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Title: Faithful Margaret - A Novel
Author: Ashmore, Annie
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 "Faithful Margaret - A Novel" ***

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by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions
(www.canadiana.org))



                          FAITHFUL MARGARET.

                              _A Novel._

                       ROBERTSON'S CHEAP SERIES

                   POPULAR READING AT POPULAR PRICES.

                          BY ANNIE ASHMORE.


    "Vengeance for any cruel wrong
      Bringeth a dark renown;
    But fadeless wreaths to her belong
      Who calmly bears it down;
    Who, scorning every mean redress,
      Each recreant art abjures,
    Safe in the noble consciousness,
    _She conquers who endures_."


    TORONTO:
    J. ROSS ROBERTSON,
    CORNER KING AND BAY STREETS.

    1880.



FAITHFUL MARGARET.



CHAPTER I.

A DYING WOMAN'S COMMAND.


She was dying--good old Ethel Brand, the mistress for half a century of
the hoary castle which stood like an ancient cathedral in the midst of
the noble estate in Surrey, Seven-Oak Waaste.

No need now of these whispering attendants, and that anxious little
physician; she would not trouble them more. No need for these grim
medicine vials, marshaled upon the little table near her couch; she was
past mortal needs or mortal help; her face, set in cold repose, seemed
glistening with supernal light, while waiting for the fatal kiss of
death.

And over her bent a woman, breathless, pulseless, motionless, as if
carved from stone, listening, with straining ear, for each slow,
rattling breath; watching, with great, glistening eyes, for each
darkening shadow over the noble face--Margaret Walsingham.

No high-born dame was she; no fortunate next-of-kin, watching with
decorous lament for the moment of emancipation from her weary wait for a
dead woman's shoes. Only Mrs. Brand's poor companion, Margaret
Walsingham.

Four years had she ministered to the whims, the caprices, the erratic
impulses of that most erratic of all creations, an eccentric old woman;
and exalting the good which she found, and pardoning the frailties she
could not blind her eyes to, her presence had become a sweet necessity
to the world-weary dowager, who repaid it by unceasing exactions and
doting outbursts of gratitude; and there had been much love between
these two.

Paler waxed the high patrician face, darker grew the violet circles
beneath her heavy eyes.

Margaret clasped her hands convulsively.

"Will she go before seven?" whispered she.

Old Dr. Gay stooped low and listened to the labored inspiration.

"Going--going fast," he said, with faltering lips.

A wail burst from the crowd of servants standing by the door; sobs and
tears attested to the love they had borne their dying mistress.

"Hush!" whispered Margaret. "Do not awake her."

"They'll never wake her more," said Dr. Gay, mournfully.

She turned at that with terror in her eyes; she laid a small, strong
hand upon the doctor's arm and clung to it convulsively.

"She must live to see St. Udo Brand," said she, in a low, thrilling
voice. "She must, I tell you--it is her dearest, her last wish--it is my
most earnest prayer. Surely you will not let her die before that wish is
fulfilled?"

She gazed with passionate entreaty in the little doctor's face, and her
voice rose into a wail at the last words. He regarded her with helpless
sympathy and shook his head.

"She can't live half an hour longer," said Dr. Gay. "She'll not see St.
Udo Brand."

A fierce shudder seized Margaret Walsingham from head to foot. The blood
forsook her lips, the light her eyes--she stood silent, the picture of
heart-sick despair.

She had often appealed to Dr. Gay's admiration by her faithfulness, her
kindness, her timidly masked self-sacrifices; she appealed straight to
his heart now by her patient suffering, unconscious as he was of its
cause.

"I will do what I can to keep up her strength," he said, approaching the
bed to gaze anxiously again at the slumberer. "I will try another
stimulant, if I can only get her to swallow it. Perhaps the London train
may be here by that time."

"Thank you! oh, thank you!" murmured Margaret; gratefully. "You little
know the desperate need there is for Mrs. Brand seeing her grandson
before she dies."

Tears welled to her eloquent eyes, her lips trembled distressfully, she
waved the servants from the room and followed them out.

"Symonds, I wish you to hasten immediately to Regis for Mr. Davenport,
the lawyer," said she, when she had dismissed the other servants down
stairs. "Give him this note and drive him back here as quickly as you
can drive."

She dropped her note into the groom's hand, and watched him from the
oriel hall window, as he hurried from the court below, out into the
deepening twilight, from the road which went to the pretty little
village of Regis, some two miles distant.

She stood in the waning light, watching for the lawyer's coming, and her
thoughts were wild and bitter.

She had a _doom_ to confront, as terrible to her as unsought martyrdom
is to the quailing victim of a blinded hate; a _doom_ from which she
fain would court grim death himself if he would open his gates to let
her escape; a humiliating and revolting _doom_ from which she recoiled
with vehement dislike, every nerve in her high-strung frame quivering
with horror.

Ethel Brand had ever been capricious in her life, but of all the mad,
impulsive freaks which her lonely heart had led her into, her last
caprice was the most ill-advised, the most disastrous.

Margaret Walsingham had answered Mrs. Brand's advertisement for a
companion four years previously, when she was a pale, timid girl of
twenty, clad in orphan's weeds, and scarce lifting her deep, earnest
eyes to the inquisitive gaze of her patroness; but her quiet, grave,
soulful character had strangely fascinated the haughty old lady, and
from the humble post which she had gone to Castle Brand to fill, she
quickly rose to be the prime object of all its mistress' dreams, to be
beloved, and indulged, and admired as no living mortal had ever been by
that closely-guarded heart, save St. Udo Brand. Margaret Walsingham was
a sea-captain's daughter. Up to her twelfth year she had sailed the seas
in his ship and looked to him for society; and not till then was she
sent on shore to be educated. Still the stout captain had been ambitious
for his daughter, and had taken care that her education, when it did
commence, should be thorough, comprehensive and elegant in all its
branches; so that when after eight years of ceaseless learning on her
part, and ceaseless voyaging on his, he proposed going home to England
and retiring with his daughter upon a handsome fortune, she was well
fitted to adorn the society he intended to surround her with. But the
ill-starred captain went down in a Biscay gale when also within sight of
home, and with him went his whole life's savings, leaving his Margaret
fatherless, homeless and fortuneless.

And that was why she answered Mrs. Brand's advertisement.

St. Udo Brand was an officer in the Coldstream Guards, now in London. He
was the only son of Mrs. Brand's only son, Colonel Cathcart Brand, long
dead.

Cathcart Brand had been a sad rake, lawless, reckless, and a natural
spendthrift. The one act of worldly wisdom which he had ever achieved
was his marriage, late in life, with a lady of noble birth, whose
ambitious leanings and insatiable vanity had scourged the easy colonel
up into the highest social circles, and in some measure covered his
_blasé_ reputation with her gilded arms.

St. Udo Brand was said to have inherited his father's determined
extravagance united to his mother's magnificent tastes; his father's
careless, dashing, unscrupulous character, and his mother's proud,
cynical, bitter temperament. At twenty he was the glory and terror of
his chums, the idolized of women, and the ideal of his grandmother's
fastidious soul. At thirty he was a man to be feared only, a polished
gentleman with a questionable history--a universal scoffer, a
world-weary atheist, with a subtle, insidiously sweet influence, a sad
and embittered soul, and a heart long closed against all holy
whisperings of better feelings. And still his grandmother clung to him
with a pathetic belief in his nature's nobility, and ignoring his wild
and hopeless life, looked forward with love-blinded eyes to a possible
future for him of worthy achievements. So, because she loved this man,
and trusted in the goodness of Margaret Walsingham, she had elected hers
to be the strong, soft hand to lead him back from ruin and to point him
a better way. She had vowed St. Udo Brand and Margaret Walsingham should
marry.

"You shall lure St. Udo back from the gates of hell," quoth the
grandmother, with an inspired enthusiasm. "You are just the woman to
impress that high and royal heart with a true sense of your own pure
goodness; you can lead him captive by a secret power; you can lead him
where you will. You shall dispute with vice and fatal atheism for that
magnificent soul, and when you have routed your foes, you shall be
rewarded by his life-long gratitude, and his gratitude is more precious
far, my girl, than is the languid love of millions of other men. My
Margaret, you are twenty-four, strong, buoyant, pure-minded; my grandson
is thirty-four, world-weary and careless. Your fresh enthusiasm shall
stir his withering heart-strings and wake his slumbering belief--he
shall admire you, study you, and love you."

"I dread your grandson, and tremble at the idea of ever meeting him,"
was Margaret's shuddering answer.

"Yes, I regret not having caused you to meet before," complacently
observed Mrs. Brand. "You will soon overcome these childish tremors.
Would you not like to be the mistress of Castle Brand, and the owner of
Seven-Oak Waaste, my proud Margaret?"

"No, madam," breathed Margaret, fervently; "never as Captain Brand's
wife."

"Ah--hem! We shall see, we shall see," quoth the lady, serenely, and
dropped the subject.

Soon after that she was smitten with her death sickness, and at the last
she called her poor Margaret to her, and with plaintiff affection
boasted to her of what she had done for her.

"You shall never be homeless again, sweet soul," murmured she, with
glistening eyes. "I have willed this castle to you if St. Udo refuses
your hand."

"Madam, for Heaven's sake revoke that will!" prayed Margaret,
vehemently. "Do not bequeath such misery to him and to me!"

"Pooh--rubbish! He will deserve to lose all if he refuses the woman I
choose for his wife," cried the autocratic dame.

"I thank Heaven that I have no beauty with which to buy his love!" cried
Margaret, with proudly flashing eyes. "He will not sue for me. But,
madam, you must revoke your will. I cannot live to injure your grandson
so deeply."

"You are a foolish girl. I tell you, Margaret," in rising wrath, "that I
will not have my estate, the richest in all Surrey, squandered away in
gambling, horse-racing, and worse extravagance by St. Udo. I had much
rather give it all to you than to his mad associates. He has spent his
patrimony, and his mother's fortune went soon after her death. He has
only Seven-Oak Waaste to stand between him and penury. So will he not,
think you, mend his life, and become a man worthy of Margaret
Walsingham, if it was only to come into possession of his own
inheritance? Tears, my darling? Come, you give my love a poor return."

"Oh, madam--oh, madam!" sobbed Margaret, "blot my name out of your will,
if you value my happiness."

Mrs. Brand watched her in bitter disappointment, then turned her face
away and wept a few angry tears.

"Send for St. Udo," said she, curtly. "If he refuses your hand before my
face, I shall change the will, but not unless he does so."

Margaret telegraphed to London for Captain Brand, telling him of his
grandmother's sudden illness and her desire to see him.

Captain Brand wrote a polite and indifferent reply to Margaret
Walsingham, expressing regrets, sympathy, and excuses, and promising to
run down to Surrey some day next week.

Margaret wrote an entreating note, setting forth the urgency of the case
and the certainty that Mrs. Brand was dying; and Captain Brand
telegraphed a dry, "Very well, I will be at Regis to-night."

And all day long the dying woman sank lower, and forgot ere long the
things of earth, and hour after hour went past, bringing only wilder
grief and anxiety to the hapless Margaret.

So she was still tied to the wehr-wolf of her loathing fancy, and until
St. Udo Brand chose to come to his grandmother that tie was
indissoluble.

Margaret Walsingham was aroused from her hopeless meditations by the
appearance of Symonds driving Mr. Davenport, Mrs. Brand's lawyer, into
the court-yard, and she descended swiftly to meet him in the library.

Mr. Davenport entered--a tall, thin, wiry man, with beetling brows and
irascible eyes--and cautiously shut the door.

"Is Mrs. Brand conscious yet?" he asked.

"She is asleep," said Margaret. "We fear that she will not live to see
the heir. Now, Mr. Davenport, I have asked you to come here that when
Captain Brand arrives you may be upon the ground to change the will
legally. Dr. Gay hopes that she may awake to consciousness for a few
minutes before death. Wait here, if you please, until you are summoned."

Without another word she left the library, followed to the door by the
lawyer's keen eyes, and ascended to the death-chamber.

Dr. Gay sat by the dying woman, wiping the death-dews from her brow; her
eyes were open and were eagerly fixed upon the door. Margaret entered,
they flickered up into a transient brightness, her cold lips faintly
smiled.

"You know me, do you not?" murmured Margaret, kneeling beside her and
laying her cheek fondly on the pillow beside her friend's.

The cold lips framed an eager "Yes," the groping hand sought hers and
pressed it gratefully.

Margaret Walsingham's tears fell fast; she kissed the wan cheek of her
dying patroness and smoothed her white tresses back from her clammy
brow.

"God be with you, my good Margaret!" muttered the old lady, brokenly,
"you have been a good friend to a lonely woman. You shall be rewarded
when I am gone."

A wave of anguish swept over Margaret's plain, proud face, her voice
grew beautiful with the soul's voiceless eloquence, her soft eyes
pleaded wistfully, her shy lips quivered beseechingly. The old dowager's
glaring eyes dwelt on her with gloating admiration.

"You will make a noble lady," muttered Mrs. Brand, with a fond smile.
"Come, tell me you are satisfied with my arrangements for you?"

"No, no, I cannot meet St. Udo Brand--and I will not stand between him
and his own property. I cannot, indeed!" cried Margaret, with a
heart-rending sob.

The words rang out sharply in the hushed death-chamber, and the little
doctor shifted uneasily in his chair, and stopped stirring the stimulant
he was preparing, to gaze from one to the other--the lady and her
companion. Twice Mrs. Brand essayed to speak, but her trembling lips
refused to articulate a word, and her faint eyes sought Margaret's in
dumb appeal.

"Say but one word before Dr. Gay and Mr. Davenport," pleaded Margaret,
wildly. "Say that you wish the will to be canceled, and your grandson to
come into his inheritance without incumbrance. For the sake of the love
we have borne each other, grant my request."

"Unsay those words, my darling," wailed Mrs. Brand. "You give me a
parting stab I never thought to receive from you. Oh, my darling, can't
you save St. Udo from ruin for my sake?--do you grudge to do something
for my sake?"

"No, dear madam, I would be glad to die for your sake," cried Margaret,
lifting up a brave, love illumined face; "but not this--oh, Heaven! not
this."

Mrs. Brand closed her eyes with a pang of mortal anguish.

"Have I been mistaken in my Margaret?" she uttered, brokenly. "Is she
not the high, heroic soul I deemed her?"

Tears rose from the heart that thought never to feel another earthly
pang, and rushed from the eyes which she thought to have closed in
peace; and Margaret's tender heart accused her sternly for her own
self-care in this most pitiful hour.

"Do not fear for your grandson," said she, eagerly, "I shall not suffer
him to be defrauded."

Mrs. Brand turned a piercing gaze upon her.

"You must do your best to win St. Udo's love," she whispered, earnestly,
"else you will defraud him of his rights, and his ruin will be at your
door."

Poor Margaret's head sank on her breast, her heart grew heavy as lead.
Her last supplications had been made, and vainly. Death was stealing
closer to his feeble victim.

Where, where was St. Udo Brand that he came not in time to save her and
himself from this fatal chain which his grandmother's death was to rivet
round them both?

The trampling of horses hoofs reached her ear. She started to her feet
and listened breathlessly. Yes, through the still April eve stole those
welcome sounds, nearer and clearer. An arrival at Castle Brand.

Margaret took her dying friend in her arms and tenderly kissed her cold,
trembling mouth, and laid her on her pillow again.

"Captain Brand has arrived," said she, softly. "I shall bring him in at
once."

She stepped to the doctor's side--he was still stirring the stimulant
with a nervous hand.

"Give it to her quickly," she whispered; "the heir has come."

She left the chamber, her pulses throbbed with a vague sense of evil,
her limbs seemed heavy as lead; and as she crept down the great vaulted
staircase, lit by pale, flickering tapers, she thought that her own tall
shadow writhed and shuddered before her like the phantom of a deadly
tear.

The great hall-door stood open, the servants were waiting decorously in
the hall to greet the heir, and Purcell, the old steward, stood out on
the threshold bare-headed, his silvery locks glistening in the broad
moon's light.

Margaret Walsingham stepped beside him and eagerly looked for St. Udo
Brand.

Two horsemen were cantering across the Waaste; the night wind bore the
fragment of a gay _chanson_ to the doors of Castle Brand. Under the
Norman oaks they rode softly over the velvet turf, now snatched from
view by the dense hazel coppice, anon seen plainly on the brow of this
gentle curve.

Nearer, nearer--home at last to Seven-Oak Waaste. They slackened their
pace as they approached, and gazed admiringly at the ancient castle,
then observing a lady in the doorway, curved into the court and
dismounted.

"Is this St. Udo Brand?" whispered Margaret to the steward.

A tall man had approached to the foot of the granite steps, leaving his
companion standing between the pawing horses, holding a bridle of each,
and serenely smoking a cigar--a tall man wrapped in a Spanish
riding-cloak, who gazed about him with a dark, lowering eye.

"Can't say, Miss Margaret," muttered the steward; "if it is, he's a
sight the worse for wear; but I haven't seen him for well nigh onto
seven years."

The old man descended stiffly to greet the heir.

"Welcome to the Castle, captain," said he, sourly. "It's well you come
at last, you're but just in time to see her alive."

The stranger removed his hat and disclosed a thin, wary face, just now
wreathed in courtly smiles.

"I have not the honor to be Captain Brand," he said. "I am merely his
messenger."

"What? Heh? Captain Brand didn't come after all?" cried Mr. Purcell,
recoiling from the dark, smiling face.

"Yes, he came; he will remain in Regis to-night, and when less fatigued
will pay his devoirs to Mrs. Brand. He made me the bearer of a note to
Miss Walsingham. Can I see her?"

The steward turned; the man looked up, his black, flashing eyes rested
upon her. She stood not three feet away, looking down upon him, her
white, electric face startling him in the chill radiance of the summer
moon, her long garments sweeping in regal folds about her magnificent
person, her blue-black hair curving in rich waves under the lace
mantilla she had thrown over her head--a woman to mark, to remember.

She stretched forth a long, white hand, with a vehement gesture.

"Give it to me," she said. "I am Miss Walsingham."

The man forgot his courtly smile and his wary watchfulness; his
artificial polish cracked in all directions and exposed a terribly
startled man. He gazed at Margaret Walsingham with arrested eye, and his
hands strayed unconsciously to his wrists as if they would find spectral
shackles there.

The envelope he held dropped to his feet, he stooped with a muttered
oath, and recovering it, reached it to her outstretched hand.

She did not retire to read the missive, the moonlight saved her the
necessity, and the man stood awaiting an answer, as she tore the note
from its crested envelope, and in a moment had mastered its contents.

A blaze of indignation spread over her brow and cheek.

"Heartless trifler!" ejaculated she, bitterly, and read these words
aloud to the steward:

     "St. Udo Brand presents his compliments to Miss Walsingham, and
     his thanks for her tearful invitations to join her in the
     melancholy duties of sick-nurse. Feeling that his vocation does
     not lie in soothing the nervous sufferings of the aged, he begs
     Miss Walsingham's disinterested heart to hold him excused; and
     confidently commends his dear grandmother to the delicate care
     of her pet and _protegee_ until such time as she can assure him
     that his presence will not bring on another attack of the
     vapors upon Madam Brand. Hoping that you will both enjoy a good
     night's rest, and that you may feel justified in receiving me
     some time to-morrow, I remain yours,

     "ST. UDO BRAND."

"Captain Brand must come instantly," cried Margaret, and turned sharply
upon the quailing ambassador. "Do you hear, sir?"

She paused with a lady's instinct--a lady's aversion to address an
unknown man.

"Roland Mortlake, Miss Walsingham," murmured the stranger coming out of
his fog.

"Go tell Captain Brand that Mrs. Brand is dying--that she has but a few
minutes to live, and that he must come instantly if he would hear her
last words. You will remember, Mr. Mortlake? And say the will must be
changed, or Captain Brand will be ruined. Tell him that. Now go, for
Heaven's sake!"

The stranger turned his wrapt scrutiny of herself into a keen and crafty
attention of her words. He repeated them after her, with a significant
pause after each clause, as if he longed to wrest the uttermost moiety
of a meaning from her scant expressions.

"Symonds shall accompany you with the carriage, and bring Captain
Brand," said Margaret. "Send him, Purcell."

The steward trotted away to dispatch the coachman, and the pair were
left with each other.

The man on the lowest step and the woman on the highest gazed fixedly in
each other's faces. His fierce, envious, and inquisitive; hers cold,
distrustful, and unflinching.

In that silent interview their souls stood forth, each revealing to the
other, and doomed to future recognition under the most perfect masking
which rascality could assume to compass its end, or purity devise to
hide from peril.

Then Roland Mortlake bowed to the earth, and, striding back to his horse
and his companion, uttered a terrible execration.

The other tossed his cigar over the low stone wall into a tulip bed,
and, springing to his horse, followed his angry comrade as he galloped
away.

"_Gardez-tu_, my friend," cried he, breezily. "You English take great
news sourly, _ma foi!_ you curse Mademoiselle Fortune herself when she
smiles upon you the blandest."

His clipped English rang out gaily on the summer breeze, and those
careless words, listened to by Margaret Walsingham on that eventful
night with unheeding ears, came back one day through the mists of
forgetfulness, and took their place in the wild drama with strange
significance.

Once more Margaret returned to her dying patroness, and met her eager,
questioning eyes with mute looks of anguish.

Utterly silent now, she held her poor friend's fluttering hand, and
wiped the foam from her voiceless lips, and the kind old doctor turned
away his brimming eyes, that he might not witness the harrowing
spectacle of the woman's love and grief while performing these last
gentle ministrations.

The housekeeper sat at the foot of the bed, shaking with her sobs. A few
of the old retainers of the household grouped near the door, stifling
their lamentations as best they might. But never a word spoke poor
Margaret, as she watched her last and only friend sinking from her
clinging arms into the mysteries of death.

The minutes sped; the doctor laid his watch upon the table; Margaret's
eyes left the pallid face of the dying to watch its swift circling
hands, with a tightening of the heart-strings.

"I give them thirty minutes to go and return from Regis," she murmured
to the doctor at last. "Will she live thirty minutes?"

Dr. Gay answered nothing; but the vampire Death, fanning the sinking
mortal into immortality, answered, by her convulsive face and twitching
hands.

"_No!_"

Ten, fifteen minutes passed, still the shrouded chest rose and fell in
intermittent respirations; still the cold fingers sought Margaret's;
still the swimming eyes turned on hers with the dumb agony of the last
pang. Twenty minutes, twenty-five, twenty-six, the closing eyes flew
wide open, the relaxing chin took its comely place once more, the
toiling breath ceased in a long, full sigh.

She looked long and tenderly at her poor Margaret Walsingham, then
beyond her into the shadowy world she was entering, and a wondering
smile broke dazzlingly over her whole countenance.

"Lift me up," she sighed, like a weary child.

Margaret lifted her to her breast.

"Higher," whispered she. "Ah! this is rest--rest!"

And as Margaret lifted the smiling face to her shoulder, the last thrill
ran through the kind old heart, stopped, and she entered the everlasting
gates.

So she went on her dim, mystic journey, not sped by the hands of her
kindred; nor mourned by the hearts of her kindred; uncomforted and
alone, save for the love of Margaret Walsingham--good, impulsive,
generous Mrs. Brand.

Margaret laid her down and closed her sightless eyes; then arose from
her finished watch and turned away.

She looked blankly about; her eyes fell upon the watch still lying upon
the table, and noticed the hand resting upon the thirtieth minute, and
immediately the clang of horses' hoofs and the roll of the carriage
wheels stole to her ear. She put her hand suddenly to her forehead like
one in physical pain; it fell to her bosom, and pressed convulsively
there. She uttered a piercing cry, flung up her hands, and fell forward
like one stabbed to the heart.

St. Udo Brand had come at last, and he was too late.



CHAPTER II.

READING OF THE WILL.


Mrs. Brand, in her lead coffin, in its rosewood shell, was slumbering in
the stately vault of her ancestors, and Mr. Davenport held in his hands
the last will of her whose will had in her life ever been law, and
glanced around to see that all the legatees were there.

St. Udo Brand, the tardy heir, was present, quietly waiting to hear the
reading of the will with that decorous gravity with which we wait to
bear our honors.

Dr. Gay was there, because his departed friend had requested him to do
so.

It was in the library; the walls of books glittered in calf and gilt in
the pleasant April sunlight; the glass door was opened upon the perfumed
garden walks; and the twitter of the busy birds came sweetly over beds
of crocuses and early blossoms to break the silence.

"Where is Miss Walsingham? Shouldn't she be here?" asked the doctor.

"I don't think she'll come down, sir," said the housekeeper.

Mr. Davenport cleared his throat.

"Better send for her, eh?" said he to Captain Brand.

The heir-expectant turned a dark face, disfigured by impatience, upon
the lawyer.

"It cant make much difference," he answered, dryly. "She can hear her
part of it again. Go on."

"On the contrary, it makes all the difference in the world," retorted
the lawyer, with unexpected heat; "and I refuse to break these seals
until Margaret Walsingham is present."

"Oh!"

St. Udo Brand raised his level brows and subsided into stolid
indifference.

A messenger carried a line from Mr. Davenport to Miss Walsingham's room,
and carried down again a message from her, which promised her presence
in a few minutes.

Some time passed in irksome silence, during which the captain beat the
devil's tatoo on the table, and darted mocking glances at the important
Mr. Davenport.

Then the sound of a slippered foot crossing the black and brown hall
floor sent the captain sauntering to the remotest window, there to watch
the struggles of a sparrow caught in the wire framework which protected
the espaliers; so that there was no one to welcome Margaret Walsingham
in, save old Dr. Gay, who compassionately pressed her cold band as he
led her to a chair, and with his heart pitied the captain's future
bride.

She passed, with heavy eyes cast down, to a seat behind a bronze statue
of St. George and the dragon, where the deepest shadows lurked, and kept
the giant warrior between her and that distant window until the will
should be declared.

Then the lawyer cleared his throat, adjusted his spectacles, and read:

     "THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ETHEL BRAND.

     "SEVEN-OAK WAASTE, SURREY, 1862.

     "_To all whom it may concern_:--I, Ethel Brand, being on this,
     the twenty-eighth day of March, in the year of our Lord one
     thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, in infirm health, yet in
     possession of sound mind and memory, and all my natural
     faculties, hereby declare this to be my last Will and
     Testament, and that I revoke, rescind, and disannul any and all
     Wills, Testaments, or Codicils previously made by me.

     "To my dear grandson, St. Udo Brand, only son of my late son,
     Cathcart Brand, all other lawful issue being dead, I bequeath
     the whole of my personal property, estates, houses, and moneys
     as held by me and in my name, together with the Seven-Oak
     Waaste estate and house known as Castle Brand, on one
     condition:

     "That he shall, not sooner than one month, and not later than
     one year, take to be his wife, and the legal mistress of Castle
     Brand, my beloved and faithful friend, Margaret Walsingham, who
     held the cup of love to the lips of an otherwise forsaken old
     woman, and for four years served her without thought of reward.

     "Should my grandson, St. Udo Brand, fail to marry Margaret
     Walsingham within twelve months after my demise, I bequeath all
     my property, lands, houses, and moneys as above mentioned, to
     Margaret Walsingham, to be enjoyed by her until the day of her
     death, and to descend to her children, or next of kin, forever.

     "Should St. Udo Brand or Margaret Walsingham die within the
     year, the property shall revert to the survivor."

     Then followed generous bequests to various charitable schemes,
     and annuities to the old servants of the castle, the whole
     concluding in the clause:

     "I appoint, and do hereby declare Rufus Gay. M.D., my
     trustworthy physician, and Andrew Davenport, Esq., my faithful
     lawyer, to be the executors of this, my Will, bequeathing to
     each the sum of five thousand pounds, as an humble token of my
     regard for, and gratitude to them; and adjuring them to see the
     contents of my Will faithfully carried out.

     "All of which I confirm by affixing this my signature, in the
     presence of these witnesses.

     "ETHEL BRAND.

     "RUFUS GAY, M.D.

     "ANDREW DAVENPORT, Attorney-at-Law."

The lawyer laid down the will upon the table again, and turned a
searching glance upon each of the principals. Again he cleared his
throat, which had grown husky at the last clause referring to himself,
and it bore an admonitory, as well as a reproachful import to the ears
of Captain Brand.

"Miss Walsingham," blurted Dr. Gay, rising nervously, "no one has
presented you to Captain Brand. May I?"

"Sir, be pleased to lend your attention for a moment," cried Mr.
Davenport, pugnaciously.

So Captain Brand was pleased to lend his attention. He wheeled from his
dark reverie, and marched, with the reckless tread of the desperado
going to the cannon's mouth, up to the group, and his flashing eyes
boded no tenderness in their first scathing glance towards his future
bride.

"Miss Walsingham, my dear, this is Captain Brand."

The doctor stepped back, and the lady glided from her shadowy nook; and
the rich gold lights from the tinted panes fell full upon her.

"Ye gods, what a Medusa!" muttered the captain, staring.

"We have met," said Margaret Walsingham, panting and white-lipped, her
wild gray eyes burning with red heat, and meeting his sneering gaze with
loathing, "we have met, sir, by no will of mine."

A loud, insulting "Ha! ha! ha!" burst from Captain Brand.

The harsh, grating laughter, eloquent with scorn, devilish with malice,
incredulity, and fury, turned the girl's outraged protest into
speechlessness.

She wrapped her long crape garments about her hands, and the beautiful
figure of Margaret Walsingham--her one charm, and a perfection it
was--vanished from the incensed eyes of St. Udo Brand.

"Well, what think you of woman's wit after this?" cried he to the
executors when the door had closed. "Who says a woman can't scheme, and
cleverly, too? What fool ever called hers the softest sex?"

"I must request of you, as the executor of this will," said Mr.
Davenport, slapping it loudly, "is bound to do--to apologize to the
young lady whom you have just now insulted, for your treatment of her."

The captain's magnificent eyes were blazing with anger, and his brow was
contracted with the scowl of a baffled demon, but at the plucky lawyer's
proposition, he threw back his head and burst into another shout of
laughter that made the ceiling ring again.

"What! trust my unwary heart to the red-hot fingers of a Torquemada? She
would dissect it leisurely for its vulnerable spot, and probe that with
spiteful blade. It needed not my insults, as you call them, to turn her
venom against me. Did I not read it in the loathing eyes and shrinking
figure before ever I opened my mouth? Am not I the one obstacle between
her and the fortune she has lain in wait for during four years? She can
afford to take insults from me; they will not hurt her. They are my
tribute to her talent as a fortune-hunter."

"I must disabuse your mind of all unjust suspicions against Miss
Walsingham," cried Mr. Davenport, meeting the captain's frowning eyes
with as fierce a frown; "she has never schemed for this disposition of
your grandmother's property. On the contrary, to my extreme surprise and
disapprobation, she vehemently implored that she might be left out of
the will altogether, and sent for me an hour before Mrs. Brand's
decease, hoping that you might arrive in time to prevail upon Mrs. Brand
to revoke the clauses concerning her."

"Save me these rhapsodies, friend," returned the captain; "those
heavenly qualities to which you direct my lover-like regards, but whet
my appetite like that of the ravening wolf. Let me make a mouthful of my
bliss; but I warn all officious fingers to keep out of my pie."

"You mean by that, I suppose, that you will submit to the conditions of
the will?"

"I mean nothing of the kind, my good sir. To the infernal shades I
consign your scheming adventuress."

He rose from his lounging attitude with another of those bitter and
cynical bursts of laughter, and dashing open the glass door, stepped out
upon the gravel walk to saunter, his hands behind him, past the old
moss-grown fish-pool, into the shrubbery.

The sun shone on the stately form and on his purple black hair. It
wavered between leafy banners on his angry face, so dark with ominous
clouds, and merciless with the dance of inward passions.

And yet it was a grand picture of desolation, that lofty countenance in
its wrath. The fires of a thousand passions had graved these deep curves
of bitterness, and marred the once genial mouth with the never absent
sneer, and perverted an intellect once pure and stately.

No wonder that the two men, who were watching him in silence as he
deliberately slashed down lilies with his cane, shuddered when they
thought of the poor girl who stood between him and Castle Brand.

Margaret sat in her room, dumbly enduring the first humiliation of her
life. Her humble soul had been outraged--disgraced. That cruel,
insulting laugh still rang in her ears. Her cheeks flamed with shame;
her eyes were suffused with hot tears. She could do nothing but sit in a
trance, and busy-brained, revolve it over and over until she trembled
with the agony of wounded pride.

Her sense of womanly honor had been trampled upon; her unapproachable
self-respect had been bandied about by impure hands. Margaret felt that
she was forever disgraced. To have been thrown at his feet, to suffer
his eyes to scorn her, to see the wicked mouth sneer--the reckless head
thrown back--to hear the muttered "Ye gods! what a Medusa!" to be
stunned by the loud "ha! ha!" to be consorted with a monster of
dissipation, such as he was--and to be scorned. Oh, cruel Ethel Brand:
to force a friendless girl into such a position! Why had she not rather
turned her from these castle doors, four years ago, than reserve her for
such a fate as this?

Margaret began to see that she was terribly in Captain Brand's
power--that if he were rascal enough to propose to her, she could
scarcely in honor refuse him, and keep him out of his property. She also
saw, with vague, prophetic eyes, a vision in the distance, of _stealthy
hands stretching toward her life in either case_.

The ruddy sun, slipping down behind the cliffs two hours later, looked
in at Margaret, who, with her door securely locked, sped about with
motions of nervous energy, packing a small valise of clothes to take
with her upon a sudden journey.

She had determined to blot herself by her own act out of Ethel Brand's
will, by disappearing alike from friend and enemy, and hiding herself in
some far distant corner of England, until Captain Brand had stepped into
secure possession of Castle Brand.

She believed her life to be in danger, for she had wit enough to know
that there were a thousand ways of quietly putting her out of the way
before the twelve months were over, provided that St. Udo Brand was
villain enough to avail himself of them, and of that she had little
doubt; so she made all haste to leave him master of the field.

At ten o'clock of the night she flitted down the broad oak and walnut
stairs, with her valise under her cloak, and stole out of the library
glass door, under the very nose of sleepy Symonds, the footman, and
under the night shades of the Norman oaks.

A man met her on the broad Waaste, where the somber pines stood one by
one like specters, and Margaret sharply screamed when he came close to
her and peered into her face.

"I think this is Miss Walsingham?"

"Oh, yes."

He was the letter-carrier from Regis, and held a white missive in his
hand.

"Special, it says, miss, so I took it over to-night, instead of waiting
for to-morrow's batch, for, says I to myself, 'Young wimmen likes to get
their letters.' Night, miss."

"Good-night, Mr. Wells. Thank you for taking so much trouble this dark
night."

She stood listening to his retreating footsteps, and fingering the
embossed seal of the letter. It seemed to be the Brand coat of arms; and
yet who would use this crest when all the Brands were dead but one?

A light still burned in the lodge, down by the great gates, and she hung
her valise on the iron railing and lifted the latch.

"Let me come in a moment?" she asked, putting in her pale, disturbed
face.

"Lord! is that you, Miss Margaret!" cried the lodge-keeper, pushing his
horn glasses upon his forehead to look at her with his watery eyes.
"Come in, and welcome."

"I was out walking, and met the letter-carrier, he gave me a letter,
which I cannot wait longer to read. Let me read it here?"

She sat down, with the tallow candle between her and these bleared old
eyes, and opened her letter. Yes, it bore the Brand crest with its
fierce inscription. There was but one surviving Brand in the world, and
his name signed Margaret's letter:

     "MADAM:--Accept, with my profound congratulations, Ethel
     Brand's bequest of Seven-Oak Waaste, and all acres attached,
     and my bequest of your own choice of a master to the place
     mentioned. I have withstood the exquisite temptation of sharing
     your bliss, lest I should revive the pretty drama of 'Paolo
     Osini,' who strangled his wife in his first embrace; and with a
     pious blessing on the manes of poor Madam Brand, who likely
     enough got choked by a parasite, I depart to a land where
     oracles do say there are no fortune-hunters.

     "Yours, admiringly,

     "ST. UDO BRAND."

With this second bitter insult crushed in her hand, and terrified tears
washing her cheeks, Margaret Walsingham went back, in the surging night
wind, to Seven-Oak Waaste.



CHAPTER III.

EVIL FOREBODINGS.


Mid-ocean, a steamer was laboring on her way, beneath a sky like
glittering pearl, arching over a waste of phosphorescent billows, and
with a crispy breeze behind her.

The ladies were in their berths, the gentlemen paced the deck, and
beguiled the time by discussions many-themed.

But St. Udo Brand, with his hands behind him and his back to all, gazed
over the sea to the distant horizon line.

A grim satisfaction illuminated his eye, though the ever-present sneer
still marred his lips, as, deep in unaccustomed reverie, he examined his
position on all sides.

"Inscrutable are thy ways, oh, Fortune!" mused the captain. "Thou hast
given Seven-Oaks to the humble, and cast the haughty from Castle Brand
into outer darkness, where there is grinding and gnashing of teeth. Yet,
wherefore, oh, sand-blind Fortune! hast thou rolled the hypocritical
saint in my bank-notes, and hung golden offerings upon her Medusa head,
while I, the honest scoundrel, am stripped naked to supply the ovation?
Well, doubtless, she has worked harder for it than ever I could, poor
devil! Now for a name and fame, and may be fortune, in yon republic
behind the shoulder of this world of waters! And, who knows, I may be
happy yet, with my little white cat, instead of the sorceress of yonder
castle."

Back and forth the groups of promenaders passed the solitary man, who
thus faced his fortunes with satiric stoicism; but no one thought of
interfering with his reverie, for Captain Brand had a name for
exclusiveness on board the Bellerophon. He may have had a name for some
more interesting quality, too, if one might draw conclusions from the
earnest scrutiny which two of his fellow-passengers were just now
bestowing on him.

A little gentleman, wrapped in a cloak, lounged upon the deck, regarding
the captain through his eye-glass with an air at once inquisitive and
complacent; and a little behind him stood a tall, elderly man, in
servant's livery, fixedly regarding the captain also.

At last the little gentleman rolled off the bench upon his little legs,
which were--low be it whispered--somewhat crooked, which is, to say the
least, best adapted to equestrianism, and nimbly tripping up to Captain
Brand, accosted him with the sunniest air imaginable:

"_Bon jour, monsieur_, a ver' good day to you, my friend. Why vill you
turn the back upon our merry company? Throw care to the dogs; so"--with
a flourish of the hands--"now he is gone! Be happy, my good friend!"

Captain Brand gloomed down upon the little intruder.

"If you want anything of me," said he, ironically, "do me the infinite
honor to be plain and brief."

The stranger stepped back, threw up his hands, and became dignified.

"Monsieur, you English are a vulgar people. You English do not know how
to treat gentlemen of the world. _Par la meese!_ You know nothing,
except to drink and keep silence. No, monsieur, I want nothing of you
but courtesy, and since you have it not to give, _pardieu! bon jour_."

With inimitable grace, he bowed his adieu, and was retreating, when the
captain's genial laugh arrested him.

"I beg pardon, sir," cried St. Udo, "for the national want. Pray remain,
that I may study you up. With such a model before them, who could remain
a boor?"

"Monsieur," cried the little man, delightedly, "you are von wag. I like
you, monsieur. I present myself. I am called the Chevalier de
Calembours; to you I am Ludovic--at your service _mon ami_."

"Chevalier," returned the captain, "I return the confidence. I am called
Captain Brand, of the Coldstream Guards--have just sold out, and to all
I am merely St. Udo Brand--at your service."

They shook hands and lit cigars.

The captain felt irresistibly drawn to the little chevalier; he liked
him amazingly from the first.

He was handsome; he had a square brow, brown eyes, ruddy cheeks, firm
mouth, enormous nut-brown mustache, and a full, glossy beard. He was
attractive; there was intelligence in the bold forehead, penetration in
the beaming eye, a purpose in the closely-fitting lips, and withal a
playful, airy, insolent, cheery frankness which illumined nearly the
whole face.

He stood revealed, brisk, and ready for business, the nimble Chevalier
de Calembours.

"You are en route for America? So am I--we will be comrades," quoth the
chevalier.

"With all my heart! Yes, I go to join the army. I shall either find fame
or death in the American war."

"Bah! I go to court the jade Fortune. She has jilted me of late. I would
feed my wrinkled purse with American dollars, _ma foi!_ that purse is
famishing just now."

"You are not pure French?" demanded the captain.

"_Mon Dieu!_ no," rasped monsieur, with a shrug. "I am cosmopolite,
yes."

"Where is your birthplace?"

"The Hungary, _mon ami_. Have been in Vienna, in Geneva, in Turin, and
for the rest--everywheres."

"You omit England?"

"Ah, I did not live in England. I saw it, no more."

"Yet you speak English well."

"I am flattered. I have the habitude of the languages; they count me an
expert. Insisted on giving me the post of Professor of the modern
languages in the University of Berlin."

"But it was not as a knight of the ferule that you won this mark of
distinction?" laughed the captain, touching a fluttering badge which
depended from the chevalier's button-hole.

"_Ma foi! non!_ I am Magyar, and that is to say patriot and warrior in
one. I combat under the gaze of our glorious Kossuth; but there are
times when even valor himself must fly, and the sword of the brave must
change, in the stranger's land, to the plowshare, the pen--anything to
keep the wolf from the door. But the ferule, the pen, the pestle, I
abhor. I hear the blast of the trumpet, I return to my first loves. I
cross to Algiers. I fight my way up till I win my _grade_, and this
bagatelle. Nothing more there to pick. I looked around; the rays of
glory are beginning to gild the long slumbering west. I leave the
ancient world, and sinking my illustrious personality, I forget that I
am Count of the Order of Santo Spirito, Turin; that I wear the ribbon of
Legion of Honor, and am to throw myself among these Republican hordes,
and to fight knee by knee with the mob. Enough!" he concluded; "to you I
shall be but Ludovic, _mon ami_. Come--do you play?"

"I play, chevalier. I am at your service," answered the captain.

The chevalier preceded his new friend to his state-room, and ushered him
in with "effusion."

A man rose stiffly from the table, where he had been reading, and made
way for the chevalier and his guest.

A tall, elderly man, in servant's livery, who stooped and slunk softly
about, whose sallow, brown face grew white when the captain scanned it
curiously, whose thin, gray hair and immense overhanging gray mustache
showed traces of cares rather than of years, and whose shifting,
shrinking eyeballs ever sought the ground, as if their depths held
emotions which the man must hide on peril of his life.

A sudden shudder seized Captain Brand; a thrill ran sickening through
his heart, which had never so thrilled before. He turned his back--he
knew not why--in hatred upon the chevalier's valet.

Was it a perception of evil, slow creeping toward him from the gloomy
future--slow, but sure to come as death himself?

Pshaw! what necromancer's dream was this? The captain, scoffing, threw
it from him, and forgot the haggard old servant.

"Thoms, we play _ecarte_," aspirated the chevalier, in his rough English
(he invariably spoke French to the captain). "Bring wine and cards, and
wait upon us."

They plunged with zest into the game, and passed many hours in its
intricacies. The chevalier protested that he had found an adversary
worthy of him, and Captain Brand swore that for want of more piquant
sauce a game of euchre every night with Calembours might answer to
flavor the insipidity of the voyage out to New York.

But the careless captain might have noted, too, had he considered such a
worm worthy of notice, that whatever he did--talk, sing, drink wine, or
muse--the secret, shifting eyes of Thoms, the valet, never lost a
movement, but hour after hour watched him with the unearthly intentness
of a blood-hound.

While the captain slept that night in unconscious security, the
Chevalier de Calembours, with a complacent chuckle and a flowing pen,
wrote down in his diary, these famous words:

"'_I came. I saw, I conquered!_' Monsieur Brand promises to be excellent
sport though little hope of pigeoning him, _en passant_. Yes, he has
keener scent than monsieur, my patron, gave him credit for--he won't be
led altogether by the nose. But pouf! who is it that will not be gulled
by Ludovic de Calembours?"

Thoms, too, in secret, and with wary ear pricked for possible
interruption, bent, in the seclusion of his own state-room, over a tiny
green note-book, jotted down some things he wished to remember, then
thrusting away his little book in a secret pocket, he rubbed his long,
lean hands together in stealthy triumph, and laughed long and wickedly.

Five days passed; the airy chevalier held his own in the sour captain's
esteem, and they mutually approved of each other.

They leaned over the taffrail together, Thoms a step behind, and watched
the glittering city of New York, glowing in their eyes, as the steamer
plowed its way between green and pleasant shores to gain it.

Crowds waited on the pier--sailors, civilians, and soldiers mixed in
frantic confusion.

The chevalier examined them through his glass with smiling nonchalance;
but Captain Brand looked over the scene with thoughtful brow.

"What is monsieur's programme?" chirped the chevalier. "Does he dally
with Fortune's train, or does he brush by her robes and seize the
treasure which she guards? Shall _mon ami_ live the short and merry life
of conviviality with me in New York, or shall he choose the short and
beastly bad career of a soldier?"

St. Udo Brand laughed bitterly.

"What is my life worth to me without fame to gild it?" growled he. "I
have no gold to make it shine."

"_Bravissima!_" shouted the chevalier, clapping his hands; then, with a
smile which just showed his long teeth in a hungry arch, "I, too, will
go southward, because, that to me my life is very much worth, and I will
do bravely to gild it with--gold. We will be brother colonels, _mon
ami_, and Thoms--what shall you do?"

Thoms' evil face beamed with intelligence.

"I'll follow you masters as long as you _live_," uttered the smooth
voice, humbly.

"We shall fight, by gar, for glory!" cried the chevalier. "At least, we
shall say so. But each has his motive pardieu, and a sensible motive is
mine. Ah, life is nothing without illusions, as Mendelssohn says."

"Nothing indeed," smiled the silent lips of Thoms, "nothing indeed."

Thus these three chose to walk together the road which had been
apportioned them by that secret Power behind the scene, bound close
together by Circumstance's chain, yet sundered in soul by walls as deep
as dungeon walls, and the dusty banners, and golden rewards, and
whistling balls of the battle-field beckoned to each with a separate
welcome.

"Here you will win glory," they cried to St. Udo Brand.

"Here you will win gold," they whispered to Calembours.

"We promise you _death_!" they sighed to Thoms.

So the three men followed the beckoning hand, and entered the contest.

Some weeks passed. It was their last evening in New York. On the morrow
they would be en route for the army.

Captain Brand and the Chevalier de Calembours had staid at the same
hotel, and were, of course, tolerably confidential with each other.

Thoms divided his attentions, with marked impartiality, between his
master and his master's friend, and lost no opportunity of ingratiating
himself with the cynical captain.

This evening Captain Brand was writing letters; the chevalier was
serenely smoking on the balcony. Thoms silently plodded through the
packing of their traveling-bags in a corner.

"One, two--there are three letters," said the captain, throwing down his
pen. "Thoms, you dog, post these."

A scornful smile was on his lip. He picked up a photograph from his desk
and pored over it eagerly. The cold, superior smile melted from his
scornful mouth; the keen raillery vanished from his eyes; he regarded
the pictured face almost in despair.

Thoms, creeping behind his chair to reach for the letters, took a keen
survey of the card he held.

It was the face of a young and lovely girl which returned St. Udo's
yearning, questioning gaze with a sweet, free smile.

Thoms took the letters, and standing for a moment in the hall, greedily
scrutinized the envelopes.

"Andrew Davenport, Esq.," "Rufus Gay, M.D.," and "Lady Juliana Ducie,"
whispered the spy.

He passed into his own room, locked the door, and did not emerge for at
least ten minutes; and when he did, he stole out with the letters in his
hand, casting startled looks around, as if he fancied he had some cause
to fear.

The next morning the two new colonels left New York at the head of their
men, and halted not until some three days subsequently they found
themselves within one day's march of the grand army.

The way lay through forests of hickory, planer, and tulip trees, between
tobacco and cotton plantations, and over deep, yielding morasses, where
the giant gourd sprang up to catch the bending cypress branch, and the
wild vine barred the way.

St. Udo, chatting carelessly to his inferior officer, turned suddenly in
his saddle to look for Thoms, and met his quailing eyes scarce two yards
behind.

His head was bent to catch every word uttered by St. Udo; his eyes
gleamed like glow worms in the dusk; he was the picture of a man with
some dread watch to keep.

"Back, fellow!" cried St. Udo, sternly. "What do you want here?"

Thoms fell back with humility.

"Beg pardon, colonel--I was listening to some sounds ahead," muttered
he.

His coolness was manifestly forced--his excuse was manifestly a lie--yet
the haughty Englishman only swore at him and turned from him as one
avoids the worm in the path.

He resumed his idle conversation with his officer, and passed the time
away in light jests and piquant anecdotes of a life neither tame nor
simple, and quite ignored the inquisitive Thoms behind him.

But Thoms did not forget to strain every faculty of hearing and seeing
while he had the chance. Never did lover drink in love vows of his
beautiful betrothed, as did the gray-faced valet his colonel's stories;
never did the worshipers of that star of song, Jenny Lind, analyse each
tone, each delicate inflection of her voice in the day of her most
glorious effulgence, as did Thoms the tones of St. Udo Brand; and when
the soldier, weary of speech, sank into mute reverie, the old man's
glowing eyes stole over his stately figure, measuring its height, its
contour, its carriage, with anxious care, as if but one man lived upon
the earth for him, and that night he might be slain.

At midnight the little detachment paused to rest.

The place they chose as favorable to their purpose was the wide-spread
grounds of a ruined mansion-house.

Merrily the camp-fires blazed up, paling the shimmer of a myriad of
soaring fire-flies, and sparkling through the murk like a broken lava
stream.

The chevalier left his company to visit his friend's tent, and the
brothers-in-arms exchanged cordial jests and friendly converse, while
Thoms, hovering over the camp-fires and boiling the coffee, peered
inquisitively at the pocket album which St. Udo was showing his friend.

"How that old wretch listens to our conversation," exclaimed St. Udo,
laughing, as the valet retreated for a moment beyond earshot, for
another armful of fagots. "He is like Diggory behind his master's
chair--every story moves him to laugh or cry."

"Pardieu! he will play eavesdropper, will he?" hissed the chevalier. "We
shall see."

"Here he comes, hurrying back to the charmed circle," said St. Udo,
"with straining ears and a face which looks 'just like a stratagem,' as
Madam Noblet says. Where did you get the sorry rascal, Calembours?"

"A friend sent him to me on the morning we parted for New York,"
muttered the chevalier. "Peace--he is here."

His nervous tremor did not escape the vigilant eye of Thoms, who grimly
took his post near the pair, and handed them their viands with
obsequious celerity.

St. Udo amused the chevalier by more anecdotes, and presently in their
hilarious enjoyment they forgot the haunting demon in the shadow of the
tent, till St. Udo, happening to glance that way over his shoulder,
stopped short and stared in speechless amazement.

There sat Thoms, leaning against the tent, as St. Udo leaned against the
mossy rock by the fire, throwing back his shaggy head as St. Udo threw
back his, gesticulating with his long, brown hand as St. Udo waved his,
his lurid eyes fixed in a hound-like gaze upon St. Udo Brand, aping
every motion like a haggard shadow of himself.

The Chevalier de Calembours, following St. Udo's stare of astonishment,
caught the man's antics mid-air, and burst into a volley of oaths in
every known language.

"The man's possessed! My life on it, he is a lunatic!" cried St. Udo,
laughing till the tears stood in his eyes. "To see him roll his head,
and wave his hand, and mouth after me my very words. Ha! ha! ha!"
shouted St. Udo. "Thoms, you dog! are you rehearsing a part? What part?"

Thoms was scrambling to his feet, and standing like a scared hare in act
to fly. His cheeks were white, his lips withered, his very hand trembled
so that he slipped it into his bosom to hide its shaking.

"_Diable!_ what mean you? Out with your excuses!" screamed the
chevalier, passionately.

"I--I am--I have been an actor," stammered the old valet, with
chattering teeth and a glare of hatred. "I was doing a Dromio of Ephesus
with Colonel Brand for model."

"With me for your Dromio of Syracuse, you varlet?" mocked St. Udo. "Pity
we are in truth not twin brothers; you might be less of a paradox to me
then."

Thoms suddenly turned his convulsed face away. It was well for him he
did not permit the angry chevalier a view of his half-closed, furious
eyes, blazing like two corpse lights.

"Away with you to rest," ordered Calembours. "We have had enough of you
for to-night, by gar! A little more might be bad for you."

Away sneaked the shivering wretch, and lay down among the soldiers at a
neighboring camp-fire, and, apparently, fell fast asleep. The brother
colonels abused him with mutual heartiness for a while, and then parted
to seek their own slumbers.

Toward the morning a yellow mist drifted from the neighboring cypress
swamp and brooded over the camp. St. Udo stirred in his sleep at the
touch of its clammy breath, and opened his eyes.

And over him hung a face, its wolfish eyes fastened upon his, a thievish
hand creeping into his bosom, almost touching him with his gray hair,
almost stifling him with a damp hand held an inch above his nostrils.
Thoms knelt beside him!

In a moment St. Udo had sprung to his feet and caught him by the throat.
A book fell from the long brown hand--his little pocket-album.

"What the duce do you want, confound you?" thundered St. Udo.

Thoms lifted his weary old face supplicatingly, and held up his shaking
hands for mercy.

"Are you a thief, or an assassin?" demanded St. Udo, releasing him as
unworthy of his wrath, in his age and weakness.

"I--I thought you were dead, colonel," stammered the wretched old
creature. "You lay so still that I--I felt your heart to find if it
beat."

"Another lie, you old fool," mocked St. Udo. "What did you want with my
private album? Answer me, sir."

The old man's speechless look of mock wonder at the album lying upon the
ground, his thin, gray locks damp with perspiration, his abject terror
and abject helplessness, all appealed to the haughty St. Udo's
forbearance. He pushed him contemptuously away with his foot.

"Get up; you are merely a skulking villain. You are not worth my ire!"
exclaimed St. Udo. "And mind that you never approach me again, on peril
of your life."

"Don't--don't order me away. Let me stay near to watch--to save you!"
whined the miserable Thoms.

"Confound safety! if I am to get it at the hands of a worm like you!"
shouted St. Udo. "Why do you haunt me day and night? Why do you run upon
my trail like a sleuth-hound? The next time I detect anything like this,
by all the gods, I'll shoot you down!"

Away stole the trembling Thoms, and was met and stared at by the little
chevalier, coming to have an early breakfast with his friend.

"Another raid into Thoms, _mon ami_?" questioned he, anxiously.

"Who is that devil?" cried St. Udo, passionately.

"Heaven knows! _ma foi_. I wish we did," quoth the chevalier.



CHAPTER IV.

A LIFE SAVED.


The letter of St. Udo Brand astonished the executors of Ethel Brand's
will; and their chagrin was intense when Miss Walsingham decisively
informed them that they must find means to convey the property to the
rightful heir, as she would never become mistress of Seven-Oak Waaste.
They earnestly tried to combat her "quixotic" resolve. But she remained
immovable. She would, she said, become a teacher, a companion in some
family, or even a stewardess aboard ship--anything but the mistress of
Seven-Oak Waaste.

And so, at an early hour next morning, Margaret Walsingham, with all her
worldly possessions in a small valise, and bearing letters of unmeasured
recommendation from Dr. Gay and Mr. Davenport, entered a railway
carriage. She was on her way to London, in the hope of getting a
situation that would take her out of the country.

She sat absorbed in reverie until the train passed at a village station,
and a lady, escorted by a young naval officer, entered the car and took
the seat opposite Margaret. Then with a shriek the train dashed on
again.

Margaret's eyes lingered wistfully on the blooming face, the sylph-like
form, the pure golden hair of the beautiful and bright young being
before her. How she loved beauty, and for its sake loved this rare
creature. She gazed through a mist of admiring tenderness, and forgot
her troubles.

And then a piercing shriek of engines filled the air; a few seconds'
hard snorting and unsteady jolting, a mighty crash, a sense of being
hurled against the sky, utter chaos and oblivion.

       *       *       *       *       *

A bricklayer, clad in a stained smock, the color of mud, was placidly
eating his dinner in the midst of his family, when a scared face
appeared at the open door, and a woman in torn black garments beckoned
to him.

"Please come immediately," panted the woman at the door. "Life or death
depends upon your haste."

She sped away at that, and the bricklayer followed her rapid feet which
scarce seemed to stir the dust of the road and breathed as if he carried
his load full on his back.

They had a quarter of a mile to go before they reached the scene of
disaster, and on the way John Doane elicited the following particulars
from his excited guide.

The up train from London and the down express had run into each other by
a few seconds on the part of one of the conductors. She knew nothing
beyond the crash of the engines meeting, until she found herself upon a
bank--some fifty feet upon the upper side of the track uninjured, though
at first stunned. In looking for her fellow-passengers she found the
carriage in which she had been, lying at the foot of the bank, bottom
up, and she supposed the train had hurled on for some distance with the
other carriages.

By the time she had explained thus far they had arrived upon the scene.
It was melancholy enough to warrant the woman's white looks and
faltering tongue.

Here and there a figure half raised itself and sank to the ground again
with rolling head and helplessly outstretched hands. Detached pieces of
wheels, and windows and twisted frames, and shattered roofs strewed the
line. A first-class carriage lay upside down, its wheels idly revolving
in the air, and a mass of golden curls were clustered on the broken
frame of one of the windows.

"Force open the door if you can; that lady is crushing to death," said
the young woman kneeling by the golden mass and raising a heavy head,
which they shrouded.

The man found a beam and began methodically to batter in the door. It
was done, the strange jumble of crushed and sleeping humanity were
unlocked from their prison, and the two succorers made their way in,
treading warily upon the gayly-painted ceiling, and both bent over a
figure clad in silken draperies of diaphanous sheen.

"Lift that crushing head gently. Ah, it must be too late. There, there
she is free. Put her head upon my shoulder--so. Now I will carry her
myself; clear a way for me that I may not trip and fall with her. Spread
that cloak upon the grass--so. Ah, is she dead?"

The Samaritan under orders assisted to lay the burden down, and then ran
for some water, with which he quickly returned, and began to sprinkle
copiously the insensible lady.

The young naval officer, who looked rather ghastly, now approached
Margaret.

He knelt down and gazed with horror upon her set face.

"Good gracious! I am afraid she's gone, poor girl," he ejaculated.
"Julie--Cousin Julie! Do you think she is dead, madam? Oh, Julie, dear,
speak to me!"

"She is not dead," answered Margaret. "If we could have her removed to
some house, there might be some help for her."

"A poor man's hut ain't for such as her," said the bricklayer, drawing
his hand over his heated face; "but she's welcome to the best bed in
it."

"Thank you. We shall convey her there at once," replied the young man.

They constructed a hasty litter of branches, and, calling a brawny-armed
boy, Doane set off with his burden.

In a few minutes they reached the bricklayer's cottage, and a clean bed
was hastily prepared for the victim of the disaster.

The young gentleman waited in the little kitchen until Margaret could
give him a report of the lady's state. In a very short space of time she
joined him.

"Lady Juliana is still insensible. I fear her injuries are dangerous,
but I can only use my best skill until some physician comes," she said,
trying to speak cheerfully.

"I will send the best one I can find from Lynthorpe, and telegraph
immediately to the Marquis of Ducie. He could reach us to-night, I
think. May I ask the name of the lady under whose kind charge I leave
Lady Julie?"

Margaret crimsoned, and drew back. Until then it had not struck her that
she would stand a better chance of getting rid of the old life by taking
an assumed name.

"Margaret Blair," she faltered, at random.

"Miss Blair?"

She bowed.

"I cannot express my admiration of Miss Blair's brave conduct," said the
young gentleman, with a return bow. "But my uncle, the Marquis of Ducie,
shall hear that it was through you that his daughter is saved, if she
should recover. Allow me to introduce myself."

He handed her a daintily embossed card, with a coat of arms upon which
was engraved,

    "_Lieutenant Harry Faulconcourt,
           H. M. S. Utopia._"

With another profound bow he left her.

It was long before Margaret could hope that her prayer was to be
answered; the beautiful face of the lady showed no ripple of
consciousness, and the heart beat with muffled and uncertain throbs.

A physician called in on his way to the scene of the accident, but his
examination was hurried, and his directions brief, for others were
waiting, with broken limbs to be splintered, and gaping wounds to be
sewed up. So Margaret and the bricklayer's wife did what they could
alone.

And the first beam of the full moon stole through the cracked window
pane, and silvered over the pale, set countenance until it gleamed with
lustrous purity, and the faint breath of returning life parted the
marble lips, and Margaret saw that Heaven had consented to her prayer.

Lady Juliana looked up fixedly, and saw a tender face bending over her,
with gray eyes glimmering in the moonlight, through their burden of glad
tears. Lady Juliana, in her pain and weakness, wondered what heavenly
countenance this was which soared above her, and smiled in answer,
thinking at first--poor little soul!--that she was with her mother in
heaven.

"How did I come to be here? Tell me about it."

"There was a railway accident, you remember? Everybody was more or less
hurt--I excepted--so I am taking care of you. Mr. Faulconcourt has gone
to the village of Lynthorpe to telegraph for your papa. He will perhaps
be here to-night."

"And who are you?" asked the innocent voice again.

"Margaret Blair," she stammered, turning away.

"Do you belong to Lynthorpe?"

"No. I was on my way to London. You remember the person who sat opposite
you in the cars?"

"Oh, yes. When I began to scream and jump up, you held me, didn't you?"

"I was afraid you would dash yourself out at the door. Are you in pain?"

My lady's pretty face was a net-work of petulant lines.

"I have such a weary, crushed feeling," she complained; "and I don't
like lying here in this odd place without my maid to take care of me. Of
course you will be going away in the morning?"

"Not unless your father arrives to-night to take charge of you."

"Don't then, there's a dear Miss Blair," murmured the lady, coaxingly.

Margaret bent over my lady with a rush of tenderness in her manner. What
would she not give to win the sweet girl's love? The innocent blue eyes
seemed to hold in their depths such guilelessness; the beauty was so
perfect which Heaven had bestowed upon her, that beauty-loving Margaret
yearned to have her cling to her thus forever.

"I will stay with you as long as you want me," she whispered, kissing
the pellucid brow of Lady Julie.



CHAPTER V.

ATTEMPT AT MURDER.


The fair dawn slid with crimson ray under the yellow mist; the breath of
morning stirred the pendant leaves, and on its wings it bore the tramp
of a host.

In a moment the loud _reveille_ was sounding, the thundering camp was
alive with voices, every man was on his feet.

"A surprise!" shouted St. Udo, marshaling his company. "Be ready to meet
them! Form, men!"

The soldiers under Colonel Brand's command had come straight from their
pleasant homes among the Green Mountains. Untried and but freshly
trained, one might have doubted their stability in a moment like this.

Not so their colonel; he had carefully studied these intelligent faces,
and he had read both sense and spirit there. His ringing voice carried
confidence and enthusiasm to its utterances, and was met by a cheer from
his men which reverberated from the distant forest like an echo of the
sea. In a few moments the tents were struck, the baggage vans were
loaded, and the small army was in rapid motion toward the point from
which the alarm had sounded.

In the midst of the plain they halted; their flashing arms were
presented to the wall of foliage behind which lurked the foe. They stood
there awaiting the onset, motionless as if they had sprung up from the
earth and been petrified in the first instant of their resurrection.

Then a roar of musketry broke from the emerald wall; a storm of lead
swept into the human ranks; a wild huzzah burst from the invisible
enemy, and the battle had begun. The fight was fierce and long--courage
and daring were exhibited on both sides--but when it was over, St. Udo
Brand and his brave band were famous forever. They were the victors.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two colonels were smoking together before St. Udo's tent, enjoying
an hour's chat, as usual, before they parted for the night, and in the
welcome absence of Thoms, were served by a fine fellow from Vermont, who
almost worshiped his colonel.

As the friends joked and laughed with all the reckless abandon of
soldiers, a pistol-shot was heard, and simultaneously a pistol ball
whistled past their ears and buried itself in the earth at a few feet's
distance.

