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Title: A Life For a Love - A Novel
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions
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                    A LIFE FOR A LOVE.

                         A NOVEL

                            BY

                       L.T. MEADE,

   _Author of "Heart of Gold," "A Girl of the People,"
   etc., etc._

                         MONTREAL:

                    JOHN LOVELL & SON,

                  23 ST. NICHOLAS STREET.

Entered according to Act of Parliament in the year 1891, by John Lovell
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A LIFE FOR A LOVE.



CHAPTER I.


The time was July, and the roses were out in great profusion in the
rectory garden. The garden was large, somewhat untidily kept, but it
abounded in all sweet old-fashioned flowers; there was the invariable
tennis-court, empty just now, and a sweet sound of children laughing
and playing together, in a hay-field near by. The roses were showering
their petals all over the grass, and two girls, sisters evidently, were
pacing up the broad walk in the centre of the garden arm-in-arm. They
were dark-eyed girls, with chestnut, curling hair, rosy lips full of
curves and smiles, and round, good-humored faces. They were talking
eagerly and excitedly one to the other, not taking the smallest notice
of the scene around them--not even replying when some children in the
hay-field shouted their names, but coming at last to a full stand-still
before the open window of the old-fashioned rectory study. Two men were
standing under the deep-mullioned window; one tall, slightly bent, with
silvery-white hair, aquiline features, and dark brown eyes like the
girls. He was the Rector of Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and the man he was
addressing was his only son, and the brother of the eager
bright-looking girls.

"I can't understand it, Gerald," he was saying. "No, don't come in at
present, my dears;" he waved his white, delicate hand to his daughters.
"We'll join you in the tennis-court presently. Yes, Gerald, as I was
saying, it seems the most incomprehensible and unheard-of arrangement."

The girls smiled gently, first into their brother's face, then at one
another. They moved away, going through a little shrubbery, and passing
out into a large kitchen garden, where Betty, the old cook, was now
standing, picking raspberries and currants into a pie-dish.

"Betty," said Lilias, the eldest girl, "has Martha dusted our trunks
and taken them upstairs yet? And has Susan sent up the laces and the
frilled things? We want to set to work packing, as soon as ever the
children are in bed."

"Bless your hearts, then," said old Betty, laying her pie-dish on the
ground, and dropping huge ripe raspberries into it with a slow
deliberate movement, "if you think that children will go to bed on the
finest day of the year any time within reason, you're fine and mistook,
that's all. Why, Miss Joey, she was round in the garden but now, and
they're all a-going to have tea in the hay-field, and no end of butter
they'll eat, and a whole batch of my fresh cakes. Oh, weary, weary me,
but children's mouths are never full--chattering, restless, untoward
things are children. Don't you never go to get married, Miss Marjory."

"I'll follow your example, Betty," laughed back Marjory Wyndham. "I
knew that would fetch the old thing," she continued, turning to her
sister. "She does hate to be reminded that she's an old maid, but she
brings it on herself by abusing matrimony in that ridiculous fashion."

"It's all because of Gerald," answered Lilias--"she is perfectly wild
to think of Gerald's going away from us, and taking up his abode in
London with those rich Pagets. I call it odious, too--I almost feel
to-night as if I hated Valentine. If Gerald had not fallen in love
with her, things would have been different. He'd have taken Holy
Orders, and he'd have been ordained for the curacy of
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and then he need never have gone away. Oh, I
hate--I detest to think of the rectory without Gerald."

"Oh, Lilias," replied Marjory, "you really are--you really--you really
are----"

"What, miss? Speak out, or I'll shake you, or pinch you, or do
something malicious. I warn you that I am quite in the mood."

"Then I'll stand here," said Marjory, springing to the other side of a
great glowing bed of many-colored sweet-williams. "Here your arm can't
reach across these. I will say of you, Lilias Wyndham, that you are
without exception the most contradictory and inconsistent person of my
acquaintance. Here were you, a year ago, crying and sobbing on your
knees because Gerald couldn't marry Valentine, and now, when it's all
arranged, and the wedding is to be the day after to-morrow, and we have
got our promised trip to London, and those lovely brides-maid
dresses--made by Valentine's own express desire at Elise's--you turn
round and are grumpy and discontented. Don't you know, you foolish
silly Lilias, that if Gerald had never fallen in love with Valentine
Paget he'd have met someone else, and if he was father's curate, those
horrid Mortimer girls and those ugly Pelhams would have one and all
tried to get him. We can't keep Gerald to ourselves for ever, so
there's no use fretting about the inevitable, say I."

Lilias' full red lips were pouting; she stooped, and recklessly
gathering a handful of sweet-williams, flung them at her sister.

"I own to being inconsistent," she said, "I own to being cross--I own
to hating Valentine for this night at least, for it just tears my heart
to give Gerald up."

There were real tears now in the bright, curly-fringed eyes and the
would-be-defiant voice trembled.

Marjory shook the sweet-william petals off her dress.

"Come into the house," she said in a softened tone. "Father and Gerald
must have finished that prosy discussion by now. Oh, do hark to those
children's voices; what rampageous, excitable creatures they are. Lilly,
did we ever shout in such shrill tones? That must be Augusta: no one
else has a voice which sounds like the scraping of a coal-scoop in an
empty coal-hod. Oh, of course that high laugh belongs to Joey. Aren't
they feeding, and wrangling, and fighting? I am quite sure, Lil, that
Betty is right, and they won't turn in for hours; we had better go and
do our packing now."

