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Title: The Brightener
Author: Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920, Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933
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 "The Brightener" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            THE BRIGHTENER

                      BY C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON

                    FRONTISPIECE BY WALTER DE MARIS


GARDEN CITY, N. Y., AND TORONTO
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
1921

COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION
INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY AINSLEE's MAGAZINE CO., NEW YORK AND GREAT BRITAIN.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



[Illustration: "A SLIGHT SOUND ATTRACTED OUR ATTENTION TO THE HISTORIC
STAIRWAY"]



PREFACE

_To the Kind People Who Read Our Books:_


I want to explain to you, in case it may interest you a little, why it
is that I want to keep the "firm name" (as we used to call it) of "C. N.
& A. M. Williamson," although my husband has gone out of this world.

It is because I feel very strongly that he helps me with the work even
more than he was able to do in this world. I always had his advice, and
when we took motor tours he gave me his notes to use as well as my own.
But now there is far more help than that. I cannot explain in words: I
can only feel. And because of that feeling, I could not bear to have the
"C. N." disappear from the title page.

Dear People who may read this, I hope that you will wish to see the
initials "C. N." with those of

A. M. WILLIAMSON



CONTENTS


BOOK I. THE YACHT

       I. DOWN AND OUT

      II. UP AND IN

     III. THUNDERBOLT SIX

      IV. THE BLACK THING IN THE SEA

       V. WHAT I FOUND IN MY CABIN

      VI. THE WOMAN OF THE PAST

     VII. THE SECRET BEHIND THE SILENCE

    VIII. THE GREAT SURPRISE

      IX. THE GAME OF BLUFF


BOOK II. THE HOUSE WITH THE TWISTED CHIMNEY

       I. THE SHELL-SHOCK MAN

      II. THE ADVERTISEMENT

     III. THE LETTER WITH THE PURPLE SEAL

      IV. THE TANGLED WEB

       V. THE KNITTING WOMAN OF DUN MOAT

      VI. THE LIGHTNING STROKE

     VII. THE RED BAIZE DOOR

    VIII. "WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY A TRUMP"

      IX. THE RAT TRAP


BOOK III. THE DARK VEIL

       I. THE GIRL WITH THE LETTER

      II. THE HERMIT

     III. THE CHAIR AT THE SAVOY

      IV. THE SPIRIT OF JUNE

       V. THE BARGAIN

      VI. THE LAST SÉANCE


BOOK IV. THE MYSTERY OF MRS. BRANDRETH

       I. THE MAN IN THE CUSHIONED CHAIR

      II. MRS. BRANDRETH

     III. THE CONDITION SHE MADE

      IV. THE OLD LOVE STORY

       V. THE MAN WITH THE BRILLIANT EYES

      VI. THE PICTURES

     VII. SIR BEVERLEY'S IMPRESSIONS

    VIII. WHILE WE WAITED

      IX. THE GOOD NEWS

       X. THE CLIMAX

      XI. WHAT GABY TOLD

     XII. THE WOMAN IN THE THEATRE

    XIII. MRS. BRANDRETH'S STORY



THE BRIGHTENER



BOOK I

THE YACHT



CHAPTER I

DOWN AND OUT


"I wonder who will tell her," I heard somebody say, just outside the
arbour.

The somebody was a woman; and the somebody else who answered was a man.
"Glad it won't be me!" he replied, ungrammatically.

I didn't know who these somebodies were, and I didn't much care. For the
first instant the one thing I did care about was, that they should
remain outside my arbour, instead of finding their way in. Then, the
next words waked my interest. They sounded mysterious, and I loved
mysteries--_then_.

"It's an awful thing to happen--a double blow, in the same moment!"
exclaimed the woman.

They had come to a standstill, close to the arbour; but there was hope
that they mightn't discover it, because it wasn't an ordinary arbour. It
was really a deep, sweet-scented hollow scooped out of an immense _arbor
vitæ_ tree, camouflaged to look like its sister trees in a group beside
the path. The hollow contained an old marble seat, on which I was
sitting, but the low entrance could only be reached by one who knew of
its existence, passing between those other trees.

I felt suddenly rather curious about the person struck by a "double
blow," for a "fellow feeling makes one wondrous kind"; and at that
moment I was a sort of modern, female Damocles myself. In fact, I had
got the Marchese d'Ardini to bring me away from the ball-room to hide in
this secret arbour of his old Roman garden, because my mood was out of
tune for dancing. I hadn't wished to come to the ball, but Grandmother
had insisted. Now I had made an excuse of wanting an ice, to get rid of
my dear old friend the Marchese for a few minutes.

"She couldn't have cared about the poor chap," said the man in a hard
voice, with a slight American accent, "or she wouldn't be here
to-night."

My heart missed a beat.

"They say," explained the woman, "that her grandmother practically
forced her to marry the prince, and arranged it at a time when he'd have
to go back to the Front an hour after the wedding, so they shouldn't be
_really_ married, if anything happened to him. I don't know whether
that's true or not!"

But I knew! I knew that it was true, because they were talking about me.
In an instant--before I'd decided whether to rush out or sit still--I
knew something more.

"_You_ ought to be well informed, though," the woman's voice continued.
"You're a distant cousin, aren't you?"

"'Distant' is the word! About forty-fourth cousin, four times removed,"
the man laughed with frank bitterness. (No wonder, as he'd
unsuccessfully claimed the right to our family estate, to hitch on to
his silly old, dug-up title!) Not only did I know, now, of whom they
were talking, but I knew one of those who talked: a red-headed giant of
a man I'd seen to-night for the first time, though he had annoyed
Grandmother and me from a distance, for years. In fact, we'd left home
and taken up the Red Cross industry in Rome, because of him. Indirectly
it was his fault that I was married, since, if it hadn't been for him, I
shouldn't have come to Italy or met Prince di Miramare. I did not stop,
however, to think of all this. It just flashed through my subconscious
mind, while I asked myself, "What has happened to Paolo? Has he been
killed, or only wounded? And what do the brutes mean by a 'double
blow'?"

I had no longer the impulse to rush out. I waited, with hushed breath. I
didn't care whether it were nice or not to eavesdrop. All I thought of
was my intense desire to hear what those two would say next.

"Like grandmother, like grand-daughter, I suppose," went on the
ex-cowboy baronet, James Courtenaye. "A hard-hearted lot my only
surviving female relatives seem to be! Her husband at the Front, liable
to die at any minute; her grandmother dying at home, and our fair young
Princess dances gaily to celebrate a small Italian victory!"

"You forget what's happened to-night, Sir Jim, when you speak of your
'_surviving_' female relatives," said the woman.

"By George, yes! I've got but one left now. And I expect, from what I
hear, I shall be called upon to support her!"

Then Grandmother was dead!--wonderful, indomitable Grandmother, who,
only three hours ago, had said, "You _must_ go to this dance, Elizabeth.
I wish it!" Grandmother, whose last words had been, "You are worthy to
be what I've made you: a Princess. You are exactly what I was at your
age."

Poor, magnificent Grandmother! She had often told me that she was the
greatest beauty of her day. She had sent me away from her to-night, so
that she might die alone. Or--had the news of the _other_ blow come
while I was gone, and killed her?

Dazedly I stumbled to my feet, and in a second I should have pushed past
the pair; but, just at this moment, footsteps came hurrying along the
path. Those two moved out of the way with some murmured words I didn't
catch: and then, the Marchese was with me again. I saw his plump figure
silhouetted on the silvered blue dusk of moonlight. He had brought no
ice! He flung out empty hands in a despairing gesture which told that he
also _knew_.

"My dear child--my poor little Princess----" he began in Italian; but I
cut him short.

"I've heard some people talking. Grandmother is dead. And--Paolo?"

"His plane crashed. It was instant death--not painful. Alas, the
telegram came to your hotel, and the Signora, your grandmother, opened
it. Her maid found it in her hand. The brave spirit had fled! Mr.
Carstairs, her solicitor, and his kind American wife came here at once.
How fortunate was the business which brought him to Rome just now,
looking after your interests! A search-party was seeking me, while I
sought a mere ice! And now the Carstairs wait to take you to your hotel.
I cannot leave our guests, or I would go with you, too."

He got me back to the old palazzo by a side door, and guided me to a
quiet room where the Carstairs sat. They were not alone. An American
friend of the ex-cowboy was with them--(another self-made millionaire,
but a _much_ better made one, of the name of Roger Fane)--and with him a
school friend of mine he was in love with, Lady Shelagh Leigh. Shelagh
ran to me with her arms out, but I pushed her aside. A darling girl, and
I wouldn't have done it for the world, if I had been myself!

She shrank away, hurt; and vaguely I was conscious that the dark man
with the tragic eyes--Roger Fane--was coaxing her out of the room. Then
I forgot them both as I turned to the Carstairs for news. I little
guessed how soon and strangely my life and Shelagh's and Roger Fane's
would twine together in a Gordian knot of trouble!

I don't remember much of what followed, except that a taxi rushed
us--the Carstairs and me--to the Grand Hotel, as fast as it could go
through streets filled with crowds shouting over one of those October
victories. Mrs. Carstairs--a mouse of a woman in person, a benevolent
Machiavelli in brain--held my hand gently, and said nothing, while her
clever old husband tried to cheer me with words. Afterward I learned
that she spent those minutes in mapping out my whole future!

You see, _she_ knew what I didn't know at the time: that I hadn't enough
money in the world to pay for Grandmother's funeral, not to mention our
hotel bills!

       *       *       *       *       *

A clock, when you come to think of it, is a fortunate animal.

When it runs down, it can just comfortably stop. No one expects it to do
anything else. No one accuses it of weakness or lack of backbone because
it doesn't struggle nobly to go on ticking and striking. It is not
sternly commanded to wind itself. Unless somebody takes that trouble off
its hands, it stays stopped. Whereas, if a girl or a young, able-bodied
woman runs down (that is, comes suddenly to the end of everything,
including resources), she mayn't give up ticking for a single second.
_She_ must wind herself, and this is really quite as difficult for her
to do as for a clock, unless she is abnormally instructed and
accomplished.

I am neither. The principal things I know how to do are, to look pretty,
and be nice to people, so that when they are with me they feel purry and
pleasant. With this stock-in-trade I had a perfectly gorgeous time in
life, until--Fate stuck a finger into my mechanism and upset the working
of my pendulum.

I ought to have realized that the gorgeousness would some time come to a
bad and sudden end. But I was trained to put off what wasn't delightful
to do or think of to-day, until to-morrow; because to-morrow could take
care of itself and droves of shorn lambs as well.

Grandmother and I had been pals since I was five, when my father (her
son) and my mother quietly died of diphtheria, and left me--her
namesake--to her. We lived at adorable Courtenaye Abbey on the
Devonshire Coast, where furniture, portraits, silver, and china fit for
a museum were common, every-day objects to my childish eyes. None of
these things could be sold--or the Abbey--for they were all heirlooms
(of _our_ branch of the Courtenayes, not the Americanized ex-cowboy's
insignificant branch, be it understood!). But the place could be let,
with everything in it; and when Mr. Carstairs was first engaged to
unravel Grandmother's financial tangles, he implored her permission to
find a tenant. That was before the war, when I was seventeen; and
Grandmother refused.

"What," she cried (I was in the room, all ears), "would you have me
advertise the fact that we're reduced to beggary, just as the time has
come to present Elizabeth? I'll do nothing of the kind. You must stave
off the smash. That's your business. Then Elizabeth will marry a title
with money, or an American millionaire or someone, and prevent it from
_ever_ coming."

This thrilled me, and I felt like a Joan of Arc out to save her family,
not by capturing a foe, but a husband.

Mr. Carstairs did stave off the smash, Heaven or its opposite alone
knows how, and Grandmother spent about half a future millionaire
husband's possible income in taking a town house, with a train of
servants; renting a Rolls-Royce, and buying for us both the most divine
clothes imaginable. I was long and leggy, and thin as a young colt; but
my face was all right, because it was a replica of Grandmother's at
seventeen. My eyes and dimples were said to be Something to Dream About,
even then (I often dreamed of them myself, after much flattery at
balls!), and already my yellow-brown braids measured off at a yard and a
half. Besides, I had Grandmother's Early Manner (as one says of an
artist: and really she _was_ one), so, naturally, I received proposals:
_lots_ of proposals. But--they were the wrong lots!

All the good-looking young men who wanted to marry me had never a penny
to do it on. All the rich ones were so old and appalling that even
Grandmother hadn't the heart to order me to the altar. So there it
_was_! Then Jim Courtenaye came over from America, where, after an
adventurous life (or worse), he'd made pots of money by hook or by
crook, probably the latter. He stirred up, from the mud of the past, a
trumpery baronetcy bestowed by stodgy King George the Third upon an
ancestor in that younger, less important branch of the Courtenayes. Also
did he strive expensively to prove a right to Courtenaye Abbey as well,
though not one of _his_ Courtenayes had ever put a nose inside it and I
was the next heir, after Grandmother. He didn't fight (he kindly
explained to Mr. Carstairs) to snatch the property out of our mouths. If
he got it, we might go on living there till the end of our days. All he
wanted was to _own_ the place, and have the right to keep it up
decently, as we'd never been able to do.

Well, he had to be satisfied with his title and without the Abbey; which
was luck for us. But there our luck ended. Not only did the war break
out before I had a single proposal worth accepting, but an awful thing
happened at the Abbey.

Grandmother had to keep on the rented town house, for patriotic motives,
no matter _what_ the expense, because she had turned it into an
_ouvroir_ for the making of hospital supplies. She directed the work
herself, and I and Shelagh Leigh (Shelagh was just out of the schoolroom
then) and lots of other girls slaved seven hours a day. Suddenly, just
when we'd had a big "hurry order" for pneumonia jackets, there was a
shortage of material. But Grandmother wasn't a woman to be conquered by
shortages! She remembered a hundred yards of bargain stuff she'd bought
to be used for new dust-sheets at the Abbey; and as all the servants but
two were discharged when we left for town, the sheets had never been
made up.

_She_ could not be spared for a day, but I could. By this time I was
nineteen, and felt fifty in wisdom, as all girls do, since the war.
Grandmother was old-fashioned in some ways, but new-fashioned in others,
so she ordered me off to Courtenaye Abbey by myself to unlock the room
where the bundle had been put. Train service was not good, and I would
have to stay the night; but she wired to old Barlow and his wife--once
lodge-keepers, now trusted guardians of the house. She told Mrs. Barlow
(a pretty old Devonshire Thing, like peaches and cream, called by me
"Barley") to get my old room ready; and Barlow was to meet me at the
train. At the last moment, however, Shelagh Leigh decided to go with me;
and if we had guessed it, this was to turn out one of the most important
decisions of her life. Barlow met us, of course; and how he had changed
since last I'd seen his comfortable face! I expected him to be charmed
with the sight of me, if not of Shelagh, for I was always a favourite
with Barl and Barley; but the poor man was absent-minded and queer. When
a stuffy station-cab from Courtenaye Coombe had rattled us to the
shut-up Abbey, I went at once to the housekeeper's room and had a
heart-to-heart talk with the Barlows. It seemed that the police had been
to the house and "run all through it," because of reports that lights
had flashed from the upper windows out to sea at night--"_signals to
submarines_!"

Nothing suspicious was found, however, and the police made it clear that
they considered the Barlows themselves above reproach. Good people, they
were, with twin nephews from Australia fighting in the war! Indeed, an
inspector had actually apologized for the visit, saying that the police
had pooh-poohed the reports at first. They had paid no attention until
"the story was all over the village"; and there are not enough miles
between Courtenaye Abbey and Plymouth Dockyard for even the rankest
rumours to be disregarded long.

Barley was convinced that one of our ghosts had been waked up by the
war--the ghost of a young girl burned to death, who now and then rushes
like a column of fire through the front rooms of the second floor in the
west wing; but the old pet hoped I wouldn't let this idea of hers keep
me awake. The ghost of a nice English young lady was preferable in her
opinion to a German spy in the flesh! I agreed, but I was not keen on
seeing either. My nerves had been jumpy since the last air-raid over
London, consequently I lay awake hour after hour, though Shelagh was in
Grandmother's room adjoining mine, with the door ajar between.

When I did sleep, I must have slept heavily. I dreamed that I was a
prisoner on a German submarine, and that signals from Courtenaye Abbey
flashed straight into my face. They flashed so brightly that they set me
on fire; and with the knowledge that, if I couldn't escape at once, I
should become a Family Ghost, I wrenched myself awake with a start.

Yes, I _was_ awake; though what I saw was so astonishing that I thought
it must be another nightmare. There really was a strong light pouring
into my eyes. What it came from I don't know to this day, but probably
an electric torch. Anyhow, the ray was so powerful that, though directed
upon my face, it faintly lit another face close to mine, as I suddenly
sat up in bed.

Instantly that face drew back, and then--as if on a second thought,
after a surprise--out went the light. By contrast, the darkness was
black as a bath of ink, though I'd pulled back the curtains before going
to bed, and the sky was sequined with stars. But on my retina was
photographed a pale, illumined circle with a face looking out of
it--looking straight at me. You know how quickly these light-pictures
begin to fade, but, before this dimmed I had time to verify my first
waking impression.

The face was a woman's face--beautiful and hideous at the same time,
like Medusa. It was young, yet old. It had deep-set, long eyes that
slanted slightly up to the corners. It was thin and hollow-cheeked, with
a pointed chin cleft in the middle; and was framed with bright auburn
hair of a curiously _unreal_ colour.

When the blackness closed in, and I heard in the dark scrambling sounds
like a rat running amok in the wainscot, I gave a cry. In my horror and
bewilderment I wasn't sure yet whether I were awake or asleep; but
someone answered. Dazed as I was, I recognized Shelagh's sweet young
voice, and at the same instant her electric bed-lamp was switched on in
the next room. "Coming!--coming!" she cried, and appeared in the
doorway, her hair gold against the light.

By this time I had the sense to switch on my own lamp, and, comforted by
it and my pal's presence, I told Shelagh in a few words what had
happened. "Why, how weird! I dreamed the same dream!" she broke in. "At
least, I dreamed about a light, and a face."

Hastily we compared notes, and realized that Shelagh had not dreamed:
that the woman of mystery had visited us both; only, she had gone to
Shelagh first, and had not been scared away as by me, because Shelagh
hadn't thoroughly waked up.

We decided that our vision was no ghost, but that, for once, rumour was
right. In some amazing way a spy had concealed herself in the rambling
old Abbey (the house has several secret rooms of which we know; and
there might be others, long forgotten), and probably she had been
signalling until warned of danger by that visit from the police. We
resolved to rise at daybreak, and walk to Courtenay Coombe to let the
police know what had happened to us; but, as it turned out, a great deal
more was to happen before dawn.

We felt pretty sure that the spy would cease her activities for the
night, after the shock of finding our rooms occupied. Still it would be
cowardly--we thought--to lie in bed. We slipped on dressing-gowns,
therefore, and with candles (only our wing was furnished with electric
light, for which dear Grandmother had never paid) we descended
fearsomely to the Barlows' quarters. Having roused the old couple and
got them to put on some clothes, a search-party of four perambulated the
house. So far as we could see, however, the place was innocent of spies;
and at length we crept into bed again.

We didn't mean or expect to sleep, of course, but we must all have
"dropped off," otherwise we should have smelt the smoke long before we
did smell it. As it was, the great hall slowly burned until Barlow's
usual getting-up hour. Shelagh and I knew nothing until Barl came
pounding at my door. Then the stinging of our nostrils and eyelids was a
fire alarm!

It's wonderful how quickly you can do things when you have to! Ten
minutes later I was running as fast as I could go to the village, and
might have earned a prize for a two-mile sprint if I hadn't raced alone.
By the time the fire-engines reached the Abbey it was too late to save a
whole side of the glorious old "linen fold" panelling of the hall. The
celebrated staircase was injured, too, and several suits of historic
armour, as well as a number of antique weapons.

Fortunately the portraits were all in the picture gallery, and the fire
was stopped before it had swept beyond the hall. Where it had started
was soon learned, but "_how_" remained a mystery, for shavings and
oil-tins had apparently been stuffed behind the panelling. The theory of
the police was, that the spy (no one doubted the spy's existence now!)
had seen that the "game was up," since the place would be strictly
watched from that night on. Out of sheer spite, the female Hun had
attempted to burn down the famous old house before she lost her chance;
or had perhaps already made preparations to destroy it when her other
work should be ended.

There was a hue and cry over the county in pursuit of the fugitive,
which echoed as far as London; but the woman had escaped, and not even a
trace of her was found.

Grandmother openly claimed that HER inspiration in sending for some
dust-sheets had not only saved the Abbey, but England. It was most
agreeable to bask in self-respect and the praise of friends. When,
however, we were bombarded by newspaper men, who took revenge for
Grandmother's snubs by publishing interviews with Sir "Jim" (by this
time Major Courtenaye, D. S. O., M. C., unluckily at home with a
"Blighty" wound), the haughty lady lost her temper.

It was bad enough, she complained, to have the Abbey turned prematurely
into a ruin, but for That Fellow to proclaim that it wouldn't have
happened had _he_ been the owner was _too_ much! The democratic and
socialist papers ("rags," according to Grandmother) stood up for the
self-made cowboy baronet, and blamed the great lady who had "thrown away
in selfish extravagance" what should have paid the upkeep of an historic
monument. This, to a woman who directed the most patriotic _ouvroir_ in
London! And to pile Ossa on Pelion, our Grosvenor Square landlord was
cad enough to tell his friends (who told theirs, etc., etc.) that he had
never received his rent! Which statement, by the way, was all the more
of a libel because it was true.

Now you understand how Sir James Courtenaye was responsible for driving
us to Italy, and indirectly bringing about my marriage; for Grandmother
wiped the dust of Grosvenor Square from our feet with Italian passports,
and swept me off to new activities in Rome.

Here was Mr. Carstairs' moment to say, "I told you so! If only you had
left the Abbey when I advised you that it was best, all would have been
well. Now, with the central hall in ruins, nobody would be found dead in
the place, not even a munition millionaire." But being a particularly
kind man he said nothing of the sort. He merely implored Grandmother to
live economically in Rome: and of course (being Grandmother!) she did
nothing of the sort.

We lived at the most expensive hotel, and whenever we had any money,
gave it to the Croce Rossa, running up bills for ourselves. But we mixed
much joy with a little charity, and my descriptive letters to Shelagh
were so attractive that she persuaded Mr. and Mrs. Pollen, her guardians
(uncle and aunt; sickening snobs!), to bring her to Rome; pretext, Red
Cross work, which covered so much frivolling in the war! Then, not long
after, the cowboy's friend, Roger Fane, appeared on the scene, in the
American Expeditionary Force; a thrilling, handsome, and mysteriously
tragic person. James Courtenaye also turned up, having been ordered to
the Italian Front; but Grandmother and I contrived never to meet him.
And when our financial affairs began to rumble like an earthquake, Mr.
Carstairs decided to see Grandmother in person.

It was when she received his telegram, "Coming at once," that she
decided I must accept Prince di Miramare. She had wanted an Englishman
for me; but a Prince is a Prince, and though Paolo was far from rich at
the moment, he had the prospect of an immediate million--liras, alas!
not pounds. An enormously rich Greek offered him that sum for the
fourteenth-century Castello di Miramare on a mountain all its own, some
miles from Rome. In consideration of a large sum paid to Paolo's younger
brother Carlo, the two Miramare princes would break the entail; and this
quick solution of our difficulties was to be a surprise for Mr.
Carstairs.

Paolo and I were married as hastily as such matters can be arranged
abroad, between persons of different nations; and it was true (as those
cynics outside the arbour said) that my soldier prince went back to the
Front an hour after the wedding. It was just after we were safely
spliced that Grandmother ceased to fight a temperature of a hundred and
three, and gave up to an attack of 'flu. She gave up quite quietly, for
she thought that, whatever happened, I would be rich, because she had
browbeaten lazy, unbusinesslike Paolo into making a will in my favour.
The one flaw in this calculation was, his concealing from her the fact
that the entail was not yet legally broken. No contract between him and
the Greek could be signed while the entail existed; therefore Paolo's
will gave me only his personal possessions. These were not much; for I
doubt if even the poor boy's uniforms were paid for. But I am thankful
that Grandmother died without realizing her failure; and I hope that her
spirit was far away before the ex-cowboy began making overtures.

If it had not been for Mrs. Carstairs' inspiration, I don't know what
would have become of me!



CHAPTER II

UP AND IN


You may remember what Jim Courtenaye said in the garden: that he would
probably have to support me.

Well, he dared to offer, through Mr. Carstairs, to do that very thing,
"for the family's sake." At least, he proposed to pay off all our debts
and allow me an income of four hundred a year, if it turned out that my
inheritance from Paolo was nil.

When Mr. Carstairs passed on the offer to me, as he was bound to do, I
said what I felt dear Grandmother would have wished me to say: "I'll see
him d--d first!" And I added, "I hope you'll repeat that to the
_Person_."

I think from later developments that Mr. Carstairs cannot have repeated
my reply verbatim. But I have not yet quite come to the part about those
developments. After the funeral, when I knew the worst about the entail,
and that Paolo's brother Carlo was breaking it wholly for his _own_
benefit, and not at all for mine, Mrs. Carstairs asked sympathetically
if I had thought what I should like to do.

"Like to do?" I echoed, bitterly. "I should like to go home to the dear
old Abbey, and restore the place as it ought to be restored, and have
plenty of money, without lifting a finger to get it. What I _must_ do is
a different question."

"Well, then, my dear, supposing we put it in that brutal way. Have you
thought--er----"

"I've done nothing except think. But I've been brought up with about as
much earning capacity as a mechanical doll. The only thing I have the
slightest talent for being, is--a detective!"

"Good gracious!" was Mrs. Carstairs' comment on that.

"I've felt ever since spy night at the Abbey that I had it in me to make
a good detective," I modestly explained.

"'Princess di Miramare, Private Detective,' would be a distinctly
original sign-board over an office door," the old lady reflected. "But I
believe _I've_ evolved something more practical, considering your
name--and your age--(twenty-one, isn't it?)--and your _looks_. Not that
detective talent mayn't come in handy even in the profession I'm going
to suggest. Very likely it will--among other things. It's a profession
that'll call for all the talents you can get hold of."

"Do you by chance mean marriage?" I inquired, coldly. "I've never been a
wife. But I suppose I _am_ a sort of widow."

"If you weren't a sort of widow you couldn't cope with the profession
I've--er--invented. You wouldn't be independent enough."

"Invented? Then you _don't_ mean marriage! And not even the stage. I
warn you that I solemnly promised Grandmother never to go on the stage."

"I know, my child. She mentioned that to Henry--my husband--when they
were discussing your future, before you both left London. My idea is
_much_ more original than marriage, or even the stage. It popped into my
mind the night Mrs. Courtenaye died, while we were in a taxi between the
Palazzo Ardini and this hotel. I said to myself, 'Dear Elizabeth shall
be a Brightener!'"

"A Brightener?" I repeated, with a vague vision of polishing windows or
brasses. "I don't----"

"You wouldn't! I told you I'd invented the profession expressly for you.
Now I'm going to tell you what it is. I felt that you'd not care to be a
tame companion, even to the most gilded millionairess, or a social
secretary to a----"

"Horror!--no, I couldn't be a tame anything."

"That's why brightening is your line. A Brightener couldn't _be_ a
Brightener and tame. She must be brilliant--winged--soaring above the
plane of those she brightens; expensive, to make herself appreciated;
capable of taking the lead in social direction. Why, my dear, people
will fight to get you--pay any price to secure you! _Now_ do you
understand?"

I didn't. So she explained. After that dazzling preface, the explanation
seemed rather an anti-climax. Still, I saw that there might be something
in the plan--if it could be worked. And Mrs. Carstairs guaranteed to
work it.

My widowhood (save the mark!) qualified me to become a chaperon. And my
Princesshood would make me a gilded one. Chaperonage, at its best, might
be amusing. But chaperonage was far from the whole destiny of a
Brightener. A Brightener need not confine herself to female society, as
a mere Companion must. A young woman, even though a widow and a
Princess, could not "companion" a person of the opposite sex, even if he
were a _hundred_. But she might, from a discreet distance, be his
Brightener. That is, she might brighten a lonely man's life without
tarnishing her own reputation.

"After all," Mrs. Carstairs went on, "in spite of what's said against
him, Man _is_ a Fellow Being. If a cat may look at a King, Man may look
at a Princess. And unless he's in her set, he can be made to pay for the
privilege. Think of a lonely button or boot-maker! What would he give
for the honour of invitations to tea, with introductions and social
advice, from the popular Princess di Miramare? He might have a wife or
daughters, or both, who needed a leg up. _They_ would come extra! He
might be a widower--in fact, I've caught the first widower for you
already. But unluckily you can't use him yet."

"Ugh!" I shuddered. "Sounds as if he were a fish--wriggling on a hook
till I'm ready to tear it out of his gills!"

"He is a fish--a big fish. In fact, I may as well break it to you that
he is Roger Fane."

"Good heavens!" I cried. "It would take more electricity than I'm fitted
with to brighten his tragic and mysterious gloom!"

"Not at all. In fact, you are the only one who can brighten it."

"What are you driving at? He's dead in love with Shelagh Leigh."

"That's just _it_. As things are, he has no hope of marrying Shelagh.
She likes him, as you probably know better than I do, for you're her
best pal, although she's a year or so younger than you----"

"Two years."

"Well, as I was going to say, in many ways she's a child compared to
you. She's as beautiful as one of those cut-off cherubs in the
prayer-books, and as old-fashioned as an early Victorian sampler. These
blonde Dreams with naturally waving golden hair and rosebud mouths, and
eyes big as half-crowns, _have_ that drawback, as I've discovered since
I came to live in England. In _my_ country we don't grow early Victorian
buds. You know perfectly well that those detestable snobs, the Pollens,
don't think Fane good enough for Shelagh in spite of his money. Money's
the _one_ nice thing they've got themselves, which they can pass on to
Shelagh. Probably they forced the wretched Miss Pollen, who was the male
snob's sister, to marry the old Marquis of Leigh just as they wish to
_compel_ Shelagh to marry some other wreck of his sort--and die young,
as her mother did. The girl's a dear--a perfect _lamb_!--but lambs can't
stand up against lions. They generally lie down inside them. But with
_you_ at the helm, the Pollen lions could be forced----"

"Not if they knew it!" I cut in.

"They wouldn't know it. Did _you_ know that you were being forced to
marry that poor young prince of yours?"

"I wasn't forced. I was persuaded."

"We won't argue the point! Anyhow, the subject doesn't press. The scheme
I have in my head for you to launch Fane on the social sea (the _sea_ in
every sense of the word, as you'll learn by and by) can't come off till
you're out of your deepest mourning. I'll find you a quieter line of
goods to begin on than the Fane-Leigh business if you agree to take up
Brightening. The question is, _do_ you agree?"

"I do," I said more earnestly than I had said "I will" as I stood at
Paolo's side in church. For life hadn't been very earnest then. Now it
was.

"Good!" exclaimed Mrs. Carstairs. "Then that's _that_! The next thing is
to furnish you a charming flat in the same house with us. You must have
a background of your own."

"You forget--I haven't a farthing!" I fiercely reminded her. "But Mr.
Carstairs won't forget! I've made him too much trouble. The best
Brightening won't run to _half_ a Background in Berkeley Square."

"Wait," Mrs. Carstairs calmed me. "I haven't finished the whole
proposition yet. In America, when we run up a sky-scraper, we don't
begin at the bottom, in any old, commonplace way. We stick a few steel
girders into the earth; then we start at the top and work down. That's
what I've been doing with my plan. It's perfect. Only you've got to
support it with something."

"What is it you're trying to break to me?" I demanded.

The dear old lady swallowed heavily. (It must be something pretty awful
if it daunted _her_!)

"You like Roger Fane," she began.

"Yes, I admire him. He's handsome and interesting, though a little too
mysterious and tragic to live with for my taste."

"He's not mysterious at all!" she defended Fane. "His tragedy--for there
_was_ a tragedy!--is no secret in America. I often met him before the
war, when I ran over to pay visits in New York, though he was far from
being in the Four Hundred. But at the moment I've no more to say about
Roger Fane. I've been using him for a handle to brandish a friend of his
in front of your eyes."

My blood grew hot. "_Not_ the ex-cowboy?"

"That's no way to speak of Sir James Courtenaye."

"Then _he's_ what you want to break to me?"

"I want--I mean, I'm _requested_!--to inform you of a way he proposes
out of the woods for you--at least, the darkest part of the woods."

"I told Mr. Carstairs I'd see James Courtenaye d--d rather than----"

"_This_ is a different affair entirely. You must listen, my dear, unless
I'm to wash my hands of you! What I have to describe is the foundation
for the Brightening."

I swallowed some more of Grandmother's expressions which occurred to me,
and listened.

Sir James Courtenaye's second proposition was not an offer of charity.
He suggested that I let Courtenaye Abbey to him for a term of years, for
the sum of one thousand five hundred pounds per annum, the first three
years to be paid in advance. (This clause, Mrs. Carstairs hinted, would
enable me to dole out crumbs here and there for the quieting of
Grandmother's creditors.) Sir James's intention was, not to use the
Abbey as a residence, but to make of it a show place for the public
during the term of his lease. In order to do this, the hall must be
restored and the once-famous gardens beautified. This expense he would
undertake, carrying the work quickly to completion, and would reimburse
himself by means of the fees--a shilling a head--charged for viewing the
house and its historic treasures.

When I had heard all this, I hesitated what to answer, thinking of
Grandmother, and wondering what she would have said had she been in my
shoes. But as this thought flitted into my mind, it was followed by
another. One of Grandmother's few old-fashioned fads was her style of
shoe: pattern 1875. The shoes I stood in, at this moment, were pattern
1918. In _my_ shoes Grandmother would simply scream! And I wouldn't be
at my best in hers. This was the parable which commonsense put to me,
and Mrs. Carstairs cleverly offering no word of advice, I paused no
longer than five minutes before I snapped out, "Yes! The horrid brute
can have the darling place till I get rich."

"How sweet of you to consent so _graciously_, darling!" purred Mrs.
Carstairs. Then we both laughed. After which I fell into her arms, and
cried.

For fear I might change my mind, Mr. Carstairs got me to sign some
dull-looking documents that very day, and the oddness of their being all
ready to hand didn't strike me till the ink was dry.

"Henry had them prepared because he knew how _sensible_ you are at
heart--I mean _at head_," his wife explained. "Indeed, it is a
compliment to your intelligence."

Anyhow, it gave me a wherewithal to throw sops to a whole Zooful of
Cerberuses, and still keep enough to take that flat in the Carstairs'
house in Berkeley Square. Of course to do all this meant leaving Italy
for good and going back to England. But there was little to hold me in
Rome. My inheritance from my husband-of-an-hour could be packed in a
suitcase! Shelagh and her snobs travelled with us. And as soon as they
were demobilized, Roger Fane and James Courtenaye followed, if not us,
at least in our direction.

I don't think that Aladdin's Lamp builders "had anything on" Sir Jim's
(as he himself said), judging by the way the restorations simply flew.
From what I heard of the sums he spent, it would take the shillings of
all England and America as sightseers to put him in pocket. But as Mr.
Carstairs pointed out, that was _his_ business.

Mine was to gird my loins at Lucille's and Redfern's, in order to become
a Brightener. For my pendulum was ticking regularly now. I was no longer
down and out. I was up and in. Elizabeth, Princess di Miramare, was
spoiling for her first job.



CHAPTER III

THUNDERBOLT SIX


Looking back through my twenty-one-and-three-quarter years, I divide my
life, up to date, into thunderbolts.

     Thunderbolt One: Death of my Father and Mother.

     Thunderbolt Two: Spy Night at the Abbey.

     Thunderbolt Three: My Marriage to Paolo di Miramare.

     Thunderbolt Four: The "Double Blow."

     Thunderbolt Five: Beggary!

Which brings me along the road to Thunderbolt Six.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Percy-Hogge was, and is, exactly what you would think from her
name; which is why I don't care to dwell at length on the few months I
spent brightening her at Bath. It was bad enough _living_ them!

Now, if I were a Hogge instead of a Courtenaye, plus Miramare, I would
_be_ one, plain, unadulterated, and unadorned. _She_ adulterated her
Hogg with an "e," and adorned it with a "Percy," her late husband's
Christian name. He being in heaven or somewhere, the hyphen couldn't
hurt him; and with it, and his money, _and_ Me, she began at Bath the
attempt to live down the past of a mere margarine-making Hogg. Whole
bunches of Grandmother's friends were in the Bath zone just then, which
is why I chose it, and they were so touched by my widow's weeds that
they were charming to Mrs. P.-H. in order to please me. As most of
them--though stuffy--were titled, and there were two Marchionesses and
one Duchess, the result for Mrs. Percy-Hogge was brilliant. She, who had
never before known any one above a knight-ess, was in Paradise. She had
taken a fine old Georgian house, furnished from basement to attic by
Mallet, and had launched invitations for a dinner-party "to meet the
Dowager-Duchess of Stoke," when--bang fell Thunderbolt Six!

Naturally it fell on me, not her, as thunderbolts have no affinity for
Hoggs. It fell in the shape of a telegram from Mrs. Carstairs.

She wired:

     Come London immediately, for consultation. Terrible theft at Abbey.
     Barlows drugged and bound by burglars. Both prostrated. Affair
     serious. Let me know train. Will meet. Love.

     CAROLINE CARSTAIRS.

I wired in return that I would catch the first train, and caught it. The
old lady kept her word also, and met me. Before her car had whirled us
to Berkeley Square I had got the whole story out of her; which was well,
as an ordeal awaited me, and I needed time to camouflage my feelings.

I had been sent for in haste because the news of the burglary was not to
leak into the papers until, as Mrs. Carstairs expressed it, "those most
concerned had come to some sort of understanding." "You see," she added,
"this isn't an ordinary theft. There are wheels within wheels, and the
insurance people will kick up a row rather than pay. That's why we must
talk everything over; you, and Sir James, and Henry--and Henry is never
_quite_ complete without me, so I intend to be in the offing."

I knew she wouldn't stay there; but that was a detail!

The robbery had taken place the night before, and Sir James himself had
been the one to discover it. Complication number one (as you'll see in a
minute).

He, being now "demobbed" and a man of leisure, instead of reopening his
flat in town, had taken up quarters at Courtenaye Coombe to superintend
the repairs at the Abbey. His ex-cowboy habits being energetic, he
usually walked the two miles from the village, and appeared on the scene
ahead of the workmen.

This morning he arrived before seven o'clock, and went, according to
custom, to beg a cup of coffee from Mrs. Barlow. She and her husband
occupied the bedroom and sitting room which had been the housekeeper's;
but at that hour the two were invariably in the kitchen. Sir Jim let
himself in with his key, and marched straight to that part of the house.
He was surprised to find the kitchen shutters closed and the range
fireless. Suspecting something wrong, he went to the bedroom door and
knocked. He got no answer; but a second, harder rap produced a muffled
moan. The door was not locked. He opened it, and was horrified at what
he saw: Mrs. Barlow, on the bed, gagged and bound; her husband in the
same condition, but lying on the floor; and the atmosphere of the closed
room heavy with the fumes of chloroform.

It was Mrs. Barlow who managed to answer the knock with a moan. Barlow
was deeper under the spell of the drug than she, and--it appeared
afterward--in a more serious condition of collapse.

The old couple had no story to tell, for they recalled nothing of what
had happened. They had made the rounds of the house as usual at night,
and had then gone to bed. Barlow did not wake from his stupor until the
village doctor came to revive him with stimulants, and Mrs. Barlow's
first gleam of consciousness was when she dimly heard Sir James
knocking. She strove to call out, felt aware of illness, realized with
terror that her mouth was distended with a gag, and struggled to utter
the faint groan which reached his ears.

As soon as Sir Jim had attended to the sufferers, he hurried out, and,
finding that the workmen had arrived, rushed one of them back to
Courtenaye Coombe for the doctor and the village nurse. The moment he
(Sir Jim) was free to do so, he started on a voyage of discovery round
the house, and soon learned that a big haul had been brought off. The
things taken were small in size but in value immense, and circumstantial
evidence suggested that the thief or thieves knew precisely what they
wanted as well as where to get it.

In the picture gallery a portrait of King Charles I (given by himself to
a General Courtenaye of the day) had been cleverly cut out of its frame,
also a sketch of the Long Water at Hampton Court, painted and signed by
King Charles. The green drawing room was deprived of its chief treasure,
a quaint sampler embroidered by the hand of Mary Queen of Scots for her
"faithful John Courtenaye." From the Chinese boudoir a Buddha of the
Ming period was gone, and a jewel box of marvellous red lacquer
presented by Li Hung Chang to my grandmother. The silver cabinet in the
oak dining room had been broken open, and a teapot, sugar bowl, and
cream-jug, given by Queen Anne to an ancestress, were absent. The China
cabinet in the same room was bared of a set of green-and-gold coffee
cups presented by Napoleon I to a French great-great-grandmother of
mine; and from the big dining hall adjoining, a Gobelin panel, woven for
the Empress Josephine, after the wedding picture by David, had vanished.

A few _bibelots_ were missing also, here and there; snuff boxes of Beau
Nash and Beau Brummel; miniatures, old paste brooches and buckles
reminiscent of Courtenaye beauties; and a fat watch that had belonged to
George IV.

"All my pet things!" I mourned.

"Don't say that to any one except me," advised Mrs. Carstairs. "My dear,
_bits of a letter torn into tiny pieces--a letter from you--were found
in the Chinese Room_, and the Insurance people will be hatefully
inquisitive!"

"You don't mean to insinuate that they'll suspect me?" I blazed at her.

"Not of stealing the things with your own hands; and if they did, you
could easily prove an alibi, I suppose. Still, they're bound to follow
up every clue, and bits of paper with your writing on them, apparently
dropped by the thieves, _do_ form a tempting clue. You can't help
admitting it."

I did not admit it in the least, for at first glance I couldn't see
where the "temptation" lay to steal one's own belongings. But Mrs.
Carstairs soon made me see. Though the things were mine in a way, in
another way they were not mine. Being heirlooms, I could not profit by
them financially, in the open. Yet if I could cause them to disappear,
without being detected, I should receive the insurance money with one
hand, and rake in with the other a large bribe from some supposititious
purchaser.

"On the contrary, why shouldn't our brave Bart be suspected of precisely
the same fraud, and more of it?" I inquired. "If I could steal the
things, so could he. If they're my pets, they may be his. And he was on
the spot, with a lot of workmen in his pay! Surely such circumstantial
evidence against him weighs more heavily in the scales than a mere scrap
of paper against me? I've written Sir Jim once or twice, by the way, on
business about the Abbey since I've been in Bath. All he'd have to do
would be to tear a letter up small enough, so it couldn't be pieced
together and make sense----"

"Nobody's weighing anything in scales against either of you--yet,"
soothed Mrs. Carstairs, "unless you're doing it against each other! But
we don't know what may happen. That's why it seemed best for you and Sir
James to come together and exchange blows--I mean, _views_!--at once. He
called my husband up by long-distance telephone early this morning, told
him what had happened, and had a pow-wow on ways and means. They decided
not to inform the police, but to save publicity and engage a private
detective. In fact, Sir J---- asked Henry to send a good man to the
Abbey by the quickest train. He went--the man, I mean, not Henry; and
the head of his firm ought to arrive at our flat in a few minutes now,
to meet you and Sir James."

"Sir James! Even a galloping cowboy can't be in London and Devonshire at
the same moment."

"Oh, I forgot to mention, he must have travelled up by _your_ train. I
suppose you didn't see him?"

"I did not!"

"He was probably in a smoking carriage. Well, anyhow, he'll soon be with
us."

"Stop the taxi!" I broke in; and stopped it myself by tapping on the
window behind the chauffeur.

"Good heavens! what's the matter?" gasped my companion.

"Nothing. I want to inquire the name of that firm of private detectives
Sir James Courtenaye got Mr. Carstairs to engage."

"Pemberton. You must have seen it advertised. But why stop the taxi to
ask that?"

"I stopped the taxi to get out, and let you run home alone while I find
another cab to take me to another detective. You see, I didn't want to
go to the same firm."

"Isn't one firm of detectives enough at one time, on one job?"

"It isn't one job. You're the shrewdest woman I know. You _must_ see
that James Courtenaye has engaged _his_ detective to spy upon me--to dog
my footsteps--to discover if I suddenly blossom out into untold
magnificence on ill-got gains. I intend to turn the tables on him, and
when I come back to your flat, it will be in the company of my very own
little pet detective."

Mrs. Carstairs broke into adjurations and arguments. According to her, I
misjudged my cousin's motives; and if I brought a detective, it would be
an insult. But I checked her by explaining that my man would not give
himself away--he would pose as a friend of mine. I would select a
suitable person for the part. With that I jumped out of the taxi, and
the dear old lady was too wise to argue. She drove sadly home, and I
went into the nearest shop which looked likely to own a directory. In
that volume I found another firm of detectives with an equally
celebrated name. I taxied to their office, explained something of my
business, and picked out a person who might pass for a pal of a
(socialist) princess. He and I then repaired to Berkeley Square, and Sir
James and the Pemberton person (also Mr. Carstairs) had not been waiting
_much_ more than half an hour when we arrived.

I don't know what my "forty-fourth cousin four times removed" thought
about my dashing in with a strange Mr. Smith who apparently had nothing
to do with the case. And I didn't care. No, not even if he imagined the
square-jawed bull-dog creature to be a choice specimen of my circle at
Bath. In any case, my Mr. Smith was a dream compared with his Pemberton.
As to himself, however--Sir Jim--I had to acknowledge that he was far
from insignificant in personality. If there were to be any battle of
wits or manners between us, I couldn't afford to despise him.

When I had met him before, I was too utterly overwhelmed to study, or
even to notice him much, except to see that he was a big, red-headed
fellow, who loomed unnaturally large when viewed against the light. Now
I classified him as resembling a more-than-life-size statue--done in
pale bronze--of a Red Indian, or a soldier of Ancient Rome. The only
flaws in the statue were the red hair and the fiery blackness of the
eyes.

My Mr. Smith, as I have explained, wasn't posing as a detective, but he
was engaged to stop, look, listen, for all he was worth, and tell me his
impressions afterward--just as, no doubt, Mr. Pemberton was to tell Sir
James _his_.

We talked over the robbery in conclave; we amateurs suggesting theories,
the professionals committing themselves to nothing so premature. Why, it
was too early to form judgments, since the detective on the spot had not
yet been able to report upon fingerprints or other clues! The sole
decision arrived at, and agreed to by all, was to keep the affair among
ourselves for the present. This could be managed if none but private
detectives were employed and the police not brought into the case. When
the meeting broke up and I was able to question Mr. Smith, I was
disappointed in him. I had hoped and expected (having led up to it by
hints) that he would say: "Sir James Courtenaye is in this." On the
contrary, he tactlessly advised me to "put that idea out of my head.
There was nothing in it." (I hope he meant the idea, not the head!)

"I should say, speaking in the air," he remarked, "that the caretakers
are the guilty parties, or at least have had some hand in the business.
Though of course I might change my mind if I were on the spot."

I assured him fiercely that any one possessed of a mind at all would
change it at sight of dear old Barl and Barley. Nothing on earth would
make me believe anything against them. Why, if they didn't have
Almost-Haloes and Wings, Sir James and the insurance people would have
objected to them as guardians. The very fact that they had been kept on
without a word of protest from any one, when Courtenaye Abbey was let to
Sir James was, I argued, the best of testimonials to the Barlows'
character. Nevertheless, my orders were that Mr. Smith should go to
Devonshire and take a room at the Courtenaye Arms, dressed and painted
to represent a landscape artist. "The Abbey is to be opened to the
public in a few days, in spite of the best small show-things being
lost," I reminded him, from what we had heard Sir Jim say. "You can see
the Barlows, and judge of them. But what is _much_ more important,
you'll also see Sir James Courtenaye, who lodges in the inn, and can
judge of _him_. In my opinion he has revenged himself for losing his
suit to grab the Abbey and everything in it, by taking what he could lay
his hands on without being suspected."

"But you do suspect him?" said Mr. Smith.

"For that matter, so does he suspect me," I retorted.

"You _think_ so," the detective amended.

"Don't you?"

"No, Princess, I do not."

"What _do_ you think, then? Or don't you think _anything_?"

"I do think something." He tried to justify his earning capacity.

"What, if I may ask?"

He--a Smith, a mere Smith!--dared to grin.

"Of course you may ask, Princess," he replied. "But it's too early yet
for me to answer your question in fairness to myself. About the theft I
have not formed a firm theory, but I have about Sir James Courtenaye. I
would not have ventured even to mention it, however, if you had not
drawn me out, for it is indirectly concerned with the case."

"Directly or indirectly, I wish to know it," I insisted. "And as you're
in my employ, I think I have the right."

"Very well, madam, you shall know it--later," he said.



CHAPTER IV

THE BLACK THING IN THE SEA


I went back to Bath, and Mrs. Percy-Hogge; but I no longer felt that I
was enjoying a rest cure. Right or wrong, I had the impression of being
_watched_. I was sure that Sir James Courtenaye had put detectives "on
my track," in the hope that I might be caught communicating with my
hired bravos or the wicked receiver of my stolen goods. In other days
when a man stared or turned to gaze after me, I had attributed the
attention to my looks; now I jumped to the conviction that he was a
detective. And in fact, I began to jump at anything--or nothing.

It was vain for Mrs. Carstairs (who ran down to Bath, after I'd written
her a wild letter) to guarantee that even an enemy--(which she vowed Sir
James _wasn't_!)--could rake up no shred of evidence against me, with
the exception of the torn letter. She couldn't deny that, materially
speaking, it _would_ be a "good haul" for me to sell the heirlooms, and
obtain also the insurance money. But then, I hadn't done it, and nobody
could accuse me of doing it, because no one knew the things were gone.
Oh, well, _yes_! Some detectives knew; and the poor old Barlows had
bitter cause to know. A few others, too, including Sir James Courtenaye.
None of them _counted_, however, because none of them would talk.

Mrs. Carstairs said it was absurd of me to imagine that Sir James was
having me watched. But imagination and not advice had the upper hand of
my nerves; and, seeing this, she prescribed a change of air.

"I meant Mrs. Percy-Hogge only for a stop-gap," she explained. "You've
squeezed her into Society now; and for yourself, you've come to the time
when you can lighten your mourning. I've waited for that, to start you
on your new job. You'll go what my cook calls 'balmy on the crumpet' if
you keep fancying every queer human being you meet in Milsom Street a
detective on your track. The best thing for you is, not to _have_ a
track! And the way to manage that, is to be at _sea_."

I was at sea--figuratively--till Mrs. Carstairs explained more. She
recalled to my mind what she had said in our first chat about
Brightening: how she had suggested my "taking the helm," to steer Roger
Fane into the Social Sea.

"I think I mentioned then that I referred to the sea, in the literal
sense of the word," she went on. "I promised to tell you what I meant,
when the right moment came, and now it has come. I haven't been idle
meanwhile, I assure you, for I like Roger Fane as much as _you_ like
Shelagh Leigh. And between us two, we'll marry them over the Pollens'
snobby heads."

In short, Mr. Carstairs had a client who had a yacht at Plymouth. The
client's name was Lord Verrington. The yacht's name was _Naiad_, and
Lord Verrington wished to let her for an absurdly large sum. Roger Fane
didn't mind paying this sum. It was the right time of year for a
yachting trip. If I would lend éclat to such a trip by Brightening it,
the Pollens would permit their precious Shelagh to go. Mr. Pollen (whom
Grandmother had refused to know) would even join the party himself.
Indeed, no one would refuse if asked by me, and the Pollens would be so
dazzled by Roger Fane's sudden social success that their consent to the
engagement was a foregone conclusion.

I snapped at the chance of escape. To be sure, it was a temporary
escape, as the guests were invited for a week only; still, lots of
things may happen in a week. Why look beyond seven perfectly good days?
Besides, I was to be given a huge "bonus" for my services, enough to pay
the rent of my expensive flat for a year. But I wasn't entirely selfish
in accepting. I've never half described to you the odd, reserved charm
of that mysterious millionaire, Roger Fane, whose one fault was his
close friendship with Sir James Courtenaye. And for his sake, as well as
dear little Shelagh's, I would gladly have done all I could to bring the
two together.

