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Title: A Monk of Cruta
Author: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (Edward Phillips), 1866-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Monk of Cruta" ***

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[Transcriber's note: All typographical errors have been corrected. All
other inconsistencies in the text, including an unfinished sentence,
have been left as is.]



A MONK OF CRUTA

BY

E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM,

_Author of "The Peer and the Woman," "A Millionaire of Yesterday,"
Etc., Etc._

  NEW YORK:
  J. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY,
  57 ROSE STREET.


  COPYRIGHT, 1894, BY
  F. TENNYSON NEELY.



A MONK OF CRUTA.



CONTENTS.


  CHAP.                                                                PAGE

       I. "THE BLACK-ROBED PHANTOM, 'DEATH'"                             11

      II. "THE NEW ART"                                                  32

     III. "THE DANCING GIRL"                                             39

      IV. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                                47

       V. "THE FAR-OFF MUTTERING OF THE STORM TO COME"                   50

      VI. "AN ASHEN GREY DELIGHT"                                        61

     VII. "WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT YOUR MISSION"                           73

    VIII. "I AM WEARY OF A HOPELESS LOVE"                                80

      IX. "AH! HOW FAIR MY WEAKNESS FINDS THEE"                          91

       X. "I AM BUT A SLAVE, AND YET I BID THEE COME"                   104

      XI. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               114

     XII. "WE ARE LIKE SHOOTING STARS, WHOSE MEETING IS THEIR RUIN"     122

    XIII. "THE PATH THAT LEADS TO MADMEN'S KINGDOMS"                    129

     XIV. "THE POISON OF HONEY FLOWERS"                                 136

      XV. "AND MOST OF ALL WOULD I FLY FROM THE CRUEL MADNESS OF LOVE"  144

     XVI. "'TWIXT YOU AND ME A NOISOME SHADOW CAST"                     154

    XVII. "IF LOVE YOU CHOOSE, THEN LOVE SHALL BE YOUR RUIN"            159

   XVIII. "SOFTLY GLIMMERING THROUGH THE LAURELS AT THE QUIET
           EVENFALL"                                                    166

     XIX. "BLOOD CALLS ALOUD FOR BLOOD AND NOT FOR HANDS ENTWINED"      174

      XX. "THE NEW, STRONG WINE OF LOVE"                                180

     XXI. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               185

    XXII. "OH! HEART OF STONE, YET FLESH TO ALL SAVE ME"                195

   XXIII. "MY LIPS ARE CHARGED WITH TRUTH, AND JUSTICE BIDS ME SPEAK"   206

    XXIV. "THE SHATTERED VASE OF LOVE'S MOST HOLY VOWS"                 218

     XXV. "A BECKONING VOICE FROM OUT A SHADOWY LAND"                   224

    XXVI. "LATE THOU COMEST, CRUEL THOU HAST BEEN"                      232

   XXVII. "GRIM FIGURES TRACED BY SORROW'S FIERY HAND"                  241

  XXVIII. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               249

    XXIX. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               263

     XXX. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               275

    XXXI. "ADREA'S DIARY"                                               280

   XXXII. "THE LORD OF CRUTA"                                           291

  XXXIII. "THE DAWN OF A SHORT, SWEET LIFE"                             298

   XXXIV. "A VOICE AND FIGURE FROM THE DISTANT PAST"                    308

    XXXV. "FROM OUT LIFE'S THUNDERS TO A STRANGE, SWEET WORLD"          322

   XXXVI. "LOVE THAN DEATH ITSELF MORE STRONG"                          329



A MONK OF CRUTA.



CHAPTER I

"THE BLACK-ROBED PHANTOM 'DEATH'"


"Father Adrian!"

"I am here!"

"I saw the doctor talking with you aside! How long have I to live? He
told you the truth! Repeat his words to me!"

The tall, gaunt young priest drew nearer to the bedside, and shook his
head with a slow, pitying gesture.

"The time was short--short indeed. Yet, why should you fear? Your
confession has been made! I myself have pronounced your absolution;
the holy Church has granted to you her most holy sacrament."

"Fear! Bah! I have no fear! It is a matter of calculation. Shall I see
morning break?"

"You may; but you will never see the mid-day sun."

The dying man raised himself with a slow, painful movement, and
pointed to the window.

"Throw up the window."

He was obeyed. A servant who had been sitting quietly in the shadows
of the vast apartment, with his head buried in his hands, rose and did
his master's bidding.

"What hour is it?"

"Three o'clock."

"Gomez, strain your eyes seaward. Is there no light on the horizon?"

"None! The storm has wrapped the earth in darkness. Listen!"

A torrent of rain was swept against the streaming window pane, and a
gust of wind shook the frame in its sockets. The watcher turned away
from the window with a mute gesture of despair. No eye could pierce
that black chaos. He sank again into his seat, and looked around
shuddering. The high, vaulted chamber was lit by a pair of candles
only, leaving the greater part of it in gloom. Grim, fantastic shadows
lurked in the corners, and lay across the bare floor. Even the tall
figure of the priest, on his knees before a rude wooden crucifix,
seemed weird and ghostly. The heavy, mildewed bed-hangings shook
and trembled in the draughts which filled the room, and the candles
flickered and burnt low in their sockets. Gomez watched them with a
sort of anxious fascination. His master's life was burning out,
minute for minute, with those candles. Twenty-five years of constant
companionship would be ended in a few brief hours. Gomez was not
disposed to trouble much at this; but he bethought himself of a snug
little abode in Piccadilly, where the discomforts now surrounding them
were quite unknown. Surely, to die there would be a luxury compared
with this. He began to feel personally aggrieved that his master
should have chosen such an out-of-the-way hole to end his days in.
Then came a rush of thought, and he was grave. He knew why! Yes! he
knew why!

The dying man lay quite still, almost as though his time were already
come. Once he raised himself, and the feeble light flashed across a
grey, haggard face and a pair of burning eyes. But his effort was
only momentary. He sank back again, and lay there with his eyes half
closed, and breathing softly. He was nursing his strength.

One, two, three, four, five! The harsh clanging of a brazen clock
somewhere in the building had penetrated to the chamber, followed by a
deep, resonant bell. The man on the bed lifted his head.

"How goes the storm?" he asked softly.

Gomez stood up and faced the window.

"The storm dies with the night, sir," he answered. "The wind has
fallen."

"When does day break?"

Gomez looked at his watch.

"In one hour, sir."

"Stay by the window, Gomez, and let your eyes watch for the dawn."

The priest frowned. "Surely the time has come when you should quit
your hold on earthly things," he said quietly. "What matters the dawn!
soon you will lose yourself in an everlasting sleep, and the dawn for
you will be eternity. Take this crucifix, and pray with me."

The dying man pushed it away with a gesture almost contemptuous.

"Is there no light on the sea yet, Gomez?" he asked anxiously.

Gomez leant forward till his face touched the window pane. He strained
his eyes till they ached; but the darkness was impenetrable. Yet
stay,--what was that? A feeble yellow light was glimmering far away
in the heart of that great gulf of darkness. He held his breath, and
watched it steadily. Then he turned round.

"There is a light in the far distance, sir," he said. "I cannot tell
what it may be, but there is a light."

A wave of excitement passed over the strong, wasted features of the
man upon the bed. He half raised himself, and his voice was almost
firm.

"Push my bed to the window," he ordered.

The two men, priest and servant, bent all their strength to the task,
and inch by inch they moved the great, creaking structure. When at
last they had succeeded, and paused to take breath, the light in the
distance had become stronger and more apparent. Together the three men
watched it grow; master and servant, with breathless eagerness, the
priest with a show of displeasure in his severe face. Suddenly Gomez
gave a little cry.

"The dawn!" he exclaimed, pointing to the north of the light. "Morning
is breaking."

Sure enough, a grey, pallid light was stealing down upon the water.
The darkness was becoming a chaos of grey and black; of towering seas
and low-lying clouds, with cold white streaks of light falling through
them, and piercing the curtains of night. There was no vestige of
colouring--nothing but cold grey and slate white. Yet the dawn moved
on, and through it the yellow light in the distance gleamed larger and
larger.

"Hold me up," ordered the man on the bed. "Prop me up with pillows!"

They did as he bade them, and for the first time his face was fully
revealed in the straggling twilight. A flowing grey beard, still
plentifully streaked with black, rested upon his chest; and the eyes,
steadily fixed upon the window pane, were dark and undimmed. A long
illness had wasted his fine features, but had detracted nothing from
their strength and regularity of outline. His lips were closely
set, and his expression, though painfully eager, was not otherwise
displeasing. There was none of the fear of death there; nor was there
anything of the passionless resignation of the man who has bidden
farewell to life, and made his peace with God and man; nor, in
those moments of watching, had his face any of the physical signs of
approaching death.

"Ah!"

They started at the sharp, almost triumphant exclamation which had
escaped from his white lips, and followed his long, quivering finger.
Above that glimmering light was a faint, dim line of smoke, fading on
the horizon.

"It is a steamer, indeed," the priest said, with some interest. "She
is making for the island."

"When is the supply boat due?" Gomez asked.

"Not for a fortnight," the priest answered; "it is not she, it is a
stranger."

There was no other word spoken. Soon the dawn, moving across the great
waste of waters, pierced the dark background behind the steamer's
light. The long trail of white, curdling foam in her track gleamed
like a silver cleft in a dark gulf. The dim shape of her sails stole
slowly into sight, and they could see that she was carrying a great
weight of canvas. Then into the grey air, a rocket shot up like a
brilliant meteor, and the sound of a gun came booming over the waters.

"Can she make the bay?" Gomez asked suddenly. "Look at the surf."

They all removed their eyes from the steamer, and fixed them nearer
home. The darkness had rolled away, and the outlook, though a little
uncertain in the misty morning light, was still visible. Right before
the window, a little to the left, a great rocky hill, many hundreds
of feet high, ran sheer down into the sea, and facing it on the right,
was a lower range of rocks running out from the mainland. Inside the
natural harbour thus formed, the sea was quiet enough; but at the
entrance, a line of white breakers and huge ocean waves were leaping
up against the base of the promontory, and dashing over the lower
range of rocks. Beyond, the sea was wild and rough, and the steamer
was often almost lost to sight in the hollow of the Waves.

"Ah!"

The faces of all three men underwent a sudden change. Three rockets,
one after another, shot up into the sky from the top of the rocky
hill, leaving a faint, violet glow overhead. The dying man set his
teeth hard, and his eyes glistened.

"Three rockets," he muttered. "What is the meaning of that signal,
Father?" he asked.

The priest looked downward, pityingly. "It is a warning that the
entrance to the bay is unsafe," he answered. "Take comfort; it is
the hand of God keeping from you those who would distract your dying
thoughts from Heaven. Take comfort, and pray with me."

He seemed strangely deaf to the priest's words, and made no movement
or sign in response. Only he kept his eyes the more steadfastly
fixed upon the steamer, now plainly visible. His face showed no
disappointment. It seemed almost as though he might have seen across
the grey sea, and heard the stern orders thundered out from a slim,
motionless figure on the captain's bridge. "Right ahead, helmsman!
Never mind the signal. There's fifty pounds for every man of you if we
make the bay. It's not so bad as it looks! Back me up like brave lads,
and I'll remember it all your lives!"

Almost, too, he might have heard the answering cheer, for a faint
smile parted his white lips as he saw the steamer ploughing her way
heavily straight ahead, paying no heed to the warning signal.

On she came. The priest and the servant started as they saw her
intention, and a sharp ejaculation of surprise escaped from the
former. Side by side, they watched the labouring vessel with strained
eyes. Her hull and shape were now visible in the dim morning twilight,
as she rose and fell upon the waves. It was evident that she was a
large, handsome pleasure yacht, daintily but strongly built.

Close up against the high, bare window the three watchers,
unconsciously enough, formed a striking-looking group. The priest,
tall, pale, and severe, stood in the shadow of the bed-curtains, an
impressive and solemn figure in his dark, flowing robes, but with the
impassibility of his features curiously disturbed. He, who had been
preaching calm, was himself agitated. He had drawn a little on one
side, so that the cold grey light should not fall upon his face and
betray its twitching lips and quivering pallor; but if either of the
men who shared his watch had thought to glance at him, the sickly
candlelight would have shown at once what he was so anxious to
conceal. It was little more than chance which had brought this man
to die in his island monastery, and under his care; little more than
chance which had revealed to him this wonderful secret. But the agony
of those last few hours, and the gloomy words of the priest who leant
over his bedside, had found their way in between the joints of the
dying man's armour of secrecy. Word by word, the story had been
wrested from him. In the cold and comfortless hour of death, the
strong, worldly man felt his physical weakness loosen the iron bands
of his will, and he became for a time almost like a child in the hands
of the keen, swiftly-questioning priest. He had not found much comfort
in the mumbled prayers and absolution, which were all he got in
exchange for his life's secret,--and such a secret! He had not,
indeed, noticed the fixed, far-away gaze in the priest's dark eyes as
he knelt by the bedside; but his prayers, his faint words of comfort,
had fallen like drops of ice upon his quickened desire to be brought
a little nearer to that mysterious, shadowy essence of goodness which
was all his mind could conceive of a God. It had seemed like a dead
form of words, lifeless, hopeless, monotonous; and all that faint
striving to attain to some knowledge of the truth--if indeed truth
there was--had been crushed into ashes by it. As he had lived, so must
he die, he told himself with some return of that philosophic quietude
which had led him, stout-hearted and brave, through many dangers. And,
at that moment when he had been striving to detach his thoughts from
their vain task of conjuring up useless regrets, there had come what
even now seemed to be the granting of his last passionate prayer. The
man whom he had longed to see once more before his eyes were closed
forever upon the world, with such a longing that his heart had grown
sick and weary with the burden of it, had been brought as though by a
miracle almost to his side. He knew as though by some strange instinct
the measure of his strength. He had no fear of dying before his
heart's dearest wish could be gratified. If only that fiercely
labouring vessel succeeded in her brave struggle, he knew that there
would be strength left to him to bear the shock of meeting, to bear
even the shock of the tidings which could either sweeten his last few
moments, or deepen the gloom of his passage into the unknown world.
And so he lay there, with fixed, glazed eyes and shortened breath,
watching and waiting.

The supreme moment came; the steamer had reached the dangerous point,
and the waves were breaking over her with such fury that more than
once she vanished altogether from sight, only to reappear in a moment
or two, quivering and trembling from stern to hull like a living
creature. After all, the struggle was a brief one, though it seemed
long to the watchers at the window. In less than ten minutes it
was over; she had passed the line of breakers, and was in the
comparatively smooth water of the bay, heading fast for the shore
under leeway of the great wall of towering rocks, at the foot of which
she seemed dwarfed almost into the semblance of a boy's toy vessel.
Within a quarter of a mile from the shore, she anchored, and a boat
was let down from her side.

A new lease of life seemed to have come to the man on the bed. The
morning sun had half emerged from a bank of angry purple-coloured
clouds, and its faint slanting beams lay across the white coverlet of
the bed, and upon his face. His eyes were bright and eager, and the
death-like pallor seemed to have passed from his features. His voice,
too, was firm and distinct.

"Place my despatch-box upon the table here, Gomez," he ordered.

Gomez left his seat by the window, and, opening a portmanteau, brought
a small black box to the bedside. His master passed his hand over it,
and drew it underneath the coverlet.

"I am prepared," he murmured, half to himself. "Father, according to
the physician's reckoning, how long have I to live?"

"Barely an hour," answered the priest, without removing his eyes from
the boat, whose progress he seemed to be scanning steadfastly. "Is
your eternal future of so little moment to you," he went on in a tone
of harsh severity, "that you can give your last thoughts, your last
few moments, to affairs of this world? 'Tis an unholy death! Take this
cross in your hands, and listen not to those whose coming will surely
estrange you from heaven. Let the world take its own course, but lift
your eyes and heart in prayer! Everlasting salvation, or everlasting
doom, awaits you before yonder sun be set!"

"I have no fear, Father," was the quiet reply. "What is, is; a few
frantic prayers now could alter nothing, and, besides, my work on
earth is not yet over. Speak to me no more of the end! Nothing that
you or I could do now would bring me one step nearer heaven. Gomez,
your eyes are good! Whom do you see in the boat?"

Gomez answered without turning round from the window, "Mr. Paul is
there, sir, steering!"

"Thank God!"

"There are others with him, sir!"

"Others! Who?"

"Strangers to me, sir. There is a man, a gentleman by his dress and
appearance, and a child--a girl, I think. Two sailors from the yacht
are rowing."

The dying man knitted his brows, and his fingers convulsively clutched
at the bed-clothes. He had lost something of that calm and effortless
serenity which seemed to have fallen upon him since the safety of the
steamer had been assured.

"The boat is quite close, Gomez! Can you not describe the stranger?"

"I can only see that he is thin, rather tall, and, I think, elderly,
sir. He is very much wrapped up, as though he were an invalid."

"Lift me up so that I can see them. Father Adrian will help you."

The priest shook his head. "The effort would probably cost you your
life," he said, "and it would be useless. Before you could see them
the boat would be round the corner."

"So near! God grant me strength! Gomez, give me a tablespoonful of the
brandy!"

Gomez moved silently to his side, and poured out the brandy.
Afterwards his master closed his eyes, and there was an intense
silence in the chamber--the deep, breathless silence of expectancy.

The monastery itself, a small and deserted one, tenanted only by a
few half-starved monks of one of the lower orders of the Church, was
wrapped in a profound gloom. There was no sound from the half-ruined
chapel or the long, empty corridors. The storm had ceased, and the
casements no longer rattled in the wind. To the man who lay there,
nursing his fast-ebbing strength, it seemed indeed like the silence
before the one last tragedy of death, looming so black and so grim
before him.

It was broken at last. Away at the end of the corridor the faint sound
of hurrying footsteps and subdued voices reached the ears of the three
watchers. They came nearer and nearer, halting at last just outside
the door. There was a knock, a quick, impetuous answer, and the
visitors entered, ushered in by the priest, who had met them on the
threshold.

Of the two men, one advanced hastily with outstretched hand and
pitying face to the bedside; the other moved only a step or two
further into the room, and stood looking intently, yet without any
salutation or form of recognition, at the dying man. The former, when
he reached the bed, sank on his knees and took the white hand which
lay upon the coverlet between his.

"Father! My father! I would have given the world to have found you
better. Tell me that it is not true what they say. You will pull round
now that I have come!"

There was no answer. The dying man did not even look into the handsome
young face so close to his. His eyes, bright and unnaturally large,
were rivetted upon the figure at the foot of the bed. His breath came
quickly, and he was shivering; an inarticulate sort of moan came from
his lips.

"Father! you are agitated, and no wonder, to see him here. You had my
letter preparing you; nothing that I could do would stop his coming."

It was Gomez who answered, advancing out of the gloom: "There has been
no letter."

There was an instant's silence. Then the younger man rose up, pale
as death. "God! what a fool I was to trust to mails in this
out-of-the-way hole! Father! I shall never forgive myself. Blind idiot
that I was, to bring him in like this."

It seemed as if no one save he possessed the power of speech. There
was a dead silence. He looked from one to another of the figures in
that silent drama in fast-growing despair. The face of the man whom
he had brought there revealed little, although in a certain way its
expression was remarkable. The lips were parted in a slow,
quiet smile, not in itself sardonic or cruel, although under the
circumstances it seemed so, for it was difficult to associate any
idea of mirth with the scene which was passing in that grim, gloomy
chamber. Something of the awe inseparable from this close approach of
death was visible in the faces of all the other watchers. Not so in
his! It was the contrast which seemed so strange. He stood there, with
his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his long travelling coat,
returning the fixed, glazed stare of the dying man with a sort of
indifferent good humour. Perhaps a very close observer might have
detected a shade of mockery in those soft black eyes and faintly
twitching lips, but the light in the room was too obscure for any one
there to penetrate beneath the apparent indifference. It was he who
broke that deep, tragic silence, and his voice, light and even gay,
struck a strange note in that solemn chamber of death.

"So you are dying, Martin, _mon ami_? How odd! If any one had told me
one short month ago that I should have been here to watch your last
moments, and start you on your journey to hell, bah! how mad I should
have thought them. 'Tis a pleasure I never anticipated."

His words seemed to dissolve the lethargy which his presence had cast
over the dying man. He turned away towards the younger figure by his
side.

"How came he here?" he asked feebly.

"Listen, and I will tell you," was the low reply. "I sought him first
at Monaco, but he had not been heard of there for two years. Then I
found traces of him at Algiers; and followed up the clue to Cairo,
Athens, Syracuse, and Belgrade. It was at Constantinople I found
him at last--an officer--actually an officer in the Turkish army;
'Monsieur le Captaine,' my interpreter called him," the young man
added, with a fine scorn in his raised voice. "Imagine it! Well,
I gave him your letter, delivered the messages, and awaited his
pleasure. He kept me waiting for two days before he vouchsafed
one word of answer. On the third day he announced his intention of
accompanying me here. Nothing that I could say made any difference.
'His answer should be given to you in person, or not at all.' I
wrote to you three days before we started; that letter you never had.
Forgive me, father, for the shock! As for you," he continued, turning
abruptly towards the motionless figure at the foot of the bed, "I have
kept my word, and brought you here in safety, though no one in the
world will ever know how near I came to breaking it, and throwing you
into the Dardanelles. Ah! I was sorely tempted, I can tell you. Speak
your answer, and go! This is no place for you to linger in."

"Upon my word, you are courteous, very! But, my dear friend Martin,
as this is to be our farewell, I must really see you a little more
distinctly."

For the first time, the man in the long overcoat changed his position,
and came a little nearer to the bed. The movement showed him the
priest, kneeling with closed eyes and uplifted hands before an iron
crucifix.

"Ah! we are not quite alone then, Martin, _cher ami_! the gentleman in
the long robe appears to be listening."

"He is as dead," answered the man on the bed slowly. "He is a monk;
you can speak."

He raised himself slightly on the bed. One hand remained grasping his
despatch-box under the bed-clothes; the other was held by the young man
who knelt by his side. His face was curiously changed; all the effect
of his unlooked-for visitor's arrival seemed to have passed away. His
eyes were bright and eager. His white lips were closely set and firm.

"You can speak," he repeated.

His visitor was leaning over the foot of the bed now, and the smile
had quite gone, leaving his face cold and white. He spoke a little
quicker than before.

"Here is your answer, Martin de Vaux! You offer me a fortune, on
condition that I give up to you on your deathbed the power by which I
hold those whom you love, my slaves. Money is dear to me, as it is to
most men, but I would die sooner than touch yours. Curse you, and
your money, and your family! Not for all the gold that was ever coined
would I yield up my power! My day will come, and may the evil spirit
bring you tidings of it down into hell! Curse you, Martin de Vaux! Now
you know my mind."

The dying man was strangely calm. From under the bed-clothes came the
faint sound of the opening and shutting of the despatch-box.

"Yes, I know your mind," he repeated quietly. "You mean me to die with
the torturing thought that I have left a poisonous reptile to suck
the life and blood from those I love, and the honour from a grand old
name. But I will not! We will take our next journey together, Victor."

A sudden change had crept into his tone before the last sentence; and
before it had died away, the priest and the man by the bedside had
leaped to their feet in horror. He whom they had thought too weak to
stir was sitting bolt upright in bed, his eyes blazing and his hand
extended. There was a line of fire, a loud report, and then a single
cry of agony. The man who had leaned over the foot of the bed lay on
the ground just as he had fallen, shot dead through the heart, and a
child, dark-skinned and thin, who had rushed in at the sound of the
report, was sobbing passionately with her arms wound around him.
Across the bed, still grasping the pistol, but with his hands hanging
helplessly down, lay the man who had fired the shot. The effort had
killed him.

The priest was the first in the room to move. He slowly bent over both
bodies, and then turned round to the other man.

"Dead?" he asked, with a dry, choking gasp.

"Both dead."

The priest and his companion, shocked and unnerved, looked at one
another in silence. The child's sobs grew louder, and the morning
sunlight stole across the bare floor, and fell upon the white, still
faces.

The tragedy was over, and the seeds of another sown.



CHAPTER II

"THE NEW ART"


A tall, fair young man stood in the small alcove of Lady Swindon's
drawing-room, with his eyes fixed upon the door. He was accurately
dressed in the afternoon garb of a London man about town, and carried
in his hand, or rather in his hands, for they were crossed behind him,
that hall-mark of Western civilization--a well-brushed, immaculate
silk hat. Neither in his clothes nor personal appearance was there any
striking difference between him and the crowd of other young men who
thronged the rooms, except perhaps that he was a trifle better made,
and pleasanter to look at than most of them, and that the air of
boredom, so apparent on most of their faces and in their manners, was
in his case perfectly natural. As a matter of fact, he hated afternoon
receptions, and was only waiting for a favourable opportunity to make
his exit unnoticed.

"Paul, my boy, you don't look happy," exclaimed a voice in his ear.

Paul de Vaux turned upon the new-comer sharply. "Not likely to,
Arthur. You know I hate all this sort of thing, and, as far as I can
see, it's just a repetition of the usual performance--stale speeches,
lionizing, gossip, and weak tea. I consider you've brought me here
under false pretences. Where's the startling novelty you promised me?"

"All in good time," was the cool reply. "You'll thank your stars
you're here in a minute or two."

Paul de Vaux looked at his brother incredulously. "Some sell of yours,
I suppose," he remarked. "At any rate, no one here whom I have spoken
to seems to be expecting anything unusual."

Arthur--no one ever called him anything else--laughed, and beat an
impatient tattoo upon the floor with his foot. He was several inches
shorter than his brother, and altogether unlike him. Yet he, too, was
good-looking, in a certain way.

"That's just the beauty of it," he said. "Lady Swindon has prepared
a little surprise for her guests. She's just that sort of woman, you
know. Denison told me about it at the club, a few minutes before you
came in for lunch. I shouldn't have bothered you to come if I hadn't
known there was something good on."

"I dislike surprises," his brother answered wearily. "Half the
pleasure of a thing lies in anticipation, and surprises rob one of
that. Let us go, Arthur; there are plenty here to enjoy this novelty,
whatever it is. Come and have a weed at my rooms, and we'll talk over
something for to-night."

Arthur shook his head and laid his hand upon Paul's coat-sleeve.
"You don't know what's coming off, old fellow; I wouldn't miss it for
anything. Great Scott! there's the bishop. Wonder how he'll like it?
and there's Lady May over there, Paul. You're booked, old man, if she
looks this way."

Paul leant forward with a faint show of interest, and looked in
the direction indicated. "I thought that the Westovers went North
yesterday," he remarked. "Lady May said that they expected it."

"Likely enough. 'Gad! the performance is going to commence," Arthur
exclaimed, quickly. "Paul, you are going to have a new sensation. You
are going to see the most beautiful woman in the world."

There was a little hush, and every one had turned towards the upper
end of the room. Some heavy curtains had been rolled aside, disclosing
a space, only a few yards square, which had been covered by a tightly
stretched drugget. There was a little curious anticipation amongst the
uninitiated. Then the comparative silence was broken by the strains
of a waltz from a violin, somewhere in the background. No one had
ever heard it before. There was a wilder, dreamier air with it,
than anything Waldteufel had ever written. And, while every one was
wondering whose music it could be, a woman glided out from behind a
screen, and stood for a second swaying herself slightly in the centre
of the drugget. Even that slight rhythmical motion of her body seemed
to bring her into perfect sympathy with the curious melody which was
filling the hushed room. And while the people watched her, already, in
varying degrees, under the spell of that curious fascination which her
personality and the exercise of her art seldom failed to excite, she
commenced to dance.

Long afterwards Paul de Vaux tried to describe in words, that dance,
and found that he could not, for there was indeed a charm beyond
expression or portrayal in the slow, almost languid movements, full of
infinite and inexpressible witchery. Every limb of her body and every
feature of her face followed, with a sort of effortless grace,
the movements of her feet. Yet the general effect of the whole was
suggestive of a sweet and dainty repose, voluptuous yet refined,
glowing with life, yet dreamily restful. In a certain sense her
physical movements, even her body itself, seemed merged and lost in
the artistic ideal created and born of her performance. And so it
was that he carried away that day no vivid thought-portrait of her
features, only a confused dream of a beautiful dusky face, rising
above a cloud of amber draperies, the lips slightly parted in a
wonderful smile, and a pair of heavily-lidded eyes, which, more than
once, had rested upon him, soft, dark, and lustrous. After all, it was
but a tangled web of memories, yet, such as it was, it became woven
into the pattern of his life, wonderfully soft and brilliant beside
some of those dark, gloomy threads which fate had spun for him.

The performance ended, as such performance should end, suddenly,
and without repetition. Her disappearance was so swift and yet so
graceful, that for a moment or two people scarcely realized that she
was gone. It was wonderful what a difference her absence made to the
room. The little stretch of drugget looked mean and bare. To Paul de
Vaux it seemed as though some warm, beautiful light, omniscient and
richly coloured, had suddenly burnt out, and left a damp chilliness in
the air. The silence was gloomy enough after that wonderful music, but
the babble of tongues which presently arose was a hundred times
worse. He found himself chafing and angry at the commonplacisms which
everywhere greeted his ear. Lady Swindon's afternoon entertainment had
been a great success, and every one was telling her so, more or
less volubly. There were some there, a handful of artists and a few
thoughtful men, who were silent, or who spoke of it only amongst
themselves in subdued voices. They recognised, in what had happened
that afternoon, the dawn of a new art, or rather the regeneration of
an old one, and they discussed in whispers its possible significance
and influence. She was an artist, that woman. No one doubted it. But
the woman was there as well as the artist. Who was she? Would she
realize the sanctity of her mission, and keep herself fit and pure for
its accomplishment? Had she character to sustain her, and imagination
to idealize her calling? She was on a pinnacle now, but it was a
pinnacle as dangerous as the feet of woman could press. If only she
could keep herself unspotted from the world, which would do its best
to drag her down, they all felt, painter, poet, and musician, that her
influence with the age might rank with their own. But was it possible?
A certain Diana-like coldness had been apparent to those who had the
eyes to see it, even in her most voluptuous movements. They knew
that it was not assumed for the sake of adding piquancy to her
performance--it was there indeed. But side by side with it there
were unprobed depths of passion in her soft, deep eyes; a slumbering
passion even in the sinuous, graceful movements of every limb. Some
day the struggle would come, even if it had not already commenced.
The woman against the artist--the woman tempted and flattered by a
thousand tongues, and dazzled with visions of all those things so
naturally sweet to her, her own nature even, so keenly susceptible to
love and sympathy, siding with the enemy. This, all against what? Only
that inward worshipping of all things sweet and pure and lofty, which
is the artist's second life. The odds were heavy indeed. No wonder
that the select few who spoke of her that afternoon should shake their
heads and look grave.



CHAPTER III

"THE DANCING GIRL"


"What do you think of it?"

Paul started. He had been standing, like a man in a dream, with
folded arms, looking across the room with idle eyes, and unconsciously
ignoring many salutations. His brother's tone sounded oddly in his
ears, and he looked flushed and a little nervous.

"What did I think of it!" It was a difficult question to answer. He
repeated it, and was glad when Arthur spared him the necessity of
replying, by adding his own opinion.

"It was glorious, magnificent! I'm going to find out more about her!"

He strolled away, and joined one of the little groups of men who were
discussing the performance. Paul, at first, had made a gesture as
though to detain him, but on second thoughts he had changed his mind.
Better let him go and find out what he could.

He himself watched carefully for his opportunity, and then left the
room. He felt like a man who has received a silent shock. Something
fresh had come into his life, noiselessly, insidiously, without
effort. He pressed on his hat, and passed down the steps out into the
street, scarcely conscious of what he was doing.

The rush of fresh air somewhat revived him, and he stood still for a
moment to collect his thoughts. He felt the need of absolute
solitude for a while, to help him to realize--or at any rate to
understand--this thing which had happened, and with almost feverish
haste he called a hansom from the other side of the road. The man
whipped up the horse, but hesitated as he reached the pavement.
Looking around, Paul saw the cause of his indecision. A woman,
standing only a few yards behind, had called him at the same time, and
was waiting also for his approach.

There was a gas-lamp between them, and as their eyes met, he
recognised her. Even in that flickering light, and through her
veil, there was no mistaking those wonderful eyes. As a rule, he was
possessed of as much _savoir faire_ as most men of his class, but at
that moment it had deserted him. He stood there on the edge of the
pavement, without moving or saying anything, simply looking at
her, startled at her sudden appearance, and magnetised by her close
presence. He had heard no footfall behind him, and the fact of her
being alone seemed so strange to him, that he simply could not realize
for a moment that it was indeed she who stood so close to him. The
cabman, leaving them to decide who had the prior claim upon him, sat
motionless, with his eyes discreetly fixed upon his horse's ears. It
was an odd little tableau, insignificant enough to a spectator, save,
perhaps, for the curious look in the woman's face and softly flashing
eyes. Yet it left its mark for ever in the lives of the two principal
figures.

The curious sensation which had kept Paul standing there dazed and
tongue-tied, passed away. Yet it did not immediately occur to him to
raise his hat and walk on, as in any ordinary case he would have done.
He was conscious of the exact nature of the situation, but he felt a
strong disinclination to leave the spot; nor, strangely enough, did
she seem to expect it. Yet something had to be done.

He moved a step nearer her. He was no schoolboy, this tall,
grave-looking young Englishman. The lines across his fair, smooth
forehead, and by his close-set mouth spoke for themselves. He had seen
life in many aspects, and in a certain Indian jungle village, there
were natives and coolies who still spoke admiringly of the wonderful
nerve and pluck of the English sahib during a terrible and unexpected
tiger rush. But at that moment his nerve seemed to have deserted him.
He could almost hear his heart beat as he took that step forward. He
had intended to have made some trifling apology, and to have handed
her into the cab, but the words would not come. Some instinct seemed
to revolt at the thought of uttering any such commonplacism. She was
standing on the edge of the pavement, close to the step, with her
skirts in one hand, slightly raised. He held out his hand to her in
silence.

She gave him hers; and yet she did not at once step into the cab.
She seemed to be expecting that little speech from him which he found
impossible to frame, and, seeing that it did not come, recognising,
perhaps, his suppressed agitation behind that calm, almost cold,
gravity of demeanour, she spoke to him.

"It is a shame to take your cab, and leave you in the rain! I am
sorry."

Afterwards her admirers spoke of her voice as being one of her chief
charms; to Paul it sounded like a soft strain of very sweet, throbbing
music, reaching him from some far distant world. Yet, curiously
enough, it went far to dissolve the spell which her presence seemed to
have laid upon him. He was able to look at her steadily, and standing
upon the wet pavement in the cold, grey light of that November
afternoon, their eyes met in a long, searching gaze. He was able even
to notice trifles. He saw the rich fur which lined her plain, black
cloak, and he could even admire the absolute perfection with which
it followed the lines of her slim, supple, figure. He saw the glowing
eyes shining out from her dusky face, and the coils of brown hair, not
very securely fastened under her turban hat. As she put out her foot
to enter the cab, he could even catch a glimpse of the amber draperies
concealed by her cloak. A dancer! A public dancer! His eyes swept over
her again, taking in every detail of her simple but rich toilette, and
he shivered slightly. Then he answered her, "It is of no consequence,
thank you. I can walk."

"But you will get very wet! Let us make a compromise! You may come
with me. I am going only a very little distance, and then you can take
the cab on to your home, or wherever you want to go to."

She stepped in, taking it for granted that he would accept her offer,
and he followed her at once. He was not in the least surprised. From
the first he had not expected to leave her, and her invitation seemed
perfectly natural to him. She gave the cabman her address through the
trap-door, and they drove off together.

At the corner of the square, two men were standing together talking,
and as the hansom passed within a yard or two of them both glanced
idly in, and then started. Paul, who had been looking straight ahead
of him, and seeing nothing, turned round, startled by a familiar
exclamation, just in time to see his brother Arthur, and Leslie
Horton, gazing after the cab. The incident troubled him, as much for
her sake as his own. But, looking into her face, he could not see that
she was in any way disturbed, although she must have seen the two men,
and would probably have recognised them as having been present at Lady
Swindon's reception. Her face was quite unmoved, but in a moment or
two she asked a question.

"Who was the younger and better looking of those two men; the one with
violets in his coat, like yours?"

"It was my brother," he answered simply. "I am afraid, too, that he
recognised you."

"So far as I am concerned, that is of no consequence at all," she
answered lightly.

He turned away with a sudden sinking of the heart. He knew, too well,
that her carelessness was not assumed. How was he to interpret it?

Their drive was finished in silence, and they pulled up before a
handsome, though somewhat sombre-looking house in a back street.

"My rooms are here," she remarked.

He stepped on to the pavement, and assisted her to alight. The thought
of leaving her so abruptly was painful to him, and yet he dreaded to
hear her invite him to go in with her; nevertheless, she did so.

"If you are not in a hurry, perhaps you will come in, and let me give
you a cup of tea," she said, looking him full in the face.

His heart sank. What was he to think now? And yet he was absurdly glad
that he was not to leave her.

"Do you mean it?" he asked.

"Of course! I should not have asked you else. Are you very much
shocked?" she added, with a mocking gleam in her eyes. "It is not
proper, is it! I confess I did not think of that. But do come," she
added, with a sudden bewitching smile.

"I shall be delighted," he answered, gravely enough, but truthfully.
He turned to pay the cabman, and followed her into the house.

"My rooms are upstairs," she remarked, leading the way. "The luxury of
a first floor is at present beyond me."

Her words pleased him, but their effect died away when she opened a
door on the first landing, and ushered him in. Such of the interior
of the house as he had seen was handsomely furnished, but the room in
which he stood was almost like a fairy chamber. Curtains divided it in
the centre, and beyond he could see a table laid for dinner.

"That half I use for a dining-room," she remarked, pointing towards it
with one of her gloves, which she had just taken off. "It makes this
room small, but it is a convenient arrangement. Do sit down!"

He bowed, but remained standing, with his elbow resting upon the
draped mantel-board. She took off her hat and coat, hanging them over
the back of a chair, and advanced towards him.

She was in her dancing dress, a floating mass of yellow draperies, and
the firelight gleamed strangely upon her dusky, perfect face, with its
olive colouring, and soft, glowing eyes. She came so close to him that
a faint odour from the handkerchief in her hand stole up to him.

He was playing with an ornament on the shelf, and his fingers
tightened convulsively around it. It snapped in two in his hand; he
did not notice it. He leaned forward towards her, and his strong voice
vibrated with feeling.

"And it was for this then, Adrea Kiros, that you ran away from the
convent St. Lucile! My God!"



CHAPTER IV

"ADREA'S DIARY"


To-day I have made my entrance in the first scene of the drama of
life. To-day, therefore, I commence my memoirs. Everything before goes
for nothing!

As I have removed myself altogether from all association with
the humdrum existence which might have been mine, I am naturally
friendless for the present. So far as the other sex is concerned, I
fancy that that could be easily remedied. But no women are likely
to care about making my acquaintance, and I am glad of it. I hate
women--men, too, I think! At any rate, there will be no one of whom I
shall make a confidant, so I have chosen you, my silent friend. I gave
a guinea for you in Bond Street, and with your dainty morocco case
and binding, I think you are well worth it. At any rate, you will be
faithful so far as silence is concerned.

To-day has been an eventful one. I have made my _debut_ as a dancer,
and Paul de Vaux has been here, in this house, alone with me! That is
hard to realize, but it is so! He has altered since he used to pay
me periodical visits at the convent--and so have I, I imagine! Yet he
recognised me! How pale and stern he looked when he stood up on the
hearthrug and called me by my name! He is very handsome--handsomer now
even than on that day when he stood by, in that chamber of death, and
saw my father murdered, without lifting his hand. Ah! Paul de Vaux,
Paul de Vaux! that was an evil day for you! Did you never think that
that little brown girl, as you called her, would grow up some day; or
did you think that she would forget! Bah! What fools men are!

He remembered me! How grave he looked, and yet how tender his voice
sounded! He did not forget that he was my guardian, and I his ward.
How bewildered and anxious he was! Was I living quite alone, had I no
friends, did I think it wise to lay myself open to so much notice?

He had come close to my chair, and was leaning down, so that his head
nearly touched mine. Really, when I looked up, I thought that he was
going to take me into his arms. I looked up and laughed softly into
his face.

He said no more. I invited him to dine with me, and promised to dance
to him afterwards. I even let my hand rest for a moment upon his
shoulder, and whispered--but _n'importe_! He behaved just as I would
have had him behave! He took up his hat and walked straight out of the
room! It was rude, but it was magnificent. Ah! Paul de Vaux! you may
struggle as long as you like, but in the end you will be mine!



CHAPTER V

"THE FAR-OFF MUTTERING OF THE STORM TO COME"


"Paul!"

Paul had walked unannounced into his mother's favourite little
sitting-room at Vaux Court, tired and travel-stained. She rose to her
feet and looked at him anxiously.

"Don't be alarmed, mother," he said, stooping down and kissing her.
"There's nothing at all the matter."

"Arthur is well?"