"No, I see Gerald," exclaimed Lilias. And she flew up the narrow
box-lined path to meet her brother.



CHAPTER II.


Gerald Wyndham was not in the least like his rosy, fresh-looking
sisters. He was tall and slenderly made, with very thick and rather
light-brown hair, which stood up high over his low, white forehead--his
eyes were large, but were deeply set, they were grey, not brown, in
repose were dreaming in expression, but when he spoke, or when any
special thought came to him, they grew intensely earnest, luminous and
beautiful. The changing expression of his eyes was the chief charm of a
highly sensitive and refined face--a face remarkable in many ways, for
the breadth of his forehead alone gave it character, but with some weak
lines about the finely cut lips. This weakness was now, however, hidden
by a long, silken moustache. Lilias and Marjory thought Gerald's face
the most beautiful in the world, and most people acknowledged him to be
handsome, although his shoulders were scarcely broad enough for his
height, and his whole figure was somewhat loosely hung together.

"Here you are at last," exclaimed Lilias, linking her hand in her
brother's arm. "Here, take his other arm. Maggie. Oh, when, and oh,
when, and oh, when shall we have him to ourselves again, I wonder?"

"You little goose," said Gerald. He shook himself as if he were half in
a dream, and looked fondly down into Lilias' pretty dimpled, excitable
face. "Well, girls, are the trunks packed, and have you put in plenty
of finery? I promise you Mr. Paget will give a dinner-party every
night--you'll want heaps of fine clothes while you stay at Queen's
Gate."

Marjory began to count on her fingers.

"We arrive on Wednesday," she said. "On Wednesday evening, dinner
number one, we wear our white Indian muslins, with the Liberty sashes,
and flowers brought up from the dear old garden. Thursday evening,
dinner number two, and evening of wedding day, our bridesmaids' toggery
must suffice; Friday, dinner number three, those blue nun's veiling
dresses will appear and charm the eyes. That's all. Three dresses for
three dinners, for it's home, sweet home again on Saturday--isn't it,
Lilias?"

"Of course," said Lilias, "that is, I suppose so," she added, glancing
at her brother.

"Valentine wanted to know if you would stay in town for a week or ten
days, and try to cheer up her father," said Gerald. "Mr. Paget and
Valentine have scarcely been parted for a single day since she was
born. Valentine is quite in a state at having to leave him for a month,
and she thinks two bright little girls like you may comfort him
somewhat."

"But we have our own father to see to," pouted Marjory; "and Sunday
school, and choir practising, and the library books----"

"And I don't see how Valentine can mind leaving her father--if he were
the very dearest father in the world--when she goes away with you,"
interrupted Lilias.

Gerald sighed, just the faintest shadow of an impatient sigh,
accompanied by the slightest shrug of his shoulders.

"Augusta can give out the library books," he said. "Miss Queen can
manage the choir. I will ask Jones to take your class, Lilias, and Miss
Peters can manage yours with her own, Marjory. As to the rector, what
is the use of having five young daughters, if they cannot be made
available for once in a way? And here they come, and there's the
governor in the midst of them. He doesn't look as if he were likely to
taste the sweets of solitude, eh, Marjory?"

Not at that moment, certainly, for a girl hung on each arm, and a
smaller girl sat aloft on each square shoulder, while a fifth shouted
and raced, now in front, now behind, pelting this moving pyramid of
human beings with flowers, and screaming even more shrilly than her
sisters, with eager exclamation and bubbling laughter.

"There's Gerry," exclaimed Augusta.

She was the tallest of the party, with a great stretch of stockinged
legs, and a decided scarcity of skirts. She flew at her brother, flung
her arms round his neck and kissed him rapturously.

"You darling old Gerry--don't we all just hate and detest that horrible
Valentine Paget."

"Hush, Gussie," responded Gerald, in his quiet voice. "You don't know
Valentine, and you pain me when you talk of her in that senseless
fashion. Here, have a race with your big brother to the other end of
the garden. Girls," turning to his elder sisters--"seriously speaking I
should like you to spend about a fortnight with the Pagets. And had you
not better go and pack, for we must catch the eleven o'clock train
to-morrow morning. Now, Gussie--one, two, three, and away."

Two pairs of long legs, each working hard to come off victorious in the
race, flew past the group--the rector and the little girls cheered and
shouted--Marjory and Lilias, laughing at the sight, turned slowly and
went into the house; Gerald won the race by a foot or two, and Gussie
flung herself panting and laughing on the grass at the other end of the
long walk.

"Well done, Augusta," said her brother. "You study athletics to a
purpose. Now, Gussie, can't you manage to give away the library books
on Sunday?"

"I? You don't mean it?" said Augusta. Her black eyes sparkled; she
recovered her breath, and the full dignity of her five feet five and
a-half of growth on the instant. "Am I to give away the library books,
Gerry?"

"Yes, I want Lilias to stay in London for a few days longer than she
intended."

"And Marjory too?"

"Of course. The girls would not like to be parted."

"Galuptions! Won't I have a time of it all round! Won't I give old
Peters a novel instead of his favorite Sunday magazines? And won't I
smuggle Pailey's 'Evidences of Christianity' into the hand of Alice
Jones, the dressmaker. She says the only books she cares for are Wilkie
Collins 'Woman in White,' and the 'Dead Secret,' so she'll have a
lively time of it with the Evidences. Then there's 'Butler's Analogy,'
it isn't in the parish library, but I'll borrow it for once from
father's study. That will exactly suit Rhoda Fleming. Oh, what fun,
what fun. I won't take a single story-book with me, except the 'Woman
in White,' for Peters. He says novels are 'rank poison,' so he shall
have his dose."