Knowing that titles impressed the Pollens, I secured several: one earl
with countess attached (legally, at all events), a pretty sister of the
latter; a bachelor marquis, and ditto viscount. These, with Shelagh,
myself, Roger Fane, and Mr. Pollen, would constitute the party, should
all accept.

They all did, partly for me, perhaps, and partly for each other, but
largely from curiosity, as the _Naiad_ had the reputation of being the
most luxuriously appointed small steam yacht in British waters, (She had
been "interned" in Spain during the war!) Also, Roger had secured as
_chef_ a famous Frenchman, just demobilized. Altogether, the prospect
offered attractions. The start was to be made from Plymouth on a summer
afternoon. We were to cruise along the coast, and eventually make for
Jersey and Guernsey, where none of the party had ever been. My things
were packed, and I was ready to take a morning train for Plymouth--a
train by which all those of us in town would travel--when a letter
arrived for me. It was from Mrs. Barlow, announcing the sudden death of
her husband, from heart failure. He had never recovered the shock of the
robbery, or the heavy dose of chloroform which the thieves had
administered. And this, Barley added, as if in reproach, was not all
Barlow had been forced to endure. It had been a cruel blow to find
himself supplanted as guardian at the Abbey. The excuse for thus
superseding him and his wife was, of course, the state of their health
after the ordeal through which they had passed. Nevertheless, Barlow
felt (said his wife) that they were no longer trusted. They had loved
the lodge, which was home to them in old days; but they had been
promoted from lodge-keeping to caretaking, and it was humiliating to be
sent back while strangers usurped their place at the Abbey. This
grievance (in Barley's opinion) had killed her husband. As for her, she
would follow him into the grave, were it not for the loving care of
Barlow's nephews from Australia, the brave twin soldier boys she had
often mentioned to me. They were with her now, and would take her to the
old family home close to Dudworth Cove, which the boys had bought back
from the late owner. Barlow's body would go with them, and be buried in
the graveyard where generations of Barlows slept.

It was a blow to hear of the old man's death, and to learn that I was
blamed for heartlessness by Barley. Of course I had nothing to do with
the affair. The Barlows were not really suspected, and had in truth been
removed for their own health's sake to the lodge where their possessions
were. The new caretakers had been engaged by Sir James, in consultation,
I believed, with the insurance people: and my secret conviction was,
that they had been supplied by Pemberton's Agency of Private Detectives.
My impulse was to rush to the Abbey and comfort Mrs. Barlow, even at the
risk of meeting my tenant engaged in the same task. But to do this would
have meant delaying the trip, and disappointing everyone, most of all
Shelagh and Roger Fane; so, advised by Mrs. Carstairs, I sent a telegram
instead, picked up Shelagh and her uncle, and took the Plymouth train.
This was the easier to do, because the wonderful old lady offered to go
herself to the Abbey on a mission of consolation. She promised to send a
telegram to our first port, saying how Barley was, and everything else I
wished to know.

Shelagh was so happy, so excited, that I was glad I'd listened to reason
and kept the tryst. Never had I seen her as pretty as she looked on that
journey to Devon: her eyes blue stars, her cheeks pink roses. But when
the skies began to darken her eyes darkened, too. Had she been a
barometer she could not have responded more sensitively to the storm;
for a storm we had, cats and dogs pelting down on the roof of the train.

"I was sure something horrid would happen!" she whispered. "It was too
good to be true that Roger and I should have a whole, heavenly week
together on board a yacht. Now we shall have to wait till the weather
clears. Or else be sea-sick. I don't know which is worse!"

Roger met us, in torrents of rain and gusts of wind, at Plymouth. But
things were not so black as they looked. He had engaged rooms for
everyone, and a private salon for us all, at the best hotel. We would
stay the night and have a dance, with a band of our own. By the next day
the sea would have calmed down enough to please the worst of sailors,
and we would start. Perhaps we could even get off in the morning.

This prophecy was rather too optimistic, for we didn't get off till
afternoon; but by that time the water was flat as a floor, and one was
tempted to forget there had ever been a storm. We were not to forget it
for long, alas! Brief as it had been, that storm was to leave its
lasting influence upon our fate: Roger Fane's, Shelagh Leigh's, and
mine.

By four-thirty, the day after the downpour, we had all come on board the
lovely _Naiad_, had "settled" into our cabins, and were on deck--the
girls in white serge or linen, the men in flannels--ready for tea.

If it had arrived, and we had been looking into our tea cups instead of
at the seascape, the whole of Roger Fane's and Shelagh's life might have
been different--mine, too, perhaps! But as it was, Shelagh and Roger
were leaning on the rail together, and her gaze was fixed upon the blue
water, because somehow she couldn't meet Roger's just then. What he had
said to her I don't know; but more to avoid giving an answer than
because she was wildly interested, the girl exclaimed: "What can that
dark thing be, drifting--and bobbing up and down in the waves? I suppose
it couldn't be a dead _shark_?"

"Hardly in these waters," said Roger Fane. "Besides, a dead shark floats
wrong side up, and his wrong side is white. This thing looks black."

In ordinary circumstances I wouldn't have broken in on a _tête-à-tête_,
but others were extricating themselves from their deck chairs, so I
thought there was no harm in my being the first.

"More like a coffin than a shark," I said, with my elbows beside
Shelagh's on the rail.

At that the whole party hurled itself in our direction, and the nearer
the _Naiad_ brought us to the floating object, the more like a coffin it
became to our eyes. At last it was so much like, that Roger decided to
stop the yacht and examine the thing, which might even be an odd-shaped
small boat, overturned. He went off, therefore, to speak with the
captain, leaving us in quite a state of excitement.

Almost before we'd thought the order given, the _Naiad_ slowed down, and
came to rest like a great Lohengrin swan in the clear azure wavelets. A
boat was quickly lowered, and we saw that Roger himself accompanied the
two rowers.

A few moments before he had looked so happy, so at peace with the world,
that the tragic shadow in his eyes had actually vanished. His whole
expression and bearing had been different, and he had seemed years
younger--almost boyish, in his dark, shy, reserved way. But as he went
down in the boat, he was again the Roger Fane I had known and wondered
about.

"If he's superstitious, this will seem a bad omen," I thought. "That is,
if the thing _does_ turn out to be a coffin."

None of us remembered the tea we'd been pining for, though a white-clad
steward was hovering with trays of cakes, cream, and strawberries. We
could do nothing but hang over the rail and watch the _Naiad's_ boat. We
saw it reach the Thing, in whose neighbourhood it paused with lifted
oars, while a discussion went on between Roger and the rowers.
Apparently they argued, with due respect, against the carrying out of
some order or suggestion. He was not a man to be disobeyed, however.
After a moment or two, the work of taking the black thing in tow was
begun.

We were very near now, and could plainly see all that went on. Coffin or
not, the mysterious object was a long, narrow box of some sort (the
men's reluctance to pick it up pretty well proved _what_ sort, to my
mind), and curiously enough a rope was tied round it. There appeared to
be a lump of knots on top, and a loose end trailing like seaweed, which
made the task of taking the derelict in tow an easy one. To this broken
rope Roger deftly attached the rope carried in the boat, and it was not
long before the rescue party started to return.

"Is it a coffin or a treasure chest?" girls and men eagerly called down
to Roger. Everyone screamed some question--except Shelagh and me. We
were silent, and Shelagh's colour had faded. She edged closer to me,
until our shoulders touched. Hers felt cold to my warm flesh.

"Why, you're shivering, dear!" I said. "You're not _afraid_ of that
wretched thing--whatever it is?"

"We both _know_ what it is, without telling, don't we?" she replied, in
a half whisper. "I'm not _afraid_ of it, of course. But--it's awful that
we should come across a coffin floating in the sea, on our first day
out. I feel as if it meant bad luck for Roger and me. How can they all
squeal and chatter so? I suppose Roger is bound to bring the dreadful
thing on board. It wouldn't be decent not to. But I wish he needn't."

I rather wished the same, partly because I knew how superstitious
sailors were about such matters, and how they would hate to have a
coffin--presumably containing a dead body--on board the _Naiad_. It
really wasn't a gay yachting companion! However, I tried to cheer
Shelagh. It would take more than this to bring her bad luck _now_, I
said, when things had gone so far; and she might have more trust in me,
whom she had lately named her _mascotte_.

All the men frankly desired to see the _trouvaille_ at close quarters,
and most of the women wanted a peep, though they weren't brutally open
about it. If there had been any doubt, it would have vanished as the
Thing was being hauled on board by grave-faced, suddenly sullen sailors.
It was a "sure enough" coffin, and--it seemed--an unusually large one!

It had to be placed on deck, for the moment, but Roger had the dark
shape instantly covered with tarpaulins; and an appeal from his clouded
eyes made me suggest adjourning indoors for tea. We could have it in the
saloon, which was decorated like a boudoir, and full of lilies and
roses--Shelagh's favourite flowers.

"Let's not talk any more about the business!" Roger exclaimed, when
Shelagh's uncle seemed inclined to mix the subject with food. "I wish it
hadn't happened, as the men are foolishly upset. But it can't be helped,
and we must do our best. The--er--it sha'n't stop on deck. That would be
to keep Jonah under our eyes. I've thought of a place where we can
ignore it till to-morrow, when we'll land it as early as we can at St.
Heliers. I'm afraid the local authorities will want to tie us up in a
lot of red tape. But the worst will be to catechize us as if we were
witnesses in court. Meanwhile, let's forget the whole affair."

"Righto!" promptly exclaimed all three of the younger guests; but Mr.
Pollen was not thus to be deprived of his morbid morsel.

"Certainly," he agreed. "But before the subject is shelved, _where_ is
the 'place' you speak of? I mean, where is the coffin to rest throughout
the night?"

Roger gave a grim laugh, and looked obstinate. "I'll tell you this
much," he said. "None of you'll have it for a near neighbour, so none of
you need worry."

After that, even Mr. Pollen could not persist. We disposed of an
enormous tea, after the excitement, and then some of us played bridge.
When we separated, however, to pace the deck--two by two, for a
"constitutional" before dinner--one could see by the absorbed expression
on faces, and guess by the low-toned voices, what each pair discussed.

My companion, Lord Glencathra, thought that Somebody must have died on
Some Ship, and been thrown overboard. But I argued that this could
hardly be, because--surely--bodies buried at sea were not put into
coffins, were they? I had heard that the custom was to sew them up in
sailcloth or something, and weight them well. Besides, there was the
broken rope tied round the coffin, which seemed to show that it had been
tethered, and got loose--in the storm, perhaps. How did Lord Glencathra
account for that fact? He couldn't account for it. Nor could any one
else.



CHAPTER V

WHAT I FOUND IN MY CABIN


I did all I could to make dinner a lively meal, and with iced Pommery of
a particularly good year as my aide-de-camp, superficially at least I
succeeded. But whenever there was an instant's lull in the conversation,
I felt that everyone was asking him or herself, "_Where_ is the coffin?"

The plan had been to have a little moonlight fox-trotting and jazzing on
deck; but with that Black Thing hidden somewhere on board, we confined
ourselves to more bridge and star-gazing, according to taste. I, as
professional Brightener, nobly kept Mr. Pollen out of everybody's way by
annexing him for a stroll. This deserved the name of a double
brightening act, for I brightened the lives of his fellow guests by
saving them from him; and I brightened his by encouraging him to talk of
Well-Connected People.

"Who _was_ she before she married Lord Thingum-bob?" ... or, "Yes, she
was Miss So-and-So, a cousin of the Duke of Dinkum," might have been
heard issuing sapiently from our lips, had any one been mentally
destitute enough to eavesdrop. But I had my reward. Dear little Shelagh
Leigh and Roger Fane seemed to have cheered each other. I left them
standing together, elbows on the rail, as they had stood before the
affair of the afternoon. The moonlight was shining full upon Shelagh's
bright hair and pearl-white face, as she looked up, eager-eyed, at
Roger; and _he_ looked--at least, his _back_ looked!--as if there were
nobody on land or sea except one Girl.

Having lured Mr. Pollen to make a fourth at a bridge table where the
players were too polite to kill him, I ventured to vanish. There being
no one on board with whom I wished to flirt, my one desire after two
hard hours of Brightening was to curl up in my cabin with a nice book. I
quite looked forward to the moment for shutting myself cosily in, for
the cabin was a delicious pink-and-white nest--the biggest room on
board, as a tribute to my princesshood.

Hardly had I opened the door, however, when my dream-bubble broke. A
very odd and repellent odour greeted me, and seemed almost to push me
back across the threshold. I held my ground, however, and sniffed with
curiosity and disgust.

Somebody had been at my perfume--my expensive pet perfume, made
especially for me in Rome (one drop exquisite; two, oppressive), and
must have spilt the lot. But worse than this, the heavy fragrance was
mingled with a reek of stale brandy.

Anger flashed in me, like a match set to gun-cotton. Some impertinent
person had sneaked into my stateroom and played a stupid practical joke.
Or, if not that, one of the pleasantly prim, immaculate women (a cross
between the stewardess and ladies'-maid type) engaged to hook up our
frocks and make up our cabins, was secretly a confirmed--_ROTTER_!

I switched on the light, shut the door smartly without locking it, and
flung a furious glance around. The creature had actually dared to place
a brandy bottle conspicuously upon my dressing table, among gold-handled
brushes and silver gilt boxes, and, as a crowning impertinence, had left
a tumbler beside the bottle, a quarter full of strong-smelling brown
stuff. Close by lay my lovely crystal flask of "Campagna Violets,"
empty. I could get no more anywhere, and it had cost five pounds! I
could hardly breathe in the room. Oh, evidently a stewardess must have
gone stark mad, or else some practical joker had waited to play the
_coup_ until the stewardesses were in bed!

As I thought this, my eyes as well as my nostrils warned me of something
strange. The rose-coloured silk curtains which, when I went to dinner,
had been gracefully looped back at head and foot of my pretty bed (a
real bed, not a mere berth!) were now closely drawn with a secretive
air. This made me imagine that it was a practical joke I had to deal
with, and my fancy flew to all sorts of weird surprises, any one of
which I might find hidden behind the draperies.

I trust that I have a sense of humour, and I can laugh at a jest against
myself as well as any woman, perhaps better than most. But to-night I
was in no mood to laugh at jests, and I wondered how anybody had the
heart (not to mention the _cheek_!) to perpetrate one after the shock we
had experienced. Besides, I couldn't think of a person likely to play a
trick on me. Certainly my host wouldn't do so. Shelagh, my best and most
intimate pal, was far too gentle and sensitive-minded. As for the other
guests, none were of the noisy, bounding type who take liberties even
with distant acquaintances, for fun.

All this ran through my mind, as a cinema "cut-in" flashes across the
screen; and it wasn't until I'd passed in review the characters of my
fellow guests that I summoned courage to pull back the bed-curtains.
When I did so, I gave a jerk that slipped them along the rod as far as
they would go. And then--I saw the last thing in the world I could have
pictured.

A woman, fully dressed, was stretched on the pink silk coverlet fast
asleep, her head deep sunk in the embroidered pillow.

It was all I could do to keep back a cry--for this was no woman I had
seen on board, not even a drunken or sleep-walking stewardess. Yet her
face was not strange to me. That was the most horrible, the most
mysterious part! There was no mistake, for the face was impossible to
forget. As I stared, almost believing that I dreamed, another scene rose
between my eyes and the dainty little cabin of the _Naiad_.

It also was a scene in a dream. I knew it was a dream, but it was
torturingly vivid. I was a prisoner on a German submarine, in war-time,
and signals from my own old home--Courtenaye Abbey--flashed into my
eyes. They flashed so brightly that they set me on fire. I wakened from
the nightmare with a start. A strong light dazzled me, and, striking my
face, lit up another face as well. Just for an instant I saw it; then
the revealing ray died into darkness. But on my retina was photographed
those features, in a pale, illumined circle.

A second sufficed to bring back to my brain this old dream and the
waking reality which followed, that night at the Abbey, long ago--the
night which Shelagh and I called "Spy Night." For here, in my cabin on
the yacht _Naiad_, on the crushed pillow of my bed, was that face.

As I realized this, without benefit of any doubt, a faint sickness swept
over me. It was partly horror of the past; partly physical disgust of
the brandy-reek--stronger than ever now--hanging like an unseen canopy
over the bed; and partly cold fear of a terrifying Presence.

There she lay, sunk in drugged and drunken sleep, the Woman of Mystery,
in whose existence no one but Shelagh and I had ever quite believed: the
woman who had visited us in our sleep, and who--almost certainly--had
fired the Abbey, hoping that we and the Barlows might suffocate in our
beds.

The face was just the same as it had been then: "beautiful and hideous
at the same time, like Medusa," I had described it; only now it was
older, and though still beautiful, somehow _ravaged_. The hair still
glowed with the vivid auburn colour which I had thought "unreal
looking"; but now it was tumbled and unkempt. Loose locks strayed over
the dainty pillow, and at the bottom of the bed, pushed tightly against
the footboard by a pair of untidy, high-heeled shoes, was a dusty black
toque half covered with a very thick motor-veil of gray tissue. There
was a gray cloak, too, in a tumbled mass on the pink coverlet, and a
pair of soiled gloves. Everything about the sleeper was sordid and
repulsive, a shuddering contrast to the exquisite freshness of the bed
and room--everything, that is, except the face. Its half-wrecked beauty
was still supreme, and even in the ruin drink or drugs had wrought, it
forced admiration.

"_A German spy_--here in my cabin--on board Roger Fane's yacht!" I said
the words slowly in my mind, not with my tongue. Not a sound, not the
faintest whisper, passed my lips. Yet suddenly the long, dark lashes on
bruise-blue lids began to quiver. It was as if my _thought_ had shaken
the woman by the shoulder, and roused what was left of her soul.

I should have liked to dash out of the room and with a shriek bring
everyone on board to my cabin. But I stood motionless, concentrating my
gaze on those trembling eyelids. Something inside me seemed to say:
"Don't be a coward, Elizabeth Courtenaye!" It was exactly like
Grandmother's voice. I had a conviction that _she_ wanted me to see this
thing through as a Courtenaye should, shirking no responsibility, and
solving the mystery of past and present without bleating for help.

The fringed lids parted, shut, quivered again, and flashed wide open. A
pair of pale eyes stared into mine--wicked eyes, cruel eyes, green as a
cat's. Like a cat, too, the creature gathered herself together as if for
a spring. Her muscles rippled and jerked. She sat up, and in chilled
surprise I thought I saw recognition in her stare.



CHAPTER VI

THE WOMAN OF THE PAST


"Oh, you've come at last!" she rasped, in a harsh, throaty voice
roughened by drink. "I know you. I----"

"And I know you!" I cut her short, to show that I was not cowed.

Sitting up in bed, hugging her knees, she started at my words so that
the springs shook. Whatever it was she had meant to say, she forgot it
for the moment, and challenged me: "That's a lie!" she snapped. "You
_don't_ know me yet--but you soon will."

"I've known you since you came into my room at Courtenaye Abbey the
night you tried to burn down the house," I said. "You were spying for
the Germans in the war. Heaven knows all the harm you may have done. I
can't imagine for whom you're spying now. Anyhow, you can't frighten me
again. The war's over, but I'll have you arrested for what you did when
it was on."

The woman scowled and laughed, more Medusa-like than ever. I really felt
as if she might turn me to stone. But she shouldn't guess her power.

"Pooh!" she said, showing tobacco-stained teeth. "You won't want to
arrest me when you hear who I am, Lady Shelagh Leigh!"

"Lady Shelagh Leigh!" It was on my lips to cry, "I'm not Shelagh Leigh!"
But I stopped in time. The less I let her find out about me, and the
more I could find out about her before rousing the yacht, the better. I
spoke not a word, but waited for her to go on--which she did in a few
seconds.

"That makes you sit up, doesn't it?" she sneered. "That hits you where
you _live_! Why did you think I chose your cabin? I didn't select it by
chance. I confess I was taken back at your remembering. I thought I
hadn't given you time for much study of my features that other night.
But it doesn't matter. You can't do anything to me. I'll soon prove
_that_! But I had a good look at _you_, there in your friend's old
Devonshire rat-trap. I knew who you both were. It was easy to find out!
And the other day, when I heard that Lady Shelagh Leigh was likely to
marry Roger Fane, I said to myself, 'Gosh! One of the girls I saw at the
darned old Abbey!'"

"Oh, you said _that_ to yourself!" I echoed. And, though my knees
failed, I kept to my feet. To stand towering above the squatting figure
on the bed seemed to give me moral as well as physical advantage. "How
did you know, pray, which girl I was?"

"I knew, 'pray,'" she mocked, "because you've got the best room on this
yacht. Roger'd be sure to give that to his best girl. Which is how I'm
sure you're not Elizabeth Courtenaye."

"How clever you are!" I said.

"Yes--I'm clever--when I'm not a fool. Don't think, anyhow, that you can
beat me in a battle of brains. I've come on board this boat to succeed,
and I _will_ succeed in one of two ways, I don't care a hang which. But
nothing on God's earth can hold me back from one or the other--least of
all, can _you_. Why, you can ask any question you please, and I'll
answer. I'll tell the truth, too--for the more I say, and the more
you're shocked, the more helpless you are--do you see?"

"No, I don't see," I drew her on.

"Don't you guess yet who I am?"

"I've guessed what you _were_--a German spy."

"That's ancient history. One must live--and one must have money--plenty
of money. I must! And I've had it. But it's gone from me--like most good
things. Now I must have more--a lot more. Or else I must die. I don't
care which. But _others_ will care. I'll make them."

Looking at her, I doubted if she had the power; though she must have had
it in lost days of gorgeous youth. Yet again I remained silent. I saw
that she was leading up to something in particular, and I let her go on.

"You're not much of a guesser," she said, "so I'll introduce myself.
Lady-who-thinks-she's-going-to-marry Roger Fane, let me make known to
you the lady who _has_ married him--Mrs. Fane, _née_ Linda Lehmann. I've
changed my name since, more than once. At present I'm Katherine Nelson.
But Linda Lehmann is the name that matters to Roger. You're nothing in
looks, by the by, to what _I_ was at your age. _Nothing!_"

If my knees had been weak before, they now felt as if struck with a
mallet! She might be lying, but something within me was horribly sure
that she spoke the truth. I'd never heard full details of Roger Fane's
"tragedy," but Mrs. Carstairs had dropped a few hints which, without
asking questions, I'd patched together. I had gleaned that he'd married
(when almost a boy) an actress much older than himself; and that, till
her sudden and violent death after many years--nine or ten at least--his
life had been a martyrdom. How the woman contrived to be alive I
couldn't see. But such things happened--to people one didn't know! The
worst of it was that _I did_ know Roger Fane, and liked him. Besides, I
loved Shelagh, whose happiness was bound up with Roger's. It seemed as
if I couldn't bear to have those two torn apart by this cruel
creature--this drunkard--this _spy_! Yet--what could I do?

At the moment I could think of nothing useful, because, if she was
Roger's wife, her boast was justified: for his sake and Shelagh's she
mustn't be handed over to the police, to answer for any political crime
I might prove against her--or even for trying to burn down the Abbey.
Oh, this business was beyond what I bargained for when I engaged to
"brighten" the trip on board the _Naiad_! Still, all the spirit in me
rallied to work for Roger Fane--even to work out his salvation if that
could be. And I was glad I'd let the woman believe I was Shelagh Leigh.

"Roger's wife died five years ago, just before the war began," I said.
"She was killed in a railway accident--an awful one, where she and a
company of actors she was travelling with were burned to death."

The creature laughed. "Have you never been to a movie show, and seen how
easy it is to die in a railway accident?--to _stay_ dead to those you're
tired of, and to be alive in some other part of this old world, where
you think there's more fun going on? It's been done on the screen a
hundred times--and off it, too. I was sick to death of Roger. I'd never
have married a stick like him--always preaching!--if I hadn't been down
and out. When I met him, it was in a beastly one-horse town where I was
stranded. The show had chucked me--gone off and left me without a cent.
I was sick--too big a dose of dope, if you want to know. But _Roger_
didn't know--you can bet. Not then! I took jolly good care to toe the
mark, till he'd married me all right. He _was_ a sucker! I suppose he
was twenty-two and over, but Peter Pan wasn't in it with him in some
ways. He kept me off the stage--and tried to keep me off everything else
worth doing for five years. Then I left him, for my health and looks had
come back, and I got a fair part in a play on tour. There I met a
countryman of mine--oh! don't be encouraged to hope! I never gave Roger
any cause to divorce me; and if I had, I'd have done it so he couldn't
prove a thing!"

"When you say the man was your countryman, I suppose you mean a German,"
I said.

"Well, yes," she replied, with the flaunting frankness she affected in
these revelations. "German-American he was. I'm German by birth, and
grew up in America. I've been back often and long since then. But this
man had a scheme. He wanted me to go into it with him. I didn't see my
way at first though there was big money, so he left the show before the
accident. When I found myself alive and kicking among the dead that day,
however, I saw my chance. I left a ring and a few things to identify me
with a woman who was killed, and I lit out. It was in the dead of night,
so luck was on my side for once. I wrote my friend, and it wasn't long
before I was at work with him for the German Government. The Abbey
affair was after he'd got out of England and into Germany through
Switzerland. He was a sailor, and had been given command of a big new
submarine. If it hadn't been for the row you and your pal kicked up,
we--he on the water and I on land--might have brought off one of the big
stunts of the war. You tore it--after I'd been mewed up in the old
rat-warren for a week, and everything was working just right! I wish to
goodness the whole house had burned, and I did wish _you'd_ burned with
it. But I don't know if to-night isn't going to pay me--and you--just as
well. There's a lot owing from you to me. I haven't told you all yet. My
friend's submarine was caught, and he went down with her. I blame that
to you. If I hadn't failed him with the signals, he might be alive now."

"I was more patriotic than I knew!" I flung back. "As you're so
confidential, tell me how you got into the Abbey, and where you hid."

She shook her dyed and tousled head. "That's where I draw the line," she
said. "I've told you what I have told to please myself, not you. You
can't profit by a word of it. That's where my fun comes in! If I split
about the Abbey, you might profit somehow--or your friend the Courtenaye
girl would. I want to punish her, too."

I shrugged my shoulders. "Perhaps in that case you won't care to explain
how you came on board the _Naiad_?"

"I don't mind that," the ex-spy made concession. "I went out of England
after the Abbey affair--friends helped me away--and I worked in New York
till things grew too hot. Then I came over as a Red Cross nurse, got
into France, and stopped till the other day. I'd be there still if I
hadn't picked up a weekly London gossip-rag, and seen a paragraph about
a certain rumoured engagement! You can guess _whose_! It called
Roger--_my_ Roger, mind you!--a 'millionaire.' He never was poor, even
in my day; he'd made a lucky strike before we met, with an invention. I
said to myself: 'Linda, my girl, 'twould be tempting Providence to lie
low and let another woman spend his money.' I started as soon as I
could, but missed him in London, and hurried on to Plymouth. If it
hadn't been for that bally storm I shouldn't have caught him up! The
yacht would have sailed. As it was, before you came on board this
afternoon I presented myself, thickly veiled. I had a card from a London
newspaper, and an old card of Roger's which was among a few things of
his I'd kept for emergencies. I can copy his handwriting well enough not
be suspected, except by an intimate friend of his, so I scribbled on the
card an order to view the yacht. I got on all right, and wandered about
with a notebook and a stylo. I soon found the right place to hide--in
the storeroom, behind some barrels. But I had to make everyone who'd
seen me think I'd gone on shore. That was easy! I told a sailor fellow
by the gang plank I was going, and said I'd mislaid an envelope in which
I'd slipped a tip for him and another man. I thought I'd left it on a
table in the dining saloon, and he'd better look for it, or it might be
picked up by somebody. He went before I could say 'knife!' and the
envelope really _was_ there, so he didn't have to hurry back. Two
minutes later I was in the storeroom, and no one the wiser. Lord! but I
got the jumps waiting for the stewardesses to be safe in bed before I
could creep out to pay your cabin a call!"

"So, to cure the 'jumps' you annexed a whole bottle of brandy," I said.

"I did--for that and another reason you may find out by and by. But I'm
hanged if you're not a cool hand, for a young girl who has just heard
her lover's a married man. I thought by this time you'd be in
hysterics."

"Girls of _my_ generation don't have hysterics," I taunted her. By the
dyed hair and vestiges of rouge and powder which streaked the battered
face I guessed that a sneer at her age would sting like a wasp. I wanted
to rouse the woman's temper. If she lost her head, she might show her
hand!

"You'll have worse than hysterics, you fool, before I finish," she
snapped. "I'm going to make Roger Fane acknowledge me as his wife and
give me everything I want--money, and motor cars, and pearls--and, best
of all, a _position in society_. I'm tired of being a free lance."

"He won't do it!" I cried.

"He'll have to--when he hears what will happen if he doesn't. If I can't
live a life worth living, I'll die. Roger Fane will go off this yacht
under arrest as my murderer."

"You deserve that he should kill you, but he will not," I said.

"He'll _hang_ for killing me, anyhow. You see, the more _motive_ he has
to destroy me, the more impossible for him--or you--to prove his
innocence. Do you think I'd have told you all this, if any one was
likely to believe such a cock-and-bull story as the truth would sound to
a jury? But I'm through now! I've said what I came to say. I'm ready to
act. Do you want a row, or will you go quietly to the door of Roger's
cabin (he must be there by this time) and tell him that his wife, Linda
Lehmann, is waiting for him in your stateroom? _That_'ll fetch him!"

I had no doubt it would. My only doubt was what to do! But if I refused,
the woman was sure to keep her word, and rouse the yacht by screams.
That would be the worst thing possible for Shelagh and Roger. I decided
to go, and break to him the news with merciful swiftness.

If I could, I would have turned a key upon the creature, but the doors
of the _Naiad's_ cabins were furnished only with bolts. My one hope,
that she'd keep to my room, owed itself to the fact that she was too
drunk to move comfortably, and that, despite her bluff, the best trump
she had was quiet diplomacy with Roger.

Softly I closed the door, and tiptoed to his, three staterooms distant
from mine. My tap was so light that, if he had gone to sleep, I should
have had to knock again. But he opened the door at once. He was fully
dressed, and had a book in his hand.

"Something has happened," I whispered in answer to his amazed look. "Let
me come in and explain. I can't talk out here."

He stood aside in silence, and I stepped in. Then I motioned him to shut
the door.



CHAPTER VII

THE SECRET BEHIND THE SILENCE


This was the first time I'd seen Roger's cabin, and I had no eyes now
for its charm of decoration; but I saw that it was large, and divided by
a curtained arch into a bedroom and a tiny yet complete study fitted
with bookshelves and a desk.

"You're pale as death!" He lowered his voice cautiously. "Sit down in
this chair." As he spoke he led me through the bedroom part of the cabin
to the study, and there I sank gratefully into the depths of a big
chair, where, no doubt, he had sat reading under the light of a shaded
lamp.

"Now what is it?" he asked, bending over me. As I stammered out my
story, for a few seconds I forgot the fear of being followed. Our backs
were turned to the door. But I had not got far in the tale when I felt
that _she_ had come into the room. I glanced over my shoulder, and saw
her--a shabby, sinister figure--hanging on to the curtain that draped
the archway.

Roger's start and stifled exclamation proved that, whatever else she
might be, the woman was no imposter.

"You devil!" he gasped.

"Your wife!" she retorted.

"Hush," I whispered. "For every sake let's keep this quiet!"

"_I'll_ be quiet for my own sake, if he accepts my terms," said the
woman. "If not, the whole yacht----"

"Be silent!" Roger commanded. "Princess, I've got to see this through.
You'd better go now, and leave me alone with her."

He was right. My presence would hinder rather than help. I saw the
greenish eyes dart from his face to mine when he called me "Princess";
but she must have fancied it a pet name, for no question flashed from
her lips as I tiptoed across the room.

When I got back to my own quarters, I noticed at once that the brandy
bottle and the tumbler which had accompanied it were gone from my
dressing table. Nor were they to be found in the cabin. The woman must
have taken them to Roger's room, and placed them somewhere before I saw
her. "Disgusting!" I murmured, for my thought was that the debased
wretch had clung lovingly to the drink. Even though I'd sharpened my
wits to search all her motives, I failed over that simple-seeming act.

"Oh, poor Roger!" I said to myself. "And poor Shelagh!"

I sat miserably on the window seat (for the rumpled bed was now
abhorrent), and wondered what would happen next. But I had not long to
wait. A few moments passed--how many I don't know--and the crystalline
silence of the gliding _Naiad_ was splintered by a scream.

'Scream' is the word one must use for a cry of pain or fear. Yet it
isn't the right word for the sound that snatched me to my feet. It was
not shrill, it was not loud. What might have ended in a shriek subsided
to a choked breath, a gurgle. My heart's pounding seemed louder as I
listened. My ears expected a following cry, but it did not come. Two or
three doors gently opened, that was all. Again dead silence fell; and I
felt in it that others listened, fearing to speak lest the sound had
been no more than a moan in a dream. Presently the doors closed again,
each listener afraid of disturbing a neighbour. And even I, who knew the
secret behind the silence, prayed that the choked scream might have come
when it did as a mere coincidence. Someone might really have had
nightmare!

As time passed, I almost persuaded myself that it was so, and that, at
worst, there would be no crime to mark this night with crimson on the
calendar. But the next quarter hour was the _deadest_ time I'd ever
known. I felt like one entombed alive, praying to be liberated from a
vault. Then, at last--when those who'd waked slept again--came a faint
knock at my door.

I flew to slip back the bolt, and pulled Roger Fane into the room. One
would not have believed a face so brown could bleach so white!

For an instant we stared into each other's eyes. When I could speak, I
stammered a question--I don't know what, and I don't think he
understood. But the spell broke.

"You _heard_?" he faltered.

"The cry? Yes. It was----"

"She's dead."

"_Dead!_ You killed her?"

"My God, no! But if you think that, what will--_others_ think?"

"If you had killed her, you couldn't be blamed," I tried to encourage
him. "Only----"

"Didn't she make some threat to you? I hoped she had. She told me----"

"Yes, there was something--I hardly remember what. It was like
drunkenness. She said--I think--that if you wouldn't take her back,
you'd be arrested--as her murderer."

"That was it--her ultimatum. She must have been mad. I offered a big
allowance, if she'd go away and not make a scandal. I'd have to give up
Shelagh, of course, but I wanted to save my poor little love from
gossip. That devil would have no compromise. It should be all or
nothing. I must swear to acknowledge her as my wife on board this
yacht--to-morrow morning--before Shelagh--before you all. If I wouldn't
promise that, she'd kill herself at once, in a way to throw the guilt on
me. She'd do it so that I couldn't clear myself or be cleared. I
wouldn't promise, of course. I hoped, anyhow, that she was bluffing. But
I didn't know her! When nothing would change me, she showed a tiny phial
she had in her hand, and said she'd drink the stuff in it before I could
touch her. It was prussic acid, she told me--and already she'd poured
enough to kill ten men into a tumbler she'd stolen from my cabin on
purpose. She'd mixed the poison with brandy from the storeroom. Even if
I threw the tumbler through the porthole, mine would be missing. There's
one to match each room, you see. A small detail, but important.

"'Now will you promise?' she repeated. I couldn't--for I should not have
kept my word. She looked at me a second. I saw in her eyes that she was
going to do the thing, and I jumped at her--but I was too late. She
nearly drained the phial. And she'd hardly flung it away before she was
dead--with an awful, twisted face--and that cry. If I hadn't caught her,
she'd have fallen with a crash. This is the end of things for me."

"Oh, no--don't say that!" I begged.

"What else is there to say? There she lies, dead in my cabin. There's
prussic acid on the floor--and the phial broken. The room reeks of
bitter almonds. No one but you will believe I didn't kill her--perhaps
not even Shelagh. Just because the woman made my past life horrible--and
I had a chance of happiness--the temptation would be irresistible."

"Let me think. Do let me think!" I persisted. "Surely there's a way out
of the trap."

"I don't _see_ one," said Roger. "Throwing a body overboard is the
obvious thing. But it would be worse than----"

"Wait!" I cut him short. "I've thought of another thing--_not_ obvious.
But it's hard to do--and hateful. The only help I could lend you is--a
hint. The rest would depend on yourself. If you were strong
enough--brave enough--it might give you Shelagh."

"I'm strong enough for anything with the remotest hope of Shelagh,
and--I trust--brave enough, too. Tell me your plan."

I had to draw a long breath before I could answer. I needed air! "You're
right." I said. "To give the body to the sea would make things worse.
You couldn't be sure it would not be found, and the woman traced by the
police. If they discovered who she was--that she'd been your wife--you
would be suspected even if nothing were proved through those who saw a
veiled woman come on board."

"That's what I meant. Yet you must see that even with your testimony, my
innocence can't be proved if the story of this night has to be told."

"I do see. You might not be proved guilty, but you'd be under a cloud.
Shelagh would still want to marry you. But she's very young, and easy to
break as a butterfly. The Pollens----"

"I wouldn't accept such a sacrifice even if they'd let her make it. Yet
you speak of hope!----"

"I do--a desperate hope. Can you open that coffin you brought on board
to-day, take out--whatever is in it--and--and----"

"My God!"

"I warned you the plan was terrible. I hardly thought you would----"

"I would--for Shelagh. But you don't understand. That coffin will be
opened by the police at St. Heliers to-morrow, and----"

"I do understand. It's you who do not. Everyone on board knows that the
coffin was floating in the sea--that we came on it by accident. You
could have had nothing to do with its being where it was. If you had,
you wouldn't have taken it on board! The body found in that coffin
to-morrow won't be associated with you. _She_--must have altered
horribly since old days. And she has changed her name many times. The
initials on her linen won't be L.L. There'll be a nine-days' wonder over
the mystery. But _you_ won't be concerned in it. As for what's in the
coffin now, _that_ can safely be given to the sea. Whatever it may be,
and whenever or wherever it's found, it won't be connected with the name
of Roger Fane. If there's the name of the maker on the coffin, it must
come off. Oh, don't think I do not realize the full horror of the thing.
I do! But between two evils one must choose the less, if it hurts no
one. It seems to me it is so with this. Why should Shelagh's life and
yours be spoiled by a cruel woman--a criminal--whose last act was to try
to ruin the man she'd injured, sinned against for years? As for--_the
other_--the unknown one--if the spirit can see, surely it would be glad
to help in such a cause? What you would have to do, you'd do reverently.
There must be tarpaulin on board, or canvas coverings that wouldn't be
looked for, or missed. There must be a screw-driver--and things like
that. The great danger is, if the coffin's in plain sight anywhere, and
a man on watch----"

"There's no danger of that kind. The coffin is in the bathroom adjoining
my cabin."

"Then--doesn't it seem that Fate bade you put it there?"

For a moment Roger covered his face with his hands. I saw him shudder.
But he flung back his head and looked me in the eyes. "I'll go on
obeying Fate's orders," he said.

Without another word between us, he left me. The door shut, and I sat
staring at it, as if I could see beyond.

I had spoken only the truth. There was no sin against living or dead in
what I had urged Roger to do. Yet the bare thought of it was so grim
that I felt like an up-to-date Lady Macbeth.

I had forgotten to beg that he would come back and tell of his success
or--failure. But I was sure he would come, sooner or later, whatever
happened, and I sat quite still--waiting. I kept my eyes on the door, to
see the handle turn, or gazed at my little travelling clock to watch the
dragging moments. I longed for news. Yet I was glad when time went on
without a sign. The quick coming back of Roger would have meant that he
had failed--that all hope was ended.

Twenty minutes; thirty; forty; fifty, passed, seeming endless. But when
with the sixtieth minute came the faint tap I awaited, down sank my
heart. Roger could not have finished his double task in an hour!

I dashed to the door, and the light from my cabin showed the man's face,
ashy pale. Yet I did not read despair on it.

Without a word I dragged him into the room once more; and only when the
door was closed did I dare to whisper "_Well?_"



CHAPTER VIII

THE GREAT SURPRISE


"_There was no body in the coffin_," Roger said.

"Empty?" I gasped.

"Not empty. No. There was something there. Will you come to my cabin and
see what it was? Don't look frightened. There's nothing to alarm you.
And--Princess, the rest of the plan you gave me has been--_carried out_.
Thanks to your woman's wit, I believe that my future and Shelagh's is
clear. And, before Heaven, my conscience is clear, too."

"Oh, Roger, it's thanks to your own courage more than to me. Is--is all
_safe_?"

"The coffin--isn't empty now. It is fastened up, just as it was. The
broken rope is round it again. It's covered with the tarpaulin as
before. No one outside the secret would guess it had been disturbed.
There's no maker's mark to trace it by. I owe more than my life--I owe
my very _soul_--to you. For I haven't much fear of what may come at St.
Heliers to-morrow or after."

"Nor I. Oh, I am _thankful_, for Shelagh's sake even more than yours, if
possible. Her heart would have broken. Now she need never know."

"She must know--and choose. I shall tell her--everything I did. Only I
need not bring you into it."

"If you tell her about yourself, you must tell her about me," I said.
"I'd like to be with you when you speak to her--if you think you must
speak."

"I'm sure I must. If all goes well to-morrow, she can marry me without
fear of scandal--if she's willing to marry me, after what I've done
to-night."

"She will be. And she shall hear from me that this woman who killed
herself and our spy of the Abbey were one. As for to-morrow--all _must_
go well! But--the thing you found--in the coffin. You'll have to dispose
of it somehow."

"It's for _you_ to decide about that--I think."

"For me? What can it have to do with me?"

"You'll see--in my cabin. If you'll trust me and come."

I went with him, my heart pounding as I entered the room. It seemed as
if some visible trace of tragedy must remain. But there was nothing. All
was in order. The brandy bottle had disappeared--into the sea, no doubt.
The tumbler so cleverly taken from this cabin was clean, and in its
place. There were no bits of broken glass from the phial to be seen. And
the odour of bitter almonds with which the place had reeked was no
longer very strong. The salt breeze blowing through two wide-open
portholes would kill it before dawn.

"But where is the _thing_?" I asked.

"In the study," Roger answered. He motioned me to pass through the
curtained archway, as I had passed before; and there I had to cover my
lips with my hand to press back a cry. The desk, the big chair I had sat
in, and a sofa were covered with objects familiar to me as my own face
in a looking-glass. There was Queen Anne's silver tea-service and
Napoleon's green-and-gold coffee cups. There were Li Hung Chang's box of
red lacquer and the wondrous Buddha; there were the snuff-boxes, the
miniatures, the buckles and brooches; the fat watch of George the
Fourth; half unrolled lay Charles the First's portrait and sketch, and
the Gobelin panel which had been the Empress Josephine's. In fact, all
the treasures stolen from Courtenaye Abbey! Here they were in Roger
Fane's cabin on board the _Naiad_, and they had come out of a coffin
found floating in the sea!

       *       *       *       *       *

When I could think at all, I tried to think the puzzle out, and I tried
to do it alone, for Roger was in no state to bend his mind to trifles.
But, in his almost pathetic gratitude, he wished to help me; and when we
had locked up the things in three drawers of his desk, we sat together
discussing theories. Something must be planned, something settled,
before day!

It was Roger who unfolded the whole affair before my eyes, unfolded it
so clearly that I could not doubt he was right. My trust--everyone's
trust--in the Barlows had been misplaced. They were the guilty ones! If
they had not organized the plot, they had helped to carry it through as
nobody else could have carried it through.

I told Roger of the two demobilized nephews about whom--if he had
heard--he had forgotten. I explained that they were twin sons of a
brother of old Barlow's, who had taken them to Australia years ago when
they were children. Vaguely I recalled that, when I was very young,
Barlow had worried over news from Australia: his nephews had been in
trouble of some sort. I fancied they had got in with a bad set. But that
was ancient history! The twins had evidently "made good." They had
fought in the war, and had done well. They must have saved money, or
they could not have bought the old house on the Dorset coast which had
belonged to the Barlows for generations. It was at this point, however,
that Roger stopped me. _Had_ the boys "saved" money, or--had they got it
in a way less meritorious? Had they needed, for pressing reasons of
their own, to possess that place on the coast? The very question called
up a picture--no, a series of pictures--before my eyes. I saw, or Roger
made me see, almost against my will, how the scheme might have been
worked--_must_ have been worked!--from beginning to end; and how at last
it had most strangely failed. Again, the Fate that had sailed on the
Storm! For an hour we talked, and made our plan almost as intricately as
the thieves or their backers had made theirs. Then, as dawn paled the
sky framed by the open portholes, I slipped off to my own cabin. I did
not go to bed (I could not, where _she_ had lain!) and I didn't sleep.
But I curled up on the long window seat, with cushions under my head,
and thought. I thought of a thousand things: of Roger's plan and mine,
of how I could return the heirlooms yet keep the secret; of what Sir Jim
would say when he learned of their reappearance; and, above all, I
thought of what our discovery in the coffin would mean for Roger Fane.

Yes, that was far more important to him even than to me! For the fact
that the coffin had been the property of thieves meant that no claim
would ever be made to it. The mystery of its present occupant would
therefore remain a mystery till the end of time, and--Roger was safe!

The next day we reached St. Heliers, after a quick voyage through blue,
untroubled waters; and there we came in for all the red tape that Roger
had foreseen, if not more. But how inoffensive, even pleasing, is red
tape to a man saved from handcuffs and a prison cell!

The body of an unknown woman in a coffin picked up at sea gave the
chance for a dramatic "story" to flash over the wires from Jersey to
London; and the evident fact that death had been caused by poison added
an extra thrill. Every soul on board the _Naiad_ was questioned, down to
the _chef's_ assistant; but the same tale was told by all. The coffin
had first been sighted at a good distance, and mistaken for a dead shark
or a small, overturned boat. The whole party were agreed that it must be
brought on board, though no one had wanted it for a travelling
companion, and the sailors especially had objected. (Now, by the way,
they were revelling in reflected glory. They would not have missed this
experience for the world!) I quaked inwardly, fearing that someone might
mention the veiled female journalist who had arrived before the start,
with an order to view the _Naiad_. But so completely was her departure
from the yacht taken for granted, that none who had seen her recalled
the incident.

There was no suspicion of Roger Fane, nor of any one else on board, for
there was no reason to suppose that any of us had been acquainted with
the dead.

The description wired to London was of "a woman unknown; probable age
between forty and fifty; hair dyed auburn; features distorted by effect
of poison; hands well shaped, badly kept; figure medium; black serge
dress; underclothing plain and much torn, without initials or
laundry-marks; no shoes."

It was unlikely that landlords or chance acquaintances should identify
the woman newly arrived from France with the woman picked up in a coffin
at sea. And the gray-veiled motor toque, the gray cloak worn by the
"journalist," and even the battered boots, with high, broken heels, were
safely hidden with the heirlooms from the Abbey.

All through the week of our trip the three drawers in Roger's desk
remained locked, the little Yale key hanging on Roger's key ring. And
all that week (there was no excuse to make for home before the appointed
time) our Plan had to lie in abeyance. I was impatient. Roger was not.
With Shelagh by his side--and very often in his arms--the incentive for
haste was all mine. But I was happy in their happiness, wondering only
whether Roger would not be tempting Providence if he told the truth to
Shelagh.

Nothing, however, would move the man from his resolution. The one point
he would yield was to postpone the confession (if "confession" is a fair
word) until the last day, in order not to disturb Shelagh's pleasure in
the trip. She was to hear the story the night before we landed; and I
begged once more that I might be present to help plead his cause. But
Roger wanted no help. And he wanted Shelagh to decide for herself. He
would state the case plainly, for and against. Hearing him, the girl
would know what was for her own happiness.

"At worst I shall have these wonderful days with her to remember," he
said to me. "Nothing can rob me of them. And they are a thousand times
the best of my life so far."

I believed that, equally, nothing could rob him of Shelagh! But--I
wasn't quite sure. And the difference between just "believing" and being
"quite sure" is the difference between mental peace and mental storm. I
had gone through so much with Roger, and for him, that by this time I
loved the man as I might love a brother--a dear and somewhat trying
brother. As for Shelagh, I would have given one of my favourite fingers
or toes to buy her happiness. Consequently, the hour of revelation was a
bad hour for me.

I knew that, till it was over, I should be incapable of Brightening.
Lest I should be called upon in any such capacity, therefore, I went to
bed after dinner with an official headache.

"Now he must be telling her," I groaned to my pillow.

"Now he must have told!"

"Now she must be making up her mind!"

"Now it must be _made_ up. She'll be giving her answer. And if it's
'no,' he won't by a word or look plead his own cause. _Hang_ the fool!
And bless him!"

Then followed a blank interval when I couldn't at all guess what might
be happening. I no longer speculated on the chances. My brain became a
blank. And my pillow was a furnace.

I was striving in vain to read a book whose pages I scarcely saw, and
whose name I've forgotten, when a tap came at the door. Shelagh Leigh
burst in before I could answer.

"Oh, _Elizabeth_!" she gasped, and fell into my arms.

I held the girl tight for an instant, her beating heart against mine.
Then I inquired: "What does 'Oh, Elizabeth!' mean precisely?"

"It means, of course, that I'm going to marry poor, darling Roger as
soon as I possibly can, to comfort him all the rest of his life. And
that you'll be my 'Matron of Honour,' American fashion," she explained.
"Roger is a hero, and you are a heroine."

"No, a Brightener," I corrected. But Shelagh didn't understand. And it
didn't matter that she did not.



CHAPTER IX

THE GAME OF BLUFF


When the trip finished where it had begun, instead of travelling up to
London with most of my friends, I stopped behind in Plymouth. If any one
fancied I was going to Courtenaye Abbey to wail at the shrine of lost
treasures, why, I had never said (in words) that such was my intention.
In fact, it was not.

What I did, as soon as backs were turned, was to make straight for
Dudworth Cove, on the rocky Dorset Coast. I went by motor car with Roger
Fane as chauffeur; and by aid of a road map and a few questions we drove
to the old farmhouse which the Barlow boys had lately bought.

Of course it was possible that Mrs. Barlow and the two Australian
nephews had departed in haste, after their loss. They might or might not
have read in the papers about the coffin containing the body of a woman
picked up at sea by a yacht. Probably they had read of it, since the
word "coffin" at the head of a column would be apt to catch their guilty
eyes. But even so, they would hardly expect that this coffin, containing
a corpse, and a certain other coffin, with very different contents, were
one and the same. In any case, they need not greatly fear suspicion
falling upon them, and Roger and I thought they would remain at the farm
engaged in eager, secret search. As for Barlow, for whom the coffin had
doubtless been made, he, too, might be there; or he might have left the
Abbey at night, about the time of his "death," to wait in some
agreed-upon hiding place.

The house was visible from the road; rather a nice old house, built of
stone, with a lichened roof and friendly windows. It had a lived-in air,
and a thin wreath of smoke floated above the kitchen chimney. There were
two gates, and both were padlocked, so the car had to stop in the road.
I refused Roger's companionship, however. The fact that he was close by
and knew where I was seemed sufficient safeguard. I climbed over the
fence with no more ado than in pre-flapper days, and walked across the
weedy grass to the house. No one answered a knock at the front door, so
I went to the back, and caught "Barley" feeding a group of chickens.

The treacherous old thing was in deep mourning, with a widow's cap, and
her dress of black bombazine (or some equally awful stuff) was pinned up
under a big apron. At sight of me she jumped, and almost dropped a pan
of meal; but even the most innocent person is entitled to jump! She
recovered herself quickly, and called up the ghost of a welcoming
smile--such a smile as may decently decorate the face of a newly made
widow.

"Why, Miss--Princess!" she exclaimed. "This is a surprise. If anything
could make me happy in my sad affliction it would be a visit from you.
My nephews are out fishing--they're very fond of fishing, poor
boys!--but come in and let me give you a cup of tea."

"I will come in," I said, "because I must have a talk with you, but I
don't want tea. And, really, Mrs. Barlow, I wonder you have the _cheek_
to speak of your 'sad affliction.'"

By this time I was already over the threshold, and in the kitchen, for
she had stood aside for me to pass. Just inside the door I turned on
her, and saw the old face--once so freshly apple-cheeked--flush darkly,
then fade to yellow. Her eyes stared into mine, wavered, and dropped;
but no tears came.

"'Cheek?'" she repeated, as if reproving slang. "Miss--Princess--I don't
know what you mean."

"I think you know very well," I said, "because you have _no_ 'sad
affliction.' Your husband is as much alive as I am. The only loss you've
suffered is the loss of the coffin in which he _wasn't_ buried!"