"Quite well; I was with him yesterday afternoon. There's nothing the
matter. London was boring me, that's all, and I thought I'd run down
here and have a look at the old place, and perhaps a day's hunting."

Relieved of her anxiety, Mrs. de Vaux was unaffectedly pleased to see
her eldest son. She was a fine, white-haired old lady, dignified and
handsome, but with very few soft lines about her comely face.

"I am delighted to see you, of course, Paul! The meet is at Dytchley
woods to-morrow! I hope you'll have a good day. Take your coat off. I
have rung for some tea."

"Thanks! How bright and cheerful the fire seems. I walked from the
station, and it was miserably cold."

"Of course it was. I wish I had known you were coming. We have so
little work for the carriage horses."

"I did not make up my mind until half an hour before the train
started," Paul answered. "Dick Carruthers wanted me to run over to
Paris with him for a couple of days, and I was undecided which to do.
I heard that it was cold and wet there, though; and there is always a
charm about this old place which makes me glad to come back to it."

"There is not such another place in England," his mother remarked,
pouring out the tea. "Although this is such an outlandish county,
there have been a dozen people here this week, asking to be allowed
to see over the Abbey. I always give permission when you are away, and
there is no one stopping here."

Paul drank his tea, and stretched himself out in his low chair with an
air of comfort.

"I am glad you let them see the place, mother," he said. "It is only
right. What class of people do you have, as a rule? Clergymen and
ecclesiastical architects, I suppose?"

"Chiefly. There are a good many Americans, though; and yesterday,
or the day before, a Roman Catholic priest. He spent the day in the
cloisters and wandering about the Abbey, I believe."

Paul looked up suddenly, and drew his chair back out of the firelight.
For the first time, his mother noticed how pale and ghastly his face
was.

"Paul, are you ill?" she asked anxiously. "What is the matter with
you?"

"Nothing. I am only tired. It is a long journey, you know,--and the
walk from the station. Indeed, it is nothing else. I am quite well."

His mother resumed her seat. She had risen in sudden alarm. Her son's
face had frightened her.

"You look just as your poor father used to look sometimes," she said
softly. "It always frightened me. It was as though you had a pain
somewhere, or had suddenly seen a ghost. You are sure you are well?"

"Quite, mother! You need have no fear. Arthur and I have your
constitution, I think."

His tone was deeper, almost hollow. He still kept his chair back
amongst the shadows. Mrs. de Vaux was only partially satisfied.

"I am afraid you have been keeping too late hours, Paul, or reading
too much. Lord Westover was saying the other day that you were in a
very Bohemian set--journalists and artists, and those sort of people.
I am afraid they keep awful hours."

"Lord Westover knows nothing about it," Paul answered wearily.
"Ordinary London society would tire me to death in a fortnight. There
is another class of people, though, whose headquarters are in London,
far more cultured, and quite as exclusive, with whom association is a
far greater distinction. I can go anywhere in the first set, because
I am Paul de Vaux, of Vaux Abbey, and have forty thousand a year. I
am permitted to enter the other only as the author of an unfashionable
novel, which a few of them have thought leniently of. Which seem the
worthier conditions?"

"I am answered, Paul. Of course, in a sense, you are right. I am
an old woman, and the twaddle of a London drawing-room would fall
strangely upon my ears now, but I had my share of it before Arthur was
born. If I were a man, I should want variety,--a little sauce,--and
you are right to seek for it. And now, won't you go and have a bath,
and change your things. You still look pale, and I think it would
refresh you. Shall I ring for Reynolds? I suppose you have not brought
your own man?"

He stretched out his hand, and arrested her fingers upon the bell. "In
a moment, mother. It is so comfortable here, and I really think it is
my favourite room."

He looked round approvingly. It was a curious, hexagonal chamber, with
an oak-beamed ceiling, curving into a dome. The walls were hung with
a wonderful tapestry of a soft, rich colour, and every piece of
furniture in the room was of the Louis Quinze period. There was
scarcely a single anachronism. The Martin de Vaux of forty years ago
had been an artist, and a man of taste; and when he had brought home
his bride, a duke's daughter, he had spent a small fortune on this
apartment. Since then it had always been her favourite, and she was
always glad to hear any one praise it.

"I seldom sit in any other," she remarked complacently. "The blue
drawing-room is open to-night, but that is because Lord and Lady
Westover are dining here. I am afraid May will not be able to come;
she has a cold or something of the sort. I wonder whether it is true,
what they say, that she is delicate."

Paul did not appear much interested. He had a purpose in lingering
here, and it had nothing to do with May Westover's health. There was
a little information he wished to obtain without exciting his mother's
curiosity. But it was not exactly an easy matter.

"I was interested in what you said about the visitors here,"
he remarked. "I daresay to Americans this place must be very
interesting."

"You would think so if you saw some of them. They are a great deal too
inquisitive and familiar for Reynolds. He detests them. It is far more
interesting to think of that Catholic priest who was here the other
day. He lingered about the place as though he had known it all his
life, and loved it; and, Reynolds says, he prayed for two hours in the
chapel."

"Did you see him yourself?"

"Yes, in the distance. I did not notice him particularly. I wished
afterwards that I had. Reynolds' report of him pleased me so much. I
daresay he was conjuring up pictures of the days when the old Abbey
was full of grey-hooded monks, and the chapel was echoing day and
night to their solemn chants and prayers. Sometimes, in the gloaming,
I can almost fancy myself that I see them kneeling in long rows in
those rich stalls, and hear the rustle of their gowns as they pass
slowly down the aisles. I think he must have found it sad to linger
about in that beautiful chapel, so cold, and empty, and bare. That
is why I like Roman Catholics. They have such a strong reverential
affection for their places of worship, and take such a delight in
adorning them. It is almost like a personal love."

Paul moved uneasily in his chair and looked steadily into the fire.
"Then you did not notice him particularly?"

"Notice him! Notice whom?"

"This priest, or whoever he was."

"I did not see his face, Paul, if that is what you mean. I only
remember that he was tall. You seem very much interested in him. No
doubt Reynolds could tell you anything you wish to know. Here he is;
you had better ask him."

A grey-headed man-servant had entered, bearing a lamp. Mrs. de Vaux
turned to him.

"Reynolds, Mr. Paul is interested in hearing about the priest who
spent so much time looking over the Abbey yesterday. Can you describe
him?"

Reynolds set down the lamp and turned respectfully around. "Not very
well, I'm afraid, sir," he said doubtfully. "They all seem so much
alike, you know, sir, in those long gowns. He was tall, rather thin,
and no hair on his face at all. I can't say that I noticed anything
else, except that he spoke in rather a foreign accent."

"You are sure he was a priest, I suppose," Paul asked carelessly. "We
hear so much now of impostors, and of things being stolen from places
of interest, that it makes one feel suspicious."

"I am quite sure he was no impostor, sir." Reynolds answered
confidently. "He was too interested in the place for that. He knew its
history better than any one who has ever been here in my day. If he
had been one of those sneaking sort of fellows, looking about for what
he could get, he would have offered me money, and tried to get rid of
me for a time, I think, sir."

"That's true," Paul remarked. "Were you with him all the time, then?"

"Very nearly, sir. He did not like my leaving him at all. He was
afraid of missing something worth seeing. Besides, he did not ask to
come into the house at all, not even to see the pictures. He spent all
his time in the ruins.

"That ends the matter, of course," Paul answered shortly. "There is
nothing out there to attract pilferers. Sorry I said anything about
it."

"He asked whether you spent much of your time here, and when you would
be down again, sir," Reynolds remarked, as he turned to quit the room.

Paul looked up, and then stood quite still for a moment without
speaking. A great fear had fallen upon him. Out of the shadows of
the past, he seemed to see again that deathbed scene, and the tragedy
which had brought down the curtain upon two lives. Almost he could
fancy himself again upon his yacht, with the salt sea spray beating
against his face, and the white breakers hissing and seething around
him, as they made the dangerous passage towards that faint light,
which flickered and gleamed in the distant monastery tower. They are
safe! They reach the land; they are hurried into that great, gloomy
bed-chamber, where chill draughts rustled ghost-like amongst the
heavy, faded hangings, and the feeble candlelight left weird shadows
moving across the floor and upon the walls. Again he heard the
rattling of the window-panes, bare and exposed to every gust of wind;
the far-off thunder of the sea, like a deep, continuous undernote;
and, from an almost unseen corner of the chamber, the monotonous,
broken rhythm of sad prayers for the dying, mumbled by that dark,
curious-looking priest. And then, when the background of the picture
had formed itself in his memory, he saw the deed itself. He saw
the white, stricken face suddenly ablaze with that last effort of
passionate life; he saw the outstretched arm, the line of fire, and
the sudden change in the countenance of the man who stood at the foot
of the bed. He saw the cool cynicism replaced by a spasm of ghastly
fear, and he heard the low, gurgling cry dying away into a faint moan
of terror, as the murdered man sank on to the floor, a crumpled heap.
And, last of all, he saw that little brown girl, with her tumbled hair
and tear-stained face, clasping the dead body and glaring at every one
in the room, with a storm of hatred and impotent fury in her flashing
eyes. And that last recollection brought him, like a flash, back
to the present,--brought him swift, bewildering memories of Adrea,
shaking his heart, and bringing the hot colour streaming into his
face. He remembered where he was, and why he had left London. He
remembered, too, that he was not alone, and with a little start he
awoke to the present.

Reynolds had left the room, and his mother was watching him curiously.
He found it hard to meet her steady, questioning gaze without
flinching.

"Paul," she said slowly, "you are in trouble."

He shook his head. "It is nothing, mother--nothing at all. I ought to
beg your pardon for letting my thoughts run away with me so."

She was too proud to ask him for his confidence, and at that moment
the rumbling of a gong reached them from the distant hall. Mrs. de
Vaux rose:--

"There are a few people dining here, Paul, so you will not be late."

"I will be down, mother. The usual time, I suppose."

"Yes, eight o'clock."

They left the room together, but parted in the hall. Mrs. de Vaux
stayed to speak to the housekeeper for a moment, and Paul ascended
the broad staircase alone. On the first corridor he paused, standing
before the deep-cushioned sill of a high-arched window, and gazing at
the ruined portion of the abbey. The air outside was frosty and clear,
and though the moon as yet was only faintly yellow, every arch and
cloister was clearly visible. Paul gazed down at them, as he had done
all his life, with reverent eyes. There was something almost awesome
in the graceful yet bold outline, and in the great age of those
rugged, moss-grown pillars and arches, so ecclesiastical in their
shape and suggestiveness,--as indeed they might well be, for they were
practically the ruins of the old monastery chapel. But, as he looked,
the expression in his eyes suddenly changed. A dark figure had passed
slowly out from the shadow of the arches, and stood looking up towards
the house, rigid, solemn, and motionless. Paul covered his face with
his hands, and sank down upon the cushioned window-sill.



CHAPTER VI

"AN ASHEN GREY DELIGHT"


"Mr. de Vaux!"

Paul turned quickly around in his saddle towards the young lady who
had addressed him. He looked into a fair, thoughtful face, whose
general amiability was discounted, just then, by a decided frown.

"I beg your pardon, Lady May! Didn't you say something just now?"

"Didn't I say something just now!" she repeated, with fine scorn.
"Upon my word, Mr. de Vaux, I think that you must have left your wits
in London! What is the matter with you?"

"The matter! Why, nothing! I'm sorry----"

"Oh! pray don't apologise!" she interrupted hastily. "I think I'll
ride on and catch papa up."

He laid his hand upon her rein. "Please don't, Lady May," he begged.
"I know I've been inattentive! I'm very sorry--really I am. Let me try
and make up for it!"

She looked into his face, and she was mollified. He was evidently in
earnest.

"Oh! very well," she said. "You mustn't think that I complained
without due cause, though, for I spoke to you three times before you
answered me. Oh, it's all right," she went on, as he commenced to
frame another apology. "I don't mind now, but I really should like to
know what is the matter with you. You have ridden all day like a man
who valued neither his own life nor his horse's. Some of your jumps
were simply reckless! I have heard other people say so, too! I like
bold riding, but there is a limit; and though I've ridden two hounds
since papa gave me my first pony, I've never seen any one try to jump
Annisforth brook below the bridge, before,--and don't want to again,"
she added, with a little shudder. "I know you ride fine horses, but
you are not generally foolhardy. I saw your dark bay mare being taken
home at Colbourne Spinneys, and I don't think she'll be fit to ride
again this season. Old Harrison had tears in his eyes when he saw
her!"

"Harrison is an old woman about horses! I never touched Meg with the
spurs. She was as fresh as paint, and there was no holding her."

"You can't deceive me or yourself," Lady May continued calmly. "You
have been riding for a fall, all day, and you may think yourself
pretty fortunate that you haven't a broken neck. It seemed as though
you were trying for one. And now that you haven't succeeded, you have
nearly ridden ten miles alone with me, and scarcely opened your mouth.
You are very provoking, Mr. de Vaux. I wish I had ridden home with
Captain Fellowes."

He was on the point of reminding her that the arrangement had not been
of his making, but he checked himself. After all, Lady May had some
grounds for her irritation. They had been friends since they had been
children, and Paul knew that every one expected him, someday, to ask
Lady May to become the mistress of Vaux Abbey. There had been a little
more than intimacy even in their friendship up till twelve months ago;
and Paul had certain recollections of their last interview, which had
made him more than once a trifle uneasy. As a matter of fact, Lady May
had quite made up her mind that Paul de Vaux would certainly ask her
to marry him some time; and she had, on his account, refused two very
eligible offers. Their people desired it, and, in her heart, Lady May
was conscious that Paul was a little more to her than any other man
could be. So she felt herself at first, aggrieved by his long silence
during their ride home, which, to tell the truth, she had carefully
planned for, and afterwards was just on the verge of being seriously
offended.

"Don't be angry with me, please," he said quietly. "You are right;
something is the matter. I am worried."

She was sympathetic and kindly at once. "I'm so sorry. Please forgive
me for bothering you. You used to tell me your troubles once! Are we
too old now?"

He shook his head. "I hope we never shall be," he said. "I can't tell
you all, but one thing is this. I had a letter from a man in town
to-day--a man whom I can trust--about Arthur. You know what an
impressionable, sensitive boy he is. Anyone who once obtains an
influence over him can do nearly what they like with him. He seems--so
my correspondent tells me--to have become completely fascinated with
a--a--dancer--Adrea Kiros I think she calls herself."

"I have heard of her," Lady May murmured. "She dances only at private
houses, I think. Everyone says she is wonderful."

"She is--wonderful," Paul said slowly. He was about to say more, but
he checked himself. Lady May was watching him, and he knew that he
could not speak of Adrea Kiros unmoved. So he went on:--

"I am not complaining, for after all it is perfectly natural, but
Arthur is certainly his mother's favorite son. You know how strict she
is in some of her notions; so you can understand what a shock it would
be to her if any rumors were to reach her ears. It would be a terrible
blow to her. But, apart from that, the thing is serious in itself.
Arthur was always delicate, and Cis--my friend--speaks of him as
looking ghastly ill. The girl is probably only amusing herself,
although she seems to have given him plenty of encouragement. But I
know Ad--Adrea Kiros. She is no ordinary girl of her class. In the
whole world I doubt if there breathes a more dangerous woman," he
wound up, in a low tone.

Lady May was quite sympathetic now, but a little mystified. "I am so
sorry," she said softly. "Ought you not to go to London, and try what
your influence can do with him? That is disinterested advice, at any
rate," she added, with a little laugh, "for I don't want you to go.
But Arthur always seemed to look up to you so! You might be able to
get him away. Don't you think it would be a good thing if you could
get him down here? We would make it as lively as possible for him up
at the Castle; and, I don't know how your preserves are, but ours
have been scarcely touched yet. Between the two of us, at any rate, he
could have as much shooting as he liked. And I would ask the Fergusson
girls to come and stay," she went on, getting more and more in love
with her plan. "He was so much taken with Amy, you know, when they
were down here before. We could get up some theatricals, or something,
and have quite a good time. What do you think of my plan?"

He was thankful for her long speech, for it had enabled him to get
over the slight agitation which the thought of that unavoidable
journey to London had called up in him. From the first he had felt
that it was his duty to go. He had received this disquieting letter
two days ago, and since then he had telegraphed twice and written to
Arthur without getting any reply. Yes, he must go. And mingled with
that reluctance and nameless apprehension which he felt at the thought
of returning into her neighbourhood, he was acutely conscious, all the
time, of a certain vague but sweet pleasure at the thought that fate
had so ordained it. Perhaps it would be necessary for him to see
her! A thrill of pleasure passed through him at the thought, followed
almost immediately by a reaction of keen and bitter disgust with
himself. He set his teeth, and quite unconsciously dug his spurs into
his horse's sides, with the natural result that she reared up, almost
unseating him, and then plunged forward. He had to gallop her along
the road for a few hundred yards, and then turned round and rejoined
Lady May. Fortunately she had not seen the commencement of the little
episode.

"Whatever was the matter?" she asked.

"I fancy my spurs must have pricked her," he said apologetically. "I
was riding quite carelessly."

"Well, please don't let it happen again," she begged, eyeing his
mare's flanks suspiciously. "Dandy is very tired now, and is generally
good tempered; but I don't think he would stand much of that sort of
thing."

"I'm really very sorry," he said.

She nodded. "All right. And now, what do you think of my plan? Are you
going to London?"

"I think your plan is a very good one indeed, and I shall run up
to town to-morrow," he said. "It is very good of you to be so
interested."

He looked down into her face, a fair, sweet face it was, and then
glanced away over the bare moorland which stretched on one side of
them. It was a late November afternoon, and a faint yellow light
was lingering in the west, where the sun had just set, colouring the
clouds which stretched across the sky in long, level streaks. A fresh,
healthy breeze, strong with the perfume of the sea, blew in their
teeth, and afar off they could hear the waves dashing against the
iron-bound line of northern cliffs. Inland, the country was more
cultivated, but hilly and broken up with masses of lichen-covered
rock, and little clumps of thin fir trees. He knew the scenery so
well. The rugged, barren country, with its great stretches of moorland
and little patches of cultivated land, with its silent tarns, its
desolation, and the ever-varying music of the sea, they all meant home
to him, and he loved them. It had always been so, and yet he felt it
at that moment as he had never felt it before. The prospect of that
journey to London was suddenly loathsome to him. The clear, physical
healthfulness of his North-country home was triumphant, for the
moment, over that other passion, which seemed to him then weak and
artificial. It seemed to him also, looking down into Lady May's
fresh, thoughtful face, that she was somehow in accord with these
surroundings,--that she was, indeed, the link, the safeguard which
should bind him to them, the good influence which should keep him fit
to breathe God's pure air, and to keep himself, as he had ever striven
to, _sans peur et sans reproche_. Paul was no sentimentalist, in the
idle and common sense of the word. In his attitude to every-day
life, he was essentially practical, sometimes perhaps a little too
practical. But he was capable of strong feeling, and it came then with
a rush. He leant over towards Lady May, and laid his hand upon her
saddle.

"You are very kind and sympathetic," he said softly. "You are always
kind."

She looked up at him, pleased, and with a soft look in her deep grey
eyes. "You do not give me very much opportunity," she said quietly.
"At one time you used to tell me all your troubles; do you remember?"

"Yes! I remember," he answered, almost in a whisper, for they were
riding up a grass-grown avenue,--a back way to the Abbey,--and their
horses' hoofs sank noiselessly into the soft turf. "Sometimes I have
dared to hope that those days may come again."

She was silent, and her head was turned away lest he might see the
tears trembling in her eyes. So they rode on for a moment or two,
walking their horses in the dim twilight; she in the shadow of the
grey wall and the overhanging trees, and he very close to her, with
his hand still upon her saddle and his reins loose in his hand.

"If ever they did, if ever I was so fortunate," he went on in a low
tone, "you would find your office no sinecure. I have troubles, or
rather, one trouble, and a great one, May."

She looked at him for a moment, her eyes full of sympathy. She dimly
remembered the time when strange stories were current in the county of
Martin de Vaux, and their echo had remained for years. It was not for
her to inquire about them, and she never had done so. But that their
burden should have fallen upon Paul; it was hard! Her heart was sore
with the injustice of it. A woman is a swift and censorious judge of
any one who brings trouble upon the man she loves.

He was a little closer to her still; and suddenly the hand which
carried her small whip felt itself grasped in strong fingers and held
tightly.

"May----"

It was not his fault this time that his mare stood still, and then ran
backwards, dislodging the topmost stones from the grey stone wall with
her hind quarters, and then plunging violently. This time there was
cause for her alarm. A tall, forbidding-looking figure stood in the
middle of the avenue, grasping the rein of Lady May's terrified horse.
He had come out of the twilight so suddenly, and his attire was
so unusual, that Paul and Lady May were almost as surprised as the
animals. Paul's first instinct was one of anger.

"What the----"

He stopped short. The man who had startled them so had quieted Lady
May's horse with a few soothing words, and now stood out of the deep
shade of the overhanging trees into the centre of the avenue. Even
here his face was scarcely visible, but his figure and attire were
sufficient. He wore the long robes and shovel hat of a Roman Catholic
priest.

Paul broke off in the middle of his exclamation, and the arm which had
been grasping his whip tightly sank nervelessly to his side. He was
thankful for the twilight, which concealed the grey shade which had
stolen into his face. Yet now that the blow had fallen, he was calmer
than he had been in some of his anticipations of it. For it had
indeed fallen! In the dusky twilight he had recognised the face of the
priest, changed though it was. He rode up, and addressed him.

"Have you lost your way?" he asked quietly. "This is a private road,
and the gate at the other end is locked."

The priest looked at him steadily for a moment, and then drew on one
side, as though to let them pass.

"I am sorry that I startled your horses," he said, in a soft, pleasant
voice, marked with a strong foreign accent; "I was standing with my
back to you, waiting for the moon to rise behind the ruins there,
and the soft ground made your approach noiseless. And, if I am
trespassing, I am sorry. The steward at the Abbey yonder gave me
permission to wander anywhere around the ruins. I have perhaps
exceeded a little his bounds."

"It is of no consequence," Paul said. "You find the ruins interesting,
then?"

"Very."

"There are some pictures in the Abbey you might care to see--mostly
modern, but there is a Rubens and two Giorgiones."

The priest removed his hat. "I thank you, but I am only interested in
ecclesiastical art. These ruins are more to me than any pictures--save
those which Rome alone possesses," he added. "I spend all my evenings
here, and hope to be allowed to, for the short time that I remain in
the neighbourhood."

"You have my permission to come and go as you please. I am Mr. de
Vaux," Paul said, touching his horse with the whip. "Good-evening!"

"Good-evening, sir! Good-evening, madam! I thank you!"

They rode on down the avenue, Paul silent and absorbed, and making no
attempt to pursue the conversation. At the bend of the lane he turned
round in his saddle. The priest was standing with his back to them,
motionless and silent as a figure of stone.



CHAPTER VII

"WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT YOUR MISSION?"


The winter moon, soft and bright and full, looked down upon the
ruins of Vaux Abbey. A strange beauty lay upon the bare, rock-strewn
hillside and desolate moor. Afar off a grey, brawling stream was
touched by its light, and in its place a band of gold seemed coiled
around the grey, sleeping hill. A black, reed-grown tarn at the foot
of the Abbey gleamed and quivered like a fair silver shield. The dark
pines which crowned their sandy slopes lost their forbidding frown in
an unaccustomed softness, and every harsh line and broken pillar of
the ruined chapel was toned down into a rich, sad softness. A human
face, too, uplifted to the sky, so silent and motionless that it
seemed almost set into the side of one of those groined arches, had
lost all its harshness and worldliness in the glow of that falling
light. It might have been the face of a saint, save for the vague
unhappiness which shone in the clear, dark eyes; for at that moment,
spirituality, wistfulness, and reverence seemed carved into the white,
still features. But there was disquiet, too; and, after a while, as
though some cloud had passed across the moon, a dark shade stole into
the white face. The brows were contracted into a frown, and the eyes
filled with restless doubt. Father Adrian moved away from the shadow
of the pillar, and stood, tall and motionless, on the ruined chapel
floor, with his eyes fixed upon the distant landscape. After a moment
or two, his lips began to move and he commenced to speak aloud in a
low, deep tone.

"Six nights has my voice gone up to God from amongst these silent
ruins, six nights I have prayed in rain. These fair, still evenings
mock me! Whose is their beauty, if it be not God's; and, if there be a
God, and if the Blessed Virgin, our Holy Mother, indeed dwells amongst
the stars, why are their faces turned from me? Oh! that man knew a
little more or a little less--enough to pierce the mystery of yon
star-crowned heavens, or so little as to gaze on them unmoved and
unfeeling! What is our little knowledge? A mockery, a dreary, hopeless
mockery! I had better have rotted in that miserable monastery, a
soulless, lifeless being, than have stepped out to struggle with a
world which is only a terrible riddle to me. I cannot reason with it;
I cannot laugh or weep with it; I am in it, but not of it! Why was I
sent? Oh I why was I sent?"

The snapping of a twig caused him to turn suddenly round. Paul de Vaux
was advancing through the ruins, with a loose cloak thrown over his
evening clothes.

Father Adrian turned round to meet him. The two men stood for a moment
face to face without speaking. Both recognised that this interview
was to be no ordinary one; and in a certain sense, each seemed to be
measuring the other's strength. It was Paul who spoke first.

"We have met before, Father Adrian."

"Yes."

"You will scarcely wonder that I am surprised to see you here in
England. Have you left the monastery at Cruta?"

"I left it a month after you did."

"But your vows,--were they not for life?" Paul asked.

Father Adrian smiled scornfully. "I was not bound to Cruta," he
answered. "There had been complaints, and I was there to investigate
them. The monastery was poverty and disease-stricken. It is closed now
forever."

"Then you are no monk?"

Father Adrian shook his head. "I am, and I am not. In my youth I
served my novitiate, but I never took the oaths. The cloisters are for
holier men than I."

"Then who are you?"

"I am--Father Adrian, priest of the Roman Catholic Church, I can tell
you no more."

The moonlight was falling full upon his dark, striking face. Paul,
with bent brows, scanned every feature of it intently. Father Adrian
bore the scrutiny without flinching and without discomposure. Only
once the colour mounted a little into his cheeks as the eyes of the
two men met.

"What brings you to Vaux Abbey, Father Adrian?" Paul asked at length.

"To see your home," was the quiet reply.

"What do you want with me? It must be something more than curiosity
which has brought you all this way. What is it?"

Father Adrian was silent. Yet his silence was not one of confusion.
He was looking down through the gaps in the ruined chapel walls at the
dark Gothic front of the old Abbey. Paul waited for an answer, and it
came at last.

"I wished to see the home of Martin de Vaux, the Englishman who died
in my arms at the monastery of Cruta. For six nights I have prayed
for his soul in Purgatory, amongst the ruins here. He died in grievous
sin!"

"Have you come to remind me of it?" Paul asked bitterly. "Perhaps
you have repented of your silence, and have come to break the widow's
heart by telling her the story of his last moments. Perhaps--perhaps
in those dark hours he told you his secret--told you why he had come
to Cruta!"

"He did," said the priest gravely.

"My God!"

It was a great shock to Paul. Hitherto he had feared only one thing:
that the story of his father's tragical death might come to light, and
break his mother's heart. Now there was more to fear,--far more. He
looked into Father Adrian's face with a new and keener interest. He
recognised at once that everything dear to him in life might be at
this man's mercy.

"You were intrusted with this secret by a dying man," Paul said, with
a little hoarseness in his tone. "It is to you as the secrets of the
confessional!"

The priest shook his head gently. "He refused to confess. He told me
distinctly that it was as man to man he spoke to me."

Paul looked away into the night with white, stricken face, and cursed
his father's weakness. Supposing that this priest had discovered
that his conscience would not allow him to keep the secret! What
more likely! Why else was he here,--why else did he disclaim the
confessional? There was only one other alternative! Perhaps he desired
to trade upon his secret. Yet how was that possible? Of what use could
money be to him? What could he gain by it? Besides, his was not the
face of an adventurer.

"I do not understand," Paul said at last. "Once more let me ask you,
Father Adrian, why are you here?"

Father Adrian looked thoughtfully away. "You ask more than I can
tell you," he said gravely. "The time has not yet come. We shall meet
again. Farewell!"

The priest turned away, but Paul laid his hand on his shoulder.

"If there is anything which you ought or mean to tell me, tell me
now," he demanded hoarsely. "I can bear everything but suspense. I
know only--that there was a secret. No more. Proceed! Tell me more!"

The priest shook his robe free from Paul's restraining hand, and
turned away.

"Not yet! Not yet! My mind is not yet clear. We shall meet again.
Farewell!"

"But----"

"Farewell!"

The priest had passed from the ruins, and was already out of sight in
the gathering darkness.

"Come back, Father Adrian! One word more!"

"Farewell!"

The priest did not turn his head. Paul was left alone, gazing after
him with stern, troubled face and anxious heart. It was a danger which
he had always foreseen, always dreaded. Henceforth he must live like
a man who paces, day by day, the brink of a volcano. At any moment the
blow might fall.



CHAPTER VIII

"I AM WEARY OF A HOPELESS LOVE"


Paul and Arthur shared a bachelor residence in Mayfair; shared it,
that is to say, insomuch as Paul had purchased it, and was the sole
proprietor, and Arthur used it whenever he could get leave from his
regiment. It was here Paul found his brother on the morning of his
arrival in London.

They shook hands in silence; Paul did not wish to say anything for a
moment. His brother's appearance had choked him. It was one o'clock,
but he was still in his dressing-gown; with sunken, pale cheeks, save
for one bright spot, and with faint, dark rims underneath his eyes.
There were a pile of blue papers and some ominous-looking envelopes
on the table before him, and Paul could not help noticing the intense
pallor of the hand which rested upon them.

"I wish you would let a fellow know what time you were coming," Arthur
said, rather peevishly, but with an attempt at a smile. "I didn't
expect you till evening, so I was having a shack before dressing. I
was late last night!"

Paul banished his gravity, as far as possible, and stood with his
hands in his pockets, leaning against the mantel-piece. He heartily
disliked the part of mentor, and he did not wish to play it, unless he
were obliged.

"It was beastly early to get up," he said, "but the connection at
Normanton is so much better. One has to wait two hours by the late
train, and Normanton is such a hole. I don't know that I should have
come up to town at all, just yet," he continued after a slight pause,
"only that I'm on the committee at the club this term, you know, and I
haven't attended a single meeting yet. Besides, I promised Westover
to put him up this time, and the half-yearly meeting's to-morrow, you
know. Got any engagement? If not, you might dine with me there. Always
a full night election time, you know!"

"Beastly sorry! but my leave's up to night," Arthur answered ruefully.
"I shall have to go down to Aldershot by the four o'clock train, and
do a week's close grind."

Paul nodded. "I'm sorry; I'd have liked you to run down home with me
for a few days, and see the mater. The Westovers have some very nice
people coming to the Castle, and are going to get up some theatricals.
Lady May says they must have you! Will you come in a week, if I work
the Colonel?"

"I'm afraid I can't," Arthur answered, with a slight flush in his
cheeks. "I have some engagements for next week, and--and--I'm sure I
can't manage it."

"The mater'll be disappointed," Paul said quietly. "She is counting on
seeing you, and it's some time since you were down, isn't it? Tell you
what, old man! I'd try and manage it, if I were you!"

"I can't promise! I will, if I can manage it! I'll write you from
Aldershot!"

"You don't look quite the thing," Paul said kindly. "Nothing the
matter, is there?"

"Nothing at all," Arthur assured him hastily. "I'm quite well. A bit
of a head, that's all."

"Not too many of those bits of paper about, eh?" Paul asked, pointing
to an oblong strip of blue paper which lay, face uppermost, on the
table.

Arthur coloured, and threw a book over it.

"I am sorry I saw it," Paul went on; "but it was there to be seen,
wasn't it?"

"Oh, yes! that's all right! I oughtn't to have left it about, that's
all. I'm not exactly a Croesus, like you, you know, Paul, and now
and then I'm obliged to raise the wind somehow. Yes! I know what
you're going to say. My allowance is a good one, and I ought to make
it do. But, you see, sometimes I can't."

"I hope you won't mind my asking, Arthur, but is that an acceptance of
your own?"

Arthur nodded. "There are a few accounts which I must pay," he said.
"So I'm going to ask Plimsoll to do it for me. He's a decent fellow of
his sort, you know! Lots of fellows go to him!"

Paul stretched out his hand. "Give it to me," he said, "and I will
discount it for you. Thanks!"

Paul took it, and, just glancing at the amount, threw it into the
fire. "I haven't my cheque book here," he said, "but we will call at
the bank on our way to the club, and I can get the money. I'm glad I
saw it!"

"It's awfully good of you," Arthur said hesitatingly. "I shouldn't
have thought of asking you. I must owe you an awful lot already."

"Never mind what you owe me! I'll write it all off, Arthur, and this
last amount too, if you'll do me a favour. Come down home with me next
week, as soon as you can get leave."

Arthur rose to his feet, and then, leaning against the mantel-board,
buried his face in his hands. "I can't leave London, Paul!--or, if
I did, it could only be for a day," he said in a low tone. "I wish I
could tell you why, but I can't; you wouldn't understand!"

"I think I know," Paul said quietly. "There is some one whom you do
not care to leave! Is that not it?"

Arthur looked up quickly. His face was very white, and his lip was
quivering.

"Who told you that? What do you know?"

"I know nothing! I want you to tell me. Perhaps I could help you.
There is a--lady in the case, isn't there?"

Arthur stood up on the hearthrug, and spoke, with a subdued passion
trembling in his tone.

"Yes! it's Adrea Kiros, the dancer! I daresay you've heard all about
it! I don't see why you shouldn't! I can't leave her! I know all that
you would say! It doesn't make any difference. She isn't good! Well!
I know it! She doesn't care for me! I don't believe she does. She's
as cruel as a woman can be. Sometimes, when I am away from her, the
thought of going back makes me shudder; and yet, I could no more keep
away than lift the roof from this house. Of course, this sounds like
rigmarole to you. You think I'm raving! I don't blame you. Only it is
so, and I can't help it! I am as much a prisoner as any poor devil in
Newgate."

Paul laid his hand upon his brother's shoulder, and looked kindly into
his face. "Arthur, I'm very sorry! And don't think I don't understand!
I do! I do not know much of A--of Adrea Kiros, but I know enough
to tell me that she is a very dangerous woman. Can't I help you,
somehow?"

"I--I don't think you can! I don't think any one can," Arthur
exclaimed unsteadily. He had been prepared for a lecture, for good
advice, for a little contempt even; but his brother's attitude was
unexpected, and it almost unnerved him. "It is the uncertainty of it
all that is so tormenting," he went on. "Sometimes she is so kind,
and sweet, and thoughtful, that I could almost worship her. And then,
without any cause, she will suddenly become cold, and hard, and cruel,
till I hate myself for bearing quietly all that she says. But I do! I
can't help it! I am never quite happy even when she is in one of her
sweetest moods, for I never know how long it will last. The moment I
leave her I begin to get anxious, and wonder how she will be the next
day."

"Try what a change will do, Arthur!" his brother begged.

Arthur shook his head. "It's no use; I've tried! If I went away I
should only be miserable, and hurry back by the first train. Oh, if
only I could make you understand!" he cried, with a little passionate
gesture, which gained pathos and almost dignity from the expression on
his white, sorrowing face. "Adrea is as necessary to me as the air we
breathe! The sun has no light, and the day no ending, till I have seen
her! She is the measure of all things to me: joy, grief, happiness,
misery, it is her hand that deals them out to me! She can play upon
the chords of my being as she chooses. A look or word from her can
pull me down into hell, or transport me into a seventh heaven! Who
gave her this power, I cannot tell! But she has it! she has it!"

Paul said no more. Perhaps he recognised that, for the present at
any rate, it was useless. He walked up and down the room for a few
minutes, in sympathetic silence. When he spoke again he made no
reference to the subject, but Arthur understood. "Get your things on,
and come out to lunch with me," he said pleasantly. "I am too hungry
to be sympathetic, and we can call at Coutts' on the way."

Arthur nodded and disappeared. Paul took his chair for a while, and,
as he sat there gazing into the fire, his face grew grey and haggard.
Was Adrea Kiros seeking vengeance on the son of her father's murderer?
he wondered. If so, it seemed as though she were indeed succeeding.
How could he save Arthur? and what would happen if those rumours
should reach his mother's ears, as some day they certainly would? At
any rate, he would see Adrea himself before he left London. He had
made up his mind that, if Arthur refused to listen to him, that should
be his course.

Things somehow seemed brighter when they walked down to the club
together. Dress makes so much difference to a man, and Arthur, spruce
and _debonair_, with a gardenia in his button-hole, and every part
of his attire almost "faultily faultless," according to the canons
of London fashion, presented a very different appearance to the
tragical-looking personage of half an hour ago. There was a slight air
of subdued feverishness about him, though, not altogether healthy, and
the dark rims had not quite vanished from underneath his eyes.

"Paul, I wonder whether you will do something for me?" he asked, as
they were crossing Pickadilly. "I hate asking you!"

"I'll try," Paul answered. "What is it?"

"I don't believe you'll like it, but--the fact is, Adrea wants you to
go and see her. I promised that I would do my best to get you to call
with me this afternoon. If you don't mind, I wish you would," he added
wistfully.

"I will go with you certainly, if you wish it," Paul answered, not too
cordially, for he did not wish his brother to know that it was what
he had already planned to do. "Did she tell you that we had already a
slight acquaintance?"

"Yes! You rode home in a cab together from Lady Swindon's, didn't you?
There was only one, and it was raining, so you shared it. Adrea told
me that."

Paul nodded. He meant, after he had seen Adrea, to consider whether
it would not be best to tell his brother everything. But, for the
present, her story was enough. They turned into Pall Mall, and, almost
immediately, Arthur's hat was in his hand, and he was on the edge of
the pavement, colouring with pleasure. A small victoria had pulled up
by the side, and Paul found himself face to face with Adrea.

She was muffled up in rich brown furs, and almost invisible, but her
dark eyes flashed into his from underneath her thick veil. After the
first greeting she scarcely noticed Arthur; it was Paul upon whom her
eyes were bent.

"You are in London again, then, Mr. de Vaux," she remarked. "Have you
discovered that, after all, the country is a little _triste_ in this
land of damp and fogs--the country in November, I mean--or is it only
important business which has brought you up!"

"The latter," he answered, "as it happens. I am glad to see that the
damp and fogs which you complain of have not affected your health."

"I am quite well, thanks," she answered. "How long are you staying in
town?"

"For less than a week, I think."

"Well, it is too cold to talk here. Will you come and let me give you
some tea this afternoon, after the fashion of you strange islanders? I
want you to, please."

Paul looked her straight in the face. "You are very kind; I shall be
glad to," he answered.

She nodded. "About five o'clock. I go to sleep till then. Shall you
come, Arthur?" she added carelessly.

"I cannot, so late as that," he answered despondently.

"Ah, I forgot. You are going down to Aldershot, aren't you? Don't
overwork yourself."

She nodded, and the carriage drove on. Arthur watched it until it
was out of sight. "She might have said a little earlier," he remarked
despondently. "She knew I couldn't come so late as that."

Paul passed his arm through his brother's and was silent. He knew very
well that Adrea had thought of this when she had made the arrangement.

They lunched together, and Paul did his utmost to make the time
pass pleasantly for his brother. When they parted, too, late in the
afternoon, he referred once more to Mrs. de Vaux's desire that he
should come down to the Abbey for a few days.

"I want you to think of it seriously, Arthur," he said, as they shook
hands through the carriage window. "The mother is very anxious to have
you, and I am sure we can make things pleasant for you. I shall speak
to Drummond about leave if I see him to-morrow."

Arthur assented dubiously, and without any enthusiasm.

"Awfully good of you to want me," he remarked. "I daresay I'll be able
to come. I'll try, anyhow--just for a day or two."

The train steamed off, and Paul walked slowly back to his carriage.

"Where to, sir?" the man asked.

Paul hesitated for a moment. Then he gave Adrea's address, and was
driven away.



CHAPTER IX

"AH! HOW FAIR MY WEAKNESS FINDS THEE"


Paul found no one in the hall of the house where Adrea lived to take
him to her, so after waiting a few minutes for her maid, whom the
porter had twice fruitlessly summoned, he ascended the stairs alone,
and knocked at the door of her rooms.

At first there was no reply. He tried again a little louder, and this
time there was a sound of some one stirring within.

"Come in, Celeste," was the drowsy answer.

He turned the handle and walked in, carefully closing the door behind
him. At first the room appeared to be in semi-darkness, for a clear
spring day's sunshine was brightening the streets which he had just
left, and here the heavy curtains were closely drawn, as though
to keep out every vestige of daylight. But gradually his eyes grew
accustomed to the shaded twilight and he could make out the familiar
objects of the room; for although it was only his second visit, they
were familiar already in his thoughts.