"Now look here, Gussie," said Gerald, taking his sister's two hands in
his, and holding them tight--"you've got to please me about the library
books, and not to play pranks, and make things disagreeable for Lilias
when she comes back. You're thirteen now, and a big girl, and you ought
to act like one. You're to make things comfortable for the dear old
pater while we are all away, and you'll do it if you care for me,
Gussie."

"Care for you!" echoed Augusta. "I love you, Gerry. I love you, and I
hate----"

"No, don't say that," said Gerald, putting his hand on the girl's
mouth.

Gussie looked droll and submissive.

"It is so funny," she exclaimed at length.

"You can explain that as we walk back to the house," responded her
brother.

"Why, Gerry, to see you so frightfully in love! You are, aren't you?
You have all the symptoms--oh, before I----"

"I love Valentine," responded Gerald. "That is a subject I cannot
discuss with you, Augusta. When you know her you will love her too. I
am going to bring her here in the autumn, and then I shall want you all
to be good to her, and to let her feel that she has a great number of
real sisters at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, who will be good to her if she
needs them, by-and-bye."

"As if she ever could need us," responded Gussie. "She'll have you.
Yes, I'll do my best about the books--good-night. Gerald. Good-night,
dear old darling king. That's Miss Queen's voice. Coming, Miss Queen,
coming! Good-night, old Gerry. My love to that Val of yours. Oh, what a
nuisance it is to have ever to go to bed."

Gussie's long legs soon bore her out of sight, and Gerald stepped into
the silent and now empty study. To an initiated eye this room bore one
or two marks of having lately witnessed a mental storm. Close to the
rector's leather armchair lay a pile of carefully torn-up papers--the
family Bible, which usually occupied a place of honor on his desk, had
been pushed ruthlessly on one side, and a valuable work on theology lay
wide open and face downwards on the floor. Otherwise the room was in
perfect order--the only absolutely neat apartment in the large old
house. Not the most daring of all the young Wyndhams would disturb a
volume here, or play any wild pranks in the sacred precincts of the
rector's study. As Gerald now entered the room and saw these signs of
mental disquiet round Mr. Wyndham's chair, the pleasant and somewhat
cheerful look left his face, his eyes grew dark, earnest and full of
trouble, and flinging himself on the sofa, he shaded them with his
white long fingers. There was an oil painting of a lady over the
mantel-piece, and this lady had Gerald's face. From her he inherited
those peculiar and sensitive eyes, those somewhat hollow cheeks, and
that noble and broad white brow. From her, too, came the lips which
were curved and beautiful, and yet a little, a little wanting in
firmness. In Mrs. Wyndham the expressive mouth only added the final
touch of womanliness to a beautiful face. In her son it would have
revealed, could it have been seen, a nature which might be led astray
from the strictest paths of honor.

Wyndham sat motionless for a few moments, then springing to his feet,
he paced restlessly up and down the empty study.

"Everything is fixed and settled now," he said, under his breath. "I'm
not the first fellow who has sold himself for the sake of a year's
happiness. If my mother were alive, though, I couldn't have done it,
no, not even for Valentine. Poor mother! She felt sure I'd have taken
Holy Orders, and worked on here with the governor in this sleepy little
corner of the world. It's a blessing she can't be hurt by anything now,
and as to the governor, he has seven girls to comfort him. No, if I'm
sorry for anyone it's Lilias, but the thing's done now. The day after
to-morrow Val will be mine. A whole year! My God, how short it is. My
God, save and pity me, for afterwards comes hell."



CHAPTER III.


The human face has been often spoken of as an index of the mind. There
are people who boldly declare that they know a man by the height of his
forehead, by the set of his eyes, by the shape of his head, and by the
general expression of his countenance. Whether this rule is true or
not, it certainly has its exceptions. As far as outward expression goes
some minds remain locked, and Satan himself can now and then appear
transformed as an angel of light.

Mortimer Paget, Esq., the head and now sole representative of the once
great ship-broking firm of Paget Brothers, was one of the handsomest
and most striking-looking men in the city. On more than one occasion
sculptors of renown had asked to be permitted to take a cast of his
head to represent Humanity, Benevolence, Integrity, or some other
cardinal virtue. He had a high forehead, calm velvety brown eyes,
perfectly even and classical features, and firm lips with a sweet
expression. His lips were perfectly hidden by his silvery moustache,
and the shape of his chin was not discernible, owing to his long
flowing beard. But had the beard and moustache both been removed, no
fault could have been found with the features now hidden--they were
firmly and well-moulded. On this beautiful face no trace of a sinister
cast lurked.

Mortimer Paget in his business transactions was the soul of honor. No
man in the city was more looked up to than he. He was very shrewd with
regard to all money matters, but he was also generous and kind. The old
servants belonging to the firm never cared to leave him; when they
died off he pensioned their widows and provided for their orphans. He
was a religious man, of the evangelical type, and he conducted his
household in every way from a religious point of view. Family prayers
were held night and morning in the great house in Queen's Gate, and the
servants were expected each and all to attend church twice on Sundays.
Mr. Paget had found a church where the ritual was sufficiently low to
please his religious views. To this church he went himself twice on
Sundays, invariably accompanied by a tall girl, richly dressed, who
clung to his side and read out of the same book with him, singing when
he sang, and very often slipping her little hand into his, and closing
her bright eyes when he napped unconsciously during the prosy sermon.