The woman dropped, like a jelly out of its mould, into a kitchen chair.
"My Heavens! Miss Elizabeth, you don't know what you're saying!" she
gasped, dry-lipped.

"I know quite well," I caught her up. "And to show that I know, I'm
going to reconstruct the whole plot." (This was bluff. But it was part
of the Plan). "Barlow's nephews were expert thieves. They'd served a
term for stealing at home, in Australia. They spent a short leave at
Courtenaye Coombe, and you showed them over the Abbey. Then and there
they got an idea. They bribed you and Barlow to help them carry it out
and give them a letter of mine to tear into bits and turn suspicion on
me. Probably they worked with rubber gloves and shoes--as you know the
detectives have found no fingermarks or footprints. Every man is said to
have his price. You two had yours! Just how much more than others you
knew about old secret 'hidie-holes' in the Abbey I can't tell, but I'm
sure you did know more than any of us. There was always the lodge, too,
which was the same as your own, and full of your things! I'm practically
certain there's a secret way to it, through the cellars. Ah, I thought
so!" (As her face changed.) "Trusted as you were, a burglary in the
night was easy as falling off a log--and all that binding and gagging
business. The trouble was to get the stolen things out of the
country--let's say to Australia, where Barlow's nephews could count upon
a receiver, or a buyer, maybe some old associate of their pre-prison
days. Among you all, you hit on quite a clever plan. Only a dear, kind
creature like you, respected by everyone, could have hypnotized even old
Doctor Pyne into believing Barlow was dead--no matter _what_ strong drug
you used! You wouldn't let any one come near the body afterward. You
loved your husband so much you would do everything for him yourself--in
death as in life. How pathetic--how estimable! And then you and the two
'boys' brought the coffin here, to have it buried in the old cemetery,
with generations of other respectable Barlows. The night after the
funeral the twins dug it up, as neatly as they dug trenches in France,
and left the case underground as a precaution. Perhaps Barlow's 'ghost'
watched the work. But that's of no importance. What was of importance
was the next step. They took the coffin to a nice convenient cave
(that's what made this house worth buying back, isn't it?) and tethered
the thing there to wait an appointed hour. At that hour a boat would
quietly appear, and bear it away to a smart little sailing ship.
Then--ho! for Australia or some place where heirlooms from this country
can be disposed of without talk or trouble. I would bet that Barlow is
on that ship now, and you meant to join him, instead of waiting for a
better world. But there came the storm, and a record wave or two ran
into the cave. Alas for the schemes of mice and men--and Barlow's!"

Not once did she interrupt. I doubt if the woman could have uttered a
word had she dared; for the game of Bluff was new to her. She believed
that by sleuth-hound cunning I had tracked her down, following each move
from the first, and biding my time to strike until all proofs (the
coffin and its contents) were within my grasp. By the time I had paused
for lack of breath, the old face was sickly white, like candle-grease,
and the remembrance of affection was so keen that I could not help
pitying the creature. "You realize," I said, "everything is known. Not
only do _I_ know, but others. And we have all the stolen things in our
possession. I've come here to offer you a chance of saving
yourselves--though it's compounding a felony or something, I suppose! We
can put you in the way of replacing the heirlooms in the night, just as
they were taken away--by that secret passage you know. If you try to
play us false, and hope to get the things back, we won't have mercy a
second time. We shall find Barlow before you can warn him. And as for
his nephews----"

"Yes! _What_ about his nephews?" broke in a rough voice.

I started (only a statue could have resisted that start!) and turning my
head I saw a tall young man close behind me, in the doorway by which I'd
entered. Whether or not Mrs. Barlow had seen him, I don't know. She did
not venture to speak, but a glance showed me a gleam of malicious relief
in the eyes I had once thought limpid as a brook. If she'd ever felt any
fondness for me, it was gone. She hated and feared me with a deadly
fear. The thought shot through my brain that she would willingly sit
still and see me murdered, if she and her husband could be saved from
open shame by my disappearance.

The man in the doorway was sunburned to a lobster-red, and had features
like those of some gargoyle. He must have been eavesdropping long enough
to gather a good deal of information, for there was fury in his eyes,
and deadly decision in the set of his big jaw.

Where was Roger Fane? I wondered. Without Roger I was lost, and my fate
might never be known. Suddenly I was icily afraid--for something might
have happened to Roger. But at that same frozen instant a very strange
thing happened to me. _My thoughts flew to Sir James Courtenaye!_ I had
always disliked him--or fancied so. But he was so strong--such a giant
of a man! What a wonderful champion he would be now! What _hash_ he
would make of the Barlow twins! Quickly I controlled myself. This was
the moment when the game of Bluff (which had served me well so far)
might be my one weapon of defence.

"As for Barlow's nephews," I echoed, with false calmness, "theirs is the
principal guilt, and theirs ought to be the heaviest punishment."

The Crimson Gargoyle shut the door, deliberately, with a horrid,
purposeful kind of deliberation, and with a stride or two came close to
me. I stepped back, but he followed, towering above me with the air of a
big bullying boy out to scare the life from a little one. To give him
stare for stare I had to look straight up, my chin raised, and the
threatening eyes, the great red face, seemed to fill the world--as a
cat's face and eyes must seem to a hypnotized mouse.

I shook myself free from the hypnotic grip. Yet I would not let my gaze
waver. Grandmother wouldn't, and no Courtenaye should!

"Who is going to punish us?" barked the Gargoyle.

"The police," I barked back. And almost I could have laughed at the
difference in size and voice. I was so like a slim young Borzoi yapping
at the nose of a bloodhound.

"Rot!" snorted the big fellow. "Damn rot!" (and I thought I heard a
faint chuckle from the chair). "If the police were on to us, you
wouldn't be here. This is a try-on."

"You'll soon see whether it's a try-on or not," I defied him. "As a
matter of fact, out of pity for your two poor old dupes, we haven't told
the police yet of what we've found out. I say 'we,' for I'm far from
being alone or unprotected. I came to speak with Mrs. Barlow because she
and her husband once served my family, and were honest till you tempted
them. But if I'm kept here more than the fifteen minutes I specified,
there is a man who----"

"There isn't," snapped the Gargoyle. "There was, but there isn't now. My
brother Bob and me was out in our boat. I don't mind tellin' you, as you
know so much, that we've spent quite a lot of time beatin' and prowlin'
around these shores since the big storm." (The thought flashed through
my brain: "Then they haven't read about the _Naiad_! Or else they didn't
guess that the coffin was the same. That's _one_ good thing! They can
never blackmail Roger, whatever happens to me!") But I didn't speak. I
let him pause for a second, and go on without interruption. "Comin' home
we seen that car o' yourn outside our gate. Thought it was queer! Bob
says to me, 'Hank, go on up to the house, and make me a sign from behind
the big tree if there's anythin' wrong.' The feller in the car hadn't
seen or heard us. We took care o' that! I slid off my shoes before I got
to the door here, and listened a bit to your words o' wisdom. Then I
slipped out as fur as the tree, and I made the sign. Hank didn't tell me
what he meant to do. But I'm some on mind readin'. I guess that
gentleman friend of yourn has gone to sleep in his automobile, as any
one might in this quiet neighbourhood, where folks don't pass once in
four or five hours. Bob can drive most makes of cars. Shouldn't wonder
if he can manage this one. If you hear the engine tune up, you'll know
it's him takin' the chauffeur down to the sea."

My bones felt like icicles; but I thought of Grandmother, and wouldn't
give in. Also, with far less reason, I thought of Sir James. Strange,
unaccountable creature that I was, my soul cried aloud for the
championship of his strength! "The sea hasn't brought you much luck
yet," I brazened. "I shouldn't advise you to try it again."

"I ain't askin' your advice," retorted the man who had indirectly
introduced himself as "Hank Barlow." "All I ask is, where's the stuff?"

"What stuff?" I played for time, though I knew very well the "stuff" he
meant.

"The goods from the Abbey. I won't say you wasn't smart to get on to the
cache, and nab the box out o' the cave. Only you wasn't quite smart
enough--savez? The fellers laugh best who laugh last. And we're those
fellers!"

"You spring to conclusions," I said. But my voice sounded small in my
own ears--small and thin as the voice of a child. (Oh, to know if this
brute spoke truth about his brother and Roger Fane and the car, or if he
were fighting me with my own weapon--Bluff!)

Henry Barlow laughed aloud--though he mightn't laugh last! "Do you call
yourself a 'conclusion'? I'll give you just two minutes, my handsome
lady, to make up your mind. If you don't tell me then where to lay me
'and on you know _what_, I'll spring at _you_."

By the wolf-glare in his eyes and the boldness of his tone I feared that
his game wasn't wholly bluff. By irony of Fate, he had turned the tables
on me. Thinking the power was all on my side and Roger's, I'd walked
into a trap. And if, indeed, Roger had been struck down from behind, I
did not see any way of escape for him or me. I had let out that I knew
too much.

Even if I turned coward, and told Hank Barlow that the late contents of
his uncle's coffin were on board the _Naiad_, he could not safely allow
Roger or me to go free. But I _wouldn't_ turn coward! To save the secret
of the Abbey treasures meant saving the secret of what that coffin now
held. My sick fear turned to hot rage. "Spring!" I cried. "Kill me if
you choose. _My_ coffin will keep a secret, which yours couldn't do!"

He glared, nonplussed by my violence.

"Devil take you, you cat!" he grunted.

"And you, you hound!" I cried.

His eyes flamed. I think fury would have conquered prudence, and he
would have sprung then, to choke my life out, perhaps. But he hadn't
locked the door. At that instant it swung open, and a whirlwind burst
in. The whirlwind was a man. And the man was James Courtenaye.

       *       *       *       *       *

I did not tell Sir Jim that my spirit had forgotten itself so utterly as
to call him. It was quite unnecessary, as matters turned out, to "give
myself away" to this extent. For, you see, it was not my call that
brought him. It was Roger's.

As Shelagh Leigh was my best friend, so was, and is, Jim Courtenaye
Roger Fane's. All the first part of Roger's life tragedy was known to my
"forty-fourth cousin four times removed." For years Roger had given him
all his confidence. The ex-cowboy had even advised him in his love
affair with Shelagh, to "go on full steam ahead, and never mind
breakers"--(alias Pollens). This being the case, it had seemed to Roger
unfair not to trust his chum to the uttermost end. He had not intended
to mention me as his accomplice; but evidently cowboys' wits are as
quick as their lassoes. Jim guessed at my part in the business,
thinking, maybe--that only the sly sex could hit upon such a Way Out.
Anyhow, he was far from shocked; in fact, deigned to approve of me for
the first time, and hearing how I had planned to restore the stolen
heirlooms, roared with laughter.

Roger, conscience-stricken because my secret had leaked out with his,
wished to atone by telling me that his friend had scented the whole
truth. Jim Courtenaye, however, urged him against this course. He
reckoned the Barlow twins more formidable than Roger and I had thought
them, and insisted that he should be a partner in our game of Bluff.
Only, he wished to be a silent partner till the right time came to
speak. Or that was the way he put it. His real reason, as he boldly
confessed afterward, was that, if I knew he was "in it," I'd be sure to
make a "silly fuss"!

It was arranged between him and Roger that he should motor from
Courtenaye Coombe to Dudworth Cove, put up his car at the small hotel,
and inconspicuously approach the Barlows' farm on foot. In some quiet
spot which he would guarantee to find, he was to "lurk" and await
developments. If help were wanted, he would be there to give it. If not,
he would peacefully remove himself, and I need never know that he had
been near the place.

All the details of this minor plot were well mapped out, and the only
one that failed (not being mapped out) was a tyre of his Rolls-Royce
which stepped on a nail as long as Jael's. Wishing to do the trick
alone, Jim had taken no chauffeur; and he wasn't as expert at pumping up
tyres as at breaking in bronchos. He was twenty minutes past scheduled
time, in consequence, and arrived at the spot appointed just as Bob
Barlow had bashed Roger Fane smartly on the head from behind.

Naturally this incident kept his attention engaged for some moments. He
had to overpower the Barlow twin, who was on the alert, and not to be
taken by surprise. The Australian was still in good fighting trim, and
gave Sir James some trouble before he was reduced to powerlessness. Then
a glance had to be given Roger, to make sure he had not got a knock-out
blow. Altogether, Hank Barlow had five minutes' grace indoors with me,
before--the whirlwind. If it had been _six_ minutes----But then, it
wasn't! So why waste thrills upon a horror which had not time to
materialize? And oh, how I _did_ enjoy seeing those twins trussed up
like a pair of monstrous fowls on the kitchen floor! It had been clever
of Sir Jim to place a coil of rope in Roger's car in case of
emergencies. But when I said this, to show my appreciation, he replied
drily that a cattleman's first thought is rope! "That's what you are
accustomed to call me, I believe," he added. "A cattleman."

"I shall never call you it again," I quite meekly assured him.

"You won't? What will you call me, then?"

"Cousin--if you like," I said.

"That'll do--for the present," he granted.

"Or 'friend,' if it pleases you better?" I suggested.

"Both are pretty good to go on with."

So between us there was a truce--and no more Pembertons or even Smiths:
which is why "Smith" never revealed what _he_ thought about what Sir Jim
thought of me. And I would not try to guess--would you? But it was only
to screen Roger, and not to content me, that Sir James Courtenaye
allowed my original plan to be carried out: the heirlooms to be
mysteriously returned by night to the Abbey, and the Barlow tribe to
vanish into space, otherwise Australia. He admitted this bluntly. And I
retorted that, if he hadn't saved my life, I should say that such
friendship wasn't worth much. But there it was! He _had_ saved it. And
things being as they were, Shelagh told Roger that I couldn't reasonably
object if Jim were asked to be best man at the wedding, though I was to
be "best woman."

She was right. I couldn't. And it was a lovely wedding. I lightened my
mourning for it to white and lavender--just for the day. Mrs. Carstairs
said I owed this to the bride and bridegroom--also to myself, as
Brightener, to say nothing of Sir Jim.



BOOK II

THE HOUSE WITH THE TWISTED CHIMNEY



CHAPTER I

THE SHELL-SHOCK MAN


"Do you want to be a Life Preserver as well as a Brightener, Elizabeth,
my child?" asked Mrs. Carstairs.

"Depends on whose life," I replied, making a lovely blue smoke ring
before I spoke and another when I'd finished.

I hoped to shock Mrs. Carstairs, in order to see what the nicest old
lady on earth would look like when scandalized. But I was disappointed.
She was not scandalized. She asked for a cigarette, and took it; my
last.

"The latest style in my country is to make your smoke ring loop the
loop, and do it through the nose," she informed me, calmly. "I can't do
it myself--yet. But Terry Burns can."

"Who's Terry Burns?" I asked.

"The man whose life ought to be preserved."

"It certainly ought," said I, "if he can make smoke rings loop the loop
through his nose. Oh, you know what I _mean_!"

"He hardly takes enough interest in things to do even that, nowadays,"
sighed Mrs. Carstairs.

"Good heavens! what's the matter with the man--senile decay?" I flung at
her. "Terry isn't at all a decayed name."

"And Terry isn't a decayed man. He's about twenty-six, if you choose to
call that senile. He's almost _too_ good-looking. He's not physically
ill. And he's got plenty of money. All the same, he's likely to die
quite soon, I should say."

"Can't anything be done?" I inquired, really moved.

"I don't know. It's a legacy from shell shock. You know what _that_ is.
He's come to stay with us at Haslemere, poor boy, because my husband was
once in love with his mother--at the same time I was worshipping his
father. Terry was with us before--here in London in 1915--on leave soon
after he volunteered. Afterward, when America came in, he transferred.
But even in 1915 he wasn't exactly _radiating_ happiness (disappointment
in love or something), but he was just boyishly cynical then, nothing
worse; and _the_ most splendid specimen of a young man!--his father over
again; Henry says, his _mother_! Either way, I was looking forward to
nursing him at Haslemere and seeing him improve every day. But, my
_dear_, I can do _nothing_! He has got so on my nerves that I _had_ to
make an excuse to run up to town or I should simply have--_slumped_. The
sight of me slumping would have been terribly bad for the poor child's
health. It might have finished him."

"So you want to exchange my nerves for yours," I said. "You want me to
nurse your protégé till _I_ slump. Is that it?"

"It wouldn't come to that with you," argued the ancient darling. "You
could bring back his interest in life; I know you could. You'd think of
something. Remember what you did for Roger Fane!"

As a matter of fact, I had done a good deal more for Roger Fane than
dear old Caroline knew or would ever know. But if Roger owed anything to
me, I owed him, and all he had paid me in gratitude and banknotes, to
Mrs. Carstairs.

"I shall never forget Roger Fane, and I hope he won't me," I said.
"Shelagh won't let him! But _he_ hadn't lost interest in life. He just
wanted life to give him Shelagh Leigh. She happened to be my best pal;
and her people were snobs, so I could help him. But this Terry Burns of
yours--what can I do for him?"

"Take him on and see," pleaded the old lady.

"Do you wish him to fall in love with me?" I suggested.

"He wouldn't if I did. He told me the other day that he'd loved only one
woman in his life, and he should never care for another. Besides, I
mustn't conceal from you, this would be an unsalaried job."

"Oh, indeed!" said I, slightly piqued. "I don't want his old love! Or
his old money, either! But--well--I might just go and have a look at
him, if you'd care to take me to Haslemere with you. No harm in seeing
what can be done--if anything. I suppose, as you and Mr. Carstairs
between you were in love with all his ancestors, and he resembles them,
he must be worth saving--apart from the loops. Is he English or American
or _what_?"

"American on one side and What on the other," replied the old lady.
"That is, his father, whom I was in love with, was American. The mother,
whom Henry adored, was French. All that's quite a romance. But it's
ancient history. And it's the present we're interested in. Of course I'd
care to take you to Haslemere. But I have a better plan. I've persuaded
Terry to consult the nerve specialist, Sir Humphrey Hale. He's
comparatively easy to persuade, because he'd rather yield a point than
bother to argue. That's how I got my excuse to run up to town: to
explain the case to Sir Humphrey, and have my flat made ready for
Terence to live in, while he's being treated."

"Oh, that's it," I said, and thought for a minute.

My flat is in the same house as the Carstairs', a charming old house in
which I couldn't afford to live if Dame Caroline (title given by me, not
His Gracious Majesty) hadn't taught me the gentle, well-paid Art of
Brightening.

You might imagine that a Brightener was some sort of patent polisher for
stoves, metal, or even boots. But you would be mistaken. _I_ am the one
and only Brightener!

But this isn't what I was thinking about when I said, "Oh, that's it?" I
was attempting to track that benevolent female fox, Caroline Carstairs,
to the fastness of her mental lair. When I flattered myself that I'd
succeeded, I spoke again.

"I see what you'd be at, Madame Machiavelli," I warned her. "You and
your husband are so fed up with the son of your ancient loves, that he's
spoiling your holiday in your country house. You've been wondering how
on earth to shed him, anyhow for a breathing space, without being
unkind. So you thought, if you could lure him to London, and lend him
your flat----"

"Dearest, you are an ungrateful young Beastess! Besides, you're only
half right. It's true, poor Henry and I are worn out from sympathy. Our
hearts are squeezed sponges, and have completely collapsed. Not that
Terry complains. He doesn't. Only he is so horribly bored with life and
himself and us that it's killing all three. I _had_ to think of
something to save him. So I thought of you."

"But you thought of Sir Humphrey Hale. Surely, if there's any cure for
Mr.----"

"Captain----"

"Burns. Sir Humphrey can----"

"He can't. But I had to _use_ him with Terry. I couldn't say: 'Go live
in our flat and meet the Princess di Miramare. He would believe the
obvious thing, and be put off. You are to be thrown in as an extra: a
charming neighbour who, as a favour to me, will see that he's all right.
When you've got him interested--not in yourself, but in life--I shall
explain--or confess, whichever you choose to call it. He will then
realize that the fee for his cure ought to be yours, not Sir Humphrey's,
though naturally you couldn't accept one. Sir Humphrey has already told
me that, judging from the symptoms I've described, it seems a case
beyond doctor's skill. You know, Sir H---- has made his pile, and
doesn't have to tout for patients. But he's a good friend of Henry's and
mine."

"You have very strong faith in _me_!" I laughed.

"Not too strong," said she.

The Carstairs' servants had gone with them to the house near Haslemere;
but if Dame Caroline wanted a first-rate cook at a moment's notice, she
would wangle one even if there were only two in existence, and both
engaged. The shell-shock man had his own valet--an ex-soldier--so with
the pair of them, and a char-creature of some sort, he would do very
well for a few weeks. Nevertheless, I hardly thought that, in the end,
he would be braced up to the effort of coming, and I should not have
been surprised to receive a wire:

     Rather than move, Terry has cut his throat in the Japanese garden.

Which shows that despite all past experiences, I little knew my
Caroline!

Captain Burns--late of the American Flying Corps--did come; and what is
more, he called at my flat before he had been fifteen minutes in his
own. This he did because Mrs. Carstairs had begged him to bring a small
parcel which he must deliver by hand to me personally. She had
telegraphed, asking me to stop at home--quite a favour in this wonderful
summer, even though it was July, the season proper had passed; but I
couldn't refuse, as I'd tacitly promised to brighten the man. So there I
sat, in my favourite frock, when he was ushered into the drawing room.

Dame Caroline had told me that "Terry" was good-looking, but her
description had left me cold, and somehow or other I was completely
unprepared for the real Terry Burns.

Yes, _real_ is the word for him! He was so real that it seemed odd I had
gone on all my life without having known there was this Terence Burns.
Not that I fell in love with him. Just at the moment I was much occupied
in trying to keep alight an old fire of resentment against a man who had
saved my life; a "forty-fourth cousin four times removed" (as he called
himself), Sir James Courtenaye. But when I say "real," I mean he was one
of those few people who would seem important to you if you passed him in
a crowd. You would tell yourself regretfully that there was a friend
you'd missed making: and you would have had to resist a strong impulse
to rush back and speak to him at any price.

If, at the first instant of meeting, I felt this strong personal
magnetism, or charm, or whatever it was, though the man was down
physically at lowest ebb, what would the sensation have been with him at
his best?

He was tall and very thin, with a loose-boned look, as if he ought to be
lithe and muscular, but he came into the room listlessly, his shoulders
drooping, as though it were an almost unbearable bore to put one foot
before another. His pallor was of the pathetic kind that gives an odd
transparence to deeply tanned skin, almost like a light shining through.
His hair was a bronzy brown, so immaculately brushed back from his
square forehead as to remind you of a helmet, except that it rippled all
over. And he had the most appealing eyes I ever saw.

They were not dark, tragic ones like Roger Fane's. I thought that when
he was well and happy, they must have been full of light and joy. They
were slate-gray with thick black lashes, true Celtic eyes: but they were
dull and tired now, not sad, only devoid of interest in anything.

It wasn't flattering that they should be devoid of interest in me. I am
used to having men's eyes light up with a gleam of surprise when they
see me for the first time. This man's eyes didn't. I seemed to read in
them: "Yes, I suppose you're very pretty. But that's nothing to me, and
I hope you don't want me to flirt with you, because I haven't the energy
or even the wish."

I'm sure that, vaguely, this was about what was in his mind, and that he
intended getting away from me as soon as would be decently polite after
finishing his errand. Still, I wasn't in the least annoyed. I was sorry
for him--not because he didn't want to be bothered with me, but because
he didn't want to be bothered with anything. Millionaire or pauper, I
didn't care. I was determined to brighten him, in spite of himself. He
was too dear and delightful a fellow not to be happy with somebody, some
day. I couldn't sit still and let him sink down and down into the
depths. But I should have to go carefully, or do him more harm than
good. I could see that. If I attempted to be amusing he would crawl
away, a battered wreck.

What I did was to show no particular interest in him. I took the tiny
parcel Mrs. Carstairs had ordered him to bring, and asked casually if
he'd care to stop in my flat till his man had finished unpacking.

"I don't know how _you_ feel," I said, "but I always hate the first hour
in a new place, with a servant fussing about, opening and shutting
drawers and wardrobes. I loathe things that squeak."

"So do I," he answered, dreamily. "Any sort of noise."

"I shall be having tea in a few minutes," I mentioned. "If you don't
mind looking at magazines or something while I open Mrs. Carstairs'
parcel, and write to her, stay if you care to. I should be pleased. But
don't feel you'll be rude to say 'no.' Do as you like."

He stayed, probably because he was in a nice easy chair, and it was
simpler to sit still than get up, so long as he needn't make
conversation. I left him there, while I went to the far end of the room,
where my desk was. The wonderful packet, which must be given into my
hand by his, contained three beautiful new potatoes, the size of
marbles, out of the Carstairs' kitchen garden! I bit back a giggle, hid
the rare jewels in a drawer, and scribbled any nonsense I could think of
to Dame Caroline, till I heard tea coming. Then I went back to my guest.
I gave him tea, and other things. There were late strawberries, and some
Devonshire cream, which had arrived by post that morning, anonymously.
Sir James Courtenaye, that red-haired cowboy to whom I'd let the
ancestral Abbey, was in Devonshire. But there was no reason why he
should send me cream, or anything else. Still, there it was. Captain
Burns, it appeared, had never happened to taste the Devonshire variety.
He liked it. And when he had disposed of a certain amount (during which
time we hardly spoke), I offered him my cigarette case.

For a few moments we both smoked in silence. Then I said, "I'm
disappointed in you."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you haven't looped any loops through your nose."

He actually laughed! He looked delightful when he laughed.

"I was trying something of the sort one day, and failing," I explained.
"Mrs. Carstairs said she had a friend who could do it, and his name was
Terence Burns."

"I've almost forgotten that old stunt," he smiled indulgently. "Think of
Mrs. Carstairs remembering it! Why, I haven't had time to remember it
myself, much less try it out, since I was young."

"That _is_ a long time ago!" I ventured, smoking hard.

"You see," he explained quite gravely, smoking harder, "I went into the
war in 1915. It wasn't _our_ war then, for I'm an American, you know.
But I had a sort of feeling it ought to be everybody's war. And besides,
I'd fallen out of love with life about that time. War doesn't leave a
man feeling very young, whether or not he's gone through what I have."

"I know," said I. "Even we women don't feel as young as we hope we look.
I'm twenty-one and a half, and feel forty."

"I'm twenty-seven, and feel ninety-nine," he capped me.

"Shell shock is--the _devil_!" I sympathized. "But men get over it. I
know lots who have." I took another cigarette and pushed the case toward
him.

"Perhaps they wanted to get over it. I don't want to, particularly,
because life has rather lost interest for me, since I was about
twenty-two; I'm afraid that was one reason I volunteered. Not very
brave! I don't care now whether I live or die. I didn't care then."

"At twenty-two! Why, you weren't grown up!"

"_You_ say that, at twenty-one?"

"It's different with a girl. I've had such a lot of things to make me
feel grown up."

"So have I, God knows." (By this time he was smoking like a chimney.)
"Did _you_ lose the one thing you'd wanted in the world? But no--I
mustn't ask that. I don't ask it."

"You may," I vouchsafed, charmed that--as one says of a baby--he was
"beginning to take notice." "No, frankly, I didn't lose the one thing in
the world I wanted most, because I've never quite known yet what I did
or do want most. But not knowing leaves you at loose ends, if you're
alone in the world as I am." Then, having said this, just to indicate
that my circumstances conduced to tacit sympathy with his, I hopped like
a sparrow to another branch of the same subject. "It's bad not to get
what we want. But it's dull not to want anything."

"Is it?" Burns asked almost fiercely. "I haven't got to that yet. I wish
I had. When I want a thing, it's in my nature to want it for good and
all. I want the thing I wanted before the war as much now as ever.
That's the principal trouble with me, I think. The hopelessness of
everything. The uselessness of the things you _can_ get."

"Can't you manage to want something you might possibly get?" I asked.

He smiled faintly. "That's much the same advice that the doctors have
given--the advice this Sir Humphrey Hale of the Carstairs will give
to-morrow. I'm sure. 'Try to take an interest in things as they are.'
Good heavens! that's just what I _can't_ do."

"_I_ don't give you that advice," I said. "It's worse than useless to
_try_ and take an interest. It's _stodgy_. What I mean is, _if_ an
interest, alias a chance of adventure, should breeze along, don't shut
the door on it. Let it in, ask it to sit down, and see how you like it.
But then--maybe you wouldn't recognize it as an adventure if you saw it
at the window!"

"Oh, I think I should do that!" he defended himself. "I'm man enough yet
to know an adventure when I meet it. That's why I came into your war.
But the war's finished, and so am I. Really, I don't see why any one
bothers about me. I wouldn't about myself, if they'd let me alone!"

"There I'm with you," said I. "I like to be let alone, to go my own way.
Still, people unfortunately feel bound to do their best. Mrs. Carstairs
has done hers. If Sir Humphrey gives you up, she'll thenceforward
consider herself free from responsibility--and you free to 'dree your
own weird'--whatever that means!--to the bitter end. As for me, I've no
responsibility at all. I don't advise you! In your place, I'd do as
you're doing. Only, I've enough fellow feeling to let you know, in a
spirit of comradeship, if I hear the call of an adventure.... There, you
_did_ the 'stunt' all right that time! A _lovely_ loop the loop! I
wouldn't have believed it! Now watch, please, while I try!"

He did watch, and I fancy that, in spite of himself, he took an
interest! He laughed out, quite a spontaneous "Ha, ha!" when I began
with a loop and ended with a sneeze.

It seems too absurd that a siren should lure her victim with a sneeze
instead of a song. But it was that sneeze which did the trick. Or else,
my mumness now and then, and not seeming to care a Tinker's Anything
whether he thought I was pretty or a fright. He warmed toward me visibly
during the loop lesson, and I was as proud as if a wild bird had settled
down to eat out of my hand.

That was the beginning: and a commonplace one, you'll say! It didn't
seem commonplace to me: I was too much interested. But even I did not
dream of the weird developments ahead!



CHAPTER II

THE ADVERTISEMENT


It was on the fourth day that I got the idea--I mean, the fourth day of
Terry Burns' stay in town.

He had dropped in to see me on each of these days, for one reason or
other: to tell me what Sir Humphrey said; to sneer at the treatment; to
beg a cigarette when his store had given out; or something else equally
important; I (true to my bargain with Caroline) having given up all
engagements in order to brighten Captain Burns.

I was reading the _Times_ when a thought popped into my head. I shut my
eyes, and studied its features. They fascinated me.

It was morning: and presently my Patient unawares strolled in for the
eleven-o'clock glass of egg-nogg prescribed by Sir Humphrey and offered
by me.

He drank it. When he had pronounced it good, I asked him casually how he
was. No change. At least, none that he noticed. Except that he always
felt better, more human, in my society. That was because I appeared to
be a bit fed up with life, too, and didn't try to cheer him.

"On the contrary," I said, "I was just wondering whether I might ask you
to cheer _me_. I've thought of something that might amuse me a little.
Yes, I'm sure it would! Only I'm not equal to working out the details
alone. If I weren't afraid it would bore you...."

"Of course it wouldn't, if it could amuse you!" His eyes lit. "Tell me
what it is you want to do?"

"I'm almost ashamed. It's so childish. But it would be _fun_."

"If I could care to do anything at all, it would be something childish.
Besides, I believe you and I are rather alike in several ways. We have
the same opinions about life. We're both down on our luck."

I gave myself a mental pat on the head. I ought to succeed on the stage,
if it ever came to that!

"Well," I hesitated. "I got the idea from an article in the _Times_.
There's something on the subject every day in every paper I see, but it
never occurred to me till now to get any fun out of it: the Housing
Problem, you know. Not the one for the working classes--I wouldn't be so
mean as to 'spoof' them--nor the _Nouveaux Pauvres_, of whom I'm one!
It's for the _Nouveaux Riches_. They're fair game."

"What do you want to do to them?" asked Terry Burns.

"Play a practical joke; then dig myself in and watch the result. Perhaps
there'd be none. In that case, the joke would be on me."

"And on me, if we both went in for the experiment. We'd bear the blow
together."

"It wouldn't kill us! Listen--I'll explain. It's simply idiotic. But
it's something to _do_: something to make one wake up in the morning
with a little interest to look forward to. The papers all say that
_every_body is searching for a desirable house to be sold, or let
furnished; and that there _aren't_ any houses! On the other hand, if you
glance at the advertisement sheets of _any_ newspaper, you ask yourself
if every second house in England isn't asking to be disposed of! Now, is
it only a 'silly-season' cry, this grievance about no houses, or is it
true? What larks to concoct an absolutely adorable 'ad.', describing a
place with every perfection, and see what applications one would get!
Would there be thousands or just a mere dribble, or none at all? Don't
you think it would be fun to find out--and reading the letters if there
were any? People would be sure to say a lot about themselves. Human
nature's _like_ that. Or, anyhow, we could force their hands by putting
into the 'ad.' that we would let our wonderful house only to the right
sort of tenants. 'No others need apply'."

"But that would limit the number of answers--and our fun," said Terry.
On his face glimmered a grin. After all, the "kid" in him had been
scotched, not killed.

"Oh, no," I argued. "They'd be serenely confident that they and they
alone were the right ones. Then, when they didn't hear from the
advertiser by return, they'd suppose that someone more lucky had got
ahead of them. Yes, we're on the right track! We must want to let our
place furnished. If we wished to sell, we'd have no motive in trying to
pick and choose our buyer. Any creature with money would do. So our
letters would be tame as Teddy-bears. What _we_ want is human
documents!"

"Let's begin to think out our 'ad.'!" exclaimed the patient, sitting up
straighter in his chair. Already two or three haggard years seemed to
have fallen from his face. I might have been skilfully knocking them off
with a hammer!

Like a competent general, I had all my materials at hand: Captain Burns'
favourite brand of cigarettes, matches warranted to light without damns,
a notebook, several sharp, soft-leaded pencils, and some illustrated
advertisements cut from _Country Life_ to give us hints.

"What sort of house _have_ we?" Terry wanted to know. "Is it town or
country; genuine Tudor, Jacobean, Queen Anne, or Georgian----"

"Oh, _country_! It gives us more scope," I cried. "And I think Tudor's
the most attractive. But I may be prejudiced. Courtenaye Abbey--our
place in Devonshire--is mostly Tudor. I'm too poor to live there.
Through Mr. Carstairs it's let to a forty-fourth cousin of mine who did
cowboying in all its branches in America, coined piles of oof in
something or other, and came over here to live when he'd collected
enough to revive a little old family title. But I adore the Abbey."

"Our house shall be Tudor," Terry assented. "It had better be historic,
hadn't it?"

"Why not? It's just as easy for us. Let's have the _oldest_ bits earlier
than Tudor--what?"

"By Jove! Yes! King John. Might look fishy to go behind _him_!"

So, block after block, by suggestion, we two architects of the aerial
school built up the noble mansion we had to dispose of. With loving and
artistic touch, we added feature after feature of interest, as
inspirations came. We were like benevolent fairy god-parents at a baby's
christening, endowing a beloved ward with all possible perfections.

Terry noted down our ideas at their birth, lest we should forget under
pressure of others to follow; and at last, after several discarded
efforts, we achieved an advertisement which combined every attribute of
an earthly paradise.

This is the way it ran:

"To let furnished, for remainder of summer (possibly longer), historic
moated Grange, one of the most interesting old country places in
England, mentioned in Domesday Book, for absurdly small rent to
desirable tenant; offered practically free. The house, with foundations,
chapel, and other features dating from the time of King John, has
remained unchanged save for such modern improvements as baths (h. & c.),
electric lighting, and central heating, since Elizabethan days. It
possesses a magnificent stone-paved hall, with vaulted chestnut roof
(15th century), on carved stone corbels; an oak-panelled banqueting hall
with stone, fan-vaulted roof and mistrels' gallery. Each of the several
large reception rooms is rich in old oak, and has a splendid Tudor
chimney-piece. There are over twenty exceptionally beautiful bedrooms,
several with wagon plaster ceilings. The largest drawing-room overlooks
the moat, where are ancient carp, and pink and white water-lilies. All
windows are stone mullioned, with old leaded glass; some are exquisite
oriels; and there are two famous stairways, one with dog gates. The
antique furniture is valuable and historic. A fascinating feature of the
house is a twisted chimney (secret of construction lost; the only other
known by the advertiser to exist being at Hampton Court). All is in good
repair; domestic offices perfect, and the great oak-beamed,
stone-flagged kitchen has been copied by more than one artist. There are
glorious old-world gardens, with an ornamental lake, some statues,
fountains, sundials; terraces where white peacocks walk under the shade
of giant Lebanon cedars; also a noble park, and particularly charming
orchard with grass walks. Certain servants and gardeners will remain if
desired; and this wonderful opportunity is offered for an absurdly low
price to a tenant deemed suitable by the advertiser. Only gentlefolk,
with some pretensions to intelligence and good looks, need reply, as the
advertiser considers that this place would be wasted upon others. Young
people preferred. For particulars, write T. B., Box F., the _Times_."

We were both enraptured with the result of our joint inspirations. We
could simply _see_ the marvellous moated grange, and Terry thought that
life would be bearable after all if he could live there. What a pity it
didn't exist, he sighed, and I consoled him by saying that there were
perhaps two or three such in England. To my mind Courtenaye Abbey was as
good, though moatless.

       *       *       *       *       *

We decided to send our darling not only to the _Times_, but to five
other leading London papers, engaging a box at the office of each for
the answers, the advertisement to appear every day for a week. In order
to keep our identity secret even from the discreet heads of advertising
departments, we would have the replies called for, not posted. Terry's
man, Jones, was selected to be our messenger, and had to be taken more
or less into our confidence. So fearful were we of being too late for
to-morrow's papers, that Jones was rushed off in a taxi with
instructions, before the ink had dried on the last copy.

Our suspense was painful, until he returned with the news that all the
"ads." had been in time, and that everything was satisfactorily settled.
The tidings braced us mightily. But the tonic effect was brief. Hardly
had Terry said, "Thanks, Jones. You've been very quick," when we
remembered that to-morrow would be a blank day. The newspapers would
publish T. B.'s advertisement to-morrow morning. It would then be read
by the British public in the course of eggs and bacon. Those who
responded at once, if any, would be so few that it seemed childish to
think of calling for letters that same night.

"I suppose, if you go the rounds in the morning of day after to-morrow,
it will be soon enough," Terry remarked to the ex-soldier, with the
restrained wistfulness of a child on Christmas Eve asking at what hour
Santa Claus is due to start.

I also hung upon Jones' words; but still more eagerly upon Captain
Burns' expression.

"Well, sir," said the man, his eyes on the floor--I believe to hide a
joyous twinkle!--"that might be right for letters. But what about the
telegrams?"

"Telegrams!" we both echoed in the same breath.

"Yes, sir. When the managers or whatever they were had read the 'ad.,'
they were of opinion there might be telegrams. In answer to my question,
the general advice was to look in and open the boxes any time after
twelve noon to-morrow."

Terry and I stared at each other. Our hearts beat. I knew what his was
doing by the state of my own. He who would have sold his life for a song
(a really worthwhile song) was eager to preserve it at any price till
his eyes had seen the full results of our advertisement.

_Telegrams!_

Could it be possible that there would be telegrams?



CHAPTER III

THE LETTER WITH THE PURPLE SEAL


I invited Terry to breakfast with me at nine precisely next day, and
each of us was solemnly pledged not to look at a newspaper until we
could open them together.

We went to the theatre the night before (the first time Terry could
endure the thought since his illness), and supped at the Savoy
afterward, simply to mitigate the suffering of suspense. Nevertheless, I
was up at seven-thirty A. M., and at eight-forty-eight was in the
breakfast room gazing at six newspapers neatly folded on the
flower-decked table.

At eight-fifty-one, my guest arrived, and by common consent we seized
the papers. He opened three. I opened three. Yes, there it _was_! How
perfect, how thrilling! How even better it appeared in print than we had
expected! Anxiously we read the other advertisements of country houses
to let or sell, and agreed that there was nothing whose attractions came
within miles of our, in all senses of the word, priceless offer.

How we got through the next two and a half hours I don't know!

I say two and a half advisedly: because, as Jones had six visits to pay,
we thought we might start him off at eleven-thirty. This we did; but his
calmness had damped us. _He_ wasn't excited. Was it probable that any
one else--except ourselves--could be?

Cold reaction set in. We prepared each other for the news that there
were no telegrams or answers of any sort. Terry said it was no use
concealing that this would be a bitter blow. I had not the energy to
correct his rhetoric, or whatever it was, by explaining that a blow
can't be bitter.

Twelve-thirty struck, and produced no Jones; twelve-forty-five; one;
Jones still missing.

"I ought to have told him to come back at once after the sixth place,
even if there wasn't a thing," said Terry. "Like a fool, I didn't: he
may have thought he'd do some other errands on the way home, if he'd
nothing to report. Donkey! Ass! Pig."

"Captain Burns' man, your highness," announced my maid. "He wants to
know----"

"Tell him to come in!" I shrieked.

"Yes, your highness. It was only, should he bring them all in here, or
leave them in Mr. Carstairs' apartment below."

"_All!_" gasped Terry.

"Here," I commanded.

Jones staggered in.

You won't believe it when I tell you, because you didn't see it. That
is, you won't unless _you_ have inserted _the_ Advertisement of the
Ages--the Unique, the Siren, the Best yet Cheapest--in six leading
London journals at once.

There were eight bundles wrapped in newspaper. Enormous bundles! Jones
had two under each arm, and was carrying two in each hand, by loops of
string. As he tottered into the drawing room, the biggest bundle
dropped. The string broke. The wrapping yawned. Its contents gushed out.
Not only telegrams, but letters with no stamps or post-marks! They must
have been rushed frantically round to the six offices by messengers.

It was true, then, what the newspapers said: all London, all England,
yearned, pined, prayed for houses. Yet people must already be living
_somewhere_!

Literally, there were thousands of answers. To be precise, Captain
Burns, Jones, and I counted two thousand and ten replies which had
reached the six offices by noon on the first day of the advertisement:
one thousand and eight telegrams; the rest, letters dispatched by hand.
Each sender earnestly hoped that his application might be the first!
Heaven knew how many more might be _en route_! What a tribute to the
Largest Circulations!

Jones explained his delay by saying that "the stuff was coming in thick
as flies"; so he had waited until a lull fell upon each great office in
turn. When the count had been made by us, and envelopes neatly piled in
stacks of twenty-four on a large desk hastily cleared for action, Terry
sent his servant away. And then began the fun!

Yes, it was fun: "fun for the boys," if "death to the frogs." But we
hadn't gone far when between laughs we felt the pricks of conscience.
Alas for all these people who burned to possess our moated grange
"practically free," at its absurdly low rent! And the moated grange
didn't exist. Not one of the unfortunate wretches would so much as get
an answer to his S. O. S.

They were not all _Nouveaux Riches_ by any means, these eager senders of
letters and telegrams. Fearing repulse from the fastidious moat-owner,
they described themselves attractively, even by wire, at so much the
word. They were young; they were of good family; they were lately
married or going to be married. Their husbands or fathers were V. C.'s.
There was every reason why they, and they alone, should have the house.
They begged that particulars might be telegraphed. They enclosed stamps
on addressed envelopes. As the moated grange was "rich in old oak," so
did we now become rich in new stamps! Some people were willing to take
the house on its description without waiting to see it. Others assured
the advertiser that money was no object to them; he might ask what rent
he liked; and these were the ones on whom we wasted no pity. If this was
what the first three hours brought forth, how would the tide swell by
the end of the day--the end of the _week_? Tarpeia buried under the
shields and bracelets wasn't _in_ it with us!

Terry and I divided the budget, planning to exchange when all had been
read. But we couldn't keep silent. Every second minute one or other of
us exploded: "You _must_ hear this!" "Just listen to _one_ more!"

About halfway through my pile, I picked up a remarkably alluring
envelope. It was a peculiar pale shade of purple, the paper being of
rich satin quality suggesting pre-war. The address of the newspaper
office was in purple ink, and the handwriting was impressive. But what
struck me most was a gold crown on the back of the envelope, above a
purple seal; a crown signifying the same rank as my own.

I glanced up to see if Terry were noticing. If he had been, I should
have passed the letter to him as a _bonne bouche_, for this really was
_his_ show, and I wanted him to have all the plums. But he was grinning
over somebody's photograph, so I broke the seal without disturbing him.

I couldn't keep up this reserve for long, however; I hadn't read far
when I burst out with a "By Jove!"

"What is it?" asked Terry.

"We've hooked quite a big fish," said I. "Listen to this: 'The Princess
Avalesco presents her compliments to T. B., and hopes that he will----'
but, my goodness _gracious_, Captain Burns! What's the matter?"

The man had gone pale as skim-milk, and was staring at me as though I'd
turned into a Gorgon.



CHAPTER IV

THE TANGLED WEB


"Read the name again, please," Terry said, controlling his voice.

"Avalesco--the Princess Avalesco." I felt suddenly frightened. I'd been
playing with the public as if people were my puppets. Now I had a vague
conviction at the back of my brain that Fate had made a puppet of me.

"I thought so. But I couldn't believe my own ears," said Terry. "Good
heavens! what a situation!"

"I--don't understand," I hesitated. "Perhaps you'd rather not have me
understand? If so, don't tell me anything."

"I must tell you!" he said.

"Not unless you wish."

"I do! We are pals now. You've helped me. Maybe you can go on helping.
You'll advise me, if there's any way I can use this--this _amazing_
chance."

I said I'd be glad to help, and then waited for him to make the next
move.

Captain Burns sat as if dazed for a few seconds, but presently he asked
me to go on with the letter.

I took it up where I'd broken off. "Compliments to T. B., and hopes that
he will be able to let his moated grange to her till the end of
September. The Princess feels sure, from the description, that the place
will suit her. T. B. will probably know her name, but if not, he can
have any references desired. She is at the Savoy and has been ill, or
would be glad to meet T. B. in person. Her companion, Mrs. Dobell, will,
however, hold herself free to keep any appointment which may be made by
telephone. The Princess hopes that the moated grange is still free, and
feels that, if she obtains early possession, her health will soon be
restored in such beautiful surroundings. P. S.--The Princess is
particularly interested in the _twisted chimney_, and trusts there is a
history of the house."

I read fast, and when I'd finished, looked up at Terry. "If you have a
secret to tell, I'm ready with advice and sympathy," said my eyes.

"When the Princess Avalesco was Margaret Revell, I was in love with
her," Terry Burns answered them. "I adored her! She was seven or eight
years older than I, but the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Of course
she wouldn't look at me! I was about as important as a slum child to
her. In America, the Revells were like your royalties. She was a
princess, even then--without a title. To get one, she sold herself. To
think that _she_ should answer that fool advertisement of ours! Heavens!
I'm like Tantalus. I see the blessed water I'd give my life to drink,
held to my lips, only to have it snatched away!"

"Why snatched away?" I questioned.

"'Why?' Because if there _were_ a moated grange, I could meet her. Her
husband's dead. You know he was killed before Roumania'd been fighting a
week. Things are very different with me, too, these days. I'm a man--not
a boy. And I've come into more money than I ever dreamed I'd have. Not a
huge fortune like hers, but a respectable pile. Who knows what might
have happened? But there's _no_ moated grange, and so----"

"Why shouldn't there be one?" I broke in. And while he stared blankly, I
hurried on. I reminded Captain Burns of what I had said yesterday: that
there were houses of that description, more or less, in England, _real_
houses!--my own, for instance. Courtenaye Abbey was out of the question,
because it was let to my cousin Jim, and was being shown to the public
as a sort of museum; but there were other places. I knew of several. As
Captain Burns was so rich, he might hire one, and let it to the Princess
Avalesco.

For a moment he brightened, but a sudden thought obscured him, like a
cloud.

"Not places with twisted chimneys!" he groaned.

This brought me up short. I stubbed my brain against that twisted
chimney! But when I'd recovered from the blow, I raised my head. "Yes,
places with twisted chimneys! At least, _one_ such place."

"Ah, Hampton Court. You said the only other twisted chimney was there."

"The _advertisement_ said that."

"Well----"

"It's a pity," I admitted, "that I thought of the twisted chimney. It
was an unnecessary extravagance, though I meant well. But it never would
have occurred to me as an extra lure if I hadn't known about a house
where such a chimney exists. The one house of the kind I ever heard of
except Hampton Court."

Terry sprang to his feet, a changed man, young and vital.

"Can we get it?"

"Ah, if I knew! But we can try. If you don't care what you pay?"

"I don't. Not a--hang."

I, too, jumped up, and took from my desk a bulky volume--Burke. This I
brought back to my chair, and sat down with it on my lap. On one knee
beside me, Terry Burns watched me turn the pages. At "Sc" I stopped, to
read aloud all about the Scarletts. But before beginning I warned Terry:
"I never knew any of the Scarletts myself," I said, "but I've heard my
grandmother say they were the wickedest family in England, which meant a
lot from _her_. She wasn't exactly a _saint_!"

We learned from the book what I had almost forgotten, that Lord
Scarlett, the eleventh baron, held the title because his elder brother,
Cecil, had died in Australia unmarried. He, himself, was married, with
one young son, his wife being the daughter of a German wine merchant.

As I read, I remembered the gossip heard by my childish ears. "Bertie
Scarlett," as Grandmother called him, was not only the wickedest, but
the poorest peer in England according to her--too poor to live at Dun
Moat, his place in Devonshire, my own county. The remedy was
marriage--with an heiress. He tried America. Nothing doing. The girls he
invited to become Lady Scarlett drew the line at anything beneath an
earl. Or perhaps his reputation was against him. There were many people
who knew he was unpopular at Court; unpopular being the mildest word
possible. And he was middle-aged and far from good-looking. So the best
he could manage was a German heiress, of an age not unsuited to his own.
Her father, Herr Goldstein, lived in some little Rhine town, and was
supposed to be rolling in marks (that was six or seven years before the
war); however, the Goldsteins met Lord Scarlett not in Germany but at
Monte Carlo, where Papa G. was a well-known punter. Luck went wrong with
him, and later the war came. Altogether, the marriage had failed to
accomplish for Bertie Scarlett's pocket and his place what he had hoped
from it. And apparently the one appreciable result was a little boy,
half of German blood. There were hopes that, after the war, Herr
Goldstein's business might rise again to something like its old value,
in which case his daughter would reap the benefit. Meanwhile, however,
if Grandmother was right, things were at a low ebb; and I thought that
Lord Scarlett would most likely snap at an offer for Dun Moat.

Terry was immensely cheered by my story and opinion. But such a
ready-made solution of the difficulty seemed too good to be true. He got
our advertisement, and read it out to me, pausing at each detail of
perfection which we had light-heartedly bestowed upon our moated grange.
"The twisted chimney and the moat aren't everything," he groaned. "Carp
and water-lilies we might supply, if they don't exist; peacocks, too.
Nearly all historic English houses are what the agents call 'rich in old
oak.' But what about those 'exquisite oriels,' those famous fireplaces,
those stairways, those celebrated ceilings, and corbels--whatever they
are? No one house, outside our brains, can have them _all_. If
anything's missing in the list she'll cry off, and call T. B. a fraud."

"She'll only remember the most exciting things," I said. "I don't see
her walking round the house with the 'ad.' in her hand, do you? She'll
be captured by the _tout ensemble_. But the first thing is to catch our
hare--I mean our house. You 'phone to the companion, Mrs. Dobell, at
once. Say that before you got her letter you'd practically given the
refusal of your place to someone else, but that you met the Princess
Avalesco years ago, and would prefer to have her as your tenant, if she
cares to leave the matter open for a few days. She'll say 'yes' like a
shot. And meanwhile, I'll be inquiring the state of affairs at Dun
Moat."

"How can you inquire without going there, and wasting a day, when we
might be getting hold of another place, perhaps, and--and _building_ a
twisted chimney to match the 'ad.'?" Terry raged, walking up and down
the room.

"Quite simply," I said. "I'll get Jim Courtenaye on long-distance 'phone
at the Abbey, where he's had a telephone installed. He doesn't live
there, but at Courtenaye Coombe, a village close by. However, I hear
he's at the Abbey from morn till dewy eve, so I'll ring him up. What he
doesn't know about the Scarletts he'll find out so quickly you'll not
have time to turn."

