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Title: Dr. Rumsey's Patient - A Very Strange Story
Author: Mead, L. T., Halifax, Dr.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dr. Rumsey's Patient - A Very Strange Story" ***

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                          DR. RUMSEY'S PATIENT

                         _A VERY STRANGE STORY_

                      BY L. T. MEAD AND DR. HALIFAX

          JOINT AUTHORS OF "STORIES FROM THE DIARY OF A DOCTOR"


    NEW YORK
    HURST & COMPANY
    PUBLISHERS

    COPYRIGHTED, 1896, BY
    THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS COMPANY
    _ALL RIGHTS RESERVED_



[Illustration: MRS L. T. MEADE.]



DR. RUMSEY'S PATIENT.



CHAPTER I.


Two young men in flannels were standing outside the door of the Red Doe
in the picturesque village of Grandcourt. The village contained one long
and straggling street. The village inn was covered with ivy, wistaria,
flowering jessamine, monthly roses, and many other creepers. The flowers
twined round old-fashioned windows, and nodded to the guests when they
awoke in the morning and breathed perfume upon them as they retired to
bed at night. In short, the Inn was an ideal one, and had from time
immemorial found favor with reading parties, fishermen, and others who
wanted to combine country air and the pursuit of health with a certain
form of easy amusement. The two men who now stood in the porch were
undergraduates from Balliol. There was nothing in the least remarkable
about their appearance--they looked like what they were, good-hearted,
keen-witted young Englishmen of the day. The time was evening, and as
the Inn faced due west the whole place was bathed in warm sunshine.

"This heat is tremendous and there is no air," said Everett, the younger
of the students. "How can you stand that sun beating on your head,
Frere? I'm for indoors."

"Right," replied Frere. "It is cool enough in the parlor."

As he spoke he took a step forward and gazed down the winding village
street. There was a look of pleased expectation in his eyes. He seemed
to be watching for some one. A girl appeared, walking slowly up the
street. Frere's eye began to dance. Everett, who was about to go into
the shady parlor, gave him a keen glance--and for some reason his eyes
also grew bright with expectation.

"There's something worth looking at," he exclaimed in a laughing voice.

"What did you say?" asked Frere gruffly.

"Nothing, old man--at least nothing special. I say, doesn't Hetty look
superb?"

"You've no right to call her Hetty."

Everett gave a low whistle.

"I rather fancy I have," he answered--"she gave me leave this morning."

"Impossible," said Frere. He turned pale under all his sunburn, and bit
his lower lip. "Don't you find the sun very hot?" he asked.

"No, it is sinking into the west--the great heat is over. Let us go and
enliven this little charmer."

"I will," said Frere suddenly. "You had better stay here where you are.
It is my right," he added. "I was about to tell you so, when she came in
view."

"Your right?" cried Everett; he looked disturbed.

Frere did not reply, but strode quickly down the village street. A dozen
strides brought him up to Hetty's side. She was a beautiful girl, with a
face and figure much above her station. Her hat was covered with wild
flowers which she had picked in her walk, and coquettishly placed there.
She wore a pink dress covered with rosebuds--some wild flowers were
stuck into her belt. As Frere advanced to meet her, her laughing eyes
were raised to his face--there was a curious mixture of timidity and
audacity in their glance.

"I have a word to say to you," he accosted her in a gruff tone. "What
right had you to give Everett leave to call you Hetty?"

The timidity immediately left the bright eyes, and a slight expression
of anger took its place.

"Because I like to distribute my favors, Mr. Horace."

She quickened her pace as she spoke. Everett, who had been standing
quite still in the porch watching the little scene, came out to meet the
pair. Hetty flushed crimson when she saw him; she raised her dancing,
charming dark eyes to his face, then looked again at Frere, who turned
sullenly away.

"I hope, gentlemen, you have had good sport," said the rustic beauty, in
her demure voice.

"Excellent," replied Everett.

They had now reached the porch, which was entwined all over with
honeysuckle in full flower. A great spray of the fragrant flower nearly
touched the girl's charming face. She glanced again at Frere. He would
not meet her eyes. Her whole face sparkled with the feminine love of
teasing.

"Why is he so jealous?" she whispered to herself. "It would be fun to
punish him. I like him better than Mr. Everett, but I'll punish him."

"Shall I give you a buttonhole?" she said, looking at Everett.

"If you'll be so kind," he replied.

She raised her eyes to the honeysuckle over her head, selected a spray
with extreme care, and handed it to him demurely. He asked her to place
it in his buttonhole; she looked again at Frere,--he would not go away,
but neither would he bring himself to glance at her. She bent her head
to search in the bodice of her dress for a pin, found one, and then with
a laughing glance of her eyes into Everett's handsome face, complied
with his request.

The young fellow blushed with pleasure, then he glanced at Frere, and a
feeling of compunction smote him--he strode abruptly into the house.

"Hetty, what do you mean by this sort of thing?" said Frere the moment
they were alone.

"I mean this, Mr. Horace: I am still my own mistress."

"Great Scot! of course you are; but what do you mean by this sort of
trifling? It was only this morning that you told me you loved me. Look
here, Hetty, I'm in no humor to be trifled with; I can't and won't stand
it. I'll make you the best husband a girl ever had, but listen to me, I
have the devil's own temper when it is roused. For God's sake don't
provoke it. If you don't love me, say so, and let there be an end of
it."

"I wish you wouldn't speak so loudly," said Hetty, pouting her lips
and half crying. "Of course I like you; I--well, yes, I suppose I
love you. I was thinking of you all the afternoon. See what I
gathered for you--this bunch of heart's-ease. There's meaning in
heart's-ease--there's none in honeysuckle."

Frere's brow cleared as if by magic.

"My little darling," he said, fixing his deep-set eyes greedily on the
girl's beautiful face. "Forgive me for being such a brute to you, Hetty.
Here--give me the flowers."

"No, not until you pay for them. You don't deserve them for being so
nasty and suspicious."

"Give me the flowers, Hetty; I promise never to doubt you again."

"Yes, you will; it is your nature to doubt."

"I have no words to say what I feel for you."

Frere's eyes emphasized this statement so emphatically, that the
empty-headed girl by his side felt her heart touched for the moment.

"What do you want me to do, Mr. Horace?" she asked, lowering her eyes.

"To give me the flowers, and to be nice to me."

"Come down to the brook after supper, perhaps I'll give them to you
then. There's aunt calling me--don't keep me, please." She rushed off.

"Hetty," said Mrs. Armitage, the innkeeper's wife, "did I hear you
talking to Mr. Horace Frere in the porch?"

"Yes, Aunt Fanny, you did," replied Hetty.

"Well, look here, your uncle and I won't have it. Just because you're
pretty--"

Hetty tossed back her wealth of black curls.

"It's all right," she said in a whisper, her eyes shining as she spoke.
"He wants me to be his wife--he asked me this morning."

"He doesn't mean that, surely," said Mrs. Armitage, incredulous and
pleased.

"Yes, he does; he'll speak to uncle to-morrow--that is, if I'll say
'Yes.' He says he has no one to consult--he'll make me a lady--he has
plenty of money."

"Do you care for him, Hetty?"

"Oh, don't ask me whether I do or not, Aunt Fanny--I'm sure I can't tell
you."

Hetty moved noisily about. She put plates and dishes on a tray
preparatory to taking them into the parlor for the young men's supper.

"Look here," said her aunt, "I'll see after the parlor lodgers
to-night." She lifted the tray as she spoke.

Hetty ran up to her bedroom. She took a little square of glass from its
place on the wall and gazed earnestly at the reflection of her own
charming face. Presently she put the glass down, locked her hands
together, went over to the open window and looked out.

"Shall I marry him?" she thought. "He has plenty of money--he loves me
right enough. If I were his wife, I'd be a lady--I needn't worry about
household work any more. I hate household work--I hate drudgery. I want
to have a fine time, with nothing to do but just to think of my dress
and how I look. He has plenty of money, and he loves me--he says he'll
make me his wife as soon as ever I say the word. Uncle and aunt would be
pleased, too, and the people in the village would say I'd made a good
match. Shall I marry him? I don't love him a bit, but what does that
matter?"

She sighed--the color slightly faded on her blooming cheeks--she poked
her head out of the little window.

"I don't love him," she said to herself. "When I see Mr. Awdrey my heart
beats. Ever since I was a little child I have thought more of Mr. Awdrey
than of any one else in all the world. I never told--no, I never told,
but I'd rather slave for Mr. Robert Awdrey than be the wife of any one
else on earth. What a fool I am! Mr. Awdrey thinks nothing of me, but he
is never out of my head, nor out of my heart. My heart aches for
him--I'm nearly mad sometimes about it all. Perhaps I'll see him
to-night if I go down to the brook. He's sure to pass the brook on his
way to the Court. Mr. Everett likes me too, I know, and he's a gentleman
as well as Mr. Frere. Oh, dear, they both worry me more than please me.
I'd give twenty men like them for one sight of the young Squire. Oh,
what folly all this is!"

She went again and stood opposite to her little looking-glass.

"The young ladies up at the Court haven't got a face like mine," she
murmured. "There isn't any one all over the place has a face like mine.
I wonder if Mr. Awdrey really thinks it pretty? Why should I worry
myself about Mr. Frere? I wonder if Mr. Awdrey would mind if I married
him--would it make him jealous? If I thought that, I'd do it fast
enough--yes, I declare I would. But of course he wouldn't mind--not one
bit; he has scarcely ever said two words to me--not since we were little
'uns together, and pelted each other with apples in uncle's orchard. Oh,
Mr. Awdrey, I'd give all the world for one smile from you, but you think
nothing at all of poor Hetty. Dear, beautiful Mr. Awdrey--won't you love
me even a little--even as you love your dog? Yes, I'll go and walk by
the brook after supper. Mr. Frere will meet me there, of course, and
perhaps Mr. Awdrey will go by--perhaps he'll be jealous. I'll take my
poetry book and sit by the brook just where the forget-me-nots grow.
Yes, yes--oh, I wonder if the Squire will go by."

These thoughts no sooner came into Hetty's brain than she resolved to
act upon them. She snatched up a volume of L. E. L.'s poems--their weak
and lovelorn phrases exactly suited her style and order of mind--and ran
quickly down to a dancing rivulet which ran its merry course about a
hundred yards back of the Inn. She sat by the bank, pulled a great bunch
of forget-me-nots, laid them on the open pages of her book, and looked
musingly down at the flowers. Footsteps were heard crunching the
underwood at the opposite side. A voice presently sounded in her ears.
Hetty's heart beat loudly.

"How do you do?" said the voice.

"Good-evening, Mr. Robert," she replied.

Her tone was demure and extremely respectful. She started to her feet,
letting her flowers drop as she did so. A blush suffused her lovely
face, her dancing eyes were raised for a quick moment, then as suddenly
lowered. She made a beautiful picture. The young man who stood a few
feet away from her, with the running water dividing them, evidently
thought so. He had a boyish figure--a handsome, manly face. His eyes
were very dark, deeply set, and capable of much thought. He looked every
inch the gentleman.

"Is Armitage in?" he asked after a pause.

"I don't know, Mr. Robert, I'll go and inquire if you like."

"No, it doesn't matter. The Squire asked me to call and beg of your
uncle to come to the Court to-morrow morning. Will you give him the
message?"

"Yes, Mr. Robert."

There was a perceptible pause. Hetty looked down at the water. Awdrey
looked at her.

"Good-evening," he said then.

"Good-evening, sir," she replied.

He turned and walked slowly up the narrow path which led toward the
Court.

"His eyes told me to-night that he thought me pretty," muttered Hetty to
herself, "why doesn't he say it with his lips? I--I wish I could make
him. Oh, is that you, Mr. Frere?"

"Yes, Hetty. I promised to come, and I am here. The evening is a perfect
one, let us follow the stream a little way."

Hetty was about to say "No," when suddenly lifting her eyes, she
observed that the young Squire had paused under the shade of a great
elm-tree a little further up the bank. A quick idea darted into her vain
little soul. She would walk past the Squire without pretending to see
him, in Frere's company. Frere should make love to her in the Squire's
presence. She gave her lover a coy and affectionate glance.

"Yes, come," she said: "it is pretty by the stream; perhaps I'll give
you some forget-me-nots presently."

"I want the heart's-ease which you have already picked for me," said
Frere.

"Oh, there's time enough."

Frere advanced a step, and laid his hand on the girl's arm.

"Listen," he said: "I was never more in earnest in my life. I love you
with all my heart and soul. I love you madly. I want you for my wife. I
mean to marry you, come what may. I have plenty of money and you are the
wife of all others for me. You told me this morning that you loved me,
Hetty. Tell me again; say that you love me better than any one else in
the world."

Hetty paused, she raised her dark eyes; the Squire was almost within
earshot.

"I suppose I love you--a little," she said, in a whisper.

"Then give me a kiss--just one."

She walked on. Frere followed.

"Give me a kiss--just one," he repeated.

"Not to-night," she replied, in a demure voice.

"Yes, you must--I insist."

"Don't, Mr. Frere," she called out sharply, uttering a cry as she spoke.

He didn't mind her. Overcome by his passion he caught her suddenly in
his arms, and pressed his lips many times to hers.

"Hold, sir! What are you doing?" shouted Awdrey's voice from the
opposite side of the bank.

"By heaven, what is that to you?" called Frere back.

He let Hetty go with some violence, and retreated one or two steps in
his astonishment. His face was crimson up to the roots of his honest
brow.

Awdrey leaped across the brook. "You will please understand that you
take liberties with Miss Armitage at your peril," he said. "What right
have you to take such advantage of an undefended girl? Hetty, I will see
you home."

Hetty's eyes danced with delight. For a moment Frere felt too stunned to
speak.

"Come with me, Hetty," said Awdrey, putting a great restraint upon
himself, but speaking with irritation. "Come--you should be at home at
this hour."

"You shall answer to me for this, whoever you are," said Frere, whose
face was white with passion.

"My name is Awdrey," said the Squire; "I will answer you in a way you
don't like if you don't instantly leave this young girl alone."

"Confound your interference," said Frere. "I am not ashamed of my
actions. I can justify them. I am going to marry Miss Armitage."

"Is that true, Hetty?" said Awdrey, looking at the girl in some
astonishment.

"No, there isn't a word of it true," answered Hetty, stung by a look on
the Squire's face. "I don't want to have anything to do with him--he
shan't kiss me. I--I'll have nothing to do with him." She burst into
tears.

"I'll see you home," said Awdrey.



CHAPTER II.


The Awdreys of "The Court" could trace their descent back to the Norman
Conquest. They were a proud family with all the special characteristics
which mark races of long descent. Among the usual accompaniments of
race, was given to them the curse of heredity. A strange and peculiar
doom hung over the house. It had descended now from father to son during
many generations. How it had first raised its gorgon head no one could
tell. People said that it had been sent as a punishment for the greed of
gold. An old ancestor, more than a hundred and fifty years ago, had
married a West Indian heiress. She had colored blood in her veins, a
purse of enormous magnitude, a deformed figure, and, what was more to
the point, a particularly crooked and obtuse order of mind. She did her
duty by her descendants, leaving to each of them a gift. To one,
deformity of person--to another, a stammering tongue--to a third, a
squint--to a fourth, imbecility. In each succeeding generation, at least
one man and woman of the house of Awdrey had cause to regret the gold
which had certainly brought a curse with it. But beyond and above all
these things, it was immediately after the West Indian's entrance into
the family that that strange doom began to assail the male members of
the house which was now more dreaded than madness. The doom was unique
and curious. It consisted of one remarkable phase. There came upon those
on whom it descended an extraordinary and complete lapse of memory for
the grave events of life, accompanied by perfect retention of memory for
all minor matters. This curious phase once developed, other
idiosyncrasies immediately followed. The victim's moral sense became
weakened--all physical energy departed--a curious lassitude of mind and
body became general. The victim did not in the least know that there was
anything special the matter with him, but as a rule the doomed man
either became idiotic, or died before the age of thirty.

All the great physicians of their time had been consulted with regard to
this curious family trait, but in the first place no one could
understand it, in the second no possible cure could be suggested as a
remedy. The curse was supposed to be due to a brain affection, but brain
affections in the old days were considered to be special visitations
from God, and men of science let them alone.

In their early life, the Awdreys were particularly bright, clever sharp
fellows, endowed with excellent animal spirits, and many amiable traits
of character. They were chivalrous to women, kind to children, full of
warm affections, and each and all of them possessed much of the golden
gift of hope. As a rule the doom of the house came upon each victim with
startling suddenness. One of the disappointments of life ensued--an
unfortunate love affair--the death of some beloved member--a money loss.
The victim lost all memory of the event. No words, no explanations could
revive the dead memory--the thing was completely blotted out from the
phonograph of the brain. Immediately afterward followed the mental and
physical decay. The girls of the family quite escaped the curse. It was
on the sons that it invariably descended.

Up to the present time, however, Robert Awdrey's father had lived to
confute the West Indian's dire curse. His father had married a Scotch
lassie, with no bluer blood in her veins than that which had been given
to her by some rugged Scotch ancestors. Her health of mind and body had
done her descendants much good. Even the word "nerves" had been unknown
to this healthy-minded daughter of the North--her children had all up to
the present escaped the family curse, and it was now firmly believed at
the Court that the spell was broken, and that the West Indian's awful
doom would leave the family. The matter was too solemn and painful to be
alluded to except under the gravest conditions, and young Robert Awdrey,
the heir to the old place and all its belongings, was certainly the last
person to speak of it.

Robert's father was matter-of-fact to the back bone, but Robert himself
was possessed of an essentially reflective temperament. Had he been less
healthily brought up by his stout old grandmother and by his mother, he
might have given way to morbid musings. Circumstances, however, were all
in his favor, and at the time when this strange story really opens, he
was looking out at life with a heart full of hope and a mind filled with
noble ambitions. Robert was the only son--he had two sisters, bright,
good-natured, every-day sort of girls. As a matter of course his sisters
adored him. They looked forward to his career with immense pride. He was
to stand for Parliament at the next general election. His brains
belonged to the highest order of intellect. He had taken a double first
at the University--there was no position which he might not hope to
assume.

Robert had all the chivalrous instincts of his race toward women. As he
walked quickly home now with Hetty by his side, his blood boiled at the
thought of the insult which had been offered to her. Poor, silly little
Hetty was nothing whatever to him except a remarkably pretty village
girl. Her people, however, were his father's tenants; he felt it his
duty to protect her. When he parted with her just outside the village
inn, he said a few words.

"You ought not to allow those young men to take liberties with you,
Hetty," he said. "Now, go home. Don't be out so late again in the
future, and don't forget to give your uncle my father's message."

She bent her head, and left him without replying. She did not even thank
him. He watched her until she disappeared into the house, then turned
sharply and walked up the village street home with a vigorous step.

He had come to the spot where he had parted with Frere, and was just
about to leap the brook, when that young man started suddenly from under
a tree, and stood directly in his path.

"I must ask you to apologize to me," he said.

Awdrey flushed.

"What do you mean?" he replied.

"What I say. My intentions toward Miss Armitage are perfectly honest.
She promised to marry me this morning. When you chose to interfere, I
was kissing my future wife."

"If that is really the case, I beg your pardon," said Awdrey; "but
then," he continued, looking full at Frere, "Hetty Armitage denies any
thought of marrying you."

"She does, does she?" muttered Frere. His face turned white.

"One word before you go," said Awdrey. "Miss Armitage is a pretty
girl----"

"What is that to you?" replied Frere, "I don't mean to discuss her with
you."

"You may please yourself about that, but allow me to say one thing. Her
uncle is one of my father's oldest and most respected tenants; Hetty is
therefore under our protection, and I for one will see that she gets
fair play. Any one who takes liberties with her has got to answer to me.
That's all. Good-evening."

Awdrey slightly raised his hat, leaped the brook, and disappeared
through the underwood in the direction of the Court.

Horace Frere stood and watched him.

His rage was now almost at white heat. He was madly in love, and was
therefore not quite responsible for his own actions. He was determined
at any cost to make Hetty his wife. The Squire's interference awoke the
demon of jealousy in his heart. He had patiently borne Everett's marked
attentions to the girl of his choice--he wondered now at the sudden
passion which filled him. He walked back to the inn feeling exactly as
if the devil were driving him.

"I'll have this thing out with Hetty before I am an hour older," he
cried aloud. "She promised to marry me this very morning. How dare that
jackanapes interfere! What do I care for his position in the place? If
he's twenty times the Squire it's nothing to me. Hetty had the cool
cheek to eat her own words to him in my presence. It's plain to be seen
what the thing means. She's a heartless flirt--she's flying for higher
game than honest Horace Frere, but I'll put a spoke in her wheel, and in
his wheel too, curse him. He's in love with the girl himself--that's why
he interferes. Well, she shall choose between him and me to-night, and
if she does choose him it will be all the worse for him."

As he rushed home, Frere lashed himself into greater and greater fury.
Everett was standing inside the porch when the other man passed him
roughly by.

"I say, Frere, what's up?" called Everett, taking the pipe out of his
mouth.

"Curse you, don't keep me, I want to speak to Miss Armitage."

Everett burst into a somewhat discordant laugh.

"Your manners are not quite to be desired at the present moment, old
man," he said. "Miss Armitage seems to have a strangely disquieting
effect upon her swains."

"I do not intend to discuss her with you, Everett. I must speak to her
at once."

Everett laughed again.

"She seems to be a person of distinction," he said. "She has just been
seen home with much ceremony by no less a person than Awdrey, of The
Court."

"Curse Awdrey and all his belongings. Do you know where she is?"

A sweet, high-pitched voice within the house now made itself heard.

"I can see you in Aunt's parlor if you like, Mr. Horace."

"Yes."

Frere strode into the house--a moment later he was standing opposite to
Hetty in the little hot gaslit parlor.

Hetty had evidently been crying. Her tears had brought shadows under her
eyes--they added pathos to her lovely face, giving it a look of depth
which it usually lacked. Frere gave her one glance, then he felt his
anger dropping from him like a mantle.

"For God's sake, Hetty, speak the truth," said the poor fellow.

"What do you want me to say, Mr. Horace?" she asked.

Her voice was tremulous, her tears nearly broke forth anew. Frere made a
step forward. He would have clasped her to his breast, but she would not
allow him.

"No," she said with a sob, "I can't have anything to do with you."

"Hetty, you don't know what you are saying. Hetty, remember this
morning."

"I remember it, but I can't go on with it. Forget everything I said--go
away--please go away."

"No, I won't go away. By heaven, you shall tell me the truth. Look here,
Hetty, I won't be humbugged--you've got to choose at once."

"What do you mean, Mr. Horace?"

"You've got to choose between that fellow and me."

"Between you and the Squire!" exclaimed Hetty.

She laughed excitedly; the bare idea caused her heart to beat wildly.
Her laughter nearly drove Frere mad. He strode up to her, took her hands
with force, and looked into her frightened eyes.

"Do you love him? The truth, girl, I will have it."

"Let me go, Mr. Horace."

"I won't until you tell me the truth. It is either the Squire or me; I
must hear the truth now or never--which is it, Squire Awdrey or me?"

"Oh, I can't help it," said Hetty, bursting into tears--"it's the
Squire--oh, sir, let me go."



CHAPTER III.


Frere stood perfectly still for a moment after Hetty had spoken, then
without a word he turned and left her. Everett was still standing in the
porch. Everett had owned to himself that he had a decided penchant for
the little rustic beauty, but Frere's fierce passion cooled his. He did
not feel particularly inclined, however, to sympathize with his friend.

"How rough you are, Frere!" he said angrily; "you've almost knocked the
pipe out of my mouth a second time this evening."

Frere went out into the night without uttering a syllable.

"Where are you off to?" called Everett after him.

"What is that to you?" was shouted back.

Everett said something further. A strong and very emphatic oath left
Frere's lips in reply. The innkeeper, Armitage, was passing the young
man at the moment. He stared at him, wondering at the whiteness of his
face, and the extraordinary energy of his language. Armitage went
indoors to supper, and thought no more of the circumstance. He was
destined, however, to remember it later. Everett continued to smoke his
pipe with philosophical calm. He hoped against hope that pretty little
Hetty might come and stand in the porch with him. Finding she did not
appear, he resolved to go out and look for his friend. He was leaving
the Inn when Armitage called after him:

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Everett, but will you be out late?"

"I can't say," replied Everett, stopping short; "why?"

"Because if so, sir, you had better take the latchkey. We're going to
shut up the whole place early to-night; the wife is dead beat, and Hetty
is not quite well."

"I'm sorry for that," said Everett, after a pause; "well, give me the
key. I dare say I'll return quite soon; I am only going out to meet Mr.
Frere."

Armitage gave the young man the key and returned to the house.

Meanwhile Frere had wandered some distance from the pretty little
village and the charming rustic inn. His mind was out of tune with all
harmony and beauty. He was in the sort of condition when men will do mad
deeds not knowing in the least why they do them. Hetty's words had, as
he himself expressed it, "awakened the very devil in him."

"She has owned it," he kept saying to himself. "Yes, I was right in my
conjecture--he wants her himself. Much he regards honor and behaving
straight to a woman. I'll show him a thing or two. Jove, if I meet him
to-night, he'll rue it."

The great solemn plain of Salisbury lay not two miles off. Frere made
for its broad downs without knowing in the least that he was doing so.
By and by, he found himself on a vast open space, spreading sheer away
to the edge of the horizon. The moon, which had been bright when he had
started on his walk, was now about to set--it was casting long shadows
on the ground; his own shadow in gigantic dimensions walked by his side
as he neared the vicinity of the plain. He walked on and on; the further
he went the more fiercely did his blood boil within him. All his life
hitherto he had been calm, collected, reasonable. He had taken the
events of life with a certain rude philosophy. He had intended to do
well for himself--to carve out a prosperous career for himself, but
although he had subdued his passions both at college and at school, he
had never blinded his eyes to the fact that there lived within his
breast, ready to be awakened when the time came, a devil. Once, as a
child, he had given way to this mad fury. He had flung a knife at his
brother, wounding him in the temple, and almost killing him. The sight
of the blood and the fainting form of his only brother had awakened his
better self. He had lived through agony while his brother's life hung in
the balance. The lad eventually recovered, to die in a year or two of
something else, but Frere never forgot that time of mental torture. From
that hour until the present, he had kept his "devil," as he used to call
it, well in check.

It was rampant to-night, however--he knew it, he took no pains to
conceal the fact from his own heart--he rather gloried in the knowledge.

He walked on and on, across the plain.

Presently in the dim distance he heard Everett calling him.

"Frere, I say Frere, stop a moment, I'll come up to you."

A man who had been collecting underwood, and was returning home with a
bagful, suddenly appeared in Frere's path. Hearing the voice of the man
shouting behind he stopped.

"There be some-un calling yer," he said in his rude dialect.

Frere stared at the man blindly. He looked behind him, saw Everett's
figure silhouetted against the sky, and then took wildly to his heels;
he ran as if something evil were pursuing him.

At this moment the moon went completely down, and the whole of the vast
plain lay in dim gray shadow. Frere had not the least idea where he was
running. He and Everett had spent whole days on the plain revelling in
the solitude and the splendid air, but they had neither of them ever
visited it at night before. The whole place was strange, uncanny,
unfamiliar. Frere soon lost his bearings. He tumbled into a hole,
uttered an exclamation of pain, and raised himself with some difficulty.

"Hullo!" said a voice, "you might have broken your leg. What are you
doing here?"

Frere stood upright; a man slighter and taller than himself faced him
about three feet away. Frere could not recognize the face, but he knew
the tone.

"What the devil have you come to meet me for?" he said. "You've come to
meet a madman. Turn back and go home, or it will be the worse for you."

"I don't understand you," said Awdrey.

Frere put a tremendous restraint upon himself.

"Look here," he said, "I don't want to injure you, upon my soul I don't,
but there's a devil in me to-night, and you had better go home without
any more words."

"I shall certainly do nothing of the kind," answered Awdrey. "The plain
is as open to me as to you. If you dislike me take your own path."

"My path is right across where you are standing," said Frere.

"Well, step aside and leave me alone!"

It was so dark the men only appeared as shadows one to the other. Their
voices, each of them growing hot and passionate, seemed scarcely to
belong to themselves. Frere came a step nearer to Awdrey.

"You shall have it," he cried. "By the heaven above, I don't want to
spare you. Let me tell you what I think of you."

"Sir," said Awdrey, "I don't wish to have anything to do with you--leave
me, go about your business."

"I will after I've told you a bit of my mind. You're a confounded
sneak--you're a liar--you're no gentleman. Shall I tell you why you
interfered between me and my girl to-night--because you want her for
yourself!"

This sudden accusation so astounded Awdrey that he did not even reply.
He came to the conclusion that Frere was really mad.

"You forget yourself," he said, after a long pause. "I excuse you, of
course, I don't even know what you are talking about!"

"Yes, you do, you black-hearted scoundrel. You interfered between Hetty
Armitage and me because you want her yourself--she told me so much
to-night!"

"She told you!--it's you who lie."

"She told me--so much for your pretended virtue. Get out of the way, or
I'll strike you to the earth, you dog!"

Frere's wild passion prevented Awdrey's rising.

The accusation made against him was so preposterous that it did not even
rouse his anger.

"I'm sorry for you," he said after a pause, "you labor under a complete
misapprehension. I wish to protect Hetty Armitage as I would any other
honest girl. Keep out of my path now, sir, I wish to continue my walk."

"By Heaven, that you never shall."

Frere uttered a wild, maniacal scream. The next instant he had closed
with Awdrey, and raising a heavy cane which he carried, aimed it full at
the young Squire's head.

"I could kill you, you brute, you scoundrel, you low, base seducer," he
shouted.

For a moment Awdrey was taken off his guard. But the next instant the
fierce blood of his race awoke within him. Frere was no mean
antagonist--he was a stouter, heavier, older man than Awdrey. He had
also the strength which madness confers. After a momentary struggle he
flung Awdrey to the ground. The two young men rolled over together. Then
with a quick and sudden movement Awdrey sprang to his feet. He had no
weapon to defend himself with but a slight stick which he carried. Frere
let him go for a moment to spring upon him again like a tiger. A sudden
memory came to Awdrey's aid--a memory which was to be the undoing of his
entire life. He had been told in his boyhood by an old prize-fighter who
taught him boxing, that the most effective way to use a stick in
defending himself from an enemy was to use it as a bayonet.

"Prod your foe in the mouth," old Jim had said--"be he dog or man, prod
him in the mouth. Grasp your stick in both hands, and when he comes to
you, prod him in the mouth or neck."

The words flashed distinctly now through Awdrey's brain. When Frere
raised his heavy stick to strike him he grasped his own slender weapon
and rushed forward. He aimed full at Frere's open mouth. The stick went
a few inches higher and entered the unfortunate man's right eye. He fell
with a sudden groan to the ground.

In a moment Awdrey's passion was over. He bent over the prostrate man
and examined the wound which he had made. Frere lay perfectly quiet;
there was an awful silence about him. The dark shadows of the night
brooded heavily over the place. Awdrey did not for several moments
realize that something very like a murder had been committed. He bent
over the prostrate man--he took his limp hand in his, felt for a
pulse--there was none. With trembling fingers he tore open the coat and
pressed his hand to the heart--it was strangely still. He bent his ear
to listen--there was no sound. Awdrey was scarcely frightened yet. He
did not even now in the least realize what had happened. He felt in his
pocket for a flask of brandy which he sometimes carried about with him.
An oath escaped his lips when he found he had forgotten it. Then taking
up his stick he felt softly across the point. The point of the stick was
wet--wet with blood. He felt carefully along its edge. The blood
extended up a couple of inches. He knew then what had happened. The
stick had undoubtedly entered Frere's brain through the eye, causing
instant death.

When the knowledge came to Awdrey he laughed. His laugh sounded queer,
but he did not notice its strangeness. He felt again in his
pocket--discovered a box of matches which he pulled out eagerly. He
struck a match, and by the weird, uncertain light which it cast looked
for an instant at the dead face of the man whose life he had taken.

"I don't even know his name," thought Awdrey. "What in the world have I
killed him for? Yes, undoubtedly I've killed him. He is dead, poor
fellow, as a door-nail. What did I do it for?"

He struck another match, and looked at the end of his stick. The stick
had a narrow steel ferrule at the point. Blood bespattered the end of
the stick.

"I must bury this witness," said Awdrey to himself.

He blew out the match, and began to move gropingly across the plain. His
step was uncertain. He stooped as he walked. Presently he came to a
great copse of underwood. Into the very thick of the underwood he thrust
his stick.

Having done this, he resolved to go home. Queer noises were ringing in
his head. He felt as if devils were pursuing him. He was certain that if
he raised his eyes and looked in front of him, he must see the ghost of
the dead man. It was early in the night, not yet twelve o'clock. As he
entered the grounds of the Court, the stable clock struck twelve.

"I suppose I shall get into a beastly mess about this," thought Awdrey.
"I never meant to kill that poor fellow. I ran at him in self-defence.
He'd have had my blood if I hadn't his. Shall I see my father about it
now? My father is a magistrate; he'll know what's best to be done."

Awdrey walked up to the house. His gait was uncertain and shambling, so
little characteristic of him that if any one had met him in the dark he
would not have been recognized. He opened one of the side doors of the
great mansion with a latch key. The Awdreys were early people--an
orderly household who went to roost in good time--the lamps were out in
the house--only here and there was a dim illumination suited to the
hours of darkness. Awdrey did not meet a soul as he went up some stairs,
and down one or two corridors to his own cheerful bedroom. He paused as
he turned the handle of his door.

"My father is in bed. There's no use in troubling him about this horrid
matter before the morning," he said to himself.

Then he opened the door of his room, and went in.

To his surprise he saw on the threshold, just inside the door, a little
note. He picked it up and opened it.

It was from his sister Ann. It ran as follows:

     "DEAREST BOB.--I have seen the Cuthberts, and they can join us
     on the plain to-morrow for a picnic. As you have gone early to
     bed, I thought I'd let you know in case you choose to get up at
     cockcrow, and perhaps leave us for the day. Don't forget that
     we start at two o'clock, and that Margaret will be there. Your
     loving sister, ANN."

Awdrey found himself reading the note with interest. The excited beating
of his heart cooled down. He sank into a chair, took off his cap, wiped
the perspiration from his brow.

"I wouldn't miss Margaret for the world," he said to himself.

A look of pleasure filled his dark gray eyes. A moment or two later he
was in bed, and sound asleep. He awoke at his usual hour in the morning.
He rose and dressed calmly. He had forgotten all about the murder--the
doom of his house had fallen upon him.



CHAPTER IV.


"I wish you would tell me about him, Mr. Awdrey," said Margaret Douglas.

She was a handsome girl, tall and slightly made--her eyes were black as
night, her hair had a raven hue, her complexion was a pure olive. She
was standing a little apart from a laughing, chattering group of boys
and girls, young men and young ladies, with a respectable sprinkling of
fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts. Awdrey stood a foot or two away
from her--his face was pale, he looked subdued and gentle.

"What can I tell you?" he asked.

"You said you met him last night, poor fellow. The whole thing seems so
horrible, and to think of it happening on this very plain, just where we
are having our picnic. If I had known it, I would not have come."

"The murder took place several miles from here," said Awdrey. "Quite
close to the Court, in fact. I've been over the ground this morning with
my father and one of the keepers. The body was removed before we came."

"Didn't it shock you very much?"

"Yes; I am sorry for that unfortunate Everett."

"Who is he? I have not heard of him."

"He is the man whom they think must have done it. There is certainly
very grave circumstantial evidence against him. He and Frere were heard
quarrelling last night, and Armitage can prove that Everett did not
return home until about two in the morning. When he went out he said he
was going to follow Frere, who had gone away in a very excited state of
mind.

"What about, I wonder?"

"The usual thing," said Awdrey, giving Margaret a quick look, under
which she lowered her eyes and faintly blushed.

"Tell me," she said, almost in a whisper. "I am interested--it is such a
tragedy."

"It is; it is awful. Sit down here, won't you, or shall we walk on a
little way? We shall soon get into shelter if we go down this valley and
get under those trees yonder."

"Come then," said Margaret.

She went first, her companion followed her. He looked at her many times
as she walked on in front of him. Her figure was full of supple and easy
grace, her young steps seemed to speak the very essence of youth and
springtime. She appeared scarcely to touch the ground as she walked over
it; once she turned, and the full light of her dark eyes made Awdrey's
heart leap. Presently she reached the shadow caused by a copse of young
trees, and stood still until the Squire came up to her.

"Here's a throne for you, Miss Douglas. Do you see where this tree
extends two friendly arms? Do you observe a seat inlaid with moss? Take
your throne."

She did so immediately and looked up at him with a smile.

"The throne suits you," he said.

She looked down--her lips faintly trembled--then she raised her eyes.

"Why are you so pale?" he asked anxiously.

"I can't quite tell you," she replied, "except that notwithstanding the
beauty of the day, and the summer feeling which pervades the air, I
can't get rid of a sort of fear. It may be superstitious of me, but I
think it is unlucky to have a picnic on the very plain where a murder
was committed."

"You forget over what a wide extent the plain extends," said Awdrey;
"but if I had known"--he stopped and bit his lips.

"Never mind," she answered, endeavoring to smile and look cheerful, "any
sort of tragedy always affects me to a remarkable degree. I can't help
it--I'm afraid there is something in me akin to trouble, but of course
it would be folly for us to stay indoors just because that poor young
fellow came to a violent end some miles away."

"Yes, it is quite some miles from here--I am truly sorry for him."

"Sit down here, Mr. Awdrey, here at my feet if you like, and tell me
about it."

"I will sit at your feet with all the pleasure in the world, but why
should we talk any more on this gruesome subject?"

"That's just it," said Margaret, "if I am to get rid of it, I must know
all about it. You said you met him last night?"

"I did," said Awdrey, speaking with unwillingness.

"And you guess why he came by his end?"

"Partly, but not wholly."

"Well, do tell me."

"I will--I'll put it in as few words as possible. You know that little
witch Hetty, the pretty niece of the innkeeper Armitage?"

"Hetty Armitage--of course I know her. I tried to get her into my Sunday
class, but she wouldn't come."

"She's a silly little creature," said Awdrey.

"She is a very beautiful little creature," corrected Miss Douglas.

"Yes, I am afraid her beauty was too much for this unfortunate Frere's
sanity. I came across him last night, or rather they passed me by in the
underwood, enacting a love scene. The fact is, he was kissing her. I
thought he was taking a liberty and interfered. He told me he intended
to marry her--but Hetty denied it. I saw her back to the Inn--she was
very silent and depressed. Another man, a handsome fellow, was standing
in the porch. It just occurred to me at the time, that perhaps he also
was a suitor for her hand, and might be the favored one. She went
indoors. On my way home I met Frere again. He tried to pick a quarrel
with me, which of course I nipped in the bud. He referred to his firm
intention of marrying Hetty Armitage, and when I told him that she had
denied the engagement, he said he would go back at once and speak to
her. I then returned to the Court.

"The first thing I heard this morning was the news of the murder. My
father as magistrate was of course made acquainted with the fact at a
very early hour. Poor Everett has been arrested on suspicion, and
there's to be a coroner's inquest to-morrow. That is the entire story as
far as I know anything about it. Your face is whiter than ever, Miss
Douglas. Now keep your word--forget it, since you have heard all the
facts of the case."

She looked down again. Presently she raised her eyes, brimful of tears,
to his face.

"I cannot forget it," she said. "That poor young fellow--such a
fearfully sudden end, and that other poor fellow; surely if he did take
away a life it must have been in a moment of terrible madness?"

"That is true," said Awdrey.

"They cannot possibly convict him of murder, can they?"

"My father thinks that the verdict will be manslaughter, or, at the
worst, murder under strong provocation; but it is impossible to tell."

Awdrey looked again anxiously at his companion. Her pallor and distress
aroused emotion in his breast which he found almost impossible to quiet.

"I'm sorry to my heart that you know about this," he said. "You are not
fit to stand any of the roughness of life."

"What folly!" she answered, with passion. "What am I that I should
accept the smooth and reject the rough? I tell you what I would like to
do. I'd like to go this very moment to see that poor Mr. Everett, in
order to tell him how deeply sorry I am for him. To ask him to tell me
the story from first to last, from his point of view. To clear him from
this awful stain. And I'd like to lay flowers over the breast of that
dead boy. Oh, I can't bear it. Why is the world so full of trouble and
pain?"

She burst into sudden tears.

"Don't, don't! Oh! Margaret, you're an angel. You're too good for this
earth," said Awdrey.

"Nonsense," she answered; "let me have my cry out; I'll be all right in
a minute."

Her brief tears were quickly over. She dashed them aside and rose to her
feet.

"I hear the children shouting to me," she said. "I'm in no humor to meet
them. Where shall we go?"

"This way," said Awdrey quickly; "no one knows the way through this
copse but me."

He gave her his hand, pushed aside the trees, and they soon found
themselves in a dim little world of soft green twilight. There was a
narrow path on which they could not walk abreast. Awdrey now took the
lead, Margaret following him. After walking for half a mile the wood
grew thinner, and they found themselves far away from their companions,
and on a part of the plain which was quite new ground to Margaret.