Both sprang to their feet, and rushing round the tent, came upon two men
in deadly strife--one in gray, the other in blue. They rolled on the
ground; each held the other's throat in a deadly grasp. It seemed
impossible to decide upon which side the victory would turn, and their
continual writhings and contortions rendered interference impossible.
But at last the struggle ended in the Federal soldier succeeding in
drawing a dagger from his breast and plunging it into his opponent's
side.

The wounded man's hold relaxed from the other's throat; he fell back
heavily with a stifled groan, and the victor rose and turned round his
haggard, white face to the brother colonels.

"_Morbleu!_ it is Thoms!" cried Calembours, in accents of incredulity.

"Well fought, gray-beard," chimed in St. Udo, in equal amazement. "You
deserve promotion. What was this Confederate soldier about?"

Thoms glared at the two colonels like a tiger, then down at his
vanquished enemy, from whose side the blood poured hotly.

"He pretended that he wanted to offer himself as a guide to the grand
army," muttered Thoms, "and we passed the pickets and came straight to
your tent to speak about it. But he tried to pistol you when he came in
sight of you, and I had just time to dash his arm up."

"Brave Thoms!" applauded Calembours. "Good Thoms!"

"What is it, Reed?" demanded St. Udo of the soldier, who was kneeling by
the fallen Confederate.

"He is trying to speak," answered Reed. "He is saying, 'No, no.'"

Thoms bent eagerly over him, with murderous look in his eyes.

The man was dying; his half-closed eyes were glazing fast, but his
bloodless lips moved convulsively, and though his life-blood welled
forth at every effort, he still strove to utter some frantic word.

"No!--he--lies!" muttered he, at last.

Thoms' trembling fingers were at his throat in a moment--Thoms' tigerish
eyes flashed out their rage.

"Let him alone," expostulated Reed. "Let the poor wretch speak."

"Off, Thoms!" thundered St. Udo, with a terrible frown.

Both colonels stooped over the Confederate soldier. St. Udo put his ear
close to the twitching lips.

"He shot the pistol off himself," muttered the man. "Before Heaven, I
swear it! He stabbed me to save himself. He did--he did!"

The life-blood oozed into his lungs and choked him; he clasped his hands
and threw them up toward Heaven, as if he called on his creator to
witness his innocence, and immediately expired.

The two friends rose and looked at Thoms.

Whiter in his grave he would never be. The veins stood out on his damp
forehead like whipcord, but he returned their fierce gaze with a dogged
firmness.

"What do you say to this charge?" demanded St. Udo.

"I say nothing," mumbled Thoms, showing his long, cruel teeth. "If
you're ready to believe a rebel against your own servant, I needn't
expect much fair play. What else would he say to revenge his death, I'd
like to know? Of course, if you're a-going to shoot me, nothing that I
can say will stop you--you're master here, as well as everywhere else."

He ground the last words out through his teeth with a venom, a fury
which belonged more to a madman than to a man supposed to be in
possession of his ordinary sanity, and he addressed them to St. Udo
exclusively.

"You deserve to die," said St. Udo, "if you have attempted our lives."

"By gar! ve vill court-martial the rogue!" cried Calembours. "He shall
be shot, the traitor!"

"If you shoot me, you shoot an innocent man," protested the old man.
"Surely Colonel Brand will give me fair play? I swear I never attempted
your lives!"

St. Udo scrutinized the eager face doubtfully, and frowned.

"You say that the Confederate, not you, fired that pistol-shot?" he
demanded.

"I do say so," answered Thoms, firmly.

"Then we give you the benefit of the doubt this time," said St. Udo,
"but warn you that you shall be well watched in future. Be off now, and
beware of treachery, for you shall not escape a second time."

The haggard face lit up with evil exultation; but Thoms cringed before
the haughty colonel, and muttered his gratitude in abject terms.

"No more need be said," cried St. Udo, with a cold sneer, "except
this--if either Colonel Calembours or I meet death treacherously, you
will be a suspected man, and will not escape, I promise you. Now, go."

Away slunk Thoms, with his head down on his breast, and the friends'
eyes met significantly.

"There goes von rascal unhung," said the chevalier.

"He's mad, Calembours--mad as Malvolio," said St. Udo. "Don't annoy
yourself over his vagaries. Ugh! how I detest his presence near me."

Reed, the soldier, filled the camp with whisperings against Thoms; over
and over the black story was repeated by a thousand camp-fires, and
wherever the wretched man slunk, he was met by suspicious looks and
loathing hatred.

He saw that everybody believed in his guilt, notwithstanding Colonel
Brand's clemency, and he quailed before the terrible position, and
shrank into himself in dumb patience.

Some hours later the command was once more on the march, and at the dawn
of day it came upon a plantation with a magnificent mansion set in the
midst.

A murmur of satisfaction ran through the weary men as a halt was
ordered, and ere long the verdant plain was white with tents, and the
lambent air was rife with the rattle of the breakfast preparations, and
fragrant with the odor of coffee and frying steaks.

Colonels Brand and Calembours looked anxiously at the pretty mansion
which peeped from foliage of the jasmine, oleander, and magnolia, and in
its spacious rooms they mentally saw their brave boys properly cared for
and nursed by the negroes of the plantation.

"We can ask for room for our wounded here until we get a chance to send
them to Washington," said St. Udo, "and leave a guard with them. Come,
Calembours, let's reconnoiter."

"With all my heart," quoth the chevalier. "I like the outside of the
_maison_ better than the inside of my tent, and, by gar! comrade, what
then will the inside of the _maison_ be? Come, then."

And with this brief prologue the quaintest performance was ushered in
which Colonel Brand had yet witnessed in his acquaintance with the
sprightly Chevalier de Calembours.

The two colonels approached through beds of sweetest flowers, and
tinkling fountains, and garden houses--the loveliest residence
imaginable, swathed in roses and creamy jasmine cups, girdled with
balconies in highest tracery, embellished with a row of pillars in front
upholding a gilded piazza roof, and entered through an imposing portal
of richest design.

There was no sign of life, however, apparent, although the upper windows
were opened to their widest extent, and the snowy curtains waved out on
the wall among the climbing roses; and St. Udo's peremptory rap upon the
door only received an answer from its echo in the sounding hall.

"_Encore!_" cried the cavalier, "they sleep soundly! Again, _mon ami_,
don't despair."

A shrill cry interrupted the little man, and sent his dilated eyes up to
the window above, from which it had proceeded.

"A woman in terror!" whispered he. "_Morbleu!_ I long to greet the owner
of such a voice. So clear, so fresh. Sweet madam. I pray you shriek
again!"

St. Udo knocked louder.

"Go, go, Vinnie," uttered a frantic voice. "It is a band of Northern
soldiers. They will blow up the house if you don't let them in!"

"_Milles diables!_" muttered the chevalier, in a startled tone. "Who
speaks with these accents? _Ma foi!_ I want the eclaircissement."

The door grudgingly opened, and a pretty quadroon girl looked out.

"Bring your mistress," ordered St. Udo.

She fearfully retreated, leaving the door open, and rushed up a broad
staircase, down which was wafted the hurried tones of a terrified
consultation.

Then she reappeared and conducted the officers into a magnificent
drawing-room assuring them that her mistress would see them in a few
moments.

"_Machere_, whose house is this?" demanded the chevalier.

"Colonel Estvan's," whispered the quadroon.

"Where is he?" asked St. Udo, sharply.

She turned pale.

"_Pouf!_ do not affright this pretty one," interposed the gallant
chevalier. "Monsieur Estvan is fighting like the devil against the
Northerners, is he not, _pauvrette_?"

"Yes," faltered she; "but madam forbade me to tell it."

"_Ouais_, madam is shrewd," laughed Calembours. "Now, _mon enfant_,
where is madam?"

"She has not arisen yet," said the trembling maid, "but will come soon
to speak with you. Madam asks will you have refreshments?"

"Ten thousand thanks. Yes, yes, _machere_, and make haste," said the
hungry Hun, with alacrity.

No sooner was the girl gone when Calembours turned his attention to the
examination of the elegantly embellished apartment, and, with an
ejaculation of delight, extolled the pictures, statuettes, and
_bijouterie_ which were scattered about with such profusion; and then he
burst into a gay old French song.

St. Udo, being seated within view of the hall, which he could see
through the half-open door, was the sole witness of what followed,
however.

A woman floated down the staircase and approached the door. Her demeanor
was expressive of the wildest emotion. She clung to the door-handle,
half-fainting, and listened breathlessly to the chevalier's song. She
seemed a vision of wonderful grace, with her rich dressing-robe huddled
up in her arms, and her long, light tresses sweeping over her shoulders,
and, with her soul standing in her passion-darkened eyes, and her
scarlet lips apart, she embodied the spirit of a Sabrina listening to
the voice of the gods.

Suddenly the fire died out of her face, and a weary change came over
it--fear, anger, and doubt struggled for the mastery--and at last she
dropped her hand, wrung it in its lovely fellow, and swiftly fled up
stairs again.

"Now, who is this woman?" mused St. Udo, "and what does she know of my
friend, the chevalier? Shall I interfere? No--I think he would scarcely
brook my meddling. In his place, I should not."

He made no remark, therefore; and when the chevalier's song came to an
end, Madam Estvan entered the room.

What a transformation!

St. Udo stood in speechless surprise.

A woman with a stout figure, keen, dark face, and pale, green eyes.

Where were the graceful, lissome figure, the dainty complexion, the
passion-darkened eyes.

And madam's hair was gray as Thoms' grizzly locks--no waving tresses of
serpentine gold saw he. Madam's lips were blue with fright, no longer
thin, scarlet beauty-lines with a string of pearls between. Madam was
old, awkward, and spoke nothing but French.

Puzzled in the extreme, St. Udo was obliged to content himself by
watching the next incident of interest, Madam Estvan's behavior to
Colonel Calembours.

They met--he with round, suspicious eyes snapping with eagerness, she
with downcast lids and brassy brow, and each performed a charming
obeisance.

"Le Chevalier de Calembours," says he.

"Madam Estvan, at your service, messieurs," returns she.

They bow again, retire a pace, their eyes meet--they both smile a
little; but Calembours' color fades to a sickly yellow, and madam's face
reddens under the brown.

"We are forced to request your house for a temporary hospital," remarks
St. Udo, breaking the utter silence.

The spell dissolves--they both turn to him, and both become natural, and
that is all St. Udo can discover in the meeting.

Madam Estvan immediately set her house at their disposal. Nothing would
give her more gratification than to be of use to the Federal soldiers,
for that she was not of the South they both must see.

She led them through the whole house, assisting them with charming
graciousness to select the most suitable apartments, and bewailing the
meagerness of her domestic force which would compel the soldiers to wait
upon themselves. But do what she would, St. Udo could not divest himself
of the conviction that she and the fair Sabrina figure were identical.

At last they returned to the lower hall and essayed to depart.

Madam Estvan accompanied them to the door with bland courtesy.

St. Udo was already opening the door, when a rattle of shot against the
roof of the piazza startled him, and a cannon-ball immediately followed
and crashed in the side of the doorway.

A fearful shriek burst from Madam Estvan; she rushed forward and clung
to the little chevalier's arm.

"_Mon Dieu!_ woman, let me go!" hissed he, with an ominous scowl.

"No, no, Ladislaus, save me, your poor Alice, who ever loved you! Don't
desert me again!" wailed the woman, frantically.

Her voice rang out pure and flute-like in the English language; her
terror tore aside the cunning mask, and plainly revealed to St. Udo the
lovely vision he had seen before.

"_Sacre!_ I suspected as much!" swore the chevalier, shaking her roughly
off. "Away, traitress!"

He sprang across the piazza, followed by St. Udo, and the wretched woman
sank, a helpless heap, upon the floor.

Looking back, each from his post, at the fairy palace, the two colonels
saw a stream of fire running along the piazza roof, licking the airy
balconies up, creeping serpent-like around the pillars, and so through
smoking portico to the senseless woman lying on the hall floor where she
had fallen.



CHAPTER VI.

ST. UDO BRAND'S FIANCEE.


The last train from London brought a physician to Lynthorpe, dispatched
by the Marquis of Ducie to attend his daughter, who brought a polite
message from his lordship to Miss Blair, that an important engagement
prevented his accompanying Dr. Trewin, but that he would be at Lynthorpe
by the morning train.

The physician examined his patient and pronounced her severely but not
dangerously injured, and proceeded to make her as comfortable as
circumstances would permit, after which she ate a little, and fell into
a placid slumber--Margaret keeping faithful watch, while Dr. Trewin
dozed in his chair.

At ten o'clock next morning a carriage and four drew up before John
Doane's humble house, and two gentlemen, a man servant, a busy-eyed
young woman, a coachman and groom in magnificent liveries of gray and
bronze, appeared upon the scene. These were the Marquis of Ducie, an
extra physician in case Trewin should not understand his duty, a valet,
my lady's maid, and the servants.

His lordship asked where his daughter was stowed, and was forthwith
ushered into the bed-closet where she lay, by Margaret Walsingham.

"Haw! By Jove, this is very awkward _faux pas_! Might have been killed
by these rascally railway managers! Confoundedly awkward mistake! Howdo,
Julie?"

"Oh! bad enough, papa!" responded the patient, receiving the careless
paternal embrace as indifferently as it was given. "I might have died
ten times over before you would come. Why didn't you come to me
immediately, papa?"

"Couldn't, my dear--was at Millecolonne's to meet Prince Protocoli--a
political dinner which could not be avoided--sent Trewin in my place,
and brought Sir Maurice Abercroft with me, so you can't complain for
want of medical or paternal attention either."

His lordship, after patting her cheek, went out, saying with comfortable
imperiousness that she must be ready to start in two hours--Abercroft
would set her up for the drive.

Forthwith Sir Maurice Abercroft came in and minutely examined Lady
Juliana on her injuries. The result was as might have been expected,
considering his lordship's wishes, a decision in favor of the proposed
removal; and the lady's maid was sent in to do her mistress' toilet.

Apparently my lady stood in some little awe of her father, for she
submitted without further question, though a petulant cloud was on her
beautiful face, as she said,

"I would rather stay in this quiet little room, with that solemn Miss
Blair, if she would stay, than go home to the Park. This is a new
sensation, at the least."

Margaret drew nearer and tenderly smoothed the hair back from my lady's
brow.

"Dear me!" cried Lady Juliana, looking at her, "how pale and exhausted
you look, Miss Blair. Why, of course you must feel so--you have been up
with me all night, and--good gracious!" becoming suddenly filled with
compunction, "how coolly I have taken your great service!"

Her ladyship sat upright, flushed by a sudden impulse of gratitude.

"Who are your friends?" she asked, with a bright look.

"I have none, Lady Juliana. I am looking for some situation by which to
be independent of friends."

"Oh, how fortunate for me! Would you like--but perhaps you are not
qualified. Are you well educated? I think you are."

"I have been eight years at a boarding-school, my lady."

"Good gracious! I suppose you are as learned as Socrates. I never was at
school in all my life! I was kept with Aunt Faulconcourt and beasts of
governesses. But here comes papa."

The marquis re-entered with a bow, the consolidation of courtly
etiquette.

"Papa. I was too stupid before to introduce you to Miss Blair. She is
the young lady who saved my life. I wish to do something for her."

His lordship advanced and held out two fingers.

"How can I most suitably thank Miss Blair for her services to my
daughter?"

"Papa," interposed Lady Juliana, seeing Margaret stand pale and
embarrassed before her pseudo-patron, "may she come to Hautville Park
instead of Madam Beneant, whom I am so tired of? She would be a more
suitable companion than that chattering widow--I am so sick of her
flirtations! And I am sure I should be perfectly happy with the generous
creature who saved my life."

"Shall you consider her ladyship's proposal?" asked the marquis, turning
again to Margaret. "Madam Beneant has been my daughter's companion for a
year and a half, but she is too old. Her salary was two hundred a year.
Yon shall have two hundred and fifty if you decide to come. What do you
say?"

She stood wavering between conflicting impulses. She longed to go with
this dove-like creature whom she had saved from death; her heart clung
to her--how could she leave her? But again, would she be concealed from
the terrible St. Udo Brand's possible persecutions at the Marquis of
Ducie's residence?

Who would think to look for her in Lady Juliana's companion? Her heart
pleaded.

"Stay--oh, stay!"

So, all blinded to the future stealing surely on, Margaret flung herself
back into the whirlpool which, gradually circling inward, would
inevitably bring her face to face with that which she most dreaded.

"I will go with you, Lady Juliana," she said.

When the bricklayer came home to dinner he found the grand people all
gone, after showing but meager gratitude for his kindness.

Hautville Park was near Lambeth, within pleasant distance of London; and
in due time, in the dying crimson of departed sunlight, the carriage
arrived at its stately gates, and Margaret found herself introduced as
companion to its spotless mistress, Lady Juliana Ducie.

She had not been there more than three weeks, when one day the maid
brought in a letter to my lady's boudoir. My lady was lying _a la_
convalescent on her sofa, and Margaret was reading to her. My lady had
taken her time to get over her railway fright, and had taxed her
companion's strength considerably, by her exactions, but she professed
herself very fond of Miss Blair for all her trouble, and they agreed
excellently together thus far.

"Hand me that letter, Bignetta. No, give it to Miss Blair and go away,
she can read it to me."

Margaret took the letter, inserted her finger to break the seal; glanced
at the seal, and withdrew her finger as if it had been stung, glanced at
the writing, and slowly became stern and pale.

"Why don't you open it and read its contents?" cried my lady. "Are you
tired of reading all the condolence that comes to me, or do you think it
is some insolent bill?"

"Lady Juliana," said Margaret, "I cannot read this letter. I--I know the
writer."

She covered her face with her hands.

"Why, what can you mean?" exclaimed my lady, getting upon her elbows to
possess herself of the letter, and to look curiously at her companion.
"Who is it?"

She looked at her own name on the back, and gave a delighted cry.

"Captain Brand! So he deigns to remember me at last! Ah, won't I make
him suffer, for being so derelict in his duty these last three weeks!
Careless creature! he never thinks of me, except when he sees me."

She laid down the letter and returned to the charge.

"How came you, Miss Blair, to be so well informed about Captain Brand's
writing?" she demanded.

Margaret was eyeing her in speechless consternation.

She had thought at first that this missive was an inquiry from the
writer concerning herself; she had feared she was found out. But what
darker suspicion was this which was entering her mind.

"Tell me first, dear lady Julie," she exclaimed, "if Captain Brand is a
friend of yours?"

"Bring me that casket, if you please."

Margaret brought the casket and placed it before her.

"Do you see this ring," rapidly tossing rare chains, jewel cases and
bracelets. "Yes, here it is. I am not superstitious about such things,
but I don't like to be labelled 'out of the market,' so I do not wear it
often; but it is my engagement ring--is it not magnificent? This ring
was given to me by Captain St. Udo Brand six months ago, and some day I
shall be mistress of Seven Oak Waaste."

Margaret clasped her hands and gasped.

To think of the hungry kestrel pouncing upon this innocent bird! To
fancy the terrible Captain Brand wooing the affections of her Lady
Julie!

"I did not know it," was all she could articulate.

"Of course you did not; how should you? But you have not told me how you
came to know Captain Brand's writing?" insisted her ladyship.

Margaret saw that exposure was coming; she expected it to be in that
letter.

"Read what your fiance says, and then listen to my explanation," she
murmured, turning away.

My lady, slightly irritated, tore off the seal and began to skim over
the contents.

"Heavens!" she ejaculated, "what is this? He writes from New York,
saying that he has left England, he hopes, forever; that he is going to
get a commission in the Federal army, and win his spurs, and he gives
his reasons: 'At present, my Julie, your fiance is a penniless man, with
only a pedigree, and it is to win something more substantial that I have
left England. My grandmother has died, and contrary to all expectations,
the estate of Seven Oak Waaste has departed out of the family and gone
to my grandmother's companion. If I had been obedient to the injunctions
of my hood-winked relative, Mrs. Brand, I would have married the clever
adventuress, Miss Margaret Walsingham, who I firmly believe plotted to
supplant me as she has done, and I would have thus shared the estate.
But love, one thing held me back. I have pinned my faith in woman's
purity to Juliana Ducie's sleeve, for I think, my child, you are about
the best of your sex; and honor forbade me to retract my faith to you.
So the future I offer you is this: Will you wait patiently and
constantly for the man you swore to be true to forever? Don't say yes,
without knowing your own strength. If you can be brave, patient, wise,
unselfish, you will be the first woman I ever met who deserves the much
travestied title of "woman." My little darling, you know that I love
you, and that I would become a good man if your hands cared to beckon
me, and I place my future life at your feet. Make it bright and pure by
your constancy, or make it black and sullied by the universal
peculiarity of your sex--treachery!'"

"What can he be thinking of?" cried the reader, with a burst of angry
tears. "Why should he expect such an unheard of thing from me, if he has
lost Castle Brand and Seven Oak Waaste?"

Margaret listened as in a dream.

This was a new light upon St. Udo Brand's movements. Did his character
suffer by it? He had gone away and given up his lands to one whom he
considered a greedy schemer; and he had flung himself into another life,
for the sake of her whom he loved. How had she wronged him by her terror
of him?

Quick as light her feelings underwent a change, and my lady gazed in
astonishment as her quiet companion threw off the guise which she had
worn for security.

"Dear Lady Juliana," panted Margaret, "do not blame Captain Brand, who
has been honorable to his engagement with you where meaner men have
failed. Perhaps--who knows? yours may be the hand which will lead him
into a higher way. Oh, my darling, do not hold lightly your power."

"Why should you espouse Captain Brand's cause?" demanded my lady. "What
can Miss Blair have to do with Captain Brand?"

Tears burst from the eyes of the quiet companion, and rushed in a
volcanic shower down her cheeks, as she answered,

"I am Margaret Walsingham."

"_You!_" exclaimed my lady, after a stare of unutterable astonishment.

"My darling Lady Julie!" cried Margaret, catching my lady's hands and
holding them in her own. "I am that unfortunate, that wretched
_protegee_ of Mrs. Brand's unwise affection; but never think that I
would accept the Brand estates when obtained in such a way, or that I
would willingly defraud St. Udo Brand. I thank Heaven that these hands,"
proudly holding them out, "are yet unsullied by such sin."

"How is it that you are here under the name of Blair."

"I left Castle Brand to win my bread, and did not wish to be traced."

"How strange! Then the fortune will doubtless revert to the rightful
heir if you are sincere in refusing it?"

"I fear not. The executors will hold it for one year: and if by that
time Captain Brand and I," with a bitter tide of crimson in her face,
"have failed to fulfil the conditions of the will--that is, to get
married--and I still refuse the property, Seven Oak Waaste will probably
go into chancery."

Lady Julie gave a cry as if after the vanishing estates, and covered her
face with her hands, petulantly weeping.

"Then I am done with St. Udo," she cried. "What do I want of a man who
is stripped of his position?"

"He has made a great sacrifice of wealth, and that letter says it is for
love of you," said Margaret, coming and taking her lady-love in her
arms; "and he is a nobler man than I thought. Surely you will be true to
him. Will you not, Lady Julie?"

"You are the essence of simplicity, Miss Walsingham. You will laugh at
your own folly, when I communicate all this to my father, and when you
hear his verdict. Please leave me now, like a dear girl; I am overcome
by this sudden change in my prospects, and must give way to my natural
feelings for a while."

Margaret left her, as she sorrowfully believed, to the pangs of untoward
love, and walked about the gay grounds of Hautville Park, weeping and
praying for her sweet Lady Juliana.

Some hours later she returned, to find quite a metamorphosis in my
lady's invalid room. My lady, in high spirits, was superintending, with
gusto, her own toilet, as it progressed under the skillful hand of her
_femme de chambre_.

"An arrival at Hautville," she cried, turning to Margaret, "and at such
an opportune time, when I am so bored. The young duke of Piermont has
come from his Irish estates to see papa, and I am going to be
introduced. I have heard that his wealth is enormous. His estates in the
north of Ireland and west of Scotland are as rich as any in the three
kingdoms. He has a rent roll of seventy thousand pounds, independent of
a complete square of brick mansions in Cork. How would you like to
receive letters from your Julie, sealed with a ducal coronet?"

"I don't expect to see that day," said Margaret, tenderly.

"Heigh ho! I am an unfortunate creature," sighed my lady, plaintively.
"But, as I told you, my papa laughed at the idea of a further
continuance of that arrangement, and he has written, and so have I, and
the letter is sent. I never mentioned you in my note of dismissal."

"Dear Lady Julie, you are deceiving yourself. You think your pride will
carry you through this thing, but your heart will break in the attempt."

"I suppose so. Well, it shall never be said that Ducie disobeyed her
father. We are a gorgeous race, as you may have observed by the
magnificence of this summer residence, so I will bury my pain and cheat
my dear papa into believing I am resigned!"



CHAPTER VII.

A DUEL WITH A TRAITOR.


The foe had stolen a march upon the weary encampment in the plantation.
Calmly St. Udo Brand faced the coming legions, and bravely retreated in
good order upon the main army, which was soon engaged in deadly conflict
with Gen. Lee's forces. It is not our intention to dwell on the battles
which ensued. They are a part of history now. We have to do with but a
few more incidents in St. Udo Brand's career as a soldier.

One night Colonels Brand and Calembours were shivering over their smoky
fire; it rained incessantly, the tent was soaked through, their clothing
was soaked through, and their wretched provisions were, besides being
scanty, almost uneatable with dust and rain.

"_Sacre!_" swore the chevalier, wiping his moist mustache with a brown,
bony hand, whose only remnant of aristocracy was the magnificent
solitaire which still glittered upon the little finger. "_Sacre! mon
comerade_, this must end. What for we remain under fortune's ban? Jade!
she laughs under the hood at our credulity in hoping for golden favors.
I will snap the fingers in the tyrant's face and elope with chance, by
gar! I will open the eyes and seek some better position where dollars
are more plentiful and blows less!"

"Silence, you rascal! What better life does a brave soldier expect? Do
your duty in the field and don't growl in the camp, and when good luck
comes you will deserve it," replied St. Udo, laughing.

"_Pardieu!_ I shall be too old to see him when he comes!" grumbled the
chevalier. "Three months of glory without gold is enough for me."

"You are a mercenary dog," cried St. Udo; "and I know you are an
implacable devil. I have not forgotten Madam Estvan."

"_Diable!_ nor I," hissed Calembours. "_Mon ami_, let us forget her. La!
there she has vanished forever. But, Monsieur St. Udo, I have not been
mercenary with you, have I?"

"Never, chevalier."

"Know you why?"

"Not I, indeed."

"I love you, _mon ami_, by gar! I could not betray you for any sum."

"Generous man. But don't ruin your prospects for the sake of honesty,
who is such a lax companion of yours that he is scarce worth such a
sacrifice."

"_Mon ami_, my honor is unimpeachable."

"Doubtless, such as it is. By Jove! here come letters from home. One for
you, Calembours, a budget for me. Huzzah!"

Yes, letters had reached the army, and many a poor fellow that night
forgot the anguish of his wounds and the gloom of his prospects in glad
perusal of his loved one's words of affection.

St. Udo, too, held an envelope in a tight hand, while he hastily scanned
the other missives, eager to fling them aside and to devote himself
without restraint to it.

He laughed with a kind of uncaring scorn at Mr. Davenport's stiff
business letter, and he frowned at good little Gay's warm-hearted
persuasions to hasten back to England and settle down in Castle Brand
before the year was out. He glanced with abstracted eye over the notes
of astonishment, reproach, and regrets which his movements had elicited
from his brother officers in the Guards, and then he put them all away,
and tenderly broke the seal of the hoarded envelope.

And as his darkening eye took in the meaning of its heartless words, and
his heart realized the hollowness, the vanity, the treachery of the
woman who had penned them, an awful scowl settled upon his brow, a
demoniac sneer curled his fierce lip, and for a moment he lifted his
blazing eyes to heaven, as if in derisive question of its existence when
such an earth lay below.

"Farewell, doting fantasy!" muttered St. Udo, tearing Lady Juliana's
letter in two, and casting the fragments into the flames. "So ends my
faith in goodness, truth, purity, as held by women. Once, twice, have I
madly laid my life under woman's heel, to be betrayed, my foolish
yearning after a better belief to be laughed at, flouted at, scorned. I
might have stuck to my only deity, Fate, and let these idle dreams go. I
would not then have received this last sting. I was right at
first--there is no created being so traitorous, so cold, so cruel and
Judas-like as a woman, except the devil who fashioned her."

He scanned the polite dismissal of the Marquis of Ducie and smiled with
scoffing indifference, and folding his arms, stared into the hissing
embers for a long time.

At sunrise six or seven detachments, among which were those of Colonels
Brand and Calembours, received orders to march to the relief of an
advanced post, and on their arrival, they were at once hurried into
action.

St. Udo, on his maddened horse, was coursing before the serried ranks of
his detachment, shouting his commands and cheering on his men to the
attack, when a blaze of battery guns opened fire upon the rushing
Federals, and, sweeping their lines obliquely, turned the sally into
wild confusion.

Colonel Brand galloped along the broken line, calling them on, and
waving his sword to the object of attack, the horse and his rider
looming like spirits through the murk, and inviting the savage aim of a
score of riflemen.

Heedless of the storm of red-hot hail, he pranced onward, inspiriting
the quailing men by his fearless example, till his horse staggered under
him, sprang wildly upward, then fell, with a crash, upon his side.

The colonel lay face up, stunned by the fall, and pinned to the ground
by the limbs under his horse, and a host of the foe rushed down the
slope and charged the wavering Vermont boys.

When St. Udo was able to look up, he saw a giant Southerner making
toward him with clubbed musket. He was helpless, his men were everywhere
grappling with their adversaries, and the colonel gave himself up for
lost, when, lo! a tall figure darted from a neighboring thicket, the
blue uniform of the Federal crossed the path of the Confederate giant,
and with a furious lunge of the bayonet, he attempted to beat him back
from his charge upon St. Udo.

The foe met him at first with a scornful cry, but, finding it impossible
to escape him, turned and closed in desperate encounter. Hand to hand
they struggled, now grappling with the fury of gladiators, now retiring
and gazing in each other's faces with determination.

So well matched were they, that this terrible conflict lasted for full
three minutes, and many stopped to gaze in wonder upon the desperate
encounter; and St. Udo, dragged from under his dead horse and mounted
upon another, paused to see the end.

The Federal soldier waited until the rush of a passing sally hampered
his adversary's arm, and then, raising his clubbed gun on high, he
brought it down with a crashing blow upon his head.

The giant threw up his arms, with a fearful cry, quivered from head to
foot for a moment, and then fell backward, like a clod, dead.

The Federal hero turned to St. Udo with a grim smile.

Heavens! it was Thoms.

The next moment he had vanished in the whirl of battle, and was no more
to be seen.

"Ye gods! he has saved my life!" cried St. Udo Brand. "Thoms, the
despised--Thoms, the sleuth-hound--the old maniac! What can this mean?
Have we used him badly?"

St. Udo, lying in his tent, mused deeply on the strange kindness which
the man whom he had spurned had done him, when a shadow flitted
near--Thoms, with his intent face and wary eye.

"Gad! I was looking for you to come, Thoms," cried St. Udo, getting up
and extending his hand frankly. "I cannot express my thanks to you for
your gallantry on my behalf to-day, but I am grateful for it, and
there's my hand on that."

The long, brown fingers clutched his as if in a vise, and wrung them
hard.

"Don't mention it, colonel. You was in danger, and I couldn't abear to
have you killed yet," smiled the old man, grimly.

"By Jove! you make me ashamed of my suspicions of you," cried St. Udo,
with ingenuous candor. "Let me say now that I am sorry for them."

"I knowed you would change your mind about me some day," muttered Thoms;
"so I were contented to wait for the time, colonel."

"I was so sure you owed me some grudge, my good fellow," said St. Udo.

"No, Colonel Brand, I owe you no grudge as long as you trust me and
don't treat me like a secret felon," exclaimed Thoms, in a hoarse voice.
"And now that you treat me better, I'll never leave you as long as you
live--I won't by Heaven!"

His sallow face, more ghastly than ever after the day's bloody toil,
whitened in the lurid gloom of twilight, and a terrible smile played
about the twitching corners of his mouth.

St. Udo placed a heavy hand upon his shoulder.

"Forgive me, my friend, for all my harshness to you," said he,
earnestly. "I will not doubt your good faith again. Faith, man, you
almost make me believe in disinterested goodness."

He turned away in deep emotion; he could say no more.

Was it an answering thrill which, stirring the secret heart of the
strange old servant, sent his eyes, filled with such an unearthly glare,
over the gallant colonel? He had saved him from a certain death, with
mad bravery, that day; he had come to listen to his grateful thanks;
yet, if ever the fires of Pandemonium blazed in human eyes, they blazed
in his in that quiet, murderous look.

Steadily, surely, the man was creeping toward his secret purpose, and if
St. Udo's entire trust removed another obstacle from his path, that
obstacle was removed to-night, and nothing stood between him and the
end.

"_Eh bien!_" chirped the chevalier, who had been an edified spectator of
this scene. "Since we are all once more the happy family, let us be
merry, let us sing, talk, and scare the blue devils away. Tell me the
little history of your life in England, _mon ami_."

"England be hanged," returned St. Udo, returning to his gloom. "She gave
me no history but the black records of vice, treachery, and
disappointment. What do you want with such a history?"

"Amusement, instruction," yawned Calembours. "Something to make
gray-bearded time fly quick."

"Very well, I accede for want of other employment. What shall I tell you
of? My hours devoted to finding out the world, and presided over by
idiot Credulity? Or my hours devoted to revenging my injuries upon the
world, and presided over by the great Father of lies? What will you
have?"

"Your life," breathed the chevalier, impressively.

St. Udo placed himself in a comfortable position and began with a smile
of mockery. Calembours fixed his eager eyes upon him and listened
intently; and Thoms crept into the shadow behind the tent, crouched
there on his knees, and held his breath patiently.

So the story was told.

Every incident worthy of note in St. Udo's life was correctly narrated,
every name connected with the characters involved stated, their
portraits distinctly painted, their characteristics faithfully recalled,
with many a reference to the pocket-album, between; clear as if he lived
it all over again, St. Udo placed his past before the eyes of the
Chevalier de Calembours.

And neither the chevalier nor St. Udo Brand saw the slow-match
flickering over a tiny note-book behind the tent, or heard the stealthy
scrape of a pencil as long, brown fingers took down, in phonetic
characters, the words dropping lazily from the unconscious man's lips.

When St. Udo had finished, the chevalier rose and stretched his cramped
limbs.

"_Morbleu!_ Time has fled nimbly this night. I forgot everything in your
recital, _mon ami_. Thanks for your amiable complaisance; and now I
retire to follow you in dreams. _Bon soir._"

With a silent chuckle, he stepped from St. Udo's tent and disappeared to
seek his own quarters.

Thoms, too, clasped up his tiny note-book, and creeping round the side
of the tent, and observing that St. Udo sat absorbed in dark reverie, he
wrapped himself in his blanket, and threw himself at St. Udo's feet, and
soon fell asleep.

Then the night grew black and late, and silence brooded solemnly above
the camp, broken only by the faint moan of the sleepless wanderer, or
the picket's hollow tramp.

Twice the devoted preserver of St. Udo's life softly raised his head to
look at Colonel Brand, and sank down again, and still the lonely man sat
gazing into the lurid embers of the waning watch-fire, thinking his
thoughts of gall.

Just before dawn he thought he heard a movement in the camp, a faint,
uncertain tripping of a wary foot, a sly whistle, twice repeated.

Through the murky gloom St. Udo peered with languid interest at a spot
of fire gently undulating toward his tent.

What could it be? A cannoneer's slow match! But what could bring a
battery there--and at that hour?

Unwilling to alarm needlessly his slumbering command, he slid back from
the glare of the camp-fire into the shadow of his tent, and rising, bent
his steps to the neighborhood of the suspicious object.

A passing breeze, laden with the perfume of the familiar cigar, a
brighter glow, revealing the drooping nose and pursed-up lips, declared
the identity of the prowler.

"Pshaw, you Calembours again--what sets you prowling about again like a
cat on the leads, or, rather a hungry jackal in a graveyard?"

"_Mai foi!_ you wear your tongue passably loose, _mon ami_. A night cat?
No, worse luck. No pretty little kittens to chase round here. A jackal
among _les cadores_? You have too many of that sort down there already,
stripping the dead and the living, too. Still, let us not scandalize the
profession, the calling of the jackal is a noble one when there is
genius and _finesse_ to raise it from the _metier_ to the art. But where
the jackal points the lion pounces. You call me the jackal. _Eh, bien
j'accepte_--it is mine to point, but it is for you, Monsieur le Lion, to
take the leap."

"A truce to your riddles, and say what you've got to say--though why you
can't come out with it openly, I can't conceive."

"Find, then, my little meaning," whispered the chevalier, impressively.
"In two words, you shall be _au courant_ with the affair. We have come
here to push our fortune, but the jade flouts us, and ranks herself
under the standard of the foe. Let us follow her thither. For you and
for me there is neither North nor South, Federal nor Confederate.
Soldiers of Fortune, we follow wherever glory leads the way, and victory
fills the pocket. What of this last bagatelle of a victory to-day? We
have escaped with our skins to-day; to-morrow we will loose them. No,
_mon ami_, the South will win the day; so join we the Southern chivalry
as becomes _chevaliers d'honneur_."

"Why, you precious scoundrel! I always thought you somewhat of a puppy,
but to propose this to me, an Englishman and a gentleman! Draw, you
treacherous hound--draw, and defend yourself!"

And the steel blade glistened like the sword of the avenging angel
before the eyes of the astonished Hun.

"_Sacre, mon Dieu!_ Has he gone mad?" was his sole reply, as with the
practical skill of an accomplished _maitre d'armes_ his ready rapier was
set, and parrying the lunges of his vexed opponent.

Still, with muttered explanations, blaspheming ejaculations and
apologies, intermingled with furious rallies, he sought to moderate the
just wrath of St. Udo, till at last, hearing loud shouts and footsteps
approaching, by a quick turn he evaded St. Udo's pass, and dashed his
sword out of his hand high in the air. Ere St. Udo could stoop to
recover it, the traitor dealt him a mighty blow over the head, which
felled him to the ground, and the last remembrance he had was the
taunting "_au revoir_" of the renegade as he plunged into the thicket
and vanished from pursuit.

When St. Udo recovered, he found himself surrounded by eager faces, and
Thoms kneeling in the attitude of anxiety beside him, staring at him
with intentness.

"What's all this, colonel?" demanded an old officer.

"Ha, by Jove! the rascal has escaped, has he?" cried St. Udo, getting up
stiffly by the help of Thoms' shoulder.

"Who--who? A Confederate?" was cried on all sides.

"No, indeed, not a brave foe, but our precious Colonel Calembours
himself. He has deserted to Lee's army, and had the audacity to tell his
scheme to me. Quick, Thoms, your arm, man! I must communicate with the
general and set scouts on his track."

St. Udo hastened to the general's tent as speedily as his reeling head
would permit him.

A pursuit was immediately made of the fugitive, and precautions taken to
foil his intended treachery; but the pursuit was fruitless--Calembours
had dodged misfortune successfully this time.

Lying face down in his tent, St. Udo Brand mused over the fleeting
incidents of his late existence, and owned himself at fault.

He looked back upon the friends he had expected fidelity from--which of
them had not betrayed his trust? Upon the humble worm he had crushed
with scorning heel--his life-preserver--his only friend now.

The deserted man scanned his reckless life, and in its shapeless
fragments began to find a plan, and wonderingly, as a child fits
together the scattered sections of his little puzzle, St. Udo linked the
parted sections of his existence into their possible plan--and lo! he
discovered that Providence held the key!

The remorseful man rose, and found Thoms studying him with his uncanny
stare.

"My kind fellow," said St. Udo, gently, "Since your master has left you
on my hands, and since I can't forget the noble service you have done
me, perhaps you had better enter my service and see me through the war?"

"That will I, colonel," answered Thoms, with a keen smile.

"You have been a good friend to me, and Heaven knows I have need of
friends," said St. Udo, gratefully.

The glittering eyes watched him as intently as if the old man were
learning a lesson.

"If there's anything I could do for you, Thoms, to mark my gratitude, I
would like to hear of it," said St. Udo.

"Nothing, colonel, except to let me stay by you."

"You may get shot in battle, my man."

"So may you, colonel, and more likely."

"Well, we won't dispute about that," said St. Udo, sunnily. "But
wouldn't you rather go North, out of the scrape?"

"I'll never leave you!"

St. Udo, glancing up gratefully, saw that in his eye, which chilled as
with the finger of death, the warm words crowding to his lips; a thrill
of mortal dread, a sure premonition of evil seized his soul, and he
waited, with the words frozen, regarding the man with stony stare until
he turned on his heel and shuffled out of sight.

That night, when Thoms ventured back to sate his gloating eyes again
upon St. Udo Brand, he sought for him in vain--his sub-officer occupied
his tent.

"Where is the colonel?" asked Thoms, turning sharply on the nearest
soldier.

"Gone, two hours ago."

"Gone!"

How white the sallow face blanched. How the tones quavered.

"By Heaven, I have lost him," cried Thoms, vehemently. "Where did he
go?"

"On a secret embassy somewhere."

"Without me!" groaned Thoms, with a wild flash of the wolfish eyes. "He
has stolen away from me--_he has found me out_!"



CHAPTER VIII.

MARGARET'S VISION.


Lady Juliana Ducie concealed her disappointed love so well that no one
would have suspected, not even simple Margaret Walsingham, that she
suffered from its pangs.

As the summer season wore on and she began to get over her "awkward
affair" with the rail-cars, she plunged into gayety, and a violent
flirtation with the Irish duke, which threatened quite to banish any
lingering memories of the soldier who was fighting in other scenes, and
Hautville Park became thronged with illustrious visitors.

Margaret Walsingham, in her somber black dress, mingled as rarely as
possible with the flippant cavaliers who were forever hanging about my
lady's drawing-rooms, or dangling after her in her saunters with her
companion. She rarely lifted her eyes when they bowed to the carelessly
introduced Miss Walsingham; and never by any chance engaged in
conversation with them.

Yet a new world of knowledge was opening to her daily, and filling her
mind with absorbing speculations.

How often she heard St. Udo Brand, the young guardsman, discussed by
these London fashionables, with appropriate jest or story, they laughed
at his withering flashes of wit, admired his brilliant follies, and
narrated his erratic generosities, with never a sigh for the heart
which, to be so reckless now, must once have been so warm and true.

Day by day, the broken image of a primal god was built up in her heart
with here and there a flashing glimpse of virtue, or a suggestion of
innate chivalry of soul, or high-minded honor which contrasted sadly
with the wild deviltry of a rampant friend.

And each day this simple woman carried some bright gem of goodness with
which to deck her demi-god, until the vision seemed so kingly, that she
took to defending his defects to herself, and covering them from her own
eyes.

Morning and noon, and in the midnight hours, when strains of music and
the din of revelry stole dimly up to the companion's remote chamber, she
dreamed of the possible angel in this man, and her soul yearned for his
welfare, and mourned over the frailty of the moth which he had burdened
with his trust.

"A true brave woman might reclaim him yet," she sometimes sighed; "but
the last chance most probably is past with Lady Juliana."

"You are to dine with us to-day," said my lady, one morning, turning
suddenly to Margaret from under the hands of her maid. "My cousin, Harry
Falconcourt, has arrived, and insists on being introduced formally to
the heroine who saved me; and as I am bored to death with always saying
'she does not go into society,' I have promised him."

"Dear Lady Julie, I hope you will not insist upon this!" exclaimed
Margaret, much startled. "I really have nothing to do with society."

"Well, for all that, I am not going to allow you your privilege of
seclusion on this occasion. I don't like leaving you alone so much."

So my lady made her way, though this time it was rather roughly carried
through the heart of her companion.

The guests of his lordship's dinner party were the resident gentry, with
their portly wives and blooming daughters, come to meet the London
visitors of Hautville Park; and a great many bright uniforms mingled
among the masses of silken drapery, feathers, jewels, black broadcloth,
and tulle.

Lady Juliana kept her small territory at her end of the table in a
continual ripple of delight by her quips and coquetries. She was in
surprising spirits, for was not his Grace the Duke of Piermont on her
right hand, and Sir Akerat Breckinridge, who was a slain subject, on her
left?

His Grace, who was an ordinary-looking young man, with a bright,
wholesome complexion, and pleasantly sparkling eyes, seemed almost
bewitched by my lady's rapid flippancies; and watched her face as one
might watch the play of the aurora borealis, shooting and dancing in the
midnight sky.

"Who is that lady in the black velvet?" asked the duke. "Strange face!
Most unlike any I have ever seen before."

"Where? Oh, with Harry Falconcourt? That is Miss Walsingham, my
companion, adviser, censurer, and sheep-dog in general."

"I haven't seen such a face in my life before," continued the young
duke, with deepening earnestness; "and it is so wholly stripped of
animal beauty that the beauty that bursts from every look and tone is so
mysterious. That is a countenance graced by goodness, bravery, candor,
devotion. There are faces graced by bright eyes, an arched nostril, a
small mouth; a row of white teeth, or a waxen complexion. Which is the
greater charm, do you think?"

"I did not know you were such a physiognomist," said Lady Juliana. "Pray
read _me_, my lord."

He looked over the arch face with the plausible smile, the graceful
features, the peach-like bloom, and a faint shadow crossed his brow.

"You would be sinking in the first storm, Lady Juliana."

"Cousin Julie has suddenly subsided," said Harry Falconcourt, looking up
to the head of the table. "A minute since she was sparkling as
champagne, now she is tame as lemonade. What do you suppose has
occurred, Miss Walsingham? A mutiny between her subjects?"

"Extraordinary disposition of the Brand estates down in Surrey," said a
voice opposite. "They all go to a woman as hideous as one of Macbeth's
witches, and the only scion of the race must either marry her or lose
them."

"Is not that captain St. Udo Brand, of the Guards?" asked a gentleman in
uniform.

"The same, major."

"Fine soldier, brave man. Did you see the gallant mention of him in the
latest _American War Gazette_? Cut his way through three thousand of the
enemy with his handful of Vermonters."

"A daring deed, major."

"Nothing when you know the vast nature of the man. He needed such scenes
as are described in the sickening records of war to stir up the lion in
him, and to bring out the gentleness too. He is the darling of his
company--many a cheer, and I'll not be afraid to say a blessing also has
greeted him in his tender visits to his suffering boys."

"You knew him at home here?"

"Knew Captain Brand? Like a brother, sir. Sad dog, but a noble man--a
noble man."

What bright intelligence was in the deep gray eyes which watched the
officer's face. But he did not see them, he was so absorbed by his
subject.

A pause occurred in the gossip, for the band was having a rest of forty
bars, and the flageolet was weak.

At the request of Lady Juliana, Margaret carried her careladen face to
the piano and played a long time, what--she knew not, but gradually,
from mechanical measure, the chords grew into solemn pulsations, and a
vision rose up before her introverted eyes of a darkened battle-field,
where the cannon belched forth its fiery death, the bugle sounded the
retreat, the soldiers shouted, and cheered, and fell.

She saw the smoke and dust, the red blood pouring, the brave falling
fast; and a shrouded moon, with three black stripes across its disk, was
shining weirdly over a man lying on his broken sword, his head upon the
mane of his pulseless horse, his dark, dim eyes raised supplicatingly.

And a skulker among the dead was bending over him with demoniac
eagerness, and the dastardly dagger was plunged hilt-deep, and the man
who had been called a "hero" sank beneath the feet of the dead--and the
vision passed away.

"Miss Walsingham." She turned her electric face--her hands fell from the
ivory keys.

The gentlemen had entered the drawing-room, and the Duke of Piermont
stood beside Lieutenant Falconcourt, waiting to be introduced.

"I have much pleasure in this introduction," said his grace, offering
her an arm the instant that their hands met. "I would like much to talk
with you, so honor me by promenading with me in the conservatory. In the
first place, what was that extraordinary piece which you played?"

"I do not know--was I playing?"

His grace gazed at his companion in amazement. Doubt and terror still
struggled for the mastery on her pallid features; the large, mystic eyes
were fixed sadly upon vacancy. Miss Walsingham was quite unconscious
that she was walking through the centre of the long suite with a man who
was coveted from her by half the ladies there. "Is it possible that it
was an impromptu?"

"I--pardon me, your grace--I was playing without thinking."

"Do you know what it suggested to me? A battle-field--the retreat of the
conquered--darkness--treachery, and _murder_."

"My lord duke, what day of the month is this?"

She stopped in her sudden waking up to horror, and in her sudden
eagerness she trembled as she stood.

"The first of September."

"_The first of September._ I shall not forget."

"You are certainly distressed by something, Miss Walsingham. Let me be
of service to you?"

"You can be of service to me, your grace. You can allow me to retire,
and make some apology for me to Lady Julie which will not alarm her."

The young duke bit his lip.

"You will return to me?" he asked.

"Not to-night."

She vanished through a dimly-lighted rotunda, leaving his grace gazing
eagerly after her.

Crouching upon her knees by her chamber window, in the cold stream of
moonlight, with clasping hands and yearning eyes, Margaret Walsingham
questioned the silent heavens through the long hours for the meaning of
the vision.

And yet the man had been her enemy!



CHAPTER IX.

A WOMAN'S VENGEANCE.


Through the dark fens, and the yielding morass, and the spicy sycamore
grove, and the mossy walnut woods of Virginia, stole a gray-faced man;
panting, hunger-smitten, weary; starting at every crash of the rotten
underbrush, stopping ever with dilating eye to peer from the top of
every hill into the valley beneath.

And a thin, tawny shadow glided before him with his nose upon the
ground, and his eyes flaming ferociously--a blood-hound upon the trail.

Thoms had deserted from the army, and was out in search of Colonel
Brand, and this dog which he held in chains was guiding him foot by foot
along the secret path which St. Udo had traversed to perform his
embassy.

How the old man brightened when a blue curl of distant smoke promised
him a speedy sight of St. Udo's watch-fire! How his limbs trembled and
his haggard face blackened when the blood-hound wavered in his steady
run, and sniffed about uneasily for a lost scent! How the wicked,
tigerish eyes gleamed when the creature ran on again with eager haste
and dripping fangs!

And the long brown fingers were ever straying toward the dagger in the
bosom; and the cruel lips ever were sneering out their fell design; and
the march seemed only a summer holiday to Thoms hastening to his
colonel.

St. Udo Brand had been sent to Washington with dispatches, and was on
his way South again to join his command.

Thus much had Thoms discovered, and he was sure of coming up with him in
these pathless forests, if he trusted to the unerring instinct of his
hideous guide.

It was a lovely day that first of September--so warm, and lambent, and
sunny-hued that St. Udo, weary with nights and days of ceaseless
exertion, ordered a halt in a cedar grove, and threw himself from his
jaded horse to rest a while.

His twenty followers, who were struggling after him on foot, were
overjoyed to throw themselves beside him, and soon most of the poor
fellows were fast asleep on their arms.

The following day there was a slight skirmish, in which but one, a mere
youth, was injured.

St. Udo was talking kindly to this youth, who lay quite still in a
corner listening to the whispered words of cheer with a faint and
hopeless smile, when a shadow fell across the sweet, dying face, and a
woman's gasp of terror fell upon St. Udo's ear. He turned to look upon
her, and started involuntarily.

There she drooped, with wild, grief-darkened eyes fastened on the boy,
her fair cheeks white with horror, her shapely hands clasped in anguish;
her snaky tresses lying low upon her sloping shoulders--a vision of
surpassing grace and dumb sorrow--Madam Estvan.

How came she there? Where came she from, who had lain entombed in a
holocaust of flame?

A spirit, was she? Ay, truly, a spirit of pity and grief, weeping over a
brave boy-soldier's end.

"God bless you, madam!" burst from St. Udo's lips.

She turned her tranced eye from its shocked scrutiny of the boy, and
lifted it in mute anguish to the colonel's. She did not recognize him in
that supreme moment of her woe.

"Is he dying, do you think?" whispered she, pressing close.

The sweet face turned with a smile of anguish at her voice, the dark
eyes opened on her lovely countenance with a far away look already in
their depths.

"Yes, yes, madam, I am dying," murmured the boy.

"Oh, Edgar! Edgar!" moaned the woman, in harrowing tones, "must you go?
I loved you so dearly, too--my last, my only hope on earth or in
Heaven--my _son_!"

"Ah, madam, you did not treat me as your son."

"Hush!" whispered she, in anguish. "I was not to blame for that. Your
father was to blame when he deserted us both, my poor boy. How could I
fight against fate? In self-defence I parted from you, but I have loved
you truly, Edgar."

"May God, to whom I go, forgive your cold rejection of me many times
when I have besought you on my knees to let me call you mother. From
place to place you have led me, keeping me at a distance all the while,
and now my sad, lonely life must end here. Oh, madam, you have been
cruel!"

She wept wildly, she raised him in her arms and kissed him many times,
but her lips framed no excuse.

"To think that I should find you here, my boy," moaned she, "when I sent
you North expressly for safety's sake. Why--why did you enter the army,
Edgar?"

"To find death," said the calm, dying voice.

She laid him down upon the straw, and raised her streaming eyes to St.
Udo Brand. They recognized him now, and grew hard and fierce. She rose,
and clutched him by the arm.

"Where is that fiend in human shape who calls himself Colonel
Calembours?" cried she, vehemently.

"I cannot tell," replied St. Udo. "He has played the traitor to the
North; he must be with Lee's army."

"He has played the traitor to _me_, and to that boy, _his son_!" she
exclaimed, vengefully. "He has deserted us for eighteen years, and now
my boy is dying. He threw me back among the flames three months ago in
Colonel Estvan's house as soon as he recognized in me _his wife_. Oh!
can such a monster escape justice?"

"Did you come here to-day expecting to find Colonel Calembours?"
inquired St. Udo, compassionately.

"I did. I have just come from a sickroom, which my terror drove me to
after my servants had rescued me from being consumed in the flames which
destroyed my only home. I hear that Monsieur Estvan was killed, and I
searched in every hospital in Richmond, and every jail, for some tidings
of the monster in case he might have been captured. Now, alas! I find my
son in the agonies of death."

She knelt again by the boy and kissed his cold lips, smiling so stilly.

St. Udo left the hapless pair together, and strode to the doorway of the
shed for a breath of Heaven's pure air; the despair, the misery behind
him were wringing his heart, adamantine as he was wont to call it.

St. Udo suddenly heard the beat of hoofs, and in a moment a Confederate
officer dashed in front of the tent and reined up.

"_Eh bien! Monsieur, mon ami_," chirped a familiar voice. "Well met, my
colonel. _Par ma foi._ I like this extravagantly--yes."

And the Chevalier de Calembours, dismounting from a magnificent
war-horse, performed a profound obeisance.

"You unhanged villain!" shouted St. Udo, scornfully.

A white face peered out from behind Colonel Brand. Madam Estvan glided
out, and put a nervous hand upon the chevalier's arm.

"Come here," whispered the wan lips, sadly.

He went with her into the tent, and looked at the sweet young face,
sealed with the smile of death, of a noble soldier lad.

"Colonel Calembours, look at your son," whispered madam.

The chevalier grew ghastly white. Truly this fair, smiling dead bore his
own sin-coarsened lineaments; but the woman! Who was she?

Just then there were heard shouts mingled with firing, and, ere the
chevalier's eyes had time to light upon that beautiful face, a random
ball struck him down at her feet. Like a bolt of retribution from
Heaven, it laid him across the senseless clay of his deserted son.

And, with a shriek that tingled in the shocked St. Udo's ears, the
lovely woman sank beside her dead, and the dark blood of her perfidious
husband oozed onto her dainty robes, and washed her trembling hands;
and, turning to the battle, he saw no more.

In half an hour St. Udo led back his soldiers, and found her still
there, with the senseless man's head in her lap, and her soft hands
deftly dressing his gaping wound.

"He will live," said she, quite calmly. "I have snatched him back from
death; he will live for me."

"Can you forgive such perfidy as his?" asked the wondering St. Udo.

"Yes, if he will take me to his heart again," she said, with a flash of
ineffable yearning. "I will forget his indifference to me, his injustice
to this dead boy. I will be happy to be his bond slave, if he will own
me as his wife evermore, for--I love him."

How passionately she breathed the sublime words, "I love him!" How
God-like was the forgiveness of such sins as his for such a plea!

St. Udo forced some drops of brandy into his unfortunate comrade's lips,
and in time had the satisfaction to hear a deep sigh escape him.

"Calembours," exclaimed St. Udo, "look up and speak to this noble
woman."

The chevalier opened his eyes, and strove to see her through the dim
gloom, but vainly.

"My husband!" breathed the lady, with bitter tears, "will you cast me
off for the third time? Ah, don't break my heart! My poor Edgar is dead,
and I have not a soul but you, and after all these years of separation.
Oh, Ladislaus!"

Her face sank on his breast, she clung to him with both eager hands.

He glared about him like some savage animal. He forgot his pain and his
capture, in rage at such a proposition, and answered with an insulting
laugh.

"Oh--ha, ha!" screamed he, with the enjoyment of a hyena. "This maniac
mistakes the Chevalier de Calembours for her husband Ladislaus.
Excellent! _nom de Dieu!_ most excellent. Sweet madam, your troubles
have crazed your brain. A chance resemblance has deceived you--_mon
coeur_! You have mistaken your man."

She heard him with a gasp of horror.

She extricated herself and stood off, a dark shadow in the gray night.

"You repudiate me once more?" she cried, in a thrilling voice. "Traitor,
renegade--spy! You are not worthy of a woman's love; but you shall feel
a woman's vengeance!"

She snatched a stiletto from her bosom, and threw herself upon the
prostrate rascal, but was caught by St. Udo and disarmed.

"Enough, madam," said he, icily; "the miscreant shall expiate his
villainies by death, but not at your hands."

She submitted in silence, and without one backward look upon the man who
had been her life's curse, she galloped back with her attendants, to
watch over her dead boy, and to keep him from the dews of Heaven and the
birds of prey for many a dread day.

There is yet another scene to paint in this series of life-pictures,
gentle reader.

It is the last.

On through dim night sped the little force, under a rising moon eclipsed
by drifting clouds, and met face to face a regiment in full march.

The leaders anxiously gazed at each other, hoping to encounter friends,
but in the gloom their uniforms were undistinguishable.

"What regiment is yours?" demanded St. Udo, at last.

There was a pause, brief and ominous.

"What is yours?" cautiously returned the officer in command.

"The--Vermont," said Udo Brand.

"Then, in heaven's name, take it! Fire!" commanded the other.

A simultaneous flash along; each line distinctly revealed every face,
and then the front ranks fell in the windrows under the murderous
volley.

"Again!" shouted the Confederate leader.

Again his men stepped forward, aimed at St. Udo's handful, and again the
brave Vermonters melted away like smoke before the wind.

Then Colonel Brand gave the orders for retreat, and sullenly took the
rear of his diminished band. But the foe pressed close, and a chance
shot killed his horse, and a flying pursuer dealt the rider a stunning
blow, and left him for dead; and the battle-storm rolled away, and was
lost in the distant woods.

And when the shrouded moon was shining (three black stripes across its
disk) upon the man lying on his broken sword, with his head upon the
neck of his pulseless horse, he heard a rustle in the dewy leaves, and
footsteps soft and sure approaching, and he raised his dark, dim eyes
supplicatingly, for he thought of faithful friends who might be seeking
him.

But a long, lean hound was baying hoarsely, and its red eyes gleamed
like chysolites, and it led, step by step, the shuffling feet of a
haggard man who long had sought St. Udo.

And the skulker came to his side, and looked in his face with demoniac
eagerness, and plunged the dastardly dagger hilt-deep into his breast,
and stood erect with a long, wild, triumphant laugh.

So the moon rode on in clearer majesty, and the night-dews dripped upon
the slain--for "the dearest tears which heaven sheds are her dews upon
the dead hero's face."



CHAPTER X.

MARGARET AGAIN A WANDERER.


Heavily passed the days of Margaret Walsingham, having, as we know, that
secret apprehension on her mind which the vision of the battle-field had
cast, and waiting with sick anxiety for news from the war, which might
explain to her what that vision might mean.

Heavily pass the days, and October's brown era came sighing down to
strip the trees.

Lady Juliana was having her last ball at Hautville Park before her
visitors should throng back to the city for the opening season, and for
the second time she insisted upon her companion being present. She was
so determined to have her way that Margaret had perforce to obey, all
unconscious of the trap which was making ready for her. The mighty rooms
of the chateau glittered with a thousand wax tapers; garlands of richest
flowers festooned the walls; bewildering strains of music intoxicated
the senses.

My lady, the loveliest being there, shimmered about here and there, the
beauty of the ball, the adored of half the gentlemen.

Miss Walsingham, seeing no reason why she should be among the revelers,
when her heart was so heavy with cares for the last of the Brands, soon
glided into a small Saracenic cloister, which was lighted dimly by a
single iron lamp, and from it watched with wistful and still tender
interest the fairy-like figure of her Lady Julie.

She had not been there a quarter of an hour, when the Duke of Piermont,
passing through hurriedly, as if late for some engagement, caught sight
of her, and stopped short before her.

"My dear Miss Walsingham! To see you among us is a pleasure indeed.
You'll waltz with me?"

"I am strictly a spectator, your grace--thanks."

"What! Not even walk through the Polonaise with me? Well, I shall
forswear the mazes also. Will you come to the conservatory? I think
there is some amazing flower of Lady Juliana's out--blooms once in a
hundred years or so. Come and see it."

"I think that your presence is expected in the ball-room. Lieutenant
Falconcourt has been dispatched to seek for you."

His grace glanced at his tablets and frowned.

"Too late to keep my promise now," he muttered, "so I may as well follow
my own inclinations. I shall remain conveniently invisible, with your
permission, Miss Walsingham."

"Your grace must not count upon my permission."

"Hulloa!" cried a voice "Cousin Julie is on the tenterhooks of
impatience for you, Piermont. You are too late to open the ball with
her. Oh, do I see Miss Walsingham?"

Lieutenant Falconcourt joined the pair with looks of curiosity, and
rendered his respects to my lady's companion.

"Remain here a few moments, while I see Lady Juliana," said the young
duke, hurriedly pressing her hand.

In a moment he was gone, and Harry Falconcourt was in his place by her
side.

"My dear Miss Walsingham," he said, half gayly, but with a slight
appearance of anxiety in his manner, which did not escape her notice,
"do you know that you have cast a spell over our duke, which he seems
inclined to wear under the very eyes of my Cousin Julie?"

"You cannot surely mean----"

"He is perfectly bewitched; and as I know you are quite unconscious of
it, I fore warn you."

Margaret sat silent for some time, plunged in an uneasy reverie. This
thing gave her a disagreeable shock for which she was not prepared. She
inwardly reviewed her position at Hautville Park, and a cold chill of
disappointment crept into her heart.

Must she leave her giddy darling, Lady Julie?

"I cannot believe it--I will not!" she exclaimed, with momentary fire.
"His grace is not so foolish as to intend this thing. You exaggerate his
emotions in regard to me."

The fairy-like form of my lady floated past the draperied door on the
arm of Piermont, and as she passed, her eyes sought the pair in the
cloister with visible triumph; then she turned to his grace again.

"You see," said Margaret, eagerly clinging to the first straw of hope,
"they perfectly understand each other, and your warning is superfluous."

Falconcourt smiled, but dropped the subject, and applied himself with
considerable relish to the task of entertaining my lady's companion.

As long as she could see his grace, the duke, and Lady Juliana amicably
promenading, or revolving in each other's arms, she spoke well and
admirably, but the instant that they parted, she became quite
_distrait_, and nervously dreaded the appearance of the duke.

So agitated did she become with this threatened return before her eyes,
that her face became white as chalk and her tones husky and indistinct.

"Excuse me if I leave you," she said, at last, desperately.

"I may return, if I overcome this faintness."

She had just sufficient strength to slip through the outer door, of the
cloister into the cool hall, and to make her way to a balcony, where
night breezes swept crisply over her, and the upper edge of the round,
red moon smote her face with the glow of one of Raphael's angels.