"How do you know he'll be so quick?" persisted Terry. "If he's only your
forty-fourth cousin he may be luke-warm----"

I stopped him with a look. "Whatever else Jim Courtenaye may be, he's
_not_ luke-warm!" I said. "He has red hair and black eyes. And he is
either my fiercest enemy or my warmest friend, I'm not sure which.
Anyhow, he saved my life once, at great trouble and danger to himself;
so I don't think he'll hesitate at getting a little information for me
if I pay him the compliment of calling him up on the 'phone."

"I _see_!" said Terry. And I believe he did see--perhaps more than I
meant him to see. But at worst, he would in future realize that there
_were_ men on earth not so blind to my attractions as he.

While Terry 'phoned from the Carstairs' flat to the companion of
Princess Avalesco, I 'phoned from mine to Jim. And I could not help it
if my heart beat fast when I in London heard his voice answering from
Devonshire. He has one of those nice, drawly American voices that _do_
make a woman's heart beat for a man whether she likes him or hates him!

I explained what I wanted to find out about the Scarletts, and that it
must be "quite in confidence." Jim promised to make inquiries at once,
and when I politely said: "Sorry to give you so much bother," he
replied, "You needn't let _that_ worry you, my dear!"

Of course, he had no right to call me his "dear." I never heard of it
being done by the _best_ "forty-fourth cousins." But as I was asking a
favour of him, for Terry Burns' sake I let it pass.

These Americans, especially ex-cowboy ones, _do_ seem to act with
lightning rapidity. I suppose it comes from having to lasso creatures
while going at cinema speed, or else getting out of their way at the
same rate of progress! I expected to hear next morning at earliest, but
that evening, just before shutting-up time for post offices, my 'phone
bell rang. Jim Courtenaye was at the other end, talking from the Abbey.

"Lord and Lady Scarlett are living at Dun Moat," he said, "with their
venomous little brute of a boy; and they must be dashed hard up, because
they have only one servant in their enormous house, and a single
gardener on a place that needs a dozen. But it seems that Scarlett has
refused several big offers both to sell and let. Heaven knows why.
Perhaps the man's mad. Anyhow, that's all I can tell you at present.
They say it's no good hoping Scarlett will part. But I might find out
_why_ he won't, if that's any use."

"It isn't," I answered. "But thanks, all the same. How did you get hold
of this information so soon?"

"Very simply," said Jim. "I ran over to the nearest town, Dawlish, in
the car, and had a pow-wow with an estate agent, as if I were wanting
the house myself. I'm just back."

"You really are good!" I exclaimed, rather grudgingly, for Grandmother
and I always suffered in changing our opinions of people, as snakes must
suffer when they change their skins.

"I'd do a lot more than that for you, you know!" he said.

I did know. He had already done more--much more. But my only response
was to ring off. That was safest!

Next morning Terry Burns and I took the first train to Devonshire, and
at Dawlish hired a taxi for Dun Moat, which is about twelve miles from
there.

We were going to beard the Scarlett lion in his den!



CHAPTER V

THE KNITTING WOMAN OF DUN MOAT


"I must and _shall_ have this place!" Terry said, as our humble taxi
drove through the glorious old park, and came in sight of the house.

There were the old-world gardens; the statues; the fountains (it was a
detail that they didn't fount!); there were the white peacocks
(moulting); there was the moat so crammed with water-lilies that if the
Scarletts had eaten the carp, they would never be missed. There were the
"exquisite oriels," and above all, there was the twisted chimney!

An air of tragic neglect hung over everything. The grass needed mowing;
the flowers grew as they liked. Glass was even missing from several
windows. Still, it was miraculously the twin of the place we had
described in our embarrassingly perfect "ad."

As we stood in front of the enormous, nail-studded door, and Terry
pressed again and again an electric bell (the one modern touch about the
place), he had the air of waiting a signal to go "over the top."

"You look fierce enough to bayonet fifty Boches off your own bat!" I
whispered.

"Lady Scarlett _is_ a Boche, isn't she?" he mumbled back. And just
then--after we'd rung ten times--an old woman opened the door--a witch
of an old woman; a witch out of a German fairy-book.

The instant I saw her, I felt that there was _something wrong_ about
this house. From under wrinkled lids the woman peered out, ratlike; and
though her lips were closed--leaving the first word to us--her eyes
said, "What the devil do you want? Whatever it is, you won't get it, so
the sooner you go the better."

We had planned that I should start the ball rolling, by mention of my
grandmother's name. But Terry was bursting with renewed interest in
life, and the woman was answering his question before I had time to
speak. "Let the place? No, sir! His lordship refuses all offers. It is
useless to make one. He does not see strangers."

"We are not strangers," I rapped out with all Grandmother's haughtiness.
"Tell Lord Scarlett that the Princess di Miramare, grand-daughter of
Mrs. Raleigh Courtenaye, wishes a few words with him."

_That_ was the way to manage her! She came of a breed over whom for
centuries Prussian Junkers had power of life and death; and though she
spoke English, it was with the precise wording of one who has learned
the language painfully. In me she recognized the legitimate tyrant, and
yielded.

We were admitted with reluctance into a magnificent hall which magically
matched our description: stone-paved, with a vaulted roof, and an
immense oriel window the height of two stories. While our gaze travelled
from the carved stone chimney-piece to ancient suits of armour, and such
Tudor and Jacobean furniture as remained unsold, a slight sound
attracted our attention to the "historic staircase," with its
"dog-gates."

A woman was coming down. She had knitting in her hand, and had dropped
one of her needles. It was that which made the slight noise we'd heard;
and Terry stepped quickly forward to pick it up.

His back was turned to me as he offered the stiletto-like instrument to
its owner, so I could not see his face. But I could imagine that
charming smile of his, as he looked up at the figure on the stairs. Just
so might Sir Walter Raleigh have looked when he'd neatly spread his
cloak for Queen Bess; and if he had happened to ask a favour then, it
would have been hard for the sovereign to resist!

The woman coming downstairs did not resemble any portrait of the Virgin
Queen. She was stout and short-necked; and with her hard, dark face, her
implacable eyes, and her knitting, was as much like Madame Defarge in
modern dress as a German could be. But even Madame Defarge was a woman!
And probably she used her influence now and then in favour of some
handsome male head, preferring to see female ones pop into the sawdust!

Her face softened slightly as she accepted the needle, and stiffened
again as I came forward.

"My husband is occupied," she said, in much the same stilted English as
that of her old servant. "He sends his compliments to the Princess di
Miramare and her friend, and hopes both will excuse him. If it is an
offer for our place you have come to make, I must refuse in his name. We
do not wish to move."

Her tone, her expression, gave to her words the solemnity of an oath
sworn by a houseful of Medes and Persians.

It seemed that there was nothing left for us to do, save bow to Lady
Scarlett's decision, and retire defeated to our taxi. But I felt that my
reputation as a Brightener was at stake, with Terry's hopes. If we
failed, instead of brightening I should have blighted him for ever! That
couldn't, shouldn't be!

All there was of me yearned for an inspiration, and it came.

"My friend, Captain Burns, wouldn't ask you to move," I heard myself
saying. "He's so anxious to have Dun Moat that he'd offer you any rent
within reason, and would invite you to select some retired rooms for
yourselves, where you might live undisturbed by the tenant. This house
is so large it occurs to me that such an arrangement wouldn't be
uncomfortable."

Terry flashed me a look of amazement, which turned to acquiescence; and
the surprise on Lady Scarlett's face was encouraging. Evidently no one
else had made such a suggestion. She seemed not only astonished, but
tempted.

For a moment she reflected; then admitted that my proposal was a new
one. She would submit it to her husband. They would talk it over if we
cared to wait. We did care to; and the lady vanished like a stout ghost
into the dimness of stony shadows.

Terry said that he felt his head growing gray, hair by hair, with
suspense; but when Lady Scarlett came back at last no change could be
seen by the naked eye.

"My husband and I will consider your proposal," she said, "provided the
price is satisfactory, and taking it for granted that we agree on the
rooms for our occupation. We should want those known as the 'garden
court suite.' And we should ask one hundred and fifty pounds a week, for
a possible term of ten weeks, on the proviso that we could terminate the
tenancy with a fortnight's notice at any time after the first month."

I was dumbfounded. The place, unique and beautiful as it was, had been
allowed to run down so disastrously, and everything outside and inside
seemed to be in such a state of disrepair, that it was worth at most a
rent of thirty guineas a week. Terry might call himself rich, but surely
he'd not consent to being rooked to that extent, in order to be landlord
to his love. I expected him to protest, to bargain, and beat the lady
down. But he brushed the financial question away like a cobweb, and
began to haggle about the rooms.

"The money part will be all right," he said. "But I want a lady to come
here--a lady who's been ill. She must have the prettiest rooms there
are: something overlooking the moat, with jolly oriel windows and plenty
of old oak."

Lady Scarlett smiled. "There is no obstacle to that! The suite I specify
is at the far end of the house, in a comparatively modern wing, and most
people would think it the least desirable. We like it because it is
compact and private. We can keep it going with one servant. It is called
the 'garden court suite' because it is built round a small square. There
is a separate outside entrance, as well as one door communicating with
the house. The suite has generally been occupied by a bachelor heir."

As she talked, Terry reflected. "Look here, Lady Scarlett!" he
exclaimed, just contriving not to break in. "I've half a mind to confide
in you. The truth is, I want to pose as the owner of this place. I
suppose you wouldn't sell it?"

"We could not if we would," replied the daughter of the German
wine-seller. "It is entailed and the entail cannot be broken till our
son comes of age."

"That settles _that_! But you said beforehand, nothing would induce you
to turn out----"

"No money you could offer: not a thousand, not ten thousand a week--at
least, at present. The garden court suite is the one solution."

"Well, so be it! But--I beg your pardon if I'm rude--could you--er--seem
not to be there? Could I say I'd lent the rooms to someone I didn't like
to turn out? If you'd consent, I'd make it two hundred a week."

Lady Scarlett's blackberry-and-skim-milk eyes lit. "You want the lady to
believe that you have bought Dun Moat?"

For answer, he told her of our advertisement, and the result. I thought
this a mistake. You'd only to look at the woman to see that she'd no
sense of humour; and to confide in a person without one is courting
trouble. Besides, I still had that impression of _something wrong_. I
had no definite suspicion; but why had the Scarletts, poor as they were,
determined to stick to the house? However, I could no more have stopped
Terry Burns when he got going than I could have stopped a torrent by
throwing in rose-petals. Which shows how he had changed. The worry a few
days ago would have been to get him going!

As Lady Scarlett listened she knitted, with strong, predatory hands.
Language, they say, is used to conceal thought. So, it occurred to me,
is knitting. I felt, watching her as a wise mouse should watch a cat,
that she was making up her mind to some action more beneficial to
herself than Terry. But for my life I couldn't guess what. She seemed to
weave a knitted screen between my mind and hers!

In the end, however, she announced that for two hundred pounds a week
her family could--to all intents and purposes--blot itself temporarily
out of existence, in the suite of the garden court. The American lady
might believe them to be poor relations of Captain Burns, or even
servants, for all she cared! Having arrived at this conclusion, she
proposed fetching her husband, that an agreement of an informal kind
might be drawn up. Again she vanished; and when Lord Scarlett appeared,
it was alone.

There were a number of ancestral portraits hanging on the walls of the
great hall: fox-faced men, most of them, with a prevailing, sharp-nosed,
slant-eyed type; and "Bertie" Scarlett was no exception to the rule. As
he came deliberately down the stairway which his wife had descended, I
remembered a scandal of his youth that Grandmother had sketched. He'd
been in a crack regiment once, and though desperately poor had tried to
live as a smart man about town. At some country-house party he'd been
accused of cheating at baccarat. The story was hushed up, but he had
left the army; and people--particularly royalties--had looked down their
noses at him ever since. His tweeds were shabby now, and he was growing
middle-aged and bald; all the same he had the air of the leading man in
a _cause célèbre_. I hadn't liked his wife, and I liked him as little!

He made the same point as hers: that the agreement might be terminated
by him (_not_ by the tenant) with a fortnight's notice, given at any
time after the first month. This was a queer proviso, as queer as the
family resolve to remain on the spot. And it seemed to me that one was
part and parcel of the other, though I couldn't see the link which
united the two.

As for Terry, he puzzled over none of these things. He wanted the place
even on preposterous terms. When Lord Scarlett had drawn up an
agreement, his signature flashed across the paper like a streak of
lightning, so wild was he to rush back to London bearing the news to his
princess. Lord Scarlett--sure of his mad client--offered to have the
agreement polished up in legal form without further bother for Captain
Burns, and we were free to go.

Terry could talk of nothing on the way home but his marvellous luck.
_Hang_ the money! He'd have paid twice as much, if need be. The next
thing was to smarten the place: buy some more "historic" furniture to
fill the gaps made by sales, send down a decorator to see what beds,
etc., needed renovating, have an expert look at the drains and the
central heating (long unused) which had been put in with German money,
engage a staff of servants for indoors and out; get hold of two or three
young peacocks whose tails hadn't moulted.

"If I don't care how much I spend, don't you think we can make an
earthly paradise of the place in a week?" he appealed.

"We?" I echoed. "Why, I thought my part was played!"

His grieved eyes reproached me. What? After going so far, I was going to
desert him in the midst of the woods? He begged me to stand by him till
all was ready to receive the Princess. If I didn't, something was sure
to go wrong.

Well, once a Brightener, always a Brightener, I suppose! And acting on
this principle I yielded. I promised to stop for a week at Dawley St.
Ann, a village within a mile of Dun Moat (there's a dear old inn
there!), and superintend preparations for the beloved tenant. When she
was safely installed, I would go home--or elsewhere, and Terry could
take my rooms at the inn. Being her neighbour as well as landlord, he'd
easily find excuses to see the Princess every day, and thus get his
money's worth of Dun Moat.

All this was settled before we reached London; and the first thing Terry
thought of on entering the flat (mine, not his!) was to ring up the
Savoy. The answer came quickly; and I saw a light of rapture on his
face. The Princess herself was at the telephone!



CHAPTER VI

THE LIGHTNING STROKE


It was amazing what Terry and I accomplished in the next few days, I at
Dawley St. Ann, close to Dun Moat, he flashing back and forth between
there and London!

My incentive and reward in one consisted of the all but incredible
change for the better in him. Terry's, was the hope of meeting the
Adored Lady; for he had not met her yet. Her voice thrilled him through
the telephone, saying that of _course_ she "remembered Terry Burns," but
it was her companion, Mrs. Dobell, who received him at the Savoy. She it
was who carried messages from the still-ailing Princess Avalesco to him,
and handed on to the Princess his vague explanations as to how he had
acquired Dun Moat. But Terry had seen, in the two ladies' private
sitting room at the hotel, an ivory miniature of the Princess, and its
beauty had poured oil on the fire of his love. At what period in her
career it had been painted he didn't know, not daring or caring to ask
Mrs. Dobell; but one thing was sure--it showed her lovelier than of old.

Seeing the boy on the way to such a cure as twenty Sir Humphrey Hales
could never have produced, I was happy while wrestling for his sake with
the servant problem, placing brand-new "antique" furniture in half-empty
rooms, and watching neglected lawns rolled to velvet. But not once
during my daily pilgrimage to Dun Moat did I catch sight of Lord or Lady
Scarlett or their old German servant. True to the bargain, they had
officially ceased to exist; and my one tangible reminder of the family
was a glimpse of a little boy who stared through a closed window of the
end wing--the "suite of the garden court."

I'd been passing that way to criticize the work of the gardeners, and
looked up to admire the twisted chimney, which rose practically at the
junction of the oldest part of the house with the newest. Just for an
instant, a small hatchet face peered at me, and vanished as if its owner
had been snatched away by a strong hand; but I had time to say to
myself, "Like father like son!" And I smiled in remembering that Jim
Courtenaye had called the Scarlett's heir a "venomous little brute."

At last came the day when the Princess Avalesco, Mrs. Dobell, and a maid
were to motor down and take possession of Dun Moat. Terry (much thanked
through the telephone for supplying the place with servants, etcetera)
was on the spot before them. He had dashed over to see me at Dawley St.
Ann (where I was packing for my return to town), looking extremely
handsome; and had excitedly offered to run back and tell me "all about
her" before I had to take my train.

"I shall go with you to the station," he said. "You've been the most
gorgeous brick to me! You've given me happiness and new life. And the
one thing which could make to-day better than it is, would be your
stopping on."

I merely smiled at this, for I'd pointed out that my continued presence
would be misunderstood by the Princess Avalesco, to his disadvantage;
and he reluctantly agreed. So when he had gone to meet his Wonder-of
the-World I continued to pack.

Very likely he would forget such a trifle as the time for my train, I
thought, and if he did turn up it would be at the last minute. I was
surprised, therefore, when, after an hour, I saw him whirling up to the
inn door in the one and only village taxi.

A moment later I was bidding him enter my sitting room. A question
trembled on my lips, but the sight of his face choked it into a gasp.

Terry came in, and flung himself into a chair.

"Good heavens, what's happened?" I ventured.

He did not answer at first. He only stared. Then he found his voice. "I
don't know how to tell you what's happened," he groaned. "You'll despise
me. You'll want to kick me out of your room."

"I won't!" I spoke sharply, to bring him to himself. "What _is_ it?
Hasn't she come?"

"She has come. _That's_ it!"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, my dear Pal, I--I don't love her any more."

If I hadn't been sitting in a chair I should have collapsed on to
one--or the floor.

"You don't _love_ her?" I faltered.

"No. And that's not all. It's perhaps not even the worst!"

"If you don't tell me at once, I shall scream."

"I hardly know how. I--oh, good lord!--I--I've fallen in love with
someone else."

I must now make a confession as shameful as his. My mind jumped to the
conclusion that Terry Burns was referring to me. I expected him to
explain that, on seeing his ideal after these many years, he found that
after all it was his faithful Pal he loved! I was conceited enough to
think this quite natural, though regrettable, and my first impulse was
to spare us both the pain of such an avowal.

"Good gracious!" I warded him off. "So hearts can really be caught in
the rebound? But what I most want to know is, why have you unloved
Princess Avalesco?"

"It's most horribly disloyal and beastly of me. If you _must_ know, it's
because she's lost her beauty, and has got fat. I wouldn't have believed
that a few years could make such a difference. And she can't be
thirty-five! But she's a mountain. And her hair looks jolly queer. I
think it must have come out with some illness, and she's got on her head
one of those things you call a combination."

"We don't! We call it a transformation," I corrected him in haste. "Oh,
this is awful! Think of the fortune you've spent to offer Dun Moat to
your lady-love for a few weeks, only to discover that she _isn't_ your
lady-love! What a waste! I suppose now you'll go up to London----"

"No," said Terry, "I shall stay here. And--I can't feel that the money's
wasted in taking Dun Moat. Just seeing such a face as I've seen is worth
every sovereign."

"Face?" I echoed.

"Yes. I told you I'd fallen in love. You must have guessed it was with
someone at Dun Moat, as I've been nowhere else."

I hadn't guessed that. But I wasn't going to let him know that my
guesses had come home to roost! "It can't be Mrs. Dobell," I said,
"because you've seen her before, and she's old. Has the Princess got a
beautiful Cinderella for a maid, and----"

"No--no!" Terry protested. "I almost wish it were like that. It would be
humiliating, but simple. The thing that's happened--this lightning
stroke--is far from simple. I may have gone mad. Or, I may have fallen
in love with a ghost."

Relieved of my first suspicion, I pressed him to tell the story in as
few words as possible.

It seemed that Terry had arrived at Dun Moat before the Princess; and to
pass the time he began strolling about the gardens. His walk took him
all round the rambling old house, and something made him glance suddenly
up at one of the windows. There was no sound; yet it was as if a voice
had called. And at the window stood a girl.

She was looking down at him. And though the window was high and overhung
with ivy, Terry's eyes met hers. It was, he repeated, "a lightning
stroke!"

"She was rather like what Margaret Revell used to be years ago, when I
was a boy and fell in love with her," Terry went on. "I mean, she was
that type. And though she looked even lovelier than Margaret in those
days--_lots_ lovelier, and younger, too--I thought it must be the
Princess. You see, there didn't seem to be any one else it could be. And
at that distance, behind window glass, and after all these years, how
could I be sure? I said to myself, 'So the auto must have come and I've
missed hearing it. She's making her tour of the house without me!' I
couldn't stand that, so I sprinted for the door. And I was just in time
to meet the motor drawing up in front of it. Great Heligoland! The shock
I got when--at that moment of all others, my eyes dazzled with a
dream--I saw the real Princess! Somehow I blundered through the meeting
with her, and didn't utterly disgrace myself. But I made an excuse about
taking a friend to a train, and bolted as soon as I could. I didn't come
straight here. I went back to the window where I'd seen the face--the
vision--the ghost--whatever it was. No one was there. A curtain was
pulled across. And I remembered then that I'd always seen it covered.
Say, Princess, do you think I'm going mad--just when I hoped I was
cured? Was it the spirit of Margaret Revell's lost youth I saw,
or--or----"

"At which window was the--er--Being?" I cut in sharply.

"It was close under the twisted chimney."

"Ah! In the wing where the Scarletts are: the suite of the garden
court!"

"Yes. I forgot when I thought it must be Margaret, that the window was
in the Scarletts' wing. Of course, Margaret couldn't have gone there.
Princess, you're afraid to tell me, but you _do_ think I'm off my head!"

"I don't," I assured him. "Just what I think I hardly know myself. But I
shouldn't wonder if you'd stumbled on to the key of the mystery."

"What mystery?"

"The mystery of Dun Moat; the mystery of the Scarletts; why they
wouldn't let or sell the place until I happened to think of bribing them
with the suggestion that they should stay on. Captain Burns, it wasn't a
ghost you saw, never fear! It was a real live person--the incarnate
reason why at all costs the Scarletts must stay at Dun Moat."

Terry blushed with excitement. "Oh, if I could believe you, I should be
almost happy! If that girl--that heavenly girl!--exists at Dun Moat, and
I'm the tenant, I shall meet her. I----"

He went on rhapsodizing until the look in my eyes pulled him up short!
"What is it?" he asked. "Don't you approve of my wanting to meet her?
Don't you----"

"I approve with all my heart," I said. "But I'm wondering--_wondering_!
Why are the Scarletts hiding a girl? Has she done something that makes
it wise to keep her out of sight? Or is it _they_ who don't wish her to
be seen, for reasons of their own?"

"Madam, the porter is asking if your luggage is ready to go down,"
announced a maid.

"Luggage!" Terry and I stared at each other. I had forgotten that I was
going to London.

"But you can't leave me now!" he implored.

"I've changed my mind," I explained to the maid. "I shall take another
train!"



CHAPTER VII

THE RED BAIZE DOOR


It ended in my deciding to stop on at the inn, while Terry Burns went
into lodgings. I felt that he was right. I _had_ to stand by!

It wasn't only the romance of Terry falling out of love with his
Princess, and in love with a face, which held me. There was more in the
affair than that. The impression I had received when the old servant
first opened the door of Dun Moat came back to me sharply--and indeed it
had never gone--an impression that there was something _wrong_ in the
house.

I didn't for a moment believe that Terry had "seen a ghost," or had an
optical illusion. He'd distinctly beheld a girl at the window--evidently
the same window from which the Scarlett boy had looked at me. Though he
had seen her for a moment only, by questioning I got quite an accurate
description of her appearance: large dark eyes in a delicate oval face;
full red lips, the upper one very short; a cleft chin; a slender little
aquiline nose, and auburn hair parted Madonna fashion on a broad
forehead. She had worn a black dress, Terry thought, cut rather low at
the throat. In order to look out, she had held back the gray curtain;
and recalling the picture she made, it seemed to him that she had a
frightened air. His eyes had met hers, and she had bent forward, as if
she wished to speak. He had paused, but as he did so the girl started,
and drew hastily back. It was then that Terry ran toward the door,
thinking a rejuvenated, rebeautified Margaret Revell was making a tour
of exploration without him.

Now that he was out of love with the Princess Avalesco, there was no
longer a pressing reason to keep me in the background. For all he cared,
she might misunderstand the situation as much as she confoundedly
pleased! It was decided, therefore, that I should promptly call. I would
be nice to her, and try to get myself invited often to Dun Moat. I would
wander in the garden, where I must be seen by the Scarletts; and as
their presence in the "suite of the garden court" was no secret from me,
it seemed that there would be no indiscretion in my visiting Lady
Scarlett. Once in that wing, it would go hard if I didn't get a peep at
all its occupants!

I knew that the Scarletts kept up communication with the outer world, so
far as obtaining food was concerned, through the old German woman, whose
name was Hedwig Kramm. She lived in the main part of the house, and was
ostensibly in the service of the tenant, but most of her time was spent
in looking after her master and mistress. I thought that she might be
handy as a messenger.

I went next day to Dun Moat, Terry having explained me as a friend who'd
helped get the house ready for guests, and thus deserved gratitude from
them. If I had inwardly reproached him for fickleness when he confessed
his _volte face_, I exonerated him at sight of his old love. On
principle, regard for a woman shouldn't change with her looks. But a
man's affection can't spread to the square inch!

Not that the Princess Avalesco's inches _were_ square. They were, on the
contrary, quite, quite round. But there were so terribly many of them,
mostly in the wrong place! And what was left of her beauty was
concentrated in a small island of features at the centre of a large sea
of face; one of those faces that ought to wear _stays_! Luckily she
needed no pity from me. She didn't know she was a tragic figure--if you
could call her a figure! And she didn't miss Terry's love, because she
loved herself overwhelmingly.

I succeeded in my object. She took a fancy to me as (so to speak) a
fellow princess. I sauntered through garden paths, hearing about all the
men who wanted to marry her, and was able to get a good look at _the_
window. There was, however, nothing to see there. An irritating gray
curtain covered it like a shut eyelid.

"Captain Burns has put some sort of old retainers into that wing it
seems," said Princess Avalesco, seeing me glance up. "He has a right to
do so, of course, as I'm paying a ridiculously low rent for this
wonderful house, and I've more rooms anyhow than I know what to do with.
He tells me the wing is comparatively modern, and not interesting, so I
don't mind."

I rejoiced that she was resigned! I'm afraid, if _I'd_ been the tenant
of Dun Moat, I should have felt about that "suite of the garden court"
as Fatima felt about Bluebeard's little locked room. In fact, I _did_
feel so; and though I was able to say "Yes" and "No" and "Oh, really?"
at the right places, I was thinking every moment how to find out what
that dropped curtain hid.

At first, I had planned to send Lady Scarlett a message by Kramm; but I
reflected that a refusal to receive visitors would raise a barrier
difficult to pass except by force. And force, unless we could be sure of
an affair for the police, was out of the question.

"_L'audace! Toujours l'audace!_" was the maxim which rang through my
head; and before I had been long with the Princess Avalesco that day I'd
resolved to try its effect.

My hostess and her companion had arranged to motor to Dawlish directly
after tea. They invited me to go with them, or if I didn't care to do
that, they offered to put off the excursion, rather than my visit should
be cut short. I begged them to go, however, asking permission to remain
in their absence to chat with the housekeeper, and learn whether various
things ordered at Captain Burns' request had arrived.

With this excuse I got rid of the ladies, and as the new servants had
been engaged by me, I was _persona grata_ in the house. Five minutes
after the big car had spun away, I was hurrying through a long corridor
that led to the end wing. As it had been built for bachelors, there was
only one means of direct communication with the house. This was on the
ground floor, and all I knew of it by sight was a door covered with red
baize. I judged that this door would be locked, and that Kramm would
have a key. If I could make myself heard on the other side, I hoped that
the Scarletts would think Kramm had mislaid her key, and would come to
let her in.

I was right. The red door was provided with a modern Yale lock. This
looked so new that I fancied it had been lately supplied; and, if so,
the Scarletts--not Terry--had provided it! Now, a surface of baize is
difficult to pound upon with any hope of being heard at a distance. I
resorted to tapping the silver ball handle of my sunshade on the door
frame; and this I did again and again without producing the effect I
wanted.

The sole result was a horrid noise which I feared might attract the
attention of some servant. With each rap I threw a glance over my
shoulder. Luckily, however, the long passage with its stone floor, its
row of small, deep windows, and its dark figures in armour, was far from
any part of the house where servants came and went.

At last I heard a sound behind the baize. It was another door opening,
and a child's voice squeaked, "Who's there? Is that you, Krammie?"

For an instant I was taken aback--but only for an instant. "No," I
confessed in honeyed tones, "it isn't Krammie; but its someone with
something nice for you. Can't you open the door?"

A latch turned, and a cautious crack revealed one foxy eye and half a
freckled nose. "Oh, it's _you_, is it?" was the greeting. "I saw you in
the garden."

"And I saw you at the window," said I. "That's why I've brought you a
present. I like boys."

"_What_ have you brought?" was the canny question.

Ah, what _had_ I brought? I must make up my mind quickly, for to cement
a friendship with this boy might be important. "A wrist-watch," I said,
deciding on a sacrifice. "A ripping watch, with radium figures you can
see in the dark. It's on a jolly gray suède strap. I'll give it to you
now--that is, if you'd like it.'

"Ye--es, I'd like it," said little Fox-face. "But my mother and father
don't want any one except Kramm to come in here. I'd get a whopping if I
let you in."

The door was wider open now. I could easily have pushed past the child;
but I was developing a plan more promising.

"Are your parents at home?" I primly asked.

"Yes. They're home, all right. They're never anywhere else, these days!
But they're in the garden court. I was going up to my room when I heard
the row at this door. I thought it must be Krammie."

"Look here," I said, "would your mother mind if you came out with me? I
know her, so I don't see why she should object. I'd give you the watch,
and a tophole tip, too. I think boys like tips! What do you say?"

"I'll come for a bit," he decided. "Mother'd be in a wax if she knew,
and so'd Father! But what I was going upstairs for when I heard you was
a punishment. I was sent to my room. Nobody'll look for me till food
time, and then 'twill only be Kramm. _She's_ all right, Krammie is! She
won't give me away. She'll let me in again with her key, and they won't
know I've been out. But we've got to find her."

"I'll find her," I promised. "Come along!"

He came, sneaking out like the little fox he was. I caught a glimpse of
two steps leading down to a stone vestibule, and beyond that a heavy
wooden door which the boy had shut behind him before beginning to parley
with me. Gently as I could, I closed the baize door, which locked itself
automatically; and the child being safely barred out from his own
quarters, I broke it to him that we must delay seeing Kramm. She'd be
sure to fuss, and want to bundle him back! We'd better have our fun
first. There was time.

Fox-face agreed, though with reluctance, which showed his fear of that
"whopping." But he brightened when I proposed foraging in the big hall
for some cakes left from tea. To my joy they were still on the table,
and, seizing a plate of chocolate éclairs, I rejoined the boy on the
terrace. We sat on a cushioned stone seat, and Fox-face (who said that
his name was "the same as his father's, Bertie") began industriously to
stuff. He did not, however, forget the watch or the tip. With his mouth
full he demanded both, and got them. In his delight, he warmed to
something more than fox, and I snatched this auspicious moment.
Delicately, as if walking on eggs (at sixpence each), I questioned him.
How did he like being mewed up in one wing of his own home? What did he
do to amuse himself? Wasn't it dull with no one to play with?

"Well, of course, there's Cecil," he said, munching. "I liked her at
first. She's pretty, about as pretty as you are, or maybe prettier. And
she brought me presents, just like you have. But she's in bed most of
the time now, so she's no fun any more. I sit with her sometimes, to see
she keeps still, and doesn't go to the window. She did go one day, when
I went out for a minute, because I thought she was asleep. But Mother
came and caught her at it."

"Oh, yes, Cecil!" I echoed. "That pretty girl with dark eyes, and hair
the colour of chestnuts. What relation is she to you?"

"I s'pose she's my cousin," said Bertie. "That's what she told me the
day she came--when she brought the presents. But Mother says she's no
_proper_ relation. How do _you_ know about her hair and eyes? You didn't
see her, did you? Mother'll have a fit if you did! She and Father don't
want any one to see Cecil. The minute she told them all about herself
they made her hide."

I was thinking hard. "Cecil" was the girl's name! That Lord Scarlett who
died in Australia had been Cecil. Grandmother had talked of him, and
said he was the "only decent one of the lot, though a ne'er-do-weel."
Now, the likeness of the name, and the boy's babblings, made me suspect
the plot of an old-fashioned melodrama.

"Oh, I guessed about her hair and eyes, because you said she was so
pretty; and dark eyes and auburn hair are the prettiest of all," I
assured him gaily. "I'm great at guessing things; I can guess like
magic! Now, I guess the presents she brought you were from Australia."

"So they were!" laughed Bertie. "That's what she said. And she told me
stories about things out there, before she got so weak."

"Poor Cecil! What's the matter with her?" I ventured.

"I don't know," mumbled the boy, interested in an éclair. "She cries a
lot. Mother says she's in a decline."

"Oughtn't she to see a doctor?" I wondered.

"Mother thinks a doctor'd be no good. Besides, I don't 'spect she'd let
one see Cecil, anyhow. I told you she won't allow any one in."

"Why does your mother give Cecil a room whose window looks over the
moat, if it's so important she should hide?" I persisted.

"All the rooms in that wing where we live are like that," Bertie
explained. "They've windows on the little court inside, and windows
outside, on the moat. But the outside window in Cecil's room is nailed
shut now, so she couldn't open it if she tried. And those little old
panes set in lead are thick as _thick_! I don't believe you could smash
one unless you had a hammer. Father says you couldn't. I mean, he says
_Cecil_ couldn't. And since the day Mother scolded Cecil for looking
out, the curtain's nailed down. It doesn't matter, though. Plenty of
light comes from the garden side."

"Where was Cecil before you went to live in the wing?" I asked. "Was she
in the house?"

"Oh, she'd been in that wing for weeks before Father and I moved in,"
said the boy. "Mother slept there at night. And Cecil could look out as
much as she liked, because there was no one about except us, and
Krammie. Krammie doesn't count! She's the same as the family, because
she's so old--she nursed Mother when Mother was a baby. Seems funny she
_could_ have been a baby, doesn't it? But Krammie loves her better than
any one, except me. She never splits on me to them if I do anything. But
now I've eaten all the cakes, so we'd better go and find Krammie. If we
don't, she may go into the wing first. There'd be the _devil_ to pay
then!"

It seemed to me that there was the devil to pay already--a devil in
woman's form--unless my imagination had made a fool of me. I shivered
with disgust at the thought of those two witches--the middle-aged one
and the hag. I hope I didn't take their wickedness for granted because
they were both _Germans_, though we have got into that habit in the last
five years, with all we've gone through, and with the villains who used
to be Russian in novels now being German!

If I did hand over my prize to the elder witch, the boy was lost to me.
I should never get a second chance to catch my fox with cake! And even
were I sure that he wouldn't blab, or that Kramm wouldn't, the secret of
our meeting was certain to leak out. In that case, the red baize door
would never again open to my knock. So what was I to do?

"Come along," urged the boy. Having got all he could get out of me, he
began to sulk. "I don't want to stay with you any more."

"Wait a minute," I pleaded. "I'm thinking of something--something to do
for _you_."

Though I wasn't a German, the most diabolical plot had just jumped into
my head!



CHAPTER VIII

"WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY A TRUMP"


It was a case of now or never!

"Look here, Bertie," I said, "what I've been thinking of is this: you'd
better hide, and let me go alone to find Krammie. _Suppose_ your mother
has looked in your room! She'll know from Kramm that the ladies are
motoring, so she may come out to speak with Kramm and ask for you.
Squeeze into this clump of lilac bushes at the end of the terrace! Trust
me to make everything right, and be back soon."

The picture of his mother on the warpath transformed Bertie to a jelly.
He was in the lilac bushes almost before I'd finished; and I hurried
off, ostensibly to seek Kramm. I did not, however, seek far, or in any
direction where she was likely to be. Presently I came back and in my
turn plunged into the bushes. I broke the news that I hadn't seen Kramm.
It looked as if the worst had happened. But Bertie must buck up. I'd
thought of a splendid plan! "How would you like to stay with me," I
wheedled, "until your mother is ready to crawl to get you back, cry and
sob, and swear not to punish you?"

The boy looked doubtful. "I've heard my mother _swear_," he said, "but
never cry or sob. Do you think she would?"

"I'm sure," I urged. "And you'll have the time of your life with me! All
the money you want for toys and chocolates. And you needn't go to bed
till you choose."

"What kind of toys?" he bargained. "Tanks and motor cars that go?"

"Rath_er_! And marching soldiers, and a gramophone."

"Righto, I'll come! And I don't care a darn if I never see Mother or
Father again!" decided the cherub.

I would have given as much for a taxi as Richard the Third for a horse;
but I'd walked from the village, and must return in the same way. We
started at once, hand in hand, stepping out as Bertie Scarlett the
second had never, perhaps, stepped before. It was only a mile to Dawley
St. Ann, and in twenty minutes I had smuggled my treasure into the inn
by a little-used side door. This led straight to my rooms, and I whisked
the boy in without being seen. So far, so good. But what to do with him
next was the question!

I saw that, in such an emergency, Terry Burns would hinder more than
help. He was cured of the listlessness, the melancholia, which had been
the aftermath of shell shock; but he was rather like a male Sleeping
Beauty just roused from a hundred years' nap--full of reawakened fire
and vigour, though not yet knowing what use to make of his brand-new
energy. It was my job to advise _him_, not his to counsel me! And if I
flung at his head my version of the "Cecil" story, his one impulse would
be to batter down the sported oak of the garden court suite.

He and I had agreed, in calm moments, that it would be vain and worse
than vain to appeal to the police. But calm moments were ended,
especially for Terry. _He_ might think that the police would act on the
story we could now patch together. _I_ didn't think so, or I wouldn't
have stolen the heir of all the Scarletts.

Well, I _had_ stolen him. Here he was in my small sitting room, stuffing
chocolates bestowed on me by Terry. On top of uncounted cakes they would
probably make him _sick_; and I couldn't send for a doctor without
endangering the plot.

No! the child must be disposed of, and there wasn't a minute to waste.
Terry's lodgings were as unsuited for a hiding-place as my rooms at the
inn. Both of us were likely to be suspected when Bertie was missed. I
didn't much care for myself, but I did care for Terry, because my
business was to keep him out of trouble, not to get him into it, even
for his love's sake.

Suddenly, as I concentrated on little Fox-face, and how to camouflage
him for my purpose, Jim Courtenaye's description of the child drifted
into my head.

_Jim!_ The thought of Jim just then was like picking up a pearl on the
way to the poor-house!

_Dear_ Jim! I hadn't been sure what my feeling for him was, but at this
minute I adored him. I adored him because he was a wild-western devil
capable of lassoing enemies as he would cows. I adored him because the
fire of his nature blazed out in his red hair and his black eyes. Jim
was an anachronism from some barbaric century of Courtenayes. Jim was a
precious heirloom. He had called the Scarlett boy a "venomous little
brute!" I could hear again his voice through the telephone "_I'd do more
than that for you_."

Idiot that I was, in that I'd _rung him off_! And I hadn't made a sign
of life since, though he was sure to have heard that I was at Dawley St.
Ann, within forty miles of the Abbey and Courtenaye Coombe.

I could have torn my hair, only it's too pretty to waste. Instead, I ran
into the next room, pulled the bell-rope and demanded the village taxi
immediately, if not sooner. Then I flew back to Bertie and made him up
for a new part.

This was done--to his mingled amusement and disgust--by means of a
tight-fitting, veiled motor-hood of my own and a scarlet cape, short for
a grown-up girl, but long for a small boy. This produced a fair
imitation of what the police would call "a female child," should they
catch sight of my companion. But as it happened, they did not; nor did
any one else at Dawley St. Ann, so far as I was aware. By my
instructions the taxi drew up at the side door, and while Timmins, the
chauffeur, was starting the engine (he'd stopped it, as I kept him
waiting), I rushed Bertie into the car. Once in, I squashed him down on
the floor, seated tailor fashion, with a perfectly good, perfectly new
box of burnt almonds on his lap.

"Drive as fast as you dare without being held up," I ordered; and
Timmins, lately demobbed from the Tank Corps, obeyed with violence. The
distance was forty miles; the hour of starting, six; and at seven-thirty
we were spinning up the long avenue at Courtenaye Abbey; good going for
Devonshire hills!

I took the chance that Jim might be at the Abbey rather than at
Courtenaye Coombe, where he lodged. The way was shorter and--there were
as many hiding-places in the Abbey as at Dun Moat. Luck was with me! It
had been one of the days when Jim opened the Abbey to tourists, and he
was late because he'd gone the rounds with the guardian. His small car,
which he drove himself, stood before the door, and from that door he
flew like a Jack-in-the-box as we dashed up.

"Elizabeth! I mean Princess!" he exclaimed.

"Call me _anything_!" I whispered, recklessly, bending out of the car as
we shook hands. "Mum's the word! But look what I've brought; something I
want you to _store_ for me."

A jerk of my head introduced him to a red-cloaked, gray-veiled child
asleep on the taxi floor.

Most men would have shown some sign of surprise or other emotion. But
Jim Courtenaye's _sang-froid_ is a tribute to the cinema life he must
have led even before he burst into the war. Whether he thought that the
object in red was my own offspring, concealed from the world till now, I
don't know and probably never shall. All I do know is that, judging from
his expression, it might have been a borrowed shoulder of veal.

Deftly he scooped Bertie up without rousing him, and had borne the
bundle gently through the open door before it occurred to Timmins to
turn his head. "Hurray!" thought I. "Not a soul has seen the little
wretch between Dun Moat and here!"

I jumped out of the car and followed Jim into the house, which I'd never
entered since it had been let to him. He had not paused in the great
hall, but was carrying his burden toward a small room which Grandmother
had used for receiving tenants, and such bothersome business. I flashed
in after him, and realized that Jim had fitted it up as a private
sanctum.

Somehow I didn't like him to go on fancying quaint things about my
character, and by the time he'd deposited Bertie on a huge sofa like a
young bed, I had plunged into my story.

I told him all from beginning to end; and when I'd reached the latter,
to my surprise Jim jumped up and shook my hands. "Are you congratulating
me?" I asked.

"No. It's because I'm so pleased I don't need to!"

"You mean?"

"Well, let's put it that I'm glad Burns may have to be congratulated
some day on being engaged to the Baroness Scarlett, instead of to--the
Princess Miramare."

So, he _had_ known of my activities, and had misunderstood my interest
in Terry! Brighteners alas! are always being misunderstood.

"I'd forgotten," I said, primly, "that the _women_ of the Scarlett
family inherit the title if there's no son. That would account for a
_lot_!... And so you don't think my theory of what's going on at Dun
Moat is too melodramatic?"

"My experience is," said Jim, "that nothing is ever quite so
melodramatic as real life. I believe this Cecil girl must be a
legitimate daughter of the chap who died in Australia. She must have
proofs, and they're probably where the Scarlett family can't lay hands
on them, otherwise she'd be under the daisies before this. That Defarge
type you talk about doesn't stop at trifles, especially if it's made in
Germany. And we both know Scarlett's reputation. I needn't call him
'Lord Scarlett' any more! But what beats me is this: why did the fly
walk into the spider-web? If the girl had common sense she must have
seen she wouldn't be a welcome visitor, coming to turn her uncle out of
home and title for himself and son. Yet you say she brought presents for
the kid."

"I wonder," I thought aloud, "if she could have meant to suggest some
friendly compromise? Maybe she'd heard a lot from her father about the
marvellous old place. Grandmother said, I remember, that Cecil Scarlett
was so poor he lived in Australia like a labourer, though his father
died here, while he was there, and he inherited the title. Think what
the description of Dun Moat would be like to a girl brought up in the
bush! And maybe her mother was of the lower classes, as no one knew
about the marriage. What if the daughter came into money from sheep or
mines, or something, and meant to propose living at Dun Moat with her
uncle's family? I can _see_ her, arriving _en surprise_, full of
enthusiasm and loving-kindness, which wouldn't 'cut ice' with Madame
Defarge!"

"Not much!" agreed Jim, grimly. "_She'd_ calmly begin knitting the
shroud!"

So we talked on, thrashing out one theory after another, but sure in any
case that there _was_ a prisoner at Dun Moat. Jim made me quite proud by
applauding my plot, and didn't need to be asked before offering to help
carry it out. Indeed, as my "sole living relative" (he put it that way),
he would now take the whole responsibility upon himself. The police were
not to be called in except as a last resort: and that night or next day,
according to the turn of the game, the trump card I'd pulled out of the
pack should be played for all it was worth!



CHAPTER IX

THE RAT TRAP


Did you ever see a wily gray rat caught in a trap? Or, still more
thrilling, a _pair_ of wily gray rats?

This is what I saw that same night when I'd motored back from Courtenaye
Abbey to Dawley St. Ann.

But let me begin with what happened first.

Jim wished to go with me, to be on hand in case of trouble. But the
reason why I'd hoped to find him at the Abbey was because we have a
secret room there which everyone knows (including tourists at a shilling
a head), and at least one more of which no outsiders have been told. The
latter might come in handy, and I begged Jim to "stand by," pending
developments.

I'd asked Terry to dine and had forgotten the invitation; consequently
he was at the inn in a worried state when I returned. He feared there
had been an accident, and had not known where to seek for my remains.
But in my private parlour over a hasty meal (I was starving!) I told him
the tale as I had told it to Jim.

Of course he behaved just as I'd expected--leaped to his feet and
proposed breaking into the wing of the garden court.

"They may kill her to-night!" he raged. "They'll be capable of anything
when they find the boy gone."

I'd hardly begun to point out that the girl had never been in less
danger, when someone tapped at the door. We both jumped at the sound,
but it was only a maid of the inn. She announced that a servant from Dun
Moat was asking for me, on business of importance.

Terry and I threw each other a look as I said, "Give Captain Burns time
to go; then bring the person here."

Terry went at my command, but not far; he was ordered to the public
parlour--to toy with Books of Beauty. Of course it was old Hedwig Kramm
who had come.

Her eyes darted hawk glances round the room, seeming to penetrate the
chintz valances on chairs and sofa! She announced that the son of Lord
Scarlett was lost. Search was being made. She had called to learn if I
had seen him.

"Why do you think of _me_?" I inquired arrogantly.

The boy had been noticed peeping out of the window when I walked in the
garden. He had said that I was "a pretty lady," and that he wished he
were down there with me. He would get me to take him in my motor, if I
had one.

I shrugged my shoulders. "I can't tell you where he is," I said, "and
even if I could, why should I? Let Lord and Lady Scarlett call, if they
wish to catechise me."

"They cannot," objected the old woman. "Her ladyship is prostrated with
grief. His lordship is with her."

"As they please," I returned. "I have nothing more to say--to you."

The creature was driven to bay. She loved the "venomous little brute!"
"Would you have something more to say if they did come?" she faltered.
"_Something about the child?_"

"I might," I drawled, "rack my memory for the time when I saw him last."

"You _do_ know where he is!" she squealed.

"I'm afraid," I said, "that I must ask you to leave my room."

She bounced out as if she'd been shot from an air gun!

It was ten o'clock, but light enough for me to see her scuttling along
the road as I peered through the window. When she had scuttled far
enough, I called to Terry.

"The Scarletts are coming!" I sang to the tune of "The Campbells."
"Whether it's maternal instinct or a guilty conscience or _what_, Madame
Defarge has guessed that I've got the child. She'll be doubly sure when
Kramm reports my gay quips and quirks. To get here by the shortest and
quietest way, the Scarletts must pass your lodgings. The instant you see
them, take Jones and race to Dun Moat. When you reach there you'll know
what to do. But in case they hide the girl as a Roland for my Oliver,
I'm going to play the most beautiful game of bluff you ever saw."

"I wish I _could_ see it!" said Terry.

"But you'd rather see Cecil! You'd better start now. It's on the cards
that the Scarletts came part way with Kramm to wait for her news."

Whether they had done this or not, I don't know. But the effect on Terry
of the suggestion was good. And certainly the pair did arrive almost
before it seemed that Kramm's short legs could have carried her to Dun
Moat.

They gloomed into my sitting room like a pair of funeral mutes.

"My servant tells me you have seen my son," the woman I had known as
Lady Scarlett began.

"She has imagination!" I smiled.

"You mean to say you have _not_ seen him?" blustered Fox-face Père.

"I say neither that I have nor that I haven't," I replied. "The little I
know about the child inclines me to believe he wasn't too happy at home,
so why----"

"Oh, you _admit_ knowing something!" The woman caught me up like a
dropped stitch in her knitting. "I believe you've got the child here. We
can have you arrested for kidnapping. The police----"

I laughed. "Have the police ever _seen_ the little lamb? If they have,
they might doubt the force of his attraction on a woman of my type. And
you have no _proof_. But I'll let the local police look under my bed and
into my wardrobes, if you'll let them search the suite you occupy at Dun
Moat on proof _I_ can produce."

"What are you hinting at?" snapped the late Lord Scarlett. "Do you
intimate that we've hidden our own child at home and come to you with
some blackmailing scheme----"

"No," I stopped him. "I don't think you're in a position to try a
blackmail 'stunt.' My 'hints,' as you call them, concerned the _real_
Lady Scarlett; the legitimate daughter of your elder brother Cecil, and
his namesake."

As I flung this bomb I sprang up and stood conspicuously close to the
old-fashioned bell rope.

The man and woman sprang up also. The former had turned yellowish green,
the latter brick-red. They looked like badly lit stage demons.

"So _that's_ it!" spluttered the German wine merchant's daughter, when
she could speak.

"That's it," I echoed. "Now, do you still want to call the police and
charge me with kidnapping? You can search my rooms yourselves if you
like. You'll find nothing. _Can you say the same of your own?_"

"Yes!" Scarlett jerked the word out. "We can and do say the same. Do you
think we're fools enough to leave the place alone with only Kramm on
guard, if we had someone concealed there?"

"Ah, the cap fits!" I cried. "I didn't accuse you. As you said, I merely
'hinted.'"

I scored a point, to judge by their looks. But they had scored against
me also. I realized that my guess had not been wrong. There was a secret
hiding-place to which the garden court suite had access. That was one
reason why the Scarletts had chosen the suite. By this time Terry Burns
was there, with Kramm laughing in her sleeve while pretending to be
outraged at his intrusion. If only _I_ were on the spot instead of
Terry, I might have a sporting chance to ferret out the secret, for
I--so to speak--had been reared in an atmosphere of "hidie-holes" for
priests, cavaliers, and kings, of whom several in times of terror had
found asylum at our old Abbey. But Terry Burns was an American. It
wasn't in his blood to detect secret springs and locks!

I ceased to depend on what Terry might do, and "fell back upon myself."

"You talk like a madwoman!" sneered Madame Defarge. But her hands
trembled. She must have missed her knitting!

"Mine is inspired madness," said I. And then I did feel an inspiration
coming--as one feels a sneeze in church. "Of course," I went on, "if
you've hidden the poor drugged girl in that cubby-hole under the twisted
chimney----"

The woman would have sprung at me if Scarlett had not grabbed her arm.
My hand was on the tassel of the bell rope; and joy was in my heart, for
at last I'd grabbed their best trump. If Bertie The Second was the Ace,
the twisted chimney had supplied its Jack!

"Keep your head, Hilda," Scarlett warned his wife. "There's a vile plot
against us. This--er--lady and her American partner have tricked us into
letting Dun Moat, with the object of blackmail. We must be careful----"

"No," I corrected him, "you must be _frank_. So will I. We knew nothing
of your secret when we came to Dun Moat. We got on the track by
accident. As a matter of fact, Captain Burns saw the real Lady Scarlett
at the window, and she would have called to him for help if she could.
No doubt by that time she'd realized that you were slowly doing her to
death----"

"What a devilish accusation!" Scarlett boomed. "Since you know so much,
in self-defence I'll tell you the true history of this girl. We _have_
taken my brother's daughter into the house. We have given her shelter.
She is _not_ legitimate. My brother was married in England before going
to Australia, and his wife--an actress--still lives. Therefore, to make
known Cecil's parentage would be to accuse her father of bigamy and soil
the name. Hearing the truth about him turned her brain. She fell into a
kind of fit and was very ill, raving in delirium for days on end. My
wife was nursing her in the garden court rooms when you came with Burns
and begged us to let the house. My poverty tempted me to consent. For
the honour of my family I wished to hide the girl! And frankly (you ask
for frankness!), had she died despite my wife's care, I should have
tried to give the body--_private burial_. Now, you've heard the whole
unvarnished tale."