"How lovely and enchanting it is here," she said, giving a low laugh of
pleasure.

"I am glad you like it," said Awdrey. "I discovered that path to these
heights only a week ago. I never told a soul about it. For all you can
tell your feet may now be treading on virgin ground."

As Awdrey spoke he panted slightly, and put his hand to his brow.

"Is anything the matter with you?" asked Margaret.

"Nothing; I was never better in my life."

"You don't look well; you're changed."

"Don't say that," he answered, a faint ring of anxiety in his voice.

She gazed at him earnestly.

"You are," she repeated. "I don't quite recognize the expression in your
eyes."

"Oh, I'm all right," he replied, "only----"

"Only what? Do tell me."

"I don't want to revert to that terrible tragedy again," he said, after
a pause. "There is something, however, in connection with it which
surprises myself."

"What is that?"

"I don't seem to feel the horror of it. I feel everything else; your
sorrow, for instance--the beauty of the day--the gladness and fulness of
life, but I don't feel any special pang about that poor dead fellow.
It's queer, is it not?"

"No," said Margaret tenderly. "I know--I quite understand your
sensation. You don't feel it simply because you feel it too much--you
are slightly stunned."

"Yes, you're right--we'll not talk about it any more. Let us stay here
for a little while."

"Tell me over again the preparations for your coming of age."

Margaret seated herself on the grass as she spoke. Her white dress--her
slim young figure--a sort of spiritual light in her dark eyes, gave her
at that moment an unearthly radiance in the eyes of the man who loved
her. All of a sudden, with an impulse he could not withstand, he
resolved to put his fortunes to the test.

"Forgive me," he said, emotion trembling in his voice--"I can only speak
of one thing at this moment."

He dropped lightly on one knee beside her. She did not ask him what it
was. She looked down.

"You know perfectly well what I am going to say," he continued; "you
know what I want most when I come of age--I want my wife--I want you.
Margaret, you must have guessed my secret long ago?"

She did not answer him for nearly a minute--then she softly and timidly
stretched out one of her hands--he grasped it in his.

"You have guessed--you do know--you're not astonished nor shocked at my
words?"

"Your secret was mine, too," she answered in a whisper.

"You will marry me, Margaret--you'll make me the happiest of men?"

"I will be your wife if you wish it, Robert," she replied.

She stood up as she spoke. She was tall, but he was a little taller--he
put his arms round her, drew her close to him, and kissed her
passionately.

Half-an-hour afterward they left the woods side by side.

"Don't tell anybody to-day," said Margaret.

"Why not? I don't feel as if I could keep it to myself even for an hour
longer."

"Still, humor me, Robert; remember I am superstitious."

"What about?"

"I am ashamed to confess it--I would rather that our engagement was not
known until the day of the murder has gone by."



CHAPTER V.


Margaret Douglas lived with her cousins, the Cuthberts. Sir John
Cuthbert was the Squire of a parish at a little distance from
Grandcourt. He was a wealthy man and was much thought of in his
neighborhood. Margaret was the daughter of a sister who had died many
years ago--she was poor, but this fact did not prevent the county
assigning her a long time ago to Robert Awdrey as his future wife. The
attachment between the pair had been the growth of years. They had spent
their holidays together, and had grown up to a great extent in each
other's company--it had never entered into the thoughts of either to
love any one else. Awdrey, true to his promise to Margaret, said nothing
about his engagement, but the secret was after all an open one. When the
young couple appeared again among the rest of Sir John Cuthbert's
guests, they encountered more than one significant glance, and Lady
Cuthbert even went to the length of kissing Margaret with much fervor in
Awdrey's presence.

"You must come back with us to Cuthbertstown to supper," she said to the
young Squire.

"Yes, come, Robert," said Margaret, with a smile.

He found it impossible to resist the invitation in her eyes. It was
late, therefore, night, in fact, when he started to walk back to
Grandcourt. He felt intensely happy as he walked. He had much reason for
this happiness--had he not just won the greatest desire of his life?
There was nothing to prevent the wedding taking place almost
immediately. As he strode quickly over the beautiful summer landscape he
was already planning the golden future which lay before him. He would
live in London, he would cultivate the considerable abilities which he
undoubtedly possessed. He would lead an active, energetic, and worthy
life. Margaret already shared all his ambitions. She would encourage him
to be a man in every sense of the word. How lucky he was--how kind fate
was to him! Why were the things of life so unevenly divided? Why was one
man lifted to a giddy pinnacle of joy and another hurled into an abyss
of despair? How happy he was that evening--whereas Everett--he paused in
his quick walk as the thought of Everett flashed before his mind's eye.
He didn't know the unfortunate man who was now awaiting the coroner's
inquest, charged with the terrible crime of murder, but he had seen him
twenty-four hours ago. Everett had looked jolly and good-tempered,
handsome and strong, as he stood in the porch of the pretty little inn,
and smoked his pipe and looked at Hetty when Awdrey brought her home.
Now a terrible and black doom was overshadowing him. Awdrey could not
help feeling deeply interested in the unfortunate man. He was young like
himself. Perhaps he, too, had dreamed dreams, and been full of ambition,
and perhaps he loved a girl, and thought of making her his wife. Perhaps
Hetty was the girl--if so--Awdrey stamped his foot with impatience.

"What mischief some women do," he muttered; "what a difference there is
between one woman and another. Who would suppose that Margaret Douglas
and Hetty Armitage belonged to the same race? Poor Frere, how madly in
love he was with that handsome little creature! How little she cared for
the passion which she had evoked. I hope she won't come in my path; I
should like to give her a piece of my mind."

This thought had scarcely rushed through Awdrey's brain before he was
attracted by a sound in the hedge close by, and Hetty herself stood
before him.

"I thought you would come back this way, Mr. Robert," she said. "I've
waited here by the hedge for a long time on purpose to see you."

The Squire choked down a sound of indignation--the hot color rushed to
his cheeks--it was with difficulty he could keep back his angry words.
One glance, however, at Hetty's face caused his anger to fade. The
lovely little face was so completely changed that he found some
difficulty in recognizing it. Hetty's pretty figure had always been the
perfection of trim neatness. No London belle could wear her expensive
dresses more neatly nor more becomingly. Her simple print frocks fitted
her rounded figure like a glove. The roses on her cheeks spoke the
perfection of perfect health; her clear dark eyes were wont to be as
open and untroubled as a child's. Her wealth of coal-black hair was
always neatly coiled round her shapely head. Now, all was changed, the
pretty eyes were scarcely visible between their swollen lids--the face
was ghastly pale in parts--blotched with ugly red marks in others; there
were great black shadows under the eyes, the lips were parched and dry,
they drooped wearily as if in utter despair. The hair was untidy, and
one great coil had altogether escaped its bondage, and hung recklessly
over the girl's neck and bosom. Her cotton dress was rumpled and
stained, and the belt with which she had hastily fastened it together,
was kept in its place by a large pin.

Being a man, Awdrey did not notice all these details, but the _tout
ensemble_, the abject depression of intense grief, struck him with a
sudden pang.

"After all, the little thing loved that poor fellow," he said to
himself; "she was a little fool to trifle with him, but the fact that
she loved him alters the complexion of affairs."

"What can I do for you?" he said, speaking in a gentle and compassionate
voice.

"I have waited to tell you something for nearly two hours, Mr. Robert."

"Why did you do it? If you wanted to say anything to me, you could have
come to the Court, or I'd have called at the Inn. What is it you want to
say?"

"I could not come to the Court, sir, and I could not send you a message,
because no one must know that we have met. I came out here unknown to
any one; I saw you go home from Cuthbertstown with Miss Douglas." Here
Hetty choked down a sob. "I waited by the hedge, for I knew you must
pass back this way. I wished to say, Mr. Robert, to tell you, sir, that
whatever happens, however matters turn out, I'll be true to you. No one
shall get a word out of me. They say it's awful to be cross-examined,
but I'll be true. I thought I'd let you know, Mr. Awdrey. To my dying
day I'll never let out a word--you need have no fear."

"I need have no fear," said Awdrey, in absolute astonishment. "What in
the world do you mean? What are you talking about?"

Hetty looked full up into the Squire's face. The unconscious and
unembarrassed gaze with which he returned her look evidently took her
breath away.

"I made a mistake," she said in a whisper. "I see that I made a mistake.
I'd rather not say what I came to say."

"But you must say it, Hetty; you have something more to tell me, or you
wouldn't have taken all this trouble to wait by the roadside on the
chance of my passing. What is it? Out with it now, like a good girl."

"May I walk along a little bit with you, Mr. Robert?"

"You may as far as the next corner. There our roads part, and you must
go home."

Hetty shivered. She gave the Squire another furtive and undecided
glance.

"Shall I tell him?" she whispered to herself.

Awdrey glanced at her, and spoke impatiently.

"Come, Hetty; remember I'm waiting to hear your story. Out with it now,
be quick about it."

"I was out last night, sir."

"You were out--when? Not after I saw you home?"

"Yes, sir." Hetty choked again. "It was after ten o'clock."

"You did very wrong. Were you out alone?"

"Yes, sir. I--I followed Mr. Frere on to the Plain."

"You did?" said Awdrey. "Is that fact known? Did you see anything?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why in the name of Heaven didn't you come up to the Court this
morning and tell my father. Your testimony may be most important. Think
of the position of that poor unfortunate young Everett."

"No, sir, I don't think of it."

"What do you mean, girl?"

"Let me tell you my story, Mr. Awdrey. If it is nothing to you--it is
nothing. You will soon know if it is nothing or not. I had a quarrel
with Mr. Frere last night. Nobody was by; Mr. Frere came into Aunt's
parlor and he spoke to me very angrily, and I--I told him something
which made him wild."

"What was that?"

Hetty gave a shy glance up at the young Squire; his face looked hard,
his lips were firmly set. He and she were walking on the same road, but
he kept as far from her side as possible.

"I will not tell him--at least I will not tell him yet," she said to
herself.

"I think I won't say, sir," she replied. "What we talked about was Mr.
Frere's business and mine. He asked me if I loved another man better
than him, and I--I said that I did, sir."

"I thought as much," reflected Awdrey; "Everett is the favored one. If
this fact is known it will go against the poor fellow."

"Well, Hetty," he interrupted, "it's my duty to tell you that you
behaved very badly, and are in a great measure responsible for the awful
tragedy that has occurred. There, poor child, don't cry. Heaven knows, I
don't wish to add to your trouble; but see, we have reached the
cross-roads where we are to part, and you have not yet told me what you
saw when you went out."

"I crept out of my bedroom window," said Hetty. "Aunt and uncle had gone
to bed. I can easily get out of the window, it opens right on the
cow-house, and from there I can swing myself into the laburnum-tree, and
so reach the ground. I got out, and followed Mr. Frere. Presently I saw
that Mr. Everett was also out, and was following him. I knew every yard
of the Plain well, far better than Mr. Everett did. I went to it by a
short cut round by Sweetbriar Lane--you know the part there--not far
from the Court. I had no sooner got on the Plain than I saw Mr.
Frere--he was running--I thought he was running to meet me--he came
forward by leaps and bounds very fast--suddenly he stumbled and fell. I
wanted to call him, but my voice, sir, it wouldn't rise, it seemed to
catch in my throat. I couldn't manage to say his name. All of a sudden
the moon went down, and the plain was all gray with black shadows. I
felt frightened--awfully. I was determined to get to Mr. Frere. I
stumbled on--presently I fell over the trunk of a tree. My fall stunned
me a bit--when I rose again there were two men on the Plain. They were
standing facing each other. Oh, Mr. Awdrey, I don't think I'll say any
more."

"Not say any more? You certainly must, girl," cried Awdrey, his face
blazing with excitement. "You saw two men facing each other--Frere and
Everett, no doubt."

Hetty was silent. After a moment, during which her heart beat loudly,
she continued to speak in a very low voice.

"It was so dark that the men looked like shadows. Presently I heard them
talking--they were quarrelling. All of a sudden they sprang together
like--like tigers, and they--fought. I heard the sound of blows--one of
them fell, the taller one--he got on to his feet in a minute: they
fought a second time, then one gave a cry, a very sharp, sudden cry, and
there was the sound of a body falling with a thud on the
ground--afterward, silence--not a sound. I crept behind the furze bush.
I was quite stunned. After a long time--at least it seemed a long time
to me--one of the men went away, and the other man lay on his back with
his face turned up to the sky. The man who had killed him turned in the
direction of----"

"In what direction?" asked Awdrey.

"In the direction of----" Hetty looked full up at the Squire; the
Squire's eyes met hers. "The town, sir."

"Oh, the town," said Awdrey, giving vent to a short laugh. "From the way
you looked at me, I thought you were going to say The Court."

"Sir, Mr. Robert, do you think it was Mr. Everett?"

"Who else could it have been?" replied Awdrey.

"Very well, sir, I'll hold to that. Who else could it have been? I
thought I'd tell you, Mr. Awdrey. I thought you'd like to know that I'd
hold to that. When the steps of the murderer died away, I stole back to
Mr. Frere, and I tried to bring him back to life, but he was as dead as
a stone. I left him and I went home. I got back to my room about four in
the morning. Not a soul knew I was out; no one knows it now but you,
sir. I thought I'd come and tell you, Mr. Robert, that I'd hold to the
story that it was Mr. Everett who committed the murder. Good-night,
sir."

"Good-night, Hetty. You'll have to tell my father what you have told me,
in the morning."

"Very well, sir, if you wish it."

Hetty turned and walked slowly back toward the village, and Awdrey stood
where the four roads met and watched her. For a moment or two he was
lost in anxious thought--then he turned quickly and walked home. He
entered the house by the same side entrance by which he had come in on
the previous night. He walked down a long passage, crossed the wide
front hall, and entered the drawing-room where his sister Ann was
seated.

"Is that you, Bob?" she said, jumping up when she saw him. "I'm so glad
to have you all to myself. Of course, you were too busy with Margaret to
take any notice of us all day, but I've been dying to hear your account
of that awful tragedy. Sit here like a dear old fellow and tell me the
story."

"Talk of women and their tender hearts," said Awdrey, with irritation.

Then the memory of Margaret came over him and his face softened.
Margaret, whose heart was quite the tenderest thing in all the world,
had also wished to hear of the tragedy.

"To tell the truth, Ann," he said, sinking into a chair by his sister's
side, "you can scarcely ask me to discuss a more uncongenial theme. Of
course, the whole thing will be thoroughly investigated, and the local
papers will be filled with nothing else for weeks to come. Won't that
content you? Must I, too, go into this painful subject?"

Ann was a very good-natured girl.

"Certainly not, dear Bob, if it worries you," she replied; "but just
answer me one question. Is it true that you met the unfortunate man last
night?"

"Quite true. I did. We had a sort of quarrel."

"Good gracious! Why, Robert, if you had been out late last night they
might have suspected you of the murder."

Awdrey's face reddened.

"As it happens, I went to bed remarkably early," he said; "at least,
such is my recollection." As he spoke he looked at his sister with
knitted brows.

"Why, of course, don't you remember, you said you were dead beat.
Dorothy and I wanted you to sing with us, but you declared you were as
hoarse as a raven, and went off to your bedroom immediately after
supper. For my part, I was so afraid of disturbing you that I wouldn't
even knock when I pushed that little note about Margaret under the
door."

Ann gave her brother a roguish glance when she mentioned Margaret's
name. He did not notice it. He was thinking deeply.

"I am tired to-night, too," he said. "I have an extraordinary feeling in
the back of my head, as if it were numbed. I believe I want more sleep.
This horrid affair has upset me. Well, goodnight, Ann, I'm off to bed at
once."

"But supper is ready."

"I had something at Cuthbertstown; I don't want anything more.
Good-night."



CHAPTER VI.


Hetty dragged herself wearily home--she had waited to see the young
Squire in a state of intense and rapt excitement. He had received her
news with marvellous indifference. The excitement he had shown was the
ordinary excitement which an outsider might feel when he received
startling and unlooked for tidings. There was not a scrap of personal
emotion in his manner. Was it possible that he had forgotten all about
the murder which he himself had committed? Hetty was not a native of
Grandcourt without knowing something of the tragedy which hung over the
Court. Was it possible that the doom of the house had really overtaken
Robert Awdrey? Hetty with her own eyes had seen him kill Horace Frere.
Her own eyes could surely not deceive her. She rubbed them now in her
bewilderment. Yes, she had seen the murder committed. Without any doubt
Awdrey was the man who had struggled with Frere. Frere had thrown him to
the ground; he had risen quickly again. Once more the two men had rushed
at each other like tigers eager for blood--there had been a scuffle--a
fierce, awful wrestle. A wrestle which had been followed by a sudden
leap forward on the part of the young Squire--he had used his stick as
men use bayonets in battle--there had come a groan from Frere's lips--he
had staggered--his body had fallen to the ground with a heavy thud--then
had followed an awful silence. Yes, Hetty had seen the whole thing. She
had watched the terrible transaction from beginning to end. After he had
thrown his man to the ground the Squire had struck a match, and had
looked hard into the face of the dead. Hetty had seen the lurid light
flash up for an instant on the Squire's face--it had looked haggard and
gray--like the face of an old man. She had watched him as he examined
the slender stick with which he had killed his foe. She observed him
then creep across the Plain to a copse of young alders. She had seen him
push the stick out of sight into the middle of the alders--she had then
watched him as he went quickly home. Yes, Robert Awdrey was the guilty
man--Frank Everett was innocent, as innocent as a babe. All day long
Hetty's head had been in a mad whirl. She had kept her terrible
knowledge to herself. Knowing that a word from her could save him, she
had allowed Everett to be arrested. She had watched him from behind her
window when the police came to the house for the purpose, she had seen
Everett go away in the company of two policemen. He was a square-built
young fellow with broad shoulders--he had held himself sturdily as an
Englishman should, when he walked off, an innocent man, to meet an awful
doom. Hetty, as she watched, crushed down the cry in her heart--it had
clamored to save this man. There was a louder cry there--a fiercer
instinct. The Squire belonged to her own people--she was like a subject,
and he was her king--to the people of Grandcourt the king could do
nothing wrong. They were old-fashioned in the little village, and had
somewhat the feeling of serfs to their feudal lord. Hetty shared the
tradition of her race. But over and above these minor matters, the
unhappy girl loved Robert Awdrey with a fierce passion. She would rather
die herself than see him die. When she saw Everett arrested, she watched
the whole proceeding in dull amazement. She wondered why the Squire had
not acted a man's part. Why did he not deliver himself up to the course
of justice? He had killed Frere in a moment of mad passion. Hetty's
heart throbbed. Could that passion have been evoked on her account? Of
course, he would own to his sin. He had not done so; on the contrary, he
had gone to a picnic. He had been seen walking about with the young lady
whom he loved. Did Robert Awdrey really love Margaret Douglas?

"If that is the case, why should not I give him up?" thought Hetty. "He
cares nothing for me. I am less than the thistle under his feet. Why
should I save him? Why should Mr. Everett die because of him? The Squire
cares nothing for me. Why should I sin on his account?"

These thoughts, when they came to her, were quickly hurled aside by
others.

"I'd die twenty times over rather than he should suffer," thought the
girl. "He shan't die, he's my king, and I'm his subject. It does not
matter whether he loves me or not, he shan't die. Yes, he loves that
beautiful Miss Douglas--she belongs to his set, and she'll be his wife.
Perhaps she thinks that she loves him. Oh, oh!"

Hetty laughed wildly to herself.

"After all, she doesn't know what real love is. She little guesses what
I feel; she little guesses that I hold his life in my hands. O God, keep
me from going mad!"

It was dark when Hetty re-entered the Inn. The taproom was the scene of
noisy excitement. It was crowded with eager and interested villagers.
The murder was the one and only topic of conversation. Armitage was busy
attending to his numerous guests, and Mrs. Armitage kept going backward
and forward between the taproom and the little kitchen at the back.

When she saw Hetty she called out to her in a sharp tone.

"Where have you been, girl?" she cried. "Now just look here, your uncle
won't have you stealing out in this fashion any more. You are to stay at
home when it is dark. Why, it's all over the place, it's in every one's
mouth, that you have been the cause of the murder. You encouraged that
poor Mr. Frere with your idle, flighty, silly ways and looks, and then
you played fast and loose with him. Don't you know that this is just the
thing that will ruin us? Yes, you'll be the ruin of us Hetty, and times
so bad, too. When are we likely to have parlor lodgers again?"

"Oh, Aunt, I wish you wouldn't scold me," answered Hetty. She sank down
on the nearest chair, pushed her hat from her brow, and pressed her hand
to it.

"Sakes, child!" exclaimed her aunt, "you do look white and bad to be
sure."

Mrs. Armitage stood in front of her niece, and eyed her with a critical
gaze.

"It's my belief, after all, that you really cared for the poor young
man," she said. "For all your silly, flighty ways you gave him what
little heart you possess. If he meant honest by you, you couldn't have
done better--they say he had lots of money, and not a soul to think of
but himself. I don't know how your uncle is to provide for you. But
there, you've learned your lesson, and I hope you'll never forget it."

"Aunt Fanny, may I go upstairs to my room?"

"Hoity toity! nothing of the kind. You've got to work for your living
like the rest of us. Put on your apron and help me to wash up the
dishes."

Hetty rose wearily from her chair. The body of the murdered man lay out
straight and still in the little front parlor. Many people had been in
and out during the afternoon; many people had gazed solemnly at the
white face. The doctor had examined the wound in the eye. The coroner
had come to view the dead. All was in readiness for the inquest, which
was to take place at an early hour on the following day. No one as yet
had wept a single tear over the dead man. Mrs. Armitage came to Hetty
now and asked her to go and fetch something out of the parlor. A paper
which had been left on the mantelpiece was wanted by Armitage in a
hurry.

"Go, child, be quick!" said the aunt. "You'll find the paper by that
vase of flowers on the mantelpiece."

Hetty obeyed, never thinking of what she was to see. There was no
artificial light in the room. On the centre-table, in a rude coffin
which had been hastily prepared, lay the body. It was covered by a white
sheet. The moon poured in a ghastly light through the window. The form
of the dead man was outlined distinctly under the sheet. Hetty almost
ran up against it when she entered the room. Her nerves were overstrung;
she was not prepared for the sight which met her startled eyes; uttering
a piercing shriek, she rushed from the room into her Aunt Fanny's arms.

"Now, whatever is the matter?" said the elder woman.

"You shouldn't have sent me in there," panted Hetty. "You should have
told me that it was there."

"Well, well, I thought you knew. What a silly little good-for-nothing
you are! Stay quiet and I'll run and fetch the paper. Dear, dear, I'm
glad you are not my niece; it's Armitage you belong to."

Mrs. Armitage entered the parlor, fetched the required paper, and shut
the door behind her. As she walked down the passage Hetty started
quickly forward and caught her arm.

"If I don't tell somebody at once I'll go mad," she said. "Aunt Fanny, I
must speak to you at once. I can't keep it to myself another minute."

"Good gracious me! whatever is to be done, Hetty? How am I to find time
to listen to your silly nonsense just now? There's your uncle nearly
wild with all the work being left on his hands."

"It isn't silly nonsense, Aunt Fanny. I've got to say something. I know
something. I must tell it to you. I must tell it to you at once."

"Why, girl," said Mrs. Armitage, staring hard at her niece, "you are not
making a fool of me, are you?"

"No. I'll go up to my room. Come to me as soon as ever you can. Tell
Uncle that you are tired and must go to bed at once. Tell any lie, make
any excuse, only come to me quickly. I'm in such a state that if you
don't come I'll have to go right into the taproom and tell every one
what I know. Oh, Aunt Fanny! have mercy on me and come quickly."

"You do seem in a way, Hetty," replied the aunt. "For goodness sake do
keep yourself calm. There, run upstairs and I'll be with you in a minute
or two."

Mrs. Armitage went into the taproom to her husband.

"Look here, John," she sad, "I've got a splitting headache, and Hetty is
fairly knocked up. Can't you manage to do without us for the rest of the
evening?"

"Of course, wife, if you're really bad," replied Armitage. "There's work
here for three pairs of hands," he added, "but that can't be helped, if
you are really bad."

"Yes, I am, and as to that child, she is fairly done."

"I'm not surprised. I wonder she's alive when she knows the whole thing
is owing to her. Little hussy, I'd like to box her ears, that I would."

"So would I for that matter," replied the wife, "but she's in an awful
state, poor child, and if I don't get her to bed, she'll be ill, and
there will be more money out of pocket."

"Don't waste your strength sitting up with her, wife, she ain't worth
it," Armitage called out, as his wife left the room.

A moment later, Mrs. Armitage crept softly upstairs. She entered Hetty's
little chamber, which was also flooded with moonlight. It was a tiny
room, with a sloping roof. Its little lattice window was wide open.
Hetty was kneeling by the window looking out into the night. The moment
she saw her aunt she rose to her feet, and ran to meet her.

"Lock the door, Aunt Fanny," she said, in a hoarse whisper.

"Oh, child, whatever has come to you?"

"Lock the door, Aunt Fanny, or let me do it."

"There, I'll humor you. Here's the key. I'll put it into my pocket. Why
don't you have a light, Hetty?"

"I don't want it--the moon makes light enough for me. I have something
to say to you. If I don't tell it, I shall go mad. You must share it
with me, Aunt Fanny. You and I must both know it, and we must keep it to
ourselves forever and ever and ever."

"Lor, child! what are you talking about?"

"I'll soon tell you. Let me kneel close to you. Hold my hand. I never
felt so frightened in all my life before."

"Out with it, Hetty, whatever it is."

"Aunt, before I say a word, you've got to make me a promise."

"What's that?"

"You won't tell a soul what I am going to say to you."

"I hate making promises of that sort, Hetty."

"Never mind whether you hate it or not. Promise or I shall go mad."

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Armitage, "why should a poor woman be
bothered in this way, and you neither kith nor kin to me. Don't you
forget that it's Armitage you belong to. You've no blood of mine, thank
goodness, in your veins."

"What does that matter. You're a woman, and I'm another. I'm just in the
most awful position a girl could be in. But whatever happens, I'll be
true to him. Yes, Aunt Fanny, I'll be true to him. I'm nothing to him,
no more than if I were a weed, but I love him madly, deeply,
desperately. He is all the world to me. He is my master, and I am his
slave. Of course I'm nothing to him, but he's everything to me, and he
shan't die. Aunt Fanny, you and I have got to be true to him. We must
share the thing together, for I can't keep the secret by myself. You
must share it with me, Aunt Fanny."

Up to this point, Mrs. Armitage had regarded Hetty's words as merely
those of a hysterical and over-wrought girl. Now, however, she began to
perceive method in her madness.

"Look here, child," she said, "if you've got anything to say, say it,
and have done with it. I'm not blessed with over much patience, and I
can't stand beating round the bush. If you have a secret, out with it,
you silly thing. Oh, yes, of course I won't betray you. I expect it's
just this, you've gone and done something you oughtn't to. Oh, what have
I done to be blessed with a niece-in-law like you?

"It's nothing of that sort, Aunt Fanny. It is this--I don't mind telling
you now, now that you have promised not to betray me. Aunt Fanny, I was
out last night--I saw the murder committed."

Mrs. Armitage suppressed a sharp scream.

"Heaven preserve us!" she said, in a choking voice. "Were you not in
bed, you wicked girl?"

"No, I was out. I had quarrelled with Mr. Frere in the parlor, and I
thought I'd follow him and make it up. I went straight on to the
Plain--I saw him running. I hid behind a furze bush and I saw the
quarrel, and I heard the words--I saw the awful struggle, and I heard
the blows. I heard the fall, too--and I saw the man who had killed Mr.
Frere run away."

"I wonder you never told all this to-day, Hetty Armitage. Well, I'm
sorry for that poor Mr. Everett. Oh, dear, what will not our passions
lead us to; to think that two young gentlemen should come to this
respectable house, and that it should be the case of Cain and Abel over
again--one rising up and slaying the other."

Hetty, who had been kneeling all this time, now rose. Her face was
ghastly--her words came out in strange pauses.

"It wasn't Mr. Everett," she said.

"Good Heavens! Hetty," exclaimed her aunt, springing also to her feet,
and catching the girl's two hands within her own--"It wasn't Mr.
Everett!--what in the world do you mean?"

"What I say, Aunt Fanny--the man who killed Mr. Frere was Mr. Awdrey.
Our Mr. Awdrey, Aunt Fanny, and I could die for him--and no one must
ever know--and I saw him this evening, and--and he has forgotten all
about it. He doesn't know a bit about it--not a bit. Oh, Aunt Fanny, I
shall go quite mad, if you don't promise to help me to keep my secret."



CHAPTER VII.


"Sit down, Hetty, and keep yourself quiet," said Mrs. Armitage.

Her manner had completely changed. A stealthy, fearful look crept into
her face. She went on tiptoe to the door to assure herself over again
that it was locked. She then approached the window, shut it, fastened
it, and drew a heavy moreen curtain across it.

"When one has secrets," she said, "it is best to be certain there are no
eavesdroppers anywhere."

She then lit a candle and placed it on the centre of the little table.

Having done this, she seated herself--she didn't care to look at Hetty.
She felt as if in a sort of way she had committed the murder herself.
The knowledge of the truth impressed her so deeply that she did not care
to encounter any eyes for a few minutes.

"Aunt Fanny, why don't you speak to me?" asked the girl at last.

"You are quite sure, child, that you have told me the truth?" said Mrs.
Armitage then.

"Yes--it is the truth--is it likely that I could invent anything so
fearful?"

"No, it ain't likely," replied the elder woman, "but I don't intend to
trust just to the mere word of a slip of a giddy girl like you. You must
swear it--is there a Bible in the room?"

"Oh, don't, Aunt, I wish you wouldn't."

"Stop that silly whining of yours, Hetty; what do your wishes matter one
way or the other? If you've told me the truth an awful thing has
happened, but I won't stir in the matter until I know it's gospel truth.
Yes, there's your Testament--the Testament will do. Now, Hetty Armitage,
hold this book in your hand, and say before God in heaven that you saw
Mr. Robert Awdrey kill Mr. Horace Frere. Kiss the book, and tell the
truth if you don't want to lose your soul."

Hetty trembled from head to foot. Her nature was impressionable--the
hour--the terrible excitement she had just lived through--the solemn,
frightened expression of her aunt's face, irritated her nerves to the
last extent. She had the utmost difficulty in keeping herself from
screaming aloud.

"What do you want me to do?" she said, holding the Testament between her
limp fingers.

"Say these words: 'I, Hetty Armitage, saw Mr. Robert Awdrey kill Mr.
Horace Frere on Salisbury Plain last night. This is the truth, so help
me God.'"

"I, Hetty Armitage, saw Mr. Robert Awdrey kill Mr. Horace Frere on
Salisbury Plain last night. This is the truth, so help me God," repeated
Hetty, in a mechanical voice.

"Kiss the Book now, child," said the aunt

Hetty raised it to her lips.

"Give me the Testament."

Mrs. Armitage took it in her hands.

"Aunt Fanny, what in the world do you mean to do now?" said the girl.

"You are witness, Hetty; you are witness to what I mean to do. It is all
for the sake of the Family. What are poor folks like us and our
consciences, and our secrets, compared to the Family? This book has not
done its work yet. Now I am going to take an oath on the Testament. I,
Frances Armitage, swear by the God above, and the Bible He has given us,
that I will never tell to mortal man the truth about this murder."

Mrs. Armitage finished her words by pressing the Testament to her lips.

"Now you swear," she said, giving the book back again to her niece.

Hetty did so. Her voice came out in broken sobs. Mrs. Armitage replaced
the Testament on the top shelf of Hetty's little bookcase.

"There," she said, wiping her brow, "that's done. You saw the murder
committed; you and I have sworn that we'll never tell what we know. We
needn't talk of it any more. Another man will swing for it. Let him
swing. He is a nice fellow, too. He showed me the photograph of his
mother one day. She had white hair and eyes like his; she looked like a
lady every inch of her. Mr. Everett said, 'I am her only child, Mrs.
Armitage; I'm all she has got.' He had a pleasant smile--wonderful, and
a good face. Poor lad, if it wasn't the Family I had to be true to I
wouldn't let him swing. They say downstairs that the circumstantial
evidence is black against him."

"Perhaps, after all, they cannot convict him, Aunt."

"What do you know about it? I say they can and will, but don't let us
talk of it any more. The one thing you and I have to do is to be true to
the Family. There's not a second thought to be given to the matter. Sit
down, Hetty; don't keep hovering about like that. I think I had better
send you away from home; only I forgot, you are sure to be called upon
as a witness. You must see that your face doesn't betray you when you're
cross-examined."

"No, it won't," said the girl. "I've got you to help me now. I can talk
about it sometimes, and it won't lie so heavily on my heart. Aunt Fanny,
do you really think Mr. Awdrey forgets?"

"Do I think it? I know it. I don't trouble to think about what I know.
It's in their blood, I tell you. The things they ought to remember are
wiped out of their brains as clean as if you washed a slate after using
it. My mother was cook in the Family, and her mother and her mother
before her again. We are Perrys, and the Perrys had always a turn for
cooking. We've cooked the dinner up at the Court for close on a hundred
years. Don't you suppose I know their ways by this time? Oh, I could
tell you of fearful things. There have been dark deeds done before now,
and the men who did them had no more memory of their own sin than if
they were babies of a month old. There was a Squire--two generations
back he was--my grandmother knew him--and he had a son. The mother
was--! but there! where's the use of going into that. The mother died
raving mad, and the Squire knew no more what he had done than the babe
unborn. Folks call it the curse of God. It's an awful doom, and it
always comes on just as it has fallen on the young Squire. There comes a
fit of passion--a desperate deed is done or a desperate sorrow is met,
and all is blank. They wither up afterward just as if the drought was in
them. He'll die young, the young Squire will, just like his forefathers.
What's the good of crying, Hetty? Crying won't save him--he'll die
young. Blood for blood. God will require that young man's blood at his
hands. He can't escape--it's in his race; but at least he shan't hang
for it--if you and I can keep him from the gallows. Hetty, put your hand
in mine and tell me all over again what you saw."

"I can't bear to go over it again, Aunt Fanny--it seems burnt into me
like fire. I can think of nothing else--I can think of no face but Mr.
Awdrey's--I can only remember the look on his face when he bent over the
man he had killed. I saw his face just for a minute by the light of the
match, and I never could have believed that human face could have looked
like that before. It was old--like the face of an old man. But I met him
this evening, Aunt Fanny, and he had forgotten all about it, and he was
jolly and happy, and they say he was seen with Miss Douglas to-day. The
family had a picnic on the Plain, and Miss Douglas was there, with her
uncle, Sir John Cuthbert, and there were a lot of other young ladies.
Mr. Awdrey went back to Cuthbertstown with Miss Douglas. It was when he
was returning to the Court I met him. All the world knows he worships
the ground she walks on. I suppose he'll marry her by and by, Aunt--he
seemed so happy and contented to-night."

"I suppose he will marry her, child--that is the best thing that could
happen to him, and she's a nice young lady and his equal in other ways.
He's happy, did you say? Maybe he is for a bit, but he's a gone man for
all that--nothing, nor no one can keep the doom of his house from him.
What are you squeezing my hand for, Hetty?"

"I can't bear to think of the Squire marrying Miss Douglas."

"Stuff and nonsense! What is the Squire to you, except as one of the
Family. You'd better mind your station, Hetty, and leave your betters to
themselves. If you don't you'll get into awful trouble some day. But now
the night is going on, and we've got something to do. Tell me again how
that murder was done."

"The Squire ran at Mr. Frere, and the point of his stick ran into Mr.
Frere's eye."

"What did he do with the stick?"

"He went to a copse of young alders and thrust it into the middle. Oh,
it's safe enough."

"Nothing of the kind--it isn't safe at all. How do you know they won't
cut those alders down and find the stick? Mr. Robert's walking-stick is
well known--it has a silver plate upon it with his name. Years hence
people may come across that stick, and all the county will know at once
who it belonged to. Come along, Hetty--you and I have our work to do."

"What is that, Aunt Fanny?"

"Before the morning dawns we must bury that stick where no one will find
it."

"Oh, Aunt, don't ask me--I can't go back to the Plain again."

"You can and must--I wouldn't ask you, but I couldn't find the exact
spot myself. I'll go down first and have a word with Armitage, and then
return to you."

Mrs. Armitage softly unlocked the door of her niece's room, and going
first to her own bedroom, washed her ashen face with cold water; she
then rubbed it hard with a rough towel to take some of the tell-tale
expression out of it. Afterward she stole softly downstairs. Her husband
was busy in the taproom. She opened the door, and called his name.

"Armitage, I want you a minute."

"Mercy on us, I thought you were in bed an hour ago, wife," he said.
"Why, you do look bad, what's the matter?"

"It isn't me, it's the child--she's hysterical. I've been having no end
of a time with her; I came down to say that I'd sleep with Hetty
to-night. Good-night, Armitage."

"Good-night," said the man. "I say, wife, though," he called after her,
"see that you are up in good time to-morrow."

"Never fear," exclaimed Mrs. Armitage, as she ascended the creaking
stairs, "I'll be down and about at six."

She re-entered her niece's bedroom and locked the door.

"How did you get out last night?" she asked.

"Through the window."

"Well, you're a nice one. This is not the time to scold you, however,
and you and I have got to go out the same way now. They'll think we are
in our bed--let them think it. Come, be quick--show me the way out. It's
a goodish step from here to the Plain; we've not a minute to lose, and
not a soul must see us going or returning."

Mrs. Armitage was nearly as slender and active as her niece. She
accomplished the descent from the window without the least difficulty,
and soon she and Hetty were walking quickly in the direction of the
Plain--they kept well in the shadow of the road and did not meet a soul
the entire way. During that walk neither woman spoke a word to the
other. Presently they reached the Plain. Hetty trembled as she stood by
the alder copse.

"Keep your courage up," whispered Mrs. Armitage, "we must bury that
stick where no one can find it."

"Don't bury it, Aunt Fanny," whispered Hetty. "I have thought of
something--there's the pond half a mile away. Let us weight the stick
with stones and throw it into the pond."

"That's a good thought, child, we'll do it."



CHAPTER VIII.


The village never forgot the week when the young Squire came of age.
During that week many important things happened. The usual festivities
were arranged to take place on Monday, for on that day the Squire
completed his twenty-first year. On the following Thursday Robert Awdrey
was to marry Margaret Douglas, and between these two days, namely, on
Tuesday and Wednesday, Frank Everett was to be tried for the murder of
Horace Frere at Salisbury. It will be easily believed, therefore, that
the excitement of the good folks all over the country reached high-water
mark. Quite apart from his position, the young Squire was much loved for
himself. His was an interesting personality. Even if this had not been
so, the fact of his coming of age, and the almost more interesting fact
of his marriage, would fill all who knew him with a lively sense of
pleasure. The public gaze would be naturally turned full upon this young
man. But great as was the interest which all who knew him took in
Awdrey, it was nothing to that which was felt with regard to a man who
was a stranger in the county, but whose awful fate now filled all hearts
and minds. The strongest circumstantial evidence was against Frank
Everett, but beyond circumstantial evidence there was nothing but good
to be known of this young man. He had lived in the past, as far as all
could tell, an immaculate life. He was the only son of a widowed mother.
Mrs. Everett had taken lodgings in Salisbury, and was awaiting the issue
of the trial with feelings which none could fathom.

As the week of her wedding approached, Margaret Douglas showed none of
the happy expectancy of a bride. Her face began to assume a worn and
anxious expression. She could hardly think of anything except the coming
trial. A few days before the wedding she earnestly begged her lover to
postpone the ceremony for a short time.

"I cannot account for my sensations, Robert," she said. "The shadow of
this awful tragedy seems to shut away the sunshine from me. You cannot,
of course, help coming of age on Monday, but surely there is nothing
unreasonable in my asking to have the wedding postponed for a week. I
will own that I am superstitious--I come of a superstitious race--my
grandmother had the gift of second sight--perhaps I inherit it also, I
cannot say. Do yield to me in the matter, Robert. Do postpone the
wedding."

Awdrey stood close to Margaret. She looked anxiously into his eyes; they
met hers with a curious expression of irritation in them. The young
squire was pale; there were fretful lines round his mouth.

"I told you before," he said, "that I am affected with a strange and
unaccountable apathy with regard to this terrible murder. I try with all
my might to get up sympathy for that poor unfortunate Everett. Try as I
may, however, I utterly fail to feel even pity for him. Margaret, I
would confess this to no one in the world but yourself. Everett is
nothing to me--you are everything. Why should I postpone my happiness on
Everett's account?"

"You are not well, dearest," said Margaret, looking at him anxiously.

"Yes, I am, Maggie," he replied. "You must not make me fanciful. I never
felt better in my life, except----" Here he pressed his hand to his
brow.

"Except?" she repeated.

"Nothing really--I have a curious sensation of numbness in the back of
my head. I should think nothing at all about it but for the fact----"

Here he paused, and looked ahead of him steadily.

"But for what fact, Robert?"

"You must have heard--it must have been whispered to you--every one all
over the county knows that sometimes--sometimes, Maggie, queer things
happen to men of our house."