Strangely enough it seemed to him, after his first hasty glance
around, that the room was empty; but just then a sudden gleam from
the bright fire fell upon Adrea's hair, and he saw her. He stood for a
moment silent and motionless. She was curled up on a huge divan
drawn close to the fireplace, with her limbs doubled under her like a
panther's, and her arms, from which the loose sleeves had fallen back,
clasped half-bare underneath her head. The peculiar grace of movement
and carriage, which had made her dancing so famous, was even more
striking in repose, for there was a faint, insidious suggestion of
voluptuous movement in those motionless, crouching limbs, and the
_abandon_ of the shapely, dusky head, with its crown of dark, wavy
hair thrown back amongst the cushions. It was beauty of a strange
sort, the beauty almost of some wild animal; but Paul felt a most
unwilling admiration steal through his senses as he gazed down upon
her. Her tea-gown, a wonderful shade of shimmering green, tumbled and
disarranged out of all similitude to its original shape, followed the
soft perfections of her outline with such peculiar faithfulness that
it seemed to suggest even more than it concealed, leaving the gentle
tracery of her figure outlined there like a piece of living Greek
statuary. She turned slightly upon the couch, and a slipperless little
foot stole out from a sea of lace and white draperies which her uneasy
movement had left exposed, and swayed slowly backwards and forwards,
trying to reach the ground. Her eyes were still closed, but she was
not sleeping, for in a moment or two she spoke in a low, drowsy tone.

"Celeste, I told you not to disturb me for an hour. It isn't five
o'clock yet, is it?"

He roused himself, and moved a step further into the room. "It is
still a quarter to five, I think," he said. "I have come before my
time."

She opened her eyes, and then, seeing him, sprang into a sitting
posture. Her hair, which had escaped all bounds, was down to her
shoulders, and her gown, still further disarranged by her hasty
movement, floated around her in wonderful curves and angles. Had she
been a past mistress in the art of picturesque effects she could have
conceived nothing more striking. Paul felt all the old fear upon him
as he watched the firelight gleaming upon her startled, dusky face,
and the faint pink colouring, wonderfully suggestive of a blush, steal
into her cheeks. It seemed to him that she was as beautiful as a woman
could be, and yet so different from Lady May.

She rose, and, with a shrug of the shoulders and a quick, graceful
movement, shook out her skirts, and pushed the hair back from her
face. Then she held out her hand, and Paul found himself compelled,
against his will, to stand by her side.

"How strange that I should have overslept like this, and have taken
you for Celeste!" she said. "Yet perhaps it was natural; for, Monsieur
Paul, save Celeste, no one yet has permission to enter my chamber
unannounced. How comes it that I find you here to laugh at my
_deshabille_?"

He was silent for a moment, while she looked at him questioningly.
Her soft, delicate voice, with its very slight but piquant foreign
intonation, had often sounded in his reluctant yet charmed ears since
their last meeting; but now that he heard it again he felt how weak
were his imaginings, and what sweet music it indeed was.

"I am sorry," he answered; and the constraint which he was placing
upon his voice made it sound hard and cold. "The porter rang for your
maid twice whilst I waited in the hall; but as she did not come, I
thought I had better try and find the way myself."

"And I mistook your knock for Celeste's, and let you discover me
_comme cela_. Well, you were not to blame. See, I will just arrange my
hair here, and you need not look at me unless you like."

She stood up in front of a mirror, over which she lighted a shaded
candle, and for a moment or two her white hands flashed deftly in and
out amongst the dark, silky coils of disordered hair. Paul sat down,
and taking up a magazine which he found lying on the divan, tried to
concentrate his thoughts upon its contents. But he could not. Every
moment he found his eyes and his thoughts straying to that slim, lithe
figure, watching the play of her arms and the grace of her backward
pose. When she looked suddenly round, on the completion of her task,
their eyes met.

"Monsieur Paul, you are like all your sex--curious," she said lightly.
"Tell me, then, do you admire my coiffure?"

"Very much," he answered, glancing at the loose Grecian knot into
which she had gathered her disordered hair, and confined it with a
band of dull gold. "It is quite oriental, and it seems to suit you.
Not that I am any judge of such matters," he added quickly.

She moved away with a little, low laugh, and lit two or three more of
the shaded candles or fairy lamps which were placed here and there on
brackets round the room. Then she rang the bell, and gave some orders
to the maid.

"So you think my hair looks oriental," she said, sinking down upon a
huge cushion in front of the fire. "That is what the papers call me
sometimes--oriental. My early associations asserting themselves, you
see. I think I remember more of Constantinople than any place," she
went on dreamily, with her eyes fixed on the fire. "I was only a child
in those days, but it seemed to me then that nothing could be more
beautiful than the City of Mosques and the Golden Horn on a clear
summer evening. Why do I think of those days?" she added, shaking her
head impatiently. "Such folly! And yet I always think of them when I
am lonely."

He was suddenly and deeply moved with altogether a new feeling towards
her--one of responsibility. She was alone in the world, and it was his
father's hand which had rendered her so. How empty and barren had been
his conception of the burden which that deed had laid upon him! Like a
flash he seemed to see the whole situation in a new light. If, indeed,
she had drifted into ruin, the sin lay at his door. He should have
found her a mother; it should have been his care to have watched her
continually, and to have assured himself that she was contented and
happy. In those few moments the whole situation seemed to change, and
he even felt a hot flush of shame at his own coldness towards her. He
forgot the dancer, the woman of strange fascinations, the idol of the
_jeunesse dorée_ of West London clubdom, and he remembered only the
fact that she was a lonely orphan with a most womanly light in her
soft, dark eyes, and that he had failed in his duty towards her.
Paul was essentially a "manly" man, self-contained, and with all
his feelings very much at his control; but at that moment he felt
something like a rush of tenderness towards this strange, dark-eyed
girl who lay coiled up at his feet. Involuntarily he stretched out his
hand and laid it, with an almost caressing gesture, upon her hair.

She started around, as though electrified, and looking up saw the
change in his face. It was the first kindly look or speech she had
had from him since they had met in London, and it had come so suddenly
that it seemed to have a strange effect upon her. A deep flush stole
into her face, and her eyes gleamed brilliantly. She drew a long
breath, and underneath her loose gown he could see her bosom rising
and falling quickly. Yet it all seemed so softened and womanly that
the thoughts which he had once had of her seemed like a distant
nightmare to him. The ethical and physical horror of her being--of her
ever becoming--what he feared, rose up strong within him, and deepened
at once his sense of responsibility towards her, and his new-born
tenderness. He took her hand gently, and was startled to find how cold
it was.

"So you do feel lonely, Adrea, sometimes," he said softly, "although
you have so many acquaintances."

The colour burned deeper for a moment in her cheeks. She looked at him
half reproachfully, half indignantly.

"Acquaintances! You mean the people who come to see me! I hate them
all! Sometimes they amuse me a little, but that is all. They are
nothing!"

"And you have no women friends?"

"None! How should I! But I do not care. I do not like English-women!"

"But, Adrea, it is not good for you,--this isolation from your sex."

At the sound of her Christian name, coming from his lips so gently,
almost affectionately, she looked up quickly. It seemed to him
almost as though some softening change had crept over her. Was it the
firelight, he wondered, or was it fancy?

"Good for me!" she said softly. "Have you just thought of that,
Monsieur Paul?"

Again he felt that pang of conscience; and yet, was she not a little
unjust to him?

"You took your life into your own hands," he reminded her. "You chose
for yourself."

"Yes, yes!" she answered, drawing a little nearer to him, till her
head almost rested upon his knees. "I do not blame you."

"It would have been so easy before to have found a home for you," he
went on, "and now you have made it so difficult."

"There is no need," she interrupted proudly; "I could keep myself now.
I do not want anything from you, Monsieur Paul,--save one thing!"

She raised her face to his, and it seemed to him to be all aglow with
a wonderful, new light. There was no mistaking the soft entreaty of
those strange, dark eyes so close to his, or the tremor in his tones.
And then, before he could answer her, before he could summon up
resolution enough to draw away, she had stolen softly into his arms,
and, with a little murmur of content, had rested her small, dusky
head, with its coronet of dark, braided hair, upon his shoulder, and
twined her hands around his neck.

"Paul! Monsieur Paul! I am lonely and miserable. Love me just a
little, only a little!" she pleaded.

It was the supreme moment for both of them. To her, coveting this
love with all the passionate force of her fiery oriental nature, time
seemed to stand still while she rested passively in his arms, neither
altogether accepted nor altogether repulsed. And to him, as he sat
there pale and shaken, fighting fiercely against this great temptation
which threatened his self-respect, his liberty of body and soul, life
seemed to have turned into a grim farce, full of grotesque lights and
shadows, mocking and gibing at all which had seemed to him sweet and
pure and strong. Her warm breath fell upon his cheek, and her eyes
maddened him. A curiously faint perfume from her clothes floated upon
the air, and oppressed him with its peculiar richness. He was a strong
man but at that moment he faltered. It seemed as though some unseen
hand were weaving a spell upon him, as though his whole environment
was being drawn in around him, and he himself were powerless. Yet,
even in that moment of intoxication, his reason did not altogether
desert him. He knew that if he opened his arms to receive that
clinging figure, and drew the delicate, tear-stained face, full
of mute invitation, down to his, to be covered with passionate
kisses,--he knew that at that moment he would sign the death-warrant
to all that had seemed fair and sweet and comely in his life. Forever
he must live without self-respect, a dishonoured man in his own eyes,
perhaps some day in hers,--for he had no more faith in her love than
in his.

He held her hands tightly in his,--he had unwound them gently from his
neck,--and stood up face to face with her upon the hearthrug. The soft
fire-light threw up strange, ruddy gleams, which glowed around her and
shown in her dark eyes, fixed so earnestly and so passionately upon
his.

"Adrea," he said, and his low, hoarse tone sounded harsh and
unfamiliar to his ears, "you do not know----"

She interrupted him, she threw her arms again around his neck, and her
upturned face almost met his.

"I do know! I do know! I understand--everything! Only I--cannot live
without you, Paul!"

Her head sank upon his shoulder; he could not thrust her away. Very
gently he passed his arms around her, and drew her to him. He knew
that he could trust himself. For him the battle was over. Even as she
had crept into his arms, there had come to him a flash of memory--a
sudden, swift vision. The walls of the dimly lit, dainty little
chamber, with all its charm of faint perfume, soft lights, and
luxurious drapings, had opened before him, and he looked out upon
another world. A bare Northumbrian moor, with its tumbled masses of
grey rock, its low-hanging, misty clouds and silent tarns, stretched
away before his eyes. A strong, fresh breeze, salt-smelling and
bracing, cooled his hot face. The roar of a great ocean thundered in
his ears, and an angry sunset burned strange colours into the
western sky. And with these actual memories came a healthier tone of
feeling--something, indeed, of the old North-country puritanism which
was in his blood. The sea spoke to him of the vastness of life, and
dared him to cast his away, soiled and tarnished, for the sake of a
brief, passionate delight. The breeze, nature's very voice, whispered
to him to stand true to himself, and taste once more and for ever the
deep joy of pure and perfect communion with her. The voices of his
past life spoke to him in one long, sweet chorus, and held up to him
those ideals to which he had been ever true. And blended with all were
memories, faint but sweet, of a fair womanly face, into whose clear
grey eyes he could never dare to look again if he yielded now to this
fierce temptation. A new strength came upon him, and brought with it a
great tenderness.

"Adrea, my child," he said softly, "you make me almost forget that I
am your guardian and you are my ward. Sit down here! I want to talk to
you."

He led her, dumb and unresisting, to a chair, and stood by her side.

"Adrea----"

She interrupted him, throwing his arms roughly from her shoulder, and
springing to her feet.

"How dare you touch me! How dare you stand there and mock me! Oh! how
I hate you! hate you! hate you!"

Her voice and every limb trembled with passion, and her face was as
pale as death. Before her anger he bowed his head and was silent.
Against the sombre background of dark curtains, her slim form seemed
to gain an added strength and dignity.

"You have insulted me, Paul de Vaux! Do I not owe you enough already,
without putting this to the score! Dare you think that it was indeed
my love I offered you--you who stood by and saw my father murdered
that you might be spared from shame and disgrace! Bah! Listen to me
and go! You have a brother? Good! I shall ruin him, shall break his
heart; and, when the task is over, I shall cast him away like an old
glove! Oh, it will be easy, never fear! I shall do it. Arthur is no
cold hypocrite, like you. He is my slave. And when I have ruined him,
have set my foot upon him, it will be your turn, Monsieur Paul de
Vaux. Listen! I will know my father's secret! I will know why he was
murdered! I will discover everything! Some day the whole world shall
know--from me. Now go! Out of my sight, I say! Go! go! go!"

With bowed head and face as white as death Paul walked out of the
room, with her words ringing in his ears like the mocking echoes of
some hideous nightmare.



CHAPTER X

"I AM BUT A SLAVE, AND YET I BID THEE COME"


"Were there any letters for me this morning, mother?" Paul asked.

"Only one for you, I think," Mrs. de Vaux answered from across the
tea-tray. "I believe you will find it in the library. Shall I send for
it?"

Paul shook his head. "It will keep," he answered lightly. "I can get
it on my way upstairs. Have we anything left to tell, Lady May?"

"I think not," Lady May replied, from the depths of an easy chair
drawn up to the fire. "Altogether it has been a glorious day, and such
a scent! I don't know when I have enjoyed anything so much."

"Nor I!" Paul answered heartily. "The going was superb, and that
second fox took us over a grand stretch of country. Really, if it
hadn't been for the walls here and there, we might have been in
Leicestershire! May I have some more tea, mother?"

Mrs. de Vaux stretched out her hand for his cup, and smiled gently
at their enthusiasm. She had been a hunting woman all her life; and,
though she seldom even drove to a meet now, she liked to have her son
come in to afternoon tea with her, and talk over the run. Of late,
too, he had seemed so pale and listless that she had been getting a
little anxious. She had begun to fear that he must be out of health,
or that the monotony of Vaux Abbey was wearying him, and that he would
be leaving her again soon. But to-day she had watched him ride up the
avenue, with Lady May, and it seemed to her that there was a change in
his bearing--a change for the better; and, looking at him now, she
was sure of it. A faint glow was in his cheeks, and his eyes were
brighter. His manner, too, to Lady May pleased her more. He had ridden
home with her; from their conversation, they seemed to have been
together almost all day; and there seemed to be a spirit of _bon
comeradie_ between the two, as they talked over their doings, which
certainly pointed to a good understanding. Altogether Mrs. de Vaux was
pleased and hopeful.

And, indeed, she had reason to be, for his long day in the open
country with Lady May had been like a strong, sweet tonic to Paul. For
the first time since his return to Vaux Abbey he had felt that a
time might come when he would be able to escape altogether from those
lingering, bitter-sweet memories which were all that remained to
him now of Adrea. On the bare, windy moor, with the glow of physical
exercise and excitement coursing through his veins, and Lady May's
pleasant voice in his ears, that little scene in the rose-lit chamber
seemed for a moment very far away. Adrea, with her soft, passion-lit
eyes, and dusky, oriental face, her lithe, voluptuous figure and the
faint perfumes of her rustling draperies, seemed less to him then than
a short while ago he could have believed possible. He could not think
of that scene without a shudder,--it had left its mark in a certain
way for ever,--but it was not so constantly present to him. He knew
that, for the first time, a woman had tempted him sorely. He knew,
too, and he alone, how nearly he had yielded. His sudden passion, her
strange Eastern beauty, and the fascination which it had exercised
over him, together with the soft sensuousness of her surroundings,
had formed a strong coalition, and to-day he recognised, for the first
time, how much he owed his victory to the girl who was riding by his
side. Even in those breathless moments of hesitation he had found time
to consider that if he yielded to Adrea's pleading, he could never
again take Lady May's hand, or meet her frank, open gaze. The pure
healthfulness of life which had been so dear to him would be tainted
for ever. The moorland breezes of his northern home would never strike
the same chords in his nature again. All these recollections had
flashed across his mind at that critical moment, lending strength to
resist and crush his passion. And to-day he had commenced to reap his
reward. To-day he had tasted once more the sweets of these things, and
found how dear they still were to him. He could still look into Lady
May's fair, pure face unshamed, and find all the old pleasure in
listening to her frank, girlish talk; and he could still bare his
head to the sweeping winds, and lift his face to the sun and gaze with
silent admiration at the faint, deepening colours in the western
sky, as Lady May and he rode homeward across the moor in the late
afternoon. All these joys would have been lost to him for ever,--these
and many others. Adrea could never have repaid him for their loss.

So Paul, who had come home from London pale and silent, with the marks
of a great struggle upon him, lay back in an arm chair and watched
the firelight play upon Lady May's fair face with more than a passive
interest. Mrs. de Vaux's cherished scheme had never been so near its
accomplishment; for if she could have read Paul's thoughts she would
have known that he was thinking of Lady May more tenderly than he had
ever done before. Meeting his steadfast, almost wistful, gaze, she
became almost confused, and suddenly rising, she shook out the skirts
of her riding habit, and took up her hat and whip.

"It has been such a delightful rest," she said, looking away from Paul
and speaking to his mother. "I shall never forget how good that tea
tasted! But I really must go, Mrs. de Vaux! My poor animal is quite
done up, and I shall have to walk all the way home."

"I don't know whether I did right," Paul said, rising, "but I sent
your groom straight on home with the mare, and ordered a brougham
for you. She has had a long day, and I thought it would be more
comfortable for you."

She flashed a grateful glance at him. "How thoughtful and how kind
you are! Of course it will be nicer! I was beginning to feel a little
selfish, too, for keeping Betty out of her stable so long."

"As a reward we will keep you a little longer," he remarked. "It is
only six o'clock!"

She shook her head. "No I won't stop, thanks! There are some tiresome
people coming to dine to-night, and I must go home. Good-bye, Lady de
Vaux!"

Paul strolled down the hall with her and handed her into the carriage.
For the first time in his life he held her hand a little tighter and a
little longer than was necessary.

"Shall you be at home to-morrow afternoon, Lady May?" he asked
quietly.

She looked up at him for a moment, and then her eyes drooped, and her
heart beat a little faster. She understood him.

"Yes!" she answered softly.

"I shall ride over then! Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!"

He lingered on the doorstep for a minute, watching the carriage roll
down the avenue. When it had disappeared, he turned back into the
hall, and after a moment's hesitation, entered the library.

It was a large, sombre-looking apartment, scarcely ever entered by
anyone save Paul. The bookcases reached only half-way up the walls,
the upper portion of which was hung with oil portraits, selected from
the picture gallery. At the lower end of the room the shelves had been
built out at right angles to the wall, lined with books, and in one
of the recesses so-formed--almost as large as an ordinary-sized
chamber--Paul had his writing-table surrounded by his favourite
volumes. It was a delightful little miniature library. Facing him,
six rows of black oak shelves held a fine collection of classical
literature; on his left, the lower shelves contained rare editions
of the early English dramatists, and the upper ones were given up to
poetry, from Chaucer to Swinburne. The right-hand shelves were wholly
French, from quaint volumes of troubadours' poetry to Alfred de Musset
and De Maupassant. It was here Paul spent most of his time when at the
Abbey.

The meet had been rather a long way off that morning, and he had left
before the arrival of the post-bag from the neighbouring town. Mrs. de
Vaux had distributed the letters, and the one she had spoken of lay
at the edge of the table. He stretched out his hand to take it
up--without any presentiments, without any thought as to whom it might
be from. An invitation, doubtless, or a begging letter he imagined, as
he caught sight of the large square envelope. But suddenly, before his
fingers had closed upon it, he started and stood quite still, leaning
over the back of his chair. His heart was beating fast, and there was
a mist before his eyes--a mist through which he saw, as though in
a dream, the walls of his library melt away, to be replaced by the
dainty interior of that little room in Grey Street, with all the dim
luxury of its soft colouring and adornment. He saw her too, the
centre of the picture--saw her as she seemed to him before that final
scene--saw her half-kneeling, half-crouching, before him, with her
beautiful dark eyes, yearning and passionate, fixed upon his in mute,
but wonderfully eloquent, pleading. Oh! it was folly, but it was
sweet, marvellously sweet. Every nerve seemed thrilled with the
exquisite pleasure of the memory so suddenly called up to him, and his
lips quivered with the thought of what he might have said to her.
The strange, voluptuous perfume which crept upwards from that letter
seemed in a measure to have paralysed him. He stood there like a man
entranced, with the dim firelight on one side and the low horned moon
through the high window on his left, casting a strange, vivid light
on his pale face--paler even than usual against the scarlet of his
hunting-coat. That letter! What could it contain? Was it a recall, or
a fresh torrent of anger? He stood there quite still, leaning over the
back of the high-backed oak chair emblazoned with the De Vaux arms,
and making no motion towards taking it up.

A sound from outside--the low rumbling of a gong--roused him at last,
and he pushed the chair hastily away from him. His first impulse
was one of anger, of shame, that he, a strong man, as he had deemed
himself, should have been so moved by a simple flood of memories.
It seemed ignoble to him and a frown gathered on his forehead as he
reached forward and picked up the letter. Yet his fingers trembled as
they tore it open, and his eyes ran over the contents rapidly.

    "18 GREY STREET, LONDON, W., _Thursday_.

    "Monsieur Paul, my hand trembles a little when I sit down to
    write to you, and think of our last parting. But write to you
    I must! I am very humble now, and very, very much ashamed!
    Shall I go on and say that I am very sad and lonely,--for
    it is so! I am miserable! I have been miserable every moment
    since that day! Forgive me, Monsieur Paul, forgive me! my
    guardian. I behaved quite dreadfully, and I deserved to be
    punished. Believe me! I am punished. I have had scarcely any
    sleep, and my eyes are swollen with weeping. I have cancelled
    all my engagements this week, and I have closed my doors to
    everybody. Oh! be generous, Monsieur Paul! be generous and
    forgive me! I have suffered so much,--it is right that I
    should, for I was much to blame. Will you not let fall some
    kindly veil of memory over that afternoon. I was mad. Let
    what I said be unsaid! Let me be again just what you called
    me,--your ward. I ask for nothing more! Be cold, if you will,
    and stern! Scold me! and I will but say that I have deserved
    it! Only come to me! Come and let me hear your own lips tell
    me that I am forgiven. I will do everything that you ask! I
    will not see Arthur if he calls,--you shall tell me yourself
    how to answer his letters,--I have a little pile of them here.
    Monsieur Paul, you must come! You must come, or I shall be
    driven to--but no! I will not threaten. You would not care
    whatever happened to me, would you? I am very, very lonely. I
    wish that I could have telegraphed all this, and had you here
    to-night! But you would not have come! Yet, perhaps you would,
    out of kindness to a solitary girl. I like to think that you
    would have!

    "Monsieur Paul, you have been good to the 'little brown girl,'
    as you used to call her, all your life! Do not forsake her
    now. She has been very mad and wicked, but she is very, very
    penitent. Celeste tells me that I am looking thin and ill, and
    my looking-glass says the same. It is because I am unhappy;
    it is because my guardian is angry with me, and he is so far
    away. Oh! Monsieur Paul, come, come, come to me! It shall be
    all as you wish! I will obey you in everything. Only forgive!

                                           "Yours,

                                               "ADREA."



CHAPTER XI

ADREA'S DIARY

    "A figure from the past I see once more as in a dream."


This evening I have had an adventure! I am thankful, for it has
occupied my thoughts for awhile; and for anything that does that I am
grateful. I had been in the house all day, restless and nervous, and
towards dusk I put on my cloak and a thick veil, and went out into the
street. I scarcely noticed which way I went. It was all the same to
me. A dull purple bank of clouds hung low down in the west, and the
air was close and still. By-and-by I heard thunder, and big raindrops
fell upon the pavement. A storm was threatening, and I longed for it
to come and clear the air.

I must have been walking for nearly an hour, when it came at last, and
the rain fell in great sheets. I looked around for a cab, but there
was none in sight. I had no idea where I was,--London is so vast and
large,--and though, by the distant roar of wheels, I could tell that
I was not far from a great thoroughfare, the street in which I was
seemed to be deserted. Just by my side was a dark tunnel, gloomy and
vault-like in appearance; but in that downpour any refuge was welcome,
and I stepped back underneath it. It was like going into the bowels
of the earth; and, every now and then, there was a roar over my head
which made me almost dizzy. But, from round the corner, I could see
that it was only the sound of trains passing and repassing, so I
decided to stay until I could see a cab.

Opposite to me was a man with a truck-load of oranges, and by his
side a boy seated before a red-hot swinging can, containing chestnuts.
There was no one else in the street, although at the bottom of it
crowds of people and a constant stream of vehicles were hurrying
along. On the other side of the way was a tall and grim-looking
building, discoloured with smoke and age. It was evidently a hospital
or institution of some sort. The windows were long and narrow, and one
or two of them, I could see, were of stained glass. There was no brass
plate by the front door, nor any sign. In the absence of anything else
to do, I began to frame surmises as to what the place might be. The
spotlessly white doorsteps and polished bell interested me;
they seemed out of tone with the character of the place and its
surroundings, so utterly bare and dreary. I began to wish that a
caller would come and ring the bell, so that I could get a peep at
the interior. But no one did, although I noticed that more than one
hurrying passer-by glanced up at it curiously.

The thunder died away, but the rain still came down heavily. If it had
not been for my curious interest in that great ugly building opposite,
I should have risked a wetting, and made my way down to the busy
thoroughfare in the distance. But I was anxious to see some one enter
or leave the place, or for something to happen which would give me
an idea as to its character; so I waited. Half an hour passed, and my
curiosity remained unsatisfied. There was no sign of life about
the place; not even a tradesman had called, nor had that
forbidding-looking portal once been opened. It was still raining fast,
but there were signs of finer weather, and right overhead was a
break in the clouds. I should certainly be able to leave now in a few
minutes; but, strangely enough, all my impatience seemed gone. The
grim-looking building opposite had fascinated me. I had no desire to
leave the place until I had found out all about it.

It was odd, that curiosity of mine; all my days I shall wonder at it.
On the face of it, it seemed so unreasonable, and yet it led to so
much. I have no creed, and I know nothing about philosophies, or
perhaps to-night's adventure might have meant even more to me. But,
indeed, it seems as though some unseen hand led me out and brought me
into that deserted street. From to-night there must be changes in my
life; I cannot escape from them. As yet I am too much in a whirl to
ask myself whether I wish to.

To return to that house. When I saw that the storm was clearing, and
that I should be able to leave in a few minutes, I determined to make
an effort to satisfy my curiosity. I crossed the road, and addressed
the man who was sitting on the handles of his barrow of oranges.

"Do you know what place that is opposite?" I asked, pointing across
the road.

He took out a filthy pipe from his mouth, and spat upon the pavement.
I think that he must have noticed my look of disgust, for he answered
me surlily, "No, I don't!"

I turned to the boy. "Do you?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Not for certain, ma'am. I believe it's some sort
of a Roman Catholic place, though. Them gents in long clothes and
shovel hats is allus going in and hout. 'Ullo, Bill! Here she be
again! She's a-trying it on, ain't she?"

The man looked up and grunted. I followed the boy's glance, and saw a
tall, dark woman walking swiftly along on the other side of the road.
From the very first her figure was somehow familiar to me, and

She stopped outside the closed door, and hesitated for a moment,
as though doubtful whether to ring or not. During her moment of
hesitation she glanced round, and I recognised her. She could not see
me, for I was in the shadow of the underground tunnel.

"Blarmed if she ain't come again," the man growled. "She's as regular
as clockwork! Wonder what she wants!"

I felt my knees trembling; I could not have crossed the road at
that moment if it had been to save my life. The boy looked up at me
curiously.

"Happen you know her, lady," he remarked. "She's been here at this
time, or thereabouts, pretty near every day for a fortnight."

Happen I know her! Yes, that was the boy's odd phrase. It rang in my
ears, and I found myself gasping for breath. My eyes were fixed upon
that tall, slender figure, clothed in sober black, waiting upon the
doorstep with bowed head, and standing very still and motionless. It
was like an effigy of patience. There were not two women in the world
like that; it was impossible. She was in England, and alone--free!
What did it mean? Should I run to her, or hide away? I glanced over my
shoulder where the black shadows of the tunnel were only dimly lit by
the feeble gaslight. I could steal away, and she would never see
me. Yet as I thought of it, the grimy, barren street and the
solemn-looking building faded away before my eyes. The sun and wind
burned my face; the wind, salt with ocean spray, and echoing with the
hoarse screaming of the sea-birds that rode upon it. I was at Cruta
again, panting to be free, stealing away in the twilight down the
narrow path amongst the rocks to where that tiny boat lay waiting,
like a speck upon the waters. And it was she who had helped me--the
sad-faced woman who had braved the terrible anger of the man whom we
had both dreaded. Again I heard her gentle words of counsel, and the
answering lies which should have blistered my lips. For I lied to her,
not hastily or on impulse, but deliberately in cold blood. Anything,
I cried to myself, to escape from this rock, this living death! So I
lied to her, and she helped me. No wonder that I trembled. No wonder
that I half made up my mind to flee away into the sheltering darkness
of that noisome-looking tunnel.

It takes long to set down in writing the thoughts which flashed
through me at that moment. Yet when I had made up my mind the woman
was still there, waiting meekly before the closed door.

"You were speaking of her," I said to the boy, who was half-sitting,
half-crouching against the side of the tunnel. "What was it you said?
I did not hear."

Man and boy commenced to tell me together. Their strange London talk
puzzled me, and I could only extract a confused sense of what they
said. The woman, to whom they rudely pointed, had called at the
building opposite every day for a fortnight at about this hour to make
some inquiry. Day by day she had turned away, after one brief question
asked and answered, with bowed head and dejected manner. Yet, day by
day, she returned and repeated it. Ever the same disappointment, the
same despair!

They knew nothing more. Her regular visits had awakened a certain
curiosity in them, and they had commenced to look for them, and
indulge in a little mild speculation as to her one day meeting with
a different reception. Nothing more! There was a shade of pity in the
boy's tone, and I gave him a shilling; then I crossed the road.

As I left the kerbstone, the door opened and I heard her question:--

"Has Father Adrian called or written, or sent any address yet,
please?"

The man, who had opened the door only a few inches, kept in the
background, and I could see nothing of him, but I heard his grim,
monosyllable reply:

"No! Father Adrian has not visited or communicated with us."

She turned away with a meek "Thank you," and found herself face to
face with me. My heart smote me when I saw how poor were her clothes,
and how thin her features.

At first she did not know me; but I raised my veil, and whispered her
name softly in her ear.

She threw up her hands, and swayed backwards and forwards upon the
pavement.

"Adrea! Adrea!" she cried wildly. "My God!"

A cab drove up, and I called it. She had just strength enough to enter
it, leaning heavily upon my arm; then she fainted.



CHAPTER XII

"WE ARE LIKE SHOOTING STARS, WHOSE MEETING IS THEIR RUIN"


To-night I have had another shock! I was sitting alone in my room
down-stairs, dreaming over the fire, when a footstep sounded upon the
stairs. At first I thought that it might be Paul, and I sprang up, and
stood listening intently. What a little fool I was! I felt the colour
burning in my cheeks, and my heart was beating. I listened to the
tread, and the madness passed away. It was a man's footsteps, but not
Paul's.

They halted at my door, and there was a firm, deliberate knock. Before
I could reply, the handle was turned, and a figure stood upon the
threshold.

My little chamber was in darkness, but the clear, cold voice struck a
vague note of familiarity.

"I seek Adrea Kiros! Are these her rooms? Are you she?"

I struck a match with trembling fingers, and looked eagerly towards
the doorway. A man stood there, dark, stern, and forbidding, looking
steadfastly towards me. My memory had not deceived me! It was Father
Adrian!

"You have found me out," I said slowly. "Come inside and close the
door."

He moved slowly forward, and stood in the middle of the room. His
face was as white as marble and as steadfast; but his dark eyes, which
seemed to be challenging mine to meet them, were full of smouldering
fire. I summoned up all my courage, and threw myself into a low chair,
with a little laugh.

"You are not exactly cordial," I said. "If you have anything to say to
me, won't you sit down?"

"If I have anything to say to you!" he repeated, and his whole tone
seemed vibrating with hardly subdued passion. "If I have anything to
say to you! Is this your greeting?"

"Why, no, not if you come as a friend! But when you stand and glare at
me _comme cela_, what do you expect? Nothing very cordial, surely!"

He advanced a step further towards me. I watched him steadfastly,
and I knew that the old madness was not dead. I was glad. It made the
struggle between us more even.

"Have I no cause to look at you sternly, Adrea?" he demanded,--"you
who deceived us! you who lied to us, to win our aid! Where would you
have been now had it not been for me? At Cruta! Would to God my hand
had withered before it had set you free!"

"You are very kind!"

"Girl, are you mad? At Cruta you were thoughtless and gay, but God
knows your heart was pure. Now you are a paid dancing girl!"

I turned upon him suddenly, rising to my full height, and looking him
straight in the face. He did not flinch, but a faint colour rose to
his forehead as he continued.

"Stop!" I said. "You are talking of those things which you do
not understand. You could not possibly understand. You and I are
different; we belong to different worlds. The things of your world are
not the things of mine. Leave me now, and for ever, and let us go our
own ways. We measure things by different quantities. You are a priest,
and very much a priest, and I am a woman, and very much a woman!
For the past I am grateful; for its sake I forget the insults of the
present. Now go!"

I knew quite well that he would not take me at my word, nor did he.

"Adrea, I cannot go and lose all knowledge of you for ever," he said
sadly. "For my own sake I would say, Would to God that I could! but it
is impossible. Within me there is a voice which whispers 'Fly,' but
I cannot; your future is still as dear to me as in the old days. Oh!
Adrea! I have sorrowed and mourned lest our last parting had been for
ever, and now, alas! I would that it had been; I would to God that I
had never found you out!"

"You can forget it," I said coldly.

"I can never forget it," he answered fiercely. "Girl! you seem to me
sometimes like a scourge! Your memory is a very nightmare of sin! You
have brought me nothing but pain and remorse and anguish of heart. For
all my suffering there is no brighter side; yet I cannot forget it!"

Despite his fierce words, which for a moment had burned in my ears,
I pitied him. In the old days he had been my champion, and it was his
hand, together with hers, which had aided my escape from Cruta. So I
spoke to him softly.

"I am sorry! As I said, we are of different moulds, and we belong to a
different branch of humanity. We are neither of us inclined to change!
Let us go our own ways, and apart!"

He was close by my side now, and his hand was resting on the back of
my chair. I laid mine upon it for a moment; it was cold as ice, and
shaking. The old madness was upon him indeed.

"You were kind to me at Cruta," I continued. "I do not forget it, and
I thank you for it! But we are as far apart as the poles, and we must
continue so."

The position between us seemed reversed. He stood by my side, pale and
passionate, with his clear eyes full of a strange wistfulness.

"All that you say is, in a measure, true," he said in a low tone; "yet
do not send me away from you! Some day you may see things differently;
some day trouble may come to you, and I may be your helper! There
is only one thing: I would have you look upon me as a brother, and I
would have you give me a brother's confidence."

"I would gladly be friends with you," I answered, "only do not seek
more than I choose to tell you. As for the things you charge me with,
there is truth and falsehood in them. It is true that I have earned
my living by dancing, but it has been in private only. Of course, you
know nothing about it; how should you? But I am not a ballet dancer,
as I believe you think."

"You are not upon the stage, then?"

"No! nor do I dance in short skirts! Some day I will give you an
exhibition in this room! Now don't look like that," I added quickly;
"I was only joking. I would not defile the air around your saintliness
for the world! But I want to tell you this: my dancing is recognised
as an art. I rank everywhere with the men and women who are called
artists, the men and women who are ever striving to realize in some
manner a particular ideal of beauty through different channels. The
highest development of physical beauty in the human form is in grace
of motion. I aim at the beautiful in illustrating this. I didn't know
it myself until a great painter told me so, but I am beginning to
understand. I don't expect you to; you must take it on trust."

"It sounds strange to me, but I do not doubt that there is truth, some
truth in it," he admitted gravely.

"You and I look upon life, and all its connections, with different
eyes," I continued. "What may seem sin to you, may be justified to me.
Yet I will stoop to answer your unspoken question. As I was at Cruta,
so I am now! It may be that I am better, for I have done a good
action!"

He held up his hand, but I took no notice.

"I will tell it you. A few days ago, chance brought in my way a most
unhappy woman. She had escaped from an odious captivity, only to find
herself alone, friendless and penniless in a strange city. The man on
whom she had counted for help she could not find. He had given her an
address where she might always hear of him. Day by day she inquired
there in vain. It may have been through no fault of his, but she was
in sore straits."

"Her name?"

"I found her, and brought her home. She lives with me; she is here!"

The door was opening as I spoke, and she entered. They stood face to
face, silent with the shock of so sudden a meeting. Then he stepped
quickly forward, and, taking her hands, drew her to him. I slipped
away, and left them alone together.



CHAPTER XIII

"THE PATH THAT LEADS TO MADMEN'S KINGDOMS"


A north-country storm of rain and wind had suddenly blown up from
the sea, and the few remaining followers of the De Vaux hounds were
dispersed right and left, making for home with all possible speed. The
sky had looked dull and threatening all day long, and with the first
shades of twilight the rain had commenced to fall in a sudden torrent.
There had been some little hesitation on the part of the master about
drawing this last cover, for the hounds had had a rough day, and the
field was small; and directly the storm broke, the horn was blown
without hesitation, the pack was re-called, and the huntsman, cracking
his whip, started for home at a long, swinging trot. The day's sport
was over.

There were only a handful of horsemen waiting outside when the signal
was given, and with collars turned up to their ears, and cigars
alight, they were very soon riding down the hill to the village whose
lights were beginning to twinkle out from the darkness in the valley
below. At the cross-roads, Paul, who had been riding in the midst of
them, wheeled his horse round and took the road to Vaux Abbey amidst a
chorus of farewells.

"Are you going for the Abbey, De Vaux?" Captain Westover asked,
reining in his horse. "Better come home with me, and dine! I'll send
you back to-night, and they'll look after your mare all right in the
stables. Come along!"

Paul shook his head. "I'll get home, thanks!" he answered. "A wetting
won't hurt me, and there's only a mile or two of it."

Captain Westover shrugged his shoulders. "Just as you like. My people
would be very glad to see you! By the bye, you were to have called
last week, weren't you? Lady May was asking where you were this
morning! Come and dine to-morrow night!"

"Thanks! Unless I send word over to the contrary, I will, then!
Good-night!"

"Good-night!"

Captain Westover cantered on after the others, and Paul turned off
in the opposite direction, riding slowly, with bent head and loose
bridle. In his pocket was Adrea's letter, scarcely a week old; and
now that the physical excitement of the day was over, his thoughts,
as usual, were full of it again. It was an uphill battle that he
was fighting! All day long he had been striving to forget it! He had
spared neither himself nor his horses in the desperate attempt to
reach such a stage of physical exhaustion as should make his mind a
blank--as should free it, at any rate, from those torturing memories,
and the fierce restlessness which they begat. He had tried his utmost,
and he had failed. His pink hunting-coat and tops, immaculate at the
start, were covered with thick mud, and his horse (his second mount)
was scarcely able to put one foot before the other. Yet he had failed
utterly. Hunger and fatigue seemed things far away to him. Wherever he
looked--out into the grey mists, which came rolling across the moor,
soaking him with moisture, or down into the road, fast becoming a bog,
or up into the dim sky--he seemed to see the pages of Adrea's letter
standing out before him, word for word, phrase for phrase. Every
sentence of it seemed to him as vivid and real as though it had been
spoken in his ears; nay, he could almost fancy that he saw the great
tears welling slowly out of those soft, dark eyes, and could hear the
passionate quiver in her faltering tones. Day by day it had been a
desperate struggle with him to resist the mad desire which prompted
him to order a dogcart, drive to the nearest town, and catch the mail
train to London. Beyond that--how she would receive him, what he would
say to her--everything was chaos; he dared not trust himself to think
about it.

Yet, whenever he suffered his thoughts to dwell upon this matter at
all, the reverse side of it all sooner or later presented itself.
Clear and insistent above the emotion which swayed him came ever that
uncompromising question--where lay his duty in this matter? It was
the true and manly side of his nature, developed by instinct and long
training, and refusing now to be overborne and swept away by this
surging tide of passion. It rang in his ears, and it demanded an
answer. Away in the distance, on the opposite side of the valley,
his vacant eyes rested idly upon the many lights and dim outline of
Westover Castle. What place had Lady May in his heart? Was there room
for her--and Adrea? Could he see Adrea day by day, and never pass the
barrier which he himself had set up between them? What did he wish?
What was right? Just then everything was to him so vague and chaotic.

He had been riding for nearly an hour, with his reins quite loose upon
his horse's neck, and trusting entirely to her to take the homeward
route. Suddenly his mare came to an abrupt halt, and Paul looked
around him in surprise. At first he had not the faintest idea as to
his whereabouts; then a dull roar, coming from across a narrow
strip of moorland on his left, gave him a clue, and he saw what had
happened. Instead of turning inland to Vaux Abbey, his horse had kept
straight on, and had brought him almost to the sea--a good five miles
out of his way.