"Doubtless I've heard the tale told to that poor child," I said. "At
last I understand how you persuaded her to hide like a criminal while
you two thoroughly cooked up your plot against her. But the tale _isn't_
unvarnished! It's all varnished and nothing else. I'm not my
grandmother's grand-daughter for nothing! What _she_ didn't know and
remember about the 'noble families of England'--especially in her own
country--wasn't worth knowing! I inherit some of her stories and all of
her memory. The last Lord Scarlett, your elder brother, went to
Australia because that actress he was madly in love with had a husband
who popped up and made himself disagreeable. Oh, I can prove
_everything_ against you! And I know where the true Lady Scarlett is at
this minute. You can prove _nothing_ against me. You don't know where
your son is, and you won't know till you hand that poor child from
Australia over to Captain Burns and me. If you do that, and she recovers
from your wife's '_nursing_,' I can promise for all concerned that
bygones shall be bygones, and your boy shall be returned to you. I dare
say that's 'compounding a felony' or something. But I'll go as far as
that. What's your answer?"

The two glared into one another's eyes. I thought each said to the
other, "This was _your_ idea. It's all your fault. I _told_ you how it
would end!" But wise pots don't waste time in calling kettles black.
They saved their soot-throwing for me.

"You are indeed a true descendant of old Elizabeth Courtenaye," rasped
the man. "You're even more dangerous and unscrupulous than your
grandmother! My wife and I are innocent. But you and your American are
in a position to turn appearances against us. Besides, you have our son
in your power; and rather than the police should be called into this
affair by _either_ side, my brother's daughter--ill as she is--shall be
handed over to you when Bertie is returned to us."

"That won't do," I objected. "Bertie is at a distance. I can't
communicate with--his guardian--till the post office opens to-morrow. On
condition that Lady Scarlett is released _to-night_, however, and _only_
on that condition, I will guarantee that the boy shall be with you by
ten-thirty A. M. Meanwhile, you can be packing to clear out of Dun Moat,
as I hardly think you'll care to claim your niece's hospitality longer,
in the circumstances."

"We have no money!" the woman choked.

"You've forgotten what you took from Lady Scarlett. And six weeks'
advance of rent paid you by Captain Burns: twelve hundred pounds. He'll
forget, too, if you offer the right inducement. You could have had more
from him, if you hadn't insisted on the clause leaving you free to turn
your tenant out at a fortnight's notice after the first month. I
understand _now_ why you wanted it. If the girl had signed her name to a
document you'd prepared, leaving her money to you--shares in some
Australian mine, perhaps--it would have been convenient to you for her
to die. And then----"

"Why waste time in accusations?" quailed Scarlett. "_We_ won't waste it
defending ourselves! If you're so anxious to get hold of the girl, come
home with us and we'll turn over all responsibility to you."

"Very well," I said, and pulled the bell.

The woman started. "What are you doing that for?" she jerked.

"I wish to order the taxi to take us to Dun Moat," I explained. "I
confess I'm not so fond of your society that I'd care to walk a mile
with you at night along a lonely road. I'm not a coward, I hope. But
you'd be two against one. And you might hold me up----"

"As you've held us up!" the man snapped.

"Exactly," I agreed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wolves in sheep's clothing have to behave like sheep when they're in
danger of having their nice white wool stripped off. No doubt this is
the reason that, when we arrived at the outside entrance of the
bachelor's wing, my companions were meek as Mary's lamb.

Inside the suite of the garden court we found Terry Burns and his man
raging, and Kramm sulking, in a room with a broken window. Terry had
smashed the glass in order to get in, but his search had been vain. To
do the old servant justice, she had the instinct of loyalty. I believe
that no bribe would have induced her to betray her mistress. It remained
for the Scarletts to give themselves away, which they did--with the
secret of the room under the twisted chimney.

The room was built into the huge thickness of the wall which formed a
junction between the old house and the more modern wing. The wonderful
chimney was not a true chimney at all, but gave ventilation and light,
also a means of escape by way of a rope ladder over the roof. But the
rope had fallen to pieces long ago, and the prisoner of these days might
never have found means of escape, had it not been for that trump-card
named Bertie. The room under the twisted chimney would have been a
convenient home substitute for the family vault.

Fate was for us, however--and for her. Even the Lady with the Shears
might have felt compunction in cutting short the thread of so fair, so
sweet a life as Cecil Scarlett's. Anyhow, that was what Terry said in
favour of Destiny, when some days had passed, and it was clear that with
good care the girl would live.

We didn't take her to the inn, as I had planned when keeping the taxi,
for Terry--caring less than nothing now for the night's rest of Princess
Avalesco--ruthlessly routed the ladies from their beauty sleep. What
they thought about us, and about the half-conscious invalid, I don't
know; for true to my bargain with the Scarletts, no explanations
detrimental to them were made. I think it passed with the ladies that
the girl had arrived ill, in a late train; and that Terry, emboldened by
love of her, begged his tenant's hospitality. So, you see, they were
partly right. Besides, the Princess Avalesco had lived in Roumania,
where _anything_ can happen.

When Jim brought back Bertie, he brought also a doctor--by request. The
doctor was his friend; and Jim's friends are generally ready to--well,
to overlook unconventionalities.

I told you Princess Avalesco loved herself so much that she didn't miss
Terry's love. She missed it so little that after a few weeks' romance
she proposed a bedside wedding at Dun Moat, with herself as hostess;
for, of course, nothing would induce her to shorten her tenancy!

Cecil had confessed to falling in love with Terry through the window, at
first sight.

Therefore the wedding did take place, with Jim Courtenaye as best man,
and myself as "Matron of Honour," as Americans say. Cecil looked so
divine as a bride that no woman who saw her could have helped wishing to
be married against a background of pillows! I almost envied her. But Jim
said that he didn't envy Terry. His ideal of a bride was entirely
different, and he was prepared to describe her to me some day when I was
in a good humour!



BOOK III

THE DARK VEIL



CHAPTER I

THE GIRL WITH THE LETTER


Brightening continued to be fun. As time went on I brightened charming
people, queer people, people with their hearts in the right place and
their "H's" in the wrong one. I was an expensive luxury, but it paid to
have me, as it pays to get a good doctor or the best quality in boots.

After several successful operations and some lurid adventures, I was
doing so well on the whole that I felt the need of a secretary. How to
hit on the right person was the problem, for I wanted her young, but not
too young; pretty, but not too pretty; lively, not giddy; sensible, yet
never a bore; a lady, but not a howling swell; accomplished, but not
overwhelming; in fact, perfection.

This time I didn't hide my light under a bushel of initials, nor in a
box at a newspaper office. I announced that the "Princess di Miramare
requires immediately the services of a gentlewoman (aged from twenty-one
to thirty) for secretarial work four or five hours six days of the week.
Must be intelligent and experienced typist-stenographer. Salary, three
guineas a week. Apply personally, between 9:30 and 11:30 A. M. No
letters considered."

I gave the address of my own flat and awaited developments with high
hope; for I conceitedly expected an "ad." under my own name to attract a
good class of applicants.

It appeared in several London dailies and succeeded like a July sale. I
wouldn't have believed that there were such crowds of pretty typists on
earth! Luckily, the lift boy was young, so he enjoyed the rush.

As for me, I felt like a spider that has got religion and pities its
flies; there were so many flies--I mean girls--and each in one way or
other was more desirable than the rest! I might have been reduced to
tossing up a copper or having the applicants draw lots, if something
very special hadn't happened.

The twenty-sixth girl brought a letter of introduction from Robert
Lorillard.

_Robert Lorillard!_ Why, the very name is a thrill!

Of course I was in love with Robert Lorillard when I was seventeen, just
before the war. Everybody was in love with him that year. It was the
fashionable thing to be. Whenever Grandmother let me come up to town I
went to the theatre to adore dear Robert. Women used to boast that
they'd seen him fifty times in some favourite play. But never did he act
on the stage so stirring a part as that thrust upon him in August, 1914!
I _must_ let the girl with the letter wait while I tell you the story,
in case you've not heard the true version.

While she hung upon my decision, and I gazed at Lorillard's signature
(worth guineas as an autograph), my mind raced back along the years.

Oh, that gorgeous spring before the war!

I wasn't "_out_"; but somehow I contrived to be "_in_." That is, in all
the things that I'd have died rather than miss.

We were absurdly poor, but Grandmother knew everyone; and that April,
while she was looking for a town house and arranging to present me, we
stayed with the Duchess of Stane. Her daughter, Lady June, was _the_
girl in Society just then. She had been The Girl for several years. She
was the prettiest, the most original, and the most daring one in her
set. She wasn't twenty-three, but she'd picked up the most extraordinary
reputation! I should think there could hardly have been more interest in
the doings of "professional beauties" in old days than was taken in
hers. No illustrated weekly was complete without her newest portrait
done by the photographer of the minute; no picture Daily existed that
wouldn't pay well for a snapshot of Lady June Dana, even with a foot out
of focus, or a hand as big as her head! And she _loved_ it all! She
lived, lived every minute! It didn't seem as if there could be a world
without June.

I was only a flapper, but I worshipped at the shrine, and the goddess
didn't mind being worshipped. She used to let me perch on her bed when
she took her morning tea, looking a dream in a rosebud-wreathed bit of
tulle called a boudoir cap, and a nighty like the first outline sketch
for a ballgown. She reeled off yards of stuff for my benefit about the
men who loved her (their name was legion!), and among others was Robert
Lorillard.

All the clever people who "did" things came to Stane House, provided
they were good to look at and interesting in themselves. Lorillard was
there nearly every Sunday for luncheon, and at other times, too. I
couldn't help staring at him, though I knew it was rude, for he was so
handsome, so--almost divine!

One laughs at writers who make their heroes "Greek statues," but really
Lorillard _was_ like the Apollo Belvedere, in the Vatican: those perfect
features, that high yet winning air (someone has said) "of the greatest
statue that ever was a gentleman, the greatest gentleman that ever was a
statue."

I think June met Lorillard away from home often: and once, when
Grandmother and I had gone to live in our own house, and I'd been
presented, June took me behind the scenes after a matinée at his
theatre. He was charming to me, and I loved him more than ever, with
that delicious, hopeless, agonizing love of seventeen.

People talked about June with Lorillard, but no more than with a dozen
other men. Nobody dreamed of their marrying, and none less than she
herself. As for him, though he was madly in love, he must have known
that as an eligible he'd have as much chance with a royal princess as
with Lady June Dana.

It was in this way that matters stood when the war broke out. And among
the first volunteers of note went Robert Lorillard. No doubt he would
have gone sooner or later in any case. But being taken up, thrown down,
smiled at, and frowned on by June was getting upon his nerves, as even I
could see, so war--fighting, and dying perhaps--must have been a welcome
counter-irritant.

The season was over, but Grandmother kept on the house she had taken, as
an _ouvroir_, where she mobilized a regiment of women for war work. It
was in the same square as Stane House, where the Duchess was mobilizing
a rival regiment. June and I worked under our different taskmistresses;
but I saw a good deal of her--and all that went on. The moment she heard
that Lorillard had offered himself, and was furiously training for a
commission, she was a changed girl. She was like a creature burning with
fever; but I thought her more beautiful than she'd ever been, with that
rose-flame in her cheeks and blue fire in her eyes.

One afternoon she got me off from work, asking me to shop with her. But
instead of going to Bond Street, we made straight for Robert Lorillard's
flat in St. James's Square. How he could have been there that day I
don't know, for he was in some training camp or other I suppose; but
she'd sent an urgent wire, no doubt, begging him to get a few hours'
leave.

Anyhow, there he _was_--waiting for us. I shall never forget his
face--though he forgot my existence! June forgot it also. I'd been
dragged at her chariot wheels (it was a taxi!) to play propriety; my
first appearance as a chaperon. I might as well have been a fly on the
wall for both of them!

Robert opened the door of the flat himself when we rang (servants were
superfluous for that interview!) and they looked at each other, those
two. Eyes drank eyes! Lorillard didn't seem to see me. I drifted vaguely
in after June, and effaced myself superficially. The most rarefied sense
of honour couldn't be expected, perhaps, in a flapper whose favourite
stage hero was about to play _the_ part of his life--unrehearsed--with
the said flapper's most admired heroine.

Instead of shutting myself up in a cupboard or something, or at the
least closing my eyes and stuffing my fingers into my ears, I hovered in
a handy background. I saw June burst out crying and throw herself into
Lorillard's arms. I heard her sob that she realized now she couldn't
live without him; that he was the only person on earth who
mattered--ever had, or ever would matter. I heard him gasp a few
explosive "Darlings!" and "Angels!" And then I heard June coolly--no,
hotly!--propose that they should be married at once--_at once_!

Even _I_ floated sympathetically on a rose-coloured wave of love, as I
listened and looked; so where must Lorillard have floated--he who had
adored, and never hoped?

In one of his own plays the noble hero would have put June from him in
super-unselfishness, declaiming "No, beloved. I cannot accept this
sacrifice, made on a mad impulse. I love you too much to take you for my
own." But, thank God, real men aren't built on those stiff lines! As for
this one, he simply _hugged_ his glorious, incredible luck (including
the giver) as hard as he could.

It took the two about one hour to come to themselves, and remember that
they had heads as well as hearts; while I, for my part, remembered
mostly my right foot, which had gone to sleep during efforts of
self-obliteration. I _had_ to stamp it at last, which drew surprised
attention to me; so I was officially offered the rôle of confidante, and
agreed with June that the wedding _must_ be secret. The Duchess and four
_terrifically_ powerful uncles would make as much fuss as if June were
Queen Elizabeth bent on marrying a commoner, and it would end in the
lovers being parted.

Well, they were married by special license three days later, with me and
a man friend of Lorillard's as witnesses. When the knot was safely tied,
June and Robert went together and broke it to the Duchess--not the knot,
but the news. The Duchess of Stane is supposed to know more bad words
than any other peeress in England, and judging from June's account of
the scene, she hurled them all at Lorillard, with a few spontaneous
creations for her daughter. When the lady and her vocabulary were
exhausted, however, common sense refilled the vacuum. The Duchess and
the Family made the best of a bad bargain, hoping, no doubt, that
Lorillard would soon be safely killed; and a delicious dish of romance
was served up to the public.

_I_ was the only one beyond pardon, it seemed. According to the Duchess
I was a wicked little treacherous cat not to have told her what was
going on, so that it could have been stopped in time. A complaint was
made to Grandmother. But that peppery old darling--after scolding me
well--took my part, and quarrelled with the Duchess.

June was too busy being _The_ Bride of All War Brides to bother much
with me, and Lorillard was training hard for France. So a kind of magic
glass wall arose between the Affair and me. Months passed (everyone
knows the history of those months!) and then the air raids began:
Zeppelins over London!

It was _smart_, you know, not to be frightened, but to run out and gape,
or go up on the roof, when one of those great silver shapes was sighted
in the night sky. June went on the roof. Oh poor, beautiful June! A
fragment of shrapnel pierced her heart and killed her instantly, before
she could have felt a pang.

The news almost "broke Lorillard up," so his pal who witnessed the
marriage with me put the case. Robert hadn't even once been back in
"Blighty" since he first went out. Ninety-six hours' leave was due just
then. He spent it coming to June's funeral, and--returning to the Front.

Since that tragic time long ago he had seen a great deal of fighting,
had been wounded twice, had received his Captaincy and a D. S. O. Four
years and a half had been eaten by Hun locusts since he'd last appeared
on the stage, and more than three since the death of June. Everyone
thought that Lorillard would take up his old career where he had laid it
down. But he refused several star parts, and announced that he never
intended to act again. The reason was, he said, that he did not wish to
do so; that he could hardly remember how he had felt at the time when
acting made up the great interest of his life.

He bought a quaint old cottage near the river, not many miles from a
house the Duchess owned--a happy house, where he had spent week-ends
that wonderful summer of 1914. June had loved the place, and her body
lay (buried in a glass coffin to preserve its beauty for ever) in the
cedar-shaded graveyard of the country church near by. Once she had
laughingly told Lorillard she would like to lie there if she died, and
he had persuaded the Duchess to fulfil the wish. Instead of a gravestone
there was a sundial, with the motto "All her days were happy days and
all her hours were hours of sun."

Robert Lorillard's cottage was within walking distance of the
churchyard, and I imagine he often went there. Anyhow, he went nowhere
else. After some months an anonymous book of poems appeared--poems of
such extreme beauty and pure passion that all the critics talked about
them. Bye and bye others began to talk, and it leaked out through the
publisher that Lorillard was the author.

I loved those poems so much that I couldn't resist scribbling a few
lines to Robert in my first flush of enthusiasm. He didn't answer. I'd
hardly expected a reply; but now, long after, here was a letter from him
introducing a girl who wanted to be my secretary!

He wrote:

     DEAR PRINCESS DI MIRAMARE,

     I don't ask if you remember me. I _know_ you do, because of one we
     have both greatly loved. I meant to thank you long ago for the kind
     things you took the trouble to say about my verses. The thoughts
     your name called up were very poignant. I put off acknowledging
     your note. But you will forgive me, because you are a real friend;
     and for that reason I venture to send you a strong personal
     recommendation with Miss Joyce Arnold, who will ask for a position
     as your secretary. I saw your advertisement in the _Times_, and
     showed it to Miss Arnold, offering to introduce her to you. She
     nursed me in France when she was a V. A. D. (she has a decoration,
     bye the bye, for her courage in hideous air raids), and she has
     been my secretary for some months. All I need say about her I can
     put into a few words. _She is absolutely perfect._ It will be a
     great wrench for me to lose her valuable help with the work I give
     my time to nowadays, but I am going abroad for a while, and shall
     not need a secretary.

     You too have lived and suffered since we met! Do take from me
     remembrances and thoughts of a friendship which will never fade.

     Yours sincerely always,

     ROBERT LORILLARD.

I'd been too much excited when she said, "I have an introduction to you
from Captain Lorillard," to do more than glance at the girl, and ask her
to sit down. But as I finished the letter I looked up, to meet the gaze
of a pair of gray eyes.

Caught staring, Miss Arnold blushed; and what with those eyes and that
colour I thought her one of the most delightful girls I'd ever seen.

I don't mean that she was one of the prettiest. She was (and is) pretty.
But it wasn't entirely her _looks_ you thought of, in seeing her first.
It was something that shone out from her eyes, and seemed to make a
sweet, happy brightness all around her. Eyes are windows, and something
_must_ be on the other side, but, alas! it seldom shines through. The
windows are dim, or the blinds are down to cover dulness. Joyce Arnold
had a living spirit behind those big, bright soul-windows that were her
eyes!

As for the rest, she was tall and slim, and delicately long-limbed. She
had milk-white skin with a soft touch of rose on the cheek bones; a few
freckles which were like the dust from tiger-lily petals, and a
charming, sensitive mouth, full and red.

"Why, of course I want you!" I said. "I'm lucky to secure you, too! How
glad I am that you didn't come after I'd engaged someone else! But even
if you had, I'd have managed to get rid of her one way or other."

Miss Arnold smiled. She had the most contagious smile!--though it struck
me even then that it wasn't a _merry_ smile. Her face, with its piquant
little nose, was meant to be gay and happy I thought; yet it wasn't
either. It was more plucky and brave; and the eyes had known sadness, I
felt sure. I guessed her age as twenty-three or twenty-four.

She said that she would love to work for me. The girls who were waiting
to be interviewed were sent politely away in search of other engagements
while I settled things with Miss Arnold. The more I looked at her, the
more I talked with her, the more definite became an impression that I'd
seen her before--a long time ago. At last I asked her the question: "Can
it be that we've met somewhere?"

Colour streamed over her pale face. "Yes, Princess, we have," she said.
"At least, we didn't exactly _meet_. It couldn't be called that."

"What was it then, if not a meeting?" I encouraged her.

"I was in my first job as secretary. I was with Miss Opal Fawcett. When
it was Ben Ali's day out--Ben Ali was her Arab butler, you know--I used
to open the door. I opened it for you and--and Lady June Dana when you
came. I remember quite well, though I never thought _you_ would."

Why did the girl blush so? I wondered. Could it be that she was ashamed
of having been with Opal Fawcett, or--was it something to do with the
mention of June? Miss Arnold had evidently just left her place with
Robert Lorillard and probably the name of his wife had been "taboo"
between them, for I couldn't fancy Robert talking of June with any
one--unless with some old friend who had known her well.

"Ah, that's it!" I exclaimed. "Now I do remember. June and I spoke of
you afterward, as we were going away. We said, 'What an interesting
girl!' Nearly five years ago! It seems a hundred."

Miss Arnold didn't speak, and again my thoughts flew back.

Opal Fawcett suddenly sprang into fame with the breaking out of the war,
when all the sweethearts and wives of England yearned to give "mascots"
to their loved men who fought, or to get news from beyond the veil, of
those who had "gone west." Opal had, however, been making her weird way
to success for several years before. She had a strange history--as
strange as her own personality.

A man named Fawcett edited a Spiritualistic paper, called the _Gleam_.
One foggy October night (it was All Hallow E'en) he heard a shrill,
wailing cry outside his old house in Westminster. (Naturally it was a
_haunted_ house, or he wouldn't have cared to live in it!) Someone had
left a tiny baby girl in a basket at his door, and with it a letter in a
woman's handwriting. This said that the child had been born in October,
so its name must be Opal.

Fawcett was a bachelor; but he imagined that spirit influences had
turned the unknown mother's thoughts to him. For this reason he kept the
baby, obligingly named it Opal, and brought it up in his own religious
beliefs.

Opal was extremely proud of her romantic début in life, and when she had
decided upon a career for herself, she wrote her autobiography up to
date. As she was quite young at the time--not more than twenty-five--the
book was short. She had a certain number of copies bound in specially
dyed silk supposed to be of an opal tint, changeable from blue to
pinkish purple, and these she gave to her friends or sold to her
clients.

I say "clients," because, after being a celebrated "child medium" during
her foster father's life, and then failing on the stage as an actress,
she discovered that palmistry was her forte. At least it was one among
several others. You told her the date when you were born, and she "did"
your horoscope. She advised people also what colours they ought to wear
to "suit their aura," and what jewels were lucky or unlucky. Later, when
the war came, she took to crystal gazing. Perhaps she had begun it
before, but it was then that she suddenly "caught on." One heard all
one's friends talking about her, saying, "Have you ever been to Opal
Fawcett? She's _absolutely wonderful_! You must go!" Accordingly we
went.

When June and Lorillard were waiting in secret suspense for their
special license, June implored Robert to let Opal look into the crystal
for him, and read his hand. He tried to beg off, because he had met Miss
Fawcett during her disastrous year on the stage. In a play of ancient
Rome in which he was the star, Opal Fawcett had been a sort of
walking-on martyr, and he had a scene with her in the arena, defending
her from a doped, milk-fed lion. Opal had acted, clung, and twined so
much more than necessary that Robert had disliked the scene intensely,
always fearing that the audience might "queer" it by laughing. He would
not complain to the management, because the girl had been given the part
through official friendship, and was already marked down as prey by the
critics. He hadn't wished to do her harm; but neither did he care to
have his future foretold by her.

June was so keen, however, that he consented to be led like a lamb to
the sacrifice. I heard from her how they went together to the old house
which the spiritualist had left to his adopted daughter; and I heard
what happened at the interview. June was vexed because Opal _would_ see
Robert alone. She had wanted to be in the room, and listen to
everything! Opal was most ungrateful, June said, because she (June) had
sent lots of people to have their "hands read," and get special jewels
prescribed for them, like medicines. Robert had laughed to June about
what Opal claimed to see for him in her crystal, but had pretended to
forget most of the "silly stuff," and be unable to repeat it. June had
worried, fearing lest misfortunes had appeared in the crystal, and that
Robert wished to hide the fact from her.

"I'll get it all out of Opal myself!" she exclaimed to me, and took me
with her to Miss Fawcett's next day.

The excuse for this visit was to have my hand "told," and to order a
mascot for Robert, to take with him to the front: his own lucky jewel
set in a design made to fit his horoscope!

I was delighted to go, for I'd never seen a fortune teller; but June was
too eager to talk about Robert to spare me much time with the seeress.
My hand-telling was rather perfunctory, for Miss Fawcett didn't feel the
same need to see me alone which she had felt with Lorillard, and June
was very much on the spot, sighing, fussing, and looking at her
wrist-watch.

Opal was as reticent about the interview with Lorillard as Robert had
been, though, unlike him, she didn't laugh. So poor June got little for
her pains, and I learned nothing about my character that Grandmother
hadn't told me when she was cross. Still, it was an experience. I'd
never forgotten the tall, white, angular young woman wearing amethysts
and a purple robe, in a purple room: a creature who looked as if she'd
founded herself on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and overshot the mark. It
seemed, also, that I'd never forgotten her secretary, though perhaps I'd
not thought of the girl from that day to this.

"Do tell me how you happened to be with Opal Fawcett," I couldn't help
blurting out from the depths of my curiosity. "You seem
so--so--absolutely _alien_ from her and her 'atmosphere'."

"Oh, it's quite simple," said Joyce Arnold, not betraying herself if she
considered me intrusive or rude. "An aunt of mine--a dear old maid--was
a great disciple of Mr. Fawcett. She thought Opal the wonder of the
world, at about ten or twelve, as 'the child medium,' and she used to
take me often to the house. I was five or six years younger than Opal,
and Aunt Jenny hoped it would 'spiritualize' me to play with her. We
never quite lost sight of each other after that, Opal and I. When she
went into business--I mean, when she became a hand-reader and so on--I
was beginning what I called my 'profession.' She engaged me as her
secretary, and I stayed on till I left her to 'do my bit' in the war, as
a V. A. D. That's the way I met Captain Lorillard, you know. It was the
most splendid thing that ever happened, when he asked me to work for him
after he was invalided back from the Front. You see, I was dead tired
after four years without a rest. We'd had a lot of air raids at my
hospital, and I suppose it was rather a strain. I was ordered home. And
oh, it's been Paradise at that heavenly place on the river, helping to
put down in black and white the beautiful thoughts of such a man!"

As she spoke, an expression of rapture, that was like light, illumined
the girl's face for an instant, bright as a flash of sunshine on a white
bird's wing. But it passed, and her eyes darkened with some quick memory
of pain. She looked down, thick black lashes shadowing her cheeks.

"By Jove!" I thought. "There's a _story_ here!"

Robert Lorillard wrote that Miss Arnold was "perfect." Yet he had sent
her away. He said he was going away himself. But I felt sure he wasn't.
Or else, he was going on purpose. He had _searched the newspapers to
find a place for her_. If he hadn't done that deliberately, he would
never have seen my advertisement.

And she? The girl was breaking her heart at the loss of her "Paradise."

What did it mean?



CHAPTER II

THE HERMIT


Joyce Arnold was ready to begin work at once.

She had, it seemed, already given up her lodgings in the village near
Robert Lorillard's cottage. Opal Fawcett had offered the hospitality of
her house for a fortnight, and while there Joyce would pay her way by
writing Opal's letters in spare hours, the newest secretary being absent
on holiday. In the meantime, now that it was decided she should come to
me, Miss Arnold would look for rooms somewhere in my neighbourhood.

I let it go at this for a few days. But when just half a week had passed
I realized that Joyce Arnold wasn't merely a perfect secretary, she was
a perfect companion as well. Not perfect in a horrid, "high-brow" way,
but simply adorable to have in the house.

It was on a Wednesday that she brought me Lorillard's letter. On the
following Saturday, at luncheon, I suddenly said, "Look here, Miss
Arnold, how would you like to live with me instead of in lodgings?"

She blushed with surprise. (She blushed easily and beautifully.)

"Why, I--should love it, of course," she stammered, "if you're really
sure that you----"

"Of course I'm sure," I cut her short. "What I'm beginning to wonder is,
how I ever got on without you!"

She laughed.

"You've known me only three days and a half! And----"

"Long enough to be sure that you're absolutely IT," said I. "If already
you seem to me indispensable, how _could_ Robert Lorillard have made up
his mind to part with you, after _months_?"

I didn't mean to be cruel or inquisitorial. The words sprang out--spoke
themselves. But I could have boxed my own ears when I saw their effect
on the girl. She grew red, then white, and tears gushed to her eyes.
They didn't fall, because she was afraid to wink, and stared me steadily
in the face, hoping the salt lake might safely soak back. All the same I
saw that I'd struck a hard blow.

"Captain Lorillard was very nice, and really sorry in a way to lose me,
I think," she replied, rather primly. "But he told you, didn't he, that
he was going away?"

"Oh, of course! Stupid of me to forget for a minute," I mumbled,
earnestly peeling a plum, so that she might have time to dispose of
those tears without absorbing them. I was more certain than ever that
here was a "story" in the broken connection between Joyce Arnold and
Robert Lorillard: that if he were really leaving home it was for a
reason which concerned _her_.

It wasn't all curiosity which made me rack my brain with mental
questions. It was partly old admiration for Robert and new affection for
his late secretary. "Why should he want to get rid of such a girl?" I
asked myself, as at last I ate the plum.

The fruit was more easily swallowed than the idea that he hadn't
_wanted_ Joyce Arnold to go on working for him. It wouldn't be human for
man or woman--especially man--_not_ to want her. But--well--I tried to
put the thought aside for the moment, in order to wrestle with it when
those eyes of hers could no longer read my mind.

I turned the subject to Opal Fawcett.

"Could you leave Miss Fawcett at once, and come to me?" I asked. "Would
she be vexed? Or would you rather stay with her over Sunday?"

"I could come this afternoon," Joyce said. "I'd be glad to. And I don't
think Opal would mind. She wanted me at first. But--but----Well, I'm
beginning to bore her now; or anyhow, we're getting on each other's
nerves."

This reply, and the embarrassed look on Joyce's face, set me going upon
a new track. Was Opal Fawcett in the "story" which my imagination had
begun to write around Miss Arnold and Robert Lorillard? If so, what
could be her part in it?

I found no satisfactory answer. Years ago, when she was on the stage and
acting with Lorillard, Opal had perhaps been in love with him, like
hundreds of other women. But since then he'd married, and fought in the
war, and later had led the life of a hermit, while she pursued her
successful "career" in town. It was unlikely that they had seen much of
each other, even if their old, slight acquaintance had been kept up at
all. Still, Opal might have been curious about Lorillard and the "simple
life." She might have welcomed Joyce for the sake of what she could tell
of him, and Joyce might have rebelled when she saw what Opal wanted from
her.

I thanked my own wits for giving me this "tip." Without it, I mightn't
have resisted the strong temptation to proceed with a little dextrous
"pumping" on my own--just a word wedged into some chink in the armour
now and then, to find out if poor Joyce had fallen a victim to
Lorillard's undying charm.

As it was, I determined to shut up like a clam, and do as I would be
done by were I in the girl's place. If she'd slipped into loving her
employer, and he had thought best to banish her, for her own good, the
wound in poor Joyce's self-respect must be as deep as that in her heart.
Every sensitive nerve must throb with anguish, and only a _wretch_ would
deliberately probe the hurt with questions, in mere selfish curiosity.

"It's not your business," I said to myself. And I vowed to do all I
could to make Joyce Arnold forget--whatever it was that she might want
to forget.

She did come to me that afternoon. I had one spare room in my flat, and
I made it as pretty and homelike as I could with flowers and books and
little things I stole from my own quarters. The girl was pathetically
grateful! She opened out to me like a flower--that is, in affection. I
felt in her a warm, eager anxiety to serve and help me, not for the
wages I gave, but for love. It was like a perfume in the place. And
Joyce Arnold was intelligent as well as sweet. She had been highly
educated, and there seemed to be few things she hadn't thought about.
Most of the old aunt's money had been spent in making the girl what she
was, so there was little left; but Joyce would always be able to earn
her living.

If she tired of secretarial work, she could quite well teach music, both
piano and voice production. She had taken singing lessons from a famous
and successful man. Had her voice been strong enough, she might have got
concert engagements, it was so honey-sweet, so exquisitely trained. But
she called it a "twilight voice"; which it really was, and often I gave
up going out for the joy of having her sing to me alone in the dusk.

It was only at those times that I knew--actually _knew_!--how sad she
was, to the point of heartbreak. By day, when we worked or talked
together, her manner was charmingly bright. She was interested in my
affairs, and her quiet, delicious sense of humour was one of her
greatest attractions for me. But at the piano, before the lights were
on, the girl was at the mercy of her secret, whatever it might be. It
came like a ghost, and stared her in the eyes. It said to her: "You
can't shut me out. It is to _me_ you sing. I _make_ you sing!"

To hear that "twilight voice" of hers, half crooning, half chanting,
those passion-flower songs of Laurence Hope's, or "Omar," would have
waked a soul in a stone image!

Good heavens! how could Robert Lorillard have sent her away? How, on the
contrary, could he have helped wanting this noble, brave, sweet creature
to warm his life for ever?

That's what I asked myself over and over again. And on top of that
question another. What if--he _hadn't_ helped it?

It was one evening, while she improvised a queer little "song of sleep"
for me that this thought came. It burst like a bombshell in my brain;
and the reason it hadn't burst before was because my mind always
pictured June and Robert together.

I was lying deep among cushions on a sofa, and involuntarily I started
up.

Joyce broke off her song in the midst.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing," I said; "only--it just popped into my head that I'd forgotten
to telephone for--for a car to-morrow."

"For a car?" Joyce echoed. "How stupid of me, if you mentioned it! I
can't remember----"

"No, I didn't mention it," I said. (No wonder, when I hadn't even
_thought_ of it until this minute!) "But I--I _meant_ to. I'd made up my
mind to go to 'Pergolas,' the Duchess of Stane's place on the river; you
must have seen it when you were working for Robert Lorillard."

It was the first time I'd uttered his name since that impulsive break at
the luncheon table, over a fortnight ago now!

Whether or not her face blushed I couldn't see in the twilight, but her
_voice_ blushed as she said:

"Oh, yes! I've seen--the gates. Surely the duchess isn't there at this
time of the year?"

"She generally takes a 'rest cure' of a week or two at Pergolas this
month. It's perfect peace, and you know how dreamlike the river is in
autumn."

"I--know," Joyce murmured. "The woods all golden, and mists like creamy
veils across the blue distance. I know!"

There was a passion of suppressed longing and regret in her tone.

"Wouldn't you like to go with me?" I coaxed. "It's such lovely country
for a spin. And--I've never been there; but I suppose we must pass close
to Robert Lorillard's cottage? We go through Stanerton village. We could
stop and see if he's still at home, or if he's gone----"

"No--no, thank you, Princess," Joyce said, hastily, "I don't--care very
much for motoring. If you're to be away to-morrow I'll get through some
mending, and some letters of my own."

I didn't argue. I should have been surprised if she'd accepted. It would
have made the thing commonplace. And it would have upset my plan. I
can't call it a "deep-laid plan," because I'd laid it on no firmer
foundation than the spur of the moment; but I was wildly excited about
it. Fully armoured like Minerva it had leapt into my brain while I said
to myself, "What _if_----?"

Joyce 'phoned to the garage where I hired cars occasionally, and ordered
something to come at ten o'clock next morning. For me to take this joy
ride meant throwing over a whole day's engagements like so many
ninepins. But I didn't care a rap!

I could see when I was ready to start that Joyce was even more excited
than I. No doubt she was thinking that, when I came back, I might bring
news of _him_. We spoke, however, only of the duchess.

To me, a harmless, necessary fib isn't much more vicious than a cat of
the same description; that is, if the fib is for the benefit of a
friend. But I'd rather tell the truth if it can be managed, so I really
intended to call on the Duchess. The village of Stanerton--on the
outskirts of which Lorillard lived--happened to be on my way to
Pergolas. I couldn't help _that_, could I? So I told my chauffeur to ask
for River Orchard Cottage--the address on Robert's note introducing Miss
Arnold.

Everyone seemed to know the place. It was half a mile out of the
village, and you went to it up a side road: a very old cottage altered
and modernized. The name was old, too: it really was an orchard, and it
was really on the river. That was what half a dozen people informed us
in a breath, and they would have added much information about Lorillard
himself if I'd cared to hear. But all I wanted to learn about him from
them was whether he had gone away. He hadn't. He had been seen out
walking the day before.

"I _told_ you so!" I said to myself.

As the car slowed down and stopped before a white gate I seemed to lose
my identity for a moment. It became merged with that of Joyce Arnold. I
felt as if she--the _real_ Joyce--had raced here in some winged vehicle
of thousand-spirit power, travelling far faster than any road-bound
earthly car, and, having waited for me, now slipped into my skin.

The sight of that gate made my heart beat as it must have made hers beat
every day when she came in the morning to work. Yes! As I laid my hand
on the latch I wasn't my somewhat blasée and sophisticated self: I was
the girl to whom this place was Paradise.

The white gate was flanked by two tall clipped yews. Inside, a wide path
of irregular paving-stones, with grass and flowers sprouting between,
led to a low thatched cottage--oh, but a glorified cottage: a cottage
that looked as if it had died and gone to heaven! The flagged path had
tubs on either side. In them grew funny little Dutch treelets shaped
like birds and animals of different sorts; and the lawn kept all the
noble, gnarled giants that once had made it an orchard. The cottage was
yellow, like cottages in Devonshire, and the old thatch had the gray
satin sheen of chinchilla. A huge magnolia was trained over the front,
and climbing roses and wisteria, all in the sere and yellow leaf or bare
now; but I could picture the place in spring, when the diamond-paned bow
windows sparkled through a canopy of flowers, when the great apple trees
were like a pink-and-white sunrise of blossom, and underneath spread a
carpet of forget-me-nots and tulips.

How sweet must have been the air then, how blue the river background,
and how melodious the low song of a distant weir!

To-day, the air was faintly acrid with the scent of bonfire smoke--the
odour of autumn; and the sounds of wind and water over the weir were sad
as a song of homesickness.

I tapped an old-fashioned knocker upon a low green door. An elderly maid
appeared. I saw by the bleak glint of a pale eye that she meant to say,
"Not at home," and hastened to forestall her.

"See if Captain Lorillard is in, and if so tell him that Princess di
Miramare has come from town on purpose for a talk with him," I flung in
the stolid face.

There was no answer to that except obedience! The woman left me waiting
in a delightful little square hall furnished with a very few, very
beautiful, old things. And in a minute Robert Lorillard almost bounded
out of a room into which the maid had vanished.

It was the first time we had seen each other since the day he married
June Dana.

I had sat down on a cushioned chest in the hall. At sight of him I
jumped up, and meaning to hold out a hand, found myself holding out two!
He took both, pressed them, and without speaking we looked long at each
other. For both of us the past had come alive.

He was the same, yet not the same. Certainly not less handsome, but
changed, as all men who have been through the war are changed--anyhow,
imaginative men. Though he had been back from the Front for over a year
(he was invalided out after his last wound, just before the Armistice)
the tan wasn't off his face yet, perhaps never would be. There were a
few lines round his eyes and a few silver threads in his black hair. He
smiled at me; but it was the smile of a man who has suffered, and known
a hell of loneliness.

It was Robert who spoke first, saying entirely commonplace things in the
beautiful voice that used to thrill London. He was so glad to see me!
How nice it was of me to come! Then, suddenly, he remembered something.
I could _see_ him remembering. He remembered that he was supposed to be
away.

"I ought to be in France," he said. "All my arrangements are made to go.
Yet I haven't got off. I'm glad now that I haven't."

"So am I, very glad," I echoed. "I should have been too disappointed!
But--I _felt_ you wouldn't be gone."

He looked somewhat startled.

"I always was a procrastinator," he said. "Come into my study, won't
you?"

Still holding me by the hand he led me like a child into the room out of
which he had shot--an adorable room, with a beamed ceiling and
diamond-paned windows looking under trees to the river. In front of his
desk--where he could glance up for inspiration as he wrote--was a
life-sized portrait of June, by Sargent; June in the gray dress and hat
she had worn the day she promised--no, _offered_--to marry Robert.

"You see!" he said, with a slight gesture toward the picture, with its
bunched red-bronze hair and brilliant eyes of blue, "this is where I sit
and work."

"And where used Joyce Arnold to sit and work?" something in me blurted
out.

The man winced--just visibly--no more. His eyes flashed to mine a kind
of challenge. There was sudden anger in it, and pleading as well. Then,
of course, I _knew_--all I had come to find out. And he must have known
that I knew!

But I'd come for a great deal more than finding out.

I don't think I'm a coward, yet I was dreadfully frightened--in a blue
funk of doing or saying the wrong thing at a moment when it might be
"now or never." My knees felt like badly poached eggs with no toast to
repose upon. I lost my head a little, and what I did I didn't do really,
because it did itself.

I looked as scared as I felt, and gasped: "Oh, _Robert_!" (I'd never
called him "Robert" to his face before; only behind his back.)

My face of fright deflected his rage. You can't be furious with a
quivering jelly! But he didn't speak. The challenge in his eyes softened
to reproach. Then he looked at the portrait.

"Miss Arnold sat where she, too, could see June," he answered quietly.

"Poor, poor Joyce!" I said. "And poor you!"

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Why, I mean--and I, too, can see June while I say it!--I mean that you
are making a terrible mistake. Oh, Robert Lorillard, don't pretend not
to understand. We're not two strangers fencing! I'm not just a bold
creature rushing in where angels fear to tread. I know!--I _have_ rushed
in, but I'm not bold. I'm frightened to death. Only--I had to come.
Every day I see that glorious girl breaking her heart. She hasn't said a
word, or looked a look, or wept a weep. She's a _soldier_. But she's
like a lost soul turned out of Paradise. The more I got to know of her
the more I felt you _couldn't_ have sent her away and found another
place for her because you were bored. So I came to see you. And you
needn't mind my knowing the real reason you sent her out of your house.
I won't tell her. If any one does that it must be you. And it _ought_ to
be you. You love each other. You belong to each other. You'd be divinely
happy together. You're wretched apart."

"_You_ say that?" Robert exclaimed, when by sheer force of lungs I'd
made him hear me through. "You--June's friend!"

"Yes. It's because I was her friend, and knew her so well, that I want
you to listen to your own heart; for if you don't, you'll break Joyce
Arnold's. June wouldn't want you to sacrifice your two lives on the
shrine of her memory. She loved happiness, herself. And she liked other
people to be happy."

Robert's eyes lit, whether with joy or anger I couldn't tell.

"You think June would be willing to have me marry another woman?" he
said.

"Yes, I do, if you loved the woman. And you do love her. It would be
useless to tell me you don't."

"I'm not going to tell you I don't. I've tried not to. I hoped she
didn't care."

"She does. Desperately, frightfully. I do believe it's killing her."

"God! And she saved my life. Elizabeth, I'd give mine for her, a dozen
times over, but----"

"What she needs is for you to give it _to_ her, not for her: give it
once and for all, to have and to hold while your heart's in your body."

I fired advice at him like bullets from a Maxim gun, and every bullet
reached its billet. I was so carried away by my wish for joy to rise
from tragedy that I hardly knew what I said, yet I felt that I had
caught Lorillard and carried him with me. The next thing I definitely
knew with my mere brain, I was sitting down with elbows on Robert's
desk, facing him as he leaned toward me. My whole self was a listening
Ear, while he told--as a man hypnotized might tell the hypnotizer--the
tale of his acquaintance with Joyce Arnold.

I'd already learned from his letter and from words she had let drop that
Joyce had nursed him in a hospital in France, when she was "doing her
bit" as a V. A. D. But she had been silent about the life-saving
episode, which had won for her a decoration and Robert Lorillard's deep
admiration and gratitude.

It seemed that during an air raid, when German machines were bombing the
hospital, Joyce had in her ward three officers just operated upon, and
too weak to walk. A bomb fell and killed one of these as Joyce and
another nurse were about to move his cot into the next ward. Then, in a
sudden horror of darkness and noise of destroying aeroplanes, she had
carried Robert in her arms to a place of comparative safety. After that
she had returned to her own ward and got the other man who lay in his
cot, though her fellow nurse had been struck down, wounded or dead.

"How she did it I've never known, or she either," said Lorillard,
dreaming back into the past. "She's tall and strong, of course, and at
that time I was reduced to a living skeleton. Still, even in my bones
I'm a good deal bigger than she is. The weight must have been enough to
crush her, yet she carried me from one ward to another, in the dark,
when the light had been struck out. And the wound in my side never bled
a drop. It was like a miracle."

"'Spect she loved you lots already, without quite knowing it," I told
him. "There've been miracles going on in the world ever since Christ,
and they always will go on, because love works them, and _only_ love. At
least, that's _my_ idea! And I don't believe God would have let Joyce
work that one, the way she did, if He hadn't meant her love to wake love
in you."

"If I could think so," said Robert, "it would make all the difference;
for I've been fighting my own heart with the whole strength of my soul,
and it's been a hard struggle. I felt it would be such a hideous
treachery to June--my beautiful June, who gave herself to me as a
goddess might to a mortal!--the meanest ingratitude to let another woman
take her place when her back is turned--even such a splendid woman as
Joyce Arnold."

"I know just how you feel," I humoured him. "You remember, I was with
June when she threw herself into your arms and offered to marry you. You
were in love with her, and you'd never dreamed till that minute there
was any hope. But that was a different love from this, I'm sure, because
no two girls could be more different, one from another, than June Dana
and Joyce Arnold. Your love for June was just glorious romance. Perhaps,
if she'd lived, and you and she had passed years together as husband and
wife, the wonderful colours of the glory would have faded a little. She
tired so of every-day things. But Joyce is born to be the companion of a
man she loves, and she would never tire or let him tire. You and June
hardly had enough time together to realize that you were married. And
it's over three years and a half since she--since the gods who loved her
let her die young. She can't come to this world again. She basked in joy
herself; and she won't grudge it to you, if she knows. And for you, joy
and Joyce are one, for the rest of both your lives."

Lorillard sprang up suddenly and seized my hands.

"Portia come back to life and judgment--I believe you're right!" he
cried. "Take me to town with you. Take me to Joyce!"

As we stood, thrilled, hand in hand, the door opened. The same servant
who had let me in announced acidly: "_Another_ lady to see you, sir."

The lady in question had come so near the door that she must have seen
us before we could start apart.

I knew her at first glance: Opal Fawcett.



CHAPTER III

THE CHAIR AT THE SAVOY


It was five years since I'd seen Opal Fawcett--for the first and last
time, that day I went to her house with June.

Then she had gleamed wraithlike in the purple dusk of her purple room,
with its purple-shaded lamps. Now she stood in full daylight, against
the frank background of a country cottage wall. Yet she was still a mere
film of a woman. She seemed to carry her own eerie effect with her
wherever she went, as the heroines of operas are accompanied by their
special spot-light and _leitmotif_.

Whether the servant was untrained, or spiteful because a long-standing
rule had been broken in my favour, I can't tell. But I'm sure that, if
he'd been given half a chance, Robert would have made some excuse not to
see Opal. There she was, however, on the threshold, and looking like one
of those "Dwellers on the Threshold" you read of in psychic books.

As he had no invisible cloak, and couldn't crawl under a sofa, poor
Robert was obliged to say pleasantly, "How do you do?"

Standing back a little, trying to look about two inches tall instead of
five foot ten, I watched the greeting. I wanted to judge from it, if I
could, to what extent the old acquaintance had been kept up. But I might
have saved myself waste of brain tissue. Robert was anxious to leave no
mystery.

"Princess," he said, hastily, when he had taken his guest's slim hand in
its gray glove, "Princess, I think you must have heard of Miss Opal
Fawcett."

"Oh, yes. And we have met--once," I replied.

Opal's narrow gray eyes turned to me--not without reluctance I thought.

"I remember well," she murmured, in her plaintive voice. "I never forget
a face. You were Miss Courtenaye then. Lately I've been hearing of you
from Miss Arnold, who used to be my secretary, and is now yours."

I was thankful she didn't bring in _June's_ name!

"Miss Fawcett and I have known each other a good many years," Robert
hurried on. "She was once in a play with me, before she found her real
_métier_. She kindly comes to see me now and then, when she can take a
day off."

"I want to bid you good-bye--if you are really going out of England,"
Opal said.

She had ceased to look at me now, but I went on looking hard at her. She
was in what might be a spirit conception of a motor costume: smoke gray
velvet, and yards of long, floating veil shot from gray to mauve. She
wore a close toque with two little jutting Mercury wings, from behind
which those yards of unnecessary chiffon fell. She had a narrow oval
face, which Nature and (I thought) Art combined to make pale as pearl.
Her hair, pushed forward by the toque, was so colourless a brown that it
looked like thick shadow. She had a beautifully cut, delicate nose, but
her lips were thin and the upper one rather long and flat, otherwise she
would have been pretty. Even as it was she had a kind of fascination,
and I thought her the most graceful, willowy creature I'd ever seen.

"Well," said Robert, "as it happens I've put off going abroad, through a
kind of mental laziness. But in the ordinary course of events you'd have
come to-day only to find me gone--which would have been a pity. When I
answered your letter, I told you----"

"Yes, but I _felt_ you'd still be here," she cut him short. "Apparently
the Princess had the same premonition."

"Oh, I just happened to be passing," I fibbed, "and took my chance.
Fortunately, I came in the nick of time to give Captain Lorillard a lift
to town in my car. It will save him a journey by train."

"Then I am in the nick of time, too!" said Opal. "If I'd been ten
minutes later I might have missed him. I felt _that_, too! I told my
taxi man to drive at least as fast as the legal limit."

I guessed she was longing to get Robert to herself, and that he was glad
there was no chance of it. Was he _really_ going abroad? she wanted to
know. Or only just to London for a change?

Robert was restive under her uncanny questionings, but answered that he
wasn't quite sure about the future. Travelling in France and Italy
seemed to be disagreeable at the moment. Passports, too, were a bother.
He'd be more certain of his plans in a few days, and would let her know.

Opal betrayed no crude emotion. Yet I was sure that, under her
restrained manner--soft as a gentle breeze on a summer night--she would
have enjoyed stamping her foot and having hysterics. Instead, she asked
Robert about a psychic play she wanted him to write (he hadn't written a
line of it!), told him a little news concerning people they both knew,
and bethought herself that she "mustn't keep us."

Not more than twenty minutes after she had floated in Miss Fawcett
floated forth again. Robert took her to her taxi, and then could hardly
wait to get off in my car. As for me, I'd forgotten all about the
Duchess. We chose the longer of the two roads to London, hoping to miss
Opal; but soon passed her taxi going at a leisurely pace. The Wraith
must have had another of her mystic "feelings," and counted on our
choice of that turning!

"She says she has 'helpers' from beyond," Robert explained, when we were
flying on, far ahead. "She asks their advice, and they tell her what to
do in daily life. She wanted to provide me with one or two, but I wasn't
'taking any.' Not that I'm a convinced materialist, or that I don't
believe the dark veil can ever be lifted--I'm rather inclined the other
way round--but I prefer to manage my own affairs without 'helpers' I've
never known or seen on earth. Of course, it would be different if----Oh,
you know what I mean. But even then--well, I should be afraid of being
deceived. It's better not to begin anything like that when you can't be
sure."

"Did Opal Fawcett ever try to persuade you to--to----?" Courage failed
me. But Robert understood only too well what was in my mind.

"Yes, she did," he admitted. "She wrote me--after--that awful thing
happened. I hadn't heard from her for a long time till then. I'd almost
forgotten her existence. She said in the letter that June's spirit had
come to her with a message for me."

"_Cheek!_" I exclaimed.

"Well, I'm afraid that's rather the way I felt about it, though probably
Opal meant well, and a lot of people think she's wonderful. Several
friends begged me in urgent letters to go to Opal Fawcett: assured me
she'd given them indescribable comfort, put them in touch with those
they loved who'd 'passed on.' But somehow I couldn't be persuaded,
Princess. A voice inside me always used to say: 'Why should June want to
talk to you through Opal Fawcett? If she can come back, why shouldn't
she speak with you direct, instead of through a third person?'"

"That's how I should have argued it out in your place," I agreed.
"And--and June never----?"

"No. She never came, never made me realize her near presence, never
seemed to influence me in favour of Opal--though Opal didn't give up
till months had passed. When she first came after writing to say she
must see me, it was to beg me to visit her for _June's sake_. Afterward,
when she saw she was making me uncomfortable, she stopped her
persuasions. Since then--fairly often when Joyce Arnold was here--she
has turned up at the cottage: sometimes just for a friendly chat like an
ordinary human being (though I never feel she is one), sometimes to
discuss that 'psychic play'--as she calls it--an idea of hers she wants
me to work out for the stage."

"Is it a good idea?" I wanted to know.