"Of course, I have heard of what you allude to," she answered brightly.
"Do you think I mind? Do you think I believe in the thing? Not I. I am
not superstitious in that way. So you, dear old fellow, are imagining
that you are to be one of the victims of that dreadful old curse. Rest
assured that you will be nothing of the kind. I have a cousin--he is in
the medical profession--you shall know him when we go to London. I spoke
to Dr. Rumsey once about this curious phase in your family history. He
said it was caused by an extraordinary state of nerves, and that the
resolute power of will was needed to overcome it. Dr. Rumsey is a very
interesting man, Robert. He believed in heredity; who does not? but he
also firmly believes that the power of will, rightly exercised, can be
more powerful than heredity. Now, I don't mean you to be a victim to
that old family failing, so please banish the thought from your mind
once and for ever."

Awdrey smiled at her.

"You cheer me," he said. "I am a lucky man to have found such a woman as
you to be my wife. You will help to bring forward all that is best in
me. Margaret, I feel that through you I shall conquer the curse which
lies in my blood."

"There is no curse, Robert. When your grandfather married a
strong-minded Scotch wife the curse was completely arrested--the spell
removed."

"Yes," said Awdrey, "of course you are perfectly right. My father has
never suffered from a trace of the family malady, and as for me, I
didn't know what nervousness meant until within the last month. I
certainly have suffered from a stupid lapse of memory during the last
month."

"We all forget things at times," said Margaret. "What is it that worries
you?"

"Something so trifling that you will laugh when I tell you. You know my
favorite stick?"

"Of course. By the way, you have not used it lately."

"I have not. It is lost. I have looked for it high and low, and racked
my memory in vain to know where I could have put it. When last I
remember using it, I was talking to that unfortunate young Frere in the
underwood. I wish I could find it--not for the sake of the stick, but
because, under my circumstances, I don't want to forget things."

"Well, every one forgets things at times--you will remember where you
have put the stick when you are not thinking of it."

"Quite true; I wish it didn't worry me, however. You know that poor
Frere met his death in the most extraordinary manner. The man who killed
him ran his walking-stick into his eye. The doctors say that the ferrule
of the stick entered the brain, causing instantaneous death. Everett
carried a stick, but the ferrule was a little large for the size of the
wound made. Now my stick----"

"Really, Robert, I won't listen to you for another moment," exclaimed
Margaret. "The next thing you will do is to assure me that your stick
was the weapon which caused the murder."

"No," he replied, with a spasm of queer pain. "Of course, Maggie, there
is nothing wrong, only with our peculiar idiosyncrasies, small lapses of
memory make one anxious. I should be happy if I could find the stick,
and happier still if this numbness would leave the back of my head. But
your sweet society will soon put me right."

"I mean it to," she replied, in her firm way.

"You will marry me, dearest, on the twenty-fourth?"

"Yes," she answered, "you are first, first of all. I will put aside my
superstition--the wedding shall not be postponed."

"Thank you a thousand times--how happy you make me!"

Awdrey went home in the highest spirits.

The auspicious week dawned. The young Squire's coming of age went off
without a flaw. The day was a perfect one in August. All the tenants
assembled at the Court to welcome Awdrey to his majority. His modest and
graceful speech was applauded on all sides. He never looked better than
when he stood on a raised platform and addressed the tenants who had
known him from his babyhood. Some day he was to be their landlord. In
Wiltshire the tie between landlord and tenant is very strong. The spirit
of the feudal times still in a measure pervades this part of the
country. The cheers which followed Awdrey's speech rose high on the
evening air. Immediately afterward there was supper on the lawn,
followed by a dance. Among those assembled, however, might have been
seen two anxious faces--one of them belonged to Mrs. Armitage. She had
been a young-looking woman for her years, until after the night of the
murder--now she looked old, her hair was sprinkled with gray, her face
had deep lines in it, there was a touch of irritation also in her
manner. She and Hetty kept close together. Sometimes her hand clutched
hold of the hand of her niece and gave it a hard pressure. Hetty's
little hand trembled, and her whole frame quivered with almost
uncontrollable agony when Mrs. Armitage did this. All the gay scene was
ghastly mockery to poor Hetty. Her distress, her wasted appearance,
could not but draw general attention to her. The little girl, however,
had never looked more beautiful nor lovely. She was observed by many
people; strangers pointed her out to one another.

"Do you see that little girl with the beautiful face?" they said. "It
was on her account that the tragedy took place."

Presently the young Squire came down and asked Mrs. Armitage to open the
ball with him.

"You do me great honor, sir," she said. She hesitated, then placed her
hand on his arm.

As he led her away, his eyes met those of Hetty.

"I'll give you a dance later on," he said, nodding carelessly to the
young girl.

She blushed and pressed her hand to her heart.

There wasn't a village lad in the entire assembly who would not have
given a year of his life to dance even once with beautiful little Hetty,
but she declined all the village boys' attentions that evening.

"She wasn't in the humor to dance," she said. "Oh, yes, of course, she
would dance with the Squire if he asked her, but she would not bestow
her favors upon any one else." She sat down presently in a secluded
corner. Her eyes followed Awdrey wherever he went. By and by Margaret
Douglas noticed her. There was something about the childish sad face
which drew out the compassion of Margaret's large heart. She went
quickly across the lawn to speak to her.

"Good-evening, Hetty," she said, "I hope you are well?"

Hetty stood up; she began to tremble.

"Yes, Miss Douglas, I am quite well," she answered.

"You don't look well," said Margaret. "Why are you not dancing?"

"I haven't the heart to dance," said Hetty, turning suddenly away. Her
eyes brimmed with sudden tears.

"Poor little girl! how could I be so thoughtless as to suppose she would
care to dance," thought Margaret. "All her thoughts must be occupied
with this terrible trial--Robert told me that she would be the principal
witness. Poor little thing."

Margaret stretched out her hand impulsively and grasped Hetty's.

"I feel for you--I quite understand you," she said. Her voice trembled
with deep and full sympathy. "I see that you are suffering a great deal,
but you will be better afterward--you ought to go away afterward--you
will want change."

"I would rather stay at home, please, Miss Douglas."

"Well, I won't worry you. Here is Mr. Awdrey. You have not danced once,
Hetty. Would you not like to have a dance with the Squire, just for
luck? Yes, I see you would. Robert, come here."

"What is it?" asked Awdrey. "Oh, is that you, Hetty? I have not
forgotten our dance."

"Dance with her now, Robert," said Margaret. "There is a waltz just
striking up--I will meet you presently on the terrace."

Margaret crossed the lawn, and Awdrey gave his arm to Hetty. She turned
her large gaze upon him for a moment, her lips trembled, she placed her
hand on his arm. "Yes, I will dance with him once," she said to herself.
"It will please me--I am doing a great deal for him, and it will
strengthen me--to have this pleasure. Oh, I hope, I do hope I'll be
brave and silent, and not let the awful pain at my heart get the better
of me. Please, God, help me to be true to Mr. Robert."

"Come, Hetty, why won't you talk?" said the Squire; he gave her a kindly
yet careless glance.

They began to waltz, but Hetty had soon to pause for want of breath.

"You are not well," said Awdrey; "let me lead you out of the crowd.
Here, let us sit the dance out under this tree; now you are better, are
you not?"

"Yes, sir; oh, yes, Mr. Robert, I am much better now." She panted as she
spoke.

"How pale you are," said Awdrey, "and you used to be such a blooming,
rosy little thing. Well, never mind," he added hastily, "I ought not to
forget that you have a good deal to worry you just now. You must try to
keep up your courage. All you have to do to-morrow when you go into
court is to tell the entire and exact truth."

"You don't mean me to do that, you can't," said Hetty. She opened her
eyes and gave a wild startled glance. The next moment her whole face was
covered with confusion. "Oh, what have I said?" she cried, in
consternation. "Of course, I will tell the exact and perfect truth."

"Of course," said Awdrey, surprised at her manner. "You will be under
oath, remember." He stood up as he spoke. "Now let me take you to your
aunt."

"One moment first, Mr. Robert; I'd like to ask you a question."

"Well, Hetty, what is it?" said the young man, kindly.

Hetty raised her eyes for a moment, then she lowered them.

"It's a very awful thing, the kind of thing that God doesn't forgive,"
she said in a whisper, "for--for a girl to tell a lie when she's under
oath?"

"It is perjury," said Awdrey, in a sharp, short voice. "Why should you
worry your head about such a matter?"

"Of course not, sir, only I'd like to know. I hope you'll be very happy
with your good lady, Mr. Awdrey, when you're married. I think I'll go
home now, sir. I'm not quite well, and it makes me giddy to dance. I
wish you a happy life, sir, and--and Miss Douglas the same. If you see
Aunt Fanny, Mr. Robert, will you tell her that I've gone home?"

"Yes, to be sure I will. Good-by, Hetty. Here, shake hands, won't you?
God bless you, little girl. I hope you will soon be all right."

Hetty crept slowly away; she looked like a little gray shadow as she
returned to the village, passing silently through the lovely gardens and
all the sweet summer world. Beautiful as she was, she was out of keeping
with the summer and the time of gayety.

Against Awdrey's wish Margaret insisted on being present during the
first day of the trial. Everett's trial would in all probability occupy
the whole of two days. Awdrey was to appear in court as witness. His
evidence and that of Hetty Armitage and the laborer who had seen Frere
running across the plain would probably sum up the case against the
prisoner. Hetty's evidence, however, was the most important of all. Some
of the neighbors said that Hetty would never have strength to go through
the trial. But when the little creature stepped into the witness-box,
there was no perceptible want of energy about her--her cheeks were pink
with the color of excitement, her lovely eyes shone brightly. She gave
her testimony in a clear, penetrating, slightly defiant voice. That
voice of hers never once faltered. Her eyes full of desperate courage
were fixed firmly on the face of the solicitor who examined her. Even
the terrible ordeal of cross-examination was borne without flinching;
nor did Hetty once commit herself, or contradict her own evidence. At
the end of the cross-examination, however, she fainted off. It was
noticed afterward by eye-witnesses that Hetty's whole evidence had been
given with her face slightly turned away from that of the accused man.
It was after she had inadvertently met his eyes that she turned white to
the very lips, and fell down fainting in the witness-box. She was
carried away immediately, and murmurs of sympathy followed her as she
was taken out of the court. Hetty was undoubtedly the heroine of the
occasion. Her remarkable beauty, her modesty, the ring of truth which
seemed to pervade all her unwilling words, told fatally against poor
Everett.

She was obliged to return to court on the second day, but Margaret did
not go to Salisbury on that occasion. After the first day of the trial
Margaret spent a sleepless night. She was on the eve of her own wedding,
but she could think of nothing but Everett and Everett's mother. Mrs.
Everett was present at the trial. She wore a widow's dress and her veil
was down, but once or twice she raised it and looked at her son; the son
also glanced at his mother. Margaret had seen these glances, and they
wrung her heart to its depths. She felt that she could not be in court
when the verdict was given. She was so excited with regard to the issue
of the trial that she gave no attention to those minor matters which
usually occupy the minds of young brides.

"It doesn't matter," she said to her maid; "pack anything you fancy into
my travelling trunk. Oh, yes, that dress will do; any dress will do.
What hats did you say? Any hats, I don't care. I'm going to Grandcourt
now, there may be news from Salisbury."

"They say, Miss Douglas, that the Court won't rise until late to-night.
The jury are sure to take a long time to consider the case."

"Well, I'm going to Grandcourt now. Mr. Awdrey may have returned. I
shall hear the latest news."

Margaret arrived at the Court just before dinner. Her future
sisters-in-law, Anne and Dorothy, ran out on the lawn to meet her.

"Oh, how white and tired you look!"

"I am not a bit tired; you know I am always pale. Dorothy, has any news
come yet from Salisbury?"

"Nothing special," replied Dorothy. "The groom has come back to tell us
that we are not to wait dinner for either father or Robert. You will
come into the house now, won't you, Margaret?"

"No, I'd rather stay out here. I don't want any dinner."

"Nor do I. I will stay with you," said Dorothy. "Isn't there a lovely
view from here? I love this part of the grounds better than any other
spot. You can just get a peep of the Cathedral to the right and the
Plain to the left."

"I hate the Plain," said Margaret, with a shiver. "I wish Grandcourt
didn't lie so near it."

Dorothy Awdrey raised her delicate brows in surprise.

"Why, the Plain is the charm of Grandcourt," she exclaimed. "Surely,
Margaret, you are not going to get nervous and fanciful, just because a
murder was committed on the Plain."

"Oh, no!" Margaret started to her feet. "Excuse me, Dorothy, I see
Robert coming up the avenue."

"So he is. Stay where you are, and I'll run and get the news."

"No, please let me go."

"Margaret, you are ill."

"I am all right," replied Margaret.

She ran swiftly down the avenue.

Awdrey saw her, and stopped until she came up to him.

"Well?" she asked breathlessly.

He put both his hands on her shoulders, and looked steadily into her
eyes.

"The verdict," she said. "Quick, the verdict."

"Guilty, Maggie; but they have strongly recommended him to mercy.
Maggie, Maggie, my darling, what is it?"

She flung her arms round his neck, and hid her trembling face against
his breast.

"I can't help it," she said. "It is the eve of our wedding-day. Oh, I
feel sick with terror--sick with sorrow."



CHAPTER IX.


Arthur Rumsey, M.D., F.R.C.S., was one of the most remarkable men of his
time. He was unmarried, and lived in a large house in Harley Street,
where he saw many patients daily. He was on the staff of more than one
of the big London hospitals, and one or two mornings in each week had to
be devoted to this public service, which occupies so much of the life of
a busy and popular doctor. Rumsey was not only a clever, all-round man,
but he was also a specialist. The word nerve--that queer complex word,
with its many hidden meanings, its daily and hourly fresh
renderings--that word, which belongs especially to the end of our
century, he seized with a grip of psychological intensity, and made it
his principal study. By slow degrees and years of patient toil he began
to understand the nerve power in man. From the study of the nerves to
the study of the source of all nerves, aches and pains, joys and
delights, the human brain, was an easy step. Rumsey was a brain
specialist. It began to be reported of him, not only in the profession,
but among that class of patients who must flock to such a man, when he
had performed wonderful and extraordinary cures, that to him was given
insight almost superhuman. It was said of Rumsey that he could read
motives and could also unravel the most complex problems of the
psychological world.

Five years had passed since Margaret Douglas found herself the bride of
Robert Awdrey. These five years had been mostly spent by the pair in
London. Being well off, Awdrey had taken a good house in a fashionable
quarter. He and Margaret began to entertain, and were popular from the
very first, in their own somewhat large circle. They were now the
parents of one beautiful child, a boy, and the outside world invariably
spoke of them as a prosperous and a very happy couple.

Everett did not expiate his supposed crime by death. The plea of the
jury for mercy resulted in fourteen years' penal servitude. Such a
sentence meant, of course, a living death; he had quite sunk out of
ken--almost out of memory. Except in the heart of his mother and in the
tender heart of Margaret Awdrey, this young man, whose career had
promised to be so bright, so satisfactory, such a blessing to all who
knew him, was completely forgotten.

In his mother's heart, of course, he was safely enshrined, and Margaret
also, although she had never spoken to him, and never saw his face until
the day of the trial, still vividly remembered him.

When her honeymoon was over and she found herself settled in London, one
of her first acts was to seek out Mrs. Everett, and to make a special
friend of the forlorn and unhappy widow.

Both Margaret and Mrs. Everett soon found that they had a strong bond of
sympathy between them. They both absolutely believed in Frank Everett's
innocence. The subject, however, was too painful to the elder woman to
be often alluded to, but knowing what was in Margaret's heart she took a
great fancy to her, always spoke to her with affection, took a real
interest in her concerns, and was often a visitor at her home.

Four years after the wedding the elder Squire died. He was found one
morning dead in his bed, having passed peacefully and painlessly away.
Awdrey was now the owner of Grandcourt, but for some reason which he
could not explain, even to himself, he did not care to spend much time
at the old place--Margaret was often there for months at a time, but
Awdrey preferred London to the Court, and a week at a time was the
longest period he would ever spend under the old roof. Both his sisters
were now married and had homes of their own--the place in consequence
began to grow a little into disuse, although Margaret did what she could
for the tenantry, and whenever she was at the Court was extremely
popular with her neighbors. But she did not think it right to leave her
husband long alone--he clung to her a good deal, seeking her opinion
more and more as the months and years went by, and leaning upon her to
an extraordinary extent for a young and clever man.

Awdrey had grown exceptionally old for his age in the five years since
his marriage. He was only twenty-six, but some white streaks were
already to be found in his thick hair, and several wrinkles were
perceptible round his dark gray eyes. He had not gone into
Parliament--he had not distinguished himself by any literary work. His
own ambitious dreams and his wife's longings for him faded one by one
out of sight. He was a gentle, kindly mannered man--generous with his
money, sympathetic up to a certain point over every tale of woe, but
there was a curious want of energy about him, and as the days and months
flew by, Margaret's sense of trouble, which always lay near her heart,
unaccountably deepened.

The great specialist, Arthur Rumsey, was about to give a dinner. It was
his custom to give one once a fortnight during the London season. To
these dinners he not only invited his own friends and the more favored
among his patients, but many celebrated men of science and literature; a
few also of the better sort of the smart people of society were to be
met on these occasions. Although there was no hostess, Rumsey's dinners
were popular, his invitations were always eagerly accepted, and the
people who met each other at his house often spoke afterward of these
occasions as specially delightful.

In short, the dinners partook of that intellectual quality which makes,
to quote an old-world phrase, "the feast of reason and the flow of
soul." On Rumsey's evenings, the forgotten art of conversation seemed
once again to struggle to re-assert itself.

Robert Awdrey and his wife were often among the favored guests, and were
to be present at this special dinner. Margaret was a distant cousin of
the great physician, and shortly after her arrival in London had
consulted him about her husband. She had told him all about the family
history, and the curious hereditary taint which had shown itself from
generation to generation in certain members of the men of the house. He
had listened gravely, and with much interest, saying very little at the
time, and endeavoring by every means in his power to soothe the
anxieties of the young wife.

"The doom you dread may never fall upon your husband," he said finally.
"The slight inertia of mind which he complains of is probably more due
to nervous fear than to anything else. It is a pity he is so well off.
If he had to work for his living, he would soon use his brain to good
and healthy purpose. That fiat which fell upon Adam is in reality a
blessing in disguise. There is no surer cure for most of the fads and
fancies of the present day than the command which ordains to man that
'In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.'"

Margaret's anxious eyes were fixed upon the great doctor while he was
speaking.

"Your husband must make the best of his circumstances," he continued, in
a cheerful tone. "Crowd occupation upon him; get him to take up any good
intellectual work with strength and vigor. If you see he is really tired
out, do not over-worry him. Get him to travel with you; get him to read
books with real stuff in them; occupy his mind at any risk. When he
begins to forget serious matters it will be time enough to come to the
conclusion that the hereditary curse has descended upon him. Up to the
present he has never forgotten anything of consequence, has he?"

"Nothing that I know of," answered Margaret. Then she added, with a
half-smile, "The small lapse of memory which I am about to mention, you
will probably consider beneath your notice, nevertheless it has
irritated my husband to a strange degree. You have doubtless heard of
the tragic murder of Horace Frere, which took place on Salisbury Plain a
few weeks before our wedding?"

Rumsey nodded.

"On the night of the murder my husband lost his favorite walking-stick.
He has worried ceaselessly over that small fact, referring to it
constantly and always complaining of a certain numbness in the back of
his head when he does so. The fact is he met the unfortunate man who was
murdered early in the afternoon. At that time he had his stick with him.
He can never recall anything about it from that moment, nor has he seen
it from then to now."

The doctor laughed good-humoredly.

"There is little doubt," he said, "that the fear that the doom of his
house may fasten upon him has affected your husband's nerves. The lapse
of memory to which you refer means nothing at all. Keep him occupied,
Mrs. Awdrey, keep him occupied. That is my best advice to you."

Margaret went away feeling reassured and almost happy, but since the
date of that conversation Rumsey never forgot Awdrey's queer case. He
possessed that extraordinary and perfect memory himself, which does not
allow the smallest detail, however apparently unimportant, to escape
observation, and often as he talked to his guest across his dinner
table, he observed him with a keenness of interest which he could
himself scarcely account for.

On this particular evening more guests than usual were assembled at the
doctor's house. Sixteen people had sat down to dinner and several fresh
arrivals were expected in the evening. Among the dining guests was Mrs.
Everett. She was a tall, handsome woman of about forty-five years of
age. Her hair was snow-white and was piled high up over her head--her
face was of a pale olive hue, with regular features, and very large,
piercing, dark eyes. The eyebrows were well arched and somewhat thickly
marked--they were still raven black, and afforded a striking contrast to
the lovely thick hair which shone like a mass of silver above her brow.

Everett's mother always wore black, but, curious to relate, she had
discarded widow's weeds soon after her son's incarceration. Before that
date she had been in character, and had also lived the life of an
ordinary, affectionate, and thoroughly amiable woman. Keen as her sorrow
in parting with the husband of her youth was, she contrived to weave a
happy nest in which her heart could take shelter, in the passionate love
which she gave to her only son. But from the date of his trial and
verdict, the woman's whole character, the very expression on her face,
had altered. Her eyes had now a watchful and intent look. She seemed
like some one who had set a mission before herself. She had the look of
one who lived for a hidden purpose. She no longer eschewed society, but
went into it even more frequently than her somewhat slender means
afforded. She made many new acquaintances and was always eager to win
the confidence of those who cared to confide in her. Her own story she
never touched upon, but she gave a curious kind of watchful sympathy to
others which was not without its charm.

On this particular night, the widow's eyes were brighter and more
restless than usual. Dr. Rumsey knew all about her story, and had often
counselled her with regard to her present attitude toward society at
large.

"My boy is innocent," she had said many times to the doctor. "The object
of my life is to prove this. I will quietly wait, I will do nothing
rash, but it is my firm conviction that I shall yet be permitted to find
and expose the man who killed Horace Frere."

Rumsey had warned her as to the peril which she ran in fostering too
keenly a fixed idea--he had taken pains to give her psychological
reasons for the danger which she incurred--but nothing he could say or
do could alter the bias of her mind. Her fixed and unwavering assurance
that her boy was absolutely innocent could not be imperilled by any
words which man could speak.

"If I had even seen my boy do the murder I should still believe it to be
a vision of my own brain," she had said once, and after that Rumsey had
ceased to try to guide her thoughts into a healthier channel.

On this particular night when the doctor came upstairs after wine,
accompanied by the rest of the men of the party, Mrs. Everett seemed to
draw him to her side by her watchful and excited glances.

There was something about the man which could never withstand an appeal
of human need--he went straight now to the widow's side as a needle is
attracted to a magnet.

"Well," he said, drawing a chair forward, and seating himself so as
almost to face her.

"You guessed that I wanted to see you?" she said eagerly.

"I looked at you and that was sufficient," he said.

"When can you give me an interview?" she replied.

"Do you want to visit me as a patient?"

"I do not--that is, not in the ordinary sense. I want to tell you
something. I have a story to relate, and when it is told I should like
to get your verdict on a certain peculiar case--in short, I believe I
have got a clue, if only a slight one, to the unravelling of the mystery
of my life--you quite understand?"

"Yes, I understand," replied Dr. Rumsey in a gentle voice, "but, my dear
lady, I am not a detective."

"Not in the ordinary sense, but surely as far as the complex heart is
concerned."

Dr. Rumsey held up his hand.

"We need not go into that," he said.

"No, we will not. May I see you to-morrow for a few minutes?"

The doctor consulted his note-book.

"I cannot see you as a patient," he said, "but as a friend it is
possible. Can you be here at eight o'clock to-morrow morning? I
breakfast at eight--my breakfast generally occupies ten minutes--that
time is at your disposal."

"I will be with you. Thank you a thousand times," she replied.

Her eyes grew bright with exultation. The doctor favored her with a keen
glance and moved aside. A few minutes later he found himself in Margaret
Awdrey's vicinity. Margaret was now a very beautiful woman. As a girl
she had been lovely, but her early matronhood had developed her charms,
had added to her stateliness, and had brought out many new and fresh
expressions in her mobile and lovely face.

As Rumsey approached her side, she was in the act of taking leave of an
old friend of her husband's, who was going away early. The Doctor was
therefore able to watch her for a minute without her observing him--then
she turned slightly, saw him, flushed vividly, and went eagerly and
swiftly to his side.

"Dr. Rumsey," said Margaret, "I know this is not the place to make
appointments, but I am anxious to see you on the subject of my husband's
health. How soon can you manage----"

"I can make an appointment for to-morrow," he interrupted. "Be with me
at half-past one. I can give you half an hour quite undisturbed then."

She did not smile, but her eyes were raised fully to his face. Those
dark, deep eyes so full of the noblest emotions which can stir the human
soul, looked at him now with a pathos that touched his heart. He moved
away to talk to other friends, but the thought of Margaret Awdrey
returned to him many times during the ensuing night.



CHAPTER X.


At the appointed hour on the following morning Mrs. Everett was shown
into Dr. Rumsey's presence. She found him in his cosy breakfast-room, in
the act of helping himself to coffee.

"Ah!" he said, as he placed a chair for her, "what an excellent thing
this punctuality is in a woman. Sit down, pray. You shall have your full
ten minutes--the clock is only on the stroke of eight."

Mrs. Everett looked too disturbed and anxious even to smile. She untied
her bonnet-strings, threw back her mantle, and stared straight at Dr.
Rumsey.

"No coffee, thank you," she said. "I breakfasted long ago. Dr. Rumsey, I
am nearly wild with excitement and anxiety. I told you long ago, did I
not, that a day would come when I should get a clue which might lead to
establishing my boy's"--she wet her lips--"my only boy's innocence?
Nothing that can happen now will ever, of course, repair what he has
lost--his lost youth, his lost healthy outlook on life--but to set him
free, even now! To give him his liberty once again! To feel the clasp of
his hand on mine! Ah, I nearly go mad at times with longing, but thank
God, thank the Providence which is above us all, I do believe I have
found a clue at last."

"Tell me what it is," said the doctor, in a kind voice. "I know," he
added, "you will make your story as brief as possible."

"I will, my good friend," she replied. She stood up now, her somewhat
long arms hung at her sides, she turned her face in all its intense
purpose full upon the doctor.

"You know my restless nature," she continued. "I can seldom or never sit
still--even my sleep is broken by terrible dreams. All the energy which
I possess is fixed upon one thought, and one only--I want to find the
real murderer of Horace Frere."

"Yes," said Dr. Rumsey.

"A fortnight ago I made up my mind to do a queer thing. I determined to
visit Grandcourt--I mean the village of that name."

The doctor started.

"You are surprised?" said Mrs. Everett; "nevertheless I can account for
my longings."

"You need not explain. I quite understand."

"I believe you do. I felt drawn to the place--to the Inn where my son
stayed, to the neighborhood. I travelled down to Grandcourt without
announcing my intention to any one, and arrived at the Inn just as the
dusk was setting in. The landlord, Armitage by name, came out to
interview me. I told him who I was. He looked much disturbed, and by no
means pleased. I asked him if he would take me in. He went away to
consult his wife. She followed him after a moment into the porch with a
scared face.

"'I wonder, ma'am, that you like to come here,' she said.

"'I come for one purpose,' I replied. 'I want to see the spot where
Horace Frere met his death. I am drawn to this place by the greatest
agony which has ever torn a mother's heart. Will you take me in, and
will you give me the room in which my son slept?'

"The landlady looked at me in anything but a friendly manner. Her
husband whispered something to her--after a time her brow cleared--she
nodded to him, and the next moment I was given to understand that my
son's old room would be at my disposal. I took possession of it that
evening, and my meals were served to me in the little parlor where my
boy and the unfortunate Horace Frere had lived together.

"The next day I went out alone at an early hour to visit the Plain. I
had never ventured on Salisbury Plain before. The day was a gloomy and
stormy one. There were constant showers of rain, and I was almost wet
through by the time I reached my destination. I had just got upon the
borders of the Plain when I saw a young woman walking a little ahead of
me. There was something in the gait which I seemed to recognize,
although at first I had only a dim idea that I had ever seen her before.
Hurrying my footsteps I came up to her, passed her, and as I did so
looked her full in the face. I started then and stopped short. She was
the girl who had seen the murder committed, and who had given evidence
of the most damnatory kind against my son on the day of the trial. In
that one swift glance I saw that she was much altered. She had been a
remarkably pretty girl. She had now nearly lost all her comeliness of
appearance. Her face was thin, her dress negligent and untidy, on her
brow there was a sullen frown. When she saw me she also stood still, her
eyes dilated with a curious expression of fear.

"'Who are you?' she said, with a pant.

"'I am Mrs. Everett,' I replied, slowly. 'I am the mother of the man who
once lodged in your uncle's house, and who is now expiating the crime of
another at Portland prison.'

"She had turned red at first, now she became white.

"'And your name,' I continued, 'is Hetty Armitage.'

"'Why do you say that your son is expatiating the crime of another?' she
asked.

"'Because I am his mother. I have looked into his heart, and there is no
murder there. But tell me, is not your name Hetty Armitage?'

"'It is not Armitage now,' she answered. 'I am married. I live about
three miles from Grandcourt, over in that direction. I am going home
now. My husband's name is Vincent. He is a farmer.'

"'You don't look too well off,' I said, for I noticed her shabby dress
and run-to-seed appearance.

"'These are hard times for farmers,' she answered.

"'Have you children?' I asked.

"'No,' she replied fiercely, 'I am glad to say I have not.'

"'Why are you glad?' I asked. 'Surely a child is the crown of a married
woman's bliss.'

"'It would not be to me,' she cried. 'My heart is full to the brim. I
have no room for a child in it.'

"'A full heart generally means happiness,' I said. 'Are you happy?'

"She gave me a queer glance.

"'No, ma'am,' she answered, 'my heart is full of bitterness, of sorrow.'
Her eyes looked quite wild. She pressed one of her hands to her
forehead,--then stepping out, she half turned round to me.

"'I wish you good-morning, Mrs. Everett,' she said. 'My way lies across
here.'

"'Stay a moment before you leave me,' I said. 'I am coming to this plain
on a mission which you perhaps can guess. If you are poor you will not
despise half a sovereign. I'll give you half a sovereign if you'll show
me the exact spot where the murder was committed.'

"She turned from white to red, and from red to white again.

"'I don't like that spot,' she said. 'That night was a terrible night to
me; my nerves ain't what they were--I sleep bad, and sometimes I dream.
Many and many a time I've seen that murder committed over again. I have
seen the look on the face of the murdered man, and the look on the face
of the man who did it--Oh, my God, I have seen----'

"She pressed her two hands hard against her eyes.

"I waited quietly until she had recovered her emotion; then I held out
the little gold coin.

"'You will take me to the spot?' I asked.

"She clutched the coin suddenly in her hand.

"'This will buy what I live for,' she cried, with passion. 'I can drown
thought with this. Come along, ma'am, we are not very far from the place
here. I'll take you, and then go on home.'

"She started off, walking in front of me, and keeping well ahead. She
went quickly, and yet with a sort of tremulous movement, as though she
were not quite certain of herself. We crossed the Plain not far from the
Court. I saw the house in the distance, and the curling smoke which rose
up out of the trees.

"'Don't walk so fast,' I said. 'I am an old woman, and you take my
breath away.' She slackened her steps, but very unwillingly.

"'The family are not often at the Court?' I queried.

"'No,' she answered with a start--'since the old Squire died the place
has been most shut up.'

"'I happen to know the present Squire and his wife,' I said.

"She flushed when I said this, gave me a furtive glance, and then
pressing one hand to her left side, said abruptly:

"'If you know you can tell me summ'at--he is well, is he?'

"'They are both well,' I answered, surprised at the tone of her voice.
'I should judge them to be a happy couple.'

"'I thank the good God that Mr. Robert is happy,' she said, in a hoarse
whisper.

"Once again she hurried her footsteps; at last she stood still on a
rising knoll of ground.

"'Do you see this clump of alders?' she said. 'It was here I stood, just
on this spot--I was sheltered by the alders, and even if the night had
not been so dark they would never have noticed me. Over there to your
right it was done. You don't want me to stay any longer now, ma'am, do
you?'

"'You can go when I have asked you one or two questions. You stood here,
you say--just here?'

"'Just here, ma'am,' she answered.

"'And the murder was committed there?'

"'Yes, where the grass seems to grow a bit greener--you notice it, don't
you, just there, to your right.'

"'I see,' I replied with a shudder, which I could not repress. 'Do you
mind telling me how it was that you happened to be out of your bed at
such a late hour at night?'

"She looked very sullen, and set her lips tightly. I gazed full at her,
waiting for her to speak.

"'The man whose blood was shed was my lover--we had just had a quarrel,'
she said, at last.

"'What about?'

"'That's my secret,' she replied.

"'How is it you did not mention the fact of the quarrel at the trial?' I
asked.

"She looked full up at me.

"'I was not asked,' she answered; 'that's my secret, and I don't tell it
to anybody. It was here I stood, just where your feet are planted, and I
saw it done--the moon came out for a minute, and I saw everything--even
to the look on the dead man's face and the look on the face of the man
who took his life. I saw it all. I ain't been the same woman since.'

"'I am not surprised,' I replied. 'You may leave me when I have said one
thing.'

"'What is that, ma'am?'

"She raised her dark eyes. I saw fear in their depths.

"'You saw two men that night, Hetty Vincent,' I said--'one, the man who
was murdered, was Horace Frere, but the other man, as there is a God
above, was not Frank Everett. I am speaking the truth--you can go now.'

"My words seemed forced from me, Dr. Rumsey, but the effect was
terrifying. The wretched creature fell on her knees--she clung to my
dress, covering her face with a portion of the mantle which I was
wearing.

"'Good God, why do you say that?' she gasped. 'How do you know? Who has
told you? Why do you say awful words of that sort?'

"Her excitement made me calm. I stood perfectly silent, but with my
heart beating with the queerest sense of exultation and victory.

"'Get up,' I said. She rose trembling to her feet. I laid my hand on her
shoulder.

"'You have something to confess,' I said.

"She looked at me again and burst out laughing.

"'What a fool I made of myself just now!' she said. 'I have nothing to
confess; what could I have? You spoke so solemn and the place is
queer--it always upsets me. I'll go now.' She backed a few steps away.

"'I saw two men on the Plain,' she said then, raising her voice, 'one
was Horace Frere--the other was your son, Frank Everett.' Before I could
add another word she took to her heels and was quickly out of sight.

"I returned to the Inn and questioned Armitage and his wife. I did not
dare to tell them what Hetty had said in her excitement, but I asked for
her address and drove out early the following morning to Vincent's farm
to visit her. I was told on my arrival that she had left home that
morning; that she often did so to visit a relation at a distance. I
asked for the address, which was given me somewhat unwillingly. That
night I went there, but Hetty had not arrived and nothing was known
about her. Since then I have tried in vain to get any clue to her
present whereabouts. That is my story, Dr. Rumsey. What do you think of
it? Are the wild stories of an excited and over-wrought woman worthy of
careful consideration? Is her sudden flight suspicious, or the reverse?
I anxiously await your verdict."

Dr. Rumsey remained silent for a moment.

"I am inclined to believe," he said, then very slowly, "that the words
uttered by this young woman were merely the result of overstrung nerves;
remember, she was in all probability in love with the man who met his
death in so tragic a manner. From the remarkable change which you speak
of in her appearance, I should say that her nerves had been considerably
shattered by the sight she witnessed, and also by the prominent place
she was obliged to take in the trial. She has probably dreamt of this
thing, and dwelt upon it year in and year out, since it happened. Then,
remember, you spoke in a very startling manner and practically accused
her of having committed perjury at the time of the trial. Under such
circumstances and in the surroundings she was in at the time, she would
be very likely to lose her head. As to her sudden disappearance, I
confess I cannot quite understand it, unless her nervous system is even
more shattered than you incline me to believe; but, stay,--from words
she inadvertently let drop, she has evidently become addicted to drink,
to opium eating, or some such form of self-indulgence. If that is the
case she would be scarcely responsible for her actions. I do not think,
Mrs. Everett, unless you can obtain further evidence, that there is
anything to go upon in this."

"That is your carefully considered opinion?"

"It is--I am sorry if it disappoints you."

"It does not do that, for I cannot agree with you." Mrs. Everett rose as
she spoke, fastened her cloak, and tied her bonnet-strings.

"Your opinion is the cool one of an acute reasoner, but also of a person
who is outside the circumstances," she continued.

Rumsey smiled.

"Surely in such a case mine ought to be the one to be relied upon?" he
queried.

"No, for there is such a thing as mother's instinct. I will not detain
you longer, Dr. Rumsey. You have said what I expected you would say."



CHAPTER XI.


Rumsey began the severe routine of his daily work. He was particularly
busy that day, and had many anxious cases to consider; it was also one
of his hospital mornings, and his hospital cases were, he considered,
some of the most important in his practice. Nevertheless Mrs. Everett's
face and her words of excitement kept flashing again and again before
his memory.

"There is a possibility of that woman losing her senses if her mind is
not diverted into another channel, and soon too," he thought to himself.
"If she allows her thoughts to dwell much longer on this fixed idea, she
will see her son's murderer in the face of each man and woman with whom
she comes in contact. Still there is something queer in her story--the
young woman whom she addressed on Salisbury Plain was evidently the
victim of nervous terror to a remarkable extent--can it be possible that
she is concealing something?"

Rumsey thought for a moment over his last idea. Then he dismissed it
from his mind.

"No," he said to himself, "a village girl could not stand
cross-examination without betraying herself. I shall get as fanciful as
Mrs. Everett if I dwell any longer upon this problem. After all there is
no problem to consider. Why not accept the obvious fact? Poor Everett
killed his friend in a moment of strong irritation--it was a very plain
case of manslaughter."

At the appointed hour Margaret Awdrey appeared on the scene. She was
immediately admitted into Dr. Rumsey's presence. He asked her to seat
herself, and took a chair facing her. It was Margaret's way to be always
very direct. She was direct now, knowing that her auditor's time was of
extreme value.

"I have not troubled you about my husband for some years," she began.

"You have not," he replied.

"Do you remember what I last told you about him?"

"Perfectly. But excuse me one moment; to satisfy you I will look up his
case in my casebook. Do you remember the year when you last spoke to me
about him?"

Margaret instantly named the date, not only of year, but of month. Dr.
Rumsey quickly looked up the case. He laid his finger on the open page
in which he had entered all particulars, ran his eyes rapidly over the
notes he had made at the time, and then turned to Mrs. Awdrey.

"I find, as I expected, that I have forgotten nothing," he said. "I was
right in my conjectures, was I not? Your husband's symptoms were due to
nervous distress?"

"I wish I could say so," replied Margaret.

Dr. Rumsey slightly raised his brows.

"Are there fresh symptoms?" he asked.

"He is not well. I must tell you exactly how he is affected."

The doctor bent forward to listen. Margaret began her story.

"Since the date of our marriage there has been a very gradual, but also
a marked deterioration in my husband's character," she said. "But until
lately he has been in possession of excellent physical health, his
appetite has been good, he has been inclined for exercise, and has slept
well. In short, his bodily health has been without a flaw. Accompanying
this state of physical well-being there has been a very remarkable
mental torpor."

"Are you not fanciful on that point?" asked Dr. Rumsey.

"I am not. Please remember that I have known him since he was a boy. As
a boy he was particularly ambitious, full of all sorts of schemes for
the future--many of these schemes were really daring and original. He
did well at school, and better than well at Balliol. When we became
engaged his strong sense of ambition was quite one of the most
remarkable traits of his character. He always spoke of doing much with
his life. The idea was that as soon as possible he was to enter the
House, and he earnestly hoped that when that happy event took place he
would make his mark there. One by one all these thoughts, all these
hopes and aims, have dropped away from his mind; each year has robbed
him of something, until at last he has come to that pass when even books
fail to arouse any interest in him. He sits for many hours absolutely
doing nothing, not even sleeping, but gazing straight before him into
vacancy. Our little son is almost the only person who has any power to
rouse him. He is devoted to the child, but his love even for little
Arthur is tempered by that remarkable torpor--he never plays with the
boy, who is a particularly strong-willed, spirited child, but likes to
sit with him on his knee, the child's arms clasped round his neck. He
has trained the little fellow to sit perfectly still. The child is
devoted to his father, and would do anything for him. As the years have
gone on, my husband has become more and more a man of few words--I now
believe him to be a man of few thoughts--of late he has been subject to
moods of deep depression, and although he is my husband, I often feel,
truly as I love him, that he is more like a log than a man."

Tears dimmed Margaret's eyes; she hastily wiped them away.

"I would not trouble you about all this," she continued, "but for a
change which has taken place within the last few months. That change
directly affects my husband's physical health, and as such is the case I
feel it right to consult you about it."

"Yes, speak--take your own time--I am much interested," said the doctor.

"The change in my husband's health of body has also begun gradually,"
continued Mrs. Awdrey. "You know, of course, that he is now the owner of
Grandcourt. He has taken a great dislike to the place--in my opinion, an
unaccountable dislike. He absolutely refuses to live there. Now I am
fond of Grandcourt, and our little boy always seems in better health and
spirits there than anywhere else. I take my child down to the old family
place whenever I can spare a week from my husband. Last autumn I
persuaded Mr. Awdrey with great difficulty to accompany me to Grandcourt
for a week. I have never ceased to regret that visit."

