calm and protection was gone from her forever,
and that she must either remain in Europe under one or the other of
the two conditions offered her, or else resign herself to the apathy
of despair.

It was not in her to do this, and the brilliant possibilities which
Lord Hurdly had suggested flashed into her mind, and so excited her
that she suddenly rose to her feet and announced that her slight
indisposition was past, asking the housekeeper to take her somewhere
to rearrange her hair and prepare herself for luncheon.

Even had Bettina been the possessor of a happy heart which rejoiced
in a fulfilled and contented love for the man she had promised to
marry, the other, dominating side of her nature could not have been
quite stifled as she walked through the halls and corridors of this
magnificent mansion. These were things her imagination had always
pictured as her proper position in life, and which the unregenerate
heart within her had always craved. But how far beyond her ignorant
dreams was the grand repose of this beautiful house! It was so much
more than she had conceived that the new supply to her senses seemed,
in a way, to create a new demand in them.

Never, perhaps, had she so appreciated what it must be to be a
_grande dame_ as to-day, when she was on the point of refusing such
an opportunity, though it was just within her grasp. For she had no
idea but that she should refuse it, and this very consciousness made
her more friendly in her feelings and actions toward Lord Hurdly than
she would otherwise have been.

When she had adjusted her dress and smoothed her hair, before large
mirrors which gave her a better view of her loveliness than she had
ever had before, a servant summoned her to luncheon, and at the foot
of the stairs she saw Lord Hurdly awaiting her.

So seen, a decided baldness, which she had not much noticed before,
became evident, but there was a certain distinction in the man's
general air which this rather seemed to heighten. His manner of
delicate solicitude for her was the perfection of good-breeding, and
when she answered him reassuringly, and walked by his side to the
dining-room, a sudden conviction seized her that she had come into
her own--that this was the position for which she had been born, and
that, independent of the fact that she had determined to decline it,
it was her fate, which she could not escape. She tried to coax the
belief that it was as Horace's wife that she would one day enjoy all
these delights, but the thought eluded her. She could not see Horace
in the seat now filled by his cousin. In imagination as well as in
reality it was Lord Hurdly who occupied that seat.

This conviction, which every moment deepened, she could not shake off
and could not account for. She had a feeling that it was forced upon
her consciousness through some dominating power of Lord Hurdly's
spirit over her own. She felt as if she were hypnotized. She wondered
if it could be so, and if she would presently come to herself and
find that it was all a delusion and she had never seen Lord Hurdly or
his house, but was on her way to St. Petersburg to join Horace and
settle down to a limited and economical way of living.

At this thought her heart fell. She had laid her hand upon this
dazzling prize of worldly wealth and position. Could she let it go?

During luncheon no reference was made to the subject of their late
conversation. The servants remained in the room, and Lord Hurdly
talked of public and quite impersonal affairs. In so doing he showed
a trenchant insight, a broad knowledge of the world, an undeniably
powerful mentality, and a decided skill in the art of pleasing. If
the tone of his talk was cynical, it found, for that very reason, all
the clearer echo in Bettina's heart. A certain tendency to cynicism
was inborn in her, and the bitterness she felt at the loss of her
mother had accentuated this. What was the use of loving, she asked
herself, when love must end like this? In her heart she passionately
hoped that she might never love again. And she had also a shrinking
from being loved in any ardent manner that might make demands upon
her which she could not respond to.

When the time came for Bettina to leave, she found that the cab in
which she had come had been sent away, and, in its place, Lord
Hurdly's brougham waited for her. He escorted her himself to the
carriage door, and when the great footman who held it open touched
his hat in silence as he took her orders, and then mounted beside his
twin brother on the box and she was bowled away, on padded cushions
from which emanated a delicious odor of fine leather, Bettina felt
that, for the first time in her life, she was in her proper element.

The events of the morning seemed to her like some agitating dream.
She wondered how long it had been since she left her hotel, and tried
to guess what time it was. As she did so, her eyes fell on the small
clock, neatly encased in the leather upholstering of the carriage
just in front of her. The fitness of this object and of everything
about her gave her a delicious sense of adaptation to her environment
which she had never had before.

When she got out at her hotel, the footman, with the same salute of
ineffable respect, said that his lordship had told him to ask if she
had any further orders for the carriage to-day or to-morrow. She
declined the offer, but, none the less, she felt flattered by the
attention.

Lord Hurdly's only further reference to their last conversation had
been to ask her to pay his words the respect of a few days'
consideration at least. He had learned from her that Horace was
unaware of her being in England, and that she had a whole week at her
disposal before he would expect to meet her there. When he asked for
a part of that week, in which to give him the opportunity to prove to
her that her duty to Horace, as well as to herself, demanded the
rupture of this mistaken engagement, she was sufficiently influenced
by the subtlety of this appeal to grant his request.

To her surprise, several days went by, and he did not come to see her
nor write. Every morning the carriage was sent to the hotel and the
footman came to her door for orders, but she always answered that she
did not require it. Every morning, also, came a lavish offering of
flowers, the great exotic flowers which Bettina loved--huge,
heavy-petalled roses and green translucent-looking orchids. But,
except for these, he did not thrust himself upon her notice--a fact
which during the first and second days she gave him the greatest
credit for, but by the third had grown to feel a certain resentment
at.

In the mean time there had followed her from home a letter from
Horace. It was the coldest she had ever had from him, and set her to
thinking deeply as to the possible cause of his coldness. Could it
be, she asked herself, that Lord Hurdly was right in calling him
capricious? Had he--as was possible, of course--cooled in his ardor
for her, and come to see that this hasty engagement of his had been a
great mistake, as she herself had come to see?

For this point, at least, Bettina had positively reached. Why,
therefore, should she adhere to her engagement in the face of the
knowledge that such an adherence would be to his disadvantage, no
less than to hers?

These arguments would have quite prevailed with her but for one
thing. This was the conviction, not yet changed, though somewhat
shaken by Lord Hurdly's account of him, that Horace really loved her
and would suffer in losing her.

Deprived of the restraint of her mother's influence, Bettina had
progressed with rapidity in her way toward worldliness and selfish
ambition, but she had a heart. Her love for her mother had given
abundant proof of that, if there were nothing else; and now her heart
combated the influence of her head, which decreed that only a fool
would reject the great good fortune now held out to her.

In point of fact, Bettina had been influenced more by ambition than
by love in engaging herself to Horace, and the gratification of a far
more splendid ambition was offered to her in making this other
marriage. In it, also, love would play but little part, and this she
felt to be decidedly a gain. Yet she was not so far lost to the
sentiments of kindness and loyalty, that she had learned from the
teaching and example of her mother, as not to hesitate before
wounding and humiliating the man who, as she still believed, loved
her devotedly. Could it have been proved that she was mistaken in so
believing, Lord Hurdly's case would have been already won.



CHAPTER III


In the end Lord Hurdly prevailed, and that end was swifter in coming
than Bettina would have believed to be possible. She had allowed
herself a week to wait in London, and for the first day or two of
that week she lived in dread lest Lord Hurdly should come to her and
renew the arguments which she was quite determined to combat. As the
days passed and he did not come, she began to fear that the
opportunity of final decision on the momentous question of her choice
between these two men would not again be offered her. Her better
nature still held her to her pledge to Horace, but already she had
come to feel that, but for his disappointment at losing her, she
would have accepted Lord Hurdly's proposal, as it offered a full and
immediate fulfilment of her dreams of ambition, and the other
postponed these indefinitely, while it promised comparatively little
in any other direction.

Toward the end of the week Lord Hurdly called, and, without any
reference to his own hopes and intentions, spoke, with what seemed to
be a considerable hesitation and regret, of his young cousin's
character and mode of life, which he declared were known, to every
one except Bettina, to be exceedingly capricious--even light. He
dwelt upon the fact, well known to Bettina, of his earnest desire
that his cousin and heir should marry, and gave as a reason for this
desire, what he declared to be the accepted fact, that Horace was
inclined to a dissipated manner of living, which he hoped marriage
might correct.

Poor Bettina! She had believed the young man, to whom she had pledged
herself, to be the very opposite of all this. Yet how absolutely
ignorant concerning him she really was! And the rector of her church,
who was supposed to vouch for him, knew in reality as little as she.
How easily she might have been mistaken in him! And yet, and yet,
there was a still, small voice in her heart which confirmed her in
her resolve to believe in him until she had proof that such a belief
was ill founded.

"With his past I have nothing to do," she said to Lord Hurdly, with a
certain show of pride. "If it has been lower than my ideal of him, I
regret it; but I am entirely sure that since he has known me and had
my promise to be his wife he has been true to all that that promise
required of him."

"This being your conclusion," Lord Hurdly answered, "you force upon
me the necessity of showing you a letter which I have to-day received
from a friend in St. Petersburg, and which I would, without strong
reason to the contrary, have gladly spared you the pain of reading."
With these words, he handed Bettina a letter.

It was signed with a name unknown to her, but written evidently in
the tone and manner of an intimate friend. The first page or two
referred to matters wholly indifferent to her--public affairs and the
like--but toward the end were these words:

     "Are you as set as ever in your determination not to marry?
     Pity it is that such a noble name and fortune as yours
     should not pass on to a son of your own, instead of to one
     who, it is to be feared, will do little to honor it. I see
     him here, at court and everywhere, accurately fulfilling
     the rather unflattering predictions which I long ago made
     concerning him. There is a story that he became engaged to
     be married during his travels in America, and I hear that he
     owns up to it and speaks of being joined by his _fiancée_
     and married on this side. I hope it may not be so. Certainly
     his present manner of living argues against the rumor,
     unless--a supposition I am reluctant to believe--he proposes
     to keep up, as a married man, the habits which are so
     readily forgiven to a bachelor, though not to a husband."

There was more, but Bettina read no further. This was enough. She had
turned away to a window, that she might read this letter unobserved
by Lord Hurdly, who had considerately walked to the other end of the
room.

When at last she approached him and gave him back the letter, she was
very pale, but her manner was wholly without indecision and her voice
was resolute as she said:

"I thank you, Lord Hurdly, for the service which you have rendered
me. This letter has made my future course quite clear. I shall write
to your cousin to-day that everything is at an end between us. And
now will you be good enough to leave me? I wish to make my
arrangements to return to America at once."

Even as she said the words, the bitter barrenness of this
prospect--the old dull life, without the dear presence which had been
its one and sufficient palliation--rose before her mind and appalled
her. Perhaps Lord Hurdly saw in her face some change of expression
which he construed as favorable to himself, for he hastened to say:

"Will you not, before taking so rash a step, consider the proposal
which I have made to you? I can offer you the substance of which the
other was only the shadow, and I can pledge to you the stable and
unalterable devotion of a man who has lived long enough to know his
own mind, and who declares to you that you are the only woman whom he
has ever desired to put in the position of his wife."

It was impossible not to feel some consciousness of satisfaction at a
tribute which her own knowledge of facts convinced her to be sincere,
but Bettina's heart and mind were still too preoccupied to meet him
in the way he wished. She repeated her request that he would leave
her, and so earnest and distressed was her manner that he complied,
leaving behind him an impression of the deepest solicitude for her,
and the most earnest desire on his part to atone for the wrong which
his kinsman had done her.

Bettina threw herself upon the lounge and abandoned herself to a fit
of weeping--so overwhelming, so despairing, so heart-breaking that
she could scarcely believe that she, who had thought that all her
power of deep suffering had been exhausted, could still find it in
her to care so much for any other grief.

The worst of it was that, now it was quite evident that she was
forever divided from Horace, the charm of his manner and appearance,
the tenderness of his love-making, came back to her with a power
which they had never exercised upon her in reality. Never, surely,
had a man existed who was, to appearance at least, more frank,
sincere, ardent, and deeply in love than he had seemed to be with
her. It made his perfidy appear the greater. Nothing but the sight of
that letter could have made her believe it; but that, taken in
connection with the rareness and coolness of his recent letters to
her, made it all too plain that the ardent flame of his love had
burned out, and that he had repented his impetuosity, now that he had
had time to think of the sacrifice which it entailed.

This was indeed great for a man in his position, ambitious in his
career, and with his foot already on the ladder that led to success.
She even began to doubt whether he would have fulfilled his
obligations to her when it came to the point.

She got out his letters and read them over. How passionately loving
were the early ones--how cool and constrained the more recent! The
contrast struck her far more now in the light of recent events. It
really seemed as if he might be trying to get out of the engagement.

At this thought pride came to her rescue. She felt herself grow hard
and cold, and her composure returned completely. She would never let
him know what she had heard, for that might make it seem as if she
gave him up from compulsion. She sat down and wrote quickly a few
formal sentences, saying that she had mistaken her own feelings, and
that she wished to break the engagement. She added that she was
returning immediately to America, as indeed she was intending to do
at the time of the writing of this letter.

After it had gone, and was on its way to St. Petersburg, a mental
condition of such abject misery settled down upon her that the
thought of the endless days and nights of idle monotony which would
be her lot if she returned home, and the awful void of her mother's
absence, became intolerable. She could not do it. She must find some
way of escape from such a fate.

Just as she was casting about for such a way, Lord Hurdly came to
see her. The escape which he offered had in it many elements of the
strongest attractiveness for her. Since she could not be happy, as
she believed, why might she not get from life the satisfaction which
comes from the holding of a great position, the opportunity of being
admired and wielding a powerful influence? It was a prospect which
had always charmed her; and now, with no alternative but lonely
isolation and bitter weariness, was it strange that she decided to
accept Lord Hurdly's offer?

And if it was to be, what need was there to wait? Wounded in her
pride as she was by the revelation of Horace which she had received,
she relished the idea of becoming at once what he had proposed to
make her--and afterward repented of. She was fully convinced in her
mind that he had repented, and her blood beat faster as she thought
of his consternation on hearing of this marriage. She felt eager that
he should hear of it at once.

And so indeed he did. On the heels of his receipt of Bettina's letter
her marriage to Lord Hurdly was announced by cable--not to him, but
through the newspapers.

Then into his heart there entered also the exceeding bitterness of a
lost ideal. She became to him, as he had become to her, the image of
broken faith, capricious feeling, and overweening worldly ambition.

Yet in the heart of the man, who had loved completely and supremely,
as Bettina never had, there was a feeling which made him say to
himself, with a conviction which he knew to be immutable, that
marriage was not for him. The present Lord Hurdly had said the same,
and had changed his mind. For himself he knew that he should not, for
all of love that he was capable of feeling had been given to the
woman who had cast him off.



CHAPTER IV


Bettina had gone through her first London season as Lady Hurdly, and
certainly no girl's ambitious dreams could have forecast a more
brilliant experience. She had been far too ignorant to imagine such
subtle delights of the senses as resulted from the wealth and
eminence which she had attained to in marrying Lord Hurdly. And
beyond the mere sensuous appeal which was made to her by the wearing
of magnificent clothes and jewels, and the being always surrounded
with objects of beauty and means of luxury, she had the greater
delight of having her feverishly active mind continually supplied
with a stimulus, which it now more than ever needed. This was
furnished by the innumerable social demands made upon her, and the
complete power which she felt within herself to respond to them not
only creditably, but in a way that should make even Lord Hurdly
wonder at her.

True, she had had no social training, and in a less powerful position
she might have shown her ignorance and incapacity, for she would then
have had to take a personal supervision of the things which she now
left utterly alone, and which, being essential to be done, were
done--how and by whom she did not ask. Lord Hurdly had so long done
the honors of his house without a wife that it was natural to him to
continue the direction of household affairs, with the aid of the
accomplished assistants who were in his employment; so Bettina had no
more to do with such matters than if she had become the mistress of a
royal household. At the proper time she showed herself at Lord
Hurdly's side, and she had beauty enough and wit enough not only to
do credit to that high position, but to cast a glory over it which he
knew in his heart no other Lady Hurdly of them all had ever done.

That she enjoyed it, who could doubt that saw her, day after day and
evening after evening, beautifying with her presence the social
gatherings at her own splendid house, and at those of the new
acquaintances who sought her society and distinguished her with their
attentions wherever she might go.

Having had no experience of wealth, it never seemed to occur to her
that it could have its definite limit, and she ordered costumes and
invented ways of spending money which sometimes surprised her lord,
but which also pleased him. His fortune was so large, and had been so
long without such demands upon it, that it was a source of genuine
satisfaction to him to see that Bettina knew how to avail herself of
her brilliant opportunity. Save and except a wife, he was already
possessed of every adjunct that could do credit to his name and
position, and in marrying Bettina he had been largely influenced by
the fact that she was qualified to supply this one deficiency with a
distinction which no other woman he had ever seen could have bestowed
upon the position.

So, to the world, Bettina seemed completely satisfied, and in the
worldly sense she was so. In this sense, also, Lord Hurdly seemed and
was satisfied in his marriage. How it was with them in their hearts
no one knew, and perhaps there was no one who cared to know. The one
being to whom this question was of strong interest was very far away.
He had shifted his position from Russia to India about the time of
his cousin's marriage, and Bettina never heard his name mentioned,
nor did she ever utter it.

After the London season was over, Lord and Lady Hurdly had moved
from their town-house to the family seat, Kingdon Hall. Here, after
a day's stop, Lord Hurdly had left her, to return to town on some
public business; and so, for the first time since her marriage, she
had a few days to herself. Later they were to have the house filled
with guests, and after that to make some visits; so this time of
solitude was not likely to be repeated soon. Bettina was surprised
at herself to see how eagerly she clutched at it. It was, in some
faint degree, like the feeling which she had had after the rare and
short separations from her mother--a longing to get back to the
familiar and the accustomed. She now felt somewhat the same longing
to get back to herself. She had done her part in all that brilliant
pageant like a woman in a dream. She had enjoyed it, for power and
admiration were very dear to her, and she had revelled in their fresh
first-fruits. But she had not been herself for so long, had not for
so long looked herself in the face and searched her own heart, that
she did not know herself much more familiarly than she knew the other
brilliant personages who moved beside her across the crowded stage of
London life.

It was unaccountable even to herself how she rejoiced at the idea of
these few days of quiet and solitude. Nora, her old nurse, was of
course with her still, with a French maid to assist her and perform
the important functions of the toilet of which the elderly woman was
ignorant. This maid Bettina sent off on a holiday, so that she might
have only Nora about her.

The morning after her arrival at Kingdon, Bettina, having breakfasted
in her room, went for a ramble over the house. It seemed solemnly
vast and empty, and she would have lost herself many times had she
not encountered now and then a courtesying house-maid or an
obsequious footman, who answered her inquiries and told her into what
apartments she had strayed.

"Show me the way to the picture-gallery," she said to one of these,
"and then tell the housekeeper to come to me there presently."

She had taken a fancy to this white-haired old woman the night
before, when Lord Hurdly had presented the servants to their new
mistress in the great hall, where they had all been assembled to
receive her on her arrival.

In a few moments she found herself alone in the stately gallery,
going from picture to picture. On one side was a long line of the
ladies of Kingdon Hall, painted by contemporary artists, each
celebrated in his era. At the end of this line her own portrait, done
by a celebrated French painter who had come to London for the
purpose, had recently been put in place.

It was a magnificent thing in its manner as well as in its subject,
and the costume which Lord Hurdly's taste had conceived for her and a
French milliner had carried out was a marvel of rich effects. As she
paused in front of it her lips parted, and she said, whispering to
herself,

"Lady Hurdly--the present Lady Hurdly! And what has become of
Bettina?"

As she asked herself this question she sighed.

A sudden instinct made her move away. She wanted to escape from Lady
Hurdly. She had a chance to be herself to-day, and she felt a strong
desire to make the most of it.

Hearing a sound at her side, she turned and found the serious,
pleasant face of the housekeeper near her.

"Good-morning, my lady," she said, gently, in answer to Bettina's
friendly salutation. "Will your ladyship not have a shawl? This room
is always cool, no matter what the weather is."

Bettina declined the wrap, but passed on to the next picture,
requesting the woman to come with her and act as cicerone.

"What is your name? I ought to know it," she said.

"Parlett, your ladyship."

"And how long have you lived here, Parlett?"

"Over forty years, my lady. I was here in the old lord's time. That
is his picture, with his lady next to him."

Bettina looked with interest at the two pictures designated.

"He is thought to be very much like his present lordship," said the
housekeeper.

"Yes, I see it," said Bettina, feeling an instinct to guard her
countenance. Here were the same keen eyes, the same resolute jaw, the
same thin lips and hard lines about the mouth. Only in the older face
they were yet more accentuated, and instead of the not unbecoming
thinness of hair which showed in the son, there was a frank expanse
of bald head which made his features all the harder.

Hurrying away from the contemplation of this portrait, Bettina turned
to its companion. Here she encountered a face and form which were
truly all womanly, if by womanliness is meant abject submission and
self-effacement. The poor little lady looked patiently hopeless, and
her deprecating air seemed the last in the world calculated to hold
its own against such a lord. That she had not done so--of her own
full surrender of herself, in mind and soul and body--the picture
seemed a plain representation.

"Poor woman! She looks as if she had suffered," said Bettina.