"Yes. Mysterious and dramatic at the same time. Yet I've always made
excuses. I don't fancy collaborating with Miss Fawcett, though that may
sound ungrateful."

It didn't, to my ears, especially as Opal's object seemed transparent as
the depths of her own crystal. Of course she was still in love with
Robert, and had seized first one chance, then another, of getting into
touch with him. I was rather sorry for her, in a vague, impersonal way;
for to love Robert Lorillard and lose him would hurt. I could realize
that, without the trouble and pain of being seriously in love with him
myself.

"It's a good thing," I thought, "that Joyce Arnold's stopping with me at
this time and not with Opal Fawcett! It would be as much as the girl's
life is worth to be engaged to Robert in _that_ house!"

Could Opal suspect, I wondered, the truth about the broken love story?
Somehow I thought not. I might be mistaken, but the rather patronizing
way in which she'd spoken of Joyce didn't seem like that of a jealous
woman. If Joyce and she had got upon each other's nerves lately because
of Robert, I imagined that suspicion had been on the other side. Joyce
would have been more than human if she could go on accepting hospitality
from a woman who so plainly showed her love for Robert Lorillard.

We raced back to London, for I feared that Robert's mood might change
for the worse--that an autumn chill of remorse might shiver through his
veins.

All was well, however--very well. I made him talk to me of Joyce nearly
the whole way; and at the end of the journey I had him waiting for her
in the drawing room of my flat before he quite knew what had happened to
him.

My secretary was in her own room, writing her own letters as she'd said
she would do.

"Back already, Princess?" she exclaimed, jumping up when I'd knocked and
been told to come in. "Why, you've hardly more than had time to get
there and back, it seems, to say nothing of lunch!"

"I haven't had any lunch," I said.

"No lunch? Poor darling! Why----"

"I was too busy," I broke in. "And I wanted to get back."

"Only this morning you were longing to go!"

"I know! It does sound chameleon-like. But second thoughts are often
best. Come into the drawing room and you'll see that mine were--much
best."

She came, in all innocence. I opened the door. I thrust her in. I
exclaimed: "Bless you, my children!" and shut the two in together.

This was taking it boldly for granted that Joyce was as much in love
with Robert as he with her. But why be early Victorian and ignore the
lovely, naked truth, instead of late Georgian and save beating round the
bush for both of the lovers?

Those words of mine figuratively flung them into each other's arms,
where--according to my idea--the sooner they were the better!

I should think if my words missed fire, their eyes didn't miss, judging
from what I'd seen in hers when speaking of him, in his when speaking of
her! And certainly the pair of them couldn't have wasted _much_ time in
foolish preliminaries; for in about half an hour Joyce appeared in the
dining room, where I was eating an _immense_ luncheon.

"Oh, Princess!" she breathed, hovering just over the threshold; and
instantly Robert loomed behind her. "It's too wonderful. It can't be
true."

Robert didn't speak. He merely gazed. Years had rolled off him since
morning. He looked an inspired boy, with a dash of silver powder on his
hair. Slipping his arm round Joyce's waist he brought her to me. As I
sat at the table they both knelt down close to my feet, and each
earnestly kissed one of my hands! It would have been a beautiful effect
if I hadn't choked, trying wildly to bolt a mouthful of something, and
had to be slapped on the back. That choke was a disguised blessing,
however, for it made us all laugh when I got my breath; and when you're
on the top pinnacle of a great emotion, it's a safe outlet to laugh!

My suggestion was, that nobody but our three selves should share the
secret, and that the wedding--to be hurried on--should be sprung as a
surprise upon the public. Robert and Joyce agreed on general principles;
but each made one exception.

Robert said that he felt it would be "caddish" to make a bid for
happiness without telling the Duchess of Stane what was in his mind. She
couldn't reasonably object to his marrying again, and wouldn't object,
he argued; but if he didn't confide in her she'd have a right to think
him a coward.

Joyce's one exception--of all people on earth!--was Opal Fawcett! And
when I shrieked "Why?" she'd only say that she "owed a debt of gratitude
to Opal." Therefore Opal had a right to know before any one else that
she was engaged.

The girl didn't add "to Robert Lorillard," but a flash of intuition like
a searchlight showed me the meaning behind her words. Living in the same
house with Opal, eating Opal's bread and salt (very little else, I
daresay!), Joyce had guessed Opal's secret--or had been forced to hear a
confidence. That, and nothing else, was the reason why she wouldn't be
engaged to Robert "behind Opal's back!"

Well, I hope I'm not precisely a coward myself, but I didn't envy Joyce
Arnold and Robert Lorillard their self-appointed tasks. They were
carried out, however, with soldierly promptness the day after the
engagement, and nothing terrific happened--or at least, was reported.

"Opal was very sweet," Joyce announced, vouchsafing no details of the
interview.

"The--Duchess was very sensible," was Robert's description of what
passed between him and his exalted ex-mother-in-law.

"I suppose you asked them not to tell?" was my one question.

"Oh, Opal _won't_ tell!" exclaimed Joyce; and I believed that she was
right. According to Opal's view, _telling_ things only helped them to
happen.

"I begged the Duchess to say nothing to anybody," answered Robert. Our
eyes met, and we smiled--Robert rather ruefully.

Of course the Duchess did the contrary of what she'd been begged to do,
and said something to everybody. In less than a week the world was aware
that Robert Lorillard, its lost idol, was coming back to life; that he
who had been for a few months the husband of wonderful June Dana--the
Duchess of Stane's daughter--was engaged to a "V.-A.-D. girl who'd
nursed him in the war, and had been his secretary or something."

But, after all, the talk mattered very little to those most concerned.
They were divinely happy, the two who were talked about, though they
would have liked to be let alone. I suppose, for Robert, it was a
different kind of happiness from that which the condescension of his
goddess had given him: less dazzling perhaps; more like the warm
sweetness of early spring and its flowers, compared with a tropical
summer of scented magnolias and daturas. June had been a goddess
stepping down from her golden pedestal, and Joyce was a loving, adoring
human girl, ready for all that wifehood might mean.

Robert shut up the little place by the river (where they planned to live
later), and stopped at an hotel in town, though he had never let the
flat in St. James's Square, the scene of his engagement to June.

I began helping Joyce choose a trousseau that could be got together in
haste, for they were to go to the south of France and Italy for their
honeymoon; and one day, after shopping the whole morning and part of the
afternoon, we were to meet Robert for tea at the Savoy.

You know that soft amber light there is in the big _foyer_ of the Savoy
at tea-time, like the beautiful subdued light in dreams? Since the war
it brings back to me ghosts of all the jolly, handsome boys one used to
see there, whose bodies sleep now under the poppies and _bluets_ of
France; and as Joyce and I walked in, rather late, the thought of those
boys and those days came over me with the sobbing music of the violins.

"It's like the beat, beat of invisible hearts," I said to myself. And
suddenly I was sad.

There sat Robert, waiting for us. He had taken a table for three, and
one of the chairs, I noticed, was a noble one covered with velvet
brocade--a chair like a Queen's throne.

He rose at sight of us, and I saw that a little woman at a table close
by was looking at him with intense interest. In fact, her interest in
Robert gave her a kind of fictitious interest of her own, in my eyes,
she seemed so absorbed in him.

She was one of those women you'd know to be American if you met them
crawling up the North Pole; and as she was in travelling dress I fancied
that it was not long since she had landed.

"She probably admired him on the stage when she was here before the war,
and hasn't been in England since till now," I thought, to be interrupted
by Robert himself.

"That armchair's for you, Princess," he said, as I was going to slip
into a smaller one and leave the "throne" for the bride-elect.

For an instant we disputed; then I was about to yield, laughing, when
the little woman in brown jumped up with a gasp.

"Oh, you _can't_ sit in that chair!" she exclaimed. "Don't you
_see_--there's someone there?"

We all three started and stared, thinking, of course, that the creature
was mad. But her face looked sane, and pathetically pleading.

"Do forgive me!" she begged. "I forget that everyone doesn't see what I
see. _They_ are so clear to me always. I'm not insane. But I couldn't
let you sit in that chair. You may have heard of me. I am Priscilla Hay
Reardon, of Boston. I can't at this moment give you the name of the
lovely girl--the lady in the chair--but she would tell me, I think, if I
asked her. I must describe her to you, though, she's so beautiful, and
she so wants you all--no, not _all_; only the gentleman--to recognize
her. She has red-brown hair, in glossy waves, and immense blue eyes,
like violet flame. She has a dainty nose; full, drooping red lips, the
upper one very short and haughty; a cleft in her chin; wonderful
complexion, with rosy cheeks, the colour high under the eyes; a long
throat; a splendid figure, though slim; and she is dressed in gray, with
an ostrich plume trailing over a gray hat that shades her forehead. She
has a string of gray pearls round her neck--_black_ pearls she says they
are; she wears a chiffon scarf held by an emerald brooch, and on her
hand is a ring with a marvellous square emerald."

Robert, Joyce, and I were speechless. The description of June was
exact--June in the gray dress and hat she had worn the day we went to
Robert's rooms, the day they were engaged; the dress he had made her
wear when Sargent painted her portrait.



CHAPTER IV

THE SPIRIT OF JUNE


Before one of us could utter a word, the little woman hurried on.

"Ah, the lovely girl has begun to talk very fast now! I can hardly
understand what she says, because she's half crying. It's to
you she speaks, sir; I don't know your name! But, yes--it's
_Robert_... 'Robert!' the girl is sobbing. 'Have you forgotten me
already?'... Do those words convey any special impression to your mind,
sir, or has this spirit mistaken you for someone else?"

Robert was ghastly, and Joyce looked as if she were going to faint. Even
I--to whom this scene meant less than to them--even I was flabbergasted.
That is the _one_ word! If you don't know what it means, you're lucky,
because in that case you've never been it. I should translate from
experience: "FLABBERGASTED; astounded and bewildered at the same time,
with a slight dash of premature second childhood thrown in."

I heard Robert answer in a strained voice:

"The words do convey an impression to my mind. But--this is too
sacred--too private a subject. We can't discuss it here. I----"

"I know!" the woman breathlessly agreed. "_She_ feels it, too. She
wouldn't have chosen a place like this. She's explaining--how for a long
time she's tried to reach you, but couldn't make you understand. Now
I've given her the chance. She's suffering terribly because of the
barrier between you. I pity her. I wish I could help! Maybe I could if
you'd care to come to my rooms. I'm staying in this hotel. I've just
arrived in England from Boston, the first visit in my life. I haven't
been in London much more than two hours now! I've got a little suite
upstairs."

If she'd got a "little suite" at the Savoy, the woman must have money.
She couldn't be a common or garden medium cadging for mere fees.
Besides, no common or garden person, an absolute stranger to Robert
Lorillard, met by sheer accident, could have described June Dana and
that gray dress of four years ago; her jewels, too! Robert's name she
might have picked up if Joyce or I had let it drop by accident; but the
last was inexplicable. The thing that had happened--that was
happening--seemed to me miraculous, and tragic. I felt that Fate had
seized the bright bird of happiness and would crush it to death, unless
something intervened. And what could intervene? I struggled not to see
the future as a foregone conclusion. But I could see it in no other way
except by shutting my eyes.

Robert turned to Joyce. He didn't say to her, "What am I to do?" Yet she
read the silent question and answered it.

"Of course you must go," she said. "It--whether it's genuine or not,
you'll have to find out. You can't let it drop."

"No, I can't let it drop," he echoed. He looked stricken. He, too, saw
the dark, fatal hand grasping the white bird.

He had loved June passionately, but the beautiful body he'd held in his
arms lay under that sundial by the riverside. Her spirit was of another
world. And he'd not have been a human, hot-blooded man, if the
reproachful wraith of an old love could be more to him than the brave
girl who'd saved his life and won his soul back from despair.

I saw, as if through their eyes, the thing they faced together, those
two, and suddenly I rebelled against that figure of Destiny. I was wild
to save the white bird before its wings had ceased to flutter. I didn't
know at all what to do. But I had to do something. I simply _had_ to!

Miss Reardon rose.

"Would you like to come with me now?" she asked, addressing Robert, not
Joyce or me. She ignored us, but not in a rude way. Indeed, there was a
direct and rather childlike simplicity in her manner, which impressed
one with her genuineness. I was afraid--horribly afraid--and almost
sure, that she _was_ genuine. I respected her against my will, because
she didn't worry to be polite; but at the same time I didn't intend to
be shunted. I determined to be in at the death--or whatever it was!

"Aren't you going to invite us, too?" I asked. "If the--the apparition
is the spirit we think we recognize, she and I were dear friends."

Miss Reardon's round, mild eyes searched my face. Then they turned as if
to consult another face which only they could see. It was creepy to
watch them gaze steadily at something in that big, _empty_ armchair.

"Yes," she agreed. "The lady--Lady----Could it be 'June'?--It sounds
like June--says it's true you were her friend. But she says '_Not the
other._' The other mustn't come."

"I wouldn't wish to come," Joyce protested. She was waxen pale. "I'll go
home," she said to Robert. "Don't bother about me. Don't think about me
at all. Afterward you can--tell me whatever you care to tell."

"No!" Robert and I spoke together, moved by the same thought. "Don't go
home. Wait here for us."

"Very well," the girl consented, more to save argument at such a moment,
I think, than because she wished to do what we asked.

She sank down in one of the chairs we had taken and Robert and I
followed Miss Reardon. She appeared to think that we were sure to know
her name quite well. I didn't know it, for I was a stranger in the world
of Spiritualism. But her air of being modestly proud of the name seemed
to prove that her reputation as a medium was good--that she'd never been
found out in any fraud. And going up in the lift the words spoke
themselves over and over in my head: "She couldn't know who Robert is,
if it's true she's never been in England before, and if she has come to
London to-day. At least, I don't see how she could."

In silence we let Miss Reardon lead us to the sitting room of her suite
on the third floor. It was small but pretty, and smelt of La France
roses, though none were visible, nor were there any other flowers there.
Robert and I looked at each other as this perfume rushed to meet us. La
France roses were June's favourites, and belonged to the month of her
birth. Robert had sent them to her often, especially when they were out
of season and difficult to get.

"_She_ is here, waiting for us!" exclaimed Miss Reardon. "Oh, _surely_
you must see her--on the sofa, with her feet crossed--such pretty
diamond buckles on her shoes!--and her lap full of roses. She holds up
one rose, she kisses it, to you--Robert--Robert--some name that begins
with L. I can't hear it clearly. But Robert is enough."

Yes, Robert was enough--more than enough!

Miss Reardon asked in an almost matter-of-fact way if he would like to
sit down on the sofa beside June, who wished him to do so. He didn't
answer; but he sat down, and his eyes stared at vacancy. I knew from
their expression, however, that he saw nothing.

"What will be the next thing?" I wondered.

I had not long to wait to find out!

"_She_ asks me to take your hand and hers. Then she will talk to you
through me," Miss Reardon explained. As she spoke, she drew up a small
chair in front of the sofa, leaned forward, took Robert's right hand in
hers, and held out the left, as if grasping another hand--a hand unseen.

As the medium did this, with thin elbows resting on thin knees, she
closed her eyes. A look of _blankness_ came over her face like a mist. I
can't describe it in any other way. Presently her chin dropped slightly.
She seemed to sleep.

Neither Robert nor I had uttered a word since we entered the room. We
waited tensely.

Just what I expected to happen I hardly know, for I had no experience of
"manifestations" or séances. But what did happen surprised me so that I
started, and just contrived to suppress a gasp.

A voice. It did not sound like Miss Reardon's voice, with its rather
pleasant American accent. It was a creamy English voice, young and
full-noted. "_June!_" I whispered under my breath, where I sat across
the length of the room from the sofa. I glanced at Robert. There was
surprise on his face, and some other emotion deep as his heart. But it
was not joy.

"Dearest, have you forgotten me so soon?" the voice asked. "Speak to me!
It's I, your June."

It was a wrench for Robert to speak, I know. There was the pull of
self-consciousness in the opposite direction--distaste for conversation
with the Invisible while alien eyes watched, alien ears listened. And
then, to reply as if to June, was virtually to admit that he believed in
her presence, that all doubt of the medium was erased from his mind. But
after a second's pause he obeyed the command.

"No," he said, "I've not forgotten and I never can forget."

"Yet you are engaged to marry this Joyce Arnold!" mourned the voice that
was like June's.

I almost jumped out of my chair at the sound of Joyce's name. It was
another proof that the medium was genuine.

Robert's tone as he answered was more convinced than before I thought.
And the youth had died out of his eyes. They looked old.

"Do you want me to live all my life alone, now that I've lost you,
June?" he asked.

"Darling, you are not alone!" answered the voice. "I'm always with you.
I love you so much that I've chosen to stay near you, and be earth
bound, rather than lead my own life on the plane where I might be. I
thought you would want me here. I thought that some day, if I tried long
enough, you would feel my touch, you would see my face. After a while I
hoped I was succeeding. I looked at you from the eyes of my portrait in
your study. Now and then it seemed as if you _knew_. But then that girl
interfered. Oh, Robert, in giving up my progression from plane to plane
till you could join me, has the sacrifice been all in vain?"

The voice wrung my heart. It shook as with a gust of fears. Its pleading
sent little stabs of ice through my veins. So what must Robert have
felt?

"No, no! The sacrifice isn't in vain!" he cried. "I didn't know, I
didn't understand that those on the other side came back to us, and
cared for us in the same way they cared on earth. I am yours now and
always, June, of course. Order my life as you will."

"Ah, my dear one, I thank you!" The voice rose high in happiness. "I
felt you wouldn't fail me if I could only _reach_ you, and at last my
prayer is answered. Nothing can separate us now through eternity if you
love me. You won't marry that girl?"

"Not if it is against your wish, June. It must be that you see things
more clearly, where you are, than I can see them. If you tell me to
break my word to Joyce Arnold, I must--I will do so."

"I tell you this, my dearest," said the voice. "If you do _not_ break
with her, you and I are lost to each other for ever. When I chose to be
earth bound I staked everything on my belief in your love. Without it in
_full_, I shall drift--drift, through the years, through ages, I know
not how long, in expiation. Besides, I am not _dead_, I am more alive
than I was in what you call life. You are my husband, beloved, as much
as you ever were. Think what I suffer seeing another woman in your arms!
My capacity for suffering is increased a thousandfold--as is my capacity
for joy. If you make her your wife----"

"I will not!" Robert choked. "I promise you that. Never shall you suffer
through me if I can help it."

"Darling!" breathed the voice. "My husband! How happy you make me. This
is our true _marriage_--the marriage of spirits. Oh, do not let the
barrier rise between us again. Put Joyce Arnold out of your heart as
well as your life, and talk to me every day in future. Will you do
that?"

"How can I to talk to you every day?" he asked.

"As we are talking now. Through a medium. This one will not always be
near you. But there will be somebody. I've often tried to get word
through to you. I never could, because you wouldn't _believe_. Now you
believe, and we need not be parted again. You know the way to _open the
door_. It is never shut. It stands ajar. Remember!"

"I will remember," Robert echoed. And his voice was sad as the sound of
the sea on a lonely shore at night. There was no warm happiness for him
in the opening of a door between two worlds. The loss of Joyce was more
to him than the gain of this spirit-wife who claimed him from far off as
all her own. It seemed to me that a released soul should have read the
truth in his unveiled heart. But perhaps it did read--and did not care.

The voice was talking on.

"I am repaid for everything now," it said. "My sacrifice is no
sacrifice. For to-day I must say good-bye. Power is leaving me. I have
felt too much. I must rest, and regain vitality--for to-morrow.
_To-morrow_, Robert, my Robert! By that time we can talk with no
restraint, for you will have parted with Joyce Arnold. After to-day you
will never see her again?"

"No. After to-day I will never see her again, voluntarily, as that is
your wish."

"Good! What time to-morrow will you talk with me?"

"At any time you name."

"At this same hour, then, in this same room."

"So be it. If the medium consents."

"I shall make her consent. And you and I will agree upon someone else to
bring us together, when she must go elsewhere, as I can see through her
mind that she soon must. Good-bye, dearest husband, for twenty-four long
hours. Yet it isn't really good-bye, for I am seldom far from you. Now
that you _know_, you will feel me near. I----"

The voice seemed to fade. The last words were a faint whisper. The new
sentence died as it began. The medium's eyelids quivered. Her flat
breast rose and fell. The "influence" was gone!



CHAPTER V

THE BARGAIN


That night was one of the worst in my life. I was so fond of Robert
Lorillard, and I'd grown to love Joyce Arnold so well that the breaking
of their love idyll hurt as if it had been my own.

Never shall I forget the hour when we three talked together at my flat
after that séance at the Savoy, or the look on those two faces as Robert
and Joyce agreed to part! Even I had acquiesced at first in that
decision--but only while I was still half stunned by the shock of the
great surprise, and thrilled by the seeming miracle. At sight of the two
I loved quietly giving each other up, making sacrifice of their hearts
on a cold altar, I had a revulsion of feeling.

I jumped up, and broke out desperately.

"I don't believe it's true! Something _tells_ me it isn't! Don't spoil
your lives without making sure."

"How can we be surer than we are?" Robert asked. "You recognized June's
voice."

"I _thought_ then that I did," I amended. "I was excited. Now, I don't
trust my own impression."

"But the perfume of La France roses? Even if the woman could have found
out other things, how should she know about a small detail like June's
favourite flower? How could she have the perfume already in her room
when we came--as if she were sure of our coming there--which of course
she couldn't have been," Robert argued.

"I don't _see_ how she could have been sure," I had to grant him. "I
don't see through any of it. But they're so deadly clever, these
people--the fraudulent ones, I mean. They couldn't impress the public as
they do if they weren't up to every trick. All I say is, _wait_. Don't
decide irrevocably yet. The way the voice talked didn't seem to me a bit
like June. Only the tones were like hers; and they might have been
imitated by anybody who'd known her, or who'd been coached by someone."

"Dear Princess, you're so anxious for our happiness that I fear you're
thinking of impossible things. Who could have an object in parting Joyce
and me? I can think of no one. Still less could this stranger from
America have a motive, even if she lied, and really knew who I was
before she spoke to us at the Savoy."

"I admit it does sound just as impossible as you say!" I agreed,
forlornly. "But things that _sound_ impossible may be possible. And we
must find out. In justice to Joyce and yourself--even in justice to
June's spirit, which I _can't_ think would be so selfish--we must find
out!"

"What would you suggest?" Joyce asked rather timidly. But there was a
faint colour in her cheeks, like a spark in the ashes of hope.

"Detectives!" I said. "Or rather _a_ detective. I know a good man. He
served me very well once, when some of our family treasures disappeared
from Courtenaye Abbey, and it rather looked as if I'd stolen them
myself. He can learn without any shadow of doubt when Miss Reardon did
land, and when she came to London. Besides, he's sure to have colleagues
on the other side who can give him all sorts of details about the woman:
how she's thought of at home, whether she's ever been caught out as a
cheat, and so on. Will you both consent to that? Because if you will,
I'll 'phone to my man this moment."

They did consent. At least, Robert did, for Joyce left the decision
entirely to him. She was so afraid, poor girl, of seeming determined to
_hold_ him at any price, that she would hardly speak. As for Robert,
though he felt that I was justified in getting to the bottom of things,
I saw that he believed in the truth of the message he'd received. If it
were not the spirit of June who had come to command his allegiance, he
still had a right to his warm earthly happiness with Joyce Arnold. But
if it were indeed her spirit who claimed all he had to give for the rest
of life, it was a fair debt, and he would pay in full.

I received the detective (my old friend Smith) alone, in another room,
when he came. The necessary discussion would have been torture for
Robert and intolerable for Joyce. When Smith left I had at least this
encouragement to give the two: it would be simple to learn what I wished
to learn about Miss Reardon, on both sides of the Atlantic.

That was better than nothing. But it didn't make the dark watches of the
night less dark. I had an ugly presentiment that Smith, smart as he was,
would get hold of little to help us, if anything. Yet at the same time I
felt that there _was_ something to get hold of--somewhere!

If I hadn't implored them to wait, Joyce and Robert would have decided
to publish the news that their marriage (which somehow everyone knew
about!) would "not take place." This concession they did make to me; but
they agreed together that they mustn't meet. My cheerful flat felt like
a large grave fitted with all modern conveniences, when it had been
deprived of Robert. And Joyce trying to be normal and not to shed gloom
over me, her employer, was _too_ agonizing!

Robert didn't even write to Joyce. I suppose he couldn't trust himself.
But he wrote to me, and gave the history of his second interview with
Miss Reardon. June had come again, and had reminded him of incidents
about which, he said, "no outsider could possibly know."

"I can't help believing now that there are more things in heaven and
earth than I'd dreamed of in my philosophy," he ended his letter.
"There's no getting round the fact that what I should have thought a
miracle has happened. The spirit of June has claimed me from the 'other
side.' And even if I were brutal enough, disloyal enough, to disown the
claim, to pretend to Joyce and myself that I _didn't_ believe, neither
Joyce nor I could have a moment's happiness, married. She knows that as
well as I do. As my wife her life would be spoiled. June would always
stand between us, separating us one from the other. I think I should be
driven mad. Joyce's heart would be broken!

"I've promised to talk with June through a medium every day. Miss
Reardon has to leave London in a fortnight, but June's voice asked me to
go to Opal Fawcett. You remember my telling you that Opal suggested this
long ago, saying that June wanted to get in touch with me? I wouldn't
hear of it then, because at that time I had no reason to believe in the
genuineness of visits from one world to another. Now it's different. I
shall go to Opal.

"Tell Joyce that I'll write her to-night. It won't be a letter such as I
should wish to write. But she will understand."

Yes, she would understand! One could always trust Joyce to understand,
even if she were on the rack!

It was the next day--the third day after the unforgettable one at the
Savoy--when my tame detective brought his budget. He would have come
even sooner, he said, if there hadn't been a delay in the cable service.

Miss Reardon, Smith learned, had never been exposed as an impostor. She
was respected personally, and had attained a certain amount of fame both
in Boston (where she lived) and New York. She had been several times
invited to visit England, but had never been able to accept until now.
She had arrived by the ship and at the time stated. When we met her at
the Savoy, she could not have been more than two hours in London.
Therefore her story seemed to be true in every detail, and what was
more, she had not been met at ship or train by any one.

I simply _hated_ poor dear little Smith. He ought to have nosed out
_something_ against the woman! What are detectives _for_?

"You've been an angel to fight for my happiness," Joyce said. "I adore
you for it. And so does Robert, I know--though he mustn't put such
feelings into words, or even _have_ feelings if he can help it. There's
nothing more to fight about now. The best thing I can pray for is that
Robert may forget our--dream, and that he may be happy in this other
dream--of June."

"And you?" I asked. "What prayer do you say for yourself? Do _you_ pray
to forget?"

"Oh, no!" she answered. "I don't want to forget. I wouldn't forget, if I
could. You see, it wasn't a dream to me. It was--it always will be--the
best thing in my life--the glory of my life. In my heart I shall live it
all over and over again till I die. I don't mind suffering. I've seen so
much pain in the war, and the courage that went with it. I shall have my
roses--not La France; deep red roses they'll be, red as blood, and sharp
with thorns, but sweet as heaven. There!" and her voice changed. "Now
you know, Princess! We'll never speak of this again, because we don't
need to, do we?"

"No--o," I agreed. "You're a grand girl, Joyce, worth two of----But
never mind! And I'll try to make you as happy as I can."

She thanked me for that; she was always thanking me for something. Soon,
however, she broke the news that she must go away. She loved me and her
work, yet she couldn't stop in London; she just couldn't. Not as things
were. If Robert had been turning his back on England she might have
stayed. But his promise to communicate with June daily through Opal
bound him to London. Joyce thought that she might try India. She had
friends there in the Army and in the Civil Service. She might do useful
work as a nurse among the purdah women and their babies, where mortality
was very high, she'd heard. "I _must_ be busy--busy every minute of the
day," she cried, hiding her anguish with that smile of hers which I'd
learned to love.

What Robert had said to her in his promised letter, the only one he
wrote, she didn't tell. I knew no more than that it had been written and
received. Probably it wasn't an ideal letter for a girl to wear over her
heart, hidden under her dress. Robert would have felt it unfair to write
that kind of letter. All the same I'm sure that Joyce _did_ wear it
there!

As for me, I was absolutely _sick_ about everything. I felt as if my two
dearest friends had been put in prison on a false charge, and as
though--if I hadn't cotton wool for a brain--I ought to be able to get
them out.

"There's a clue to the labyrinth if I could see it," I told myself so
often that I was tired of the thought. And the most irritating part was
that now and then I seemed to catch a half glimpse of the clue dangling
back and forth like a thread of spider's web close to my eyes. But
invariably it was gone before I'd _really_ caught sight of it. And all
the good that _concentrating_ did was to bump my intelligence against
the pale image of Opal Fawcett.

I didn't understand how Opal, even with the best--or worst--will in the
world, could have stage-managed this drama, though I should have liked
to think she had done it.

Miss Reardon frankly admitted having heard of Opal (who hadn't heard of
her), among those interested in spiritism, during the last few years;
but as the American woman had never before been in England, and Opal had
never crossed to America, the Boston medium hardly needed to say that
she'd never met Miss Fawcett. As for correspondence, if there _were_ a
secret between the pair, of course they'd both deny it. And so, though I
longed to fling a challenge to Opal, I saw that it would be stupid to
put the two women, if guilty, on their guard. Besides, how _could_ they,
through any correspondence, have contrived the things that had happened?

Suddenly, through the darkness of my doubts, shot a lightning flash: the
thought of Jim Courtenaye.

Superficially judging, Sir James Courtenaye, wild man of the West, but
lately transplanted, appeared the last person to assist in working out a
psychic problem. All the same a great longing to prop myself against him
(figuratively!) overwhelmed me; and for fear the impulse might pass, I
wired at once:

     Please come if you can. Wish to consult you.

     ELIZABETH DI MIRAMARE.

Jim was, as usual, hovering between Courtenaye Coombe and Courtenaye
Abbey. There were hours between us, even by telegraph, and the best I
expected was an answer in the afternoon to my morning's message. But at
six o'clock his name was announced, and he walked into the drawing room
of my flat as large as life, or a size or two larger.

"Good gracious!" I gasped. "You've _come_?"

"You're not surprised, are you?" he retorted.

"Why, yes," I said. "I didn't suppose----"

"Then you're not so brainy as I thought you were," said he. "Also you
didn't look at time-tables. What awful catastrophe has happened to you,
Elizabeth, to make you want to see me?"

I couldn't help laughing, although I didn't feel in the least like
laughter; and besides, he had no right to call me Elizabeth.

"Nothing has happened to _me_," I explained. "It's to somebody else----"

"Oh, somebody you've been trying to 'brighten,' I suppose?"

"Yes, and failed," I confessed.

He scowled.

"A man?"

"A man and his girl." Whereupon I emptied the whole story into the bowl
of Jim's intelligence.

"Do you see light?" I asked at last.

"No," he returned, stolidly. "I don't."

Oh, how disappointed I was! I'd hardly known how much I'd counted on Jim
till I got that answer.

"But I might find some," he added, when he'd watched the effect of his
words on me.

"How?" I implored.

"There's only one way, if any, to get the kind of light you want," said
Jim. "It might be a difficult way, and it might be a long one."

"Yet you think light _could_ be got? The kind of light I want?" I
clasped my hands and deliberately tried to look irresistible.

"Who can tell? The one thing certain is, that trying would take all my
time away from everything else, maybe for weeks, maybe for months."

His tone made my face feel the way faces look in those awful concave
mirrors: about three feet in length and three inches in width.

"Then you won't undertake the task?" I quavered.

"I don't say that," grudged Jim.

"You _wouldn't_ say it if you could meet Joyce Arnold," I coaxed. "She's
such a darling girl. Poor child, she's out now, pulling strings for a
job in India."

"Meeting her wouldn't make any difference to me," said Jim. "It's for
you I'd try to bring off this stunt--if I tried at all."

"Oh, then do it for me," I broke out.

"That's what I was working up to," he replied. "I wouldn't say 'yes' and
I wouldn't say 'no' till I knew what you'd do for me in return if I
succeeded."

"Why, I'd thank you a thousand times!" I cried. "I'd--I'd never forget
you as long as I live."

"There's not much in that for me. I hate being thanked for things. And
what good would it do me to be remembered by you at a distance, perhaps
married to some beast or other?"

"But if I marry I sha'n't marry a beast," I sweetly assured my
forty-fourth cousin four times removed.

"I should think any man you married a beast, if he wasn't me," said Jim.

"Good heavens!" I breathed. "Surely _you_ don't want to marry me!"

"Surely I do," he retorted. "And what's more, you know it jolly well."

"I don't."

"You do. You've known it ever since that affair of the yacht. If you
hadn't, you wouldn't have asked me to hide the Scarlett kid. I knew then
that you knew. And you'd be a fool if you hadn't known--which you're
not."

I said no more, because--I was found out! I _had_ known. Only, I hadn't
let myself think about it much--until lately perhaps. But now and then I
_had_ thought. I'd thought quite a good deal.

When he had me silenced, Jim went on:

"Just like a woman! You're willing to let me sacrifice all my
engagements and inclinations to start off on a wild-goose chase for you,
while you give nothing in return----"

"But I would!" I cut in.

"What would you give?"

"What do you want?"

"Yourself, of course."

"Oh!"

"If you'll marry me in case I find out that someone's been playing a
devil's trick on Lorillard," said Jim, "I'll do--my damnedest! How's
that?"

I shrugged my shoulders, and looked debonair; which was easy, as my nose
is that shape. Yet my heart pounded.

"You seem to think the sacrifice of your engagements and inclinations
worth a big price!"

"I know it's a big price," he granted. "But every man has his price.
That happens to be mine. You may not have to pay, however, even in the
event of my success. Because, in the course of my operations I may do
something that'll land me in quod. In that case, you're free. I wouldn't
mate you with a gaol bird."

I stared, and gasped.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you know me intimately enough to be sure that once I'm on the
warpath I stop at nothing?" he challenged.

"I don't think you'd be easy to stop," I said. "That's why I've called
on you to help me. But really, I can't understand what there is in the
thing to send you to prison."

"You don't need to understand," snorted Jim. "I sha'n't get there if I
can keep out, because that would be the way to lose my prize. But I
suppose from your point of view the great thing is for your two dearest
friends to be happy ever after."

"Not at a terrible cost to you," I just stopped myself from saying.
Instead, I hedged: "You frighten me!" I cried. "And you make me
curious--_fearfully_ curious. What _can_ you be meaning to do?"

"That's my business!" said Jim.

"You've got a plan--already?"

"Yes, I've got a plan--already, if----"

"If what?"

"If you agree to the bargain. Do you?"

I nodded.

He seized my hand and squeezed it hard.

"Then I'm off," he said. "You won't hear from me till I have news, good
or bad. And meanwhile I have no address."

With that he was gone.

I felt as if he had left me alone in the dark.



CHAPTER VI

THE LAST SÉANCE


The only way in which I could keep Joyce with me for a little while
longer was by pretending to be ill. _That_ fetched her. And it wasn't
all pretense, either, because I was horribly worried, not only about her
and Robert, but about Jim. And about myself.

I said not a word to Joyce of Jim and his mission. So far as she knew
I'd abandoned hope--as she had. We heard nothing from Robert, or
concerning him, and each day that built itself up was a gloomier _cul de
sac_ than the last.

Bye and bye there came the end of Miss Reardon's fortnight in London.
"Now Robert will be turned over to Opal," I groaned to myself. And I was
sure that the same thought was in the mind of Joyce. Just one or two
days more, and after that a long monotony of bondage for him, year in
and year out!

As I waked in the morning with these words on my lips, Joyce herself
knocked, playing nurse, with a tray of coffee and toast.

"I would have let you sleep on," she said, "but a note has come by
messenger for you, with 'Urgent' on the envelope in such a nice
handwriting I felt you'd want to have it. So I brought your breakfast at
the same time."

The nice handwriting was Jim's. He had vowed not to write till there was
"news, good or bad." My fingers trembled as I tore open the letter. I
read:

     Make Lorillard invite you and Miss Arnold _and your fiancé_ to a
     séance before Miss Reardon goes. It will have to be to-day or
     to-morrow. Don't take "no" for an answer. Manage it somehow. If you
     insist, Lorillard will force Reardon to consent. When the stunt's
     fixed up, let me hear at once.

     Yours, Jim.

L---- is at his flat. You know the address.

By Jove! This was a facer! Could I bring the thing off? But I simply
_must_. I knew Jim well enough to be sure that the clock of fate had
been wound up by him, ready to strike, and that it wouldn't strike if I
didn't obey orders.

I pondered for a minute whether or no to tell Joyce, but quickly decided
_no_. The request must first come from Robert.

I braced myself with hot coffee, and thought hard. Then I asked Joyce
for writing materials, and scribbled a note to Robert. I wrote:

     There is a reason why you _must_ get us invited by Miss Reardon to
     the last séance she gives before leaving. When I say "us," I mean
     _Joyce_ as well as myself, and the man I've just promised to marry.
     I know this will seem shocking to you, perhaps impossible, as you
     agreed not to see Joyce again, "_voluntarily_." But oh, Robert,
     trust me, and _make_ it possible for the sake of a brave girl who
     once saved your life at the risk of her own. Seeing her this time
     won't count as "voluntary" on your part. It is necessary.

When the note was ready I said to Joyce that I'd just had news of Robert
Lorillard from a great friend of mine who was much interested in his
welfare. This news necessitated my writing Robert, and as I was still in
bed I must request her to send the letter by hand.

"Go out to the nearest post office yourself, and have a messenger take
it," I directed.

While she was gone I got up, bathed, and put on street dress for the
first time since I'd been "playing 'possum."

I felt much better, I explained when Joyce came back, and added that,
later in the day, I might even be inclined "for a walk or something."

"If you're so well as that, you'll be ready to let me go to India soon,
won't you, dear?" she hinted. No doubt my few words about Robert, and
the sight of his name on a letter, had made the poor girl desperate
under her calm, controlled manner.

I was desperate, too, knowing that her whole future depended on the
success of Jim's plan. If it failed, I should have to let her go, and
all would be over!

"You must do what's best for you," I answered. "But don't talk about it
now. Wait till to-morrow."

Joyce was dumb.

Hours passed, and no reply from Robert. I began to fear he'd gone
away--or that he was hideously offended. We'd got through a pretence of
luncheon, when at last a messenger came. Thank heaven, Robert's
handwriting was on the envelope!

He wrote:

     I don't understand your wish, dear Princess. It seems like
     deliberate torture of Joyce and me that she should be present when
     I am visited by the spirit of June--for that is what actually
     happens. June materializes. I see her, as well as hear her voice.
     Can Joyce bear this? You seem to think she can, and so I must. For
     you are a friend of friends, and you wouldn't put me to such a test
     without the best of reasons.

     I expected that Miss Reardon would refuse to receive strangers on
     such an occasion. But rather to my surprise she has consented, and
     a séance is arranged for this evening at nine o'clock in her rooms.
     To-morrow would have been too late, as she is leaving for the south
     of France, to stay with some American millionairess at Cannes, who
     hopes to get into touch with a son on the Other Side. You see, I
     don't use that old, cold word "dead." I couldn't now I know how
     near, and how like their earthly selves, are those who go beyond.

     So you are engaged to be married! Don't think I'm indifferent
     because I leave mention of your news till the last. I'm deeply
     interested. Bless you, Princess!

     Yours ever, R. L.

I read this letter, destroying it (in case Joyce became importunate),
and then broke it to her that Robert earnestly wished us to attend the
last séance with Miss Reardon.

She turned sickly white.

"I can't go!" she almost sobbed. "I simply can't."

Then I said that it would hurt Robert horribly if she didn't. He
wouldn't have asked such a thing without the strongest motive. I would
be with her, I went on; and tried to pull her thoughts up out of tragic
gulfs by springing the news of my engagement upon her. It may have
sounded irrelevant, almost heartlessly so, but it braced the girl. And
she little guessed that the engagement would not exist save for Robert
and her!

I 'phoned Jim at the address on his letter, a house in Westminster
which--when I happened to notice--was in the same street as Opal
Fawcett's. It was a relief to hear his voice answer "Hello!" for he had
demanded immediate knowledge of our plans; and goodness knew what
mysterious preparations for his _coup_ he might have to elaborate.

He would meet us at the Savoy, he said, at 8:45, and I could introduce
him to Miss Reardon before the séance began.

Joyce and I started at 8:30, in a taxi, having made a mere stage
pretence of dinner. We hardly spoke on the way, but I held her hand, and
pressed it now and then.

Jim was waiting for us just inside the revolving doors of the hotel.

"I'd have liked to come for you in a car," he said aside to me, "but I
thought it would be hard on Miss Arnold--and maybe on you--to have more
of my society than need be, you know!"

"Why on me?" I hastily inquired.

His black eyes blazed into mine.

"Well, I've sort of blackmailed you, haven't I?"

"Have you?"

"Into this engagement of ours."

"Oh, I haven't got time to think of that just now!" I snapped. "Let's go
to Miss Reardon's rooms."

We went. Jim said no more, except to mention that Captain Lorillard had
already gone up.

Joyce may have imagined Jim to be the "great friend interested in
Robert's welfare," but as for me, I wondered how he knew Robert by
sight. Then I scolded myself: "Silly one! Hasn't he been
watching--playing detective for you?"

It was poignant, remembering the last time when Robert, Joyce, and I had
met in Miss Reardon's sitting room--the last day of their happiness. But
we greeted each other quietly, like old friends, though Joyce's heart
must have contracted at sight of the man's changed face. All the renewed
youth and joyous manhood her love had given him had burned out of his
eyes. He looked as he'd looked when I saw him that day at River Orchard
Cottage.

Miss Reardon was slightly nervous in manner, and flushed like a girl
when I introduced Sir James Courtenaye to her. But soon she recovered
her prim little poise, and began making arrangements for the séance.

"Mr. Lorillard has already tested my _bona fides_ to his own
satisfaction," she said. "He has examined my small suite, and knows that
no person, no theatrical 'properties' are concealed about the place. If
any of you would like to look around, however, before we start, I'm more
than willing. Also if you'd care to bind my hands and feet, or sit in a
circle and hold me fast, I've no objection."

As she made this offer, she glanced from one to the other of us. Pale,
silent Joyce shook her head. Jim "left it to Princess di Miramare," and
I decided that if Captain Lorillard was satisfied, we were.

"Very well," purred Miss Reardon. "In that case there's nothing more to
wait for. Captain Lorillard, will you switch off the lights as usual?"

"Oh!" I broke in, surprised, "I thought you'd told us that the
'influence' was just as strong in light as darkness?"

"That is so," replied the medium, "except for materialization. For that,
darkness is essential. There's some _quality_ in darkness that They
need. They can't get the _strength_ to materialize in light conditions."

"How can we see anything if the room's pitch-black?" I persisted.

"Explain to your friends, Captain Lorillard, what takes place," bade
Miss Reardon.

"When--June comes--she brings a faint radiance with her--seems to evolve
it out of herself," Robert said in a low voice.

As he spoke he switched off the light, and profound silence fell upon
us.

Some moments passed, and nothing happened.

Joyce and I sat with locked cold hands. I was on the right of the
medium, and from my chair quite close to hers could easily have reached
out and touched her, if I'd wished. On her left, at about the same
distance, sat Robert. Jim was the only one who stood. He had refused a
chair, and propped his long length against the wall between two doors:
the door opening into the hall outside the suite, and that leading to
Miss Reardon's bedroom and bath.

We could faintly hear each other breathe. Then, after five or six
minutes, perhaps, I heard odd, gasping sounds as if someone struggled
for breath. These gasps were punctuated with moans, and I should have
been frightened if the direction and nearness of the queer noise hadn't
told me at once that it came from the medium. I'd never before been to a
materializing séance, yet I felt instinctively that this was the
convulsive sort of thing to expect.

Suddenly a dim light--oh, hardly a light!--a pale greenish glimmer, as
if there were a glowworm in the room--became faintly visible. It seemed
to swim in a delicate gauzy mist. Its height above the floor (this was
the thought flashing into my mind) was about that of a tall woman's
heart. A perfume of La France roses filled the room.

At first our eyes, accustomed to darkness, could distinguish nothing
except this glowworm light and the surrounding haze of lacy gray. Then,
gradually, we became conscious of a figure--a slender shape in floating
draperies. More and more distinct it grew, as slowly it moved toward
us--toward Robert Lorillard; and my throat contracted as I made out the
semblance of June Dana.

The form was clad in the gray dress which Miss Reardon had so
surprisingly described when we met her first--the dress June had worn
the day of her engagement--the dress of the portrait at River Orchard
Cottage. The gray hat with the long curling plume shaded the face, and
so obscured it that I should hardly have recognized it as June's had it
not been for the thick wheel of bright, red-brown hair on each side
bunching out under the hat exactly as June had worn her hair that year.
A long, thin scarf filmed like a cloud round the slowly moving figure,
looped over the arms, which waved gracefully as if the spirit-form swam
in air rather than walked. There was an illusive glitter of rings--just
such rings as June had worn: one emerald, one diamond. A dark streak
across the ice-white throat showed her famous black pearls;
and--strangest thing of all--the green light which glimmered through
filmy folds of scarf was born apparently in a glittering emerald brooch.

At first the vision (which might have come through the wall of the room,
for all we could tell) floated toward Robert. None save spirit-eyes
could have made him out distinctly in the darkness that was lit only by
the small green gleam. But I fancied that he always sat in the same seat
for these séances; he had taken his chair in a way so matter of course.
Therefore the spirit would know where to find him!

Within a few feet of distance, however, the form paused, and swayed as
if undecided. "She has seen that there are others in the room besides
Robert and the medium," I thought. "Will she be angry? Will she vanish?"

Hardly had I time to finish the thought, however, when the electricity
was switched on with a click. The light flooding the room dazzled me for
a second, but in the bright blur I saw that Jim Courtenaye had seized
the gray figure. All ghostliness was gone from it. A woman was
struggling with him in dreadful silence--a tall, slim woman with June
Dana's red-bronze hair, June Dana's gray dress and hat and scarf.

She writhed like a snake in Jim's merciless grasp, but she kept her head
bent not to show her face, till suddenly in some way her hat was knocked
off. With it--caught by a hatpin, perhaps--went the gorgeous, bunched
hair.

"A wig!" I heard myself cry. And at the same instant Joyce gasped out
"_Opal!_"

Yes, it was Opal, disguised as June, in the gray dress and hat and
scarf, with black pearls and emeralds all copied from the portrait--and
the haunting fragrance of roses that had been June's.

The likeness was enough to deceive June's nearest and dearest in that
dimmest of dim lights which was like the ghost of a light, veiled with
all those chiffon scarves. But with the room bright as day, all
resemblance, except in clothes and wig and height, vanished at a glance.

The woman caught in her cruel fraud was a pitiable sight, yet I had no
pity for her then. Staring at the whitened face, framed in dishevelled,
mouse-brown hair, the long upper lip painted red in a high Cupid's bow
to resemble June's lovely mouth, I was sick with disgust. As at last she
yielded in despair to Jim's fierce clutch, and dropped sobbing on the
sofa, I felt I could have struck her. But she had no thought for me nor
for any of us--not even for Jim, who had ruined the game, nor for Miss
Reardon, who must have sold her to him at a price; for no one at all
except Robert Lorillard.

When she'd given up hope of escape, and lay panting, exhausted, flung
feebly across the sofa, she looked up at Robert.

"I loved you," she wept. "That's why I did it; I couldn't let you go to
another woman. I thought I saw a way to keep you always near me--almost
as if you were mine. You can't _hate_ a woman who loves you like that!"

Robert did not answer. I think he was half dazed. He stood staring at
her, frozen still like the statue of a man. I was frightened for him. He
had endured too much. Joyce couldn't go to him yet, though he would be
hers--all hers, for ever--bye and bye--but _I_ could go, as a friend.

I laid my hand on his arm, and spoke his name softly.

"Robert, I always felt there was fraud," I said. "Now, thank Heaven, we
know the truth before it's too late for you to be happy, as June herself
would want you to be happy, if she knew. She wasn't cruel--the _real_
June. She wasn't like this false one at heart. Go, now, I beg, and take
Joyce home to my flat--she's almost fainting. You must look after her. I
will stay here. Jim Courtenaye'll watch over me--and later we'll bring
you explanations of everything."

So I got them both away. And when they were gone the whole story was
dragged from Opal. Jim forced her to confess; and with Robert out of
sight--lost for ever to the wretched woman--the task wasn't difficult.
You see, Miss Reardon _had_ sold her beforehand. Jim doesn't care what
price he pays when he wants a thing!

First of all, he'd taken a house that was to let furnished, near Opal's.
She didn't know him from Adam, but he had her description. He followed
her several times, and saw her go to the Savoy; even saw her go to Miss
Reardon's rooms. Then, to Miss Reardon he presented himself, _en
surprise_, and pretended to know five times as much as he did know; in
fact, as much as he suspected. By this trick he broke down her guard;
and before she had time to build it up again, flung a bribe of two
thousand pounds--ten thousand dollars--at her head. She couldn't resist,
and eventually told him everything.

Opal and she had corresponded for several years, it seemed, as fellow
mediums, sending each other clients from one country to another. When
Opal learned that the Boston medium was coming to England, she asked if
Miss Reardon would do her a great favour. In return for it, the American
woman's cabin on shipboard and all expenses at one of London's best
hotels would be paid.

This sounded alluring. Miss Reardon asked questions by letter, and by
letter those questions were answered. A plan was formed--a plan that was
a _plot_. Opal kept phonographic records of many voices among those of
her favourite clients--did this with their knowledge and consent, making
presents to them of their own records to give to friends. It was just an
"interesting fad" of hers! Such a record of June's voice she had posted
to Boston. Miss Reardon, who was a clever mimic (a fine professional
asset!) learned to imitate the voice. She had a description from Opal of
the celebrated gray costume with the jewels June wore, and knew well how
to "work" her knowledge of June's favourite perfume.

As to that first meeting at the Savoy, Opal was aware that Joyce and I
met Robert there on most afternoons. A suite was taken for Miss Reardon
in the hotel, and the lady was directed to await developments in the
_foyer_ at a certain hour--an old stage photograph of Robert Lorillard
in her hand-bag. The rest had been almost simple, thanks to Opal's
knowledge of June's life and doings; to her deadly cleverness, and the
device of a tiny electric light glimmering through a square of emerald
green glass on the "spirit's" breast, under scarves slowly unfolded. If
it had not been for Jim, Robert would have become her bond-slave, and
Joyce would have fled from England.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, are you satisfied?" Jim asked, spinning me home at last in his
own car.

"More than satisfied," I said. "Joyce and Robert will marry after all,
and be the happiest couple on earth. They'll forget this horror."

"Which is what you'd like to do if I'd let you, I suppose," said Jim.

"Forget! You mean----?"

"Yes. The promise I dragged out of you, and everything."

"I never forget my promises," I primly answered.

"But if I let you off it? Elizabeth, that's what I'm going to do! I love
you too much, my girl, to blackmail you permanently--to get you for my
wife in payment of a bargain. I may be pretty bad, but I'm hanged if I'm
as bad as that."

I burst out laughing.

"_Idiot!_" I gurgled. "Haven't you the wits to see I _want_ to marry
you? I'm in love with you, you fool. Besides, I'm tired of being matron
of honour, and you being best man every time people I 'brighten' marry!"

"It sha'n't happen again!" said Jim.

And then he almost took my breath away. _What_ a strong man he is!



BOOK IV

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. BRANDRETH



CHAPTER I

THE MAN IN THE CUSHIONED CHAIR


"Nice end of a honeymoon I'm having!" Jim grumbled. "With my wife
thinking and talking all the time about another fellow."

"My darling, adored man!" I exclaimed. "You know perfectly well that
you're the background and undercurrent and foundation of all my
thoughts, every minute of the day and night. And this 'other fellow' is
_dying_."

Yes; "darling, adored" were my adjectives for Jim Courtenaye, whom I had
once abused.

All the same, if a cat may look at a king, a bride may just glance at a
man who isn't her bridegroom.

"Ruling passion strong in--marriage, I suppose," said Jim. "I bet you'd
like to try your hand at 'brightening' that chap--though judging from
his face, he's almost past even your blandishments. _I_ wouldn't be past
'em--not in my _coffin_! But it isn't every blighter who can love as I
do, you minx."