"Indeed, what occurred?" asked the doctor.

"Apparently nothing, and yet evidently a great deal. When we got into
the country Robert's apathy seemed to change; he roused himself and
became talkative and even excitable. He took long walks, and was
particularly fond of visiting Salisbury Plain, that part which lies to
the left of the Court. He invariably took these rambles alone, and often
went out quite late in the evening, not returning until midnight.

"On the last of these occasions I asked him why he was so fond of
walking by himself. He said with a forced laugh, and a very queer look
in his eyes, that he was engaged trying to find a favorite walking-stick
which he had lost years ago. He laid such stress upon what appeared such
a trivial subject that I could scarcely refrain from smiling. When I did
so he swore a terrific oath, and said, with blazing eyes, that life or
death depended upon the matter which I thought so trivial. Immediately
after his brief blaze of passion he became moody, dull, and more inert
than ever. The next day we left the Court. It was immediately after that
visit that his physical health began to give way. He lost his appetite,
and for the last few months he has been the victim of a very peculiar
form of sleeplessness."

"Ah, insomnia would be bad in a case like his," said Dr. Rumsey.

"It has had a very irritating effect upon him. His sleeplessness, like
all other symptoms, came on gradually. At the same time he became
intensely sensitive to the slightest noise. Against my will he tried
taking small doses of chloral, but they had the reverse of a beneficial
effect upon him. During the last month he has, toward morning, dropped
off into uneasy slumber, from which he awakens bathed in perspiration
and in a most curious state of terror. Night after night the same sort
of thing occurs. He seizes my hand and asks me in a voice choking with
emotion if I see anything in the room. 'Nothing,' I answer.

"'Am I awake or asleep?' he asks next.

"'Wide awake,' I say to him.

"'Then it is as I fear,' he replies. 'I see it, I see it distinctly.
Can't you? Look, you must see it too. It is just over there, in the
direction of the window. Don't you see that sphere of perfect light?
Don't you see the picture in the middle?' He shivers; the drops of
perspiration fall from his forehead.

"'Margaret,' he says, 'for God's sake look. Tell me that you see it
too.'

"'I see nothing,' I answer him.

"'Then the vision is for me alone. It haunts me. What have I done to
deserve it? Margaret, there is a circle of light over there--in the
centre a picture--it is the picture of a murder. Two men are in it--yes,
I know now--I am looking at the Plain near the Court--the moon is hidden
behind the clouds--there are two men--they fight. God in heaven, one man
falls--the other bends over him. I see the face of the fallen man, but I
cannot see the face of the other. I should rest content if I could only
see his face. Who is he, Margaret, who is he?'

"He falls back on his pillow half-fainting.

"This sort of thing goes on night after night, Dr. Rumsey. Toward
morning the vision which tortures my unhappy husband begins to fade, he
sinks into heavy slumber, and awakens late in the morning with no memory
whatever of the horrible thing which has haunted him during the hours of
darkness.

"The days which follow are more full than ever of that terrible inertia,
and now he begins to look what he really is, a man stricken with an
awful doom.

"The symptoms you speak of are certainly alarming," said Dr. Rumsey,
after a pause. "They point to a highly unsatisfactory state of the nerve
centres. These symptoms, joined to what you have already told me of the
peculiar malady which Awdrey inherits, make his case a grave one. Of
course, I by no means give up hope, but the recurrence of this vision
nightly is a singular symptom. Does Awdrey invariably speak of not being
able to see the face of the man who committed the murder?"

"Yes, he always makes a remark to that effect. He seems every night to
see the murdered man lying on the ground with his face upward, but the
man who commits the murder has his back to him. Last night he shrieked
out in absolute terror on the subject:

"'Who is the man? That man on the ground is Horace Frere--he has been
hewn down in the first strength of his youth--he is a dead man. There
stands the murderer, with his back to me, but who is he? Oh, my God!' he
cried out with great passion, 'who is the one who has done this deed?
Who has murdered Horace Frere? I would give all I possess, all that this
wide world contains, only to catch one glimpse of his face.'

"He sprang out of bed as he spoke, and went a step or two in the
direction where he saw the peculiar vision, clasping his hands, and
staring straight before him like a person distraught, and almost out of
his mind. I followed him and tried to take his hand.

"'Robert!' I said, 'you know, don't you, quite well, who murdered Horace
Frere? Poor fellow, it was not murder in the ordinary sense. Frank
Everett is the name of the man whose face you cannot see. But it is an
old story now, and you have nothing to do with it, nothing
whatever--don't let it dwell any longer on your mind.'

"'Ha, but he carries my stick,' he shrieked out, and then he fell back
in a state of unconsciousness against the bed."

"And do you mean to tell me that he remembered nothing of this agony in
the morning?" queried Dr. Rumsey.

"Nothing whatever. At breakfast he complained of a slight headache and
was particularly dull and moody. When I came off to you he had just
started for a walk in the Park with our little boy."

"I should like to see your husband, and to talk to him," said Dr.
Rumsey, rising abruptly. "Can you manage to bring him here?"

"I fear I cannot, for he does not consider himself ill."

"Shall you be at home this evening?"

"Yes, we are not going out to-night."

"Then I'll drop in between eight and nine on a friendly visit. You must
not be alarmed if I try to lead up to the subject of these nightly
visions, for I would infinitely rather your husband remembered them than
that they should quite slip from his memory."

"Thank you," answered Margaret. "I will leave you alone with him when
you call to-night."

"It may be best for me to see him without anyone else being present."

Margaret Awdrey soon afterward took her leave.

That night, true to his appointment, Dr. Rumsey made his appearance at
the Awdreys' house in Seymour Street. He was shown at once into the
drawing-room, where Awdrey was lying back in a deep chair on one side of
the hearth, and Margaret was softly playing a sonata of Beethoven's in
the distance. She played with great feeling and power, and did not use
any notes. The part of the room where she sat was almost in shadow, but
the part round the fire where Awdrey had placed himself was full of
bright light.

Margaret's dark eyes looked full of painful thought when the great
doctor was ushered into the room. She did not see him at first, then she
noticed him and faltered in her playing. She took her fingers from the
piano, and rose to meet him.

"Pray go on, Margaret. What are you stopping for?" cried her husband.
"Nothing soothes me like your music. Go on, go on. I see the moonlight
on the trees, I feel the infinite peace, the waves are beating on the
shore, there is rest." He broke off abruptly, starting to his feet. "I
beg your pardon, Dr. Rumsey, I assure you I did not see you until this
moment."

"I happened to have half-an-hour at my disposal, and thought I would
drop in for a chat," said Dr. Rumsey in his pleasant voice.

Awdrey's somewhat fretful brow relaxed.

"You are heartily welcome," he said. "Have you dined? Will you take
anything?"

"I have dined, and I only want one thing," said Dr. Rumsey.

"Pray name it; I'll ring for it immediately."

"You need not do that, for the person to give it to me is already in the
room."

The doctor bowed to Margaret as he spoke.

"I love the 'Moonlight Sonata' beyond all other music," he said. "Will
you continue playing it, Mrs. Awdrey? Will you rest a tired physician as
well as your husband with your music?"

"With all the pleasure in the world," she replied. She returned at once
to her shady corner, and the soothing effects of the sonata once more
filled the room. For a short time Awdrey sat upright, forced into
attention of others by the fact of Dr. Rumsey's presence, but he soon
relaxed the slight effort after self-control, and lay back in his chair
once again with his eyes half shut.

Rumsey listened to the music and watched his strange patient at the same
time.

Margaret suddenly stopped, almost as abruptly as if she had had a
signal. She walked up the room, and stood in the bright circle of light.
She looked very lovely, and almost spiritual--her face was pale--her
eyes luminous as if lit from within--her pathetic and perfect lips were
slightly apart. Rumsey thought her something like an angel who was about
to utter a benediction.

"I am going up now to see little Arthur," she said. She glanced at her
husband, and left the room.

Rumsey had not failed to observe that Awdrey did not even glance at his
wife when she stood on the hearth. There was a full moment's pause after
she left the room. Awdrey's eyes were half closed, they were turned in
the direction of the bright blaze. Rumsey looked full at him.

"Strange case, strange man," he muttered under his breath. "There is
something for me to unravel here. The man who is insensate enough not to
see the beauty in that woman's face, not to revel in the love she
bestows on him--he is a log, not a man--and yet----"

"Are you well?" cried the doctor abruptly. He spoke on purpose with
great distinctness, and his words had something the effect of a
pistol-shot.

Awdrey sat bolt upright and stared full at him.

"Why do you ask me that question?" he replied, irritation in his tone.

"Because I wish to question you with regard to your health," said Dr.
Rumsey. "Whether you feel it or not, you are by no means well."

"Indeed! What do I look like?"

"Like a man who sees more than he ought," replied the doctor with
deliberation. "But before we come to that may I ask you a question?"

Awdrey looked disturbed--he got up and stood with his back to the fire.

"Ask what you please," he said, rubbing up his hair as he spoke. "As
there is a heaven above, Dr. Rumsey, you see a wretched man before you
to-night."

"My dear fellow, what strong words! Surely, you of all people----"

Awdrey interrupted with a hollow laugh.

"Ah," he said, "it looks like it, does it not? In any circle, among any
concourse of people, I should be pointed out as the fortunate man. I
have money--I have a very good and beautiful wife--I am the father of as
fine a boy as the heart of man could desire. I belong to one of the old
and established families of our country, and I also, I suppose, may
claim the inestimable privilege to youth, for I am only twenty-six years
of age--nevertheless----" He shuddered, looked down the long room, and
then closed his eyes.

"I am glad I came here," said Dr. Rumsey. "Believe me, my dear sir, the
symptoms you have just described are by no means uncommon in the cases
of singularly fortunate individuals like yourself. The fact is, you have
got too much. You want to empty yourself of some of your abundance in
order that contentment and health of mind may flow in."

Awdrey stared at the doctor with lack-lustre eyes. Then he shook his
head.

"I am past all that," he said. "I might at the first have managed to
make a superhuman effort; but now I have no energy for anything. I have
not even energy sufficient to take away my own life, which is the only
thing on all God's earth that I crave to do."

"Come, come, Awdrey, you must not allow yourself to speak like that. Now
sit down. Tell me, if you possibly can, exactly what you feel."

"Why should I tell you? I am not your patient."

"But I want you to be."

"Is that why you came here this evening?"

Dr. Rumsey paused before he replied; he had not expected this question.

"I will answer you frankly," he said, with a pause. "Your wife came to
see me about you. She did not wish me to mention the fact of her visit,
but I believe I am wise in keeping nothing back from you. You love your
wife, don't you?"

"I suppose I do; that is, if I love anybody."

"Of course, you love her. Don't sentimentalize over a fact. She came to
see me because her love for you is over-abundant. It makes her anxious;
you have given her, Awdrey, a great deal of anxiety lately.

"I cannot imagine how. I have done nothing."

"That is just it. You have done too little. She is naturally terribly
anxious. She told me one or two things about your state which I do not
consider quite satisfactory. I said it would be necessary for me to have
an interview with you, and asked her to beg of you to call at my house.
She said you did not consider yourself ill, and might not be willing to
come to me. I then resolved to come to you, and here I am."

"It is good of you, Rumsey, but you can do nothing; I am not really ill.
It is simply that something--I have not the faintest idea what--has
killed my soul. I believe, before heaven, that I have stated the case in
a nutshell. You may be, and doubtless are, a great doctor, but you have
not come across living men with dead souls before."

"I have not Awdrey; nor is your soul dead. You state an impossibility."

Awdrey started excitedly. His face, which had been deadly pale, now
blazed with animation and color.

"Learned as you are," he cried, "you will gain some fresh and valuable
experience from me to-night. I am the strangest patient you ever
attempted to cure. You have roused me, and it is good to be roused.
Perhaps my soul is not dead after all--perhaps it is struggling with a
demon which crushes it down."



CHAPTER XII.


Dr. Rumsey did not reply to this for a moment, then he spoke quietly.

"Tell me everything," he said. "Nothing you can say will startle me, but
if there is any possibility of my helping you I must know the case as
far as you can give it me."

"I have but little to say," replied Awdrey. "I am paralyzed day after
day simply by want of feeling. Even a sense of pain, of irritation, is a
relief--the deadness of my life is so overpowering. Do you know the
history of my house?"

"Your wife has told me. It is a queer story."

"It is a damnable story," said Awdrey. "With such a fate hanging over
me, why was I born? Why did my father marry? Why did my mother bring a
man-child into the world? Men with dooms like mine ought never to have
descendants. I curse the thought that I have a child myself. It is all
cruel, monstrous."

"But the thing you fear has not fallen upon you," said Dr. Rumsey.

"Has it not? I believe it has."

"How can you possibly imagine what is not the case?"

"Dr. Rumsey," said Awdrey, advancing a step or two to meet him, "I don't
imagine what I know. Look at me. I am six-and-twenty. Do I look that
age?"

"I must confess that you look older than your years."

"Aye, I should think so. See my hair already mingled with gray. Feel
this nerveless hand. Is this the hand of the English youth of
six-and-twenty? Look at my eyes--how dull they are; are they the eyes of
a man in his prime? No, no, I am going down to the grave as the other
men of my house have gone, simply because I cannot help it. Like those
who have gone before me I slip, and slip, and slip, and cannot get a
grip of life anywhere, and so I go out, or go over the precipice into
God knows what--anyhow I go."

"Poor fellow, he is far worse than I had any idea of," thought the
doctor. He took his patient's hand, and led him to a seat.

"You are quite ill enough to see a doctor," he said, "and ought to have
had advice long ago. I mean to take you up, Awdrey. From this moment you
must consider yourself my patient."

"If you can do anything for me I shall be glad--that is, no, I shall not
be glad, for I am incapable of the sensation, but I am aware it is the
right thing to put myself into your hands. What do you advise?"

"I cannot tell you until I know more. My present impression is that you
are simply the victim of nerve terrors. You have dwelt upon the doom of
your house for so long a time that you are now fully convinced that you
are one of the victims. But you must please remember that the special
feature of the tragedy, for tragedy it is, has not occurred in your
case, for you have never forgotten anything of consequence."

"Only one thing--it sounds stupid even to speak of it, but it worries me
inconceivably. There was a murder committed on Salisbury Plain the night
before I got engaged to Margaret. On that night I lost a walking-stick
which I was particularly fond of."

"Your wife mentioned to me that you were troubled on that point," broke
in Dr. Rumsey. "Pray dismiss it at once and forever from your mind. The
fact of your having forgotten such a trifle is not of the slightest
consequence."

"Do you think so? The fret about it has fastened itself very deeply into
my mind."

"Well, don't think of it again--the next time it occurs to torment you,
just remember that I, who have made brain troubles like yours my special
study, think nothing at all about it."

"Thank you, I'll try to remember."

"Do so. Now, I wish to talk to you about another matter. You sleep
badly."

"Do I?" Awdrey raised his brows. "I cannot recall that fact."

"Nevertheless you do. Your wife speaks of it. Now in your state of
health it is most essential that you should have good nights."

"I always feel an added sense of depression when I am going to bed,"
said Awdrey, "but I am unconscious that I have bad nights--what can
Margaret mean?"

"I trust that your wife's natural nervousness with regard to you makes
her inclined to exaggerate your symptoms, but I may as well say frankly
that some of the things she has mentioned, as occurring night after
night, have given me uneasiness. Now I should like to be with you during
one of your bad nights."

"What do you mean?"

"Come home with me to-night, my good fellow," said the doctor, laying
his hand on Awdrey's shoulder--"we will pass this night together. What
do you say?"

"Your request surprises me very much, but it would be a relief--I will
go," said Awdrey.

He turned and rang the bell as he spoke--a servant appeared, who was
sent with a message to Mrs. Awdrey. She came to the drawing-room in a
few minutes. Her face of animation, wakefulness of soul and feeling,
made a strong contrast to Awdrey's haggard, lifeless expression.

He went up to his wife and put his hand on her shoulder.

"You have been telling tales of me, Maggie," he said. "You complain of
something I know nothing about--my bad nights."

"They are very bad, Robert, very terrible," she replied.

"I cannot recall a single thing about them."

"I wish you could remember," she said.

"I have made a suggestion to your husband," interrupted Dr. Rumsey,
"which I am happy to say he approves of. He returns with me to my house
to-night. I will promise to look after him. If he does happen to have a
bad night I shall be witness to it. Now pray go to bed yourself and
enjoy the rest you sorely need."

Margaret tried to smile in reply, but her eyes filled with tears. Rumsey
saw them, but Awdrey took no notice--he was staring straight into
vacancy, after his habitual fashion.

A moment later he and Rumsey left the house together. Ten minutes
afterward Rumsey opened his own door with a latchkey.

"It is late," he said to his guest. He glanced at the clock as he spoke.
"At this hour I always indulge in supper--it is waiting for me now. Will
you come and have a glass of port with me?"

Awdrey murmured something in reply--the two men went into the
dining-room, where Rumsey, without apparently making any fuss, saw that
his guest ate and drank heartily. During the meal the doctor talked, and
Awdrey replied in monosyllables--sometimes, indeed, not replying at all.
Dr. Rumsey took no notice of this. When the meal, which really only took
a few minutes, was over, he rose.

"I am going to take you to your bedroom now," he said.

"Thanks," answered Awdrey. "The whole thing seems extraordinary," he
added. "I cannot make out why I am to sleep in your house."

"You sleep here as my patient. I am going to sit up with you."

"You! I cannot allow it, doctor!"

"Not a word, my dear sir. Pray don't overwhelm me with thanks. Your case
is one of great interest to me. I shall certainly not regret the few
hours I steal from sleep to watch it."

Awdrey made a dull reply. The two men went upstairs. Rumsey had already
given orders, and a bedroom had been prepared. A bright fire burned in
the grate, and electric light made the room cheerful as day. The bed was
placed in an alcove by itself. In front of the fire was drawn up a deep,
easy chair, a small table, a reading-lamp ready to be lighted, and
several books.

"For me?" said Awdrey, glancing at these. "Excuse me, Dr. Rumsey, but I
do not appreciate books. Of late months I have had a difficulty in
centring my thoughts on what I read. Even the most exciting story fails
to arouse my attention."

"These books are for me," said the doctor. "You are to go straight to
bed. You will find everything you require for the night in that part of
the room. Pray undress as quickly as possible--I shall return at the end
of a quarter of an hour."

"Will you give me a sleeping draught? I generally take chloral."

"My dear sir, I will give you nothing. It is my impression you will have
a good night without having recourse to sedatives. Get into bed now--you
look sleepy already."

The doctor left the room. When he came back at the end of the allotted
time, Awdrey was in bed--he was lying on his back, with his eyes already
closed. His face looked very cadaverous and ghastly pale; but for the
gentle breathing which came from his partly opened lips he might almost
have been a dead man.

"Six-and-twenty," muttered the doctor, as he glanced at him,
"six-and-forty, six-and-fifty, rather. This is a very queer case. There
is something at the root of it. I can no longer make light of Mrs.
Awdrey's fears--something is killing that man inch by inch. He has
described his own condition very accurately. He is slipping out of life
because he has not got grip enough to hold it. Nevertheless, at the
present moment, no child could sleep more tranquilly."

The doctor turned off the electric light, and returned to his own bright
part of the room. The bed in which Awdrey lay was now in complete
shadow. Dr. Rumsey opened a medical treatise, but he did not read. On
the contrary, the book lay unnoticed on his knee, while he himself
stared into the blaze of the fire--his brows were contracted in anxious
thought. He was thinking of the sleeper and his story--of the tragedy
which all this meant to Margaret. Then, by a queer chain of connection,
his memory reverted to Mrs. Everett--her passionate life quest--her
determination to consider her son innocent. The queer scene she had
described as taking place between Hetty and herself returned vividly
once more to the doctor's retentive memory.

"Is it possible that Awdrey can in any way be connected with that
tragedy?" he thought. "It looks almost like it. According to his own
showing, and according to his wife's showing, the strange symptoms which
have brought him to his present pass began about the date of that
somewhat mysterious murder. I have thought it best to make light of that
lapse of memory which worries the poor fellow so much in connection with
his walking-stick, but is there not something in it after all? Can he
possibly have witnessed the murder? Would it be possible for him to
throw any light upon it and save Everett? If I really thought so? But
no, the hypothesis is too wild."

Dr. Rumsey turned again to his book. He was preparing a lecture of some
importance. As he read he made many notes. The sleeper in the distant
part of the room slept on calmly--the night gradually wore itself
away--the fire smouldered in the grate.

"If this night passes without any peculiar manifestation on Awdrey's
part, I shall begin to feel assured that the wife has overstated the
case," thought the doctor. He bent forward as this thought came to him
to replenish the fire. In the act of doing so he made a slight noise.
Whether this noise disturbed the sleeper or not no one can say--Awdrey
abruptly turned in bed, opened his eyes, uttered a heavy groan, and then
sat up.

"There it is again," he cried. "Margaret, are you there?--Margaret, come
here."

Dr. Rumsey immediately approached the bed.

"Your wife is not in the room, Awdrey," he said--"you remember, don't
you, that you are passing the night with me."

Awdrey rubbed his eyes--he took no notice of Dr. Rumsey's words. He
stared straight before him in the direction of one of the windows.

"There it is," he said, "the usual thing--the globe of light and the
picture in the middle. There lies the murdered man on his back. Yes,
that is the bit of the Plain that I know so well--the moon drifts behind
the clouds--now it shines out, and I see the face of the murdered
man--but the murderer, who is he? Why will he keep his back to me? Good
God! why can't I see his face? Look, can't you see for yourself?
Margaret, can't you see?--do you notice the stick in his hand?--it is my
stick--and--the scoundrel, he wears my clothes. Yes, those clothes are
mine. My God, what does this mean?"



CHAPTER XIII.


"Come, Awdrey, wake up, you don't know what you are talking about," said
the doctor. He grasped his patient firmly by one arm, and shook him
slightly. The dazed and stricken man gazed at the doctor in
astonishment.

"Where am I, and what is the matter?" he asked.

"You are spending the night in my house, and have just had a bad dream,"
said Dr. Rumsey. "Don't go back to bed just yet. Come and sit by the
fire for a few minutes."

As the doctor spoke, he put a warm padded dressing-gown of his own over
his shivering and cowed-looking patient.

Awdrey wrapped himself in it, and approached the fire. Dr. Rumsey drew a
chair forward. He noticed the shaking hands, thin almost to emaciation,
the sunken cheeks, the glazed expression of the eyes, the look of age
and mental irritation which characterized the face.

"Poor fellow? no wonder that he should be simply slipping out of life if
this kind of thing continues night after night," thought the doctor.
"What is to be done with him? His is one of the cases which baffle
Science. Well, at least, he wants heaps of nourishment to enable him to
bear up. I'll go downstairs and prepare a meal for him."

He spoke aloud.

"You shiver, Awdrey, are you cold?"

"Not very," replied Awdrey, trying to smile, although his lips
chattered. He looked into the fire, and held out one hand to the
grateful blaze.

"You'll feel much better after you have taken a prescription which I
mean to make up for you. I'll go and prepare it now. Do you mind being
left alone?"

"Certainly not. Why should I?"

"He has already forgotten his terrors," thought Dr. Rumsey. "Queer case,
incomprehensible. I never met one like it before. In these days, it is
true, one comes across all forms of psychological distress. Nothing now
ought to be new or startling to medical science, but this certainly is
marvellous."

The doctor speedily returned with a plate of cold meat, some bread and
butter, and a bottle of champagne.

"As we are both spending the night other than it should be spent," he
said, "we must have nourishment. I am going to eat, will you join me?"

"I feel hungry," answered Awdrey. "I should be glad of something."

The doctor fed him as though he were an infant. He drank off two glasses
of champagne, and then the color returned to his cheeks, and some
animation to his sunken eyes.

"You look better," said the doctor. "Now, you will get back to bed,
won't you? After that champagne a good sleep will put some mettle into
you. It is not yet four o'clock. You have several hours to devote to
slumber."

The moment Rumsey began to speak, Awdrey's eyes dilated.

"I remember something," he said.

"I dare say you do--many things--what are you specially alluding to?"

"I saw something a short time ago in this room. The memory of it comes
dimly back to me. I struggle to grasp it fully. Is your house said to be
haunted, Dr. Rumsey?"

Dr. Rumsey laughed.

"Not that I am aware of," he replied.

"Well, haunted or not, I saw something." Awdrey rose slowly as he
spoke--he pointed in the direction of the farthest window.

"I was sleeping soundly but suddenly found myself broad awake," he
began--"I saw over there"--he pointed with his hand to the farthest
window, "what looked like a perfect sphere or globe of light--in the
centre of this light was a picture. I see the whole thing now in
imagination, but the picture is dim--it worries me, I want to see it
better. No, I will not get back to bed."

"You had a bad dream and are beginning to remember it," said Rumsey.

"It was not a dream at all. I was wide awake. Stay--don't question
me--my memory becomes more vivid instant by instant. I was wide awake as
I said--I got up--I approached the thing. It never swerved from the one
position--it was there by the window--a sphere of light and the picture
in the middle. There were two men in the picture."

"A nightmare, a nightmare," said the doctor. "What did you eat for
dinner last night?"

"It was not an ordinary nightmare--my memory is now quite vivid. I
recall the whole vision. I saw a picture of something that happened.
Years ago, Dr. Rumsey--over five years ago now--there was a murder
committed on the Plain near my place. Two men, undergraduates of Oxford,
were staying at our village inn--they fought about a girl with whom they
were both in love. One man killed the other. The murder was committed in
a moment of strong provocation and the murderer only got penal
servitude. He is serving his time now. It seems strange, does it not,
that I should have seen a complete picture of the murder! The whole
thing was very vivid and distinct--it has, in short, burnt itself into
my brain."

Awdrey raised his hand as he spoke and pressed it to his forehead. "My
pulse is bounding just here," he said--he touched his temple. "I have
only to shut my eyes to see in imagination what I saw in reality half an
hour ago. Why should I be worried with a picture of a murder committed
five years ago?"

"It probably made a deep impression on you at the time," said Dr.
Rumsey. "You are now weak and your nerves much out of order--your brain
has simply reverted back to it. If I were you I would only think of it
as an ordinary nightmare. Pray let me persuade you to go back to bed."

"I could not--I am stricken by the most indescribable terror."

"Nonsense! You a man!"

"You may heap what opprobrium you like on me, but I cannot deny the
fact. I am full of cowardly terror. I cannot account for my sensations.
The essence of my torture lies in the fact that I am unable to see the
face of the man who committed the murder."

"Oh, come, why should you see his face--you know who he was?"

"That's just it, doctor. I wish to God I did know." Awdrey approached
close to Dr. Rumsey, and stared into his eyes. His own eyes were queer
and glittering. He seemed instinctively to feel that he had said too
much, for he drew back a step, putting his hand again to his forehead
and staring fixedly out into vacancy.

"You believe that I am talking nonsense," he said, after a pause.

"I believe that you are a sad victim to your own nervous fears. You need
not go to bed unless you like. Dress yourself and sit here by the fire.
You will very likely fall asleep in this arm-chair. I shall remain close
to you."

"You are really good to me, and I would thank you if I were capable of
gratitude. Yes, I'll get into my clothes."

Rumsey turned on the electric light, and Awdrey with trembling fingers
dressed himself. When he came back to his easy-chair by the warm fire he
said suddenly:

"Give me a sheet of paper and a pencil, will you?"

The doctor handed him a blank sheet from his own note-paper, and
furnished him with a pencil.

"Now I will sketch what I saw for you," he said.

He drew with bold touches a broad sphere of light. In the centre was a
picture, minute but faithful.

At one time Awdrey had been fond of dabbling in art. He sketched a night
scene now, with broad effects--a single bar of moonlight lit up
everything with vivid distinctness. A man lay on the ground stretched
out flat and motionless--another man bent over him in a queer
attitude--he held a stick in his hand--he was tall and slender--there
was a certain look about his figure! Awdrey dropped his pencil and
stared furtively with eyes dilated with horror at his own production.
Then he put his sketch face downward on the table, and turned a white
and indescribably perplexed countenance to Dr. Rumsey.

"What I have drawn is not worth looking at," he said, simulating a yawn
as he spoke. "After all I cannot quite reproduce what I saw. I believe I
shall doze off in this chair."

"Do so," said the doctor.

A few minutes later, when the patient was sound asleep, Dr. Rumsey
lifted the paper on which Awdrey had made his sketch. He looked fixedly
at the vividly worked-up picture.

"The man whose back is alone visible has an unmistakable likeness to
Awdrey," he muttered. "Poor fellow, what does this mean!--diseased
nerves of course. The next thing he will say is that he committed the
murder himself. He certainly needs immediate treatment. But what to do
is the puzzle."



CHAPTER XIV.


When he awoke Awdrey felt much better. He expressed surprise at finding
himself sitting up instead of in bed, and Rumsey saw that he had once
more completely forgotten the occurrence of the night. The doctor
resolved that he should not see the sketch he had made--he put it
carefully away therefore in one of his own private drawers, for he knew
that it might possibly be useful later on. At the present moment the
patient was better without it.

The two men breakfasted together, and then Rumsey spoke.

"Now," he said, "I won't conceal the truth from you. I watched you last
night with great anxiety--I am glad I sat up with you, for I am now able
to make a fairly correct diagnosis of your case. You are certainly very
far from well--you are in a sort of condition when a very little more
might overbalance your mind. I tell you this because I think it best for
you to know the exact truth--at the same time pray do not be seriously
alarmed, there is nothing as yet in your case to prevent you from
completely recovering your mental equilibrium, but, in my opinion, to do
so you must have complete change of air and absolutely fresh
surroundings. I recommend therefore that you go away from home
immediately. Do not take your child nor yet your wife with you. If you
commission me to do so, I can get you a companion in the shape of a
clever young doctor who will never intrude his medical knowledge on you,
but yet will be at hand to advise you in case the state of your nerves
requires such interference. I shall put him in possession of one or two
facts with regard to your nervous condition, but will not tell him too
much. Make up your mind to go away at once, Awdrey, within the week if
possible. Start with a sea voyage--I should recommend to the Cape. The
soothing influence of the sea on nerves like yours could not but be
highly beneficial. Take a sea voyage--to the Cape by preference, but
anywhere. It does not greatly matter where you go. The winter is on us,
don't spend it in England. Keep moving about from one place to another.
Don't over-fatigue yourself in any way, but at the same time allow heaps
of fresh impressions to filter slowly through your brain. They will have
a healthy and salutary effect. It is my opinion that by slow but sure
degrees, if you fully take my advice in this matter, you will forget
what now assumes the aspect of monomania. In short, you will forget
yourself, and other lives and other interests mingling with yours will
give you the necessary health and cure. I must ask you to leave me now,
for it is the hour when my patients arrive for consultation, but I will
call round at your house late this evening. Do you consent to my scheme?

"I must take a day to think it over--this kind of thing cannot be
planned in a hurry."

"In your case it can and ought to be. You have heaps of money, which is,
as a rule, the main difficulty. Go home to your wife, tell her at once
what I recommend. This is Wednesday, you ought to be out of London on
Saturday. Well, my dear fellow, if you have not sufficient energy to
carry out what I consider essential to your recovery, some one else must
have energy in your behalf and simply take you away. Good-by--good-by."

Awdrey shook hands with the doctor and slowly left the house. When he
had gone a dozen yards down the street he had almost forgotten the
prescription which had been given to him. He had a dull sort of wish,
which scarcely amounted to a wish in his mind, to reach home in time to
take little Arthur for his morning walk. Beyond that faint desire he had
no longing of any sort.

He had nearly reached his own house when he was conscious of footsteps
hurrying after him. Presently they reached his side, and he heard the
hurried panting of quickened breath. He turned round with a vague sort
of wonder to see who had dared to come up and accost him in this way. To
his surprise he saw that the intruder was a woman. She was dressed in
the plain ungarnished style of the country. She wore an old-fashioned
and somewhat seedy jacket which reached down to her knees, her dress
below was of a faded summer tint, and thin in quality. Her hat was
trimmed with rusty velvet, she wore a veil which only reached half way
down her face. Her whole appearance was odd, and out of keeping with her
surroundings.

"Mr. Awdrey, you don't know me?" she cried, in a panting voice.

"Yes, I do," said Awdrey. He stopped in his walk and stared at her.

"Is it possible," he continued, "that you are little Hetty Armitage?"

"I was, sir, I ain't now; I'm Hetty Vincent now. I ventured up to town
unbeknown to any one to see you, Mr. Awdrey. It is of the greatest
importance that I should have a word with you, sir. Can you give me a
few minutes all alone?"

"Certainly I can, Hetty," replied Awdrey, in a kind voice. A good deal
of his old gentleness and graciousness of manner returned at sight of
Hetty. He overlooked her ugly attire--in short, he did not see it. She
recalled old times to him--gay old times before he had known sorrow or
trouble. She belonged to his own village, to his own people. He was
conscious of a grateful sense of refreshment at meeting her again.

"You shall come home with me," he said. "My wife will be glad to welcome
you. How are all the old folks at Grandcourt?"

"I believe they are well, sir, but I have not been to Grandcourt lately.
My husband's farm is three miles from the village. Mr. Robert," dropping
her voice, "I cannot go home with you. It would be dangerous if I were
to be seen at your house."

"Dangerous!" said Awdrey in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"What I say, sir; I must not be seen talking to you. On no account must
we two be seen together. I have come up to London unbeknown to anybody,
because it is necessary for me to tell you something, and to ask you--to
ask you--Oh, my God!" continued Hetty, raising her eyes skyward as she
spoke, "how am I to tell him?"

She turned white to her lips now; she trembled from head to foot.

"Sir," she continued, "there's some one who suspects."

"Suspects?" said Awdrey, knitting his brows, "Suspects what? What have
suspicious people to do with me? You puzzle me very much by this
extraordinary talk. Are you quite well yourself? I recall now that you
always were a mysterious little thing; but you are greatly changed,
Hetty." He turned and gave her a long look.

"I know I am, sir, but that don't matter now. I did not run this risk to
talk about myself. Mr. Robert, there's one living who suspects."

"Come home with me and tell me there," said Awdrey--he was conscious of
a feeling of irritation, otherwise Hetty's queer words aroused no
emotion of any sort within him.

"I cannot go home with you, sir--I came up to London at risk to myself
in order to warn you."

"Of what--of whom?"

"Of Mrs. Everett, sir."

"Mrs. Everett! my wife's friend!--you must have taken leave of your
sense. See, we are close to the Green Park; if you won't come to my
house, let us go there. Then you can tell me quickly what you want to
say."

Awdrey motioned to Hetty to follow him. They crossed the road near Hyde
Park Corner, and soon afterward were in the shelter of the Green Park.

"Now, speak out," said the Squire. "I cannot stay long with you, as I
want to take my little son for his customary walk. What extraordinary
thing have you to tell me about Mrs. Everett?"

"Mr. Robert, you may choose to make light of, but in your heart ...
there, I'll tell you everything. Mrs. Everett was down at Grandcourt
lately--she was stopping at uncle's inn in the village. She walked out
one day to the Plain--by ill-luck she met me on her road. She got me to
show her the place where the murder was committed. I stood just by the
clump of elders where--but of course you have forgotten, sir. Mrs.
Everett stood with me, and I showed her the very spot. I described the
scene to her, and showed her just where the two men fought together."

The memory of his dream came back to Awdrey. He was very quiet now--his
brain was quite alert.

"Go on, Hetty," he said. "Do you know this interests me vastly. I have
been troubled lately with visions of that queer murder. Only last night
I had one. Now why should such visions come to one who knows nothing
whatever about it?"

"Well, sir, they do say----"

"What?"

"It is the old proverb," muttered Hetty. "'Murder will out.'"

"I know the proverb, but I don't understand your application," replied
Awdrey, but he looked thoughtful. "If you were troubled with these bad
visions or dreams I should not be surprised," he continued, "for you
really witnessed the thing. By the way, as you are here, perhaps you can
help me. I lost my stick at the time of the murder, and never found it
since. I would give a good deal to find it. What is that you say?"

"You'll never find it, sir. Thank the good God above, you'll never find
it."

"I am glad that you recognize the loss not to be a trifle. Most people
laugh when I speak of anything so trivial as a stick. You say I shall
never find it again--perhaps so. The forgetting it so completely
troubles me, however. Hetty, I had a bad dream last night--no, it was
not really a dream, it was a vision. I saw that murder--I witnessed the
whole thing. I saw the dead man, and I saw the back of the man who
committed the murder. I tried hard, but I could not get a glimpse of his
face. I wanted to see his face badly. What is the matter, girl? How
white you look."

"Don't say another word, sir. I have borne much for you and for your
people, but there are limits, and if you say another word, I shall lose
my self-control."

"I am sorry my talk has such an effect upon you, Hetty. You don't look
too happy, my little girl. Your face is old--I hope your husband is good
to you."

"He is as good as I deserve, Mr. Awdrey. I never had any love to give
him--he knew that from the first. He married me five years ago because I
was pretty, and Aunt Fanny thought I'd best be married--she thought it
would make things safer--but it is a mistake to marry when your heart is
given to another."

"Ah yes, poor Frere--you were in love with him, were you not?"

"No, sir, that I was not."

"I forgot--it was with Everett--poor girl, no wonder you look old."

Awdrey gave Hetty a weary glance--his attention was already beginning to
flag.

"It was not with Mr. Everett," whispered Hetty in a low tone which
thrilled with passion.

Awdrey took no notice. His apathy calmed her, and saved her from making
a terrible avowal.

"I'll just tell you what I came to say and then leave you, sir," she
said in a broken voice. "It is all about Mrs. Everett. She stood with me
close to the alders, and I described the scene of the murder and how it
took place, and all of a sudden she looked me in the eyes and said
something. She said that Mr. Horace Frere was the man who was
murdered--but the man who committed the murder was not her son, Mr.
Everett. She spoke in an awful sort of voice, and said she knew the
truth--she knew that her son was innocent. Oh, sir, I got so awfully
frightened--I nearly let the truth out."

"You nearly let the truth out--the truth? What do you mean?"

"Mr. Robert, is it possible that you do not know?"

"I only know what all the rest of the world knows--that Everett is
guilty."

"I see, sir, that you still hold to that, and I am glad of it, but Mrs.
Everett is the sort of woman to frighten a body. Her eyes seem to pierce
right down to your very heart--they seem to read your secret. Mr.
Awdrey, will you do what I ask you? Will you leave England for a bit? It
would be dreadful for me to have done all that I have done and to find
it useless in the end."

Whatever reply Awdrey might have made to this appeal was never uttered.
His attention was at this moment effectually turned into another
channel. He saw Mrs. Everett, his wife, and boy coming to meet him. The
boy, a splendid little fellow with rosy cheeks and vigorous limbs, ran
down the path with a glad cry to fling himself into his father's arms.
He was a princely looking boy, a worthy scion of the old race. Awdrey,
absorbed with his son, took no notice of Hetty. Unperceived by him she
slipped down a side path and was lost to view.

"Dad," cried the child, in a voice of rapture.

Margaret and Mrs. Everett came up to the pair.

"I hope you are better, Robert," said his wife.

"I suppose I am," he answered. "I had a fairly good night. How well
Arthur looks this morning."

"Poor little boy, he was fretting to come to meet you," said Mrs.
Awdrey.

Awdrey turned to speak to Mrs. Everett. There was a good deal of color
in her cheeks, and her dark eyes looked brighter and more piercing than
ever.

"Forgive me," she said, "for interrupting this conversation. I want to
ask you a question. Mr. Awdrey, I saw you walking just now with a woman.
Who was she?"

Awdrey laughed.

"Why, she has gone," he said, glancing round. "Who do you think my
companion was?" he continued, glancing at Margaret. "None other than an
old acquaintance--pretty little Hetty Armitage. She has some other name
now, but I forget what it is. She said she came up to town on purpose to
see me, but I could not induce her to come to the house. What is the
matter, Mrs. Everett?"

"I should like to see Hetty Armitage. Did she give you her address?"

"No, I did not ask her. I wonder why she hurried off so quickly; but she
seemed in a queer, excitable state. I don't believe she is well."

"I want to see her again," continued Mrs. Everett. "I may as well say
frankly that I am fully convinced there is something queer about that
woman--a very little more and I should put a detective on her track. I
suspect her. If ever a woman carried a guilty secret she does."

"Oh, come," said Margaret, "you must not allow your prejudices to run
away with you. Please remember that Hetty grew up at Grandcourt. My
husband and I have known her almost from her birth."

"A giddy little thing, but wonderfully pretty," said Awdrey.

"Well, never mind about her now," interrupted Margaret, a slight touch
of impatience in her manner. "Please, Robert, tell me exactly what Dr.
Rumsey ordered for you."

"Nothing very alarming," he replied; "the doctor thinks my nerves want
tone. No doubt they do, although I feel wonderfully better this morning.
He said something about my leaving England for a time and taking a sea
voyage. I believe he intends to call round this evening to talk over the
scheme. Now, little man, are you ready for your walk?"