"Oh yes, my lady," Parlett answered, as if divided between the
inclination to talk and the duty to be silent.

"She was unhappy, then?" said Bettina. "You need not hesitate to
answer. His lordship has told me what a trusted servant of the family
you are, and I shall treat you as such. You need not fear to speak to
me quite freely."

"Yes, my lady, she had a great deal of sadness in her life," went on
the housekeeper, thus encouraged. "She had six daughters before she
had a son, and this was naturally a disappointment to his lordship.
One after the other these children died, which grieved her ladyship
sorely, for she was a very devoted mother. His lordship had never
noticed them much, being angry at not having an heir, and this made
my lady all the fonder of them. She had little constitution herself,
and the children were sickly. At last, however, an heir was born, but
her ladyship died at his birth. It seemed a pity, my lady, did it
not? For his lordship was greatly pleased with the heir, and, of
course, my lady would have been much happier after that."

Bettina did not answer. The evident reasonableness of the father's
position, in the eyes of this good and gentle woman, made it
impossible for her to speak without dissent to such an atrocity as
Lord Hurdly's attitude seemed to her. So she moved away, and the
woman took the hint and said no more.

A little distance off, at the end of the long room, she had caught
sight of an object that made her heart beat suddenly. She did no more
than glance at it, and then returned to the contemplation of the
picture before which she was standing. But she had recognized Horace
Spotswood in the tall stripling of perhaps fifteen who stood in
riding-clothes at the side of a pawing gray horse.

By the time she had made her way to it, in its regular succession,
she had quite recovered her calmness and had made up her mind as to
her course.

"And who is this handsome boy?" she said, with perfect
self-possession, as they stood before the large canvas.

[Illustration: "'AND WHO IS THIS HANDSOME BOY?'"]

"That is Mr. Horace, my lady," said the woman, a sudden tone of
emotion mingling with the deference in her voice as her eyes dwelt
on the picture fondly.

And who could wonder at this? Surely a more winsome lad had never
been seen. He was even then tall, and in his riding coat and breeches
looked strangely slender, in contrast to the broad-shouldered
physique which she had lately known so well. But the eyes were just
the same--direct, frank, eager eyes, which looked straight at you and
seemed to make a demand upon you to be as open and frank in return.

Had Bettina searched the world, she could not, as she knew, have
found a more significant contrast than the comparison of the honest
eyes with the guarded, cold, inscrutable ones into which it was now
her lot to look so often.

"Have you known him a long time?" she asked, pleasantly, as the woman
remained silent.

"Oh, since he was a little lad, my lady! We all love Mr. Horace here.
He is the handsomest and kindest young gentleman in the world, and
he's that good to me that I couldn't be fonder of my own son, not
forgetting the difference, my lady."

Bettina detected a tone of regretfulness in the woman's voice, and
also, she thought, an effort to conceal it. If there was a feeling
akin to this regret in her own heart, she also must conceal it. These
allusions to the handsome, enthusiastic young fellow to whom she had
promised herself in marriage had stirred her deeply. The idea of any
one, servant or equal, speaking in this way of the man who was her
husband, at any time in his life, gave her a nervous desire to laugh.
It was followed by an equally nervous impulse to cry.

Walking ahead of the housekeeper, she gained a moment's opportunity
for the recovery of her self-control, and she made good use of it.

"Parlett," she said, presently, "I do not want you to think that in
marrying Lord Hurdly I have done an injury to Mr. Spotswood." In
spite of herself, her voice shook at the name.

"Oh no, my lady--" began Parlett, but her mistress interrupted her,
saying, quickly:

"Of course he always knew that his lordship might marry, and could
not have been unprepared for such a possibility; but in order that he
might feel no difference in his present position on that account,
Lord Hurdly has settled on him what is really a handsome fortune--not
only the income of it, but the principal also. I tell you this that
you may understand that he is none the worse off, so far as money
goes, through his cousin's marriage to me."

"Yes, my lady. I understand, my lady. Thank you for telling me," said
Parlett, somewhat nervously. "Of course every one knows that you have
done him no harm, my lady, and we knew, of course, that his lordship
would do the handsome thing by him."

Somehow these civil, reassuring words smote painfully upon Bettina's
consciousness. When this woman spoke so confidently of Lord Hurdly's
doing the handsome thing by his former heir, she felt it to be the
hollow tribute of a conventional loyalty, and the assurance that it
was understood that she herself had done him no harm grated on her
also. Now that she was quite alone and free to think things out, as
she had shrunk from doing heretofore, and as, in the rush of the
London season, she had been able to avoid doing, she felt a sense of
compunction toward Horace that seriously depressed her.

Dismissing the housekeeper, she put on a shade-hat and went for a
ramble in the park. How beautiful it was! What shrubs, what trees,
what undulations of rich emerald turf! She could not in the least
feel that she had any right in it all. But how must a creature love
it who had looked upon its noble beauties from childhood up to
youth, and on to manhood, with the belief that it would some day be
his own! She could not stifle the feeling that she had wronged that
being if by her marriage she should be the means of depriving him of
such a fortune and position, and deep, deep down in her consciousness
she had a boding fear that, if all things hidden could be revealed,
it might be shown that in a keener sense than this she had also
wronged him.

For marriage had been in many ways an illumination to Bettina. The
revelation of her own heart which it had given her was one which she
tried hard to shut her eyes to. Twice she had consented to the idea
of marrying without love. Once she had actually done this thing. Only
her own heart knew what had been the consequences to her. But of one
thing she had often felt glad. This was that she had not entered into
a loveless marriage with a man who had loved her as she had believed
Horace did at the time he had so ardently wooed her. From such a
wrong as that might she be delivered!

As her thoughts now dwelt on Horace and the circumstances of their
brief past together, the memory of his honest, tender, self-forgetful
attitude toward her recurred to her half wistfully, in contrast to
her recent experiences. Lord Hurdly's manner toward her had, in
truth, changed from the very hour of their marriage. He no longer had
the air of a solicitous suitor, but took at once that of the assured
husband and master. It made her think what she had heard of his
father and of his poor little mother's history. Not that she could
fancy herself becoming, under any circumstances, a Griselda; though
she could without difficulty imagine him in his father's _rôle_.

But what right had she, she asked herself, to expect to reap where
she had not sown? She had married for money and position, and she had
got them. What more had she expected?

Nothing more, perhaps; but in one point she had been
disappointed--namely, in the power of these things to give her what
she longed for, and what she could define only under the indefinite
term happiness.



CHAPTER V


Bettina's talk with Parlett had set her mind to working very actively
in a direction in which she had not allowed it to stray before. The
thought of Horace always brought a sense of pain and spiritual
discomfort to her, which she instinctively desired to shake off; and
in the restless whirl of London life, which left her little time for
thought of any kind, she had not much difficulty in doing so.

Now, however, she had nothing to do but to think and to become
acquainted with her new possessions, the latter occupation being a
strong stimulus to the former. There were many associations with
Horace at Kingdon Hall. It was extraordinary how many things that he
had told her in connection with this place came back to her. She
was constantly recognizing pictures or persons or names with which
he had made her familiar. The persons were, of course, the servants,
steward, tenants, and the like, for she had seen no others. Even
in walking about the lawn she had found his initials cut on trees,
and the very dogs which joined her when she would go out for her
walks had names on their collars that she knew. There was one, a
magnificent Great Dane, which bore Horace's name there as well as his
own. This dog, Comrade, she had heard Horace speak of with a special
affection.

True, Kingdon Hall had never been Horace's home, but he had grown up
with the idea that it might be, and since coming to manhood had felt
wellnigh secure that it would be. All his life he had been in the
habit of making visits here, and the impression which he had left
behind him was almost surprising to Bettina.

The place in which this impression was strongest was in the hearts of
the servants. Bettina, through Nora, had assured herself of this. The
devoted servant, who had the sole object in life of serving her
beloved mistress, had, by Bettina's orders, informed herself on this
point, and all that she gathered in the servants' hall she retailed
to Bettina in her room. Nora, like every one else, had been won by
Horace's manner and appearance, but, of course, when her mistress had
drawn off from him, she had no idea of anything but acceptance of the
changed conditions. Still, she was inwardly delighted when Bettina
explained to her how anxious she was to learn all that she could
about Mr. Horace, so that she might lose no opportunity of furthering
his interest with Lord Hurdly, and making up to him, as far as
possible, for having disappointed him in his worldly prospects by
marrying his cousin.

That he could hold her accountable for any other wrong to him she did
not admit. At times the memory of his fresh and buoyant youth, in so
great contrast to the jaded maturity of his cousin, knocked at the
door of her heart, and the ardent expressions of his worshipping,
passionate love for her echoed there with a distinctness that amazed
her.

Surely he had loved her--this she could not doubt. But if his love
had been so slight that a few months of absence had cooled it, and of
so poor a quality that a new caprice had taken its place so soon, she
was well rid of it. That this had been so the letter which Lord
Hurdly had shown her sufficiently attested, and she must guard
herself against the folly of sentimental regrets.

It was not Horace that she regretted. It was only the ideal of the
love between man and woman which her brief intercourse with him had
held up to her. She had seen love in a different guise since
then--or what went by the name of love--and surely the contrast must
have had a deeper root than the mere difference between youth and
middle-age.

It was not often that Bettina allowed herself to think of these
things. But now, in her solitude and idleness, visions would come of
the eager lover, strong as a young Narcissus, who represented love in
such a simple, wholesome guise--or at least so it had seemed to be.
Then she would shake off the image, and tell herself it was but
seeming, as the result had proved, and so she would accuse herself of
weakness and sentimentality. These thoughts were getting to be
inconvenient. They haunted her too persistently, and at last she
began to wish for the time to come when her days would again be too
crowded with engagements for her to indulge in such foolish
reflections.

The truth was, deep down in Bettina's heart there was a fear which
she could not wholly still in any waking hour. She could and did
refuse to recognize it, even in her own soul; but there it was, and
there it remained, to rise again and again, and almost stifle her
with the sinister possibility which it suggested.

This fear was based upon the clearer knowledge of Lord Hurdly's
character which had come to her since marriage. She had found in him
an inexorable resolution to have what he wanted in life, which had
rendered him, more than once within her knowledge, unscrupulous as to
the means he used in the securing of his ends. This it was which had
planted in her mind the awful though remote possibility of his having
been, in some manner, insincere in his representations of Horace's
nature and character.

But then there was the letter from his friend which she had seen with
her own eyes, with the St. Petersburg mark, so familiar to her, on
the envelope, and which had been written by a person who could not
have known that she would ever see it. Surely that was enough to
settle all doubts as to the character and conduct of the man to whom
she had first pledged herself in marriage, and she had at least the
satisfaction of knowing that her present husband could be charged
with no such faults. His indifference to her sex was proverbial in
society, and that she alone, of all the women he had seen--so many of
whom had angled for him openly--had been able to do away with his
aversion to marriage was a tribute in which she could not help
feeling a certain pride, the more so as she saw every day new proofs
of his fastidiousness, as well as his importance.

So she stifled this dread suggestion and forced her thoughts into
other channels. This was to be more easily accomplished when her body
was actively employed; so she took long rides on horseback, attended
by a groom, or long walks in the park alone. In these walks Horace's
big dog Comrade would often join her. The creature had taken a fancy
to her, which seemed, in some strange way, to comfort her.

Besides these diversions, she had her large correspondence to dispose
of every day; for in her important position she had of course
established numberless points of contact with the world.

So the time went by until Lord Hurdly's return, and the day that
followed saw Kingdon Hall filled with guests. After that there were
few moments of reflection for its mistress, as the duty of doing the
honors of this great establishment demanded all her time.



CHAPTER VI


Bettina loved this power and importance. The drama of her present
life was like the unfolding, before her gaze, of a beautiful series
of pictures which she had conceived in her imagination, and which
some enchanter's word had turned into reality. The crowded functions
of the London season had somewhat palled upon her, though she had not
quite owned it to herself; but here she was the centre of the system,
the light around which these lesser lights revolved, and she seemed,
under these conditions, to shine with an increased radiance. Her
manners, where they differed from those of the women about her,
seemed to gain rather than lose by the contrast, and her costumes
seemed to be endless in their variety as well as in their beauty.
Certainly she had an air of being born to the purple, and her
husband's pride in her was undoubted, if unexpressed.

Bettina was aware that this pride was his strongest feeling in
regard to her, and she was abundantly willing to have it so. If she
had found it difficult to fall in love with a youth who might have
disturbed the heart of Diana, she was not likely to have fallen in
love with the cool, cynical, narrow-chested, thin-haired man whom she
could yet feel a certain pride in owning as her husband, since his
appearance, no less than his name, was distinguished. She had always
had a theory that she would never love deeply any one besides her
mother, and her two experiences in the lottery of marriage, so
different as they were, convinced her that her knowledge of herself
had been correct. She was glad of it. The hot anguish which at times
even yet contracted her heart at the thought of her mother made her
hope devoutly that she would never love again. The joy of it could
not be worth the pain.

When Lady Hurdly's house-party broke up, she went with her husband on
a round of visits to other country-houses. This phase of society she
liked, and she threw herself into it with ardor. But toward the end
she wearied of these visits, as she had wearied of London, and was
glad to get back to Kingdon Hall. Instead of rest, however, she found
restlessness, and the disturbing thoughts which she had smothered
before came back with added force. It was a relief to her to think of
going abroad--Lord Hurdly having made plans for their spending some
months of the winter on the Continent.

There was one instinctive fear connected with this plan--the
possibility that she might by some chance encounter Horace. She had
little fear that he would come to England. What would it matter if
she should meet him? He had never been anything to her, really--so
she assured herself--and she had certainly been, in reality, quite as
little to him. Yet she did unreasonably dread such a meeting with
him, and felt anxious to know where he was.

Accordingly, one morning she asked Parlett, in a casual way, if she
ever heard from Mr. Horace.

"Oh yes, my lady; he writes to me now and then," replied the
housekeeper. Bettina had not expected to hear this; her only thought
was to draw out some information gained by hearsay.

"He is at St. Petersburg?" she asked, indifferently.

"No, my lady; at Simla," was the unexpected answer. "He has been
there a good while. I had a pamphlet from him the other day. When he
has not time to answer my letters, he often sends me a paper, or
something like that, to show me what he has been doing. I can't
always understand them, but he knows I like to have them just because
he wrote them."

Bettina was unwilling to show her ignorance, so she did not say that
she had no knowledge that he ever wrote for publication, and when
Parlett went on to offer her the reading of the pamphlet she said,
with an indifferent kindness,

"Yes, bring it to me, by all means. I am very glad that Mr. Horace
keeps up his intercourse with the old place, which of course may yet
be his. I shall take an interest in seeing what he writes."

She went on to speak of certain changes which she wished made in some
of the sleeping-apartments, and then dismissed her housekeeper with
something less than her usual graciousness of manner.

Bettina felt a strong desire to be alone. These tidings of Horace,
slight as they were, had been disturbing to her. Indeed, as time
went on and her knowledge of Lord Hurdly increased, the fear that
he might have dealt insincerely with his cousin or with herself grew
steadily. She saw proofs every day of the ruthlessness with which he
sacrificed men, and even what should have been principles, to gain
his ends. By the light of the same knowledge she realized how his
meeting with her had disturbed him in his customary calmness of
poise, and she argued from this fact how important it had been to him
to gain his object of making her his wife.

In the midst of these reflections a house-maid tapped at her door,
with some folded papers on a tray.

"If you please, my lady, Mrs. Parlett sends you these," she said.

She was a sweet-faced, rosy-cheeked English girl, with a soft voice
and very pretty manner, and at present she was gently agitated by the
privilege of speaking to her lady, whom she, as well as all the rest
of the maids, regarded as a sort of cross between angel and goddess.

Bettina thanked her with a kind smile which sent her away completely
happy; then, in the privacy of her own chamber, she opened the
papers. One was a diplomatic pamphlet on a public question in the
line of the writer's professional work. The other was an article
which went very thoroughly into the question of the best means of
relieving the famine then raging in India.

It seemed to Bettina that she had vaguely heard that there was such a
famine, but she had not felt more than a kindly casual interest in it
as an unfortunate matter which she could not help. Now, however, as
she read the account which this paper gave, and the lines which it
followed in the effort to render help, her heart burned within her.
Here was a man who had no more power than herself to give money
help--far less, indeed, perhaps. Yet how he was spending his soul,
his strength, his time, his talent, his very heart-beats, on this
effort to go to the rescue of these perishing thousands! No one who
read the throbbing sentences of that paper could have a doubt of the
writer's earnest desire to help, or of his ability to move the hearts
and wills of others to come to his aid. It wrought upon her
strangely.

How much money could she lay her hands on? She had no idea, but she
would make it her business to find out. There was her own little
income, which she had taken no account of since her marriage, and
there was the money which Lord Hurdly had put to her credit in the
bank. She would get all she could and send it--anonymously, of
course--to the famine fund which she had casually heard mentioned.
But, oh, what a pitiful offering it seemed compared with what this
man was giving with such lavish self-devotion! From the fervor of his
printed words, and his report of what had so far been accomplished,
she saw that the very passion of his heart was in it. Of his ardent
temperament, his quick sympathies, she had knowledge in her own
experience. Perhaps it had been these very traits of his which had
led him to the conduct which had separated them.

At this thought, that faint suspicion that he had been misrepresented
to her rose in her heart again; but she choked it back. That would be
too awful. Besides the hideous self-accusations which would have
followed the admission of this doubt, there was another argument
against it which still had its powerful hold on her. She had grown
accustomed to her great position in the social world, and her inborn
instinct for power and admiration was deliciously gratified by the
brilliancy of her present circumstances. She found it very agreeable
to be Lady Hurdly, with all that that name and title implied, and she
did not, even in this moment of such unwonted emotion, lose sight of
that fact.

Yet the reading of this little paper had stirred a feeling in
Bettina's heart which she had not felt for so long a time--a
yearning tenderness for some object outside herself: a longing that
her health and strength might avail for others bereft of these
blessings. It was akin to the emotion she had felt by her mother's
dying bed, and as it swept over her she wept as she had not done
since she had knelt beside that sacred spot.

Instinctively now she fell upon her knees. She tried to pray--but for
what? She could not compose a form of prayer or articulate a definite
wish. All she could do was to pray to God--the God in whom her mother
had trusted--to give her this thing, this unknown boon which He knew
her passionate need of.

When she rose from her knees she put her hands to her head, and,
pressing her temples hard, looked about her, as if in search of some
object which might help her to the comprehension of her own mood.
Then, running her fingers inside the collar of her dress, she drew
out, by a slight chain, a small locket, which contained her mother's
picture and a lock of her white hair. It was a sort of talisman whose
mere touch gave her a sense of comfort. She did not open it now, but
held it between her palms and pressed her cheek against it, standing
there alone, and presently she whispered:

"What is it, mother darling? What is it that you seem trying to say
to me? Oh, if you can ever speak to me, speak now, and I will listen
as I did not do when you were here beside me! There is something that
I ought to do, and I am not doing it. There is something I am doing
which distresses you. That is the feeling that I have. Oh, my
mother--my lovely, precious, good, good mother--if I had you here,
you would tell me what it is that I ought to do--and I would do it!"

She ceased her half-inarticulate whispers, and stood intensely
still--almost, it seemed, as if she waited for an answer to them.

But there came no answer save the still, small voice within her soul,
which had so often tried to speak before, and which even yet she
could not, would not listen to.

This voice suggested to her with persistent iteration that she should
even now look strictly into the evidence which had so quickly
sufficed to convince her that the young and ardent lover who had
wooed her so passionately, and promised her such loyalty and faith
and devotion, had been false to his professions and his promises
alike.

Suppose she should investigate; suppose she should get proof that
she as well as he had been falsely dealt with, that he had been true
in every word and thought--what then? Could she endure to keep, after
that, the position of wife to the man who had so deceived and injured
two beings who had believed him? Assuredly she could not. What, then,
would be her alternative? To leave him and go back to the poor life
at home, which her mother's presence had justified and glorified, but
which without that presence, and with the contrast of her present
position in her mind, would be too intolerable a thought to
contemplate.

No, she had no sufficient reason to doubt the representations that
her husband had made to her. She would try to accept them more
implicitly for the future, and so fight against such disturbing
ideas. There were ample means of diversion within her reach. Her
sojourn abroad would soon begin, and she must fight against any
recurrence of her present mood of weakness.

If she was to win this fight, however, there was one precaution which
she felt that she must take. This was to avoid the very name of
Horace Spotswood, and, as far as might be possible, every thought of
him as well.

Her foreign travels began, and she then had the assurance that this
effort would not be difficult of accomplishment. There were a
thousand new issues for Bettina's interest and feelings in her
constantly changing surroundings, and these were sufficiently
absorbing to do away with lately disturbing considerations. The world
had still its powerful charm for Bettina, and she was now seeing the
world in a very fascinating aspect.