This girl was his only child, and while he professed to be actuated by
the purest love for both God and his fellow creatures, the one being
for whom his heart really beat warmly, the one being for whom he could
gladly have sacrificed himself was this solitary girl.

Valentine's mother had died at her birth, and since that day Valentine
and her father had literally never been parted. She was his shadow,
like him in appearance, and as far as those who knew her could guess
like him in character.

The house in Queen's Gate was full of all the accompaniments of wealth.
It was richly and splendidly furnished; the drawing-rooms were
spacious, the reception rooms were all large. Valentine had her own
boudoir, her own special school-room, her own bedroom and
dressing-room. Her father had provided a suite of rooms for her, each
communicating with the other, but except that she tossed off her
handsome dresses in the dressing-room, and submitted at intervals
during the day with an unwilling grace to the services of her maid, and
except that she laid her bright little curling head each evening on
the softest of down-pillows, Valentine's suite of rooms saw very little
of their young mistress.

There was an old library in the back part of the house--an essentially
dull room, with windows fitted with painted glass, and shelves lined
with books, most of them in tarnished and worm-eaten bindings, where
Mr. Paget sat whenever he was at home, and where in consequence
Valentine was to be found. Her sunny head, with its golden wavy hair,
made a bright spot in the old room. She was fond of perching herself on
the top of the step-ladder, and so seated burrowing eagerly into the
contents of some musty old volume. She devoured the novels of Smollett
and Fielding, and many other books which were supposed not to be at all
good for her, in this fashion--they did her no harm, the bad part
falling away, and not touching her, for her nature was very pure and
bright, and although she saw many shades of life in one way or another,
and with all her expensive education, was allowed to grow up in a
somewhat wild fashion, and according to her own sweet will, yet she was
a perfectly innocent and unsophisticated creature.

When she was seventeen, Mr. Paget told her that he was going to
inaugurate a new state of things.

"You must go into society, Val," he said. "In these days the daughters
of city men of old standing like myself are received everywhere. I will
get your mother's third cousin, Lady Prince, to present you at the next
Drawing-room, and then you must go the usual round, I suppose. We must
get some lady to come here to chaperon you, and you will go out to
balls and assemblies, and during the London season turn night into
day."

Val was seated on the third rung of the step-ladder when her father
made this announcement. She sprang lightly from her perch now, and ran
to his side.

"I won't go anywhere without you, dad; so that's settled. Poor old
man!--dear old man!"

She put her arms round his neck, and his white moustache and beard
swept across her soft, peach-like cheek.

"But I hate going out in the evening, Val. I'm getting an old
man--sixty next birthday, my dear--and I work hard all day. There's no
place so sweet to me in the evening as this worm-eaten, old
armchair;--I should find myself lost in a crowd. Time was when I was
the gayest of the gay. People used to speak of me as the life and soul
of every party I went to, but that time is over for me. Val; for you it
is beginning."

"You are mistaken, father. I perch myself on the arm of this wretched,
worm-eaten, old chair, and stay here with you, or I go into society
with you. It's all the same to me--you can please yourself."

"Don't you know that you are a very saucy lass, miss?"

"Am I? I really don't care--I go with you, or I stay with you--that's
understood. Dad--father dear--that's always to be the way, you
understand. You and I are to be always together--all our lives. You
quite see what I mean?"

"Yes, my darling. But some day you will have a husband. Val. I want you
to marry, and have a good husband, child; and then we'll see if your
old father still comes first."

Valentine laughed gaily.

"We'll see," she repeated. "Father, if you are not awfully busy, I must
read you this bit out of Roderick Random--listen, is not it droll?"

She fetched the volume with its old-fashioned type and obsolete s'es,
and the two faces so alike and so beautiful, and so full of love for
one another, bent over the page.

Valentine Paget had her way, and when she made her _début_ in the world
of fashion she was accompanied by no other chaperon than her handsome
father. A Mrs. Johnstone, a distant relative of Valentine's mother had
been asked to come to drive with the young lady in the Parks, and to
exercise a very mild surveillance over her conduct generally, when she
received her visitors at five o'clock tea, but in the evenings Mr.
Paget alone took her into society. The pair were striking enough to
make an instant success. Each acted as a foil and heightener to the
beauty of the other. Mortimer Paget was recognized by some of his old
cronies--fair ladies who had known him when he was young, reproached
him gently for having worn so well, professed to take a great interest
in his girl, and watched her with narrow, critical, but not unkindly
eyes. The girl was fresh and _naïve_, perfectly free and untrammelled,
a tiny bit reckless, a little out of the common. Her handsome face, her
somewhat isolated position, and her reputed fortune, for Mortimer Paget
was supposed to be one of the richest men in the city, soon made her
the fashion. Valentine Paget, in her first season, was spoken about,
talked over, acknowledged to be a beauty, and had, of course, plenty of
lovers.

No one could have taken a daughter's success with more apparent
calmness than did her father. He never interfered with her--he never
curbed her light and graceful, although somewhat eccentric, ways; but
when any particular young man had paid her marked attention for more
than two nights running, had anyone watched closely they might have
seen a queer, alert, anxious look come into the fine old face. The
sleepy brown eyes would awake, and be almost eagle-like in the keenness
of their glance. No one knew how it was done, but about that possible
suitor inquiries of the closest and most delicate nature were instantly
set on foot; and as these inquiries, from Mr. Paget's point of view, in
each case proved eminently unsatisfactory, when next the ardent lover
met the beautiful Miss Paget, a thin but impenetrable wall of ice
seemed to have started up between them. Scarcely any of Valentine's
lovers came to the point of proposing for her; they were quietly
shelved, they scarcely knew how, long before matters arrived at this
crisis. Young men who in all respects seemed eligible of the
eligible--men with good names and rent-rolls, alike were given a sort
of invisible _congé_. The news was therefore received as a most
startling piece of information at the end of Valentine's first season,
that she was engaged, with the full consent and approval of her most
fastidious father, to about the poorest man of her acquaintance.