"And 'tisn't every blighter who has such a perfect woman to love," I
capped him with calm conceit.

"But I wish I _could_ 'brighten' that poor fellow. Or else I wish that
someone else would!"

And at this instant my wish was granted in the most amazing way!

A girl appeared--but no, I mustn't let her arrive upon the scene just
yet. First, I must explain that Jim and I were on shipboard, coming back
to England from America, where we had been having the most wonderful
honeymoon. Jim had taken me out West, and showed me the places where he
had lived in his cowboy days. We had ridden long trails together, in the
Grand Canyon of Arizona, and in the Yosemite Valley of California. I had
never imagined that life could be so glorious, and our future
together--Jim's and mine--stretched before us like a dream of joy. We
were going to live in the dear old Abbey which had been the home of the
Courtenayes for hundreds and hundreds of years, and travel when we
liked. Because we were so much in love and so happy, I yearned to make a
few thousand other people happy also--though it did seem impossible that
any one on earth could be as joyous as we were.

This was our second day out from New York on the _Aquitania_, and my
spirits had been slightly damped by discovering that two
fellow-passengers if not more were extremely miserable. One of these
lived in a stateroom next to our suite. In my cabin at night I could
hear her crying and moaning to herself in a fitful sleep. I had not seen
her, so far as I knew, but I fancied from the sound of those sobs that
she was young.

When I told Jim, he wanted to change cabins with me, so that I should
not be disturbed. But I refused to budge, saying that I _wasn't_
disturbed. My neighbour didn't cry or talk in her sleep all through the
night by any means. Besides, once I had dropped off, the sounds were not
loud enough to wake me. This was true enough not to be a fib, but my
_realest_ reason for clinging to the room was an odd fascination in that
mysterious sorrow on the other side of the wall; sorrow of a woman I
hadn't seen, might perhaps never see, yet to whom I could send out warm
waves of sympathy. I felt as if those waves had colours, blue and gold,
and that they would soothe the sufferer.

Her case obsessed me until, in the sunshine of a second summer day at
sea, the one empty chair on our crowded deck was filled. A man was
helped into it by a valet or male nurse, and a steward. My first glimpse
of his face as he sank down on to carefully placed cushions made my
heart jump in my breast with pity and protest against the hardness of
fate.

If he'd been old, or even middle-aged, or if he had been one of those
colourless characters dully sunk into chronic invalidism, I should have
felt only the pity without the protest. But he was young, and though it
was clear that he was desperately ill, it was clear, too, in a more
subtle, psychic way, that he had not been ill long; that love of life or
desire for denied happiness burned in him still.

Of course Jim was not really vexed because I discussed this man and
wondered about him, but my thoughts did play round that piteously
romantic figure a good deal, and it rather amused Jim to see me forget
the mystery of the cabin in favour of the cushioned chair.

"Once a Brightener, always a Brightener, I suppose!" he said. Now that
I'd dropped my "Princesshood" to marry James Courtenaye, I need never
"brighten" any one for money again. But I didn't see why I should not go
sailing along on a sunny career of brightening for love. According to
habit, therefore, my first thought was: What _could_ be done for the man
in the cushioned chair?

Maybe Jim was right! If he hadn't been young and almost better than
good-looking, my interest might not have been so keen. He was the wreck
of a gorgeous creature--one of those great, tall, muscular men you feel
were born to adorn the Guards.

The reason (the physical reason, not the psychic one) for thinking he
hadn't been ill long was the colour of the invalid's face. The pallor of
illness hadn't had time to blanch the rich brown that life in the open
gives. So thin was the face that the aquiline features stood out
sharply; but they seemed to be carved in bronze, not moulded in plaster.
As for the psychic reason, I found it in the dark eyes that met mine now
and then. They were not black like those of my own Jim, which contrasted
so strikingly with auburn hair. Indeed, I couldn't tell whether the eyes
were brown or deep gray, for they were set in shadowy hollows, and the
brows and thick lashes were even darker than the hair, which was lightly
silvered at the temples. Handsome, arresting eyes they must always have
been; but what stirred me was the violent _wish_ that seemed actually to
speak from them.

Whether it was a wish to live, or a haunting wish for joy never
gratified, I could not decide. But I felt that it must have been burnt
out by a long illness.

I had only just learned a few things about the man, when there came that
surprising answer to my prayer for someone to "brighten" him. My maid
had got acquainted with his valet-nurse, and had received a quantity of
information which she passed to me.

"Mr. Tillett's" master was a Major Ralston Murray, an Englishman, who
had gone to live in California some years ago, and had made a big
fortune in oil. He had been in the British Army as a youth, Tillett
understood, and when the European war broke out, he went home to offer
himself to his country. He didn't return to America till after the
Armistice, though he had been badly wounded once or twice, as well as
gassed. At home in Bakersfield, the great oil town where he lived,
Murray's health had not improved. He had been recommended a long sea
journey, to Japan and China, and had taken the prescription. But instead
of doing him good, the trip had been his ruin. In China he was attacked
with a malady resembling yellow fever, though more obscure to
scientists. After weeks of desperate illness, the man had gained
strength for the return journey; but, reaching California, he was told
by specialists that he must not hope to recover. After that verdict his
one desire was to spend the last days of his life in England. Not long
before a distant relative had left him a place in Devonshire--an old
house which he had loved in his youth. Now he was on his way there, to
die.

So this was the wonderful wish, I told myself. Yet I couldn't believe it
was all. I felt that there must be something deeper to account for the
burning look in those tortured eyes. And of course I was more than ever
interested, now that his destination proved to be near Courtenaye Abbey.
Ralston Old Manor was not nearly so large nor so important a place
historically as ours, but it was ancient enough, and very charming.
Though we were not more than fifteen miles away, I had never met the old
bachelor, the Mr. Ralston of my day. He was a great recluse, supposed to
have had his heart broken by my beautiful grandmother when they were
both young. It occurred to me that this Ralston Murray must be the old
man's namesake, and the place had been left him on that account.

Now, at last, having explained the man in the cushioned chair, I can
come back to the moment when my wish was granted: the wish that, if not
I, someone else might "brighten" him.



CHAPTER II

MRS. BRANDRETH


You know, when you're on shipboard, how new people appear from day to
day, long after you've seen everyone on the passenger list! It is as if
they had been dropped on deck from stealthy aeroplanes in the dark
watches of the night.

And that was the way in which this girl appeared--this girl who worked
the lightning change in Major Murray. It didn't seem possible that she
could have come on board the ship nearly two days ago, and we not have
heard of her, for she was the prettiest person I'd ever seen in my life.
One would have thought that rumours of her beauty would have spread,
since _someone_ must have seen her, even if she had been shut up in her
cabin.

Heads were turned in her direction as she came walking slowly toward us,
and thanks to this silent sensation--like a breeze rippling a field of
wheat--I saw the tall, slight figure in mourning while it was still far
off.

The creature was devastatingly pretty, too pretty for any one's peace of
mind, including her own: the kind of girl you wouldn't ask to be your
bridesmaid for fear the bridegroom should change his mind at the altar!

"Jim," I exclaimed, "the prettiest girl in the world is now coming
toward you."

"Really?" said he. "I was under the impression that she sat beside me."

I suppose I must have spoken rather more loudly than I meant, for my
excited warning to Jim caught the ear of Major Murray. My deep interest
in the invalid had woven an invisible link between him and me, though we
had never spoken, nor even smiled at each other: for sympathy inevitably
has this effect. Therefore his hearing was attuned to my voice more
readily than to others in his neighbourhood. He had apparently been half
asleep; but he opened his eyes wide just in time to see the girl as she
approached his chair. Never had I beheld such a sudden change on a human
face. It was a transfiguration.

The man was very weak, but he sat straight up, and for a moment all look
of illness was swept away. "Rosemary!" he cried out, sharply.

The girl stopped. She had been pale, but at sight of him and the sound
of his voice she flushed to her forehead. I thought that her first
impulse was to escape, but she controlled it.

"Major Murray!" she faltered. "I--I didn't dream of--seeing you here."

"I have dreamed many times of seeing you," he answered. "And I wished
for it--very much."

"Ah," thought I, "_that_ is the real wish! _That's_ what the look in his
eyes means, not just getting back to England and dying in a certain
house. Now I _know_."

Everyone near his chair had become more or less interested in Murray,
romantic and pathetic figure that he was. Now, a middle-aged man whose
chair was near to Murray's on the right, scrambled out of a fur rug. "I
am off to the smoking room," he said. "Won't you" (to the girl) "take my
chair and talk to your friend? I shall be away till after lunch, maybe
till tea-time."

I fancied that the girl was divided in her mind between a longing to
stay and a longing to flee. But of course she couldn't refuse the offer,
and presently she was seated beside Major Murray, their arms touching. I
could hear almost all they said. This was not eavesdropping, because if
they'd cared to be secretive they could have lowered their voices.

Soon, to my surprise, I learned that the girl was married. She didn't
look married, or have the air of being married, somehow, and in the
conversation that followed she contradicted herself two or three times.
Perhaps it was only because I confused my brain with wild guesses, but
from some things she said one would think she was free as air; from
others, that she was tied down to a rather monotonous kind of existence.
She spoke of America as if she knew it only from a short visit. Then, in
answer to a question of Murray's, she said, as if reluctantly, that she
had lived there, in New York, and Baltimore, and Washington, for years.

It was quite evident to me--whether or not it was to Murray--that Mrs.
Brandreth (as he called her after the first outburst of "Rosemary!")
disliked talking of herself and her way of life. She wanted to talk
about Major Murray, or, failing that subject, of almost anything that
was remote from her own affairs.

I gathered, however, that she and Murray had known each other eight
years ago or more, and that they had met somewhere abroad, out of
England. There had been an aunt of Rosemary's with whom she had
travelled as a young girl. The aunt was dead; but even the loss of a
loved relative didn't account to my mind for this girl's sensitiveness
about the past.

"They must have been engaged, these two, and something happened to break
it off," I thought. "But _he_ can bear to talk of old times, and she
can't. Odd, because she must have been ridiculously young for a love
affair all those years ago. She doesn't look more than twenty-one now,
though she must be more, of course--at least twenty-four. And he is
probably thirty-two or three."

I am often what Jim calls "intuitive," and I had a strong impression
that there was something the beautiful Mrs. Brandreth was desperately
anxious to conceal, desperately afraid of betraying by accident. Could
it have to do with her husband? I wondered. She seemed very loth to
speak of him, and I couldn't make out from what she said whether the man
was still in existence. Her mourning--so becoming to her magnolia skin,
great dark eyes, and ash-blonde hair--didn't look like widow's mourning.
Still, it might be, with the first heaviness of crêpe thrown off. Or, of
course, the girl's peculiar reticence might mean that there had been, or
was to be, a divorce.

I didn't move from my deck-chair till luncheon time, but I had to go
then with Jim; and we left Mrs. Brandreth ordering her food from the
deck steward. She would have it with Major Murray, who, poor fellow, was
allowed no other nourishment than milk.

When we came back on deck it was to walk. We had been below for an hour
or more, but the girl and the man were still together. As Jim and I
passed and repassed those chairs, I could throw a quick glance in their
direction without being observed. Mrs. Brandreth's odd nervousness and
shy distress seemed to have gone. The two were talking so earnestly that
a school of porpoises might have jumped on deck without their knowing
that anything out of the way had happened.

Later in the afternoon, the owner of Mrs. Brandreth's chair appeared;
but when she would blushingly have given up her place, he refused to
take it. "I've only come to say," he explained, "that one seat on deck
is the same to me as any other. So why shouldn't I have _your_ chair,
wherever it is, and you keep mine? It's very nice for the Major here to
have found a friend, and it will do him a lot of good. I'm a doctor, and
if I were his physician, such society would be just what I should
prescribe for him."

Mrs. Brandreth had a chair, it seemed, though she said she'd come on
board so tired that she had stayed in her cabin till this morning.
Whether or not she were pleased at heart with the proposal, she accepted
it after a little discussion, and Murray's tragic eyes burned with a new
light.

I guessed that his wish had been to see this beautiful girl again before
he died. The fact that he was doomed to death no doubt spiritualized his
love. He no longer dreamed of being happy in ways which strong men of
his age call happiness; and so, in these days, he asked little of Fate.
Just a farewell sight of the loved one; a new memory of her to take away
with him. And if I were right in my judgment, this was the reason why,
even if Mrs. Brandreth had a husband in the background, these hours with
her would be hours of joy for Murray--without thought of any future.

That evening, as Jim and I were strolling out of our little salon to
dinner, the door of the cabin adjoining mine opened, and it was with a
shock of surprise that I saw Mrs. Brandreth. So _she_ was my mysterious
neighbour who cried and moaned in her sleep!... I was thrilled at the
discovery. But almost at once I told myself that I ought to have
Sherlocked the truth the moment this troubled, beautiful being had
appeared on deck.

Mrs. Brandreth was in black, of course, but she had changed into
semi-evening dress, and her white neck was like swansdown in its folded
frame of filmy black gauze. Over the glittering waves of her ash-blonde
hair she had thrown a long black veil of embroidered Spanish lace, which
fell nearly to her knees, and somehow, before she could close the door,
a gust blew it back, shutting in the veil. The girl was struggling to
free herself when Jim said, "Let me help you."

Naturally, she had to thank him, and explain how she ought to have
fastened her window, as ours was the windy side of the ship to-night.
She and I smiled at each other, and so our acquaintance began. I guessed
from the veil that she was dining in Murray's company, and pictured them
together with the deck to themselves, moonlight flooding the sea.

Next day the smile and nod which Mrs. Brandreth and I exchanged won a
pleasant look from Major Murray for me. We began speaking soon after
that; and before another day had passed Jim or I often dropped into the
empty chair, if Mrs. Brandreth was not on deck. Murray was interested to
know that we would be neighbours of his, and that I was the
grand-daughter of the famous beauty his old bachelor cousin had loved.

I remember it was the night after my first real talk with him that I met
Mrs. Brandreth again as we both opened our doors. Jim was playing bridge
or poker with some men, and hadn't noticed the dressing bugle. I was
ready, and going to remind him of the hour; yet I was charmed to be
delayed by Mrs. Brandreth. Hitherto, though friendly when we were with
our two men, or only one of them, she had seemed like a wild bird trying
to escape if we happened to be alone. It was as if she were afraid I
might ask questions which she would not wish to answer. But now she
stopped me of her own accord.

"I--I've been wanting to tell you something," she began, with one of her
bright blushes. "It's only this: when I'm tired or nervous I'm afraid I
talk in my sleep. I came on board tired out. I had--a great grief a few
months ago, and I can't get over the strain of it. Sometimes when I wake
up I find myself crying, and have an impression that I've called out.
Now I know that you're next door, I'm rather worried lest I have
disturbed you."

I hurried to reassure her. She hadn't disturbed me at all. I was, I
said, a splendid sleeper.

"You haven't heard anything?" she persisted.

I felt she would know I was fibbing if I did fib, so it wasn't worth
while. "I _have_ heard a sound like sobbing now and then," I admitted.

"But no words? I hope not, as people say such _silly_ things in their
sleep, don't they?--things not even true."

"I think I've heard you cry out 'Mother!' once or twice."

"Oh! And that is all?"

"Really, that's all--absolutely!" It was true, and I could speak with
such sincerity that I forced belief.

Mrs. Brandreth looked relieved. "I'm glad!" she smiled. "I hate to make
myself ridiculous. And I'm trying very hard now to control my
subconscious self, which gets out of hand at night. It's simply the
effect of my--grief--my loss I spoke of just now. I'm fairly normal
otherwise."

"I hope you're not entirely normal!" I smiled back. "People one speaks
of as 'normal' are so bromidic and dull! You look far too interesting,
too individual to be normal."

She laughed. "So do you!"

"Oh, I'm not normal at all, thank goodness!"

"Well, you're certainly interesting--and individual--far more than _I_
am."

"Anyhow, I'm sympathetic," I said. "I'm tremendously interested in other
people. Not in their _affairs_, but in themselves. I never want to know
anything they don't want me to know, yet I'm so conceited, I always
imagine that I can help when they need help--just by sympathy alone,
without a spoken word. But to come back to you! I have a lovely remedy
for restlessness at night; not that I need it often myself, but my
French-Italian maid carries dried orange leaves and blossoms for me. She
thinks _tisanes_ better than doctor's medicines. May she make some
orange-flower tea for you to-night at bedtime?"

Mrs. Brandreth had shown signs of stiffening a little as I began, but
she melted toward the last, and said that she would love to try the
poetic-sounding tea.

It was concocted, proved a success, and she was grateful. Perhaps she
remembered my hint that I never wanted to know things which my friends
didn't want me to know, because she made some timid advances as the days
went on. We had quite intimate talks about books and various views of
life as we walked the deck together; and I began to feel that there was
something else she longed to say--something which rose constantly to her
lips, only to be frightened back again. What could it be? I wondered.
And would she in the end speak, or decide to be silent?



CHAPTER III

THE CONDITION SHE MADE


I think she meant to be silent, but desperation drove her to speak, and
she spoke.

I had a headache the last day out but one, and stayed in my cabin all
the afternoon. It seems that Mrs. Brandreth asked Jim if she might visit
me for a little while, and he consented.

I was half dozing when she came, with a green silk curtain drawn across
the window. I suggested that she should push this curtain back, so that
we might have light to see each other.

"Please, no!" she said. "I don't want light. I don't want to be seen.
Dear Lady Courtenaye--may I really call you 'Elizabeth,' as you asked me
to do?--I need so much to talk to you. And the darker it is, the
better."

"Very well--Rosemary!" I answered. "I've guessed that you are
worried--or not quite happy. There's nothing I should like so much as to
help you if I could. I believe you know that."

"Yes, I know--I feel it," she said. "I want your advice. I think you're
the only person whose advice I would take whether I liked it or not. I
don't understand why that is so. But it is. You're probably younger than
I am----"

"I'm getting on for twenty-three," I informed the girl, when I had made
her sit down beside my bed.

"And I'm nearly twenty-six!"

"You look twenty-one."

"I'm afraid I look lots of things that I'm not," she sighed, in a voice
too gloomy for the half-joking words. "Oh, now that I'm trying to speak,
I don't know how to begin, or how far to go! I must confess one thing
frankly: and that is, I can't tell you _everything_."

"Tell me what you want to tell: not a word more."

"Thank you. I thought you'd say that. Well, suppose you loved a man who
was very ill--so ill he couldn't possibly get well, and he begged you to
marry him--because then you might be in the same house till the end, and
he could die happily with you near: what would you do?"

"If I loved him _enough_, I would marry him the very first minute I
could," was my prompt answer.

"I do love him enough!" she exclaimed.

"But you hesitate?"

"Yes, because----Oh, Elizabeth, there's a terrible obstacle."

"An obstacle!" I echoed, forgetting my headache. "I can't understand
that, if--forgive me--if you're free."

"I am free," the girl said. "Free in the way you mean. There's no _man_
in the way. The obstacle is--a woman."

"Pooh!" I cried, my heart lightened. "I wouldn't let a woman stand
between me and the man I loved, especially if he needed me as much
as--as----"

"You needn't mind saying it. Of course you know as well as I do that
we're talking about Ralston Murray. And I believe he does need me. I
could make him happy--if I were always near him--for the few months he
has to live."

"He would have a new lease of life given him with you," I ventured.

The girl shook her head. "He says that the specialists gave him three
months at the most. And twelve days out of those three months have gone
already, since he left California."

For an instant a doubt of her shot through me. Ralston Murray had been a
get-rich-quick oil speculator, so I had heard, anyhow, he was supposed
to be extremely well off. Besides, there was that lovely old place in
Devonshire, of which his widow would be mistress. I knew nothing of
Rosemary Brandreth's circumstances, and little of her character or
heart, except as I might judge from her face, and voice, and charming
ways. Was I _wrong_ in the judgment I'd impulsively formed? Could it be
that she didn't truly care for Murray--that if she married him in spite
of the mysterious "obstacle," it would be for what she could get?

Actually I shivered as this question asked itself in my mind! And I was
ashamed of it. But her tone and look had been strange. When I tried to
cheer her by hinting that Murray's lease of life might be longer because
of her love, she had looked frightened, almost horrified.

For the first time I deliberately tried to read her soul, whose
sincerity I had more or less taken for granted. I stared into her eyes
through the green dusk which made us both look like mermaids under
water. Surely that exquisite face couldn't mask sordidness? I pushed the
doubt away.

"All the more reason for you to make radiant the days that are left, if
you're strong enough to bear the strain," I said. And Rosemary answered
that she was strong enough for anything that would help him. She would
tell Ralston, she added, that she had asked my advice.

"He wanted me to do it," she said. "He thought I oughtn't to decide
without speaking to a sweet, wise woman. And _you_ are a sweet, wise
woman, although you're so young! When you are better, will you come on
deck and talk to Ralston?"

"Of course I will, if you think he'd care to have me," I promised. And
it was extraordinary how soon that headache of mine passed away! I was
able to talk with Ralston that evening, and assure him that, in my
opinion, he wasn't _at all_ selfish in wanting Rosemary Brandreth to
"sacrifice" herself for him. It would be no sacrifice to a woman who
loved a man, I argued. He had done the right thing, it seemed to me, in
asking Mrs. Brandreth to marry him. If Jim were in his place, and I in
Rosemary's, I should have proposed if he hadn't!

But while I was saying these things, I couldn't help wondering
underneath if she had mentioned the "obstacle" to Ralston, and if he
knew precisely what kind of "freedom to marry" her freedom was--whether
Mr. Blank Brandreth were dead or only divorced?

Somehow I had the strongest impression that Rosemary had told Major
Murray next to nothing about herself--had perhaps begged him not to ask
questions, and that he had obeyed for fear of distressing--perhaps even
losing--the woman he adored.

"Of course, I shall leave her everything," he announced, when Mrs.
Brandreth had strolled away with Jim in order to give me a few minutes
alone with Major Murray. "While she's gone, I'd like to talk with you
about that, because I want you to consult your husband for me. Rosemary
can't bear to discuss money and that sort of thing. I had almost to
force her to it to-day; for you see, I haven't long at best--and the
time may be shorter even than I think. At last I made her see my point
of view. I told her that I meant to make a new will, here on shipboard,
for fear I should----Well, you understand. I said it would be in her
favour, as Rosemary Brandreth, and then, after we were married--provided
I live to marry her, as I hope to do--I ought to add a codicil or
something--I don't quite know how one manages such things--changing
'Rosemary Brandreth' to 'my wife, Rosemary Murray.'"

"Yes," I agreed. "I suppose you would have to do that. I don't know very
much about wills, either--but I remember hearing that a legacy to a wife
might be disputed if the will were in her favour as an engaged girl, and
mentioning her by her maiden name."

"Brandreth isn't Rosemary's maiden name," he reminded me. "That was
Hillier. But it's the same thing legally. And disputes are what I want
to avoid. Still, I daren't delay, for fear of something happening to me.
There's a doctor chap in Devonshire, who would have inherited Ralston
Old Manor and the money that goes with it if my cousin hadn't chosen to
leave all he had to me instead. I believe, as a matter of fact, he's my
only living relative. I haven't seen him many times in my life, but we
correspond on business. Every penny I possess might go to Paul Jennings,
as well as the Ralston property--by some trick of the law--if I don't
tie it up for Rosemary in time. You see why I'm impatient. I want you
and Sir Jim to witness a will of sorts this very night. I shall sleep
better if it's done. But--there's a funny thing, Lady Courtenaye: a whim
of Rosemary's. I can't see light on it myself. Perhaps you could lead up
to the subject, and get her to explain."

"What is the funny thing?" I asked.

"Why, at first she implored me not to leave money to her--actually
begged, with tears in her eyes. However, I explained that if she didn't
get what I have, a stranger would, which would make me unhappy. My being
'unhappy' settled the matter for her! But she made a queer condition. If
she allowed me to leave everything to her, the legacy must be arranged
somehow without altering it to her married name when she is my wife. It
must be in favour of 'Rosemary Brandreth,' not 'Rosemary Murray.' I
begged her to tell my why she wanted such an odd thing, and she said it
was a prejudice she had about women changing their names and taking
their husbands' names. Well, as a matter of fact, I believe a woman
marrying _can_ keep her own name legally if she likes. Taking the
husband's name is a custom, not a necessity for a woman, I remember
hearing. But I'm not sure. Sir Jim may know. If not, he'll find out for
me. I haven't much strength, and it would be the greatest favour if he
would get some first-rate legal opinion about carrying out this wish of
Rosemary's."

"Jim will be glad to do anything he can," I said, warmly. "We shall be
neighbours, you know."

"Yes, thank Heaven!" he exclaimed. "I used not to think much about such
things, but I do feel as if you two had been sent me in my need, by
Providence. There was the wonderful coincidence of Rosemary being on my
ship--at least, one _calls_ it a coincidence, but it must be something
deeper and more mysterious than that. Then, finding such friends as you
and Sir Jim--neighbours on deck, and neighbours on shore. I can't tell
you the comfort it is to know that Rosemary won't be left alone when I'm
gone."

"Count on us," I repeated, "now and always."

"I do," Murray answered. "As for the present, my first will in favour of
Rosemary Brandreth will be clear sailing. It is the second one--or the
codicil--after marriage, that raises a question. I suppose I needn't
worry about that till the time comes: yet I do. I want to be sure that
Rosemary is safe. I wish you could persuade her not to stick to the
point she's so keen on."

"If you can't persuade her, it's not likely that I can," I objected. I
tried to keep my voice quite natural, but something in my tone must have
struck him.

"You have an idea in your mind about this condition Rosemary makes!" he
challenged.



CHAPTER IV

THE OLD LOVE STORY


"Oh--one simply wonders a little!" I stammered.

Major Murray's face changed. "Of course, there's one idea which presents
itself instantly to the mind," he said. "But it's such an obvious one! I
confess I had it myself at first--just for a moment. I even asked
Rosemary, because--well, she might have been in trouble that wasn't her
fault. I asked her if she were sure that she was free to marry--that
there was no legal hitch. I said that if there were, she must tell me
the truth without fear, and I would see if it couldn't be made right.
But she assured me that, so far as the law is concerned, she's as free
as though she were a girl. I believe her, Lady Courtenaye; and I think
you would believe if you could have looked into her eyes then. No,
there's another reason--not obvious like the first; on the contrary,
it's obscure. I wish you'd try to get light on it."

"I'll try if you want me to," I promised. "But I don't expect to
succeed."

Major Murray looked more anxious than I had seen him since Mrs.
Brandreth appeared on deck that second day at sea. "Hasn't she confided
in you at all?" he asked.

"Only"--I hesitated an instant--"only to tell me of her love, and her
engagement to you." This was the truth, with one tiny reservation. I
couldn't give Rosemary away, by mentioning the "obstacle" at which she'd
hinted.

"She never even told you about our first engagement, eight years ago?"
he persisted.

"No."

"Well, I'd like to tell you that, if the story won't bore you?"

"It will interest me," I said. "But perhaps Mrs. Brandreth mightn't----"

"She won't mind; I'm sure of that, from things she's said. But it's a
subject easier for me to talk about than for her. She was travelling in
Italy with an aunt--a sister of her mother's--when we met. She was just
seventeen. I fell in love with her at first sight. Do you wonder? It was
at Bellagio, but I followed her and the aunt from place to place. The
aunt was a widow, who'd married an American, and I imagined that she
wasn't kind to her niece--the girl looked so unhappy. But I did Mrs.
Brandreth an injustice----"

"Mrs. Brandreth?" I had to interrupt. "Rosemary was already----"

"No, no! The aunt's name was Mrs. Brandreth. The man Rosemary married a
few weeks later was the nephew of her aunt's American husband. When I
asked Rosemary to be my wife, I heard the whole story. Rosemary told me
herself. The aunt, Mrs. John Brandreth, came to England to visit her
sister. It wasn't long after her husband had died, and she wasn't
strong, so the nephew--Guy Brandreth--travelled with her. He was a West
Point graduate, it seems; probably you know that West Point is the
American Sandhurst? He was still in the Army and on long leave. He and
the aunt both stayed at Mrs. Hillier's house in Surrey, and--I suppose
you can guess what happened?"

"A--love affair?" I hesitated.

"Yes. It didn't take Brandreth long to make up his mind what he wanted,
and to go for it. He proposed. Rosemary said 'Yes.' It was her first
love. But Brandreth had been practically engaged to an American girl--a
great heiress. He hadn't much himself beyond his pay, I fancy. Money was
an object to him--but Rosemary's beauty bowled him over, and he lost his
head. Bye and bye, when he began to see the light of common sense again,
and when he realized that Rosemary wouldn't have a red cent of her own,
he weakened. There was some slight lover's quarrel one day. Rosemary
broke off the engagement for the pleasure of hearing Brandreth beg to be
taken back. But he didn't beg. He took her at her word and went to
London, where the American girl had arrived. That same night he wrote
Rosemary that, as she didn't want him, he had offered himself to someone
who did. So ended the love story--for a time. And that's where I came
in."

"Rosemary went to Italy?" I prompted him.

"Yes. Her aunt felt responsible, and carried the girl away to help her
to forget. Rosemary told me this, but thought she had 'got over it,' and
said she would marry me if I wanted her. Of course, I did want her. I
believed--most men would--that I could teach her to love me. She was so
young. And even then I wasn't poor. I could give her a good time! The
poor child was keen on letting Brandreth know she wasn't mourning his
loss, and she'd heard he was still in London with his fiancée and her
millionaire papa. So she had our engagement announced in the _Morning
Post_ and other London papers."

"Well--and then?" I broke into a pause.

"Guy Brandreth couldn't bear to let another fellow have the girl. He
must have loved her really, I suppose, with what was best in him.
Anyhow, he asked for his release from the heiress, and found out from
Mrs. Hillier where her daughter was. As soon as he could get there, he
turned up at the Villa d'Este, where Rosemary and her aunt were staying
then."

"And you--were you there?"

"No. If I had been, perhaps everything would have been different. I was
in the Army, and on leave, like Brandreth. I had to go back to my
regiment, but Rosemary'd promised to marry me on her eighteenth
birthday, which wasn't far off. I'd made an appointment to go and see
Mrs. Hillier on a certain day. But before the day came a telegram
arrived from the aunt, Mrs. Brandreth, to say that Rosemary had run away
with Guy.

"It was a deadly blow. I went almost mad for a while--don't know what
kept me from killing myself, except that I've always despised suicide as
a coward's way out of trouble. I chucked the Army--had to make a
change--and went to California, where an old pal of mine had often
wanted me to join him. I knew that Brandreth was stationed down south
somewhere, so in California I should be as far from him and Rosemary as
if I stayed in England. Well--now you know the story--for I never saw
Rosemary or even heard of her from that time till the other day on board
this ship. Does what I've told help you at all to understand the
condition she wants me to make about her name, in my will?"

"No, it doesn't," I had to confess. "You must just--_trust_ Rosemary,
Major Murray."

"I do," he answered, fervently.

"I wish I did!" I could have echoed. But I said not a word, and tried to
remember only how sweet Rosemary Brandreth was.

Before it was time for us to witness the will I repeated to Jim all that
Murray had told me, and watched his face. His eyebrows had drawn
together in a puzzled frown.

"I hope she isn't going to play that poor chap another trick," he
grumbled. "It would finish him in an hour if she did."

"Oh, she _won't_!" I cried. "She loves him."

I was sure I was right about _that_. But I was sure of nothing else.



CHAPTER V

THE MAN WITH THE BRILLIANT EYES


Jim and I witnessed Ralston Murray's will, which left all he possessed
to "Mrs. Rosemary Brandreth." No reference was made in the document to
the fact that Rosemary was engaged to marry him.

Next day we landed, and Murray was so buoyed up with happiness that he
was able to travel to London without a rest. He stayed at a quiet hotel
in St. James's Square, and we took Rosemary Brandreth with us to the
Savoy. Murray applied for a special licence, and the marriage was to
take place in town, as soon as possible, so that they two might travel
to Devonshire as husband and wife. Jim and I both pined for Courtenaye
Abbey, but we wouldn't desert our new friends. Besides, their affairs
had now become as exciting to us as a mystery play. There were many
questions we asked ourselves and each other concerning obscure and
unexplained details. But--if Murray didn't choose to ask them, they were
no business of ours!

Jim consulted a firm considered to be among the smartest solicitors in
London; and thanks to their "smartness," by hook or by crook the
difficulty of the codicil was got over.

The wedding was to take place at Major Murray's hotel, in the salon of
his suite, as he was not able to go through a ceremony in church. Jim
and I were the only invited guests; but at the last moment a third guest
invited himself: the cousin to whom the Ralston property would have gone
if its owner hadn't preferred Ralston Murray for his heir.

It seemed that the distant relatives had always kept up a
correspondence--letters three or four times a year; and I imagine that
Murray made the disappointed man a consolation allowance, though he
hinted at nothing of the kind to me. In any case, Doctor Paul Jennings
(who lived and practised at Merriton, not far from Ralston Old Manor)
reported unofficially on the condition of the place at stated intervals.
Murray had wired the news of his arrival in England to Jennings, and
that he would be bringing a wife to Devonshire; whereupon the doctor
asked by telegram if he might attend the wedding. Neither Murray nor the
bride-elect could think of any reason why he should not come, so he was
politely bidden to be present.

I was rather curious about the cousin to whom Murray had referred on
shipboard; and as the acquaintanceship between the two men seemed to be
entirely impersonal, I thought it "cheeky" of Jennings to wangle himself
to the wedding. Jim agreed with me as to the cheekiness. He said,
however, that the request was natural enough. This poor country doctor
had heard, no doubt, that Murray was doomed to death, and had
accordingly hoped great things for himself. There had seemed to be no
reason why these great things shouldn't happen: yet now the dying man
was about to take a wife! Jennings had been too impatient to wait till
the couple turned up in Devonshire to see what the lady was like.

"Besides," Jim went on (with the shrewdness I always accused him of
picking up in America), "besides, the fellow probably hopes to make a
good impression on the bride, and so get taken on as family physician."

"He'll be disappointed about _that_!" I exclaimed, with a flash of
naughty joy, for somehow I'd made up my mind not to like Doctor
Jennings. "Major Murray has promised Rosemary and me to consult Beverley
Drake about himself. It's the most perfect thing that Sir Beverley
should be in Exeter! Not to call him to the case would be tempting
Providence!"

Jim doesn't know or care much about doctors, but even he knew something
of Sir Beverley Drake. He is the man, of course, who did such wonders in
the war for soldiers who'd contracted obscure tropical diseases while
serving in Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, Salonika, and so on.

You could bet pretty safely that a person named Drake would be of
Devonshire extraction, and you would not lose your money on Beverley of
that ilk.

He had spent half his life in the East, and hadn't been settled down as
a Harley Street specialist for many years when the war broke out.
Between 1914 and 1919 he had worn himself to a thread in France, and had
temporarily retired from active life to rest in his native town, Exeter.
But he had known both my wonderful grandmother and old Mr. Ralston. He
wasn't likely to refuse his services to Ralston Murray. Consequently, I
didn't quite see Doctor Paul Jennings getting a professional foothold in
Major Murray's house, no matter what his personal charm might be.

As it turned out, the personal charm was a matter of opinion. Jennings
had the brightest eyes and the reddest lips ever seen on a man. He was
youngish, and looked more like a soldier than a doctor. Long ago some
Ralston girl had married a Jennings; consequently, the cousinship,
distant as it was. But though you can't associate Spain with a
"Jennings," there was Spanish blood in the man's veins. If you had met
him in Madrid, he would have looked more at home than as a doctor in a
Devonshire village. Not that he had stuck permanently to the village
since taking up practice there. He had gone to the Front, and brought
back a decoration. Also he had brought back a French wife, said to have
been an actress.

I heard some of these things from Murray, some from Jennings himself on
the day of the wedding. And they made me more curious about the man than
I should have been otherwise. Why, for instance, the Parisian wife? Do
Parisian women, especially actresses, marry obscure English doctors in
country villages which are hardly on the map?

No. There must be a very special reason for such a match; and I sought
for it when I met Paul Jennings. But his personality, though attractive
to many women, no doubt, wasn't quite enough to account for the
marriage. I resolved to look for something further when I got to
Devonshire and met Mrs. Jennings.

       *       *       *       *       *

You wouldn't believe that a wedding ceremony in a private sitting room
of an old-fashioned hotel, with the bridegroom stretched on a sofa,
could be the prettiest sight imaginable; but it was. I never saw so
charming or so pathetic a picture!

Jim and I had sent quantities of flowers, and Doctor Jennings had sent
some, too. Rosemary and I arranged them, for there was no conventional
nonsense about this bride keeping herself in seclusion till the last
minute! Her wish was to be with the man she loved as often as she could,
and to belong to him with as little delay as possible.

We transformed the room into a pink-and-white bower, and then taxied
back to the Savoy to dress. There had been no time for Rosemary to have
a gown made, and as she had several white frocks I advised her to wear
one which Murray hadn't seen. But no! She wouldn't do that. She must be
married in something new; in fact, _everything_ new, nothing she'd ever
worn before. The girl seemed superstitious about this: and her pent-up
emotion was so intense that the least opposition would have reduced her
to tears.

Luckily she found in a Bond Street shop an exquisite model gown just
over from Paris. It was pale dove-colour and silver, and there was an
adorable hat to match. The faint gray, which had a delicate suggestion
of rose in its shadows, enhanced the pearly tints of the bride's
complexion, the coral of her lips, and the gold of her ash-blonde hair.
She was a vision when I brought her back to her lover, just in time to
be at his side before the clergyman in his surplice appeared from the
next room.

To see her kneeling by Murray's sofa with her hand in his sent the tears
stinging to my eyes, but I wouldn't let them fall. She looked like an
angel of sweetness and light, and I reproached myself bitterly because I
had half suspected her of mercenary plans.

Once during the ceremony I glanced at Doctor Jennings. He was gazing at
the bride as I had gazed, fixedly, absorbedly, with his brilliant eyes.
So intent was his look that I wondered its magnetism did not call
Rosemary's eyes to his; but she was as unconscious of his stare as he of
mine. He must have admired her; yet there was something deeper than
admiration; and I would have given a good deal to know what it
was--whether benevolent or otherwise. His expression, however, told no
tale beyond its intense interest.

There was a little feast after the wedding, with an imposing cake, and
everything that other, happier brides have. It seemed a mockery to drink
health to the newly married pair, knowing as we did that Ralston Murray
had been given three months at most to live. Yet we drank, and made a
brave pretence at all the conventional wedding merriment; for if we
hadn't laughed, some of us would have cried.

An hour later Major and Mrs. Murray started off on the first stage of
their journey to Devonshire. They went by car, a magnificent Rolls-Royce
rather like a travelling boudoir; and in another car was Murray's
nurse-valet, with the comfortable elderly maid I had found for Rosemary.

They were to travel at a moderate pace, to stay a night at Glastonbury,
and go on next morning to Ralston Old Manor, which they expected to
reach early in the afternoon. As for Jim and me, we were too keen on
seeing the dear old Abbey together, as our future home, to waste a
minute more than need be _en route_, no matter how beautiful the journey
by road.

Our packing had been done before the wedding, and we were in a fast
express tearing westward an hour after the Murrays had set off by car.

Ours had been such a long honeymoon--months in America--that outsiders
considered it over and done with long ago. We two knew that it wasn't
over and done with, and never would be, but we couldn't go about
proclaiming that fact; therefore we made no objection when Doctor
Jennings proposed travelling in the train with us. We reflected that, if
he were in the same train he would be in the same compartment, and so it
happened; but, though I didn't warm to the man, I was interested in
trying to study the character behind those brilliant eyes.

Some people's eyes seem to reveal their souls as through clear windows.
Other eyes conceal, as if they were imitation windows, made of mirrors.
I thought that Paul Jennings' were the mirror windows; but he had a
manner which appeared almost ostentatiously frank. He told us of the
difficulties he had had in getting on, before the war, and praised
Ralston Murray's generosity. "Ralston would never tell you this," he
said, "but it was he who made it possible for me to marry. He has been
awfully decent to me, though we hardly know each other except through
letters; and I only wish I could do something for him in return. All
I've been able to do so far is very little: just to look after the
Manor, and now to get the place ready for Murray and his bride: or
rather, my wife has done most of that. I wish I were a great doctor, and
my joy would be to put my skill at Ralston's service. But as it is,
he'll no doubt try to get an opinion from Beverley Drake?"

Jennings put this as a question rather than stating it, and I guessed
that there had been no talk on the subject between him and Murray. But
there could be no secret: and Jim answered promptly that we were staying
in Exeter on purpose to see Sir Beverley. We'd made an appointment with
him by telegram, Jim added, and would go on the rest of the way, which
was short, by car. Even with that delay we should reach the Abbey in
time for dinner.

"My wife is meeting me at Exeter, as I have business there," Doctor
Jennings replied. "She will come to the train. I hope you will let me
introduce her to you, Lady Courtenaye?"

I murmured that I should be charmed, and felt in my bones that he hoped
we would invite them to motor with us. Jim glanced at me for a
"pointer," but I looked sweetly blank. It would not have taken us far
out of our way to drop the Jenningses at Merriton. But I just didn't
want to do it. So _there_!

All the same, I was curious to see what the Parisian wife was like; and
at Exeter we three got out of the train together. "There she is!"
exclaimed Jennings suddenly, and his face lit up.

"He's in love!" I thought, and caught sight of the lady to whom he was
waving his hand.

"Why, you've married Gaby Lorraine!" I cried, before I had stopped to
think.

But the doctor was not offended. "Yes, I have, and I'm jolly proud of
her!" he said. "It's she, not I, who keeps dark in Merriton about her
past glories.... She wants only to be Mrs. Paul Jennings here in the
country. Hello, chérie! Here I am!"

Gaby Lorraine was a well-known musical comedy actress; at least _had_
been. Before the war and even during the first year of the war she had
been seen and heard a good deal in England. Because of her pretty
singing voice and smart recitations, she had been taken up by people
more or less in Society. Then she had disappeared, about the time that
Grandmother took me to Rome, and letters from friends mentioning her had
said there was some "hushed-up scandal." Exactly what it was nobody
seemed to know. One thought it had to do with cocaine. Another fancied
it was a question of kleptomania or "something really weird." The world
had forgotten her since, but here she was, a Mrs. Jennings, married to a
Devonshire village doctor, greeting her husband like a good wife at the
railway station.

Nothing could have been more perfect than her conception of this new
part she'd chosen to play. Neat, smooth brown hair; plain tailor-made
coat and skirt; little white waistcoat; close-fitting toque; low-heeled
russet shoes; gloves to match: admirable! Only the "liquid powder" which
gives the strange pallor loved in Paris suggested that this _chic_
figure had ever shown itself on the stage.

"I wish I knew _what_ the scandal had been!" I murmured half to myself
and half to Jim, as we parted in the station after introductions.

"That sounds unlike you, darling," Jim reproached me. "Why should you
want to know?"

"Because," I explained, "whatever it was, is the reason why she married
this country doctor. If there'd been no scandal, Mademoiselle Gaby
Lorraine wouldn't be Mrs. Paul Jennings."



CHAPTER VI

THE PICTURES


Our interview with Sir Beverley Drake was most satisfactory. Because he
had known old Mr. Ralston and Grandmother, the great specialist granted
my earnest request.

"I had almost vowed not to receive one solitary patient," he laughed,
"yet here I am promising to motor thirty miles for the pleasure of
calling on one."

"You won't regret it," I prophesied. "You will find Major Murray an
interesting man, and as enthralling a case as you ever met. As for the
bride, you'll fall in love with her. Every man must."

It was finally arranged that he should visit Ralston Murray early in the
following week. He could not go before, as he was expecting visitors;
but it was already Wednesday, so there were not many days to wait.

Jim and I had decided not to run over to see the Murrays at once, but to
give them time to "settle in." We would go on Sunday afternoon, we
thought; but on Saturday I had a telegram from Rosemary. "Would Sir
Beverley be offended if we asked him not to come, after all? Ralston
thinks it not worth while."

I was utterly amazed, for in London she had seemed as keen on consulting
the specialist as I was, and had thanked us warmly for the offer of
breaking our journey at Exeter.

"We can't force Sir Beverley on Murray," Jim said. "It wouldn't be fair
to either of them." But I insisted.

"There's something odd about this," I told him. "Let's spin over to-day
instead of to-morrow, and tell the Murrays that Sir Beverley _would_ be
offended. I shall say to Rosemary that as we asked him to call, it would
be humiliating to us to have him treated in such a way."

I think Jim has laid down for himself a certain line of action with me.
He yields to me on all matters as to which he's comparatively
indifferent, so that I won't notice much when he turns into the Rock of
Gibraltar over big issues.

This was one of the occasions when he yielded, and we flashed to Ralston
Old Manor directly after luncheon. There wasn't time for a telegram to
be delivered there before our arrival, and the Manor had no 'phone, so
we appeared _en surprise_. And the "surprise" was a double one, for I
was amazed to come upon Mrs. Jennings walking with Rosemary down the elm
avenue. Evidently the visitor was going home, and her hostess was
accompanying her as far as the gate. Our car running along the drive
startled them from what seemed to be the most intimate talk. At sight of
us they both looked up, and their manner changed. Rosemary smiled a
welcome. Gaby smiled, in politeness. But before the smile there was the
fraction of a second when each face revealed something it didn't mean to
reveal--or I imagined it. Rosemary's had lost the look of exalted
happiness which had thrilled me on her wedding day. For that instant it
had a haunted look. As for Gaby, the fleeting expression of her face was
not so hard to understand. For some reason she was annoyed that we had
come, and felt an impulse of dislike toward us.

"Can those two have met before?" I asked myself. It seemed improbable:
yet it was odd that strangers who had known each other only a couple of
days should be on such terms.

They parted on the spot, when we had slowed down, Mrs. Jennings walking
on alone the short distance to the gate, and Rosemary getting into the
car with us, to drive to the house. I couldn't resist asking the
question, "Had you ever seen Mrs. Jennings before she was married?" For,
after all, there was no reason why I should not ask it. But Rosemary
looked me full in the face as she answered:

"No, I never met her until she and her husband called the day before
yesterday. She had been very kind about getting the house beautifully
ready for us, and finding servants. I feel I know her quite well,
because she has come in every day to explain about repairs that have had
to be made, and that sort of thing."

"Do you like her?" I asked.

"I think she's tremendously clever," Rosemary said.

I was inclined to think so, too. "It's _she_ who has been trying to
persuade the Murrays not to have Sir Beverley Drake," I told myself.
"She wants the job for her husband."

Happiness had had a wonderful effect upon Murray, even in this short
time. It seemed to have electrified him with a new vitality. He had
walked a few steps without any help, and for the first time in many
weeks felt an appetite for food.

"If I didn't _know_ there was no hope for me, I should almost think
there was some!" he said, laughing. "Of course there isn't any! This is
only a flash in the pan, but I may as well enjoy it while it lasts, and
it makes things a little less tragic for my angel of mercy. I feel that
it might be best to 'let well alone,' as they say, and not disturb
myself with a new treatment. All the American specialists agreed that
nothing on earth could change the course of events, so why fuss, as I'm
more comfortable than I hoped to be? If you don't think it would be rude
to Sir Beverley----"

But there I broke in upon him, and Jim helped me out. We _did_ think it
would be rude. Sir Beverley would be wounded. For our sakes, if for
nothing else, we asked that Sir Beverley should be allowed to make his
call and examination as arranged.

Murray did not protest much when he saw how we took his suggestion; and
Rosemary protested not at all. She simply sat still with a queer,
_fatal_ look on her beautiful face; and suspicions of her began to stir
within me again. Did she not _want_ to give her husband a chance of
life?

The answer to that question, so far as Sir Beverley came into it, was
that she could easily have influenced Murray not to heed us if she had
been determined to do so. But that was just the effect she gave; lack of
determination. It was as if, in the end, she wanted Murray to decide for
himself, without being biassed by her.

"That Gaby Lorraine _is_ in it somehow, all the same," I decided. "She
was able to make Rosemary send us the telegram, and if we hadn't come
over, and argued, she would have got her away."

It seemed rather sinister.

Ralston Murray was charmed with his heritage, and wanted Rosemary to
show us all over the house, which she did. It was beautiful in its
simple way: low-ceilinged rooms, many with great beams, and exquisite
oak panelling of linen-fold and other patterns. But the fame of the
Manor, such as it was, lay in its portraits and pictures by famous
artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Rosemary frankly
confessed that she knew very little about Old Masters of any age; and
Jim had been, as he said, in the same boat until the idea had struck him
of renewing the past glories of the family place, Courtenaye Abbey.
After renting the Abbey from me, and beginning to restore its
dilapidations, he had studied our heirlooms of every sort; had bought
books, and had consulted experts. Consequently, he had become as good a
judge of a Lely, a Gainsborough, a Romney, a Reynolds, and so on, as I
had become, through being my grandmother's grand-daughter.

I wondered what was in his mind as we went through the hall and the
picture gallery, and began to be so excited over my own thoughts that I
could hardly wait to find out his.

"Well, what is your impression of the famous collection?" I asked, the
instant our car whirled us away from the door of Ralston Old Manor.
"What do you think of everything?"

"_Think_, my child?" echoed Jim. "I'm bursting with what I think; and
so, I expect, are you!"

"I wonder how long it is since the pictures were valued?" I muttered.

"I suppose they must have been done," said Jim, "at the time of old
Ralston's death, so that the amount of his estate could be judged."

"Yes," I agreed; "I suppose the income-tax people, or whoever the fiends
are that assess heirs for death duties, would not have accepted any old
estimates. But that would mean that the pictures were all right ten
months ago."

We looked at each other. "There's been some queer hocus-pocus going on,"
mumbled Jim.

"It sounds like black magic!" I breathed.

"Black fraud," he amended. "Ought we to speak to Murray--just drop him a
hint, and suggest his getting an expert to have a look round?"

"It would worry him, and he oughtn't to be worried now," I said.

"Still, he wants everything to be all right for his wife when he goes
west."

"I know," said I; "but I don't feel that these happy days of his--his
last days, perhaps--ought to be disturbed. If--if Rosemary loves him as
much as we believe she does, she'd rather have a fuss after he's gone
than before. We might be breaking open a wasp's nest if we spoke. And it
isn't our _business_, is it?"

"Unless we could find out something on the quiet," thoughtfully
suggested Jim. "For instance, is there anybody in this neighbourhood
who's a pretty good artist and a smart copyist--anybody, I mean, who
could have had the run of the Manor while the house was unoccupied
except by a caretaker?"

"Yes, we might set ourselves to find out that," I assented. "And, by the
way--apropos of nothing, of course!--I think we might call on the
Jenningses, don't you?--as the doctor intimated that they didn't 'feel
grand enough' to call on us."

"I think we might," echoed Jim. "And why not to-day, while we're close
to Merriton?"

Quick as a flash I seized the speaking-tube and directed the chauffeur.
We had gone only a mile out of the way, and that was soon retraced.

Both the doctor and his wife were at home, in their rather ugly modern
villa, which was one of the few blots on the beauty of Merriton. But
there were no pictures at all in the little drawing room. The
distempered walls were decorated with a few Persian rugs (not bad,
though of no great interest) given to Doctor Jennings, it seemed, by a
grateful patient now dead. By round-about ways we tried to learn whether
there was artistic talent in the family, but our efforts failed. As Jim
said later, when the call had ended in smoke, "There was nothing doing!"



CHAPTER VII

SIR BEVERLEY'S IMPRESSIONS


Jim is not a bad amateur detective, and he didn't abandon his efforts to
get behind the portrait mystery. But we had decided that, for Murray's
sake, "discretion was the better part of valour" for us; and the care
with which he had to work added a lot to his difficulties. Besides,
there were a good many other things to think of just then: things
concerning ourselves, also things concerning the Murrays. And those
things which concerned them were a thousand times more important than
any faked heirlooms.

Sir Beverley Drake gave some faint hope that Ralston Murray's life might
be saved. There was a serum upon which he had been experimenting for
years, and in which he had begun enthusiastically to believe, for
obscure tropical maladies resembling Murray's.

We had asked him to motor on to the Abbey and luncheon, after his visit
to Ralston Old Manor, hardly daring to think that he would accept. But
he did accept; and I saw by his face the moment we met that the news he
had to give was, at the worst, not bad. I was so happy when I heard what
he had to say that I could have danced for joy.