CHAPTER VII


As Bettina had found the London season delightful, and yet had been
quite content to see it close, and as the same had been true of her
experience, both as hostess and as guest, at the country-house
parties which had followed the season, so it was also with her
foreign travels, although she found much to interest and delight her
in the various cities which she visited with Lord Hurdly. He was
received with distinction everywhere--a fact partly due to his
prominent position in Parliament, and partly to his social importance
and the acknowledged beauty of his wife.

Bettina enjoyed it, certainly, and found it very helpful to her in
carrying out her resolve to banish the agitating thoughts which would
recur whenever she thought of Horace. She had managed to stop
thinking of him almost entirely, and to live only for the
satisfaction of each day as it passed.

After a while, however, she began to feel that there was a certain
flatness in the sort of pleasure which consisted so largely in being
an object of admiration, for she had not been able herself to feel
much enthusiasm for the people whom she met. She did not make friends
easily, perhaps because she did not greatly care to have friends. Her
mother's delicate health had left her little time for other
companionships, even if she had desired them, and since the loss of
her mother her heart had seemed to close up, and her capacity for
caring for people, never very great, was lessening every day.

Several times during her travels she had heard Horace spoken of.
On these occasions she had not betrayed the fact that she had
any knowledge of him, and so the talk about him had been quite
unrestrained. She had heard it said by one man that "he was turning
out a very earnest fellow"; by another that "his pamphlets were
making quite a stir"; and, again, that he "might do something worth
while in diplomacy if he'd let philanthropy alone." Another man had
said that "all he needed was to marry money, and he'd have a great
career before him."

When Bettina returned from her travels these few remarks, overheard
at dinner-tables or in public places, seemed in some unaccountable
way to be the most important things she had secured out of her late
experiences. Certainly they were the most insistently recurring, and
the idea was forced upon her that the way in which men spoke of
Horace Spotswood was a strong contrast to the tone of the letter from
Lord Hurdly's friend.

All this was a source of distress to her. She would have preferred to
believe the letter, for such a belief would have rid her of the sting
of self-reproach; but, try as she might, she could not wholly get her
consent to it.

On her way back to England she stopped in Paris to choose her
costumes for the coming season. It was a pleasure to her to try on
these beautiful things, which she bought without any thought of the
cost of them; but it was a pleasure which she had become accustomed
to, and so its keenness was gone. Besides this, she had nothing to
look forward to except the London season, and custom had also
detracted from the zest of that. She was in the attitude of always
looking beyond. Surely, with such a position and such a fortune as
she had attained to, there must be something to satisfy the vague
longing within her which she called desire for happiness.

It was decided that they were to stay at Kingdon Hall a short time
before going up to town, and Bettina had looked forward to the
freedom of the country life with a hopefulness which reality
disappointed. Here again she thought of Horace, and the possible
injustice she had done him forced its way into her consciousness, and
so disturbed her with doubts and misgivings that she determined to
overcome her reluctance to mention Horace's name to her husband, and
ask boldly whether he had actually received the sum of money which
she had been promised that he should have. It had become so essential
to her to know about this that she determined to use her very first
opportunity of asking.

Not ten minutes after she had made this resolution she unexpectedly
encountered Lord Hurdly, in crossing a hall. He had been out on
horseback, and still wore his riding-clothes. The correct and
carefully fitted leggings showed legs that were thin and shapeless.
Beneath them were small feet, on which their owner did not step very
firmly. The somewhat showy waistcoat and short coat had an air of
displaying themselves and concealing the form beneath them, which
was perhaps a high tribute to his tailor's art. His chest looked
narrower, his face more wrinkled, his hair thinner, than Bettina had
before noticed them to be, and there was a certain loose-jointedness
in his figure which, as he moved toward her on his narrow and closely
booted feet, gave him the sort of teetering motion of the elderly
beau. His face, neutral and cold as ever, showed the signs of age
less, yet Bettina felt that it masked the inadequacy of his soul as
distinctively as his clothes masked that of his body.

As they came toward each other--this man and this woman, whose
marriage was supposed to be a union of two into one--the face of each
might, by an eye sensitive to the subtleties of human expression,
have been seen to harden slightly. Lord Hurdly took off his hat with
an automatic motion which might have prompted the thought that the
action arose from his ideal of himself rather than from any
association with the woman before him.

"Excuse me for detaining you a moment," said Bettina, "but I want to
know whether Horace Spotswood actually received the money which you
made over to him at the time of your marriage to me. I have heard
that he is leading a very active life, on lines where money will be
of great use to him. Naturally I am anxious to be sure of the fact
that he has suffered no injury, however indirectly, through me."

She had been able to control both her voice and expression
entirely--a fact on which she fervently congratulated herself.

"You may feel quite at ease on that score, I assure you," Lord Hurdly
answered, in his cold, incisive tones. "He received the money, and
has probably used it for the furtherance of these ridiculous and
sentimental schemes of his. This should give you the gratifying
assurance that he has been bettered, and not worsted, by reason of
his connection with you."

The tone in which he spoke was galling to Bettina, but she made no
answer, though no words which she could have spoken would have
conveyed a greater resentment of his speech than did her disdainful
silence. She made a motion to move away, but he deliberately placed
himself in front of her, saying, in the same hard tone:

"It occurred to me, from time to time while we were abroad, that you
were rather eager in gleaning information about the person we have
been speaking of, and I want to tell you that what has been evident
to me may be evident to others. You may not care how the thing
looks, but as I do, perhaps you will be more careful in the future."

His use of the word "eager" in connection with her attitude in this
affair gave Bettina swift offence, and this feeling was heightened by
the suggestion that she had made herself liable to criticism on such
a subject.

"You cannot, I think," she answered, in a tone of proud resentment,
"be more careful than I am that I shall act with propriety as your
wife. Since there is so little besides the form to be complied with,
I see the greater necessity for punctiliousness in observing that.
The rebuke you have just given me is utterly unmerited, and I shall
therefore not change my manner of conducting myself in any
particular."

"Perhaps you will think better of that decision, and will oblige me
by not making yourself conspicuous by holding your breath to listen
whenever that person chances to be mentioned. You are not unlikely to
hear him alluded to during the coming season, as he has been making a
bid for popularity at his new post by taking up the matter of the
famine, and," he added with a sneering smile, "relieving it with the
money I paid him."

The word cut into Bettina's heart.

"Paid him?" she said, scrutinizing him with a glance before which
even his hard eyes faltered. "Paid him for what?"

"Oh, for keeping himself out of my way!"

She felt that she had compelled him to this response, and that he
would have liked to put it more brutally. As it was, there lurked a
sting in it which provoked her to reply.

"Did he hold the privilege of your proximity at so large a price?"

A smile of quiet irony accompanied the words. As it curved her lips
alluringly, Lord Hurdly felt himself touched with the sudden sense of
her powerful charm. No one else on earth would have dared to say this
to him, or anything remotely comparable with it. There was something
very piquant to his jaded palate in the flavor of this audacious
speech. Instead of scowling, therefore, he smiled.

"I have heard," he said, amiably, "that America was the land of the
free and the home of the brave, and certainly you seem to warrant one
in accepting that belief."

Bettina, a good deal relieved at this turn of affairs, took the
opportunity that the moment gave her to say, gravely:

"No; I do not consider myself free. I have bound myself, in my
marriage to you, and I have no intention or desire to forget the
duties which I owe you. But I tell you frankly, Lord Hurdly, that I
am not accustomed to either surveillance or tyranny, and I shall not
tamely submit to them. In the carrying out of this resolution, at
least, you will find that I can be brave."

She looked more than ordinarily beautiful as she stood erect before
him and said these words, and he had not gazed so fully into her eyes
for a long time. He had almost forgotten their magnetic loveliness.
At sight of them now his pulses beat quicker. A desire for the
mastery of this splendid creature returned to him with a force he
would not have believed possible.

"Bettina," he said, in a voice which showed an emotion most unusual
to him, "have you ever known what it was to love, I wonder?"

"Once--once only," she answered, a quaver in her voice and a sudden
suffusion of tears in her eyes. "I loved my mother. No one that ever
lived could have loved more truly and more ardently than I loved her;
but there it began and ended. I never deceived you as to that. I
promised you duty and good faith, and I have not failed in these. I
never shall so fail. But love, no! I haven't it to give."

She made a movement to go forward, and he stood aside and let her
pass him. She avoided meeting his gaze, and perhaps it was well that
she did. For slowly its expression changed. A look of hardness that
was almost significant of dislike came into his eyes and compressed
his lips. From the day of their marriage this woman had thwarted and
baffled him. He had tried to get the mastery of her, but he had
failed, and the sense of that failure angered him. He had been used
to dominating every one with whom he came into any sort of close
contact. He had married this American girl with the determination to
dominate her, and he had found himself as powerless as if she had
been a mist maiden. There was no way in which he could lay hold upon
her.

Concerning Bettina's attitude toward him he had a theory. He believed
that she had really loved Horace. She was too absolutely in the
shadow of the sorrow of her mother's death to give full play to any
other feeling, but he had always felt, in every effort that he had
made to win her, that it was the image of Horace Spotswood in her
mind which put him in total eclipse. This theory time had deepened.
His suspicious watchfulness over her every word and look had made
him aware that she listened with interest when Horace's name was
mentioned, and his imagination heightened the effect of her interest,
and caused him to conjecture as to what she might have heard and
felt at such times as he was not by. Moreover, a certain secret
consciousness in his own soul stimulated him in his suspicions.



CHAPTER VIII


During the early weeks of their marriage Lord Hurdly, while changing
his attitude from the solicitude of the pursuer to the masterfulness
of the possessor, had certainly made some effort to win Bettina,
while she, on her part, had tried to oblige him by responding to his
professions for her. Both were aware that this effort had been made
on both sides, and that it had quite failed. By the time the
honey-moon was over, Lord Hurdly had, to all appearance, ceased to
care. The consciousness of this was an immense relief to Bettina, and
she had felt ever since that in doing him credit in the eyes of the
world she would satisfy his first object in having her for a wife. In
this she had not failed. There was a distinct estrangement between
them, but it had never been necessary to define it. Whatever
disagreements there had been, only themselves were aware of. Lord
Hurdly would have felt his authority over her incomplete indeed if
he had ever had to assert it in public.

As for Bettina, a singular change of feeling was going on within her.
She had made her test of the world, and found that she had overrated
its power to please. It was almost appalling to reflect that there
was no more for her to do than to repeat what she had already done.
Another London season, another autumn in receiving and making visits,
another winter abroad. What then? Was there nothing but material
pleasure for her in the world? She wanted something more, something
different from all this.

One morning she went out into the park, where spring was just
beginning to put forth its greenery. Leaping footsteps sounded behind
her. It was Comrade, bounding to her side and nestling up against
her. She put her arm around his neck and drew him close. He responded
with an affectionateness that was almost human.

Almost human! At this thought she began to ask herself how much human
affection there was for her in the world. As much, no doubt, she told
herself, as she had to bestow. But why was this?

The birds were going wild with song in the branches above her head.
The grass, the trees, the clouds, the sky, seemed all to have been
made to be part of a world for love to dwell in. A great hunger
possessed her--a hunger not to be loved, but to love. For the first
time she found herself longing for this boon, entirely apart from any
idea of her mother. Oh, to have some one with a human, comprehending,
ardent heart, to put her arms around as she was now clasping
Comrade--some one to whom to offer up the wealth of love which she
had once thought she could never give except to her dear mother; some
one who might make that mother's words come true, that a love far
greater than any she had known might be in store for her; some one,
handsome, charming, ardent, loving, sympathetic, kind; some one to be
friend and brother and lover all in one; above all, some one with
thoughts and feelings akin to her own--some one impulsive and
natural--some one young!

When at last she said good-bye to Comrade and returned to her rooms,
she felt in some strange way that a new era had dawned for her. But
a mood like this was new in her experience, and she fought resolutely
against its recurrence. As an aid to this end she threw herself
more eagerly into the external interests which were so great in
such a position as hers, and became more noted for her splendid
entertainments and rich dressing than she had been the season before.
As she got a deeper insight into the conditions of the life about
her, she saw opportunities for influence and power, even to a woman,
which attracted her. But she was very ignorant. She knew little of
the world and English affairs, and she found the women about her so
well informed on these subjects that she began to feel herself at a
certain disadvantage. This roused her pride, and she set to work to
inform herself on many subjects of which she had hitherto been
ignorant.

One means to this end was the reading of newspapers, and this
occupation now absorbed a part of every morning. In this way she
occasionally came upon Horace Spotswood's name, and when she did, a
strange agitation would possess her. She could not quite shake off an
influence which this man's life seemed to exert upon hers. Lord
Hurdly would have had her believe that she had bestowed a great
benefit upon Horace, as it was through her that he was in the
possession of his present independent fortune, but there was no voice
so strong as the one in her own heart which told her that she had
wronged him. Here and there she had picked up the impressions of
many different people concerning this young diplomatist, and
unquestionably the aggregated effect was one of admiration. The brief
notices of him which she read in the papers confirmed this impression
of him. He was doing well, for a man of his years, in diplomacy, and
he was doing more than well in the work he had undertaken for the
relief of the famine-stricken population near him.

It was Horace's interest in this cause which had given rise to
Bettina's interest in it, and she began to read eagerly all that she
could find on the subject. As a result her heart was, for the first
time in her life, awakened to an intense perception of the suffering
of the world at large. It was a new emotion to her, and one which
throbbed through all her consciousness with a power which changed her
individuality even to herself. She began to think for the first time
of the utter recklessness with which she had been spending the large
sums of money which Lord Hurdly placed at her disposal. Her
expenditure of these sums heretofore had met with his entire
approval, as she could never have too rich a wardrobe to please him.
It was all a part of his own glory and importance, and he never asked
a question as to how the money went.

But now the tide within Bettina's heart had turned. As she read of
the sufferings of these starving people, the thought of her own
excess of luxuriousness sickened her. The more she felt within her
soul that nameless sadness which no outside help could relieve, the
more she felt it urgent upon her to relieve the wants of others when
this assuagement lay within her actual power.

It may seem strange that, with a mother who had a large-hearted
sympathy with all sorrow, Bettina should have kept her own heart so
closed to the suffering outside it; but no seed can sprout until the
soil is prepared for it, and up to this period of her life the ground
of Bettina's heart had been unprepared.

Now, however, all was changed. She went to balls and dinners, as her
position as Lord Hurdly's wife demanded, but her heart was elsewhere.
She began to economize strictly in her personal expenditure, and
collected all the ready money she could lay her hands on, both from
her husband's allowance and from her own small private fortune, and
sent it anonymously to the Indian famine fund.

This contribution was sent in with no other identification than "From
B.," written on the card which accompanied it. How could Bettina
have dreamed that any living soul would connect her with it?

She was not unaware, however, that she was constantly watched by her
husband. Since she had become interested in her new pursuits he
observed her more closely than ever, and on the morning of the
publication in the papers of the special additions to the famine fund
which contained her own subscription Lord Hurdly, with apparently no
reason at all, read the list aloud to her across the breakfast table.

When he came to the item "From B.," he paused and looked at her
searchingly.

Bettina felt her face turn red.

[Illustration: "'THE MONEY WAS PARTLY MY OWN'"]

"I thought so," said her husband, with a strange mixture of
satisfaction and anger in his hard tones. "I have been expecting some
such foolery as this for some time, and I am not blinded to the
motive behind it. What do you care about those devils of Indian
savages? What does Horace Spotswood care about them? Just as little!
Enough, and too much, of my money has gone already to the prolonging
of their worthless lives. If that graceless cub chooses to go on
wasting money on them he can do it, but I take this occasion to
inform you, Lady Hurdly--and I'd advise you to remember what I
say--that I do not choose that any more of my money shall go in that
direction. Do you understand?"

There was an insolence in his tone which he had never used to her
before. She resented it keenly. Rising to her feet, with an instinct
which forbade her to preside over the table at the other end of which
he was seated as master, she said, with a tinge of anger in her quiet
tones:

"The money was partly my own--from my mother's little fortune; and
she would have held, with me, that I could put it to no more holy
use. As to the rest, I understood that that also was my own. I did
not know that you required of me an account of how I used it."

"How you used it? You may light your fire with it, for all I care!
But there is one thing for which I do care, and which I mean to see
nipped in the bud; and that is this ridiculous sentimentality which
you are indulging in over Horace Spotswood. If you are regretting
your young lover, that is your own affair, but when you come to
flaunt this regret before the eyes of the public it becomes my
affair, and as such I propose to put a stop to it."

Bettina trembled with the rage of resentment that possessed her. She
recollected herself enough, however, not to speak until she had
paused long enough to be sure that she could control herself. Then
she said:

"You are forgetting yourself, Lord Hurdly, when you presume to speak
to me as you have just done. I have given you no occasion to do so,
and you know it. If there are certain regrets in my marriage to you,
your present conduct justifies them. But permit me to say, on my
side, that I can imagine no explanation of your behavior, except to
suppose that it proceeds from a consciousness in your own mind of
having wronged this man."

She was looking at him narrowly. His features did not flush, nor did
his cold eyes falter. And yet, in spite of the long habit of
guardedness which now stood him in such good stead, there was a
consciousness about him, like an atmosphere, which told her that her
thrust had drawn blood.

"I thought so!" she said, using the very words which he had used to
her. "I have for a long time been struggling in my mind against a
doubt which sometimes would arise, that I might have been deceived.
Everywhere, in public and in private, that I hear that young man
spoken of, it is with words of confidence, admiration, and
affection."

Still her penetrating gaze was on him, and still he bore it without
flinching.

"You saw the letter," he said, with a sneer. "If that was not enough
for you--" He broke off with a harsh, unpleasant laugh.

"It was enough," she said. "Surely it has sufficed to fix my fate in
life. But it is possible that that letter gave an exaggerated
account. Still, if the half of it was so, I was more than justified
in cutting loose from him. No one could possibly blame me."

"No one does, so far as I can see," was the malicious answer. "I hear
of no complaints from others, and certainly I have uttered none. You
make a very satisfactory Lady Hurdly, and I suppose you get enough
out of the position to repay you for anything you may have lost--at
least, from the world's point of view, you should have done so."

Bettina did not answer at once. A sickness of soul was creeping over
her that made all life look suddenly loathsome. The one feeble ray
that penetrated the darkness in which she felt herself enveloped was
the help that came from a certain ideal which she had recently
enthroned in her own heart. As the world's need, the wider issues
affecting the myriad lives beyond her own, had recently been brought
before her consciousness, she had felt her way, as simply and weakly
as a child might have done, to one plain principle of life--that it
was worth while to try to be good. Never had she felt so keenly as in
this minute the utter futility of hoping to be happy. Yet in this
minute she felt more than ever, also, that happiness was not all.

It was only rarely that she had any personal talk with her husband.
The wall of separation between them seemed to be thickening by silent
accretion all the time. It was very difficult to scale this wall, and
she felt that any effort to do so irked him no less than it did her.
So, with an instinct not to let go the present opportunity, she said,
rather eagerly, as he was rising to go away:

"Sit down a moment. We do not often speak together. I have something
on my mind to say to you."

He resumed his seat and lighted a cigar--an action which discouraged
her by its nonchalance. Still, she was determined to go on. By a
great effort she made her voice very gentle, as she said:

"I know I have disappointed you in what you had hoped from this
marriage between us, and I want to tell you I am very sorry. If I
have not been able to give you the feeling which you desired--"

He interrupted her.

"Feeling?" he said. "Who wants feeling nowadays in a wife? No one
expects it. I wanted some one to make a handsome figure as Lady
Hurdly. I expected that you would do that, and you have not
disappointed me."

"If this is true, I'm glad to know it," she said; "but, at any rate,
you could not blame me for not giving you the love another woman
might have given you. I never deceived you as to that. I told
you I had not that love to give; not--as you have so unjustly
hinted--because I had given it to another man, but because I was then
incapable of love. I had no thought of any one beyond myself. I was
miserably ignorant and egoistic. It was in ignorance and egoism that
I took the position of your wife, but I think from the first that I
have tried, as I could, to fulfil its obligations. I have tried to be
and to appear what you would wish. And I am not unmindful of the
honor and distinction which my marriage to you has conferred upon
me."

"Gad! I should hope not! One of the biggest positions in England!" he
exclaimed, in a tone of scornful irritation. With these words he rose
and left the room.

Bettina's pride was deeply wounded. It had been that new assertion of
the control of duty which had led her to say these things to her
husband. She had conquered much in herself before speaking, and she
felt that she had a right to resent the almost brutal insensibility
with which he had received her words.

As she turned from the breakfast-room and mounted to her own
apartments she felt conscious of a new humiliation in her life. Up to
this time she had believed that Lord Hurdly would have been incapable
of such speech as he had used to her that morning. She had done a
good deal--more than was required of her, she told herself--in
speaking to him as she had done after his words in the early part of
their conversation, and now it seemed plain to her that she had
fulfilled her whole duty toward him, and that if it had done no good,
the fault was on his side and not on hers.