There she stood, gazing down upon the dark trees, her heart a chaos of
troubled reverie.

"On the first of September, at the battle of Chantilly, it is feared."

Voices of men in eager colloquy; two figures lounging on the terrace
steps beneath.

"Where did you see it?"

"In the last _War Gazette_--Colonel Brand's company almost cut to
pieces, and the colonel killed.

"Poor fellow! Do they know it here?"

Margaret turned and walked with a steady step to her own room, stabbed
through the heart with this sudden dagger.

On the first of September!

The tidal swell of memory broke over her reeling senses with a dull
admonition of something more dreadful than death.

It was not a gallant death in the midst of battle she had to mourn; it
was not a brave end to a brilliant day of heroism. No--by the murk of
that ghastly vision, by the shadow of the skulker among the dead, it was
murder!

Late at night she was disturbed in her chamber by a visit from her Lady
Julie.

"I want to say a few words to you, Miss Walsingham."

Margaret looked at the flushed face, the unsmiling lips, with wonder.

"I have been listening to an extraordinary list of your perfections from
the Duke of Piermont," she commenced, trembling, "and I find from the
intimate terms in which he mentions you, that you are no strangers to
each other. As I never anticipated the possibility of being rivaled by
my companion, I wish you distinctly to understand that I intend to brook
no intermeddling of any one of that class. You came between me and my
betrothed before, and drove him to his death; you shall not mar my
prospects again for want of a distinct understanding on the subject. If
I had known that Miss Blair was the woman who had come into possession
of St. Udo Brand's property, no inducement would have betrayed me into
taking her as my companion, and thus laying myself open to her
machinations a second time."

"Lady Julie," said Margaret, whose face had grown terribly pale, "I am
not worthy of these ungenerous imputations. Reconsider what you have
said and treat me more justly."

"Did I bring you here to be my mentor?" cried my lady. "Did I ever
suppose that you could meddle with my destiny? Here is the Duke of
Piermont, who was ready to kiss my foot-prints, openly setting me aside
and searching for a woman who acts as my private attendant or companion,
and raving over her perfections. Have I employed you here to be my
rival, Miss Walsingham? Have I set you over myself?"

She stood confessed at last; her grudging and jealous soul looked forth
from her sapphire eyes, and recognized Margaret Walsingham as her mental
superior, and consequently her enemy.

No twinges of gratitude deterred her from her jealous rage; no love,
begot by her patient Margaret's goodness and devotion, stirred her
small, chill heart.

The spiteful blow was struck upon the woman who had saved her life.

"As long as I could be a solace or a help to you, Lady Julie," faltered
Margaret, pale as death, "I wished for no greater happiness than to be
with you, and to serve you faithfully, _faithfully_, my lady, whatever
you may in your anger say; but now, I see that my influence has passed
away, and my duty is to leave you."

"You leave too late," cried my lady, tauntingly. "You have caught your
fish and can afford to leave the fish-pond now, I suppose. Really, I
think it no bad thing for a sea-captain's daughter to become the Duchess
of Piermont and the mistress of Seven-Oak Waaste."

"Lady Julie! Lady Julie!" cried Margaret, turning away with an
unutterable heart-pang, "I have loved you well, and should not be
treated thus. I desire to be neither the wife of the Duke of Piermont
nor the mistress of Seven-Oak Waaste."

She opened her wardrobe and began, with trembling hands, to array
herself in her bonnet and cloak, and to arrange a few things in her
small travelling-bag, tears dripping slowly all the time.

"What are you going to do?" sneered my lady, watching her movements with
incredulity.

"To go away--to find another home, Lady Julie."

"What! so suddenly? Without bidding his grace farewell? How cruel of
Miss Walsingham to treat her enamored admirer so."

Margaret took no further notice of my lady, but hastened her movements
toward departure.

"Had you not better wait till the morning?" said Lady Juliana,
fretfully, "and see my father before you go? Or are you anxious to go in
this absurd manner so that you may blason to the whole world how badly I
have treated you?"

"This interview is safe with me," said Margaret, turning on the stairs;
"and you may smooth over my departure as you please."

"And where is Bignetta to send your boxes, and where is my father to
send your salary?"

"To the Lambeth express office until I send for them. Farewell, my
lady."

With a sigh in which there was no bitter resentment, though her injuries
had not been slight, poor Margaret Walsingham flitted down the silent
staircase, and, heedless of the servants, who were putting out the
lights, and who stared curiously at her, she went out into the park.

The night wind moaned drearily among the stately trees; a Brazilian bird
in my lord's aviary uttered a piercing shriek of warning, as a hoarse
baying of a hound broke from the kennels.

Down by the gray stone fountain, where a laughing naiad flung jets of
water from her golden comb, Margaret turned back and looked upon my
lady's lighted windows as Eve looked upon guarded Paradise.

How she had filled her whole heart and fed her boundless love with this
girl.

Was it Heaven's will that all whom she loved should sting her thus? She
was a waif sent wandering through a world which shrank from her as if
Cain's mark burned upon her brow?

So Margaret Walsingham turned again and drifted down into the world
which had never a beating pulse for her, and went to find--she knew not
where--a place to work in, a sphere to fill, a duty to perform.

She was friendless, and heart-hungered, and despitefully wronged; but
God was her keeper.

       *       *       *       *       *

Poor Margaret had been travelling about from place to place for the past
fortnight, in the vain hope of finding a situation.

Her money had leaked away somewhere--there were plenty who were quite
willing to rid her of the scant burden, and now, as she looked into her
purse, she found but one silver-piece upon which to exist through as
much of the murky future as her anxious eyes could pierce.

The Marquis of Ducie, with the prodigality of a great mind, had been
pleased to send the sum of five pounds to the Lambeth express office for
Miss Walsingham, with the promise of a payment at some future time of
what salary was still due.

The five pounds had weathered fourteen days of traveling, extortion, and
inexperience, but it had come to its last shilling now, and Margaret was
desperately in earnest as she held the lean purse in her hand and asked
herself the question, "What shall I do now?"

She looked about the smoky houses, and down at the broad river, where
the forest of masts bristled between her and the dappled horizon.

She wandered down to one of the docks, and seating herself upon a coil
of rope, gazed absently at the green-tinged water below. Poor Margaret's
heart was so absorbed in her musings, that she did not notice that the
man who was stumbling over a length of tarry chain, in his eagerness to
reach her, was his grace, the Duke of Piermont.



CHAPTER XI.

UNREQUITED LOVE.


"Good gracious, Miss Walsingham! Is it possible that this can be you?"

He seized her hand with a pressure which told of his delight; his tones
were thrilling with glad excitement; his face was beaming with joy at
this queer meeting.

He drew her up from her rough seat, and, still retaining her hand, made
her walk with him, as if he was determined not to lose her again, and he
feasted his eyes upon her face, utterly heedless of the group of
gayly-dressed people he had left, and rattled on with a storm of
inquiries.

"Where did you disappear to? No one could give me any satisfaction about
you, and I sought you in every direction. Come away from this confounded
dock. What are you doing here alone? Will you walk with me, and let me
have a conversation with you? Don't deny me this time, Miss Walsingham.
We're not at Hautville Park."

They walked through the crooked lanes of the town, and took a road which
led anon to mown fields, and to furze commons, and to holts of scrawny
hazel, where the red clouds of evening could gaze upon their deeper
reflections, unbroken by toiling barge, or floating timber, or
stationary ships; and where pleasant willows made flickering shadows,
and dipped into the rippling current.

"Now," said the young duke, when nothing but the bleating of lambs or
the lowing of oxen was likely to interrupt them, "tell me why you left
Hautville Park, and what you are doing here?"

"Why do you put me through such an inquisition?" asked Margaret. "When I
left Hautville Park I wished to be dropped by Lady Juliana's friends.
Your grace will confer an obligation by remembering this."

"I do not aspire to the honor of being Lady Juliana Ducie's friend,
therefore beg to be considered exempt from your prohibition."

"On your own behalf, then, your grace, I am compelled to forbid any
further interest in my movements. My sphere in life utterly removes me
from your attention, and my path will probably never cross yours after
to-day."

"Miss Walsingham," cried the young duke, fervently, "I will not let you
away this time without hearing me. I want to tell you that I formed an
opinion concerning you when my eyes first picked you out at the marquis'
dinner-table, which each hurried interview since has only strengthened,
and I have wished to tell you ever since that evening what a profound
impression your graces of mind have made upon me. Whatever wrongs the
world may accuse you of, I have the utmost confidence in you. I know
that you will pursue none but a noble, unselfish course--that you are
the purest, ay, and the bravest woman whom I ever met."

Margaret was quite silenced by this outburst, and walked on almost
frightened by the novelty of her position.

It struck her that the man walking by her side and gazing so eagerly
into her face was the only stanch friend she had on earth.

For a brief moment she had a glimpse of the sweetness which gladdens the
life of a woman beloved, and then she woke to calmer reality, and put
the vision from her firmly.

"I am afraid that you think all this very premature," resumed his grace,
again taking up the tale, "and so I suppose it is, to you. But it is not
so to me. I could not have a deeper devotion and admiration for you
years hence than I have now. Dear Miss Walsingham, will you make me
immeasurably happy by bestowing your hand upon me?"

"I am compelled to reject your grace's proposal."

The pair walked mechanically on for some minutes, the young man whirling
his cane furiously, Margaret eyeing with tear-laden eyes the dusty
turnpike before her.

"I think you had better take a rest for a few minutes," said his grace,
when he had whirled the gold top of his cane and had nothing else to do;
"we have been walking quite fast, and are at least a mile and a quarter
from the village."

He spread his perfumed handkerchief on a flat stone, and Margaret,
obeying an impulse the very opposite of that which she intended, sank
down wearily upon it.

"I am not surprised that you have refused my offer so decidedly," said
the young duke, returning to the attack as he paced restlessly back and
forth in front of her "when I remember how utterly unknown my temper and
disposition are to you, and how recent our acquaintanceship still is. I
am ready to admit my own presumption in addressing you. But Miss
Walsingham dear Miss Walsingham, may I hope that when you know me
better, when you have studied me long enough, and have completely made
up your mind about all that is bad or good in me, you will then permit
me to address you as I have done to-night, and say yes or no, with more
justice to me."

"Why do you come to me with this request? Have you not been paying court
to the Marquis of Ducie's daughter all summer? I ask you this before I
can assure myself that your avowal is an honor to me. Your answer cannot
influence in the slightest my decision."

"I give you my word of honor, Miss Walsingham, that I have not been
paying court to Lady Juliana Ducie; if you wish to know why, I found
that her heartless desertion of St. Udo Brand, after he lost his
property, outweighed with me her fascination; and, having accidentally
become acquainted with the whole story, I naturally preferred to shun
the fawning lip and clasping hand, and the craven heart of a Judas in
woman's lovely seeming, that I might find her contrast in Margaret
Walsingham."

"Do not mention the dead," said Margaret, deeply moved. "I can never,
never forget that I was the unwilling cause of his early death."

She was weak and exhausted, though as yet she did not know it, and she
bowed her head to weep in an abandonment of grief, which came upon her
unawares and would not be set aside.

His grace stopped with folded arms to look at her. Here was the woman
who was enriched by the death of a man who had insulted her, mourning
his untimely end with bitter tears. A vision of the woman who had
plighted him her troth rose up to confront this grief-shaken figure with
decorous sighs, and shallow regrets, and heartless unconcern, and he put
away the red-lipped siren from his thoughts with an execration of scorn,
and clung anew to faithful Margaret.

"Should it be ten years hence that you relent, let me try my fate a
second time," he cried, grasping her hand in his increased fervor of
admiration.

"Leave me," murmured Margaret. "I have given you my answer--crown your
acts of kindness by leaving me."

The wind swept over the flat moors with a bleaker sound; she gathered
her mantle closer, and rose to face the east--sad-colored as her own
future.

"And where are you going?" asked the Duke of Piermont. "Surely you are
not going to hide yourself from all your friends? You will let me know
where you purpose residing until you procure the situation you are in
search of?"

I wonder what his grace would have said, had he known how utterly
destitute she was--that she had but one shilling at that moment in her
pocket--that the only friend to whom she could or would apply was her
Father in Heaven?

"I cannot answer your questions," said Margaret, holding out her hand to
him; "but since you are so generous with your interest, I shall let you
into the secret of my future movements, always with the understanding
that the Marquis of Ducie and his friends shall not know. Now, my lord,
I have nothing more to say to you, except to thank you for the intended
honor which it would be ridiculous in me to accept. See, there is a
shower coming up, and you will get wet before you can return to the
village. Good-by."

"But you--Good Heaven! Miss Walsingham, where are you to go?"

She waved her hand toward a farm-house, and walked swiftly away as if
she would seek shelter there.

And the last that he saw of her, was her black garments like a speck on
the murky road, seeming to walk in between two great thunderous clouds,
and to be swallowed up.

Margaret kept hurrying on, so absorbed in her musings that she passed
the farm-house, where she might have found a hospitable shelter for the
night, and hurried down the lonely road away from the river, where the
rising wind waited for her at sudden corners, and the black clouds
descended nearer with the darkening night.

And she hurried on faster, and her eyes pierced the gathering blackness,
with the sad and weary gaze of one whose heart carries a secret sorrow,
and tears fell slowly from them, which blurred the way, and blotted out
the lowering sky.

Where had she wandered to?

There was no friendly light from any cottage window to guide her, no
sheep-bell or halloo of herd-boy. Her clothes were heavy with moisture,
and she was very tired and very desolate.

How her head ached, and her arms!

Oh! if she could just be so blessed as to sink upon some kind woman's
bed this very moment, and sleep!

Perhaps she would fall in some lime-pit, or ditch, or into the slimy
lock of some canal, and die miserably.

Who would weep for her if she died? Who cared for Margaret Walsingham?

And the thought of her utter desolation overcome her, as weariness,
hunger, and storm had failed to do.

She crouched down beneath a furze-bush, and, resting her hot and beating
head upon her hands, wept, poor soul!

And then came unconsciousness and utter oblivion.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I declare, John, she knows me! Here, take a sup o' this barley-water,
my lamb. Dear heart! she's sensible once more. Ain't there another drop
than this, John? Mayhap it's plenty." Margaret looked with languid eyes
upon the rugged figure of a man, clad in dingy red-dust habiliments, who
was standing between her and a small window, with his head sunk in a
curious way between his hands.

His brawny shoulders were heaving, and his rough shock of hair trembled
like sea-grass in a hurricane, while a gurgling sort of noise issued
from him.

Had a fit of laughter seized him, or was the man crying?

Whose bed was she lying in, hung with red calico curtains?

Where had she seen that figure in the clay-colored smock before?

And then Margaret saw a sallow-faced woman of spare figure bending over
her, with a tin cup in her hand, and a glistening channel down each
cheek.

"Mrs. Doane!" she breathed, in wonder.

"There I knowed it! Hark to that, John!" cried the woman, with an
exultant chuckle, which threatened to be strangled by a sob.

"Didn't she call me by name, the blessed lamb?"

She raised the blessed lamb in her arms, who, truth to say, scarcely
recognized herself by such an unwonted title, and held the tin cup to
her lips.

Sweeter to Margaret than Lusitanian nectar such as Chianti yields was
her drink of barley water.

Margaret without working out the queer problem of how she came there,
fell into a deep and quiet sleep.

And between sleeping profoundly, eating morsels of food with ravenous
enjoyment, lying placidly wakeful and watching without curiosity the
movements of her two nurses, Margaret saw the young moon grow into a
full, round orb, which glimmered in a halo through the bottle-green
glass of the cracked window, and silvered her from head to foot, each
long, still night; and at last strength came to her, and with it
recollection.

"Did I come to you, Mr. Doane?" she asked, one evening, when that person
was sitting by her bedside peacefully smoking his pipe, and listening
with pride to the voice of Johnnie in the kitchen chanting his spelling
lesson.

"Come to us? No, miss, you didn't but we come to you," replied the
bricklayer, stuffing down the ashes further into his pipe.

"I want to know about it, please; I do not understand at all how I am at
Lynthorpe."

"Where was you when you was took bad?"

Margaret pondered a long time.

"The last I distinctly remember is of being a mile and a half from
Rotherhithe."

"Lor-a-musy! and didn't nobody give ye a seat in their wagon down here?
Did you walk all the way, and so light of head like?" She put her thin
hand to her forehead again.

"I remember of being lost on a common outside of Rotherhithe," she
answered, "and I do not know what became of me after that. I sat down to
rest, and I suppose I must have been there all night. Is it long ago?"

"What date was it, dear miss, that you was lost on the moor? Can ye mind
that?"

"It was the seventh of October."

"Just think o' that now! It was two days after that when I found you
sitting at the foot of a hay-rick in Farmer Bracon's land, a mile from
here. You was a sorry sight, but I know'd yer again, and came close to
yer. You was neither sleeping nor not sleeping, but whispering to
yourself; so I brought you home to the wife, and she and me we've nursed
ye through, thank heaven! And here's the papers as was found on ye,
miss, by the wife," rising and producing them from a carefully-locked
little box in the cupboard; "and here's the purse with a shilling in it,
which was all that we saw with ye, and you a sending me a guinea reg'lar
every quarter for Johnnie's schooling, for a kind miss, as ye are."

Margaret lay quiet for a while; her deep gray eyes were full of tears,
her bleached face tremulous with smiles.

"Heaven is taking great care of me, and I have much to be thankful for.
Kind John Doane and his wife, for instance."

The bricklayer puffed hard, and slowly spelled out her meaning, and
arrived at it with a snort of surprised pleasure.

"Is it Betsy and me that you want to be thankful for? You as is our
guarding angel, what made a man of Johnnie as can read most as well as
the curate himself. And haven't every one of the nine of us, down to the
babby, felt as if we had a angel under the roof for the last three
weeks?"

"Have I been three weeks ill?"

"Three weeks, dear miss; seven days of 'em you wasn't in your head at
all, and Dr. Ramsey weren't easy about you--weren't easy at all. It were
inflammation of the brain."

"And you out of your pittance--you have nursed me through all this?"

"And proud to do it, miss."

"But if I had died, who would make up to you the doctor's bill, or your
own ease?"

"Dear miss, don't!" His hard hand went up to wipe the starting tears.
"If you had died, it's not us as would stop our mourning to think of the
mite you cost us. You ain't like the rest of the Peerage--you comes down
to we; you had a heart, so you had, and felt for we, and we never
forgets that."

"Kind John Doane, how shall I repay you?"

She buried her face and wept.

The cheerful crackle of a fagot fire came from the kitchen grate, long
spurts of yellow light outlined upon the wall Mrs. Doane's figure as she
danced the youngest toddler on her knee, and Margaret fell asleep to the
words:

    "Dance to your daddy,
    My bonny babby;
    Dance to your daddy,
    Do, dear, do-o!
    You'll get a wee bit fishie,
    In a wee bit dishie,
    And a whirligigie,
    And a buttered scone!"



CHAPTER XII.

ST. UDO BRAND NOT DEAD.


Margaret was sitting up at last in the bricklayer's doorway, muffled in
shawls, and shuddering nervously at every jarring sound about her.

A chariot was approaching the bricklayer's cottage from the village of
Lynthorpe, and on its panel glittered the arms of Castle Brand.

Already the coachman, Symonds, had seen the invalid at the door, and was
talking to some one inside, and in the next minute the chariot was drawn
up before the door, and the familiar figure of little Dr. Gay was
stepping out.

"Found at last, my dear girl!" cried he, radiantly; "and a fine search
we have had of it. Bless my soul, though, you aren't too strong yet!
Don't be frightened, dear."

The thin, trembling hands were clasped nervously on the swelling breast.

Margaret looked piteously around, as if for succor.

"I need not be, I hope, sir," she said, faintly.

"No, I'm sure not," cried the doctor, pressing her hand; "although you
have contrived to hide yourself from us for eight months, just as though
you did fear your old friends. But, now that you have failed so signally
in your endeavor to work for your own bread, perhaps you will see your
duty plain before you, and won't refuse to fulfill the will which has
been so long and uselessly withstood. Hey! my dear?"

The pale woman lifted her dark eyes resolutely, her delicate nostril
quivered.

"Dr. Gay," said she, "you must see that I am in no state to discuss
business matters with you."

"By the lord Harry! I should think not," cried the little doctor, "so we
won't discuss 'em at all; we'll just quietly do as we are bid."

"You have sought me when I wished to be lost to you," said Margaret,
"but that can't make much difference now. I have long made up my mind
what I am to do. Dr. Gay, I tell you I shall not go to Seven-Oak
Waaste."

"Miss Margaret," he said, reassuredly, "we sha'n't say another word
about these affairs until you are stronger; but you can't stay here, you
know, so just come along with me, and Mrs. Gay can take care of you for
a while. Does that suit better?"

She calmed herself presently and thought over it with a forlorn feeling
of helplessness.

"Thanks, you are very kind," said she, "but why can't I stay here? I
hope to repay these kind friends when I am well again."

"Rubbish!" flouted the doctor, good-humoredly. "You don't feel it,
perhaps, but for all that you must be an additional burden on the
woman's time, which money can never repay. Come home with me, my dear,
and get strong, and then talk over your affairs with Davenport and me
like a sensible woman."

Her head drooped sadly on her breast, and a scarlet blush tinged her
poor cheek. She felt the imputation keenly, although Mrs. Doane had
crept close to her chair, and was eagerly whispering how little of a
burden she had thought her dear, kind miss!

"I must be a Marplot no more," whispered Margaret to her humble friend,
with a weary sigh. "I have done so much harm already to everybody that I
must be very careful, dear Mrs. Doane."

The bright tears were dropping fast from her wistful, remorseful eyes,
and her sensitive nature urged her hard to part from this faithful heart
before she should do it a hurt; so that the little doctor had the
satisfaction of gaining his point, after all, and wrapped her up from
the autumn mists with a gratified glow.

How she wept as she tottered to the sumptuous close carriage and sank
among the velvet cushions! Had she been leaving a prince's palace the
tender soul could not have felt it more.

"Doant 'ee cry, dear miss," blurted the honest bricklayer, who had come
home to dinner, and was wistfully watching the departure, "yer luck's
took a fort'nate turn. Praise be blessed for't, so doant 'ee affront the
Lord with them tears. God be wi' ye, dear miss, we woan't forgit ye, nor
you us--that I kin bet on."

So she was forced to leave them, though her heart turned sadly toward
them in their sordid hut, and fain would have sunned itself in that
sweet love which never shone in her own dim path of life.

In the dusk of that November day Margaret Walsingham entered Dr. Gay's
neat residence in Regis, ostensibly to be under his immediate care.

She was with him because, poor soul, she had no other home which she
would enter. He took her there because he hoped to overcome her
half-sick fancies about Castle Brand, and to send her forth to take
possession of the fortune which was, to all intents and purposes, her
own.

For a few days the guest kept her room, and her own counsel, but at the
end of a week she came out to the parlor, with a grave, firm face, and
declared herself quite recovered.

The doctor was sitting in his arm-chair, by a cozy, crackling fire, and
was absently trotting a bouncing baby of ten months on his knee, while
he anxiously pored over a huge medical book at his elbow; and Mrs. Gay
was stitching a cambric frill in her easy chair opposite, and watching
the clumsy nurse with a face of long-suffering patience.

And Margaret, gliding into the room in her thread-bare black robes, and,
with a gentle yet resolute face, seemed like the apparition of some
tragedy queen coming upon the stage where the farce was still enacting.

"Ah! Good-evening, good-evening, my dear Miss Walsingham!" cried the
doctor, jumping up and dumping the baby unceremoniously into his wife's
lap. "Take this chair and this footstool. Are you better?"

"Thanks. I am well now," said Margaret, quietly seating herself. "And I
would like to confer with you and Mr. Davenport upon my future
prospects."

"Never mind 'em now, Miss Margaret," said the doctor, kindly. "You are
far from strong yet."

"Please summon Mr. Davenport," returned she.

"Stubborn as ever, my dear," grumbled he, laughing. "You're pretty quiet
about it, but you will have your way."

"Yes, I must have my way," said Margaret, with a sad smile.

So Dr. Gay bustled off, and brought the lawyer back with him, and
presented their ward, sitting alone by the fire; Mrs. Gay having sighed
out her regrets that her poor health sent her to bed so early, and
retired thither.

"Gad! Miss Walsingham," blurted Mr. Davenport, shaking hands. "Your
adventures haven't agreed well with you. Why, you're about as gaunt as
my walking stick!"

"I am quite well for all that," said she, somewhat eagerly, "and am, of
course, anxious to arrange my future before me."

The executors sat down opposite her, full of expectation.

"It seems that you are aware of Captain Brand's reported death," said
the lawyer, briskly: "therefore that obstacle is removed from your way,
and you can hesitate no longer in taking possession of Seven-Oak Waaste.
Is that what you wish to say?"

"I have decided what I shall do with the property," she said, in a
melancholy voice, "and I have summoned you here to announce my wishes to
you."

"Are they to be taken down in legal form?" sneered the lawyer.

"Yes," she replied, humbly. "I wish to do some good while I have the
power, with money which would only be a curse to me, and would drag my
soul down to despair. I am resolved to sell Seven-Oak Waaste, and found
a charitable institution with the proceeds."

The executors stared aghast in her face, so cold and hopeless, but they
read no faltering there.

"Good heavens!" ejaculated the little doctor, in a fright, "she'll do
it, you see."

"Well, madam, of course your will is law," said the old lawyer, grimly,
"but you can't have it obeyed immediately for all that. The year
mentioned in the will is not finished yet; and that puts obstacle number
one in the way of your scheme; and St. Udo Brand's death has not been
proved yet, and that puts obstacle number two in the way of your scheme.
You must wait four months yet, you see."

Her face fell, and she sank immediately into apathy, which neither of
the executors sought to rouse her from, and soon she bade them
good-night, and went to her room.

"Obstinate as a mule," muttered Mr. Davenport, as he and his colleague
sat nearer the fire, and sipped their mild punch. "By George, I never
was so angry at a woman before. What does she expect to end in?"

"I expect her to end in a mad house," returned the doctor, with an
uneasy look toward the door. "She has all the symptoms of incipient
insanity."

"Incipient tomfoolery!" growled the lawyer, contemptuously. "You don't
catch a strong-willed woman like that turning crazy. She always was a
mystery to me, you know."

Some weeks passed, the executors professed to be searching for the legal
proofs of Colonel Brand's death. Davenport had written to Washington
desiring particulars. In reality they were merely amusing their willful
ward by these formalities, having not the slightest doubt of the
colonel's decease; and impatiently hoping for some change of resolve in
Margaret Walsingham.

But that aimless, hopeless period of Margaret's history quickly passed
away, and it had fitted her well for the strange, pathetic, wondrous end
to which she now was fast approaching with reluctant feet.

She sat with Mrs. Gay and the baby in the doctor's cozy parlor, one
blustering evening in the end of November. The green curtains were drawn
warmly over the misty panes, the little fire flickered cheerily in the
brass-knobbed grate, and the baby crowed lustily in his languid mother's
lap, almost forcing a smile from her dejectedly drooping lips in spite
of her chronic melancholy, when the doctor's step was heard on the
passage, and a shuffling sound, as of another arrival, and the doctor
called in a strange voice for his wife.

"Harriet, will you come here?"

She slowly arose and placed the child in Margaret's eager arms, and
shaking her head forebodingly, left the room. Margaret was happily
unconscious of all save Franky's pretty face.

Presently the lady came back with uplifted eyebrows, and placed some
wine upon the side-table, and brought her own vinaigrette and put it
beside the decanter.

"The doctor has something to say to you. Miss Walsingham," said she, at
last. "I will take Franky up-stairs for awhile, and Dr. Gay says that he
is anxious that you should prepare your mind for a very unexpected turn
of your affairs."

She took the child and vanished from the room, leaving Margaret gazing
after her with a vague feeling of terror.

"What has occurred, I wonder?" thought she. "Something is wrong."

She half rose, intending to seek Dr. Gay, but he appeared at the door,
and shutting it close, approached her with a manifest tremor of
apprehension.

"My wife has told you that I have something strange to say to you,"
began the little doctor, seizing her hand and pressing it closely. "I
would like you to endeavor to form some conception of it before I
startle you with it."

She was watching him with a wondering eye. His perturbation, his
anxiety, his eagerness amazed her--she had never seen the mild little
man so violently agitated.

"I can form no conception of your meaning," said she; "be so kind as to
explain it in a word."

"My dear girl, we've made a queer mistake, that's all," faltered he,
smoothing her hand anxiously. "Now, do you think over every possibility,
and pick out the most unlikely--I don't want to startle you."

"Nothing can startle me now that St. Udo Brand is----"

She stopped abruptly and gazed fixedly in his face where yet lingered
the traces of a serious shock; and her great gray eyes grew black as
midnight while her cheeks flashed forth a splendid carmine.

"You don't intend to say that he is not dead?" cried she, sharply.

The doctor continued smoothing her hand; she snatched it away and
clasped both in an access of emotion.

"Tell me--tell me!" screamed Margaret wildly.

"St. Udo has come back, sure enough," said the doctor, putting his arm
about her and trying to soothe her. "St. Udo Brand came home to-day and
walked straight into Davenport's office."

Her great eyes drank in the assurance in his face, her parted lips
quivered into almost a wild smile of triumph, and she clung to the
little doctor, crying out:

"St. Udo is not dead--not dead! Oh, my heart, he is not dead!"

And then she sank on her chair and lifted her sparkling eyes, as it
were, to Heaven, and whispered:

"Thank Heaven! thank Heaven! Oh, I can never grieve again."

"Come, that's a right pleasant way of taking it," cried the doctor,
quite charmed. "I was so afraid that you would take up the old hatred as
soon as he came back to dispute the will with you, especially as he was
thought to be so well out of the way."

"Hush," smiled Margaret, with the same glad radiance. "I can think of
nothing just now except my gratitude to Providence for giving him back
to us instead of branding me with the mark of Cain. Poor, erring, noble
St. Udo! I shall never cross his will again. He shall learn to-night how
guiltless Margaret Walsingham was of his disappointment. Now I can sign
away the Brand property, although the year is not out, and St. Udo Brand
shall have it all."

She rattled on thus like a happy child. Her stern will was melted to
tenderness, her timid nature was forgotten in joyful excitement. Had he
been the chosen of her heart she could not have welcomed him with wilder
rapture than this.

"By the lord Harry! you have a magnanimous soul," exclaimed Dr. Gay,
delighted as he watched her. "Who would have expected this happy
deliverance out of all our troubles? He can't help loving her in spite
of himself," thought the sanguine Gay; "she's so gracious and upright.
She will win his heart, I could bet ten pounds, in a week."

"Now I can hear how this wonderful miracle came to pass," said she,
composing herself presently; "how did he escape, and how was it that the
rumor of his death got abroad?"

"It seems that it was all a mistake about his being engaged in the
general engagement on the first of September. He was traveling on a
secret embassy from Washington to Virginia, and was set upon by a strong
force at midnight. His guard was composed of but twenty men, and they
were killed to a man. The colonel was left for dead on the field. In the
morning the Southern soldiers came back to strip the dead, and finding
some life in this fellow they carried him to Richmond, where his wounds
were looked to, and he recovered. He has lain in prison ever since, and
was only exchanged three weeks ago; and being disgusted with his
adventures, he has come home again to try his luck here."

Margaret could only clasp her hands again and raise her thankful eyes to
heaven, while a sweet smile quivered on her lips.

"How does he look?" whispered she, at last; "is he not very weak and
ill?"

"Y--es," hesitated Dr. Gay; "he's almost as lank as a grayhound, I must
confess, and tolerably bronzed. But he is a fine looking man for all
that, Miss Margaret, and you must let old sores drop and be kind to
him."

"I will be just to him," said she gleefully.

"Not too generous though, my dear," said Gay, anxiously. "However,
Davenport will take care of that. He has your interest very much at
heart, although he is so rough-and-tumble in his manners."

She turned away her calm, happy face. His warnings fell on deaf ears,
for, as ever, she had chosen her own path and would not depart from it.

"Now," said Gay, "perhaps we had best get through with this affair at
once; you have borne it thus far with far more fortitude than I had
expected. Will you see the colonel to-night?"

She started, and flashed a quick look in his face.

"Is he here, Dr. Gay?" breathed she, with emotion.

"He came in with me," said the doctor; "He asked for you, and is waiting
in the drawing-room."

The thin face of Margaret flushed hotly. One cannot doubt that a flicker
of memory's lamp shone out in that moment, revealing the bitter past to
her shrinking soul, but she dropped the curtain over that picture
quickly, and bade the doctor bring him in.

So Dr. Gay went out with a satisfied smile, and brought the soldier in.

She rose to greet him, tall, majestic as a daughter of the gods, with
her scarlet shawl draping her shoulders regally; and her quivering,
spirited countenance seemed to glow with a new and beautiful effulgence,
as if the glad soul illuminated each plain feature with rose lights. Her
dark-fringed eyelids hid the beaming eyes for a moment of timid
hesitancy, and she drooped before the stranger like a conquered empress;
and then she flashed a full, sweet face upon him whom she had mourned as
dead.

And the gaze grew fixed and troubled, the outstretched hand fell slowly
to her side--she stood speechless. How often had her faithful memory
held up to her the portrait of St. Udo Brand--grand, bold, fearless as
she had beheld him in that hour of his fury; when the white lights of
scorn were flashing from his straightly-leveled eyes, and the wrath of a
king sat on his regal brow.

How was it that he cringed in the doorway there and with a forced stare
met her gaze of bewilderment? Why did his lurid eyeballs shift and
shrink, and grow small and hare-like, when they had ever met hers, with
the full glare of an eagle? How had these thin lines of patient waiting,
and anxiety, and craft, escaped her intent scrutiny when last she had
lifted her outraged eyes to that face.

Was this the hero of her dreams, this evil-faced man who looked at her
so insolently?

The roses faded out of her cheeks, the rich light fled from her eyes,
her heart swelled wildly in her bosom and then turned to a heavier
weight than lead.

She averted a white, cold face from Colonel Brand and sank upon her
chair like one whose blood has oozed to the last drop through the secret
wound.

"Good heaven! she has fainted!" cried Dr. Gay.



CHAPTER XIII.

MARGARET GOES TO CASTLE BRAND.


It was about noon the next morning when, for the second time, Colonel
Brand presented himself at Dr. Gay's door, requesting the honor of an
interview with Margaret Walsingham.

"Shall you see him to-day?" asked the languid voice of Mrs. Gay, at the
lady's bedroom door, when she had delivered the colonel's message.

Margaret opened the door and looked out. Her great troubled eyes were
circled with violet shadows; she had not slept, and, if those wan cheeks
did not belie her she had wept many hours of the preceeding night.

"I must meet him, I suppose; I may as well have it over to-day. I want
to get rid of the whole business as fast as I can."

Colonel Brand rose as the tall, proud figure glided in, and with a quiet
bow passed to a distant sofa.

"We meet, I hope, more amicably than we parted," observed he, with an
intent watch on her countenance.

"On my part, yes," answered she, with a deep blush.

"I have heard how you refused to possess my fortune, feeling how you
would defraud me," said he. "I feel, of course, grateful to you for your
honorable conduct."

The measured tones fell harshly on the woman's high soul; she shrank
from the ignoble praise,

"Sir, I could not honestly take what was by right yours," she said,
looking proudly at the man, "I never meant to defraud you, or to stand
in your way. I only wish to get out of your way, now that you have
returned safely home. I am glad that you have come back, Colonel Brand,
for I regretted your death most bitterly."

Tears came to her eyes, and through them the thin visage of the soldier
seemed to narrow into a travesty of his old self, and she dashed them
away, ashamed of her weakness.

"I thank you for the kindness," said the soft, wary voice. "I did not
believe I had one friend in England who would mourn my death; perhaps,
had I known this, I should never have left it."

She glanced incredulously at him. How could he stoop to such
insincerity, who used to glory in his haughty plain speaking?

The words of kindness died upon her lips, and she turned away with a
heart-sick sigh.

"I see that I can hardly get Miss Walsingham to believe that I am not
the brutal scoffer who insulted her at Castle Brand, seven months ago,"
said he, with an ingratiating gentleness; "but I for one have lived to
see my mistake, and perhaps you may soon see yours. I have come back in
many respects a changed man."

"Changed?" faltered she, raising her wistful eyes to his. "Yes, you are.
I should not have known you."

And the shifting, contracting eyeballs answered her by dropping to the
carpet, while the olive face whitened to a deathly pallor, and the thin,
secret lips twitched suddenly.

Changed? Oh, Heaven! yes; had she been blind to read such nobility in
yon ill-favored face?

Changed? By all that was generous, brave, and true, this Colonel Brand
had belied her mad belief; no foolish devotee had ever bowed before a
more unworthy shrine than had poor Margaret Walsingham.

"One summer in the South, under such disagreeable circumstances, would
alter any man's appearance," quoth he, twisting his black mustache with
his long, brown fingers, and furtively reading her disdainful face.
"What between exposure, wounds, swamp fever, famine, and imprisonment,
personal beauty stands but a poor chance at the seat of war. But I hope
that what I have lost in personal appearance I have gained in the
qualities which a good woman admires most. I believe my heart is
bettered, my dear Miss Walsingham."

Hypocrite!

She vowed that she would rather hear that insolent laugh and the brutal
exclamation:

"Ye gods! what a Medusa!" than this silly sentimentality from St. Udo
Brand.

It was not like him to crouch at her feet, the hero whom she had
forgiven long ago for his roughness, exalting that roughness to the
pedestal of just contempt for a successful adventuress.

Why could he not, out of that nobility of heart which she had credited
him with, see that she had forgotten the old grudge long ago, and that
she was ready to do him full justice?

What did he take her for? a dissembling schemer, who had not been
sincere in her rejection of the Brand estate, and whom he must fawn upon
in order to win his own from her greedy clutch?

"I have nothing to do with your reformation, Colonel Brand," she said,
with cold formality. "My duty is plain to me, whatever you are. I shall
require no prompting to do it."

His eyes sparkled.

For the first time he looked frankly at her, and seemed at ease.

"I am relieved to hear you say so, Miss Walsingham," he said, with
something of the old free air; "for I was not inclined to quarrel with
you about my grandmother's disposition of the property. I should be
sorry to return to the angry feelings which I at first was fool enough
to indulge in against you; for I must admit that I am very much more
agreeably impressed with you to-day than I was that morning in the
library in Castle Brand. So, suppose we let by-gones drop, and begin on
a friendly footing."

"I repeat that your changed feelings have nothing to do with my duty,"
said Margaret, coldly. "It can make no difference whether you regard me
with toleration or indifference, I shall do you justice."

He stared suspiciously at her, and one or two wary wrinkles lined his
forehead.

"You don't mean to say that you are going to offer me some paltry
compensation instead of submitting quietly to the terms of the will?"
demanded he.

She turned a look of splendid scorn upon him.

Could he not find it in his soul to conceive of strict justice? Did he
not know the meaning of generosity? How mean, then, was his heart, which
ascribed such abject meanness to her?

"No; I did not think of that," said she. "You shall have every shilling
of your property, Colonel Brand."

"By Jove, you amaze me!" cried he, rising to approach near her. "Then
you have decided to marry me, after all, and let us both have the
lands?"

His exultation shone out in his evil countenance, and sent him hastily
across the room to take her hand.

But Margaret shrank back, and with a strong frown waved him away.

What had frozen the generous words on her lips?

Why did she let him rush to every conclusion but the right one?

She had come into his presence to say:

"I freely give up my claim upon your property, and place the deeds
entirely in your hands, wishing no further connection with it, or with
you; and so--farewell!"

But here she sat, chilled, bitter at heart, coolly asking herself:

"Is it well for me to be too hasty? Since I have been so utterly
mistaken in the character of this man, may I not be mistaken in rashly
following out my first impulse regarding his grandmother's property?
Yes, I am rash. I will wait a while before I make my intention known."

"I must know you better, sir, before I can form a just opinion of you,"
said she. "Perhaps we had better defer this matter until we have each
had time to decide upon the wisest course?"

"We have scarcely four months," said he, with a frown.

"They are ample for the purpose," she retorted, and rose to terminate
the interview.

"When am I to see you again, Miss Walsingham?" asked the softly-pitched
tones.

Without analyzing the strong impulse which prompted her, she replied:

"You are welcome to come here every evening, if you choose to make an
associate of your grandmother's companion."

And the satire checked the exaggerated deference with which he was
making his adieus, and sent him away with a touch of St. Udo's lofty
style.

She stood long at the window, following that tall, fine figure with
darkened eyes, and biting her lips fiercely.

"Oh, what a fool I have been," she groaned, when he had disappeared, "to
credit that small, chill heart with noble qualities! To invest that
suspicious soul with high impulses, and then to fall down and worship
him for a fallen god! Does not his quailing eye speak of a vile history,
of which he is such a coward as to fear the exposure? He, the gallant
soldier and invincible hero! Oh, blind world, to wear such a bandage of
credulity! He is incapable of bravery. I protest that a man with such a
downward eye could not look peril in the face. He fears me--_me_,
Margaret Walsingham, who trembled at his voice. How can this paradox be
explained? Is it possible that I have been so insanely mistaken in the
man as this?"

Colonel Brand forthwith began to visit Margaret Walsingham, with a view
to winning her for his wife, and at every interview her aversion
increased.

She soon came to shudder if she but heard his voice, and in her heart
violently contradicted every word he uttered, as if she saw the lie on
his face, when she detected his petty subterfuges to trap her interest,
and wily schemes to catch her love as regularly as he had recourse to
them. And she knew in her soul that the man was false in all except his
intention to win back his fortune.

"Where is that St. Udo Brand I mourned for?" wailed she, one evening,
after a stormy interview, when he had unwittingly disclosed the foul
distortion of his soul to her abhorring eyes. "Where has that great
spirit fled which cried for help to save itself from ruin at the hands
of Juliana Ducie? Must I accept the detestable truth that the gold which
I thought I had discovered behind the vail of sin was but tinsel all the
time, and tarnished with many an indelible stain of crime? Oh, St. Udo,
come back to me as you used to come in my grief, and reveal your sad,
heroic history once more, that I may believe in human nature again! But
for that secret, wily nature, I loathe it--oh, I loathe _that man_!" she
hissed, passionately. "Something rises up in my heart against him every
hour I see him, and whispers: 'Crush that serpent!'"

"How could he have concealed his real nature from everybody so
successfully? This wretch is not clever enough to conceal his nature
from me, and I am not particularly penetrating. _Can this be St. Udo
Brand? Good Heaven! What an idea!_"

Margaret suddenly relapsed into utter silence; the half-whispered
thoughts died on her lips, and she grew fearfully pale. The idea had
shot through her brain like a blinding flash of light; it dazzled, it
distracted her. She struggled against the fast-growing conviction as the
unconscious wretch from his half-fatal bath in the ocean struggles
against returning life, preferring the stupor to the throes of the new
life.

But it grew to her; she could not shake it off. She wondered, aghast at
herself for wondering, why she had not known it in the first stunned,
incredulous gaze, when all her joy at his return froze into cold
repulsion, and she recognized a worm instead of St. Udo, the hero.

Then she fell into a dreadful state of excitement; she paced her room
for hours, clasping her hands frantically, as if she felt her need of a
tight hold on some human being, and had no friend but herself; and every
dread possibility sailed slowly and with ruthless pertinacity before her
shrinking eye. She never had passed such a forlorn night yet.

When her strength gave out she lay on her bed, with her sleepless gaze
fastened upon the wintry sky, and thought out the ugly problem, with the
winking stars for counselors.

"That man has come here, determined to marry me for the sake of the
fortune I hold; and he has every hope that I will consent. He has traded
upon his _extraordinary resemblance to St. Udo Brand_, and, trusting to
our slight knowledge of St. Udo Brand, expects to pass without
difficulty for him.

"So St. Udo Brand _is_ dead, after all. Brave heart, forgive me for the
wrong I did you in believing this reptile to be you. Now, am I to suffer
an impostor to personate Colonel Brand, because I am a woman and feel a
natural terror of the villain? No, I swear that I will not suffer the
imposture. If all the world should believe in this man's identity with
Colonel Brand if I did not believe it, I would try to prove his
falseness. Mrs. Brand left her fortune to me, because she trusted to my
honor that I would do my best to save her grandson from destruction
through its agency; and, since he has perished, I will not permit any
other to get it upon false pretenses. Why should I? It would be wrong
for this man to get it, and, if he were my own brother, I would not give
it to him when it was wrong; how much less would I relinquish it at the
snarling of this hound? You wretch! I would far rather crush you than
enrich you," she hissed through her set teeth, while her eyes gleamed
like the stars she was gazing at.

"Thus far my mind is made up, that I will withstand the man who _calls
himself_ Colonel Brand. But how am I to do it? I will take possession of
Castle Brand at once, that he may not get it before me. I will hold it
against all his machinations. And when I am settled there I will try my
best to unmask him, and ruin his infamous scheme. I need hope for no
assistance from Mr. Davenport or Dr. Gay; as usual, they will call me
half mad and disregard my convictions. Unaided, uncounseled, I must
enter this strange conflict--where it may lead me, Heaven knows. But I
dare not shrink from it; whatever befalls me. I must and shall prove
this wretch an impostor."

Dr. Gay was startled at his breakfast by the apparition of his guest
coming into the breakfast-room with a grave, weary face.

"You have slept ill, my dear," said he, paternally offering her a seat
beside him.

"Doctor, I am going to Castle Brand to-day."

"Eh, bless me, what for?"

"To live there. Will you drive me over after breakfast, if you please?"

"But--how--what is your reason, my dear?"

"Please, do not ask it. I do not wish to reveal it as yet."

"Have we--has Mrs. Gay displeased you?" demanded the little man, growing
very red.

"No, she has not," said Margaret, sweetly; "you have both been most
kind."

"This is very extraordinary, after your last expressed decision that you
would never enter Castle Brand--is not that what you said?"

"I have changed my mind," she said, obstinately, "and you must not feel
displeased with me. I must go to Castle Brand immediately."

The doctor got up, and scurried through the room in great perturbation;
he knitted his brows, he pshawed, he stumbled against things in the most
provoking manner, and his wife looked after him with an air of Christian
resignation.

"Strange--unaccountable!" ejaculated the doctor, turning a suspicious
gaze upon Margaret Walsingham. "Pray, madam, has Colonel Brand anything
to do with your change of purpose?"

Then, indeed, her grave sweetness vanished, and a hard, bitter
expression crossed her face.

"I will answer nothing," she said, with a chilling reserve; "and you
will be good enough to allow me my own way, unquestioned, for once."

"Oh, certainly, Miss Walsingham," returned the doctor, with satiric
courtesy, and rushed from the room to order out his gig.

She was waiting for him in the little parlor when he came in, with her
bonnet and shawl on, and the sight of her white, desperate face added
fuel to the flame of the doctor's ire.

"My vehicle awaits your pleasure, madam," said he, stiffly; and with a
start she rose and bade her hostess good-by, and followed the doctor
out.

Not a word was spoken during the short drive. The chill winds met them
at every turn, whirling the dun crisp leaves high overhead, and stinging
the pale woman with their icy breath; but she did not seem to heed
either the bitter wind or Dr. Gay's bitter silence, but sat tranced in
her own mysterious thoughts, which she never asked the angry little man
to share.

Once only she roused herself; it was when they were passing through the
lodge-gates, when, for the first time, a fine view of the grand old
castle opened before them.

She bent forward, and regarded the hoary pile from turreted roof to huge
foundation stone, and a flash of scorn and hatred broke from her eyes,
and wreathed her lips with the unwonted sneer.

"It is something to plot for, I suppose," she murmured to herself. "It
has its fascination for such a cur."

"Beg pardon, Miss Walsingham, did you speak?" asked the doctor, sulkily.

"Yes, my friend; I was assuring myself that yonder fine building was
enough to rouse the envy of a covetous nature," she returned. "But we
shan't permit any foul play, shall we?"

She looked up with a strange smile; it was cruel and derisive, and the
little doctor subsided into uneasy silence, and stared hard at her all
the rest of the way.

When they came to the door, Mr. Purcell, the steward, and Mrs. Chetwode,
the housekeeper, bustled out to welcome the heiress home, and conducted
her in with the greatest deference.

She turned on the threshold and looked down at the doctor, who was
sullenly mounting his gig again.

"Tell Colonel Brand that his next visit to me must take place in my
castle," she said; "and that I hope to meet him suitably, and to repay
his devotion as it deserves."

She vanished within the gloomy portal, and Dr. Gay carried the message
to Colonel Brand, who swore a great oath that the girl had both sense
and spirit, and, with her castle to boot, would not make a bad
speculation.

So his next visit was paid at the old castle, and Margaret led him
through the length and breadth of it, and sought to trap him into
blundering over its various rooms and he answered all her questions
correctly, and comported himself with perfection as St. Udo Brand, and
left her in the evening, still and moody, thinking out her next secret
move to snare him.



CHAPTER XIV.

WILL HE BETRAY HIMSELF?


St. Udo Brand was walking with Margaret over the rustling leaves of the
Norman oaks, and beguiling the time by recounting his adventures in the
American war.

How minutely he described his small part in the great wild drama of
carnage! How feelingly he touched on the sorrows of war; how
enthusiastically he extolled the valor of his Vermont boys!

The whole tissue of events reproduced with such marvelous accuracy, that
Margaret was dumb with secret wonder.

How could one living being rehearse so faithfully the part of another?

Events which had been minutely described in his letters to the executors
were now detailed with the most copious explanations; while allusions to
his former life as a guardsman, and to incidents of his youth, kept her
in continual mind of his genuineness.

He was constantly throwing little proofs of his identity in her way, and
surrounding himself with a halo of reality, and yet--and yet----

Margaret paced over the crisp brown leaves, whirling round her footsteps
in the bleak November wind, her eyes ever and anon turning upon her
companion in troubled scrutiny, her ear intent to catch each syllable.

"How these old creaking oaks bring back to me my boyhood! What bright
dreams of glory filled my brain! What a life mine was to be! I was to go
forth and conquer; all men were to bow before St. Udo Brand; beauty was
to melt and find its level at my feet. But see me, Miss Walsingham--no
longer a dream-dazzled boy. A man at his prime! Where are my brilliant
prospects now? My visions of fame--of love--of happiness? Lost in the
quicksand of Time. Is there in the whole world a more useless, ruined
wretch than myself? I am famous but for my misdeeds. My intellect has
been squandered upon worthless objects; love has cheated me; I have sold
my birthright for a mess of pottage."

Margaret could not respond to this half-earnest, half-bitter appeal.

How often she had imagined just such words in the mouth of St. Udo
Brand, with a yearning thrill, as if Heaven itself would have been
opened to her.

But now that the time had come she shrank from the man and his
loneliness and his half remorse in cold sympathy.

How dare he come to her with his polluted life.

She read the false and shifting eyes with loathsome shudder, and a
hardening of the lip, as if a rat had fawned upon her.

"You wretch!" thought the girl, with fiercely-clenched hand.

"How dare you think to step into St. Udo's shoes and expect to cheat
me?"

"It is strange that Colonel Brand should be so dissatisfied with his
laurels," she said, with cold scorn. "One would have thought that the
reputation which he gained for bravery and intrepidity as a commander,
would have slaked his thirst for fame. Perhaps _you_ fear that the
laurels of a whole army would not cover your deficiencies?"

She placed such unconscious emphasis on the "you," that the colonel
turned his face upon her with broad attention.

She saw the startled eye, though it instantly wavered from hers, and she
felt the lagging of his feet.

"Is there no possibility of trapping him out of his own mouth?" she
thought, "Can I not force him to betray himself?"

Women are apt at resources; they cannot surmount great
difficulties--their muscles are so soft, and their brains so repressed
by convention and circumstance, but they can vault the slighter
obstacles with lightning quickness, while the man's slower strength is
culminating for the heights.

"I know but little of St. Udo Brand," pondered Margaret; "But I will
traverse with this man every inch of the ground of which I am mistress,
and if he is false, surely he must fall in something. Let me set _the
first trap_."

"As we pass this lodge a certain association comes into my mind," she
said, always with that cold scorn breaking through her enforced
courtesy; "and now that I am honored by having you to refer to, I shall
bring my difficulty for your solution.

"How was my dear Miss Brand choked by a parasite?"

The colonel stared blankly. An uneasy frown stole up to his forehead;
once, twice, he opened his lips to speak, but checked himself and
waited.

The silence became too threatening on the part of Margaret; she was
forced to lead the next step,

"You seem to be utterly confounded, sir, I would not have asked you the
question if I had not had your own word that such was the case."

"May I ask, my dear Miss Walsingham, may I ask to what you refer?"

"You feign forgetfulness. Fie, Colonel Brand, is it possible that the
few words which have ever passed between us could have slipped your
memory? Perhaps you will profess yourself unable to explain to me the
term 'fortune-hunter,' as applied in connection with me, also."

The blank change deepened on the soldier's sallow countenance, then a
certain film covered the wandering eyes, like those of an eagle before
the too bright sun.

"Miss Walsingham, whoever informed you of my using any such invidious
term in connection with you, traduced me."

"You never used the word then?"

"On my honor as a gentleman, no."

"Ha," cried Margaret, with a flash of triumph, "then you utterly deny
having ever written to me?"

A scowl, withering as fire, crossed the colonel's face, and a furtive
glare at his daring opponent, made her shudder though she did not see
it.

"You refer to the unlucky note I was insane enough to write to you, the
night upon which I left Castle Brand?" he inquired, slowly coming out of
his fog. "I had forgotten its contents."

"Most extraordinary that you should forget its contents, Colonel Brand.
Then you can explain nothing, and I must expect no apology for the
bitterest insult which you could have passed upon one in my position."

"Dear Miss Walsingham, I--I meant no insult. Please do not take it as
such."

She laughed a taunting, irritating laugh. If he had been a worm
wriggling along by her side she could not have treated him with more
contempt.

"So brave to bark! so timid to bite!" she jibed. "Oh Colonel Brand, that
is so unlike the daring spirit of the Brands, which scorned to cringe,
that I am almost tempted to _believe you some impish changeling_."

Some white indentations came upon the livid face of Colonel Brand; for
an instant it seemed as if in his murderous wrath he would smite the
girl to the earth, but he quailed as soon as her glittering eyes were
fixed upon him, and spoke, though with a thick and husky tone.

"Is it generous thus to trample on a fallen man? You can see--all who
ever met me before I left England, can see how much I have changed by
these cursed months in the deadly swamps, and the pestiferous hospital,
not to speak of the wounds which reduced me to a skeleton, and aged me,
as five years would have failed to do. All this tells upon a man's
spirits, Miss Walsingham; and I am quite ready to confess that I have
lost much of my bravado, and my insolent manner of riding on fortune's
neck, as if I could ever expect to stay there."

"You speak as bitterly of yourself, as if you were your bitterest
enemy!"

The colonel looked up at the dim sky with that hooded stare of his.

"I have been my own bitterest enemy, I fear. If I had been less
insolent, less arrogant and sneering," with a dark look of hatred up at
the sky, "I might have been the heir of Seven Oak Waaste at this present
moment, instead--of where I am."

Margaret looked at him in a sort of horrified fascination. That he was
carried out of himself and spoke of the dead, she was dimly conscious;
that the malevolent power which brought him here as a suitor, might also
make him master, became to her dimly conscious too. She trembled before
the depths of a hideous possibility.

"But about this letter," said Colonel Brand, coming again out of his
fog, and smoothing the ugly seams out of his face. "I do not feel
inclined to leave the subject until I have set myself in at least a more
tolerable light before your eyes."

He pulled his handkerchief with a flourish out of his pocket, to flick a
cobweb off Margaret's sleeve, which she had brushed from a bush twenty
minutes since, and as he did so, a small note-book fell to the ground.

Why had he not brushed the cobweb off before?

"I am sure that you will acknowledge that under the
circumstances,"--here he stopped to pick up the
note-book--"disappointment might drive me to say anything,"--he idly
leafed over the book as if searching for something--"and I was really so
astonished at my grandmother's will that surprise seemed to take away my
senses. The idea of insinuating that you had stepped in fraudulently,
and been the parasite which chocked her! And that allusion to Paolo
Orsini strangling his wife--upon my honor as a gentleman, I humbly beg
your pardon! Ah, that is what I was looking for, the autograph of
General McClellan. Can you read characters by writing, or do you care to
examine it, Miss Walsingham?"

She took the book from him at arm's length, and looked silently at the
name.

"The General wrote that in my memorandum-book as a password on one
occasion when I was on a secret embassy. The rough scrawl has often
saved my life since."

Margaret shut the memorandum-book, looked carefully at each cover, and
handed it back.

"_Trap the first has failed!_" she thought. "He is too clever for me.
But, you wretch, I am not daunted yet. A green morocco cover with silver
clasps, and the Brand crest in gilt. Yes I shall know it again, and some
time I shall find out why you dropped it among the withered leaves, if
woman's wit can match man's cunning."

"I can read characters very well sometimes," she replied to the watchful
colonels last remark, "but not by their writing."

They were nearing the house, and Margaret turned aside from the main
entrance to a glass door in the next wing.

"Now for _trap the second_."

"I am going into the library for a book," she said; "that is if the
glass door is open."

Colonel Brand stepped gallantly to the door by which the heir-expectant
had stood during the reading of the will, and shook it.

"Locked," he announced, smilingly.

"You ought to be master of the secret of that lock," returned Margaret,
also smiling, but chilly as an Arctic glacier, "for if the legends of
the place be not overdrawn, this suit of rooms was devoted exclusively
to St. Udo Brand when a boy, and the glass entrance was used by him
instead of the principal door. It is extraordinary that St. Udo when a
man should have forgotten so completely the incidents of his childhood."

"I am ashamed of my stupidity in keeping a lady waiting so long in the
cold wind," said the colonel, standing with his face to the door, "but
before I spoke, I had remarked that the old lock of my childish memory
had been removed, and some patent arrangement put in its place which
resists my clumsy efforts.

"It is the same arrangement," retorted Margaret, with glittering eyes,
"that has been upon the door for thirty years. Mrs. Brand said so, and
Mr. Davenport can vouch for it. This is a strange mistake of yours,
Colonel Brand!"

Again these spots appeared on the Colonel's livid face, like
finger-marks of the devil, and he stole a look of mingled fear and fury
at his tormentor. Not trusting himself to speak he shook the door
savagely.

"Still wrong," said Margaret, mercilessly. "Past experience ought to
have taught you that shaking it only sends the bolts surer home. See."

She pressed the spring of the disputed lock, and the glass leaves slid
open.

"_Trap the second successful._"

"Now," she said, turning within the room, and looking down on him with
her pallid and scornful face, "I have a fancy to know how far this
aberration of mind exists with you. Will you permit me to amuse myself
with an experiment? Will you let me stand here while you stand without,
and describe to me the scene which passed upon the occasion of our first
meeting in this room?"

She put a hand upon each leaf of the door, and formed of herself a
barrier; as if her woman's strength could shut him out of Castle Brand,
and her gray eyes glowed with a new and fierce emotion which her simple
heart had never known of before this man came home to his own.

"Madam," said the colonel, gnawing the head of his cane, like a dog at
the end of his chain, "It is not all astonishing that I should have
forgotten the peculiarities of an old glass door, even though I often
used it in my boyhood; other and graver memories might easily displace
such trivialities and I never professed to cherish the old associations
of Castle Brand with much reverence. But the scene of our first meeting
can never escape my recollection. It is cruel of you to recall the most
abject moment of my life, but since you insist upon it, I cannot choose
but obey.

"You came out of the shadow of St. George, after the reading of the will
by Davenport, and at the polite little doctor's introduction, I was
ungallant enough to indulge in unseemly laughter, and to exclaim: 'Ye
Gods! What a Medusa!' at which--shall I ever forget your superb
indignation!--you gathered your skirts and swept like a queen from the
room. My dear madam, do I describe the scene accurately? It is not every
woman who would have had the nerve to call up such a scene as that from
the vast depths of memory; I must perforce admire your courage
and--shall I say? your incredulity!"

He bowed sardonically. The ugly seams, so suggestive of crime and
cunning, had come back upon his brow, and he doffed his hat; the
twitching face bore a smile of triumph, which revealed how sure he felt
of victory.

"_Trap the third has signally failed_," thought Margaret; "this part at
least of St. Udo's history has been well studied. Ah, he will be too
clever for me!"

She dropped her hands from the leaves of the door and stood aside, while
a slight increase of palor stole up to her face.

"You have satisfied me, Colonel Brand. Come in if you please."

He silently entered, and with one accord, these two people, who were
tacitly drawing together their forces for a deadly conflict, turned and
eyed each other; she with stern-unflinching defiance; he with a
quailing, yet impudent look of confident success.

In that dumb scrutiny, they seemed to be measuring each other's
capabilities.

"Miss Walsingham?" said the colonel, after this strange pause, "I can
see that you have taken a deep animosity against me, probably because of
my treatment of my grandmother's will; we shall suppose it is. Now, my
dear young lady, I shall try to explain myself and to set myself right
with you, so that in the future we may perfectly understand each other.
I have come back to my native land determined to obey, if possible, that
part of the will which refers to me--determined to try my best to win
Miss Walsingham's regard--determined to make it no fault of mine if the
name of Brand is forgotten. Knowing these three things to be my set
purposes, are you willing to forgive generously what the meaner-minded
of your sex could not forgive, and to drop the past between us? Are you
willing that we should be friends?"

With his head on one side, and his eyes watchfully taking note of his
listener's face, he bent forward with a certain vailed significance and
clasped her hand.

"Away!" cried Margaret, shaking him off as she would have shaken off a
reptile, and regarding him in a perfect passion of horror, "do you dare
to expect that I could enter into a compact with _you_?"

Something crept into his eyes which made her shudder.

"I have asked you to forgive my former insults, and you have refused,"
he said; "but remember, I asked you to enter into no compact with me.
All the world is at liberty to know that St. Udo Brand repented of his
foolishness, and came home to carry out his grandmother's will. If the
world believes anything else of me, I shall know that Margaret
Walsingham not only refused to be my friend, but cast off all
obligations to the dead and became my enemy. The Brands of Brand Castle
have ever been famous for their ferocity. I shall be sorry if a woman
should fall a prey to it."

"I will never wrong St. Udo Brand," said the meek woman, suddenly
withstanding him with blazing eyes, "but I will guard Ethel Brand's
dying wishes from being fraudulently represented, whoever dares to
fraudulently represent them."

"And I, deeply impressed with the conviction that Seven-Oak Waaste will
fall ultimately into the possession of its rightful heir--that is
myself--intend to permit no fair lady's frown to turn me from my
ancestor's doors."

Again they gazed at each other--deeper horror and passionate
determination in her eyes, darker folds of sin and cunning on his brow,
while a smile played round his wicked mouth, fatal as the blasting
lightning.

"You shall have to weather the frowns of more than me before you are
master of this castle," said Margaret.

"Is that a declaration of war?"

He tried in his wrath and apprehension to catch her hand again, but she
slid with a gasp out of his reach and passed through the door.

"You ask if I have made a declaration of war," said Margaret, turning
when the length of the hall was between them; "and I am not afraid to
say--yes. If there be a hidden page in your life which you would keep
from me, tremble for your chances of Brand Castle."

She vanished from his gaze, and the fitful wind swept from door to door
of the library with the howl of a hundred furies.

Mrs. Chetwode, who was busy in the glass pantry which faced the library,
thought to herself that she had never seen such an evil looking face as
that which looked out of the half-closed door for full five minutes.

The eyes became small and crafty; the forehead receded and narrowed to a
Mongolian size; the mouth drooped with a fang-like ferocity;
infinitesimal wrinkles, not often seen there, dawned into view like the
folds of the deadly cobra before its spring.

"Heaven preserve me!" interjected the housekeeper, turning her back upon
the unholy vision; "I do think Colonel Brand the wickedest-looking man
ever I saw. Heaven send poor Miss Margaret a better husband."