Gerald Wyndham was the only son of a country clergyman--he was young,
only twenty-two; he was spoken about as clever, but in the eyes of
Valentine's friends seemed to have no one special thing to entitle him
to aspire to the hand of one of the wealthiest and most beautiful girls
of their acquaintance.

It was reported among Mr. Paget's friends that this excellent,
honorable and worthy gentleman must surely have taken leave of his
senses, for Gerald Wyndham had literally not a penny, and before his
engagement to Valentine, the modest career opening up before him was
that of Holy Orders in one of its humblest walks.



CHAPTER IV.


Wyndham before his engagement was one of the most boyish of men. All
the sunshine, the petting, the warmth, the love, which encircled him as
the prime favorite of many sisters and an adoring father at
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, seemed to have grown into his face. His deep
grey-blue changeful eyes were always laughing--he was witty, and he
said witty and laughable things by the score. The young man had plenty
of talent, and a public school and university education had developed
these abilities to a fine point of culture. His high spirits, and a
certain Irish way which he inherited from his mother, made him a
universal favorite, but at all times he had his grave moments. A look,
a word would change that beaming, expressive face, bring sadness to the
eyes, and seriousness to the finely curved lips. The shadows passed as
quickly as they came. Before Wyndham met Valentine they were simply
indications of the sensitiveness of a soul which was as keenly strung
to pain as to joy.

It is a trite saying that what is easily attained is esteemed of little
value. Valentine found lovers by the score; in consequence, the fact of
a man paying her attention, looking at her with admiration, and saying
pretty nothings in her ear, gave her before her first season was over
only a slightly added feeling of ennui. At this juncture in her life
she was neither in love with her lovers nor with society. She was
younger than most girls when they make their entrance into the world,
and she would infinitely have preferred the sort of half school-room,
half nursery existence she used to lead. She yawned openly and wished
for bed when she was dragged out night after night, and when fresh
suitors appeared she began really to regard them as a weariness to the
flesh.

Gerald Wyndham did not meet Valentine in quite the ordinary fashion.

On a certain hot day in July, she had been absolutely naughty, the heat
had enervated her, the languor of summer was over her, and after a late
dinner, instead of going dutifully upstairs to receive some final
touches from her maid, before starting for a great crush at the house
of a city magnate near by, she had flown away to the library, turned on
the electric light, and mounting the book-ladder perched herself on her
favorite topmost rung, took down her still more favorite "Evelina," and
buried herself in its fascinating pages. Past and present were both
alike forgotten by the young reader, she hated society for herself, but
she loved to read of Evelina's little triumphs, and Lord Orville was
quite to her taste.

"If I could only meet a man like him," she murmured, flinging down her
book, and looking across the old library with her starry eyes, "Oh,
father, dear, how you startled me! Now, listen, please. I will not go
out to-night--I am sleepy--I am tired--I am yawning dreadfully. Oh,
what have I said?--how rude of you, sir, to come and startle me in that
fashion!"

For Valentine's light words had not been addressed to Mr. Paget, but to
a young man in evening dress, a perfect stranger, who came into the
room, and was now looking up and actually laughing at her.

"How rude of you," said Valentine, and she began hastily to descend
from her elevated position. In doing so she slipped, and would have
fallen if Wyndham had not come to the rescue, coolly lifting the
enraged young lady into his arms and setting her on the floor.

"Now I will beg your pardon as often as you like," he said. "I was
shown in here by a servant. I am waiting for Mr. Paget--I was
introduced to him this morning--my father turns out to be an old
friend, and he was good enough to ask me to go with you both to the
Terrells to-night."

"Delightful!" said Valentine. "I'll forgive you, of course; you'll take
the dear old man, and I'll stay snugly at home. I'm so anxious to
finish 'Evelina.' Have you ever read the book?--Don't you love Lord
Orville?"

"No, I love Evelina best," replied Gerald.

The two pairs of eyes met, both were full of laughter, and both pairs
of lips were indulging in merry peals of mirth when Mr. Paget entered
the room.

"There you are, Val," he said. "You have introduced yourself to
Wyndham. Quite right. Now, was there ever anything more provoking? I
have just received a telegram." Here Mr. Paget showed a yellow
envelope. "I must meet a business man at Charing Cross in an hour, on a
matter of some importance. I can't put it off, and so. Val, I don't see
how I am to send you to the Terrells all alone. It is too bad--why,
what is the matter, child?"

"Too delightful, you mean," said Valentine. "I wasn't going. I meant to
commit high treason to-night. I was quite determined to--now I needn't.
Do you mean to go to the Terrells by yourself, Mr. Wyndham?"

"The pleasure held out was to go with you and your father," responded
Wyndham, with an old-fashioned bow, and again that laughing look in his
eyes.

Mr. Paget's benevolent face beamed all over.

"Go up to the drawing-room, then, young folks, and amuse yourselves,"
he said. "Our good friend, Mrs. Johnstone, will bear you company. Val,
you can sing something to Wyndham to make up for his disappointment.
She sings like a bird, and is vain of it, little puss. Yes, go away,
both of you, and make the best of things."