Once in her own rooms, she gave herself up to profoundly sorrowful
thoughts. She was only twenty-two. How long the path of her future
life looked, and whither would it lead? She had attained all that
any woman could desire in the way of the world's bestowment. She did
not underrate the value of this. On the contrary, it was as essential
to one part of her nature as something far different in the way of
human possibility was to another part. She did not lose her hold upon
the actual because she was striving after the unattained. All this
power and admiration was very important to her, though she felt the
insufficiency of mere worldly prosperity. "Pleasure to have it, none;
to lose it, pain," were words that very nearly fitted her state of
mind. At the thought of going back to the obscurity she had come out
of she shrank.



CHAPTER IX


That talk with Lord Hurdly made a distinct epoch in their relations
to each other. Neither ever referred to it, but it had left its
impress upon both. To Bettina it gave the assurance that she had done
all that could possibly be required of her, in her desire to come to
a true and amicable understanding with her husband, and, after it,
she had a greater sense of freedom. To Lord Hurdly it gave an insight
into Bettina's nature which he had not had before. He found her to
be possessed of a power of caustic speech which, he was bound to
acknowledge, had made him feel uncomfortable. He felt also that
he had not succeeded in asserting his supremacy over her quite
so conclusively as he could have wished. He had, moreover, an
uncomfortable warning, from the recollection of her words and looks,
that it might be better for him to think twice in future before
crossing swords with her. He was a man who hated opposition, and who
was quite unused to dealing with it in his own house. He was still
master, and his sovereignty no one had even questioned. As he desired
to keep this so, he did not care to enter into any further discussion
with Bettina. There were circumstances not beyond his conceiving
which might cause him a greater loss of prestige than any already
endured, and the thought of these made him careful to avoid coming
again into close quarters with Bettina.

This position on his part led to an attitude toward his wife which
might have been interpreted agreeably, since he no longer seemed to
watch her so narrowly as he had done. He seemed, without speaking on
the subject, to give her rather more freedom, and he never again
referred to her interest in the Indian famine or in the doings of
Horace Spotswood.

Yet Bettina had the same uncomfortable sense of being criticised and
held to strict account. She felt as if evidence were rolling up
against her which might one day be brought before her all at once.

She had, however, acquired a thirst for some knowledge of things
beyond her own narrow interests, which was not to be calmed except by
indulgence. When she looked about her in the great throbbing life of
London, she found so many objects which seemed absolutely to stand
waiting for her interest and participation that she was soon caught
in the strong movement of woman's work in social life in its wider
and deeper meaning.

No sooner was it found that Lady Hurdly was willing to interest
herself in such matters than they came crowding upon her. It was a
new and delightful consciousness to her that she might become part of
the power that was working against the evil in the world, and she
threw herself into the effort with spirit and enthusiasm.

Life became better for her after that. The importance of her position
was borne into her in a new and better way. By being Lady Hurdly she
might hope, perhaps, to do some little service in bettering the lots
of those who were at the other extreme of life's scale from her,
whereas if she had remained in her former position she would have had
as little value at one end as at the other.

Apart from these considerations of pure altruism was the sweet
thought that she was drawing nearer to her mother in spirit, now that
she was trying so hard to give help to others; and sometimes another
thought would come. This was that, far apart as their lives must be,
she was trying to do in her sphere what Horace was doing in his, and
perhaps with the same hope in the heart of each--namely, that the
record of the future might help to compensate for the mistakes and
wrong-doings of the past. She found herself passionately hoping that
he had flung his evil past behind him, just as she was trying to
throw hers.

Under these changed conditions, Bettina's second season in London was
unlike the first in both its object and its results. From some
unknown and unquestioned source she was becoming penetrated with the
"scorn for miserable aims that end with self," and by the time that
she was ready to return to Kingdon Hall her life had become so
informed with its new purpose that she looked forward to the leisure
which her removal there would give with real satisfaction in its
opportunity for better work. Besides, she had now in view a personal
supervision of the affairs on the Kingdon Hall estate, which she was
eager to enter into. She had awakened to the duty of looking after
the interests of tenants and the good of the parish.

Whether she would have the approval of her husband in such work or
not she was unable to guess. So far, beyond a rather cynical and
distant observation of her new interests he had never interfered, but
she guessed that the probable explanation of this fact was that he
felt that her prominence in philanthropic activities, which had been
approved by the best society, was a new way of reflecting glory upon
himself.

For, as time had passed and Bettina had got a truer insight into the
man she had married, the fact had confronted her that he was egoistic
to the last degree. His cold neutrality of manner veiled this to most
people, but to her keen and constant observation the length and
breadth of his egoism were at times almost sickening.

She was therefore not unprepared for what happened when she began her
visiting among the poor at Kingdon and her investigation into the
needs of her husband's tenants. She had gone to work openly about it,
and he had taken no notice; but one morning, when he was about to
leave for a few days' hunting in one of the neighboring counties, he
said to her, at the moment of departure:

"I want to tell you that I do not approve of the innovations which
you are beginning to make in the management of affairs on the estate.
The ladies of Kingdon Hall, heretofore, have left these matters to
their husbands, and I prefer that you do the same. I mention it now
so that I may see no signs of interference on my return."

It was not at all unusual for him to take this tone with her, and he
was following his usual custom in speaking to her in a moment of
haste, whenever he had anything unpleasant to say. He could, in this
way, end the conversation where he chose, and she saw that he had no
intention of lingering now. The cart was at the door, and he had on
his overcoat and even his hat, and stood drawing on and buttoning his
gloves, with an unlighted cigar between his teeth. His eyes were bent
upon his task, under frowning brows.

His cool and careless words, which her knowledge of him taught her
were the veneering for an inexorable resolution, gave her a shock of
disappointment. She did not often take a humble tone with him, but
there was humility as well as entreaty in her voice as she now said,

"You won't forbid my going to see the tenants, and making things a
little better for them, if I can, will you?"

"I forbid all interference," he answered, in a tone that made her
feel that he relished the exercise of his power. "You can safely
leave the affairs of my tenants to me. They have fared sufficiently
well in my hands so far."

At one time these words and tones would have provoked a sharp retort,
but Bettina had so far changed since the early months of her marriage
that the thoughts of her own wrongs and indignities were now less
insistent than the troubles of these poor people, which she had hoped
to be able to alleviate.

"Oh, indeed you are mistaken!" she said, urgently. "You do not know
how much they need what a very little money and effort would supply
them with. Don't refuse to let me help them. It is a thing so near to
my heart."

She saw his face grow harder.

"It is also," he said, "near my pocket. Going in for charity is all
very well, if it amuses you, and I did not interfere with your doing
so in London. Here, however, it is different. The time has come to
stop it."

His words hurt her pride, and she felt, too, that he liked the
position of being entreated by her. She had an instinct to retort
sharply, but another instinct was stronger. She was feeling what was
a new sensation to her--a willingness to humble her pride that others
might be benefited.

"I have never given money without first satisfying myself that you
approved it," she said, "and I will promise you to regulate my public
charities in future strictly in accordance with whatever limitations
you may set. But don't refuse to let me work a little here--it will
not take much money--among the poor at our very doors."

Instead of softening him, as she had hoped that this attitude of
humility would do, her words seemed to have the opposite effect. She
had a feeling, all at once, that he enjoyed making her appeal to him,
because it would give him the still greater pleasure of refusing.

He did not answer at once. It seemed to please him to keep her
waiting. His gloves were now neatly fastened on his long thin hands,
and with great deliberation he took out his match-box and proceeded
to light his cigar. She noticed that he did not ask permission to do
so, as he would certainly have done at one time--as he would also,
undoubtedly, at one time have removed his hat while talking to her.
Still, these signs of a diminished deference toward her touched her
lightly compared with the importance which she attached to his answer
to her question.

She watched him narrowing his eyes, to avoid the smoke which he was
now puffing from his just-lighted cigar, and waited for him to speak.

Always scrupulously careful in small things, he walked to the window
to throw away the end of the extinguished match. It suddenly came
over her that he did not intend to answer her last words.

Perhaps he wanted to make her urge him further. At this her heart
rebelled. She would not. Still, the idea of his going off for several
days, leaving the question unsettled, was too annoying to
contemplate. As he moved toward the door she said:

"You have not answered me."

"I beg your pardon," he said, with chill politeness. "I answered you
in the beginning. I wish you to leave the management of the tenants'
affairs where they properly belong--with me."

So saying, he lifted his hat, bowed, and went.

Bettina stood where he had left her, trembling with indignation from
the sense of being treated tyrannically by a person who exercised an
arbitrary power over her which she could not dispute. What had she
ever done to deserve such treatment at his hands? How dared he treat
her so?

With the new-born instinct of rectitude within her she tried to see
if there was any reasonable ground for the real dislike of her which
now seemed to be in her husband's mind. With every desire to be
honest, she could think of none except the fact that she had not
answered to his rein. He could hardly resent her not loving him, for
he had married her without asking that; and besides, what did he know
of love, as she was now beginning to comprehend it? No, it was not
that which he resented in her; it was the fact that, although she
chose to conform to him in outward things, he had never obtained the
mastery of her in the manner which, to his ideas, befitted the
relationship of Lord and Lady Hurdly. She thought of the picture of
his meek little mother and masterful-looking father.



CHAPTER X


Bettina had been left to the lonely idleness of her own reflections
but a few days when the monotony of her life was broken by one of
those sudden events which, by the vastness of their consequences,
seem not only to change the face of nature for us, and the aspect of
all the world without, but also to change ourselves, in our spirits
and minds, so that we can never be the same creatures that we were
before. She received a telegram announcing that Lord Hurdly had been
killed in the hunting-field.

Poor Bettina, with all her faults and limitations, had something of
her mother's noble nature in her, and this element of her somewhat
complicated individuality had been the part of her which had expanded
most of late. Her first feelings, therefore, were unmingled pity and
regret. She did not think of herself and of how all things would be
changed for her. Her whole thought was of him who so long had existed
in her mind as the image of pride and indomitable self-will, but who
had now become, in one moment, the object of her deepest pity. She
had scarcely ever thought of death in connection with him. He had
seemed as sound as steel. She had never heard him speak of the least
symptom of illness, and now the paper in her hand informed her that
he was dead.

How thankful she was that she had not spoken to him angrily in their
last talk! How she wished that she had said just one kind word to him
at parting! True, he had given her no opportunity; but if she had
known--

Suddenly she burst into violent weeping, and in this condition they
found her, with the telegram on the floor at her feet.

"Who would have thought my lady would have taken it so hard?" said
Mrs. Parlett, when the exciting news was heard down-stairs. "They was
that 'aughty to one another before people! But it's them as feels the
most, sometimes."

This remark was addressed to Nora, in the hope of eliciting a
response, but Nora excelled in the art of holding her tongue.

It was she alone who was admitted to her mistress's apartments, where
Bettina remained, in deep agitation, while the preparations for the
arrival of Lord Hurdly's body were being made. After her profound
emotion of pity for him, her next thought had been of Horace. He was
the heir and nearest of kin. It flashed upon her, with the suddenness
of surprise, that he was Lord Hurdly now.

How strange, how absolutely bewildering, this new state of things
seemed! Her mind seemed unable to grasp the strangeness of these new
conditions.

Bettina saw no one but the rector of the parish. All that had to be
done was so plain and simple, and there were so many capable hands to
do it, that there was little need to consult with her. She begged the
rector to act in her stead in giving all necessary directions. It was
with a deep sense of relief that she reflected on the impossibility
of Horace's arrival in time for the funeral. Perhaps she could get
away somewhere before he came.

Those days when her husband's body lay in the apartment near her, and
the relations and friends assembled to do it an honor which in his
lifetime they were scarcely suffered to express, marked the period of
the real awakening of Bettina's soul. The sense of freedom which her
position now secured to her, the power to do and be what she chose,
was like wings to her spirit, and for the first time in her
experience the woman and the hour were met.

When she had been free before to make her own life, her vision had
been so limited, her aspiration so low, her interest in the
heart-beats of the great humanity of which her little life was so
small a part had been so uncomprehending, that she had cared only for
the narrow issues which concerned herself. But now, in the hour which
saw her free again, she was another woman, and this woman had a
passionate purpose in her heart to make herself avail for the needs
of others.

She resolved that the moment her affairs were settled her new life
should begin. The period of her marriage had opened up before her
vast opportunities, of which she was eager to take advantage. These
would need money for their carrying out, but that she would have
money enough she had never doubted. Of course until the reading of
the will it would not be known what provision had been made for her,
but Lord Hurdly had always been extremely generous as to money, and
she had no misgivings on that score.

At last the funeral was over and the house was rid of guests.
Various cousins and friends had shown their willingness to remain and
bear her company, but Bettina, with the rector's aid, had managed to
get rid of these. She wanted to be alone and to think out some course
of future action, for she was still in a state of absolute
unadjustment to her new situation.

It had turned out that Lord Hurdly had left her an income of one
thousand pounds. Her first realization of the smallness of this
provision for her came from the rector's comment, which was spoken in
a tone as if reluctantly censorious.

"I should not have believed Lord Hurdly capable of such a thing," he
said. "I am sure that all who have cared for his honorable reputation
must regret this as much on his account as on yours."

"Is it so little?" said Bettina, too proud to show disappointment. "A
thousand pounds a year seems a sufficient sum for the support of one
woman."

"For some women, perhaps," was the answer, "but not for the woman who
has once held the position of mistress of Kingdon Hall. I repeat that
I would not have believed it of Lord Hurdly."

Bettina did not hear his last emphatic words, or, at all events,
took no conscious cognizance of them. She was absorbed in the
contemplation of her new condition. How strange it seemed!

It was something more than strange. She had been too long in
possession of the power and importance of being the reigning Lady
Hurdly, so to speak, not to feel a real revolt at the idea of seeing
herself laid on the shelf. It would not necessarily be so bad if she
had had ample means, for she had made a place for herself in the
world. But she was certain, from the air of commiseration with which
not only the rector but others had regarded her, that she would be
extremely curtailed in such opportunities as depended upon money; and
she had sufficient insight into social affairs to know how the
possession of money broadened opportunity, and the absence of it
limited power.

There was no denying to herself the pain that it gave her to
relinquish such a position. She had accommodated herself to greatness
so naturally that it seemed incredible that she was to sink back into
a life of obscurity. Frankly, she did not like it.

And yet, on the other hand, she felt an unfeigned gladness that
Horace was to come to his own. She rejoiced that no child of hers
would ever stand in his way. She had reason to hope that he would use
his great position to great ends, for the residuum of all her turbid
and agitating thoughts about him was an admiration for the man in his
attitude toward the world, no matter how much she still resented his
attitude toward herself. That this last was so, there needed no
stronger proof than her eager resolution to get away from Kingdon
Hall--out of the country, if possible--before the arrival of the man
whose place her husband had once taken, and who, in another sense,
was now to take his.



CHAPTER XI


It was some time before Bettina realized the changed conditions of
her life consequent upon her husband's extremely small provision for
her. In England, in the only society which she knew, it would be a
mere pittance, after what she had always had there; but in America,
in her old home, which she had always kept as her mother left it, it
would be almost riches. Sometimes she thought of going back there for
good, and leaving the great world in which she had found so little
joy. But it was this world which could give her, as she now knew, the
best substitute that can be offered for joy--active and interesting
occupation. Having once known the inspiration of this, the stagnation
of her old home was not to be thought of for a permanency. It seemed
to her best, however, to go there for a short time to look after the
money interests now become important to her, and from there to seek
some work for the faculties which she had only lately realized that
she possessed.

In her heart she could but feel a certain wounded pride in the
altered position to which her husband had deliberately condemned her.
She felt that it was his way of punishing her for not having been a
more conformable wife. He had not succeeded, in his life, in humbling
her pride; he would therefore do it now. She felt that he must have
had some intention of this sort.

That instinct was confirmed by the family lawyer, who told her, when
he came to have a talk on business, that Lord Hurdly had expressed to
him the supposition, and even the wish, that she should return to
America to live.

Under other conditions her husband's wish would have greatly
influenced her decision, but under these it had no weight whatever.
She could not help feeling that she had been harshly treated. It was
not the actual loss of money that she minded; it was the slight
implied thereby. She had married Lord Hurdly without any pretence of
loving him. He had not required that of her; and she had done her
best to maintain her position as his wife in accordance with his
wishes. These had often conflicted with her own, but in such cases
she had always yielded. She felt, therefore, that she had been
treated with injustice.

The chief sting of this feeling was in connection with the thought of
Horace. It made her flush with shame when she reflected that he was
bound to know that the man for whom she had given him up had treated
her so slightingly. Under the spur of this thought she had a wild
impulse to run away to America, where he should never see or hear of
her again. Business affairs compelled her to remain in England for a
short while, but she was quite determined to leave it before Horace
should arrive.

One morning, quite unexpectedly, she got a cable despatch from him.
It was addressed to Lady Hurdly, at Kingdon Hall, and was in these
words: "Kindly remain and act for me until I can arrive. Unavoidably
detained here.--SPOTSWOOD."

This direct message from the young lover who had once been so near to
her life moved Bettina to strange emotions. She was aware that Mr.
Cortlin, the family lawyer, had written him that she was going away
as soon as possible, and he had, of course, been informed of all the
conditions of his cousin's will. Not one penny had been left him
except what was his by legal right; but Lord Hurdly's personal
fortune had been an inconsiderable part of the estate, so that Horace
was now a man of great wealth as well as the bearer of an old and
noble title.

The signature to this telegram was one of the things that affected
Bettina. The telegrams sent to the lawyers, the rector, and others
had been signed "Hurdly." Several of these she had seen. It seemed to
her, therefore, a very delicate instinct which had caused him to
refrain from the use of her husband's name in addressing her. He had
always been delicate in his intuitions and expressions, or at least
so it had seemed.

The effect of this telegram upon Bettina was to make her more
confused and uncertain in her plans than she had been before. She
felt a strong instinct to avoid meeting Horace again, and yet this
telegram was in the form of a request, and she could hardly refuse to
do him a favor. In the midst of her perplexity a servant brought word
that Mr. Cortlin had arrived and asked to see her.

When the lawyer entered, with his usual obsequious bow, Bettina
received him with a rather cold civility. Her manner had become
distinctly more haughty since her descent in the scale of social and
pecuniary importance.

Mr. Cortlin did not take the seat to which she invited him, but
remained standing, with his hat in his hand, as he said:

"A former client of mine, and friend of his late lordship, Mr.
Fitzwilliam Clarke, who died about a year ago, left in my keeping a
letter to your ladyship, which he instructed me to deliver in person
upon the death of Lord Hurdly. I am come now, my lady, in the
fulfilment of that trust."

Bettina looked at him in amazement.

"There must be some mistake," she said. "I know no Mr. Fitzwilliam
Clarke. I have never even heard his name."

"That may be, my lady, but there is no mistake. This letter was meant
for you."

Bettina took the letter he held out, and opened it with a certain
incredulous haste. Mr. Cortlin at the same moment walked away to a
window, and stood there with his back turned while Bettina read the
following sentences:

      "MY DEAR LADY HURDLY,--Should this letter ever come to your
      eyes, you will be at that time a widow, as I have left
      instructions that it shall be delivered only in the event
      of your surviving your husband. By that time I shall have
      passed into the unknown world, where, if such things can
      be, I shall have had with Lord Hurdly an understanding
      which, by the hard conditions he imposed on me, was
      impossible in this life. But before leaving the world of
      human life and action I wish to make sure that at least one
      wrong which came about through me will have been repaired
      by me. I am aware that the rupture of your engagement of
      marriage to Mr. Horace Spotswood was caused chiefly by a
      letter shown you by Lord Hurdly, and purporting to come
      from an altogether trustworthy source--a man who was on the
      spot and who was a personal friend of his. I was that man.
      I was on the spot because I was sent there by Lord Hurdly
      for the purpose of writing this letter. For reasons which I
      need not enter into he had me in his power, and until one
      of us shall be dead he can force me to do his will. If you
      ever hold this letter in your hand and read these words we
      shall both be dead, and by this letter I desire to make
      reparation for a base and cruel wrong which I have helped
      to inflict upon an honorable and high-minded gentleman. I
      allude to the man who, when you read these words, will bear
      the name and title of Lord Hurdly. The things I wrote of
      him are in absolute contradiction to the truth, for a
      nobler and more loyal heart never beat. You might well
      discredit any assurance which comes by means of me, and I
      do not ask to have my words accepted. All I expect to
      accomplish is that you shall pay enough attention to my
      statement to investigate the matter for yourself. He is
      well known, and once your ears are open you will hear
      enough to prove to you that he has been wronged. That I
      have wronged him, though reluctantly and by reason of a
      power I could not resist, is the saddest consciousness of
      my life.

      "That I may possibly by this letter do something, however
      late, to repair this wrong is my chief consolation on
      leaving the world. I shall carry with me into whatever life
      I go an ineradicable resentment against the man who was
      Lord Hurdly, and I leave behind me the most ardent and
      admiring wishes of my heart for the man who, when you read
      this, will bear the noble name and title which his
      predecessor, if the truth about him could be known, has so
      soiled with treachery in the furtherance of the most
      indomitable egotism ever known in mortal man.