Meantime Margaret, struck with a mortal panic, was walking fast down the
road to Regis, quite unmindful of the calls of etiquette which
prescribed for her the part of hostess to the visitor.

She left the Waaste with its grim, bare trees and its battlemented
towers behind her; she left the lodge, clinging to its nook of ivy wall,
behind her; she tried to shake off the crawling terror which oppressed
her, and drank in the freshening gusts of wind as if her throat had been
constrained by an iron hand.

"What have I dared to do?" she thought. "Have I thrown the gauntlet of
defiance at him? And if he takes it up, what will become of me? But to
imagine he could personate the brave St. Udo! Reptile!" she exclaimed,
with a suddenly clenched hand, "I could crush you beneath my heel: You
have no right to live, you monster!"

Faster she walked, although she was so thin and weak with her recent ill
health that her limbs trembled beneath her; and in the urgent alarm
which had taken possession of her, she marched straight through the
village to the law-office of Mr. Davenport.

"My dear lady," ejaculated that functionary, arising in consternation,
"what brings you here? I hope nothing annoying has occurred; but you do
look very ill."

"Mr. Davenport, will you send for Dr. Gay? I have something of
importance to communicate to you both."

"Certainly--certainly. I'll send immediately. No, I'll go myself. You
won't object to sitting by my nice warm fire here until I come back? And
I'll lock you in, if you like."'

"I don't object."

In a very short time the two executors entered, both breathing hard, and
each having an anxious air about him.

"Good day, my dear Miss Walsingham," said the little doctor, drawing a
chair close beside her; "I hear you have something on your mind to tell
us. I think you might have sent for us, instead of walking here in your
state of health; it scarcely looks well, my dear, especially--especially
as it is you, my dear."

"I cannot help it. What I have to say outweighs in importance the
trivial question of whether I come to you, or you visit me. You both, I
have no doubt, were surprised at the manner in which I insisted on
leaving your house, Dr. Gay, and taking up my abode at Seven-Oak
Waaste?"

Both executors admitted that they had been surprised, very much
surprised, the lawyer amended.

"I had a secret reason for my course of action," continued the ward,
looking from one to the other, "which I did not feel at liberty to
divulge until I had assured myself whether the motives that actuated me
were just or not. I am now assured that they were, and I desire to
divulge them to you, that you may prevent a fraud."

"My dear," said the lawyer, "isn't all this going to lead us to Colonel
Brand?"

"It is going to lead you to the man whom I left at Seven-Oak Waaste."

"Is the colonel at Seven-Oak Waaste?"

"Yes."

"And you here?"

"In spite of etiquette--yes."

The two executors looked at each other as if prepared to hear any
insanity after this.

"Have you made a deed of gift of Seven-Oaks to St. Udo, and are you here
for more testimonials?" asked Mr. Davenport, helping himself to snuff.

"You have not fathomed my secret at all," answered Margaret, in a
repressed tone, though she was in a state of high excitement; "when I
willfully left the shelter and the protection of your house, Dr. Gay, it
was to fulfil that clause of the will, which says, 'Should St. Udo Brand
or Margaret Walsingham die within the year, the property shall revert to
the survivor.' I left your house to take possession of Castle Brand."

The executors stared.

"But, my dear girl, St. Udo is not dead!" said Dr. Gay, imploringly.

"Good gracious, what do you mean?" sputtered the lawyer. "You may take
the property by refusing to marry the colonel, or you may keep the
property by quarreling with him and making him glad to leave you, but
you can't take the property on the plea of his death, when he is by your
own showing sitting in Castle Brand at this moment."

"That brings me to my accusation," cried Margaret, almost wildly; "I
have convinced myself that the person who has come here in the semblance
of St. Udo Brand, to woo me, and to be in time the master of Seven-Oak
Waaste, is a villain who has weighed well the risks he runs, is, in
short, an _impostor_!"

"Good Heavens!" gasped the physician.

"Your proofs, madam," demanded the lawyer, with another, and a larger
pinch of snuff.



CHAPTER XV.

A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.


"My proofs are these," answered Margaret, forcing herself to speak
quietly. "He acts exactly as a man would act who was personating some
one else. He knows the true St. Udo's history to a certain extent, and
cleverly acts upon it; but go beyond the part he has rehearsed, and he
betrays the most extraordinary confusion. When first I saw him I was
astonished at the change which a few months in America had made. The
longer I studied him the more palpable became his disguise to my eyes;
and I am now morally convinced that my suspicions are well founded."

"All this is nothing," said Mr. Davenport. "You have advanced no proofs,
except to show that from the first day of his return you conceived a
dislike to him."

"I made him commit himself wholly to-day," continued Margaret,
anxiously. "The first time he betrayed his ignorance of the contents of
that letter which St. Udo Brand wrote me upon leaving the castle; the
second time he was so puzzled by the fastening of the library glass
door, that he could not open it. That door, Mr. Davenport, which Mrs.
Brand's grandson used exclusively."

"And would you condemn a man upon such accidents of memory as these?"

"Had St. Udo Brand that cowardly glance, that crime-darkened visage,
that crawling, scheming softness?" cried Margaret, with flashing eyes.
"Ugh! he is a serpent drawing his slimy folds into our midst--he is a
travesty on the dead hero of yonder battle-field."

"You did not always think so well of Captain Brand," retorted the
lawyer, with another exchange of glances with Gay; "and I should think
that seeing him once--and that under circumstances rather damaging to
him--you would hardly be capable of judging of his heroism or other good
qualities, in comparison with any one."

"I am not deceived," said Margaret; "and, if you will watch this man,
you cannot be deceived either."

The executors remained eying each other with a dubious frown.

This charge was leaving a very disagreeable impression on their minds.
The physician remarked the gleaming eyes beside him with a speculation
as to the sanity of his ward.

The lawyer ruminated over her communication with a speculation as to her
honesty.

"Be careful, Miss Walsingham, not to get yourself into trouble," said
Mr. Davenport.

"It might prove very damaging to your character to defame the man who
was to have shared with you Mrs. Brand's estates."

"Would it not be more damaging to my character and to yours, Mr.
Davenport, as retainer of the Brand estates, to allow an impostor a
foothold at Seven-Oak Waaste?"

"Fair and softly, madam. He can't have a foothold unless you are pleased
to accept him as your husband. Why attempt any exposure at all? Why not
suffer his attentions until he proposes, and then dismiss him as if you
were dismissing the veritable St. Udo. Be he who he may, he can't gain a
foothold after that."

Margaret's face waxed paler.

Gazing in turn at each of the executors she might expect little sympathy
from the half cajoling regards of the one, or from the impassive scowl
of the other.

"If he is an adventurer, come here with the carefully-prepared plot by
which he hopes to win the Brand estates," she said, slowly, "he will not
be likely to stop at his efforts because a woman stands in the way. He
will have worked too hard and risked too much to be lightly turned from
his purpose. He will have weighed well the chances of a refusal. The
woman who stands in his way will be removed if she refuses to be his
stepping-stone."

"A parcel of moonshine!" cried Davenport, hotly.

"I implore you to believe otherwise. Do you think I would have come to
you on mere suspicion? I am perfectly convinced in my own mind, sir."

"But you must convince others as well as yourself. You must bring
proofs. Why, we can think nothing but that that ancient pique of yours
against the captain has touched your brain, and made you really take up
this unworthy suspicion against a man who is the same as ever he was. I
see no difference in him, except that he looks the worse for wear."

"Which his hard usage makes very natural," said Dr. Gay.

"You refuse to help me, then?"

"What would you like us to do, Miss Margaret?"

"I would like you to force this man into proving his identity; confront
him with such circumstances as must unmask his plot, if he has one; you
have the power and I have not."

"I don't see that we are authorized to molest any man upon such crazy
foundations as those you have advanced; indeed, I can't consent to take
one step of an unfriendly nature against the colonel. I have been a
faithful solicitor for the Brands these many years, and it is late in
the day to turn against them now. Give it up, Miss Walsingham."

"I shall not give it up," retorted Margaret rising; "if I must work
single-handed, I will, but remember, you have left me to battle with a
dangerous and desperate foe."

She left the office without another word, and slowly retraced her steps
toward Seven-Oak Waaste.

She was imbued with as profound a sense of her own defenseless condition
as any woman under the sun.

She invoked the help of her only protectors, and they had indignantly
refused to be alarmed. If she would unmask a bold and determined
villain, she must do it alone.

"I am going to have a hard struggle," she thought; "and it may be a
struggle for my life."

No wonder that she stood still in her walk, to turn this thought about
her mind with a horrible earnestness: it took its weird and awful shape
from a passing memory of those murderously treacherous eyes which had
surely taken her in more than once in the library that morning; it
loomed larger and larger as she pondered, and the chill shadow of death
seemed to be over her.

"For my life," she repeated, gazing with dilated eyes into the warning
future.

Castle Brand appeared grayly before her from among its bare armed oaks;
the brown Waaste stretched far and wide, and a black pool lay in a
gloomy hallow, deep and inky, as if its stormy face kept impassively
calm over secrets of murder and violence.

For a time the natural instinct of self was strong in the heart of the
lonely girl; she quailed before the dangers of her course, and almost
persuaded herself to turn and fly; but her inborn courage came to her
aid; a something in the soul of this naturally weak woman rose in fierce
protest against allowing an impostor to triumph; her fears faded away
out of sight, as implacable anger succeeded the brief emotion.

"Let _him_ wear the dead St. Udo's honors?" she ejaculated. "Let _him_
be Ethel Brand's heir? No--not while I, the sworn keeper of the wishes
of her who was to me a benefactress, can raise a hand to balk him. You
wretch! you shall find Margaret Walsingham no coward."

The rattle of a gig aroused her, and she looked round to behold Dr. Gay
approaching.

"What are you standing there for, rooted to the spot?" he asked, drawing
up beside her. "Are you surveying, or inveighing?"

"The latter term is the most appropriate. I was mentally measuring my
courage with that of the subject of our afternoon's consultation."

"Step up beside me; I would like a few words with you. You left us in
such a hurry that I felt it necessary to follow you."

She obeyed him, and they leisurely approached the gates.

"Davenport and I have been thinking that it is our duty to warn you how
you give wind to this extraordinary suspicion of yours; it may prove
embracing, perhaps dangerous for you, and would create a great deal of
needless scandal."

"You wish me to be utterly silent on the subject?"

"Well, yes, my dear; it is by far the safest plan."

She pondered deeply for a few minutes.

"I promise to keep my convictions to myself, until I have found such
proofs against him as will satisfy you and Mr. Davenport."

"Has Colonel Brand left the castle?" asked the doctor, as the
lodge-keeper opened the gates.

"No sir: there he is"--pointing under the trees--"him and his doag. It
comed tearing oop from the village like a mad thing, an hour agone, and
yelped like a frog until its maister comed to it."

There under the naked trees, kicking up the withered leaves in the
little clouds, shuffled the colonel, with head dropped on his breast,
and folded arms; so deep in reverie that he seemed unconscious of all
outside of his own brain.

Round and round he walked in an idle circle upon the leaf padded park
under the naked trees, and the long tan sleuth-hound glided after him
with dropped nose and stealthy tread, as if he, too, were tracking game;
and a malicious fancy might have suggested that the man was followed by
a moral shadow of himself.

"There he lurks," spoke Margaret, with loathing scorn, as they left the
lodge behind; "patient, lean sleuth-hound upon the scent, and watching
for the moment to spring. Is that the gay and reckless St. Udo
Brand--the brave soldier and the idol of women--the man who scorned a
presumed fortune-hunter, and left all for love? Does the blood of good
Ethel Brand flow in the veins of such a hound as yonder schemer? He
would lick the dust of my feet for money--he whom you insult the memory
of the Brands by believing in!"

"Assuredly the girl is touched," thought Gay.

They almost drove upon the colonel before he was aware of them, and so
noiseless had been their approach that he appeared utterly bewildered
with consternation when Gay addressed him.

"A bleak day, colonel."

"Yes, a bleak day, a very bleak day," said the wily voice, while the
twitching face slowly got into company order.

"Having a walk about the oaks, sir? Rather desolate-looking at this time
of the year."

"Particularly desolate up at the castle, doctor. I was glad to turn out
and bear Argus company. Is Miss Walsingham sufficiently wrapped for this
cold wind?"

"Oh, I hope so," answered Gay, looking in vain for a reply in Margaret's
stern face.

"She has been taking a little drive with me, I picked her up on the road
there."

"Little drive," repeated Colonel Brand, with a slightly sarcastic
emphasis, "preceded by a little walk. Did you find our friend Davenport
at his post my dear lady?"

Margaret started, and turned her flashing eyes upon the smiling
interrogator.

"By what unworthy means have you ascertained my movements?" she
demanded.

"Why, dear Miss Walsingham, your housekeeper informed me, when I asked
her the cause of your abrupt departure from me, that you had gone to see
Mr. Davenport."

The girl sat staring at him in dumb indignation. She had communicated
her design to no one in the house and the colonel was telling her a lie
to her very face. It was perfectly patent to her that he had dogged her
footsteps.

"Are you coming up to Castle Brand?" asked Gay, nervously staving off an
expected explosion.

"I--think not," answered the colonel, with a glance baleful as dead
lights on a grave; "Miss Walsingham evidently is indifferent to my
society. Why, do you know, doctor, I came here to-day expecting a
delightful afternoon with her in the library, where first we met, and,
like the lonely Marguerite of wicked Faust, she melted from my view, and
I found but Mephistopheles taunting me at my elbow in the shape of old
memories of years which might have been better spent--called up by the
associations of the room."

"She's shy yet--she's shy," said the doctor, in a prompting tone.
"Ar'n't you, dear?"

It was utterly out of Margaret's power to do anything but look at St.
Udo Brand, as represented by the man among the withered leaves, with a
cold stare of scorn.

"The bleak wind is injuring Miss Walsingham's complexion," said the
sneering voice again. "I will release her from the freezing process, and
myself from Paradise. Good-evening."

Dr. Gay drove his impassive ward up to the steps of Castle Brand, and
set her down between the griffiths couchant, and she stood forlornly
there clinging to his hand.

"I am afraid to stay here alone," she whispered. "Do come and stay with
me, dear doctor, until that terrible man is taken away."

"I--I'm afraid Mrs. Gay might object to such an arrangement, dear; she
is a person who--who generally objects--who is opposed to leaving her
own home under any circumstances."

"I did not think of Mrs. Gay. Well will you please ask Mr. Davenport to
come? Will you implore him to come? He has nothing to keep him, and I am
so defenseless here."

"I will mention your request, but I think he will say what I feel
without saying--it is a pity you left my house the way you did."

With that parting shot, the little doctor bade his adieu, stepped into
his gig, and cheerfully drove away.

Oh, this horrible Waaste! Listen how the harsh wind moans over it, and
rises into savage shrieks.

The old trees creak and sigh like the surge of an angry sea; the ancient
windows rattle in their stone sockets; the ghostly Brands all down the
gallery seem to shudder in their massive frames, as if an ominous
Present were casting its shadows back to their centuried Past: the face
of Ethel, the beautiful, looks down upon the companion she once loved
and cherished as if she would say, in the limitless pride of her heart:

"I trust to you, Margaret Walsingham; keep my name pure, or let it die."

The candles flicker and wave in phantom gusts of wind; long shadows flit
about with wide-spreading wings; the brain of the lonely girl is peopled
with visions of horror.

Let her double-lock her chamber door, or pace in restlessness the
echoing halls, Ethel Brand's bequest has come like a curse to poor
Margaret.

A note arrived at the castle next morning from Dr. Gay, which stirred
her up to feverish excitement, and showed her a speedy crisis.

     "MY DEAR WARD:--I write more for the purpose of giving you time
     to prepare your answer, and (may I presume it?) to give you a
     little timely advice as to the nature of your answer, than for
     the sake of the communication itself.

     "Yesterday, upon leaving you, I had a very momentous interview
     with Colonel Brand (he returned to Regis with me in the gig),
     in which he placed himself in the most candid and open manner
     upon my friendship, and explained to me what he wished to be
     his future course.

     "After commenting with a great deal of proper feeling upon his
     former extravagances of life, he said that it was little wonder
     that a highly organized young lady like Miss Walsingham should
     feel a distrust of him, and that he was quite conscious of a
     revulsion of feeling on Miss Walsingham's part which his most
     heartfelt apologies for his former rudeness could not remove.
     He then implored me to put him upon a way to do away with the
     bad impression he had created, so that he might win your
     affection.

     "'For,' he declared, with tears in his eyes, 'I have learned to
     love her to distraction: and if I am ever to be anything, her
     hand must beckon me on.'

     "His sincerity so invited my sympathy that I was within an ace
     of disclosing to him your ridiculous suspicion, but upon second
     thoughts concluded that it would wound him too much. However, I
     proposed to stand his friend with you; so henceforth look upon
     me in that light.

     "He then informed me that he desired to win your consent to
     marry him purely from personal affection, and that if you would
     only be his wife, he should insist upon having the whole of the
     Brand estates settled upon you, in case any one might accuse
     him of mercenary motives. And, in short, he concluded by
     disclosing to me his determination to end his suspense by
     proposing to you this evening. I urged upon him that it would
     be too premature, but he answered, with deep emotion:

     "'She hates me more and more every day. Let me touch her noble
     heart by my great love, and she will pity, and in time endure
     me.'

     "I don't know whether the course he has marked out will have
     that effect or not, but this I hope--that you will not turn
     away your co-heir without due reason.

     "And now for my bit of advice.

     "Weigh well before the evening the possibility of your having
     been unjust in your suspicions of the man who is going to offer
     you his hand; if you do conscientiously, you will come to the
     conclusion that you _have_ been unjust.

     "Then ask yourself if it will be right, or generous, or
     honorable to dismiss St. Udo Brand from his rightful home and
     fortune, now that he is willing to bestow it upon you, and only
     for your love.

     "Hoping that the next occasion of our meeting will be more
     pleasing than the last, I remain your obedient servant,

     "R. GAY.

     "P.S.--I mentioned last night to Davenport your desire to have
     him move into the castle for a while, and he utterly refuses to
     do anything so absurd and extraordinary.

     "R. G."

Thus plainly showing that they washed their hands of their ward's
vagaries, the executors not only refused her their countenance, but
seemed inclined to go over to the enemy.

With what indignant scorn Margaret read the account of his presumed love
for herself!

"He has taken his measures," she mused, "to force me into showing my
hand, before I have taken one move against him. He is too clever for me.
What shall I do?"

Pondering hour after hour, at length she made up her little plan with
doubt and misgiving.

"Colonel Brand is coming here this evening, Mrs. Chetwode," she said, as
the dusk slowly deepened on stone parapet and spiked rail, "and I wish
you to bear me company in the library. You know I do not like the
colonel, so you must be my chaperon."

When the suitor came to his lady's bower, on a horse which smoked with
hard and furious riding, and when he followed the servant to the
library, he found the lady of his heart standing with a demeanor in
every way proper for the occasion, while the old housekeeper, in her
best black satin, sat behind the statue of St. George, sedately
knitting.

"May I entreat the honor of a private interview?" asked the smooth
voice.

"We can be as private here as you wish," was the polite reply. "My
housekeeper cannot hear anything unless you specially address her."

The colonel bowed and expressed himself satisfied, but if the angry
glance which he cast among the murky shadows, where the bright needles
clicked, meant anything, the colonel lied.

He took the chair assigned him, but evidently his proposed form of
declaration was routed by this unexpected arrangement.

His fingers plucked at his dark mustache in a nervous and undecided
manner, and he took a long time to deliberate before he could trust
himself to launch upon the momentous subject.

"I am aware," at length began the lover, in a constrained voice, "that
Miss Walsingham has conceived very unfriendly feelings toward me--an
enmity, I might almost call it--for has she not expressed as much? And I
have come here this evening with the hope of making a successful effort
to come to an amicable understanding with her, and it will be my last
trial."

Always sinking his tones a little lower, and bending to his listener, a
little nearer, and casting watchful glances toward the corner where the
bright needles clicked, the last word came to sound like a muttered
threat, far more than the appeal of a lovesick adorer.

"If," continued he, "Miss Walsingham thinks better of these unfriendly
feelings, and expresses herself willing to listen to reason, I will most
gladly offer her my hand, if she will deign to accept it as the hand of
her husband, and will do all in my power to make her not repent her
choice; and if she acts faithfully by me, I will act faithfully by her.
Does she consider it possible to say 'yes' to this proposal?"

Coldly avoiding the chance of coming to that mutual understanding which
his dropped tones and significant looks insisted upon, Margaret answered
in measured accents thus, decorously:

"I am not sufficiently acquainted with Colonel Brand to feel able to
give him a decided answer with due appreciation of his virtues. If he
will be kind enough to wait four weeks, by that time I shall have made
up my mind."

The suitor tapped his heel with his cane and meditated. If his frowning
brow and furious eyes did not belie him, this response was an unexpected
one, and routed his previous plans.

"Have I checkmated you?" thought Margaret. "You dread the delay of four
weeks? Yes, you do, I see it in your wicked face, and I say to myself,
'Well done, Margaret!'"

"I have no motive beyond your own welfare," responded the lover, "when I
urge you to place the day of your answer a little nearer."

"Is that a threat? Shall I turn round and tell Mrs. Chetwode that
Colonel Brand has threatened me because I cannot promise to accept him
without deliberation?"

"You have misunderstood me, then I shall say to your housekeeper. I
shall explain that your weak health reminded me of the danger of
protracted anxiety, and that then I urged you, for your own welfare, to
place the day of your answer a little nearer."

There was a pause, and the two antagonists eyed each other firmly.

"In spite of the danger to my welfare," said Margaret, with unmistakable
emphasis, "I must insist on taking a month to consider your proposal. I
shall take as much care as possible of my health meanwhile, so that you
may have no reason to complain of my imprudence."

"You are determined, then?" said the colonel, rising, with cold fury in
his eyes. His repressive power was almost forsaking him, and it was with
difficulty that he preserved that decorous gentleness of manner which he
had donned with such care.

"Yes, I am determined."

There she stood, waiting with freezing smile for him to go. No gentleman
could decently stay another moment under such circumstances.

A sudden impulse, quick as thought, moved Margaret to accompany him to
the door; a certain expression on his face stirred up a Babel of
memories; it was gone, and they were gone, but she would sound the same
waters again.

"Keep the door shut, John, because of the draft," she said to the
servant, passing out under the stars with her adorer.

"I shall feel obliged if you only communicate with me through Mr.
Davenport," said she, touching the stone lintel with her hand, "until
the next four weeks elapse. I shall specially invite you to the castle
should I wish to see you at any time, and I expect you to obey the
call."

The colonel bowed silently.

A wild, wan moon came out through a riven cloud and shone on Castle
Brand. The man on the lowest step and the woman on the highest, gazed
fixedly into each other's faces; his, fierce, envious, and distrustful,
hers, watchful, cold, and unflinching.

Waiting breathlessly for that wave of memory to beat upon the sands
again, it came with the grouping of certain incidents, and with the
magic spell of association.

The time had come when the false seeming of this man should drop like a
garment. The time had come when a light from the past should break upon
Margaret with the suddenly shining moon. The time had come when their
souls were revealed to each other and doomed to recognition despite the
most perfect masking which rascality could assume to compass its end or
purity devise to hide from peril.

These two had stood thus before, the moon gleaming coldly on both--his
horse pawing in the shadow, a dying woman in the Brand state chamber.

Margaret turned suddenly on her heel and shut the door. She leaned
against the staircase pillars and clasped her hands under the eyes of
the astonished John.

"I know him now," she muttered; "he was here the night of Mrs. Brand's
death. His name was _Roland Mortlake_!"



CHAPTER XVI.

UNVAILING AN IMPOSTOR.


Margaret stole to her chamber and bolted the door, and leaned her dizzy
head upon her hand.

Gradually the first surprise of her mind gave way before a dreadful
despondency, and she revolved the revelation in ever increasing alarm.

"He is cleverer than I am," she assured herself, "and he will most
likely win the contest. He has come out of a past which I shall never be
able to trace to personate St. Udo Brand, and his resemblance is the
weakest instrument he uses. He has appeared like a horrible phantom in
St. Udo's guise, and he defies me to tear his mask from him. He is no
mere adventurer who has traded upon an accidental likeness to Colonel
Brand and stepped into his shoes upon the day of his death--he is a
deliberate scoundrel who probably was arranging his plot upon the night
on which he came from Regis with Captain Brand's letter. He has waited
for St. Udo's death to step into his place and enact his life from the
point where he laid it down on the battle-field. Has he anything to do
with the sudden end of that life? Has he murdered St. Udo Brand? Great
Heaven! am I to unvail an impostor and find an assassin in this man?"

She clenched her hands, and faithful memory brought back the vision of
the dying hero, upon his pulseless horse, and she heeded it now, though
she had sternly repressed all belief of it before.

"Is Mortlake the crawling demon who crouched over the brave colonel in
the dark and stabbed him? Have I met him first upon the steps of Castle
Brand--second in my vision of St. Udo's death, and last in my
treacherous lover of to-night? Oh, my heart! is St. Udo really dead
then, and by his hand! The grand lion-hearted king, by the hand of a
fawning slave?"

Wild with horror, she shuddered at the dark chasm she beheld yawning in
her way, but not for a moment did she shrink from the tortuous path
which led to that abyss--the path of inexorable pursuit which ended not
until the man was hunted down and unmasked.

She waited until she was calm, and then she wrote her letter to the two
executors, which was to expose the man who stood in St. Udo's position,
well knowing the dangers of the path she had chosen, and accepting her
chances without fear:

     "CASTLE BRAND.

     "DEAR SIRS: This is the second appeal I make to you on behalf
     of the true disposition of Mrs. Brand's property. If this
     appeal is unheeded, I will take the case in my own hands, and
     pursue it to the end, whatever that end may be; and if I die
     before I succeed, God will hold you responsible for my death.

     "The man who calls himself Colonel St. Udo Brand came here
     to-night according to appointment, and took the first step
     against me, and for the possession of Seven-Oak Waaste, by
     proposing for my hand.

     "Believing him to be an imposter, I declined giving him a
     decided answer, and bade him wait for one month. In other words
     (and he perfectly understood it), I demanded a month in which
     to discover the proofs of his villany.

     "He accepted my fiat, but with great reluctance because he felt
     his position so unsafe, before my marriage or death, that he
     feared thirty day's delay might ruin it.

     "At the moment of our parting, a sudden rush of memory revealed
     to me the true personality of the pseudo Colonel Brand.

     "I beg of you to weigh this communication well, and not to put
     it down as you have put down my convictions before.

     "On the night of Madam Brand's death, you remember that Captain
     Brand, in his fatal carelessness, came as far as Regis to see
     his grandmother, and staid there, sending a note of excuse to
     me by a messenger. This messenger gave his name as Roland
     Mortlake, and stood waiting at the foot of the steps while I
     read the note.

     "Mark me here! This man was so like the Brand's, that Purcell,
     the steward, advanced to meet him, saying:

     "'Welcome to the castle, captain!'

     "He explained that he was not the captain, but the captain's
     messenger, and he stood by all the time I was communicating the
     contents of the letter to Purcell. He was so close to us, that
     he must have heard all that passed. Under this belief, I turned
     suddenly to him and told him to go instantly for Captain Brand,
     and to tell him that the will must be changed, or he would be
     ruined.

     "His crafty, eager look so arrested me, that I gazed fixedly in
     his face for some minutes; and it seemed to me that I
     discovered a crime-stained and guileful soul in his eyes for
     they haunted me long afterward.

     "And I distinctly remember the words of the man who had
     accompanied him, as he rode away under the trees:

     "'_Gardez-tu_, my friend! You English take great news sourly.
     _Ma foi!_ you curse Mademoiselle Fortune herself when she
     smiles upon you the blandest!'

     "I heeded these words not all then. I recalled them one by one
     to-night from the hidden chamber of memory, and I protest that
     they hold their own significance in that daring plot.

     "Do you read nothing in this reminiscence beyond a woman's idle
     vagaries of fancy?

     "Will you believe it--only, that when I swear that the man,
     Roland Mortlake, who stood on the castle-steps with me that
     night, and the man, St. Udo Brand, who stood with me on the
     castle-steps to-night, are one?

     "I call upon you, in the interests of justice, to find the
     proofs of this infamous imposture.

     "I appeal to you, that you may do your duty by the dead and
     unveil a monster of crime. What has Mortlake done with St. Udo
     Brand?

     "Perhaps he has murdered him. Will you let a possible murderer
     escape you because a woman points him out? How do we know that
     the news of his being killed in battle was not true? And, being
     true, how do we know that Mortlake's hand was not the hand that
     destroyed the heir of Castle Brand?

     "How do we know that this plot, if sifted well, would not
     reveal in the suitor you sent me to-night a red-handed
     assassin?

     "Come to me in the morning and tell me what you are going to
     do. If you are going to do nothing, then I will carry on the
     contest alone, and trace the history of Roland Mortlake from
     the bottom step of Castle Brand, where I saw him first, pace by
     pace, to the foot of the gallows, where I shall see him last.

     "Yours Respectfully,

     "MARGARET WALSINGHAM.

     "TO MESSRS DAVENPORT & GAY."

Late as it was she rang for the housekeeper, and gave orders that her
letter should be conveyed to the lawyer's house that night.

"Tell Symonds to give it to Mr. Davenport himself, and to trust it to no
one else," she said.

The housekeeper met the feverish flash of her young mistress' eyes, and
took the envelope from her hand with much uneasiness.

"My poor dear, you ar'nt strong enough for all this worrying and
wearing," she observed, sympathetically. "I wish for your sake, deary,
the colonel had lain quiet in his grave."

Margaret drew back with a sudden storm of grief, and shut the door, Mrs.
Chetwode went down stairs, sorrowfully vowing to herself that Miss
Margaret would pine to death before she wore the colonel's wedding-ring.

"He lies quiet enough in his shallow grave," moaned Margaret; "noble,
proud St. Udo! Oh my heart; why was I doomed to be the Marplot of his
life? He was so haughty in his abhorrence of low scheming--so constant
in his love--so tender with his dying Vermont boys--so heroic, and so
reckless of his own grand life that I love him. _I love him!_ And he is
dead!"

She wrung her hands and wept such tears as make the heart grow old, and
the life wane early; such tears as are only rendered by a nature
generous and effulgent in its love as tropical sunshine, whose revenge
is self-immolating as the suttee of the Hindoo's widow.

Toward ten o'clock the next morning the executors made their appearance
in a gig, and betook themselves to the library.

They found their troublesome ward already waiting them, with an
expression of nervous defiance on her face, as if she fully expected a
sound berating from each of them.

Dr. Gay looked at her anxiously, and shook his head over his own
thoughts.

Mr. Davenport coughed sarcastically, and frowned to hide the effect
which her blanched cheeks made upon him.

"I'm sorry to have called you out too early to begin the search," said
Margaret, bitterly.

"Too early? by no means, my dear," cried the doctor, seating himself
cozily near her; "it's never to early to do what's right. Now we're all
ready to hear what you have got to say."

"I have told you surely enough in my letter for you to act upon," she
answered, "without having to say any more. What do you say of the
declaration I have made as to the man's identity?"

"Most startling!" said the physician, in a quiet tone, as if it was
really not startling at all.

"What have you to say of it?" she demanded of the lawyer, with an
anxious look at his impenetrable countenance.

"Consider the absurdity of your suspicions," broke in Davenport, "the
childishness and impossibility of your premises. How could an imposter
act out St. Udo Brand's history? How could he know Colonel Brand's most
private affairs, and his friends, and write with his hand, and have the
same appearance, and cheat everybody--we among the rest, who saw him
when he was a boy as often as I have fingers and toes? Oh, Miss
Walsingham!"

"You wish me to marry Mortlake, do you?" she asked, with scorn.

"For Heaven's sake don't call him that!" ejaculated Davenport. "If you
call him that and he hears it, the Brand spirit will be very quiet for
the first time if he doesn't end the slander in murder."

"It began in murder," retorted she, "that would be the fittest end,
after all. But do not fear; I shall not alarm your colonel without
proper cause. You really expect me to treat him as if he was St. Udo
Brand?"

"Yes, until you have proofs to the contrary."

She sat with folded hands and pondered. An ashy pallor overspread her
face. A mental gag was forced between her teeth; a mental rope was
placed for her across a yawning chasm, and selfish hands were pushing
her toward it, and selfish voices were urging her to cross alone.

"Very well," she breathed firmly, "I will bring you proofs that you will
not venture to discredit. When I send for you again, come as promptly as
you did to-day."

The executors were forced to depart with this arrangement, and rode back
to Regis deep in discussion relating to their ward's sanity.

How long Margaret sat alone in the library she could not tell--an
ominous foretaste of the grim future had shrouded her soul, and the dark
hours passed unheeded by. When she roused herself, it was to instant
action.

She sat down before her desk and began to write a letter--her third
appeal for help.

She wrote but one passionate sentence, then her head sank between her
hands.

"Who knows whether I shall live until it could be answered?" she moaned.

Bethinking herself, she tore the sheet and cast it into the heart of the
fire, and took a new sheet; dashed off again but one sentence, signed
her name, thrust it into an envelope, hurriedly sealing it, as if she
feared her mind might change at any moment.

It was a telegram and ran thus:

     "LADY JULIANA DUCIE:--Come at once to Castle Brand on a matter
     of life and death.

     "MARGARET WALSINGHAM."

Then she dressed herself and drove down to Regis in the carriage,
clutching the dispatch in her hand, and drawing back from view whenever
she passed a wayfarer, trembling lest her enemy should detect her in
this move against his safety.

After an hour of feverish impatience, an answer came which satisfied
her.

     "I will come to-morrow night.

     "LADY J. DUCIE."

She went out to her carriage with a triumphant air: she felt that she
was one move ahead of the colonel.

"Lady Juliana shall strip him of his disguise," she thought, "and the
executors shall be present to see the exposure."

She stopped before Mr. Davenport's office, wrote a line on her card
requesting that he and Dr. Gay would come to the castle the following
evening about seven o'clock, and then she hurried home.

The next day passed with the anxious girl slowly enough; as the evening
drew on, which she hoped would be the last of her enemy's imposture, her
excitement became terrible; she was in that stage of over-strained
endurance in which a triviality turns the brain.

She told the housekeeper to have a bedchamber prepared for a lady
visitor, and heedless of her exclamations of wonder, directed her to
send Symonds at a quarter to six to the railway station with the
carriage, and to take whatever strangers were for the castle as secretly
home as possible, so that no one in the village should know who they
were.

"Lawk-a-mercy!" ejaculated Mrs. Chetwode, "what's Seven Oak a coming to!
A body would think you was going to hide away a murderer, Miss Margaret
dear."

"Not to hide away a murderer, but to discover one!" muttered the girl,
turning from the colloquy.

She had two hours to wait for the coming of Lady Juliana, and she must
live through the dreary time somehow, so, weary of the silence of the
castle, she flung a large dark mantle about her, and went out for a walk
upon the Waaste.

It was nearing the shortest day of the year, and the early twilight was
already setting over the distant hill and forest.

The dun leaves, heaped high under the oaks of the front park, were white
with hoary frost, crackled like paper under her feet, and, starting with
every sound, she soon quitted the shadows of the trees, and paced over
the sere turf down to the inky mere, where the long, brown flags pricked
up in paper-like spikes, and the dank rushes pierced the filmy ices at
the margin of the water, and the hazel shrubs clustered close about the
slippery banks, and hid them from the Waaste.

She walked round and round in this dreary spot, while the dusk grew
darker, and the frost fell whiter on her foot-prints; and, when fatigue
began to demand rest, she chose a seat on the gnarled root of a giant
willow, whose branches swept the ground on every side, or dipped into
the mere at her feet.

She became completely absorbed in her thoughts, but presently a distant
pattering, like rain upon the dry foliage, recalled her, with a
disagreeable start.

She opened the branches of her yellow-leaf screen and looked about.

Nearer came the pattering steps, slow and soft; then she heard a long
sniff, and a swifter pattering of the coming feet.

Her heart stood still with horror.

She saw a long, lean blood-hound leap into view, and circle slowly round
the mere, his nose on the ground, his blood-shot eyes flaming through
the dusk.

_The colonel's sleuth-hound tracking her steps!_

With what helpless fascination she watched the animal gliding like a
phantom round and round, down to the lip of the mere, where she had bent
to pluck a stalk, diverging a pace when she had diverged.

And behind the dog came Colonel Brand, with hands clasping each other by
the wrists, and drooping figure, and head down on his breast, shuffling
his dragging feet among the withered gorse as if weights held them down
brooding along with the heavy and spiritless gait of an old man, or of
one whose shoulders have been bowed thus by labor.

He looked not to right or left, but slouched on after his dog upon the
bank, and, as he passed the woman in her hiding place, she saw that in
his face, which no Brand of knightly English blood ever wore, since Sir
Hildebrand broke his lance at Cressy.

That crafty and sinister half smile, that green, scintillating shimmer
of the introverted eye, that gathered brow, seamed with the hideous
lines of crime and cunning!

Could such a face belong to St. Udo, the dare-man and dare-devil? That
coward's shuffle, and murderous, nervous hand clutching the empty air,
or thrust into his bosom! Could such belong to the gallant soldier who
had stormed the Rocky Ridge, and braved the cannon's mouth in the
thickest of the fight? Thank Heaven, no! He lay in his hidden grave, and
his bravery was glowing in the mouths of a hundred heroes, and his honor
should be kept untarnished, if a woman's hand could uphold the proud
escutcheon!

Closer stole the blood hound to the willow tree, but though she eyed his
approach with curling blood, she would not utter a cry which might
betray her to the man she hated.

For the nervous hand he had thrust into his bosom had brought out
something which glittered with a steel-blue flash in the indistinct
gloom, and he had come to a dead stand with it, and was looking at it
with the glare of a hungry wolf.

He was but a few paces from Margaret Walsingham, and the sleuth-hound
was gliding on her track, making his last circle round the mere. She
knew it by his glaring eyes and watering fangs, and his short, deep
groans of eagerness.

"I must have recourse to you again, my tiny talisman?" hissed Colonel
Brand to his stiletto. "She insists on having you, and I am going to
humor her."

He hissed these words through his teeth slowly, deliberately, as if it
was a sort of joy to utter them aloud, but once, and then he thrust it
into his bosom again.

And the woman tore off her heavy cloak and dropped it beneath the willow
tree, and, rising to her feet, she glided through the hazel copse across
the Waaste, and fled for her life, just when the snarling hound sprang
upon her garment and tore it into pieces, with many a wolfish bay!



CHAPTER XVII.

CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE.


Margaret soon went to her own apartment and changed her damp garments,
and then she went down stairs to the echoing reception-room, to wait for
Lady Juliana Ducie.

At last came the sound of carriage wheels, the great door was opened,
and a gentle stir ensued in the lower hall.

Margaret rang the bell, and waited in feverish suspense to hear the
issue.

"Who has arrived?" she asked, as the housekeeper appeared, arrayed in
stiff black satin.

"The lady you were expecting, miss, I take it, with a lady's maid and
groom. She has gone up to her room, and told me to tell Miss Walsingham
she would appear in half an hour."

It was ten minutes to seven when the visitor, having partaken of a
hearty dinner in her own room, and gone through the intricacies of a
super-elegant toilet, with the assistance of her maid, came down to the
reception-room, and was met with outstretched hands by placable
Margaret.

"How kind of you to come to me!" she breathed, "and to prove a ready
friend."

The lissome figure approached--beautiful, radiant as ever--and, tripping
quite up to Margaret, she took her pale hand and pressed it graciously.

"Are we friends?" she queried, with her head a little drooped on one
side, and eyes raised inquiringly. "Are you going to forget my naughty
petulance? Papa and I have been so angry at ourselves that we let you
go."

"All that is forgotten, dear Lady Julie."

"You are such a good creature, to be sure! But now tell me, what is this
wonderful matter of life and death?" demanded my lady, whose eyes were
roving round the massive furniture and lordly size of the old room, as
if they were accustomed to take stock. "I could not resist such a tragic
invitation; but I was not alarmed, for you always had such a strange way
of putting things. Now do tell me, Margaret, dear!--there is nobody half
as much interested as I am--are you really going to marry him after all?
Such is the report."

"Nothing has been settled yet," answered Margaret, quietly. "Take a seat
near the fire, Lady Juliana. I expect some visitors in a few minutes,
and you may as well be well warmed before you are presented."

My lady sat down, with a meaning smile, as directed.

"Does St. Udo expect to see me?" she asked, coquettishly. "Is he aware
that I was to come?"

"He is unconscious of your presence, my lady."

"Ah, ha! Too jealous to tell him! Ah, ha! Margaret, my dear, so you are
afraid of his old flame! Well, it isn't surprising. Everybody gets
jealous of me. I am considered so very pretty, and I vow I have become
so accustomed to being envied that I don't feel comfortable unless half
a dozen women are glaring at me with jealousy!"

"Heartless as ever, my Lady Julie."

"Portentous as ever, my tragic muse. Well, well, don't be so stiff with
me, your Julie--why should you? I am so curious to know something about
you. I think you are a most extraordinary woman. Are you going to be the
mistress of Seven-Oak Waaste after all?"

"I intend to retain possession of it."

"And to marry St. Udo? Heigh, ho! my old lover. Is he much enamored with
you? Inconstant wretch! he might have run up to Hautville, if it was
only to taunt me with my cruelty in jilting him. I don't seem to have
got on much better for having been so obedient to papa; positively I am
without a matrimonial expectation; without even an _attache_, except my
snip of a cousin Harry, who cant marry anybody until his uncle Henry and
three sons die. The Duke of Piermont has gone back to Ireland, and is
supposed to be either mad or writing a book. My own opinion is, that he
has fallen in love with some stock-jobber's daughter, or nameless
orphan, and that his family have interfered, to prevent a shameful
_mesalliance_."

My lady glanced spitefully at Margaret's inflexible face, but failed to
read it.

The door was opened while she was examining her shallow reservoirs for
more gossip, and the two executors were announced just as the pompous
hall-clock struck seven.

"You are punctual, sirs," said the lady of the castle, pressing each
hand gratefully in her feverish fingers; "let me present you to a
friend, whose name is well known to you: Lady Juliana Ducie."

My lady bowed to each condescendingly and sank to her cushions again
with raised eyebrows. The executors looked at each other and at their
ward, also with raised eyebrows.

"You shall see my meaning in a few minutes," she breathed, passing the
lawyer.

"Is London very gay just now, my lady?" asked the physician,
understanding the face of affairs at a glance, and good-naturedly taking
up his cue.

My lady, never at a loss for small talk, instantly plunged into an ocean
of that diluted composition, and the minutes sped on.

At half-past seven, punctual to the second, came an imperative ring at
the great door.

Margaret started up with a quivering face, murmured, "Excuse me," and
glided out to conceal the terrible agitation of her features.

She took refuge in an ante-room and summoned the housekeeper.

"Show Colonel Brand in here instead of the reception-room," she said,
"and stay with me while I speak to him."

"To act sheep-dog?" asked Chetwode, venturing on a pleasantry.

"Yes," shuddered the girl; "one can never depend on a wolf."

The colonel was accordingly ushered in, and the housekeeper, knitting in
hand, took her seat at a distance, as if prepared for a long interview.

"How shall I get back my composure?" thought Margaret. "I dare not face
Lady Juliana until I am calm, else she would jump at this man's name."

"I have come in answer to a kind invitation from Miss Walsingham," said
the man, approaching her with an insolent bravado of manner.

"Yes, I have work for you to-night."

"For or against my cause, fair lady? I decline to stand in my own
light."

His evil eyes were fastened tauntingly upon her; his hand was toying
with the breast of his coat.

"St. Udo Brand should fear nothing," mocked Margaret.

His eyeballs quivered and fell; the veins grew black upon his brow.

"One of your silly women had a narrow escape from being torn to pieces,"
he said, sourly, changing the subject.

"Yes," retorted Margaret, "I hear you keep a dangerous dog--the sooner
you _stab him_ the safer we shall feel."

His hand dropped from his bosom as if an adder had bitten him; her
meaning was unmistakable.

"Tell the woman not to venture upon dangerous ground," he growled from
beneath his closed teeth. "Argus is a fierce brute, and hates a spy."

"Do not apologize for your dog's ferocity. I can well afford the loss of
a cloak for the tableau I had the pleasure of witnessing."

Her pallid, daring face pointed her meaning. Colonel Brand bowed to hide
his livid face as if he had received a fine compliment; those Satanic
white spots were slowly disappearing when he ventured to speak again.

"Since it was my lovely hostess, and not an inquisitive kitchen-wench,
who was frightened," sneered he, "Argus shall be consigned to the bottom
of the mere."

"Argus knew his master Ulysses after they had been parted twenty years.
Would your dog recognize you by the name of St. Udo Brand, do you
suppose?"

"Sweet lady, would that my understanding could keep pace with your wit!
But your prolific imagination suggested a riddle--which I have yet to
find the meaning of, the word _conquered_!"

"Do not cry 'hallo' until you are out of the woods. But come with me--I
have a riddle which waits your solving."

Margaret entered the reception-room with Colonel Brand, and preceding
him swiftly to Lady Juliana, stood aside and waited meaningly for the
result.

There was a moment of disconcerted silence, then my lady, dropping a
deep courtesy, cried:

"Good gracious, Captain Brand, I did not recognize you!" and
coquettishly gave her hand.

The man's face would have made a study for a demon-painter in its first
blank stare at the blushing lady, and its instant blaze of fury at the
merciless Margaret.

Intuitively he read her insulting intention to snare him before these
witnesses. For a time blind rage threatened to choke him and help him
into the pitfall.

But the filmy vail hooded his eyes, and he gazed with a transfixed smile
at Lady Juliana, still holding her hand.

"Must I introduce Colonel Brand? Is his memory so short?" jibed
Margaret, with goading scorn.

The colonel returned to present things; made a desperate effort to
appear natural, and carried Lady Juliana's hand to his lips.

"Fair as ever," he muttered, so absorbed as to appear heedless of aught
else. "Ah, Lady Juliana Ducie, what an impossible task it is to forget
you."

He led her to a distant sofa, and seating her, bent over her in an
attitude of devotion.

Margaret stood like a statue, and pale as marble, accepted her defeat.

She saw the flush of gratified pride, the entire credulity of Lady
Juliana; she saw the half-pitying, half-contemptuous smile which the
executors passed with each other. She saw the stealthy look of wicked
exultation with which her enemy repaid her ruse, and with a quick
failing of strength and fortitude, she burst into sudden tears, turned
and glided from the room.

"He is armed at all points against surprise," she moaned, in terror; "he
will win the game in spite of me. You wretch! how shall I escape your
vengeance?"

When she returned to her guests, half an hour later, with a slight
apology for her untimely illness, she found Colonel Brand and Lady
Juliana improving the time by a desperate flirtation, eager and hopeful
on her part, satiric and careless on his, as beseemed the character of
St. Udo, when he met again the woman who had jilted him.

No one asked the cause of Margaret's illness, or seemed at all struck by
it; all had their private belief on the subject, my lady being neither
slow nor reluctant to assure herself that extreme jealousy at St. Udo's
marked pleasure upon seeing herself, had driven the bride-elect from the
room.

When the evening had passed, like a queer, grim dream to poor Margaret,
and the executors bade adieu, their ward accompanied them to the room
door, and clung to Dr. Gay's arm with a pitiful reluctance to let him
go.

"I have failed," she whispered, sadly; "and he has the best of it. Don't
be angry with me for bringing you here to-night on such a fruitless
errand. I am unhappy enough without your anger."

"It is not anger, my dear girl; it is concern that we feel for you----"

"Pho! it is anger! How long is this farce of yours to last, Miss
Margaret? Will nobody but Rufus Gay and Andrew Davenport do to make up
side actors for your serio-comic tomfooleries?"

"Bear with me a little longer," sighed the orphan, humbly. And then the
executors went away.

The colonel with great reluctance also tore himself from the side of his
charmer, and prepared to depart.

"We are quite good friends?" whispered my lady, with an arch glance into
his eyes.

"My Julie will pity her poor slave in his new chains?" murmured back the
colonel.

Margaret, waiting with beating pulses for his departure, heard with
curling lip both question and answer.

A sly invitation to come often to see papa, followed from the lady, was
chivalrously accepted by the gentleman, and her hand was once more
caressed by way of farewell.

"Thanks for the pleasant surprise you have given me," said he, bending
down to look into Margaret's face with an air of devilish exultation;
"it was so delicately planned and so kindly meant that I shall not
forget it in you. Good night."

She turned away her loathing face and bowed him out, and then came
drearily up to my lady and looked at her.

"Is this man whom you met to-night changed from the man to whom you were
engaged?"

"Oh! Of course he is changed. He looks ever so much older and not nearly
so nice looking, and he is as grave as an undertaker, except when I make
him laugh--but heigh, ho! It is no wonder, with such a burden as his
grandmother placed upon him. He would soon look himself again if he had
this magnificent castle, and the one whom he loves for his wife."

"You would be quite willing to marry _that_ person, would you, Lady
Juliana?"

"Why do you ask? Is it only to tease me? You know that I never left off
loving him."

"And yet how ignoble was that love!" said Margaret, bitterly; "how
shallow, that could so mistake its object! Oh, my lady, I might have
remembered your skin-deep nature when I asked you to come here and help
me."

"What now," cried my lady, fearing she had said too much and becoming
alarmed. "Why should you talk that way to me? I can't help my love for
St. Udo Brand."

"Try to help it, then, for the man is a villain," was the cold
rejoinder.

"A villain!" ejaculated the other, thoroughly startled. "What can you
mean? That's a strange way to speak of the gentleman you are going to
marry. I--I think it is dishonorable!"

"I am not going to marry _him_," returned Margaret; "oh, no, my
lady--no, no!"

She burst into a wild laugh which became so violent that Lady Juliana
got up uneasily and moved away.

"I must say that I am altogether mystified as to your affairs then," she
remarked, sullenly; "I thought that I was summoned here to be your
confidential adviser, or bride-maid, or some such thing. It seems I have
come here to be laughed at."

"Pardon me," said Margaret, putting a violent strain upon herself. "I am
not laughing for amusement; indeed, I am scarcely in a gay mood. I
summoned you here, Lady Julie, because I hoped, through you, to settle a
certain question; but I now see that it is not within your power."

Lady Juliana looked at her with intense curiosity. She had a vague idea
that she had allowed something to slip through her fingers by her
carelessness, and she determined, vindictively, that it should not be
St. Udo Brand.

"I'll have him fast as ever bound to my sleeve," she inwardly vowed:
"and I am very much mistaken if this eccentric creature does not give us
Seven-Oak Waaste."

My lady drove away next morning from gloomy Castle Brand, had a
coquettish half-hour of farewell at the station with Colonel Brand, who
was lounging there casually, did as much mischief as she could to
Margaret's cause, and went back to London, her head full of new
ambitions.

And that was the end of Margaret's experiment.

It was some time after Lady Julie's useless visit, and Margaret was
walking on the Waaste with Mrs. Chetwode.

She had discontinued her solitary walks since the evening by the mere,
and invariably begged the housekeeper's company, or had a man-servant to
keep her in sight whenever she took the air.

They wandered aimlessly over the frosty snow, side by side, and scarce
speaking a word, a lowering sky overhead, and a bleak wind in their
faces.

Margaret had mused over her next step until her thoughts were madness to
her; and, as yet, no solution had come of the way out of her position.
She had not gathered bravery enough to set another snare for her enemy,
and had nervously avoided seeing him since her last discomfiture; and,
too, she had heard that he was away in London, basking in the smiles of
Lady Juliana. But, while revolving the next step to be taken, she was
doomed to meet her enemy face to face at a time she imagined him in
London.

At a turn of the path the two women came full upon the colonel,
shuffling along, with his head bent, and his eyes on a book.

He thrust it hastily in a breast-pocket of his overcoat, and accosted
them with an insolent leer.

"How is the fair lady after her week's seclusion?" snarled he.

"Nothing bettered by this interruption to it," returned she, coming to a
dead stop from sheer inability to support herself.

"Permit me," said the colonel, forcing Margaret to lean upon his arm,
"this attack of agitation is so severe that I who have caused it should
render my poor services in removing it."

He bent with an ogreish smile to look into her eyes.

"Leave me," breathed the wretched girl, attempting to wrench her hand
from his grasp. "How dare you molest me sir?"

"Dear Margaret," sneered the man, bending near her dead white face, "why
will you hold your slave at such a distance? I who hope to be co-heir of
that goodly pile beyond us before this year is out? Ten days, my
dearest--only ten days to wait, and then the month is out."

She could only look at him silently; her lips moved in haughty protest,
but no words came to her aid; she walked by his side dumb as death.

The good old housekeeper kept by her other side and held her passive
hand, comforting her in her kindly fashion by patting and pressing it,
or the poor girl's terror would have overcome her altogether.

Suddenly Margaret ceased the struggle of attempting to draw her hand
from his arm, and turned her averted face toward him.

Her eyes stole over him attentively, she marked his dress and his manner
with a fixed intensity--an idea bad taken possession of her which she
could not drive away.

Again and again her eye returned to its scrutiny of the man, and the
hand which Mrs. Chetwode was caressing, closed itself convulsively as if
it held something it must keep, come life or come death. Her hand which
lay upon his arm quivered against his heart as if there was something
there she longed to seize.

When they reached the griffins now squatting on their snow-covered
pedestals, Margaret broke her bitter silence by a forced request.

"Honor me by an interview, sir."

"Whom have I to meet this time?" he asked, with a boding smile.

"No one sir. Are you afraid of meeting strangers, Colonel Brand?"

He bowed sardonically, and followed her into the hall.

John came forward to relieve the colonel of his overcoat, and Margaret
remained for some moments giving some directions to the housekeeper.
When the visitor was ready she accompanied him into the library, where
before a glowing fire the lonely girl was accustomed to read through the
long evenings, and bade him wait her return from her chamber.

"What a home-paradise we shall have," said Colonel Brand with ironical
gallantry; "I know I shall be delighted by some new and strange side of
my charmer's character. I always am."

"You may," answered Margaret with a strange look.

She went out, shutting the door carefully between her and the colonel,
and looking round about the vast old hall.

There stood John, still hanging up the hat, cane, and coat of the
visitor.

"Carry this light up to the third hall," said Margaret, pointing to a
lamp in a bracket.

He took the lamp and ascended out of view. What a transformation came
over the girl's countenance then.

Her eyes lit up with triumph--she sprang to the overcoat and thrust her
eager hand into the breast-pocket.

She was right. The book she had seen him reading was the green morocco
note-book he had referred to when she had tried to trip him in his
knowledge of St. Udo Brand's letter to her--and she had it in her hand
now.

She drew it forth, and fled like a phantom to her room, just as Colonel

Brand, recalling his blunder, started up and hurried to remove the
damning evidence of his own imposture.



CHAPTER XVIII.

MARGARET'S PERIL.


Margaret double-locked her door, and stood listening with the book
clutched fast in her hand.

Drop by drop her blood gurgled from her heart--her hair bristled.

What had she done?

She had thrown the gauntlet at him; henceforth there should be no
quarter.

She thought it all out in that breathless watch for the result. She knew
that she had given herself over to his sworn vengeance; that she would
be cut down from his path like a noxious weed; that the battle which was
coming would be a _battle for her life_.

Yes, her day of grace was past--even now her enemy knew his loss. She
had--oh, galling thought!--outwitted him.

He searched his pockets--all of them; he shook the coat--in vain. His
eyes stole up the staircase with the green glare of murder in their
tawny depths; his lean face grew chalk-white; his hand hid itself in his
bosom and griped something there. Alas, for reckless Margaret!

And yet the wretch stood scheming--scheming, wary as his own blood
thirsty sleuth-hound.

It was a woman not easily brushed aside; He must be very cautious with
his dark revenge, and creep with sheathed claws toward his purpose.

John, coming down stairs empty-handed, met the gaze of a face looking at
him, which he thought at first was that of the arch enemy of mankind.

"Where has your mistress gone, my man?"

"To her room, your honor."

"Have you been meddling with the pockets of this coat?"

"No, indeed, sir; I hope you'll believe me, sir. I just had but hung it
up when I was sent with a lamp to the upper hall. Please ask Miss
Walsingham if it wasn't so, yer honor."

"Then, by Heaven! I've been robbed!"

He turned on his heel, and carried his livid face into the library, as
spotted as if he had been smitten with a white plague, rummaged without
ceremony until he had got himself pen, and ink, and paper, and wrote a
_billet-doux_ to his lady-love.

Five minutes after Margaret's whirlwind rush to her room, there came a
knocking at the door.

"Who is it?"

"It's me. Miss Margaret, dear."

"Oh, Mrs. Chetwode! what is it."

"A letter from the colonel, Miss Margaret."

"Push it under the door."

"Dear me, it won't go."

"Make it go."

Presently a slip of white appeared, caught on the edge of the carpet.
She seized and pulled it through.

It had got rid of its envelope in the rough transit, and came followed
by fluttering rags, held together by a great wax seal, like a scarlet
beacon of danger.

Still kneeling, she read it, fiercely bit her lip, and pondered.

"I give five minutes to retract your mistake. A few pencil-scrawls are
not worth a life. Only five minutes, my dear Miss Walsingham."

"If I yielded, would I be safer than if I was obstinate?" she thought,
crushing the scraps in her hand. "No, what are _his_ assurances? Lies to
lull me to sleep. Let me drive my foe to open enmity--let me goad him to
his ruin, or mine, if God so forgets me, but I will never give up this
evidence of his guilt." She held aloft, with wild triumph, the green
note-book. "Do your worst to Margaret Walsingham, you monster, but you
will not get St. Udo's right out of her faithful hands. My five minutes
of grace are slipping away, and I am going to defy him. I will pray
Heaven to protect me, and--I will do my duty."

She bowed her head on her hands, and, as second by second slipped by,
her thoughts went up to Heaven and to God, and, with the love of a
servant tried and true, to Ethel Brand.

"Mrs. Chetwode?"

"I am waiting here, miss, for the answer."

"Tell Colonel Brand that the five minutes are past, and _I defy him_."

"Oh, Miss Margaret, dearie, them same words?"

"Exactly. Change nothing."

The housekeeper went with lagging feet and this message to the snarling
hound in the library, who cursed her heartily and shut the door in her
face.

Margaret remained with her head sunk on her knees in that sort of trance
with which the wretch awaits the too sure sentence of death. It came; a
dull tremor through the massive walls--the great door was shut--Colonel
Brand had left the house.

Now she knew that she was sentenced to death; no remedy--no drawing
back.

A cold ooze broke over her; her natural womanly fears became rampant;
her fancy pictured the form of murder which the crawling wretch she had
to deal with would most surely employ. At once the dull waves of the
pool where she had encountered the sleuth-hound and his monster occurred
to her; its cold chill waters enveloped her heart; the weeds and mud
chocked her even more than the fancied hand at her throat; that gleaming
stiletto seemed driven into her bosom; for a time she lived through the
agonies of actual death.

But she was naturally a brave woman, notwithstanding all her timidity;
yes, a dauntless creature, whose generous blood was sure to rise before
wrong and danger.

She shook of the slavish terror which threatened to overcome her
altogether, and set herself to her next course of action.

"And now for my night's work," she said, glancing round the room, where
a fire burned redly in the grate, and the ghostly December day faded
from point to point.

She quietly made arrangements against being interrupted; rang the bell,
and called to the maid through the door that she had retired for the
night, and did not wish any dinner, except a cup of strong coffee, which
should be brought to her by the housekeeper.

Then she carefully locked her window, and closed the massive mahogany
shutters, lit her candles, drew her writing-table before the fire, swept
the hearth, and saw that she had a supply of candles, matches, and pens.

By the time these arrangements were completed, the housekeeper was
knocking at the door with the edge of a lunch-tray.

"Has Colonel Brand left the house?" called Margaret.

"Yes, miss, some time ago."

"Are you sure he's not lurking about your back, Mrs. Chetwode?"

"Holy mercy! I hope not."

Sounds of the tray being dumped on a hall-table ensued, and the hurried
tread of the old woman showed that she was looking into various empty
rooms.

"What made you think such a queer thing, dearie?" whispered she,
presently, through the key-hole. "I seen him go out, plain as plain can
be."

Margaret opened the door, and held out her hands for the tray.

"What did he say to my message?"

The housekeeper gave an expressive shudder.

"Ugh! He swore like a blasphemer at me, Miss Margaret, dear."

"Keep watch lest any of the doors be left open to-night, Mrs. Chetwode."

"Oh, yes, miss--though I'm sure Purcell is very careful. My goody! Miss
Margaret, how wild you look! Surely you can't be well?"

"Oh, yes. Do not let any one disturb me to-night again, if you please.
Good-night."

"Sleep soundly, miss. Good-night."

The door was locked again, and Margaret sat down to her cup of coffee
and her ponderings.

She was quite calm, quite strong of purpose when she opened her desk,
laid the note-book upon it, and began her task.

And what a story these notes, remarks, and hinted plots disclosed to
her!

It commenced with, strange to say, a description of herself, her
position at Castle Brand, what she said when summoned to receive St. Udo
Brand's note on the night of Mrs. Brand's death. Then followed the
words:

"I believe I could do it. My own perseverance tells me I could do it;
the devil in the shape of Calembours tells me I could do it."

Leaf after leaf of such hints were read and laid to heart, then a
paragraph which made those deep gray eyes grow black with apprehension.

"All right. Am _sure_ I can do it. My chances doubled by the actors
themselves. The will is in favor of M. W. St. U. scornfully washes his
hands of the affair, preferring a pretty face and poverty. Stupid devil,
to throw away such a birthright! Lucky dog, who is to be his successor?
Let the rogue win the race. I am so tired of the dodges, the twists, the
aliases, the lurkings, that I will put on the greatest disguise of all,
a gentleman swell, and try what freedom is like, and the sea-captain's
daughter, and Seven-Oak Waaste. St. U. sails to-morrow for the United
States, and I send company with him which will twist him into shape more
than the haughty dog expects. Be kind to him, oh, captivating chevalier!
be attentive to him, oh, patient _Thoms_!"

Then came a complete interview between St. Udo Brand and the
"Chevalier," purporting to have taken place on board the steamer going
to New York, with this laudatory conclusion:

"Thoms, you are no fool. Thoms, I really think you are a genius."

Leaf after leaf again. The firm lip curved with stern determination, the
brain quick and comprehending.

The copy of the farewell letter from St. Udo to herself was the next
glimpse of a familiar past, with the leaf turned down just where the
cunning hypocrite had marked the place during that walk under the oaks.

Then a copy of his letter to Lady Juliana Ducie, in which he had "pinned
his faith" to her sleeve, with a memorandum attached of, "Faithfully
mailed by good Thoms; and thus ends St. U.'s affair with little Ducie.
Now he will fight like a devil with these Yankees."

Following this was the transcription of two letters to Gay and
Davenport, in which St. Udo had scornfully explained the fact of his
departure from England.

Then came the secret of his ready recognition of Lady Juliana when she
stood before him in the Brands' reception-room. Her photograph, painted
beautifully, was pasted into a cunning little pocket, and her
description was written out at full, as if the picture were not to be
trusted alone.

Initials of strange names--addresses in London, scraps of information
about officers in the Guards--a frequent (see private album)--carefully
noted _bon mots_ of different English friends of the colonel's,
anecdotes of London life, all headed by the significant note:

"Brand's daily gossip.--Study well."

Then came a copy of Lady Juliana's letter of dismissal, with the
comment:

"Thoms, my boy, you did well to search that vest pocket."

This grim pleasantry of the genial writer closed what appeared to be
part the first in the movements of the watched man.

Let her think before she turned the leaf; let her rest her whirling
brain awhile, and examine this curious idea which had slid into her
mind. Who was Thoms!

In this memorandum book he purported to be a valet. Was Thoms Roland
Mortlake? Could he have crawled round his purpose under the disguise of
a body-servant, touching daily the man whom he meant to murder?

Put these thoughts of horror away--go on to the end.

Part the second commenced with St. Udo's first battle, and his part in
it minutely described.