The situation was not a cheerful one. They were ten miles from home,
and Ironsides, completely done up, was trembling ominously at the
knees, and looking around at him pitifully. Paul himself was wet to
the skin; and as he dismounted for a moment to ease his stiff limbs,
he was conscious of a distinct inclination to shiver. The grey mists
were rolling up all round them; and directly Paul's feet touched the
ground, he felt himself sink ankle-deep in the wet, soft sand. It was
all horribly uncomfortable, and more than that, it was serious; for
immediately he had passed his hand over his horse's flanks and felt
her knees, Paul knew that she was not in a condition for him to mount
her again. There was no hope of reaching Vaux Abbey without rest and
refreshments, for Ironsides at any rate.

He looked steadily around him, and began to get some faint idea as
to his whereabouts. His mare must have been deceived by following
a private road which led to a cottage belonging to an old half-pay
officer, Major Harcourt. They had evidently passed the cottage, and
pursued the road almost to its termination, for where they now were it
was little better than a sheep-track, leading through a closed gate a
few yards in front of them into a scattered pine plantation and down
to the sea. The only thing to do was to retrace their steps until they
came to the cottage, and there beg shelter for a while.

"We've made a mess of it, old girl!" Paul said soothingly, patting his
mare's neck, and passing his arm through the bridle. "Come on, then!
We'll see whether we can't find an empty stall for you at Major
Harcourt's."

They retraced their steps, the mare limping wearily along by Paul's
side, and every now and then stopping to look at him in despair. Paul
found a grim humour in the situation. It was the quagmire into which
thoughts of Adrea had led him; a parable sent to show him the folly of
such thoughts, and whither they tended. He laughed a little bitterly
at the thought. Once, when a very young man, he had thought himself a
fatalist. After all, perhaps it was the best thing to be! Conscience
and duty were wearisome guides; a course of voluntary drifting would
be rather a relief.

Suddenly the mare pricked up her ears, and neighed. Paul looked
steadily through the mist, and quickened his pace. Scarcely a hundred
yards ahead was the dim outline of the cottage, nestled up against a
pine grove and facing the sea.

Paul was fairly well acquainted with Major Harcourt; and although
he had seen nothing of him for some time, he had not the slightest
compunction in claiming shelter for himself and his horse. He led her
up the trim, winding drive to the front door, and rang the bell.

"Is Major Har----" Paul began, as the door was opened; then he broke
off abruptly.

The man-servant who had opened the door, and was standing on the step,
peering out into the darkness, was a familiar figure to him. It was
Gomez!



CHAPTER XIV

"THE POISON OF HONEY FLOWERS"


The recognition was not immediately simultaneous. Gomez, standing on
the step, was in the full light of the hall lamp, but Paul was still
amongst the shadows.

"Don't you know me, Gomez?" Paul asked, stepping forward. "I am Paul
de Vaux."

A shade passed across the man's face, and he laid his hand quickly
upon his heart, as though to cease some sudden pain. Then he stood on
one side, holding the door open.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Paul; I could not see your face out there.
Won't you walk in, sir?"

Paul dropped his mare's bridle and stepped inside. The polished
white stone hall, with its huge fire in the centre, looked warm and
comfortable, and away in the distance there was a cheerful rattle of
teacups.

"What are you doing here, Gomez?" Paul asked, shaking the wet from
his hat. "I understood that you were going to take the under-bailiff's
place."

"Higgs has not left yet, sir," Gomez answered. "I have been living
here as caretaker for Major Harcourt."

"Caretaker! Isn't he at home then?"

Gomez shook his head, looking keenly at Paul all the time. "Major
Harcourt does not winter here now, sir. He has let the place,
furnished."

"What a confounded nuisance! To whom has he let it?" Paul asked
quickly. "You see my plight, and my horse is worse off still. We lost
our way going home from Dunston Spinnies."

"Major Harcourt's tenant is a lady," Gomez answered, after a moment's
hesitation. "She only arrived yesterday."

Paul shrugged his shoulders. He was annoyed, but there was no help for
it.

"Well, will you see her at once and represent matters? I want a loose
box for the night for my horse, and a rest for myself, and afterwards
a conveyance for the Abbey, if possible. Tell her my name. I daresay
she won't mind. Who is she?"

Gomez said nothing for a moment. Then he drew Paul back to the door,
and pointed out into the darkness.

"Mr. Paul," he said, in a quick, hoarse whisper, "at the back of that
hedge there is a road which leads straight up to the Abbey. It is
a matter of six miles or so, I know, and you are tired; but that is
nothing. Take my advice, sir, and believe me it is for your good. Get
out of this house as soon as you can, and go home, though you have to
walk every step. I'll look after your horse, and you can send for it
in the morning."

Paul looked into the man's face astonished. "What nonsense, Gomez!"
he exclaimed. "Do you know what you are talking about! Why, I'm tired
out, and almost starved. Here I am and here I shall stop, unless your
mistress is as inhospitable as you are."

Gomez bowed, and closed the door. "Very good, sir; you will have your
own way, of course. But remember in the future that I was faithful,
I warned you. Come this way, sir. I will send your horse round to the
stables. The name of the lady of the house is Madame de Merteuill."

A little uneasy and very much mystified, Paul followed him across the
hall, and was silently ushered into a long, low drawing-room, a room
of nooks and corners, furnished in old-fashioned style, but with
perfect taste, and dimly lit with soft, shaded lamps. There was a
bright fire blazing on the hearth, and a pleasant sense of warmth in
the air.

At first it seemed as though the room was empty, but in a moment a
tall, pale-faced lady, with wonderfully dark eyes and grey hair,
rose from an easy chair behind the piano, and looked at him, at first
questioningly.

"I am afraid that you will consider this an unwarrantable intrusion,"
Paul said, bowing; "but the fact is, I lost my way riding home from
the hunt, and my horse cannot go a yard further. As for myself,
you can see what state I am in. I saw your lights, and have some
acquaintance with Major Harcourt, and not knowing that he had left,
I ventured here to throw myself upon his hospitality. My name is De
Vaux--Paul de Vaux; and although it is some distance to the Abbey, I
believe that we are next-door neighbours."

It was beginning to dawn upon Paul that he had somehow stumbled upon a
very strange household. During the whole of his speech, the lady whom
he was addressing had stood silent and transfixed, with wide-open eyes
and a terrible shrinking look of fear upon her face. She must be mad,
Paul concluded swiftly. What an ass Gomez was not to have told him!
While he was wondering how to get away, she spoke.

"Your name de Vaux, Paul de Vaux, near Vaux Abbey?"

He bowed, looking at her with fresh interest. His name seemed familiar
to her. In a moment or two the unnatural lethargy left her, and she
spoke to him, though still in a curiously suppressed tone.

"I beg your pardon. You are welcome. I was a little startled at
first."

She rang the bell. Gomez answered it.

"Bring some fresh tea, and some sandwiches and wine," she ordered.
"Tell them in the stables to see that this gentleman's horse has every
attention."

Gomez received his orders in silence, and withdrew with darkening
face. Paul looked after him with surprise.

"Gomez does not seem particularly pleased to see me again," he
remarked. "What is the matter with the man, I wonder?"

"It is only his manner, I think," she said softly. "He was your
father's servant, was he not?"

"Yes. How did you know that?" he asked quickly. "Ah, I beg your
pardon; he told you, of course. You will find him a faithful servant."

She bowed her head, but made no reply. Indeed, Paul found it very
difficult to start a conversation of any sort with his new neighbour.
To all his remarks she returned only monosyllabic answers, looking at
him steadily all the while out of her full, dark eyes in a far-away,
wistful manner, as though she saw in his face something which carried
her thoughts into another world. It was a little uncomfortable for
Paul, and he was not sorry when Gomez reappeared, bearing a tray with
refreshments.

She handed him his tea in silence; and Paul, who would have been
ashamed to have called himself curious, but who was by this time not a
little puzzled at her manner, made one more effort at conversation.

"I think you said that you were quite strange to this part of the
country," he remarked. "We, who have lived here all our lives, are
fond of it; but I'm afraid you'll find it rather dull at first. There
is very little society."

"We do not desire any," she said hastily. "We came here--at least I
came here--for the sake of indulging in absolute seclusion. It is the
same with my step-daughter. In London she had been forced to keep late
hours, and her health has suffered. The doctor prescribed complete
rest; I, too, desired rest, so we came here. A London house agent
arranged it for us."

So there was a step-daughter who lived in London, and who went out a
great deal. The mention of her gave Paul an opportunity.

"I wonder if I have ever met your daughter in town," he said
pleasantly. "I am there a good deal, and I have rather a large circle
of acquaintances."

The implied question seemed to disconcert her. She coloured, and then
grew suddenly pale. Her eyes no longer looked into his; they were
fixed steadfastly upon the fire.

"It is not at all probable," she said, nervously lacing and
interlacing her slim white fingers. "No, it is scarcely possible.
You would not be likely to meet her. Your friends would not be her
friends. She knows so few people. Ah!"

She started quickly. The door had opened, but it was only Gomez, who
had come in with a tray for the empty tea-things. There was a dead
silence whilst he removed them. Paul scarcely knew what to say. His
hostess puzzled him completely. Perhaps this step-daughter, whose
name, together with her own, she seemed so anxious to conceal, was
mad, and she had brought her down here instead of sending her to an
asylum; or perhaps she herself was mad. He glanced at her furtively,
and at once dismissed the latter idea. Her face, careworn and
curiously pallid though it was, was the face of no madwoman. It was
the face of a woman who had passed through a fiery sea of this world's
trouble and suffering--suffering which had left its marks stamped upon
her features; but, of his own accord, he would never have put it down
as the face of a weak or erring woman.

There was a mystery--of that he felt sure; but it was no part of his
business to seek to unravel it. The best thing he could do, he felt,
was to get up and go. He could scarcely maintain a conversation
without asking or implying questions which seemed to painfully
embarrass his hostess.

"I'm very much obliged to you," he said, rising and holding out his
hand. "I feel quite a new man! If you don't mind I'd like to leave
my mare here until to-morrow. She really isn't fit to travel. My man
shall come for her early."

"Pray do!" she answered quickly. "Ah!"

She had started, and clutched at the back of her chair with trembling
fingers. Her eyes, wide open and startled, were fixed upon the door.

Paul, too, turned round, and uttered a little cry. His heart beat
fast, and the room swam before him. He stood for a moment perfectly
still, with his eyes fastened upon the figure in the doorway.



CHAPTER XV

"AND MOST OF ALL WOULD I FLY FROM THE CRUEL MADNESS OF LOVE"


It was Adrea--Adrea herself! She stood there in the shadow of the
doorway, with her lips slightly parted, and her great eyes, soft and
brilliant, flashing in the ruddy firelight. It was no vision; it was
she beyond a doubt!

Even when the first shock had passed away, he found himself without
words; the wonder of it had dazed him. He had thought of her so often
in that quaint, dainty little chamber in Grey Street that to see her
here so unexpectedly, without the least warning or anticipation, was
like being suddenly confronted with a picture which had stepped out
of its frame. And that she should be here, too, of all places, here
in this bleak corner of the kingdom, where blustering winds swept
bare the sullen moorland, and the sea was always grey and stormy. What
strange fate could have brought her here, away from all the warmth and
luxury of London, to this half-deserted old manor house on the verge
of the heath? His mind was too confused in those first few moments to
follow out any definite train of thought. The most natural conclusion,
that she had come to him, did not enter his imagination.

His first impulse, as his senses became clearer, was to glance around
for the woman who had called Adrea her step-daughter. She was gone.
She must have stepped out of the room by the opposite doorway; and
with the knowledge that they were alone, he breathed freer.

"Adrea!" he said, "it is really you, then!"

His words, necessarily commonplace, dissolved the situation. She
laughed softly, and came further into the room.

"It is I," she said. "Did you think that I was an elf from
spirit-land?"

He had never shaken hands with her,--it was a thing which had never
occurred to either of them; but a sudden impulse came to him then. He
took a hasty step forward, and clasped both her little white hands in
his. So they stood for another minute in silence, and a strange, soft
light flashed in her upturned eyes. She was very near to him, and
there was an indefinable sense of yielding in her manner, amounting
almost to a mute invitation. He felt that he had only to open his
arms, and that strange, beautiful face, with its mocking, quivering
mouth, would be very close to his. The old battle was forced upon him
to fight all over again; and, alas! he was no stronger.

It was almost as though she had seen the hesitation--the conflict in
him--for with a sudden, imperious gesture she withdrew her hands and
turned away from him. There was a scarlet flush creeping through the
deep olive of her cheeks, and her eyes were dry and brilliant. Paul,
who had never studied women or their ways, looked at her, surprised
and a little hurt.

"You are surprised to see me here, of course?" she said, sinking into
a low easy-chair, and taking up a fire-screen of peacocks' feathers,
as though to shield her face from the fire. "Well, it is quite an
accident. I wrote you rather a silly letter the other day; but you
must not think that I have followed you down here!"

"I did not think so," he answered hastily. "The idea never occurred,
never could have occurred to me!"

She continued, without heeding his interruption: "I will explain how
we came to take this cottage. A relative of mine came to me suddenly
from abroad. She was in great trouble, and was in search of a very
secluded dwelling-place, where she might live for a time unknown. I
also was in bad health, and the doctor had ordered me complete rest
and quiet. We went to a house agent, and told him what we wanted--to
get as far away from every one as possible. We did not care how lonely
the place was, or how far from London; the further the better. This
house was to let, furnished, and at a low figure. I did not know that
Vaux Abbey was in the same county even. It suited us, and we took it."

"I understand," Paul answered. "And now that you are here, are you not
afraid of finding it dull?"

She turned away from him, biting her lip. "You do not understand me!
You never will. No! I shall not be dull."

"I beg your pardon, Adrea. I----"

"Be quiet!" she interrupted impetuously. "You think that I am too
frivolous to live away from the glare and excitement of the city.
Of course! To you I am just the dancing girl, nothing more. Do not
contradict me. I hate your serious manner. I hate your patronage.
Don't contradict me, I say. Tell me this. How did you find me out? Why
are you here?"

"I have been out hunting, and I lost my way," Paul answered quietly.
"I know Major Harcourt, and, thinking he was still living here, I
called for a rest, and to put my horse up. Your step-mother has been
very kind and hospitable."

Adrea looked at him curiously. "Indeed! She has been kind to you, has
she? Who told you that she was my step-mother?"

"I thought I understood you to say so."

"Did I? Perhaps so; I don't remember. So she was kind to you, was she?
She has no cause to be."

"No cause to be! Why not?"

She shrugged her shoulders, "Oh, I don't know. I'm talking a little at
random, I think. You angered me, Monsieur Paul. I am a silly girl, am
I not? Do you know that I have thrown up all my engagements until next
season? I do not think that I shall dance again at all."

"I am glad to hear it."

"But I shall go on the stage."

"There is no necessity for that, is there?"

"Necessity! You mean that I have not to earn my bread. That may be
true, but what would you have me to do? I am not content to be one of
your English young ladies--to sit down, and learn to cook and darn,
and read silly books, until fate is kind enough to send me a husband.
Not so. I have ambition; I have an artist's instincts, although I may
not yet be an artist. I must live; I must have light and colour in my
life."

Paul was very grave. He did not understand this new phase in
Adrea's development. There was a curious hardness in her tone and a
recklessness in her speech which were strange to him. And with it
all he felt very helpless. He could not play the part of guardian and
reprove her; he scarcely knew how to argue with her. Women and their
ways were strange to him; and, besides, Adrea was so different.

He stood up on the hearthrug, toying with his long riding-whip,
puzzled and unhappy. Adrea was angry with him, he knew; and though he
was very anxious to set himself right with her, he felt that he was
treading on dangerous ground. He was neither sure of himself nor of
her.

"I am afraid I am a very poor counsellor, Adrea," he said slowly; "but
it seems to me that you want women friends. Your life has been too
lonely, too devoid of feminine interests."

She laughed--a mirthless, unpleasant little laugh. "Women friends!
Good! You say that I have none. It is true. There have been no
women who have offered me their friendship in this country. You call
yourself my guardian. Why do you not find me some?"

"You have made it very difficult," he reminded her.

She threw a scornful glance at him. "Good! That is generous. You mean
to say that I have made myself unfit for the friendship of the
women of your family. I thank you, Monsieur Paul. I think that our
conversation has lasted long enough. Let me pass; I am going to leave
you."

He moved quickly towards the door, and barred her passage. There was
a dark flush in his cheeks and a gleam in his eyes. Up till then his
manner had been a little deprecating, but at her last words it had
suddenly changed. He felt that she was unjust, and he was indignant.

"Adrea, you talk like a child," he said sternly. "I made no such
insinuation as you suggest! You know that I did not! Sit down!"

She obeyed him; the quick change in his manner had startled her, and
taken her at a disadvantage. She felt the force of his superior will,
and she yielded to it.

He leaned over her chair, and his voice grew softer. "Adrea, you are
very, very unjust to me," he said. "Do you wish to make me so unhappy,
I wonder? For a week I have been thinking of scarcely anything else
save our last parting, and now if I had not stopped you, almost by
force, you would have left me again in anger."

His tone had grown almost tender, and, as though unconsciously, his
hand had rested upon her gleaming coils of dark, braided hair. She
looked up at him, and in the firelight he could see that her eyes were
soft and dim.

"You have really thought of me?" she said in a low tone. "You have
really been unhappy on my account?"

"I have!" he admitted. "Very unhappy!"

Something in his tone--in the reluctance with which he made the
admission, angered her. She moved a little further away, and her voice
grew harder.

"Yes; you have been unhappy!" she said. "And why? It was because you
were ashamed to find yourself thinking of me; you, Paul de Vaux, a
citizen of the world and a man of culture, thinking of a poor dancing
girl with only her looks to recommend her! That was where the sting
lay! That was what reddened your cheek! You men! You are as selfish as
devils!"

She stamped her foot; her voice was shaking with passion. Paul stood
before her with a deep flush on his pale cheeks, silent, like a man
suddenly accused. Her words were not altogether true, but they were
winged with, at any rate, the semblance of truth.

She continued--a little more quietly, but with her tone and form still
vibrating.

"What do you fear? What is that you struggle against? I have seen
you when it has been your will to take me--into your arms, to hold my
hands. Then I have seen you conquer the desire, and you run away, as
though afraid of it. Why? Do you fear that I shall seek to compromise
you?--is not that the English word? Do you think that I want you to
marry me? Is it because you dare not, that you--you do not offer to
take my hand, even? Tell me now! Why is it?"

"For your own sake, Adrea!"

"For my own sake!" she repeated scornfully. "Do you believe it
yourself? Do you really think that it is true? I will tell you why
it is! It is because you have no thought, no imagination. You say to
yourself, she is not of my world. I cannot marry her."

There was a silence. A burning coal fell upon the hearth, and flamed
up; the glow reached Paul's face. He was very pale, and his eyes were
dry and brilliant. Suddenly he moved forward, and clasped Adrea's
hands tightly in his.

"But, Adrea! are you sure that you love me?"

A sudden change swept into her face. Her dark eyes grew wonderfully
soft.

"Yes!" she answered, looking up to him with a swift, brilliant smile.
"I am sure!"

He held out his arms; his resistance was at an end. It had grown
weaker and weaker during those last few moments; now it was all over,
swept away by a sudden, tumultuous passion, so strange and little akin
to the man that it startled even himself. Afar off in his mind he was
conscious of a dim sense of shame as he held her close in his arms and
felt her warm, trembling lips pressed against his. But it was like an
echo from a distant land. It seemed to him that a deep, widening gulf
lay now between him and all that had gone before. His old self was
dead! A new man had sprung up, with a new personality, and the time
had not yet come for regrets.



CHAPTER XVI

"'TWIXT YOU AND ME A NOISOME SHADOW CAST"


"Adrea!"

It was a cry which seemed to ring through the room, an interruption
so sudden and strange that they started apart like guilty children,
gazing towards the lifted curtain which divided the apartment with
wondering, half-fearful faces. The woman whom Adrea had called her
step-mother stood there, pale and bloodless, with her great black eyes
flashing, and behind her a tall, dark figure was gazing sternly at
them.

Adrea was the first to recover her composure. She was a little further
away, and she could see only her step-mother.

"What do you want?" she exclaimed quickly. "I desire to be alone! Why
do you stand there?"

There was no answer. Then the momentary silence was broken by a quick,
startled cry from Paul, which seemed to cleave the semi-darkness of
the room.

"My God!"

The dark figure had moved forward, and was standing, pale and austere,
before them. It was Father Adrian.

There was a moment's intense silence. Then Paul turned swiftly round
to where Adrea stood, a little behind him. But the suspicions which
had commenced to crowd in upon him vanished before even they had taken
to themselves definite shape. Her surprise was as great as his; and,
as their eyes met, she shuddered with the memory which his presence
had recalled.

"Paul de Vaux, I had no thought of meeting you here," Father Adrian
said sternly.

Paul met his gaze haughtily. There was a rebuke, almost a threat, in
the priest's tone which angered him. Whatever his presence here might
betide, he was in no way responsible for it to Father Adrian.

"Nor I you," he answered. "I imagined that you were staying at the
monastery."

"I am staying there."

Madame de Merteuill stepped slowly into the room. She was still
trembling, and had all the appearance of a woman sore stricken by some
unexpected calamity. Even her voice was faint and broken.

"Father Adrian is a visitor here only--an unexpected one--like
yourself."

"Why is he here?" Adrea asked slowly. "Has he come to see us again?
What does he want?"

Father Adrian turned towards her, grave and severe. "I have come to
see Madame de Merteuill. I bring her a message from an old man
whom, by her absence, she is wronging. You I did not expect to find
here,--and thus."

She made no answer. The priest drew a little nearer to her, and his
thin, ascetic face seemed suddenly ablaze with scorn and anger.

"Child! your destiny is surely to bring sorrow upon all those who
would watch over you, and shape your life aright. Where you have been
living, and how, since your flight, I do not know. You have hidden
yourself well! You have shown more than the ordinary selfishness of
childhood! You have thought nothing of those who may have troubled for
you! I do not ask for your confidence. This is enough for me: I find
you here in his arms--his of all men in the world! False to your
Church; false to your sex; false to your father's memory! Shameless!"

She did not flinch from before him. She looked him in the face, coldly
and without fear.

"You are a priest, and you do not understand. Be so good as to
remember that I am no longer now in your power or under your
authority. You cannot threaten to make me a nun any longer. Remember
that I am outside your life now, and outside your religion."

"You can be brought back," he said calmly. "I have powers."

"Powers which I defy. Your religion is a cold, dry farce, and I hate
it. You cannot frighten me; you cannot alarm me in the least. You can
do ugly things, I know, in the name of your Church; and if you had me
back at the convent, or on that awful island, I should be frightened
at you. Here, I am not."

Instinctively she glanced toward Paul. Already in her thoughts, he was
assuming the protector. He would not suffer harm to come to her.
He was strong and rich and powerful. The horror of days gone by had
already grown faint with her; it was little more than memory. It was
gone, and could not come again.

"I have not come here to talk with you, child," he answered quietly.
"My errand has been with Madame de Merteuill, and it is accomplished,
I go now. Paul de Vaux, our ways lie together for a mile or more, and
I have a word to say to you. Let us go."

Paul was slowly recovering from a state of mental stupor, and, with
his discovery, something of the glamour of his late intoxication was
passing away. He had no regret, there was nothing which he would have
recalled; but his eyes were stronger to pierce the mists, and he was
able to bring the weight of impersonal thought to bear upon all that
had passed between Adrea and himself. Wheresoever it might lead, there
was a tie between them now which could not be lightly severed.

"It is time I went," Paul answered. "Adrea, I will come and see you
to-morrow."

She looked at the priest, suspicious and troubled. "What does he want
with you, Paul?" she whispered. "Don't go with him!"

"I must!" he answered sadly. "He has something to say to me which I
wish to hear. I will come and see you to-morrow."

"If you must, then, until to-morrow. But, Paul!"

She drew him on one side. "Beware of him! Oh! beware of him!" she
said quickly, her eyes full of fear. "He is a fanatic, a Jesuit. Don't
trust him! Have little to say to him. Hush! don't answer me! He is
watching. Good-night, beloved! my beloved!"



CHAPTER XVII

"IF LOVE YOU CHOOSE, THEN LOVE SHALL BE YOUR RUIN"


Paul and his companion walked down the avenue in silence, and turned
into the narrow, stony road which wound across the moor. The storm was
over, and the rain had ceased. Above them, only faintly visible, as
though seen through a canopy of delicate lace, the stars were shining
in a cloudless sky through the wreaths of faint grey mist. Far off,
the sound of the sea came rolling across the moor to their ears, now
loud and threatening as it beat against the iron cliffs and thundered
up the coombs, now striking a shriller note as the huge waves, ever
beaten off, retreated, dragging beach and shingle with them. It
had been an ocean gale, and the very air was salt and brackish with
flavours of the sea. Here and there great piles of seaweed had been
carried in a heterogeneous mass to their feet, and the ground beneath
them was soft and sandy. But the storm had died away as suddenly as it
had come. The tall, stark pine trees, which a few hours ago had been
bending like whips before the rushing wind, stood now stiff and stark
against the wan sky. There was not even motion enough in the air to
clear away the white mists which hung around. Only the troubled sea
remained to mark the passage of the storm.

Paul was in no mood for talking. He recognised the fact that what had
happened to him that evening must, to a certain extent, colour his
whole life. He wanted to think it over quietly, now that he was away
from the influence of Adrea's passionately beautiful face and pleading
eyes. He had an inward sense of great disappointment in himself, and
he was anxious to see how far this was justified. He was prepared for
a rigid self-examination, and he was impatient to begin upon it.
But, while he was still upon the threshold of his meditations, his
companion's voice sounded in his ear.

"Paul de Vaux, I have a word or two to say to you."

Paul awoke with a start. "Certainly!" he said gravely. "I am ready."

Father Adrian continued, speaking slowly and keeping his eyes fixed
steadily upon Paul; "Only a few nights ago we met amongst the ruins of
your old Abbey. You will remember that I spoke to you of your father's
last hours, of a strange story confided to my keeping--a story of sin
and of sorrow--a story casting its shadow far into the future. You
remember this?"

"Perfectly!"

"At first you seemed to consider that this story, told to me on
his deathbed by a man who was at least repentant, should be held
sacred--sacred to me as a priest of the Holy Church, and sacred to you
as his son. Yet, as you saw afterwards, it was not so. The confession
was made to me as a man; and withal it was made by one outside the
pale of any religion whatever. It was mine to do as I chose with! It
is mine now!"

"If it is anything which concerns me, or the honour of my family, you
should tell me. If it involves wrongs which should be righted, or in
any way concerns the future, you should tell me. You must have come
for that purpose! You must mean to eventually, or why should you have
found your way to this out-of-the-way corner of the world. Let me hear
it now, Father Adrian!"

"It will darken your life!"

"I do not believe it! At any rate I will judge for myself. Let me hear
it!"

The priest looked away into the darkness, and his voice was low and
hoarse. "You do not know what you ask!" he said. "No, I shall not tell
you yet. It is for your own sake! Sometimes I think that I will go
away and never tell you."

"Why not? You came here for no other reason."

Father Adrian shook his head. "I did not come to tell you. It was
your home I came to see. Many hundreds of years ago Vaux Abbey was a
monastery, sacred to the saint whose name I unworthily bear. My visit
here was half a pilgrimage! But," he went on, his brows contracting,
and his eyes gleaming fire, "since I came, I have been perilously near
striking the blow which I have power to strike. You bear a name which
for centuries was foremost in the history of our sacred Church. For
generation after generation the De Vauxs were good Catholics and the
benefactors of their Church. Your chapel was richly adorned, and five
priests dwelt here always with old Sir Roland de Vaux. And now, where
is your chapel, once the most beautiful in England; it is a pile of
ruins, like your faith! I wander round in your villages. Your tenants
have gone the way of their lord. Roman Catholicism is a dying power.
Hideous chapels have sprung up in all your districts! The true faith
is neglected! And who is to blame for it all? Your recreant family.
You, who should have been the most zealous upholders of religion, have
drifted down the stream of fashion, nerveless and indifferent. Oh! it
is heresy, rank heresy, to think of a De Vaux, such as you, dwelling
indifferent amongst the mighty associations of your name and home! I
wander about amongst those magnificent ruins of yours, æsthetically
beautiful, but nevertheless a living, burning reproach, and I ask
myself whether I do well in holding my peace. I cannot tell! I cannot
tell!"

Paul was moved in spite of himself by the vehemence of his companion's
words. The horrors of that deathbed scene at Cruta had never grown dim
to him. He had always felt that his father had only decided to
keep something back from him in those last moments, after a bitter
struggle; and he was now quite sure that whatever it might have been,
the secret had been confided to this priest.

"I want to ask you a question," he said. "Whatever this mystery may be
to which you are constantly alluding, I am of course ignorant. But you
seem to have some understanding with the two women whom we have left
this evening. I want to know whether Adrea is concerned in it."

"She is not!"

"Nor Madame de Merteuill?"

"I cannot tell you!"

They were in the Abbey grounds, close to the ruins, and the moorland
lay behind them, with its floating mists and vague obscurity. Here the
sky was soft and clear, and every pillar amongst the ruins stood out
against the empty background of sea and sky. Father Adrian paused.

"I will come no further," he said. "I am a saner man away from your
despoiled home. There is just a last word which I have to say to you."

Paul stood still, and listened.

"I have borne much," Father Adrian said, "much tempting and many
impulses; but I have zealously put a watch upon my tongue, and I
have spared you. For the future, your happiness--nay, your future
itself--is in your own hands. I saw your father kill the only relative
Adrea had in this world. We saw the deed done, though we have both
held our peace concerning it. Paul de Vaux, I am inclined to spare you
a great blow which it is in my power to strike. I am inclined to spare
you, but I make one hard and fast condition. Adrea is not for you! She
must be neither your wife, nor your friend, nor your ward! There must
be no dealings, no knowledge between you the one of the other! There
is blood between you; it can never be wiped out! The stain is forever.
Lift up your hand to heaven, and swear that you will never willingly
look upon her face again, or, as God is my master, I will bring upon
your name, and your family, and you, swift and everlasting shame!"

His hand fell to his side, and his voice, which had been vibrating
with passion, died away in a little, suppressed sob. Paul looked at
him steadily. The perspiration was standing out upon his forehead in
great beads, and his eyes were dry and brilliant. The man was shaken
to the very core, and in the strange upheaval of passion he had
altogether lost his sacerdotality. It was the man who had spoken, the
man, passionate and sensuous, deeply moved through every chord of his
being. The "priest" had fallen away from him, the remembrance of it
seemed almost grotesque. Paul, too, had caught much of the passionate
excitement of the moment.

"Time!" he said hoarsely. "I must have time. A few days only. I ask no
questions! Only how long?"

"A week!" the priest answered. "A week to-night we meet here!"



CHAPTER XVIII

"SOFTLY GLIMMERING THROUGH THE LAURELS AT THE QUIET EVENFALL"


"Do you know who has taken Major Harcourt's cottage, Mr. de Vaux?"
Lady May asked.

Paul was silent for a moment. He sat quite still in his saddle, and
gazed across the moor, with his hand shading his eyes.

"I beg your pardon, Lady May," he said. "I thought that I heard the
dogs. You asked me----"

"About Major Harcourt's cottage. Do you know who has taken it?"

"I am not sure about the name. It is a foreign lady, and her
step-daughter, I believe. There is a clergy-man--or a Roman Catholic
priest, rather--too; but he may be only a visitor."

"Indeed!"

The monosyllable was expressive. Paul glanced at his companion with
slightly arched eyebrows. What had she heard? Something, evidently,
for there had been a coolness in her manner all the morning, and her
clear grey eyes were resting now upon the many gables of the cottage
just below them, with distinct disapproval. Now that he thought of it,
Paul remembered that a dogcart from the Castle had whirled past him as
he had turned out of the drive last night. Doubtless he had been seen
and recognised. Well! after all, what did it matter? The time when he
had meant to ask Lady May to be his wife seemed very far back in the
past now. Between that part of his life and now, there was a great
gulf fixed. Last night had altered everything!

He had certainly not meant to hunt that morning, but it had been
forced upon him. Quite early, Reynolds had come to his room to inquire
whether he should provide breakfast for thirty or fifty, and had
reminded him that the meet was in front of the Abbey. So, against his
will, Paul had been compelled to entertain the hunt and join in it
himself. Lady May had been specially invited to breakfast, but she had
not come, and Paul had only just seen her for the first time at the
cover side. She had greeted him coldly; and though they had somehow
taken up a position a little apart from the others, very few words
had passed between them. Her frank, delicate face was clouded, and her
manner was reserved.

"I believe my brother knows who they are," she continued, after a
short silence. "He saw them at the station."

Paul bit his lip, and turned away. The mystery of Lady May's manner
was explained now.

"Did he tell you, then?"

Lady May toyed with her whip, and then looked Paul straight in the
face. "Yes! he told me the name of the younger one. It is Adrea Kiros,
the dancing girl. Mr. de Vaux, may I ask you a question?"

"Certainly!"

Lady May looked straight between her horse's ears, and a slight flush
stole into her cheeks. "You must not think that I was listening; it
was not so at all. But last night, as I was passing the billiard-room,
I heard my brother and Captain Mortimer talking. They were coupling
your name with this--Miss Adrea Kiros. They spoke of her coming down
here as though you must have known something of it. They were blaming
you, as though you were responsible for her coming. We have been
friends, Mr. de Vaux; and so far as I am concerned, our friendship has
been very pleasant. But if there is any truth in what they said--well,
you can guess the rest. I want you to tell me yourself; I am never
content to accept hearsay evidence against my friends. I prefer to be
unconventional, as you see. Please tell me!"

"Will you put your question a little more definitely, Lady May?" Paul
asked slowly.

"Certainly! Has that young person come here at your instigation? Did
you arrange for her to come here?"

"I did not! No one could have been more surprised to see her than I
was."

Lady May was growing very stiff. She sat up in her saddle, and drew
the reins through her fingers. "You know her?"

"I do!"

"You visited her in London?"

"I did!"

"You were at the cottage last evening?"

"I was! I lost my way, and----"

Lady May touched her horse with her spur. "Thank you, Mr. de Vaux!"
she said haughtily. "I will not trouble you any more. Please don't
follow me!"

Paul watched her ride down the hillside and join one of the little
groups dotted about outside the cover-side, with a curious sense of
unreality. After a while he broke into a little laugh, and, shaking
his reins, lit a cigar. This was a new character for him altogether.
He knew himself that no man had kept his life more blameless than he!
If anything, he felt sometimes that he had erred upon the other
side in thinking and speaking too hastily of those who had been
less circumspect. And now, it had come to this. The woman whose good
opinion he had always valued next to his mother's had deliberately
accused him of what must have seemed to her a flagrant outrage on
decency. Her words were still ringing in his ears: "Please don't
follow me." Lady May had said that to him; it was a little hard to
realize.

A commotion around the cover below was a welcome diversion to him
just then. A fox had got clear away, and hounds were in full cry. Paul
pressed his hat down, and settled into his saddle with a grim smile.
The physical excitement was just what he wanted, and in a few minutes
he was leading the field, with only the master by his side, and
Captain Westover a few yards behind.

At the first check, Captain Westover rode up to him. "I want just a
word or two with you, De Vaux!" he said, drawing him on one side.

Paul drew himself up in his saddle, and sat there glum and unbending.
"I am at your service," he answered. "I have had the pleasure already
of a short conversation with your sister this morning."

Captain Westover nodded. "I suppose so. I want to beg your pardon
first for what I am going to say, De Vaux. If I make an ass of myself,
don't scruple to say so! But I want to ask you this! Why, in thunder,
did you let Adrea what's-her-name, the dancing girl, come down here?"

"It was no business of mine! I did not know that she was coming!"

Captain Westover stroked his moustache and looked puzzled. "Look here,
old man," he said slowly, "you go to see her in London, don't you?"

"I have been!"

"Just so! And you were down at the cottage last night, weren't you?"

"I was!"

"Well! hang it all, then you must have known something about her
coming, you know! It can't be just a coincidence. Bevan & Bevan are
my solicitors, and by the purest accident, one day I learned that Miss
Adrea enjoys a settlement of a thousand a year from you. They didn't
tell me, of course. I happened to catch sight of your check on the
table one day, and overheard old Sam Bevan give some instructions to
a clerk. Sorry, but I couldn't help it! You're the first person I've
breathed it to."

"I am her guardian!" Paul exclaimed angrily.

Captain Westover whistled. "You may call it what you like, old fellow!
I don't mind, I can assure you! You don't seem inclined to listen to
any advice, so I won't offer any more. But if you'll forgive my saying
so, you're doing a d----d silly thing. Good-morning."

On the whole, Paul did not enjoy his day's hunting; and before it was
all over, he found himself once more in an embarrassing situation. For
as he rode past the gates of the cottage, on his way home, Adrea was
there, breathless and laughing, with her dusky hair waving loosely
around her shapely head.

"I saw you coming," she said, a little shyly, "and I was afraid that
you would not stop, so I ran out as fast as I could. It was silly of
me! You were coming in, weren't you?"

"I think not!" Paul answered gravely. "Look how thick in mud I am, and
how tired my horse looks!"

She looked up at him with pleading eyes and parted lips. "Do come!"
she said. "I have been expecting you all day!"

She held the gate open, and stood looking up at him, a curiously
picturesque-looking figure in the grey twilight. Her gown was like no
other woman's; it was something between a Greek robe and a tea-gown,
of a dull orange hue, and her dusky hair was tied up with a bow of
ribbon of the same colour. Everything about her was strange; even
the faint perfume which hung about her clothes, and which brought him
sudden, swift memories of that moment when she had lain in his arms,
and his lips had met hers. Paul felt the colour steal into his pale
cheeks as he leaped to the ground, and passed his arm through his
horse's bridle.

"I will come, _cara mia_!" he said softly.

She clasped her hands through his other arm, and whispered something
in his ear, as they turned up the avenue together. Just then the
sound of horses' hoofs in the road made them both turn round. Captain
Westover and Lady May were riding by together, with their eyes fixed
upon Paul and his companion.



CHAPTER XIX.

"BLOOD CALLS ALOUD FOR BLOOD AND NOT FOR HANDS ENTWINED"


It was with a strange conflict of feelings that Paul, with Adrea
by his side, passed across the square, low hall of the cottage,
plentifully decorated with stags' heads and other sporting trophies,
and into the drawing-room. It was a room which had been built, too, of
quaint shape, made up of nooks and corners and recesses, and with dark
oak beams stretching right across the ceiling. The furniture was all
old-fashioned, and of different periods; but the general effect was
harmonious, though a trifle shabby. Paul knew it well! Many an evening
he had come in to tea there, after a cigar and a chat with the old
Major, and lounged in that low chair by Mrs. Harcourt's side. But it
scarcely seemed like the same room to him now. The Major and his wife
had been old-fashioned people, and their personality, and talk, and
surroundings, had created a sort of atmosphere which Paul had grown
almost to associate with the place. He missed it directly he entered
the room. What it was that had worked the change it was hard to tell.
Adrea had been far too charmed with its quaintness to seriously alter
anything. A little stiffness in the arrangement of the furniture had
been corrected, and the few antimacassars carefully removed; otherwise
nothing had been changed. The great bowls of yellow roses and
chrysanthemums, and the piles of modern books and music lying about,
might have been partly responsible for it; and the faint perfume which
he had grown to associate altogether with Adrea, and which seemed
wafted into the air as she gathered up her skirts on her way into
the room, had a foreign flavour in it. But, after all, it was Adrea
herself who changed the atmosphere so completely. She was so different
from other women in her strange Eastern beauty and the leopard-like
grace of her movements that she could not fail to create an atmosphere
around her. Yes! it was she herself who had worked the change; just as
she had worked so wonderful a change in him, Paul told himself.

At first they had thought that the room was empty; and Adrea, who had
entered a little in advance, turned round to Paul and held out her
hands with a sudden sweeping gesture of invitation. Even in that
moment, as he moved towards her, Paul had time to feel a quick glow
of admiration at the artistic elegance of her pose and colouring. Her
proud, dusky face and brilliant eyes found a perfect background in the
deep orange of her loose gown, and the velvet twined amongst her dark
hair. Her arms, stretched out towards him, were half bare, where the
lace had fallen back, and a world of passionate love and invitation
was glowing in her face as she leaned slightly towards him, as if
impatient of his slow advance. But before his hands had touched hers,
a voice from the further end of the room had broken in upon that
eloquent silence.

"Adrea! you did not see me!"

They stood for a moment as though paralysed; then Adrea turned
slowly round with darkening face. "I did not! I thought that you were
upstairs!"