      "In conclusion, I ask of your ladyship, as I do of all the
      world, such gentle judgment as Christian hearts may find it
      in them to accord to one whose sins, though many, were of
      weakness rather than malice, and who did the evil work of a
      malicious man because he had not strength to brave what
      that man had it in his power and purpose to do to him in
      punishment of the resistance of his will.

      "Your ladyship's repentant and unhappy servant,

                         "FITZWILLIAM CLARKE."

Bettina, in her breathless reading of this letter, had forgotten that
she was not alone. As she finished it and thrust it back into its
envelope she glanced toward the window, and there saw Mr. Cortlin's
figure half hid by the heavy curtains.

"Mr. Cortlin," she said, in a tone which summoned him quickly to her
side, "I wish to ask if you or any other person have any knowledge of
the contents of this letter."

"I can only answer for myself, my lady. I have not. It was delivered
to me sealed as you have found it, and no hint of its purpose told
me."

"Had you a personal knowledge and acquaintance with this Mr. Clarke?"
she asked next.

"I had, my lady. He was in the confidence of his late lordship, who
intrusted to him many of his private affairs."

"The man was under some great obligation to Lord Hurdly, was he not?"

"So I have understood, my lady. Formerly he was in the army, and I
have heard that there was some dark story about him. I have even
heard cheating at cards attributed to him, and it was said that Lord
Hurdly's influence and friendship were all that saved him. The story
was hushed up, but he resigned."

Bettina scarcely followed these last words. A sense of sickening
confusion made her head spin round. The revelation of this letter was
too much for her. The past possessed her like a blighting spell that
she could never hope to shake off, and the knowledge which had come
to her through this letter added a thousandfold to its bitterness.

As to the future, she dared not try to see a step before her feet. To
go through life with the consciousness of this wrong to Horace
unexplained was a thought at which she shuddered. Yet to explain it
under existing circumstances was impossible. The agitation of this
interview had almost overwhelmed her. Mr. Cortlin saw it, and,
ringing for her maid, silently withdrew. When Nora came she found
her mistress pale as death, and very nearly lost to consciousness.

After that interview, so significant for her in so many ways,
Bettina began to long to get away--quite, quite away into another
world--before the master of Kingdon Hall should have set foot in this
one. She was doing her best to take his place and act for him in such
matters as required immediate attention and decision. She could not
refuse to do this, but she was anxious to be gone, to be quite to
herself, so that she might the better look life in the face and see
what could be done with the wretched remnant of her existence. She
had given up all idea of making her residence in England, and there
was no other country in which she had any deep interest, save for the
mournful interest that attached to her mother's grave.

She had asked the lawyer to say to Lord Hurdly that she would, at his
request, delay her departure for America a little while, but that she
was extremely anxious to get off as soon as it would be possible. She
also begged that he would cable when he was coming, as soon as he
could make his plans to do so.

The days were active ones for Bettina in many new and serious ways.
There were numerous business matters which she had to be consulted
about, and these gave her an insight into the affairs of the estate
which showed her far more clearly than ever what need there was for
reform, and revived in her her ardent longing to have a hand in these
reforms. But from all such thoughts as these she turned away
heart-sickened.

There were certain visits from Lord Hurdly's relations which had to
be received, an ordeal that would have tried Bettina sorely had it
not been that she made these the occasion for the investigation of
Horace Spotswood's character, nature, actions, interests, habits,
etc., which the fateful letter had recommended her to make. She had
never had one instant's doubt of the truth of every word contained in
that letter, but it was a sort of bitter pleasure to talk to these
people and draw forth the manifestations of their delight at having
Horace for the head of the family, and their confidence that this
fact would result in pleasure and benefit to them all. From their
ardent appreciation of him Bettina got at the fact of their universal
dislike for the Lord Hurdly recently laid at rest with his ancestors.

Yet it was a relief when all the guests were gone and she was left
alone to the mingled sweet and bitter feelings of her last days as
mistress of Kingdon Hall. The worldly spirit in Bettina, diminished
as it was, had not wholly disappeared, and never would as long as she
was young and healthy and so beautiful. These attributes carried with
them a certain love of display, and although it was a trial to be
borne with dignity, it was still a trial to her to think of losing
forever the splendid place which she had for a short year or two held
in the great world.



CHAPTER XII


Bettina was writing in the library one morning when her attention was
arrested by the sound of an approaching footstep. The next moment a
servant announced,

"Lord Hurdly."

At this name she started violently. So long accustomed to associate
it with one person, she forgot for the instant that another bore it
now. As she rose, startled and expectant, through the portière held
back by the servant there entered a man whose sharp dissimilarity to
the image in her mind made her catch her breath.

The next second she knew that it was Horace, and realized that she
was trembling from head to foot. The breadth of the room was between
them, for he had paused just within the door, nodding to the servant
to withdraw.

He stood there an instant in silence.

Perhaps she was no more startled by the surprise which the sight of
him occasioned than was he at the sight of her; but the quality of
the surprise was different. It was her beauty, her so far more than
recollected beauty, which had arrested him and held him spellbound.
He had left her sick with grief about her mother, the color faded
from her cheeks, her eyes dulled with weeping. There had been,
moreover, in her expression an apathy which his ardent words had
failed to do away with. Besides these inherent things, the extrinsic
points were glaringly a contrast to the present ones. Then her
somewhat too slight figure had been dressed in gowns of village make
and fit, and her lovely hair had been carelessly wound up, without
regard to fashion or effect.

Now he saw confronting him a woman whom nature had endowed with a
rare beauty, and for whom art had also done its best in the matter of
outward adornment. True, she was clad in plain unrelieved black from
head to foot, but no other costume could have so exquisitely
displayed her glowing loveliness of coloring or the pure correctness
of her outlines.

During the few seconds in which they stood looking at each other she
had perceived also a great change in him. It was of a very different
character, but it made all the more a strong appeal to her, for he
was mysteriously aged. Not only had the Eastern sun turned to bronze
the once ruddy hues of his skin, but he had also lost flesh, and his
hair was getting streaks of gray in it. His figure, too, was sparer,
but it looked more powerful than ever; and still more apparent was
the added look of strength in the familiar and yet subtly altered
face.

There was no pause long enough to be embarrassing before he spoke.

"I hope you will excuse me," he said (and, oh, the voice was altered
too, unless she had forgotten that rich, vibrating tone in it!), "for
coming upon you so suddenly. I know I should have given warning, but
I had what I think a sufficient reason for not doing so. I am hoping
earnestly that you will agree with me when you have heard it."

"Pray sit down," said Bettina, speaking mechanically, and from the
mere instinct of observance of ordinary forms. She had no sooner
spoken than she remembered that it was his own house, of which she
was doing the honors to him. If he remembered it also, he gave no
sign, for he took the chair she indicated, with the conventional
"Thank you" of an ordinary visitor.

Bettina also had sunk into her chair, and sat quite still, with her
white hands clasped together on the dense black of her dress. She
could not speak, yet she dreaded lest, in the silence, he might hear
the beating of her heart. Its soft thuds were plainly audible to her,
and all the blood from her cheeks seemed to have gone there.

"In any event, I should have been obliged to come to England soon,"
said her companion, "but I should have put it off longer had I not
felt it important to come on your account."

Bettina's eyes expressed a questioning surprise.

"On my account?" she said, vaguely.

"Certainly," was the prompt, decided answer. "The only responsibility
which comes near to me in my new and strange position is that of
protecting the honor and credit of the name I have assumed. These,
you will excuse me for saying, have been seriously, I may even say
shamefully, disregarded by the terms of the late Lord Hurdly's will."

Bettina's eyes had still that vague and puzzled look. She had not the
least comprehension of what he meant. Could he be resenting the fact
that, so far as it was practicable for him to do so, his cousin had
disinherited him? But no, that was impossible. As she remained silent
and expectant, he went on:

"Since he chose to disregard the duty and dignity of his position, it
is for me, who must now bear his name, to repair that wrong so far as
it is in my power to do so. It is for that explicit purpose that I am
now come to speak to you."

Still Bettina looked perplexed.

"I don't understand exactly in what way the will has displeased you,"
she said. "There was a great deal of it that I hardly took in. But in
any case there is nothing for me to do. As you know, my services have
not been asked, and certainly there is no place for them. I have
nothing whatever to do with the executing of Lord Hurdly's will.
Indeed, my plans are all made to return to America immediately."

"I cannot be surprised at your decision," he said, with a certain
resentment in his voice which she did not understand. "Certainly it
would be natural for you to wish to shake off the dust of this land
from your feet. But wherever you may choose to live for the future,
it is my duty to see that you live as becomes the widow of Lord
Hurdly, and it is for this purpose that I have hastened to get here
before you should be gone."

All was now clear, and with the illumination which had come to her
from these words of his the color flooded her pale cheeks. Her first
sensation was of keenly wounded pride.

"You might have spared yourself such haste," she said. "If you had
taken the slight trouble to write to me, I could have saved you the
long and hurried journey. So far from wishing to have more money than
what I am legally entitled to, it is my purpose and decision to take
nothing. I have of my own enough to live upon in the simple way in
which I shall live for the future. Did you think so ill of me as to
suppose that I would wish to grasp at more than my husband saw fit to
leave me--or to take money at your hands?"

It was her instinct of pride which had caused her to use the words
"my husband," which another instinct at the same moment urged her to
repudiate. But pride was now the uppermost feeling of her heart, and
it supplied her with a sudden and sufficient strength for this hour's
need.

"This is in no sense a question between you and your late husband,"
said Horace. (Was there not in him also a certain hesitation at that
word, and did not the same feeling as in her compel him to its use?)
"Nor is it a question between you and me. The obviously simple issue
is what propriety demands as to the manner in which the widow of
Lord Hurdly is provided for. It belongs to my own sense of the
dignity of my position that the late Lord Hurdly's widow should be
situated as becomes her name and title, and I am determined to see
that this is done."

"Determined," she said, a certain defiance in her quiet tone, "is not
the word for this case. You may determine as you choose, but what
will it avail if I determine not to touch a penny belonging to either
the late or the present Lord Hurdly? You are very careful of the
dignity of your position. I must also look to mine, which you seem
strangely to have forgotten."

His expression showed her plainly that these words of hers had cut
deep into his consciousness. A swift compunction seized her heart,
but her pride was still in the supremacy, and enabled her to stifle
the feeling.

"I have not forgotten it," he said. "It is because I have been
mindful of the dignity of your position that I have urged this thing
upon you. The conditions of the will need not be generally known if
you will accept the right and proper income, which I wish, above all
things, to see you have. Can you not believe me sincere in my desire
to remove the indignity put upon you by a member of my family, and
the bearer before me of a name and position of which it has now
become my duty to maintain the credit? And can you not believe me
just enough and kind enough to wish to see this done for your sake as
well as for my own?"

Bettina's face continued proudly hard. If the gentleness of her
companion's expression, the kindness of his manner, the delicate
respect of his tones, made any appeal to her woman's heart, the
all-potency of her pride enabled her to conceal it. But the struggle
between the two feelings at war within her made a desperate demand
upon her strength. She felt that she would do well to put an end to
this interview as soon as practicable. With this purpose she said,
abruptly:

"I am willing to do full justice to your motives, but they cannot
affect my action. My mind is quite made up. I shall return to America
at once, and there the credit of Lord Hurdly's name will not suffer
any hurt, since I shall be practically out of the world. Certainly I
shall be forever removed from the world in which his life will be
spent. Do not think that I shall regret it. I shall not. My
experience of your world has shown me that the mere possession of
money, rank, position, influence, is powerless to bring happiness. I
thought once that if I should come to have these I could get pleasure
and satisfaction from them, but I was wrong. My nature inherently
loved importance and display, but I mistook the unessential for the
essential. If I had had all these external things, together with the
satisfaction of the inward needs, they might have made me happy. In
themselves I have proved them to be worthless."

She was compelled to say these words. The intimate knowledge of the
character of her husband which had come to her after marriage made
her long that Horace should know that had she really comprehended the
man as he perhaps had known him all the while, she never could have
become his wife. It was impossible for her to tell him this, but she
caught eagerly at her present opportunity of letting him know that
she had had no duty toward her late husband beyond the mere formal
obligation of her wifehood. She could not bear Horace to think that
she had loved him. Even now, under the softening influence that death
imparts, that thought was intolerable to her. This was quite aside
from his treatment of her in his will, which, indeed, was strangely
little to her. It was the memory of the crafty and common nature
under that polished exterior that made her recoil from the thought
of him now.

If this feeling was strengthened by the contrast of the personality
now present to her gaze, how could she be blamed? Surely the man who
stood before her might have seemed to answer any woman's heart's
desire as lover, companion, friend. How her conscience smote her for
the doubts she had once had of him! When she remembered whose
treachery it was that had created these doubts, there was hate in her
heart.

She did not wish him to see the expression of this feeling in her
face, so she rose abruptly and turned from him. As if he understood
her, he rose also, and crossed the room to the desk at which she had
been seated on his entrance.

Here were heaped papers and memoranda connected with the Kingdon Hall
estates. Evidently he recognized their character, for he said:

"At least you have not refused to give me the help that I asked. I've
been talking to Kirke, and he tells me you have been taking an
interest in the affairs of the tenants. Thank you for this."

In an instant the bitterness in Bettina's heart was changed into a
new and softer emotion. She saw the opportunity of effecting now what
she had been so powerless to effect in the past. Forgetting
everything else, she came quickly to his side and took up one of the
papers. This was in her own handwriting, and was a memorandum of some
length. She held it away from him a moment, her face flushing, and a
look of hesitation showing on it.

"I never intended that you should see this," she said. "I began it
long ago, and had to put it by; but recently I have taken it up
again, without really knowing why, except that all my whole heart was
in it."

"What is it?" he asked. "I beg you to let me see it."

"No," she said. "It is not my affair, and I must remember that. It
concerns some most deplorable facts which I have discovered
concerning the management of the Kingdon Hall estates, but--"

"Then it is my affair," he interrupted her; "and since you know what
these abuses are, and have looked into them, you surely will not
deprive me of the help that you could give. I ask it as a favor."

Still Bettina hesitated, but he could see that she was longing to
comply. He could imagine, also, what it was that held her back.

"Not as a favor to me," he hastened to add; "I appeal to you in the
name of these poor tenants, who have been so long neglected and
abused. This is no new thing to me. I have seen it going on from the
time I was a boy here, and I can truly say that almost the only
pleasure that I have looked forward to in succeeding to the estates
has been the righting of these wrongs. Surely you will not refuse to
help me to do this."

For answer, Bettina turned upon him a pair of ardent eyes that swam
with tears.

"Oh, are you really going to do this blessed, glorious thing?" she
said. She had forgotten herself for the moment, and was thinking only
of them--the wretched beings whose wrongs had so long oppressed her,
and who, it seemed, were to have justice and care and kindness at
last. "You don't know how hideous the condition of these poor
creatures is, and how impossible it has been for me to do anything in
the past. To think there is some one who will let me tell about it at
last and give the help that is so needed! But you can do nothing with
such a steward as Kirke. His heart is as cold as ice."

"Kirke shall go at once. I have long believed that he was unworthy of
the position he holds. If you will give me the benefit of your
investigation and insight into the situation you will save me much
trouble, and you can also feel that these poor people will be that
much nearer to having their distress relieved."

At these prompt, determined words her heart swelled, and again tears
brimmed her eyes.

"Oh, thank God that you will help them!" she said. "Now that I am
sure of that, I can go away contented. It would have broken my heart
to leave them so--yet I had not dared to hope that I could do
anything. You have no idea of the extent of it. It will take a great
deal of money to give them new houses, proper sanitary conditions,
and all the things they need."

"Never mind that--only tell me what to do."

"But _can_ you do it? I know how comparatively limited you are as to
money."

"Comparatively only," he said, reassuringly. "I have much less than
my predecessor had, but fortunately I have little pride and simple
tastes. I can let the place in Leicestershire, where the hunting is
good, and I can also lease the town house if necessary. Pray consider
that the question of money is disposed of. I assure you that does not
enter into it."

Thus invited, Bettina sat down before the desk, while he took a seat
near by, and with the papers before her she went fully into the
questions at issue, showing a grasp of the situation which soon
testified to her companion that she had studied it to some purpose.
All the changes which she recommended were approved, but more than
once his attention was diverted from the purpose of the future to an
indignant contempt for the delinquencies of the past. It was hard for
him to constrain himself to silence as to this, but Bettina thanked
him in her heart for the successful effort which he made. She was too
abject in her sense of compunction for her own past to feel inclined
to severe judgment of another, and in her joy that these cherished
plans of hers were to be immediately realized she was able to put by
for the moment more personal trouble. She spoke with a fervor that
made her beautiful face wellnigh adorable in its kind compassion, and
when she would describe the wrongs and hardships of these poor simple
folk her eyes at times would fill with tears of pity and her voice
would tremble.

She knew it not, but in this hour she was making a new revelation of
herself to Horace, which answered to the need of his maturer nature
as marvellously as the Bettina of old had satisfied the needs of the
ardent young fellow that he was then. If he remembered that Bettina
only as being beautiful and beloved, he saw in this one a far nobler
and more perfect beauty, as he recognized in her qualities more
worthy to command love.

Here they were alone together, in a mood of extraordinary openness
and sincerity, for they were thinking the same thoughts of
helpfulness to others, and there was not an atom of the embarrassment
of their personal relationship to come between them now. It was not
singular, therefore, that he, for his part, should have longed to
speak to her, heart to heart, of that mysterious thing which had
divided them, and to tell her that, in spite of all--in spite of
facts that had been flaunted before his eyes in society, in the
public prints, and everywhere--he had never quite succeeded in
stilling a small voice in his soul which had continued to declare
that the young girl to whom he had so passionately given his love was
less fickle and unfaithful than these facts had shown her to be. Now,
more than ever, this insistent voice repeated itself. How he longed
to ask her the simple question! But then came common-sense, and
demanded, What question? Was there any question which he could ask
her to which the fact and conditions of her marriage to Lord Hurdly
were not a final answer?

As for Bettina, she had also her longings to take advantage of
that interview, when they were speaking together in such friendly
converse, by telling him of the letter of confession which she had
received, but pride here took the place of common-sense, and bade
her to be silent.

They had gone over all the papers together now. There was no longer
any excuse for lingering. He had given and repeated his assurances
that all these abuses which she so lamented should be remedied, and
she had thanked him again and again. Both felt that the time to part
had come. And yet both felt an impulse to postpone it. It was her
consciousness of this feeling which now made Bettina act. There was
an influence from his very presence which alarmed her.

"I must go now," she said, her voice a shade unsteady.

"No, it is I who am going," was the answer. "I return at once to
London, as I have neither the right nor the desire to intrude upon
your privacy. I wish to say, however, that I do not accept your
decision as to your future income. I beg you to give my wish, my
earnest request, your consideration. I shall write to you. Perhaps
I can put the case more clearly so. At all events, I shall try."

Bettina shook her head.

"You will simply waste your time," she said. "Nothing can change me
from my purpose of going at once to America, with no income but my
own little inheritance, and taking up my old life there."

The word inheritance had suggested to both of them the thought of her
mother. They saw the consciousness in each other's eyes.

"How can you take up your old life there," he said, "when the
presence which made its interest, its very atmosphere, is gone? It is
enough to kill you--and you will not have money to live elsewhere."

The keen solicitude in voice and eyes could not be mistaken. It
was evident that he cared for what she might suffer--what might
ultimately become of her. The thought was rapture to her starved
and lonely heart.

"I must bear it," she said, trying to control her voice as well as
her face. "Life will be no harder to me there than elsewhere."

"You are wrong. In no other spot on earth will the loss of your
mother so oppress you. I know what that has been to you, by my
consciousness of what that possession was. And remember one thing,
which gives me some right to speak to you as I am doing now--I loved
your mother and she also loved me."

At these words and the tones that accompanied them Bettina's strength
gave way. She dropped back in the seat from which she had risen, and,
hiding her face in her hands, burst into tears.

She could not see the effect of her weeping on the man, who still
stood motionless and erect before her. She did not know that the
tears sprang into his eyes also, and that the whispered utterance of
her name was on his lips.

He heard it, however, though she did not, and the knowledge that he
had lost control of himself made him turn away and walk to the other
end of the room.

When he had stood there a few seconds, with his back turned, he heard
her voice, somewhat shaken, though with the accent of recovered
self-possession, saying, in a tone of summons,

"Lord Hurdly--"

An inward revolt sprung up at being so addressed by her. The name had
only sinister associations for him in any case, but to hear it from
Bettina's lips filled him with a sort of rage.

"Lord Hurdly," she said again, and this time her voice had gained in
steadiness, until it sounded mechanical and hard.