"The best of things is to remain here," said Valentine. "I hate the
drawing-room, and that dear, good Mrs. Johnstone, if she must act
chaperon, can bring her knitting down here. I am so sorry for you, Mr.
Wyndham, but I don't mean to sing a single song to-night. Had you not
better go to the Terrells?"

"No, I mean to stay and read 'Evelina,'" replied the obdurate young
man.

Mr. Paget laughed again.

"I will send our good friend, Mrs. Johnstone, to make tea for you," he
said, and he hurried out of the room.



CHAPTER V.


This was the very light and airy beginning of a friendship which was to
ripen into serious and even appalling results. Wyndham was a man who
found it very easy to make girls like him. He had so many sisters of
his own that he understood their idiosyncrasies, and knew how to humor
their little failings, how to be kind to their small foibles, and how
to flatter their weaknesses. More than one girl had fallen in love with
this handsome and attractive young man. Wyndham was aware of these
passionate attachments, but as he could not feel himself particularly
guilty in having inspired them, and as he did not in the slightest
degree return them, he did not make himself unhappy over what could not
be cured. It puzzled him not a little to know why girls should be so
silly, and how hearts could be so easily parted with--he did not know
when he questioned his own spirit lightly on the matter that the day of
retribution was at hand. He lost his own heart to Valentine without
apparently having made the smallest impression upon this bright and
seemingly volatile girl.

On that very first night in the old library Wyndham left his heart at
the gay girl's feet. He was seriously in love. Before a week was out he
had taken the malady desperately, and in its most acute form. It was
then that a change came over his face, it was then for the first time
that he became aware of the depths of his own nature. Great abysses of
pain were opened up to him--he found himself all sensitiveness, all
nerves. He had been proud of his rather athletic bringing-up, of his
intellectual training. He had thought poorly of other men who had
given up all for the sake of a girl's smile, and for the rather
doubtful possession of a girl's fickle heart. He did not laugh at them
any longer. He spent his nights pacing his room, and his days haunting
the house at Queen's Gate. If he could not go in he could linger near
the house. He could lounge in the park and see Valentine as she drove
past, and nodded and smiled to him brightly. His own face turned pale
when she gave him those quick gay glances. She was absolutely
heart-whole--a certain intuition told him this, whereas he--he found
himself drivelling into a state bordering on idiotcy.

Almost all men have gone through similar crises, but Wyndham at this
time was making awful discoveries. He was finding out day by day the
depths of weakness as well as pain within him.

"I'm the greatest fool that ever breathed," he would say to himself.
"What would Lilias say if she saw me now? How often she and I have
laughed over this great momentous matter--how often we have declared
that we at least would never lose ourselves in so absurd a fashion.
Poor Lilias, I suppose her turn will come as mine has come--I cannot
understand myself--I really must be raving mad. How dare I go to Mr.
Paget and ask him to give me Valentine? I have not got a halfpenny in
the world. This money in my pocket is my father's--I have to come to
him for every sixpence! I am no better off than my little sister Joan.
When I am ordained, and have secured the curacy of
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, I shall have exactly £160 a year. A large sum
truly. And yet I want to marry Valentine Paget--the youngest heiress of
the season--the most beautiful--the most wealthy! Oh, of course I must
be mad--quite mad. I ought to shun her like the plague. She does not in
the least care for me--not in the least. I often wonder if she has got
a heart anywhere. She acts as a sort of siren to me--luring me
on--weakening and enfeebling my whole nature. She is a little flirt in
her way, but an unconscious one. She means nothing by that bright look
in her eyes, and that sparkling smile, and that gay clear laugh. I
wonder if any other man has felt as badly about her as I do. Oh, I
ought to shun her--I am simply mad to go there as I do. When I get an
invitation--when I have the ghost of a chance of seeing her--it seems
as if thousands of invisible ropes pulled me to her side. What is to
come of it all? Nothing--nothing but my own undoing. I can never marry
her--and yet I must--I will. I would go through fire and water to hold
her to my heart for a moment. There, I must have been quite mad when I
said that--I didn't mean it. I'm sane now, absolutely sane. I know what
I'll do. I won't dine there to-night. I'll send an excuse, and I'll run
down to the old rectory until Monday, and get Lilias to cure me."

The infatuated young man seized a sheet of notepaper, dashed off an
incoherent and decidedly lame excuse to Mr. Paget, and trembling with
fear that his resolution would fail him even at the eleventh hour,
rushed out and dropped the letter into the nearest pillar-box. This
action was bracing, he felt better, and in almost gay spirits, for his
nature was wonderfully elastic. He took the next train to Jewsbury, and
arrived unexpectedly at the pleasant old rectory late on Saturday
evening.

The man who is made nothing of in one place, and finds himself
absolutely the hero of the hour in another, cannot help experiencing a
very soothed sensation. Valentine Paget had favored Gerald with the
coolest of nods, the lightest of words, the most indifferent of
actions. She met him constantly, she was always stumbling up against
him, and when she wanted him to do anything for her she issued a brief
and lordly command. Her abject slave flew to do her bidding.

Now at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold the slave was in the position of master,
and he could not help enjoying the change.

"Augusta, wheel that chair round for Gerald. Sit there. Gerald,
darling--oh, you are in a draught. Shut the door, please, Marjory.
Joan, run to the kitchen, and tell Betty to make some of Gerald's
favorite cakes for supper. Is your tea quite right, Gerry; have you
sugar enough--and--and cream?"