"Mind, I don't promise anything," Sir Beverley reminded me. "But there
_is_ hope. Murray must have had a marvellous constitution to have gone
through what he has, in the war and since. If he hadn't had that, he'd
be dead now. And then, of course, this amazing romance of his--this
deathbed marriage--as you might call it--has given him a wonderful
fillip. Happiness is an elixir of life, even in the most desperate cases
at times, so I've got something hopeful to work on. I don't feel _sure_
even of a partial success for my treatment, and I told them that. It's
an experiment. If it fails, Murray may burn out rather than flicker out,
and go a few weeks sooner than he need if let alone. If it
succeeds--why, there's no limit to the success it _might_ have!"

"You mean, he might be entirely cured--a well man again?" I almost
gasped.

"Yes, it's just on the cards," Sir Beverley answered.

"Of course, Murray decided at once to run the risk?" asked Jim.

"Of course," replied the specialist. But he looked thoughtful.

"And Rosemary?" I added. "Couldn't she have kissed your feet for the
blessed message of hope you gave her?"

Sir Beverley smiled at the picture. "I saw no sign of such a desire on
the part of the beautiful lady," he said.

"She's rather shy of expressing her emotions," I explained Rosemary to
the great man. "But she has the _deepest_ feelings!"

"So I should judge," he answered rather drily. "Perhaps, though, she has
no great faith in the experiment, and would prefer for her husband's
peace to let 'well enough alone,' as people vaguely say."

Again I felt the disagreeable shock I'd experienced when Rosemary had
first spoken to me of Murray's death as certain. "It must be that," I
said, quickly. "She adores him."

"She gave me proof of that, in case I'd doubted," Sir Beverley answered.
"I told them that before beginning the hypodermic injections of serum I
should like to change and purify Murray's blood by transfusion, and so
give him an extra chance. Mrs. Murray instantly offered her blood, and
didn't flinch when I told her a pint would be necessary. Her husband
refused to let her make such a sacrifice for him, and was quite
indignant that I didn't protest against it. But she begged, coaxed,
insisted. It was really a moving scene, and--er--went far to remove my
first impression."

"What was your first impression?" I catechized. "Oh, don't think I ask
from curiosity! I'm Rosemary's friend. Jim and I are both as much
interested in Ralston Murray's case as if he were our brother. In a way,
we're responsible for the marriage--at least, we advised it. I know
Rosemary well, I believe, though she has a hard nature to understand.
And if you had an unfavourable impression of her, perhaps out of my
knowledge I might explain it away."

"Well, to tell the truth," said Sir Beverley bluntly, "when I gave the
verdict which I'd thought would enchant her, Mrs. Murray seemed--not
happy, but terrified. I expected for a second or two that she would
faint. I must confess, I felt--chilled."

"What--did she say?" I faltered.

"She said nothing at all. She looked--frozen."

"I hope poor Murray didn't get the same impression you got?" said Jim.

"I don't think he did. She was sitting on the edge of his sofa, holding
his hand, after I'd made my examination of the patient, and had called
her back into the room. And when I told them what I hoped, I saw Mrs.
Murray squeeze his fingers suddenly very tight with her small ones. To
me--combined with the staring look in her eyes--the movement seemed
convulsive, such as you might see in a prisoner, pronounced guilty by
the foreman of the jury. But naturally no thought of that kind jumped
into Murray's head! When she pressed his hand, he lifted hers to his
lips and kissed it. All the same, my impression remained--like a lump of
ice I'd swallowed by mistake--until Mrs. Murray so eagerly offered her
blood for her husband. Then I had to acknowledge that she must be truly
in love with him--for some women, even affectionate wives, wouldn't have
the physical or mental courage for such an ordeal."

"I hope she won't weaken when the time comes!" exclaimed Jim.

"I don't somehow think she will weaken," Sir Beverley replied, a puzzled
frown drawing his thick eyebrows together.

I was puzzled, too, but I praised Rosemary, and gave no hint of my own
miserable, reawakened suspicions. What I wanted to do was to see her as
soon as possible, and judge for myself.



CHAPTER VIII

WHILE WE WAITED


When Sir Beverley Drake undertakes a case, he puts his whole soul into
it, and no sacrifice of time or trouble is too much. I loved the dear
man when he quietly announced that he would live at Ralston Old Manor,
coming in the day before the transfusion, and remaining till what he
called the "end of the treatment, first phase."

This meant that he would be on the spot for a month. By that time he
could be practically certain whether or not the serum had "gripped" the
disease, and would at last conquer it. If "success" were the verdict,
Sir Beverley would instruct another doctor how to continue the
hypodermics and other treatment, and observe results.

"Selfishly, I should have liked to put the patient into a nursing home
at Exeter," he said, "where I could stay at home and visit him once a
day. But I didn't feel that would be giving the man his best chance.
He's in love with his wife, and in love with his house. I wouldn't
separate him from either."

This was splendid of Sir Beverley, and splendid for Murray--except for
one possibility which I foresaw. What if Rosemary or Murray himself
should suggest Paul Jennings as the doctor understudy? I was afraid that
this might happen, both because Jennings lived so near the Manor, and
because of the friendship which Rosemary had oddly struck up with the
French wife.

I dared not prejudice Sir Beverley against Murray's distant cousin, for
I'd _heard_ nothing to Paul's disadvantage--rather the contrary. He was
said to be a smart doctor, up to date in his methods, and "sure to get
on." Still, I thought of the changed portraits, and tried to put the
microbe of an idea into Sir Beverley's head. I told him that, if it
hadn't been for Ralston Murray, Jennings would without much doubt have
inherited the Manor, with a large sum of money.

The specialist's quick brain caught what was in mine as if I'd tossed it
to him, like a ball. "I suppose, if Murray died now, Jennings could hope
for nothing," he said, "except perhaps a small legacy. Murray will have
made a will in his wife's favour?"

"Yes," I replied, "or he made a will when he was engaged to her, and has
added a codicil since. But it's unusual in some ways, and might be
disputed."

Sir Beverley smiled. "Well, don't worry," he reassured me. "I have my
own candidate to take over the job when I leave the Manor. I wouldn't
trust a stranger, no matter how good a doctor he might be. So that's
that."

It was! I felt satisfied; and also more than satisfied with Rosemary. I
went to see her the day before the transfusion experiment, and found her
radiant in a strange, spiritual way. It seemed to me more like
exaltation than any earthly sort of happiness; and her words proved that
my feeling about it was right.

"Whether Ralston lives or dies, I shall always be so thankful that I
could do this thing for him. I don't think it's a _big_ thing, though he
does, and it was hard to persuade him. But to do it gives me the most
divine joy, which I can't describe. If I'd been born for that and
nothing else, it would be enough."

"How you love him!" The words broke from me.

"I do love him," she answered in a low voice, as if she spoke more to
herself than me. "Whatever may happen, I have loved him, and always will
in this world and the next."

"Aren't you frightened?" I asked.

"Frightened?" she echoed. "Oh, _no_!"

And quite a new sort of respect for her grew up within me--respect for
her physical courage. She was such a tall lily-in-silver-moonlight
creature, and so sensitive, that one could not have been disgusted with
her, as one can with some women, for cowardice; but she was brave in her
love. When she said that she was not frightened, I knew she wasn't
trying to make herself think so. She had no fear at all. She was eager
for the moment when she could make the gift.

Jim and I were allowed to be in the house when the experiment was tried,
not with the hope of seeing Murray or Rosemary afterward, but in order
to know the result without waiting.

We sat in the library, and were presently joined by Paul Jennings and
Gaby. They had grown so fond of "the hero and heroine of this romance"
(as Gaby put it) that they hadn't been able to keep away.

Jennings explained to us in detail the whole process of transfusion, and
why it was more effectual in a case like Murray's than the saline
injections given by some modern men. I felt rather faint as I listened,
seeing as if in a picture what those two devoted ones were going
through. But I knew that they were in the hands of a master, and that
the assistant and nurses he had brought would be the most efficient of
their kind.

"Would you do for me what your friend is doing for her husband?" Paul
Jennings suddenly flung the question at his wife. And she answered him,
not in words, but with a smile. I couldn't read what that smile meant,
and I wondered if he could.

Jim would not have needed to _ask_ me a thing like that!

After what seemed a long time of suspense Sir Beverley came to tell us
the news--looking like a strong-faced, middle-aged pierrot in his
surgeon's "make-up."

"All's well," he said. "They've both stood it grandly; and now they're
asleep. I thought you'd like to hear it from me, myself."

Then he looked from us to the Jenningses, whom he had never seen before.
I introduced them, and for the first time I became aware of what Gaby
Lorraine could be when she wished intensely to charm a man. She radiated
some subtle attraction of sex--deliberately radiated it, and without one
spoken word. She hadn't tried that "stunt" on my Jim, and if she had on
Ralston Murray I hadn't been there to see. There was something she
wanted to get out of Sir Beverley!



CHAPTER IX

THE GOOD NEWS


I thought I knew what that "something" was. I thought that Gaby wished
to "tame" Sir Beverley, and make him so much her slave that he would
appoint Paul to understudy him with Murray. I chuckled as I "deduced"
this ambition, for poor Gaby was in blissful ignorance of a certain
conversation I'd had with Sir Beverley.

"She'll find him a hard nut to crack," I said to myself. Still, I
suffered some bad moments in the month that followed. The Jenningses
were as often at the Manor as we were, and Gaby came frequently alone,
seldom failing to see Sir Beverley. He did seem to admire her, and to
like Paul well enough to worry me.

"Will he stick to his point about his own doctor?" I wondered. But when
the time came to prove his strength of mind, he did stick.

When he had been at Ralston Old Manor four weeks and two days there was
a letter for me from him in my morning post at the Abbey. "I want you to
come along as soon as you can and break something to Mrs. Murray," he
wrote. "I think she would rather hear it from you than me."

I hardly waited to finish breakfast; but I was more excited than
frightened. If the news had been bad, I thought that Sir Beverley was
the man to have told it straight out. If it were good, he wouldn't mind
tantalizing me a little.

Sir Beverley was walking under the elms, his hands behind his back,
taking his early stroll, when my car drove up. I got out at once and
joined him.

"The man's going to get well--_well_, I tell you!" he joyously
announced. "No dreary semi-invalid for a devoted wife to take care of,
but a man in the prime of life, for a woman to adore. I'm sure of it."

"But how wonderful!" I cried, ecstatically squeezing his arm. "What a
triumph, after dozens of great doctors had given him up! Does he know
yet?"

Sir Beverley shook his head. "I'm going to tell him this morning. I
wanted to wait till Mrs. Murray had been told."

"Why on earth didn't you tell her yourself--tell them both together?" I
asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I only thought she'd rather get the good
news from an intimate friend like you. If it makes her break down a bit
she won't mind before you as she would before me, and it wouldn't be
wise to surprise her in front of the invalid. When Murray hears from my
lips, and Mrs. Murray from yours, there won't have to be any
preliminaries: they can just fall into each other's arms."

I argued no further. Indeed, there was no need. I knew as well as if
he'd had the embarrassment of putting it into words, how Sir Beverley
had feared that Rosemary might disappoint her husband, if the great news
were told in his presence. I thought also that if she were "strange" in
the way she had been strange before, he didn't want to see her being it!

All my lurking suspicions of Rosemary had died an ignominious death at
the moment when, radiant with the light of her own devotion, she had
tried to define the love she felt. I was sure that what Sir Beverley had
mistaken for "horror" was only an effort at self-control when--perhaps
rather suddenly--he had given his first hint of hope. But I didn't
insist to Sir Beverley. Rosemary would soon prove to him that I was
right.

He and I walked into the house together, and as he went to his patient,
I inquired for Mrs. Murray. Her boudoir opened off a corridor which ran
at right angles out of the panelled hall where many of the once famous,
now infamous, portraits hung. Murray had been moved down to a wing on
the ground floor after Sir Beverley came to the Manor, and this boudoir
of Rosemary's had a door opening into that wing. It was a charming,
low-ceilinged room, with a network of old beams, leaded windows with
wide sills where bowls of flowers stood, and delightful chintz chosen by
Rosemary herself. She came almost at once, through the door leading from
the invalid's wing; and as the sunlight touched her bright hair and
white dress I was thrilled by her ethereal beauty. Never had she been
more lovely, but she looked fragile as a crystal vase.

"Darling!" I exclaimed, snatching her in my arms. "You are a dream
to-day--but I want to see you more solid. You _will_ be soon--a strong
pink rose instead of a white lily--because there's the most gorgeous
news to-day. I met Sir Beverley and he gave me leave to tell you,
because I love you so much. Your dear man is saved. _You've_ helped to
save him, and----"

The words died on my lips. I had to put out all my strength with a
sudden effort to keep her from falling. She didn't faint, but her knees
collapsed. I held her for an instant, then supported her till she had
sunk into a chair which was luckily near. If she hadn't been in my arms
I think she would have fallen. Her head lay against the high back of the
grandfather chair, and her face was so white that she reminded me of a
snow-wreath flitting past one's window, ghostlike at twilight.

Her eyes were half closed. She didn't look at me, nor seem to be any
longer conscious of my presence; but I dropped on my knees beside her,
and covered her cold hands with my own.

"I oughtn't to have told you so abruptly," I said. "Sir Beverley trusted
me. I've betrayed his trust. But I thought, as you knew there was hope,
hearing that now it was certainty wouldn't excite you too much. Oh,
Rosemary, dear, think how glorious it will be! No more fears, no more
anxieties. Instead of saying to yourself, 'I have him only for a few
weeks,' you will know that you have years together to look forward to.
You will be like Jim and me. You can travel. You can----"

"Yes," Rosemary almost whispered. "Yes, it is glorious--for Ralston. I
am thankful. You are--good to sympathize so much, and I'm grateful.
I--I'd hardly dreamed before that he _could_ get well. All those
specialists, they were so sure; many of them very celebrated--as
celebrated as Sir Beverley--and he is only one against a dozen. That's
why it is--a surprise, you see."

She was making so violent an effort to control herself that I felt
guiltily conscious of my eyes upon her face. One would have thought
that, instead of giving her the key to happiness, I had handed her that
of a dungeon where she would be shut up for life.

"Would you rather I'd go?" I stammered. "Would you like to be alone?"

She nodded, moistening her lips. "Yes, thank you, Elizabeth," she
breathed. "I--yes, for a little while I'd like to be alone--with my
joy--to pray."

I jumped up like a marionette. "Of course," I said. "I understand."

But I didn't understand, as perhaps she guessed from my quivering voice.

"I wish I could make you--_really_ understand," she sighed. "I--I'm
different from other women. I can't take things as they do--as you
would. But--I told you once, before, _whatever happens I love him_."

"I'm sure you do," I answered, as I opened the door and slipped softly
out. Yet that wasn't so true as it had been a few minutes ago. I felt as
if I'd been through an earthquake which had shaken me up without
warning.

"I'm glad that it was I and not Sir Beverley who told her," I said to
myself. But I said it sadly. The sunshine was dimmed. I longed like a
child to escape from that house--escape quickly, and run to Jim's arms
as to a fortress.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Beverley kept his promise, and sent for a man who had worked with
him in his experiments. Then he went back to Exeter, promising to return
if he were sent for, or in any case to look in once a fortnight.

There was no need, however, to send for him. Ralston Murray got on--as
the new man, Doctor Thomas, said--"like a house on fire."

At first there was little change to be noticed in his appearance. It was
only that the bad symptoms, the constant high temperature, the agonizing
pains in all the bones, and the deadly weakness, diminished and
presently ceased. Then, the next time Jim and I called, I cried out:
"Why, you are _fatter_!"

Murray laughed with a gay, almost boyish ring in his laugh.
"Transformation of the Living Skeleton into the Fat Man!" he cried.
"What a happy world this is, after all, and I'm the happiest man in it;
that is, I would be, if Rosemary weren't shrinking as rapidly as I
increase. What _are_ we to do with her? She says she's perfectly well.
But look at her little face."

We looked at it, and though she smiled as brightly as she could, the
smile was camouflage. Always pearly, her skin was dead white now. Even
the lips had lost their coral red, though she bit them to bring back the
blood, and a slight hollow had broken the exquisite oval of her cheeks.
Her eyes looked far too big; and even her hair had dulled, losing
something of its moonlight sheen.

"I'm perfectly all right!" she insisted. "It's only the reaction after
so much anxiety. _Anybody_ would feel it, in my place."

"Yes, of course," I soothed her. But I knew that there must be more than
that. She looked as if she never slept. My heart yearned over her, yet I
despaired of doing any good. She would not confide in me. All my
confidence in myself as a "Brightener" was gone.



CHAPTER X

THE CLIMAX


From that time on I was haunted by Rosemary's thin, beautiful face, the
suppressed anguish in her eyes, and the wretched conviction that I was
of no use--that I'd stumbled against a high, blank wall. Often at night
I dreamed of her in a feverish way, queer dreams that I couldn't
remember when I waked, though they left me depressed and anxious. And
then, one night nearly four weeks after Murray had been pronounced a
saved man, came the climax.

As usual, I was thinking of the Murrays when I went to bed--how well and
handsome and happy he was, how mysteriously and silently the girl was
fading. I must have dropped off to sleep with these thoughts in my mind,
and how long I slept I don't know, but I waked, sitting up, hearing loud
sobs. At first I imagined they were Rosemary's. Then I realized that
they were my own.

In a moment Jim was with me, holding me tight, as if I were a child.
"Darling one, what is it? Tell Jim!" he implored.

"I don't know," I wailed. "Except the letter--or was it a telegram? And
then that dark precipice! She was on the edge. She called to me:
'Elizabeth--help! help!' But the whole ocean came rolling between us.
Oh, Jim, I _must_ get to her!"

"I suppose it's Rosemary you're talking about," Jim said. "But it was
only a dream, dearest child. You're not awake yet. Nothing has happened
to Rosemary."

But I couldn't be consoled. "I suppose it was a dream," I wept. "But
it's true; I know it is. I _know_ something has happened--something
terrible."

"Well, let's hope it hasn't," soothed Jim. "What could happen in the
middle of the night? It's a quarter to three. We can't do anything till
morning. Then, if you still feel anxious, I'll take you over to the
Manor in the car as early as you like. That is, I will if you're good
and do your best to go to sleep again now."

How I adored him, and how sorry I was for Rosemary because a black cloud
obscured the brightness of her love, which might have been as sweet as
mine!

I couldn't sleep again as Jim wished me to do, but he comforted me, and
the dark hours passed. As soon as it was light, however, I bounded up,
bathed and dressed, and Jim did the same for the sake of "standing by";
which was silly of us, perhaps, because it would be hardly decent to
start before half-past nine. If we did we should reach the Manor at an
absurd hour, especially as Ralston and Rosemary were lazy creatures,
even now, when he was rejoicing in this new lease of life. She hated to
get up early, and he liked to do what she liked.

"If anything had been wrong, I think we should have got a telegram by
this time," said Jim, as he tried to make me eat breakfast. "You know
how quickly a wire is delivered at our office from Merriton, and----"

At that instant a footman appeared with a brown envelope on a silver
tray. It was addressed to "Lady Courtenaye," but I asked Jim to open it
and read the message first.

"Rosemary has--gone," he told me. "Murray asks if, by any chance, she
has come here. There's a 'reply-paid' form; but he wants us to run over
to him if we can."

Jim scrawled an answer:

     Deeply regret she is not here. Will be with you shortly.

and sent it off by the post-office boy who waited, though it was
probable that we should see Murray before our response to his question
reached him.

I think I was never so sorry for any man in my life!

"I have been too happy!" he said, when he had come to meet us in the
hall--walking firmly in these days--and had led us into his study or
"den." "She's such a friend of yours, Elizabeth. Has she consciously or
unconsciously given you some clue?"

"No real clue," I told him, regretfully; "though I may think of a
forgotten hint when we've talked things over. But you must tell us
exactly what has happened."

Poor Murray held himself in iron control. Perhaps he even "hoped for the
best," as Jim urged him to do. But I saw through the false calmness into
a despairing soul. Already the newly lit flame of restored vitality
burned low. He looked years older, and I would have given much if Sir
Beverley or even the understudy had been in the house. Doctor Thomas had
gone a week ago, however, Sir Beverley judging that Murray could now get
on by himself. Alas, he had not guessed how literally the man would be
left alone to do this!

The morning of yesterday had passed, Murray said, in an ordinary way.
Then, by the second post, which arrived after luncheon, a registered
letter had come for Rosemary. Such letters appeared now and then, at
regular intervals, and Rosemary had explained that they were sent on by
her bank in London, and contained enclosures from America. Rosemary
never talked to him of these letters, or of America at all, having told
him once, before their marriage, that her one link with that country now
was her sister. Whether or not she was fond of the sister he could not
say; but she always seemed restless when one of these registered letters
arrived.

Yesterday was no exception to the rule. When the letter was handed to
Rosemary she and her husband were having coffee and cigarettes in her
boudoir. She flushed at sight of the envelope, but tossed it aside
unopened, as though she took no interest in its contents, and continued
the conversation as if it had not been broken off. Murray felt uneasily
conscious, however, that she was thinking of the letter, and made an
excuse to leave her alone so that she might read it in peace. Depressed
and anxious, he strolled out on the lawn with the dogs. One of them made
a rush at the open bay window into the boudoir; and, snatching the
animal back by its collar, Murray caught a glimpse of Rosemary burning
something in the grate.

Soon after she had joined him out of doors, and had made an effort to be
gay. He had thought, however, that she was absent-minded, and he longed
to ask what the trouble was; but America as a subject of conversation
was taboo.

For the rest of the day they were mostly together, and never had
Rosemary been so loving or so sweet.

At night Ralston had remained with his wife in her room till twelve.
They had talked of their wonderful meeting on the _Aquitania_, and the
life to which it had led. Then the clock striking midnight reminded
Rosemary that it was late. She had a headache, she said, and would take
some aspirin. Murray was banished to his own room, which adjoined hers,
but the door was left open between.

It was some time before Ralston went to sleep, yet he heard no sound
from Rosemary's room. At last, however, he must have slumbered heavily,
for he knew no more till dawn. Somehow, he had got into the habit of
rousing at six, though he generally dozed again. This time he waked as
usual, and, remembering Rosemary's headache, tiptoed to the door and
peeped into the darkened room. To his surprise she was not in bed.
Still, he was not worried. His thought was that she had risen early and
stealthily, not to rouse him, and that she had gone to the bathroom next
door to bathe and dress for an early walk.

He tapped at the bathroom door, but getting no answer, turned the
handle. Rosemary was not in the room, and there were no towels lying
about.

Murray's next move was to draw back the curtains across one of the open
windows; and it was then that he saw an envelope stuck into the mirror
over the dressing table. His name was on it, and with a stab of
apprehension he broke the seal.

The letter which this envelope had contained he showed to Jim and me. It
was written in pencil, and was very short. It said:

     Good-bye, my Beloved. I must go, and I cannot even tell you why.
     You may find out some day, but I hope not, for both our sakes. It
     would only make you more unhappy. You would hate me, I think, if
     you knew the truth. But oh, try not to do that. I love you so much!
     I am so happy that you are growing well and strong, yet if I had
     known I should not have dared to marry you, because from the first
     this that has happened was bound to happen. Forgive me for hurting
     you. I didn't mean to do it. I thought only to make your last days
     on this earth happier, and to keep a blessed memory for myself.
     While I live I shall love you, but it will be best for you to
     forget.

     Rosemary.

In spite of this farewell, Ralston had hoped to hear something of
Rosemary from me. At all events, he wanted our advice, Jim's and mine.

It was a blow to him that we had no news to give; and it was hard even
to offer advice. What could we say? I had known for long that the girl
was miserable, and this sudden break-up of everything was more of a
shock than a surprise. I was afraid to say: "Get her back at any price!"
for--the price (not in money but in heart's blood) might prove too high.
Instead I hedged.

"What if Rosemary is right?" I ventured. "What if it _would_ be best as
she says, for both your sakes, to let her go?"

Murray's eyes flashed rage. "Is that your _real_ advice?" he flung at
me. "If it is, you're not the woman I thought you. I'll move heaven and
earth to get Rosemary back, because we love each other, and nothing else
matters."

"Well, that's what I wanted to find out!" I exclaimed in a changed tone.
"That's the way I should feel in your place----"

"I, too!" chimed in Jim.

"And since that _is_ the way you feel," I went on, "I've thought of
something, or rather, _someone_, that may help. Mrs. Paul Jennings."

Ralston stared, and repeated the name.

"Mrs. Paul Jennings? What is she likely to know about Rosemary's secrets
that you don't know?"

"That's for you to find out," I answered. "It's an impression I have. I
may be mistaken. But it's worth trying. I should send for Mrs. Paul
Jennings if I were you."

"I will!" cried Murray. "I'll send a note now--and the car to fetch her
here."



CHAPTER XI

WHAT GABY TOLD


It seemed to us that hours dragged heavily by, between the time that the
motor left and the time when we heard it draw up at the front door. A
moment later, and Gaby Jennings was shown into Murray's den, where we
three were waiting.

Ralston had said in his short note that Rosemary had gone away suddenly,
and that he was most anxious. But there was no sign of distress on the
Frenchwoman's face. On the contrary, those big dark eyes of hers, which
could be so languorous, looked hard as glass as she smiled at me and
nodded at Jim.

Her voice was soft, however, when she answered Ralston's question.

"Ah, my poor Major!" she gently bleated. "You have all my sympathy. I
could say nothing. But I always feared--I feared this would come!"

Ralston braced himself. "You know something, then?" he exclaimed. "You
have something to tell me!"

"I do know something--yes," she said. "But whether I have something to
tell--ah, that is different. I must think first."

"You mean, you wish to consult Paul," he prompted her. "But I can't wait
for that. For heaven's sake, Mrs. Jennings, speak out; don't keep me in
suspense."

"I did not mean to consult Paul," Gaby replied. "When I read your note I
told Paul you asked me to come over alone, though it was not true. It is
better that we talk without Paul listening."

"Shall Jim and I go away?" I asked quickly, speaking not to her, but to
Ralston.

"No," he answered. "Mrs. Jennings can have nothing to say about Rosemary
which I wouldn't care for you and Jim to hear."

I saw from Gaby's face that this verdict annoyed her, but she shrugged
her pretty shoulders. "As you will," she said. "For me, I would rather
Sir James and Lady Courtenaye were not here. But what matter? You would
repeat to them what passes between us."

"Doubtless I should," Ralston agreed. "Now tell me what you have to
tell, I beg."

"It is a very big thing," Gaby began. "Rosemary did not want me to tell.
She offered me bribes. I refused, because I would not bind myself. Yet
there is a favour you could do for me--for us--Major Murray. If you
would promise--I could not resist giving up Rosemary's secret."

Ralston's face had hardened. I saw his dislike of her and what she
suggested. But he could not afford to refuse, and perhaps lose all
chance of finding his wife.

"Will what you have to tell help me to get Rosemary back?" he asked.

"Yes--if after you have heard you still want her back," Gaby hedged. "I
can tell you where she is likely to be."

"Nothing on God's earth you could tell would make me not want her back!"
he cried. "What is this favour you speak of?"

"It is only that I ask you to take my husband as your doctor. Oh, do not
think it is from Paul I come! He does not know Rosemary's secret, or
that I make a price for this. If you do this--and why not, since Paul is
a good doctor, and you have now finished with others?--I will tell you
all I know about your wife."

As she went on I was thinking fast. Poor Rosemary! I was sure that Gaby
had tried to work upon her fears--had promised secrecy if Mrs. Murray
would get Doctor Jennings taken on as Ralston's physician. At first
Rosemary had been inclined to yield. That must have been at the time
when she wired to stop Sir Beverley's visit, if not too late. Then we
had appeared on the scene, saying that it _was_ too late, and urging
that Sir Beverley might offer Ralston a chance of life. At this
Rosemary's love for her husband had triumphed over fears for her own
sake. She had realized that by keeping Sir Beverley away she might be
standing between her husband and life itself. If there were a ray of
hope for him, she determined to help, not hinder, no matter what the
cost.

Once she had refused Mrs. Jennings' request, she had been at the woman's
mercy; but Gaby had waited, expecting the thing that had happened
to-day, and seeing that her best chance for the future lay with Murray.
As for Jennings, it might be true that he wasn't in the plot; but if my
theory concerning the portraits were correct, he certainly _was_ in it,
and had at least partially planned the whole scheme.

I was so afraid Ralston might accept the bargain without stopping to
think, that I spoke without giving him time to open his lips. "Before
you decide to take Paul Jennings as your doctor, send for an expert to
look through your collection of portraits!"

"What have the portraits to do with Doctor Jennings?" asked Ralston,
astonished.

I stared at Gaby Jennings as I answered; but a woman who uses liquid
powder is fortified against a blush.

"That's what I want you to find out before making a bargain with his
wife. All I know is, there are modern copies in the frames which once
held your greatest treasures. Only a person free to come and go here for
months could bring off such a fraud without too much risk. And if Doctor
Jennings _had_ brought it off, would he be a safe person to look after
the health of the man he'd cheated?"

Gaby Jennings sprang to her feet. "Lady Courtenaye, my husband can sue
you for slander!" she cried.

"He can; but will he?" I retorted.

"I go to tell him of what he is accused by you!" she said. "There is no
fear for us, because you have no proof. But it is finished now! I leave
this house where I have been insulted, and Major Murray may search the
world. He will never find his lost wife!"

"Stop, Mrs. Jennings!" Murray commanded, sharply. "The house is mine,
and _I_ have not insulted you. I thank Lady Courtenaye for trying to
protect me. But I don't intend to make any accusations against your
husband or you. Tell me what you know, and I will write a letter asking
Jennings to attend me as my doctor. That I promise."

Gaby Jennings threw me a look of triumph; and I am ashamed to say that
for a minute I was so angry at the man's foolhardiness that I hardly
cared what happened to him. But it was for a minute only. I felt that
Jim would have done the same in his place; and I was anxious to help him
in spite of himself.

The Frenchwoman accepted the promise, but suggested that Major Murray
might now wish to change his mind: he might like to be alone with her
when she made her revelations. Ralston was so far loyal to us, however,
that he refused to let us go. We were his best friends, and he was
deeply grateful, even though he had to act against our advice.

"Let them hear, then, that Rosemary Brandreth is Rosemary Brandreth to
this hour--not Rosemary Murray," Gaby Jennings snapped out. "She is not
your wife, because Guy Brandreth is not dead, and they are not divorced.
She does not even love you, Major Murray. She loves madly her real
husband, and left him only because she was jealous of some flirtation he
had with another woman. Then she met you--on shipboard, was it not?--and
this idea came into her head: to go through a ceremony of marriage, and
get what she could to feather her nest when you were dead, and she was
free to return home."

"My God! You lie!" broke out Ralston.

"I do not lie. I can prove to you that I do not. I knew Guy and Rosemary
Brandreth before I left the stage. I was acting in the States. People
made much of me there, as in England, in those days. In a big town
called Baltimore, in Maryland, I met the Brandreths. I met them at their
own house and at other houses where I was invited. There could be no
mistake. But when I saw the lady here, as your wife, I might have
thought her husband was dead; I might have thought that, and no
more--except for one thing: she was foolish: she showed that she was
afraid of me. Because of her manner I suspected something wrong. Letters
take ages, so I cabled to a man who had been nice to me in Baltimore. It
was a long message I sent, with several questions. Soon the answer came.
It told me that Captain Guy Brandreth is now stationed in Washington. He
is alive, and not divorced from his wife. They had a little quarrel, and
she sailed for Europe, to stay three or four months, but there was not
even gossip about a separation when she went away. My friend said that
Captain Brandreth talked often about being anxious for his wife to come
back, and instead of taking advantage of her absence, he no longer
flirted with the lady of whom Mrs. Brandreth had been jealous. Now you
have heard all--and you _see_ all, don't you? I know about the codicil
added to your will. You remember, my husband witnessed it, one day when
Sir James Courtenaye had meant to come over, but could not? Mrs.
Brandreth arranged cleverly. If you had died, as she was sure you would
die before the time when she was expected back, she could easily have
got your money--everything of which you had been possessed. She
waited--always hoping that you might die. But at last she had to give
up. She could stay no longer without fear of what her American husband
might do. If you don't believe, I will show you the cablegrams I have
received. But, in any case, you must read them!" And pulling from her
hand-bag several folded papers, Gaby forced them upon Ralston.

Oh, with what horrible plausibility the story hung together! It fitted
in with everything I had ever guessed, suspected, or known of
Rosemary--except her ethereal sweetness, her seeming love for the man
she had now deserted. Could she have pretended well enough to deceive me
in spite of my suspicions? Above all, would she have offered the blood
from her veins to save Ralston Murray if she had not wanted him to live?

My head buzzed with questions, and no answers were ready. Still I could
see, confusedly, that the terrible imposture Rosemary was accused of
might have been committed by a woman who loved its victim. Meeting him
on shipboard, old feelings might have crept back into her heart. On a
mad impulse she might have agreed to make his last weeks on earth happy.
As for the money, that extra temptation might have appealed to the worst
side of her nature.

When Ralston implored desperately, "Do _you_ believe this of Rosemary?"
I could not speak for a moment. I glanced from his despairing face to
Jim's perplexed one. Almost, I stammered, "I'm afraid I do believe!" But
the look I caught in Gaby's eyes as I turned stopped the words on my
lips.

"No, I _don't_ believe it of her--I can't, and won't!" I cried.

"God help me, I do!" groaned Ralston, and breaking down at last, he
covered his face with his hands.



CHAPTER XII

THE WOMAN IN THE THEATRE


Well, there we had to leave matters for the moment.

Ralston Murray loved us very much, but he didn't wish for our advice.
Indeed, he wished for nothing at all from any one--except to be let
alone.

He had said to Gaby Jennings that he would always want Rosemary back
whatever he heard about her past; but now, believing Gaby's story with
its additional proofs, at all events he had no more hope of getting her
back. In his eyes she was another man's wife. He did not expect to see
her again in this world.

Jim and I could do nothing with him: Jim was helpless because he also,
at heart, believed Gaby, and defended Rosemary only to please me; I had
ceased to be of use, because I could give no reason for my faith in her.
What good to say: "There must be some awful misunderstanding!" when
there were those cablegrams from Baltimore and Washington? Gaby would
not have shown copies of her own messages with the address of her
correspondent, if she hadn't been willing that Murray should make
inquiries as to the man's identity and bona fides.

We could not persuade him to wait, before keeping his promise to Mrs.
Jennings, until he had heard from America. He knew what he should hear,
he said. Besides, a promise was a promise. He didn't care whether Paul
had stolen his heirlooms or not, but there was no proof that he had, and
people must be presumed innocent until they were found to be guilty. Nor
did he care what Jennings' designs on him might be. It was too
far-fetched to suppose that the man had any designs; but no greater
kindness could now be done to him, Ralston, than to put him for ever out
of his misery.

This was mad talk; but in a way Ralston Murray went mad that day when he
lost Rosemary. No doctor, no alienist, would have pronounced him mad, of
course. Rather would I have seemed insane in my defence of Rosemary
Brandreth. But when the man's heart broke, something snapped in his
brain. All was darkness there. He had turned his back on hope, and could
not bear to hear the word.

We did persuade him, in justice to Rosemary, to let us cable a New York
detective agency whose head Jim had known well. This man was instructed
to learn whether Gaby's friend had told the truth about Captain
Brandreth and his wife: whether she had sailed for Europe on the
_Aquitania_, upon a certain date; and whether the pair had been living
together before Mrs. Brandreth left for Europe.

When news came confirming Gaby's story, and, a little later, mentioning
that Mrs. Brandreth had returned from abroad, Ralston said: "I knew it
would be so. There's nothing more to do." But I felt that there was a
great deal more to do; and I was bent on doing it. The next thing was to
induce Jim to let me do it.

To my first proposition he agreed willingly. Now that I had shot my
bolt, there was no longer any objection to employing detectives against
the Jenningses. Indeed, there was a strong incentive. If their guilt
could be proved, Ralston Murray would not be quite insane enough to keep
Paul on as his doctor.

We both liked the idea of putting my old friend Mr. Smith on to the
case, and applied to him upon our own responsibility, without a word to
Murray. But this was nothing compared with my second suggestion. I
wanted to rush over to America and see for myself whether Rosemary was
living in Washington as the wife of Guy Brandreth.

"What! You'd leave me here, and go across the Atlantic without me on a
wild-goose chase?" Jim shouted.

"Who said anything about my going without you?" I retorted. "Oh, darling
Man, _do_ take me!"

That settled it: and as soon as the thing was decided, we were both keen
to start. Our one cause for hesitation was fear for Ralston Murray's
safety, now that he had so recklessly flung himself into Paul Jennings'
hands. Still, in the circumstances, we could do little good if we stayed
at home. Ralston had shut himself up, refusing to see any one--including
ourselves. His mental state was bad enough to sap his newly restored
health, even if I did Doctor Paul Jennings a grave injustice; and Mr.
Smith could watch the Jenningses better than we could.

I did take the precaution to write Sir Beverley that his late patient
had fallen into the clutches of the Merriton doctor, and beg him to call
at the Manor some day, declining to take 'no' for an answer if he were
refused at the door: and then we sailed. It was on the _Aquitania_
again, and every moment brought back some recollection of Rosemary and
Ralston Murray.

We travelled straight to Washington after landing, and were met at the
station by the young detective Jim's friend had engaged. He had
collected the information we needed for the beginning of our campaign,
and had bought tickets for the first performance of a new play that
night.

"The Brandreths have a party going," he said, "and your places are next
to theirs. Yours are at the end of the row, so they'll have to pass you
going in, if you're early on the spot."

I liked that detective. He had "struck" a smart idea!

We had only just time to dress and dine at our hotel, and dash to the
theatre in a taxi, if we wished to arrive when the doors were opened.

It was lucky we did this, for the audience assembled promptly, in order
to hear some music written for the new play by a popular composer. We
had hardly looked through the programme after settling down in our
chairs when a familiar fragrance floated to me. It was what I had always
called "Rosemary's _leitmotif_," expressed in perfume. I turned my head,
and--there she was in great beauty coming along the aisle with three or
four men and as many pretty women.

I had got myself up that night expressly to attract
attention--Rosemary's attention. I was determined that she should not,
while laughing and talking with her friends, pass me by without
recognition. Consequently, I was dressed more suitably for a ball than a
play. I had on a gown of gold tissue, and my second best tiara, to say
nothing of a few more scattered diamonds and a double rope of pearls. It
was impossible for the most absent-minded eye to miss me, or my
black-browed, red-haired giant in evening dress--Jim. As I looked over
my shoulder at Rosemary, therefore, she looked at me. Our gaze
encountered, and--my jaw almost dropped. She showed not the slightest
sign of surprise; did not start, did not blush or turn pale. Her lovely
face expressed good-natured admiration, that was all.

She glanced at Jim, too--as all women do glance--with interest. But it
was purely impersonal interest, as if to say, "There's a _man_!"

Those black brows of his drew together in disapproval, because she had
no right to be so rosy and happy, so much more voluptuous in her beauty
than she had been when with Ralston Murray. Rosemary, however, seemed
quite unconscious of Jim's disgust. She had an air of conquering,
conscious charm, as if all the world must love and admire her--such an
air as she had never worn in our experience. Having looked us over with
calm admiration she marshalled her guests, and was especially charming
to one of the women, a dark, glowing creature almost as beautiful as
herself. Something within me whispered: "_That's_ the woman she was
jealous of! This party is meant to advertise that they're the best of
friends."

"Guy, you're to sit next Mrs. Dupont," she directed; and at the sound of
her voice my heart gave a little jump. There was a different quality
about this voice--a contralto quality. It was heavier, richer, less
flutelike than Rosemary's used to be.

Mrs. Dupont and Guy Brandreth passed us to reach their chairs. Guy was a
square-jawed, rather ugly, but extremely masculine young man of a type
intensely attractive to women.

"She wants to show everyone how she trusts him now!" I thought. "She's
giving him Mrs. Dupont practically to himself for the evening."

All the party pushed by, Rosemary and an elderly man, who, it appeared,
was Mr. Dupont, coming last. He sat between her and me, and they chatted
together before the music began; but now and then she looked past him at
me, without the slightest sign of embarrassment.

"Jim," I whispered, "_it isn't Rosemary_!"

"Well--I was wondering!" he answered. "But--it _must_ be."

"It simply _isn't_," I insisted. "To-morrow I'm going to call on Mrs.
Guy Brandreth."

"Supposing she won't see you?"

"She will," I said. "I shall ring her up early before she can possibly
be out, and make an appointment."

"If it is Rosemary, when she knows who you are she won't----" began Jim,
but I cut him short. I repeated again the same obstinate words: "It is
_not_ Rosemary."

       *       *       *       *       *

I called up Mrs. Guy Brandreth at nine o'clock next morning, and heard
the rich contralto voice asking "_Who_ is it?"

"Lady Courtenaye at Willard's Hotel," I boldly answered. "I've come from
England on purpose to see you. I have very important things to say."

There was a slight pause; then the voice answered with a new vibration
in it: "When can you come? Or--no! When can you have me call on you?
That would be better."

"I can have you call as soon as you care to start," I replied. "The
sooner the better."

"I'm not dressed," said the quivering voice. "But I'll be with you at
ten o'clock."

I told Jim, and we arranged that he should be out of the way till
ten-thirty. Then he was to walk into our private sitting room, where I
would receive Mrs. Brandreth. I thought that by that time we should be
ready for him.



CHAPTER XIII

MRS. BRANDRETH'S STORY


She came--into a room with all the blinds up, the curtains pushed back,
and floods of sunshine streaming in.

Just for an instant I was chilled with doubt of last night's impression,
for her face was so pale and anxious that she was more like Rosemary
than had been the red-rose vision at the theatre. But she was genuinely
surprised at sight of me.

"Why!" she exclaimed. "You are the lovely lady who sat next us at the
play!"

"Does my name suggest nothing to you?" I asked.

"Nothing," she echoed.

"Then we'll sit down, and I'll tell you a story," I suggested.

I began with the _Aquitania_: the man in the cushioned deck-chair, going
home condemned to die; the beautiful girl who appeared on the second day
out; the recognition. I mentioned no names. When I said, however, that
years ago the two had been engaged, a sudden light flashed into my
visitor's eyes. She would have interrupted, but I begged her to let me
go on; and she sat silent while I told the whole story. Then, before she
had time to speak, I said: "There's just _one_ thing I know! You are not
the woman who came to England and married Ralston Murray. If you have a
heart in your breast, you'll tell me where to find that woman. He will
die unless she goes back to him."

Her lips parted, but she pressed them tightly together again. I saw her
muscles stiffen in sympathy with some resolve.

"The woman, whoever she was, must have personated me for a reason of her
own," she answered. "It's as deep a mystery to me as to you."

I looked her in the eyes. "That's not true. Mrs. Brandreth," I flung at
her, brutally. "In spite of what I've said, you're afraid of me. I give
you my most sacred word that you shall be protected if you will help, as
you alone can, to save Ralston Murray. It is only if you _refuse_ your
help that you may suffer. In that case, my husband and I will fight for
our friend. We won't consider you at all. Now that we have a strong clue
to this seeming mystery, and it is already close to our hands,
everything that you have done or have not done will soon come out."

The beautiful woman broke down and began to cry. "What I did I had a
right to do!" she sobbed. "There was no harm! It was as much for the
sake of my husband's future happiness as my own, but if he finds out
he'll never love or trust me again. Men are so cruel!"

"Tell me who went to England in your place, when you pretended to sail,
and he sha'n't find out. Only ourselves and Ralston Murray need ever
know," I urged.

"It was--my twin sister," she gasped, "my sister Mary-Rose Hillier, who
sailed on the _Aquitania_ as Mrs. Guy Brandreth. It was the only way I
could think of, so that I could be near my husband and watch him without
his having the slightest suspicion of what was going on. Mary-Rose owed
me a lot of money which I couldn't really afford to do without. It was
when she was still in England, before she came to America, that I let
her have it. My mother was dreadfully ill, and Mary-Rose adored her. She
wanted to call in great specialists, and begged me to help her. At first
I thought I couldn't. Guy and I are not rich! But he was flirting with a
woman--a cat of a woman: you saw her last night. I was nearly desperate.
Suddenly an idea came to me. I sold a rope of pearls I had, first
getting it copied, and making my sister promise she would do whatever I
asked if I sent her the thousand pounds she wanted. You look shocked--I
suppose because I bargained over my mother's health. But my husband was
more to me than my mother or any one else. Besides, Mother hadn't wished
me to marry Guy. She didn't want me to jilt Ralston Murray. I couldn't
forgive her for the way she behaved, and I never saw her after my
runaway wedding."

"So it was you, and not your sister, who was engaged to Ralston Murray
eight years ago!" I couldn't resist.

"Yes. It happened abroad--as you know, perhaps. Mary-Rose was away at a
boarding school, and they never met. The whole affair was so short, so
quickly over, I doubt if I ever even told Ralston that my sister and I
were twins. But he gave me a lot of lovely presents, and refused to take
them back--wrote that he'd burn them, pearls and all, if I sent them to
him. Yes, the pearls I sold were a gift from him when we were engaged.
And there were photographs of Ralston that Mary-Rose wouldn't let me
destroy. She kept them herself. She was sorry for Ralston--hearing the
story, and seeing some of his letters. She was a romantic girl, and
thought him the ideal man. She was half in love, without having seen him
in the flesh."

"That is why she couldn't resist, on the _Aquitania_," I murmured. "When
Ralston asked her to marry him, she fell in love with the reality, I
suppose. Poor girl, what she must have gone through, unable to tell him
the truth, because she'd pledged herself to keep your secret, whatever
happened! I begin to see the whole thing now! When your mother died in
spite of the specialists, you made the girl come over to this side,
without your husband or any one knowing. You hid her in New York. You
planned your trip to Europe. You left Washington. Your cabin was taken
on the _Aquitania_, and Mary-Rose Hillier sailed as Rosemary Brandreth,
wearing clothes of yours, and even using the same perfume."

"You've guessed it," she confessed. "We'd arranged what to do, in case
Guy went to the ship with me. But he and I were rather on official terms
because of things I'd said about Mrs. Dupont, and he let me travel to
New York alone. I learned from a famous theatrical wig-maker how to
disguise myself, and I lived in lodgings not half a mile from our house
for three months, watching what he did every day. At first I didn't find
out much, but later I began to see that I'd done him an injustice. He
didn't care seriously for the Dupont woman. It was only a flirtation. So
I was in a hurry to get Mary-Rose over here again, and reappear myself."

"Why did you have to insist on her coming back to America?" I asked,
trying not to show how disgusted I was with the selfishness of the
creature--selfishness which had begun long ago, in throwing Ralston
over, and now without a thought had wrecked her sister's life.

"Oh, to have her book her passage in my name and sail for home was the
only safe way! All had gone so well, I wouldn't spoil it at the end."

"All had gone well with _you_," I said. "But what about _her_?"

"She didn't tell me what you've told me to-day. I supposed till almost
the last that she was just travelling about, as we planned for her to
do. The only address I had was Mother's old bank, which was to forward
everything to Mary-Rose, on her own instructions. Then, a few weeks ago,
she wrote and asked if I could manage without her coming back to
America. She said it would make a lot of difference in her life, but she
didn't explain what she meant. If she'd made a clean breast of
everything I might have thought of some other way out; but----"

"But as _she_ didn't, _you_ didn't," I finished the sentence. "Oh, how
different Mary-Rose Hillier is in heart from her sister Rosemary
Brandreth, though their faces are almost identical! She was always
thinking of you, and her promise to you. That promise was killing
her--that and her love for Ralston Murray. She didn't want his money,
and when she found he was determined to make a will in her favour she
thought of a way in which everything would come to _you_. It was you he
really loved--no doubt she argued with herself--and he wanted you to
inherit his fortune. Oh, poor tortured girl!--and I used to suspect that
she was mercenary. But, thank Heaven, Ralston didn't die, as he expected
so soon to do when he made that hurried will. The woman he truly loves
was never married before, and is his legal wife. Now, when she goes back
to him and he hears the whole truth he will be so happy that he'll live
for years, strong and well."

"I don't believe even you can induce Mary-Rose to go back to Ralston
Murray," Mrs. Brandreth said. "She wouldn't think he could forgive her
for deceiving him."

"He could forgive her anything after what he went through in losing
her," I said. "When you've told me where to find your sister, I will
tell her that--and a lot more things besides."

"Well, if you can make her see your point of view!" Mrs. Brandreth
grudged. "If _my_ secret is kept, I hope Mary-Rose may be happy. I don't
grudge her Ralston Murray or his fortune; but when she feels herself
_quite_ safe as his wife she can pay me my thousand pounds."

"She _has_ paid you, and more, with her heart's blood!" I exclaimed.
"Where is she?"

"In New York. She told me she could never go to England again after what
had happened there. She seems awfully down, and I left her deciding
whether she should enter a charitable sisterhood. They take girls
without money, if they'll work in the slums, and Mary-Rose was anxious
to do that."

"She won't be when she understands what work lies before her across the
sea," I retorted.

Even as I spoke--and as Mrs. Guy Brandreth was writing down her sister's
address--I mentally marshalled the arguments I would use: the need to
save Ralston from himself, and above all from Paul and Gaby Jennings.
But, oh, the sudden stab I felt as those names came to my mind!

_How_ keep the secret when Gaby Jennings had known the real Rosemary
Brandreth in Baltimore? All the complications would have to be explained
to her, if she were not to spread scandal--if she were not to whisper
revengefully among her friends: "Ralston Murray isn't really married to
his wife. I could have her arrested as a bigamist if I chose!"

It was an awful question, that question of Gaby Jennings. But the answer
came like balm, after the stab, and that answer was--"_The pictures._"

By the time Jim and I reached England again, taking Mary-Rose with us,
my tame detective would have got at the truth about the stolen
treasures, and who had made the copies. Then all that Ralston need do
would be to say: "Tell the lies you want to tell about my wife (who _is_
my wife!); spread any gossip at all--and you go to prison, you and your
husband. Keep silence, and I will do the same."

Well, we found Mary-Rose in New York. At first she was horrified at
sight of us. Her one desire had been to hide. But after I had talked
myself nearly dumb, and Jim had got in a word or two edgewise, she began
to hope. Even then she would not go back, though, until I had written
out her story for Ralston to read. He was to decide, and wire either
"Come to me," or "I cannot forgive."

We took her to our hotel, to await the answer; but there something
happened which changed the whole outlook. A long cablegram was delivered
to me some days before it would be possible to hear from Ralston. It was
from Mr. Smith, and said:

     G. J. and husband proved guilty portrait fraud. Woman's father
     clever old Parisian artist smuggled to England copy pictures. Her
     career on stage ruined by cocaine and attempt to change friend's
     jewels for false. When she attempted nursing in war, went to pieces
     again; health saved by P. J., but would not have married him if he
     had not pretended to be R. M.'s heir. R. M. so ill I took liberty
     send for Sir B. D. as you directed. Sir B. D. proved nothing
     positive against P. J., but suspicion so strong I got rid of couple
     by springing portrait discoveries on them and threatening arrest.
     They agreed leave England if allowed do so quietly. Consulted R.
     M., who wished them to go, and they have already gone. Sir B. D.
     installed at Manor. Things going better but patient weak. Hope you
     think I did right.--

     Smith.

I showed this message to Ralston's wife; and she said what I knew she
would say: "Oh, let's sail at once! Even if he doesn't want me, I must
be _near_."

Of course he did want her. He loved her so much that--it seemed to
him--the only person who had to be forgiven was that creature in
Washington. Her he forgave because, if it hadn't been for her selfish
scheme he would never have met his "life-saving angel."

Yes, that is his name for her now. It is a secret name, yet not so sweet
as Jim's for me. But that's a secret! And it's better than "The
Brightener."

THE END



BOOKS BY C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON


    A Soldier of the Legion
    Everyman's Land
    It Happened in Egypt
    Lady Betty Across the Water
    Lord Loveland Discovers America
    My Friend the Chauffeur
    Princess Virginia
    Rosemary in Search of a Father
    Secret History
    Set in Silver
    The Brightener
    The Car of Destiny
    The Chaperon
    The Golden Silence
    The Great Pearl Secret
    The Guests of Hercules
    The Heather Moon
    The Lightning Conductor
    The Lightning Conductor Discovers America
    The Lion's Mouse
    The Motor Maid
    The Port of Adventure
    The Princess Passes
    The Second Latchkey





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