She glided out of the shadows, a slim, tall figure dressed with
curious simplicity, and with white, bloodless face. "I am going away,"
she said, coming quite close to them, and fixing her full, deep
eyes upon Adrea; "I am going away at once. But, Adrea, there is one
word--just one word--"

"Say it!" Adrea interrupted impatiently.

She glanced at Paul. He made a movement as though to quit the room,
but Adrea prevented him. "You need not go!" she said. "Anything that
is to be said can be said to you as well as to me. I prefer to have no
secrets! You were going to say something to me," she added, turning to
her companion.

"Yes! I have no objection to say it before Mr. de Vaux. I simply want
to ask you whether you consider him a proper visitor in this house?"

"I choose it! I am mistress here!"

For a moment an angry reply seemed to quiver upon the woman's lips,
but it died away.

"You are right! I thank you for reminding me of it," she said quietly.
"And yet, Adrea, hear me! You are doing an evil thing! Was your
father's murder so light a thing to you that you can join hands with
his murderer's son? Remember that day! Think of your father lying
across that chamber floor, stricken dead in a single moment by Martin
de Vaux--by his father! It is not seemly that you two should stand
there, hand in hand! It is not seemly for you to be under the same
roof! It is horrible!"

There was a moment's silence. Then Adrea threw open the door, and
pointed to it.

"Go!" she ordered coldly. "You have had your say, and that is my
answer! You were my father's friend; I believe that he loved you! It
was for his sake that I offered you shelter! It was for his sake that
I brought you here! But, remember this: if you wish to stay with me,
let me never hear another word from you on this subject!"

She went out silently. Adrea closed the door, and turned round with
all the hardness fading swiftly out of her features. A moment before
there had been a look of the tigress in her eyes; and Paul, watching
her, had shuddered. It was gone now. She came close up to Paul, and
led him to a chair.

"Was I very undignified?" she said, laughing. "I am afraid I was. I
was very angry!"

He shook his head. "You were not undignified," he said, "but you were
very severe. I think that she will go away."

Adrea's face hardened again. "I do not care! I would hate the dearest
friend I had on earth who tried to come between us. Oh! Paul, Paul!
don't you feel as I do; as though the world were empty, and my mind
swept bare of memories,--as though there were no background to it all,
nothing save you and I, and our love?"

Paul drew her to him. For him, at that moment, there was no past nor
any future. The dreamy _abandon_ of her manner seemed to have raised
an echo within him.

"Listen! What is that?" Adrea exclaimed suddenly.

There was the ring of a horse's hoofs in the avenue, and immediately
afterwards a loud peal at the bell. Paul and Adrea looked at one
another breathlessly. Who could it be?

The outer door was opened and closed, and then quick steps passed
across the hall. The drawing-room door was thrown open, and Arthur
de Vaux, pale and splashed with mud from head to foot, stood upon the
threshold.



CHAPTER XX

"THE NEW, STRONG WINE OF LOVE"


The situation, although it was only a brief one, was for a moment
possessed of a singularly dramatic force. The grouping and the
colouring in that dimly lit drawing-room were all that an artist could
desire, and the facial expressions bordered upon the tragic. Of all
men in the world, his brother was the last whom of his own choosing
Paul would have wished to see.

There was a brief silence. Arthur, breathless through his hasty
entrance, could only stand there upon the threshold, his face white to
the lips, and his eyes flashing with passionate anger and dismay.
To him the situation was more than painful; it was horrible. To have
believed ill of Paul from hearsay would have been impossible; his
confidence in his elder brother had been unbounded. He had always
looked up to him as the mirror of everything that was honorable and
chivalrous. Even now, perhaps there might be some explanation--some
partial explanation, at any rate. Paul was standing back amongst the
shadows, and his face was only barely visible. Doubtless it was
only surprise which held him silent. In a moment he would speak,
and explain everything. It was this thought which loosened Arthur's
tongue.

"Paul," he cried, and stepping forward into the room, "and Adrea! You
here, and together! Tell me what it means! I have a right to know. I
will know."

He had determined to be cool, to bear himself like a man, but their
silence maddened him. Adrea, it is true, showed no signs of guilt or
confusion in her cold, questioning face. But the deceit, if deceit
there had been, was not hers. It was Paul who was responsible to him,
and it was Paul who should have spoken--Paul, who stood there with a
hidden face, a silent, immovable figure.

"Are you stricken dumb?" he cried angrily. "You can see who I am,
can't you, Paul? Speak to me! Tell me whether there is any truth
in these stories which are flying about the county, with no one to
contradict them."

What might have been the tragedy of the situation vanished for Paul at
the sound of his brother's words. After all, it was not the just anger
of a deceived man with which he was confronted, but the empty scream
of a boy's passion. Arthur's infatuation had but skimmed the surface
of his light nature. He was pricked, not wounded. Yet, though in a
sense this realization brought its relief, Paul felt humbled into the
dust. He was actually conscious of his own humiliation. So far as
a nature such as his could be conventional, he had become so in
deference to the opinion of those who looked up to him as the head of
a great house, and of whom much was to be expected, both socially and
politically. What must become of that opinion now, Arthur's words too
plainly foreshadowed.

He moved forward into the centre of the room, and faced his brother.
There was only a small table between them.

"I do not know who sent you here, Arthur," he said, "or what reports
you have heard, but it seems to me, that any explanation you may wish
had better be deferred until our return home."

Arthur struck the table violently with his riding-whip, "I will not
wait!" he cried. "Here is the proper place! I have been deceived and
cajoled by--by--you, Adrea, and by my own brother! It is shameful! You
hypocrite, Paul! You, to come up to London, and solemnly lecture me
about a dancing girl. You d----d hypocrite!"

Before his passion, Paul's grave and steadfast silence gained an added
dignity. Adrea, with a red spot burning on her cheeks, sailed between
the two.

"Arthur, you are mad," she said, turning suddenly upon him, with her
eyes afire. "Have I ever deceived you? Have I ever pretended to care
for you? Bah, no! You are only an unformed, hysterical boy. Before,
you were indifferent to me. Now, I am very quickly growing to hate
you! Begone! Leave this house!"

He stood quite still, white and trembling. The scorn of her words had
fallen like ice upon his heart. Then he turned, and groped for the
door, as though there were a mist before his eyes.

"I suppose you are quite right," he faltered out. "I didn't see it
quite the same way, that's all. I understand now."

The door opened and shut. In a moment or two the sound of his horse's
hoofs were heard in the avenue, growing rapidly less distinct as he
galloped away into the darkness. To Paul it sounded like the knell of
his self-respect, but Adrea felt only the relief. Her eyes, full of
soft invitation, sought his; but he did not move. He stood there,
silent and motionless, with his face turned towards the window. Those
dying sounds meant so much to him,--so much that she could never
understand.

The consciousness of her near presence suddenly disturbed him. He
turned round. Her warm breath was upon his cheek, and her white arms
were twined about his neck.

"Paul," she whispered, "do not look so miserable, please! Come and
talk to me."

Her arms tightened around him. He looked down at her with a peculiar
helplessness. Their light weight seemed to him like a chain of iron
weighing him down! down! down!

He had told himself that he had come to bid her farewell; that Father
Adrian's words, vague though they were, yet had a definite meaning,
and were worthy of his regard. But at that moment their memory was
like a dying echo in his ears. This first passion of his life was
strong upon him, and everything else was weak. The future was suddenly
bounded for him by a pair of white, clinging arms, and a dark,
beautiful face pressed close to his. He saw no more; he could see no
further.



CHAPTER XXI

"ADREA'S DIARY"

    "By love stalks hate, his brother and his mate."


I am scarcely calm enough to write! Yet I must write! My heart is
full; my very pulses are throbbing with excitement! What is it that
has happened? It is all confused in my mind. Let me try and set it
down clearly; then perhaps I shall be able to see my way.

Yesterday it seemed to me that my being was all too small for one
passion. Now it holds two! The one, perhaps, intensifies the other.
That is possible, for they are opposites, and one has grown out of the
other. Now I cannot tell which is the stronger, the love or the hate.

I love one man, and I hate another. Perhaps I should say I love one
man because I hate another. You, my dumb confidant, may be trusted
with names, so I will be clearer still. I love Paul de Vaux, and I
hate Father Adrian!

Oh! that he should have dared! that he should have dared to speak so
to me! If only Paul had been there, he should have beaten him. If I
had had the strength and the means, I would have killed him where
he stood, and silenced those thin, cruel lips for ever. I could have
stabbed him to the heart, and my hand would never have faltered.

Let me try to recall that scene. It is not difficult. His words are
ringing still in my ears, and his white, passionate face seems to
follow and mock me wherever I look. I see it out there in the white
moonlight, and it rises up from the dark corners of the room. It
haunts me, and I hate it! I hate him as a woman hates any one who
comes between her and the man she loves!

We were alone, Paul and I; at least, we thought so. I had heard no one
enter, nor had he. But suddenly a voice rang out and filled the room;
a fierce, cruel voice, so changed and hardened with passion that I
scarcely recognised it. But when we sprang up, and peered through the
twilight of the chamber we saw him standing close to us,--so close
that he might even have heard our whispered words to one another.

There had been some ceremony at the monastery amongst the hills where
most of his time here is spent, and he had evidently come straight
from there. His flowing black robes were splashed with mud and torn by
brambles, and his white face was livid with exhaustion and anger. His
dark eyes burned like fire in their hollow depths, and his right
hand was raised above his head, as though he had been on the point of
striking or denouncing us. I shall not forget his appearance while I
live. It will haunt me to my dying day.

I think that it is the mystery of it all which tortures me so. What
has Paul to fear from him? Whence comes his power? What evil is it
which he holds suspended over his head? There is only one that I can
imagine. Father Adrian must hold the key to that awful deathbed scene
at the monastery of Cruta. As I write the words, my hand shakes, my
heart sickens with the horror of that memory. Well have I cause to
shrink from all thought of that hideous night;--I, to whom the son of
Martin de Vaux has become the dearest amongst men! What was it Paul
said to me? "He knows something which my father told him whilst he lay
dying." Is it that knowledge which gives him this strange power? I
did not believe in it! I would not have believed in it! But, in that
dreadful moment, I turned to Paul, and I saw his face!

A volley of words seemed trembling on Father Adrian's lips; yet he did
not speak. We waited for the storm to burst; we waited till I could
bear the silence no longer, and I felt that if it was not broken I
should go mad. So I drew near to him, and spoke a single word in his
ear. Then I glided back to Paul's side.

"Spy!"

He treated the insult as one might treat the bite of an insect in
the face of some imminent danger. He did not reply to it; he did not
appear to have heard it. His eyes traveled over me, as though they
had been sightless, and challenged Paul's. In the excitement of the
moment, his words sounded tame, and almost meaningless.

"This is your answer, then, Paul de Vaux! Let it be so! I accept your
decision!"

There was no defiance in Paul's answer. His manner was quite subdued.
I think that both his words and his tone surprised me.

"You have seen! I am in your hands!"

I looked from one to the other, troubled. I felt that there was a
hidden meaning in their words which I could not understand. There
was something between them from which I was excluded. But this much
I knew. There was a threat in Father Adrian's words, and it was I who
was the cause of it. Oh! if this man should bring evil upon Paul! The
thought of it is like madness to me! See, there goes my pen! I cannot
write when I think of it!

I have opened my window. The very air is sad with the moaning of
the sea, and the rustling of the night breeze in the thick, tangled
shrubbery below. But to me it is sweet and grateful! I am in no mood
for pleasant sounds or sights. The dreariness of the night finds its
echo in my heart. The damp breeze cools my forehead! To-night I feel
conscious of a new strength. It is the strength of hate! My mind is
full of dim purposes; time will aid them to gather strength! As they
group themselves together, action will suggest itself. To time I leave
them!

Let me go back to my recital of what passed between us three. A
strange lethargic calm seemed to have fallen upon Paul. He turned to
me without even a single trace of the passion which had lit up his
face a few moments before.

"I must go!" he said quietly. "Farewell!"

I could scarcely believe that he meant it; that he was going away
without another word, at what was really this priest's unspoken
bidding. But it was so. From that moment, the fear of Father Adrian
which had grown up in my heart leaped into a new strength. I was
angry, and full of resistance.

"Why should you go?" I cried. "I have much to say to you!"

"I must go now, Adrea," he answered simply. "When I came I had no
thought of staying. It is late!"

I felt my face grow hot with passion as I turned swiftly round towards
Father Adrian. "It is you who should go," I cried. "Why have you come
here? Why are you always creeping across my life like a dark, noisome
shadow? Go away! Begone! I will not be left with you!"

He turned a shade paler, but he did not sacrifice his dignity, as
I hoped that he would, by answering me with anger. He did not even
answer me at all. He looked over my head at my lover.

"To-morrow night!" he said calmly.

"To-morrow night!" Paul answered.

I stood between them, angry but helpless. A log of wood had just
fallen from the fire on to the hearth, and in its sudden blaze I could
see their faces distinctly. The utter contrast between the two men
threw each into strong relief. Paul, in his scarlet coat and riding
clothes, pale and impassive, but _débonnaire_; and Father Adrian, his
strange black garb mud-bespattered and disordered, and his dark, angry
face livid with the passion so hardly suppressed. It was odd to think
of them as creatures of the same species. Odder still to think that
there should be this link between them.

I walked with Paul to the door, holding to his arm, and talking,
half-gaily, half-reproachfully, all the way. We stood on the
step together while his horse was being brought round, and in the
half-lights he stooped down and kissed me. But his manner had changed.
Even his lips were cold, and his eyes were no longer bright. There was
a far-away look in them, and his face was white and set. There were
tears in my eyes as I watched him ride away on his great brown horse,
and listened to the distant thunder of hoofs across the moor. His face
had told its own story. He was nerving himself to face some expected
danger. From whose hands? Surely from Father Adrian's.

The thought worked within me. I stood for a moment, trying to quiet
my passion. As I turned away I heard the stable-yard doors open, and a
carriage, laden with luggage, drove slowly out, and, without coming
to the front at all, turned down the avenue. I ran out, heedless of my
slippers, and called to it to stop. The man obeyed me, and I caught it
up, breathless. The blinds were closely drawn, but I opened the door.
As I expected, it was she who sat inside, closely veiled and weeping.

"You were going, then, without a single word of farewell!" I cried
reproachfully. "Is that kind? Have I deserved it from you?"

She threw up her veil. Her eyes were red and swollen with weeping. She
looked at me pleadingly.

"Do not blame me more than you can help!" she said. "It was a great
shock to me to see you--with the son of Martin de Vaux. It was more
than a shock; it was a horror to me! He is like his father! He is very
like his father!"

I knew that she had passed through a fiery sea of suffering, and I
kept back the anger which threatened me. I pointed upwards.

"We cannot keep the dark clouds from gathering in the sky, nor can we
make love come and go at our bidding. We are but creatures; it is fate
which ordains!"

She bowed her head. "Fate, or the unknown God! I am not your judge,
child! I do not leave you in anger!"

"Why do you go, then, and leave me here alone? It is not kind! It is
not what I should expect from you!"

The tears started again into her eyes, but she shook them away. "I
cannot explain as yet," she said. "You will think me ungrateful, I
fear! I cannot help it! I must go. Farewell, Adrea!"

A sudden thought came to me. It was an inspiration. "You are not going
of your own free will," I cried. "Some one has been influencing you!"

Her face was suddenly full of nervous terror. "Hush! hush!" she cried.
"He will hear you! Let me go now! Let me go, I beseech you!"

I held her hands. "It is Father Adrian who is sending you away," I
cried passionately. "He is my enemy. I hate him! Why should you obey
him? Stay with me! Do, do stay!"

She looked at me as one would look at an ignorant child who
blasphemes. "You are talking wildly! Father Adrian is far from being
your enemy. You do not understand!"

Her voice had changed; the note of sympathy had died away. I turned
away from the carriage door in despair. Father Adrian's power was
greater than mine.

"You can go!" I said bitterly. "You would have left me here without
one word, at his bidding. As you say, I do not understand."

She leaned forward, with a strange light in her eyes. "Child," she
whispered, "I am going to Cruta."

The carriage drove away and I walked back to the house. The air seemed
full of voices, and the grey rising mists loomed into strange shapes.
Cruta! She was going to Cruta! What power had this man in his hands to
send my lover from me with a heart like a stone, and this woman back
into the living hell from which she had just freed herself. It was my
turn now! Would he be able to subdue me to his bidding? The thought
made me shudder.

I ran upstairs into my room, and bathed my forehead, and re-arranged
my gown. Then I set my teeth together, and went down to him. It was to
be a battle! Well! I was prepared!

       *       *       *       *       *

It is over now. I know his strength, and I know his weakness. What
passed between us I shall put down to-morrow. To-night I am weary.



CHAPTER XXII

"OH! HEART OF STONE, YET FLESH TO ALL SAVE ME"


This is exactly what happened after I regained the house. I went
upstairs for a few minutes to arrange my hair and bathe my eyes. Then
I walked straight down to the drawing-room, and I told myself that I
was prepared for anything that might take place.

Father Adrian did not hear me enter, so I had the advantage at the
onset of taking him by surprise. He was standing in the centre of
the hearthrug, with his arms folded and his eyes cast down upon the
ground. His eyebrows almost met in a black frown, and a curious grey
pallor had spread itself over his face. When I entered, noiselessly
moving the curtains, from the outer chamber, he was muttering to
himself, and I strained my hearing to catch the meaning of his words.

"To-night must end it!" I heard him say. "She herself shall decide.
Greater men have travelled the path before me! As for him, my pity
has grown faint! It is the will of the Church! I myself am but the
instrument. He stands between the Church and her rights! Between me
and--her!"

His cheeks flushed, and his expression suddenly changed. He whispered
a name! It was mine! His eyes were soft, and his lips were parted. The
priest had vanished. His face was human and manly. I saw it, but my
heart was as cold as steel.

"Father Adrian," I said quietly, "I am here."

He started, and looked towards me. If my heart could have been
softened even to pity, it would have been softened by that look. But
a woman's great selfishness was upon me! The man I loved was in some
sort of danger at his hands. There was no room in my heart for any
other thought. I was adamant.

He was silent for a moment, then he faced me steadily, and spoke. "So
you have learned to love this Englishman, this De Vaux, the son of old
Martin de Vaux! Answer me simply, Yes or No!"

"I have!"

I did not hesitate. What need was there for hesitation? I answered him
defiantly, and without faltering.

"You will never marry him! You will not even become his mistress!"

I made no answer at first; I laughed! that was all.

"Who will prevent me?"

"I shall!"

"How?"

"The means are ready to my hand!"

My heart sank, but I forced a smile. "What are they?"

He considered a moment. "I can strip Paul de Vaux of every acre
and every penny he possesses! I can break his mother's heart! I can
proclaim his father a murderer!"

"I do not understand! I do not believe!"

The words left me boldly enough, but there was a lump in my throat,
and my heart was sick.

"Listen!" He drew a small gold crucifix from his breast, and solemnly
kissed it. Then, holding it in his hand, he repeated,--

"I can beggar Paul de Vaux by my proven word. I can take from him
everything precious in life! I can take from him his name and his
honours! I can break his mother's heart! I can proclaim his father a
murderer! All this I can and will do, save you listen to me!"

He kissed the crucifix, and replaced it in his inner pocket. I had
begun to tremble. The stamp of truth was upon his words. Still I tried
to face him boldly.

"Even if this is so, what has it to do with me?" I cried.

"You know!" he answered. "In your heart you know! Yet, if you
will--listen!" he continued, in a low tone. "You love Paul de Vaux!"

"It is true!"

"And you believe that he loves you?"

"I do!"

"Listen, then! Three nights ago I lifted that curtain, by the side of
one who has left you for ever, and I saw you in his arms. I followed
him out of the house; I walked by his side to Vaux Abbey, and I told
him what I have told you. I wasted no time in idle threats. I told him
what power was mine, and I said 'Choose!' He was silent!"

"Choose between what?" I interrupted.

"I bade him swear that he would never willingly look upon your face
again, or prepare himself to face all the evils which it was in my
power to bring upon him."

"And he?"

"He asked for time--for a week!"

A storm of anger was suddenly stirred up within me. I turned upon him
with flashing eyes and quivering lips. Discretion and restraint were
gone; I was like a tigress. I lacked only the power to kill.

"And by what right did you dare to thrust yourself between us?" I
cried. "What have I to do with you, or you with me?"

He held up his hands for a moment, as though to shut out the sight of
my face, ablaze with scorn and hatred. There was a short silence. Then
he spoke in a low tone, vibrating with intensity of feeling.

"You know! In your heart you know!" he said. "Into my life has come
the greatest humiliation which can befall such as I am! In sorrow and
bitterness it has eaten itself into my heart. I am accursed in my own
sight, and in the sight of God!"

I mocked at him. "I am not your confessor!" I laughed. "Go and tell
your sins to those of your own order! I am a woman and you are a
priest! Why do you look at me with that light in your eyes? Am I a
prayer-book? Is there anything saintly in my face, that you should
keep your eyes fixed upon it so steadily?"

I had hoped that my words would madden him, and he would lose his
self-control. To my surprise, they had but little effect. He seemed
scarcely to have heard.

"What have you to do with me, or I with you?" he repeated, in a voice
which was rapidly gaining strength and passion. "God knows! Yet as
surely as we both live, our lots are intertwined the one with the
other."

"A godly priest!" I laughed. "What have you to do with me? What
of your vows? Oh, how dare you try to play the lover with me! You
hypocrite!"

He shrank back as though in pain. I laughed outright, glad that I had
made him feel.

"Adrea!" he said slowly. "I was never a hypocrite to you. In your
presence I have never breathed a word of my religion. Think for a
moment of those days at Cruta. Did I not refuse to confess you? Why?
You know! Because of those long, dreamy days we spent together, not as
priest and penitent, but as man and woman. Do you remember them--the
cliffs, with their giant shadows standing out across the blue waters
of the harbour; the hollows, where we sat amongst the perfumed wild
flowers, gazing across the sea, and watching the white sails in the
distance; the nights, with their white moonlight and silent grandeur!
Ay, Adrea! look me in the face, if you can, and tell me that you have
forgotten them! You cannot! You dare not! It was you who brought me
those books of wild, passionate poetry whose music entered into my
very soul! It was you who tempted me with soft words, with your music,
with your beauty, into that world of sense which holds me prisoner for
ever. What I once was, I can never be again! It is you who worked the
change--you who awoke my man's heart, and set it beating for ever
at your touch, at your movements, at the sight of you. It is you who
taught me how to love--who opened to me the rose-covered gates of
hell! There is no drawing back! You, who have dragged me down, shall
share my fall with me, for better or for worse! You shall not escape!
No other man shall have you! I have paid the price, and I will have
you!"

I wrenched myself free from the arms which were closing around me, and
stood trembling before him.

"Fool!" I cried. "You have dared to think of me like that because I
chose to make use of you at Cruta! Make use of you! Yes, that is what
I did! I wanted to escape! You and she were the only ones who could
help me! Save for that, I had never wasted a moment upon you. I never
thought of you as a man; you were only a priest. I never wished to see
you again! You are in my way now; you stand between me and the man I
love! I hate you!"

His dark eyes were lit up with a sudden fire and a deep flush stained
his cheeks. For the first time I seemed to see the man in him as well
as the priest, and I saw that he was handsome. It did not interest me;
I noticed it only as an incident.

"I do not believe it!" he exclaimed. "You are not so false as you
would have me believe, Adrea!"

His hand was on my wrist, and his dark eyes, strangely softened, were
fixed pleadingly upon mine. Something in his manner, even in his tone,
seemed to remind me of Paul. I was magnetized! For a moment I could
not move, and during that moment his hands closed upon mine.

"Adrea, is such a love as I can offer you worth nothing? What did you
tell me once was your life's ideal? Was it not the love of a strong,
true man, always faithful, always loving? No one could love you more
tenderly than I, no one could be more faithful. Until I saw you, no
woman's face had dwelt in my thoughts for a single instant. In my
heart you reign alone, Adrea! No one has been there before--no one
will come after! Such as it is, it is a kingdom of your own!"

"I do not understand you," I said slowly, withdrawing my hands. "You
talk to me of a man's love, a man's faithfulness! What do you know of
it? You are a priest!"

He threw up his hands with a sudden cry of agony. His face was white
and blanched.

"Do I not know it?" he exclaimed in a low, fierce tone. "Do you think
I yielded easily to the poisoned web you have woven around me? The
horror of it all has darkened my days, and made hideous my nights. And
yet you can taunt me with it--you, for whom I yield up conscience and
future--you, for whom I give my soul! No other man could love as I
love, Adrea!"

I looked him straight in the face and I did not spare him. What was
the use? The truth was best!

"It is folly!" I said. "If your religion is worth anything to you, let
it help you now! Let it teach you to forget me! Go away from here, and
leave unharmed the man I love. If you do not, I shall hate you!"

He caught hold of my dress. He was on his knees before me--a bent,
imploring figure.

"Too late! too late!" he cried. "My religion has gone! When love for
you crept into my heart, I became worse than a heretic. It was sin,
and the sin has spread. Oh! have mercy upon me, Adrea, have mercy upon
me! Just a little of your love. It may not be much at first, but it
will grow. Adrea, you must try--you shall try!"

I shook my gown from his trembling fingers, and looked down upon him
with contempt in my heart, and contempt in my face. The flickering
firelight cast a faint glow upon his blanched, wan features, and
their utter humility filled me with an unreasoning and unreasonable
loathing. I did not try to soften my words. I spoke out just as I
felt, and watched him rise slowly to his feet, like a hunted and
stricken animal, without a pitying word or glance. As he rose upright,
his head dropped. He did not look at me; he did not speak a single
word. He walked slowly to the door with steps that faltered a little,
and walked out of the room, and out of the house.

I watched him down the avenue, wondering at his strange silence. It
had a curious effect upon me. I would rather have heard threats--even
a torrent of anger. There was something curiously ominous in that
slow, wordless exit. I watched him uneasily, full of dim, shapeless
fears.

Outside the gate he paused in the middle of the road. To the left
was the monastery where he had stayed; to the right was Vaux Abbey. I
heard my heart beat while he paused, and my face was pressed against
the window. For nearly a minute he stood quite still, with downcast
head, thinking. Then he turned deliberately to the right, and set his
face towards Vaux Abbey.

       *       *       *       *       *

That was early in the evening yesterday--twenty-four hours ago. Since
then not a soul has been near the house. Early this morning I saw
Father Adrian coming along the road from Vaux. I ran upstairs, and
locked myself in my room, after forbidding the servants to let him
enter. From the windows I watched him. To my surprise he never
even glanced in. He walked past the gates, and took the road to the
monastery. I saw him slowly ascend the hill and vanish out of sight
in the darkening twilight. Once, just before he reached the summit, he
paused and looked steadily down here. I could not see his face, but
I saw him raise his right hand for a moment toward the sky. Then he
turned round and pursued his way.

       *       *       *       *       *

If some one does not come to me soon, I shall go mad. Another hour has
passed. My mind is made up; I shall go to Vaux Abbey.



CHAPTER XXIII

"MY LIPS ARE CHARGED WITH TRUTH, AND JUSTICE BIDS ME SPEAK"


An early darkness had fallen upon the earth. Black clouds had sailed
across the young moon, and the evening breeze had changed into a gale.
There was no rain as yet, but every prospect of it near at hand. A
mass of lurid, yellowish clouds hung low down over the bending woods,
and the wind whistled drearily amongst the fir trees. Paul de
Vaux wrapped his cloak tightly around him, and, standing on the
turf-covered floor of the ruined chapel, peered forward into the
darkness, looking for the man whom he had come to meet. Even then he
heard his voice before he could distinguish the dim outline of Father
Adrian standing by his side.

"So you have come, Paul de Vaux, and in good time! It is well!"

"I am here!" Paul answered shortly. "If what you have to say to me
will take long, come up to the house. It is dark and cold, and there
is a storm rising."

The priest shook his head. "I have no wish to find shelter under the
roof of Vaux Abbey," he said coldly. "You are well protected against
the weather, and so am I. Let us stay here!"

Paul strove to look into his face, but the darkness baffled him. He
could only see its outline, nothing of his expression. "As you will,"
he answered. "Speak! I am ready."

"I have dealt in no idle threats, Paul de Vaux," was the stern answer.
"I gave you a chance, and you have thrown it away. Perhaps I did ill
ever to offer it to you. But, at any rate, remember this: it is no
idle vengeance which I am dealing out to you this night; it is our
holy and despoiled Church calling for justice. I speak in her name!"

There was a moment's silence. Paul knew by his companion's bowed
head and laboured utterance that he was suffering from some sort
of emotion. But the darkness hid from him the workings of his pale
features. When he spoke, his voice was low and solemn.

"Paul de Vaux, turn back in your mind to another night such as this,
when the thunder of sea and wind shook the air, and the anger of God
seemed fallen upon the earth. On that night your father lay dying in
the island monastery of Cruta; and while you were risking your life in
the storm to reach him, I knelt by his side praying for his soul, that
it might not sink down amongst the damned in hell. He was a brave man,
but with the icy hand of death closing around him fear touched his
heart. It was no craven fear! He lay there still and quiet, but his
heart was troubled. In the midst of my prayers he stopped me, and took
the crucifix into his own hand.

"'Father,' he said, 'I have no faith in dying repentances. I have
scouted religion all my life, and on my deathbed I will not cry for
comfort to a Divinity which is a myth to me. Yet, as man to man,
listen while I tell you a secret; and when I have finished, do you
pray for me.'

"Shall I go on, Paul de Vaux? Shall I tell you all that your father's
dying lips faltered out to me?"

"All! every word! Keep nothing back!" Paul spoke quickly, almost
feverishly. He knew a little, but something told him that this priest
knew more. He began dimly to suspect the nature of the revelation
which was to come.

"You shall know everything," Father Adrian continued, in the same
hushed tone, so low that Paul had to bend forward to catch the
words as they fell from his lips. "If Martin de Vaux had been of our
religion, and had sought me as a priest of the Church a seal would
have been set upon my mouth. But it was not so! Despite all my
ministrations, he died as he had lived, in heresy and grievous sin.
After all, it is only right that you, his son, should know what he
forebore to tell you. Yet, in my weakness I might have spared you, if
you yourself had not brought down this blow upon your head."

Paul raised his hand, and Father Adrian paused. "Listen," he said,
in a low, deep tone. "There are secret pages in the lives of most of
us--pages blurred and scarred with misery and suffering and sin. But
there is a difference--a great difference. Some are turned over with
firm and penitent fingers, and, although their scarlet record may
never be blotted out, yet, by sacrifice and atonement, the fruits of
the sin itself may die, and, dying, cast no shadow into the future.
A sin against humanity can often be righted by human justice. Towards
the close of my father's days, I knew for the first time that there
was in his life one of those disfigured pages. He told me nothing. I
sought to know nothing. Father Adrian," Paul went on, with a sudden
strain of passion in his tone, and a gesture half unseen in the
darkness, "if the shadow of his sin rests upon any human being, if it
still lives upon the earth, then tell me all that is in your heart
to tell, for there is work to be done. But if that page be locked
and sealed, if those who suffered through it are dead, and the burden
which darkened my father's days is his alone, then spare his memory!
Strike at me, if you will! Deal out your promised vengeance, but let
it fall on me alone!"

Paul ended his speech with a little burst of passion ringing in those
last few words. He was conscious of a deep and fervent desire to hear
nothing, to listen to nothing, which could teach him to hold less dear
his father's memory. He shrank, with a human and perfectly natural
feeling, from hearing evil of the dead. That last evil deed, the
murder in that grim, bare chamber of death, had haunted him with vivid
and painful intensity. But it was a crime by itself. It was horrible
to imagine that it might indeed be the culmination of a life of
license and contempt of all human laws. He had tried to think of it as
something outside his father's life, something done in a momentary fit
of madness, and that the man who suffered by it was some monster unfit
for the companionship of his fellows--unfit to live. There were still
tales to be heard in the county, and about town even, of the wild
doings of Martin de Vaux in his younger days; but none of these had
reached his son's ears. He would have been the last person likely to
hear of them.

There was a short silence, and before Father Adrian spoke again the
low-lying clouds were swept over their heads by a gale from seaward,
and the wind commenced to whistle and shriek in the pine wood,
and roar amongst the crumbling ruins, which scarcely afforded them
protection from the blinding rain. Any further conversation was
impossible. Paul lifted up his voice, and shouted in his companion's
ear--

"These walls are not safe! We must go into the house. Will you come?"

Father Adrian hesitated, and then assented, wrapping his cloak around
him. In a few moments they were inside the library, having entered
through a private door and met no one. Breathless, Paul threw off his
cloak, which was dripping with rain, and turned round almost fiercely
upon his companion.

"Now speak!" he said. "I am ready to hear all."

The priest looked at him steadily for a moment, and then, with his
pale face turned towards the fire, he commenced to speak.

"Sin is everlasting!" he said slowly. "Your father's sin lives, and on
you the burden must fall! If you had kept the covenant which I placed
before you, I might have spared you. You yourself have chosen. You
must hear all! Listen!

"It was by chance that I was spending two months in charge of the
monastery of St. Jerome, at Cruta, when your father arrived," he
continued, without any pause. "He sought our hospitality and he at
once obtained it. For two days he dwelt with us, spending his time for
the most part in idle fashion, wandering about along the seashore or
on the cliffs, but always with the look on his face of a man who does
but dally with some fixed purpose. His doings were nothing to me, but
by chance, from one of the brethren, I learnt that he was no stranger
to the island--that once, many years ago, he had been the guest of the
lord who ruled the little territory, and whose castle overshadows the
monastery.

"On the third day of his stay, he remained within his guest-chamber
until sundown, writing. As the vesper-bell rang I met him in the
corridor, dressed for walking, and from his countenance I judged that
whatever his mission to the island might be, he was about to bring it
to an end. He passed me without speech, almost as though he had not
seen me, and left the monastery. A few minutes afterwards, looking
down from the windows to watch the brethren come in from their field
tasks, I saw him take the road up to the castle.

"It was in the middle of the night when he returned. Midnight had come
and gone, and every one in the monastery was asleep, when the hoarse,
clanging bell down in the yard rang slightly, as though pulled by
feeble fingers. I threw my cloak over my shoulders, and descended to
admit him. When the last of the huge bolts had been withdrawn, and I
threw the door open, I found him leaning against the wall, with
his fingers clutched together in agony, and his bloodless features
convulsed with pain. The moonlight was falling right across his face,
pale and ghastly with pain, and by its light I seemed to see
something dark dropping from him on the white flags. I leaned forward,
horror-stricken, and I saw that it was blood."

"My God!"

Paul was standing very still and rigid, with his eyes fastened upon
the priest. As yet, he scarcely realized anything more than that
he was being told a very horrible story. But he was conscious of a
feverish impatience, quite beyond his control. When Father Adrian
paused at his exclamation, he beat the ground with his foot
impatiently. "Go on! Go on!" he said hoarsely.

"I had no time to ask questions," the priest continued quietly.
"Directly he left the support of the wall, and endeavoured to move
towards me, your father threw up his arms with a sharp cry of pain,
and almost fell upon his face. I was just in time to catch him, and
exerting all my strength--for he was a powerful man--I dragged him up
the steps and along the corridor to the nearest empty cell. There I
laid him down upon a bed of ferns, and then hurried out to summon one
of the brethren who was skilled in medicine.

"In a few moments he returned with me. By his direction, I gave your
father brandy and other restoratives, while he cut open his coat
to find out, if he could, the nature of the wound. It was easily
discovered. He had been stabbed by a long dagger just below the heart.
Had the dagger entered one-sixteenth of an inch higher, he must have
bled to death upon the spot.

"We bound up the hurt as well as we could, and with the help of other
of the monks, we carried him up to the guest-chamber, and put him to
bed. In about half an hour he recovered consciousness, and called me
to his side.

"'Pencil, paper,' he whispered.

"I handed him both. After several futile efforts he succeeded in
writing a few words. Then he folded up the note, and handed it to me.

"'If you will send it without delay,' he whispered, 'I will give one
hundred pounds to the monastery.'

"I never hesitated, for our funds were in a desperate state; but first
I glanced at the direction. It was addressed to--

                                    PAUL DE VAUX, Esq.,
                                      c/o The English Consul,
                                                         Palermo.

"I promised that it should be sent, and, as you know, it was. Then I
sent the others out of the room, and inquired about his hurt. He set
his lips firm, and shook his head.

"'It was an accident,' he faltered. 'No one was to blame.'

"I told him briefly that it was impossible. The nature of his wound
was such that it was clearly the work of an assassin. In a certain
sense we were the upholders of the law on the island, and I pointed
this out to him sternly. He only shook his head and closed his eyes.
Neither then nor at any other time could I gain from him one single
word as to his doings on that night. He would tell me nothing."

"You saw him going toward the castle," Paul interrupted. "Did you make
inquiries there?"

The priest shook his head slowly. "No, I made no inquiries," he
answered. "It was no matter for my interference. The castle, although
it is a huge place, was deserted save for a few native servants,
whose _patois_ was unintelligible to me. There were only two who dwelt
there--the old Count himself, and one other--to whom I could have
gone. Several nights after your father's illness I left the monastery,
and tried to see the Count. He would not even have me admitted, and on
my return, your father, who had guessed the reason of my absence, sent
for me. He judged of the ill success of my mission, by my face, and
he instantly appeared relieved. He then called me to the bedside, and
made me an offer. He would give me, as a further contribution to our
exhausted funds, a large sum of money on this condition--that I took
no further steps in any direction towards ascertaining the nature of
his accident, as he chose to call it, and that I should not mention it
to you as the cause of his illness, or refer to it in any way if you
arrived while he was there. I hesitated for some time, but in the end
I consented. The money in itself was a great temptation--you see, I am
frank with you--and, apart from that, your father at that time was on
the verge of his fever, and at such a critical time I feared the ill
results of not falling in with his wishes. So I promised, and I kept
my promise; no one--not even you--knew that he died from that dagger
thrust, and during the remainder of my stay on the island, I asked no
questions concerning his visit to the castle."

"But did you hear nothing? were there no reports?" Paul asked.

Father Adrian hesitated. "There were no reports about your father,"
he said, "but the castle itself was always the object of the most
unbounded superstition on the part of the inhabitants. They told
strange tales of midnight cries, of lights from blocked-up chambers,
and of the old Count who still dwelt there, although he had not been
seen outside the castle walls for many a year. He was reported to have
sold himself to the Evil One, and at the very mention of his name the
people crossed themselves in terror, and glanced uneasily over their
shoulders."

"Idle tales!" cried Paul angrily. "Tell me, Father Adrian, did you
know this Count of Cruta?"

There was a moment's silence. Father Adrian's face was turned away,
and he seemed in no hurry to answer. "Yes, I knew him."

"You knew him! What is he like? Tell me!"

The priest shook his head. "I have nothing to tell you," he said in a
low tone.

"You mean that you will not tell me."

The priest inclined his head. Paul turned upon him fiercely, "He was
my father's murderer," he cried.

"It may be so. But remember that nothing is known! Remember, too, that
your father's last wish was to keep secret the manner of his death!"

Paul seemed scarcely to have heard him. He was walking restlessly
up and down the apartment. Presently he stopped in front of Father
Adrian's chair.

"You have told me what happened to my father on the island," he said;
"now tell me the story of his life, which you say that he confided to
you. I must know what took him there."



CHAPTER XXIV

"THE SHATTERED VASE OF LOVE'S MOST HOLY VOWS"


Paul had not thought of ringing for lights, and, save around the
fireplace, the room was wrapped in solemn darkness. Father Adrian's
chair had been amongst the shadows, and Paul had seen nothing save
his outline since they had entered the room. But now, his curiosity
stirred by the sudden silence of the priest, he caught up the poker,
and broke the burning log in the grate, so that the flames threw a
quick light on his face.

Its extreme pallor struck him forcibly. It was a perfectly bloodless
face, and the dark eyes, as black as jet, accentuated its pallor. Yet
there was no lack of nervous strength or emotion. The thin lips were
quivering, and the eyes were soft with feeling. Somehow, it seemed to
Paul that this man's interest in the story which he had come to tell
was no casual one; that he himself was mixed up in it, in a manner
which as yet he had chosen to conceal. His colourless face was alight
with human interest and sympathies. Who was this priest, and why had
he come so far to tell his story? Paul felt that a mystery lay behind
it all.

"You must not think," Father Adrian commenced slowly, "that your
father told me the whole history of his life. It was one episode only,
the memory of which weighed heavily upon him as death drew near. He
did not tell me all concerning it; what he did tell me I will try and
repeat to you.

"It was late in the afternoon of the day before your arrival that he
called me to his bedside. Only a few hours ago we had told him that
he must die, and since then he had been very silent. I came and knelt
before him, and was commencing a prayer, when he stopped me.

"'I want you to listen while I tell you one of the worst actions of my
life,' he said in a low tone, weakened by the suffering through which
he had passed. 'The memory of it has haunted me always; it is the
memory of it which has brought me here. I am not confessing to you,
mind! only after I have told you this story, I want you to pray for
me.