Gerald briefly expressed himself satisfied. Lilias was superintending
the tea-tray with a delicate flush of pleasure on her cheeks, and her
bright eyes glancing moment by moment in admiration at her handsome
brother. Marjory had placed herself on a footstool at the hero's feet,
and Augusta, tall and gawky, all stockinged-legs, and abnormally thin
long arms, was standing at the back of his chair, now and then
venturing to caress one of his crisp light waves of hair with the tips
of her fingers.

"It is too provoking!" burst from Marjory,--"you know, Lilias, we can't
put Gerald into his old room, it is being papered, and you haven't
half-finished decorating the door. Gerry, darling, you might have let
us know you were coming and we'd have worked at it day and night. Do
you mind awfully sleeping in the spare room? We'll promise to make it
as fresh as possible for you?"

"I'll--I'll--fill the vases with flowers--" burst spasmodically from
Augusta. "Do you like roses or hollyhocks best in the tall vases on the
mantel-piece, Gerry?"

"By the way, Gerald," remarked the rector, who was standing leaning
against the mantel-piece, gazing complacently at his son and daughters,
"I should like to ask your opinion with regard to that notice on
Herring's book in the _Saturday_. Have you read it? It struck me as
over critical, but I should like to have your opinion."

So the conversation went on, all adoring, all making much of the
darling of the house. Years afterwards, Gerald Wyndham remembered that
summer's evening, the scent of the roses coming in at the open window,
the touch of Marjory's little white hand as it rested on his knee, the
kind of half-irritated, half-pleased thrill which went through him when
Augusta touched his hair, the courteous and proud look on the rector's
face when he addressed him, above all the glow of love in Lilias'
beautiful eyes. He remembered that evening--he was not likely ever to
forget it, for it was one of the last of his happy boyhood, before he
took upon him his manhood's burden of sin and sorrow and shame.

After tea Lilias and Gerald walked about the garden arm-in-arm.

"I am going to confess something to you," said the brother. "I want
your advice, Lilly. I want you to cure me, by showing me that I am the
greatest fool that ever lived."

"But you are not, Gerald; I can't say it when I look up to you, and
think there is no one like you. You are first in all the world to
me--you know that, don't you?"

"Poor Lil, that is just the point--that is where the arrow will pierce
you. I am going to aim a blow at you, dear. Take me down from your
pedestal at once--I love someone else much, much better than I love
you."

Lilias' hand as it rested on Gerald's arm trembled very slightly. He
looked at her, and saw that her lips were moving, and that her eyes
were looking downwards. She did not make any audible sound, however,
and he went on hastily:--

"And you and I, we always promised each other that such a day should
not come--no wonder you are angry with me, Lil."

"But I'm not, dear Gerald--I just got a nasty bit of jealous pain for a
minute, but it is over. I always knew that such a day would come, that
it would have to come--if not for me, at least for you. Tell me about
her, Gerry. Is she nice--is she half--or a quarter nice enough for
you?"

Then Gerald launched into his subject, forgetting what he supposed
could only be a very brief sorrow on Lilias' part in the enthralling
interest of his theme. Valentine Paget would not have recognized the
portrait which was drawn of her, for this young and ardent lover
crowned her with all that was noble, and decked her with attributes
little short of divine.

"I am absolutely unworthy of her," he said in conclusion, and when
Lilias shook her head, and refused to believe this latter statement, he
felt almost angry with her.

The two walked about and talked together until darkness fell, but,
although they discussed the subject in all its bearings, Gerald felt by
no means cured when he retired to rest, while Lilias absolutely cried
herself to sleep.

Marjory and she slept in little white beds, side by side.

"Oh, Lil, what's the matter?" exclaimed the younger sister, disturbed
out of her own sweet slumbers by those unusual tokens of distress.

"Nothing much," replied Lilias, "only--only--I am a little
lonely--don't ask me any questions, Maggie, I'll be all right in the
morning."

Marjory was too wise to say anything further, but she lay awake herself
and wondered. What could ail Lilias?--Lilias, the brightest, the gayest
of them all. Was she fretting about their mother. But it was seven
years now since the mother had been taken away from the rectory
children, and Lilias had got over the grief which had nearly broken her
child-heart at the time.

Marjory felt puzzled and a little fearful,--the evening before had been
so sweet,--Gerald had been so delightful. Surely in all the world there
was not a happier home than Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. Why should Lilias
cry, and say that she was lonely?



CHAPTER VI.


On Monday morning Wyndham returned to town. His father had strained a
point to give his only son the season in London, and Gerald was paying
part of the expenses by coaching one or two young fellows for the next
Cambridge term. He had just concluded his own University course, and
was only waiting until his twenty-third birthday had passed, to be
ordained for the curacy which his father was keeping for him. Gerald's
birthday would be in September, and the rectory girls were looking
forward to this date as though it were the beginning of the millennium.

"Even the cats won't fight, nor the dogs bark when Gerald is in the
room," whispered little Joan. "I 'spect they know he don't like it."

Wyndham returned to London feeling both low and excited. His
conversation with Lilias and the rather pallid look of her face, the
black shadows under her eyes, and the pathetic expression which the
shedding of so many tears had given to them, could not cure him nor
extinguish the flame which was burning into his heart, and making all
the other good things of life seem but as dust and ashes to his taste.

He arrived in town, went straight to his lodgings, preparatory to
keeping his engagement with one of his young pupils, and there saw
waiting for him a letter in the firm upright handwriting of Mortimer
Paget. He tore the envelope open in feverish haste. The lines within
were very few:--

    DEAR WYNDHAM.