Then followed letters from the executors of the Brand estates, in which
Margaret saw her departure to become school-teacher freely commented on
as a freak which would soon wear itself out.

Then suddenly followed, dashed down in a rough, unsteady hand, as if in
the dark, five or six pages of phonetic writing.

Patiently Margaret spelled it out--the life of St. Udo Brand, as told to
the Chevalier de Calembours at the midnight camp-fire. Every minute
detail, every passing mention of a friend, of a place visited, of
scenes, adventures, college incidents; also what made the heart burn in
the breast of the woman who was reading these records--a few sad
sentences which told the secret of poor St. Udo's bitterness.

"Calembours, I would have been a better man now but for one grave
mistake which I made early in life. I loved a woman passionately and
purely; she was my first conception of love, and would have perfected in
me a noble manhood had she been worthy. She broke the trust--vilely
cheated me, and fled with an officer in the artillery, a man whom all
pure women would have shrunk from; and she was lost, as she might have
foreseen. Since then, to perdition to the sex, say I, and their cant of
feminine purity, for of all crafty, insatiable, double-faced hypocrites
I have found woman to be the worst."

The next few leaves were covered with crude specimens of writing. St.
Udo's name again and again, until it was a perfect imitation of St.
Udo's hand, and, after this, the notes were written in the
newly-acquired style, as if to perfect the cunning forger.

Then was faithfully narrated an interview between "the chevalier" and
Colonel Brand, in which the former was proposing to his friend to turn
traitor, and go with him to the South, and take up arms against their
present comrades.

And, as a brave man would answer, so answered the honest Englishman,
heaping epithets of scorn and anger on the little traitor. Attached to
this was the memorandum:

"Calembours has parted with my man; not good for Calembours; he has
broken the bargain. Thoms has stuck by Brand; invaluable Thoms; so will
he stick by Brand while he lives. He says so. Has he very long to live?
No."

On the succeeding page came a sudden change; a few wild sentences in the
breathlessness of rage.

"He has given me the slip. He has slipped the noose and got away. Where?
where? Have I lost him? have I lost my prize at the last trick, my
Castle Brand, my good luck, my fair play, my amends for seven months of
toil under his boot-heel? No, not while I have brain to plan, or body to
track him. I swear to leave this book untouched until I have found him
and left him a lump of clay."

Leaf by leaf is turned over; the pale hand stops and trembles down to
her side.

Here is a note. If he has kept his vow, this note is a record of St.
Udo's murder. She reads a date, and her eyes seem to pulsate with blind
fire.

"September 1st. The deed is done. Lost in the skurry of a midnight
sortie. 'Killed in battle,' his men will say; but--Thoms knows better!
He tracked him with his long sleuth-hound through the swamps, and the
surging morass, and the long, hot highway, the spikey groves, the dark
fens, and through hunger and danger of death; and he found him! Why not
keep his promise? He stole his history, habits, phrases, manners,
friends; and now, the lesson being learned, Thoms may keep his promise,
made to himself. He stooped this moonlit night upon the battle-field,
and stole his master's life, and stood erect--not _Thoms, the ignoble
valet, but St. Udo, the heir of Castle Brand_!"

Margaret paused, sick and heart-quenched.

Memory brought back the vision of the battle-field, and of the wounded
hero, and of the brooding assassin, and reason stood aghast at the
manifest overturn of her natural laws.

"Grant me days enough to avenge him, high Heaven!" she cried, with a
passion of tears.

She would allow herself no luxury of sorrow; she repressed these tears,
trimmed her candles--took up her bitter task again.

Part the third showed that the murderer had arrived in England; that he
had lurked about the castle for a few days before presenting himself,
and acquainted himself with as many necessary facts as possible. After
this came the appearance of the pseudo-heir before the executors.

"I have stepped into the wrong man's shoes with marvelous ease, and I
have seen my future wife. Could anything be more appropriate, I wonder,
than for her to faint at sight of me? I am resolved to marry her. It
wouldn't be fair play to silence _her_ as I silenced some one who is in
his grave; and when we are man and wife I will tell her where she first
saw her husband."

The second entry was not quite so confident:

"The girl is going to be troublesome. Confound her! why has she taken
such a dislike to me?"

Entry the third still more expressive of alarm:

"What's this I hear? The girl left Gay's house without any explanation,
and gone to Castle Brand. What does that mean? Has she taken anything
into her head against _me_?

"I think she has seen with those mystical eyes of hers the deep ruts on
my wrists and ankles; and I think she is looking back a dozen years to
the man who lay in chains and cursed her cup of cold water. Confound
her! I am afraid of her."

There were other allusions to her which made her eyes blaze with
indignation, intermixed with careful entries of names or localities
which might be useful to the adventurer; and still, step by step, the
purpose of the man slowly unfolded itself. He had expected at first to
deceive Margaret Walsingham with the rest, and to win the fortune by
marrying her.

"A more monstrous fate," thought the girl, "than death."

But it soon appeared that she had betrayed her distrust, and he was
quietly waiting a chance to remove her. One note broke out thus:

"The girl will be my ruin, unless _I shut the hatches_ on her. She has
shown her hand to-day in three different attempts to make me betray
myself. By Heaven, she will succeed if she tries that long; but I have
made a counter plot which, clever as she is, she can't evade. I have
been beforehand with her, and won the confidence of the executors. I
have also announced my determination to propose to-morrow for her. If
she refuses, that's a sign that I let the hatch drop; if she accepts,
hold up the hatch a while, and give her another chance."

The result of his proposal showed how unlooked for her answer had been.

"She's a move in advance again--clever she devil; I am quite thrown out.
Proposed according to plan; was put off for a month. I think her demand
of a month's time to consider means a month's time to run me to the end
of my chain. My chain would run out in a week with her at the right end
of it; so I suppose it must be once, twice, thrice, and _down goes the
hatch_!"

The next entry was written with the sneer of a triumphant demon:

"Thought you would trip me, did you? Silly fool, to tamper with your
crazy hatch-door! Don't you know that when it drops you will suffocate?
So you expected me to be caught by Lady Juliana Ducie, did you? No, no,
my bride of death, I have pored over her picture too often. But for your
fine intention you shall suffer, Margaret Walsingham!

"My lady is a mighty fine-feathered bird for _me_ to have fluttering
round me. I have a mind to marry the marquis' daughter when the
watch-dog of the castle has died of her little sickness; wouldn't that
be fair play all round?"

The succeeding notes described two visits to London, in which the daring
wretch had penetrated into the Marquis of Ducie's residence, and had
private interviews with my lady, who seemed to be straining every nerve
to win him from Miss Walsingham; and it closed with the ominous
sentence:

"Little Ducie proves so much to my taste that I will go down to Surrey,
and _drop that hatch_!"

The diary in the note-book had come to an end. Mortlake's secrets were
hers now. Mortlake's course of crime was run, if she could live to give
them to the world.

Margaret once more trimmed her candles, replenished the drowsy fire,
paced up and down her room, and then sat down and commenced to copy such
parts of the entries as bore directly upon the conspiracy.

Hour followed hour; the candles burned down; the fire wasted to white
ashes; the wintry wind moaned without, carrying sleet on its wings.

Still the girl's strength held out; she wrote with energy the dark
record which was to ruin the murderer of St. Udo Brand. Long past
midnight found her at the last page, and at the last sentence:

"Little Ducie proves so much to my taste that I will go down to Surrey,
and drop that hatch."

The hoarse baying of the dogs roused her to things present. She rose
from her cramped position, cold and trembling with terror.

Who was lurking about so late? Her enemy?

The candles dropped into their little wells of boiling wax and expired.
She stood in the pitchy darkness, listening.

The angry babel of howling dogs filled her ears again. A sudden pause;
they, too, were listening. Then a yelp of canine rage and eagerness.

Margaret groped in the box for another candle and a match; fitted the
candle into the tall silver candlestick, lit it, and gathered up her
papers, while the flame was as yet small and sickly as a far-off star.

She hid them all in a compartment of her desk, carried the desk to a
closet, locked it, and hid the key beneath a loose edge of the carpet.

"I may pay the forfeit of my life for these proofs," she thought; "but
Davenport and Gay shall see them, whatever the risk, and my work shall
descend to their hands if I am removed."

She was calm, but a curious pulse was beating in her ears and deadening
her sense of hearing. Through it she could swear that strange noises
were in the air, which were entirely foreign to any that could be caused
within the house.

The bounding pulse still beat in her ears, and she stood intently
waiting.

What it was she knew not, which smote her whole being into
intensity--her hair bristled.

There it was again--through the thick shutter and massive window--the
deep breathing of a man who has been hard at work, and stops his
operations to listen.

Could it be that her enemy was at the window?

Margaret shrank back; she had been standing in profile, not two feet
from the window, and her ear had caught the indistinct sounds so clearly
that she was able to trace them immediately to their cause.

A man was in the balcony outside her window, and he was listening to
know whether she was sleeping or waking. Perhaps a burglar? No.

Mortlake was there to retrace his false step before the morning light
should place his secret in other hands.

"He's going to force an entrance and murder me," thought Margaret, who
could reason distinctly in this moment of peril; "and, knowing that I
only share the knowledge of his guilt, he hopes to escape suspicion. He
will arrange it like a burglary--likely take away my few jewels and
articles of value, and drop them in the mere. I am afraid I am lost."

These thoughts just glanced through her mind as lightning glimmers
through the thunderous clouds, and, with the sudden instinct of
self-preservation, she ran to the door, determined to rush into safety.

Before she had reached it, or her hand could touch the lock, a slow and
gentle scratching on the window-pane arrested her, and she paused,
fascinated, to understand it. Scratch--scratch--scratch--cr-ick! the
tiny tinkle of falling glass.

Scratch--scratch--scratch--scratch--scratch--scratch! cr-ick--cr-ick!
More glass falling, a crunching footstep, a soft tremor of the mahogany
shutter!

Margaret essayed to wrench round the heavy lock of her door.

Her hand had no more strength than an infant's. She shuddered from head
to foot.

One more desperate wrench!

A low snarl reached her ear! Eager paws beat at the bottom of her door!

She stood transfixed as the devil's cunning of her adversary dawned upon
her mind.

The terrible sleuth-hound had been stationed outside her door, ready to
tear her limb from limb when she should issue.



CHAPTER XIX.

A PRAYER TO HEAVEN.


The game had passed out of her hands. Should she trust to the
blood-thirsty brute, or to the blood-thirsty man?

I think she would have thrown herself upon such mercy as the hound would
show her, rather than trust to Roland Mortlake. But the time had passed
even while she stood in sore doubt.

That mysterious tremor of the shutter had ceased, and now, in the
ominous stillness, she saw--oh horror! what was that?

A small circular hole had been cut in the panel, and through it she
caught the glitter of a _human eye_ watching her.

The blood curdled in her veins, her hands fell, clasped, before her, she
stood, with her head bent forward, and dilated eyes returning that awful
stare.

No horror, caused by death in any form, could have equaled that caused
by the mere stealthy glare of a human eye watching her, gleaming upon
her, unaccompanied by the visible face.

Suddenly the eye was removed, a sharp click broke the supreme silence, a
long, slender tube was thrust half-length through the aperture, and
pointed with deliberate aim at her heart.

A blind haze came between her and the hideous vision. Quicker than
thought she darted to one side, and sank to the floor, almost
insensible.

Her sight cleared, and she looked for the pointed pistol.

It was slowly veering round, to bring her again within range.

Her eyes measured the room wildly. The windows commanded every part of
it except the two upper corners. She must fly across the room or be shot
like a dog.

She sprang up and flitted swiftly along the wall, and out of range.

Now she was safe for a few seconds. She might crouch upon the carpet and
pray a few wild words for safety.

The pistol returned to the door and covered it, in case of attempted
escape.

As long as her enemy could get nothing larger than the tube of a pistol
in, she was safe in her corner; but if he enlarged the hole enough to
introduce his hand with the pistol, she was lost; for there was no large
piece of furniture near which she could hide behind.

"If I could but circumvent him until daylight," she thought, "this
night's danger would be past."

She looked at her watch. It was two of the night.

"Three hours to wait," she pondered, with a despairing heart. "Can I
possibly defy him for three hours? He is crafty and desperate; he is
here to put an end to my life, and will not go away unsuccessful. I am
terrified, helpless, and without resource. Which of us is likely to
triumph?"

Her eyes went longingly to the old-fashioned bell-pulls hanging at each
side of the fire-place.

"If I dare to rush across the room and ring a peal to awake the
household, I would be shot before my hand left the bell-rope," she told
herself.

Why had she lit the tell-tale candle? There it burned, white and faintly
tremulous in the current of air caused by the hole in the shutter,
slowly wasting away, but distinctly revealing her every movement to the
watchful assassin without.

Was there no way by which she could extinguish it and leave herself in
the friendly darkness?

If the thought occurred to him of enlarging the aperture and shooting
her in her place of refuge, the candle would too surely guide his
murderous hand.

Even while thus she reasoned, the pistol was removed, and the grating of
a tiny saw against the shutter recommenced.

Horror paralyzed the terrified girl for an instant; the next, with rare
presence of mind, she snatched the cloak off her shoulders in which she
had been wrapped, and hurled it with all her strength across the room.

Like a huge, ugly bat, it made for the candle, swept it off the table,
and she was surrounded in a moment by darkness.

The grating sound came to an abrupt stop, and a smothered oath came
through the auger-hole.

"Give up that book, Margaret Walsingham," said the hoarse voice of her
foe, "for as sure as you live and breathe your life will go for it if
you don't."

Margaret remained still as a statue, not daring to breathe.

"I'll make terms with you even now, if you hand me the book," said the
wily voice again.

She bowed her face in her hands, and smiled even in the midst of her
terror at such a proposition.

A long silence followed, then the steady sawing of the wooden panel went
on.

It was done. A wintry star glimmered in through a gap large enough to
admit a man's arm; then the star was blotted out, and a metallic click
was heard.

She felt, with a muffled and sickening heart-throb, that her enemy was
holding the pistol at full cock toward her, only waiting for the least
betrayal to fire.

She raised her head and watched, in fascinated horror, for the flash
which was to herald her death.

"Do you surrender?" demanded the assassin, in a voice quick and
imperative.

Had Margaret possessed an atom less presence of mind, she would have
answered involuntarily "No," in her scorn of the cowardly villain, but
she bit her lip in time, and held her peace.

Full well she knew that her first word would be the signal of her death.

"There are two hours and a half before daylight," said the enemy. "Are
you willing to have that pistol pointed at you for two hours and a half,
waiting to shoot you with the first gleam of daylight, or will you give
up the note-book and come to terms with me, for our mutual safety?"

Margaret would not peril her safety by a whisper.

"I don't object, even after all that has passed, to marry you, and let
you be mistress of the property, if you will only say yes."

"Heaven grant me patience to keep quiet," prayed Margaret, in her soul.

"Are you there, girl, or am I talking to an empty room?" called the man,
with a bitter oath. "Have you slipped, with your confounded cleverness,
out by some side door?"

Not a breath answered him; his own breathing almost filled the room as
he applied his ear to the hole.

A protracted silence ensued. The man at the window waited with murder in
his black soul for the faintest sound within; the hound at the door
sniffed with dripping fangs, and waited too, demon-like in his imitation
of his master; the lonely woman crouched in the corner, defenseless,
weak, affrighted, and prayed that Heaven would keep her safe.

The hours crept slowly on, but oh! how leaden were their wings. The
death-watch of these three was drawing to an end.

Margaret kept her dizzy eyes still fastened upon the black line that
began to be discernible at the window, and saw a crisis approaching.

"Are you dead or living in there?" said Roland Mortlake, at the
auger-hole, "If you are, you're a brave girl, and I want you for my
wife. Say 'yes.'"

No answer from within, save the whine of the sleuth-hound at the door.

A distant bugle call from without, from some early huntsman.

An angry hand shook the heavy shutters. Thank heaven! the bolts were the
massive bars of the sixteenth century, made for feudal defense and not
for beauty.

"If I break in the window, it won't be good for you, Margaret
Walsingham," was the boastful threat, as a second shaking was
administered to the shutters.

The clear, joyous notes of the bugle sounded nearer; the lusty holloa of
the sportsman to his dogs came over the Waaste and into the hole to the
ear of Margaret Walsingham, and a rush of joy swept over her and gave
her hopes of life.

This early huntsman was no doubt Squire Clanridge, who, she now
remembered having heard from Purcell, the steward, was to take the
Seven-Oak dogs out this morning to have a run with his own.

He would pass this side of Castle Brand on his way to the kennels, and
the cowardly assassin would have either to fly or be seen.

An imprecation burst from him in a voice which betrayed his fury, his
disappointment, his apprehension.

A wild smile quivered over Margaret's white face as she saw the arm
withdrawn and heard the dismal moan of the night wind through the hole.

Hasty feet crunched on the sleet-covered balcony, and the scratching
sound of a man swinging himself down by some rattling chain-ladder
followed.

The quick gallop of the horses' feet shortly became audible, and she
knew that the squire, with his groom, were clattering up to the
court-yard of the castle.

Five minutes afterward a hissing whistle was answered by a snort from
the patient blood-hound, which had watched so long at the door, his
light feet scratched their way down the slippery oaken stairs, and once
more Margaret was alone.

She had been saved through a night of peril such as turns the jetty
locks of youth to the lustrous white; she had been saved to rush for aid
and have the murderer arrested with the pistol still in his hand.

She was a free woman once more, and God had been kind to her this long
dread night.

She rose from her paralyzing attitude and approached her little bed to
sink on her knees beside it and pour out her full heart of gratitude to
Heaven, but she only went a little way and fell on her face and fainted.

And the first sun-ray of another dawning smote across the weary old
world, flushing its icy bosom, and stole through the hole in the
shutter, and touched the ceiling, thus casting a reflected beam, like a
faint smile, upon the unconscious face of the orphan girl.



CHAPTER XX.

THE IMPOSTOR FOILED.


At ten o'clock of the morning Mrs. Chetwode was knocking at Miss
Walsingham's bedroom door.

"Excuse me, miss, for disturbing you, but the colonel is here, and
wishes most particular to see you."

"Oh, please leave me alone," answered the young lady from within, weakly
and plaintively: "I am ill and can see no one."

The housekeeper returned to Colonel

Brand, who was pacing about in the gallery, under the long lines of dead
Brands, among which was not the face of the latest dead, and informed
him with a lugubrious face that Miss Walsingham was wild yet as she had
been last night, and seemed afraid to open the door, which was one of
her meagrims, poor dear, to have it locked, and her not well.

"Keep her quiet," answered the colonel, with that crafty smile of his
behind his long and stealthy hand, "she is going to have a serious
illness. Keep her very quiet. Poor lady, she shows signs of insanity;
keep her perfectly quiet."

Then, to be on hand, in case the young lady should consent to see him,
as he informed Mrs. Chetwode, he made himself at home in a quiet way at
Castle Brand, sauntering, with his hands in his pockets, through the
wide rooms; smoking on the front steps, eating lunch in a room which
commanded a view of the stairway, with his ugly companion by his side,
whose dripping fangs and blood-shot eyes were his master's admiring
study, and often slapping his own chest with an angry malediction,
because a certain rawness, or hoarseness, had got into his windpipe.

No adoring lover could have expressed more anxiety concerning the lady
of his heart than did the gallant colonel for Miss Walsingham. He sent
up a bulletin in the shape of John the footman every hour, to listen at
the young lady's door whether she was moving--not to disturb her, only
to listen, and bring back word to this anxious well-wisher.

Thus passed the morning below stairs.

How fared it with poor Margaret?

Nature had suffered a complete collapse. The horror of the night was
telling upon her pale, drawn face, her bloodless lips, and nerveless
hands. Utter exhaustion was weighing her down.

If her enemy had been making a bonfire of Castle Brand beneath her,
profound exhaustion would have compelled her to lie there and doze, even
while she perished in the flames.

She lay in bed with half-closed eyes, tossing from side to side as the
piercing light from the hole in the shutter worried her; dozing heavily,
often waking to murmur some feverish thought, starting up and
listening--sinking back in her weakness to sleep again.

Toward the middle of the afternoon she roused herself, came to a
completer sense of reality than she had done yet, and sprang from her
bed. She had to sit for several minutes upon the side of it, with her
hands tightly clasped upon her brow, before she could come to a decision
as to what her next move could be.

"I am mad to waste the few hours of grace in sleep, instead of putting
myself, under the protection of my friends!" she said.

"I must not lose another hour."

She rang the bell, and began to dress herself as hurriedly as weakness
would admit of.

"Are you up, Miss Margaret, dear?" said the housekeeper, anxiously, from
the hall.

She unlocked the door, held it opened fearfully, and beckoned her to
come in.

The old lady's first look was at the girl's face, at which she gasped.

Her next was at the window, from which a blinding ray and a cold current
of air assailed her; at which she shrieked:

"Lord ha' mercy! How came that there?"

"Ask me nothing," shuddered Margaret. "I am going to have the affair
sifted to the bottom."

"But why didn't you raise the house? Wasn't it a burglar?"

"No. I can tell you nothing about it until I have put myself under the
protection of Mr. Davenport and the doctor."

She spoke quite evenly, but there was a suspicious wildness about her
eyes which struck a new vein in the prolific brain of the housekeeper.

"Miss Margaret, deary! you didn't surely make that hole yourself?"

Margaret burst into vehement laughter. Her brain was so tried and
over-strained that a touch might turn it. To ask her if she had done it!

And then, on the other hand, to think that Mrs. Chetwode should seem to
be distrusting her sanity, like the others!

Down came the tears in a rushing torrent!

"My! She's in hysterics!" shrieked Mrs. Chetwode, catching the poor girl
in her arms. "Don't, dear, don't!" shaking her vigorously. "Be quiet
now, deary, love! Whisht! whisht!"

Wilder grew Margaret's sobs, shriller her laughter. She writhed herself
out of Mrs. Chetwode's arms, and pointed to the door.

"You have left it open!" she gasped, "and the colonel will shoot me!
Shut it, for heaven's sake!"

Mrs. Chetwode locked the door, with a glance at her mistress, which
said, as plain as eyes could say it:

"Poor thing! She is crazy!"

"Miss Margaret, dear, go back to your bed. You're not fit to be up at
all to-day. When you feel better, we'll find out about this shutter
business. Or may be you'd better come into my room. There's a dreadful
draught here."

"I must go down to Dr. Gay," said Margaret, still hysterically. "Tell
Symonds to have the carriage ready."

"Miss Margaret, lovey! I don't know that the colonel will like you to go
out. I--I'm not sure that he'll let you.

"Is he in this house?"

"He's waited from ten o'clock, until now, nigh on four o'clock to see
you when you should get up. He told me you weren't well."

"Mrs. Chetwode--oh, dear Mrs. Chetwode save me from that man! I must
escape from Castle Brand without his knowledge."

"Let me send for Dr. Gay to come to you," she answered, uneasily.

"No, no!" moaned the over-tried girl. "My life is not safe here another
night. I insist upon leaving Castle Brand."

Mrs. Chetwode walked to the window and employed herself in opening the
shutter.

What she saw when the shutter was opened struck her dumb with surprise
for some minutes.

A complete pane of glass had been removed, and set against the balcony
railing. A glazier's diamond lay beside it; a chisel was dropped upon
the farther end of the balcony; deep foot-prints were in the snow, and a
blackened place before the window showed where the midnight watch had
been kept.

"Good Lor'!" ejaculated the old woman, "must have been a bold thief."

"It was Colonel Brand!"

Mrs. Chetwode gasped, eyed her suspiciously, backed a few steps, and
took hold of the door handle.

"Poor thing!" she whispered to herself.

"Mrs. Chetwode, I told you last night to see that all the doors were
locked. Did you?"

"Yes, Miss Margaret, dear! Yes."

"The library glass door?"

The housekeeper looked disconcerted.

"It went clean out of my mind, sure enough."

"Ha! That is how the watch was placed at my door."

"Good gracious! A watch at your door?"

"The colonel's sleuth-hound."

The housekeeper unlocked the door, rushed out, and went straight to
Colonel Brand.

"Well, my good woman, you look disturbed," said that amiable thug,
taking his cigar out of his mouth to blow a spiral curl of smoke at her;
"have you been with Miss Walsingham, and is she as wild in her manner as
she was last evening when I had the honor of escorting you both home
from your walk?"

"Worse, sir, far worse; she's out of her mind complete as you may say.
And she's had a dreadful fright through the night."

"Ah! What is that?"

"Some rank rascal has tried to break in. It's an attempt at burglary,
which didn't succeed, but it have made her wild like."

"An attempt at burglary? How very extraordinary!"

"And she is raving about it, poor soul. Oh, dear me, we must send for
Dr. Gay."

"Yes, you had better send for Dr. Gay instantly, Chetwode. What may the
nature of her ravings be?" inquired the colonel, blandly.

"All sorts of things: that your dog there was at her door all night,
and--and other fancies."

"Ah!" in a tone of sympathetic interest; "unfortunate girl! Here, Argus,
good dog, speak up for your character, my boy!"

The dog blinked his small blood-shot eyes, and rose to shake himself, as
if he meditated a spring upon his traducer.

"Oh, Lor', don't show me to him," exclaimed Mrs. Chetwode, shrinking out
of view.

The colonel showed his long, hungry teeth, by way of grim smile, and
gave the animal a kick. "Don't be afraid. Are you going to send, then,
for Miss Walsingham's friends?"

"Would you say so, sir?" said the anxious creature, wavering between the
desire to humor her young mistress, and the fear of disobeying the
colonel.

"I would say so, certainly. The affair of the attempted robbery should
certainly be followed up for one thing; her state of mind attended to
for another."

Margaret's bell rang, and Mrs. Chetwode went up stairs, almost afraid to
venture near her again.

"Has Symonds got the carriage ready?" cried Margaret, the instant she
appeared.

She was sitting with her bonnet on, dressed for her drive, with a
satchel in her hand.

"Lor', you're not fit to go out," ejaculated Chetwode, in amazement.
"We're going to have Dr. Gay up to the castle, since you want him so, my
deary."

"Did Colonel Brand say I was not to leave the house?" demanded Margaret.

"He thinks you're not well enough, that's a fact."

"I defy him, or any one to keep me prisoner here. You must disregard
him, Mrs. Chetwode, and get me driven down to Regis."

"I'm afeard to do it, Miss Margaret."

"Then I shall defy him, and go before his eyes. Get Symonds ready
silently, that there may be no opposition. As you value my life, go."

Mrs. Chetwode, torn between two influences, and always subject to the
latest, bounded out of the room as if the limbs of twenty years ago had
been miraculously granted her, and went stealthily enough down the long
stairs to the servant's quarters.

In fifteen minutes she ventured back with a bottle of wine under her
apron.

"He's ready, miss, and at the lower door. You needn't meet the colonel
at all; he's just gone into the library, and shut himself in. Now, my
poor miss, you must drink something before you go to strengthen you, and
eat a bite."

"Nothing in this house--no!" cried Margaret, shuddering; "I cannot be
sure of even the food!"

"Don't let them put you in a hasylum, deary love; be careful what you
say, now won't you?"

"No fear of that with these papers," replied Margaret, holding up the
satchel exultingly.

By dint of perseverance the housekeeper prevailed upon her to drink a
glass of wine.

It is doubtful if she could have walked down stairs, and borne the
ordeal of her terror, but for this stimulant. But she reached the lower
door, and entered the carriage safely.

The colonel, after all his watching, was strangely derelict now, when he
had most cause for vigilance, and seemed quite unconscious that his
enemy was escaping to her friends, out of his reach.

Margaret's eyes traveled once over the towers and battlements of gloomy
Castle Brand, as they left it behind. They seemed to look a long
farewell--perhaps a farewell which would last forever; and then a turn
in the narrow stable-road brought a grim brick wall between her and her
castle, and she sank back upon the carriage-seat.

Ten minutes after her departure Colonel Brand came out of the library,
with his slouching dog at his heels, and called the housekeeper.

"Here's a note to Dr. Gay, informing him of Miss Walsingham's state. Can
you send a messenger with it to the village immediately?"

Chetwode turned livid and then gray; held out her hand for the note and
drew it back again.

The colonel's eyes scintillated in a way that made her blood run cold,
and his boding smile was a failure as far as reassuring her went.

"What's the matter, woman? Have you the presumption to refuse to send a
messenger at my request?"

"I couldn't help it," stammered the old woman, bursting into sobs; "she
wouldn't hear to one word, and she--she's off to Regis."

"Who? Miss Walsingham? Have you let her leave the castle after all?"

"Lor', master, she was set to go. I thought it wouldn't make much
difference whether she was took from Dr. Gay's to the mad-house or from
here."

"You are right," muttered the colonel, grimly. "It makes no difference."

He tore his note in two, pushed the housekeeper rudely out of his way,
and strode out to the solitary Waaste.

The Brand carriage stopped opposite Lawyer Davenport's office door, and
Symonds dismounted.

"Why," exclaimed Miss Walsingham, opening the window, "I do believe the
door is locked. Surely he has gone away very early in the morning."

Symonds rapped and tried the door--peeped through the dusty window, and
found that Miss Walsingham was right.

"We shall go up to his house," she said, pulling up the window.

Arriving at Mr. Davenport's neat and commodious bachelor's abode,
Symonds, after inquiry, reported that the lawyer had left on "sudden
business this morning for Wales; they don't know where or when he's
coming back, but you will hear all about it from Dr. Gay; which was the
message left for you."

Again Margaret leaned back in her seat. A look of bitter disappointment
and even terror was depicted upon her face.

Once more they rolled into Regis over the slushy snow, and paused at the
doctor's house.

Former disappointments had made her so nervous and fearful that she
dropped the window and bent forward the better to hear the report.

"Here's Miss Walsingham, to see Dr. Gay. Is he in?"

"No," answered the boy in buttons, "he's away."

"What hour will yer master be at home?"

"Dunno. He was called away very sudden, on a journey; mistress knows."

"What?" cried Margaret, shrilly.

"He says the doctor was called away, on a sudden, too, and that he don't
know where."

"Heaven help me, what does this mean?" said the poor girl, alighting and
confronting the boy like a pale ghost risen out of its grave.

"When did he go--you surely know that?"

"I'll call mistress," said the boy, backing. "Come in, miss, and wait."

In a few moments the doctor's wife joined her, melancholy as usual.

"Oh, Mrs. Gay, it cannot be possible that the doctor has gone away
without letting me know?"

"I do not know, my dear young lady, but it is quite certain that he went
away somewhere without letting me know. I had precisely fifteen minutes
to pack his valise in."

"Don't you know where he has gone?" asked Margaret, the gloom of death
descending upon her heart.

"Not exactly; he vouchsafed to mutter 'Wales,' as he ran down the steps,
without even a farewell to his boy, far less to his wife, and for what,
or what he can mean by it is a mystery to me."

"Did he leave no message for me?"

"I believe he did. I do seem to recall that he said you were to go to
Mr. Davenport for explanations. Yes, that was the message."

"Good heaven! And Mr. Davenport left word that I was to come to your
husband for explanations! They must have gone away together! And I am
left alone to fight for my life and to stem the tide of fraud!" moaned
poor Margaret, bursting into tears; "and oh, what shall I do? What shall
I do?"



CHAPTER XXI.

WAS IT A RUSE?


The tide of horror was mounting higher, the waters gurgled to her lips,
and her own feeble hands must raise a footway from out of the hissing
waves to bear her safely over.

"Where now, miss?" asked Symonds, holding the coach door in his hand.

"Drive to the office of Seamore Emersham, the lawyer," said Margaret.

The coachman mounted to the box, turned the carriage, and rolled down
the street again.

"Can it be doubted that my guardians have been purposely sent out of the
way, that I may not appeal to them for protection?" she thought. "No, I
am not deceived; Mortlake is too talented a plotter to leave a door of
safety open for his victim. With what plausible excuse can he have duped
the suspicious Davenport, and the humane Gay, that they have both left
me in his power? No doubt he expected to keep me a prisoner in the
castle until I had either capitulated or fallen a victim to his rage.
But I have escaped him, and am free to seek protection where I please,
and since my friends have allowed themselves to be cheated by the
villain, I shall lay my case before this other lawyer, Mr. Emersham. I
have only to disclose the outrage attempted last night, and my enemy
shall be arrested. Oh! you arch fiend! you did not expect this chapter
in the story, did you? No, you wretch, you do not know that Margaret
Walsingham is posting to sure victory, and your certain destruction!"

Symonds drew up before Mr. Emersham's windows, and the lawyer himself
looked out at this unwonted vision of a carriage at his door, and drew
back with a smirk of satisfaction!

Margaret had her foot on the step, her hand on the servant's shoulder,
and was about to alight, when a triviality stayed her steps, an incident
changed her purpose--she sat down again and waited.

Through the drab-colored mire of the village street, a man was trudging,
his scarlet coat the one object of interest in the lonely street, an
envelope in his outstretched hand shining like a flag of truce--he
hurried eagerly toward the Castle Brand carriage--the village postman.

Reaching the pavement before the lawyer's door, he handed Margaret a
letter, and touched his hat deferentially.

"Thought I couldn't catch yer in time," panted the old man to Symonds,
"and there's 'immediate' on the letter. I saw yer pass the post office,
and knew it would save me the tramp to the Waaste if I could catch up.
Good-day, sir."

He trudged away, and the coachman lounged about the pavement awaiting
his mistress' pleasure.

The letter was written in the welcome hand of Dr. Gay, and Margaret
devoured its contents with sparkling eyes.

Thus the good old doctor wrote:

     "MY DEAR MISS MARGARET:

     "I am writing this from----, in Berks, where I have stopped for
     an hour to dine. I have been very unexpectedly called away to
     Llandaff, to follow out this extraordinary case of yours, and
     am anxious to run it through before I agitate you; hence my
     sudden departure.

     "When the worry of starting off was over, and I had time to
     think over your position, I realized how uncomfortable you
     would be under the sole charge of Davenport, who is always
     rather hard upon you, considering that you are in a precarious
     state of mind, so I thought of a very good plan for you. I
     require to stay in Wales for a week or so, and will stop at
     Caerlyon's Hotel, a very nice house, in Llandaff, where you
     might be quite comfortable. Suppose then, you run off from the
     colonel and come to me?

     "I hope you will be pleased with the idea, for you need a
     change badly. You can take Purcell with you and come by rail as
     far as Cirencester, where you take the coach. Depend upon it, I
     shall look for you every day. Think of it, and start to-morrow.

     "Your obedient servant,

     "RUFUS GAY."

Margaret laid down the letter with a trembling hand, and put that hand
to her forehead wildly. A dark suspicion had assailed her from the
moment she began to read, and now she sat wrapped in perplexity and
terror.

"Is this a snare for me also?" thought she. "Is this letter forged?"

She seized it again and pored over it with keen eyes; but its neat,
cramped chirography revealed nothing. She had had many notes from Dr.
Gay in precisely these finical characters.

The postmarks were all there upon the envelope, the sentences in the
letter echoed the doctor's every day speech. The whole missive seemed
too _bona fide_ to doubt for a moment.

And yet she doubted and hesitated, and longing frantically to obey the
welcome request which was couched in the familiar language of her old
friend, she thrust the hope from her with suspicion and loathing.

Torn between two opinions she gazed with stony eyes into vacancy; while
the sharp young lawyer eyed her inquisitively from his office window,
and Symonds lounging about the pavement, ventured to whistle a few
dreary notes to remind his mistress of his existence, and beat his arms
across his breast, to suggest to her the bitterness of the wintry wind.
She looked at him at last, with a resolute face, and commanded him to
see whether Mr. Emersham was alone.

"I have nothing to hope for but death, if I stay here," mused Margaret,
almost calmly, "and I can meet no worse if I obey this letter, and go
away. I may as well have the benefit of the doubt, and go to Llandaff,
since there is a possibility that this Letter is not forged. Yes, I can
fear no worse fate than death, and that menaces me here every moment of
my guardians' absence. I will obey the letter and go."

A dingy office boy, answering Symonds' knock, announced that Mr.
Emersham was entirely disengaged, and Margaret alighted, and entered the
office.

The lawyer hastened to salute her, and had her seated, and the door shut
with much alacrity. She bestowed upon him one piercing glance; the
shallow eyes answered her appeal for wise counsel in the negative; the
_blasé_ mouth answered her hopes for protection also in the negative.
The fast young lawyer was clearly not the man to whom she could trust
her secret or in whom she could place confidence.

The fast young lawyer's smartly furnished office and diamond ring, spoke
of a thriving practice; but his old office-coat, his idle hands clasped
behind him, his reckless swagger and his insincere face spoke more
reliable of shams, and shifts, and unscrupulous quirks to fill the empty
purse. Clearly, Mr. Seamore Emersham was a man to be bought with money;
and Roland Mortlake was the man to buy him; no disclosures must be made
by Margaret Walsingham before him.

"Dr. Gay's letter said to me 'start to-morrow,'" thought she, "but this
man's countenance as I read it, warns me to start to-night."

She dropped her distrustful eyes from his, and quietly opened her
business.

"I am Miss Walsingham, of Castle Brand," she said, "and in the temporary
absence of my own lawyer, Mr. Davenport, I have come to you. I am going
out to Surrey presently, and I wish to leave some documents in your
charge until I return. They are important papers, which I must not lose,
and, since some accident might occur to them or to you, in my absence, I
will prefer that you undertake the charge in company with some other
person whose honor is considered unimpeachable. Can you name such a
person?"

The lawyer opened his eyes very wide at his new client's strange
request, but glibly ran over a list of the leading men of Regis as
candidates for the honor of Miss Walsingham's confidence.

"We shall try the Rev. Mr. Challoner," she said, "and while I arrange
the papers, your boy can carry him a note from me."

Mr. Emersham darted for stationery and wheeled a desk to his visitor
with profuse politeness, and when the note was finished he sent his boy
off at full speed to the vicarage with it.

During his absence Margaret wrote a careful account of her enemy's
attempt upon her life the previous night; copied out the letter she had
received that morning purporting to be from Dr. Gay, and concluded it
with these remarks:

"Believing my life to be in danger so long as I remain in Roland
Mortlake's vicinity, I resolve to obey the above letter, although I
expect it to lead me into some trap where I shall lose my life. However,
in the faint hope that I may be mistaken, I will begin my journey to
Llandaff to-night at seven o'clock, Dec. 1862, and return in the seven
o'clock evening train the day after to-morrow, when I shall come
straight to Mr. Emersham's office, and reclaim this trust which I have
put in his hands. If I do not return on the evening of the said day, I
shall have met my death at the hands of Roland Mortlake, who personates
Colonel St. Udo Brand, and I call upon Mr. Emersham to cause that man's
arrest for my murder."

This finished, she ordered Mr. Emersham to draw up the form of her will,
wherein she declared her wish that the Brand property should be sold,
and the proceeds used to found a charitable institution in Regis,
declaring, heedless, of Mr. Emersham's looks of astonishment, that St.
Udo Brand being dead, she had resolved that an impostor should never
occupy his place. In dead silence then she awaited the arrival of the
vicar; the lawyer sitting opposite her gnawing the feather of his pen,
and peering inquisitively at her.

Presently the blown office boy ushered in the vicar of Regis, a tall,
snowy-haired divine, whose very presence diffused an atmosphere of
safety around the persecuted woman.

She had already a slight acquaintance with him, and after a cordial
greeting from him, she explained the favor she wished to receive,
apologizing timidly for intruding her affairs upon him.

"My advisers, Mr. Davenport and Dr. Gay, are both away," she said, "and
wishing to join the doctor, I feel that I must provide against any
contingency which may arise. Will you, jointly with Mr. Emersham,
undertake the charge of these documents for two days?"

Mr. Challoner readily consented. He had always liked the earnest-faced
woman, who took her place so regularly in church, and whose praises were
sounded so frequently by the lowliest of his flock.

Symonds was called in to append his name as one of the witnesses to
Margaret Walsingham's will, Mr. Challoner being the other, and then the
office door was shut mysteriously upon the lady and her two counselors,
and gave them her instructions.

With her own hand she placed the document which condemned Roland
Mortlake as St. Udo's assassin, his note-book, and her will, in an empty
pigeon-hole of the lawyer's dusty drawers, locked it, and put the key in
the old vicar's hand.

"Come here on Thursday evening at seven o'clock," she said, "with that
key; wait until fifteen minutes past the hour, and if I do not arrive
then, you must take out the document and read it. If you fail to act up
to its instructions, a murderer will escape. I place the key in your
hand, because foul play might be attempted upon Mr. Emersham to force
him to betray my trust--foul play will not be attempted upon you."

They silently regarded the whitening face, when her womanly terrors
struggled with the fixed, fatal look of vengeance, and solemnly promised
to do her will.

Then the vicar shook hands and went away.

She looked at her watch. It was six o'clock. She had been nearly two
hours in the lawyer's office.

He had long ago lit the gas and closed the shutters, and was waiting
very patiently for her to conclude her business that he might go home to
his dinner.

"I have one more letter to write, Mr. Emersham. Will you wait a few
minutes longer?" said Margaret.

Again he poured out the assurance of the honor, etc.; and, with a wild
smile on her lips, she wrote the following daring words:

     "ROLAND MORTLAKE, OR THOMS--which name you have least right to
     I cannot tell--I warn you, that if I meet my death while absent
     from Regis upon this journey, your doom is sealed!

     "I warn you further, that if I return safely at the end of the
     time I have set, your doom is sealed, if you are here to brave
     it. Your only safety lies in flight before I return; and even
     then I shall do my best to convict you of the murder of St. Udo
     Brand, which you have confessed in your pocket-book, which has
     this day been placed in safe hands--which will break the seals,
     if I am not alive to break them when I intend to return to
     Regis. If I perish, vengeance shall surely overtake the
     murderer of St. Udo Brand and MARGARET WALSINGHAM."

She bade farewell to Mr. Emersham at last, and entering her carriage,
drove straight to a hotel near the railway station, from which she sent
Symonds home with the carriage, and intrusted her letter to him with
directions to give it to the steward to deliver to the colonel; and
warnings to Symonds not to allow himself to be questioned by Colonel
Brand.

A note to Mr. Purcell conveyed her command that he would attend upon her
journey; and cautioned him against giving Colonel Brand an inkling of
his intentions.

In a quarter of an hour the steward of Castle Brand was ushered into her
presence.

"All ready, Purcell?" demanded the lady.

"Quite ready, Miss Margaret."

"Where is Colonel Brand?"

"Still at the castle, miss."

"Did you give him my letter yourself?"

"I did, miss."

"What did he say?"

Mr. Purcell shook his head and looked disgusted.

"You must tell me what he said, Purcell?" insisted Margaret.

"He said nothing that I'd be proud to repeat, Miss Margaret," said
Purcell, sourly.

"He up and cursed you like a madman, and said, 'Let her go if she
dares!'"

"What else?"

"Ordered out his horse."

"Intending to find me before I started--do you think?"

"Yes, miss; but I left him cross-questioning Symonds, who wouldn't give
him any satisfaction."

"Very good. Now we must hasten, or we shall miss the train."

She hurried on her traveling-cloak, and, accompanied by Purcell,
descended to the station, where the train was ready to start and got on
board in time.

From behind her thick crape vail she watched every passenger who crossed
the platform to enter any of the long line of cars, and the flaming
street-lamps revealed every face distinctly.

Porters hustled each other; newsboys shouted their papers; ladies made
blind sallies to the wrong class car and lost themselves in the throng;
gentlemen with umbrellas, carpet-bags and plaids elbowed their way into
empty compartments; but Roland Mortlake was not among the mob.

She had slipped the chain and got free.

The train glided out of the shed and set itself to its night's work, and
Margaret sank back to her seat with a sigh of relief.

"I have outwitted him," she thought. "His calculations upon my expected
movements are all astray. I have taken him by surprise. I shall find Dr.
Gay in Llandaff, sure enough. I did right to go in search of him."

On rushed the train through the darkness of night.

Purcell, who sat beside his mistress, spread a plaid over the back of
her seat, and pinned it about her shoulders, grumbling that she would
take her death of cold in the drafty car; and presently she fell fast
asleep, with her head resting against the jarring panel.

Purcell, too, dozed off, and dreamed that he was in his own cozy room at
Castle Brand; and only awoke with the banging of a door ringing in his
ears and the soft hand of his mistress clutching his arm.

The train was gliding on again, but it had paused one minute at a little
country station, and a man had entered.

He was muffled in a huge fur coat, and seated himself near Margaret,
with a grunt of satisfaction that he had a whole seat to extend his legs
upon.

Margaret regarded him keenly, and he returned her gaze with stolid
indifference. Purcell growled out his disapprobation of the new-comer's
placing his clumsy foot against his mistress' long dress, and the man
serenely changed his position, wound a scarlet muffler about his
copper-colored throat, and settled himself for a nap.

He was a tall, stout man, with a heavy jaw, coarse lips turned doggedly
down at the corners, and piercing steel-blue eyes; his face was red and
his hands were large and brown; but stupid, dull, and sleepy, he seemed
unworthy of a second thought; and Margaret sank into a deep reverie and
forgot him.

On they glided; through dim villages, amid bare-branched wealds, and
over creeping rivers, which shone like misty mirrors in the faint
starlight, resting from time to time, for a few minutes, at the country
stations.

Other cars emptied and were filled again with fresh travelers; other
compartments changed their occupants from seat to seat, but the trio sat
still in this, and whiled away the time silently.

Then the train entered upon an hour's stretch of country, which it must
traverse without pausing.

The man in the fur coat, weary of steadying his drowsy head against the
corner of his seat, sat upright and drew a newspaper from his pocket.
Falling asleep over that, he produced a silver snuff-box, and refreshed
himself with a generous pinch; then he looked meditatively at the old
steward nodding comfortlessly before him, and proffered him the
snuff-box; but looking into it, he discovered that it was about empty.

This appeared to afford him peculiar gratification, for he smiled to
himself as he drew a paper parcel from his pocket, and proceeded to fill
the snuff-box with its fragrant contents.

Idly Margaret watched him thrusting the diminished parcel back into the
breast-pocket, and waking Purcell up by a vigorous poke, in order to
offer him the replenished snuff-box.

The old man's eyes brightened, he uttered a heartfelt "I thank you
kindly, sir," and inhaled a huge pinch, handing back the box with a
courtly bow.

Then, sneezing with much fervor and wiping his eyes, Purcell vowed that
he couldn't remember the day when snuff had smelt so queer; at which the
man in the fur coat roared with laughter and boasted that his was the
best; and presently Purcell's head sank down on his breast, and he took
no further notice of his _vis-a-vis_.

Margaret drew out her handkerchief and covered her face with it, for a
faint, sickening, drowsy odor was exhaling from Purcell's nostrils, and
stealing her breath away.

She next tried her smelling-salts, and requested Purcell to open the
window on his side: but he, taking no heed, she shook his arm, and, at
last, gazed into his face.

It was chalk-white, a deadly perspiration bathed lip and brow; the
half-closed eyelids showed the eyeballs glazed and sightless, and his
breast heaved painfully, as if a ton-weight lay upon it.

Margaret Walsingham came to herself in an instant--she grew cool and
calm.

She knew now that the man who sat opposite to her had been hired by
Mortlake to murder her.

No more tremors of fear, no more hurried plans for escape, no more
hoping for some fortunate circumstance to save her. She felt that her
time had come; and she knew that she must succumb to her fate. She saw
how well her destruction was planned; she traced out the tragedy with
terrific distinctness, she saw herself seized by these great, cruel
hands in the first tunnel whose resounding roar could drown her
death-shriek, and the pistol fired off at her ear, or the silent knife
plunged into her bosom; and she knew how easy it would be for her
murderer to leave the car at the next station and escape forever.

Before she raised herself from her speechless examination of her drugged
servant, she had foreseen her death, and accepted it with a stony
despair.

She mechanically turned to pull down the window at her own side, but the
rough hand of the murderer met hers and arrested the act; his steel-blue
eyes gleamed into hers, and drove her back to her corner, where she sat
gazing like a dumb animal into the man's face, with her arms folded over
her breast, a frail shield which he laughed at.

Some minutes passed, the servant partially recovered consciousness, and
was plied with a handkerchief saturated with chloroform and pressed to
his nostrils; and, when he was swaying to and fro in his seat like a
dead man, with every lurch of the car, the ruffian turned to the unhappy
woman beside him with a mischievous, fatal look in his coarse face.



CHAPTER XXII.

PURSUIT OF A FELON.


One by one Margaret's faculties deserted her; her power of speech first
of all, then her power of motion, her power of resistance, even her
power of fear. All save the seeing sense left poor Margaret, and she
watched with distended eyeballs and a dull, ghastly feeling of interest
the movements of the man who was to murder her.

What had he done to her that had thrown her into this helpless lethargy?

A faint, sweet odor pervaded the car.

It was the insidious chloroform stealing her consciousness from her and
deadening every nerve. She saw him take a tiny vial from his pocket, fit
a perforated top upon it, and direct a spurt of deadly perfume, fine as
a hair, into her face.

She tried to move, but could not. The breath was cut off from her
nostrils by that fatal jet; she could only gaze with a sad, anguished
look into those flaming eyes opposite her.

Something in the harrowing intensity of that silent look troubled the
man.

He missed his aim, and the death-giving essence streamed harmlessly upon
the bosom of her dress.

Again and again he adjusted the cunning little tube so as to force her
to breathe its fatal contents; but his hand trembled, his face waxed
white--he quailed before the ghostly appeal of those fixed orbs.

Minutes passed. Why did not the man finish his victim.

Was ever yet a woman more completely in a murderer's power?

Her attendant drugged into a senseless clod beside her, her faculties
all benumbed, no eye to watch the tragedy, no hand to seize the
villain--why did he not act out his instructions?

She held him by that mesmeric gaze, where the soul stood plainly forth
pleading for mercy. She was so young, so gentle, so sorrowful.

Oh! he cowered away from his fell purpose; he dallied with his chance,
and that chance slipped by.

The tram glided into a station shed; the red lights glowed in at the
window, palling the flickering tin lamp hanging from the roof. Strangers
rushed pell-mell across the platform; and at last the door of this car
was opened, and a young man looked in.

Margaret vehemently sought to cry out to him, to stretch out her hands,
to moan, even, but in vain. She seemed petrified.

The young man's eyes passed aimlessly over the white-faced woman in
black and her sleeping escort, and fastened doubtfully upon the
disconcerted ruffian.

"Is Richard O'Grady in this car?" shouted he.

"I am the chap you want," returned the man in the fur coat.

The other handed him a telegram and vanished instantly, and the car
moved on.

She saw him hold out a slip of paper to the dim flame and master its
message, and the sickly pallor crept out of his cheeks and the coarse
red came back.

He looked hard in her face with a sinister light on his visage, and
smiled at her with a certain kind of grim admiration.

"You've overcrowded him, have you, my clever wench?" mattered he. "You
must be a sharp 'un to do _him_. Curse your haunting eyes! you've all
but overcrowded _me_, in spite of my leather hide. Confound you! I'll
never get rid of them great eyes."

He broke out into a volley of fearful maledictions upon her, himself,
and the "beast" who had given him the job, tearing up the telegram into
inch pieces and tossing them insolently into Margaret's lap.

It was evident that he considered her blind and deaf, as well as
paralyzed, else he never would have exposed his principal as he did in
these violent imprecations.

So the train glided on upon its midnight journey, and the man turned his
back to his intended victim. But she was adoring God in her heart of
hearts for her dear life's preservation.

Her cold stoicism melted, the bitter fortitude with which she had looked
for death fled. How _could_ she have cast that reproachful thought at
Heaven and believed herself forsaken?

Her heart swelled with gratitude and remorse now that she saw her
mistake; and, although she could not move an eye-lash, her emotion
surged higher and higher until it burst through the barriers of the
spell which bound her, and great tears gushed from her eyes.

At the first station they came to, the man rose to leave the car. He
glanced sharply at Margaret's wet face, and jerked down the window that
she might have some air, then, with an oath, stumbled over Purcell's
feet and got out.

Then the long night crept by, and gradually the lady and her servant
recovered, and spoke to each other.

"Purcell, do you know me?"

She was chafing the old man's temples, and applying her smelling-salts
to his nose.

"Eh? ha? My conscience! Is that you, miss?" mumbled the steward, with a
thick tongue and a vacant look at her.

"Are you better?"

"Humph! not much. Tush! What's in my mouth? Fever?"

"No, no, Purcell. You've been asleep--that's all."

"I've been dead, I think--dead for years and years. I think I was in
another world. Dear bless me! My legs are as heavy as lead. I say, Miss
Margaret, what took me--a fit?" whispered the steward, in a fright.

"No. You were put to sleep with chloroform by that man who sat opposite.
He stupefied you with poisoned snuff, and then used chloroform. You need
not feel alarmed, though--you have recovered."

"Faith, miss, you look but poorly yourself," said Purcell, struck by her
extreme pallor. "Was--was he a thief, miss, and did he rob us?"

"He was a murderer, Purcell, and intended to kill me," said Margaret,
with tears in her eyes. "But God would not permit him to succeed."

She related the circumstances to the old man, who rose from terror into
fury when he realized how completely he had been taken in through his
favorite refreshment, snuff, and laid out like a corpse beside his
helpless young mistress.

She soothed his wounded feelings, and directed him to use caution during
the rest of his fateful journey.

At daybreak they came to Cirencester, and rested there for some hours,
and at nine o'clock took a coach for Llandaff.

They had not traveled a dozen miles, when a horseman galloped past the
great, lumbering coach, flashing a keen glance in at Margaret
Walsingham, and then disappeared upon the winding road ahead.

She gasped and grew white.

He wore a horseman's cloak and a slouched hat. But she was not deceived
in the brutal gleam of those steel-blue eyes. He was the ruffian who was
hired to kill her.

Almost fainting, she communicated her fears to her servant, who grew
very purple, and swore to be even with the varlet before long, and
stopped the coach to tell the driver that the chap who had just passed
was a villain, who ought to be arrested for attempted murder in a
railway car; and the driver grew hot and excited, and leagued with three
gentlemen on the outside to knock the fellow down and secure him the
first minute they set eyes on him.

So Margaret and her attendant continued their journey with some sense of
security; and, having the inside of the coach to themselves, could
encourage each other to meet future dangers, when anything cheerful
occurred to them to say.

But all through that afternoon they traveled safely, unmolested by even
a glimpse of Mortlake's accomplice; and at noon they rattled into
Llandaff, and stopped before Caerlyon's Hotel.

The groom was leading a smoking black horse round to the stables.
Margaret whispered to Purcell, and pointed the animal out to him.

"_His_ horse," she said. "Now, Purcell, see that you have him arrested.
Fly! There's no time to lose. You must get a constable to go with you, I
suppose."

Purcell disappeared in the bar to make inquiries, and Margaret at once
took refuge in her room, and sent for the proprietor himself.

The Welsh landlord bustled in, full of politeness and good humor.

"Has Dr. Gay, from Regis, Surrey, been here, yesterday or to-day?"
demanded the lady.

"No, matam, he has not."

"Is there no letter lying here for Miss Walsingham, of Regis, Surrey?"

"No, inteet, matam, nothing of te sort."

She turned suddenly, with a groan, from him, and her dark face grew
darker.

"Tricked--drawn into a trap! I might have known it--oh, I might have
known it!" she murmured, bitterly.

"Anyting I can to for you, my tear laty?" asked Mr. Caerlyon,
attentively.

"Yes; you can send a servant to keep watch at my door until my man
returns. And there is a person whom I want arrested upon the charge of
attempted murder--the man whose horse your hostler was attending to when
the coach arrived. Where is he?"

"My Got! _murterer!_" screamed the landlord. "You ton't say that, matam?
Oh, the peast! He must pe caught, of course. Put he took fery coot care
not to come to _me_, tear laty. He went somewhere into the town, and
sent his nak here to pait. I'll keep a coot lookout for him, I promise
him, the sneaking scoundrel!"

Muttering vituperations, he backed out of the room, and sent a woman to
attend the lady, and a great, hulking pot-boy to guard her door.

"Now, what am I to think?" mused Margaret, who had thrown herself upon a
sofa, and was feverishly watching the Welshwoman setting the table for
her dinner. "How am I to follow out the intricacies of that wretch's
plot? It is clear that he has amply provided against my escaping from
him. True enough, he is too clever to leave any door open for his
victim. I fondly thought that I had taken him by surprise when I escaped
the castle and threw myself on Emersham's protection; but he meets me on
the flight, and turns my purpose into another channel. I leave him
foiled at the castle; I fly to the executors; he has foreseen the move,
and meets me with the news of their disappearance. I turn to Mr.
Emersham for help. He has foreseen that, also, and meets me with a
forged letter, which turns my wishes all toward taking this journey. For
a moment he is taken back when he receives my letter, showing him the
precautions I have taken to expose him, and allows me to go on the
journey which he has already provided for, only because he has not time
to prevent me. But he telegraphs to his accomplice that I must not be
murdered yet, and his accomplice spares me. Instead of finishing his
work, he gets out at the next station, and probably telegraphs something
to his principal, and waits for a new order. That he received it, is
evident from his continuing his pursuit and haunting my steps as he has
done. Now why was I not murdered, according to their agreement? For what
was I reserved? And what was that fresh command which the accomplice
received per telegraph from Mortlake?"

Mr. Caerlyon tapped at her door, and called out that there was a letter
for her, and the waiting woman brought it to Margaret, who received it
eagerly, hoping that it was from Dr. Gay, after all.

But she perceived in a moment that it was not, and saw, with disgust,
the large, sprawling characters on the back of the note, and the dirty
wafer which closed it, in lieu of an envelope.

With shrinking fingers she opened it, and read these words:

     "MA'AM:--You knows doosed well who's a talkin' te yer by this
     here. If you be's the brick I takes yer for, yer won't be
     sulky, and throw away yer only chance, for mean spite. Come,
     now, jest give me yer note of hand that yer'll return that 'ere
     stole pocket-book to its owner whenever yer sees Regis agin,
     and yer'll see more of yer admirin' friend; but act ugly, and
     wake the devil in the col., and--ware-hawk! yer'll be awhile on
     the road back--that's all.

     "Yours to command,

     "POCKET PISTOL."

"No, you wretch," said Margaret, "I shall not give up the pocket-book
which condemns Mortlake. I simply defy your threats, and shall be well
guarded in future. My doubts are answered. I know what Mortlake's new
order was; there it is," she cried, tossing the villainous-looking
scrawl upon the table, "and I defy it! He offers me my life in exchange
for my proofs, and I scorn his offer, I would rather bring such a fiend
to justice than live a happy life, knowing that I had suffered him to
elude his just punishment."

She called Mr. Caerlyon in.

"Who brought that letter?" asked she.

"A ferry rakket poy, matam," returned he.

"Is he waiting for an answer?"

"Yes, inteet, matam, ant playing with a crown-piece he says the
gentleman gave him to holt his tongue."

"Tell him that there is no answer, and send for a constable to follow
the boy, and to seize the man who sent him."

"I'll to that, my laty," cried the landlord, with spirit, and
disappeared with great alacrity.

In half an hour Mr. Caerlyon and Mr. Purcell came to announce to her
that both their pursuits had been fruitless; the villain had disappeared
as completely as the mirage which is lifted in air, and Purcell's
warrant and police force came too late.

The fire flashed from the indomitable woman's eyes; she crested her
head.

"We shall prepare for him, then," said she, with calm courage, "and meet
him suitably when he intrudes upon us. In an hour we shall start upon
our journey back to Regis, Purcell, so you must go and refresh yourself.
Mr. Caerlyon, you shall do me the favor of calling upon the chief of
police and handing him a note from me."

The steward retired to obey her command, and Caerlyon cheerfully
promised to do anything for such a brave lady, and waited for her to
write her letter.

It was a letter of instructions; she wished the chief of police to send
two of his sharpest detectives on the road to Cirencester a half hour
before she and her servant started, that they might thereafter travel in
company without rousing the suspicion of O'Grady by leaving Llandaff
together. She explained the case, and suggested the need of the
detectives, disguising themselves, that they might protect her
throughout the journey, without frightening away the ruffian, who would
doubtless attempt her life once more before she reached Regis. As soon
as she had finished, Caerlyon carried off the letter with all due
secrecy.

In an hour the return coach from Cirencester jolted up to the hotel, and
Margaret and her escort took their places inside, alone. There were some
men, as before, on the top, but O'Grady discreetly kept out of sight,
and since his black horse still munched his oats in Caerlyon's stable,
everybody thought that the travelers were leaving their enemy behind
them.

At the first inn two farmers stopped the coach and climbed in beside
Margaret. A respectful bow to her and Purcell revealed them as her
protectors, the detectives.

The liveliest imagination could never have discovered in these
heavy-faced, slow-spoken, and comfortably muffled farmers two lynx-eyed
emissaries of the law, on the track of a felon. Their disguise was
admirable.

When more passengers crowded in, the two farmers grunted out
agricultural jokes to each other, or read the county paper, or apprised
the intrinsic value of each snow-capped barn, and white-ridged field,
and huge wheat-stack they passed with a zest and eagerness positively
infectious, until every one inside was drawn into the argument, and a
few shrewd questions had been asked and innocently answered, which
disclosed the fact that a man in a fur coat had galloped up the road
three-quarters of an hour ago upon a gray horse.

"Thought Caerlyon's mare was missing when I went to his stables,"
muttered one detective to the other; "he has got off before we left the
town. All right; we'll catch up."

But they did not catch up that night; and although the two officers
slept in a room across the passage from Miss Walsingham's, in the hotel
at Cirencester, they saw no one attempt either to communicate with her
or to molest her.

So it remained all during the next day's cold and weary journey, the
masked detectives carefully kept close by the threatened young lady, and
furtively watched each passenger who entered or left the car; but the
ruffian was not to be traced, his menace to Margaret was but an empty
vaunt; her precautions seemed to have effectually routed him.

At seven o'clock that Thursday evening the train glided into the Regis
station-house, the red lights glimmered on the platform, the crowd
jostled, surged, and receded; and when the way seemed clear, one of the
detectives got out to fetch a cab for Margaret before she should leave
the car.

While he was gone a close carriage rolled into the shed, and the driver,
touching his hat to Margaret, whom he could see at the car window,
offered his services and his cab.

"This will do," said she to Purcell. "When Adams brings the other cab,
our friends will need it to go to their hotel. Time is passing, and I
must keep my engagement with Mr. Emersham."

The remaining detective got out and stood a yard or so in advance of the
cab-driver, who was opening his coach-door; and Purcell assisted his
mistress out of the car to the platform, and then turned round and
stooped to pick up her traveling-bag from the planks where he had thrown
it.

In a moment the long-expected crisis came, so long delayed, so startling
now when they thought it was too late to fear it longer.

A man darted out of the shadow of the station-house, and sprang like a
panther on his victim. He threw the stooping Purcell violently upon the
ground, seized Margaret, and hurried her with a giant's strength to the
door of the cab, into which he tried to force her.

"Get in with you, or I'll blow your brains out!" hissed his desperate
voice in her ear.

Her shriek of terror had scarcely escaped when the detective, coolly
stepping forward from his watch, dealt the ruffian a blow on the back of
the head with his horny fist, which felled him like an ox, and the
leveled pistol fell from his relaxing hand and snapped off with the
concussion, lodging its bullet in the bottom panel of the nearest
railway car and startling the cabman's horses so violently that they
plunged off the platform with the cabman clinging to the reins.

A railway porter ran up to the scene of the assault, and held the
half-stunned O'Grady while the detective secured him, and Purcell,
having gathered himself up, with aching bones, led the agitated Margaret
into the station-house.

By this time the mob had assembled, and were crushing each other
unceremoniously to gain a glimpse of the prisoner, who lay cursing and
blaspheming on the wooden floor, with his conquerer grimly standing over
him, until Adams rattled up in the cab he had been in search of and
shared the onerous duty of jailer.

Margaret, glancing shudderingly out of the station-house window, saw the
wretched man pass on his way to the police station, his captors on
either side urging him to hasten. His hands were tied behind him, his
florid face was yellow with despair, his steel-blue eyes glared with
fear; a more abject picture of crime and ruin could scarce be conceived.