"'Thirty years ago I was in Palermo, and was introduced there to the
Count of Cruta. We met several times, and on his departure he invited
me to come over here for a week's shooting. I was wandering about on
pleasure, with no fixed plans, and I did not hesitate for a moment. I
should like nothing better than to come, I told him, and accordingly
we returned here together.

"'The Count was a widower with one daughter, Irene. For a young man
I was not particularly impressionable, and up till then I had thought
very little about women. Nevertheless,--perhaps, I should say, all the
more for that reason,--I fell in love with Irene. In a week's time I
had all but told her so; and finding myself alone with her father one
night after dinner, I boldly asked him for her hand. Somewhat to my
surprise,--for considering the difference in our years, we had become
very friendly,--he refused me point-blank. The first reason which he
gave staggered me: Irene was already engaged to a Roumanian nobleman,
who would be coming soon to claim her. But apart from that, he went
on, he would never have consented to the match on the score of our
different religions. I tried to argue with him, but it was useless; he
would not even discuss the matter. His daughter's hand was promised,
and his word was passed.

"'On the morrow I appealed to Irene, and here I met with more success.
She confessed that she loved me, and, to my surprise, she consented
at once when I proposed that she should run away with me. Our
arrangements were made in haste and secrecy. My yacht lay in the
harbour, and at midnight Irene stole down to the shore, where I met
her, and rowed her on board. A few minutes later we weighed anchor and
steamed away, with the rusty old guns from the castle firing useless
shots high over our heads.

"'I want to make my story as short as I can, so I will not attempt
to offer any excuses for my conduct, or to seek to palliate it in any
way. Irene had trusted herself to me, and I betrayed her trust. I did
not marry her. She did not leave me; she did not even openly upbraid
me; but nevertheless it hung like a dark cloud over her life.
By degrees, she became altered. She tried to drown her memory by
frivolity, by all manner of gaiety and excitement, and our life in
Paris afforded her many opportunities.

"'The old Count of Cruta made two efforts to rescue his daughter from
me. The first time he came alone; and before his righteous fury I was
for a moment abashed. "Give me back my daughter!" he thundered, with
his back to my closed door, and a pistol pointed to my head. I rang
the bell, and Irene came, dressed for the evening, and humming a light
opera tune. Then I saw to what depths of callousness I had dragged
her, and I shuddered. She listened to the old man's stormy eloquence,
and when he had finished his passionate appeal, she shrugged her
shoulders slightly. She was perfectly happy, she declared, and she
would die sooner than go back to that _triste_ Cruta. Had he had a
pleasant journey? she asked, and would he stay and dine? I saw her
father shudder, and the words seemed frozen upon his lips. He looked
at her in perfect silence for a full minute--looked at her from head
to foot, at her soft white dress, with its floating sea of dainty
draperies, and at the diamonds on her neck and bosom. Then his eye
seemed to blaze with anger.

"'"Girl!" he cried sternly, "you have dragged down into the mire one
of the proudest names in Europe! Curse you for it! As for you, sir,"
he added, turning to me, "you are a dishonoured scoundrel! a cur!"

"'He was right! I was a blackguard. But had it not been for those last
words of his, I should straight-way have offered to have married Irene
on the morrow. The words were on my lips, but the contempt of that
monosyllable maddened me. The better impulse passed away.

"'"You should have given her to me when I asked for her hand," I
answered. "You cur!" he repeated. I looked at him steadily. "You are
an old man," I said, "or I should throw you down my stairs. Now go!
Irene has nothing to say to you, nor have I."

"'He lingered on the threshold for a moment, surveying us both with a
calm dignity, before which I felt ashamed.

"'"As you remind me, I am an old man," he said quietly, "and I have,
alas, no son to chastise you as you deserve. But the season of old age
is the season of prophecy! Listen, Martin de Vaux," pointing towards
me, "you shall taste the bitterest dregs of sorrow and remorse in
the days to come, for this your evil deed. You may scoff, both of
you,--you may say to yourselves that an old man's words are words of
folly,--but the day will come! It is writ in the book of fate, and my
eyes have seen it! Pile sin upon sin, and pleasure upon pleasure; say
to yourselves, 'let us eat and be merry, for to-morrow we shall die!'
For so it is written, and my eyes have seen it!"

"'He was gone almost before the echo of his words had died away. I
called after him, but there was no answer but the sound of a shutting
door. I looked at Irene; she was calmly buttoning her glove.

"'"The carriage is waiting," she reminded me coolly.

"'I gave her my arm, and laughed. We drove to the opera.'"



CHAPTER XXV

"A BECKONING VOICE FROM OUT A SHADOWY LAND"


Midnight rang solemnly out from the Abbey clock. The priest paused in
his story to count the strokes, and Paul drew out his watch with an
incredulous gesture.

"You must stay here to-night," he said; "it will be too late for you
to leave."

He rang the bell, and ordered a room to be prepared. Father Adrian,
who had been lost in a fit of deep abstraction, looked up and shook
his head as the servant quitted the room. "I shall not stay here," he
said quietly. "It is impossible."

Paul pointed to the clock. "You have more to tell me," he said,
"and it is already late. If you are staying at the monastery of
St. Bernard, it is nearly eight miles away, and you cannot possibly
return."

"I have not so far to go," Father Adrian answered, "and this is the
hour I always choose for walking. Do you wish to hear the rest of your
father's confession?"

Paul stood on the hearthrug with bowed head and folded arms. "I am
ready!" he said; "go on!"

Father Adrian remained silent for nearly a quarter of an hour; then he
recommenced his story.

"'From the time of the old Count's visit,' your father went on, 'I
noticed a gradual change in Irene. She grew thin and pale and nervous,
disliking more and more, every day, to go out, and becoming suddenly
averse to all our previous pursuits and pleasures. We mixed amongst
a Bohemian set in Paris, and we had a good many acquaintances of a
certain sort. Amongst them was a man whom I always disliked, yet who
managed somehow to establish himself upon terms of intimacy with us.
His name was Count Victor Ferdinand Hirsfeld, and his nationality was
rather a puzzle to me, for he chose to maintain, without any apparent
reason, a sort of mystery about it. With Irene he was ever more
intimate than with me, and more than once I noticed references in
their conversation which seemed to point to some previous acquaintance
between them. I asked Irene no questions, for I trusted her but I
watched Count Hirsfeld closely. I felt convinced that, under the mask
of friendship, he was trying to win Irene from me, and though I never
for one moment believed that he would succeed, I was anxious to obtain
some proof of his intentions, that I might punish him. Often after his
visits, which seemed to be carefully chosen for a time at which I was
nearly certain to be out, I found Irene in tears; but when I sought to
make her explain, she had always some excuse.

"'We had lived together for three years when, without any warning,
Irene left me. I came home one night from a dinner at the English
Embassy, and found her gone. There was no message, not a single line
of adieu, not a ghost of a clew by which I could trace her. It was a
shock to me; but when the first wrench was over, I knew that it was
something of a relief. In my heart I was tired of the irregular life
we had been leading, and longing to return to England and my old
home. Irene herself was no longer dear to me. While she had remained
faithful to me, I had considered myself, in a certain sense, bound to
her, although the bonds had commenced to gall. Now that she had left
me of her own accord, I was free. I troubled little as to what had
become of her; youth is always selfish. She had either gone home to
her father, or had run away with Count Hirsfeld, I determined at once.
Of the two, I was inclined to believe the latter, from the fact of
her having left no message for me, and also as I found that he too had
quitted Paris suddenly. I purposely did not attempt to find out, for
had I discovered the latter to be true, I should have felt bound to
call Count Hirsfeld out the next time I met him, and I hated duelling.
So, with a light heart, I disposed of my Paris establishment, selling
even the house, and everything likely to remind me of a page of my
history which I desired to blot out.

"'I returned to England, and settled down at Vaux Abbey. In a few
months my life with Irene lay back in the past, like a troubled dream,
and I did my best to forget it. It was all hateful and tiresome to
me. My mind was full now of healthier and more wholesome thoughts and
purposes. I felt like a man commencing life anew. Even my conscience
had almost ceased to trouble me. Irene had left me of her own will,
nor had she been driven to it by any unkindness on my part. I would
forget her. I had the right to forget her.

"'About six months had passed, and I was in the full enjoyment of my
altered life. One night, when the Abbey was full of guests, a servant
whispered in my ear, as we sat at dinner, that a gentleman,--a
foreigner, the man believed--had just been driven over from the
nearest railway station, and was in the library waiting to see me. I
knew in a moment that some sort of a resurrection of that buried past
was at hand; and though I nodded carelessly and kept my countenance,
my heart sank like lead. As soon as I could make an excuse, I left
the table, with a brief apology to my guests, and made my way to the
library.

"'I had expected to find there Irene's father. Judge of my
surprise when I found Count Hirsfeld advancing to meet me, pale and
travel-stained, from the shadows of the room. I stopped short, and
stood with my hands behind me.

"'"Mr. de Vaux, I bring you a letter," he said simply; "I am here as a
messenger, and as a messenger only. Nothing but the prayers of a dying
woman would have induced me to stand beneath your roof!"

"'"Your presence certainly needs some explanation," I answered coldly.
"Give me the letter!"

"'He handed it over, and I took it to the lamplight. The handwriting
seemed unfamiliar to me; but when I glanced at the last page, I saw
that it was signed "Irene." I read it through hastily.

                                           "CRUTA.

    "MARTIN:--

    "I left you meaning never to speak or write your name
    again, but fate has been too strong for me. When you see my
    handwriting, you may fear that I want to burden you once more
    with my presence, which has grown so wearisome to you! You
    need not! Soon there will be nothing left of me but a memory;
    even that I know will not survive long. For I am dying. Life
    is only a matter of days and hours with me now. For me, only
    a few more suns will rise and set. I am dying, else I had not
    taken up my pen to write to you.

    "Martin, one's last hours are a time for plain speaking. I
    have never suffered one word of reproach to pass my lips, but
    you have wronged me deeply! You have turned what should have
    been the sweetness of my life into bitterness and gall. I do
    not remind you of this to heap idle reproaches on your head;
    I remind you of it simply because on my deathbed I am going
    to ask you what in the past I scorned to do. I am going to ask
    you to marry me.

    "I could not hope to make you understand all that I have
    suffered during these last few months of my illness. I would
    not if I could. It is not worth while! My father, although
    he knows that I am dying, will scarcely speak to me. He has
    forgotten that I am his daughter, save when he laments it.
    He sits alone day by day, brooding upon the dishonour of his
    race. The priest, who prays for me, speaks words of doubtful
    comfort, as though, after all, he doubted whether salvation
    were possible for me. The horror of it all has entered into my
    soul! The sin of the past is ever before my eyes,--black and
    threatening,--and a great desolation reigns in my heart.

    "And from it all I turn to you, Martin, to save me! You can do
    it! You only! You lose nothing! You risk nothing! and you will
    throw some faint light of consolation upon this, my dreary
    passage through the shadow-land of death. Once you loved me,
    far off and dim though that time may seem to you. You would be
    faithful always, you swore, as side by side we stood on board
    your yacht on the night of our flight, and watched the shores
    of Cruta grow dimmer and dimmer, and the white-faced dawn
    break quivering upon the waters. You would be faithful always!
    The words come back to me as I lie here in this great, dreary
    bedchamber, with a cold-faced priest muttering comfortless
    prayers by my side; dying alone, without a single kindly face
    to lighten my passage to the grave. Yet, do not read this as
    a reproach! Read it only as the prelude to this my last appeal
    to you! Marry me, Martin! It would cost you so little: just
    a hurried journey here, a few sentences over my bedside, a
    week's waiting at the most, and you could see me in my grave,
    and feel yourself free again. Is it too great a thing to do,
    to make light the heart of a dying woman? I pray God that you
    may not think so! You have generosity! I appeal to it! Come,
    I beseech you! It is the prayer of a dying woman! I summon you
    to Cruta!

                                           "IRENE."

"'Back again in the meshes of my old sin. The letter fluttered down
from between my fingers on to the floor, and I stood with folded arms
and bowed head, arraigned at the bar of my own judgment. I had marred
a girl's fair young life! The memory of those old days--my passionate
persuasions and prayers--swept in upon me. Yes! she had trusted me,
and I had deceived her! Her sin and her death lay at my door! The
hideous rascality of the thing oppressed me. I had been false to my
name and traditions.

"'A cold, low voice from the other end of the room broke in upon my
surging thoughts. It was Count Hirsfeld who spoke.

"'"Forgive me for disturbing your doubtless pleasant reflections, but
time flies, and time is very precious to me just now. I await your
answer."

"'"It is not necessary," I replied; "I shall be at Cruta before you!"



CHAPTER XXVI

"LATE THOU COMEST, CRUEL THOU HAST BEEN"


"'I sped through England and across the Continent southwards as fast
as express train and steamer could carry me. Count Hirsfeld shared the
special which carried me from our nearest country station to the Great
Northern junction, from whence the Scotch mail bore us to London. Here
we parted company, travelling the remainder of the way separately.
On the evening of the second day, the steamer which I had hired at
Palermo dropped anchor in the bay of Cruta, under the shadow of the
grim, black castle; and a small rowing-boat landed me beneath the
cliffs before night fell.

"'I made my way up the narrow, winding path alone, and passing across
the paved courtyard, rang the hoarse, brazen bell at the principal
entrance. A servant, bearing a torch, had opened the door, and was
beckoning me to follow him long before its echoes had died away.

"'"Mademoiselle Irene!" I asked him, in a hushed, anxious tone. "She
lives?"

"'"She lives!" he repeated sombrely.

"'I followed him along the wide stone corridors, and up countless
steps. At last he paused before a door, and after listening for a
moment, knocked softly at it.

"'It was opened by a monk, whose face was hidden by the folds of his
deep cowl. He motioned me to enter, and immediately closed the door.

"'I found myself in a spacious, lofty bedchamber, bare and dimly lit.
Facing me two pale, solemn-visaged monks stood on either side of a
drawn curtain, as though guarding the plain iron bed which lay beyond,
and towards which I had taken one impulsive step forward. Their
presence, and an indefinable gloom,--beyond even the gloom of a
chamber of death,--which in the dim twilight seemed to hang about the
very air of the place, chilled me. There was little furniture, and no
pictures hung upon the walls, save a wooden cross near the foot of the
bed, before which two candles were burning. I looked around for some
one to whom I could address myself, but there was no one beyond these
dark-coated, silent monks, who seemed more like shadows from another
world.

"'While I stood in the middle of the room, hesitating, the priest who
had admitted me passed by and took up his station at the foot of the
bed. He motioned me to stand a little nearer, and suddenly the
drear silence of the room was broken by the low, monotonous chant of
prayers. I bowed my head, and kneeling by the bedside I took up the
responses, and once for a moment clasped the white, cold hand which
lay upon the coverlet, and which was all that I could see of the woman
whom I was making my wife.

"'The ceremony seems to me now like some far-distant dream, of which I
retain only the vaguest recollection. When it was all over, I laid my
hand upon the curtain to draw it back, but the monk nearest to me held
my hand in a vise-like grip, and before I could move, a voice from the
other end of the room, where the shadows were deepest, arrested me.

"'"Touch that curtain, or dare to look upon my daughter's face, Martin
de Vaux, and you die! For her soul's sake I have permitted this! Now
go!"

"'I peered through the darkness, and I saw the tall, gaunt frame
of the Count of Cruta standing near the entrance. I hesitated for a
moment.

"'"Irene is my wife," I answered. "I offer no excuse to you for
my conduct, but at least I have the right to try and win her
forgiveness."

"'He moved a step forward, and his voice shook with passion. "You have
no rights! You are dishonoured! You are a villain! What! you to reason
with me under my own roof! Away! Out of my sight, lest I forget my
word and deal you out your deserts!"

"'My heart was hot with shame and anger, but I lingered. "Let her
speak," I answered, pointing to the bed. "It is she against whom I
have sinned, and her word I will obey. Irene! may I not stay by your
side? Tell me that you forgive!"

"'I clutched passionately at the curtain, resolved to tear it aside,
and plead with Irene upon my knees. But I was held from behind in a
strong, vise-like grasp, and one of the monks who stood there on guard
sternly wrested the curtain from my hands.

"'"Away with him!" cried the Count, his voice shaking with passion.
"Rudolph, do you hear!"

"'I nerved myself for a struggle, but in that moment's pause a thin,
white hand stole from behind the curtain and held mine for a moment.

"'"Martin, go quickly!" said a faint, weak voice, so altered that
I scarcely recognised it as the voice of Irene. "It is my wish--my
command."

"'"One word, Irene!" I cried, struggling to free myself. "Just one
word!"

"'"Farewell!"

"'"Irene, you are my wife. Have you nothing else to say to me?"

"'"Farewell!"

"'There was no sweetness, no regret in that single word. I bowed my
head in despair and went.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a long pause. Father Adrian was leaning back in his chair
with half-closed eyes, as though exhausted. Paul, standing opposite
to him, motionless and silent as a figure of stone, was listening to
every word with grave, anxious face.

"Will you hear the rest of the story now?" the priest asked after a
prolonged silence.

Paul bowed his head. "I am waiting," he said simply.

"I will continue, then, in your father's own words as near as
possible. This is what he told me."

"'I lingered in the island for several days, staying at the monastery,
unwilling to go away, and yet frustrated in every attempt I made
to enter the castle. On the fourth day, at sunrise, I was awakened
suddenly by the deep tolling of the castle bell. I dressed hastily,
and hurried up there; but I was thrust from the door, and forbidden to
enter. I learned the truth, however, from one of the servants. Irene
was dead. On the next day I saw the little funeral procession
start from the castle, and directly they entered the grounds of the
monastery I joined them. The old Count, bowed and aged with grief,
stayed the ceremony, and bade them, with a sudden flash of his old
anger, thrust me from the place. But the priest by whose side I had
taken my stand raised his hand, and forbade them to touch me. I was
in sanctuary,--my feet were on holy ground--and though the Count of
Cruta, and Count Hirsfeld who knelt by his side, trembled with anger
at my presence, I remained, and on my knees by my wife's grave I
uttered the first prayer my lips had framed since childhood. Through
the pine trees which fringed the cliffs, I could see the path where
she and I had met in the days when I was her father's guest, and when
I had knelt at her feet a passionate lover. The sunlight flashed upon
the blue waters below, and the seabirds flew screaming around our
heads. It was all just as it had been in the old days; the same for
me, but never more for her. The long black coffin was lowered into the
grave, and reverently Count Hirsfeld stepped forward and covered it
with armfuls of exquisite white flowers, whose perfume made faint the
odorous air. And I had no flowers to throw, nothing but the tribute
of a passionate grief, and a heart well-nigh broken with sorrow and
remorse.

"'The ceremony was over, and the black-robed monks and priest had
passed away in a long, solemn procession. Her father, Count Hirsfeld,
and I remained there alone; and over Irene's grave I leaned
forward, speaking gently and humbly to him, praying for one word of
forgiveness. His only answer was a look of scorn, and he turned away
from me with loathing. He would not hear me speak. To him, I was his
daughter's murderer.

"'I left the island that night, and returned to England. For several
years I lived a very retired life, attending to my duties upon the
estate and seldom travelling beyond it. The memory of Irene seemed to
haunt me. But as time went on, a change came over my spirits. I was
young; and although I still bitterly regretted the past, its influence
became weaker and weaker. What was done could not be undone; such
reparation as was possible I had made. Brooding over my sin would
never make it the less. I reasoned thus with myself, and the final
result was inevitable. I commenced to mix more with my fellows, to
look up my old friends in town,--in fact, to take up again the threads
of my life, which I had once regarded as broken for ever.

"'After a while I married; and then, more than ever, Irene and that
portion of my past which was bound up with her seemed like some
vague, far-distant nightmare, fast assuming a very remote place in my
thoughts. I loved my wife as I had never loved Irene, and for a time
I was intensely happy. A son was born to me, and in my joy I feasted
half the county at Vaux Abbey. I had desired nothing so much as
this, for the De Vaux estates and mines, immense as they are, are all
strictly entailed. A son was wanted to complete my happiness, and a
son I had. But already, although I knew it not, a storm was gathering
for me.

"'It was about a fortnight after the festivities, and I had just come
in with some friends from an afternoon's shooting, when I was told
that a gentleman from abroad--the servant believed--was waiting to see
me in the library. Even as he spoke the words I seemed to know who
it was. My heart sank, and the presentiment of some coming evil was
strong upon me. I hesitated, and then, feverishly anxious to know
the worst, I turned away with some careless excuse to my guests and
entered the library.

"'It was Count Hirsfeld who stood there waiting for my arrival, with
a calm, evil smile upon his lips, which instinctively I felt to be
the herald of some coming trouble for me. Yet my courage did not
altogether desert me.

"'"Count Hirsfeld, your presence here demands an immediate
explanation," I said sternly. "Had I been at home, you would not have
been admitted."

"'"I come," he answered slowly, with his eyes fixed steadily upon my
face, "as an ambassador from your wife."

"'"From my wife!" I repeated. "You do not know her! What do you mean?"

"'He shrugged his shoulders. "I regret that my meaning is not clear,"
he said. "I repeat that I come as an ambassador from your wife, Irene
de Vaux. I have brought you a message from her."

"'"A message from the dead!" I gasped.

"'"Dead! By no means!" he answered, with a slow, cruel smile. "Irene
is living! Is it possible that you did not know it?"'"



CHAPTER XXVII

"GRIM FIGURES TRACED BY SORROW'S FIERY HAND"


The lamp which stood on Paul's writing-table had gone out, and only
a few dull red embers remained in the grate. By moving a single yard
backwards, Paul was almost lost in the deep shadows which hung about
the room, whilst such light as there was fell directly upon the
priest's pale face. During those last few moments his voice had grown
a shade more solemn--more intense. Paul, who stood looking out at
him from the darkness with dazed senses, like a man in a dream, never
doubted for an instant, although perhaps he scarcely realized the full
meaning of the story to which he was listening.

"It must have been in this very room," Father Adrian continued,
looking around him, "that your father and Count Hirsfeld stood face to
face. But you are naturally impatient. I will take up the story again
in your father's own words to me.

       *       *       *       *       *

"'It was several moments before I could collect myself sufficiently
to answer Count Hirsfeld. Everything seemed dim and unreal around me.
Only that calm, mocking face remained steadfast, and his words rang in
my ears.

"'"It is a lie!" I gasped. "We stood together by her grave! She is
dead!"

"'The calmness suddenly vanished from my tormentor's face and manner.
His eyes were ablaze with mingled triumph and hate. "You thought so,
you poor fool!" he hissed out at me across the table. "Bah! you were a
fool! You were easily deceived! Listen!

"'"You thought it a light thing to carry off the only daughter of the
last Count of Cruta. 'Twas easily done, no doubt; but you made for
yourself enemies of men from whose vengeance you were bound to suffer.
One was the Count whose daughter you had dishonoured, and whose proud
name you disgraced; the other was myself, the man whom she was to have
married--myself, who loved her! Do you think that because I did not
seek you out and shoot you as you deserved, that I forgot? There were
men on the island who loved their lord, and who at the word from him
would have hunted you down and murdered you. If he restrained them,
do you imagine he was willing to bear this great dishonour without
striking a blow? Bah! it was my word that said 'wait,' my counsel
which saved you from death as too light a punishment. There is another
way, I said. So we waited.

"'"It was my persuasions which induced Irene to leave you and return
to her father. It was I who pointed out to her your great selfishness,
and raised in her the longing for revenge! It was I who laid the plot
into which you fell.

"'"A few words more! It is all so simple! Irene was about to become a
mother; and you, believing her to be on her deathbed, married her. The
child was born on the next day--your son and heir! Meanwhile, Irene's
waiting maid, who had been for long in a consumption, died. It was
her funeral which you attended with such interesting penitence. Irene
herself was fast recovering; she was never in any real danger. She
lives with her old father, and the boy lives with her. We waited! We
read of your marriage, and the Count cried, 'Let us strike!' But I
said, 'No, let us wait!' Time went on. We read again of the birth of a
son and heir to you, and of the great rejoicings. Irene held your boy
in her arms, and she frowned. 'Go now,' she commanded, 'tell Martin
de Vaux that his son and heir is here, and his wife is here! Tell him
that they are weary of his absence.' So I came!"

"'There was a dead silence. My throat and lips were dry; I could
not speak. Count Hirsfeld watched me with folded arms. It was his
vengeance!

"'"It is not true!" I stammered out at last. "I will not believe it.
Irene is dead!"

"'I tried to speak confidently, but I failed. In my heart I believed
the Count.

"'He shrugged his shoulders. "You have reason," he remarked. "Why
should you believe me? Come to Cruta, and you will see for yourself.
You can see the headstone at the foot of the grave: 'Sacred to the
memory of Marie, faithful servant of Irene of Cruta.' You can see the
doctor who attended her and your wife at the same time! Better still,
you can see your wife and your infant son! What do you say?"

"'"I will not go!" I cried passionately. "I will not see them! It was
base treachery!"

"'"One must use the weapons of craft against villains," he said.
"There is no baseness to equal yours. You are repaid in your own coin;
that is all."

"'I sank into a chair. The insult moved me to no fit of anger. I was
numbed.

"'"If this be true," I asked, "what does Irene ask for? I will not go
back to her, or see her, or acknowledge her in any way. She can have
money, that is all!"

"'"Naturally, she requires an allowance," Count Hirsfeld answered,
"and a large one, to enable her to bring up her son in accordance with
his position!"

"'"She shall have the allowance; she shall have what she asks for," I
declared; "but I will never acknowledge the boy, or her. If he takes
the name of De Vaux, or forces himself upon me in any way, it shall be
open war. The English courts will annul that marriage."

"'"I think not," he answered coolly. "Besides, you married into
a noble family, did you not--a duke's daughter? How pleasant her
position would be while such a case was being tried! And your son----"

"'I stopped him angrily. "I repeat that I will not acknowledge them.
Money they can have, and the boy's future shall be my care! But not if
he ever dares to call himself De Vaux."

"'The Count shrugged his shoulders. "I am but an ambassador," he said.
"I will convey what you have said to your wife. You shall hear her
decision."

"'He went away, and for a fortnight I was left in misery. At the end
of that time I had a letter signed "Irene." It was cold and short. It
told me that, so far as she herself was concerned, she had no desire
or intention of claiming her position as my wife. All she demanded was
an allowance to be paid to her order at a certain bank in Palermo
at regular intervals for the support of herself and for the proper
education and bringing up of her son. As to his future, she could not
pledge herself to anything; for when the time came, he should
decide for himself. She would bring him up in ignorance; but on his
twenty-fifth birthday she should tell him the whole story, and place
all the necessary papers in his hands. If he chose to use them and
claim the De Vaux estates, he would easily be able to do so. If, on
the other hand, he decided to remain as he was, she should not attempt
in any way to alter his decision!

"'The letter was a great relief to me. Five-and-twenty years was a
long respite. The boy might die--a thousand things might happen before
then. At any rate, I was enough of a philosopher to seal down that
secret page in my history, and to live as though it had never existed.

"'Five-and-twenty years is a long time, but it passed away. It is the
portion of my life which I look back upon with the most pleasure.
I did my utmost to atone for a wasted youth, and in some measure I
succeeded. My fears had grown fainter and fainter, and when the blow
came it was like a thunderbolt falling from a clear sky. One morning
I received a letter in Irene's writing, a little fainter and less firm
than of old, but still familiar to me. It contained only a few lines.
She had told her son all, and he elected to assert his rightful name
and position. In future he intended to call himself "De Vaux" and on
my death he would claim the estates.

"'I read the letter, and determined on instant action. In a week my
son Paul and I were on board my yacht, starting for the Mediterranean.
We made for Palermo, and here we separated,--Paul, at all hazard, to
find Count Hirsfeld, to whom I made a splendid offer if he would
aid me in inducing Irene to change her purpose; I for Cruta, to see
Irene.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"This is almost the end of your father's confession to me," Father
Adrian continued. "At Cruta he sought the hospitality of the
monastery, where he was taken ill. He wrote an urgent letter to you,
and immediately he was able to walk he went up to the castle. I have
already told you of the manner of return. Of that visit he told me
scarcely anything, and he told me nothing at all concerning the wound
which he received there. Only I gathered that he was more than ever
anxious to see Count Hirsfeld. It was while waiting for your return
that he made this confession to me. I have finished."

       *       *       *       *       *

The white morning light was stealing into the room through the
uncurtained windows. The fire had burnt out, and there was only a
handful of ashes in the grate. Outside in the park a grey mist was
hanging about in the hollows and over the tree-tops, and something of
its damp chilliness seemed to have found its way into the apartment.
Paul, who had been leaning heavily upon the mantelpiece, with his head
buried in his hands, looked up and shivered. Then he glanced quickly
across towards the opposite easy-chair. Father Adrian was still there,
and at Paul's movement he rose to his feet.

"This has been a terrible night for you, I fear," he said quietly.
"I am sorry to have given you so much pain. If I could I would have
spared you."

"I thank you," Paul answered wearily. "It was right that I should
know. Why did you not tell me at Cruta?"

"It seemed to me that your father's death was enough for you to bear!
Perhaps I was wrong!"

Paul made no answer. His thoughts seemed suddenly to have travelled
far away. Father Adrian watched his pale, stricken face with cold,
pitiless eyes.

"You are weary," he said softly. "I shall leave you now, but I have
something more to say to you on this matter. It is no part of your
father's confession. It is from myself. Can I come to-morrow or the
next day?"

"Come in a week," Paul answered. "I shall be able to talk calmly then
about this."

Father Adrian hesitated. "A week! Well, let it be so, then. Farewell!"



CHAPTER XXVIII

"ADREA'S DIARY"

    "Spring blossoms on the land, and anguish in the heart."


To-night I shall close my diary for a long while, very likely for
ever. I am heartily thankful for it. These last few days have been so
wretched, full of so much miserable uncertainty, that their record has
grown to be a wearisome task. It has ceased to give me any relief; it
has become nothing but a burden. How could it be otherwise, when
the days themselves have been so grey, so full of shadows and
disappointments? You have been a relief to me sometimes, my silent
friend; but what lies before me is not to be recorded in your pages.

Twenty-four hours have passed since I made my last entry. It was night
then, and it is night now. All that lies between seems phantasmagoric
and unreal. I ask myself whether it has really happened; and when
the day's events rise slowly up before my memory, I almost fail to
recognise them. Yet I have but to close my eyes and lean back, and it
all crowds in upon me. In the future I know that this day will stand
out clear and distinct from all the rest of my life.

It was early in the morning when I started for Vaux Abbey across the
moorland road. So long have I seen this bleak county wrapped in mists
and sea fogs that to-day I scarcely recognised it. There was a clear
blue sky, streaked with little patches of white, wind-swept clouds,
and the sun--actually the sun--was shining brilliantly. How it changed
everything! The grey, hungry sea, which I had never been able to look
upon without a shudder, seemed to have caught the colouring of the
sky, and a million little scintillations of glistening light rose and
fell at every moment on the bosom of the tiny, white-crested waves.
And the moorland, too, was transformed. Its bare, rock-strewn
undulations lost all their harshness of outline and colouring in the
sweet, glancing sunlight; and afar off the line of rugged hills, which
I had never seen save with their heads wreathed in a cloud of white
mist, stood out clear and distinct against the distant horizon, tinged
with a dim, purple light.

Why did it all make such an impression upon me, I wonder? I cannot
say; but nothing in all my life ever struck so deep a note of sadness.
I feel it now; I shall feel it always. There was madness in my blood
when I started, I think; but before my walk was half over, it had
increased a thousand-fold. Every little sound and sight seemed to
aggravate it. I missed the dull sighing and moaning of the wind in the
black copses--a sound which had somehow endeared itself to me during
these last few days--and in its place the soft murmur of what seemed
almost a summer breeze amongst the tall pine-tops stirred in me an
unreasonable anger. The face of the whole country seemed smiling at
me. What mockery! What right had the earth to rejoice when grief and
anxiety were driving me mad? For it was indeed a sort of madness which
laid hold of me. I clenched my hands, and muttered to myself as I
walked swiftly along. The road was deserted, and I met no one. Once
a dark bush away off seemed to me to take a man's shape. I stopped
short. Could it be Father Adrian returning to the Abbey? I felt my
breath come quickly as I stood there waiting. The idea excited me.
I found myself trembling with a passion that was not of fear, and,
suddenly stooping down, I picked up a sharp flint, and grasped it
tightly between my fingers. Then I moved stealthily on, and the thing
defined itself. After all, it was only a bush, not a man at all. I
tossed my weapon on one side with a strained little laugh. The sense
of excitement passed away, but it left an odd flavour behind it. I
found myself deliberating as to what I had meant to do with that
stone if it had really been Father Adrian, and if I had succeeded in
stealing silently up behind him. Perhaps I scarcely realized my
full intention, but a dim sense of it remained with me. It was the
development of a new instinct born of this swiftly-built-up hatred.
I have my reasons for writing of this. I wish to distinctly mark the
period of the event which I have just recorded.

There was no fear of my mistaking the way to Vaux Abbey, for it stood
upon a hill, and had been within sight ever since I had taken the
moorland road. I was unused to walking, and the road was rough; but I
do not remember once feeling in any way fatigued or footsore, although
one of my shoes had a great hole in it, and was almost in strips. My
mind was too full of the end of my journey to be conscious of such
things. I had only one fear: that I should be too late; that somehow
the threatened blow would have been struck, and Paul in some way
removed from me. It was fear more than hope which buoyed me up. But
anyhow, it answered its purpose, for in less than three hours after I
had started I found myself before the great hall-door of Vaux Abbey.

A deep, hollow peal followed my nerveless little pull at the chain
bell-rope, and almost immediately the door opened. A grey-haired
manservant, in black livery, looked down at me in surprise.

"I wish to see Mr. Paul de Vaux!" I announced. "Is he in?"

The man hesitated. "I believe so, miss," he said doubtfully; "but he
is engaged on some important business, and has given orders that no
one is to disturb him. Lady de Vaux is at home."

"My business is with Mr. Paul de Vaux," I said. "Will you tell him
that it is some one from the Hermitage, and I think that he will see
me."

The man did not answer me in words, but motioned me to follow him. My
courage was failing me a little, and I was certainly inclined not to
look around, but nevertheless the place made an impression on me. The
great hall which we were crossing was like the interior of some richly
decorated church. The ceiling was dome-shaped, and the base of the
cupola was surrounded by stained glass windows, which cast a dim light
down upon the interior. The white stone flags were here and there
covered by Eastern rugs, thrown carelessly down, but for the most part
were bare, and as slippery as marble; so slippery that once I nearly
fell, and only saved myself by catching at an oak bench. Just as I
recovered myself, I saw the figure of a woman descending the huge
double oak staircase which terminated opposite to us. My guide paused
when he saw her, and I was also compelled to.

"Here is her ladyship!" he said.

I watched her slowly advance toward us, a fine, stately old lady,
carrying herself with unmistakable dignity, although she was forced
to lean a good deal on a gold-mounted, black ebony stick. And, as I
looked at her, I thought of Father Adrian's words: "I can break his
mother's heart;" and I leant eagerly forward in the chastened twilight
with my eyes anxiously fixed upon her. She came slowly on towards me,
and when she was a few yards away she spoke to the servant.

"Does this young lady wish to see me, Richards?"

She spoke to the man, but she looked towards me, and evidently
expected me to address her. For a moment I could not. A little gasp
of relief had quivered upon my lips, and my eyes were suddenly dim. To
look into Lady de Vaux's face, stately, calm, and kind, seemed like
a strong antidote to my fears of Father Adrian. It was quite evident
that nothing unexpected had happened during the last twenty-four
hours. Father Adrian's threat had been an empty one. In the presence
of Lady de Vaux, the fears which had been consuming me departed. She
was so unmoved, so indifferent. How could a little Jesuit priest hurt
such a one as she?

The thoughts chased one another quickly through my mind; but still my
hesitation was apparent. After waiting in vain for me to speak, the
servant who was conducting me answered Lady de Vaux's question.

"The young lady asked for Mr. Paul, your ladyship. It was doubtful
whether I might disturb him."

"For Mr. Paul?" Lady de Vaux looked at me, leaning forward on
her stick, and with her eyebrows a little uplifted. "My son is
particularly engaged, and has left word that he does not wish to be
disturbed for several hours," she said. "If you have anything to say
to him, you can say it to me. I am Lady de Vaux!"

"Thank you! I must wait and see your son," I answered.

She moved away with a slight and distinctly haughty inclination of her
head. "You can show this young lady into the waiting-room, Richards,"
she directed. "Take her name in to Mr. Paul when he rings. By the
bye," she added, pausing in her slow progress over the hall, and
looking me once more steadily in the face, "what is your name?"

"You would not know it," I answered. "I have come from the
Hermitage--near here."

She did not speak to me for a moment, but I saw the colour rising into
her cheeks, and her fingers were trembling. It was foolish of me to
have told her. A glance into her face showed me that she had heard
something, she knew something of me. She was looking at me as at some
object almost beneath her contempt. Yet she spoke quite calmly.

"You are Adrea Kiros, the dancing girl!"

I answered her quite coolly--I believe respectfully. She was Paul's
mother. Yet I could see that she was going to be very rude to me.

"You can have nothing to say to my son," she declared. "It is infamous
that you should have followed him here--to his own house. Be so good
as to quit it at once. Mr. de Vaux shall be informed later of the
honour of your visit, and if he has anything to say to you, he can
find other means save an interview under this roof. Richards!"

She pointed across the hall towards the entrance. I stood quite still,
struggling with my passion. If she had been any other woman, I should
have struck her across the lips.

"I shall remain!" I answered. "I am here to see Mr. de Vaux; I shall
see him! Don't dare to touch me, man!" I added fiercely, as Richards
laid his hand upon my shoulder.

He shrank back hastily. I even believe that he muttered an apology.
Perhaps they saw that I was not to be trifled with, for Lady de Vaux
suddenly changed her tactics.

"Follow me!" she said, sweeping round, with an imperious gesture. "You
shall see my son! You shall hear from his own lips what he thinks of
this--intrusion. Perhaps you will leave the Abbey at his bidding, if
not at mine."

I followed her in silence, carrying myself proudly, but with
fast-beating heart. What would he think of my coming? Would he call
it an intrusion? At any rate he could not be pleased; for even if he
received me kindly, he would have his mother's anger to face. Yet, how
could I have kept away?

We halted, all three of us, before a closed door at the back of the
hall. There was no answer to the man's somewhat ostentatious knock,
and Lady de Vaux, after a moment's waiting, turned the handle of the
door and swept into the room. I kept close behind her.

I can remember it now; I shall always remember it--the dim, peculiar
light which tired our eyes the moment we had stepped inside. It was
easy to discover the reason. The heavy velvet curtains were still
drawn in front of the high windows, and on a distant table a lamp
was only just flickering out. At first it seemed as though the great
chamber was empty. There was no one to be seen, and it was not until
we reached a deep recess at the further end that we discovered Paul.

At the sight of him we both stood still--Lady de Vaux moved in spite
of her stately composure, and I spellbound. He was sitting before an
oak writing desk covered with papers, and in the midst of them his
head was resting upon his bowed arms. He neither spoke nor moved,
nor seemed indeed in any way conscious of our approach. The window
fronting him was, unlike all the others, uncurtained and wide open,
and a flood of sunshine was streaming in upon his bowed head, and
mingling with the sicklier light of the rest of the apartment. It was
a strange and ghastly combination; not only in itself, but in the sort
of halo it seemed to cast around his dark, bowed head. Ah! Paul, my
love, my love! how my heart ached for you!

"He is asleep," Lady de Vaux said fearfully. "Paul!"

I held out my hand to check her. "Let him alone!" I whispered
hoarsely. "I will go away. Don't you see that he is resting."

She took no notice of me, nor of my backward movement, but leaned over
towards him as though to touch his arm. A sort of fury came upon me.
I knew that the Paul whom she was trying to recall from the land of
unconsciousness would never again be the Paul of the past. Father
Adrian had kept his word. The blow which he had threatened had fallen.
Paul! I looked at your dear bowed head until the tears dimmed my eyes,
and the great room swam around me. For in my heart I felt that it was
I who had brought this thing upon you; I who could have saved you by a
single word.

"Paul, wake up! It is I, your mother."

I snatched hold of her hand, and drew it away. "Let him rest," I
cried, fiercely. "He will waken soon enough."

She looked at me in dignified astonishment. "How dare you presume to
dictate to me in this fashion?" she exclaimed. "And why should he not
be awakened? It is past mid-day. Paul!"

The crouching figure moved. He had heard, then! I held my breath,
longing to escape, yet compelled to watch with fascinated eyes the
rising of that bowed head. There was no start, or hurried awakening,
if indeed he had been asleep at all. He simply turned his head, and
looked at us with surprise, without any emotion of any sort.