"Yes," said the child. He stamped his sturdy feet with impatience.
Awdrey took his hand and the two went off in the direction of the
Serpentine. Mrs. Everett and Margaret followed slowly in the background.

Awdrey remained out for some time with the boy. The day, which had begun
by being mild and spring-like, suddenly changed its character. The wind
blew strongly from the north--soon it rose to a gale. Piles of black
clouds came up over the horizon and covered the sky, then heavy sleet
showers poured down with biting intensity. Awdrey and the child were
quite in the open when they were caught by one of these, and before they
could reach any shelter they were wet through. They hurried into the
first hansom they met, but not before the mischief was done. Awdrey took
a chill, and before the evening was over he was shivering violently,
huddled up close to the fire. The boy, whose lungs were his weak point,
seemed, however, to have escaped without any serious result--he went to
bed in his usual high spirits, but his mother thought his pretty baby
voice sounded a little hoarse. Early the next morning the nurse called
her up; the child had been disturbed in the night by the hoarseness and
a croupy sensation in his throat; his eyes were now very bright and he
was feverish. The nurse said she did not like the look of the little
fellow; he seemed to find it difficult to breathe, and he was altogether
very unlike himself.

"I'll send a messenger immediately for Dr. Rumsey," said Margaret.

She returned to her bedroom and awoke her husband, who was in a heavy
sleep. At Margaret's first words he started up keen and interested.

"What are you saying, Maggie? The boy--little Arthur--ill?"

"Yes, he seems very ill; I do not like his look at all," she replied.
"It is I know, very early, but I think I'll send a messenger round at
once to ask Dr. Rumsey to call."

"We ought not to lose a minute," said Awdrey. "I'll go for him myself."

"You!" she exclaimed in surprise. "But do you feel well enough?"

"Of course I do, there's nothing the matter with me."

He sprang out of bed, and rushed off to his dressing-room, hastily put
on his clothes, and then went out. As he ran quickly downstairs Margaret
detected an almost forgotten quality in his steps.

"Why, he is awake again," she cried. "How strange that this trouble
about the child should have power to give him back his old vigorous
health!"

Rumsey quickly obeyed Awdrey's summons, and before eight o'clock that
morning he was bending over the sick child's cot.

It needed but a keen glance and an application of the stethoscope to
tell the doctor that there was grave mischief at work.

"It is a pity I was not sent for last night," he said. Then he moved
away from the cot, where the bright eyes of the sick baby were fixing
him with a too penetrating stare.

He walked across the large nursery. Awdrey followed him.

"The child is very ill," said the doctor.

"What do you mean?" replied Awdrey. "Very ill--do you infer that the
child is in danger?"

"Yes, Awdrey, he is undoubtedly in danger. Double pneumonia has set in.
Such a complaint at his tender age cannot but mean very grave danger. I
only hope we may pull him through."

"We must pull him through, doctor. Margaret," continued her husband, his
face was white as death, "Dr. Rumsey says that the child is in danger."

"Yes," answered Margaret. She was as quiet in her manner as he was
excited and troubled. She laid her hand now with great tenderness on his
arm. The touch was meant to soothe him, and to assure him of her
sympathy. Then she turned her eyes to fix them on the doctor.

"I know you will do what you can," she said. There was suppressed
passion in her words.

"Rest assured I will," he answered.

"Of course," cried Awdrey. "Listen to me, Dr. Rumsey, not a stone must
be left unturned to pull the child through. You know what his life means
to us--to his mother and me. We cannot possibly spare him--he must be
saved. Had we not better get other advice immediately?"

"It is not necessary, but you must please yourselves," answered Rumsey.
"I am not a specialist as regards lung affections, although this case is
perfectly straightforward. If you wish to have a specialist I shall be
very glad to consult with Edward Cowley."

"What is his address? I'll go for him at once," said Awdrey.

Dr. Rumsey sat down, wrote a short note and gave it to Awdrey, who
hurried off with it.

Dr. Rumsey looked at Mrs. Awdrey after her husband had left the room.

"It is marvellous," he said, "what a change for the better this illness
has made in your husband's condition."

Her eyes filled slowly with tears.

"Is his health to be won back at such a price?" she asked--she turned
once again to the sick child's bed.

"God grant not," said the doctor--"rest satisfied that what man can do
to save him I will do."

"I know that," she replied.

In an hour's time the specialist arrived and the two doctors had their
consultation. Certain remedies were prescribed, and Dr. Rumsey hurried
away promising to send in two trained nurses immediately. He came back
again himself at noon to find the boy, as he expected, much worse. The
child was now delirious. All during that long dreadful day the fever
rose and rose. The whole aspect of the house in Seymour Street was
altered. There were hushed steps, anxious faces, whispered
consultations. As the hours flew by the prognostications of the medical
men became graver and graver. Margaret gave up hope as the evening
approached. She knew that the little life could not long stand the
strain of that all-consuming fever. Awdrey alone was full of bustle,
excitement, and confidence.

"The child will and must recover," he said to his wife several times.
When the night began Dr. Rumsey resolved not to leave the child.

"A man like Rumsey must save him," cried the father. He forgot all about
his own nervous symptoms--he refused even to listen to his wife's words
of anxiety.

"Pooh!" he said, "when children are ill they are always very bad. I was
at death's door once or twice myself as a child. Children are bad one
moment and almost themselves the next. Is not that so, doctor?"

"In some cases," replied the doctor.

"Well, in this case? You think the boy will be all right in the
morning--come now, your honest opinion."

"My honest opinion is a grave one, Mr. Awdrey."

Awdrey laughed. There was a wild note in his merriment.

"You and Cowley can't be up to much if between you you can't manage to
keep the life in a little mite like that," he said.

"The issues of life and death belong to higher than us," answered the
doctor slowly.

Awdrey looked at him again, gave an incredulous smile, and went into the
sick-room.

During the entire night the father sat up with the boy. The sick child
did not know either parent. His voice grew weaker and weaker--the
struggle to breathe became greater. When he had strength to speak, he
babbled continually of his playthings, of his walk by the Serpentine the
previous day, and the little ships as they sailed on the water.
Presently he took a fancy into his head that he was in one of the tiny
ships, and that he was sailing away from shore. He laughed with feeble
pleasure, and tried to clap his burning hands. Toward morning his baby
notes were scarcely distinguishable. He dozed off for a little, then
woke again, and began to talk--he talked now all the time of his father.

"'Ittle boy 'ove dad," he said. "'Ittle Arthur 'oves dad best of
anybody--best of all."

Awdrey managed to retain one of the small hands in his. The child
quieted down then, gave him a look of long, unutterable love, and about
six in the morning, twenty-four hours after the seizure had declared
itself, the little spirit passed away. Awdrey, who was kneeling by the
child's cot, still holding his hand, did not know when this happened.
There was a sudden bustle round the bed, he raised his head with a
start, and looked around him.

"What is the matter? Is he better?" he asked. He looked anxiously at the
sunken face of the dead child. He noticed that the hurried breathing had
ceased.

"Come away with, me, Robert," said his wife.

"Why so?" he asked. "Do you think I will leave the child?"

"Darling, the child is dead."

Awdrey tottered to his feet.

"Dead!" he cried. "You don't mean it--impossible." He bent over the
little body, pulled down the bedclothes, and put his hand to the heart,
then bending low he listened intently for any breath to come from the
parted lips.

"Dead--no, no," he said again.

"My poor fellow, it is too true," said Dr. Rumsey.

"Then before God," began Awdrey--he stepped back, the words were
arrested on his lips, and he fell fainting to the floor.

Dr. Rumsey had him removed to his own room, and with some difficulty the
unhappy man was brought back to consciousness. He was now lying on his
bed.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"In your room, on your bed. You are better now, dearest," said Margaret.
She bent over him, trying valiantly to conceal her own anguish in order
to comfort him.

"But what has happened?" he asked. He suddenly sat up. "Why are you
here, Rumsey? Margaret, why are your eyes so red?"

Margaret Awdrey tried to speak, but the words would not come to her
lips.

Rumsey bent forward and took Awdrey's hand.

"It has pleased Providence to afflict you very sorely, my poor fellow,"
he said, "but I know for your wife's sake you will be man enough to
endure this fearful blow with fortitude."

"What blow, doctor?"

"Your child," began the doctor.

"My child?" said Awdrey. He put his feet on the floor, and stood up.
There was a strange note of query in his tone.

"My child?" he repeated. "What child?"

"Your child is dead, Awdrey. We did what we could to save him."

Awdrey uttered a wild laugh.

"Come, this is too much," he exclaimed. "You talk of a child of mine--I,
who never had a child. What are you dreaming about?"



CHAPTER XV.


On the evening of that same day Awdrey entered the room where his wife
was silently giving way to her bitter anguish. She was quite overcome by
her grief--her eyelids were swollen by much weeping, her dress was
disarranged, the traces of a sleepless night, and the fearful anguish
through which she was passing, were visible on her beautiful face.
Awdrey, who had come into the room almost cheerfully, started and
stepped back a pace or two when he saw her--he then knit his brows with
marked irritation.

"What can be the matter with you, Margaret?" he cried. "I cannot imagine
why you are crying in that silly way."

"I'll try not to cry any more, Robert," she answered.

"Yes, but you look in such dreadful distress; I assure you, it affects
me most disagreeably, and in my state of nerves!--you know, don't you,
that nothing ever annoys me more than weak, womanish tears."

"It is impossible for me to be cheerful to-night," said the wife. "The
pain is too great. He was our only child, and such--such a darling."

Awdrey laughed.

"Forgive me, my dear," he said, "I really would not hurt your feelings
for the world, but you must know, if you allow your common sense to
speak, that we never had a child. It has surely been one of our great
trials that no child has been given to us to carry on the old line. My
poor Maggie," he went up to her quite tenderly, put his arm round her
neck, and kissed her, "you must be very unwell to imagine these sort of
things."

She suddenly took the hand which lay on her shoulder between both her
own.

"Come with me, Robert," she said, an expression of the most intense
despair on all her features, "come, I cannot believe that this blight
which has passed over you can be final. I'll take you to the room where
the little body of our beautiful child is lying. When you see that sweet
face, surely you will remember."

He frowned when she began to speak; now he disengaged his hand from her
clasp.

"It would not be right for me to humor you," he said. "You ought to see
a doctor, Maggie, for you are really suffering from a strong delusion.
If you encourage it it may become fixed, and even assume the proportions
of a sort of insanity. Now, my dear wife, try and restrain yourself and
listen to me."

She gazed at him with wide-open eyes. As he spoke she had difficulty in
believing her own ears. A case like his was indeed new to her. She had
never really believed in the tragedy of his house--but now at last the
suspected and dreaded blow had truly fallen. Awdrey, like his ancestors
before him, was forgetting the grave events of life. Was it possible
that he could forget the child, whose life had been the joy of his
existence, whose last looks of love had been directed to him, whose last
faltering words had breathed his name? Yes, he absolutely forgot all
about the child. The stern fact stared her in the face, she could not
shut her eyes to it.

"You look at me strangely, Margaret," said Awdrey. "I cannot account for
your looks, nor indeed for your actions during the whole of to-day. Now
I wish to tell you that I have resolved to carry out Rumsey's advice--he
wants me to leave home at once. I spent a night with him--was it last
night? I really forget--but anyhow, during that time he had an
opportunity of watching my symptoms. You know, don't you, how nervous I
am, how full of myself? You know how this inertia steals over me, and
envelops me in a sort of cloud. The state of the case is something like
this, Maggie; I feel as if a dead hand were pressed against my heart;
sometimes I have even a difficulty in breathing, at least in taking a
deep breath. It seems to me as if the stupor of death were creeping up
my body, gradually day by day, enfeebling all my powers more and more.
Rumsey, who quite understands these symptoms, says that they are grave,
but not incurable. He suggests that I should leave London and at once. I
propose to take the eight o'clock Continental train. Will you come with
me?"

"I?" she cried. "I cannot; our child's little body lies upstairs."

"Why will you annoy me by referring to that delusion of yours? You must
know how painful it is to listen to you. Will you come, Maggie?"

"I cannot. Under any other circumstances I would gladly, but to-night,
no, it is impossible."

"Very well then, I'll go alone. I have just been up in my room packing
some things. I cannot possibly say how long I shall be absent--perhaps a
few weeks, perhaps a day or two--I must be guided in this matter by my
sensations."

"If you come back in a day or two, Robert, I'll try and go abroad with
you, if you really think it would do you good," said Margaret.

"I'll see about that," he replied. "I cannot quite tell you what my
plans are to-night. Meanwhile I find I shall want more money than I have
in the house. Have you any by you?"

"I have twenty-five pounds."

"Give it to me; it will be quite sufficient. I have about fifteen pounds
here." He touched his breast-pocket. "If I don't return soon I'll write
to you. Now good-by, Maggie. Try and conquer that queer delusion, my
dear wife. Remember, the more you think of it, the more it will feed
upon itself, until you will find it too strong for you. Good-by,
darling."

She threw her arms round his neck.

"I cannot describe what my feelings are at this awful moment," she said.
"Is it right for me to let you go alone?"

"Perfectly right, dearest. What possible harm can come to me?" he said
with tenderness. He pushed back the rich black hair from her brow as he
spoke.

"You love me, Robert?" she cried suddenly--"at least your love for me
remains?"

He knit his brows.

"If there is any one I love, it is you," he said, "but I do not know
that I love any one--it is this inertia, dearest"--he touched his
breast--"it buries love beneath it, it buries all emotion. You are not
to blame. If I could conquer it my love for you would be as full, as
fresh, and strong as ever. Good-by now. Take care of yourself. If those
strange symptoms continue pray consult Dr. Rumsey."

He went out of the room.

Margaret was too stricken and stunned to follow him.

A few days later a child's funeral left the house in Seymour Street.
Margaret followed her child to the grave. She then returned home,
wondering if she could possibly endure the load which had fallen upon
her. The house seemed empty--she did not think anything could ever fill
it again. Her own heart was truly empty--she felt as if there were a gap
within it which could never by any possibility be closed up again. Since
the night after her child's death she had heard nothing from her
husband--sometimes she wondered if he were still alive.

Dr. Rumsey tried to reassure her on this point--he did not consider
Awdrey the sort of man to commit suicide.

Mrs. Everett came to see Margaret every day during this time of terrible
grief, but her excited face, her watchful attitude, proved the reverse
of soothing. She was sorry for Margaret, but even in the midst of
Margaret's darkest grief she never forgot the mission she had set before
herself.

On the morning of the funeral she followed the procession at a little
distance. She stood behind the more immediate group of mourners as the
body of the beautiful child was laid in his long home. Had his father
been like other men, Margaret would never have consented to the child's
being buried anywhere except at Grandcourt. Under existing
circumstances, however, she had no energy to arrange this.

About an hour after Mrs. Awdrey's return, Mrs. Everett was admitted into
her presence.

Margaret was seated listlessly by one of the tables in the drawing-room.
A pile of black-edged paper was lying near her--a letter was begun.
Heaps of letters of condolence which had poured in lay near. She was
endeavoring to answer one, but found the task beyond her strength.

"My poor dear!" said Mrs. Everett. She walked up the long room, and
stooping down by Margaret, kissed her.

Margaret mechanically returned her embrace. Mrs. Everett untied her
bonnet-strings and sat by her side.

"Don't try to answer those letters yet," she said. "You are really not
fit for it. Why don't you have a composing draught and go to bed?"

"I would rather not; the awakening would be too terrible," said
Margaret.

"You will knock yourself up and get really ill if you go on like this."

"It does not matter, Mrs. Everett, whether I am ill or well. Nothing
matters," said Margaret, in a voice of despair.

"Oh, my poor love, I understand you," said the widow. "I do not know in
what words to approach your terribly grieved heart--there is only one
thing which I feel impelled to say, and which may possibly at some time
comfort you. Your beautiful boy's fate is less tragical than the fate
which has fallen upon my only son. When Frank was a little child,
Margaret, he had a dreadful illness--I thought he would die. I was
frantic, for his father had died not long before. I prayed earnestly to
God. I vowed a vow to train the boy in the paths of righteousness, as
never boy had been trained before. I vowed to do for Frank what no other
mother had ever done, if only God would leave him to me. My prayer was
answered, and my child was saved. Think of him now, Margaret. Margaret,
think of him now."

"I do," answered Margaret. "I have always felt for you--my heart has
always been bitter with grief for you--don't you know it?"

"I do, I do--you have been the soul of all that could be sweet and dear
to me. Except Frank himself, I love no one as I love you. Ah!"--Mrs.
Everett suddenly started to her feet--the room door had been slowly
opened and Awdrey walked in. His face was very pale and more emaciated
looking than ever--his eyes were bright, and had sunk into his head.

"Well," he said, with a sort of queer assumption of cheerfulness, "here
I am. I came back sooner than I expected. How are you Maggie?" He went
up to his wife and kissed her. "How do you do, Mrs. Everett?"

"I am well," said Mrs. Everett. "How are you, are you better?"

"Yes, I am much better--in fact, there is little or nothing the matter
with me."

He sat down on a sofa as he spoke and stared at his wife with a puzzled
expression between his brows.

"What in the world are you in that heavy black for?" he said suddenly.

"I must wear it," she said. "You cannot ask me to take it off."

"Why should I ask you?" he replied. "Do not excite yourself in that way,
Maggie. If you like to look hideous, do so. Black, heavy black, of that
sort, does not suit you--and you are absolutely in crêpe--what does all
this mean? It irritates me immensely."

"People wear crêpe when those they love die," said Margaret.

"Have you lost a relation?--Who?"

She did not answer. A moment later she left the room.

When she did so Awdrey got up restlessly, walked to the fire and poked
it, then he approached the window and looked out. After a time he
returned to his seat. Mrs. Everett sat facing him. It was her wont to
sit very still--often nothing seemed to move about her except her
watchful eyes. To-day she had more than ever the expression of a person
who is quietly watching and waiting. Awdrey, inert as he doubtlessly
was, seemed to feel her gaze--he looked at her.

"Where have you been, Mr. Awdrey?" she asked gently. "Did you visit the
Continent?"

He favored her with a keen, half-suspicious glance.

"No," he said. "I changed my mind about that. I did not wish the water
to divide me from my quest. I have been engaged on a most important
search."

"And what was that?" she asked gently.

"I have been looking for a stick which I missed some years ago."

"I have heard you mention that before," said Mrs. Everett--the color
flushed hotly into her face. "You seem to attribute a great deal of
importance to that trifle."

"To me it is no trifle," he replied. "I regard it as a link," he
continued slowly, "between me and a past which I have forgotten. When I
find that stick I shall remember the past."

As he spoke he rose again and going to the hearth-rug stood with his
back to the fire.

At that moment Margaret re-entered the room in white--she was in a soft,
flowing, white robe, which covered her from top to toe--it swept about
her in graceful folds, and exposed some of the lovely contour of her
arms. Her face was nearly as colorless as her dress; only the wealth of
thick dark hair, only the sombre eyes, relieved the monotony of her
appearance. Awdrey gave her a smile and a look of approval.

"Come here," he said: "now you are good--how sweet you look. Your
appearance makes me recall, recall----" He pressed his hand to his
forehead. "I remember now," he said; "I recall the day we were
engaged--don't you remember it?--the picnic on Salisbury Plain; you were
all in white then, too, and you wore somewhat the same intense
expression in your eyes. Margaret, you are a beautiful woman."

She stood close to him--he did not offer to kiss her, but he laid one
emaciated hand on her shoulder and looked earnestly into her face.

"You are very beautiful," he said; "I wonder I do not love you." He
sighed heavily, and removed his gaze to look intently into the fire.

Mrs. Everett rose.

"I'll come again soon," she said to Margaret. Margaret took no notice of
her, nor did Awdrey see when she left the room.

After a moment Margaret went up to her husband and touched him.

"You must have something to eat," she said. "It is probably a long time
since you had a proper meal."

"I don't remember," he replied, "but I am not hungry. By the way,
Maggie, I recall now what I came back for." His eyes, which seemed to be
lit from within, became suddenly full of excitement.

"Yes," she said as gently as she could.

"I came back because I wanted you."

Her eyes brightened.

"I wanted you to come with me. I do not care to be alone, and I am
anxious to leave London again to-night."

Before Margaret could reply the butler threw open the door and announced
Dr. Rumsey. The doctor came quickly forward.

"I am glad you have returned, Awdrey," he said, holding out his hand as
he spoke. "I called to inquire for your wife, and the man told me you
were upstairs."

"Yes, and I am better," said Awdrey. "I came back because I thought
perhaps Margaret--but by the way, why should I speak so much about
myself? My wife was not well when I left her. I hope, doctor, that she
consulted you, and that she is now much better."

"Considering all things, Mrs. Awdrey is fairly well," said Rumsey.

"And she has quite got over that delusion?"

"Quite." The doctor's voice was full of decision.

Margaret shuddered and turned away.

Rumsey seated himself at a little distance from the fire, but Awdrey
remained standing. He stood in such a position that the doctor could get
a perfect view of him. Rumsey did not fail to avail himself of so
excellent a moment for studying this queer case. He observed the wasted
face of his patient; the unnaturally large and bright eyes; the lips
which used to be firm as a line, and which gave considerable character
to the face, but which had now become loose and had a habit of drooping
slightly open; the brows, too, worked at times spasmodically, and the
really noble forehead, which in old times betokened intelligence to a
marked degree, was now furrowed with many lines. While Rumsey watched he
also made up his mind.

"I must tear the veil from that man's eyes at any cost," he said to
himself. He gave Margaret a glance and she left the room. The moment she
did so the doctor stood up.

"I am glad you have returned," he said.

"How strange of you to say that," answered Awdrey. "Do you not remember
you were the man who ordered me away?"

"I do remember that fact perfectly, but since I gave you that
prescription a very marked change has taken place in your condition."

"Do you think me worse?"

"In one sense you are."

Awdrey laughed.

"How queer that you should say that," he said, "for to tell you the
truth, I really feel better; I am not quite so troubled by inertia."

"I must be frank with you, Awdrey. I consider you very ill."

Awdrey started when Rumsey said this.

"Pray speak out, doctor, I dislike riddles," he replied.

"I mean to speak out very plainly. Awdrey, my poor fellow, I am obliged
to remind you of the strange history of your house."

"What do you mean?" said Awdrey--"the history of my house?" he
continued; "there is a psychological history, which I dislike to think
of; is it to that you refer?"

"Yes, I refer to the queer condition of brain which men of your house
have inherited for several generations. It is a queer doom; I am forced
to say it is an awful doom. Robert Awdrey, it has fallen upon you."

"I thought as much," said Awdrey, "but you never would believe it
before."

"I had not cause to believe it before. Now I fully believe it. That
lapse of memory, which is one of its remarkable symptoms, has taken
place in your case. You have forgotten a very important fact in your
life."

"Ah, you are wrong there," said Awdrey. "I certainly have forgotten my
walking-stick. I know well that I am a queer fellow. I know too that at
times my condition is the reverse of satisfactory, but with this one
exception I have never forgotten anything of the least consequence.
Don't you remember telling me that the lapse of memory was not of any
moment?"

"It was not, but you have forgotten something else, Awdrey, and it is my
duty now to remind you of it."

"I have forgotten?" began Awdrey. "Well, speak."

"You had a child--a beautiful child."

Awdrey interrupted with a laugh.

"I do declare you have got that delusion, too," he said. "I tell you,
Dr. Rumsey, I never had a child."

"Your child is no longer with you, but you had a child. He lived for
four years but is now dead. This very afternoon he was laid in his
grave. He was a beautiful child--more lovely than most. He died after
twenty-four hours' illness. His mother is broken-hearted over his loss,
but you, his father, have forgotten all about it. Here is the picture of
your child--come to the light and look at it."

Rumsey strode up to a table as he spoke, lifted a large photograph from
a stand, and held it before Awdrey's eyes.

Awdrey favoured it with a careless glance.

"I do not know that face," he said. "How did the photograph get here? Is
Margaret's delusion really so bad? Does she imagine for a moment that
the little boy represented in that picture has ever had anything to do
with us?"

"The photograph is a photograph of your son," repeated Rumsey, in a
slow, emphatic voice. As he spoke he laid the picture back again on its
ebony stand. "Awdrey," he continued, "I cannot expect impossibilities--I
cannot expect you to remember what you have absolutely forgotten, but it
is my duty to tell you frankly that this condition of things, if not
immediately arrested, will lead to complete atrophy of your mental
system, and you, in short, will not long survive it. You told me once
very graphically that you were a man who carried about with you a dead
soul. I did not believe you then. Now I believe that nothing in your own
description of your case has been exaggerated. In some way, Awdrey, you
must get back your memory."

"How?" asked Awdrey. He was impressed in spite of himself.

"Whether you remember or not, you must act as though you remembered. You
now think that you never had a child. It is your duty to act as if you
had one."

Awdrey shrugged his shoulders.

"That is impossible," he said.

"It is not. Weak as your will now is, it is not yet so inert that you
cannot bring it to bear upon the matter. I observe that Mrs. Awdrey has
taken off her mourning. She must put it on again. It would be the height
of all that is heartless for her to go about now without showing proper
respect to your beautiful child. You also, Awdrey, must wear mourning.
You must allow your wife to speak of the child. In short, even though
you have no belief, you must allow those who are in a healthy mental
condition to act for you in this matter. By doing so you may possibly
arrest the malady."

"I see what you mean," said Awdrey, "but I do not know how it is
possible for me to act on your suggestions."

"For your wife's sake you must try, and also because it is necessary that
you should show respect to the dead heir of your house."

"Then I am to put a band on my hat and all that sort of thing?"

"Yes."

"It is a trifle, doctor. If you and Margaret wish it, I cannot
reasonably refuse. To come back to myself, however, you consider that I
am quite doomed?"

"Not quite yet, although your case is a bad one. I believe you can be
saved if only you will exert yourself."

"Do wishes go for anything in a case like mine?"

"Assuredly. To hear you express a wish is a capital sign. What do you
want to do?"

"I have a strange wish to go down to the Court. I feel as if something
or some one, whether angel or demon I do not know, were drawing me
there. I have wished to be at the Court for some days. I thought at
first of taking Margaret with me."

"Do so. She would be glad to accompany you. She is a wife in a
thousand."

"But on second thoughts," continued Awdrey, "if I am obliged to listen
to her bitter distress over the death of a child who never, as far as I
can recall, existed, I should prefer not having her."

"Very well then, go alone."

"I cannot go alone. In the condition which I am now in, a complete
vacuum in all my thoughts may occur, and long before I reach the Court I
may forget where I am going."

"That is possible."

"Then, Rumsey, will you come with me?"

The doctor thought a moment. "I'll go with you this evening," he said,
"but I must return to town early to-morrow."

"Thanks," said Awdrey. "I'll ring the bell. We shall be in time, if we
start at once, to catch the five o'clock train."

"Remember, Awdrey, that I shall treat you as the child's father. You
will find all your tenantry in a state of poignant grief. That dear
little fellow was much loved."

Awdrey pursed up his lips as if he would whistle. A smile dawned in his
eyes and vanished.



CHAPTER XVI.


At a late hour that evening Rumsey and his patient arrived at
Grandcourt. A telegram had been sent to announce their visit, and all
was in readiness for their reception. The old butler, Hawkins, who had
lived in the family for nearly fifty years, came slowly down the steps
to greet his master. Hawkins' face was pale, and his eyes dim, as if he
had been indulging in silent tears. He was very much attached to little
Arthur. Awdrey gave him a careless nod.

"I hope all is in readiness, Hawkins," he said, "I have brought my
friend, Dr. Rumsey, with me; we should like supper--has it been
prepared?"

"Yes, Mr. Robert--I beg your pardon, Squire--all is in readiness in the
library."

"We'll go there after we have washed our hands," said Awdrey. "What room
have you got ready for Dr. Rumsey?"

"The yellow room, Squire, in the west wing."

"That will do nicely. Rumsey, you and I will inhabit the same wing
to-night. I suppose I am to sleep in the room I always occupy, eh,
Hawkins?"

"Yes, sir; Mrs. Burnett, the housekeeper, thought you would wish that."

"It does not matter in the least where I sleep; now order up supper, we
shall be down directly. Follow me, doctor, will you?"

Dr. Rumsey followed Awdrey to the west wing. A few moments later the two
men were seated before a cheerful meal in the library--a large fire
burned in the huge grate, logs had been piled on, and the friendly blaze
and the fragrance of the wood filled the room. The supper table was
drawn into the neighborhood of the fire, and Awdrey lifted the cover
from the dish which was placed before him with a look of appetite on his
face.

"I am really hungry," he said--"we will have some champagne--Hawkins,
take some from"--he named a certain bin. The man retired, coming back
presently with some dusty-looking bottles. The cork was quickly removed
from one, and the butler began to fill the glasses.

Supper came to an end. Hawkins brought in pipes and tobacco, and the two
men sat before the fire. Awdrey, who had taken from two to three glasses
of champagne, was beginning to feel a little drowsy, but Rumsey talked
in his usual pleasant fashion. Awdrey replied by fits and starts; once
he nodded and half fell asleep in his chair.

"You are sleepy," said Rumsey suddenly; "if you go to bed now you may
have a really good night, which will do wonders for you--what do you
say?"

"That I am quite agreeable," said Awdrey, rising as he spoke--"but is it
not too early for you, doctor?"

"Not at all--an undisturbed night will be a treat to me."

"Well, then, I'll take you to your room."

They went upstairs together, and a moment later Rumsey found himself in
the palatial chamber which had been prepared for him. He was not really
sleepy and decided to sit up for a little. A fire burned in the grate,
some books lay about--he drew his easy-chair forward and taking up a
volume of light literature prepared to dip into it--he found that it was
Stevenson's "Treasure Island," a book which he had not yet happened to
read; the story interested him, and he read on for some time. Presently
he closed the book, and laying his head against the cushion of the chair
dropped fast asleep.

The events of the day made him dream; all his dreams were about his
queer patient. He thought that he had followed Awdrey on to the
Plain--that Awdrey's excitement grew worse and worse, until the last
lingering doubt was solved, and the man was in very truth absolutely
insane.

In the midst of his dream the doctor was awakened by a hand being laid
on his shoulder--he started up suddenly--Awdrey, half-dressed and
looking ghastly pale, stood before him.

"What is it?" said Rumsey. "Do you want anything?"

"I want you," said Awdrey. "Will you come with me?"

"Certainly--where am I to go? Why are you not in bed?"

Awdrey uttered a hollow laugh. There was a ring of horror in it.

"You could not sleep if you were me," he said. "Will you come with me
now, at once?"

"In a moment or two when you are better--sit down, won't you--here, take
my chair--where do you want me to go?"

"Out with me, doctor--out of doors. I want you to accompany me on to the
Plain."

"All right, my dear fellow--but just allow me to get on my boots."

The doctor retired to a back part of the room to change his house shoes.
While he was doing so, Awdrey sank down on a chair and laid his hands on
his knees, took no notice of Rumsey, but stared straight before him into
the centre of the room.

"I wish you'd be quick, doctor," he said at last. "I don't want to go
alone, but I must follow it."

"Follow what?" said Rumsey.

"It--the queer vision--I have told you of it before."

"Oh, yes, that bad dream you are subject to. Well, I am at your service
now."

Awdrey rose slowly. He pointed with one of his hands.

"Do you see that?" he said suddenly.

Rumsey following the direction of his eyes perceived that he was staring
into the part of the room which was in deepest shadow.

"I see nothing, Awdrey," he replied in a kind and soothing voice, "but I
perceive by your manner that you do. What is it?"

"I wonder you cannot see it," replied Awdrey; "it is plain, too
plain--it seems to fill all that part of the room."

"The old thing?" asked the doctor.

"Yes, the old thing but with a certain difference. There is the immense
globe of light and the picture in the middle."

"The old picture, Awdrey?"

"Yes, yes, but with a difference. The two men are fighting. As a rule
they stand motionless in the picture, but to-night they seem to have
come alive--they struggle, they struggle hard; one stands with his back
to me. The face of the other I can recognize distinctly. It is the face
of that young fellow who stayed a few years ago at the inn in our
village. Ah! yes, of course, I know his name, Frere--Horace Frere. He
has met some one on Salisbury Plain. It is night; the moon is hidden
behind clouds. Ha! now it comes out. Now I can see them distinctly. Dr.
Rumsey, don't you hear the blows? I do. They seem to beat on my brain.
That man who stands with his back to us carries my stick in his hand. I
know it is mine, for the whole thing is so intensely plain that I can
even see the silver tablet on which my name is engraved. My God! the man
also wears my clothes. I would give all that I possess to see his face.
Let us get on the Plain as fast as we can. I may be able to see the
reverse side of the picture from there. Come with me, come at once."

"Poor fellow! matters get worse and worse," thought the doctor. "Well, I
must see this thing out."

Aloud he said:

"How soon did this vision come to torment you to-night?"

Awdrey rubbed his eyes.

"At first when I went to my room I was sleepy," he said. "I began to
take off my things. Then I saw a globe of light in the further end of
the room. At first it was merely light with no picture in the centre.
Then faint shadows began to appear, and by slow degrees the perfect and
intensely clear picture which I am now looking at became visible. I
stared at it quite motionless for a time. I was absorbed by the deepest
interest. Then a mad longing to see the face of the man who stands with
his back to us, came over me. I walked about the room trying hard to get
even a side view of him, but wherever I went he turned so as to keep his
face away; wherever I went the face of Frere was the only one I could
see. Then in a sort of despair, almost maddened in fact, I rushed from
the room.

"Did you not leave the vision behind you?"

"Not I--it went straight in front of me. When I reached your room and
opened the door it came in before me. I know now what I must do. I have
been always standing more or less to the right of the picture. I must
get to the left. I am going to follow it on to the Plain--I am going to
trace it to the exact spot where that murder was committed. Will you
come with me?"

"Yes, only first you must return to your room, and get into the rest of
your clothes. At present you are without a coat."

"Am I? And yet I burn with heat. Well, I'll do what you want. I will do
anything which gives me a chance of seeing that man's face."

A few moments later Rumsey and his patient found themselves in the white
moonlight of the outer world. Awdrey was now quite silent, but Rumsey
noticed that his footsteps faltered once or twice, and that he often
paused as if to get his breath. He appeared to be like a man in a
frantic hurry; he gazed straight before him, as if he were looking
intently at one fixed object.

"It goes before me, and guides me to the spot," he said at last, in a
choking voice. He panted more violently than ever. Heavy sighs came from
him--these seemed to be wrung from his very heart.

In about ten minutes the men got upon the borders of the Plain. Awdrey
then turned abruptly to his left; each moment he walked faster and
faster; the doctor had now almost to run to keep up with him. At last
they reached the rise of ground. A great clump of alder-trees stood to
the left; at the right, a little way off, was a dense belt of
undergrowth. On the rising ground itself was short grass and no other
vegetation. A little way off, nearly one hundred feet lower down, was a
pond. The light of the moon was fully reflected here; across the smooth
surface of the pond was a clear path as if of silver. When they reached
the brow of this slight elevation, Awdrey stood still.

"There--it was done there," he said, pointing with his finger. "See, the
picture does not move any more, but settles down upon the ground. Now we
shall see the whole thing. Good God, Rumsey, fancy looking at a murder
which was committed five years ago! It is going on there now all over
again. There stand the two men life-size. Can't we stop them? Can we do
nothing?"

"No, it is only a vision," said the doctor; "but tell me exactly what
you see."

"It is too marvellous," said Awdrey. "The men move, and I hear the sound
of the blows. It is extraordinary how that fellow keeps his back to me.
I can't see his face if I stand here. Come, let us go downhill--if we
get near the pond we can look up, and I shall get a view of him in
another position."

"Come," said Rumsey. He took Awdrey's arm, and they went down the slope
of ground until they almost reached the borders of the pond.

"Now is it any better?" asked the doctor. "Can you see the man's face
now?"

"No, he has turned; he still keeps his back to me, the scoundrel. But
oh, for God's sake see--he fights harder than ever. Ha! He has thrown
Horace Frere to the ground. Now Frere is up--what a strong chap he is!
Now the other man is down. No, he has risen again. Now they both stand
and fight, and--Dr. Rumsey, did you see that? The man with his back to
us uses his stick, straight in front of him like a bayonet, and--oh, my
God!"

Awdrey covered his face with his shaking hands. In a moment he looked up
again.

"Can't you see for yourself?" he cried. "Frere is on his back--in my
opinion he is dead. What has happened?"

Awdrey swayed from side to side. His excitement was so intense that he
would have fallen if Dr. Rumsey had not caught him. The night was a
chilly one, but the terrified and stricken man was bathed in
perspiration.

"Come, Awdrey, you have told me everything, and it is fully time to
return home," said the doctor.

"I vow I won't go back until I see that man's face, Dr. Rumsey. What
name did they give him at the trial? Frank--Frank Everett--was he the
man convicted of the murder?"

"Yes, of course, you must remember that--he is serving his time now in
Portland."

Awdrey faced round suddenly, and looked into the doctor's eyes.

"It is all a mistake then," he said, in a queer sort of whisper. "I
swear that before God. I saw Everett once--he was a thickly made
man--that fellow is slighter, taller, younger. He carries my stick and
wears my clothes. Why in the name of Heaven can't I see his face? What
are you saying, doctor?"

"Only that I must take you home, my good fellow. You are my patient, and
I cannot permit this excitement any longer."

"But the murder is still going on. Can't you see the whole thing for
yourself? That fellow with his back to us is the murderer. He uses his
stick as a bayonet. What did I once hear about that? Oh that I could
remember! There is a cloud before my mind--oh, God in Heaven, that I
could rend it! Do not speak to me for a moment, doctor, I am struggling
with a memory."

Awdrey flung himself on the ground--he pressed his hands before his
eyes--he looked like a demented man. Suddenly he sprang to his feet.

"I have it," he said with a laugh, which sounded hollow. "If I look in
the pond I shall see the man's face. His face must be reflected in it.
Stay where you are, doctor, I'll be back with you in a minute. I am
getting at it--light is coming--it is all returning to me. He uses his
stick as a bayonet, prodding him in the mouth. Old, old--what am I
saying?--who told me that long ago? Yes I shall see his face in the
pond."

Awdrey ran wildly to the edge of the water. He paused just where the
silver light fell full across the dark pond. Rumsey followed him in hot
haste. He knew that his patient was in the condition when he might leap
into the pond at any moment.

Catching on to an alder-tree, Awdrey now bent forward until he caught
the reflection in the water--he slid down on his knees to examine it
more carefully.

"Take care, Awdrey, you'll slip in if you are not careful," cried
Rumsey.

Awdrey was silent for a moment--his own reflection greeted him--he
looked straight down at his own face and figure. Suddenly he rose to his
feet: a long shiver ran through his frame. He went up to Rumsey with a
queer unsteady laugh.

"I have seen the man's face," he said.

"It was your own face, my dear fellow," said the doctor. "I saw it
reflected distinctly in the water."

"I am satisfied," said Awdrey, in a changed and yet steady voice. "We
can go home now."

"Well, have you really seen what you wanted to see? Who was the
murderer?"

"Frank Everett, who is serving his time in Portland prison. Dr. Rumsey,
I believe I have been the victim of the most horrible form of nightmare
which ever visited living man. Anyhow it has vanished--the vision has
completely disappeared."

"I am glad to hear you say so, Awdrey."

"I do not see it any longer--I know what I wanted to know. Let us go
back to the Court."



CHAPTER XVII.


"Well, Het, what do you say to a bit o' news that'll wake you up?" said
Farmer Vincent one fine morning in the month of May to his young wife.

Hetty was in her dairy with her sleeves turned up busily skimming cream.
She turned as her husband spoke and looked up into his face. He was a
roughly built man on a huge scale. He chucked her playfully under the
chin.

"There are to be all kinds of doings," he said. "I've just been down to
the village and the whole place is agog. What do you say to an election,
and who do you think is to be put up for the vacant seat?"

"I don't know much about elections, George," said Hetty, turning again
to her cream. "If that's all it won't interest me."

"Ay, but 'tain't all--there's more behind it."

"Well, do speak out and tell the news. I'm going down to see aunt
presently."

"I wonder how many days you let pass without being off to see that aunt
of yours," said the farmer, frowning perceptibly. "Well, then, the news
is this. Squire and Mrs. Awdrey and a lot of company with them came back
to the Court this evening. Squire and Madam have been in foreign parts
all the winter, and they say that Squire's as well as ever a man was,
and he and madam mean to live at the Court in future. Why, you have
turned white, lass! What a lot you think of those grand folks!"

"No, I don't, George, not more than anybody ought. Of course I'm fond of
Squire, seeing I know him since he was a little kid--and we was always
great, me and mine, for holding on to the Family."

"I've nothing to say agin' the Fam'ly," said farmer Vincent, "and for my
part," he continued, "I'm glad Squire is coming to live here. I don't
hold with absentee landlords, that I don't. There are many things I'll
get him to do for me on the farm. I can't move Johnson, the bailiff, one
bit, but when Squire's to home 'twill be another matter. Then he's going
to stand for Grandcourt. He's quite safe to be returned. So, Het, what
with an election and the Fam'ly back again at the Court, there'll be gay
doings this summer, or I'm much mistook."