And when this wretched vision had vanished, another took its place. A
writhing, white face flitted, specter-like, from out of dim shadows, and
peered with staring eyeballs after the arrested man, and a scowl of
fury, terror, and despair descended on that devilish brow.

The next instant he, too, had melted into shadow, and was lost amid the
throng.

"Roland Mortlake," whispered Margaret, who was shivering as if she had
seen a phantom. "He has learned the truth. Great Heaven! he will
escape."

She stepped to the door and called the steward, who had gone to open the
cab-door.

"Go instantly in search of Mortlake," she cried; "he has just passed the
window; you must not permit him to escape. I will drive to Emersham's
law-office myself."

Away ran Purcell after two constables; and Margaret hurried into the
cab, and, undeterred by one heart-beat of compunction, she set herself
to compass her enemy's utter ruin.

For pitiful, kind, and great-hearted as she was, she could never suffer
a murderer to escape. No, not even to buy her own safety.

Margaret Walsingham alighted from the carriage at the door of Mr.
Emersham's law-office, and stepped into the room with the mien of a
Semiramis, flashing-eyed, carmine cheeked, and inexorable.

One glance around the room showed her the nimble young lawyer, and the
trembling old clergyman gazing white lipped into each other's faces, the
folded paper on the table between them, the locked pocket-book, and the
will; and the hand of the clock on the mantle-piece pointed to the
fifteenth minute after seven.

"Thank God! she is here," murmured Mr. Challoner, solemnly.

"I have come back," said Margaret, "to break these seals and to expose a
felon. Hasten, or the felon will escape."



CHAPTER XXIII.

CHAINS OR THE GALLOWS.


Mrs. Chetwode, sitting in her room at Castle Brand at half-past seven of
the night, heard a dreadful racket of horse's hoofs on the frozen court
below; and, looking down from her window, she saw the colonel throwing
himself from the saddle, and striding up the front steps in red-hot
haste.

A thundering knock at the door announced the humor of the gentleman, and
the meek old lady hurried into the upper hall to see him when he entered
the lower, murmuring to herself with mild astonishment:

"What's sent the man back in such a temper, I wonder? My! he's always
ranting about one thing or another; no wonder my poor miss hates him."

The man who opened to the colonel recoiled in astonishment from his fell
scowl, as he brushed past him and sprang up stairs, three at a time.

In the absence of the mistress of Castle Brand, the unwelcome guest had
appropriated to himself a suite of apartments in the castle, announcing
his intention of waiting there for the return of the fugitive, and had
lived a short but merry season in luxury and splendor; what wonder that
he loathed the brutal fates which were conspiring to thrust him out of
his paradise into outer darkness.

The maid who was replenishing the colonel's fire, against his return
from his ride, heard a savage oath behind her, and, favored by the
darkness, slipped behind the door in a fright and stared with all her
eyes at the colonel lighting his lamp, and banging down his desk upon
the table.

He cursed everything he touched with the most blasphemous imprecations
all the time he was removing papers and letters to his private
pocket-book--all the time he was cramming his purse with gold and bank
notes--all the time he was tossing his rich wardrobe into a valise.

Then he strode to the door, and turning on the threshold, sent a
terrible scowl over the magnificent chamber, glittering with the flash
of rich ornaments and the sheen of satin curtains. The veins swelled out
on his forehead, and his pale lips twitched convulsively.

"All lost--all lost!" groaned the man in a despairing voice, and closed
the door with a bang that shook the walls, and echoed through the vast
halls like the report of a cannon.

Then he went into the drawing-room where the housekeeper had taken
refuge. When she saw him coming along the passage, and with a diabolical
sneer of his face, he went to the marble-topped tables, mantel slabs,
chiffoniers, and tiny tea-poys all laden with articles of _bijouterie_,
and swept off the most costly of the ornaments into his rapacious
valise; packing in paperweights of solid amethyst, vases of cut
cornelian, ruby-spar, and frosted silver; pitching above them priceless
gems of art in miniature, statuettes cut from topaz and chrysolites,
(each cost a little fortune,) and then locking up his valise and making
off with it "for all the world as if he was a traveling packman or a
thief," as Mrs. Chetwode gasped out to Sally the cook, when she could
seek the safety of the kitchen, for fright.

Then this eccentric colonel strode down stairs and took his ample
Spanish riding-cloak off the pin and wrapping himself in it, with the
startled John's help, he stepped to the dining-room door and drew a
lowering glance around the majestic chamber.

There was a fine portrait of St. Udo Brand in his best days, painted
upon the panel over the fire-place, and the ruddy light of the great
astral lamp shone richly over the bold eyes and frank brow of the true
heir of Castle Brand.

The skulking, demonized face in the doorway glared with frantic fury at
the proud, high countenance on the wall, and a malediction burst from
the writhing lips in a hissing whisper.

"Fool! you deserved your fate," said that strange whisper--"You had
everything and I had nothing--I, the elder, the first born. Yet you
threw your luck away with infernal pride, and beguiled me on to my ruin!
Devil! even in your grave you put out your hand to give me the fatal
push."

He turned on his heel after that and fled from the Castle as if the
Avenger of Blood was at his back, and ordering out the best blood-horse
in the stables, he mounted and galloped down the drive.

Between the castle and the lodge he looked behind and spied his
blood-hound Argus, tearing from the kennel after him.

The old lodge-keeper, who had hobbled out to open the gate, seeing that
the colonel was in such a hurry, was amazed to hear his hoarse tones
raised like a madman's, while he ordered the dog home again, and
threatened him in shocking language.

The dog crouched among the withered leaves until his master was riding
on again, and then he slunk after him as before.

For the second time the colonel looked round at him, and catching him
creeping after, he threw himself from the saddle, and seizing the hound
by the collar, beat him with his weighted whip until the poor animal
yelled with pain, and then he rode on again.

Still the dog dragged his bleeding limbs after his brutal master, and
sought to keep him company, for he was his only friend, and had he not
followed him many a weary mile?

For the third time the colonel looked behind, and caught the faithful
brute following him. He drew a pistol from his breast, and leveled it
full at the cowering hound, which nevertheless crawled close up to him,
and whined, and licked his master's foot; he shot him through the head
and rode on.

So his last friend fell dead by his merciless hand, his faithful serving
had not availed to save him, his obedience had not helped him; when he
was no longer of use to Roland Mortlake, and might be in his way, he
crushed the creature that had loved him, and fled without him.

At the lodge-gate he turned for the last time in his saddle, and looked
at the grand old castle standing in the midst of its rich domain, and
looking like a Druid rock out of the chill moonlight.

A gleam of wicked envy broke from his basilisk eyes; he shook his
clenched hand frantically at the stately pile, and the howl of a hungry
tiger burst hoarsely from his throat.

"It's mine by rights!" he cried in a frenzy, "and yet I've lost it
forever! I might have been made for life, and now there's nothing left
me but the chains or the gallows."

He finished with a vehement volley of oaths, his wolfish face grew black
with passion, his tall frame bowed upon his horse's mane in an access of
abject fear, and plunging his spurs in his startled steed's flanks, he
bounded away like the wind, but not on the road to Regis.

Mrs. Chetwode was ringing her hands over the despoiled drawing-room, and
maids were crying and whispering that the colonel had gone mad, and the
men were winking shrewdly to each other in token of their belief that
the colonel wasn't just what he should be, when a posse of the queen's
officers appeared on the scene, demanding the person of Roland Mortlake,
_alias_ St. Udo Brand.

Too much disgusted with the colonel's low conduct that evening to care
what scrape he had got into, the housekeeper went down to the
constables, and described his proceedings with a plaintive regard to
truth which met with but small favor from those functionaries.

No sooner had they wrung from her a description of the clothes he
departed in and from the lodge-keeper, the road he had taken, then they
galloped off in chase, leaving Mrs. Chetwode in the very middle of her
succinct account of the caskets and ornaments "costing no end of money,
which the rogue had took off with him."

Further disgusted with the unmannerly conduct of "them low-lived
police," the prim housekeeper received Mr. Purcell and his news that
Miss Margaret was safe home again, with elation, that she could fairly
cry with joy to hear that the dear young miss was coming back, for she
had feared many a time since she has gone away, that the colonel meant
that she should never come back.

In truth her life had not been very genial those two days, with the
colonel tramping his rooms like a caged hyena, and pouncing out upon her
whenever a strange rap came to the door, as if he was looking every
minute for some dreadful message from Regis.

"Pretending to want my blessed miss back so bad," cried Mrs. Chetwode,
with a snort of disbelief. "Him as always snarled like a sick dog if
ever her name was spoke by the servants. Where was he all that night
after she went off, I'd like to hear? Out he goes, sir, ten minutes
after you left this house to join Miss Margaret, and he never came back
till daylight; and he wasn't at his own hotel, for his own man came here
and said so. He was after mischief, I tell you, Mr. Purcell," concluded
the worthy lady.

"That he was, the rascal," assented Purcell, wrathfully. "He was
telegraphing his orders to his low accomplice, whom he had sent off to
keep Miss Margaret in fear of her life all the way. Well, well, his
day's done, Mrs. Chetwode, and I pray to goodness that he may be caught
before the morning. You are to go down to the town and stay with Miss
Margaret at the office till she sets the case in Mr. Emersham's hands.
She's afraid to come to the castle till the colonel is safely locked
up."

Margaret was sitting by Mr. Emersham's smoking fire, pale and exhausted,
but with eyes that shone with undiminished animation.

The venerable vicar sat beside her, softly pressing her hand between his
own two; and the dashing young lawyer was just finishing the reading of
the case he had made out of the contents of Margaret's toilfully written
document.

Mrs. Chetwode came to the travel-weary girl, and burst into a fond gush
of tears.

"La sakes! Miss Margaret, I can't help it," sobbed the old lady, "to see
you so white and worried is enough to break one's heart."

"The would-be-colonel, where is he?" clipped in the ready lawyer.

"Gone, sir, without e'er a good-by!"

"Oh, Mrs. Chetwode, have you let him escape?" cried Margaret, springing
up wildly.

"I couldn't stop him, Miss Margaret, dear. He ramped through the castle
like a madman, and then went off at full speed on Roanoke."

"Oh, me--he has escaped! Oh, Mrs. Chetwode!" moaned Margaret, sinking
back in her chair and bursting into a violent fit of weeping.

Incessant anxiety, apprehension, and suspense had begun to tell upon
her, she could not bear up a moment longer; and this disappointment was
too much for her; so she fell into a passion of tears, and sobbed, and
cried out hysterically that St. Udo's enemy had got away, and that St.
Udo would never be avenged now!--until the compassionate vicar supported
her to her carriage and got her driven to the castle.

So Mrs. Chetwode put her to bed, and nursed her, and wept over her, and
got her to sleep at last; and she did not awake for at least twelve
hours.

Next day Mr. Emersham sent up his card to Miss Walsingham, desiring an
interview.

Willingly she hastened down stairs to see him, burning with impatience
to hear his errand.

"Is the man found?" was her first eager question.

The bustling young lawyer subsided instantly.

"Haw, no, not quite caught yet," he admitted, "but he's almost as good
as ours now, my dear madam. I visited O'Grady this morning, and caused
him to turn queen's evidence against his accomplice in this business,
and--aw, I may say the prisoner, I mean the culprit--is done for."

He did not explain that O'Grady had been bribed by the magnificent
promises of the quick-witted Emersham to leak out a little of the truth,
just enough to give the detectives a fresh clue to his probable
hiding-place; and that poor O'Grady was just then imprecating the
dashing young lawyer from earth to a hotter place as a cheat, a liar,
and a traitor, when he found out that he had used him as a tool.

Mr. Emersham also showed his client a telegram which the detectives had
sent him, stating that they had got on the criminal's track, and
expected to come up with him very soon now.

On the whole his visit did much to heighten Margaret's feverish
impatience, and filled her with some of his own sanguine hopes.

When the young gentleman had gone, Margaret wandered through the wide,
echoing rooms with a sense of freedom which she had never experienced
before; a feeling of affection for these familiar chambers, for the sake
of her who had owned them, and of him who should have now possessed
them.

How she had loved the tender-hearted and freakish Madam Brand, no soul
save herself and that dead woman had known; and loving her as she did,
could she do else than lay a like sentiment at the feet of her only
kinsman, the hapless St. Udo.

Pacing through these lofty rooms the lonely girl thought over her
checkered past; she breathed a sigh over the pathetic memory of her fond
and foolish patroness; she gave a smile of scorn to the man who had come
like a curse in the noble St. Udo's stead; the hateful impostor, whose
last abject depredation had been but the type of his crawling,
insatiable nature, which, sleuth-hound like, held on to the prey to the
very last, and made off with a miserable mouthful of it rather than
nothing.

But when she came to the portrait of St. Udo Brand, in the long crimson
dining-room, the fierce flicker softened in her yearning eyes, and a
sacred, tender smile dawned on her lips.

She studied the grand, passionate-speaking countenance, whose features
were cast in a mold fitted to express the noblest emotions, till the
soulful eyes seemed to seek hers with a living beam of gratitude; till
the fine lips seemed to thrill with a gentle smile, and the souls of St.
Udo Brand and Margaret Walsingham appeared to have met face to face for
the first time, and to hold sweet communion together.

Great tears slowly dropped from Margaret's passionate eyes and washed
her cheeks, her tender lip quivered with the thoughts that were swaying
her heart; for a quick wild pang of grief smote her to think that he was
in his grave.

He had scorned her, he had trampled her under foot, and she forgave him
all, and wept that he was dead.

For oh, the heart of such a woman is capable of a love, which, to love
of softer women, is as glowing wine to water, as the towering, scorching
flame of the red volcano to the chill pale ray of the winter morn.

In the afternoon of the same day, Mrs. Chetwode came into Margaret's
room with the news that Mr. Davenport was below, inquiring for an
immediate interview.

"He do look raised, Miss Margaret," said Mrs. Chetwode; "he snaps round
like an angry watch-dog."

He came up to Miss Walsingham's parlor and burst in, hot, red, loud, and
angry.

"Ha! you have seen fit to return to your post, sir," cried Margaret,
woman-like anticipating the fray.

"Return, madam!" fired the lawyer. "Am I here too soon for you,
madam--how long did you want me to stay?"

"I did not want you to go, sir," said Margaret.

"Hear her, oh, hear her!" screamed the lawyer, appealing to the cornice,
"if that is not upright and downright insanity, show me a maniac in
Bedlam. Madam," with grim pleasantry, "shall you banish me to the top of
Mont Blanc in your next letter about a mythological Colonel Brand?"

She maintained a dignified silence.

"Madam, since your little scheme to get both your guardians out of the
way has succeeded so well, will you do me the favor of confessing what
you have done with the colonel?"

"I have unmasked him, Mr. Davenport, and shown the world a murderer."

"What the duse do you mean, young lady?"

"He is proved an impostor, Mr. Davenport, believe me for once."

"Pig-headed as ever, I see," groaned the lawyer. "Come tell me why you
sent me to Bala?" in a wheedling tone. "Be calm and give your reasons
frankly."

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I did not send you to Bala."

"Confound the woman!" shouted Davenport, "she denies everything. She is
mad! she'll deny the work of her own hand next, I do believe. Why did
you write me this letter, Miss Margaret Walsingham?" (snatching it from
his pocket and waving it like a banner of victory before her eyes.)
"Your own handwriting--your own signature, madam. Please do not shock me
by denying it."

She looked at the letter--her own familiar chirography started her out
of countenance.

Truly, Roland Mortlake's was an accommodating genius.

Thus it ran:

     "DEAR MR. DAVENPORT:--I have just receive an extraordinary
     telegram from some Dr. Lythwaite in Bala, Merioneth. I inclose
     it to you. Does it not convince you that my suspicions have a
     just foundation? If you can withstand the evidence of this
     stranger, who has never heard of my suspicions, you are
     willfully shutting your eyes to a plain fact.

     "St. Udo Brand lies ill at Bala--send Davenport to receive his
     instructions to Gelert's Hotel, Coventry street.'

     "That is what the telegram says; now I request that for once
     you will obey my wish, and fly thither by the first train.

     "Tell no one, not even Gay, for he is in the confidence of this
     wretch here. Heaven knows whether you are not the same.

     "Yours, anxiously,

     "MARGARET WALSINGHAM."

In the envelope was the bogus telegram; no wonder that the lawyer,
suspicious though he was, had been completely deceived this time.

"I can show you as strange an epistle, which I received," cried
Margaret, going to her desk for Dr. Gay's purported letter, and handing
it to Mr. Davenport.

He read it and turned it over in blank surprise.

"Extraordinary!" muttered the lawyer. "Could Gay have got another
telegram! Then you didn't send the doctor off, did you?"

"No, indeed, Mr. Davenport, nor you, either. Your untimely absence
almost cost me my life, as you would have heard had you made any
inquiries as to the state of affairs at Emersham's law office, before
you came over here. We have all been infamously duped, sir, by a wretch
unworthy of the name of man--but he shall soon expiate his crimes on the
scaffold. All these communications have been cleverly forged by no other
than Roland Mortlake, who is now flying for his life from the officers
of justice."

"Extraordinary! most extraordinary!" aspirated Mr. Davenport.

He was getting very quiet, his purple face was fading into a frightened
gray, his rousing tones were sinking into a soft dejection; he began to
scent a mistake from afar, and to shoulder the humiliation.

And at this auspicious moment, Mrs. Chetwode opened the door and
announced Dr. Gay, just arrived, to demand his explanation.

The lawyer stepped to the door to warn Dr. Gay of his error, and shook
hands with the solemnity of a sexton greeting the chief mourner at a
funeral.

"There's been a terrible blunder here," said he, spiritlessly; "we've
both allowed ourselves to be made confounded fools of by a rascal. Have
you heard anything in the town?"

"Not I," returned the little doctor, who looked as if he had not slept
for a week. "I've just come home, and rushed over here as fast as a
horse's legs could carry me. How are you now, Miss Margaret?"

"Well, thank you, and overjoyed to see you back again. I feel safe now,"
murmured Margaret, looking up in her counselor's face with a gentle
glance. "There will be an end to all misunderstanding now, and we shall
be friends as we used to be."

Mr. Davenport was wiping his forehead with his enormous bandanna, and
looking very foolish; and Dr. Gay stared from one to the other, and got
more mystified every minute.

"Have you made anything of this queer business?" asked he.

"Gad! sir, I think we have," returned the lawyer; "and more than we
bargained for. We've caught a rascal in it!"

"Rascal enough!" sighed the little doctor, wearily. "He led me a fine
dance of it. I suppose you want to hear what induced me to fly off at a
tangent to the other side of England, don't you? A Welsh gentleman,
calling himself Mr. Grayly, a tall, red-faced blue-eyed chap in a fur
coat, called on me at nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, with the strange
tidings that he had come from New Radnor in Wales--fancy that--and got
me to believe it, too, the rogue--where the true Colonel Brand was lying
sick at the country house of a brother officer in the Guards. I was
struck dumb, and didn't know what to think, till a dispatch came per
telegraph from the colonel himself, begging me to come and see him, and
assuring me that Grayly would tell me all about him. So Grayly hustled
me off on the half-past nine train, before I had time to think of
anything. At ---- in Berks my friend the Welshman got out, saying that
he had an hour's business to transact there, but that I could go on, and
he would overtake me in Cirencester; so off I went alone, thinking no
evil. But I've never seen him since, the dog."

"Miss Margaret received this letter, posted in the same village,"
interposed Mr. Davenport, exhibiting it grimly.

Dr. Gay read it with stupefied wonder.

"St. George and the Dragon!" muttered he, "this is a cruel hoax. Who
could have written that so like me. Grayly did it, I suppose, though."

"Grayly, _alias_ O'Grady, posted it," said Margaret; "but he was
employed to do so. Another than he wrote it, a cleverer forger. Well,
how did your adventure end?"

"Oh, as might have been expected. I posted on, mad with excitement, to
New Radnor in search of the sick man, and Grayly's instructions brought
me to the door of a ladies' private boarding-school, where I was well
stared at, and no doubt laughed at for my stupidity. So, finding that I
had been cheated by a rogue who probably wanted to play off a practical
joke upon my credulity--(I suppose everybody is laughing at Miss
Margaret's suspicions of the colonel here, she must have mentioned them
somewhere)--I came back quicker than I went, determined to sift the
matter well."

"I need prepare your minds no better for the disclosures you must now
hear," said Margaret, "for you will not discredit my story, after the
mortifying experiences which you have had. I will not reproach you for
your past injustice to me, for your desertion of my cause to the side of
my enemy, or for your unfounded suspicion of my sanity. I only regret
that your past inactivity has forced me to put this desperate case in
the hands of a stranger who could not feel the interest in it which you
should have felt. But no more of this. I shall explain all to you."

She faithfully narrated all that had happened since the night on which
she had obtained possession of Roland Mortlake's pocket-book.

The two executors heard the recital; Dr. Gay with groans of horror, Mr.
Davenport in meek and abject silence.

It was almost pathetic to observe the humility with which the
overbearing lawyer received the intelligence of his egregious credulity
and wanton obstinacy, but he did not say a word until the narration was
completed, and then he dejectedly begged Miss Margaret to give him
something to do for her.

They took counsel together, and at last parted with mutual good will and
cordiality; Dr. Gay going back to his wife in such a maze of stupid
preoccupation as submerged him in conjugal hot water for many a day;
while Mr. Davenport pugnaciously burst into young Emersham's office and
electrified him like a torpedo, on the subject of O'Grady's proper
handling.

The days passed by--Andrew Davenport and Seamore Emersham, counsels for
the plaintiff, announced their case complete; the chain of evidence
which was to strangle Roland Mortlake, wanted not a link of the judicial
measure required; his own confessions were there, his accomplice O'Grady
was there with his secret disclosures; the witnesses were on the
ground--all was complete, and nothing wanting except the criminal.

It was to no purpose, the doubling and twisting of secret detectives,
many a day might pass away before they could overtake the game on that
road, for he was perfect in such a part, his life had been one long race
through tortuous paths, with the sword of justice pursuing him.

The hue and cry of outraged law rang wrathfully through the land; the
public papers teemed with accounts of the great Castle Brand plot; the
public mind execrated Roland Mortlake as a revolting rogue to murder so
much better a man than himself, that he might steal his station; but the
hero of the universal tongue kept discreet obscurity, and ventured not
within the radius of his evil popularity.

Still O'Grady kept whispering his strange disclosures, and, under the
upper stratum of wordy clamor, the sly detectives, led by Davenport, dug
away at the secret lead, with hopes of coming treasure.

The dark-faced mistress of Castle Brand wore her soul out in pining for
the end; and day by day she saw the wintry sun go down with a cry
against the slow moving arm of justice; mingled with a piteous
self-reproach when she noted the fierce spirit which had been born in
her.

Her thin cheek seldom lost its feverish carmine, nor her eyes their
lance-like gleam; her magnificent figure was uplifted with perpetual
imperiousness; a Fulvia, a Semiramis, a black browed Nemesis, was
Margaret Walsingham in those bitter days of her suspense.

Yet she could weep soft, tender tears before St. Udo's portrait, and hug
the phantom chains of her supernal love to as love-some a heart as ever
man won.

But passion and patience will not work in double harness, they wear the
life out in their unceasing strife; and though she had lived through
terrible scenes, she felt that she could not live through this.

But it is a long lane which has no turning; Margaret's turned very
suddenly, and ushered her into a fairy land, whose ghost lights dazzled
her eyes; whose strange, wild, awful beauty filled her soul with eternal
sunshine.

Thus it fell out.



CHAPTER XXIV.

SELLING A SECRET.


On a sunny day in January, a traveling coach crunched up the drive to
Castle Brand, and produced a visitor for Miss Walsingham.

The Waaste, so broad and rolling, looked well in its garb of snow, in
which the late New Year had wed it; and along the drive the phinny firs
and silver holly-bushes were piled with molded purity, while every
creamy nymph in stone or stucco wore a crown of brightness.

The turrets even of the hoary castle were fringed with diamond
stalactites, from which dropped liquid pearls upon the deep green ivy;
and the griffins at the door each upheld a cone of dazzling snow upon
his old stone forehead.

The visitor glanced about with many a smirk of approbation, and some
wise shrugs of the shoulder; but said nothing aloud, preserving his
breath for more important speech.

Margaret was sitting listlessly over her needle-work when the footman
brought her a card, upon which was discernible, amid flourishes of the
wildest fantasy, "_Ludovic, Chevalier de Calembours_."

She started up with a wild flush mantling her cheek, and a smothered cry
of wrath.

The elegant little gentleman clad in the Hungarian velvet costume,
beribboned, bejeweled, flaunting with many a badge of mystic
significance, got upon his crooked little legs, and held out his white
hands dramatically to the flashing, palpitating, queen-like creature who
swept through the great drawing-room to greet him for the first time.

"Chevalier de Calembours! accomplice of Roland Mortlake, I have heard of
you before!" she panted, not deigning to touch him.

"Mademoiselle Walsingham, champion of Colonel Brand, all the world has
heard of you before!" rasped the bland-faced Hun.

"Why have you come here, heartless man!" cried Margaret.

"To see the dear mademoiselle whose actions so wise, so unselfish, so
_heroique_, have won my heart?"

"Am I to accept praise from the enemy of St. Udo Brand? Never! You
murdered him among you!"

"Softly, my heroine! The chevalier was not on the field when the
admirable colonel was stabbed! _Ma foi!_ he was lying bleeding on his
litter amid his Southern friends, who had captured him for the second
time. The first, the dear mademoiselle knows, the chance of fortune
wooed me to the South; but the second, _mon Dieu!_ no one asked me my
will, but they hacked and hewed over my shackled body, and then the
South won me from my captors."

"Sir, I desire to hear nothing of your history. You were paid by the
murderer to dog the steps of St. Udo Brand; you were both leagued
against him. Had he ever harmed you, chevalier? Was he not too brave to
fall by treachery?"

Quite undaunted by her reproaches, M. le Chevalier listened to her
passionate praise of his quondam comrade with sparkling eyes, and threw
up his hands in ecstatic assent.

"Brave, did mademoiselle say?" he echoed; "_mon Dieu!_ he was gallant,
gay, free-hearted, _helas!_ that the ladies should love such an Apollo."

"And you betrayed him, knowing him to be all this?" she cried, bitterly.

"_Par la messe!_ mademoiselle is not just!" complained the chevalier,
with tears in his eyes. "I love _mon_ colonel, admire, believe in him; I
spit upon Monsieur Mortlake--laugh at, revile him! Mademoiselle must
have found out that I obeyed him--never; that I stuck to my colonel only
because I love him; and that I left him not until fortune beckoned me
away. If he had given me his dear company when I fled to Richmond, he
would not have been to-day where he is; but would he? not though I
prayed to him with tears in the eyes, with grief in the heart. No, no,
he was doomed; he would stay with the Yankees, and--Thoms!"

"Did you not suspect who Thoms was, especially as Mortlake sent him to
you?"

"Oh! I was blind. I was bewitched; the wretch was too cunning,
mademoiselle. But pray, what has all the cunning ended in? Bah!
simplicity, honesty for me; I still live, and walk abroad, a free man.
But I am a Chevalier of honor. I scorn a crooked policy. When for the
second time the South won Calembours, I found that perfidious fortune
had changed her mood; from filling my pockets with gold as commissary
general, she descended to thrusting me into that unwholesome residence
in Richmond, Castle Thunder. All because some head of wood suggested
that the Chevalier de Calembours was selling the North to the South, and
_vice versa_. But the chevalier is a Knight of Industry as well as of
Honor--he ever makes the honey where other bees would but starved
carcasses. I make the situation palatable even in Castle Thunder, for
there is a blue-coated soldier with me there. He is wounded, I nurse
him; he is hungry, I feed him from my wretched pittance; we mingle our
tears over the moldy crust and the muddy water--we console each other.

"When he is able to crawl, I file off his chains; together we dig our
tunnel through the dungeon floor. We have no tools but we use a broken
plate and a rusty key, and--patience. Night and day, mademoiselle, night
and day that invalid soldier and I gnaw through the baked earth; the
nails are torn from the fingers; see, _ma chère!_ the clothes are worn
from the bodies; _mon camerade_ faints often, almost dies; but one day
we see the sunny earth come crumbling into our rat-hole. _Mon Dieu!_ we
have penetrated beneath the wall--we are free.

"I drag him out that night--I drag him into the woods; he says he will
die joyfully a free man--he cannot die a captive. But we do not let him
die; we aid him day by day through the dismal swamps, cold, wet,
famished, but he lives to reach Washington, and he is received in a
hospital; while I, _morbleu_, they give me the cold shoulder, they point
the finger, they cry, 'Renegade!' My friend whom I have aided, grows
worse of his wound, and cannot speak for me; McClellan, Banks, Pope,
Stanton, are all down on poor Calembours for past injuries they dream
that he has done them with the South. So, mademoiselle must hear that
the republican rabble hoot me from their midst with vile names, and hard
usage, and ugly threats, just as the graycoats had done in Richmond,
because I believe in universal suffrage, and am a mad _cosmopolite_, and
see no difference between the greedy North and the hungry South. In vain
I confide my need to these dogs, in vain I remind the War Department of
past deeds of mine while serving under McClellan. They call my laurels
tarnished with treachery, they call my past services canceled by
succeeding bribery, they refuse me my little price, and order me to
leave their barbaric soil.

"So I turn the back upon the dogs who snarl so loudly over their
uninviting bone, and, although the tears gush from the eyes at parting
from the dear friend whom I aided, I am forced to leave him behind.

"What though I have thrown behind me an illustrious life, titles,
honors, pleasures, for to give these dogs my nameless services?

"Where Colonel Brand, the lion of chivalry raged, was not I, Colonel
Calembours, ever at his side, the unwearied partner of the perilous
speculation?

"But when I fall under the blind displeasure of the stupid bureau at
Washington, justice, nay, honesty, is forgotten--they mulct me of my
laurels.

"I go to New York, and turn into a dealer for horseflesh for the army.
In a few weeks I fill my wrinkled purse, and get rid of the last of my
consignment; and, before the wretched brutes have time to betray their
many infirmities, New York in turn loses Calembours. But ere I leave I
have the satisfaction of again greeting my invalid friend, who has been
sent North to a better hospital, and who is gradually convalescing. He
urges me to stay with him, that we may begin the world together; but I
have a sacred duty to perform, a slight to remember, an insult to
avenge. I am free, I have money, I have health, and I come here, to this
Castle Brand, to see mademoiselle, and (for revenge) to sell to her--_a
secret_."

The chevalier paused with _empressement_, and remained peering into his
listener's face with a gay, encouraging smile for two or three minutes.

Whiter Margaret could not be, nor colder.

"Proceed, monsieur," she breathed at last; "do not mock my anxiety."

"Mademoiselle understands that what follows is for sale?" quoth the
chevalier slyly.

"Yes, yes, you shall be satisfied. Proceed."

"_Mille mercies_, dear mademoiselle. _Eh, bien!_ I will do myself the
honor to keep you au courant with my history. History pleases
mademoiselle; she is a good listener--_ma foi!_ a very good listener.

"_Voila!_ I begin at the end of the volume. I begin, as do the Hebrews,
at the last page, and read from right to left, to meet this end of the
little tale which you have just heard.

"Some months ago--perhaps eighteen--I, the illustrious Chevalier de
Calembours, arrived at Canterbury, on business of mine.

"In time I meet a very great man there; we play _rouge-et-noir_; _mon
Dieu!_ he cheats me at _rouge-et-noir_. Mademoiselle, _rouge-et-noir_ is
my own great weapon, _ma foi!_ I must have learned it in my cradle when
an infant; with it I have beat the world, with it I have cheated the
world--and this greatest of men cheats me!

"I stop the game, I contemplate him with exalted emotions, with
admiration, with awe; tears start to the eyes, I offer him the hand.

"Monsieur," I cry, with much enthusiasm, "tell me your name. You shall
be my great model in this noble game; I shall be your pupil."

"The great man glares at me through those cavernous eyes; his lips, so
thin and evil, smile sourly, and his long fingers make me the gambler's
sign. Ah! he is the gambler by profession, then--the sly sharper, the
hanger-on upon the young of the military. I marvel no more at his
proficiency in the art in which, beside him, I am but an amateur.

"'My name is Roland Mortlake,' he says, unwillingly; 'you are welcome to
any hints you think I can give you; but I was admiring your play all the
time. I've never seen it equalled.'

"Mademoiselle, this man had played in Germany, in Italy, in France, and
he had never seen my play equalled.

"I listen to the delicious praise; the heart swells with generous pride;
I rise, I embrace him as a brother.

"'You do me too much honor, Monsieur Mortlake,' I cry; 'you do the Count
of Santo Spirito, Turin, too much honor.'

"We became acquaintances, friends, inseparable brothers--we became
necessary to each other.

"We combine our forces, we cheat the world, and we reap a golden
harvest.

"The world is _so_ gullible _chère amie_. Why not glean the benefit
then?

"'I must go to London,' says my friend, in March; 'better come along. We
can always pigeon the subs, and they are always to be found there.'

"My friend was a great player, but he spoke ill, even coarsely at times.

"So be it, _camerade_!' I cry and we go.

"At first we do well; we enter humble circles, and we mount to higher
every day; the purse is very full, the heart is very merry, when,
_ouais!_ hush! Monsieur Mortlake becomes mysterious, close,
unjust--says:

"'Better keep out of sight for a while, Calembours; I can't be seen with
a notorious harpy like you just now; the circle I'm getting into won't
care for a dirty little Frenchman. They're exclusive.'

"'_Merci_, Monsieur Mortlake,' I return, 'Napoleon the brave thought
Calembours worthy of the Legion of Honor; but perhaps your circle are
right, and are exclusive of the nobility.'

"We part good friends, though, for are we not necessary to each other?
He goes his way and I go mine, but I set myself to know the reason why.

"I discover my Mortlake hovering about a great flame in the military
world--a Captain St. Udo Brand, of the Coldstream Guards, who has great
expectation of a wealthy grandmother dying and leaving him the sole
heir.

"My Mortlake wheels nearer and nearer this mighty captain, learns all he
can about his history and habits, and becomes an acquaintance of his.
What he intends to do with him I cannot tell; for he cannot pigeon _him_
as he pigeons weaker men. My faith, he dares not.

"Captain Brand treats the gambling Mortlake with that lofty insolence
which great men show to little men; he is indifferent to him, he forgets
his presence, he turns the back upon him at the mess-table when any of
the softer officers bring him there.

"My Mortlake does not like it; he grows very black when the captain is
not by, and he swears a great deal against him.

"I look on and laugh; it is a gay _comedie_ for me. I clasp the hands
and cry _encore_!

"Presently the great captain's grandmama's malady grows worse; messages
continue to arrive, and he must go to Surrey.

"Monsieur Mortlake comes to me with his curious green eyes gleaming.

"'Come Calembours,' he says; 'we may as well take a run down to Surrey
to see this wonderful castle.'

"'So be it!' I cry once more, and we go.

"We are living at a hotel in Regis when the sullen captain arrives; he
is accosted to his surprise by Monsieur Mortlake, who is of course quite
astonished to meet him there.

"Captain Brand swears a good deal at the idea of going down to that
'infernal dull hole,' his grandmother's handsome castle, which he
assures Mr. Mortlake is inhabited by old women and servants.

"'A note will do for to-night, by Jove!' vows Captain Brand, 'and I'll
send it over.'

"Monsieur Mortlake protests that he has heard so much of the antiquity
of Castle Brand that he would think it a boon if the captain would
permit him to carry that note, if it is only for the chance of seeing
such a castle.

"'By all means you shall, if that will please you,' says the captain.

"Mademoiselle, as these men stand together in the lobby, I looking down
from the staircase upon them--for has not monsieur ordered me not to
disgrace him by intruding upon the captain?--a very strange idea occurs
to me; it strikes me very forcibly. I watch the men with amazement, with
fear. As we ride away together in the moonlight, I say to my friend:

"'Monsieur le Capitaine is a most handsome man.'

"He only curses Monsieur le Capitaine.

"I say again:

"'_Mon ami_, do not execrate your own image.'

"He turns in his saddle with a savage oath--he glares like the hungry
wolf.

"'What's that, you jabbering idiot!' he roars, in his brutal way.

"'Captain Brand and Monsieur Mortlake seem like as twin dogs,' I reply;
'you might change names with our haughty captain, and no one be the
wiser, save that he has the _bel air_ which you want--the polish, the
courtesy, which those of the mob can never learn.'

"'Curse him! I have as good blood in my veins as he has any day!' hisses
the furious voice of my envious Mortlake.

"Then he turns sour and silent, and is very poor company. I sing
_chansonettes_ to the moon; I whistle operas; I talk to my horse; he
takes no notice; I rally him upon his temper, and he swears madly at me.

"So I light my cigar and smoke for company until we reach the great
Castle Brand, which towers like a vast cathedral under the moon.

"Mademoiselle, a magnificent statue waits him at the door. Mademoiselle
remembers the interview. Enough! My tripping tongue need not rehearse
the scene.

"Back comes Monsieur Mortlake, devil-possessed, and overwhelms me with a
terrible curse.

"I laugh at his slow-stepping wit.

"I have seen a pretty possibility for monsieur, even while mademoiselle
is speaking.

"'Stupid Englishman!' I cry, as we ride across the Waaste, 'don't you
see that you might get this fine English castle and estate to yourself
some day, if you could personate brave Captain Brand?'

"My romantic fancy is captivated by this little scheme. I go on amusing
myself by describing how it might be done. I give you my word,
mademoiselle, that it is all in jest--a freak of imagination nothing
more.

"My sour comrade listens with a serpent's guile; his clever brain is
twisting a rope out of my threads of fiction; he catches my bagatelle,
and transforms it into a plot--the plot which would have proved
successful but for Marguerite, the heroic.

"_Eh bien_, to continue:

"We ride away to the hotel at Regis that night, and monsieur had a
little interview with Captain Brand, and tells him the message which
Mademoiselle Walsingham has sent to him. Then is the captain furious,
and impatient, and self-reproachful for his cold-blooded neglect of the
poor fond grandmama, and he gallops off to the old castle on the wings
of the wind, and is too late, and remains moping at the castle, seeing
nobody but red-eyed Chetwode, for the magnificent Mademoiselle
Walsingham has locked herself within her room and will not see him.

"My careful Mortlake gathers all this from the footmen and servants from
the castle, and makes envious remarks upon the dog that has, and wants
it not, and the dog that wants, and has it not.

"In the evening of that day on which Madame Brand is interred, Monsieur
le Capitaine comes back to Regis choking with rage. Monsieur Mortlake
offers congratulations, and hears the whole of the will from our angry
captain, who utters a scornful fanfaronade against the brave
Mademoiselle Walsingham. Cries royally:

"'I won't interfere with the companion--she's free for me; I'll get out
of England as fast as I can, and try my luck abroad.'

"'Try the United States,' insinuates M. Mortlake.

"'Good! and join the army,' says our captain, with a war-glance which
sweeps the horizon and sees coming fame, 'and win glory, since I am
stripped of my fortune.'

"'Will you go, then?' pursues Monsieur Mortlake.

"'I'll think of it,' says Captain Brand.

"And he does think of it, and to such purpose that in an hour he has
left Regis and is posting back to London.

"Monsieur Mortlake comes to me and tells me all this.

"'Calembours, I have a job for you,' says my friend. His language is
never refined. _Ouf!_ how can it be? But I laugh, amused, and I applaud,
for my perception is swifter than Monsieur's tongue; it has skipped on a
mile of the plan, and turned to meet the tardy wit of my Mortlake.

"'So be it,' I cry, with smiles. 'You want me to put you in those
cavalry boots of Captain Brand, that you may win his castle and his
Marguerite.'

"To my surprise my friend writhes with anger--half chokes over this:

"'His castle and his Marguerite? Hang him! I have a better right than he
to them.'

"And becomes immediately mysterious, close as a mute.

"When we reach London, and find that Monsieur le Capitaine is really
selling his commission in the Guards, and going to America, my Mortlake
reveals his well-considered plot to me.

"'Calembours, you are such a plausible rogue,' says my coarse friend,
'that you might be a great help to me in the plan I've thought of.'

"'Dear friend, you flatter me,' I, smiling, reply. 'Command me.'

"'This fellow is in love with some woman of rank here in London,'
pursues my Mortlake. 'I can't find out her name, he's such a proud
fellow; but that's the reason why he throws off the woman at Castle
Brand and forswears the fortune. Now, d'ye see, Calembours, how we can
turn his tomfoolery to account?'

"I bow; I am interested, but not admiring.

"He can go off to the war, and somebody can go off with him, to keep an
eye on him that he doesn't balk, and to worm himself into all the
fellow's secrets and past history. Somebody gentlemanly and taking, and
with plenty of confounded jabber about 'em. You'd do first rate,
Calembours.'

"'So flattered,' I smile. 'The good opinion of my dear M. Mortlake is so
consoling.'

"'You could creep round him so nicely,' observed my friend; 'you could
get anything you liked out of him, you've got such an innocent look, you
dog; while I can't become the polished gentleman without practice, fact
being that I've forgotten the talk. I was once as swell as any of
'em--was in the army, bedad! an artillery officer; but luck changed,
curse it! and my company wasn't so high-flying, though we were a jolly
pack for all that, especially after the day's duties were over.'

"'Was monsieur a soldier or a knight of the pen?' I ask.

"He shows his long teeth in a snarling smile.

"'I was in a government office--served my country,' he replies; 'and,
getting home on furlough, I might as well feather my nest while I have a
chance, and then slip the cable on 'em. Pay isn't very good there, nor
victuals very plenty.'

"'Eh! prison fare?' I ask, scenting the jest.

"He scowls like an ogre at me.

"'You're a fool!' he growls. 'No; I was a Road Commissioner. Come, now,
will you go with Brand, and win some cool thousands by the speculation?'

"'What are my duties?' I cautiously reply.

"'To keep close by him through all his windings, until--'

"My Mortlake stops.

"'Until?' I venture.

"'Until the dog is killed,' whispers monsieur.

"I start back--I wave the vile insinuation from me.

"'_Pardieu!_' I scream; 'I am _chevalier d'honneur_! I pride myself upon
my illustrious reputation. Monsieur must seek another colleague.'

"'Idiot!' he roars, 'did I ask you to have anything to do with that? Do
I suspect _you_ of enough pluck to crush a snake? No, you fool, I don't.
The man will be killed in battle. All I want of you is to hear his
private business, so that you can post me up. If you want to make your
fortune, say so.'

"Mademoiselle, my dearest wish has always been to make my fortune. _Ma
foi!_ shall I refuse it when it comes begging at my door?

"'So be it. _Vive l'Amerique!_' I cry. 'Give me my instructions.'

"And monsieur does give me my instructions.

"I am to be hand and glove with Monsieur le Capitaine; I am to learn his
history off by heart and write it down for my Mortlake to study; and
when he falls in battle I am to win my reward, but not till then. I am
encouraged by every inducement to be the assassin myself. I am assured
that if Captain Brand does not die in the course of twelve months,
Monsieur Mortlake can do nothing for me; and I laugh to myself, and say:

"'I shall watch my Mortlake.'

"'And what will monsieur do until I return to England?' I say.

"'I'll pigeon the green hands in the gambling saloons,' he tells me,
'and have a neat little sum to carry us through the plot.'

"So we make up our plans, and I follow Captain Brand to Liverpool.

"The last act of friendship which my principal does for me is to send
after me a servant to attend me.

"'A trusty fellow,' writes M. Mortlake, 'who will help you with the
captain. He is an unscrupulous chap, and might do that little job for
you. Thoms is a cute fellow, and won't betray us.'

"Monsieur Mortlake has changed his mind at the last moment; he doubts
the villainy of his accomplice; he comes himself, in Thoms' disguise, to
watch how the game goes.

"He says to himself, 'Calembours may betray my plot to Captain Brand,
or, not betraying it, may fail to see him killed, and he may turn up
again when I am least prepared for him; then let _me_ accompany the pair
as Thoms, the valet; and Thoms shall remind Calembours of his duty; and
Calembours shall commission Thoms to deal the death-blow, if chance
withholds it in battle, and Calembours shall ever after be tied hand and
foot by that command of his to Thoms, and shall never dare to betray the
cunning Mortlake. Then when Brand is dead, Thoms shall disappear;
Calembours shall return to England with his report; Mortlake shall pay
him much or little, as he likes, and Calembours shall be gagged for life
with his share in the murder of Brand. Thus shall Mortlake cover up his
traces, and win fortune without one fear of discovery. And if Calembours
proves unfaithful in his compact, why then Thoms shall only have to use
his dagger twice instead of once, and perhaps that would be the best way
after all.'

"Was it not a wonderful plot, mademoiselle?

"So complete, so obscure, so complicated!

"And to think that I should not have been the first to conceive it!

"Bah! I told you that Monsieur Mortlake could cheat me at
_rouge-et-noir_; he was my mental superior.

"Mine was the intellect quick, daring, creative; but his was the sure,
silent, and wily brain that could view a scheme in all its bearings, and
twist it as he willed.

"Enough; Monsieur Mortlake accompanied us to the seat of war as Thoms,
and not once did I suspect the villain of being other than he seemed.

"Bah! to think of being served by such a worm!

"Mademoiselle, the soul of the knight of honor rises in wrath as he
recalls these days of foolish deception, when the brother colonels,
sitting by the camp-fire, laugh over poor old Thoms, and say, 'He's
mad.' Mademoiselle, the blood of an honest man boils as he recalls the
dastard pranks of his valet; when he rifles the pockets of brave Colonel
Brand; and sitting behind us, mimics the gestures of my friend,
rehearsing for his future character; and shoots at Brand and me from
behind our tent, and missing fire, stabs the innocent Confederate envoy,
who might betray him.

"When I forget my compact with Monsieur Mortlake, and show my affection
for the great colonel, Thoms is there to menace me with meaning looks;
and when I defy his hints and refuse to spy any longer upon my colonel's
life, a letter comes from Mortlake quickening me by threats and
promises. 'Tis penned, of course, by Thoms, and I never know it then.

"The history of those days you have discovered for yourself,
mademoiselle, in that important note-book, which you seized with such
high courage.

"Admirable woman! I bend the knee to you, for you rival in valor Joan of
Arc. Without your heart of steel and hand of silk, the wary, lying fox
might never have been lured from his hole and crushed; and the noble
Colonel Brand might have lain forgotten and unavenged.

"Thus I come to the middle of the volume. The stories have met; I take
up the ends of them; I twine them together, and, _voila!_ an
_eclaircissement_! When I have run my little race in the ungrateful
republic, I come home to England.

"I am free. I have money, health; I have a sacred duty to perform, an
insult to avenge; I hasten into England, and seek my principal.

"_Ouais!_ are not the journals teeming with great news? '_The Great
Castle Brand Plot_ meets my astonished eyes in every journal. The vile
imposture is divulged, the daring murderer is condemned; his serpentine
guile is held up; and with passion I read that my valet Thoms and my
employer Mortlake are one. I foam, I sweat with rage and shame, that he
should have cheated me.

"Oh, _mon Dieu!_ that I should live to be cheated by _Thoms_! Why did I
not saber him in those days in Virginia?

"I swear that I will have honorable satisfaction; the dog shall die for
his treachery to a knight whose honor is more valued than his life.

"I know the old disguise of my Mortlake. I remember his haunts, I say.
England, I will find your criminal for you, but I shall have my little
account settled with him before I pass him over to you.

"I hasten to Canterbury, where I have seen him first, and in his old
haunt, plying his modest profession as gambler, I find my
bird-of-the-jail, with the eye upon Paris when tracked to Canterbury,
there to hide from angry England.

"I penetrate to his _cafe_, where he consorts with blacklegs, sharpers,
and barmaids, and I gain a private audience of the great man in his
exile.

"I snap the fingers in his face. _Tonnere!_ how white it grows! I cry:

"'Monsieur, you are no gentleman--you are _un fripon_, a rogue, a
speaking cur! Monsieur, I spit upon you for a cur! Will you have pistols
or sabers?'

"'Calembours, by all the devils!' groans my rat in the trap. 'Why, man,
I thought you were dead long ago. If I hadn't thought so, I should have
had you to help me through with that accursed plot, and paid you well
for it, too----'

"'Liar!' I cry, 'I don't believe you! You are Thoms, and Thoms was a
traitor. _Allons_, monsieur, will you meet me in the court out there?'

"'Calembours,' whines the slave, 'why need you trample on a down man?
Nobody knows me here, and I'll give you my purse, my jewels, and a fine
blood-horse which I have out there in the stable, if you'll let me
escape to Dover to-night.'

"I weigh the purse, not so light, considering; the jewels--_par la
messe!_ a million francs would not purchase them.

"But I do not falter; he has cheated me with a paltry trick, he has
practiced upon my credulity--my credulity, mademoiselle, and a
_chevalier d'honneur_ never forgives that.

"'Dog! you think to buy me!' I screamed, in my high indignation--'you,
who have played your vile trick upon me, who have laughed under the hood
at me. _You_, Thoms! Never, Monsieur Mortlake; but I will have your
blood! Fox! beast! you shall be honored for the first time in your
plebeian life--you shall fight with Calembours!'

"The slave recoils, for he knows the accuracy of the chevalier's aim, he
knows the perfection of the chevalier's passes; he loathes pistol and
saber as a means of settling the dispute.

"Glaring at me, eye to eye, he casts about in his wily brain how to
cheat me to my face--he was ever my superior in juggling tricks,
although he had no bravery, except what paid him.

"But he is late in achieving his last throw for freedom--angry England
has tracked the fugitive. A posse of _gens d'armes_--what you call
police--pour into monsieur's private saloon, and advance to take my
Mortlake.

"He glares at them with eyes of horror, gathers himself for a tiger's
bound through their midst, and nearly gains the door.

"But he is caught--mid air; he is hurled to the floor; the shackles are
on his wrists, the gyves are on his feet, and, with foam on his lips and
murder in his eyes, he looks up at his captors.

"'Ha, ha! my bird!' jests a _gen d'armes_; 'you're caged at last. Your
ticket of leave won't do any longer--it's out many a month ago; and,
since you don't go in for road-work, in Tasmania, you can try the
shortest road to glory.'

"The convict says never a word, but shuts his eyes and succumbs; and so
they carry him away, and I have bade my last adieu to Monsieur Mortlake.

"_Ma chère_, there are ups in this world, and there are downs; I have
seen both--I have been elevated to the highest pinnacle of fortune, and
again thrown under fortune's wheel--but, mademoiselle, my honor has
never been impugned, for it was above reproach.

"Yet this dog of a Mortlake had ventured to amuse himself at my
expense--had outwitted me in my own game; can the depths of misfortune
be too profound for such a traitor? _Pardieu!_ no, a thousand times no!

"So that when my Mortlake was dragged to prison, I, the insulted man of
honesty, felt only joy that there was a rogue less to find.

"Most illustrious heroine, shall I resume the chronicles?

"Your face answers with eloquence: 'Yes, my friend, and be brief;' but
your great heart trembles, and shrinks from the deep cup of vengeance
which I offer, although you long have sought to taste it.

"No? you deny the imputation? But, mademoiselle, you tremble and are
pale as the winter moon; wherefore? Ah, you apprehend my halting
meaning; you perceive the mists of possibility with those keen eyes, and
you urge, 'Haste, haste, and assure me of the truth!'

"_Eh, bien!_ you shall taste of a cup more mellow than this one of
revenge. I hasten to hold it to the lips of Margaret _la Fidele_!

"I learn as much of my Mortlake's history as my interest in him prompts
me to search out.

"I hear that he was banished to Tasmania twelve years ago for a daring
act of forgery; that he has come back with a ticket of leave two years
since, and, seizing the first opportunity, has presented himself with
freedom, and escaped from the espionage of the law.

"That the detectives sent on the track of Roland Mortlake have met the
detectives on the track of the fugitive ticket of leave man, and that
O'Grady has confessed that they are identical.

"O'Grady, being a companion-convict, and having shared in that
enterprise for freedom, is well qualified to put the detectives upon his
track, and does so. Thus our friend Mortlake vanishes from the scene;
one month ago the prosperous heir of Castle Brand--to-day, the convict
waiting sentence for the murder of the true heir of Castle Brand.

"But, mademoiselle, the little tale is not complete without the
_eclaircissement_; permit me to draw aside the curtain from my secret.

"You shall give the word that draws the bolt, and drop out Mortlake into
a murderer's grave; or you shall raise the warning hand that stays the
doom upon the felon's platform, and waves him back to Tasmania for life
in the chain-gang.

"How you have that power is my secret, mademoiselle; shall I tell it you
for one thousand pounds?"

Grave, keen, penetrating, the Chevalier de Calembours bent forward and
waited breathlessly the answer to this momentous question.

The great eyes of Margaret Walsingham still met his in a fascinated
gaze; her electric face kept its spell-bound attention. With lips apart
and bosom heaving she waited for the end of the story.

"Mademoiselle, shall I tell it you for one thousand pounds, or shall I
go back to America, and bury the secret in oblivion?" asked the
chevalier.

"Tell me all," breathed Margaret, faintly.

"Mademoiselle will remember my modest request?"

"Yes, yes, monsieur, I will pay you what you ask!" she cried,
hysterically; "go on to the end."

"_Milles mercis!_" cried he, cheerfully, "mademoiselle is magnificent!
Mademoiselle does not wish M. Mortlake to escape with his life?"

"No," shuddered Margaret, "he must not live."

"So perfidious!" aspirated the chevalier; "he stole St. Udo's history,
he stole his identity, and then he stole his life. Fiendish Mortlake!"

"He shall die, monsieur, be content," groaned Margaret.

"Even if he had not succeeded in killing St. Udo, his intention would
make him worthy of death," remarked the chevalier.

"Ah, yes, worthy of twenty deaths!" cried Margaret, wringing her hands.

"Mademoiselle loves the brave man who was murdered?" insinuated the
chevalier, in softest accents.

She grew white as death, and the great tears rushed from her eyes.

"What does it matter now?" she moaned. "I do love him--ah, I do love
him!"

Then did the little man rise and expand with warm enthusiasm--then did
his handsome face glow with rapture and with pride.

He put on a smile of most gracious benevolence, he drank in the rich
love-light upon her eloquent countenance, and then he cried, joyfully:

"Incomparable mademoiselle! you deserve good news. We shall hang the
dog, and then resurrect the master; for, _Viola! Colonel Brand is not
dead yet_!"



CHAPTER XXV.

OFF TO AMERICA.


The chevalier paused with dramatic _empressement_ to enjoy the effect of
his announcement. But the pale woman who was sitting before him made
little sign of her emotions.

With the tears still upon her cheeks, and hands clasped in her lap, she
had gone a wild trip into fairyland, and its brilliant fantasies were
whirling round her in all manner of rainbow tints presaging hopes of
joy; and the little chevalier, glossy-bearded, pleased, and triumphant,
seemed to dance round her in the many-tinted flare, like the good geni
of the fairy tale.

Save the added wildness to these resistless gray eyes, and the sudden
aurora gleam over brow and cheek, the demonstrative Frenchman might have
doubted if she believed him.

"Admirable mademoiselle," aspired he, after a due pause; "she is brave
as the Spartan boy with his more disagreeable burden, the wolf. She will
not let the surprise show so much as the tip of his nose--ah, you
British know how to shut the teeth. _Mais Voila_, you shall say, 'Go on,
_mon ami_, and accept your thousand pounds,' or shall I say no more of
my colonel, and let the naughty convict go hang?"

"He is alive--go on," breathed Margaret to the pirouetting geni of her
fairy-tale.

"What! and loose monsieur's neck-cloth, which was to strangle him?"

"Yes yes; tell me of St. Udo Brand, that we may bring him home to his
own."

"Mademoiselle is magnificent. She forgives like an angel, and pays like
an empress. I bow before so grand a demoiselle, the effulgence of her
nature dazzles me, and _Voila!_ I, also touched with enthusiasm, emulate
her in magnificence. For the poor sum of one thousand pounds I give to
mademoiselle the hero of her heart, and happiness, and to me darkness,
after the blinding study of her perfection. Nay more, I have a turn for
necromancy--I may not read man's destiny in the stars, but woman's
future in her own _petite_ hand I have often seen, and I see this hand,
which is a lovely hand, holding out the fortune of St. Udo, my fine
colonel, to him, and being taken, fortune and all, for its own open
kindness; and I behold myself (in the future of this _petite_ hand)
placing by the revelation I am about to make, my noble heroine in the
arms of another--for only one thousand pounds.

"Behold me, then, lift the cloud which has swallowed up the life of our
gallant St. Udo Brand from the moment in which the renegade, Thoms, has
stabbed him on the battle-field and lo! with the sweep of my magician's
wand I place before you the succeeding picture, clear, truthful, and
unshadowed.

"My fallen hero finds himself next--not in Heaven, where, by gar, his
brave deeds have doubtless bought for him a seat in the
dress-circle--but in a villainous ambulance, being jolted over an
execrable wood-road in a rain-storm which kindly drenches him with
sufficient moisture to keep his wounds flowing. Having ascertained as
much, and doubtless feeling disgusted with the lack of courtesy which
the jade Fortune has displayed, he absents his spirit once more from his
body, going an experimental tour to his future quarters, and leaving
that tenement to all appearances 'to let.'

"It is barely possible that his future quarters are not inviting, for
the spirit comes back from a blind boxing for a place somewhere, and
takes up with the poor, shattered body once more, and St. Udo wakes up
to find himself a prisoner of the South, immured in Castle Thunder,
Richmond.

"Mademoiselle, I have already narrated to you the trials which I, the
foot-ball of the vixen Fortune, endured in Castle Thunder with my
_camarade_. I pass the time of his deadly illness, when the breath flits
forth like a puff, and seems gone forever--when the great wounds fever,
and my friend in blue babbles at the charge, and the rally, and shouts
of phantom soldiers, or turns to his pillow and whispers of woman's
tender hands, when there are but the rough fingers of his faithful
Ludovic. _Ma foi!_ but he is a British Napoleon! He triumphs over his
desperate wounds, and stifling captivity, and one day my Brand sits up
and knows me, whom last he had known as a foe, by the ungraceful
_contretemps_ of war.

"_Mon Dieu!_ but I was glad, and I was sorry! There he is for you--so
thin, and so patient--waiting to accept the life that God shall give.

"My heroine, you shall not weep. It is better than the death by
treachery, is it not? And _Voila!_ he shall give you an English
hand-grip yet--shall he not? And I shall be there to see and to bless,
and to be the good _sorcier_. Ah, bravo! or what you call in England,
'Here, here!' we shall all be happy presently.

"But to resume: When I know better this man whom I have yet known as the
brave soldier at the head of his company, when I see him in captivity,
in trial, in sickness, eating with me the crust, drinking with me the
muddy water, bearing cowardly usage from his jailers--all with that
grand patience, I find in him a great man, and morally I see myself upon
my knees before him to do honor and I whisper in my own ear, 'Ludovic
Calembours, tell this, the only man whom you ever loved better than
yourself the plot which was made by this wretch, Mortlake, to oust him
from his Castle Brand!'

"And I tell him the whole story, by gar! I spare not myself at all,
though he scorns me with his hand, and calls me 'blackleg,' and thanks
me nothing for my story, but after that he is kinder to me, and rouses
himself to scoop with me through our prison floor, with the broken
plate--I with the rusty key, and when we stand face to face under the
stars beyond the prison bars, his hand so thin, so bleeding, is pointed
Northward, his sunken eyes gather fire, and he says:

"'My fortune is on the Federal battle-field; such life as God sends me I
shall seek there; I am done forever with England.'

"_Mon Dieu!_ I love my brave St. Udo like a brother. Would I let my
brother drop Seven-Oak Waaste through his fingers?

"I say him neither yea nor nay, but traverse with him the dreary swamps,
and we go to Washington.

"His wounds and weakness threw him sick into an hospital. I, in my
efforts to have a knight of industry properly compensated, am driven
with howlings from the savage place, and in the pursuit of a virtuous
livelihood in New York, lose sight for a time of my St. Udo.

"Mademoiselle Walsingham, if Dame Fortune had really frowned upon my
little secret scheme, which was to punish the dastard Mortlake, and to
advance my brave _camarade_, she would not have thrown St. Udo in my way
so persistently, when with the tears and sorrow I had been forced to
part with him, as I feared for the last time, at Washington.

"But look you! In my pursuit of purchasers for my famous war-horses, I
find myself in a hospital, where a general--great man--has promised to
meet me, and I meet once more my colonel. He has been sent to New York
for better attendance than can be got in the overcrowded hospitals of
Washington, and I find him weak as a child from wound-fever, and, by
gar! I am so overjoyed that I fall upon his neck and forgot to drive my
bargain with the general.

"I say to him: '_Mon ami_, I devote myself to you. I pledge myself to
cancel the past by making up to you a little fortune. Forswear the sword
_mon frere_, and turn it into a pruning-hook as I have done; be
_camarade_ with me once more, and we shall reap a harvest of greenbacks
from these patriots, who must every one be officer, and to ride away to
battle must every one have a brave war-horse. Let _us_ mount them _mon
frere_--already I have a modest little something made up wholly from the
help I have given these patriots. What say you, my Brand?

"_Mon Dieu!_ mademoiselle, he waxes very angry with me, and complains
that I am tarnishing his honor with my villainous schemes for
self-advancement. I, who am willing to share my purse with him.

"I say: 'But, monsieur, you have not heard me out yet. You have flown at
me like your own obstinate bull-dogs, that bark! bark! bark! and will
not hear reason. I have yet to finish my plan for your welfare, I would
have said had you not interrupted me. And then, when our purses burst
with greenbacks, let us go to England and see how Seven-Oak Waaste is
getting on with Mortlake for a master, and the companion of the _grand
mere_ for a mistress. You like English fair play, my friend; and it is
not English fair play to let Mortlake have Castle Brand.'

"'Mortlake!' shouts my invalid, in a passion. 'What have I to do with
him, or with Castle Brand, or with Miss Walsingham? Let them make what
they like of it: I am not going to soil my fingers dipping into the pot
with them. I will never set my foot in England again, I tell you, and be
good enough to understand me when I say so!'

"I throw out the hand in disinterested despair at his obstinacy and ask
how he is to live.

"'A soldier may always live by his sword,' he says; 'and I don't mind
trying if the adage is true. And if ever I meet that sneaking valet of
ours, Calembours, I'll horsewhip him for the mark of attention he gave
me, and if you have any love-token to entrust me with, I'll faithfully
deliver it too.'

"A strange suspicion has been in my mind since ever my colonel told me
of the dastardly murder which Thoms attempted upon him, which is that
Thoms had been hired by my principal to do the deed after having spied
on us to see that I fulfilled my contract. This is so humbling to my
pride as a sharp-witted man whose motto is: 'The world loves to be
gulled, and I am the one to gull them.' that I breathe nothing of it,
but, _morbleu_! I promise to myself that my Monsieur Mortlake shall hear
of this.

"So, generous vengeance firing me, I bid adieu to the valiant colonel,
and return to the island of bull-dogs, full of indignation against the
cur who will have the loud snarl at me when I pull the bone out of his
teeth.

"And _ma foi!_ what do I find? The papers vaunting Mademoiselle
Walsingham's courage in unmasking the impostor--her wonderful integrity
which refuses to accept Madame Brand's bequest--her cleverness in
frustrating the attempt upon her life. Everywhere I read paragraphs
pertaining to the 'Castle Brand Plot.' I begin to feel the curiosity
grow to see this wonderful Mademoiselle Marguerite.

"I have told you of my meeting at Canterbury of the abject Mortlake.
Having seen Him as securely entrapped as his bitterest enemy could wish,
I come to you, full of my dreams for the noble Brand, burning to thank
you in his name for your bravery.

"I throw my money about like the grand seigneur. I make all haste--I
penetrate to your presence and find, not as St. Udo had believed, a
cunning adventuress, but empress of love, generosity, soul.

"I wave the hat again, and shriek _brava! bravissamo!_ for I know that
my great news will bring the joy to your great heart, and I see that
_lettle_ compensation already slipping into my pocket. Eh,
mademoiselle?"