I hid my face in my hands, and sobbed. Lady de Vaux was silent with
horror. For there was something inexpressibly, awfully moving in the
silent, passionless sorrow which seemed written with an unsparing
hand onto that white face. All combativeness had passed away, but
resignation had not come to take its place. And, apart from the
outward evidence of the agony through which he had passed, its
physical traces were very apparent. Deep, black lines seemed furrowed
into the flesh under his dull eyes, and the firm, handsome mouth was
drawn and quivering. It was such a change as might have been worked by
some deadly Eastern poison, eating away the corporal frame. To think
that it had worked from within--that burning and terrible sorrow had
caused it--was horrible.

Lady de Vaux was the first to speak. The icy composure of her manner
was gone. Her voice was strained and anxious.

"Why, Paul, what have you been doing here all night? Do you know that
it is past mid-day? Has anything happened? Are you ill?"

"Ill? No; I think not." He seemed to be speaking from a great way
off. Nothing about him was natural. He was on his feet, but I expected
every moment to see him reel and fall.

"But, Paul, what have you been doing--writing?" Lady de Vaux asked
anxiously. Then, as though warned by his strange appearance, she
checked his mechanical answer. "Never mind, never mind! You are tired,
I can see. Won't you go and lie down for awhile? Come, I will go with
you."

She had forgotten me, until she found that he paid no heed to her
words; that his eyes travelled past her, and remained fixed upon me.
Then she turned swiftly upon me.

"You had better go," she said in a low, imperative whisper. "Ask them
to show you into my room, and wait there for me."

I took no notice of her. My eyes were fixed upon Paul. I felt that he
was going to speak to me; and he did.

"Adrea! Adrea!" he said slowly. "How is it that you are here? You did
not come with him, did you? No! no! of course not. And yet, how is it
that you are here?"

"I feared Father Adrian and his threats, and I was alone, quite alone,
and--and I could bear it no longer. I was obliged to come."

His face grew a trifle more animated; I could see that he was
recovering. The dumb stupor which had held his features rigid was
passing away.

"Yes, I am glad you are here. I want to talk to you. I had some
important business which kept me writing here all night, and must have
fallen asleep. I will go and change my things and come back to you."

He looked down at his crumpled shirt-front and disordered tie, and
then moved slowly towards the door. Lady de Vaux hesitated for a
moment, with a dark frown upon her face, and then laid her hand upon
his arm.

"Your explanation should surely have been addressed to me, Paul," she
said coldly. "Who is this young lady?"

"She is a friend of mine," Paul answered, "and----"

"I heard you call her 'Adrea,'" Lady de Vaux continued. "May I ask
whether it is indeed Miss Adrea Kiros?"

"I have told you that is my name, Lady de Vaux," I answered promptly.
"You have possibly heard of me."

Lady de Vaux turned her back upon both of us, and left the room
without a word.



CHAPTER XXIX

"ADREA'S DIARY"

    "Love, blossoming in the roses, holds a dagger in her hands."


We were alone, Paul and I, in that great, solemn room, full of pale,
phantom-like lights and quivering shadows. He was standing a few
yards away from me, with his head half averted, and his eyes full of
a great, hopeless despair. In silence I approached him, and took his
death-cold hand in mine.

"It is no matter," I whispered; "I do not care for your mother!
Her words are nothing! I will not leave you--not till you tell me
everything."

"Everything!" He echoed the word, and looked at me helplessly.
"Everything! Tell you everything!"

Suddenly there was a change. The numbed, helpless look left his face,
and his features were relaxed. He was himself again; a strong, brave
man, only shaken by the storm.

"Adrea, forgive me! Did you think that I was going mad? I have had
a terrible shock, and I have been up all night listening to a story
which brings great suffering and misery upon me!"

His eyes had suddenly a far-away look in them, so sad that I felt
the tears rush into mine. I pressed his hand to let him know that I
understood; but I kept my face turned from him. Ah! love is a strange
thing, indeed! If I had not cared, Paul, I could have sympathised with
you so nicely, and made so many pretty speeches. But I love you, and
it made me feel very strange and solemn. I had nothing to say; my
heart was too full. Did you understand, I wonder? Will you ever
understand? Paul, my love! my love! It is so sweet to say that over
and over to myself in this dark chamber, where there is no one to hear
me, or to see me looking so foolish. You make me feel so different,
Paul! That is because you yourself are so different from all the men I
know; from all the men I have ever seen.

We stood there, quite silent, for some moments. Then he drew a quick,
stifled breath, and caught hold of my hands. "I cannot breathe in this
place," he said, looking half fearfully around; "the very air seems
tainted with that horrible story, and its ghosts are lurking in every
corner!"

"Let me draw the curtains," I whispered. "The sunlight will banish
them. You are dazed."

He held my hand tightly, and drew me towards the window. "Never mind
the curtains! We will go out; out over the moor."

He was feverishly impatient to be gone, but I held him back. "Your
clothes!" I reminded him. "And you have no hat!"

He looked down doubtfully at his disordered evening dress, and then
released my hands. "Wait for me, here," he begged. "Promise that you
will not go away; that nothing shall make you go."

I promised.

"See! I shall lock the door," he continued, as he reached the
threshold. "No one can come in and disturb you!"

"Please to have some tea and a bath!" I begged. "I do not mind
waiting. You will be ill, if you do not mind."

He was gone about half an hour. Once, some one came and tried the
door, but I took no notice. At last I heard the key turn in the lock,
and he entered. "Did you think that I was long?" he asked, coming up
to me with a smile.

I shook my head; my eyes were full of tears, and there was a lump in
my throat. I could not speak. He had changed all his clothes, and was
carefully dressed in a brown tweed shooting suit and gaiters, but
the correctness and order of his external appearance seemed only to
emphasize the ravages which one single night's suffering had wrought
upon his strong, handsome face. Hard, cruel lines had furrowed their
way across his forehead, and under his eyes were deep black marks. His
bronze cheeks were white and sunken, and a bright red spot burned on
one of them. But it was a change of which the details could give no
idea. His face had caught the inflection of his inward agony, and
retained it. It was there, if not for the world to see, at any rate
terribly evident to me, to those who loved him.

He was quite calm now, however. It was as though the fires of
suffering had burnt themselves out, leaving behind them a silent,
charred desolation. He took my arm, and together we left the room,
passing through the high French windows and along an open terrace
until we reached the gardens. We turned down a broad walk bordered by
high yew hedges, at the bottom of which was a little gate leading into
the park. The air was fragrant with the perfume of violets, and early
stocks and hyacinths, mingled every now and then with a more delicate
perfume from the greenhouses on the other side of the red-brick wall.
How beautiful it all seemed, in that sweet, dancing sunlight!--the
songs of the birds, the blossoming fruit-trees, and pink-budded
chestnuts, the scents which floated about on the soft west breeze, and
the constant humming of bees and other winged insects. Only in England
could there have been so sudden a change from the grey mists and
leaden skies of yesterday. Even in that moment of extreme tension I
could not help an exclamation of admiration as we came to an end of
the gravelled walk, and Paul held open for me a little iron gate.

"How beautiful your home is!" I cried. "How you must love it!"

A look almost of agony passed across his face. It came and went in
a moment. "Yes! I love it!" he answered, "but it is not my home.
Henceforth I have no home. I may well be thankful that I have even a
name!"

I looked at him, waiting for an explanation, but he walked on in
silence. It was not until we were half-way across the park that I
spoke. "I do not understand!" I said softly. "Will you not tell me
something of your trouble?"

"I would that I could, Adrea!" he answered. His voice was so gentle,
and yet his face was so stern. "But no, I cannot. It is a secret. It
is only a blotted page of our family history made clear to me. But it
alters everything!"

"Does it make you poorer?" I asked falteringly.

He looked down in my eyes bravely; but his voice shook as he answered:
"If it be true--as I scarcely doubt--it takes from me everything: my
money, my home, my future. It brings everything but disgrace upon us,
Adrea, and even that must touch our name. Even though the living are
spared, the memory of the dead must suffer!"

I felt the tears flowing down my cheeks, but I dashed them away. "I do
not understand. I----"

"Of course not! and I cannot explain. Yet it is simple! I have an
elder brother, of whom I never heard, to whom everything belongs. I am
going to find him!"

"Where is he?" I cried. He shook his head. "That I cannot tell. Father
Adrian knows, but he will not speak. I am going in search of him
myself. I am going to Cruta!"

To Cruta! The name rang in my ears, and earth and trees and sky seemed
reeling before me. Then I clutched him by the arm, and cried out
hysterically,--

"You shall not go there! The place is horrible! You shall not go!"

He stood still, and looked at me in wonderment. We had crossed the
park now, and were on the edge of the bare moorland. His figure alone
stood out in solitary relief against the sky. I was half mad with fear
and dismay. He did not understand. How could he?

"It is at Cruta that I can learn all that there still is for me to
learn," he said. "I shall start for there to-night."

Oh! it was horrible! What could I say? How was I to stop him? How much
dare I tell? I caught hold of his hands, and held them tightly.

"Paul, I want to ask you something! When you heard from the convent
that relations had claimed me and taken me away, and then, a year
afterwards, you found me there--in London--a dancing girl, what did
you think?"

He answered me at once and without hesitation. "I thought that you had
misled the Lady Superior,--that you were weary of your life there, and
had run away."

I shook my head. "I knew that you thought so and I never denied it.
But it was not so! I was not unhappy at the convent, but one day I was
sent for and bidden prepare for a journey. Some relatives had sent for
me, and I was to go. And to where? It was to Cruta! Paul, it was old
Count of Cruta who claimed me. I cannot tell you anything of the time
I spent there, shut up in the gloomy castle; it was horrible beyond
all words. Even the memory of it makes me shudder. If only I could
tell you! But I must not! I can tell you this, though. In less than
six months I felt myself going mad; and one night I stole down to the
beach and unfastened a small boat and rowed away, scarcely caring what
happened to me so that I could but escape from that awful place.
It was a desperate chance. I was out all day without food or water,
rowing and drifting until Cruta lay like a speck in the distance. Then
by chance I was picked up by an English yacht, and they brought me to
London. I arrived there helpless and miserable, and, ah! how lonely!
I dared not go back to the convent for fear I should be sent back to
Cruta. There was only you. I went to your bankers, and they told me
that you were abroad--on the Continent. By chance they asked me there
my name, and by chance again I told them it truthfully. They told me
that they had money for me there. I had only to sign a receipt, and
they gave me more than I asked for--ten times more. Then I remembered
the address of an English girl who had been at the convent with me,
and she gave me a home for a time. It was through her dancing mistress
that I became--a dancing girl. I have told you this, Paul, because I
want you to promise me not to go to Cruta. It is an evil place. They
are mad there. Promise me!"

He looked at me gravely and very tenderly; but his tone was firm.
"Adrea, it is necessary that I go there," he said. "I cannot rest for
a moment until I know for certain whether a story which I have just
been told is a true one. The proof lies in Cruta! It is no whim which
is taking me there! I must go!"

My heart was sick with dread. Yet what could I do? I said nothing;
only I covered my face with my hands and wept.

"Adrea, you are a foolish child!" he said, bending over me. "What is
there for me to fear at Cruta? Look up and tell me!"

I shook my head. "You would not heed me," I answered sadly. "I dare
not tell you. But there is one thing," I added hastily. "Will you do
it for me simply because I ask you?"

"If it be possible, yes!"

I stood still on a little hillock, and faced him eagerly. "Then do not
go to Cruta until to-morrow!" I begged. "It will make no difference to
you."

"And what difference will it make to you, he asked, perplexed.

"Never mind! promise!" He hesitated for a moment, with a frown on his
forehead, and his face turned seaward.

"Well! I will promise then!"

I caught hold of his hand, and held it tightly. "You are very good to
me!" I said. "_Allons!_ let us move onward!"

We had reached the Hermitage, and I had spoken scarcely a single word
of comfort. An icy coldness seemed to have stolen into my heart. I
had ceased to think of Paul, or of my love. There was something else;
another passion which made me blind. Yet I let him come in with me,
and yielded myself up for a while to the dream of loving and being
loved by him. While I lay in his arms, with my head upon his shoulder,
and every now and then felt his light, caressing touch upon my
face,--why then, the world for me was bounded by that little room, and
I had no thoughts which travelled outside it. But it lasted only while
he was with me. When he stood up, and said that he must go, I did not
seek to keep him.

"Shall I come again?" he asked, as we stood hand in hand before the
door.

I shook my head. "Not to-night love! I shall be better alone. I am
weary, and I have my things to collect."

I knew he would be surprised. He withdrew his hand, and manlike, was
almost angry. "I forgot. You will leave here, I suppose!"

I shrugged my shoulders. "What should keep me, Paul? I could not live
here alone. Every stone and tree would be full of barren memories. No!
to-morrow I go to London. I have sent all the servants away to-day,
except Gomez. You will be with me early!"

"I will be outside your window before you are up!" he promised with a
touch of gaiety in his tone. "See that Gomez has breakfast for two!"

He passed down the avenue, and out of sight. I closed the door with
a little shudder and turned round. Gomez was by my side. Through the
gloom I could see that his dark eyes were full of fire, and his olive
features were set and grim.

"What do you want Gomez?" I asked quickly.

He drew close to my side. "The priest," he muttered, "has he--has he
dared----"

His breath was coming quickly. He spoke English but slightly, and in
the excitement the words seemed to stick in his throat.

I interrupted him. "He has told Mr. de Vaux some strange, horrible
story. What do you know of it?"

"All! All! All! I was there--in the chamber! My master's words to
him--I heard them all. He has told, then! He has threatened! Oh! if
only I had known when he was here!"

The man's fierce face and gesture told their own tale. I beckoned
him to follow me into the room where Paul and I had been sitting, and
closed the door.

"You were Martin de Vaux's faithful servant," I said. "Do you want to
see his son driven from his home and robbed of his lands?"

The man moved his lips, making a curious sound, and drew a long,
gurgling breath. He was shaking with excitement.

"Who should do it?"

"The priest!" I answered softly.

"Because of the words, the story of which my master spoke to him at
his death in the monastery?"

"Yes! because of that."

"Ah!" He stole up to my side with a noiseless, animal movement, and
whispered in my ear. His eyes were burning; his face was full of evil
meaning. Yet I did not shrink from him. I welcomed him with a smile.
He whispered into my ear. It was like the hiss of a snake; but I
smiled. I whispered back again. He nodded. Ah! the way before me was
growing clear at last. Was it not fate that had brought Gomez ready to
my hand? Ay! fate! A good fate! A kind fate! We stood close together
in that dimly lit room; and though we were alone in the house, we
spoke in whispers to one another. When I moved to the door, Gomez
followed me.

I came down in ten minutes, clad in a long, dark cloak, with a small
hat and a thick veil. I took a stick from the rack, and there was
something else in my deep pocket.

"Alone!" he whispered, as I moved towards the door.

"Alone!" I answered. "Make a good fire in the drawing-room, and let
there be food and wine there."

"For two?" he asked with an evil smile.

"For two!"



CHAPTER XXX

"ADREA'S DIARY"

    "A land that is lonelier than a ruin."


A cold twilight followed close upon the day. The sky was strewn with
dark clouds, and a wild wind blew in my face. I was on an unknown
road, and in all my life I had seen nothing so dreary.

On one side, about a hundred yards away, was the sea; on the other
was a broken stretch of bare moorland covered with only the scantiest
herbage and piles of barren grey rocks. Some were lying together in
quaint, grotesque shapes; others stood out alone against the sky,
and broken fragments of all sizes covered the ground, choking and
destroying all vegetation. There was no background of woods or trees;
there was nothing between that barren, stony surface and the leaden
sky. What turf there had been had lost its colour, and never a
fragment of moss had grown upon one of those weather-beaten boulders.
The sea air had stained them, and the grey evening mists had rotted
them, until their surface was honeycombed with indentations, but
neither had softened or toned down their fierce ugliness. Even in the
bright sunlight such a country as this must still have been a country
of desolation, and a light heart must sometimes have lost its gaiety
and felt oppressed. To me, as I hurried along, with the cold evening
settling down around me, that walk was horrible. Strange shadows
seemed to dog my path and stalk solemnly along by my side. Footsteps
seemed to follow behind me, and every stone I dislodged made me start.
Sometimes I fancied that I heard strange whisperings in my ears, and
I started round, shivering and trembling, to find myself alone. Once I
stopped short. Was that a dead man in the way? How my heart beat! No!
it was only a long boulder of rock! Listen! was not that the scream
of a dying man? My own voice, raised in helpless terror, drowned the
sound, and while I stood there ready to sink to the ground, a great
sea-gull came circling round my head, and the blood flowed warm in my
veins once more. How sad and mournful was that solitary cry and slow,
hopeless flapping of the wings! Who was it said that the evil spirits
of dead men dwell imprisoned in those sad-crying birds? It was
very, very human, that cry. Bah! was I getting superstitious and
faint-hearted before my task was begun? I set my teeth and stepped
boldly onwards. For a while I had no more fancies.

Throughout that hideous walk my whole imagination seemed coloured
with a reflection of the purpose towards which I was tending. I do
not write this in any morbid fit. Few women have passed through what
I have passed through; fewer still have stopped to record their
sensations. It is strange that it should afford me any satisfaction to
record them here, but it is so. I have begun, and I must go on. This
part of my life is drawing rapidly to a close, and with its close I
shall seal this little book up and put it away for ever.

The night grew darker, and the road was fast becoming little more than
a rude cattle-track. A little distance ahead of me, from some building
as yet unseen, a strong, clear light was steadily burning. Save for
it, I might have feared that I had lost my way, for as yet I had
passed no sign of human habitation. But that light was sufficient.
Gomez had told me of it. It was the light which burned always, from
dusk to morning, from the tower of the monastery of St. Bernard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two things seemed strange to me, or rather seem strange to me now,
when I look back upon that walk. The first was my utter indifference
to all physical pain. There was a hole in my boot, and I found
afterwards that my foot must have been bleeding most of the time. I
never felt it. I was conscious of neither pain nor fatigue. The second
thing which surprises me is that, as I drew near to my journey's end,
I grew calmer. I had no desire to draw back. I had no fear. The thing
which was before me never assumed any definite shape! It was there--in
the background--a dim, floating purpose, never once oppressing
me, never forcing its way forward in my mind for more definite
consideration, and only showing itself at all in a vague, lurid
glow which seemed to change even the shapes of all the gruesome
surroundings of my dismal walk. Towards the end of my expedition this
became even more marked. My thoughts had recoiled from the present to
the past. Vague pictures of the days that had gone by seemed floating
before my eyes. I saw myself in the convent garden, with all my little
world enclosed in those four walls, and I heard the shrill laughter
of the girls with whom I was walking, and I even fancied that I could
catch the perfume of the lilac trees which drooped over the smoothly
kept lawn. And then the picture faded away, and from the vessel's side
I saw Cruta, a purple-topped island rising like some precious jewel
from the sea! I shuddered at the memory of that face, which soon
became a living dread to me, and I heard again the passionate voice
of a dark-robed man reading poetry, and crushing with white, nervous
fingers the hyacinths whose odour was making the air faint. I saw his
white, sad face, in which the struggle of the man against himself was
already born--born, alas! in those long mornings by the sea, at my
unconscious bidding! And soon Cruta, too, faded away, and you, Paul,
my love, my dear, dear love, your face came to me. Almost my eyes
closed, almost I stayed here to dream. Ah! how the magic of this love,
this wonderful love, lightens my little world! My heart is stirred to
music, my blood is dancing. I am chilled no longer. Ah! Paul, it is
for you that I strike this blow, for you that I tread this stony way.
It is sweet to think of it. I go on as blithely as ever a village
maiden stepped forward to her wedding. The way is as sweet to me as
a garden of roses. Your face, too, is dying out of my thoughts, Paul.
Farewell! Farewell!

       *       *       *       *       *

The valley of the shadow of death! Did any one speak those words? What
an evil fancy! Yet the air seemed full of whisperings. The valley
of the shadow of death! Yes! it might be that, and these cold, grey
boulders the spirits of the evil ones risen up out of Hades. Is there
a hell, I wonder? How chill and dark the air seems! There is death
about!

       *       *       *       *       *

The sound of a single bell broke in upon my thoughts. I raised
my eyes. My journey was accomplished. Before me was a grim, stern
building, and attached to it a chapel. It was the monastery of St.
Bernard.



CHAPTER XXXI

"ADREA'S DIARY"

    "Farewell to the dead ashes of life."


The path which I had been following led straight up to the bare,
arched door of the building. I had reached it unmolested, and rang the
bell.

What a hoarse, clanging sound! I shivered as I stood there listening
to its gloomy echoes until they died away. No one came. The place
seemed wrapped in an austere silence. I listened, but I could hear no
sound within; only the dull, melancholy sighing of the wind amongst a
sickly avenue of firs behind.

I stretched out my hand, and rang again. Almost before the echoes had
died away I heard footsteps within. A heavy bolt was withdrawn, and
a dark-robed monk stood on the threshold before me. He recoiled for a
moment at seeing a woman, and I thought that he would have closed the
door, but he did not.

"What would you have at this hour, sister?" he asked sternly. "The
chapel is closed, and morning is the time for dispensing charity."

"I have come in search of a priest who is only a visitor here," I
said. "Father Adrian he is called!"

He seemed still indisposed to admit me. "Is your business urgent?" he
asked doubtfully. "Father Adrian is at his devotions, and must not be
lightly disturbed."

"It is urgent," I answered.

He beckoned me to follow him, and in silence led me a few yards down a
bare stone corridor. Then he threw open the door of a small room, and
bade me enter.

"This is the guest-chamber," he said. "Wait here, and I will summon
Father Adrian!"

He closed the door and disappeared. The interior of the room in which
he had left me was bare and chilling. I turned from it to the window.
Almost opposite was a small eminence, and at its summit a rude cross
of Calvary. A dark figure, with clasped hands and bent head, was
slowly descending the path.

Even at that distance I thought I recognised the walk, and as he came
nearer I saw that he was wearing the ordinary garb of a Roman Catholic
priest instead of the monk's robes. I stood close to the window
watching him, and as he crossed the open space before the door he
raised his eyes and saw me. How he started, and how his eyes seemed
to burn in their sockets! Doubtless he would have turned paler, but he
was already deathly white. He stood there, swaying from side to side,
with his eyes fastened wildly upon me, as though an apparition had
appeared before him. Then he took a quick step forward; I heard the
great front door creak and groan upon its hinges, and almost as soon
as I could turn round he was on the threshold before me.

"Adrea! Adrea!" he cried, in a low, suppressed whisper which shook
with passion. "You here! What has happened? Stand in the light! Let me
see your face!"

I moved a step towards him, and raised my veil. "I am lonely," I said
softly. "Was it very wrong of me to come here?"

He stood before me, with hungry, incredulous eyes fastened upon my
face, as though he would see through it into my false heart. Yet I
did not flinch; I was actress enough for my part. I watched him
tremble--watched the colour flush into his face and die away. It was
a very storm of passion which shook him before he could find the words
to answer me.

"Adrea! Adrea! have you come here to mock me? As you are a woman, I
implore you to spare me! Speak the truth!"

I answered him softly, with my eyes fixed upon the ground. "I came
because I was lonely. Let us go away from here! Come home with me!"

"Home with you! Home with you!" He repeated my invitation. He scarcely
seemed to understand.

"Yes! I was very silly the other day! I did not understand you! I did
not understand myself! And you see I have humbled myself very much! I
have come to tell you so! Am I forgiven?"

I raised my eyes to his, and added in a half whisper: "Won't you come
home with me, and read aloud, as we used to on the rocks at Cruta?"

He stood there as though fascinated. I began to feel impatient, but I
dared not show any signs of it.

Suddenly he took a quick step towards me, and before I could prevent
it he had thrown himself at my feet on the cold stone floor, and was
holding my hands tightly in his.

"Adrea!" he cried, his voice choked with passion, "is this thing true?
My brain reels with the delight of it; but, oh, forgive me if I seem
to doubt! I know nothing of women, but surely your lips could never
lie! You are not mocking me? Oh, Adrea, my love, lift up your eyes and
swear that this is no dream. I am dizzy with joy! Speak to me! Let me
look into your face! I am not doubting you, yet say it once more! Tell
me it is not a dream!"

I lied to him with my face, and with my eyes, and with my lips. "It is
no dream," I said softly. "I have come to you, Adrian, because I want
you. No one else would do."

He stood up, pale and shaken. His voice was still full of deep,
throbbing earnestness. "Adrea!" he cried, "to-day I have been fighting
a grim fight. Look into my face and mark its traces. I am desperate!
For hours I have knelt on what was once a hallowed spot. In vain! In
vain! On my knees before the cross of Calvary I have striven to pray,
as a man wrestles for his life with the waves of a great ocean. Alas!
alas! In the twilight I fancied always that your face was moving
amongst the shadows, and even the breeze which rustled in the shrubs
around seemed ever to be murmuring your name. Oh, my love, my love,
sometimes I wonder that I have lived through the anguish of these
days. But it is over! You have come to me, and the evil days are past.
I renounce my priesthood! It has become only a barren farce to me!
Heaven or hell, what matters it? I leave here with you to-night never
to return! Never! never! never!"

He pressed hot kisses upon my hands; they stung me like molten lead,
but I did not withdraw them. Then he rose up and held out his arms to
me with a great yearning stealing into his dark eyes. But I kept him
away.

"Not here! not here!" I cried. "I heard footsteps outside. Let us go!"

"You are right," he answered. "Wait for me; I have but few
preparations to make."

He left me, and I breathed freely again. I had no fears, no
hesitation. I never dreamt of turning back; but I began to find my
task more difficult even than I had imagined. It was his touch, his
passionate looks and words which were so hard to endure. My lips could
lie, but it was hard to govern my looks; and oh, how I hated him!

Soon he was back--too soon for me; and then we left the place. He had
changed his clothes, and, to my surprise, he wore an ordinary
dark walking suit and a long ulster. He had discarded the priest
altogether.

At the bend he looked back. There was a rift in the clouds just behind
the hill of Calvary, and the rude cross stood out vividly against the
sky. "At last!" he murmured; "at last! Farewell to the dead ashes of
life! It is rest to have ended the struggle, even to have fallen. My
new life is here!"

He touched my hand fondly, and held it within his own. "How deathly
cold your hand is, Adrea!" he said. "It is the night air. You are
well, are you not?" he added anxiously.

"Quite well; only tired."

He took my arm. I could not resist him, only I walked the more
swiftly. He tried to check me, but I shook my head. "I am cold and
tired," I told him. "This desolate walk frightened me, and even with
you I think I am a little nervous. Let us hurry. Hark! What was that?"

"A bittern in the marshes! Why, Adrea, how frightened you are! It is
not like you!"

"I know it," I answered; "but to-night--to-night the air seems full of
whisperings and strange sounds. Yes, I am frightened."

I shivered as I spoke. He would have drawn me closer to him, but I
waved him away. How could he know anything of the horrors of that walk
for me! Strange phantoms seemed ever rising from the sea, stalking
across the path, and away over the moor, and passing and repassing,
grinning and whispering in my ear. Sometimes it seemed as though I
could have touched them by stretching out my hand; but when I tried,
my fingers closed upon thin air. What were they? Why had they come to
torment me? Was it because they scented an evil deed? Would they haunt
me for ever like this? What folly! If I gave way so I should soon be
altogether unnerved, and my task was still before me. I closed my eyes
and opened them again. They had gone! It was good! I had conquered!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late, and we had eaten and drunk together. He was lying back in
an easy-chair, flushed, and strange to say, wonderfully handsome. The
hollows in his cheeks seemed suddenly filled up, and his eyes were
soft and bright. I sat at his feet looking into the firelight.

"Will you answer me some questions, Adrian?" I asked. "There has been
so much mystery around us lately, and, like a woman, I am curious."

"Yes, I will tell you anything," he answered. "Am I not your slave,
dearest? Only ask me them quickly. There are many things I have to
talk about. What was that?" he added quickly. "Is there any one else
in this room?"

I shook my head. "No one; it was fancy. Tell me, who was Madame de
Merteuill?"

"My mother!"

"Your mother?"

"Yes; and the old Count of Cruta is my grandfather. Madame de
Merteuill is his daughter. But that is not her real name!"

There was a high screen just behind his chair,--a japanned one, which
seemed to have been badly used, for there was a great hole in it.
While we had been talking a strange thing had happened. A man's hand
had slowly been thrust through, and a crumpled piece of paper was
dropped upon the carpet. I moved to his side, and raised the cushion
in his chair. Before I could help it he had caught my face, and
pressed a hot, burning kiss upon my cheek. I dared not struggle. I
had to yield, and endure for a moment his passionate embrace. Then I
dropped my handkerchief upon the piece of paper, and picked up both
hastily.

"Will you tell me something else, please?"

"Anything you ask! You know that I will!"

"The De Vaux estates----"

"Are mine. I am the son of Martin de Vaux. Paul de Vaux has no claim
at all. If I had remained in the Church, it was my intention to found
a great monastery here. But now----"

"Well?"

"Everything is yours!"

There was a moment's silence. I drew the piece of paper from my
pocket, as though by accident, and read it to myself. There were only
a few hastily scrawled lines:--

"I dare not do it. I am afraid. I will put the knife on the floor."

I glanced towards the hole. The hand was there, holding a long,
gleaming dagger. It laid it noiselessly upon the carpet, and was
withdrawn. I went over to his side, and knelt down there.

"And what will become of Paul de Vaux?" I asked.

He laughed grimly. "He must take his chance. He knows the whole story.
He has known since last night. Adrea, tell me once more," he pleaded:
"you never loved him really,--say that you never did!"

"Are you jealous, sir?" I asked lightly. My left hand was wandering
down his side! Ah! there was his heart! How it was beating! My right
hand was on the floor, cautiously feeling its way towards the screen.
It reached the dagger! I clutched it by the hilt! Now was the time.
There was his heart. I knew the exact spot.

"Adrea, are you ill?" he asked. "How white and strange you look! Ah!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was done! Lucrezia Borgia could not have bungled less! He lay
doubled up in the chair, with a long Genoese dagger buried in his
heart, and it was I who had done it!

Gomez crawled from behind the screen, and looked first at him and
then at me with protruding eyes. He tried to speak, but his teeth
chattered.

"It is done!" I said calmly, "and you are saved, Paul, my love," I
whispered to myself. "Be a man, Gomez. We must carry it into the wood.
Lift him gently; there must be no blood here."

It took all our strength to move him, and we had to drag him, yard by
yard, down the avenue and across the road into the little wood.

My pen is weary of horrors. The memory of that hour is not to be
written about. But when he turned away I took the flowers which he had
begged for from my corsage and threw them down amongst the wet leaves.
It was my sole moment of relenting.



CHAPTER XXXII

"THE LORD OF CRUTA"


A strange figure stood on the edge of the castle cliff, looking across
the bay of Cruta to the sea. He was tall, loose jointed, and gaunt,
and the long grey beard and unkempt locks of flowing hair which
streamed behind in the breeze showed that he was an old man; but his
eyes, set back in deep hollows, and fringed with long, bushy grey
lashes, were still dark and piercing. Great passions had branded
his face with deep-set lines, but had failed to belittle him. On the
contrary, his presence, though forbidding and awesome, was full of
latent strength and dignity. To the islanders, who never mentioned
their lord's name save with bated breath and after having zealously
crossed themselves, he was the object of the most unbounded
superstition. His personality and the strangeness of his habits
appalled them. They scarcely believed him a being of the same world as
their own. The most ignorant amongst them firmly believed that the sea
obeyed his uplifted hand, and that when he spoke the thunder rolled
amongst the hills. When stories were told of the mystery and strange
isolation in which he lived, they nodded their heads and were willing
to believe everything. No one ever met him or had speech with him, for
twenty years had passed since he had issued from the castle gates. But
sometimes, most often when a storm was brewing, they could see a
tall, dark figure standing on the giddy edge of the castle wall which
overhung the sea, or walking, with slow, stately movements, up and
down the narrow foot-path at the summit of the cliff. If the moon had
risen, or the sky were clear beyond, they could see the huge, gaunt
figure outlined with grim distinctness against the empty background,
always with his face to the sea, and with a long black cloak flowing
behind. It was not often that they saw him, but when they did they
told one another in whispers; and though the sky were cloudless and
the sea calm, the women whose husbands were out in their fishing boats
beyond the bay told their beads and prayed for their safe return, and
those who had remained behind prepared for rough weather. Once, at
a marriage feast, when all the little village was making merry, the
whisper had gone about that "the Count was walking;" and immediately
they had all departed for their homes in fear and silence, and the
luckless bride and bridegroom had hastened to the priest and besought
him to unloose the knot, that they might celebrate their wedding on
some less ill-omened day.

To-night the storm was already breaking when the Count appeared on the
castle wall and turned his face seaward. One by one the fishing smacks
were crossing the gathering line of surf, and gaining the deep, still
waters of the bay. As they passed underneath the towering mass of
granite rock, against the base of which the waters were boiling and
seething, the men in the boats gazed fearfully up at that black speck
far away above their heads, and crossed themselves. The Count had
stood there for an hour, they whispered, ever since that piled-up mass
of angry, lurid clouds had first gathered, and a warning breath of
wind had swept across the smooth, glass-like surface of the water, now
troubled and restless. Not one of them doubted but that his coming had
brought the storm; but there was not one of them who dared to utter
a word of complaint. Only they stood up in their boats, and shielding
their eyes with an uplifted hand from the fierce rays of the sinking
sun, gazed out seaward, searching for the boats not yet in safety.

Suddenly a little murmur arose from amongst them, and a word was
passed from one to another of their little crafts. The blinding glare
of the sun and its reflection, stretched far away across the surface
of the sea, had dazzled their eyes, and for the last quarter of an
hour they had seen nothing on the westward horizon. But now the bright
silver light was fading into a dull, glorious purple; and full upon
its bosom a strange sail was seen, making direct for the harbour. The
sunlight was still flashing upon its white sails,--little specks of
gold upon a background of richer colouring--and they saw that she
was a handsome, shapely-looking vessel, very different to the dirty
Italian lugger which put in at their harbour for a few hours week by
week.

"Will she need a pilot?" cried Francesco, rising in his boat, and
watching the stranger. "Let us wait here, and see if she signals for
one!"

"Let us all go! There will be something for each!" cried another.

"We will race," Antonio answered, whose boat was the fastest. "The
first to reach her shall have the stranger's money!"

"No, no! that is not fair," chorused the others. "We will draw lots!"

Then up rose old Guiseppe, the father of them all. He shook his head,
and turned a sorrowing face seawards. "Peace! children. You are like
chattering seabirds squabbling over a bait which will never be yours.
Yonder ship will need no pilot! She is no stranger to Cruta!"

They looked at her, and shook their heads. "We have never seen her
before," they said.

"Some of you are too young to remember her," the old man continued,
"and you were all away when she was here within a twelvemonth ago! But
I know her! Three times has she entered this harbour, and each time
has she left sorrow and grief behind her. It is the ship of the
English lord who stole away the daughter of our Count many years ago!"

There was a little murmur of suppressed wonder. Then, as though moved
by a common instinct, every face was turned upward to the castle wall.

The Count had gone. But, even as they looked, he reappeared, leading
another figure by the hand. They held their breath with wonder. No one
had ever seen him there save alone, and now a woman stood by his
side. They could see nothing of her, save her long hair flowing in
the breeze, and the bare outline of her figure. "Who was she? Guiseppe
must know! Who was she?" they asked him eagerly.

He shook his head. "Better not ask," he answered. "Better not know!
Strange things have happened up there! It is not for us to chatter of
them!"

"One night as I sailed homeward," Antonio said, in a low tone, "I
heard strange cries from the castle. The night was still, and the
breeze brought the sound to my ears. They came from up above, and
when I strained my eyes I fancied that I could see a white figure--the
figure of a woman--standing on the castle walls. She was crying for
help, but suddenly, as though a hand were placed over her mouth, her
cries ceased, and the figure vanished. It was three nights before the
English lord died at the monastery!"

Ferdinand stood up. "On that same night," he said, in a low, hoarse
whisper, "I saw a figure steal up the path to the castle. It was the
English lord! On the morrow I traced him back again with drops
of blood. They led right into the monastery courtyard. Two days
afterwards he died."

"Silence! all of you!" commanded Guiseppe, with shaking voice. "Are
these things to be spoken of thus openly? Know you not, you children,
that the winds have ears, and he listens there above us."

"It is a thousand feet!" muttered Antonio. "To him our boats can seem
only as specks upon the water."

"You fool!" answered Guiseppe. "Do you think that the man whose
presence brings storm and wind upon us is like ordinary men? Do you
think he cannot hear what he chooses!"

"Ave Maria!" cried Antonio, crossing himself. "I would as soon face
the devil himself as the Count! I shall ask Father Bernard to say a
prayer for me to-night!"

"Do! and I hope his penance will be a stiff one," answered Guiseppe
grimly. "Come, let us trim our sails, and get homeward. The English
ship will not want us, and we can watch who lands from the beach."

"'Twould be no such bad thing if she struck on the rocks, if she
brings such ill luck to the castle," muttered Antonio, as he unfurled
the sail and grasped the tiller. "There would be some pickings for us,
beyond doubt--some pretty pickings!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

"THE DAWN OF A SHORT, SWEET LIFE"


The little group of fishing smacks, homely-looking and uncleanly, on
close examination, presented a very different appearance from the deck
of the English yacht fast nearing the harbour. Their brown sails had
gleamed purple in the dying sunlight, and their rude outline seemed
graceful and shapely as they rose and fell on the long waves. Paul,
who stood on the captain's bridge of his yacht, uttered a little cry
of admiration as they sailed out from the shadows of the huge rock,
and fell into a rude semicircle across the bay.

"What colouring one sees in these southern waters!" he remarked. "Did
you notice the glinting light on those sails?"

His companion, who was holding firmly the rail by his side, looked
up and smiled. "Yes," she said softly; "it is beautiful! We have seen
more beautiful things on this voyage, I think, than I ever saw before
in my life. I have never been so happy! You are not angry with me now
for coming, are you?"

He looked down into her wistful, upturned face, and then away to the
distant line where sea and sky met. "No! I am not angry," he said
softly.

Adrea was very beautiful. The fresh sea air and the southern sun had
been as kind to her as to one of their own daughters. Only a very
faint, delicate shade of pink had stained her clear, transparent skin,
harmonising exquisitely with the slight olive hue of her complexion.
The strong breeze had loosened the coils of her dark hair, and it was
waving and flowing in picturesque freedom about her face. There was a
change, too, in her appearance, greater than any the wind or sun
could effect. Her dark eyes were glowing with a new life, and a soft,
wistful joy shone in her face. Those few days had been like heaven for
her. She had been alone, for the first time, with the man she loved;
sailing upon a sunlit sea hour after hour, with his voice ever in her
ears, and his tall figure by her side. The sense of his presence was
ever upon her, bringing with it a calm, sweet restfulness, a happiness
beyond anything which she had ever imagined.

And it was heaven, too, after hell! Thrust away in a dark corner of
her memory was the recollection of a day and a night full of grim,
phantasmal horrors, which were fast becoming little more than a dream
to her. The time was not yet come for remorse. In that deep glow of
passionate and self-forgetful devotion, quickened now into fullest
and sweetest life by his constant proximity, even sin itself, for his
sake, seemed justified to her. Everything, too, which lay behind her
brief stay in that bare, wind-swept country was fast assuming a far
distant place in her thoughts. It was such a change from her little
rooms in Grey Street, dainty and home-like though they had been, from
the brilliantly lit drawing-rooms where she had performed, and the
same wearisome compliments ever in her ears. The bonds of town life
had always galled her. She was an artist, although she had denied
it. She had become subject to her environment but it had been an
imprisonment. Nature was her mother, and Nature had claimed her now.
She knew it all; she knew that she could never be a dancer again. She
had stolen out on to the deck each morning in her slippers, and had
seen the dawn break through the clouds and descend upon the quivering
waters. She had seen the eastern sky streaked with faint but
marvellous colouring, growing deeper and deeper, until the sun's rim
had risen from out of the water. Grey had become mauve, and white
amber. It was wonderful! And by night she had leaned over the side
of the yacht, and looked up into a sky ablaze with trembling stars,
casting their golden reflections down upon the boundless waves which
rose and fell beneath--waves which were sometimes green, and sometimes
golden in the wonderful phosphoric light which touched them with a
weird splendour. It was like the opening of a new world to Adrea. All
that had gone before seemed harsh and artificial! It was the dawn of a
new life.

Paul had noticed the change. To him it had appeared chiefly as an
increased womanliness, a gentle softness of speech and mannerism very
charming and attractive. Those few days at sea together had been like
a dream to him. He had come on board as nearly broken-hearted as a
strong man could be, and fiercely anxious to reach his destination and
know the whole, cruel truth. In a few hours all had been changed. His
sorrows seemed numbed. He was no longer battling alone with his grief.
Adrea knew all, and as they sailed southwards together, the sense
of the present was strong enough to drive past and future from
his thoughts. The clouds cleared from his face, and his heart was
lightened. It was Adrea who had saved him from despair.