"To be sure there will," said Hetty. She pulled a handkerchief out of
her pocket as she spoke and wiped some moisture from her brow.

"You don't look too well, my girl. Now don't you go and overdo things
this morning--the weather is powerful hot for the time o' year, and you
never can stand heat. I thought it 'ud cheer you up to tell you about
Squire, for any one can see with half an eye that you are as proud of
him and the Fam'ly as woman can be."

"I'm very glad to hear your news, George," replied Hetty. "Now if you
won't keep me any longer I'll make you some plum duff for dinner."

"That's a good girl--you know my weakness."

The man went up to her where she stood, and put one of his great arms
round her neck.

"Look at me, Hetty," he said.

"What is it, George?" She raised her full, dark eyes.

He gazed down into their depths, anxiously.

"Are you a bit better, lass?" he asked, a tender intonation in his gruff
voice. "Pain in the side any less bad?"

"Yes, George, I feel much better."

"Well, I'm glad of that," he said slowly. "Now you look well at me.
Don't you take your eyes off me while I'm a-speaking. I've been counting
the days. I mark 'em down on the back of the fowl-house door with a bit
of chalk; and it's forty days and more since you gave me the least
little peck of a kiss, even. Do you think you could give me one now?"

She raised her lips, slowly. He could not but perceive her
unwillingness, and a wave of crimson swept up over his face.

"I don't want that sort," he said, flinging his arm away and moving a
step or two back from her. "There, I ain't angry; I ain't no call to be
angry; you were honest with me afore we wed. You said plain as girl
could speak, 'I ain't got the least bit of love for you, George,' and I
took you at your word; but sometimes, Het, it seems as if it 'ud half
kill me, for I love you better every day and every hour."

"I know you're as good a fellow as ever breathed," said Hetty; "and I
like you even though I don't love you. I'll try hard to be a good wife
to you, George, I will truly."

"You're main pleased about Squire, I take it?"

"I am main pleased."

"'Tw'ere a pity the little chap were took so sudden-like."

"I s'pose so," said Hetty.

"You are a queer girl, Hetty. I never seed a woman less fond o' children
than you."

"Well, I ain't got any of my own, you understand," said Hetty.

"I understand." The farmer uttered a huge laugh. "I guess I do," he
said. "I wish to God you had a child, Hetty; maybe you'd love it, and
love its father for its sake."

With a heavy sigh the man turned and left the dairy.

The moment she found herself alone, Hetty flew to the door and locked
it. Then standing in the middle of the spotless room she pressed her two
hands wildly to her brow.

"He's coming back," she said aloud; "back to live here; he'll be within
a mile of me to-night. Any day or any hour I may see him. He's coming
back to live. What do folks mean by saying he is well? If he is well,
does he remember? And if he remembers--oh, my God, I shall go mad if I
think much of that any longer! Squire back again at the Court and me
here, and I knowing what I know, and Aunt Fanny knowing what she knows!
I must go and speak to aunt to-day. To-night, too, so soon; he'll be
back to-night. My head is giddy with the thought. What does it all mean?
Is he really well, and does he remember? Oh, this awful pain in my side!
I vowed I'd not take another drop of the black medicine; but there's
nothing else keeps me steady."

Glancing furtively behind her, although there was not a soul in sight,
Hetty opened a cupboard in the wall. From a back recess she produced a
small bottle; it was half full of a dark liquid. Taking up a spoon which
lay near she poured some drops into it, and adding a little water, drank
it off. She then put the bottle carefully back into its place, locked
the cupboard, and slipped the key into her pocket.

"In a minute, dreams will come, and I'll be much better," she said to
herself. "It seems as if I could bear anything a'most after I'd taken a
little of that black stuff; it's a sight better than gin, and I know
what I'm doing all the time. I'll go and see aunt the minute I've
swallowed my dinner; but now I must hurry to make the plum duff for
George."

She ran briskly off to attend to her numerous duties. She was now bright
and merry; the look of gloom and depression had completely left her
face; her eyes shone with a contented and happy light. As she bustled
about her kitchen opening and shutting her oven, and filling up the
different pots, which were necessary for cooking the dinner, with hot
water, her white teeth gleamed, and smiles came and went over her face.

"To think of Aunt Fanny's toothache mixture doing this for me," she said
to herself. "Aunt Fanny 'ud put a bit on cotton wool and put it into the
hole of her tooth, and the pain 'ud be gone in a jiffy; and now I
swallow a few drops, and somehow it touches my heart, and my pain goes.
Aunt Fanny wonders where her toothache cure is; she ain't likely to hear
from me. Oh, it's quite wonderful how contented it makes me feel!"

Hetty was a good housewife, and there was nothing slatternly nor
disorderly about her kitchen.

The dinner, smoking hot and comfortable, was upon the table when Vincent
came in at twelve o'clock to partake of it. There was a great piece of
bacon and some boiled beans. These were immediately followed by the plum
duff. The farmer ate heartily, and Hetty piled up his plate whenever it
was empty.

"You scarcely take a pick yourself, little girl," he said, seizing one
of her hands as she passed and squeezing it affectionately.

"I ain't hungry, George."

"Excited 'bout Squire, I guess."

"Well, p'raps I am a bit; you don't mind if I go and talk it all over
with aunt?"

"That I don't; when you smile at me so cheerful like that there's nought
I wouldn't give yer. Now you look here, Griffiths, the steward, is going
to get up a sort of display at the Court, and the villagers are going;
there is talk of a supper afterward in the barns, but that may or may
not be. What do you say to you and me going into the avenue and seeing
Squire and Madam drive in. What do you say, Het?"

"Oh, George, I'd like it."

"You would not think of giving a body a kiss for it, eh?"

"Yes, that I would."

She ran behind him, flung her soft arms round his neck, and pressed a
kiss against his cheek just above his whiskers.

"That won't do," he said. "I won't take yer for that--I must have it on
my lips."

She gave him a shy peck something like a robin. He caught her suddenly
in his arms, squeezed her to his heart, and kissed her over and over
again.

"I love thee more than words can say," he cried. "I am mad to get your
love in return. Will the day ever come, Het?"

"I don't know, George; I'd like to say so to please you, but I can't
tell a lie about a thing like that."

"To be sure, you can't," he said, rising as he spoke. "You'd soon be
found out."

"I'd like well to love you," she continued, "for you're good to me; but
now I must be off to see Aunt Fanny."

Vincent left the kitchen, and Hetty hurried to her room to dress herself
trimly. Ten minutes later she was on her way to the village.

The pretty little place already wore a festive air. Bunting had been
hung across the streets, flags were flying gayly from many upper
windows. The shop-keepers stood at their doors chatting to one another;
several of them nodded to Hetty as she passed by.

"That you, Hetty Vincent?" called out one woman. "You've heard the news,
I guess."

"Yes, about Squire and Madam," said Hetty.

"It has come unexpected," said the woman. "We didn't know until this
morning that Squire was to be back to-night. Mr. Griffiths got the
letter by the first post, and he's been nearly off his head since; there
ain't a man in the village though that hasn't turned to help him with a
will, and there are to be bonfires and all the rest. They say Squire and
Madam are to live at the Court now. Pity the poor child went off so
sudden. He were a main fine little chap; pity he ain't there to return
home with his father and mother. You look better, Hetty Vincent--not so
peaky like. Pain in the side less?"

"Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't," answered Hetty; "it's much
better to-day. I can't stay talking any longer though, Mrs. Martin, for
I want to catch Aunt Fanny."

"Well, you'll find her at home, but as busy as a bee, the whole place is
flocking to the inn to learn the latest news. We're a-going up to the
Court presently to welcome 'em home. You and your good man will come,
too, eh, Hetty?"

"Yes, for sure," answered Hetty. She continued her walk up the village
street.

Mrs. Armitage was cooling herself in the porch of the little inn when
she saw her niece approaching.

Hetty hurried her steps, and came panting to her side.

"Aunt Fanny, is it true?" she gasped.

"True? Yes, child, it's true," said Mrs. Armitage. "They're coming home.
You come along in and stand in the shelter, Hetty. Seems to me you grow
thinner and thinner."

"Oh, aunt, never mind about my looks just now; have you heard anything
else? How is he?"

Mrs. Armitage looked behind her and lowered her voice.

"They do say that Squire's as well as ever he wor," she remarked. "Why,
he's going to stand for Grandcourt. In one way that's as it should be.
We always had Awdreys in the House--we like to be represented by our own
folk."

"Will any one oppose him?" asked Hetty.

"How am I to say? there's nothing known at present. He is to be
nominated to-morrow; and that's what's bringing 'em home in double quick
time."

"Are you going to the Court to-night, aunt?"

"I thought I'd run round for an hour just to see the carriage roll by,
and get a glimpse of Squire and Madam, but I must hurry back, for
there'll be a lot to be done here."

"Shall I come and help you and uncle to-night?"

Mrs. Armitage looked her niece all over.

"That's a good thought," she said, "if your man will spare you."

"Oh, I can ask him; I don't think he'll refuse."

"Well, you're spry enough with your fingers and legs when you like. I
can't stay out here talking any more, Het."

Hetty came up close to her aunt, and lowered her voice to a whisper.

"Aunt Fanny," she said, "one word afore you goes in--Do you think it is
safe, him coming back like this?"

"Safe," echoed the elder woman in a tone hoarse with a queer mixture of
crossness and undefined fear. "Squire's safe enough ef you can keep
things to yourself."

"Me?" echoed Hetty. "Do you think I can't hold my tongue?"

"Your tongue may be silent, but there are other ways of letting out a
secret. Ef ever there was a tell-tale face yours is one. You're the
terror of my life with your aches and your pains, and your startings, as
if you saw a shadow behind yer all the time. It's a good thing you don't
live in the village. As to Vincent, pore man, he's as blind as a bat; he
don't see, or he won't see, what's staring him in the face."

"For God's sake, Aunt Fanny, what do you mean?"

"I mean this, girl. Vincent's wife carries a secret, and she loves one
she ought not to love."

"Oh! Aunt Fanny, you rend my heart when you talk like that."

"I won't again," said Mrs. Armitage, "but I had to speak out when you
came to-day. It was my opportunity, and I had to take it. Queer stories
will be spread ef you ain't very careful. You've nought to do with the
Squire, Hetty. Go and see him to-night with the rest of 'em, and then be
satisfied. You keep quiet at the farm now he's at the Court; don't you
be seen a-talking to him or a-follerin' him about."

"I won't, I won't."

"Well, I thought I'd warn yer--now I must get back to my work."

"One minute first, aunt--you know there ain't a soul I can speak to but
you, and I'm near mad with the weight of my secret at times."

"You should take it quiet, girl--you fret o'er much. I really must leave
you, Hetty; there's your uncle calling out to me."

"One minute--you must answer my question first."

"Well, well--what a girl you are! I'm glad you ain't my niece. Coming,
Armitage. Now, Hetty, be quick. My man's temper ain't what it wor and I
daren't cross 'im. Now what is it you want to say?"

"It's this Aunt Fanny. Ef Mr. Robert is quite well--as well as ever he
wor in his life--do you think he remembers?"

"Not he. He'll never remember again. They never do."

"But, aunt, they never get well, either."

"That's true enough."

"And they say he's quite well--as well as ever he was in all his life."

"Well, Hetty I can say no more. We'll see to-night--you and me. You keep
alongside of me in the avenue, and when he passes by in the carriage
we'll look at him straight in the face and we'll soon know. You noticed,
didn't you, how queer his eyes got since that dark night. It'll be fully
light when they drive up to the Court, and you and me we'll look at him
straight in the face and we'll know the worst then."

"Yes, Aunt Fanny. Yes, I'll keep close to you."

"Do, girl. Now I must be off. You can sit in the porch awhile and rest
yourself. Coming, Armitage."

Hetty stayed down at the inn through the remainder of the day.

In the course of the evening Vincent strode in. She was in the humor to
be sweet to him, and he was in high spirits at her unwonted words and
looks of affection.

The village presented a gayer and gayer spectacle as the hours went by.
High good humor was the order of the day. Squire and Madam were
returning. Things must go well in the future.

Griffiths was seen riding up and down altering the plan of the
decorations, giving orders in a stentorian voice. At last the time came
when the villagers were to assemble, some of them outside their houses,
some along the short bit of road which divided the village from the
Court, some to line the avenue up to the Court itself.

Hetty and Mrs. Armitage managed to keep together. George Vincent and
Armitage preceded them at a little distance. They walked solemnly
through the village street, Armitage pleased but anxious to return to
the inn, Vincent thinking of Hetty, and vaguely wondering by what subtle
means he could get her to love him, Hetty and Mrs. Armitage weighed down
by the secret which had taken the sunshine out of both their lives. They
made straight for the avenue, and presently stationed themselves just on
the brow of a rising slope which commanded a view of the gates on one
side and of the Court itself on the other.

Hetty's excitable heart beat faster and faster. Dreadful as her secret
was, she was glad, she rejoiced, at the fact that the Squire was coming
home. She would soon see him again. To look at him was her pleasure; it
was the breath of her highest life; it represented Paradise to her
ignorant and unsophisticated mind. Her eyes grew bright as stars. A
great deal of her old loveliness returned to her. Vincent, who with
Armitage had taken up his position a few steps further down the avenue,
kept looking back at her from time to time.

"Why, man," said the landlord of the village inn, with a hoarse laugh,
"you're as much in love with that wife of your'n as if you hadn't been
wedded for the last five years."

"Ay, I am in love with her," said Vincent. "I've got to win her yet,
that's why. Strikes me she looks younger and more spry than I've seen
her for many a year, to-night."

"She's mortal fond of Squire and Madam," said the landlord. "She always
wor."

"Maybe," replied Vincent, in a thoughtful tone. He looked again at his
wife's blooming face; a queer uncomfortable sense of suspicion began
slowly to stir in his heart.

The sound of wheels was at last distinctly audible; bonfires were lit on
the instant; cheers echoed up from the village. The welcoming wave of
sound grew nearer and nearer, each face was wreathed with smiles. Into
the avenue, with its background of eager, welcoming faces, dashed the
spirited grays, with their open landau.

Awdrey and his wife sat side by side. Other carriages followed, but no
one noticed their occupants. All eyes were turned upon Awdrey. He was
bending forward in the carriage, his hat was off, he was smiling and
bowing; now and then he uttered a cheerful word of greeting. Some of the
men, as he passed, darted forward to clasp his out-stretched hand. No
one who saw him now would have recognized him for the miserable man who
had come to the Court a few months back. His youth sat well upon him;
his athletic, upright figure, his tanned face, his bright eyes, all
spoke of perfect health, of energy both of mind and body. The Squire had
come home, and the Squire was himself again. The fact was patent to all.

Margaret, who was also smiling, who also bowed and nodded, and uttered
words of welcome, was scarcely glanced at. The Squire was the centre of
attraction; he belonged to the people, he was theirs--their king, and he
was coming home again.

"Bless 'im, he's as well as ever he wor," shouted a sturdy farmer,
turning round and smiling at his own wife as he spoke.

"Welcome, Squire, welcome home! Glad to see yer so spry, Squire. We're
main pleased to have yer back again, Squire," shouted hundreds of
voices.

Hetty and her aunt, standing side by side, were pushed forward by the
smiling, excited throng.

Awdrey's smiles were arrested on his lips, for a flashing instant
Hetty's bright eyes looked full into his; he contracted his brows in
pain, then once again he repeated his smiling words of welcome. The
carriage rolled by.

"Aunt Fanny, he remembers!" whispered Hetty in a low voice.



CHAPTER XVIII.


A hasty supper had been got up in some large barns at the back of the
Court. When the Squire's carriage disappeared out of sight, Griffiths
rode hastily down to invite the villagers to partake of the hospitality
which had been arranged for them. He passed Hetty, was attracted by her
blooming face, and gave her a warm invitation.

"Come along, Mrs. Vincent," he said, "we can't do without you. Your
husband has promised to stay. I'll see you in the west barn in a few
minutes' time."

Vincent came up at this moment and touched Hetty on her shoulder.

"I thought we might as well go in for the whole thing," he said, "and
I'm a bit peckish. You'd like to stay, wouldn't you, Het?"

"That I would," she replied. "You'll come too, aunt?" she continued,
glancing at Mrs. Armitage.

"No, I can't be spared," replied Mrs. Armitage; "me and Armitage must
hurry back to the inn. We've been away too long as it is."

"Oh, George, I promised to help Aunt Fanny to-night," said Hetty, torn
by her desire to remain in the Squire's vicinity and the remembrance of
her promise.

"We'll let you off, Het," said the old uncle, laying his heavy hand on
her shoulder. "Go off with your good man, my girl, and enjoy yourself."

Armitage and his wife hurried down the avenue, and Hetty and Vincent
followed the train of villagers who were going along by the shrubbery in
the direction of the west barn. There were three great barns in all, and
supper had been laid in each. The west barn was the largest and the most
important, and by the time the Vincents reached it the building was full
from end to end. Hetty and her husband, with a crowd of other people,
remained outside. They all stood laughing and joking together. The
highest good humor was prevalent. The Squire's return--the pleasure it
gave the villagers--his personal appearance, the look of health and
vigor which had been so lamentably absent from him during the past
years, and which now to the delight of every one had so fully
returned--the death of the child--the look on Margaret's face--were the
only topics of the hour. But it was the subject of the Squire himself to
whom the people again and again returned. They were all so unaffectedly
glad to have him back again. Had he ever looked so well before? What a
ring of strength there was in his voice! And then that tone with which
he spoke to them all, the tone of remembrance, this it was which went
straight to the hearts of the men and women who had known him from his
boyhood. Yes, the Squire was back, a strong man in his prime, and the
people of Grandcourt had good reason for rejoicing.

"He'll be as good a Squire as his father before him," said an old man of
nearly eighty years, hobbling up close to Hetty as he spoke. "They did
whisper that the curse of his house had took 'im, but it can't be
true--there ain't no curse on his face, bless 'im. He's good to the
heart's core, and strong too and well. He'll be as good a Squire as his
father; bless 'im, say I, bless 'im."

"Het, you look as white as a sheet," said Vincent, turning at that
moment and catching his wife's eye. "There girl, eat you must. I'll
squeeze right into the barn and you come in ahind me. I'm big enough to
make way for a little body like you."

Vincent squared his shoulders and strode on in front. After some pushing
he and Hetty found themselves inside the barn. The tables which had been
laid from one end to the other, were crowded with eager, hungry faces.
Griffiths and other servants from the Court were flying here and there,
pressing hospitality on every one. Vincent was just preparing to
ensconce himself in a vacant corner, and to squeeze room for Hetty close
to him, when the door at the other end of the long barn was opened, and
Awdrey, Margaret, and some visitors came in.

Immediately all the villagers rose from their seats, and an enthusiastic
cheer resounded among the rafters of the old barn. Hetty standing on
tiptoe, and straining her neck, could see Awdrey shaking hands right and
left. Presently he would come to her, he would take her hand in his. She
could also catch a glimpse of Margaret's stately figure, of her pale,
high-bred face, of the dark waves of her raven black hair. Once again
she looked at the Squire. How handsome he was, how manly, and yet--and
yet--something seemed to come up in Hetty's throat and almost to choke
her.

"You ain't well, Het," said her husband. He had also risen from his
seat, and pushing out, had joined Hetty in the crowd. "The air in this
place is too close for you, Hetty. Drat that supper, we'll get into the
open air once again."

"No, we won't," answered Hetty. "I must wait to speak to Squire, happen
what may."

"Why, it'll be half an hour before he gets as far as here," said
Vincent. "Well," he added, looking back regretfully at his plate, which
was piled with pie and other good things; "if we must stay I'm for a bit
of supper. There's a vacant seat at last; you slip in by me, Het. Ah,
that cold pie is just to my taste. What do you say to a tiny morsel,
girl?"

"I could not eat, George, it would choke me," said Hetty, "I'm not the
least bit hungry. I had tea an hour ago down at the inn. You eat,
George, do, George; do go down and have some supper. I'll stand her and
wait for Squire and Madam."

"You are daft on Squire and Madam," said the man angrily.

Hetty did not answer. It is to be doubted if she heard him. One fact
alone was filling her horizon She felt quite certain now that the Squire
remembered. What then was going to happen? Was he going to be an
honorable man? Was he going to use the memory which had returned to him
to remove the cruel shame and punishment from another? If so, if indeed
so, Hetty herself would be lost. She would be arrested and charged with
the awful crime of perjury. The horrors of the law would fall upon her;
she would be imprisoned, she would----

"No matter," she whispered stoutly to herself, "it is not of myself I
think now, it is of him. He also will be tried. Public disgrace will
cling to his name. The people who love him so will not be able to help
him; he would suffer even, even to death: the death of the gallows. He
must not tell what he knew. He must not be allowed to be carried away by
his generous impulses. She, Hetty, must prevent this. She had guarded
his secret for him during the long years when the cloud was over his
mind. He must guard it now for himself. Doubtless he would when she had
warned him. Could she speak to him to-night? Was it possible?"

"Hetty, how you do stand and stare," said George Vincent; he was
munching his pie as he spoke. Hetty had been pressed up against the
table where he was eating.

"I'm all right, George," she said, but she spoke as if she had not heard
the words addressed to her.

"If you're all right, come and have a bit of supper."

"I don't want it. I'm not hungry. Do eat while you can and let me be."

"I'll let you be, but not out of my sight," muttered the man. He helped
himself to some more pie, but he was no longer hungry. The jealous fiend
which had always lain dormant in his heart from the day when he had
married pretty Hetty Armitage and discovered that she had no love to
give to him was waking up now into full strength and vigor. What was the
matter with Hetty? How queer she looked to-night. She had always been
queer after a certain fashion--she had always been different from other
girls, but until to-night, Vincent, who had watched her well, had never
found anything special to lay hold of. But to-night things were
different. There must be a reason for Hetty's undue excitement, for her
changing color, for her agitation, for the emotion on her face. Now what
was she doing?

Vincent started from his seat to see his wife moving slowly up the room,
borne onward by the pressure of the crowd. Several of the villagers,
impatient at the long delay, had struggled up the barn to get a
hand-shake from the Squire and his wife. Hetty was carried with the rest
out of her husband's sight. Vincent jumped on a bench in order to get a
view. He saw Hetty moving forward, he had a good glimpse of her profile,
the color on the cheek nearest to him was vivid as a damask rose. Her
whole little figure was alert, full of determination, of a queer
impulsive longing which the man saw without understanding. Suddenly he
saw his wife fall backward against some of the advancing crowd; she
clasped her hands together, then uttered a shrill, piercing cry.

"Take me out of this for the love of God, Squire," she panted.

"Is that young woman Mrs. Vincent?" suddenly cried another voice. "Then,
if so, I've something to say to her."

It was Mrs. Everett who had spoken. Hetty had not seen her until this
moment. She was walking up the room accompanied by Awdrey's sisters, Ann
and Dorothy.

"I can't stay--I won't meet her--take me away, take me away, into the
air, Squire," said Hetty. "Oh, I am suffocating," she continued, "the
room is rising up as if it would choke me."

"Open that door there to your right, Griffiths," said Awdrey, in a tone
which rose above the tumult. "Come, Mrs. Vincent, take my arm."

He drew Hetty's hand into his, and led her out by a side door. The crowd
made way for them. In another instant the excited girl found the cool
evening air blowing on her hot cheeks.

"I am sorry you found the room too close," began Awdrey.

"Oh, it was not that, sir, not really. Just wait a minute, please, Mr.
Robert, until I get my breath. I did not know that she--that she was
coming here."

"Who do you mean?" asked Awdrey.

"Mrs. Everett. I can't bear her. It was the sight of her, sudden-like,
that took the breath from me."

Awdrey did not speak for a moment.

"You are better now," he said then, in a stony tone. "Is your husband
here?"

"Yes, but I don't want him."

Hetty, in her excitement, laid both hands on the Squire's arm.

"Mr. Robert, I must see you, and alone," she panted.

Awdrey stepped back instinctively.

"You don't want me to touch you, you don't want to have anything to do
with me, and yet--and yet, Mr. Robert, I must see you by yourself. When
I can see you alone?"

"I cannot stay with you now," said Awdrey, in a hurried voice. "Come up
to the house to-morrow. No, though, I shall have no time to attend to
you to-morrow."

"It must be to-morrow, sir. It is life or death; yes, it is life or
death."

"Well, to-morrow let it be," said Awdrey, after a pause, "six o'clock in
the evening. Don't call at the house, come round to the office. I'll be
there and I'll give you a few minutes. Now I see you are better," he
continued, "I'll go back to the barn and fetch Vincent."

He turned abruptly. On the threshold of the door by which he had gone
out he met Mrs. Everett.

"Where is that young woman?" she demanded.

"You seem to have frightened her," said Awdrey. "You had better not go
to her now, she was half-fainting, but I think the fresh air has put her
right again."

His face looked cool and composed.

"Fainting or not," said Mrs. Everett, "I must see her, for I have
something to say to her. The fact is, I don't mind telling you, Mr.
Awdrey, that I accepted your wife's kind invitation more with the hope
of meeting that young woman than for any other reason."

Awdrey raised his brows as if in slight surprise.

"I left Mrs. Vincent outside," he repeated.

"Then pray let me pass."

"If you want my wife I'll take you to her," said Vincent's voice at that
moment.

"Glad to see you again, Vincent," said Awdrey. He held out his hand to
the farmer, who stepped back a pace as if he did not see it.

"Obliged, I'm sure, sir," he said awkwardly. "You'll excuse me now,
Squire, I want to get to my wife."

"Is that young woman really your wife?" demanded Mrs. Everett, in an
eager voice.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then I've something very important I wish to say to her."

"I'll find out if she's well enough to see you, ma'am. Hetty is not to
say too strong."

The man pushed by, elbowing his way to right and left. Mrs. Everett
followed him. He quickly reached the spot where Awdrey had left Hetty.
She was no longer there.

"Where is she?" asked Mrs. Everett, in an eager tone.

"I can't tell you, ma'am. She is not here."

"Do you think she has gone home?"

"That's more'n I can say. May I ask what your business is with my wife?"

"Your wife is in possession of a secret which I mean to find out."

Vincent's face flushed an angry red.

"So others think she has a secret," he muttered to himself.

Aloud he said, "May I ask what yer name is, ma'am?"

"My name is Mrs. Everett. I am the mother of the man who was accused of
murdering Horace Frere on Salisbury Plain six years ago."

"Ah," said Vincent, "it's a good way back since that 'appened; we've
most forgot it now. I'm main sorry for yer, o' course, Mrs. Everett.
T'were a black day for yer when your son----"

"My son is innocent, my good sir, and it is my belief that your wife can
help me to prove it."

"No, you're on a wrong tack there," said Vincent slowly. "What can Hetty
know?"

"Then you won't help me?"

"I say nought about that. The hour is late, and my wife ain't well.
You'll excuse me now, but I must foller 'er."

Vincent walked quickly away. He strode with long strides across the
grass. After a time he stopped, and looked to right and left of him.
There was a rustling sound in a shrub near by. Hetty stole suddenly out
of the deep shadow.

"Take me home, George, I've been waiting for you," she said.

"Well, these are queer goings-on," said the man. "There was a lady, Mrs.
Everett, and she said--never mind now what she said. Tell me, Het, as
you would speak the truth ef you were a-dying, what did yer want with
Squire?"

"Nothing. What should I want with him? I was just glad to see him
again."

"Why did you turn faint?"

"It was the heat of the room."

"Come on. Take my arm. Let's go out o' this."

The farmer's tone was very fierce. He dragged Hetty's hand through his
big arm, and strode away so quickly that she could scarcely keep up with
him.

"It hurts my side," she said, at last panting.

"You think nothing hurts but your side," said the man. "There are worse
aches than that."

"What do you mean, George? How queer and rough you speak!"

"Maybe I know more'n you think, young woman."

"Know more than I think," she said. "There's nothing more to know."

"Ain't there? P'raps I've found out the reason why your 'eart's been
closed to me--p'raps I've got the key to that secret."

"Oh, George, George, you know I'd love you ef I could."

"P'raps I've got the key to that secret," repeated the farmer. "I'm not
a bad feller--not bad to look at nor bad to live with--and I gived yer
all I got--but never, God above is witness, never from the day I took
yer to church, 'ave yer kissed me of your own free will. No, nor ever
said a lovin' word to me--the sort of words that come so glib to the
lips o' other young wives. You're like one who carries sum'mat at her
heart. Maybe I guess to-night."

"But there's nothing to guess," said Hetty. She was trembling, a sick
fear took possession of her.

"Ain't there? Why did you make an appointment to meet Squire alone?"

"What in the world do you mean?"

"None o' your soft sawder, now, Hetty. I know what I'm a-talking of. I
crep' out of barn t'other way, and I 'eard what you said."

"You heard," said Hetty, with a little scream. Then she suppressed it,
and gave a little hysterical laugh. "You're welcome to hear," she
continued. "There was nothing in it."

"Worn't there? You seemed mighty eager to have a meetin' with 'im; much
more set on it, I take it, than he wor to have a meetin' wi' you. Gents
o' that sort don't care to be reminded o' the follies o' their youth. I
seed a big frown coming up between his eyes when you wor so masterful,
and when you pressed and pressed to see 'im. Why did yer say t'was life
or death? I've got my clue at last, and look you 'ere, you meet Squire
at your peril. There, that's my last word. You understand me?"



CHAPTER XIX.


The next day Vincent got up early. It was his wont to rise betimes.
Small as his farm was he managed it well, superintended everything that
went on in it, and did, when possible, the greater part of the work
himself. He rose now from the side of his sleeping wife, looked for a
moment at her fair, flower-like face, clenched his fist at a memory
which came over him, and then stole softly out of the room.

The morning was a lovely one, warm for the time of year, balmy with the
full promise of spring. The trees were clothed in their tenderest green;
there was a faint blue mist near the horizon which would pass into
positive heat later on.

Vincent strode along with his hands deep in his pockets. He looked like
a man who was struggling under a heavy weight. In truth he was; he was
unaccustomed to thought, and he now had plenty of that commodity to
worry him. What was the matter with Het? What was her secret? Did Mrs.
Everett's queer words mean anything or nothing? Why did Het want to see
the Squire? Was it possible that the Squire--? The man dashed out one of
his great hands suddenly into space.

"Drat it," he muttered, "ef I thought it I'd kill 'im."

At this moment the sound of footsteps approaching caused him to raise
his head; he had drawn up close to a five-barred gate. He saw a woman's
bonnet above the hedgerow--a woman dressed in black was coming in his
direction--she turned the corner and he recognized Mrs. Everett. He
stared at her for a full moment without opening his lips. He felt he did
not like her; a queer sensation of possible danger stirred at his heart.
What was she doing at this hour? Vincent knew nothing of the ways of
women of quality; but surely they had no right to be out at this hour in
the morning.

The moment Mrs. Everett saw him she quickened her footsteps. No smile
played round her lips, but there was a look of welcome and of gratified
longing in her keen, dark eyes.

"I had a presentiment that I should find you," she said. "I wanted to
have a talk with you when no one was by. Here you are, and here am I."

"Mornin', ma'am," said Vincent awkwardly.

"Good-morning," answered, Mrs. Everett. "The day is a beautiful one,"
she continued; "it will be hot by and by."

Vincent did not think it necessary to reply to this.

"I'm due in the five-acre field," he said, after a long pause. "I beg
pardon, ma'am, but I must be attending to my dooties."

"If you wish to cross that field," said Mrs. Everett, "I have not the
least objection to accompanying you."

Vincent hesitated. He glanced at the five-barred gate as if he meant to
vault over it, then he looked at the lady; she was standing perfectly
motionless, her arms hanging straight at her sides; she came a step or
two nearer to him.

"Look you 'ere," he said then, suddenly. "I'm a plain body--a man, so to
speak, of one idee. There are the men yonder waitin' to fall to with the
spring turnips, and 'ere am I waitin' to give 'em orders, and 'ere you
are, ma'am, waitin' to say sum'mat. Now I can't attend to the men and to
you at the same time, so p'raps you'll speak out, ma'am, and go."

"I quite understand your position," said Mrs. Everett. "I would much
rather speak out. I have come here to say something about your wife."

"Ay," said Vincent, folding his arms, "it's mighty queer what you should
'ave to say 'bout Hetty."

"Not at all, for I happen to know something about her."

"And what may that be?"

"I'll tell you if you will give me time to speak. I told you last night
who I am--I am Mrs. Everett, the mother of a man who has been falsely
accused of murder."

"Falsely!" echoed Vincent, an incredulous expression playing round his
lips.

"Yes, falsely. Don't interrupt me, please. Your wife witnessed that
murder."

"That's true enough, and it blackened her life, poor girl."

"I'm coming to that part in a minute. Your wife witnessed the murder.
She was very young at the time. It was well known that the murdered man
wanted to make her his wife. It was supposed, quite falsely, but it was
the universal supposition, that my son was also one of her lovers. This
latter was not the case. It is just possible, however, that she had
another lover--she was a very pretty girl, the sort of girl who would
attract men in a station above her own."

Vincent's face grew black as night.

"I have my reason," continued Mrs. Everett, "for supposing it possible
that your wife had another lover. There is, at least, not the slightest
doubt that the man who killed Mr. Frere did so in a fit of jealousy."

"P'raps so," said Vincent. "It may be so. I loved Het then--I longed to
make her my wife then. I'm in her own station--it's best for girls like
Het to marry in their own station. She told me that the man who was
murdered wanted to make her his wife, but she never loved him, that I
will say."

"She may have loved the murderer."

"The man who is suffering penal servitude?" cried Vincent. "Your son,
ma'am? Then ef you think so he'd better stay where he is--he'd best stay
where 'e is."

"I am not talking of my son, but of the real murderer," said Mrs.
Everett slowly.

Vincent stared at her. He thought she was slightly off her head.

"I was in court when your son was tried," he said, at last. "'Twas a
plain case. He killed his man--it was brought in manslaughter, worn't
it? And he didn't swing for it. I don't know what you mean, ma'am, an'
I'd like to be away now at my work."

"I have something more to say, and then I'll go. I met your wife about a
year ago. We met on Salisbury Plain."

"Ay, she's fond o' the Plain, Hetty is."

"I told her then what I now tell you. She fell on her knees in
terror--she clasped my dress, and asked me how I had found out. Then she
recovered herself, tried to eat her own words, and left me. Since then
she has avoided me. It was the sight of me last night that made your
wife turn faint. I repeat that she carries a secret. If that secret were
known it might clear my son. I want to find it out. If you will help me
and if we succeed, I'll give you a thousand pounds."

"'Taint to be done, ma'am," said Vincent. "Het is nervous, and a bit
given to the hysterics, but she knows no more 'bout that murder than all
the rest of the world knows; and what's more, I wouldn't take no money
to probe at my wife's heart. Good-mornin', ma'am, I must be attending to
my turnips."

Vincent vaulted the five-barred gate as he spoke, and walked across the
field.

Mrs. Everett watched him until he was out of sight. Then she turned
slowly, and went back to the Court. She entered the grounds a little
before the breakfast hour. Ann, now Mrs. Henessey, was out in the avenue
gathering daffodils, which grew in clumps all along a great border. She
raised her head when she saw Mrs. Everett approaching.

"You out?" she cried. "I thought I was the only early bird. Where have
you been?"

"For a walk," replied the widow. "The morning is a lovely one, and I was
not sleepy." She did not wait to say anything more to Ann, but went into
the house.

The breakfast-room at the Court had French windows. The day was so balmy
that, early as it was still in the year, these windows stood open. As
Mrs. Everett stepped across the threshold, she was greeted by Margaret.

"How pale and tired you look!" said Mrs. Awdrey, in a compassionate
voice.

Mrs. Everett glanced round her, she saw that there was no one else
present.

"I am sick at heart, Margaret," she said, fixing her sad eyes on her
friend's face.

Margaret went up to her, put her slender hand on her shoulder, and
kissed her.

"Why won't you rest?" she said; "you never rest; even at night you
scarcely sleep; you will kill yourself if you go on as you have been
doing of late, and then----"

"Why do you stop, Margaret?" said Mrs. Everett.

"When he comes out you won't be there," said Margaret--tears brimming
into her eyes. "I often see the meeting between you and him," she
continued. "When he comes out; when it is all over; he won't be old, as
men go, and he'll want you. Try and think of the very worst that can
happen--his innocence never being proved; even at the worst he'll want
you sorely when he is a free man again."

"He won't have me. I shall be dead long, long before then; but I must
prove his innocence. I have an indescribable sensation that I am near
the truth while I am here, and that is why I came. Margaret, my heart is
on fire--the burning of that fire consumes me."

At this moment the Squire entered the room; he looked bright, fresh,
alert, and young. He was now a man of extremely rapid movements; he came
up to Mrs. Everett and shook hands with her.

"You have your bonnet on," he said.

"Yes, I have been out for a walk," she replied.

"And she has come in dead tired," said Margaret, glancing at her
husband. "Please go to your room now, Mrs. Everett," she continued, "and
take off your things. We are just going to breakfast, and I shall insist
on your taking a good meal."

Mrs. Everett turned toward the door. When she had left the room Margaret
approached her husband's side.

"I do believe she is right," she cried suddenly; "I believe her grief
will kill her in the end."

"Whose grief, dearest?" asked Awdrey, in an absent-minded manner.

"Whose grief, Robert? Don't you know? Mrs. Everett's grief. Can't you
see for yourself how she frets, how she wastes away? Have you no eyes
for her? In your own marvellous resurrection ought you, ought either of
us, to forget one who suffers so sorely?"

"I never forget," said Awdrey. He spoke abruptly; he had turned his back
on his wife; a picture which was hanging slightly awry needed
straightening; he went up to it. Ann came in at the open window.

"What possesses all you women to be out at cockcrow in this fashion?"
said her brother, submitting to her embrace rather than returning it.

Ann laughed gleefully.

"It's close on nine o'clock," she replied; "here are some daffodils for
you, Margaret"--she laid a great bunch by Mrs. Awdrey's plate. "You have
quite forgotten your country manners, Robert; in the old days breakfast
was long over at nine o'clock."

"Well, let us come to table now," said the Squire.

The rest of the party trooped in by degrees. Mrs. Everett was the last
to appear. Awdrey pulled out a chair near himself; she dropped into it.
He began to attend to her wants; then entered into conversation with
her. He talked well, like the man of keen intelligence and education he
really was. As he spoke the widow kept watching him with her bright,
restless eyes. He never avoided her glance. His own eyes, steady and
calm in their expression, met hers constantly. Toward the end of
breakfast the two pairs of eyes seemed to challenge each other. Mrs.
Everett's grew fuller than ever of puzzled inquiry; Awdrey's of a queer
defiance. In the end she looked away with a sigh. He was stronger than
she was; her spirit recognized this fact; it also began to be dimly
aware of the truth that he was her enemy.

The Squire rose suddenly from his seat and addressed his wife.

"I've just seen Griffiths pass the window," he said. "I'm going out now;
don't expect me to lunch."



CHAPTER XX.


About an hour after her husband had left her, Hetty Vincent awoke. She
rubbed her eyes, sat up in bed, and after a moment's reflection began to
dress. She was downstairs, bustling about as usual, just as the
eight-day clock struck seven. Hetty attended to the household work
itself, but there was a maid to help her with the dairy, to milk the
cows, and undertake the heavy part of the work. The girl's name was
Susan. Hetty and she went into the dairy as usual now and began to
perform their morning duties.

There were several cows kept on the farm, and the Vincents largely lived
on the dairy produce. Their milk and butter and cream were famous in the
district. The great pails of foaming milk were now being brought in by
Susan and the man Dan, and the different pans quickly filled.

The morning's milk being set, Hetty began to skim the pans which were
ready from the previous night. As she did so she put the cream at once
into the churn, and Susan prepared to make the butter.

"Hold a bit, ma'am," she said suddenly, "we never scalded out this churn
properly, and the last butter had a queer taste, don't you remember?"

"Of course I do," said Hetty, "how provoking; all that cream is wasted
then."

"I don't think so," answered Susan. "If we pour it out at once it won't
get the taste. Please hold that basin for me, ma'am, and I'll empty the
cream that is in the churn straight into it."

Hetty did so.

Susan set the churn down again on the floor.

"If you'll give me that stuff in the bottle, ma'am," she said, "which
you keep in the cupboard, I'll mix some of it with boiling water and
wash out the churn, and it'll be as sweet as a nut immediately."

"The water is already boiling in the copper," said Hetty.

The girl went off to fill a large jug with some, and Hetty unlocked the
cupboard from which she had taken the bottle of laudanum the night
before. The chemical preparation required for sweetening the churn
should have stood close to the laudanum bottle. It was not there, and
Susan, who was anxious to begin her work, fetched a stepladder and
mounting it began to search through the contents of the cupboard.

"I can't find the bottle," she cried, "but lor! ma'am, what is this
black stuff? It looks sum'mat like treacle."

"No, it is not; let it alone," said Hetty in alarm.

"I don't want to touch it, I'm sure," replied Susan. "It's got a good
big 'poison' marked on it, and I'm awful frightened of that sort o'
thing."