Margaret rose and turned her face from the chevalier. As yet she could
grasp nothing but the knowledge that St. Udo Brand was alive; and oh,
the whirl of joy which danced its wild measure in her heart!

He had risen from his shallow grave to a second life of purity and
mayhap of happiness.

"So good and so patient--waiting--waiting to accept the life that God
shall give."

Ah! might _she_ not hallow to him his resurrection by bands of love?

He was alive! Sweet Heaven! to think that he was alive!

The mighty rush of feeling broke its bands at last--she sank upon a
chair, shaken by her sobs, and her heart, quaking at its own great
hunger, opened to take in its joy, and all was forgotten save her
tumultuous vision of bliss.

But monsieur, the chevalier, had no relish to witness any scene of which
he was not the hero; so, after five minutes of decorous silence, he
swaggered to her side, with hands thrown up in deprecatory fervor.

"_Ma foi!_ Mademoiselle Marguerite!" he exclaimed, "accept the
consolation of your devoted admirer! Command me, your slave!"

"Leave me," murmured Margaret, gently. "Ask a servant to show
you--somewhere--the picture-gallery--I will summon you."

Monsieur Calembours protested that her tender heart did his eloquence
high honor, and slid, with many obeisances, to the door, leaving the
overwrought girl free at last to suffer the burden of her joy, and to
throw herself in an attitude of devotion, and to weep such tears as form
the specks of celestial blue in the drab cloud of life.

When in half an hour the French gentleman was conveyed back to Miss
Walsingham, he found her calm, serene, and happy-eyed, ready to consult
with intelligence and spirit equal to his own upon the course she meant
to pursue.

"You will scarcely be surprised to hear," she said, greeting him with, a
beaming smile, "that I purpose retiring wholly from my position of
heiress of Seven-Oak Waaste, and of offering it to Colonel Brand. I am
well aware of the pride which impelled him to scorn fighting for his
rights with an adventuress, and knowing this, I am sure that no letter
from the executors, or myself, would lead him to accept, amicably, his
rightful position. So, in order to leave him no room for
misunderstanding me, I propose going with one of my advisers to New York
and personally urging my determination upon him. He is weak and in bad
health, you say"--here the woman's yearning heart spoke out in her
glowing eyes--"and I think it in a measure my duty to go and take care
of him until he is safe at his own Castle Brand. What do you say to
this, sir?"

"Magnificent, Marguerite!" sighed the chevalier; "but, mademoiselle, let
me be your counsellor in this little thing. Duty before pleasure."

"What duty chevalier?"

"We must give our convict his dose of oakum sweet, _mi ladi_, before we
dig the murdered man out of his grave."

"No, no!" exclaimed Margaret, with a shudder. "How could you, when St.
Udo was not really slain by him?"

"Nothing easier," replied the young man, with a dull shrug. "We know not
this thing that Colonel Brand is alive until the murderer is no more,
and then we discover our mistake and the heir of Castle Brand at one and
the same time. Eh, mademoiselle?"

"Would you cause an innocent man to lose his life?"

"Innocent--_pouf!_ So is the weasel of rats! His _intention_ was not
innocent, _m'amie_, and it is too well for him that he should have the
return trip to Tasmania for nothing, and make some chain-gang miserable
for life. Bah! you Thoms, why did I not kick you oftener? _Mon Dieu!_
how blind we are."

"I scarcely suppose you are really in earnest with such a proposition,"
said Margaret, fixing her clear eyes incredulously upon him, "so I shall
proceed with my plans. I hope you will not object to my letting this
strange communication which you have made be fully known to the
executors, and putting myself wholly under their protection through all
my movements? My life has been so cruelly attempted, that, though I have
no misgivings with regard to you"--she smiled kindly upon her good
fairy--"I have been taught too severe a lesson to desire acting without
the express protection of my guardians, Mr. Davenport and Dr. Gay."

"Confide everything to your guardians, mademoiselle," rejoined the
chevalier, with a flourish of his hands outward, as if he was bailing
his heart dry, "and have them both with you if you wish--only do not
exclude me from the dear privilege of standing beside to see the
hand-grip of reconciliation, and to bless at the proper moment, and to
be the good _sorcier_."

"You shall accompany me," said Margaret, with bright tears in her eyes,
"and perhaps you shall see the reconciliation."

"By gar! you are von angel. Now, my satisfaction would be superb if you
would but wait until that leetle game was played out with Monsieur
Handcuff, and that I should stand by him at the proper moment to see the
noose grip, and the drop, and the juggling trick which turns a villain
into a human tassel. Hah!"--rubbing his hand with relish--"I think I see
him, the dog!"

"You will go to Mr. Seamore Emersham, who is counsel for the prosecution
against Mortlake and tell him, first, that the man has been arrested as
a runaway convict; second that his attempt to murder Colonel Brand has
proved a failure, and that Colonel Brand is now at New York. Then invite
him up to the castle this evening, where you and he will meet the
executors, and a consultation can be held upon the subject."

The chevalier seeing that the young lady was quite deaf to his rather
swindling plan of vengeance on Mortlake, smothered his inclinations as
if they had been expressed in joke, and agreed to her arrangements; and
after a very cordial interview they parted.

In due time the executors were put in possession of Calembour's story,
and, made wiser by former mistakes, they gave no signs of incredulity to
the florid narrator's wildest flight by which to enhance the value of
his services, but treated him as a gentleman; and even agreed in the
readiest manner to reward his kindness by the gift of a thousand pounds,
as soon as they should obtain St. Udo Brand's consent.

As this involved the speedy unearthing of that heroic treasure, the
chevalier became proportionally eager for them to start on their journey
of recovery.

Mr. Emersham, with almost a hideous knowledge of how deceitful and
desperately wicked the human heart can be, refused to give up his case
against Roland Mortlake for the murder of St. Udo Brand, until it was
proved beyond all doubt that the latter still lived.

One part of the chevalier's story was found to be quite true, namely,
the fact of Roland Mortlake's arrest as a runaway convict, at
Canterbury; and presently the rest of his story began to crop out in the
general press, and became the theme of conversation at every fireside
throughout the country; and the glad _furor_ that got up among the
tenants of Seven-Oak Waaste, and the farmers, and the resident gentry,
and the houses of rank, sounded in the ears of Margaret Walsingham, and
became to her sweet as music.

A fortnight after the chevalier's first appearance at the castle, Miss
Walsingham, accompanied by Davenport and the Frenchman, took passage at
Liverpool for New York.



CHAPTER XXVI.

UNEXPECTED MEETING.


Margaret Walsingham kept her own state-room so exclusively that the
passengers, many of whom had heard of the heroine of Castle Brand, had
no opportunity of meeting her; and to all their overtures she responded
with the same timid reserve, until it became a sort of ambition with the
ladies to become the friends of so retiring a creature.

Her state-room became a morning resort of such of the fair dames as were
impervious to sea-sickness; all kind, officious, and eager to be
considered her intimates.

They found nothing very singular, however, in the quiet, sweet-faced
girl to furnish an index of that bravery of which she had become
celebrated, but they all agreed that they felt more charmed by her
modesty and gentleness of demeanor than if she had the dash of an
Amazonian queen.

There was one young lady who came in frequently with a talkative old
dowager, and was wont to regard Margaret with keen but silent interest.

This young person, who was called "Dora dear," by old Mrs. de Courcy,
and "Lady Dora," by the other ladies, was a peculiarly blooming,
black-haired young damsel, whose eyes black as sloes, examined Margaret
for several interviews with an eager and scarcely friendly scrutiny. But
in the fourth visit Lady Dora threw off her reserve, and constituted
herself Margaret's chosen friend.

The day before their arrival at New York she came into Margaret's room,
and calmly shut the door as a hint to the stream of ladies who were
following her down the narrow passage.

"There, that's done!" she said laughing genially, "and now maybe I'll be
having you all to myself for a while without even a gossiping prig to be
the wiser of what we say. So now, Miss Walsingham dear, give me room on
the sofa there beside you, and well have a snug little chat together."

Margaret looked up at the pleasant, honest face, and made room as
requested.

"Of course you don't know what this friendly move of mine is meaning at
all. I'm an embassy from----no, that's wrong end first. There's a young
man on board the steamer who is desperately in love with you, and, poor
fellow, he's so worn to skin and bone about you that just to keep the
body and soul of him together I've come to plead his case.

"He says to tell you that it's not unmanly of him to hanker after you
now, seeing that circumstances have thrown you together without any of
his seeking, and it looks as if this thing was foreordained to be. I'm
afraid you'll say you're not, but don't if there's the ghost of a chance
when I ask you--are you open to offers?"

"What does all this mean?" inquired Margaret, whose hands were being
vehemently squeezed and patted by her Irish friend; "I have not even
seen any gentleman since I came on board except my friend Mr. Davenport,
and one occasion Colonel Calembours, who certainly did not appear to be
reduced by any visible passion."

"Pooh! little beast, he's gambling all the time. No, it's not he; it's a
brother of mine--there I've let the cat out of the bag, and I wasn't to
do it. We'll drop that and begin at the other end. I understand all
about your position in the Brand will, and I know exactly that you want
to do the thing that's generous, and I hear that you are on your way to
lay the whole of the fortune that you've been named heir for at the feet
of St. Udo Brand, and then you'll turn round and earn your bread. Now, I
say that that isn't the fate for a woman like you, and I'm here to tell
this message. Give every spick and span of the property to Colonel Brand
and then put these two dear hands in the outstretched hands of this
lover of yours, and say you will be his since he loves you still--that's
the message."

The warm-hearted girl threw her arms round Margaret and hugged her with
equal strength and warmth.

"Who is this generous man?" asked Margaret, much touched.

"Wait until I set his excellencies fair and square before you. In the
first place he's as steady a boy as ever put foot to ground, which
nobody ever said of St. Udo Brand."

"Why compare him with St. Udo Brand?" asked Margaret, with a sudden
flush overspreading her cheeks, vivid as carmine.

"Sure and is it St. Udo Brand I would compare with the likes of him!"
exclaimed Lady Dora scornfully, "and is it you, mavourneen, that I see
with the blush of shame on account of him? You don't mean to be so
insane as to marry him, Miss Walsingham, darling?"

"I don't expect to marry him," answered Margaret, gravely.

"He's not worthy of you," cried Lady Dora, holding her off at arm's
length and looking at her with dubious eyes. "I'll grant that he was a
gallant soldier and a handsome man but he's old in sin, and it's not for
you, my white dove, to nestle in the vulture's nest, and you won't--you
won't!" snatching her to her bosom and straining her close.

"I will hear nothing against St. Udo Brand," said Margaret, withdrawing
herself and standing erect so that the generous fire in her face and
voice invested her splendid figure with a dignity most queen-like; "I
cannot expect the world to believe in the true nobility of his
character, but I know it. Desperate he may have been--reckless,
scorning, but the crisis of his sinning has passed, and the man is noble
still; and Heaven will bless immeasurably the woman who marries him."

She clasped her hands in her generous excitement, and stood, a
resistless and passionate conqueror, confessing the greatness of her
forgiveness for the first time.

"Faith, I see how it is that you haven't a thought for poor Alfred,"
sighed Lady Dora, looking at her with tears in her bright black eyes;
"because of the fellow's misfortunes and on account of keeping his
castle for him from another impostor who was worse than himself, you
have fallen in love with St. Udo Brand in spite of his evil reputation."

"I would give up anything--my life--to make amends to Colonel Brand for
the misfortunes I have brought upon him," said Margaret, with burning
cheeks and distressed eyes, "but I never expect, or wish him to prize my
love. I owe him much, for being the marplot of his life"--she paused,
and the tears rolled sadly down her cheeks--"but I never dreamed--not
once, that he would care for my love!"

"A better man cares for your love then," retorted Lady Dora, "and it's
not throwing yourself away you would be if you gave it. Now, Miss
Walsingham, darling, won't you take a friend's advice and wear a ducal
coronet? Won't you have me for a sister?"

"Your brother does me too much honor to propose such a thing," returned
Margaret, simply.

"Not a bit of it! I'll tell you candidly I thought so myself at first,
and that's why I was so long in making up to you, for a simpleton as I
was, and poor Alfred tearing at me every day. But I couldn't help liking
you at the last, mavourneen, and I'd be the happiest woman in the three
kingdoms to call you the Duchess of Piermont, and--there, it's out!"

Margaret gazed in considerable surprise at her enthusiastic friend.

"I had not heard that the Duke of Piermont had a sister," she faltered;
"I am altogether astonished that you should advocate such a union--of
course you are aware that I have not a drop of noble blood in my veins."

"Alfred says you have?" rejoined the lady, laughing enjoyably at her
evident astonishment; "he has told me as often as there are legs on a
centipede that you're the noblest woman he ever met in all his born
days. And you must know that Alfred is a boy of penetration; he has been
years on years traveling and doing every London season, (he's got rid of
his Irish tongue entirely--more shame to him)! and he has had plenty to
choose from. And I'm quite willing to take his taste in the matter of
the duchess of our house, dear, so you can't ever fling up to me that I
didn't welcome you body and bones, mavourneen."

"Is his grace on board then?"

"Yes. The boy has been in shockingly low spirits for some time, and I
made him shut up bonny Glenfarron House, and take me out to America for
a tour; and sure I found that we had left the old sod and its troubles,
to accompany the trouble across the water. We hadn't been a day on board
until he was thrown into lockjaw, or fits, by that little vision of a
Chevalier, or whatever they call him, jabbering about Miss Walsingham;
and since then it's a queer life I've led walking the deck, under the
stars, with him, for all the world as if he was my lover, only that his
talk's about you. I'll tell you what it is, Miss Margaret, darling! he's
bound to you, body and soul, and I'll think it a burning shame if you
turn from him to any other man that breathes."

"I thank you both for this generous proposal," murmured Margaret. "But
what I told him before, I can only repeat now--our paths lie in
different directions, and cannot be brought together. Let him keep to
his higher station, as I intend to keep to my lower one."

"A fig for all the stations in Christendom! The boy doesn't care _that_
for them," snapping her fingers. "He wouldn't look at Lady Juliana
Ducie, although she was as good as offered to him by the old marquis two
or three times. But Alfred is a boy of old-fashioned notions, and won't
look at a pretty face, though backed by lands and titles, that can't
show him something better than that. Faith! I thought the boy was
demented when he told me that the lovely Juliana Ducie, that everybody
was so pleased at, was a 'false-tongued, smooth-faced hypocrite, who
would ruin her best friend for her own advantage.' I was sure enough
he'd have to eat his own words some time, but sure, now, what will ye
say to hear that he was right?

"Didn't the minx, thinking the impostor who went to Seven-Oak was the
colonel, try to renew her engagement, and did it, too. And didn't the
old marquis come home from yachting, at Southampton, to find my lady in
receipt of a letter from the jail-bird, which he insisted on seeing, as
she was in hysterics over it? And wasn't my fine gentleman bidding his
'dear little Julie' good-by, as circumstances over which he had no
control--an unavoidable engagement--had sent him to the Canterbury jail
for a season. And if she still entertained the idea of an elopement,
would she meet him on board the convict-ship which took him back to
Tasmania? Or, failing that, had she any objections to come and see his
hanging, which was the only entertainment of a public character he could
ever hope to afford her?'

"Fancy my dainty lady's feelings at getting a letter like that! And from
the man whom she was so anxious to marry! Why, everybody's laughing at
her folly; and her father is so angry that he has carried her off to
Hautville Park for the rest of the winter, to hide her until he is less
ashamed of her.

"Now, don't you see how penetrating Alfred was, to find her shallowness
out when she was trying her best to captivate him? He's the best brother
in the world--the wisest and the kindest; and I wish you agreed with me,
my darling, and would send me to the poor, quaking fellow with the word
he longs to hear."

"He deserves the love of a good wife," answered Margaret, with tears in
her eyes. "But, dear Lady Dora, indeed I cannot marry him. Had all other
things been equal, I do not love him as well as he ought to be loved."

"That's enough, then," rejoined Lady Dora, rising wrathfully; "and if
it's for the reason that ye've stated ye find it in your heart to be so
hard, I'll not be grieving for me boy's sake, but for your own, with
what's before ye, whether ye know it or not, with a man that'll find a
way to break your heart for ye, hard as it is."

Having finished with some tearful quaverings, she rushed out of the
state-room, and the conference was at an end.

Poor Margaret, with her usual humility felt much distressed at this
unexpected episode, and cast about anxiously in her mind how she could
best soothe the wounded feelings of the young duke and his warm-hearted
sister. But she did not meet them until the next day, as they were
steaming up the Narrows within sight of New York.

While Margaret, with Davenport by her side, stood on the crowded
quarter-deck, gazing at the beautiful city which was now the shrine of
her devotion, the Duke of Piermont stood not far away among the throng
of passengers, gazing, with his yearning love plainly speaking in his
eyes, at the woman who had decreed to him his fate.

He did not attempt to come near her, nor did he yield to the wrathful
twitch of Lady Dora, who wished to keep him away from such a
stony-hearted enslaver; but, with envious looks, watched the changes
come and go on that face, which seemed to him purer and more lofty than
he had ever beheld on earth.

"_Sacre!_" rasped Calembours, touching Davenport's elbow. "There is a
man who must be, as you call it, 'smashed,' by your ward. They say he is
the young duke, _par dieu_. I hope he will not be the _fiance_ of
mademoiselle, instead of my _camarade_."

The next moment Margaret, glancing for a moment that way, saw his grace,
and started forward, with a frank look of pleasure beaming in her eyes.

"I would have regretted deeply missing this pleasure," she said, meeting
the brother and sister half way. "You have both been so kind to me--so
kind!"--with a look of deep and gentle gratitude toward his grace--"that
I can scarcely express my sense and appreciation of it."

A mortal pallor had overspread the young man's face. His hand trembled
as it touched hers, and his tongue trembled, too, when he essayed to
speak.

"I would have known Miss Walsingham among a thousand, and yet illness
and trials have robbed her even of the delicate roses she possessed.
I--I think she is more frail than, perhaps, she is apt to imagine."

"Your grace is considerably changed, too. Have you been ill?"

He turned and looked imploringly at his sister, who was wringing
Margaret's hand, and patting it in a very ardent manner.

"You don't deserve me to speak to you," said Lady Dora, in a vehement
_sotto voce_. "So I'll be looking for my opera-glass down below, while
you have a chat with the boy."

Away she tripped with all haste, leaving Margaret standing silent by the
side of her admirer.

"Will you honor me with a word or two?" faltered his grace. "Perhaps you
will not object to walking with me where there is less of a crowd."

"I pray you not to enter again upon a subject which I thought was at an
end," murmured Margaret, reluctantly pacing the long deck with him,
followed by the chevalier's jealous eyes.

"Circumstances have thrown us together again so strangely," returned the
young man, leaning in a dejected attitude across the taffrail, "that I
could not resist the hope that entered my mind of being more successful
this time. You wished me not to seek you out, and I have been firm in
obeying you, hard as it was to avoid your vicinity while all these
extraordinary trials were besetting you. Oh, Miss Walsingham, how I have
longed to take you away from the miserable position in which that will
has plunged you, and to guard you with my name and love from what you
have suffered! But I did not seek you because you had exacted from me a
promise to leave you unmolested. But, now, has not heaven thrown us
together in the most marked manner by sending us three thousand miles
across the sea in the same steamer? It seems as if we were destined for
each other, does it not? And that Providence is pointing out, for the
second time, the path we ought to pursue?"

"There is one obstacle to your grace's rather superstitious fancy,"
rejoined Margaret, "one which Providence is not likely to overlook. I do
not entertain for your grace that regard which Heaven has decreed should
be between husband and wife, and if Lady Dora has rightly reported our
interview of yesterday, you know that such a regard is out of the
question."

Piermont bowed his head on his hands and bore his disappointment in
silence.

"I am glad that I have had this opportunity," resumed Margaret, in a
gentle voice, "of thanking you again for the generous love you offer
me--a love which the noblest lady would be richly honored in receiving,
and though I must refuse it, it is with a keen appreciation of its
value. I shall always remember your grace with gratitude--ay, with
affectionate solicitude, and your whole-souled sister also."

"I wish you every happiness," muttered the young man, lifting his
haggard face and trying to smile; "and may your love be placed upon a
man worthy to receive it. But, beloved Miss Walsingham, if ever
circumstances throw you free and untrammeled upon the world, and if you
can send one thought of affection to me, give me a chance to try my fate
a third time."

He pressed her hand for a moment to his fond and foolish heart, which
was throbbing like to burst for the simple girl before him, and then he
went away.

"By gar!" ejaculated the chevalier, plucking Davenport's sleeve, "the
_tete-a-tete_ has broken its neck off short--so, in the middle. Here
comes a man all ready for a dose of prussic acid, or a duel with his
rival. Bravo, mademoiselle! You are one trump to stick to the colonel,
and to send the coronet away. And there is the _charmante_ demoiselle
with the black eyes; see how she does pounce upon our duke and walk him
away. Aha, you don't like it, _miladi_, do you? Would you not love to
pull the eyes out of Mademoiselle Marguerite with those pretty _leetle_
nails?"



CHAPTER XXVII.

A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.


Arrived in New York, the three travelers speedily were located in a
hotel, and the chevalier proposed going to the military hospital in
which he left Colonel Brand, for news of him.

"There will not be the shadow of a doubt, my dear mademoiselle," said
the sanguine little man, "that our hero is still in the same domicile,
convalescing, we shall say, by this time, but still unable to resume his
deeds of valor, as six weeks only have passed since I parted from him."

But Margaret by this time was in such a state of excitement and
suspense, that they decided that all three should repair to the hospital
with as little delay as possible.

Dashing rapidly through the snow-beaten streets, they paused at last
before a stately building, and Margaret lifted her famished eyes in a
long, a yearning gaze, from window to window, as if, perchance, she
might see the man whose face had never beamed upon her the smile of
kindness.

She sat immovable while Davenport and Calembours were in the hospital,
and her heart rose in the wild triumph of conviction that he was there,
they staid so long.

When they reappeared Margaret clutched her hands tightly, and waited
until they should come close--something had happened; the chevalier
never wore a grave face when a smiling one would do better.

"Do not tell me," gasped Margaret, with white lips, "do not tell me that
he is dead!"

"No, no, _m'amie_, it is not so bad as that; but it is almost as bad. He
has gone away from the hospital a week ago, recruited they say, but not
quite; and whither he has gone, not one of the doctors or attendants can
tell, with their skulls empty as their own skeletons."

Margaret set her teeth hard, that she should utter no cry, and sank back
in her seat. All the light of tenderness died out of her eyes; all the
bloom of hope faded from her cheeks; a pitiful grayish pallor deadened
the brilliance which joy had lent to her; the pale, fixed look of
melancholy stole into her eyes and hardened her mouth.

It came to her with a dull sense of conviction that this thing was not
to be; that she was never to install St. Udo Brand within his rights;
that she was truly the Marplot who had ruined him. They would meet never
more on the golden sands of time, that she might point to him the better
way, and be his joy. Oh! vain dream, and harshly wakened from.

She uttered not a word, but turned from her now silent companions, and
covered her face.

When they reached the hotel Margaret retired to her room, and the lawyer
and the illustrious chevalier commenced a systematic search for the
English colonel, which, to judge from its success, seemed likely to last
forever.

And poor Margaret wore the days away in sick dismay over her suddenly
clouded fairy-dream; and her strange face grew thinner, sharper, more
unearthly in its transparency than ever; and her superb form passing so
often drearily to and fro in the walled-up hotel garden among the
snow-laden shrubs and trees, arrested many a curious eye at the hotel
windows to dwell upon the lonely British lady, with compassionate
interest.

Some weeks after their arrival, Margaret noted a new face at the hotel
table.

Not that new faces were much of a novelty in that everchanging scene,
but the face of this woman was so attractive that every eye round the
lunch-table fastened on her as she sauntered in, dressed in a driving
habit, and seated herself _vis a vis_ to Margaret.

"_Mon Dieu!_ that's a fine creature!" muttered the chevalier in his
beard; "what a glorious head she has--by gar!"

"Humph," grumbled Davenport, at Margaret's other side; "bad egg."

Margaret met the full gaze of a pair of fascinating eyes, green-tinged,
and yet chameleon-like, changing with every ripple of the soul from
green to flashing black, or tender gray, or handsome brown.

The small and well-shaped head which had awakened such rapturous
admiration from the chevalier, was poised delicately upon a neck round
and white and bending as a swan's. The hair, a light, gold-brown, shone
sometimes molten in the sunlight, sometimes flaxen. It seemed to possess
the chameleon-powers of the eyes, and took to itself all shapes and
tinges, as the bird-like creature flashed a look from side to side; and
one long snake-like tress floated carelessly beneath her vail down her
back, and was suffered to ripple and twist itself into tiny ringlets, or
waves, or coils, just as its willful nature impelled it.

Margaret looked once and fully into the beautiful stranger's face, and
she was forced to admit to herself that with all her fascinating
blithesomeness and would-be innocence and frankness--she did not like
it.

"She hides a history!" was her conclusion.

But the chevalier seemed actually entranced; he bowed profoundly, the
instant their eyes met, and listened with eagerness to every low-toned
direction she gave to the waiter, and with great gallantry passed
whatever she required over to her, for which attention the fair woman
only bowed with the most distant, though the prettiest air imaginable.

She often looked at Margaret, however, as if anxious to make her out,
and paused in her dainty nibbling whenever Davenport spoke to his ward,
with her ear bent to catch the reply; and at the last she contrived to
meet Margaret's eyes, and to smile in a sweet, engaging manner, as if
she longed to make her acquaintance; and Margaret, without in the least
knowing why, crimsoned and dropped her eyes instead of responding to the
overture.

The lady did not finish her lobster-salad, but soon rose and swept to
the door, which the gallant chevalier sprang to open.

Scarcely acknowledging his politeness, she cast a glance over her
shoulder at Margaret which haunted her all the afternoon.

It seemed to say as plainly as if the lady had spoken it:

"You do not like me, but I am determined to win you over in spite of
yourself."

And in spite of herself, her thoughts wandered toward the lovely
stranger for hours, and she grew quite impatient for the dinner hour to
arrive, that she might see her again.

When it came, Mr. Davenport being absent, receiving or sending some
telegrams to a village near the seat of war, in which there seemed some
reason to believe the missing colonel was with a detachment of
Vermonters, the chevalier, with great politeness, appeared at Margaret's
door to escort her to the dining-room.

Poor Margaret was by this time so inured to petty and daily
disappointments, that when her friends returned at night rarely asked
what success they had had in their search, though she clung with a fond
belief to the chevalier's often vaunted integrity, and would not allow
the lawyer's suspicions to enter her mind.

"Did you notice the pretty madam, your _vis-a-vis_ at _dejeuner_?" asked
Calembours, as they descended together.

"Oh, yes, I have been thinking of her all the afternoon."

"_Ma foi!_ and so have I! General Legrange, who knows everybody, tells
me she is Madame Hesslein, a young widow, whose husband was
Plenipotentiary from the French Court to Austria; and I have been
fortunate enough to find out also that she is a Frenchwoman--by gar! she
is a Venus di Medicis! Ah!" roughly aspirated monsieur, and became
silent with admiration.

There under the blazing gasalier, whose strong light might have brought
into too bold relief the imperfections of other women, sat the fair
stranger, serenely pecking at her viands, and seemingly unconscious of
the general sensation which her beauty created, in fact, so absorbed in
thought that she paid no heed to anything outside of the small circle
formed by her own plate.

She was dressed in a dark green velvet evening dress, whose white lace
bertha was carelessly pinned with a magnificent solitaire.

Her hair was combed out like a fleecy vail down her back, and glittered
with diamond powder until it resembled the gorgeous plumage of a
tropical bird.

She formed so bright a center to the room that every eye instinctively
wandered that way to admire her glittering clothing and fascinating
face; and yet again, Margaret took her seat opposite with some uneasy
feeling weighing upon her now which had weighed upon her before.

Almost immediately the extraordinary green orbs were lifted from their
meditative study, and Madame Hesslein bowed her recognition, and smiled
with honeyed sweetness.

"She has some special purpose in making my acquaintance!" thought
Margaret.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

NEWS OF ST. UDO BRAND.


Dinner over, the ladies scattered, some to their rooms, some to go
walking--Margaret and Madame Hesslein simultaneously entered the
drawing-room. They turned to each other, the glittering bird of
Paradise, and the gentle ring-dove, with a resistless impulse of
attraction, and each examined the other keenly.

"You are Miss Margaret Walsingham, a celebrity, even in America," quoth
madame, blandly. "Your colonel was much talked of here for his bravery.
I am quite delighted to meet the woman who has fought so spiritedly for
the colonel's rights."

Margaret gazed earnestly at her; she was reading that artful simplicity
of madame with regret, and pitying the fine woman whom the world had
spoiled.

"Your praise is very disinterested, Madame Hesslein," returned she,
simply. "I thank you for it. I am very strange here, and can't tell what
the people say about my affairs. I had hoped that they knew nothing
about me."

"Pshaw! my good lady, you can't expect to pass through life with your
history and not excite remark," retorted Madame Hesslein, with a flirt
of the jeweled fan. "No heroine does, be she a good or a bad one. Men
must talk--give them something to talk about."

Margaret watched her spirited face with secret fascination.

"You are reading me," laughed madame, clanking her golden bracelet on
her dainty wrist. "You are wondering what a woman of the world like me
wants with a saint like yourself, are you not?"

"I am thinking that no doubt you have a purpose in view," said Margaret,
struck by the unlovely shrewdness of the lady's speech.

Madame Hesslein waved her dainty hands in graceful protest.

"Quite wrong, Miss Walsingham," she cried. "I have no purpose as yet,
save the pleasant one of studying a nature which I cannot imitate. I
have been celebrated in my day, but not as you; women are your
worshippers; women cry, 'Noble, generous creature!' Women only envied
me, and presumed to criticise; 'twas men who gave me homage."

"Don't jest, madame, upon my history; it may yet end in a tragedy!" said
Margaret.

"Ah, ah!" breathed madame, warningly, "you are one of those great
hearted, soft souled women who suffer affairs of the heart to trouble
them. Don't suffer affairs of the heart to trouble you. Griselda the
patient. When one hope dies, pursue another, and have a new one every
day. Ha! ha! Joliffe (my husband) used to say, 'Honoria sees no trouble,
for her heart is never at home to grant an interview.'"

"Your husband is dead?" asked Margaret, coldly.

"Yes, and no. Dead to me these five years, though. Fact is, Miss
Walsingham--don't feel horror-stricken--that Joliffe was intolerably
prosy; we had a quarrel, and I ran off. Why not? Since then we have got
comfortably divorced, and I can marry as soon as I like again. Joliffe
was so jealous. I must not drive to the general's, I must not walk with
a senator, I must eschew the military, and the best wits of the day are
military men. Horrors! I must devote myself to Joliffe, and he only on
the embassy at Washington."

Madame appealed impressively to the icy Margaret.

"General Legrange here declares that you are the widow of a
Plenipotentiary of the French Court!" she said.

"Does he indeed?" cried madame, with the gusto of habitual vanity. "Then
I sha'n't contradict him--don't you, Miss Walsingham. They must always
talk about me wherever I go. I am accustomed to it; I let them say what
they choose. I please myself, and the world gives me my way, I've been
North and South, East and West, and although I have seen trouble, I have
ever trodden over it; no woman has ever got into the wrong box so often
and come out of it to a higher grade; no woman has ever borne so much
scandal, and been popular in spite of it. I survive it all; I eat,
drink, make merry--am feasted, courted, and adored, and all because I
don't let affairs of the heart vex me. I don't mope, and muse, and turn
melancholy as you (a good creature, too), are doing."

The fine, small face of Madame Hesslein shone with wicked animation; her
thin, scarlet lips parted in two beauty curves with a string of pearls
between, with small, glittering head poised on one side, the gorgeous
parakeet studied the plain, tender creature before her, and laughed at
such a contrast.

"Do you know why I am here?" queried Margaret, tremulously.

Madame Hesslein smiled and nodded.

"All New York knows why the sombre English dame is here," she jibed,
"for your stupid lawyer has bored the city for news of your Colonel
Brand."

"Mr. Davenport only does his duty."

Madame grimaced charmingly.

"Duty!" she mocked. "Oh, Juggernaut of good people's lives, what
unwilling victims do ye crush beneath your wheels in your heavenward
march?"

"Have you been crushed?" asked Margaret, smiling.

"Oh, no; Mr. Davenport is too pompous to expect anything of a woman.
Stupid wretch!"

"Had you known St. Udo Brand," cried Margaret, blushing, "you could not
laugh at his destruction. He was bitterly proud, but he was true as
steel."

"Was he so?" breathed madam--and her green eyes grew black--"I should
have liked to meet him, then. I have yet to meet the man who is as true
as steel. Griselda, you are one who should win back a man--but, oh,
you'll never do it! never!"

A wild change swept over her fine face, her wondrous, globular eyes grew
deep and passionate, and her beautiful hands were clasped in covert
anguish.

"I pity your sad life, madame, if you have proved all false," said
Margaret, with feeling, "for there are good men on earth, I doubt not."

"The best die; the fairest, the most loved," said madame, faintly. "Miss
Walsingham, I had one son--ah!"--she shivered and closed her eye--"and
he died miserably. I loved him, I did love him, and he was my only
consolation for many years." She dashed her tears away and looked up
sternly. "You make me talk to you, with your soft, true face," she
exclaimed, bitterly, "and I must not talk. But mind, I have told you
nothing; you can't say that I have narrated any of my history to you."

"I had not thought of saying so," replied Margaret.

"Ah, you are a good soul, and I like you," murmured madame, patting
Margaret's hand with a touch like falling rose-leaves. "So sweet, so
heroic, so humble! You remind me of myself many years ago in old
Austria, when I was in love with--my destroyer!"

Her face hardened, her green eyes glimmered with the deadly light of
hate.

She turned off her momentary remorse with a heartless laugh, and rattled
her _collier_ of golden lockets.

"Each of these lockets," sneered madame, "contains a victim to my power
of fascination, [there were at least a dozen,] and the whole string of
them was presented to me by an old vice admiral who fell in love with me
at Barbadoes last winter, and escorted me to the Bermudas when I went
there. My good lady, that first foolish passion of mine has so destroyed
my powers of mercy that I love to torture mankind and madden them with
false expectations, if only I might be revenged."

The beautiful lips of the lady suddenly compressed with a cruel
expression, and looking up, Margaret beheld the Chevalier de Calembours
hurrying across the room to join them.

"The Chevalier de Calembours wishes to be presented to you," said
Margaret.

Those gleaming, chrysolite orbs flashed a full upward glare in the
chevalier's face. He recoiled, he changed color, and became strangely
silent.

"So glad to meet the chevalier," murmured madame, with an inimitable
elegance of manner.

Monsieur's face relaxed; he drew near her, dazzled as with the eye of a
rattlesnake.

"Incomparable madame, where have we met before?" inquired he, with soft
insinuation.

She honored him with a glance of astonishment and an artless smile.

"Indeed I cannot say, chevalier," she minced, "unless we've met in
dreams."

"Pardon the presumption, madame, _mon amie_," persisted the chevalier,
growing very pale, "but I think we are not strangers."

Another change swept over Madame Hesslein's ever-changeful face; all
resemblance of her late self disappeared, and a bold, brilliant, haughty
creature sat in her place, smiling with supercilious amusement at the
little Bohemian's blunder.

"I should indeed feel honored if monsieur would recall the circumstances
of our acquaintance," she said, blandly; "for I am frequently accosted
by strangers who vow that I am known to them, and who afterward discover
that my resemblance to the person they took me for was owing solely to
the Protean expression of my face. I can't help my face being like
twenty other people's in a breath, can I, Miss Walsingham? But I would
like to think that Chevalier Calembours had known me previously, for I
always have a warm side to Frenchmen for a special reason."

The chevalier was himself again: his doubts had fled, and he was
laughing at himself for his momentary illusion.

"Madame has explained the sweet hallucination," he said, hand on heart.
"We have not met except in dreams. Ah! that we had been friends in those
days of glory when I was the favorite of the Hungarian court, the Count
of Calembours, owner of diamond mines! _Mon Dieu!_ my homage was worthy
of its object then!"

Monsieur launched into his loftiest braggadocio, and madame listened
well, and drew him out with skill.

"So monsieur was born in Hungary?"

"In Hungary, madame."

"Have you seen the pretty river Theiss?"

"Hem! Yes, madame. I lived in Irzegedin."

"Ah!"--with a mocking smile--"the residences of the counts are
particularly magnificent in that city, are they not?"

"Madame is right. Madame must have been there."

"Oh, no, my dear chevalier, else I should have heard of Count
Calembours, without doubt. And Chevalier de Calembours left his princely
fortune behind when he came here to fight?"

"Madame is a good listener."

"Brave chevalier! but you will return to your estates?"

"Without doubt, madame, when I am weary of glory."

"Admirable man!" cried madame, with a silvery laugh. "What an enviable
lady your wife is."

"Dear friend, I have no wife," complacently.

"Is that credible? A young and handsome man without a wife? Oh,
chevalier!"

"My wife,"--with a frown--"my wife is gone long since."

"Alas! how sad. You must have been adored by her," breathed Madame
Hesslein.

"Ah, _pauvrette_, yes. She wearied me with that grand passion of hers."

Madame's smiling face hardened into a stone-mask, but her eyes seemed to
pulsate with smothered fire.

"Wearied monsieur, did she?" (with a threatening smile into his eyes).
"Silly, clumsy wretch!"

"No, no, madame," laughed the chevalier; "she was a pretty Venus, but
unsophisticated, unformed, somewhat vulgar."

"And your indifference broke her heart--she died for love of you?"
questioned madame, wickedly.

"No, no, madame," laughed the chevalier again. "She consoled herself.
She ran away with a cotton lord from Manchester, and I heard of her no
more."

"She was mad--she was a fool!" cried madame, blandly mischievous. "She
should have polished her dull luster, and recaptured the errant heart of
her noble chevalier. I should have done so."

"You, exquisite madame?" sighed the chevalier, _con amore_. "Ah, but my
wife was not clever like you, nor beautiful."

"She was only affectionate?" whispered madame.

"Only affectionate," and monsieur bowed.

Again their eyes met, hers streaming forth a bewildering fire, his
wistful and adoring, and though her words stung the Chevalier de
Calembours, the victim could not choose but hover close, and closer to
admire the serpentine grace of his tormentor.

Presently, becoming weary of the amusement, the siren sent him for a
chess-board, promising him a game of backgammon for reward, and turning
to Margaret, with a laugh of derision, her excitement burst forth.

"See how that man throws himself down to be trampled over by me," she
whispered, exultingly. "See how he licks the dust from my feet. Ah, if I
could only spurn him into ruin I would do it."

She thrust her lovely foot of Andalusian grace from out of its velvet
folds, and contemplated it with a smile.

"I am more beautiful than that creature who loved him long ago on the
banks of the Theiss, am I? Then by virtue of my beauty, I shall avenge
her cause, and my own. I shall humiliate our noble count."

She whispered it gayly to her sumptuous bracelets, turning and clanking
the golden shackle on her shapely wrist; but her fine, small face was
wild with malice.

"You hate my friend, the chevalier, with a strange perversity," remarked
the disapproving Margaret. "Doubtless that hapless woman was as much to
blame as he."

"Ah, was she?" breathed madame, turning pale. "I think he said that her
only fault was her passionate love, which his shallow soul wearied of.
Oh, Heaven! how cruel you can be! Her case, Miss Walsingham, is like my
own--how keenly I can understand such wrongs. Pshaw! I shall moralize no
more. I have long, long ago left these stormy waves behind, and now
float on a glassy sea, lit by rays of golden ambition. I have buried the
god of luckless youth, poor Cupid, and set upon his grave the god of the
Thirties--yellow-faced Pluto. My motto is, 'No heart and a good
digestion,' and taking heed to its warning, I expect to live, handsome
as a picture, to the age of old Madame Bellair, who

    "'Lived to the age of one hundred and ten;
    And died from a fall from a cherry-tree then.'"

The chevalier returning with the chess-board, madame and he enjoyed
several hours of their game, she played more games than that of
backgammon, although all her faculties seemed to be concentrated in
winning the chevalier's golden dollars from him, which she did with
marvelous relish, and keeping her accounts, which she did with marvelous
precision.

She ended her game of backgammon by transferring the last piece in the
charmed chevalier's purse to her own, and she ended the game of hearts
by dropping the net of bewilderment completely over poor Calembours, and
then she thought of tightening the cord.

"Poor Miss Walsingham!" said madame, with a rippling laugh of wicked
glee; "I shall chase away that look of stern dislike which has settled
upon your face ever since you discovered that I added gambling to my
other sins--I shall make you like me in spite of yourself. Come,
chevalier, turn my music."

She strolled gracefully down the long drawing-room, attended by the
elated chevalier, who had never been so happy in his life, and, followed
by the wondering and admiring eyes of a score of both sexes, took her
seat at the piano.

But Margaret turned her back, and shut her heart against the bold and
erring creature, whose beauty was but the fatal bewitchment of clever
wickedness, whose spasms of grief were the last expiring gleams of a
better nature which she sedulously quenched.

Madame played some air, fairy nonsense, that her little hands might
glamour the rapt chevalier in their bird-like glancings here and there;
and then, with a defiant glance over her shoulder at cold Margaret
Walsingham, she stole into a theme with sentiment, with soul in every
chord.

Ah, those strains of tender sadness! how they rose and fell in
persistent plaint! how they mourned, and whispered of hope, mourned
again in homeless accents! Then these waves of stronger passion--how
they surged from grief to fury! how they gushed from beneath the
glancing hands in menacing strains and conquering thunder!

It was as if a Frederic Chopin sat before the keys, instead of that
small Circe.

Then these songs, so wild, so caroling, so purely joyous--could Sappho
sing more burningly of happiness and love?

Margaret forgot her chill disdain of the perverted nature, forgot her
own heart-trouble, even forgot St. Udo Brand in her trance of
ravishment; and unconscious that she did so, rose and stood beside the
wondrous St. Cecilia.

Madame raised her mock-simple eyes--they were not disappointed--Margaret
was bending over her with a fascinated face, and the chevalier was
wrapped in his study of the fair musician.

"Thanks for that act of homage," said Madame Hesslein, gravely, to
Margaret; then dropping her tones, and rising, "I thought I could make
you like me. I came here, to this hotel, to make you like me, because I
had something pleasant to tell you; and I never do a favor for any one
who presumes to criticise me unfavorable. Griselda, patient soul, come
to my room, and we shall talk."

She drew the astonished Margaret's hand within her arm, gave a majestic
bow to the flushed chevalier, and led the unresisting girl out of the
drawing-room to her own luxurious apartments.

"Now, my good lady," observed Madame Hesslein, airily. "I have conceived
something like appreciation of your humdrum goodness, and since I see a
good deal of intellect at the back of it, I am disposed to do you a good
turn, hoping that, charity-like, it may cover a multitude of my sins."

"What is it that you have to communicate?" asked Margaret, earnestly.
"How can it be that you, a stranger have become acquainted with my
concerns?"

"Pshaw! English exclusiveness again!" mocked madame. "But I do know
somewhat of your affairs, gentle Griselda. For instance, I hear that you
are searching for Colonel Brand, that you may make over your fortune to
him. Margaret Walsingham, how can you be so foolish?"

"Madame, I only do my duty."

"Ugh! You horrify me with your crucifixion of the flesh, you devotee of
Duty."

"Colonel Brand is worth sacrificing life itself for," said Margaret,
with glowing eyes.

Madame watched her with sudden interest.

"Ah! I thought so," murmured she, sadly; "You care for this man--you
love him."

"Madame!" deprecated timid Margaret, coldly.

"Yes, I see it. Poor creature, you should not love anything, do you know
that, said madame, pityingly.

"You are right," replied Margaret, with a meek, quiet despair. "My plain
face and manner will never win me love."

Madame Hesslein looked at her with a curious smile--at the spiritual
face, the soulful eyes, the tall, magnificent figure--and she patted
Margaret's hand with dainty tenderness.

"Your humility is very prettily done," said she, "and would really look
well on myself, for I have none of it. But you mistake me; I meant that
since love is eternally being met with treachery, why do you waste it,
and especially upon such a poor _parti_ as a colonel? Heavens! she
troubles her digestion about a colonel! Why are you not more ambitious?
If I were you, I wouldn't look below a major-general. I don't intend to
give myself to any man who can't give me a lift in life. I am going to
marry Vice-Admiral Oldright, who followed me to the Bermudas. I have
worked hard to entrap him, and I have succeeded, I crossed the Atlantic
five times for his sake, and I mean to get him; because when he is an
admiral, and I am his wife, I shall take precedence of all other women
in my circle."

"Ambition is not worth a true woman's pursuit," said Margaret.

"Well said, St. Griselda--such an apothegm deserves applause. Ah, well,
Miss Walsingham, perhaps you are right, but you are not wise. You will
stick to your colonel in spite of my advice? You will give him your
fortune, and live on your wits in future? Poor creature! However I will
not reproach you; for, as St. Chrysostom wrote to Pentadia, 'I know your
great and lofty soul, which can sail, as with a fair wind through many
tempests, and in the midst of the waves enjoy a white calm.' You will
depart on your Utopian enterprise, contented with the white calm of an
approving conscience in the midst of the waves of starvation. Men are
such beasts, they prefer the bold and grasping Kestral like myself to
rewarding the fidelity of a ring-dove like Miss Walsingham."

Margaret was gazing breathlessly in the brilliant, heartless woman's
face, and her voice faltered, as she asked:

"Can you send me on that enterprise? Do you bring me news of Colonel
Brand?"

And madame, with a glance of pity in the passionate eyes, replied:

"Yes, I can. When at Key West, a month ago, I saw Colonel Brand driving
out with a friend. Does that please you?"

Margaret's face was quivering with joy--with a noble triumph; she turned
it from those scoffing eyes, and whispered a quiet "Thank God!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

FOUND AT LAST.


Three days afterward a steamer was entering the harbor of Key West.

Margaret Walsingham, Madame Hesslein, Mr. Davenport, and the Chevalier
de Calembours stood on deck, watching the fair white city grow larger,
and breathing the lambent air, which brought upon its wings the perfume
of wild roses, orange-trees, and tropic herbs, although the month was
yet February.

Madame Hesslein had come, she told Margaret, to meet her husband at Key
West; but if that were so, she chose a singular method to prepare her
mind for the gentle thrill of matrimony.

She was drawing the meshes of her secret net slowly round the unwary
chevalier, even as yon secret reef enclasped the beautiful isles of
summer, and lay in wait to wreck the unsuspicious ship that might carry
future cheer to the prisoner.

Her witchery, her diablerie was maddening the little man; his customary
caution had forsaken him, his intuitive presence of danger was
unheeded--he loved the splendid siren.

The steamer anchored mid-stream, and waited for the usual fleet of
little boats to dart out from the city and to carry the passengers
ashore--not a sign of life appeared.

At last a signal-gun was fired in answer to their salute; and what was
that tiny, fluttering beacon which mounted to a tall flagstaff in the
dock-yard?

The captain gazing through his glass, grew suddenly silent; his face
fell. The passengers, curiously watching the limp, yellow rag, wondered
much what it might presage.

Presently tiny boat shot out from the cedar-fringed shore, with one man
at the oars--a painted toy which moved upon the glassy water like a tiny
bird and the man climbed aboard.

He was tall, and lank, and yellow-faced; his limbs trembled as he
followed the captain to the cabin, and he shunned the passengers with
half-fearful looks when they would have questioned him.

In three minutes the captain and the stranger emerged from the cabin,
and the passengers pressed forward to hear what catastrophe had befallen
the city.

"We must just right-about face, and get back to New York," said the
captain, ominously. "Not a soul can go ashore."

"What's up?" asked the gentlemen.

"Is it the _plague_?" whispered the ladies.

"Yellow fever," said the captain; "the whole city is raging, half the
people are escaped to the main land, and the other half are dying."

Madame Hesslein's small, eager face grew pale; the chevalier burst into
a heartfelt imprecation, and Mr. Davenport clutched the white Margaret's
hand with a shocked, "Heaven preserve us!"

But she tore her hand away, and ran to the gaunt stranger, who had
brought such dire news.

"I am going ashore with you," she said.

He looked at her wild face, and shrank from her touch; he hurried to the
stern to gain the boat.

"Don't come nigh," whispered he. "I've had it."

But she seized his arm and clung to him; she would not let him go.

Murmurs rose from her fellow-passengers; Mr. Davenport's eyes threatened
to start from their sockets; but the captain interfered.

"No soul can leave the steamer," said he, resolutely.

"I must go!" returned Margaret, in a frantic voice.

"Miss Walsingham, you can't go," said the captain, sternly. "You would
only fall a victim; and mind, I couldn't take you aboard again to carry
the infection here."

"I won't come back!" she cried; "but I must go."

"Miss Margaret, I beg of you not to throw your precious life away,"
entreated Mr. Davenport next. "You can't find the colonel just now; most
likely he's gone, poor fellow."

"God forbid!" ejaculated she, raising her passionate eyes to heaven.
"Surely I am not so wretched as that. Ah, sir, don't listen to them,"
she implored the man. "I will give you any money to put me ashore. There
is a gentleman in Key West who may be dying for help, and he is a
stranger there."

"Did you ever hear of a fellow called Brand being here?" demanded the
lawyer, suspiciously.

"Oh, yes," smiled the man. "I know him well."

"Is he here?" whispered Margaret, looking piteously up at him.

"Yes, he is, at least he was three days ago, for he was nursing me, and
left me last Tuesday. I am just getting about again, and haven't been in
the town yet."

"There, do you hear that?" cried Margaret, turning to the lawyer with a
wild smile. "Kind as ever, noble as ever. Surely you believe now that we
have found him?"

"Yes," groaned Mr. Davenport; "but three days make a difference. He may
be dead now."

"I will find him, and see," said Margaret.

"The woman's mad," blustered the captain, and left her to her fate.

"Nobody escapes, Miss," said the stranger, warningly.

She never listened. She wrapped her cloak about her, and brought her
travelling-bag from her saloon.

"Good-by, Madame Hesslein."

She held out her steady hand, the calm light of heroism in her eyes; and
madame, trembling and beseeching, saw that there was no remedy, and wept
a last "Farewell, Miss Walsingham."

She held out her hand to the little chevalier, who cast an agitated
glance from mademoiselle to madame, and swore that it tore his
heart-strings to part from either, but that vile fortune had decreed
that he was not to see "the hand clasp" and the "happy hour," and kissed
her hands in adieu.

And then she offered her cold hand to Davenport, who kept it close, and
walked with her to where the little boat lay.

"You must not blame me if I never return," said she, eagerly, as he bent
to button her cloak for her. "You know that it is my place to care for
St. Udo for his grandmother's sake. You will wait in New York for news
of me, won't you?"

Mr. Davenport took her in his arms and handed her into the boat, and
swung himself after her.

"Think I'd send you off alone, Miss Margaret?" asked he, with glistening
eyes. "By gad, you must think meanly of me."

For the first time her resolution was shaken; she looked at him
doubtfully.

"Go back! go back!" she cried, beseechingly. "You must not peril your
life for ours."

The old man shook his head and sat down in the thwarts, and the boatman
rowed away.

So they went to meet the peril which was worse than the battle-field;
and the crew on the deck of the steamer gave them a cheer of admiration;
and the passengers waved them a dubious "God-speed;" and the men sitting
in the pretty bark raised a feeble "huzzah!" in return, which however,
sank into hopeless silence ere it was half expressed; and they melted
from the straining eyes which followed them, and went their way.

The boatman rowed into a wharf of the deserted town, secured his craft,
and lifted Margaret out.

"D'ye see that great house among them trees?" he asked, pointing to a
large mansion on the brow of the hill, perhaps a quarter of a mile
distant.

"Them's the officers' quarters, miss, and we'll go there first. There
were a score or more of sick soldiers there for their health. I came
here myself after the battle, where they most killed the colonel."

"Were you with the colonel the night he was stabbed?" asked Davenport.

"Yes, sir. I never left him when I could manage to be with him. Maybe
you've heard of Reed, who served the colonel for a while?"

"Yes," sighed Margaret, "he mentioned you in a letter to Dr. Gay.
Hasten, kind friend, and bring us to him."

They sped through the deserted streets, where every window was barred
and every door jealously locked, and a few famished dogs broke the
silence by long, wild, and ominous howls.

A cart, covered with a white canvas cloth, rumbled heavily by, and then
Reed took the lady's hand, and dragged her to the opposite pavement,
whispering:

"Muffle your face in your handkerchief, miss, for Heaven's sake!"

And with bated breath they let the dead cart rumble by with its ghastly
burden.

A funeral emerged from a court hard by--a funeral which was composed of
the clergyman, an old man weeping over his dead, and tottering feebly
after, and four negroes carrying the bier. They flitted by like
phantoms, casting apathetic glances after the old man, the boatman, and
the young lady who were mounting the hill to that lonely house on its
brow.

They entered the grove, and with one accord paused and gazed toward the
house, and listened, and looked in each others faces for encouragement.
The door was ajar, the windows all open, and the fair white curtains,
fluttering low adown among the climbing grapes and budding roses, were
limp and yellow with nights of dew and days of rust, but not a living
face looked out through the silent panes, not a sound broke the deep and
breathless silence.

These men were brave men, but which of them would venture within these
desolate walls where death triumphant reigned.

Suddenly Margaret slipped her hand from the lawyer's clasp, and fled
like a spirit into the silent house--fear, hope, and love giving her the
courage which these others could not summon.

She traversed the passages, where all was wild confusion, she looked
into every room, but the drivers of the dead carts had been there before
her--each bed was vacant, each chamber that used to echo to the careless
jests of the soldiers was dull and lifeless as they.

She fled up the staircase, she opened another chamber-door--it was the
last.

It was a wide, dim chamber, whose close-drawn curtains banished all the
light, and between her and the window loomed a great white object--a bed
with the hangings drawn close about it.

No breath, no sound--oh, Heaven! is he not here? Is he dead and gone
forever?

A long sigh breaks the blank silence: a moan steals helplessly from the
great white mausoleum which entombs the man.

She glides forward and draws back the shroud-like folds from window,
then from bed, and the yellow light falls upon a flushed and
foam-flecked face, and upon two toiling, twitching hands.

And, blessed be Heaven! this is surely St. Udo Brand, and there is life
in him yet!

The lawyer enters and tries to drag her back, and fills the room with
his beseeching clamor; but she breaks wildly from him, and returns to
St. Udo Brand.

And, Heaven be praised! she thinks that she is in time, and that this
dear soul may yet be held on earth.

So she lifts the hot head to her arm, and lays her loving hand upon the
heart that is almost still, and she kisses tenderly the shrunken
forehead where death fain would print his seal.

And she whispers from her noble heart:

"Oh, God! give me back his life! oh, God! give me back his life!"

And the old lawyer weeps, and repeats after her the half-articulate
prayer.

One glance of anguish she casts at her poor old friend, and past him, up
into Heaven, it says:

"Man cannot help us, but God will!" and then she turns again to the
beloved one.

He has wronged her, hated her, maligned her; no single throb has his
hushed heart ever beat for her; but she has forgiven him long ago, if
she has anything to forgive. She is warming that chilling heart against
her own; she is watching that disfigured face which can never be
disfigured to her; she loves him faithfully.

When Reed comes back from his search for a doctor, they find the old
lawyer sitting by the window, with his wet eyes covered by his hands,
and the woman kneeling by the bed, with the sick man's head on her
breast.

"You must leave this place," says the doctor, in affright.

"No, I will nurse him best," she smiles.

So she has her way, good, faithful Margaret.



CHAPTER XXX.

A REVELATION.


Madame Hesslein, standing on the deck where Margaret had bidden her
adieu--weeping in her lace handkerchief until it was wet, and waving it
after her until it was dry, seemed so well worth losing a thousand
pounds for, that the Chevalier Calembours quickly overcame his sincere
regrets at the mad Margaret's departure into the jaws of death, and,
flinging all uncomfortable emotions into the limbo of forgetfulness, he
abandoned himself to the care of this fair creature who was left upon
his hands.

"There they go, these doomed ones!" sobbed madame, with a great gush of
tears. "Farewell, farewell, poor devoted Griselda."

"Be content, dear madame, I do not forsake thee--take comfort of thy
slave!"

"Oh, chevalier, is there ever a man on this stale old globe who can show
a heart like faithful Margaret's?"

"_Mon Dieu!_ I know such a man."

"I do not. I have yet to meet the man who is content to love without one
hope of recompense; who counts it joy to lay his all at the feet of the
one who has scorned him--who rushes with a willing soul to brave death
in the service of his enemy."

"Madame is skeptical, madame is cruel. Ah--could she read the heart of
Calembours----"

"Ha, ha, ha!" mocked madame, wildly, "perhaps I can. Perhaps I have met
with such before, and sifting it well, found it the heart of a fiend.
But enough, 'tis a long time since I have believed in love, and
faithfulness, and such mawkish sentimentality; now, do you know what I
believe in, monsieur?"

"_Pardieu_, no--cruel that thou art."

"Ambition is my god," breathed madame, tauntingly. "I will climb to the
highest step of the social ladder, and there I'll feel content."

The chevalier grew pale with envy.

"If madame would accept my poor help to raise her to her throne," sighed
he.

"_Yours!_" she interrupted, scornfully.

"Madame, I am not what I seem."

"Faith, I don't think you are."

"Madame, on the honor of a chevalier, I possess some fine titles and
estates."

"Foolish man, to cloak your royalty with this disguise!"

"I am Count de S. S. Turin."

"I salute you, count."

"I am Knight of the Three Sicilies."

"Receive my obeisance, knight."

"I possess fine vineyards in Hungary, and a jewel-mine."

"My congratulations, illustrious sir."

"And I am your devoted slave, Madame Hesslein." The luring, mocking,
maddening face of the lady lit up with fierce joy. She averted it
quickly. "I will resume these titles so dignified," cried the chevalier,
"I will return to my fatherland; ver' good, _mon ange_, you shall
accompany, you shall be my wife. You shall rule over nine hundred
vinedressers, and seven vineyards, _ma chère_; they are worth seventy
thousand florins in the year; and you shall wear the gems of agate, of
jasper--of diamonds as you wear this leetel ribbon--madame, all I have
shall be yours."

She heard with a cool smile, but a bitter pulse beat in her throat.

"You are flattering, chevalier," she remarked, "and I shall think of
it."

He seized her fair hands, and pressed them to his lips, but she snatched
them away with a flash from the smoldering fire in her eyes.

"But first," said madame, with a keen glance, "you must assure me that
the station you offer me is not gilded by imagination unassisted by
gold."

Monsieur sighed in heart-rending despondency.

"Incomparable woman, you doubt what is to the Hungarian noblesse dearer
than life--my honor. But come, I will give you my proofs."

He escorted her to her state-room where waited the two maids of the
charming lady, who always traveled with a complete retinue of servants,
and going to his own cabin, presently he returned holding solemnly in
his hands an elegantly silver-mounted coffer which he placed upon the
table.

Unlocking it, he drew from thence various parchments of official aspect,
with huge seals appended, and displayed them to the smiling inamorata.

"These are the rewards with which my country has honored my poor
services," he said, with humility. "These papers attest to my right to
wear these titles you have just heard, madame. _Voila!_ 'To the Count of
Santo Spirito, Turin,' and 'To the Knight of the Order of Three
Sicilys.' _Mon ange_, what more can I say?"

A wicked smile was playing around her mouth.

"I accept your statements, chevalier--and yourself!" she murmured, with
an exquisite side glance.

The little chevalier beamed with triumph, and bowed low over the lovely
hand which she extended, and then she snatched it quickly from him, made
a queenly obeisance, and vanished like a spirit from his sight.

Madame Hesslein was seen no more until the steamer entered New York; she
was either ill or coy; in reply to the chevalier's tender reproaches she
declared for the first named, although her flashing eyes and healthy
appearance emphatically contradicted the assertion.

What a dream of joy tinctured with horrible doubts the succeeding month
was for poor little Calembours! To-day she was amiable, gay, bewitching;
to-morrow she would be locked in her room, and would send down a frantic
entreaty to the good _fiance_ to leave her in peace; presently she would
reward his importunities by flitting into his presence, white, vengeful,
and torturing him with covert taunts and maddening allusions to his
forgotten past.

And yet she was so beautiful, and so changeful, and so reckless that the
wild Bohemian fire blazed up in the poor little man's soul, and he could
not help loving her with a devotion worthy of a better object.

He expended his hoarded gains in loading her with costly gifts; and with
mad prodigality assumed a splendor of estate which drained his finances
to the lowest ebb; anxious only to win her for his own and calmly
leaving the _denouement_ until after the happy day, when madame could
not help herself.

How he hoped to obtain her forgiveness when she discovered all, Heaven
knows; but love not seldom infatuates men and goads them on to their
complete ruin.

Not true love, though of a worthy object; 'tis ofttimes the only savior
of a sinking man.

Presently the illustrious foreigner, loaded with his titles, penetrated
to the upper circle of society where Madame Hesslein moved, a solitary
queen among shrinking ladies of _haut ton_, who with one accord admired,
and hated, and courted her because she was the attraction, and it was
"the thing" to say, "we had little Madame Hesslein here last night."

What her beauty and refinement did for her, the chevalier's _applomb_
and versatility of genius did for him. Every one talked of the clever,
polished Frenchman--in good society monsieur spoke only French, and wore
his Legion of Honor flauntingly--every one raved about the dazzling
witch he paid such faithful court to; every one vowed that such a pair
were expressly created for each other, none else.

On the last evening of this intoxicating dream the chevalier attended a
brilliant assembly which madame held at her hotel.

Magnates of the highest rank were there to give homage to their
resistless hostess; and belles of tried skill were there, to waste their
ammunition upon the enthralled chevalier; but Romeo and Juliet had no
eyes for any but themselves, although their smiles were showered on all.

Madame Hesslein, gorgeous as an Eastern houri, convened her little court
about her ottoman, singled the happy Calembours out from all his vexed
competitors, and threw him into raptures by addressing her next remarks
more particularly to him.

Fascinated, the gay throng watched that set, cruel face, its glimmering,
chrysolite eyes, its wreathing, quivering lips, and its wild mischief as
the fair dame told her little story to the Chevalier de Calembours:

"Dear Monsieur, your latest anecdote puts this good company in your
debt, so I shall do myself the honor of paying that debt with a
narrative which is new, true, and pertinent.

"There was living in the town of Raleigh, some twenty years ago, a
remarkable girl called--shall we say for the present--Dolores? for that
indeed was her fate.

"She was very pretty, they said, but execrably poor. Her father was a
blacksmith, you see, and her mother was glad to obtain laundry work from
her richer neighbors; so that poor Dolores started in life with the
disadvantages of an undeniable beauty and a penniless purse.

"When sixteen, she considered it quite a lift in life to be promoted to
the position of waiting-maid to the wealthy Mrs. Maltravers, instead of
trudging round the town with her mother's baskets of clear-starched
garments to the various houses which patronized her labor.

"Mrs. Maltravers was old, and fanciful, and she good-naturedly taught
the girl how to speak well, and how to dress neatly, and gave her that
perception of the true value of elegance which only the rich can give.

"Dolores liked to be well dressed, and to sway her humble court by the
cleverness of her conversation, and Mrs. Maltravers was surprised and
amused at her aptness in such branches, and taught her with pleasure.

"So Dolores thankfully made the most of her position, and became much
too fine a lady for the rough home she had left, and was flouted at by
her rude brothers and awkward sisters, until she cut herself adrift from
them all.

"Mr. and Mrs. Maltravers went to Europe to travel for two years, and the
waiting-maid went with them.

"Dolores liked the strange life, and learned more and more every day.

"At last the travelers came to Austria, and pleased with the rich, warm
summer of the plain they stopped in Hungary for six months.

"The name of the town was--Szegedin; you have some acquaintance with it,
count; you will take especial interest in a narrative that unfolds its
climax in your birthplace.