"I wish to express to you," she said, when he had drawn a little
nearer, "my thanks for your kind intentions concerning me. I can only
repeat, however, that my decision is quite fixed, and that I shall
carry out the plans I have made known to you. Do not urge me further.
Do not write to me. It will be useless. Let me go back to the life
from which you never should have taken me. You were mistaken in
me from the first, and I have been nothing but a trouble and a
hinderance to you. I am sorry. I ask you to forget it all if you can.
But, above all things, I ask, if you would really help me and serve
me in the one way in which I can be helped by you, that you will
consider that the present moment closes our intercourse in every way,
and will show me the respect, little as I deserve it, of proving to
me that in this one instance, at least, you believe me capable of
acting with rectitude and dignity, and of meaning what I say."

He did not answer her. He only stood profoundly still and looked at
her. That gaze, the searching, scrutinizing power of it, made her
afraid. Trembling with terror of what she might reveal in answer to
it, she turned suddenly and vanished through a door behind her,
leaving him standing there, and with a consciousness that his keen
eyes were on her yet, reading what she so ardently desired to
conceal.

Once in her own room, she locked the door, and then ran swiftly to
the window, which gave her a view of the terrace below.

There she saw waiting a hired trap, with its driver drowsing in the
sunlight. As she looked, she saw the man from whom she had just
parted come rather slowly down the steps and get into the shabby
conveyance. His hat-brim hid the upper part of his face, but she saw
the stern set of his jaw, the bronzed pallor of his cheeks.

She watched the little trap until it had disappeared behind some
great oaks, which were one of the glories of Kingdon Hall. In a
strange way she had come to love this stately old place, and it gave
her a pang to feel that she was about to look her last on it. This
feeling, however, was subordinated to another, which literally tore
her heart; this was that, by the use of every means of thought and
action within her power, she had quite determined never to run the
risk of seeing this man again.

She knew that her only safety lay in flight, and she set to work at
once to make her preparations to fly.



CHAPTER XIII


In the days that followed, Bettina's only resource was in bodily
activity. She wrote at once and took her passage on a steamer to sail
for America one week from the day of Horace's visit. Then, with
Nora's help, she set to work to do her packing. The French maid was
sent away, and her lady refused all other offers of service.

Her first impulse had been to leave all her wardrobe and personal
belongings behind her, and this she would undoubtedly have done but
for the counteracting instinct to remove from any possibility of
the sight of the future occupant of these apartments any smallest
reminder of the late Lady Hurdly. No doubt another bearer of that
name would soon be installed in them, and to her the least reminder
of the beautiful Bettina who had once so strangely come to it would
naturally be offensive.

With this thought in her mind, she eagerly helped Nora to collect
and pack away every trace of her ever having lived here. One record
of the fact it was out of her power to remove, and this was the
full-length portrait of her, in all the state and magnificence of her
proud position, which hung in the picture-gallery, and which Horace
had never seen. Neither had he ever seen her in such a guise, and, in
spite of her, there was a certain exultation in her breast when she
imagined the moment of his first beholding it. Another moment,
equally charged with mingled pride and pain, was the anticipation of
the time when the next bearer of the name and title should come to
have her portrait hung there. No Lady Hurdly who had come before
could bear the comparison with her, and she knew it. Was it not,
therefore, reasonable to believe that those who followed her might
suffer as much by the contrast?

But these feelings of satisfaction in the consciousness of her
appropriateness to such a setting as Kingdon Hall were only
momentary, and many of those busy hours of work were interspersed
with lonely fits of weeping, when even Nora was excluded from her
mistress's room. The good creature, who had never been burdened with
mentality, went steadily on with her work and asked no questions;
yet it was not unknown to her that Bettina's unhappiness depended not
altogether upon the fact of her recent widowhood, or even upon the
disastrous consequences of it in her future life.

Two or three times Nora had brought to her mistress letters in a
handwriting which she had not forgotten, and although she made no
sign of suspicion, she did connect these letters with Bettina's
unhappiness.

Certainly it was no wonder that such letters as she received from
Horace now should have so desperately sad an influence on her. In
them he begged, argued, pleaded with her to grant him this one
request, even using her mother's name to touch and change her.
Indeed, there was a tone in these letters that she could scarcely
understand. Keenly conscious as she was of the injustice of which she
had been guilty toward him, it seemed incredible that he could so
ignore it as to manifest any personal interest in her on her own
account. She even felt a certain regret that he could so lose sight
of this flagrant fact. It had come to be a vital need to her to have
the ideal of Horace in her life. It was now almost more essential to
her to have something to admire than something to love. Under these
conditions she felt a certain sense of disappointment in him, that
he could seem to forget the deep wrong she had done him. And yet, in
utter contradiction to this feeling, his kind ignoring of it soothed
her tortured heart.

She sent no answer to these letters. She even hoped that by taking
this course she might make the impression on him that she did not
read them. This was her design and her consolation, even while she
read and re-read them with a devouring eagerness. She never paused
to ask herself why this was. She avoided any investigation into
her feeling for Horace. It was enough that, in spite of all the
self-accusation and self-abasement which she carried in her heart,
this being who knew the very worst of her could still think her
worthy of kindness and respect. When she thought of this she felt as
if she could go on her knees to him.

One fear was constantly before her mind, and that was that he might
seek a personal interview with her again. She dared not trust herself
to this, instinctively as she longed for it. It was, therefore, with
positive terror in her breast that she heard one morning from Nora
that Lord Hurdly was in the house, having come down by train from
London.

"I cannot see him--I will not!" she cried, in an impassioned protest,
which only Nora could have seen her portray.

"He did not ask to see you," said Nora. "I met him in the hall, and
he told me to say to you that he required some papers which were in
the library, and that he would, with your permission, like the use of
the room for a few hours. He told me to say that he had had luncheon,
and would not disturb you in any way."

At these words Bettina felt a sinking of the heart, which was her
first consciousness of the sudden hope she had been entertaining.
This made her reproach herself angrily for such weakness and want
of pride, and with this feeling in her heart, she said, abruptly,

"There is no answer to Lord Hurdly's message."

"I beg your pardon," said Nora, hesitatingly, "but I am quite sure he
is expecting an answer."

"I say there is no answer," Bettina repeated, with a sudden
sternness. "Lord Hurdly is in his own house. He can come and go as he
chooses. His asking permission of me is a mere farce."

Nora ventured to say no more, and withdrew in silence, leaving her
mistress alone with the consciousness that Horace was in the very
house with her, and that at any moment she might, if she chose, go
to him and tell him all the truth.

And why did she not? That old feeling between them was quite dead.
She had a right to clear herself from a condemnation which she did
not deserve--a right, at least, to make known the palliating
circumstances in the case. In any other conceivable instance she
would not have hesitated to do so. What was it, then, which made it
so impossible in this instance?

The answer to this question leaped up in her heart, and so struggled
for recognition that she had an instinct to run away from herself
that she might not have to face it. She wanted to close her eyes, so
that she might shut out the truth that was before her mental vision,
and to put her hands over her ears, that she might not hear the voice
that clamored to her heart.

Surely a part of this feeling was the compunction which she felt for
having wronged him. That she might openly acknowledge. But that was
not all. She was aware of something more in her own heart. Even that
she might have stifled, and, supported by her pride, might have
concisely told him of the error under which she had acted. But there
was still another thing that entered in. This was a faint, delicious,
disturbing, unacknowledged to her own heart, suspicion about Horace
himself. He had said nothing to warrant her in the belief that his
anxiety about her future was anything more than the satisfaction
of his own self-respect, but her heart had said things which she
trembled to hear, and there was a certain evidence of her eyes. In
leaving her the other day--or rather at the moment of her hurried
leaving of him--he had looked at her strangely.

That look had lingered in her consciousness, and without effort she
could recall it now. In doing so her cheeks flushed, her heart beat
quicker. She felt tempted to woo the sweet sensation, and by every
effort of imagination to quicken it into keener life, but the
seductiveness of this temptation terrified her.

She started from her seat and looked about her. How long had she sat
there musing--dreaming dreams which every instinct of womanly pride
compelled her to renounce? She wondered if he had gone. Once more
came that mingled hope and fear that he might seek an interview with
her before leaving. The hope was stronger than ever, and for that
reason the fear was stronger too.

A footstep in the hall arrested her attention, and she stood
palpitating, with her hand upon her heart. It passed, leaving only
silence; but it had been a useful warning to her. Suppose, in her
present mood, Horace should make his way to her sitting-room and
knock for admittance. Would she--could she--send him away, with her
heart crying out for the relief of speech and confession to him as
it was doing now?

With a hurried impulse she caught up a light wrap of dense black
material, and passed rapidly into the hall. Her impulse was to go out
of doors, to get away from the house until he should have left it;
but in order to do this from her apartments, she must pass by the
library, and this she feared to do. So she changed her purpose, and
stepping softly that no one might hear her, she entered the long
picture-gallery, and closed the door behind her with great care to
make no noise. Many of the blinds were closed, but down at the far
end where her picture hung there was some light, and with an
impulsive desire to look at this picture, with a view to the
impression that it might make on Horace when he should see it, she
glided noiselessly down the room toward it.

The full-length portraits to right and left of her loomed vaguely
through the half-light. She glanced at each one as she passed slowly
along, with the feeling that she was taking leave of them forever. In
this way her gaze had been diverted from the direction of her own
portrait, and she was within a few yards of it when, looking straight
ahead of her, she saw between the picture and herself the figure of a
man.

He stood as still as any canvas on the wall, and gazed upward to the
face before him. Bettina, as startled as if she had seen a ghost in
this dim-lighted room, stood equally still behind him, her hand over
her parted lips, as if to stifle back the cry that rose.

And still he stood and gazed and gazed, while she, as if petrified,
stood there behind him, for moments that seemed to her endless.

Presently she saw his shoulders raised by the inhalation of a
deep-drawn breath, which escaped him in an audible sigh. The sound
recalled her. Turning with a wild instinct of escape, she fled down
the long room, her black cape streaming behind her, and vanished in
the shadows out of which she had emerged.

Somehow, she never knew how, she let herself out into the hall, and
thence she sped through the long corridor, down the stairs, past the
open door of the vacant library, and out into the grounds. She met
no one, and when at last she paused in the dense shadows of some
thick shrubbery, she had the satisfaction of feeling that she had
been unobserved. Here, too, she was quite secluded, and in the effort
to collect herself she sat down on the grass, her knees drawn up, her
forehead resting on them, her clasped hands strained about them.

How long she remained so, while her leaping heart grew gradually
calmer, she did not know.

A sound aroused her from her lethargy. It was the clear whistle of
some one calling a dog. She knew who it was before a voice said,

"Here, Comrade--come to me, sir."

The voice was not far off, but the shrubbery was between it and her.
She would have felt safe but for the dog. She did not move a muscle.

The footsteps were drawing near her, and now bounding leaps of a
dog could be heard also. Both passed, and she began to breathe
more freely, when what she had dreaded came. The dog, stopping his
gambols, began to sniff about him. The next moment he had bounded
through the shrubbery and was yelping gleefully at her side.

Instantly she sprang to her feet and stood there, slight and tall and
straight in her long black wrap, the image of pallid woe. All the
blood had left her face, and her eyes were wide and terrified.

It was so that she appeared to the man who, parting the branches of
the thick foliage, stood silent and surprised before her. She might
have been the very spirit of widowhood, so desolate she looked.

Raising his hat automatically, he said, in a strained, unnatural
voice, "Can I do anything for you?"

She tried to speak, but speech eluded her.

"I beg your pardon," he said, "but can I do anything for you, Lady
Hurdly?"

Oh, that name! She had had an instinct to free herself at last from
the burden she had borne, and to tell him, in answer to his question,
that he could do this for her--he could hear her tell of the wretched
treachery by which she had been led to do him such a wrong, and of
the misery of its consequences in her life. But the utterance of that
name recalled her to herself. It reminded her not only who she was,
but also who and by what means he was also.

[Illustration: "THE VERY SPIRIT OF WIDOWHOOD"]

"Leave me," she said, throwing out her hand with a repellent gesture.
"I have gone through much, and I am not strong. If you have any
mercy, any kindness, leave me to myself. It is not proper, perhaps,
that I should ask any favor of you, but I do. I beg you not to speak
or write to me again until I have done what must be done here, and
gone away from this place and this country forever."

There was an instant's silence, during which Comrade nestled close to
her and tried to lick her hand, all the time looking longingly at
Horace. Then a voice, constrained and low, said, sadly: "I will grant
your favor, Lady Hurdly. What of the favor I have asked of you?"

"I cannot. It is impossible," she cried. "Surely I have been
humiliated enough without that. It is the one thing you have in your
power to do for me, never to mention that subject again."

"I shall obey you," he said; "but in return I ask that you will not
forget my request of you, though you have forced me to silence. While
a wrong so gross as that goes unrepaired I can never rest. Remember
this, and that you have it in your power to relieve me of this
burden. Now I will go."

He turned and vanished through the shrubbery, Comrade after him.

Bettina sank upon the ground, covering her face with the long drapery
of her cape. Suddenly she felt a touch. Her heart leaped, and she
uncovered her head, showing the light of a great hope in her eyes.

But it was only Comrade, nestling close to her, with human-eyed
compassion. She threw her arms around him, and pressed her face
against his shaggy side.

"Did he send you to me, Comrade," she whispered, "because he knew
that I was miserable and alone?"

The gentle creature whined and wagged his tail as if in desperate
effort to reply.

"I know he did! I know he did!" she cried. "Oh, how kind and good and
unrevengeful he is! And I can never tell him the truth. I can never
tell that to any human being, Comrade, but I'll tell it to you." She
drew his head close to her lips and whispered a few words in his ear.

Then she sprang to her feet, a great light in her eyes, as she threw
her arms upward with an exultant movement, and cried, as if to some
unseen witness up above, "I have said it!"



CHAPTER XIV


After this Bettina went about her preparations for departure with a
spirit of calm and collectedness which came from the knowledge of
herself, which she had at last fully accepted. Hundreds of times in
these last few days her mother's words had come back to her: "The day
will come when you will know what you are incapable even of imagining
now--what is the one perfect love and complete union that can ever be
between two human beings.... Test the world, if you will--and your
nature demands that you shall test it--but you will live to say one
day: 'My mother knew. My mother's words have come true.'"

It was even so. She knew now, at last, and the knowledge had come to
her when inexorable necessity compelled her to separate herself
forever from the man who, not suddenly, but by a system of gradual
evolution--from the crude emotions of her girlhood through the
growing consciousness of later years--had now manifested himself to
her as all her heart could desire, all her spirit could crave, all
her mature womanhood could need. She realized that he had long been
this to her, but with a thick veil between herself and him which had
hid the truth from her. The reading of the letter given her by Mr.
Cortlin had torn that veil apart, and she saw him as he was, the man
of her ideal. She did not, at the same moment, see her own heart as
it was. This vision had come to her with her renewed intercourse with
Horace, who had appeared before her now the ripe product of the noble
possibilities which she had vaguely perceived in him once, when she
had cared too little to think deeply of him in any way.

Oh, to have kept the place she had once had at his dear side! To have
shared with him the privations of a life that would have been narrow
and obscure indeed compared with the one which she had known in its
stead, but, oh, how rich in the way she had now come to count riches!

Thoughts like these she had to fight against. Perhaps in the end they
would conquer, and would hunt her to the death; but now, until she
could get out of the country, she must put them down.

She had only a few days left, and she determined to devote a part of
these to some farewell visits among the tenants. As far as she had
been able to do, she had made friends with these poor folk, and had
given what she could to relieve their necessities; but, in comparison
with what was needed, the money at her command had seemed pitifully
small.

When Lady Hurdly, dressed in her deep widow's mourning, descended the
steps of her stately residence and entered the waiting carriage,
whose black-liveried servants saluted her respectfully, she had a
consciousness that servants and tenants alike must feel a certain
commiseration for the great lady, such as they had known her, now
sunk to poverty as well as obscurity. This feeling made her manner a
little colder and prouder then usual as she sat alone in the sunshine
of a lovely autumn morning and was driven between the beautiful
English hedgerows and through the fertile fields which she had
learned to love. How soon would all be changed for her! And changed
to what? The isolated exile of a place filled with the haunting
memories of the past--her mother, whom she had lost forever, and her
young lover, who was as absolutely lost to her.

Strangely to herself, it was the latter that she felt to be the
keener pain. To the former she was reconciled; as we do, sooner or
later, reconcile ourselves to the inevitable; but the supreme sting
of this other grief was that she felt it need not have been. Sitting
there in her carriage, the object of much eager attention, she felt
so desolate and wretched that it was with difficulty that she kept
back her tears.

She dreaded the ordeal before her. She felt that she must take leave
of these people and say a word of kindness to them, since she was so
miserably unable to do more; but these visits were always depressing.
Since the tenants had discovered that they had a sympathetic listener
in her, they had luxuriated in the pouring out of their sorrows. Of
course they had not ventured to accuse her husband of being connected
with them, but the lesson was one that he who ran might read.

So, when the carriage stopped at the door of the first cottage, she
had made up her mind that she could not stand much in the way of
these miserable confidences to-day, and would make her visits short.

But when she entered the house she was conscious of a total change of
atmosphere. Every creature in the room gave proof of this, according
to his or her kind. The old woman who sat knitting by the hearth
looked up at her with a dim twinkle in the eyes that had heretofore
expressed nothing but a consciousness that things were bad and
getting worse; and the children, who, indeed, had taken little count
of the depression of their elders, now manifestly shared their relief
from it. It was their mother who, with a strange smile of hope on her
careworn face and a fervent clasping together of her work-worn hands,
made the explanation to the visitor.

But this explanation, when it had been heard, was almost more of an
ordeal to Bettina than the one which she had feared. Certainly it
made a stronger demand upon her power of self-control. For the
key-note of it all was Horace. He had been here before her, and had
done, or promised to have done, all that she had so passionately
wished to do. His name was on their lips continually; even the little
children lisped it. It was "his lordship this" and "his lordship
that," in a way that furnished a strange contrast to the studied
avoidance of the word under former conditions.

Somehow, glad as she was, it was hard for Bettina to bear. In the
midst of the accounts of what his lordship had done and said, and
how he was to right all their wrongs and make everybody happy, she
got up and took a hurried leave.

What was the use of her staying here? What was a little sympathetic
feeling, more or less, to these wretchedly poor creatures? It was
their material needs that they wished satisfied, and a stronger hand
than hers was at work on these. And if--as seemed so plain, as she
could so well imagine from her own knowledge of him--he was able and
willing to give them the sympathy and interest as well as the
practical help they needed, where was any use for her? There was
none--nobody needed her, she told herself, desperately, and the
sooner she lost herself in the oblivion of America the better.

Each cottage that she visited showed the same metamorphosis in its
inmates. A lame boy to whom she had once given a pair of crutches had
a new wheel-chair, and the crutches were thrown in a corner. A sick
child for whom she had bought some prepared food, which it had not
been able to take, had been sent off to a hospital for regular
treatment, and its poor mother was enjoying the first rest of many
years, with a consciousness that the child was better off than it
could possibly be with her. An old man who had been long bedridden,
and to whom she had sent some clean bedclothes, had been moved into
another room with complete new furnishings, while the occupant of
this room had been sent elsewhere, so that the distressing sense of
over-crowdedness for sick and well was entirely gone from the house.

In almost every cottage that she visited she saw the same evidences.
How pitiful her own efforts seemed beside these! What was heart
compared with hand? What was sympathy compared with money? And was
she so sure that she gave even the sympathy? She felt in her breast
now no sense of pity for their suffering, no consciousness even of
rejoicing in their relief. The only feeling there--and it seemed to
fill her whole heart--was pity for her own numb, gnawing
wretchedness, for which there could be no relief.

When the last hurried visit was ended, she drove home, completely
unnerved. Her black veil was lowered before her face, and though she
sat erect and composed to outward seeming, the tears rained down her
cheeks.

Her remaining days at Kingdon Hall were spent in a state of such
listlessness and inertia that Nora began to fear that she was going
to be ill. She urged her mistress to send for the doctor; but, for
answer, Bettina burst into tears, declaring that she was not ill, and
begging Nora to do everything for her that was necessary to get her
off on the steamer on which she had taken passage, as she felt unable
to do anything herself.

How the intervening hours passed she never knew; but, as if taking
part in a dream, she went through them all, and at last found herself
settled in her state-room, with Nora to take care of her, and no one
to spy on her or notice what she did. Asking Nora, as piteously as a
child, to help her to undress, she went to bed, and from that bed she
did not rise until the ship had touched another shore, and the
breadth of the world lay between herself and Horace.

How glad she would have been to lie there and sail on forever, freed
from her responsibility to the future, as she was from that to the
past!



CHAPTER XV


It was when Bettina was a matter of three hours out at sea that Lord
Hurdly arrived at Kingdon Hall, and, on being admitted, ordered the
servant to say to Lady Hurdly that he wished to see her. His surprise
was great when the man informed him that Lady Hurdly had that day
sailed for America.

Dismissing the servant, he went to the library and shut himself up
there alone. How strangely was this house altered to him in one
moment's time! Just now he had felt a presence in it which had made
every atom of it significant. Now, how dead, empty, meaningless, it
had suddenly become!