"It's toothache cure," said Hetty. "Ef you swallowed a good lot of it it
'ud kill you, but it's a splendid thing to put on cotton-wool and stuff
into your tooth if it aches badly. Just you step down from the ladder,
and I'll have a look for the bottle we want, Susan."

The bottle was nowhere to be found in the cupboard but was presently
discovered in another corner of the dairy; the morning's work then went
on without a hitch.

At his accustomed hour Vincent came in to breakfast. He looked moody and
depressed. As he ate he glanced many times at Hetty, but did not
vouchsafe a single word to her.

She was in the mood to be agreeable to him and she put on her most
fascinating airs for his benefit. Once as she passed his chair she laid
her small hand with a caressing movement on his shoulder. The man longed
indescribably to seize the little hand and press its owner to his hungry
heart, but he restrained himself. Mrs. Everett's words were ringing in
his ear: "Your wife holds a secret."

Hetty presently sat down opposite to him. The sunshine was now streaming
full into the cheerful farm kitchen, and some of its rays fell across
her face. What a lovely face it was; pale, it is true, and somewhat
worn, but what pathetic eyes, so dark so velvety; what a dear rosebud
mouth, what an arch and yet sad expression!

"She beats every other woman holler," muttered the man to himself. "It's
my belief that ef it worn't for that secret she'd love me. Yes, it must
be true, she holds a secret, and it's a-killing of her. She ain't what
she wor when we married. I'll get that secret out o' her; but not for no
thousand pounds, 'andy as it 'ud be."

"Hetty," he said suddenly.

"What in the world is the matter with you, George? You look so moody,"
said Hetty.

"Well, now, I may as well return the compliment," he replied, "so do
you."

"Oh, I'm all right," she answered, with a pert toss of her head. "Maybe,
George," she continued, "you're bilious; you ate summat that disagreed
wi' you last night."

"Yes, I did," he replied fiercely. "I swallered a powerful lot o'
jealousy, and it's bad food and hard to digest."

"Jealousy?" she answered, bridling, and her cheeks growing a deep rose.
"Now what should make you jealous?"

"You make me jealous, my girl," he answered.

"I! what in the world did I do?"

"You talked to Squire--you wor mad to see 'im. Het, you've got a secret,
and you may as well out wi' it."

The imminence of the danger made Hetty quite cool and almost brave. She
uttered a light laugh, and bent forward to help herself to some more
butter.

"You must be crazy to have thoughts o' that sort, George," she said.
"Ain't I been your wife for five years, and isn't it likely that ef I
had a secret you'd have discovered it, sharp feller as you are? No, I
was pleased to see Squire. I was always fond o' 'im; and I ain't got no
secret except the pain in my side."

She turned very pale as she uttered the last words and pressed her hand
to the neighborhood of her heart.

Vincent was at once all tenderness and concern.

"I'm a brute to worry yer, my little gell," he said. "Secret or no
secret, you're all I 'as got. It's jest this way, Het, ef you'd love me
a bit, I wouldn't mind ef you had fifty secrets, but it's the feelin'
that you don't love me, mad as I be about you, that drives me stark,
staring wild at times."

"I'll try hard to love you ef you wish it, George," she said.

He left his seat and came toward her. The next moment he had folded her
in his arms. She shivered under his embrace, but submitted.

"Now that's better," he said. "Tryin' means succeeding 'cording to my
way o' thinking of it. But you don't look a bit well, Het; you change
color too often--red one minute, white the next--you mustn't do no sort
o' work this morning. You jest put your feet up this minute on the
settle and I'll fetch that novel you're so took up with. You like
readin', don't yer, lass?"

"At times I do," said Hetty, "but I ain't in the mood to read to-day,
and there's a heap to be done."

"You're not to do it; Susan will manage."

"George, she can't; she's got the dairy."

"Dan shall manage the dairy. He's worth two Susans, and Susan can attend
to the housework. Now you lie still where I've put you and read your
novel. I'll be in to dinner at twelve o'clock, as usual, and ef you
don't look more spry by then I'll go and fetch Dr. Martin, that I will."

"I wouldn't see him for the world," said Hetty in alarm. "Well, I'll
stay quiet ef you wish me to."

The rest of the morning passed quickly. Until her husband was quite out
of sight Hetty remained on the settle in the cosy kitchen; then she went
up to her room, and taking a hat out of the cupboard began to pull it
about and to re-arrange the trimming. She put it on once or twice to see
if it became her. It was a pretty hat, made of white straw with a broad
low brim. It was trimmed simply with a broad band of colored ribbon. On
Hetty's charming head it had a rustic effect, and suited her particular
form of beauty.

"It don't matter what I wear," she murmured to herself. "'Taint looks
I'm a-thinking of now, but I may as well look my best when I go to him.
Once he thought me pretty. That awful evening down by the brook when I
gathered the forget-me-nots--I saw his thought in his eyes then--he
thought well of me then. Maybe he will again this evening. Anyhow I'll
wear the hat."

At dinner time Hetty once more resumed the role of an invalid, and
Vincent was charmed to find her reclining on the settle and pretending
to read the yellow-backed novel.

"Here's a brace of young pigeons," he said; "I shot 'em an hour ago. You
shall have 'em cooked up tasty for supper. You want fattening and
coaxing a bit. Ah, dinner ready; just what I like, corned beef and
cabbage. I am hungry and no mistake."

Susan had now left the house to return to her ordinary duties, and the
husband and wife were alone. Hetty declared herself much better; in
fact, quite well. She drew her chair close to Vincent, and talked to him
while he ate.

"Now I call this real cosy," he said. "Ef you try a bit harder you'll
soon do the real thing, Het; you'll love me for myself."

"Seems like it," answered Hetty. "George, you don't mind my going down
to see aunt this afternoon, do you?"

She brought out her words coolly, but Vincent's suspicions were
instantly aroused.

"Turn round and look at me," he said.

She did so bravely.

"You don't go outside the farm to-day, and that's flat," he said. "We
won't argufy on that point any more; you stop at 'ome to-day. Ef you're
a good girl and try to please me I'll harness the horse to the gig this
evening, and take yer for a bit of a drive."

"I'd like that," answered Hetty submissively. She bent down as she spoke
to pick up a piece of bread. She knew perfectly well that Vincent would
not allow her to keep her appointment with Squire. But that appointment
must be kept; if in no other way, by guile.

Hetty thought and thought. She was too excited to do little more than
pick her food, and Vincent showered attentions and affectionate words
upon her. At last he rose from his seat.

"Well, I've 'ad a hearty meal," he cried. "I'll be in again about four
o'clock; you might have a cup o' tea ready for me."

"No, I won't," said Hetty; "tea is bad for you; you're up so early, and
you're dead for sleep, and it's sleep you ought to have. You come home
about four, and I'll give you a glass o' stout."

"Stout?" said the farmer--he was particularly partial to that
beverage--"I didn't know there was any stout in the house," he
continued.

"Yes," she replied, laughing gayly, "the little cask which we didn't
open at Christmas; it's in the pantry, and you shall have a foaming
glass when you come in at four; go off now, George, and I'll have it
ready for you."

"All right," he said; "why, you're turning into a model wife; quite
anxious about me--at least, it seems like it. Well, I'll turn up for my
stout, more particular ef you'll give me a kiss along wi' it."

He went away, and Hetty watched him as he crossed the farmyard; her
cheeks were flushed, and her heart beat high. She had made up her mind.
She would drug the stout.

Vincent was neither a lazy nor a sleepy man; he worked hard from early
morning until late at night, indulging in no excesses of any kind, and
preferring tea as a rule to any other beverage; but stout, good stout,
such as Hetty had in the little cask, was his one weakness; he did like
a big draught of that.

"He shall have a sleep," said Hetty to herself. "It'll do him a power of
good. The first time I swallered a few drops of aunt's toothache cure I
slept for eight hours without moving. Lor! how bad I felt afore I went
off, and how nice and soothed when I awoke. Seemed as if I couldn't be
cross for ever so long. George shall sleep while I'm away. I'll put some
of the nice black stuff in his stout--the stuff that gives dreams--he'll
have a long rest, and I can go and return and he'll never know nothing
about it."

She made all her preparations with promptitude and cunning. First, she
opened the cask, and threw away the first glass she drew from it. She
then tasted the beverage, which turned out, as she expected it would, to
be of excellent quality. Hetty saw in imagination her husband draining
off one or two glasses. Presently she heard his step in the passage, and
ran quickly to the pantry where the stout was kept, concealing the
little bottle of laudanum in her pocket. She poured what she thought a
small but safe dose into the jug, and then filled it up with stout. Her
face was flushed, and her eyes very bright, when she appeared in the
kitchen with the jug and glass on a tray. Vincent was hot and dead
tired.

"Here you are, little woman," he cried. "Why, if you ain't a sort o'
ministering angel, I don't know who is. Well, I'm quite ready for that
ere drink o' your'n."

Hetty filled his glass to the brim. It frothed slightly, and looked, as
Vincent expressed it, prime. He raised it to his lips, drained it to the
dregs, and returned it to her. She filled it again.

"Come, come," he said, smiling, and half-winking at her, and then
casting a longing glance at the stout, "ain't two glasses o'er much."

"Not a bit of it," she answered. "You're to go to sleep, you know."

"Well, p'raps I can spare an hour, and I am a bit drowsy."

"You're to lie right down on the settle, and go off to sleep. I'll wake
you when it is time."

He drank off another glass.

"You won't run away to that aunt o' your'n while I'm drowsing?" he said.

"No," she replied. "I would not do a shabby sort of trick like that."

He took her hand in his, and a moment later had closed his eyes. Once or
twice he opened them to gaze fondly at her, but presently the great,
roughly hewn face settled down into repose. Hetty bent over him, laid
her cheek against his, and felt his forehead. He never stirred. She then
listened to his breathing, which was perfectly quiet and light.

"He's gone off like a baby. That's wonderful stuff in aunt's bottle,"
muttered Hetty. Finally, she threw a shawl of her own over him, drew
down the blind of the nearest window, and went on tiptoe out of the
kitchen.

"He'll sleep for hours. I did," she said to herself.

She put the little bottle back into its place in the dairy and moved
softly about the house. She was to meet the Squire at six. It was now
five o'clock. It would take her the best part of an hour to walk to the
Court. She went up to her room, put on her hat, and as she was leaving
the house, once again entered the kitchen. Vincent's face was pale
now--he was in a dead slumber. She heard his breathing, a little quick
and stertorous, but he was always a heavy breather, and she thought
nothing about it. She left the house smiling to herself at the clever
trick she had played on her husband. She was going to meet the Squire
now. Her heart beat with rapture.



CHAPTER XXI.


Awdrey's cure was complete; he had passed right through the doom of his
house, and got out on the other side. He was the first man of his race
who had ever done that; the others had forgotten as he forgot, and had
pined, and dwindled, and slipped and slipped lower and lower down in the
scale of life until at last they had dropped over the brink into the
Unknown beyond. Awdrey's downward career had been stopped just in time.
His recovery had been quite as marvellous as his complaint. When he saw
his own face reflected in the pond on Salisbury Plain the cloud had
risen from his brain and he remembered what he had done. In that instant
his mental sky grew clear and light. He himself had murdered Horace
Frere; he had not done it intentionally, but he had done it; another man
was suffering in his stead; he himself was the murderer. He knew this
absolutely, completely, clearly, but at first he felt no mental pain of
any sort. A natural instinct made him desirous to keep his knowledge to
himself, but his conscience sat light within him, and did not speak at
all. He was now anxious to conceal his emotions from the doctor; his
mind had completely recovered its balance, and he found this possible.
Rumsey was as fully astonished at the cure as he had been at the
disease; he accompanied Awdrey back to London next day, and told
Margaret what a marvellous thing had occurred. Awdrey remembered all
about his son; he was full of grief for his loss; he was kind and loving
to his wife; he was no longer morose; no longer sullen and apathetic; in
short, his mental and physical parts were once again wide awake; but the
strange and almost inexplicable thing in his cure was that his moral
part still completely slumbered. This fact undoubtedly did much to
establish his mental and physical health, giving him time to recover his
lost ground.

Rumsey did not profess to understand the case, but now that Awdrey had
quite come back from the borderland of insanity, he advised that
ordinary remedies should immediately be resorted to; he told Margaret
that in a few months her husband would be as fully and completely able
to attend to the duties of life as any other man of his day and station.
He did not believe, he said, that the strange attack through which
Awdrey had passed was ever likely to return to him! Margaret and her
husband shut up their house in town, and went abroad; they spent the
winter on the continent, and day by day Awdrey's condition, both
physical and mental, became more satisfactory. He slept well, he ate
well; soon he began to devour books and newspapers; to absorb himself in
the events of the day; to take a keen interest in politics; the member
for Grandcourt died, and Awdrey put up for the constituency. He was
obliged to return suddenly to England on this account, and to Margaret's
delight elected to come back at once to live at the Court. The whole
thing was arranged quickly. Awdrey was to be nominated as the new
candidate for Grandcourt; he was to have, too, his rightful position as
the Squire on his own property. Friends from all round the country
rejoiced in his recovery, as they had sincerely mourned over his strange
and inexplicable illness. He was welcomed with rejoicing, and came back
something as a king would to take possession of his kingdom.

On the night therefore, that he returned to the Court, the higher part
of his being began to stir uneasily within him. He had quite agreed to
Margaret's desire to invite Mrs. Everett to meet them on their return,
but he read a certain expression in the widow's sad eyes, and a certain
look on Hetty's face, which stirred into active remorse the conscience
which had suffered more severely than anything else in the ordeal
through which he had lived. It was now awake within him, and its voice
was very poignant and keen; its notes were clear, sharp, and
unremitting.

In his excellent physical and mental health his first impulse was to
defy the voice of conscience, and to live down the deed he had
committed. His first wish was to hide its knowledge from all the world,
and to go down to his own grave in the course of time with his secret
unconfessed. He did not believe it possible, at least at first, that the
moral voice within could not be easily silenced; but even on the first
night of his awakening he was conscious of a change in himself. The
sense of satisfaction, of complete enjoyment in life and all its
surroundings which had hitherto done so much for his recovery, was now
absent; he was conscious, intensely conscious, of his own hypocrisy, and
he began vehemently to hate and detest himself. All the same, his wish
was to hide the thing, to allow Mrs. Everett to go down to the grave
with a broken heart--to allow Everett to drink the cup of suffering and
dishonor to the dregs.

Awdrey slept little during the first night of his return home. In the
morning he arose to the full fact that he must either carry a terrible
secret to his grave, or must confess all and bear the punishment which
was now awarded to another. His strong determination on that first
morning was to keep his secret. He went downstairs, putting a full guard
upon himself. Margaret saw nothing amiss with him--his face was full of
alertness, keenness, interest in life, interest in his fellow-creatures.
Only Mrs. Everett, at breakfast that morning, without understanding it,
read the defiance, the veiled meaning in his eyes. He went away
presently, and spent the day in going about his property, seeing his
constituents, and arranging the different steps he must take to insure
his return at the head of the poll. As he went from house to house,
however, the new knowledge which he now possessed of himself kept
following him. On all hands he was being welcomed and rejoiced over, but
he knew in his heart of hearts he was a hypocrite of the basest and
lowest type. He was allowing another man to suffer in his stead. That
was the cruellest stab of all; it was that which harassed him, for it
was contrary to all the traditions of his house and name. His mental
health was now so perfect that he was able to see with a wonderfully
clear perception what would happen to himself if he refused to listen to
the voice of conscience. In the past, while the cloud was over his
brain, he had undergone terrible mental and physical deterioration; he
would now undergo moral deterioration. The time might come when
conscience would cease to trouble him, but then, as far as his soul was
concerned, he would be lost. He knew all this, and hated himself
profoundly, nevertheless his determination grew stronger and stronger to
guard his secret at all hazards. The possibility that the truth might
out, notwithstanding all his efforts to conceal it, had not occurred to
him, to add to his anxieties.

The day, a lovely one in late spring, had been one long triumph. Awdrey
was assured that his election was a foregone conclusion. He tried to
think of himself in the House; he was aware of the keenness and
freshness of his own intellect; he thought it quite possible that his
name might be a power in the future government of England. He fully
intended to take his rightful position. For generations men of his name
and family had sat in the House and done good work there--men of his
name and family had also fought for their country both on land and sea.
Yes, it was his bounden duty now to live for the honor of the old name;
to throw up the sponge now, to admit all now would be madness--the worst
folly of which a man could be capable. It was his duty to think of
Margaret, to think of his property, his tenants, all that was involved
in his own life.

Everett and Mrs. Everett would assuredly suffer; but what of that if
many others were saved from suffering? Yes, it was his bounden duty to
live now for the honor of the old name; he had also his descendants to
think of. True his child was gone, but other children would in all
probability yet be his--he must think of them. Yes, the future lay
before him; he must carry the burden of that awful secret, and he would
carry it so closely pressed to his innermost heart that no one should
guess by look, word, manner, by a gloomy eye, by an unsmiling lip, that
its weight was on him. He would be gay, he would be brave, he would
banish grief, he would try to banish remorse, he would live his life as
best he could.

"I must pay the cost some day," he muttered to himself. "I put off the
payment, and that is best. There is a tribunal, at the bar of which I
shall doubtless receive full sentence; but that is all in the future; I
accept the penalty; I will reap the wages by and by. Yes, I'll keep my
secret to the death. The girl, Hetty, knows about it, but she must be
silenced."

Awdrey rode quickly home in the sweet freshness of the lovely spring
evening. He remembered that he was to meet Hetty; the meeting would be
difficult and also of some importance, but he would be guarded, he would
manage to silence her, to quiet her evident fears. Hetty was a
guileless, affectionate, and pretty girl; she had been wonderfully true
to him; he must be good to her, for she had suffered for his sake. It
would be best to make an excuse to send Hetty and her husband to Canada;
Vincent, who was a poor man, would doubtless be glad to emigrate with
good prospects. Yes, they must go; it would be unpleasant meeting Hetty,
knowing what she knew. Mrs. Everett must also not again be his guest;
her presence irritated him, he disliked meeting her eyes; and yet he
knew that while she was in the house he dared not shirk their glance;
her presence and the knowledge that her pain was killing her made the
sharp voice within him speak more loudly than he could quite bear. Yes,
Mrs. Everett must go, and Hetty must go, and--what was this memory which
made him draw up his horse abruptly?--his lost walking-stick. Ridiculous
that such a trifle should worry a man all through his life; how it had
haunted him all during the six years when the cloud was over his brain.
Even now the memory of it came up again to torment him. He had murdered
his man with that stick; the whole thing was the purest accident, but
that did not greatly matter, for the man had died; the ferrule of
Awdrey's stick had entered his brain, causing instant death.

"Afterward I hid it away in the underwood," thought Awdrey. "I wonder
where it is now--doubtless still there--but some day that part of the
underwood may be cut down and the stick may be found. It might tell
tales, I must find it."

He jogged his horse, and rode slowly home under the arching trees of the
long avenue. He had a good view of the long, low, rambling house
there--how sweet it looked, how homelike! But for this secret what a
happy man he would be to-night. Ah, who was that standing at his office
door? He started and hastened his horse's steps. Hetty Vincent was
already there waiting for him.

"I must speak to her at once," he said to himself. "I hope no one will
see her; it would never do for the people to think she was coming after
me. This will be a disagreeable interview and must be got over quickly."

The Squire rode round the part of the avenue which led directly past the
front of the long house. His wife, sisters, and Mrs. Everett were all
seated near the large window. They were drinking tea and talking.
Margaret's elbow rested upon the window-ledge. She wore a silk dress of
the softest gray. Her lovely face showed in full profile. Suddenly she
heard the sound of his horse's steps and turned round to greet him.

"There you are; we are waiting for you," she called out.

"Come in, Robert, and have a cup," called out Dorothy, putting her head
out of the window.

Dorothy was his favorite sister. Under other circumstances he would have
sprung from his horse, given it to the charge of a groom who stood near,
and joined his wife and friends. Now he called back in a clear, incisive
voice:

"I have to attend to some business at my office, and will be in
presently. Here, Davies, take my horse."

The man hurried forward and Awdrey strode round to the side entrance
where his office was.

Hetty, looking flushed and pretty in her rustic hat with a bunch of
cowslips pinned into the front of her jacket, stood waiting for him.

Awdrey took a key out of his pocket. The office had no direct
communication with the house, but was always entered from outside. He
unlocked the door and motioned Hetty to precede him into the room. She
did so, he entered after her, locked the door, and put the key into his
pocket. The next thing he did was to look at the windows. There were
three large windows to the office, and they all faced on to a grass lawn
outside. Any one passing by could have distinctly seen the occupants of
the room.

Awdrey went and deliberately pulled down one of the blinds.

"Come over here," he said to Hetty. "Take this chair." He took another
himself at a little distance from her. So seated his face was in shadow,
but the full light of the westering sun fell across hers. It lit up her
bright eyes until they shone like jewels, and gave a bronze hue to her
dark hair. The flush on her cheeks was of the damask of the rose; her
brow and the rest of her face was milky white.

Long ago, as a young man, Awdrey had admired Hetty's real beauty, but no
thought other than that of simple admiration had entered his brain. His
was not the nature to be really attracted by a woman below himself in
station. Now, however, his pulse beat a little faster than its wont as
he glanced at her. He remembered with a swift, poignant sense of regret
all that she had done for him and suffered for him. He could see traces
of the trouble through which she had lived in her face; that trouble and
her present anxiety gave a piquancy to her beauty which differentiated
it widely from the ordinary beauty of the rustic village girl. As he
watched her he forgot for a moment what she had come to speak to him
about. Then he remembered it, and he drew himself together, but a pang
shot through his heart. He thought of the small deceit which he was
guilty of in drawing down the blind and placing himself and his auditor
where no one from the outside could observe them.

"You want to speak to me," he said abruptly. "What about?"

"You must know, Mr. Robert," began Hetty. Her coral lips trembled, she
looked like some one who would break down into hysterical weeping at any
moment.

"This must be put a stop to," Awdrey bestowed another swift glance upon
her, and took her measure. "I cannot pretend ignorance," he said, "but
please try not to lose your self-control."

Hetty gulped down a great sob; the tears in her eyes were not allowed to
fall.

"Then you remember?" she said.

Awdrey nodded.

"You remember everything, Mr. Robert?"

Awdrey nodded again.

"But you forgot at the time, sir."

Awdrey stood up; he put his hands behind him.

"I forgot absolutely," he said. "I suffered from the doom of my house. A
cloud fell on me, and I knew no more than a babe unborn."

"I guessed that, sir; I was certain of it. That was why I took your
part."

Awdrey waited until she was silent. Then he continued in a monotonous,
strained tone.

"I have found my memory again. Four or five months ago at the beginning
of this winter I came here. I visited the spot where the murder was
committed, and owing to a chain of remarkable circumstances, which I
need not repeat to you, the memory of my deed came back to me."

"You killed him, sir, because he provoked you," said Hetty.

"You were present and you saw everything?"

"I was, sir, I saw everything. You killed him because he provoked you."

"I killed him through an accident. I did so in self-defence."

"Yes, sir."

Hetty also stood up. She sighed deeply.

"The knowledge of it has nearly killed me," she said at last, sinking
back again into her seat.

"I am not surprised at that," said the Squire. "You did what you did out
of consideration for me, and I suppose I ought to be deeply indebted to
you"--he paused and looked fixedly at her--"all the same," he continued,
"I fully believe it would have been much better had you not sworn
falsely in court--had you not given wrong evidence."

"Did you think I'd let you swing for it?" said the girl with flashing
eyes.

"I should probably not have swung for it, as you express it. You could
have proved that the assault was unprovoked, and that I did what I did
in self-defence. I wish you had not concealed the truth at the time."

"Sir, is that all the thanks you give me? You do not know what this has
been to me. Aunt Fanny and I----"

"Does your aunt, Mrs. Armitage, know the truth?"

"I had to tell Aunt Fanny or I'd have gone mad, sir. She and me, we
swore on the Bible that we would never tell mortal man or woman what I
saw done. You're as safe with Aunt Fanny and me, Mr. Robert, as if no
one in all the world knew. You were one of the Family--that was enough
for aunt--and you was to me----" she paused, colored, and looked down.
Then she continued abruptly, "Mr. Everett was nothing, nothing to me,
nothing to aunt. He was a stranger, not one of our own people. Aunt
Fanny kept me up to it, and I didn't make one single mistake in court,
and not a soul in all the world guesses."

"One person suspects," said Awdrey.

"You mean Mrs. Everett, sir. Yes, Mrs. Everett is a dreadful woman. She
frightens me. She seems to read right through my heart."

The Squire did not reply. He began to pace up and down in the part of
the room which was lying in shadow. Hetty watched him with eyes which
seemed to devour him--his upright figure was slightly bent, his bowed
head had lost its look of youth and alertness. He found that conscience
could be troublesome to the point of agony. If it spoke like this often
and for long could he endure the frightful strain? There was a way in
which he could silence it. There was a path of thorns which his feet
might tread. Could they take it? That path would lead to the complete
martyrdom, the absolute ruin of his own life. But life, after all, was
short, and there was a beyond. Margaret--what would Margaret feel? How
would she bear the awful shock? He knew then, a flash of thought
convinced him, that he must never tell Margaret the truth if he wished
to keep this ghastly thing to himself, for Margaret would rather go
through the martyrdom which it all meant, and set his conscience and her
own free.

Awdrey looked again at Hetty. She was ghastly pale, her eyes were almost
wild with fear--she seemed to be reading some of his thoughts. All of a
sudden her outward calm gave way, she left her seat and fell on her
knees--her voice rose in sobs.

"I know what you're thinking of," she cried. "You think you'll tell--you
think you'll save him and save her, but for God's sake----"

"Do not say that," interrupted Awdrey.

"Then for the devil's sake--for any sake, for my sake, for your own, for
Mrs. Awdrey's, don't do it, Squire, don't do it."

"Don't do----" began Awdrey. "What did you think I was going to do?"

"Oh, you frightened me so awfully when you looked like that--I thought
you were making up your mind. Squire, don't tell what you know--don't
tell what I've done. I'll be locked up and you'll be locked up, and Mrs.
Awdrey's heart will be broke, and we'll all be disgraced forever, and,
Squire, maybe they'll hang you. Think of one of the family coming to
that. Oh, sir, you've no right to tell now. You'll have to think of me
now, if you'll think of nothing else. I've kept your secret for close on
six years, and if they knew what I had done they would lock me up, and I
couldn't stand it. You daren't confess now--for my sake, sir."

"Get up, Mrs. Vincent," said Awdrey. "I can't talk over matters with you
while you kneel to me. You've done a good deal for me, and I'm bound to
consider your position. Now, I'm going to tell you something which
perhaps you will scarcely understand. I remembered the act of which I
was guilty several months ago, but until last night my conscience did
not trouble me about it. It is now speaking to me, and speaking loudly.
It is impossible for me to tell you at present whether I shall have
strength of mind to follow it and do the right--yes, the right, the only
right thing to do, or to reject its counsels and lead a life of deceit
and hypocrisy. Both paths will be difficult to follow, but one leads to
life, the highest life, and the other to death, the lowest death. It is
quite possible that I may choose the lowest course. If I do, you, Hetty
Vincent, will know the truth about me. To the outside world I shall
appear to be a good man, for whatever my sufferings, I shall endeavor to
help my people, and to set them an outward example of morality. I shall
apparently live for them, and will think no trouble too great to promote
their best interests. Only you, Hetty, will know me for what I am--a
liar--a man who has committed murder, and then concealed his crime--a
hypocrite. You will know that much as I am thought of in the county here
among my own people, I am allowing an innocent man to wear out his life
in penal servitude because I have not the courage to confess my deed.
You will also know that I am breaking the heart of this man's mother."

"The knowledge won't matter to me, Squire. I'd rather you were happy and
all the rest of the world miserable. I'd far, far rather."

"Do you think that I shall be happy?"

"I don't know," cried Hetty. "Perhaps you'll forget after a bit, and
that voice inside you won't speak so loud. It used to trouble me once,
but now--now it has grown dull."

"It will never cease to speak. I know myself too well to have any doubt
on that point, but all the same I may take the downward course. I can't
say. Conscience has only just begun to trouble me. I may obey its
dictates, or I may deliberately lead the life of a hypocrite. If I
choose the latter, can you stand the test?"

"I have stood it for five years."

"But I have not been at home--the Court has been shut up--an absentee
landlord is not always to the front in his people's thoughts. In the
future, things will be different. Look at me for a moment, Hetty
Vincent. You are not well--your cheeks are hollow and your eyes are too
bright. Mrs. Everett is persuaded that you carry a secret. If she thinks
so, others may think the same. Your aunt also knows."

"Aunt is different from me," said Hetty. "She didn't see it done. It
don't wear her like it wears me. But I think, sir, now that you have
come back, and I am quite certain that I know your true mind, and when I
know, too, that you are carrying the burden as well as me, and that we
two,"--she paused, her voice broke--"I think, sir," she added, "that it
won't wear me so much in the future."

"You must on no account be tried. If I resolve to keep the secret of my
guilt from all the rest of the world, you must leave the country."

"Me leave the country!" cried Hetty--her face became ghastly pale, her
eyes brimmed again with tears. "Then you would indeed kill me," she
said, with a moan--"to leave you--Mr. Robert, you must guess why I have
done all this."

"Hush," he said in a harsh tone. He approached the window, where the
blind was drawn up. He saw, or fancied he saw--Mrs. Everett's dark
figure passing by in the distance. He retreated quickly into the shaded
part of the room.

"I cannot afford to misunderstand your words," he said, after a pause,
"but listen to me, Hetty, you must never allude to that subject again.
If I keep this thing to myself I can only do it on condition that you
and your husband leave the country. I have not fully made up my mind
yet. Nothing can be settled to-night. You had better not stay any
longer."

Hetty rose totteringly and approached the door. Awdrey took the key from
his pocket, and unlocked it for her. As he did so he asked her a
question.

"You saw everything? You saw the deed done?"

"Yes, sir, I saw the stick in your hand, and----"

"That is the point I am coming to," said the Squire. "What did I do with
the stick?"

"You pushed it into the midst of some underwood, sir, about twenty feet
from the spot where----" She could not finish her sentence.

"Yes," said Awdrey slowly. "I remember that. Has the stick ever been
found?"

"No, Mr. Robert, that couldn't be."

"Why do you say that? The underwood may be cut down at any moment. The
stick has my name on it. It may come to light."

"It can't, sir--'tain't there. Aunt Fanny and me, we thought o' that,
and we went the night after the murder, and took the stick out from
where you had put it, and weighted it with stones, and threw it into the
deep pond close by. You need not fear that, Mr. Robert."

Awdrey did not answer. His eyes narrowed to a line of satisfaction, and
a cunning expression came into them, altogether foreign to his face.

He softly opened the door, and Hetty passed out, then he locked it
again.

He was alone with his conscience. He fell on his knees and covered his
face.

"God, Thy judgments are terrible," he groaned.



CHAPTER XXII.


There was a short cut at the back of the office which would take Hetty
on to the high road without passing round by the front of the house. It
so happened that no one saw her when she arrived, and no one also saw
her go. When she reached the road she stopped still to give vent to a
deep sigh of satisfaction. Things were not right, but they were better
than she had dared hope. Of course the Squire remembered--he could not
have looked at her as he had done the night before, if memory had not
fully come back to him. He remembered--he told her so, but she was also
nearly certain that he would not confess to the world at large the crime
of which he was guilty.

"I'll keep him to that," thought Hetty. "He may think nought o'
himself--it's in his race not to think o' theirselves--but he'd think o'
his wife and p'raps he'd think a bit o' me. There's Mrs. Everett and
there's her son, and they both suffer and suffer bad, but then agen
there's Mrs. Awdrey and there's me--there's two on us agen two,"
continued Hetty, rapidly thinking out the case, and ranging the pros and
cons in due order in her mind, "yes, there's two agen two," she
repeated.

"Mrs. Everett and her son are suffering now--then it 'ud be Mrs. Awdrey
and me--and surely Mrs. Awdrey is nearer to Squire, and maybe I'm a bit
nearer to Squire than the other two. Yes, it is but fair that he should
keep the secret to himself."

The sun had long set and twilight had fallen over the land. Hetty had to
walk uphill to reach the Gables, the name of her husband's farm. It
would therefore take her longer to return home than it did to come to
the Court. She was anxious to get back as quickly as possible. It would
never do for Vincent to find out that she had deceived him. If he slept
soundly, as she fully expected he would, there was not the least fear of
her secret being discovered. Susan never entered the house after four in
the afternoon. The men who worked in the fields would return to the yard
to put away their tools, but they would have nothing to do in connection
with the house itself--thus Vincent would be left undisturbed during the
hours of refreshment and restoration which Hetty hoped he was enjoying.

"Yes, I did well," she murmured to herself, quickening her steps as the
thought came to her. "I've seen Squire and there's nought to be dreaded
for a bit, anyway. The more he thinks o' it the less he'll like to see
himself in the prisoner's dock and me and Mrs. Awdrey and aunt as
witnesses agen 'im--and knowing, too, that me, and, perhaps, aunt, too,
will be put in the dock in our turn. He's bound to think o' us, for we
thought o' him--he won't like to get us into a hole, and he's safe not
to do it. Yes, things look straight enough for a bit, anyway. I'm glad I
saw Squire--he looked splendid, too, stronger than I ever see 'im. He
don't care one bit for me, and I--his eyes flashed so angry when I
nearly let out--yes, I quite let out. He said, 'I can't affect to
misunderstand you.' Ah, he knows at last, he knows the truth. I'm glad
he knows the truth. There's a fire inside o' me, and it burns and
burns--it's love for him--all my life it has consumed within me. There's
nought I wouldn't do for 'im. Shame, I'd take it light for his sake--it
rested me fine to see 'im, and to take a real good look at 'im. Queer,
ain't it, that I should care so much for a man what never give me a
thought, but what is, is, and can't be helped. Poor Vincent, he worships
the ground I walk on, and yet he's nought to me; he never can be
anything while Squire lives. I wonder if Squire thought me pretty
to-night. I wonder if he noticed the wild flowers in the bosom of my
jacket--I wonder. I'm glad I've a secret with 'im; he must see me
sometimes, and he must talk on it; and then he'll notice that I'm
pretty--prettier than most girls. Oh, my heart, how it beats!"

Hetty was struggling up the hill, panting as she went. The pain in her
side got worse, owing to the exercise. She had presently to stop to take
breath.

"He said sum'mat 'bout going away," she murmured to herself; "he wants
me and Vincent to leave the country, but we won't go. No, I draw the
line there. He thinks I'll split on 'im. I! Little he knows me. I must
manage to show him that I can hold my secret, so as no one in all the
world suspects. Oh, good God, I wish the pain in my side did not keep on
so constant. I'll take some of the black stuff when I get in; it always
soothes me; the pain will go soon after I take it, and I'll sleep like a
top to-night. Poor George, what a sleep he's havin'; he'll be lively,
and in the best o' humors when he wakes; you always are when you've
taken that black stuff. Now, I must hurry on, it's getting late."

She made another effort, and reached the summit of the hill.

From there the ground sloped away until it reached the Gables Farm.
Hetty now put wing to her feet and began to run, but the pain in her
side stopped her again, and she was obliged to proceed more slowly. She
reached home just when it was dark; the place was absolutely silent.
Susan, who did not sleep in the house, had gone away; the men had
evidently come into the yard, put their tools by, and gone off to their
respective homes.

"That's good," thought Hetty. "Vincent's still asleep--I'm safe. Now, if
I hurry up he'll find the place lighted and cheerful, and everything
nice, and his supper laid out for him, and he'll never guess, never,
never."

She unlatched the gate which led into the great yard; the fowls began to
rustle on their perches, and the house dog, Rover, came softly up to
her, and rubbed his head against her knee; she patted him abstractedly
and hurried on to the house.

She had a latchkey with which she opened the side door; she let herself
in, and shut it behind her. The place was still and dark.

Hetty knew her way well; she stole softly along the dark passage, and
opened the kitchen door. The fire smouldered low in the range, and in
the surrounding darkness seemed to greet her, something like an angry
eye. When she entered the room, she did not know why she shivered.

"He's sound asleep," she murmured to herself; "that lovely black stuff
ha' done 'im a power o' good. I'll have a dose soon myself, for my heart
beats so 'ard, and the pain in my side is that bad."

She approached the fireplace, opened the door of the range, and stirred
the smouldering coals into the semblance of a blaze. By this light,
which was very fitful and quickly expired, she directed her steps to a
shelf, where a candlestick and candle and matches were placed. She
struck a match, and lit the candle. With the candle in her hand she
then, softly and on tiptoe, approached the settle where her husband lay.
She did not want to wake him yet, and held the candle in such a way that
the light should not fall on his face. As far as she could tell he had
not stirred since she left him, two or three hours ago; he was lying on
his back, his arms were stretched out at full length at each side, his
lips were slightly open--as well as she could see, his face was pale,
though he was as a rule a florid man.

"He's sleepin' beautiful," thought Hetty, "everything has been splendid.
I'll run upstairs now and take off my hat and jacket and make myself
look as trim as I can, for he do like, poor George do, to see me look
pretty. Then I'll come down and lay the supper on the table, and then
when everything is ready I think I'll wake him. He fell asleep soon
after four, and it's a good bit after eight now. I slept much longer
than four hours after my first dose of the nice black stuff, but I think
I'll wake 'im when supper is ready. It'll be real fun when he sees the
hour and knows how long he 'as slept."

Holding her candle in her hand Hetty left the kitchen and proceeded to
light the different lamps which stood about in the passages. She then
went to her own nice bedroom and lit a pair of candles which were placed
on each side of her dressing glass. Having done this, she drew down the
blinds and shut the windows. She then carefully removed her hat, took
the cowslips out of the bosom of her dress, kissed them, and put them in
water.

"Squire looked at 'em," she said to herself. "He didn't touch 'em, no,
but he looked at 'em, and then he looked at me and I saw in his eyes
that he knew I were pretty. I was glad then. Seemed as if it were worth
living just for Squire to know that I were really pretty."

She placed the flowers in a jug of water, folded up her jacket and
gloves, and put them away with her hat in the cupboard in the wall. She
then, with the candle still in her hand, went downstairs.

The kitchen felt chilly, and Hetty shivered as she entered it. All of a
sudden a great feeling of weakness seemed to tremble through her slight
frame; her heart fluttered too, seeming to bob up and down within her.
Then it quieted down again, but the constant wearing pain grew worse and
ached so perceptibly that she had to catch her breath now and then.

"I'll be all right when I can have a good dose," she thought. She went
to the window, farthest from the one near which Vincent was lying, and
drew down the blind; then going to the coal cellar she brought out some
firewood and large knobs of coal. She fed the range and the fire soon
crackled and roared. Hetty stood close to it, and warmed her hands by
the blaze.

"What a noise it do make," she said to herself. "It ought to wake him;
it would if he worn't sleepin' so sound from that lovely black stuff.
Well, he can keep on for a bit longer, for he were dead tired, poor man.
I'll get his supper afore I wake 'im."

She went out to the scullery, turned on the tap and filled the kettle
with fresh cold water. She set it on the stove to boil, and then taking
a coarse white cloth from a drawer laid it on the centre table. She took
out plates, knives and forks and glasses for two, put them in their
places, laid a dish of cold bacon opposite Vincent's plate, and some
bread and a large square of cheese opposite her own. Having done this,
she looked at the sleeping man. He was certainly quiet; she could not
even hear him breathing. As a rule he was a stertorous breather, and
when first they were married Hetty could scarcely sleep with his
snoring.

"He don't snore to-night--he's resting wonderful," she said to herself.
"Now, I just know what I'll do--he mayn't care when he wakes for nothing
but cold stuff--I'll boil some fresh eggs for his supper, and I'll make
some cocoa. I'll have a nice jug of milk cocoa and a plate of eggs all
ready by the time he wakes."

She fetched a saucepan, some milk, and half-a-dozen new-laid eggs. Soon
the cocoa was made and poured into a big jug, the eggs just done to a
turn were put upon a plate; they were brown eggs, something the color of
a deep nut.

"I could fancy one myself," thought Hetty; "I ain't eat nothing to speak
of for hours. Oh, I do wish the pain in my side 'ud get better."

She pressed her hand to the region of her heart and looked around her.
The farm kitchen was now the picture of comfort--the fire blazed
merrily. Hetty had lit a large paraffin lamp and placed it in the centre
of the table; it lit up the cosy room, even the beams and rafters
glistened in the strong light; shadows from the fire leaped up and
reflected themselves on the sleeper's face.

"He's very white and very still," thought Hetty; "maybe he has slept
long enough. I think I'll wake him now, for supper's ready."

Then came a scratching at the window outside, and the fretful howl of a
dog.

"There's Rover; what's the matter with him? I wish he wouldn't howl like
that," thought the wife. "I hate dogs that howl. Maybe I had best let
'im in."

She ran to the kitchen door, flew down the passage, and opened the door
which led into the yard.

"Rover, stop that noise and come along in," she called.

The great dog shuffled up to her and thrust his head into her hand. She
brought him into the kitchen. The moment she did so he sat down on his
haunches, threw up his head, 'and began to howl again.