He thought of this as she stood by his side, and he answered her
question. Before their eyes, Cruta was rising up from the sea. The
grim castle was there, looking as old as the rocks on which it was
perched, the wide, open harbour, and the little fleet of fishing
smacks. The seabirds circled about their heads; every moment brought
the rocky little island more distinctly into view. Paul looked down
into Adrea's face gravely.

"It is our destination, Adrea," he said. "You must go now. There will
be a lot of surf crossing the bar, and I shall have enough to do
to run her in. Look behind! It is just as well we are going into
harbour!"

He pointed to the fast-gathering clouds coming up from the westward,
and she paused with her foot on the ladder. "We leave the storm behind
us," she said. "There is fair weather ahead!"

She went down into her cabin, and left Paul upon the bridge, with his
eyes fixed upon the castle. Fair weather ahead! How dared he hope
for it! The sun had finally disappeared now, but some part of the
afterglow still lingered in curious contrast to the lurid yellow and
black clouds hurrying on behind him. The old castle was bathed for a
moment in a sea of purple light,--every line of it, and the huge rock
which it crowned, standing out with peculiar vividness against the
empty background. But it was a brief glory. Even while Paul was
gazing, the colouring faded away, and it resumed its former aspect.
Fair weather ahead! Every moment, as memories of his former visit to
the place thronged in upon him, Paul doubted it the more.

He was close to the entrance of the harbour now, and all his thoughts
and energies were required to pilot his yacht safely. In a few moments
the brief line was passed, and the islanders waiting about upon the
beach saw the English vessel ride smoothly into harbourage under
shadow of the huge castle rock. Presently she dropped an anchor, and
swung gracefully round. A boat was lowered, and made for the shore.

There were plenty of hands willing to help pull her in. Paul stepped
out on to the beach, and looked around for some one to whom he could
make himself understood.

They were all islanders of the rudest class; but seeing no one else,
Paul lifted his hand to the castle, and asked them the way in Italian.
They understood him, and pointed along the beach to a point where a
rude road curved inland, and reappeared a little higher up in zigzag
fashion behind the rocks. But no one offered to go a step with him. On
the contrary, directly the question had left his lips, they all shrunk
away, whispering and exclaiming amongst themselves.

"It is the son of the Englishman!" cried Antonio. "He is going into
the lion's mouth! Do not let us be seen with him. The Count may be
watching."

"I wonder if he knows his danger?" Guiseppe said thoughtfully. "He is
young and brave looking. It would be a good action to warn him."

"I would not risk it!" cried Antonio.

"Nor I!" echoed Ferdinand.

"Nor I!" chorused the others.

Guiseppe glanced at them in contempt. Then he stepped forward and laid
his hand upon Paul's shoulder--a strange, picturesque-looking object,
in his bright scarlet shirt, and trousers turned up to his knees. He
had been in Italy once, and he tried to speak the language of that
country as well as he could.

"Illustrious Englishman!" he said, "go not to that castle, the home of
the Count of Cruta. Danger lurks there for you--danger and death. It
is our lord who lives there; we are his vassals, and we are dumb. But
he is wild and fierce, and your countrymen are like devils to him.
Strange things have happened up there. Be wise. Put back your boat,
weigh your anchor and sail away. The stormy seas are dangerous, but
not so dangerous as the Castle of Cruta to an Englishman of your
features. Take the word of Guiseppe, and depart!"

Paul shook his head. He understood most of what Guiseppe had said,
and he knew that it was kindly meant. "You are very good," he said.
"I thank you for your warning; but I have important business with the
Count, and I have come from England on purpose to see him. Here, spend
this for me," he added, throwing a handful of silver money amongst the
little group of men. "Yonder path will take me straight to the castle,
I suppose. Good evening."

He strode away along the beach alone. Meanwhile a strange thing was
happening. The islanders were all gathered eagerly around the little
shower of money, but not one had offered to touch a piece.

"Holy Mother! there are fifty pieces!" cried Antonio. "If only I
was sure that the Count would not see me! I would keep holiday for a
month, and start again with a fresh set of fishing nets."

"Touch not the money!" advised Guiseppe, shaking his head. "The
Count's eyes are everywhere!"

"It is very hard!" groaned Ferdinand. "It has been such a bad season,
too!"

"I know! I know!" cried Antonio excitedly. "We will go to the
monastery, and get Father Bernard to come and bless it. He will claim
half for the Church, but we can divide the other half, and we shall,
each man, have given six pieces in charity. What say you? shall we
go?"

"Bravo! Antonio is right! Antonio is a sensible fellow!" they all
cried. Then there was the sound of bare feet scampering over the hard
sands as they hastened up to the monastery. Guiseppe was left alone.

He waited until they were out of sight. Then he stooped down,
and carefully collecting all the coins, placed them in his pouch.
"Ignorant fools!" he muttered. "The Count can see no further than
other men, and at any rate he will not see these in my pocket."

He stood up, and gazed steadily along the path which Paul had taken.
"What am I to do now?" he continued. "It is to the Englishman's father
that I owe my boat and my little hoard of sayings. He behaved to me as
a prince, did Signor de Vaux. Can I see his son hasten yonder to his
doom without one effort to save him? No. The Count is terrible, but I
need run no risk. At any rate, I will follow a little way."

He walked swiftly along the beach, and commenced the ascent to the
castle. In a few minutes the little band of fishermen returned,
carrying lanterns in their hands, and with a priest walking amongst
them. They reached the spot, and paused, while the priest commenced
to mumble a prayer. He was scarcely half-way through when he was
interrupted.

"The money is gone!" cried Antonio.

"Every piece!" echoed Ferdinand.

There was a moment's blank silence. Then they all crossed themselves.
"Let us go home," whispered Antonio hoarsely. "The Count knows. He has
been here."

The priest turned away disgusted, and the others followed him, talking
with bated breath amongst themselves. And, in the darkness, no one
noticed Guiseppe's absence.



CHAPTER XXXIV

"A VOICE AND FIGURE FROM THE DISTANT PAST"


It was a long, steep ascent, hewn out of the solid rock; but at last
Paul stood before the great gates of the castle, and paused to take
breath. Hundreds of feet below him his yacht was riding at anchor,
looking like a toy vessel upon a painted sea, and a little group of
scattered lights showed him where the hamlet lay. Before him was the
stern, massive front of the castle, wrapped in profound gloom, but
standing out in clear, ponderous outline against the starlit sky.
There seemed to be no light from any part of it, and the great iron
gates leading into the courtyard were closed. Nor was there any sound
at all, not even the barking of a dog. It was like a dwelling of the
dead.

A great, rusty bell-chain hung by the side of the gate, and as there
seemed to be no other means of communication with the interior, Paul
pulled it vigorously. Its hoarse echoes had scarcely died away before
several rough-looking islanders, carrying flaring oil lamps, trooped
into the courtyard from the rear of the building, and one of them,
drawing the bolts, threw open the gates.

"I have come to see the Count," Paul said, addressing the nearest of
them. "Will you conduct me to him?"

The man replied energetically, but in a _patois_ utterly
unintelligible. He led the way across the courtyard towards the
castle, however, and Paul followed close behind. They did not enter
by the front, but by a low, nail-studded door at the extreme corner of
the tower, which the man immediately closed and locked behind him.

Paul looked around him curiously, but in the semi-darkness there was
little to see. He was in a corridor, of which the walls were simply
whitewashed, and the floor bare stone; but as they passed onward,
down several passages, and up more than one flight of steps, the
proportions of the place expanded. The ceilings grew loftier, and the
corridors wider. Yet there was no attempt anywhere at decoration or
furniture of any sort. The place was like an early-day prison--huge,
bare, and damp. Once, crossing a balustraded corridor, there was a
view of a huge hall down below, bare save for a few huge skins thrown
carelessly around, and a great stack of firearms and other weapons
which lined the walls on either side. It was the only sign of
habitation that Paul had seen.

Suddenly his guide paused, and held up his finger. Paul, too,
listened; and close at hand he heard, to his surprise, the muffled
sound of voices chanting some sad hymn in a deep minor key. The rise
and fall of those mournful voices was wonderfully impressive. What
could it mean? It was a dirge, a funeral hymn! Its every note seemed
to breathe of death.

"What is that?" Paul asked. "Is any one ill--dying?"

The man shook his head. He could not understand. He only motioned to
Paul to move silently, and hurried on. They were in a wide corridor,
with disused doors on either side, but their feet fell no longer upon
the bare stone. A rough sort of drugget had been hastily thrown down
in the centre of the passage, and their movements roused no more
strange echoes between the bare walls and the vaulted roof. At every
step forward they took the chanting grew more distinct, and at last
the man stopped at the end of the passage before a door, softly tapped
at it. It was opened at once, and Paul found himself ushered into a
great, dimly lit bedchamber.

He glanced around him with keen interest. If the interior of the
room was a little dilapidated, it was full of the remains of past
magnificence. The walls were still covered with fine tapestry, of
which the design was almost obliterated, although the texture and
colouring still remained. The furniture was huge, and of the
fashion of days gone by, and the bedstead was elaborately carved and
surmounted by a coat of arms. Further Paul had but little opportunity
to discover, for as soon as his presence became known in the room, a
black-cowled monk left the bedside and approached him.

"We have been expecting you," he said in Italian, "and we fear now
that you come too late. Our poor lady is beyond human skill!"

Paul looked at him in astonishment. "I do not quite understand you! It
is the Count of Cruta whom I came to see!"

The priest started back, and commenced fumbling with a lamp which
stood on a table at the foot of the bed. "Are you not the German
doctor from Palermo?" he asked, bending over towards Paul, with his
keen, dark face alight with suspicion and distrust.

Paul shook his head. "I am no doctor at all!" he answered. "I am an
Englishman, and my name is Paul de Vaux!"

"Ah!" There was a faint, incoherent cry from the bed--a cry, which,
faint though it was, shook with stifled emotion. Both men turned
round, and Paul could see that the other's face was dark and stern.

The woman, who had been lying on the bed still and motionless as a
corpse, had raised herself with a sudden, spasmodic movement. Her
cheeks were sunken to the bone, and her eyes were large and staring.

The seal of death was upon her face, but Paul recognised her. It
was the woman whom he had seen last in the drawing-room of Major
Harcourt's house, the woman whom Adrea had called her stepmother.

He took a sudden step forward, and she held out her hands in a gesture
half of welcome, half of fear. "Paul de Vaux! Holy Mother of God! What
has brought you here--here into the tiger's den? Come close to me!
Hasten!"

Paul stepped forward, but the priest stood between them, holding
out his hands in a threatening gesture. "Sister, forbear!" he cried
sternly. "You have made your peace with God; you have done with the
world and all its follies. Close your eyes and pray. Fix your thoughts
upon things above!"

She did not heed him. She did not even look towards him. Her eyes were
fixed upon Paul, and he read their message aright.

"This woman wishes to speak to me. Stand aside, and let me go to her!"
he exclaimed. "If she be indeed dying, surely you should respect her
wishes."

He spoke imperatively, for the priest stood in the way, and prevented
his approach; pointing towards the door with a stern, commanding
gesture.

"There must be no converse between you and this woman!" he said. "I am
no lover of violent deeds; but if you insist upon forcing your way
to her bedside, I shall summon the Count, and you will pay for your
rashness with your life. Your name and features are a certain death
warrant in this house. Escape while you may, and _pax vobiscum_.
Remain and I cannot save you!"

Paul glanced round the room. Two monks were standing with lighted
tapers on the further side of the bed, one of whom was mumbling a
Latin prayer. The man who had brought him here was gone. There was no
one else in the room, except the priest and himself.

"You are inhuman!" he said shortly. "The prayers of a dying woman are
more to me than your threats. Stand on one side!"

Paul laid his hand heavily upon the priest's shoulder. He was prepared
even to have used force had it been necessary, but it was not. The
latter moved away at once, shaking his robes free from Paul's touch
with contemptuous gesture, and calling one of the monks to him, Paul
sank on one knee by the side of the dying woman, and bent low down
over her.

"Madame de Merteuill, you have something to say to me!" he whispered.
"What is it?"

Her voice was very low and very faint. She was even then upon the
threshold of death. Each word came out with a painful effort, but with
a curious distinctness. "I am not Madame de Merteuill at all! I am the
daughter of the Count of Cruta!"

She paused to gather fresh strength, and Paul caught hold of some of
the bedclothes, and clutched them in his fingers convulsively. This
woman, the daughter of the Count of Cruta! this wan, faded creature,
the girl whom his father had borne away in triumph! His brain reeled
with the wonder of it! If only he had known a few weeks ago!
She should never have left the Hermitage until she had told him
everything! Was it too late now? She was trying to speak to him. Was
he upon the brink of a tremendous revelation? Was the whole past about
to be made clear? Oh! if the old Count would keep away for awhile.

Her lips commenced to move. He bent close over her, determined not to
lose a syllable. "You know the story about your father, Martin de Vaux
and me. I----"

"Yes, yes! I know!" he assured her softly. "I have only heard it
lately!"

"From whom?"

"From the priest who was always with you at De Vaux,--from your son!"
he added, as the truth suddenly swept in upon him. Yes; Father Adrian
was this woman's son!

Her corpse-like face was fixed steadily upon him. Her words were
monotonous and slow, yet they preserved their distinctness. "You have
come here to know the truth of the story he told you?"

"Yes; I have come to discover it, if I can!"

"The holy Saints must have brought you to me. The story----"

"Yes?"

"The story is false!"

Paul bent lower still, with strained hearing. There had been a plot,
then, after all. Oh, if she should die without finishing her story! He
looked into her bloodless face, and his pulses throbbed at fever-heat.

"You know my story," she murmured. "I commence at the time when I left
your father in Paris. I had thought myself hardened in my sin; I was
mistaken. Repentance crept slowly but surely in upon me immediately
after my father's visit to us. His words haunted me. I began to steal
away in the evening to vespers at the Church of St. Cecilia. One night
a grave, sweet-faced priest stood up in the pulpit; and as his words
sank into my heart my sin rose up before me black and grim, and the
burden of it grew intolerable. After the service I sought him, and
I confessed. On the morrow I left Martin secretly and without adieu.
Count Hirsfeld aided my escape. I came here!

"I came, hoping for forgiveness; but he, my father, could not forget
the past. I found him living in grim and fierce solitude, shunned and
dreaded by every one, ever brooding over my sin and his dishonour. He
made me stay, yet he cursed me.

"Six months after my arrival Adrian was born. It was while I lay
between life and death that I wrote that letter to your father.
Afterwards I told my father what I had done. The letter lay there;
I dared not send it without my father's sanction. I sent for him and
told him all. To my surprise, he consented. He did more than that; he
spoke of it to Count Hirsfeld, and the Count volunteered to take the
letter to England. Their readiness made me worried and anxious. I
knew how they hated Martin de Vaux, and I was suspicious. I called the
doctor to my side, and questioned him closely. He declared solemnly
that I could not live a fortnight; it was impossible. I put my
suspicions away. It was for the honour of his name that my father had
consented to receive Martin beneath his roof; there could be no other
reason. And I myself felt that the end was near. My body was cold, and
there was a deadly faintness, against which I was always struggling. I
dreaded only lest he should come too late!

"It was only the night before his arrival that I learnt the truth. I
was lying with my eyes closed, and they thought that I was asleep. The
doctor and my father were talking together in whispers. The crisis
was over, I heard them say. In a few days Adrian would be born, and I
should speedily recover, if all went well. I nerved myself, and called
my father to me. I had overheard, I said; if Martin came, I would
not marry him. His anger was terrible. Both Count Hirsfeld and he had
known from the commencement that I was likely to recover, but they
wished to see Martin tricked into marrying me. I was firm; I would not
consent! I had written that letter believing myself to be dying.
If Martin came, I would not see him now. If he was forced into my
presence, I should tell him the truth.

"My father left me, speechless with rage. For the next week my door
was kept carefully locked, and no one but the doctor and the nurse
were permitted to enter. Yet I learnt afterwards all that happened.
Marie, my maid, who was slowly dying of consumption, was moved into
the principal bedchamber; and when Martin arrived, she was made to
personate me. It was the priest who gained her consent; the priest who
confessed her and gave her absolution. His share of the spoil was to
be the De Vaux estates, handed over to the Church if ever they carried
out their plot successfully. Martin came, and, as he thought, granted
that fervent prayer of mine. They stood around him with drawn swords;
they would not allow him to approach the bed. As soon as the ceremony
was over, he was thrust from the castle.

"It happened that in less than a week Marie died. From my bed, which
faced the window, I saw the little funeral procession leave the
castle--my father and Count Hirsfeld the chief mourners. I saw Martin
following away off, with sorrowing face, and I was glad then that
I had not deceived him. I saw him weeping over the grave which he
believed to be mine. The day afterwards my son was born.

"As soon as Adrian could crawl about, he was taken from me by the
priests. They sent him to Italy, where he grew up a stranger to me.
When he returned, I did not know him. I spoke to him of that false
marriage; I wept for his lack of parentage. He knew everything; he
spoke to me of it coldly, but without unkindness. He was a son of the
Church, he said; he needed no other mother.

"He dwelt for awhile at the monastery, and it was while he was there
that I became suspicious. My father, and he, and the Superior of the
monastery were always together. They seemed to be urging something
upon him, which he was loath to undertake. By degrees I found it all
out. Adrian was to go to England as my lawful son and claim the De
Vaux estates for the Church. At first he was unwilling; but by degrees
they won upon him. Warning was sent to Martin de Vaux, and he came
here swiftly--to his death! I was kept a close prisoner, but I found
out everything that was happening. For years afterwards, Adrian was
undecided whether to go to England and claim the estates. At last he
decided, unknown to me, to go. I escaped and followed him. I tried
my best to persuade him, but failed. I came back here ill--to die--to
die!"

"And Adrea?"

"Adrea? She knew nothing! How could she?"

"Do you know who Adrea was?"

She seemed surprised that anything else could, for a moment, occupy
his mind after the story to which he had listened; but she struggled
to answer him. "She was Count Hirsfeld's daughter! He never spoke to
me of her mother! It was in Constantinople. I am afraid----"

He bowed his head. "I understand," he said simply. The colour had
suddenly flooded into his cheeks, and there was a mist before his
eyes. Even in that supreme moment, when her senses were failing and
her eyes were growing dim, she saw and understood.

"I wanted to be kind to her always," she faltered. "We would have
adopted her, but she would not stay here. She was unhappy, and I
helped her to escape. I had my reasons!"

He had already guessed at them, and he held out his hand. He did not
wish to hear any more. There was a moment's silence. She was looking
at him with dim, wistful eyes.

"You--you are very like your father!" she said, painfully. "Will you
kiss me?"

He stooped down and kissed the pale, trembling lips, and held
her hands tightly. Her breath was coming fast, and she spoke with
difficulty.

"Thank God they brought you here instead of the doctor! I can die--at
peace now! But you--you are in danger! You must escape from here!
You must not lose a minute! Oh, you do not know! you do not know! The
Count is cruel--bitterly cruel! He will not come to me although I die.
He will not forgive, although I have suffered agonies! He is my father
but he will not forgive me. And you--you are in danger if he finds
you! They have gone for him! Ah! I remember! Father Andrew went for
him! He is afraid that I shall tell you the truth, and that the Church
will not gain your property. Quick! you must go! Kiss me once more,
Paul, and go! Go quickly! These monks are wolves, but they are
cowards! Strike them down if they try to stop you! Don't hurt my
father! Farewell! farewell!"

"I will stay with you till the end," Paul whispered.

"No, no! away! I cannot die in peace and think of you--in danger. I
want to pray. Leave me, now, Paul. Dear Martin! Martin, my love--is it
you?"

Her mind was wandering, and she saw her lover of old days in the man
whose hand she clasped so frantically; and Paul, although out in
the passage he could hear the sound of hurrying feet, could not
tear himself away from her dying embrace. A faint, curious smile was
parting her pallid lips, and her dim eyes seemed suddenly to have
caught a dim reflection of the light to come.

"Martin! Martin! there is a mist everywhere--but I see you, dear love!
Wait for me! Let us go hand in hand--hand in hand through the Valley
of the Shadow of Death. Oh, my love! it has been a weary, weary while.
Hold me tighter, Martin! I cannot feel your hand! Ah! at last, at
last! Farewell sorrow, and grief, and suffering! We are together once
more--a new world--behind the clouds! I am happy."



CHAPTER XXXV

"FROM OUT LIFE'S THUNDERS TO A STRANGE, SWEET WORLD"


She was dead, and, after all, her end had been crowned with peace.
She did not hear the door thrown roughly open, the swelling of angry
voices, or the fast-approaching tramp of many feet. Nor did Paul heed
any of these signs of coming danger; he had folded his strong arms
around her, and his lips, pressed close to her, seemed to draw the
last quivering breath from her frail body. It was only when her head
sunk back, and he knew that she was dead, that he laid her reverently
down and turned around.

The room was full of strange flashes of light and grotesque shadows
falling upon the white faces of half a dozen monks. Standing in front
of them was Father Andrew, and by his side was an old man, tall and
straight, with snow-white beard and hair. He stood in full glare of
a torch held by one of the monks behind him, and his face seemed like
the face of a corpse, save for the steady, malignant light in his
jet-black eyes. As Paul turned round, with his features suddenly
visible in a stream of lurid light, he raised his arm and pointed a
long, skinny finger steadily towards him.

"The son of the devil!" he cried, his deep, tremulous voice awakening
strange echoes in the high vaulted chamber. "Welcome! Welcome! Thrice
welcome!"

Paul straightened himself, and reverently laid the little white hand
which he had been clasping across the coverlet. "She is dead!" he said
solemnly. "What I came here to learn from you, I have learnt from her.
Let me go!"

He moved a step forward, but the old man remained there in the way,
motionless, and around the door were gathered a solid phalanx of
monks. Paul halted, conscious at once of his danger. The white faces
of the monks were all bent upon him, full of savage, animal ferocity,
and a gleam of something still worse lit up the dark eyes of that old
man. Their very silence was unnatural and oppressive. Paul bore it,
looking round amongst them with questioning eyes, until he could bear
it no longer.

"Am I a prisoner?" he cried. "What do you want with me? Speak! some of
you! Count of Cruta, answer me!"

A dull, hollow laugh echoed through the chamber. Paul turned away,
sick with horror. It was like being in the power of a hoard of madmen.
The air of the place, too, seemed suddenly to have become stifling.
The perspiration was standing out upon his forehead in great beads. It
was a relief when the Count spoke.

"You have done well, Paul de Vaux, to find your way here--here
into the very presence of a dying woman, and force from her lips a
confession that has made you glad. You think that you will go back now
to your country, and cheat me of my well-planned vengeance. You will
hold up your head once more; you will mock at the Church's rights. You
will go your way through the world rich and honoured; you will call
yourself by an old name. You will pluck all the roses of life. Worthy
son of a worthy father! Look at me! Who was it who blasted my life, my
happiness, my honour, my name? A name grander and older than his, as
the oak is older and grander than the currant bush. When he took my
daughter into his arms, he wrote the funeral of his race! I played
with him, as a tiger plays with a miserable Hindoo! When life was
sweetest to him, I struck. He came here for mercy; I laughed, and I
was merciful. I stabbed him to the heart. The knife hangs side by side
with the arms of the Crusaders of Cruta. You are his son! You are the
next to die! You will not leave these walls alive! These monks know
you! It is you who hold the lands of De Vaux, which by right belong to
their Holy Church. You would go back to resist their just claims! The
good of the Church demands that you should not go back! You shall not
go back! The Count of Cruta demands that you shall not go back. You
shall not go back! You shall be slain, even where your father was
slain, but you shall not creep back to your hole to die! Your bones
shall whiten and shrivel upon the rocks. Your blood shall be an
honoured stain upon my floor. Monks of Cruta! there he stands! He who
alone can resist your just possession of the broad lands and abbey
of De Vaux. The despoiled Church cries to you to strike. The end is
great! Haul him away!"

They were around him like a pack of wolves, their lean faces hungry
and fierce, and their long, skinny fingers clutching at his throat and
at his clothing. One silently drew a knife and brandished it over him.
Paul wrenched himself free with a tremendous effort, but they were
upon him again. They forced him slowly backwards, backwards even
across the bed where that dead woman lay with her eyes as yet
unclosed. The great heat, as much as their numbers, was overpowering
him. His eyes were bloodshot, and there was a choking in his throat.
Again the long knife was lifted; other hands held him motionless,
ready for the blow. He was too weak to struggle now. He saw the blue
steel quivering in the air. Then he closed his eyes.

What was that? There was a shrill cry from one of the monks, and Paul,
finding their grasp relaxed, started up. They were cowering down like
a flock of frightened animals. The room seemed full of red fire. The
glass in the windows cracked; it flew into pieces, and a column of
smoke curled in. The door was thrown open; Guiseppe stood for a moment
on the threshold.

"Fly!" he cried. "Fly! The castle is on fire. The flames are near!"

They rushed for the door like panic-stricken cattle before a great
prairie fire, biting and trampling upon one another in their haste.
Paul followed, but the old Count stood in his way, trembling, not with
fear, but with anger.

"Cowards! beasts!" he cried after the flying monks. "But you shall not
escape me!"

He wound his long arms around his enemy, but the strength of his
manhood was gone, and without effort Paul threw him on one side. Then,
through the smoke, he found himself face to face with Guiseppe.

"This way, Signor!" he said coolly. "Follow me closely!"

The old Count was up again, and seemed about to attack them. Suddenly
he changed his mind, and with a hoarse cry, ran down an empty
corridor. Guiseppe and Paul turned in the opposite direction.

"We must fly, Signor!" the man cried. "He goes to the cellars! He is a
devil! He will blow up the castle! Cover up your nose and your mouth!"

They hurried along wide, deserted corridors, down stone stairs, and
finally reached what seemed to be a circular underground passage.
Round and round they went, until Paul's head swam; but the air was
cooler, and every moment brought relief. Suddenly there was a cold
breeze. They turned one more corner, and Guiseppe stopped. They were
in an open aperture facing the sea, barely twenty feet below. A small
boat with a single man in it was there waiting.

"Dive!" cried Guiseppe. "We must not wait for the rope!"

Over they went almost simultaneously. The shock of the cold water
sent the blood dancing once more through Paul's veins. He came to the
surface just after his guide, cool and refreshed. They scrambled into
the boat, and Paul gave a little cry of wonder. They were drifting on
a sea of ruddy gold, and the space all around them was brilliant with
the reflection. High above, the flames were leaping up towards the
sky, and the dull sing-song of their roar set the very air vibrating.
Guiseppe, still dripping, seized an oar.

"Pull, for your lives! pull!" he cried anxiously.

His companion shrugged his shoulders. "But why?"

"Ask no questions! You will see!"

They did see. They were barely half-way to the yacht, when there came
the sound of a low rumbling from the castle. Suddenly it broke into a
roar. Belching sheets of flame burst out on every side. Huge cracks in
that brilliant light were suddenly visible in the walls, creeping in a
jagged line from the foundation to the turret. Fragments of the
stone work flew outwards and upwards. It seemed as though some mighty
internal force were splitting the place up. The men in the boat sat
breathless and transfixed. Only Guiseppe whispered: "It is the old
Count! He is the devil! He has blown the place up!"

There was another, and then a series of explosions. Fragments of the
rock and stone fell hissing into the water scarcely a hundred feet
away. Great waves rolled towards them. It seemed as though the earth
underneath were shaking. Then it all died away, and there was silence.
Only the blackened walls of the castle remained, with the dying flames
still curling fitfully around them. The air grew darker, and the
colour faded from the sea.

"It is the last of the Count of Cruta, and his castle of horrors!"
cried Guiseppe. "God be thanked!"



CHAPTER XXXVI

"LOVE THAN DEATH ITSELF MORE STRONG"


I had no thought of writing in you again, my silent friend. Only a
little while ago I said to myself, the time has gone by when solitude
and heart hunger could drive me to your pages for consolation. Only a
little while ago, it is true; and yet between the past and future is
fixed a mighty gulf. As I write these words I stand upon the threshold
of death! What death may mean, I know not! I have no religion to throw
bright gleams of hope upon its dark mysteries. I have no hope of any
other life, save the one I am quitting! If I am resigned and calm, it
is because the lamp of my life has burnt out, and I am in darkness. I
wait for death as a maiden waits for the first gleams of dawn on her
marriage day.

Who said that love was everlasting? They lied! Love is a dream, a
floating shadow full of golden lights, quenched by the first breath of
morning! Who should know, if I do not know? Who has done more for love
than I--I whose hands are red with blood, I who this night must die?
It was for his sake, I struck--for his sake! and now that the hour of
my punishment must come, I sit here alone and forsaken, waiting for
the signal which must end my life! It was for his sake! A death-white
face rises up before me, and a hoarse, dying cry sobs ever in my ears!
I pass on my way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with no
hope to cheer me, forsaken, friendless, and shaken with dim fears!
Am I alone! He for whom I struck has turned from me. Oh, the bitter
cruelty of it! It was he who taught me what love was, and yet of love
he knows nothing, else I would not be here to meet my doom alone!
Oh! Paul, Paul! Oh, for one touch of your hand, for one kind look! My
heart is sick and faint with longing! Am I indeed so low and vile a
thing that you should turn away with never a single word of farewell?
O! my love, you are hard indeed! If my hands are stained with
blood--for whose sake was it? It was only a word I craved for, Paul!
Only a word--a look, even! Was it too great a boon to grant?

       *       *       *       *       *

Oh, memory! help me, help me to keep sane just a few more hours--until
the end comes. It is a last luxury! I will think of those golden days
we spent together ere the blow fell. Ah! how happy we were! Every
breath of life was sweet; every moment seemed charged with the
delicious happiness! The past, with its haunting shadows, and the
memory of that grim, deathly figure huddled up amongst the ferns
in the bare pine wood had perished. Background and foreground had
vanished in the bewildering joys of the present. Oh! Paul, that was
happiness, indeed. All measures of outside things seemed lost! At
times I found it hard to recollect in what country we were! Oh! the
world, such as ours was, is a sweet, sweet world!

At last the blow fell. He came to me one morning, as white as a sheet,
with an old, soiled copy of the Times in his hand.

"Read, Adrea," he cried, thrusting it into my hand. "A horrible thing
has happened!"

I let the paper fall through my fingers. An agony of fear was upon me.
"I know! I know! Do not ask me to read it."

"You knew, and you did not tell me!"

"No! I--no!"

There was a deadly swimming before my eyes, and a throbbing in my
ears. I sank back, grateful for the unconsciousness which gave me
respite, however short. When recovered, I was on the verge of a fever;
and Paul, seeing my condition, did not refer to the news which had
been such a shock to him. But for an hour the next day he was away
from me, writing letters home. When he returned there was a restraint
between us. He was kind as ever, but restless and unsettled. As yet he
had no suspicion, but I could see that he was longing to get back to
England.... The thought was like madness to me.

Then came the beginning of the end. We were staying in a villa which
we had rented for a month near Florence, and one day we drove into the
city together to do some shopping. Paul was at the post-office, and I
was crossing the square to go to him, when of a sudden I felt a hand
upon my dress, and a hoarse whisper in my ear. I started round in
terror. A man, pale and hollow-eyed, stood by my side. It was Gomez!

"Listen quickly!" he said. "I must not stay by your side! You are in
danger! The English police are upon your track!"

I caught hold of the railing to prevent myself from falling. Above my
head, a little flock of pigeons lazily flapped their wings against the
deep blue sky. All around, the sunlit air was full of laughing voices,
and gaily dressed crowds of people were passing backwards and forwards
only a few yards away. Already, one or two were glancing in
my direction curiously. In a moment Paul would come out of the
post-office, looking for me. I made a great effort, and steadied
myself.

"Tell me! What can I do?"

He answered me quickly, keeping his back turned to the stream of
people. "You must fly! It may be already too late, but in twenty-four
hours you will certainly be arrested if you are in Florence. I have
travelled night and day to find you. The holy saints grant that it may
not be too late. Call yourself by a strange name; and if Paul de Vaux
be with you, see that he alters his also. There are already two of the
detectives in Florence searching for you. A third, with a warrant,
may be here at any time. Get to the furthest corner of the world, for
everything is known. Farewell!"

He left me abruptly; and although I felt that my doom had been spoken,
I walked firmly across the square to meet Paul. I would tell him
everything. He should be my judge. My love should plead for me! It
would triumph; yes! it would triumph! I was convinced of it! As for
the danger I was in, I thought less of that.

On the steps of the postoffice I met Paul. He held in his hand a
bundle of papers, one of which he had opened, and, as he raised his
head and looked at me, I saw that what I had dreaded had come to pass.
He looked like a man stricken down by some sudden and terrible blow.
He was white even to the lips, and a strange light burned in his eyes.

He laid his hand upon my arm. Was it my fancy, or did he really recoil
a little as he touched me? "Let us go home!" he said hoarsely. "I
have--something to say to you!"

We entered the carriage, which was waiting near, and drove off. We
came together into this room. It was barely two hours ago. He closed
the door and turned towards me. I did not wait for his question. I
told him everything!

Ah me! I had thought that love was a different thing. I had sinned,
it is true, but he was not my judge. So I commenced, humbled and
sorrowful indeed, but with no fear of what was before me. But
gradually, as I watched his face, a cold, ghastly dread crept in upon
me. What did it mean--that blank look of horror, his quiet withdrawal
from the only caress I attempted? I finished--abruptly--and called out
to him piteously,--

"Paul! Paul! Why do you turn away? Oh! kiss me, Paul! It was horrible,
but it was to save you!"

He did not answer; he did not hold out his arms, or make any movement
towards me. I touched his arm; and oh! horrible! he shuddered. I crept
away into a corner of the room, with a strange, burning pain in my
heart.

"How long is it, since you saw Gomez?" he asked, and his voice,
strained, yet low, seemed to come from a far distance.

"An hour!--perhaps more--I cannot tell!"

He stood before the door like a ghost. "I must go and try to find him!
Forgive me, Adrea! I cannot talk now! I will come back!"

So he left me. I have not seen him since! God only knows whether I
shall see him again! My heart is torn with the agony of it! I cannot
bear it any longer! If he is not here in half an hour I shall end it!

       *       *       *       *       *

He has not come! Ten minutes more!

Five minutes!

       *       *       *       *       *

It is done; I have taken poison! In half an hour I shall be dead! Oh!
Paul, my love, my love, come to me! If I could only die in your
arms, if I could only feel once more your kisses upon my lips! It is
horrible to die alone! Already I feel weaker! Oh! if there be a God
in heaven, send me Paul just for one last moment! I do not ask for
forgiveness or pardon, only send me Paul! I am afraid to die alone!
Never to see him again! Oh! I shall cry out! Paul! Paul! come to me! I
do not ask for heaven, only to die in his arms, to----

       *       *       *       *       *

There were sounds upon the stairs, and in the hall; the sounds of a
man's quick entrance and approach. Adrea, with that passionate
prayer still quivering upon her lips, dragged herself to the door and
listened. A moment's agonised apprehension, and then she staggered
back, faint with joy. The door was opened, and quickly closed; Paul
stood before her.

"Oh! my love! my love," she murmured. "Take me in your arms! It is for
the last time!"

He moved to her side, and supported her. "Adrea," he said quietly, "I
want you to change your things quickly, and come with me. There is
a carriage at the door, and I have chartered a steamer to take us to
Genoa. From there we can sail to-morrow for New York. Gomez was right;
you are in danger here! Be brave, little woman, and all will be well!"

She clung to him passionately, with her arms locked around his neck,
and her wet face close to his. Only a confused sense of his words
reached her. His tone and his embrace were sufficient.

"And you?"

"I go with you, of course! We shall begin a new life in a new world!
Come! We have no time to lose!"

"A new life in a new world." She repeated the words dreamily, still
holding him to her. Then a sudden dizziness came. It passed away, but
it reminded her that the end could not be far off.

"Adrea, do you not understand? How cold your lips are! Try and bear
up, love! We have a long journey before us!"

She shook her head slowly. He began to notice that she was like a dead
weight in his arms.

"It is a long journey, love, but I go alone. You cannot come, Paul!
Yet I am not afraid, now that you are here!"

"Adrea! what do you mean? I will not leave you! Have courage! Adrea!
Soon we shall leave all dangers behind us!"

"Paul! do you not understand? I am dying!"

Dying! He looked at her face, calm and even smiling, but terribly
blanched and white, and he saw the empty phial upon the table. The
whole truth swept in upon him. He staggered and almost fell with her.

"It is best so," she whispered. "I only minded when--I thought that
you might not be back in time. I am quite--content now!"

"A doctor!" he cried hoarsely. "I must fetch a doctor! Adrea----"

"Please don't!" she interrupted. "Long before he could come--I should
be dead. It is so much better! Did you think, Paul, that I could have
you--tied for life--to a poor, hunted woman--forced to live always
in a foreign country? Oh! no, no! I have had this poison by me ever
since--in case--anything happened. Paul, carry me--to the sofa! There
is--no pain--but I am getting weaker--very weak. My eyes are a little
dim, too--but I can see you--Paul!"

He obeyed her, and sank on his knees, with his arms still around her.
It seemed to him that she had never been so lovely as in those last
few minutes of her life. It was wonderful to see her resigned as she
was.

There was a brief silence, broken only by a sharp, convulsed sob from
the kneeling man. Adrea, who heard it, stretched out her hand, and
passed it caressingly along the side of his face. He caught it and
covered it with kisses.

"Paul, we have been happy together, have we not?"

"My darling, you know it!"

She raised herself a little, and spoke earnestly. "For me--it has been
like heaven--and yet I am not sure--that it would have lasted.
You would have wearied soon! My nature is too light a one to have
satisfied you always. I have felt it! I--I know it!"

She paused, struggling for breath. He did not answer her. He only
held her tighter, and whispered her name lovingly. In a moment she
re-opened her eyes.

"So--it is best--" she continued, with a little more effort. "Paul,
things seem all so clear--to me now! I think of you in the future--it
must be a happy future, Paul--I know it will! I see you the master of
that grand old home of yours, up amongst the moors you love so much.
I can see you there in the future, living your quiet, country
life--always the same, honourable and just. I like to think of you
there--it is so natural. I want you--to forget--these days then!
Remember that it was--I--who--came to you, Paul! You had no--choice.
I would come. If there has been--any sin--it has been--mine only. You
were far above--poor me! I have dragged you down--a little way--but
you will go back again! You will marry--some one good and worthy of
you. It is my--last wish! God bless you, Paul, dear--dear, Paul. I
think that I am--going now--kiss me!"

"My love! My love! Oh! that you could live to be happy with me once
more!"

"There are steps upon the stairs--I think--but they come--too late!
The book on the table--take it! It will--tell you--what you do not
know--of my life! Farewell! Sister Elise! Is that you? Ah! back
once more--in the old convent garden! How sweet--and gentle--the air
is--and what perfumes! You here, Paul! You too! How dim your face
seems--and yet--how happy it makes me--to see it. Dear Paul! we have
been--so happy! Farewell!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There were strangers in the room, but they came too late. They found
only the corpse of a woman, whose dead lips were parted in a strangely
sweet smile, and a strong man who had swooned by her side in the utter
abandonment of his grief. The hand of human justice had been stayed by
God's mercy!

THE END.



DO YOU LIKE MENTAL SURPRISES?

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changed position, so that you can continue your reading without
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another land, clime, and scenes? Yes? Then don't fail to read

THE

MYSTERY OF THE RAVENSPURS

BY FRED M. WHITE

the best book written by this popular author, since his "Crimson
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It is a romantic tale of adventure, mystery and amateur detective
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story.

The book contains 320 pages, with four full-page illustrations and
wrapper design in colors by DE TAKACS, handsomely bound in cloth.

PRICE, $1.25, NET. BY MAIL, POSTPAID, $1.35.

WE HEARTILY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK.

FOR SALE WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD.

J. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY

57 Rose Street, New York



OGILVIE'S POPULAR COPYRIGHT LINE


THE PEER AND THE WOMAN

BY E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

AUTHOR OF "A MONK OF CRUTA," "THE MISSIONER," ETC.

_One of the Most Popular Authors of the present day._

       *       *       *       *       *

A story of romance, mystery, and adventure, in which, as in many
mystery stories, there is the adventuress, with whom, for some reason,
the peer, notwithstanding his breeding and social position, becomes
entangled, until he is mysteriously put out of the way. From this
point on complication and adventure succeed each other in rapid
succession, holding the reader in rapt fascination until the end
of the story is reached, where the plots of love and mysterious
disappearances are surprisingly unfolded.

This story has been written in Mr. Oppenheim's most entertaining and
interesting style, and will be appreciated by all lovers of the class
of fiction which has made him famous.

_A Wonderful Story of Mystery._

       *       *       *       *       *

Bound in cloth, handsomely stamped in colors.

       *       *       *       *       *

SENT BY MAIL, POSTAGE PAID, FOR 75 CENTS.

You can buy this at any bookstore or direct from us.

       *       *       *       *       *

J. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY

57 Rose Street, New York





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