"Our pretty Dolores had here the fortune to fall in love with a man of
the barbarous name of Ladislaus Schmolnitz; and when you learn that,
added to his shocking name, he followed the profession of a tailor, you
will only wonder at little Dolores' infatuation.

"But this little man, so handsome, clever, and bland, met her often on
the banks of the Theiss, and talked sentiment, and poetry and other
pretty nonsense in the shocking language of Hungary to simple Dolores,
and made her forget that he was a wretched little tailor.

"And he taught her to prattle in Hungarian, and then he asked her to
love him, and she did love him--ah, friends! so passionately, so
heroically, that I only wonder that her splendid love did not ennoble
his.

"Ladislaus Schmolnitz, the Szegedin tailor, ran off with Dolores, the
waiting-maid, and laughed at the pursuit of the shocked Maltravers, who
grudged the girl to a little rascal of a Hun.

"But Madame and Monsieur Schmolnitz lived together for two years and
were very happy.

"Very happy, dear friends, notwithstanding the poverty-stricken shifts
which they were at to keep the wolf from the door.

"So happy, dear friend, that foolish Dolores wished for no other heaven
than the heaven of the little tailor's love, and toiled, my heart how
she toiled, to keep the treasure safe.

"At last, Monsieur Schmolnitz saw a chance to rise in the world, and
took his wife and baby-boy to Paris, where he energetically began to
teach languages, having a clever turn that way.

"He began also to neglect his Dolores, and to prove an indifferent
spouse; even to accuse her of unfaithfulness, alas! she loved him far
too wildly for such madness.

"But he disappeared from little Dolores one day, and never came back to
her, and the silly girl's heart broke, she despaired.

"Homeless, nameless, incumbered with a boy twelve months old, what could
the poor wretch do?

"She went away with the man who had roused the perfidious tailor's
jealousy, a cotton manufacturer from Manchester, and became a wealthy
woman, and quite forgot what cold and hunger were, although, good luck!
she could not forget what true love had been to her.

"She loved the boy, she nurtured him with care, and he was her only
consolation when her heart was crushed with pain and what she then
called--guilt.

"When her protector died, she married an American who took her out to
Washington; but by this time her heart was so old, and cold, and weary
of beating that it could hold no love for any man, and she devoted
herself to the pretty boy, and brought him up a little gentleman,
although she never dared treat him as her son for fear she should hate
him some day for his wicked father's sake.

"She sent the boy to the North to gain a finished education, and lived
very wearily with her jealous husband, finding her only amusement in
attracting the homage of the men she met, and repaying it with scorn.

"At last she grew too restive under the yoke, and having had experience
before of the evils of jealousy in a husband, she declined rehearsing
her part a second time, and forestalled the humiliation by eloping with
a Virginian planter.

"Hapless wretch! Can you blame her, dear count? no, no, we shall blame
it all on that perfidious little tailor who broke her heart at first.

"She liked the sumptuous life on the fine plantation passably well, her
mansion was admirably arranged, her _menage_ was fine, her slaves
numerous and docile; Dolores reigned royally.

"But her malevolent destiny could not leave her long in comfort, poor
soul; it swooped upon her when she was almost contented, and with
inflexible hand pushed her into misery once more.

"The war broke out, the slaves fled, monsieur, her kind friend went to
Richmond and got a company, and Dolores was left in the great house with
only one quadroon girl and a couple of old negroes to protect her from
danger.

"In the second year of the war, her fate was sealed.

"One day a detachment of Federal soldiers encamped in the plantation,
and two colonels came to the mansion to demand shelter for their
wounded.

"The terrified Dolores was hastening down stairs to see them, when a
voice which she had not heard for eighteen years sang a gay French
_chanson_, which she last had heard from Ladislaus Schmolnitz, on the
pretty banks of Theiss.

"Friends, this wretched woman recognized that voice as belonging to her
once loved little tailor.

"Ah! her heart was not dead after all, it stirred in its long
death-sleep, and thrilled with joy. Oh, Heaven! why is love so deathless
in a woman's breast when it is ever her curse, her ruin?

"Well, she fled to her room again, and disguised herself as well as she
could, for she yearned to meet her renegade husband, and to converse
with him unsuspected. She did so. She concealed her pretty figure with
clumsy padding, she browned her white face, she covered her yellow hair
with a wig, and entering, she bowed low to her renegade husband and
spoke only French, which he had never before heard her speak.

"But he could not feel at ease, he gazed suspiciously again and again at
her, her eyes recalled the old love story by the banks of the Theiss--he
feared the French madame of middle age.

"What her emotions were, it is scarce worth telling. She was happy to
know that he was alive, she exulted that she had seen him, but she was
bound to the kind planter and feared to betray herself to Schmolnitz,
she let him go, not intending to reveal herself.

"But, at the moment of parting, a volley of shot was fired at the front
of the mansion by some Confederate troops, who had surprised the
encampment, and a cannon ball crashed in the doorway, almost in the
midst of the little group in the hall.

"Dolores was startled out of her disguise and clung madly to the little
tailor, crying out that she was his Dolores, and that she loved him
still.

"Simple idiot! when she could live in palaces if she chose!

"Dear friends, that abject little tailor had the brutality to shake her
off, to swear at her; to protest that he had suspected as much, and to
fling her from him in a dead faint in the hall and escape with his
comrade.

"Ah! count, could you believe that a fiend in man's form could be so
dastardly?

"But Dolores did not fall a victim to the cruelty of the small
Mephistopheles; her servants carried her out of the house, which was in
flames, and she soon escaped to Richmond, where she fell ill, and on
recovering learned that her friend, the planter, was killed in battle.

"Some months had passed, but this insane creature was so enslaved by her
passion for that unworthy man that no sooner was she recovered from her
illness than she determined to search out the little tailor, and display
her true beauty, which was singularly heightened by the years which had
passed since they parted.

"She seriously hoped to win back his worthless heart, and dreamed of
nothing but of endowing him with the wreck of her fortune, which was
still quite a handsome possession.

"So she took to visiting the hospitals and prisons, fancying that he
might have been wounded or captured; but without success.

"No wonder, for the ineffable rascal had long since deserted from the
North to the South, and was plying the profession of spy, under the
ostensible one of commissary-general for the stores for the wounded.

"At last, Dolores chanced to ride out to a station where she had heard
there were some Northern soldiers lying wounded; and there she came upon
her own son, the dear consolation of her wretched life, lying starving
on a handful of straw, and the place surrounded by Northern soldiers,
who had just come to rescue their comrades.

"The unfortunate woman was just in time to see her brave boy die, and
then, indeed, she thought that her cup of misery was full--but no,
Heaven is prodigal of its punishments to such as she.

"While mourning over her boy, the renegade commissary rode up with his
staff, intending to remove the invalids to Richmond, and was instantly
attacked by the Federals; Dolores filled with mad grief, drew her
old-time husband into the shed and bade him look upon his son, and the
next moment beheld him struck down by a ball at her feet.

"She thought him dead, poor wretch, and lifted his head to her lap, and
told him that she loved him with a love that could never die, and swore
that she would water the graves of her husband and her son with her own
heart-blood.

"When the skirmish was over the Northerners moved on with the wounded
man as their prisoner, and this woman rode beside him, leaving her dear
son dead in the shanty.

"At midnight, when the party stopped to rest, it was found that
Schmolnitz was not dead, and he soon recovered enough to speak.

"Dolores bent over him, his head in her lap, and hoped that he would
recognize her; but he did not, in the gloom, until she spoke, entreating
him for the sake of her love years ago to take her back to him.

"Most brutally he repudiated her, assuring her that she could not be his
wife, and that he would never own her as such.

"Then, indeed, she sounded the shallow waters of his soul, and desired
revenge.

"She would have stabbed him to the heart even then, if she had not been
prevented, but she swore beside the heartless wretch that she should
have vengeance; then she and her attendants rode back to Richmond.

"Months passed, all trace of the man was lost to her; but patiently she
searched for him until she found a clew.

"After many adventures, she found him in this city, and what think you
were the titles which this little tailor had assumed?

"Dear count, will you not make a guess?

"Friends, I believe our honored count is indisposed--how pale he has
become! Little wonder, for he sympathizes with every word I say.

"Do not, good Count de Calembours, forsake us until my story is
completed.

"You must go? Then I shall hasten.

"Friends, the miserable little tailor, this renegade, dastard and spy,
had entered the highest circles in New York under the title which this
man wears--the Count de Calembours!"

She swooped forward, she seized the arm of the retreating chevalier, and
wheeled him round until he faced the company.

He was frightfully pale, his eyes flickered ominously, he glared
helplessly at his tormentor, the beautiful bride-elect.

"What! has my _fiance_ nothing to say?" jibed madame, with flashing
eyes, green as a tigress. "Is he choked by a skein of thread? Felled by
a thimble? Stabbed by a tailor's needle? Fie, fie! Ladislaus Schmolnitz,
to let the coat fit you so well! To stand dumb as your own goose! Oh,
cowardly little tailor!"

Shrilly the scoffing denunciation rang out; stepping back a pace she
pointed her finger in his face and laughed wildly; and the good company,
suddenly catching the resistless drollery of the farce, burst into a
long, convulsive, mocking peal of merciless laughter, till the room rang
again, the glasses jingled, and the poor little tailor threw himself on
his knees before the ferocious Nemesis and begged for mercy.

But the good company pointed their fingers in the wretch's appalled face
and hissed him down; and the air seemed alive with ten thousand
serpents, and the room swam around with eyes of mockery and ire; and
deafened, horror-stricken, and utterly routed, the poor little tailor
fell forward on the carpet in a dead swoon.

When he recovered his senses, the room was deserted, the lights were
out, and one small, airy figure stood at a distant door with a taper in
her hand and looking on the fallen hero.

"Better, good Monsieur Schmolnitz?" mocked Madame Hesslein.

He rose unsteadily, and held by the back of a chair.

"Beast! traitress! you are my wife, are you?" hissed he, in a furious
whisper. "I had my doubts of you all the while. But this shall ruin
you."

"Oh, no, my excellent tailor, I am above your puny attacks. So, now that
we have squared accounts, I will bid you a long adieu."

She bowed to the floor, rose, and gave him one long, fierce, taunting
glance.

He drew a pistol from his breast, took deliberate aim, and fired it full
at her face, just as she closed the door. It missed her by a
hair-breadth.

She looked in again with a diabolical laugh, and vanished; and he, too,
fled by the opposite door, just as the hotel servants rushed in to quell
the tumult.



CHAPTER XXXI.

BRAND PLUCKED FROM THE BURNING.


"Circles and circles of brightening light breaking over me; a faint, but
delicious sense of comfort; a swift vanishing of the distorted phantoms
which have left me here for dead--a kind and dear awakening.

"What tender face is this that is bending over me? What soft bosom is
this upon which my head is lying?

"Have I bridged at last the chasm of mortality, and is this my fate in
the immortal world?

"I smile, if this be so, at the idle fears of those who prophesied for
me a hell. This is Heaven! What seraph is this who is bearing me upon
her bosom after my fight with the throes of death? How soft and cool her
hand, which bands my brow! Her wings are folded close, and she will not
fly away; her breath wafts my weary eyelids like the zephyr born at the
gates of Paradise.

"It was worth that long battle with the writhing furies, who would have
chained me to Charon's boat, midway in the awful river, to be stranded
here within these clinging arms.

"O spirit pure and tender! is this Christ-like care for me at your
King's command? Am I done with earth and sin, and entered into rest upon
your hallowed heart?

"Yes, the dark obscurity of earth no longer blinds me; I am reading the
face of one who has gazed upon the Incarnate, and caught from Him
beatitude past utterance.

"How pure and above all earthly beauty are these holy lineaments! the
essence of eternal love seems to shed from these eyes upon my languid
soul; her rich tresses seem enwreathed with beams from the Fount of Joy;
I am dazzled with the vision."

The worn, white face of the sick man sinks more heavily upon the gentle
bosom which supports it; but there is a fixed smile upon the blue lips
of wonder and of triumph; there are tears stealing from the eyes which
have been darkly fixed upward. The trembling soul who has been looking
into the realm of Heaven, turns back at the yearning pressure of those
arms, and new circles of brightening light and consciousness break over
him, and St. Udo Brand looks up.

A damp, cool perfume breathes around him of flowers; he seems to be
surrounded by those sweet comforters; flowers upon his breast, against
his fevered face, upon his pillow; and soft arms are truly around him,
and his head is lying upon the yielding breast of a woman.

"How is it that I am here?"

"Did my darling try to speak?"

"How strange! she is then some one to whom I am dear. I am indeed in
Heaven, and this heavenly seraph is to be my guide and teacher. What
made me suppose for an instant that I was back to earth?

"It is so much better than I deserve, pure spirit--so much better."

"Did you say you felt better?"

"This vision is a woman? her heart seems bounding with joy; she bends
closer with a sob of rapture; these holy eyes are dropping tears!

"'There are no tears in Heaven.' Is it possible that I come back to
earth and find some one weeping tears of joy for me!

"Tell me who you are?"

"You have whispered something again. Oh! love, you are so faint and weak
that I can scarcely see your lips move. But I think you know me."

"No, no. I left no such angel as you on earth when I died."

"Do you say so? Wait until I bring my ear close."

"No. Tell me."

"Don't you know your nurse, who has been with you for two weeks? the
nurse that you have clung to, and moaned for when your glazed eyes could
not see me? Don't you remember how you made me hold you--just so--when
the fever-phantoms were chasing you? Surely we are old friends by this
time?"

"My Perdita?"

"Why, darling, do you know me, then? Now I shall dare to hope. Oh, thank
Heaven!"

"How strange that she should look so joyful at any good befalling me! Am
I St. Udo Brand, who was at odds with all the world? or have I been
changed into a man with a human heart, to be prized by a noble woman? Is
this a revised and improved edition of St. Udo? Have I got out
of that bitter, reckless being, and, after ages of toiling in a black,
demon-crowded abyss for my sins have I re-entered the world to be
simple, and beloved, and happy? O Thou who saved me from annihilation,
will that this be true!

"Lady, will you not tell me your name?"

"You called me 'Perdita' when I thought the pest was drifting you from
my arms farther--farther, and yet the closer into my heart--call me
Perdita still. Oh, my darling, to think that after all I have won you
from the gates of death!"

"How long have we loved each other, Perdita? Why do these deep gray eyes
hide themselves from me? Why does that flush creep to brow and gentle
cheek? What a dear face! what a holy face! I hope that it will beam upon
me until I die! What is it that she says?"

"I found you smitten with the plague, and, taking care of you, because
there was no one else who had such a right, as the Marplot of your life,
you came to think me some one whom you loved, and to call me Perdita. It
was one of your fancies."

"I hope it will develop into a reality. I shall pinion your wings,
bright seraph, to keep you by me."

"Hush! hush! You are wandering away again."

"Keep by me, my love--Perdita! oh, keep by me!"

"As if I would ever leave you, while I could make one moment lighter for
you."

"Ah, well! Remember you have promised that."

He sinks softly down among his pillows with a sigh of ineffable peace;
his Perdita wipes the tears of joy from his face, and rearranges the
light coverings.

A soft wind is blowing through the half-closed windows, from over the
quiet water clasped within the arms of the coral reef, and the dreamy
strains of a military band creep from a gallant war-ship out in the bay;
and in the beautiful twilight the graceful boats are shooting in and out
from cedar groves to the white huts standing on the edge of the reefs
like Grecian temples, and the lovely scene is calm as the smile on the
face of the sick man.

The mosquito-net is drawn close around the invalid's bed, and his nurse
sits within the fold, and watches him until he sinks to sleep. And then
she bends her head until it touches his lissom hand, and, weeping much
in her deep thankfulness, she too sinks to slumber--well earned and long
denied.

The same hour next evening St. Udo Brand comes to himself again from the
mystic depths of fever, and sorrow, and importunate desire, to see the
same tender vision watching over him, and to breathe the same sweet
perfume of fresh-culled flowers, and to feel the same restful joy which
broke the darkness of his weary trance before.

And then he is so glad to find this dream staying by him when so many
others have slipped away, that he stretches out his hands, and beckons
with a cry of welcome.

"My Perdita, I feared I had lost you! Where did you go?"

"I have never left your side."

"I could not find you, and I have been wandering, wandering everywhere.
How was it you got away from my hand?"

She, bending her ear to catch these feeble accents, glows with a look of
wonder and joy; all the lines of weariness pass away from her face; for
the moment she is quite beautiful.

"Dear one, was it really _me_ you were trying to hold in your sleep?"
she asks, softly. "I saw your brow gather, and your lips move, and an
anxious expression come over you in every little slumber: but when I
held your groping hand you clasped mine tightly, and became happy in
your dreams. Was it Perdita whom you wished so much to keep by you?"

"Yes, yes; that was it. You express my thoughts so smoothly for me that
I wish you would try again. Something has got away from me after all.
Let me hold you while I try to remember."

She gives him her hand, and she gives him also her faithful bosom.
Gladly she lifts him in her frail arms, and clasps him close, close, and
she presses her lips upon his sunken eyelids with kisses as soft and
healing as the flowers of Paradise.

"It is coming back, I kept it so long, in spite of the whirling goblins
and demons who tried to snatch it from me, but when I came to you just
now I found that it was gone. Did you take it from me, and give it back
to me now when you laid my head upon your bosom?"

"What was it, my darling?"

"Your promise, Perdita."

"What promise, dear love?"

"That you would never leave me. Don't you remember saying that?"

"What would you care for me when you were strong and well?" falters the
nurse, with quivering lips.

The sick man tries to set his poor paralyzed brain in thinking order at
this contingency, but the effort is far beyond him, and he relapses with
an anxious sigh.

"I do not want to drift away and be pushed back into the cruel world I
have left," he murmurs, earnestly, "and it lies with you to keep me in
this pure place. I lost you ages ago, you know--ages ago, when I was
pure and loving as yourself; and see what I am now for want of you,
Perdita?"

"You will soon enough be glad to part from me again," answers the nurse,
turning aside her swimming eyes.

"Must you go, Perdita, after your promise?"

"I must go when I have ceased to make one moment lighter for you. I
promised that I would stay until then."

"Promise it again--you will stay until you cease to be desired by me."

"Until I cease to be required by you," she amends, straining him to her
yearning and foreboding heart.

"I shall always require you," said the sick man, with exultation; "I
could not take one step in this pure atmosphere without you. Oh, you
don't know how I shall hold to you, my lost Perdita."

So wandering on--dreaming on, he fancies she is his lost good, which was
dropped out of life long ago; that she personates the faith, the hope,
the innocence of his early years, ere sin set the searing mark of death
upon his heart, and bitter wrongs stole from him his primal purity, and
fused in the alembic of his burning hatred, all noble tendencies into
bitter infidelity.

And wandering on--dreaming on, day by day, drifting on from riotous
fancy to feeble reason, he comes to know that there is a puzzle in the
kindness of this woman, who morning, noon, and night cares for him as
woman never cared for him before; and, grasping the puzzle at last, he
looks at it with comprehending eyes.

He will ask this tender, holy-faced watcher by his bedside why this
heavenly care for him. Perchance she is repaying some former service of
his, done in the days of health; for St. Udo Brand has done his deeds of
generous kindness to the widows and orphans of his brave Vermont boys,
and forgotten the acts by scores.

"Lady, why have you been so kind to me?"

"Not kind--only just."

"The service which you thus repay must have been a great one. You have
risked your life nursing me through this infectious plague; what have I
ever done to you that could merit such repayment?"

She has been fearing these questions for some days, and she has been
clinging all the more fondly and passionately to the sweet dream which
she has never once in all her passion of unselfish devotion dreamed
could last. Again and again she has put aside the cruel end; for, oh!
she cannot give him up yet--her king!

By the couch of deadly peril and pain, when his manhood is low beneath
the scowl of death--when the divinity of his intellect is swallowed up
in frenzy--in his weakness and despondency--the most royal days of
Margaret's life have come to her, gold-tinged, and crowned with joy--the
days of her love.

"You are not strong enough for this," she answers, wistfully. "Wait
until you are a great deal stronger before you ask questions."

"But"--a bewildered line is knotting the sick man's brow like the faint
ripple on the glassy waters of a stream--"I have seen you before in such
different circumstances, and I would like to know where."

"I am Perdita, you know," with an anxious smile. "You met me in your
delirium often enough, don't you remember?"

"Yes, yes--was that it? When did you find me?"

"Three weeks ago. You were in the first stages of yellow fever. You
would have died if God had not providentially sent me here in time."

"So strange that you should risk your life for me--a tender lady."

"It was a pleasure to me, sir. I was not afraid of the risk."

"The very physicians fled from the smitten wretches by scores, for fear
of sharing their fate. We had but few doctors in the city for a
fortnight who were brave enough to stay, and we had to take turns and do
what we could for each other. The very negroes could not be bought with
money to stay with us, but fled, panic-stricken, and left us to die
unattended. Nineteen bodies were carried out of this house in one day,
and the last I can remember before I crawled into this room away from
the groans to die, were the ghastly bodies of poor Major Hilton and the
commandant of the forces lying waiting for removal. I held out longest,
but had to succumb at last. It is so strange to wake up from death, and
to find a lovely lady at my bedside, breathing my poisoned breath, and
wooing me from my companions' fate with such devotion."

"A lovely lady!" How she glows over with surprised blushes and smiles!
How she stoops again to catch the feeble accents and to read the
upraised orbs.

"Lovely! Yes, yes; more than lovely--better than beautiful. When I
looked up from my dream of death I thought yours the face of an angel. I
think so still."

"Hush! hush! If you talk so wildly, dear, I shall think you are
wandering again."

"I am not wandering, my Perdita. If ever I do, your beloved hand has but
to touch mine and I will come back. Sometimes I have thought of
late----"

"Go on, darling. You have thought of late----"

"That you were getting weary of your invalid, and regretting your
promise."

"How could you ever think that of me?"

"There. I love to see those gray eyes deepen and flash through generous
tears. I will take that back, for I see it is not true."

"Have I ever been forgetful of you?"

"No, no, no. If ever woman had the heart of an angel of mercy, you have
one, my Perdita. It was not that you missed one atom of your wonderful
care for me, but lately you have been reserved. You have denied me your
hand so often to help me back to myself, or your bosom when my head
ached; and the sweet words of endearment rarely come from you, except
when once or twice you have thought I was sleeping."

"You are getting so well and strong that you do not require such
excessive tenderness. It was only while you were helpless as a child
that I felt for you as if you were one."

"You are but a child yourself, my poor, fragile darling; and yet, child
as you are, I _do_ require your motherly care, your motherly words of
love. I have had them once, and they were so heavenly sweet that I
cannot do without them."

"I will be your mother, then, until you can do without me. I shall take
care of my child until he is able to take care of himself."

"Little mother, why do you weep?"

"Hush! hush! we have talked long enough; go to sleep."

"In yours arms, then Perdita."

She gathers him to her heart. Recklessly she strains him close while yet
she may, heedless of the lonely days when heart and soul will hunger
gnawingly for this blessed moment.

And so time fares on with this Brand which has been plucked from the
burning.

Little by little he takes back to him life and strength; little by
little he spells out this strange, sweet, new life, and analyzes it, and
basks in the lambent sunshine. Not little by little grows his love for
the Perdita of his fever dreams; she has taken the tide at its lowest
ebb, and it has swept her into his deep, strong heart, which nevermore
can shut her out.

He watches her beaming eyes with wistful constancy; he clings to her
garments; he kisses her light hands, which touch him in gentle
ministrations. The hard man is conquered, and by a woman.

But when he grows fearful that, after all, she may be wearying of this
toil and care for him; when, with anxious eyes, he looks into the
future, and pictures life without this gentle comforter, he almost
wishes that health would turn her back on him forever, so that he might
ever have Perdita; and he worries himself into continual fevers, which
prove a great drawback to his convalescence.

She, also, has her secret load of anxiety. A crisis is approaching which
she may not longer stave off. She must make herself known anon, and
finish her duty with regard to him, and go away; and oh! heaven knows
how she is to turn her back upon this great passion of her life, and
him!

In her perfection of humility, she never hopes for reward for these
great services of hers; she counts them but a feeble recompense for the
evil she--his Marplot and ruin--has wrought him, which no recompense can
atone for. She has not had the vanity to probe into his heart and weigh
his gratitude toward her, or to count upon it for a moment. His daily
evidences of love are to her but the wayward fancy of an invalid, which
time and strength will sweep away, as surely as the ripple would blot
her reflection from yonder smooth lagoon.

And at last the burden grows so heavy on the heart of each, that he, the
least patient, breaks silence, and recklessly put his hand to the wheel
which may revolve and crush him.

"You have always put me off when I was at all inquisitive about you," he
says to her, one day; "but since I am getting well so rapidly, I think
it time that I should assume a little of the responsibility of my own
affairs. I have an appallingly heavy debt of gratitude to pay a kind
lady, whose only name to me is Perdita, and I wish to be more
particularly acquainted with my deliveress."

"If you would only wait until you were strong enough to travel," answers
Margaret, becoming very pale, "it would be for the best."

"Why, where are we to travel, my Perdita?"

"You must prepare your mind for a journey, sir--a journey which will be
for your good and happiness."

"With you?"

"Without me."

The desolate tones come quietly enough, but the invalid gives a great
start, and clutches at his thin hands, and turns away his face.

Lying so still and so long that she almost thinks him sleeping, she
bends timidly over him, and meets his dark eyes full of mournful tears.

"I feared it would come to this," he says, turning almost passionately
to her; "and yet I have foolishly and selfishly clung to the hope that
you would never seek to leave me. Have I been meddling much with your
family duties by this long monopoly of you?"

"I have no family duties to attend to."

"No family ties to break, should I wish, if it were possible, for you to
stay with me always?"

"Oh, sir, you would not speak so if you--if I could be honest and brave
with you."

"My child--oh! my child; I cannot bear to see those tears. If you knew
how dear you are to me, you would think well before you cast anything
between us."

She buries her face in her hands; for a sacred space her heart throbs in
its joy, and she feels that it were well worth the coming years of
hunger to taste the sweet bliss as she tastes it now; and then she
meekly looks her situation in the face.

"There are no family ties keeping me from you," she murmurs, as firmly
as she may; "but it would not be honorable for me to accept any
gratitude from you, or to accede to any such request as you have made,
because--I did not come here and find you out with any craven hope of
reward. I have barely done my duty toward you, and have had no thought
of buying your love."

"I do not understand. I love you, Heaven knows, most fervently, Perdita;
but whether you have bought it or not, I cannot say. It is yours, and
cannot be recalled."

"And I cannot take it under such circumstances as those in which I won
it. When you understand fully your affairs, you will then see how
mercenary I would be to accept your love now."

"Mercenary? My poor child? I offer you this poor, wasted hand, and a
broken constitution, and penniless prospects wherewith to be happy; and
it is a part of my native selfishness to imagine that my great love
could compensate for all drawbacks, but there is not the smallest room
for suspecting you of mercenary motives--not the smallest."

"I have heard it said"--this with piteous hesitation--"that Colonel
Brand was to be reinstated in his rights--that a great estate in England
was going to be offered to him."

The invalid half raises himself on his elbow, and laughs heartily.

"Dismiss that rumor from your mind," he says, in a relieved tone; "for,
if that is all the basis you have upon which to found mercenary
expectations, it is as slight as the mirage in air. I would not go back
to England to meddle with that property if I begged my bread for want of
it. I will toady round no woman's shoes."

"But if she didn't wish it?" trembled Margaret; "if she insisted on
giving it up to you, and rejecting all claim to it?"

"Not she."

"But if she did?"

"I hope she never may, darling. If she did, and if I were ever base
enough to accept it, I should have in honor to propose to her by way of
gratitude, and because my grandmother's will said so; and I would rather
be an organ-grinder, with a monkey tied to my girdle, than be the heir
of Castle Brand with Margaret Walsingham for my wife."

"Perhaps you misjudge her. Perhaps she was as unwilling to be the
obstacle between you and your property as you were that she should be
so."

"You are generous, my little mother, to defend one of the greediest
_kestrels_ who ever struck claw into carrion; but you are not just. I
have no doubt that if she ever brought herself to try such an experiment
as offering her booty to me, it would be with the assurance that I would
refuse it, or with the hope that common decency would urge me to marry
her."

"She would never marry you," is the quiet and sad rejoinder.

"Well, we sha'n't give her the chance. Let us turn from a very groveling
subject (to my mind), and get over your next objection to me. We have
sent the mercenary one a-flying--now for the next."

"That is the only one. Let us leave the subject altogether. You will
know more fully what I meant to-morrow."

She leaves him hastily--never without a sweet backward glance
before--and he is left alone for hours.

When she returns it is evening, and the long shadows lie athwart the
room, and she flits across the ladders of gloom to him as if innumerable
bars were holding them apart.

But when they are all passed, and she is close by his side, he scans his
Perdita's countenance with a conviction growing within him that bars are
yet between them which she cannot pass, and he seizes her hand in sudden
foreboding.

"What is this, dear child? Why are you so pale and troubled? Have you
been weeping?"

"Oh, nothing of consequence. Have you been comfortable?"

"Everything is of consequence which brings these marks of sorrow to my
Perdita's face. Who has been vexing you, child?"

"No one--no one, sir."

"Who has been grieving you, then?"

"I--it is no one's fault. I have only been a little foolish--that is
all."

She averts her pallid face, and will not be questioned more, but leads
him utterly from personal subjects.

She has been dear and kind before, but never precisely with the
yearning, smothered passion of this last evening; she almost seems to
cling to him, as if invisible hands were driving her away, and her
pathetic face grows tremulous at every word of tenderness from him.

And St. Udo has an indistinct memory of burning tears flashing somewhere
while he sleeps, and of soft lips touching his in one meek kiss, and of
tender words of blessing and of prayer; and then a shadow falls upon him
gray and sad, for the door had shut him in, and the girl is gone.



CHAPTER XXXII.

SWEET RECOMPENSE.


The next morning St. Udo Brand lay impatiently waiting for his dear
young nurse, and scowling at the stupid negress, who was putting his
room to rights, when a visitor entered, and made his way up to the sick
man.

A haggard-looking old gentleman, with pale, yellow cheeks, pendulous and
flaccid--eyebrows which bristled like furze on the brow of a beetling
crag, and lack-luster eyes, which glistened like the dull waters at the
foot of it.

"My service to you, sir," said he, with an old-fashioned bow; "I am
Andrew Davenport, if you remember."

"I do remember Andrew Davenport, if you are he; you are so changed that
I need scarcely beg pardon for not recollecting you sooner."

"Same to you, sir. Gad, sir, yellow fever is no joke, and you took it
worse than me by a long chalk."

"How comes it that you have had yellow fever? When did you come here?"

"About a month ago. Came here with a face as red as a lobster, and as
broad as that. Look at it now. I don't begrudge it though, when I see
you looking so much better than ever I thought to see you when first I
looked at you in this bed. We have much to be thankful for, Colonel
Brand."

"I fail to understand. What brought you to Key West, and what have you
to do with me?"

"A good deal, my young sir. I have to escort you home to your castle,
for one thing."

"I am astonished that you should come all this way to waste words upon
such a subject. I thought that by this time Miss Walsingham would be
married, and that I could go on my way rejoicing."

"Married to that impostor, who hoped to fill your shoes? Pho! what do
you take us all for? Well, after all, I needn't take any share of the
glory. It was Miss Margaret herself, who found out the whole conspiracy,
and set off like a brave young woman as she is, taking me for company,
to find you, sir."

"Heavens! What did she want of me?"

"Gad! sir, if you really don't know, all I can say is that she's the
first woman I ever saw who could hold her tongue! It was to find you out
and give you the property of Seven-Oak Waaste, the lands, houses, etc.,
attached, that she came while the plague was literally raging, to this
confounded rat-trap, where, if one gets in they can't get out."

"Is Margaret Walsingham in Key West?"

"She is."

"Then it is she who has been troubling my poor darling with this
wretched story."

"In Key West, and I leave you to judge whether she makes a good sick
nurse or no."

"Has she been my nurse?"

"To be sure? Nice place you've got here, sir! Everything as dainty as a
lady's boudoir; and what a magnificent bunch of flowers! Think of that
in March!"

"Miss Walsingham--my Perdita! The girl who risked her life for me!"

"Even so. Precious short were her visits to my bedside, for watching at
yours; and between us she's had a wearing time of it, the dear, kindly
girl!"

"Good Heaven--is my own darling, that Miss Walsingham?"

"Yes, and I thank Heaven to hear that from you. You love her, so it's
all right."

The lawyer here dropped his jocund air, pressed the hand which had
nervously clutched his, and retired to the window for a while.

A silence fell upon the pair; the rescued man was turned face downward
to his pillow, with his hands clasped tightly.

Her bravery, her generosity, her devotion came up to gild her gentle
worth; and he could well judge now how great had been that bravery, that
generosity, that devotion.

Taking in by slow degrees, the greatness of this woman's soul, whom
falsely and bitterly he had maligned; comprehending the grandeur of
humility in one whose garments he in his high-handed pride felt unworthy
to touch, the time had come when St. Udo Brand could pray; when he could
plead that Heaven would bless him with Margaret Walsingham's love, and
bestow on him her hand, as the richest gift of earth.

Presently Davenport resumed the conference by recounting all the
particulars of the Castle Brand plot, and you may be sure he lost no
opportunity of adding luster to his admired Miss Margaret's laurels, by
unstinted praise, which brought tears, one by one, into the eyes of
young Brand.

"And here's the formal relinquishing of every rood of Seven-Oak Waaste,
drawn up and signed," said the lawyer, unfolding a parchment and
spreading it out triumphantly on his knee; "and she has even made
provision against your refusing to accept it. In that case, it is all to
go, on the 28th of March (one year from the date of the will), toward
building a Charitable Institution for sick seamen, (I suppose from her
father having been a sea-captain), and she is going as governess into
Mr. Stanhope's family here. What do you think of all this, eh?" chuckled
the old gentleman, with the air of being vastly amused.

"She will do it," said St. Udo, gazing with consternation at the
parchment.

"But will you allow her to do it?"

A keen pang struck to the heart of St. Udo; his merciless scorn of her
came back to him as expressed only the day before; her mournful words;
"She will never marry you," recurred like a death-knell to his memory.

Now he understood the cause of her gentle tears--of her clinging
wistfulness, of her sweet and humble timidity; he comprehended all, and
covered his eyes with a remorseful moan.

"I have ruined all, and lost her!" he thought. "Where is the noble
girl?"

"Gad! I thought you'd soon be asking that! It's likely she's taking a
rest, poor dear; but I'll send her to you."

"No--let her have her rest; I would never be so selfish as to disturb
her, while I can wait. But, Davenport, I will be candid with you, and
say that I have no hope of winning her. I have insulted her too deeply."

"Did she think of your former insults when she came here at the risk of
her life to find you, and to nurse you out of the fever?"

"No, bless her--all that was forgiven!"

"And will she think of your former insults when you say, 'Margaret, I
won't accept one penny piece of the Brand property unless you be my
wife?'"

"Her own words--that, in that contingency, Margaret Walsingham would
never marry me--her own words."

"You believe in your Perdita's love?" cried the lawyer, throwing his
last ball with triumph straight at the bull's eye.

"If noble tenderness, and devotion such as hers, is love, I do, most
solemnly."

"Then she'll do as your Perdita, what she wouldn't do as your enemy,
Margaret Walsingham. She'll even lower her pride to marry you, if she
thinks it necessary to your happiness."

But Mr. Davenport was forced to modify his satisfaction, when, on
seeking an audience with his ward, the old negress who had that morning
taken Margaret's place in the colonel's sick room, brought from her
chamber a note from the young lady.

"She's been and gone," said the woman; "and this is for Massa
Davenport." It said to the staring lawyer:

     "DEAR MR. DAVENPORT:--I have thought it best at once to proceed
     to the Stanhopes', as the situation might become filled up, and
     all danger of infection has passed from me by this time.

     "You will see that the colonel is taken excellent care of until
     the English steamer arrives, when I am sure he will be able to
     travel; and you will accompany him to Seven-Oak Waaste, and be
     as useful to him and as faithful as you have been to me.

     "I am going without bidding you good-by. Perhaps you will be a
     little angry; but, dear Mr. Davenport, it was far better than
     if I had. I have been a great bother to you from first to last,
     haven't I? But you will forgive me, now that our ways lie so
     widely apart.

     "Tell Colonel Brand that I wish him to forgive the deception I
     have practiced upon him; but that I shall never regret the four
     weeks in which I watched him from the brink of the grave, and
     that if he can accept a message from Margaret Walsingham, it is
     that he may always think kindly of his Perdita, and try to keep
     her apart from his remembrance of a presumed adventuress.

     "Your affectionate ward, M. W."

"Here's a pretty to do!" cried Davenport, bustling into the invalid's
room with the little double sheet of note paper fluttering in his hand.
"Of all queer dodges, this is the last. She's gone, sir, this morning to
her situation at the Stanhopes', and here's the note that she's obliging
enough to write by way of good-by to you."

St. Udo took the note and scanned each pretty character, while his
cheeks became bloodless as snow. It was blistered with tears, and it
seemed to breathe in every line its quiet and patient sorrow, and to
have become resigned to it, as if there was no remedy.

What the colonel's emotions were, to read this little note of his
Perdita's, no one may know. He sat up in bed, and looked wildly round
him, while the lawyer glared, and dumbly bit his nails.

"Let us drive instantly to the Stanhopes'."

"You? Humph! You look like a man going driving!"

"I tell you I shall drive there if I should faint every mile of the
way."

He sprang from the bed, and signified the sincerity of his intention by
fainting on the spot.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days afterwards, Colonel Brand was lying quite alone on his
sofa--his first day up--reading, or rather telling himself that he was
reading. Every sound startled him, causing him to relinquish his book
and listen with deepening eyes; and sometimes a fancied voice in the
street below would send flames of excitement shooting across his pallid
face.

Three days since the lawyer had left him; three days of doubt, and hope,
and despair.

Had she loved him? Was that calm good-by to him from a heart
indifferent? or did it hide beneath its cold exterior the smoldering
passion which sometimes her eyes had seemed to express?

Dear Margaret! Generous girl!

And memory took up her virtues one by one, and fondly turned them over,
while fancy told him what his life might be with such a wife as she.

And even while he mourned with fading hopes over the memory of her whom
he had passionately loved as his Perdita, his chamber-door was briskly
opened, and in walked Lawyer Davenport.

"Good-morning, sir! Glad to see you up! In honor of the day, eh?"

"Have you seen her?"

"Ha! first question. Nothing about how I enjoyed my trip, or stood it
after my illness; only 'Have you seen her?' No thanks to you for your
polite inquiries after me--I _have_ seen her."

"And--what have you to tell me?"

"Come, now--what do you expect? You, who have such a poor opinion of the
fair sex, shouldn't look for much from 'em."

"Little enough would I expect from any other woman under the sun, but
from Margaret Walsingham, all that makes a woman pure, right in heart,
grand in spirit."

"I found her at Mr. Stanhope's, ill and sorrowful----"

"My poor child!"

"Quite prostrated, and unfit for her duties--Mrs. Stanhope full of
concern, the children out on the beach with their black nurse. You
should have seen her, when they sent her down from her room to me."

"I wish I had."

"Her eyes couldn't have been fuller of love and pleasure if it had been
you, instead of me; I never received such a beauty-glance in all my
days! And her first words were twice as polite as yours, sir--they
expressed her delight in seeing _me_, not inquiries about a third party.
'Oh, Mr. Davenport, I never thought of this kindness. Have you come to
bid me good-by?' Not a word you see, about you, colonel; nor a thought
either, I'll be bound. Ten to one if she would have brought you in at
all to the conversation, if I hadn't asked her plump and plain, if she
didn't mean to give the colonel his property, after all?

"'Why,' says she, flashing a glance at me, to see if I meant it, and
then turning her face away, 'have I not intrusted you with it, to give
over to him? What obstacle can there be?'

"'You don't do his fine character much justice in this transaction,
though you always vaunted it up to Gay and me,' I said. 'If he had been
a paltry money-hunter, you couldn't have served him much worse.'

"'He is satisfied, is he not?' cried she.

"Then I drew a horrible picture of your despair upon finding that she
had gone, and how you fainted in trying to prepare to follow her,
and--trust, me for making up a case! The last of it was her hanging on
my shoulder, and crying over my broadcloth, and sobbing:

"'Take me back to him, Mr. Davenport; how could I have been so cruel as
to leave him in his weakness, uncared for! Take me back again.'"

"And so----"

"Well, now, I rather enjoy the mighty interest with which you survey me!
And so Mrs. Stanhope granted me an interview, in which I told her to
look out for another governess, as Miss Walsingham had been sent for on
very particular business, to go home to England, and Miss Margaret and I
had a very nice little trip back. I have, you may be sure, spared no
eloquence in keeping Miss Margaret's alarms up about you, and she is
waiting below, doubtless with her heart in her mouth, to know whether
you're dead or alive."

"What! Is she here? Let me go for my fair girl this----"

"Fair and softly, my young sir. I have a proposition to make, before I
let you out of my power. What day of the month is this?"

"Twenty-fifth."

"And what must be done before the twenty-eighth? Eh? Don't you know?
Miss Margaret must be wooed and won before the twenty-eighth. And why?
Because Madam Brand's will was written on the twenty-eighth of last
March, and the year in which you were to marry your co-heir passes in
three days, and after that, according to the will, you can't have one
inch of Seven-Oak Waaste. What does that necessitate, then? (Oh, young
people, what would you do without me!) Why, you must marry her,
colonel--by Heaven! you must--before the twenty-eighth! What do you
think of that for a little romance?"

"Too much of Heaven's brightness--too little of earth's shadows. You see
I don't deserve that she should love me."

"Humph! no. I can't say that you do. But that's nobody's business if the
lady's pleased. Now, having given your memory a jog about the flight of
time, I'll send her up to you."

"Let me go to her."

"Stay where you are, sir; don't stir, I beg. I don't profess to know
much about woman's curious little idiosyncrasies, but I'll bet a dozen
of claret, that this humdrum chamber of yours where she nursed you day
after day for four weeks, is the dearest place to her of all the world,
and I'll go farther and say that so long as she lives the memory of this
same room, sir, will have power to send the rush of fond tears up to her
eyes, be she happy or miserable. You see she found you here, and got
your life from Heaven, as it were, by dint of unwearied prayer, and its
hallowed to her like a little sanctuary. Women are strange creatures,
sir and I advise you, if you want to sway her heart to your wishes, to
see her here."

Lying face downward and alone, with his hands clasped in grateful
thanksgiving, all the wicked recklessness and the unbelief and the
cynical fatalism slipped forever from St. Udo's soul, and he turned
after long years to the idol of his youth--hope crowned with Heavenly
faith; and in that sweet hour of supreme humility the sheath dropped
from the fruit, and the noble works of Heaven's hand turned to adore its
Creator.

So it came to pass that when Margaret Walsingham, standing at the
doorway, too timid to approach--too womanly soft to go away, now that
the man was dying for her--heard the low entreaty,

"Bless me with her love--ennoble me with her love, O Heaven!"

Her whole face became transfigured with joy, and she stood there a
breathless and a lovely vision, listening to what she dared not believe
before.

"Is that my darling, standing on the threshold? Come."

Folded heart to heart, her head upon its place for the first time, his
arms about her in a band of love--her hour of sweet recompense has come
at last, and with unutterable thrills shooting through her tremulous
frame, she whispers, smiling:

"I have won my own dear lord of Castle Brand."



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MARGARET'S HAPPY DESTINY.


"By gar! _mon camarade_, and do you call yourself a man, prying into
Madam Fortune's good graces? Why, she has starved you, the jade, she has
given you the prison fare, she has been a vampire to you, _mon_ colonel.
What for you wear that face of parchment when I come to preside over the
hand-grip, and to bless, and to be the good fairy? Ah, bah! Your future
may be very good, but your past has been execrably bad. I drop the tear
of friendship to your _mal-de-grain_."

Monsieur, the chevalier, had just arrived from New York per steamer,
breezy, brisk, jocund as a stage harlequin, and rushed in upon our
colonel to congratulate him after having hunted up all particulars
connected with him in the little town, and had the gratification of
finding affairs so much better than he feared.

"Ah, Calembours, it's some time since we met. You look so flourishing
that I need scarcely express a hope that you are well. Thanks for your
sympathy. Don't waste it, though. I'll soon be all right, if I'm not
done brown in Fortune's frying-pan. But what brings you to Key West? A
consignment of tough beef?"

"_Ma foi!_ you take a man up sharp, _mon ami_. I have not the affliction
to see the last of the Brand spirit, gone out of you, for all the sugars
and panadas of this illness. Do you suppose a consignment of anything
could bring me to this _inferno_ of yellow fever and negroes? Why not
sooner suggest pleasure, duty, or what say you to friendship for you,
_mon camarade_?"

"Pshaw! Calembours, you and I know that your capabilities of friendship
could be bought at a ransom of five shillings."

"_Mon Dieu!_ but you are hard on your Ludovic. Did I not squander all my
little gains for to get your rights in England? Did I not give up the
grand demoiselle. Marguerite, to you, when she might have been the
countess, when she might have loved me? Ah, _mon_ colonel, you have me
to thank for all your good fortune, and yet you will not lift the eyes
to thank me."

"Brag was an impudent dog; still, there's my hand, comrade, and in
virtue of my present happiness, which you helped to bring about, take a
hearty squeeze."

The chevalier squeezed it, and declared, with tears in his eyes, that he
was the luckiest dog out of Paris in possessing such a fine _camarade_.

"You shall now hear my little plan in having ventured to this infectious
place," he cried. "Your glorious mademoiselle had struck such frenzy of
admiration into my soul that the instant Madame Hesslein released me
from attending upon her--curse Madame Hesslein"--his visage grew pale
with uncontrollable rage--"I determined to follow Mademoiselle
Walsingham here, and to find if the plague had spared her, and if she
was left without protection, (for I must tell you, _mon ami_, that I had
no hope of seeing you alive again), to offer her my poor help and escort
back to her home and friends in Surrey, and to be the friend in need to
her until she turned me away.

"I come full of these glorious plans of benevolence which might well
ennoble any man, and find--hey, presto! the romance has turned the other
way! My colonel still lives, being conjured back to life by undiluted
fidelity; the lawyer with the knotty head has argued the plague out of
conceit of him, and the glorious mademoiselle is a _fiancee_; so I bury
my too fond plans for mademoiselle's welfare, and I crucify the flesh,
and say to myself:

"'I will be the good fairy for these two people; will be the mason to
build the steps to their summit of bliss; I will be the porter to carry
them thence.'

"So I fly to you--behold me--I am here to act as manager--I glow with
the eagerness of friendship."

"And in return, what do you expect?"

Calembours shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

"_Vive l'Anglais!_" he cried, "they can make a good bull's-eye can the
John Bulls. You see this _bourse_? Bah! how wrinkled are its sides, how
flattened under hard pressure of poverty! _Mon Dieu!_ did not the jade,
Madame Hesslein, take the bread out of my mouth in the amplitude of her
revenge? Very well. You who offer me the hand of friendship in return
for that leetle favor, and also for the other not leetle favor of
sending your Marguerite to save your life, shall take her fingers in
yours, kiss them, and say: "Have you forgotten the small souvenir which
you promised to my friend, the chevalier?" _Ma Mignonette_, now is the
time to remember it. And she will remember it--my word upon it, she
will, and will also urge upon you to let her souvenir me with a leetle
more of her pin-money. And with the proceeds of your joint munificence I
shall float again on the ascending tide of fortune, in my tight little
bark, in spite of the _grande_ she devil who has ruined me."

"Ah, your funds have run low, and you are here to replenish them?"

"By gar! that is so, _mon ami_."

The two men eyed each other; St Udo with raised eyebrows and slightly
scornful amusement; the ex-tailor of Szegedin with an ingratiating
impudence which showed that monsieur knew his man very well.

"I have told you often that you are a greedy dog," said the colonel;
"but I have no wish to see you under the feet of your favourite goddess,
though I had much rather you had left your services to speak for
themselves to our pockets. How much did Miss Walsingham agree to give
you? Davenport, it seems to me, mentioned something of this to me."

"Only one thousand of your pounds, _cher ami_, only one thousand; she
was going to insist upon doubling it, but I implored her: 'Admirable
lady, press no more upon me. At that time I little dreamed the days were
coming when necessity should compel me to accept."

"You shall have fifteen hundred to give you a start. I think you will
manage upon that, you are such a man of resource." Said the colonel,
admiringly, who had heard Davenport's grumbling account of the money
arrangement with the chevalier, and remembered it very well.

Whereupon monsieur got up, flung his arms around St. Udo, gave him a
French embrace, vowed he was a lord, and then coolly announced himself
the _attache_ of the little party, he rushed off to hunt up his quondam
antagonist, Davenport, and discuss the management of affairs, with much
impudent triumph, over that worthy gentleman for his former suspicions
of the honor of a French chevalier.

       *       *       *       *       *

The white moonbeams poured brilliant as diamond lights into the porch of
the old church of Key West.

The spicy odor of the citron trees and of the orange groves filled each
passing breath; the boom of the far-off surf against the reefs made
endless sounding, like the dull roar of a conch-shell at the ear.

The robed figure of a clergyman stood in the low-browed church doorway,
and his hands gently chafed each other as he gazed down the white road
after a quiet cortege, which was gliding slowly toward the town.

Into the flickering shades of a branching palm-tree out to the vivid
moonbeams, bright as day, quietly moving farther and farther from the
man who had bound them together, for a peaceful or a turbulent life.

And the good pastor, softly chafing his hands, and thinking of the
bride's soft, holy face, and of the bridegroom's beauty, which had
reminded him of Antinous, grave, yet not severe, breathes a blessing
upon these strangers, who this night will leave forever behind them his
fairy isle.

"May their wedded life be as serene and smooth as these shades are
light, and these bursts of moonlight translucent. May the sky ever be
clear for them--the sea of life ever be unruffled, as yonder crystal
channel, to which they are hastening."

Then he, also, leaves the glistening temple behind him, and goes his way
among the down-dropping shrubs and spicy blossoms to his home among the
bananas.

Standing on the deck of the steamer, which was to convey him to his
long-forsaken home, with his arm around the Venus-like figure of his
wife, and his eyes upon the swiftly vanishing roof of the isle, St. Udo
Brand, who had spoken but little since repeating the vows which had made
his darling by his side his own, now found speech, and half playfully
apostrophized the dreamlike scene before him thus:

"Farewell ye coral isles, wherein I found my Pearl and happiness.
Blessed be your coraline foundations, your lazy inhabitants, and your
fever-breeding climate. You have been to me a world of passion, of hope,
of purity. Oh, my Lost Good, who has been sent to me in mercy"--his
playful accents changed to the gravity of deep emotion, as he drew yet
closer to him his "Perdita"--"I turn to you henceforth to be what you
would wish me, and to study your secret of how to live. I have been
wandering on the burning sands, and pressing forever onward to reach a
glittering lake of the desert, which, ever rippling and vanishing,
beckoned me farther from the cool, calm shades of rest. Now I come, a
wearied pilgrim to your pure heart, my wife, for you have opened it to
let a weary, dusty wanderer in. Your purity, my simple Margaret, reminds
me of the immaculate heights of snow-capped Gaurisankar--serene,
majestic, while I, a lava-crusted, thunderous, calcined volcano, lashed
by the fires of many passions, come to cool my fevered blood by your
chill radiance."

"Hush, St. Udo! If you knew how intensely happy I am with my
destiny----"

She paused, for her glad eyes were filling fast, her fond tones
faltering.

"Oh, my soft-souled Perdita! my simple darling!"

And then sweetly swooped the rush of joy to them, and they were dumb,
for some one who has read the human heart says, "The most exquisite of
all emotions is utter silence, with a being in whom we feel entire
sympathy."

"Ah, _par ma foi!_ but I am the good fairy, after all!" muttered the
chevalier, hugging his fancy little self, and pacing about near them,
with a protecting air, as if they were his especial _proteges_. "I feel
like Guardian Angel of their fortunes. Saint Ludovic--_par la messe_, it
sounds well!"

"Thank Heaven! Ethel Brand's incomprehensible will has explained itself
at last!" mused Davenport, laying down his crumpled _Times_, "and it has
proved itself to be the wisest will ever the Brands made. Married in
spite of themselves, and as happy as love can make them in spite of a
plain face, on the one side, and a reputation that the dogs wouldn't
pick up once, on the other. He's a saved man, and she's a happy
woman--dear, faithful Margaret. What glorious news for old Gay."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mrs. St. Udo Brand came home to Seven-Oak Waaste, she found a
letter awaiting her, and in its many pages she found at last the true
history of the man who had been the Sleuth-Hound of Castle Brand:

     CONVICT SHIP FEARLESS, March --, '63.

     "MISS WALSINGHAM:--As you are a remarkably clever woman, and I
     have always been an admirer of fair play, I will give you your
     dues, and own that in our little game you had the best of it,
     and deserved to have.

     "I don't bear you malice for this cursed mess which you've
     pushed me into, although I have you only to blame for it, for
     perhaps I didn't go the right way to work with you and I was a
     confounded fool for my pains.

     "Yes I've been a lover of fair play all through my dodging
     life, ever since I was big enough to run at my father with a
     knife for making my mother cry; and since in our desperate
     little game together you won, I think it but fair play to own
     it, and to show you the few trumps with which I fought against
     your full hand.

     "I'm sent back to banishment for life, and you are, I hear, a
     happy bride, coming home with St. Udo Brand; but if I know the
     practical good sense you possess, you won't toss this into the
     fire till you've read it all, and wasted a few good-hearted
     regrets on the wretch whose luck was so infernally poor.

     "Forty years ago, Colonel Cathcart Brand, only son of Ethel
     Brand, Dowager of Seven-Oak Waaste, went to Cuba, which was a
     military station then as now, and fell in with a
     splendid-looking Cuban girl called Zerlini Barelli.

     "Of course, the man took her in, and ruined all her worldly
     prospects through her love of him. In five years he was ordered
     back to England again, and coolly proceeded to take leave of
     the girl who had been more to him than many a wife is to her
     husband, and had nursed him through more than one, almost fatal
     attack, of fever. In vain she pleaded that he would take her
     with him, and own her boy as his legal heir. The colonel swore
     he couldn't, and offered her any money if she would not follow
     him.

     "She agreed to this, and when I was four years old, they
     parted, never to meet again.

     "I inherited all my mother's deep, patient ferocity, added to
     my father's outward appearance; and was called Brand Bareilli,
     at St. Kitts, where I was sent to school, I not having the
     remotest idea of my parentage.

     "When I was ten years of age I was sent to England, probably at
     the colonel's instigation, and I was put into a training
     academy to fit me for the army.

     "At twenty-one I received my commission as lieutenant in the
     artillery, through the influence of Colonel Brand, who from
     time to time took a certain care of my fortunes.

     "About this time, noticing a great resemblance between the
     colonel and myself, a suspicion seized me that I had found my
     father.

     "I once hinted as much to him, and was furiously ordered to
     hold my tongue, and to beware how I insulted my benefactor.

     "From that day I lost favor with him; he treated me when we met
     with such cold contempt that my blood boiled; and all the while
     he was raising a fiend of hatred in my heart against him, he
     continued to pay over to me an annuity, which kept my
     suspicions on the alert.

     "At last I wrote to my mother, who sent me the whole story,
     asking me whether I had ever seen the colonel's son, St. Udo
     Brand, who was five years younger than I.

     "Colonel Brand, upon returning from Cuba to England, had
     married a lady of birth, whose one son had absorbed all the
     affection which was truly mine by priority or birth, and from
     the moment in which I heard of his existence, I hated him with
     furious hatred, and longed to visit my wrongs upon him.

     "Three years after this I first saw St. Udo Brand, then just
     twenty. He was an ensign in the Guards, and mightily admired
     for his good humor and wit. He, too, was extremely like his
     father, which made me chary of his acquaintance for fear he
     would make me out what I was, and taunt me with it before my
     companions; so we never knew each other in the slightest.

     "But a devil of envy possessed me, for I knew that this chap
     had no more business to be happy, rich, and respected than I
     had--nor so much, for I was his elder brother; and I was
     neither happy, nor rich, nor respected--everybody giving me the
     name of a sullen dog, etc., which was scarce fair play.

     "So I watched my man till I saw an opening for spoiling his
     smiling fortunes, and then I cut in cleverly.

     "I found out that St. Udo was madly in love with a young lady
     of fashion, and that some had it they were to be married
     whenever he attained his majority. I knew the girl myself, as
     luck would have it, and was rather fond of her, too; so,
     rather than let him, of all others in the world, cut me out of
     anything more which was mine by rights, I set myself cunningly
     to winning her affections.

     "How often I've watched till the coast was clear of the dashing
     young ensign, and then got in for my visit to Genevieve
     Carlisle. So cleverly did I manage the thing, that not once did
     St. Udo contrive to meet me, although I was there every day as
     regularly as he himself was.

     "At last I induced her to fly with me, and we went to Paris,
     and they lost all trace of us, for I was always good at a
     dodge, and had been bred to it for many a year.

     "She was discontented and moping as might have been expected,
     after a few months; she had been used to luxury and fashion,
     and plenty of approving friends, and now she hadn't enough to
     eat or wear, nor a friend in the world; for, of course, when I
     was in hiding, my father couldn't send me my annuity; and as
     for her family, they cut her dead when she eloped with a
     nameless adventurer, as they were pleased to call me.

     "She also took into her head to repent of her bargain, and to
     take a dislike to me, and I consider that this wasn't exactly
     fair play, seeing that she had been ready enough to fall in
     love with me when I was fawning about her in London.

     "Well, we got on miserably enough, until her continual
     reproaches sent me off to hunt up some money, and I had the
     misfortune to be caught in a forgery, which had it succeeded,
     might have left me a prosperous man to-day.

     "But the sharp dogs detected me, and had me convicted and
     booked for twelve years penal service in Tasmania, and the news
     killed the woman; she never held her head up after she found
     out what company her treachery to St. Udo Brand had brought her
     into.

     "I can't blame myself for anything in the affair; was it my
     fault that I was born with a wrong to avenge? Was it my fault
     that my father gave me opportunity to hate him and his, by his
     unjust treatment of me? And was it my fault that St. Udo chose
     to fall in love with a girl whom I had my eye on, or that she
     should be false to him, and prefer me, after all her vows to
     him?

     "As for the forgery business, if either of us were to blame, it
     was she, who should have stood in my chains, for her eternal
     harping and carping sent me oft in a fury to do anything I
     could for funds.

     "Still, it was I that suffered, all throughout; strive as I
     might, my cursed ill-luck met me at every turn, and balked me.

     "As we went out in the beastly convict ship, we took on board
     an old sea-captain and his daughter, who were going part of the
     way with us.

     "I used to see the little girl walking the deck, and peering
     down into the hatch at us poor devils, each chained like a dog
     to his log, and her great eyes used to brim over with tears
     whenever she looked up; and she would sit at the mouth of the
     hatch, crying for us, till we began to watch for her.

     "Do you remember all that, Margaret Walsingham?

     "You were the little girl, and I was that half-crazy convict
     who always tried to drive you away with curses, and to frighten
     you with beastly threats. But back you would come next day,
     with your solemn eyes beaming with pity, and drop an apple, or
     an orange, or even a little book down among us, and sit
     watching us for hours, like a spirit, as if our misery burdened
     you so that you could not rest without sharing it with us.

     "Once when I took fever, and could not speak for thirst, you
     climbed down the ladder, and fearlessly approached me with a
     cup of pure, cold water.

     "How eagerly I drank it you may well remember, and also how ill
     I repaid it by a fierce oath the instant my tongue was
     loosened.

     "But you only flitted away with a sorrowful face, and great
     tears standing on your lashes; and I felt such a queer,
     wrenching pain about my heart whenever I thought of it
     afterward that I vowed I would repay you, if I ever had the
     chance, for that little act of kindness.

     "When I had been ten years out, I and a comrade of mine,
     O'Grady, got home on a ticket of leave.

     "We were bound to have our freedom, and not many months passed
     after our return before we had it. Doubling, and dodging, and
     slipping through their fingers like eels, at last we slipped
     the chain, and came out, I as a gentlemanly gambler, he as the
     keeper of a gambling saloon, and we soon filled our pockets.

     "Then I took a trip over the Continent for the purpose of
     perfecting myself in my profession; and then, coming back to
     England, circumstances sent Calembours in my way, and we joined
     in partnership.

     "Then came my good luck, as I thought, and drove me against St.
     Udo Brand once more, and I wondered night and day whether I
     couldn't get any of the fortune which he so confidentially
     expected from his grandmother.

     "The colonel, my father, was dead, so was his wife, and my
     brother was the only one living to whom I owed a grudge for my
     downfall: so I soon found out a way to make him pay up old
     scores.

     "No sooner did Calembours suggest to me that I was like enough
     to St. Udo to pass for him, than I thought out the whole plot
     which it has been the business of Margaret Walsingham to
     explode.

     "I compliment you on your infernal cleverness, and only blame
     myself for giving way to the only weak sentiment I have ever
     felt in my life, namely, mercy toward you for the sake of your
     kindness to me twenty years ago. If it hadn't been for that
     mistaken feeling, I could have wiped you out in the beginning
     of the game, and not a soul been the wiser.

     "But I didn't and I heartily regret it now.

     "With this sincere assertion, I close, remaining yours, humbly,
     BRAND BAREILLI."

Before we bid our friends good-by, let us cast a farewell glance on each
whose fortunes yet do hang in the balance.

Do you wish your picture taken?

Step into this magnificent establishment in Picadilly, London, whose
excellencies appeal to you from placards on every wall within three
miles of London Bridge.

You will enter an apartment carpeted with a web of Turkish loom, and
strewn with ottomans of Oriental gorgeousness, and blazing with the
splendid framings of fine paintings.

Ladies of rank and fashion throng here, gentlemen of taste and purse,
artists of cynical aspect, diletantes of enthusiasm, and all the world
wags its tongue about the prodigies of art to be viewed in that salon.

You will presently be conducted by a deferential man in elegant livery
up two flights of marble steps into a studio, where you will meet the
great French artist, Ludovic, the Chevalier de Calembours.

His bright eyes beam pleasantly, his handsome face glows with welcome,
his white, shapely hand waves you gracefully into a velvet chair.

You look at the little man in the black velvet Hungarian dolman,
embellished with those glittering badges, which catch the eye so much;
you mark the glossy beard and mustache, trimmed to the last degree of
Parisian taste, and as retentive memory suggests to you the once
wretched little tailor, toiling over his small clothes on the banks of
the Theiss, you feel that you are in the presence of a great man.

And when he has, with that charming smile of _naivete_ and indifference,
shown you his cases of photographs, and his paintings colored and
executed by ten of the first living artists in the world--all of whom
are in his employ--you follow him into the crystal dome, and are
photographed at eight guineas a dozen, with much the feeling you might
experience were you one of those honored old women who have their feet
washed once a year by the Empress of the French.

"The world likes to be gulled, then let us gull it."

In due time Madame Hesslein, of happy memory, married Vice-Admiral
Oldright, who, as she had shrewdly calculated upon, soon got the post of
admiral, and she was able to take precedence of all haughty ladies of
her set, let them be ever so bitterly proud--she the blacksmith's
daughter, a little tailor's wife.

I do not know whether she has yet quite forgotten that dying
boy in the wretched shed, or those simple happy days by the river
Theiss, but I hear that it is still her favorite waltz:

"Have no heart and a good digestion!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Knowing the simple soul of my heroine; having a vague conception of the
possible grandeur of my hero, feebly, but earnestly portrayed, need I
assure you that happiness shed its golden light upon their future path,
and that, hand clasped in hand, they paced through each small grief or
joy, fanning in each other that bright and Heaven-born spark which leads
us at last to Heaven?

Thus, gentle companions of these tortuous wanderings. I release you from
your patient chaperonage. I think we part friends, and gratefully I
press your hands, and say _au revoir_!


THE END.





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