"Nonsense, Rover, stop that noise," she said. She struck him a blow on
his forehead, he cowered, looked at her sorrowfully, and then tried to
lick her hand. She brought him to the fire; he came unwillingly,
slinking down at last with his back to the still figure on the settle.

"Queer, what's the matter with him?" thought Hetty. "They say, folks do,
that dogs see things we don't; some folks say they see sperrits. Aunt
would be in a fuss if Rover went on like that. Dear, I am turning
nervous; fancy minding the howl of a dog. It's true my nerves ain't what
they wor. Well, cocoa will spoil, and eggs will spoil, and time has come
for me to wake Vincent. What a laugh we'll have together when I tell 'im
of his long sleep."

She approached the sofa now, but her steps dragged themselves as she
went up to it and bent down over her husband and called his name.

"George!" she said. "George!" He never moved. She went a little nearer,
calling him louder.

"George, George, wake up!" she said. "Wake, George, you've slept for
over four hours. Supper is ready, George--cocoa and eggs, your favorite
supper. Wake! George, wake!"

The dog howled by the fire.

"Rover, I'll turn you out if you make that noise again," said Hetty. She
went on her knees now by the sleeping man, and shook him. His head moved
when she did so and she thought he was about to open his eyes, but when
she took her hands away there was not a motion, not a sound.

"What is it?" she said to herself. For the first time a very perceptible
fear crept into her heart. She bent low and listened for the breathing.

"He do breathe gentle," she murmured. "I can scarcely hear; do I hear at
all. I think I'll fetch a candle."

In shaking the farmer she had managed to dislodge one of his hands,
which had fallen forward over the edge of the settle. She took it up,
then she let it fall with a slight scream; it was cold, icy cold!

"Good God! Oh, God in heaven! what is it?" muttered the wife.

The real significance of the thing had not yet flashed upon her
bewildered brain, but a sick fear was creeping over her. She went for
the candle, and bringing it back, held it close to the ashen face. It
was not only white, it was gray. The lips were faintly open, but not a
breath proceeded from them. The figure was already stiff in the icy
embrace of death.

Hetty had seen death before; its aspect was too unmistakable for her not
to recognize it again. She fell suddenly forward, putting out the candle
as she did so. Her face, almost as white as the face of the dead man,
was pressed against his breast. For a brief few moments she was
unconscious.



CHAPTER XXIII.


The twilight darkened into night, but Awdrey still remained in the
office. After a time he groped for a box of matches, found one, struck a
match, took a pair of heavy silver candlesticks from a cupboard in the
wall, lit the candles which were in them, and then put them on his
office table. The room was a large one, and the light of the two candles
seemed only to make the darkness visible. Awdrey went to the table,
seated himself in the old chair which his father and his grandfather had
occupied before him, and began mechanically to arrange some papers, and
put a pile of other things in order. His nature was naturally full of
system; from his childhood up he had hated untidiness of all sorts.
While he was so engaged there came a knock at the office door. He rose,
went across the room, and opened it; a footman stood without.

"Mrs. Awdrey has sent me to ask you, sir, if you are ready for dinner."

"Tell your mistress that I am not coming in to dinner," replied Awdrey.
"Ask her not to wait for me; I am particularly busy, and will have
something later."

The man, with an immovable countenance, turned away. Awdrey once more
locked the office door. He now drew down the remaining blinds to the
other two windows, and began to pace up and down the long room. The
powers of good and evil were at this moment fighting for his soul--he
knew it; there was a tremendous conflict raging within him; it seemed to
tear his life in two; beads of perspiration stood on his brow. He knew
that either the God who made him or the devil would have won the victory
before he left that room.

"I must make my decision once for all," he said to himself. "I am wide
awake; my whole intellectual nature is full of vigor; I have no excuse
whatever; the matter must be finally settled now. If I follow the
devil----" he shrank as the words formed themselves out of his brain; he
had naturally the utmost loathing for evil in any form, his nature was
meant to be upright; at school he had been one of the good boys; one of
the boys to whom low vices, dishonorable actions of any kind, were
simply impossible; he had had his weaknesses, for who has not?--but
these weaknesses were all more or less akin to the virtues.

"If I choose the devil!" he repeated. Once again he faltered, trembling
violently; he had come to the part of the room where his father's old
desk was situated, he leaned up against it and gazed gloomily out into
the darkness which confronted him.

"I know exactly what will happen if I follow the downward path," he said
again. "I must force myself to think wrong right, and right wrong. There
is no possible way for me to live this life of deception except by
deceiving myself. Must I decide to-night?"

He staggered into the chair which his father used to occupy. His father
had been a man full of rectitude; the doom of the house had never
overtaken him; he had been a man with an almost too severe and lofty
code of honor. Awdrey remembered all about his father as he sat in that
chair. He sprang again to his feet.

"There is no use in putting off the hour, for the hour has come," he
thought. "This is the state of the case. God and the devil are with me
to-night. I cannot lie in the presence of such awful, such potent
Forces. I must face the thing as it is. This is what has happened to me.
I, who would not willingly in my sober senses, hurt the smallest insect
that crawls on the earth, once, nearly six years ago, in a sudden moment
of passion killed a man. He attacked me, and I defended myself. I killed
him in self-defence. I no more meant to kill him than I mean to commit
murder to-night. Notwithstanding that fact I did it. Doubtless the
action came over me as a tremendous shock--immediately after the deed
the doom of my house fell on me, and I forgot all about what I myself
had done--for five years the memory of it never returned to me. Now I
know all about it. At the present moment another man is suffering in my
stead. Now if I follow the devil I shall be a brute and a scoundrel; the
other man will go on suffering, and his mother, whose heart is already
broken, may die before he recovers his liberty. Thus I shall practically
kill two lives. No one will know--no one will guess that I am leading a
shadowed life. I feel strong enough now to cover up the deed, to hide
away the remorse. I feel not the least doubt that I shall be outwardly
successful--the respect of my fellow-men will follow me--the love of
many will be given to me. By and by I may have children, and they will
love me as I loved my father, and Margaret will look up to me and
consult me as my mother looked up to and consulted my father, and my
honor will be considered above reproach. My people too will rejoice to
have me back with them. I can serve them if I am returned for this
constituency--in short, I can live a worthy and respected life. The
devil will have his way, but no one will guess that it is the devil's
way--I shall seem to live the life of an angel."

Awdrey paused here in his own thought.

"I feel as if the devil were laughing at me," he said, speaking half
aloud, and looking again into the darkness of the room--"he knows that
his hour will come--by and by my span of life will run out--eventually I
shall reach the long end of the long way. But until that time, day by
day, and hour by hour, I shall live the life of the hypocrite. Like a
whited sepulchre shall I be truly, for I shall carry hell here. By and
by I shall have to answer for all at a Higher Tribunal, and meanwhile I
shall carry hell here." He pressed his hand to his breast--his face was
ghastly. "Shall I follow the devil? Suppose I do not, what then?"

There came another tap at the office door. Awdrey went across the room
and opened it. He started and uttered a smothered oath, for Margaret
stood on the threshold.

"Go away now, Maggie, I can't see you; I am very much engaged," he said.

Instead of obeying him she stepped across the threshold.

"But you have no one with you," she said, looking into the darkness of
the room. "What are you doing, Robert, all by yourself? You look very
white and tired. We have finished dinner--my uncle has come over from
Cuthbertstown, and would like to see you--they all think it strange your
being away. What is the matter? Won't you return with me to the house?"

"I cannot yet. I am particularly engaged."

"But what about? Uncle James will be much disappointed if he does not
see you."

"I'll come to him presently when I have thought out a problem."

Margaret turned herself now in such a position that she could see her
husband's face. Something in his eyes seemed to speak straight to her
sympathies,--she put her arms round his neck.

"Don't think any more now, my darling," she said. "Remember, though you
are so well, that you were once very ill. You have had no dinner, it is
not right for you to starve yourself and tire yourself. Come home with
me, Robert, come home!"

"Not yet," he replied. "There is a knot which I must untie. I am
thinking a very grave problem out. I shall have no rest, no peace, until
I have made up my mind."

"What can be the matter?" inquired Margaret. "Can I help you in any
way?"

"No, my dearest," he answered very tenderly, "except by leaving me."

"Is it anything to do with accounts?" she asked. She glanced at the
table with its pile of letters and papers. "If so, I could really render
you assistance; I used to keep accounts for Uncle James in the old days.
Two brains are better than one. Let me help you."

"It is a mental problem, Maggie; it relates to morals."

"Oh, dear me, Robert, you are quite mysterious," she said with a ghost
of a smile; but then she met his eyes and the trouble in them startled
her.

"I wish I could help you," she said. "Do let me."

"You cannot," he replied harshly, for the look in her face added to his
tortures. "I shall come to a conclusion presently. When I come to it I
will return to the house."

"Then we are not to wait up for you? It is getting quite late, long past
nine o'clock."

"Do not wait up for me; leave the side door on the latch; I'll come in
presently when I have made up my mind on this important matter."

She approached the door unwillingly; when she reached the threshold she
turned and faced him.

"I cannot but see that you are worried about something," she said. "I
know, Robert, that you will have strength to do what is right. I cannot
imagine what your worry can be, but a moral problem with you must mean
the victory of right over wrong."

"Maggie, you drive me mad," he called after her, but his voice was
hoarse, and it did not reach her ears. She closed the door, and he heard
her retreating footsteps on the gravel outside. He locked the door once
more.

"There spoke God and my good angel," he murmured to himself. "Help me,
Powers of Evil, if I am to follow you; give me strength to walk the path
of the lowest."

These words had scarcely risen in the form of an awful prayer when once
again he heard his wife's voice at the door. She was tapping and calling
to him at the same time. He opened the door.

"Well?" he said.

"I am sorry to disturb you," she replied, "but you really must put off
all your reflections for the time being. Who do you think has just
arrived?"

"Who?" he asked in a listless voice.

"Your old friend and mine, Dr. Rumsey."

"Rumsey!" replied Awdrey, "he would be a strong advocate on your side,
Maggie."

"On my side?" she queried.

"I cannot explain myself. I think I'll see Rumsey. It would be possible
for me to put a question to him which I could not put to you--ask him to
come to me."

"He shall come at once," she answered, "I am heartily glad that he is
here."

So he turned back and went to the house--she ran up the front
steps--Rumsey was in the hall.

"My hearty congratulations," he said, coming up to her. "Your letter
contained such good news that I could not forbear hurrying down to
Grandcourt to take a peep at my strange patient; I always call Awdrey my
strange patient. Is it true that he is now quite well?"

"Half an hour ago I should have said yes," replied Margaret; "but----"

"Any recurrence of the old symptoms?" asked the doctor.

"No, nothing of that sort. Perhaps the excitement has been too much for
him. Come into the library, will you?"

She entered as she spoke, the doctor following her.

"I wrote to you when I was abroad," continued Margaret, "telling you the
simple fact that my husband's state of health had gone from better to
better. He recovered tone of mind and body in the most rapid degree.
This morning I considered him a man of perfect physical health and of
keen brilliant intellect. You know during the five years when the cloud
was over his brain he refused to read, and lost grip of all passing
events. There is no subject now of general interest that he cannot talk
about--all matters of public concern arouse his keenest sympathies.
To-day he has been nominated to stand for his constituency, vacant by
the death of our late member. I have no doubt that he will represent us
in the House when Parliament next sits."

"Or perhaps before this one rises," said the doctor. "Well, Mrs. Awdrey,
all this sounds most encouraging, but your 'but' leads to something not
so satisfactory, does it not?"

"That is so; at the present moment I do not like his state. He was out
and about all day, but instead of returning home to dinner went straight
to his office, where he now is. As far as I can see, he is doing no
special work, but he will not come into the house. He tells me that he
is facing a problem which he also says is a moral one. He refuses to
leave the office until he has come to a satisfactory conclusion."

"Come, he is overdoing it," said the doctor.

"I think so. I told him just now that you had arrived; he asked me to
bring you to him; will you come?"

"With pleasure."

"Can you do without a meal until you have seen him?"

"Certainly; take me to him at once."

Mrs. Awdrey left the house, and took Dr. Rumsey round by the side walk
which led to the office. The door was now slightly ajar; Margaret
entered the doctor following behind her.

"Well, my friend," said Dr. Rumsey, in his cheerful voice, "it is good
to see you back in your old place again. Your wife's letter was so
satisfactory that I could not resist the temptation of coming to see you
for myself."

"I am in perfect health," replied Awdrey. "Sit down, won't you, Rumsey?
Margaret, my dear, do you mind leaving us?"

"No, Robert," she answered. "I trust to Dr. Rumsey to bring you back to
your senses."

"She does not know what she is saying," muttered Awdrey. He followed his
wife to the door, and when she went out turned the key in the lock.

"It is a strange thing," he said, the moment he found himself alone with
his guest, "that you, Rumsey, should be here at this moment. You were
with me during the hour of my keenest and most terrible physical and
mental degradation; you have now come to see me through the hour of my
moral degradation--or victory."

"Your moral degradation or victory?" said the doctor; "what does this
mean?"

"It simply means this, Dr. Rumsey; I am the unhappy possessor of a
secret."

"Ah!"

"Yes--a secret. Were this secret known my wife's heart would be broken,
and this honorable house of which I am the last descendant would go to
complete shipwreck. I don't talk of myself in the matter."

"Do you mean to confide in me?" asked the doctor, after a pause.

"I cannot; for the simple reason, that if I told you everything you
would be bound as a man and a gentleman to take steps to insure the
downfall which I dread."

"Are you certain that you are not suffering from delusion?"

"No, doctor, I wish I were."

"You certainly look sane enough," said the doctor, examining his patient
with one of his penetrating glances. "You must allow me to congratulate
you. If I had not seen you with my own eyes I could never have believed
in such a reformation. You are bronzed; your frame has widened; you have
not a scrap of superfluous flesh about you. Let me feel your arm; my
dear sir, your muscle is to be envied."

"I was famed for my athletic power long ago," said Awdrey, with a grim
smile. "But now, doctor, to facts. You have come here; it is possible
for me to take you into my confidence to a certain extent. Will you
allow me to state my case?"

"As you intend only to state it partially it will be difficult for me to
advise you," said the doctor.

"Still, will you listen?"

"I'll listen."

"Well, the fact is this," said Awdrey, rising, "either God or the devil
take possession of me to-night."

"Come, come," said Rumsey, "you are exaggerating the state of the case."

"I am not. I am going through the most desperate fight that ever
assailed a man. I may get out on the side of good, but at the present
moment I must state frankly that all my inclinations tend to getting out
of this struggle on the side which will put me into the Devil's hands."

"Come," said the doctor again, "if that is so there can be no doubt with
regard to your position. You must close with right even though it is a
struggle. You confess to possessing a secret; that secret is the cause
of your misery; there is a right and a wrong to it?"

"Undoubtedly; a very great right and a very grave wrong."

"Then, Awdrey, do not hesitate; be man enough to do the right."

Awdrey turned white.

"You are the second person who has come here to-night and advised me on
the side of God," he said.

"Out with your trouble, man, and relieve your mind."

"When I relieve my mind," said Awdrey, "my wife's heart will break, and
our house will be ruined."

"What about you?"

"I shall go under."

"I doubt very much if your doing right would ever break a heart like
your wife's," said Rumsey, "but doing wrong would undoubtedly crush her
spirit."

"There you are again--will no one take the Devil's part? Dr. Rumsey, I
firmly believe that it is much owing to your influence that I am now in
my sane mind. I believe that it is owing to you that the doom of my
house has been lifted from my brain. When I think of the path which you
now advocate, I could curse the day when you brought me back to health
and sanity. A very little influence on the other side, a mere letting me
alone, and I should now either be a madman or in my grave; then I would
have carried my secret to the bitter end. As it is----"

There was a noise heard outside--the sound made by a faltering footstep.
The brush of a woman's dress was distinctly audible against the door;
this was followed by a timid knock.

"Who is disturbing us now?" said Awdrey, with irritation.

"I'll open the door and see," said the doctor.

He crossed the room as he spoke and opened the door. An untidily dressed
girl with a ghastly white face stood without. When the door was opened
she peered anxiously into the room.

"Is Mr. Awdrey in?--yes, I see him. I must speak to him at once."

She staggered across the threshold.

"I must see you alone, Squire," she said--"quite alone and at once."

"This has to do with the matter under consideration," said the Squire.
"Come in, Hetty; sit down. Rumsey, you had best leave us."



CHAPTER XXIV.


A real faint, or suspension of the heart's action, is never a long
affair. When Hetty fell in an unconscious state against the body of her
dead husband she quickly recovered herself. Her intellect was keen
enough, and she knew exactly what had happened. The nice black stuff
which gave such pleasant dreams had killed Vincent. She had therefore
killed him. Yes, he was stone dead--she had seen death once or twice
before, and could not possibly mistake it. She had seen her mother die
long ago, and had stood by the deathbed of more than one neighbor. The
cold, the stiffness, the gray-white appearance, all told her beyond the
possibility of doubt that life was not only extinct, but had been
extinct for at least a couple of hours. Her husband was dead. When she
had given him that fatal dose he had been in the full vigor of youth and
health--now he was dead. She had never loved him in life; although he
had been an affectionate husband to her, but at this moment she shed a
few tears for him. Not many, for they were completely swallowed up in
the fear and terror which grew greater and greater each moment within
her. He was dead, and she had killed him. Long ago she had concealed the
knowledge of a murder because she loved the man who had committed it.
Now she had committed murder herself--not intentionally, no, no. No more
had she intended to kill Vincent than Awdrey when he was out that night
had intended to take the life of Horace Frere. But Frere was dead and
now Vincent was dead, and Hetty would be tried for the crime. No, surely
they could not try her--they could not possibly bring it home to her.
How could a little thing like she was be supposed to take the life of a
big man? She had never meant to injure him, too--she had only meant to
give him a good sleep, to rest him thoroughly--to deceive him, of
course--to do a thing which she knew if he were aware of would break his
heart; but to take his life, no, nothing was further from her thoughts.
Nevertheless the deed was done.

Oh, it was horrible, horrible--she hated being so close to the dead
body. It was no longer Vincent, the man who would have protected her at
the risk of his life, it was a hideous dead body. She would get away
from it--she would creep up close to Rover. No wonder Rover hated the
room; perhaps he saw the spirit of her husband. Oh, how frightened she
was! What was the matter with her side?--why did her heart beat so
strangely, galloping one, two, three, then pausing, then one, two, three
again?--and the pain, the sick, awful pain. Yes, she knew--she was sick
to death with terror.

She got up presently from where she had been kneeling by her dead
husband's side and staggered across to the fireplace. She tried wildly
to think, but she found herself incapable of reasoning. Shivering
violently, she approached the table, poured out a cup of the cocoa which
was still hot, and managed to drink it off. The warm liquid revived her,
and she felt a shade better and more capable of thought. Her one
instinct now was to save herself. Vincent was dead--no one in all the
world could bring him back to life, but, if possible, Hetty would so act
that not a soul in all the country should suspect her. How could she
make things safe? If it were known, known everywhere, that she was away
from him when he died, then of course she would be safe. Yes, this fact
must be known. Once she had saved the Squire, now the Squire must save
her. It must be known everywhere that she had sought an interview with
him--that at the time when Vincent died she was in the Squire's
presence, shut up in the office with him, the door locked--she and the
Squire alone together. This secret, which she would have fought to the
death to keep to herself an hour ago, must now be blazoned abroad to a
criticising world. The lesser danger to the Squire must be completely
swallowed up in the greater danger to herself. She must hurry to him at
once and get him to tell what he knew. Ah, yes, if he did this she would
be safe--she remembered the right word at last, for she had heard the
neighbors speak of it when it a celebrated trial was going on in
Salisbury--she must prove an alibi--then it would be known that she had
been absent from home when her husband died.

The imminence of the danger made her at last feel quiet and steady. She
took up the lighted candle and went into the dairy--she unlocked the
cupboard in the wall and took out the bottle of laudanum. Returning to
the kitchen she emptied the contents of the bottle into the range and
then threw the bottle itself also into the heart of the fire--she
watched it as it slowly melted under the influence of the hot fire--the
laudanum itself was also licked up by the hungry flames. That tell-tale
and awful evidence of her guilt was at least removed. She forgot all
about Susan having seen the liquid in the morning--she knew nothing
about the evidence which would be brought to light at a coroner's
inquest--about the facts which a doctor would be sure to give. Nothing
but the bare reality remained prominently before her excited brain.
Vincent was dead--she had killed him by an overdose of laudanum which
she had given him in all innocence to make him sleep--but yet, yet in
her heart of hearts, she knew that her motive would not bear
explanation.

"Squire will save me," she said to herself--"if it's proved that I were
with Squire I am safe. I'll go to him now--I'll tell 'im all at once.
It's late, very late, and it's dark outside, but I'll go."

Hetty left the room, leaving the dog behind her--he uttered a frightful
howl when she did so and followed her as far as the door--she shut and
locked the door--he scratched at it to try and release himself, but
Hetty took no notice--she was cruel as regarded the dumb beast's fear in
her own agony and terror.

She ran upstairs to her room, put on her hat and jacket, and went out.
Stumbling and trembling, she went along the road until she reached the
summit of the hill which led straight down in a gentle slope toward
Grandcourt. She was glad the ground sloped downward, for it was
important that she should quicken her footsteps in order to see the
Squire with as little delay as possible. She was quite oblivious of the
lapse of time since her last visit, and hoped he might still be in the
office. She resolved to try the office first. If he were not there she
would go on to the house--find him she must; nothing should keep her
from his presence to-night.

She presently reached Grandcourt, entered the grounds by a side entrance
and pursued her way through the darkness. The sky overhead was cloudy,
neither moon nor stars were visible. Faltering and falling she pressed
forward, and by and by reached the neighborhood of the office. She saw a
light burning dimly behind the closed blinds--her heart beat with a
sense of thankfulness--she staggered up to the door, brushing her dress
against the door as she did so--she put up her hand and knocked feebly.
The next instant the door was opened to her--a man, a total stranger,
confronted her, but behind him she saw Awdrey. She tottered into the
room.

The comparative light and warmth within, after the darkness and chilly
damp of the spring evening, made her head reel, and her eyes at first
could take in no object distinctly. She was conscious of uttering
excited words, then she heard the door shut behind her. She looked
round--she was alone with the Squire. She staggered up to him, and fell
on her knees.

"You must save me as I saved you long ago," she panted.

"What is it? Get up. What do you mean?" said Awdrey.

"I mean, Squire--oh! I mean I wanted to come to you to-day, but
Vincent,"--her voice faltered--"Vincent were mad wi' jealousy. He
thought that I ought not to see you, Squire; he had got summat in his
brain, and it made him mad. He thought that, perhaps, long ago, Squire,
I loved you--long ago. I'm not afeared to say anything to-night, the
truth will out to-night--I loved you long ago, I love you still; yes,
yes, with all my heart, with all my heart. You never cared nothin' for
me, I know that well. You never did me a wrong in thought or in deed, I
know that well also; but to me you were as a god, and I loved you, I
love you still, and Vincent, my husband, he must have seen it in my
face; but you did me no wrong--never, in word or in deed--only loved
you--and I love you still."

"You must be mad, girl," said Awdrey. "Why have you come here to tell me
that? Get up at once; your words and your actions distress me much. Get
up, Hetty; try to compose yourself."

"What I have come to say had best be said kneeling," replied Hetty; "it
eases the awful pain in my side to kneel. Let me be, Squire; let me
kneel up against your father's desk. Ah! that's better. It is my
heart--I think it's broke; anyhow, it beats awful, and the pain is
awful."

"If you have come for any other reason than to say the words you have
just said, say them and go," replied Awdrey.

Hetty glanced up at him. His face was hard, she thought it looked cruel,
she shivered from head to foot. Was it for this man she had sacrificed
her life? Then the awful significance of her errand came over her, and
she proceeded to speak.

"Vincent saw the truth in my face," she continued. "Anyhow, he was mad
wi' jealousy, and he said that I worn't to come and see yer. He heard me
speak to yer last night, he heard me say it's a matter o' life and death
and he wor mad. He said I worn't to come; but I wor mad too, mad to
come, and I thought I'd get over him by guile. I put summat in his
stout, and he drank it--summat, I don't know the name, but I had took it
myself and it always made me a sight better, and I gave it to 'im in his
stout and he drank it, and then he slept. He lay down on the settle in
the kitchen, and he went off into a dead sleep. When he slept real sound
I stole away and I come to you. I saw you this evening and you spoke to
me and I spoke to you, and I begged of you to keep our secret, and I
thought perhaps you would, and I come away feelin' better. I went back
'ome, and the place were quiet, and I got into the kitchen. Vincent was
lying on the settle sound asleep. I thought nought o' his sleepin', only
to be glad, for I knew he'd never have missed me. I made his supper for
him, and built up the fire, and I lit the lamps in the house, and I took
off my outdoor things. The dog howled, but I didn't take no notice.
Presently I went up to Vincent, and I shook 'im--I shook 'im, 'ard, but
he didn't wake. I took his hand in mine, it wor cold as ice; I listened
for his breath, there wor none. Squire," said Hetty, rising now to her
feet, "my man wor dead; Squire, I have killed 'im, just the same as you
killed the man on Salisbury Plain six years ago. My husband is dead, and
I have killed him. Squire, you must save me as I saved you."

"How?" asked Awdrey. His voice had completely altered now. In the
presence of the real tragedy all the hardness had left it. He sank into
a chair near Hetty's side, he even took one of her trembling hands in
his.

"How am I to help you, you poor soul?" he said again.

"You must prove an alibi--that's the word. You must say 'Hetty wor wi'
me, she couldn't have killed her man,' you must say that; you must tell
all the world that you and me was together here."

"I'll do better than that," said Awdrey suddenly.

"What do you mean?" Hetty started back and gazed at him with a queer
mixture of hope and terror in her face. "Better--but there ain't no
better," she cried. "Ef you don't tell the simple truth I'll be hanged;
hanged by the neck until I die--I, who saved you at the risk of my own
soul nearly six years gone."

"I'll not let you be hanged," said Awdrey, rising. "Get up, Hetty; do
not kneel to me. You don't quite know what you have done for me
to-night. Sit on that chair--compose yourself--try to be calm. Hetty,
you just came in the nick of time. God and the devil were fighting for
my soul. In spite of all the devil's efforts God was getting the better
of it, and I--I didn't want him to get the best. I wanted the devil to
help me, and, Hetty, I even prayed to him that he might come and help
me. When I saw you coming into the room I thought at first that my
prayer was answered. I seemed to see the devil on your face. Now I see
differently--your presence has lifted a great cloud from before my
mind--I see distinctly, almost as distinctly as if I were in hell
itself, the awful consequences which must arise from wrong-doing. Hetty,
I have made up my mind; you, of all people, have been the most powerful
advocate on the side of God to-night. We will both do the right,
child--we will confess the simple truth."

"No, Squire, no; they'll kill me, they'll kill me, if you don't help me
in the only way you can help me--you are stronger than me, Squire--don't
lead me to my death."

"They won't kill you, but you must tell the whole truth as I will tell
the truth. It can be proved that you gave the poison to your husband
with no intent to kill--that matter can be arranged promptly. Come with
me, Hetty, now--let us come together. If you falter I'll strengthen you;
if I falter you'll strengthen me. We will go together at once and
tell--tell what you saw and what I did nearly six years ago."

"What you did on Salisbury Plain?" she asked.

"Yes, the time I killed that man."

"Never, never," she answered; she fell flat on her face on the floor.

Awdrey went to her and tried to raise her up.

"Come," he said, "I have looked into the very heart of evil, and I
cannot go on with it--whatever the consequence we must both tell the
truth--and we will do it together; come at once."

"You don't know what will happen to you," said Hetty. She shivered as
she lay prone before him.

"No matter--nothing could happen so bad as shutting away the face of
God. I'll tell all, and you must tell all. No more lies for either of
us. We will save our souls even if our bodies die."

"The pain--the pain in my side," moaned Hetty.

"It will be better after we have gone through what is before us. Come,
I'll take your hand."

She gave it timidly; the Squire's fingers closed over it.

"Where are we to go?" she asked. "Where are you taking me?"

"Come with me. I'll speak. Presently it will be your turn--after they
know all, all the worst, it will be your turn to speak."

"Who are to know all, Squire?"

"My wife, my sisters, Mrs. Everett, my friends."

"Oh, God, God, why was I ever born!" moaned Hetty.

"You'll feel better afterward," said Awdrey. "Try and remember that in
the awful struggle and ordeal of the next few minutes your soul and mine
will be born again--they will be saved--saved from the power of evil. Be
brave, Hetty. You told me to-night that you loved me--prove the
greatness of your love by helping me to save my own soul and yours."

"I wonder if this is true," said Hetty. "You seem to lift me out of
myself." She spoke in a sort of dull wonder.

"It is true--it is right--it is the only thing; come at once."

She did not say any more, nor make the least resistance. They left the
office together. They trod softly on the gravel path which led to the
main entrance of the old house. They both entered the hall side by side.
Hetty looked pale and untidy; her hair fell partly down her back; there
were undried tears on her cheeks; her eyes had a wild and startled gleam
in them; the Squire was also deadly pale, but he was quiet and composed.
The fierce struggle which had nearly rent his soul in two was completely
over at that moment. In the calm there was also peace, and the peace had
settled on his face.

Mrs. Henessey was standing in the wide entrance hall. She started when
she saw her brother; then she glanced at Hetty, then she looked again at
the Squire.

"Why, Robert!" she said, "Robert!"

There was an expression about Hetty's face and about Awdrey's face which
silenced and frightened her.

"What is it?" she said in a low voice, "what is wrong?"

"Where are the others?" asked the Squire. "I want to see them all
immediately."

"They are in the front drawing-room--Margaret, Dr. Rumsey, Dorothy, my
husband and Dorothy's, and Margaret's uncle, Mr. Cuthbert."

"I am glad he is there; we shall want a magistrate," said Awdrey.

"A magistrate! What is the matter?"

"You will know in a moment, Anne. Did you say Rumsey was in the
drawing-room?"

"Yes; they are all there. Margaret is playing the "Moonlight
Sonata"--you hear it, don't you through the closed doors--she played so
mournfully that I ran away--I hate music that affects me to tears."

Awdrey bent down and said a word to Hetty; then he looked at his sister.

"I am going into the drawing-room, and Hetty Vincent will come with me,"
he said.

"I used to know you as Hetty Armitage," said Anne. "How are you, Hetty?"

"She is not well," answered Awdrey for her, "but she will tell you
presently. Come into the drawing-room, too, Anne; I should like you to
be present."

"I cannot understand this," said Anne. She ran on first and opened the
great folding-doors--she entered the big room, her face ablaze with
excitement and wonder--behind her came Awdrey holding Hetty's hand.
There was an expression on the Squire's face which arrested the
attention of every one present. Mr. Cuthbert, who had not seen him since
his return home, rose eagerly from the deep arm-chair into which he had
sunk, intending to give him a hearty welcome, but when he had advanced
in the Squire's direction a step or two, he paused--he seemed to see by
a sort of intuition that the moment for ordinary civilities was not
then. Margaret left her seat by the piano and came almost into the
centre of the room. Her husband's eyes seemed to motion her back--her
uncle went up to her and put his hand on her shoulder; he did not know
what he expected, nor did Margaret, but each one in the room felt with
an electric thrill of sympathy that a revelation of no ordinary nature
was about to be made.

Still holding Hetty's hand, Awdrey came into the great space in front of
the fireplace; he was about to speak when Rumsey came suddenly forward.

"One moment," he said. "This young woman is very ill; will some one
fetch brandy?" He took Hetty's slight wrist between his finger and
thumb, and felt the fluttering pulse.

Anne rushed away to get the brandy. The doctor mixed a small dose, and
made Hetty swallow it. The stimulant brought back a faint color to her
cheeks, and her eyes looked less dull and dazed.

"I have come into this room to-night with Hetty Vincent, who used to be
Hetty Armitage, to make a very remarkable statement," said Awdrey.

Rumsey backed a few steps. He thought to himself: "We shall get now to
the mystery. He has made up his mind on the side of the good--brave
fellow! What can all this mean? What is the matter with that pretty
girl? She looks as if she were dying. What can be the connection between
them?"

"What can be the connection between them?" was also the thought running
in the minds of every other spectator. Margaret shared it, as her
uncle's hand rested a little heavier moment by moment on her slight
shoulder. Squire Cuthbert was swearing heavily under his breath. The
sisters and their husbands stood in the background, prepared for any
"denouement"--all was quietness and expectancy. Mrs. Everett, who up to
the present instant had taken no part in the extraordinary scene,
hurried now to the front.

"Squire," she said, "I don't know what you are going to say, but I can
guess. In advance, however, I thank you from my heart; a premonition
seizes me that the moment of my son's release is at hand. You have got
this young woman to reveal her secret?"

"Her secret is mine," said Awdrey.

Squire Cuthbert swore aloud.

"Just wait one moment before you say anything," said Awdrey, fixing his
eyes on him. "The thing is not what you imagine. I can tell the truth in
half-a-dozen words. Mrs. Everett, you are right--you see the man before
you who killed Horace Frere on Salisbury Plain. Your son is innocent."

"My God! You did this?" said Mrs. Everett.

"Robert, what are you saying?" cried Margaret.

"Robert!" echoed Anne.

"Dear brother, you must be mad!" exclaimed Dorothy.

"No, I am sane--I am sure I was mad for a time, but now I am quite sane
to-night. I killed Horace Frere on Salisbury Plain. Hetty Vincent saw
the murder committed; she hid her knowledge for my sake. Immediately
after I committed the deed the doom of my house fell upon me, and I
forgot what I myself had done. For five years I had no memory of my own
act. Rumsey, when I saw my face reflected in the pond, six months ago,
the knowledge of the truth returned to me. I remembered what I had done.
I remembered, and I was not sorry, and I resolved to hide the truth to
the death; my conscience, the thing which makes the difference between
man and beast, never awoke within me--I was happy and I kept well. But
yesterday--yesterday when I came home and saw my people and saw Hetty
here, and noticed the look of suffering on your face, Mrs. Everett, the
voice of God began to make itself heard. From that moment until now my
soul and the powers of evil have been fighting against the powers of
good. I was coward enough to think that I might hide the truth and
suffer, and live the life of a hypocrite." The Squire's voice, which had
been quite quiet and composed, faltered now for the first time. "It
could not be done," he added. "I found I could not close with the
devil."

At this moment a strange thing happened. Awdrey's wife rushed up to him,
she flung her arms round his neck, and laid her head on his breast.

"Thank God!" she murmured. "Nothing matters, for you have saved your
soul alive."

Awdrey pushed back his wife's hair, and kissed her on her forehead.

"But this is a most remarkable thing," said Mr. Cuthbert, finding his
tongue, and coming forward. "You, Awdrey--you, my niece's husband, come
quietly into this room and tell us with the utmost coolness that you are
a murderer. I cannot believe it--you must be mad."

"No, I am perfectly sane. Hetty Vincent can prove the truth of my words.
I am a murderer, but not by intent. I never meant to kill Frere;
nevertheless, I am a murderer, for I have taken a man's life."

"You tell me this?" said Squire Cuthbert. "You tell me that you have
suffered another man to suffer in your stead for close on six years."

"Unknowingly, Squire Cuthbert. There was a blank over my memory."

"I can testify to that," said Rumsey, now coming forward. "The whole
story is so astounding, so unprecedented, that I am not the least
surprised at your all being unable to make a just estimate of the true
circumstances at the present moment. Nevertheless, Awdrey tells the
simple truth. I have watched him as my patient for years. I have given
his case my greatest attention. I consider it one of the most curious
psychological studies which has occurred in the whole of my wide
experience. Awdrey killed Horace Frere, and forgot all about it. The
deed was doubtless done in a moment of strong irritation."

"He was provoked to it," said Hetty, speaking for the first time.

"It will be necessary that you put all that down in writing," said
Rumsey, giving her a quick glance. "Squire, I begin to see a ghost of
daylight. It is possible that you may be saved from the serious
consequences of your own act, if it can be proved before a jury that you
committed the terrible deed as a means of self-protection."

"It was for that," said Hetty again. "I can tell exactly what I saw."

The excited people who were listening to this narrative now began to
move about and talk eagerly and rapidly. Rumsey alone altogether kept
his head. He saw how ill Hetty was, and how all-important her story
would be if there was any chance of saving Awdrey. It must be put in
writing without delay.

"Come and sit here," he said, taking the girl's hand and leading her to
a chair. All the others shrank away from her, but Mrs. Everett, whose
eyes were blazing with a curious combination of passionate anger and
wild, exultant joy, came close up to her for a moment.

"Little hypocrite--little spy!" she hissed. "Don't forget that you have
committed perjury. Your sentence will be a severe one."

"Hush," said Rumsey, "is this a moment--?" A look in his eyes silenced
the widow--she shrank away near one of the windows to relieve her
overcharged feelings in a burst of tears.

"Sit here and tell me exactly what you saw," said Rumsey to Hetty. "Mr.
Cuthbert, you are doubtless a magistrate?"

"Bless my stars, I don't know what I am at the present moment," said the
worthy Squire, mopping his crimson brow.

"Try to retain your self-control--remember how much hangs on it. This
young woman is very ill--it will be all important that we get her
deposition before----" Rumsey paused; Hetty's eyes were fixed on his
face, her lips moved faintly.

"You may save the Squire after all if you tell the simple truth," said
Rumsey kindly, bending toward her and speaking in a low voice. "Try and
tell the simple truth. I know you are feeling ill, but you will be
better afterward. Will you tell me exactly what happened? I shall put it
down in writing. You will then sign your own deposition."

"I'll tell the truth," said Hetty--"is it the case that if I tell just
the truth I may save Squire?"

"It is his only chance. Now begin."

The others crowded round when Hetty began to speak; all but Mrs.
Everett, who still sat in the window, her face buried in her
handkerchief.

Hetty began her tale falteringly, often trembling and often pausing, but
Rumsey managed to keep her to the point. By and by the whole queer story
was taken down and was then formally signed and sworn to. Rumsey finally
folded up the paper and gave it to Squire Cuthbert to keep.

"I have a strong hope that we may clear Awdrey," he said. "The case is a
clear one of manslaughter which took place in self-defence. Mrs.
Vincent's deposition is most important, for it not only shows that
Awdrey committed the unfortunate deed under the strongest provocation,
but explains exactly why Frere should have had such animosity to the
Squire. Now, Mrs. Vincent, you have rendered a very valuable service,
and as you are ill we cannot expect you to do anything further
to-night."

Here Rumsey looked full at Margaret.

"I think this young woman far too unwell to leave the house," he
said--"can you have a room prepared for her here?"

"Certainly," said Margaret; she went up to Hetty and laid one of her
hands on her shoulder.

"Before Hetty leaves the room, there is something to be said on her own
account," said the Squire.

He then related in a few words the tragedy which had taken place at the
Gable Farm. While he was speaking, Hetty suddenly staggered to her feet
and faced them.

"If what I have told to-night will really save you, Squire, then nothing
else matters," she said; "I'm not afeared now, for ef I 'ave saved you
at last, nothing matters,"--her face grew ghastly white, she tumbled in
a heap to the floor.

The doctor, Margaret, and the Squire rushed to her assistance, but when
they raised her up she was dead.

"Heart disease," said Rumsey, afterward, "accelerated by shock."

       *       *       *       *       *

A few more words can finish this strange story. At the Squire's own
request, Mr. Cuthbert took the necessary steps for his arrest, and
Rumsey hurried to town to get the interference of the Home Secretary in
the case of Everett, who was suffering for Awdrey's supposed crime in
Portland prison. The doctor had a long interview with one of the
officials at the Home Office, and disclosed all the queer circumstances
of the case. Everett, according to the Queen's Prerogative, received in
due course a free pardon for the crime he had never committed, and was
restored to his mother and his friends once again.

Awdrey's trial took place almost immediately afterward at Salisbury. The
trial was never forgotten in that part of the country, and was the one
topic of conversation for several days in the length and breadth of
England. So remarkable and strange a case had never before been
propounded for the benefit of the jury, but it was evident that the very
learned Judge who conducted the trial was from the first on the side of
the prisoner.

Hetty's all-important deposition made a great sensation; her evidence
was corroborated by Mrs. Armitage, and when Rumsey appeared as a witness
he abundantly proved that Awdrey had completely forgotten the deed of
which he had been guilty. His thrilling description of his patient's
strange case was listened to with breathless attention by a crowded
court. The trial lasted for two days, during which the anxiety of all
Awdrey's friends can be better imagined than described. At the end of
the trial, the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty." In short, his
strange case had been abundantly proved: he had done what he did without
intent to kill and simply as a means of self-defence.

On the evening of his return to Grandcourt, he and Margaret stood in the
porch together side by side. It was a moonlight night, and the whole
beautiful place was brightly illuminated.

"Robert," said the wife, "you have lived through it all--you will now
take a fresh lease of life."

He shook his head.

"It is true that I have gone through the fire and been saved," he said,
"but there is a shadow over me--I can never be the man I might have
been."

"You can be a thousand times better," she replied with flashing eyes,
"for you have learned now the bitter and awful lesson of how a man may
fall, rise again, and in the end conquer."


THE END.





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