The effect of this change was almost startling to him, and for the
first time he had the courage to face himself and to demand of his
own soul an explanation.

He was a man of a peculiarly uncomplex nature. When, on meeting
Bettina, he for the first time fell deeply in love, he had looked
upon the matter as a finality, and he had never ceased so to regard
it. When she deserted him, without giving him a chance to speak, he
had, in the overwhelming bitterness of his heart, forsworn all women.
It had never occurred to him to put another in Bettina's place. For a
long time a passionate resentment possessed him. When he knew that
Bettina had married his cousin, this resentment had had two objects
to feed upon instead of one; but at first the bitterness of his anger
against the being in whom he had supremely believed greatly
outweighed that against the being in whom he had never believed. Lord
Hurdly had never had it in his power to wound and anger him as
Bettina could. So, when he got transferred from St. Petersburg to
Simla, it was with the instinct of removing himself as far as
possible from Bettina. Of the other he scarcely thought.

When, however, the first consternation of the sudden blow was over,
and he grew calm enough to be capable of anything like temperate
thought, he tried to imagine how this strange state of things had
come about.

Obviously Bettina must have sought Lord Hurdly out, and it was almost
certain that she had done this with a view to mediating between him
and his offending heir. He recalled her having said, more than once,
that she intended to win him over, and he pictured to himself what
had probably transpired in the fulfilment of her plan. Lord Hurdly,
who was notoriously indifferent to women, saw in Bettina a new type,
and, as consequent events proved, became possessed of the wish to
have her for his wife. This being so, he had probably not scrupled as
to the means to this end. Gradually, from having held Bettina chiefly
guilty, Horace began to feel that it was quite possible that she had
been less so than the artful and determined man, who had undoubtedly
brought to bear on her all the wiles of which he was master.

What the wiles were, how unscrupulously they were employed to effect
any end that he had in view, Horace was now more than ever aware.

And every fresh revelation of them tended to soften him toward
Bettina. He was in the habit of trusting his instincts, and these had
as determinedly declared to him that his cousin was false. On his
return to England, after Lord Hurdly's death, both of these instincts
had found ample confirmation. The more he looked into the affairs of
his predecessor, in his relations to his tenants, his family, his
lawyers, and the world at large, the more did his mistrust and
condemnation of him deepen, while, as for Bettina, it took little
more than the impression of his first interview with her to restore
almost wholly his old belief in her truth and nobleness.

On the basis of her having been deceived by Lord Hurdly about him, he
could forgive her her marriage. Where would her desolate heart have
turned for comfort? And he knew her nature well enough to realize
that what Lord Hurdly had to offer might have seemed likely to serve
her as a substitute for happiness. He knew, moreover, that Bettina
had never loved him in the sense in which he had loved her, and this
fact made his judgment gentler.

As he stood there alone, in the great house, strangely empty now that
her rich presence was removed from it, he wished with all his heart
that he had gone to her, and forcing her to look at him with those
candid eyes of hers, had said: "Bettina, tell me the truth. Why did
you do it?" Oh, if he only had!

Then reflection forced upon him the possible answer that he might
have received. She might have coldly resented the impertinence of
such a speech, or she might have given him to understand that what
appeared true was really true--namely, that his cousin's splendid
offer was preferred to his poor one. Yes, he was no doubt a fool to
hold on to his belief in Bettina in face of the obvious facts. The
thing he had to do was to overcome it, and go on with his life and
career quite apart from her.

This would have been the easier to do but for one thing. He had
satisfied himself that Bettina had been unhappy in her marriage to
Lord Hurdly. It was evident that the worldly importance which it had
given her had not sufficed her needs. He knew--her own mother had
avowed it to him--that Bettina was ambitious; but he knew, what the
same source had also revealed, that she had a good and loving heart.
What he felt was that she had been taught by bitter experience the
emptiness of mere worldly gratification, and that poor heart of hers
was breaking in its loneliness.

But then came reason again, and pointed to the hard facts before his
eyes. What a fool he was to go on constructing a romantic theory
out of his own consciousness when Bettina, by definite choice and
decision, had proved herself to be, what he must compel himself to
consider her, both heartless and false!

Fortified by the bitter support of this conception of her, he left
the library, and, for the first time since his return, made the
complete tour of the house. Through most of the apartments he passed
swiftly enough, but in two of them he paused. The first was the long
picture-gallery, where he looked critically at his own boyish
portrait, wondering if Bettina had ever looked at it, and what
feelings it might have aroused, and then passed on and stood before
that most beautiful of all the Lady Hurdlys who had been or who might
ever be. But this was too demoralizing to that mood of hardness that
he had but recently assumed, and so he turned his back on the
gracious image and walked away.

It was not long, however, before he found himself in Bettina's own
apartments. These he remembered well, and in the main they were
unchanged. Yet what a subtle difference he felt in them! Here on this
great gloomy bed had that poor orphan girl slept, or else lain
wakeful in the dread consciousness which must have come to her when
once she realized the nature and character of the man to whom she had
given herself in marriage. Here in this stately mirror had she seen
herself arrayed in the splendid clothes which were the poor price for
which she had sold her birthright. He stood and looked at himself in
the mirror, with an uncanny feeling that behind his own image there
was that of the beautiful Bettina, whom once he had thought to
protect forever by his love and strength and tenderness, and who now,
with only a hired servant, was alone in the great shipful of
strangers, on her way to the loneliness of that empty little village
which her mother's presence had once so adequately filled for her.

He went to the wardrobe and opened the door, hoping to find some
trace of Bettina. But no; all was orderly and void. Then he passed on
to the dressing-table and opened the drawers, one by one. In the last
there lay a small hair-pin of fine bent wire. He had an impulse to
take it, but, with a muttered imprecation on his folly, he called to
aid his recent resolution, and hastily left the room.



CHAPTER XVI


Bettina had been in her old home a week--long enough to recuperate
from her journey and begin to take up her life, such as it was to be.
She would gladly have relaxed entirely and lain in bed to be waited
on and tended by Nora, had this been possible. But she had wearied of
the physical rest, which only made her mental restlessness the
greater, and she had an impulse to reach out her empty hands so that
somehow, somewhence they might be filled.

The neighbors had called on her promptly, but she could not see them.
They reminded her too much of the mother she had lost. Mr. Spotswood
had also called, but he was a reminder of the other loss, now the
more poignant of the two. When she excused herself to him also he
wrote her a note--the conventional thing, and that merely. It seemed
strangely lacking in the solicitude and affection which she had a
right to expect from her old friend and rector. Bettina was struck
with this, and instantly there flashed over her a reason for it. It
was only natural that he should feel a certain resentment of her
jilting of one of his cousins, even though she had done it in favor
of another and more important one. She remembered that the rector had
been extremely fond of Horace, and at this thought she had a sudden
desire to see him. So she wrote him a note and asked him to come.

It was so long since she had talked with any one, and she was so
nervous after all her morbid imagining, that she was feeling utterly
unlike the old self-reliant, active-minded girl he remembered when
the rector entered the room. She also, on her part, was unprepared
for the feelings aroused by the sight of him; and when he came in,
his grave face and gentle manner so entirely unchanged, in contrast
to all the changes she had undergone, Bettina felt a sudden tendency
to tears. The thought of her mother also helped to weaken her, and
the thought of Horace was a still harder strain on her endurance.

She saw a certain constraint in his manner first, as she had
perceived it in his note. She felt unaccountably hurt by it, and when
he took her hand a little coldly and inquired for her health, a rush
of feelings overwhelmed her and she burst into tears.

In evident surprise, the visitor tried to soothe her as best he
could. Naturally supposing that this grief was in consequence of her
recent widowhood, he pressed her hand, and said, gently:

"I trust you are not overtaxing yourself by seeing me, my child. If
you had preferred not to do so I should not have misunderstood. Your
bereavement is so recent that--"

But Bettina, trying to silence her sobs, interrupted him.

"Oh, forgive me, Mr. Spotswood," she said. "I had not thought I
should break down like this. I have been perfectly calm. It is not
what you suppose. Oh, I feel so wretched, so lonely, so bewildered! I
would give the world if I could speak out my heart to one human
being."

The rector looked surprised, but visibly softened.

"To whom may you speak if not to me, Bettina?" he said. "Surely,
whatever trouble is on your heart, you may count upon my sympathy."

Bettina did not speak. With her face hid in her pocket-handkerchief
she shook her head, as if in dissent from the idea of his sympathy.

Feeling rather helpless, he changed his tactics, in an honest
endeavor to get at the real cause of her trouble.

"Naturally, my child," he said, "the sight of me brings back the
thought of your beloved mother. Such a sorrow--"

But again she interrupted him, this time by a silent gesture of the
hand. Then she said:

"It is not that. I've got used to that ache, and although my heart
would not be my heart without it, that is a silent and accepted
sorrow now. Oh, Mr. Spotswood," she said, impetuously, uncovering
her tear-stained face and looking at him with the helplessness
of a child, "you are a clergyman; you teach that God is love and
compassion and forgiveness; you have a kind heart! I know you have.
Perhaps if I could tell you all I have suffered, and how deeply I
have repented, you would be sorry for me, and not blame me as much
as I deserve to be blamed."

She was looking at him tentatively, as if to see how far she could
trust to the forbearance of which she felt she had now such need.

The rector's heart was deeply touched. This show of humility in the
high-spirited, self-willed girl that he remembered took him by
surprise.

"It could never be my impulse to blame you, my dear child, and the
less so when I see how bitterly you are blaming yourself for this
unknown thing. If you will tell me about it, I will do all that may
be in my power to help you. At all events, you may count upon my
loving sympathy."

"Ah, if I only could! It would be much to me now. But you are
ignorant of what you are promising. In a certain way it concerns
yourself, or at least a member of your family."

She saw a slightly hardened look come into his face, but it quickly
gave way to a gentler one.

"No matter what it is, if you have suffered and repented, the best
sympathy of my heart is yours."

"You will regard it as a confidence--a sacred confidence?" said
Bettina. "I could only tell you with that understanding. I know that
a clergyman is accustomed to keeping the secrets of his people, and I
could not say a word unless I were sure that this thing would rest
forever between you and me."

[Illustration: "'TRULY, MY CHILD, IT IS A WRETCHED STORY'"]

Wishing to soothe her in every possible way, the rector gave her
his promise to keep sacred what she might tell him; and thus
reassured, poor Bettina opened her heart. The relief of it was so
exquisite and the experience was so rare, that she told it all with
the abandonment of a child at its mother's knee, and with a degree of
self-accusation that might well have disarmed condemnation, as indeed
it did.

Up to the time of her meeting with Horace in England, she kept back
nothing, describing with absolute truth her feelings as well as her
conduct. When she had reached that point, however, a sense of
instinctive reserve came to her, and a few brief sentences described
what had happened since.

At the end of her recital she paused, looking eagerly into the
rector's face, as if she both hoped and feared what he might say.

"Truly, my child, it is a wretched story," he began, as if a little
careful in the choosing of his words, "but the knowledge of it has
deepened instead of lessened my sympathy for you. Your fault has been
very great, but so is your sense of compunction; and as far as
suffering can expiate, surely you have done much to atone. My own
knowledge of the character of the late Lord Hurdly was such that I
cannot pretend to be greatly surprised at what you have told me
concerning him. I regret to say it, but justice must be done to the
living as well as to the dead. The present Lord Hurdly will prove, I
trust and believe, an honor to the name. My intercourse with him has
been comparatively limited, but no young man has ever inspired me
with a stronger sense of confidence. So much do I feel this that I
will confess to a strong desire that he should know upon what ground
you acted toward him as you did. I have given my word to you,
however, and perhaps it is as well. That poor man so lately gone to
his account has stains enough upon his memory without this added one.
And when I think of Horace--what he has suffered through the
treachery of his kinsman--I feel that it is perhaps kindest to him
also to leave this dark secret in the oblivion which buries it in our
two hearts."

Bettina seemed not to hear his last words.

"He has suffered? You think he has suffered, and through me?"

"Is it possible that you can doubt it?"

"He gave no sign," began Bettina, hesitatingly.

"To you--certainly not. How could he?"

"Did he to you?" she said, breathlessly.

The rector looked at her with a sort of sad scrutiny, and was silent
a moment. Then he said:

"He wrote me one letter--the most brokenhearted expression of
suffering I have ever read. It was before your marriage, when he
still had some slight hope that you had mistaken your own feelings,
in the statement of them which you had made in your letter to him.
But then came the announcement of your marriage, since which time
your name has not been mentioned between us."

"Did you keep that letter?" she said.

"I did."

"Will you let me see it?"

"I am afraid I cannot properly do that."

"I beg that you will, Mr. Spotswood. You would be doing me a very
great favor, and for your cousin's sake also I think I may venture to
ask it. I was told that he was 'fickle and capricious, incapable of a
sustained affection,' and much more in the same line. I should be
truly glad to know that this was false."

"I can give you my word for that."

"But you can give me also his word, if you will," she said,
beseechingly. "Oh, my dear, dear friend, I too have suffered, and I
believe that what I have endured is the worst of pain, for it comes
from the knowledge of wrong to another. You cannot take away that
pain, but perhaps you can restore to me a lost ideal. I had come to
think that there was no such thing as love--real love--in the world;
to believe not only that the man who had professed it for me was
false in that profession, but that it really did not exist. Let me
see that letter. It is an impersonal thing to me now, but I feel that
it would strengthen me for all my future life. I am going to try to
be good; indeed I am," she said, her lips trembling like a child's.
"If I feel that that letter would help me, why may I not see it?"

The rector hesitated visibly; then he said:

"You shall see it, Bettina. I cannot feel that it will do any harm,
and it will be an act of justice, perhaps, to him as well as to you.
Whoever represented him to be lacking in depth of feeling has done
him a wrong indeed. I had no need to have this proved to me, but if
there be such a need in any breast, the reading of this letter must
do away with it."

In a few moments he rose to take leave, having promised to send the
letter to her.

"Will you send it at once?" she asked. "May Nora go with you and
bring it back?"

In the stress of her feeling she forgot the impression that her
eagerness might make; but it had not been lost upon the rector, who
pondered all these things in his heart as he went homeward.

When he had given the letter to Nora, and she had taken it to her
mistress, he wondered if he had done well. Bettina had not pretended
that she had really loved the man to whom she had first engaged
herself. The preoccupied interest and affection which she had given
him then were not misrepresented in her confession to the rector,
and she had been absolutely silent as to her subsequent and present
feeling toward him. All that she said, the whole burden of her song,
was that she had so wronged him in that past time; never once had she
hinted at the possibility of any renewal of relations between them.

In spite of all this, the rector knew Bettina well, and he recognized
the fact that she was under the dominion of some larger and deeper
feeling than he had ever known her to have except her affection for
her mother. And had even that, he asked himself, so permeated her
whole being--mind, soul, and character--as this feeling in which he
now saw her so absorbed? He answered that it had not. It was,
therefore, taking a certain responsibility upon himself to show this
letter. But he was acting in the interest of truth and justice, and
he could not find it in his heart to regret what he had done.

Temperate, judicious, deliberate as the rector was in all his mental
processes, he could not imagine that any result could come from the
course which he had taken, except some very remote one. Bettina had
shown plainly her determination never to divulge to Horace the
contents of Mr. Cortlin's letter; he was under promise to keep the
secret also, so there was no ground upon which the intercourse
between them could be renewed. Besides this, Bettina was but recently
become a widow. The proprieties of the situation demanded absolute
seclusion for a year at least, and, in Mr. Spotswood's consciousness,
propriety was supreme. He never took count of the fact that
conventions could be disregarded by any right-minded person, and to
this extent at least he conceived Bettina to be right-minded.



CHAPTER XVII


The reading of that letter from Horace to the rector was a crisis in
Bettina's life. Its effect upon her was singular. When she eagerly
took in those pages filled with such anguish as possesses the heart
but once or twice in a lifetime, the consciousness that it was she,
Bettina, who had created such a love in the heart of the man that
Horace Spotswood was to her now, so exhilarated her that she was
capable of but one feeling--exultation. To have had this love, though
now she had it not, seemed to glorify her life. To have caused him
such sorrow--how greatly he had cared! In spite of all there was
rapture in it!

That mood was followed by one of intense regret--an excoriating
self-accusation that made her spirit writhe before her own bar of
justice. Then, by degrees, when there came a moment of comparative
calm, she forced herself to recognize the fact that it was the
Bettina of the past who had been so loved, and that the man who had
so loved her was that youthful and impulsive Horace. Was not the
present Bettina, the slightingly treated widow of his cousin, a very
different being--as different as was the present Lord Hurdly from
that old and outgrown other self? Surely the change in both was
great--a change which she construed as absolutely to her own
disadvantage as it was to his advantage.

Yet, in spite of this, that letter brought a strange strength to
her heart. Since it was now so plain that he had so truly, so
worshippingly loved her, she felt a summons to her soul to be her
highest possible, to overcome the slothful and the evil in her, and
live as it became the woman who had been so loved by such a man.
Above all, she longed to make her life avail for the good of others,
that she might make it a thank-offering for what she had received in
the knowledge that had come to her through that letter.

For, after its perusal, she knew that never again could she entertain
the doubts which had so often filled her mind at the thought of the
complete silence in which Horace had accepted her rejection of him.
Sometimes she had fancied that it might have been a relief to him--a
way out of a difficult situation; but now forever in her heart she
could carry the proud consciousness that she had been as passionately
loved as she had been desperately regretted.

It was a strange source, perhaps, from which to draw strength, but it
availed her now. With a sudden renewal of the energy of her youth she
began to look about her for work which she might do. Fortunately the
rector was ready with practical, immediate employment for heart and
hand, and pocket, too, alas! for now the fact was forced upon her
consciousness that she was poor. It would be as one of themselves,
only somewhat different in degree, that she must help these suffering
ones, and, in spite of being hampered by this limitation, there was a
certain sweetness in it. Her work among the poor had begun at Kingdon
Hall, and there she had been often baffled by the sense of the
difference between herself and those whom she wished to help. She
knew that this consciousness was in their hearts as well as in hers,
and that it made an impalpable but positive barrier. But now and here
all was different. She longed for the money that would have enabled
her to do so much more, and yet she felt it, somehow, sweet to be as
they. Her consciousness of her own past wrong-doing had so penetrated
her soul with humility that she was like a totally different being.

She had said nothing to the rector of her determination not to touch
the money that her late husband had left her, but she strictly
adhered to this resolve. It was impossible. She simply felt she could
not. She found no difficulty in forgiving him for all that he had
done. She was too tender-hearted to bear malice toward the dead,
but she could not touch his money. Since she had once thought about
it--receiving food and clothes and comforts from his hands--she had
realized that it was an impossibility. She knew that the money was
deposited in bank for her, but there it might remain. She had told
Horace that she would not touch it, and he should see that she would
keep her word.

Then came a thought that made her smile. He had wished to force upon
her the acceptance of a larger sum, because it was not proper that
Lord Hurdly's widow should live otherwise than in pomp and
circumstance. If he could see her now! This it was that made her
smile.

She had shut up all the house except the rooms on the first floor, in
which she and Nora lived alone. She kept no other servant, and this
economy it was that enabled her to give to others. She had almost no
personal wants, and the income which had sufficed for her mother and
herself was more than enough for her alone. A little sting of injured
pride there had been at first, when her poverty became apparent to
the neighbors, who naturally expected her to enlarge rather than
curtail her expenses; but she soon got the better of this. The issues
of her life were in a wider field than mere neighborhood comment,
and, besides this, her friends and associates were now chosen chiefly
from the class who were too ignorant for such comment and
speculation.

For Bettina had thrown herself with a passionate fervor into the work
which her hands had found to do. The one assuagement for the pain in
her own heart seemed to be the alleviation of the pain in other
hearts. She felt, also, a sense of thankfulness for the knowledge
which had come to her through the rector, which made the whole work
and service of her life seem all too little for her to give in return
for this boon. As for Horace, her feeling for him was akin to
worship. It was he who represented to her henceforth the ideal which,
like a fixed star, should give light to her path, though so
immeasurably far above her.

What a strange life was this into which she had now entered! She felt
the certainty that her courage would be sufficient for it, but with
all her resolution she could not always keep back the bitter tears of
her wordless, hopeless, uncontrollable longing. At times this was a
thing so mighty that she had the feeling that, if her body were only
as strong as her spirit, she would be able to swim through those
thousands of watery miles that separated them, only to tell him the
truth, and then lay down her life at his feet.



CHAPTER XVIII


It was one of Bettina's weary days. Its hours had lagged and dragged
until the evening had come, and she had sunk down, exhausted and
depressed, in a big old-fashioned chair in front of her wood fire,
which seemed the only ray of cheerfulness within or without. She had
had these feelings before, and she knew that they would probably
pass, but never before had it been so borne in upon her that life was
sad and wretched alike for those whom she was trying to help and for
her who was so in need of help herself--little as they dreamed it.
Were they worth helping, those poor evil-environed creatures who so
continually disappointed her hopes and efforts? Was she worth
helping, either--weak, aimless creature that she was--who had vowed
to be content in the mere consciousness that Horace lived, and that
he had once supremely loved her, and then again and again had fallen
into this hopeless discontent which thirsted so for what she had
pledged herself to give up--the possession of that love to satisfy
the present hour's need?

She lay back in the big deep chair, her white hands loosely grasping
its arms, and her white lids lowered. Now and then a tear would
trickle from beneath those lids and a slight contraction of pain
would move her lips. Any one looking in upon her so might well have
wondered where were the friends and companions of this beautiful,
lonely woman, shut into this small room, in the silence of a twilight
that hung damp and gray outside, and that the smouldering fire
lighted but fitfully within, while the low murmur of flames fitfully
broke the silence.

Not a sound escaped her lips. She gazed longingly, sadly into the
glowing heart of the fire, and saw visions and dreamed dreams, but
not pleasing ones; they only served to make her sadness deeper.

Presently the door opened, and Nora came in with the lamp. Glancing
at her mistress, who did not move, the woman then went out and
brought a small tea-service on a tray.

"Don't light the kettle yet, Nora," said a low voice from the depths
of the chair. The speaker did not move; her manner was that of a
person who deprecated the least noise or intrusion, and Nora took
the hint and silently put down the tray. Then, in the same dull tone,
her mistress said:

"I know you want to go to church. Go. I can make tea for myself when
I want it."

Nora, in comprehending silence, left the room.

Still the relaxed figure in the chair moved not. The fire whiffed and
crackled now and then, but beyond this there was no sound. The
lamplight showed more plainly the fair youth and loveliness of that
black-clad form, which never, in its most brilliant days, had looked
so exquisite as now, when there was none to gaze upon its beauty or
to share its solitude. The hands were ringless, for Bettina had taken
off her wedding-ring after the reading of the letter which the lawyer
had brought her, and with it she had renounced the last vestige of
allegiance to her late husband's memory. There was no bitterness in
her heart toward him. Simply he existed not, as though he had never
been.

Vaguely she heard the sound of Nora's departure, as the door was
closed behind her, and still she sat there wordless, motionless,
almost breathless as it appeared, for her bosom scarcely seemed to
move.

Presently there came two tears from under the closed lids; then
quickly others followed them. The sense that she was freed even from
the danger of Nora's observation weakened her more and more. Then
with the helpless, whispering tones of an unhappy child, she said:

"My God, how desolate I am! How can I bear it? How long must it
endure?"

Still she did not move except to raise her lids and cast upward her
tear-drenched eyes, while she caught her lower lip between her teeth.

Suddenly there was a step upon the piazza--a man's step, as if in
haste. She started and sat upright. Who could it be? No man except
the rector ever visited her, and this was not the rector's step. She
hastily brushed away the traces of her tears and sat listening.

Then came a tap at the door--not loud, but firm, distinct, decided.
It sounded strange to her, unlike the tap of any messenger or servant
who had ever come to her house.

She got up, leaving the door of the sitting-room open that the light
might enter the dark hall.

Then, most unaccountably, a sense of fear, very unusual to her,
seemed to possess her. She stood still a moment in the hall and
waited.

The knock was repeated, so near this time that it made her start. She
was not naturally a timid woman, but she felt a sense of physical
fear which was totally unreasoning. What harm was likely to come to
her from such a source? She compelled herself to go forward and open
the door.

It was very dark outside, and she vaguely distinguished the outline
of a tall man standing before her. The light from the open door at
her back threw out her figure in distinct relief, and it was evident
that she had been recognized, for a voice said, in low but distinct
tones,

"Lady Hurdly."

She gave a cry and pressed both hands against her breast, sharply
drawing in her breath. Then she took a few steps backward, throwing
out one hand to support herself against the wall.

"Forgive me," said the well-known voice--the voice out of all the
world to which her blood-beats answered. "I have come on you too
suddenly. I ought to have written and asked permission to call. I
should have done so, only I feared you might deny me."

Somehow the door was closed behind them and they had made their way
into the lighted room. Bettina, still pale and breathless, began to
murmur some excuses.

"I beg your pardon; I was frightened. Nora had gone out, and I was
all alone. I did not know who it might be. I never have visitors, and
I was afraid to open the door."

He was looking at her keenly.

"You should not be alone like this," he said, both resentment and
indignation in his tone. "Why do you never have visitors? Why did
Nora leave you? Where are the other servants?"

"There are no others. There is only Nora," she said, recovering
herself a little. "I let her go to church to-night. I am not usually
afraid. Why should I be? Perhaps I am not very well." As she uttered
these incoherent sentences she sank into a chair and he took one near
her.

The expression of his face had changed from anxiety to a stern
sadness.

"And you live alone like this," he said, "without proper service or
protection? And, in spite of all that I could say and do, you will
not take the miserable pittance which is your own, and which is
wasted there in the bank, where it can avail for no one? Do you think
this is right to yourself--or kind to me?"

The quiet reproach of his tone disturbed her.

"I do not mean to be unkind," she said, her voice not quite steady,
"and indeed I have all that I need. Nora has more than time to attend
to me, and as for company, it is because I do not want it that I do
not have it."

"And you think you can live without companionship?" he said. "You
will find you are mistaken; but of that I have no right to speak.
There is one subject, however, on which I do claim this right, and it
is the fulfilment of this purpose which has brought me to America."

"You came all this way to see me?" she said, lifting her brows as if
in gentle deprecation. "You were always kind." Her voice broke and
she said no more.

"It is not a question of kindness," he said. "It is a matter of the
simplest right and duty. Will you hear me? Are you able to hear me
to-night, or shall I come again to-morrow?"

"Speak now," she said. "I am perfectly well, and am ready to hear
whatever you may have to say."

Her voice gave proof of a recovered self-control. The necessity of
making this a final interview between them was borne in upon her, and
sitting very still and erect, with her hands clasped tightly
together, she waited to hear what he might say.

"Your leaving England so suddenly," he began, "was, as I need not
say, a disappointment to me. I had hoped to change your mind and
purpose concerning the acceptance not only of money which is your own
by legal right, but of such as is also yours by every rational law of
possession. It was to me an insupportable idea that you should go
away without the means of living as becomes your rank and station."

Bettina, with a rather chill smile, shook her head.

"Rank and station I have none," she said. "I have money enough to
live as becomes my mother's child; that I am, and no more. It is the
only bond to the past which I acknowledge. The name and title which I
bore a little while were never mine in a real and true sense. I do
not care to speak of it; it is all past; but the very fact that your
cousin saw fit to leave me with what you call a mere pittance shows
that he felt the distance, the lack of union, between us, as I felt
and feel it."

It was a relief to her to say this much. He could gather nothing from
it, and she wanted him to know that she had freed her soul from
every vestige of its bondage to the man whom she chose to designate
as his cousin rather than by any relationship to herself--even a past
one. This point did not escape him.

"It is with humiliation that I receive your reminder that that man
was, in flesh and blood at least, akin to me," was the answer; "and
for that reason I have felt it to be my duty to make whatever poor
reparation may be in my power for the evil that he has done."

He spoke with extreme seriousness, and there was a tone in his last
words which conveyed to Bettina the suspicion that they referred to
something more than any act of Lord Hurdly's which had heretofore
been mentioned between them.

She waited, therefore, in some agitation to hear what his next words
should be.

"I shall have to ask your forgiveness," he said, "for touching upon
a matter which might well seem to be an impertinence on my part. The
necessity is forced upon me, however, and I shall be as brief as
possible, if you will be good enough to listen."

Bettina answered merely by a bend of the head.

"As long as I can remember," he began, "I have had a certain
instinctive distrust of the late Lord Hurdly. It grew with my
growth; but I never thought it proper, under the then existing
circumstances, to give expression to it. As time went on, observation
confirmed instinct, and it became evident to me that he was a man of
powerful will, and was more or less unscrupulous in the attainment of
its ends. After his death, in going into the affairs of the estate,
and various other matters which came under my observation, I found
that the truths laid bare before me revealed him as a far worse man
even than I had imagined. It was a revolting manifestation in every
sense; but even when those matters had been closed up--when I
supposed that I was done with the man and aware of the worst--a
revelation was made to me which, though of a piece with the rest,
and no worse in its essence and kind, came home to me with a
thousandfold intensity, from the fact that it nearly concerned both
myself and you."

Bettina's heart beat wildly. She dared not look at him, and with an
instinct to protect herself from betrayal at every cost, she said, in
a voice which was so cool and calm that the sound of it surprised her
as it fell upon her ear:

"Go on. Explain yourself."

She had taken up a paper from the table and was using it as if to
screen her face from the fire, but she managed to get somewhat in the
shadow of it, so that her companion had only a partial view of her
features and expression. In this position, with her eyes bent upon
the fire, her countenance was wholly inscrutable to him. There was a
moment's silence before he continued.

"How far the explanation is necessary," he said, "I do not know. I am
aware that you received a sealed letter, through Cortlin, from a man
named Fitzwilliam Clarke, who is now dead. What that letter contained
is your own affair. I also received a letter from the same source and
by the same hand. It is of the revelation contained in that letter
that I am come to speak to you."

Bettina hardly knew whether she was waking or sleeping. The
astounding suddenness of the consciousness which had come to her now
seemed to stun both her body and her mind. She made no sign, however,
as she sat absolutely still, and her companion went on.

"The letter to you was delivered, you remember, before my return to
England. The interval which elapsed before the delivery of the letter
to me--which occurred scarcely more than a week ago--was due to the
fact that Cortlin had been instructed to put each of these letters
into the hands of none but the man and woman to whom they were
addressed. In the second instance he was prevented by illness from
the prompt performance of his duty. He has had a long and serious
attack of fever. As soon as his condition of health permitted he sent
for me and put the letter into my hands, telling me that he was
ignorant as to its contents, but that a letter from the same source
had been delivered to you by him immediately after the death of the
scoundrel whose treachery had betrayed you into a marriage with him."

Bettina could not speak or look at him. The thoughts which were
seething through her brain were too confused for speech. One thing,
however, was quite clear to her. The resentment that this man so
fiercely manifested was for her sake, not his own. His anger was an
impersonal thing. He had a manly and chivalrous nature, and the mere
fact that her mother had once committed her into his keeping would
constitute a strong claim on such a nature. He was outraged that a
countryman and kinsman of his own could so villanously have duped
her. As for his own wrongs in the matter, he apparently did not
consider these. For all consciousness of them in his words and tones
they might never have existed.

While these thoughts were passing through her mind, he had risen, and
was pacing the floor with restless strides. Now he paused in front of
her and said:

"I trust it may not seem to you that I did wrong to come to you and
tell you of the revelation that had been made to me. I have done it
in the belief that the letter which you received conveyed the same
information. May I be allowed to know if this is true?"

Bettina bent her head, but said no more.

"Then I feel myself justified in having come," he said, in a tone of
relief. "If I could have known you ignorant of the infamous wrong
that was done you, by the unscrupulous means used to beguile you into
a marriage which must so have tortured and humiliated any woman, I
might have kept silent. It might perhaps have been best to omit from
the list of the wrongs you must have suffered this crowning infamy of
all. But since it seemed certain that you knew it, and since it had
doubtless been the reason of your refusing to touch the money which
was so rightfully your due, and of your leaving the country where
this great wrong had been done you, I could not rest until I had
spoken. I could not still the longing to give you a certain solace
which I hoped it might be in my power to give. I knew how sad and
lonely you were. I had written to the rector and asked for tidings of
you."

"You had? He never told me," she said, wonderingly.

"I particularly bound him not to do so; but I did write more than
once, and got his answers. In that way it came to me that you were
unhappy--courageously and unselfishly, yet profoundly so, and it was
not difficult for me to comprehend the reason. You will forgive me
for going into a dead and buried issue for this once; but I knew your
nature, and it was obvious to me that you were torturing yourself
because you felt that you had done a wrong to me."

Bettina caught her breath suddenly, and covered her face with her
hands.

"Is it not so?" he said.

But she could not speak. The shrinking anguish of her whole attitude
was her only answer.

Then he took the seat nearest her, and said:

"It is with the hope of lifting this totally unnecessary burden from
your mind that I have come. I beg you to have patience with me while
I speak to you quite simply and tell you why you would be doing wrong
to blame yourself on my account. For this once I must ask you to let
me speak of the past--not the recent past--let us consider that in
its grave forever--but the remote past, in which for a short while I
had a share. I, too, have my confession to make and pardon to beg,
for I am conscious that I wronged you, though it was through
ignorance, youth, inexperience, and also--forgive me for mentioning
it, but it is my best justification--also because I loved you, with a
love which I was then too ignorant even to comprehend. I needs must
beg you to remember that, in owning my great wrong to you. This
wrong," he continued, after an instant's pause, "consisted in my
urging you to marry me when you did not love me. I feared it was so,
even then; but I was selfish; I thought of myself and not of you.
When the whispered misgiving would rise up in my mind I forced it
down by vowing that if you did not already love me I could and would
make you do so. When the blow fell, and I knew that I had lost you, I
knew that my selfishness in thinking chiefly of my own happiness had
been properly rewarded. At least this was the feeling that possessed
my heart after the first. You were young, confiding, inexperienced. I
knew better than you possibly could know that you did not love me.
Later, you knew it also."

He waited, as if for her response. From behind her close-pressed
hands the answer came.

"Yes," she said, lowly, "I have long known that it was a mistake on
my part. You are right. I did not love you."

Had she been looking, she would have seen a shadow cross his face--a
very faint one, as the hope that it obscured had been faint also.

"Therefore," he said, "I took advantage of you, and obtained from you
a promise which I should never have asked. I want you to feel that I
realize the wrong I did you in that, and ask your forgiveness for
it."

Slowly she lowered her hands and looked at him.

"And you can ask forgiveness of me?" she said.

"I humbly beg it--as on my knees."

"Then what should be my attitude to you?"

"The proud and upright one of never having done me any conscious
wrong."

"But when I left you, rejected you, threw you off--"

"That was not done to me, but to the man you supposed me to be--the
man who had been proved to you a scoundrel, by such proof as any one
would have deemed you mad to doubt."

She looked at him somewhat timidly.

"You are generous indeed," she said.

"I am no whit more than just. You were absolutely warranted in such
a course toward me. What I long to do--what I have crossed the world
in the hope of doing--is to get you to forgive yourself, to free
yourself of a hallucination which is casting a needless shadow on
your life."

"Oh, you are good--good!" she said. "I never knew so kind a heart.
Therefore must my unending misery be the greater that I have once
wounded it."

"That consciousness should have no sting for you hereafter. You did
it in utter ignorance. I cannot claim that I was half so ignorant in
my wrong toward you. But surely we may remember that we have once
been friends, and so we may feel that there is full and free
forgiveness between us before we part."

She did not speak. That last word had pierced too deeply to her
heart.

"You do forgive me--do you not?" he said, as if he misunderstood her
silence.

"I thank you--I bless you--I seek _your_ forgiveness," she said.

At these last words he smiled--a smile that had a certain bitterness
in it. Then suddenly his face became rigidly grave.

"If I had not given you my forgiveness, long ago," he said, "I should
like to offer it to you now, at a price. I wish to God that I could."

"What do you mean?" she said, a sweet perplexity upon her face. "What
price have I to pay for anything?"

"Ah, there it is! It may seem brutal of me to put a literal
construction upon what you have used as a figure of speech, but let
the truth come out. You are poor, unprotected, alone, and you ask me
to go and leave you so! God knows it is little enough that I have it
in my power to do, but the possession of money would enable you at
least to live as it becomes you to live. I do not speak of your
title--it is not what you are called, but what you are, that I have
in mind. If you had money, even the small income which I so desire
that you shall accept, your life would be different."

But Bettina looked away from him, and shook her head in the gentle
negation which he knew to be so final.

"How would my life be different?" she said.

"You could make it so."

"In what way?"

"You could travel, for one thing."

"I do not want to travel. I desired it once, and I got my wish. But
with it came a wretchedness that all the travelling in the world
could not carry me away from."

"Then what is to be your life?"

"What you see it now. I do not wish to change it for any other. I
have tried the world and its rewards. There is nothing in them."

Her tone of absolute, unexpectant decision maddened him.

"My God, Bettina!" he exclaimed, too excited to notice that the name
had escaped him. "Are you in earnest? Can you mean it? I wish I could
believe that you did not. But there is a deadly reality about you now
which makes me fear that you will keep your word. That you should
spend your life in this isolation, that you--you--"

He broke off, as if words failed him.

"What better can I do?" she said. "You must not think of me as idle
and useless. I am going to try not to be that. I have tried a little.
Ask the rector. And I am going to try more. There is but one thing
that I deeply desire, and that is to be a better woman than I have
been in the past. Oh, I will try hard--I will, indeed I will--to do a
little good in the future, to make up for all the harm I have done!"

She ceased, her voice failing her, and as she looked at the man
standing near her she saw that he was scarcely listening. Some
intense preoccupation made him take in but vaguely what she was
saying. She saw that he was deeply moved in some way, and the
consciousness that this was so gave her a sense of alarm. She felt
her own will weakening, and she knew that somehow she must get this
parting over, if her strength were to suffice for it.

"Good-bye," she said, holding out her hand.

"Don't be too sorry for me. You have lightened my heart inexpressibly
by what you have told me. Now that I can feel that you know
all--that, wrong and wicked as I was, I was not so false as it
seemed--I can bear the future with courage. I am sure of it. I want
to say good-bye now, because I prefer not to see you again. You would
only try to shake me in a determination that is not to be shaken.
Don't trouble about me--please don't," she added. "I have health and
youth, and these will suffice me for what I have to do."

"Health and youth!" he cried, ignoring her proffered hand, and
throwing his own hands up in a gesture of repudiation. "And what do
these signify in a situation such as yours? They only mean that you
will prolong an existence which, for such a woman as you, seems worse
than death. You ask me to leave you so? To say good-bye--"

"Yes, I beg it, I implore it, I insist upon it," she interrupted him,
feeling that her strength was almost gone. "You have said that you
were willing to do me a service--then leave me."

She sank back in her chair exhausted.

"My God! am I a brute?" he said. "Have I made you ill with my idiotic
persistency? I will go. I will rid you of the distress and annoyance
of my presence. But before I go, Bettina," he said, with a sudden
break in his voice, "I must and will satisfy my heart by one thing: I
must, for the sake of my own soul's peace, tell you this. I have
never ceased to love you, and I never shall. I gave you up when I saw
the renunciation to be inevitable, but I knew then, as I know now,
that I can never put any other in your place. You were the love of my
youth, and you will be the love of my old age, if my lonely life goes
on till then. Don't turn from me. Don't hide your face like that. I
ask nothing but this sacred right to speak. I know you never loved
me. I know it is not in me--if, indeed, it be in any mortal man--to
enter into the heaven of being loved by you. But, at least, you have
been the vision in my life--the sacred manifestation of what girl and
sweetheart and woman and wife might be--and for that I thank you. In
the shadow of that beatific vision I shall walk henceforth, and
believe me when I say that I shall walk there alone."

Bettina, with her face buried in her hands, remained profoundly
still. When he had waited a moment he began to fear that he had
overtaxed her strength too far, and that she might have fainted.

Kneeling in front of her, he took her two wrists gently in his hands
and tried to draw them away from her eyes. The strong resistance that
she made to this gave evidence enough that she was conscious in every
sentient nerve.

"Forgive me," he said; "I am going--I have been wrong to force all
this upon you--but it is the last time that we shall meet. Let me, I
pray you, see your face once more before I turn away from it
forever."

The tense hands relaxed within his grasp, but he caught no more than
a second's glimpse of the beautiful face before it was hid against
his shoulder.

At the same instant a low voice whispered in his ear:

"Don't move until I speak to you."

Overwhelmed with wonder, he felt the hands which he had grasped now
holding fast his own, that she might compel him to the stillness
which she had commanded. Then the soft voice at his ear went on:

"You were right in saying that I did not love you--that you would
have urged me into a marriage to which I could not have brought the
true feeling. I did not know it then, but I know it now. And I know
it now because--because--" her voice trembled and her breath came
quick--"because now I do love you. Oh, Horace, better love than this
man could not have or woman give."

She ended in a burst of tears, and her exhausted body leaned against
him for support.

For a moment he felt an amazement so overwhelming that he seemed half
unconscious from the whirling in his brain. Then, as a lightning
flash lights up the whole dark heaven in an instant's time, the truth
was revealed to him, and, with that consciousness, his arms were
tight about her and his kisses on her lips.

If he questioned her at all, it was with his spirit, and her answer
came in that ineffable sense of union which fused their souls in one.
For long still moments they rested so, in that embrace, and when they
moved apart and looked into each other's eyes it was to take up
forever that united life which was to bind them in true marriage.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Nora returned from church she found them sitting quietly before
the fire, the lamp burning brightly under the kettle, from which the
Lady Hurdly that was and was to be had just made tea for her lord.

                         THE END



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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Minor changes have been made to correct obvious typesetter errors;
otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's
words and intent.





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