    Val and I were disappointed at your not putting in an appearance at
    her dinner-party last night, but no doubt you had good reasons for
    going into the country. This note will meet you on your return.
    Can you come and lunch with me in the City on Monday at two
    o'clock? Come to my place in Billiter-square. I shall expect you
    and won't keep you waiting. I have a matter of some importance I
    should like to discuss with you.--Yours, my dear Wyndham,
    sincerely,

   "MORTIMER PAGET."



Wyndham put the letter into his pocket, flew to keep his appointment
with his pupil, and at two o'clock precisely was inquiring for Mr.
Paget at the offices of the shipping firm in Billiter-square.

Mortimer Paget was now head of the large establishment. He was the sole
surviving partner out of many, and on him alone devolved the carrying
out of one of the largest business concerns in the city.

Wyndham never felt smaller than when he entered those great doors, and
found himself passed on from one clerk to another, until at last he was
admitted to the ante-room of the chief himself.

Here there was a hush and stillness, and the young man sank down into
one of the easy chairs, and looked around him expectantly. He was in
the ante chamber of one of the great kings of commerce, the depressing
influence of wealth when we have no share in it came over him. He
longed to turn and fly, and but that his fingers, even now, fiddled
with Mr. Paget's very pressing note he would have done so. What could
the great man possibly want with him? With his secret in his breast,
with the knowledge that he, a poor young expectant curate, had dared to
lift up his eyes to the only daughter of this great house, he could not
but feel ill at ease.

When Wyndham was not at home with any one he instantly lost his charm.
He was painfully conscious of this himself, and felt sure that he would
be on stilts while he ate his lunch with Mr. Paget. Nay more, he was
almost sure that that astute personage would read his secret in his
eyes.

A clerk came into the room, an elderly man, with reddish whiskers,
small, deep-set eyes, and thin hair rapidly turning white. He stared
inquisitively at young Wyndham, walked past him, drew up the blinds,
arranged some papers on the table, and then as he passed him again said
in a quick, half-frightened aside:

"If I was you, young man, I'd go."

The tone in which this was said was both anxious and familiar. Wyndham
started aside from the familiarity. His face flushed and he gazed
haughtily at the speaker.

"Did you address me?" he said.

"I did, young man, don't say nothing, for the good Lord's sake, don't
say nothing. My name is Jonathan Helps. I have been here man and boy
for close on forty years. I know the old house. Sound! no house in the
whole city sounder, sound as a nut, or as an apple when _it's rotten at
the core_. You keep that to yourself, young man--why I'd venture every
penny I have in this yer establishment. I'm confidential clerk here!
I'm a rough sort--and not what you'd expect from a big house, nor from
a master like Mr. Paget. Now, young man, you go away, and believe that
there ain't a sounder house in all the city than that of Paget, Brake
and Carter. I, Jonathan Helps, say it, and surely I ought to know."

An electric bell sounded in the other room. Wiping his brow with his
handkerchief as though the queer words he had uttered had cost him an
effort, Helps flew to answer the summons.

"Ask Mr. Wyndham to walk in and have lunch served in my room," said an
authoritative voice. "And see here. Helps, you are not to disturb us on
any excuse before three o'clock."

Shutting the door behind him, Helps came back again to Gerald's side.

"If you don't want to run away at once you're to go in there," he
said. "Remember, there isn't a sounder house in all London than that of
Paget, Brake and Carter. Paget's head of the whole concern now. Don't
he boss it over us though! Oh, you're going in?--you've made up your
mind not to run away. Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of
any bird. Good Lord, if that ain't the least true word that David ever
writ. Well, here you are. Don't forget that this house is sound--sound
as an apple when it is--Mr. Wyndham, sir."

"You seem to have got a very extraordinary clerk," said Gerald, when he
had shaken hands with his host, who had expressed himself delighted to
see him.

"Helps?" responded Mr. Paget. "Yes, poor fellow--has he been
entertaining you--telling you about the soundness of the house, eh?
Poor Helps--the best fellow in the world, but just a little--a very
little--touched in the head."

"So I should think," said Gerald, laughing; "he compared me to a bird
in the fowler's net, and all kinds of ridiculous similes. What a snug
room you have here."

"I am glad you think it so. I have a still snugger room at the other
side of this curtain, which I hope to introduce to you. Come along and
see it. This was furnished at Val's suggestion. She comes here to have
lunch with me once a week. Friday is her day. Will you come and join us
here next Friday at two o'clock?"

"I--I shall be delighted," stammered Wyndham.

"She has good taste, hasn't she, little puss? All these arrangements
are hers. I never saw any one with a better eye for color, and she has
that true sympathy with her surroundings which teaches her to adapt
rooms to their circumstances. Now, for instance, at Queen's Gate we are
all cool greys and blues--plenty of sunshine comes into the house at
Queen's Gate. Into this room the sun never shows his face. Val
accordingly substitutes for his brightness golden tones and warm
colors. Artistic, is it not? She is very proud of the remark which
invariably falls from the lips of each person who visits this sanctum
sanctorum, that it does not look the least like an office."

"Nor does it," responded Gerald. "It is a lovely room. What a beautiful
portrait that is of your daughter--how well those warm greys suit her
complexion."

"Yes, that is Richmond's, he painted her two years ago. Sit down at
this side of the table, Wyndham, where you can have a good view of the
saucy puss. Does she not look alive, as if she meant to say something
very impertinent to us both. Thanks, Helps, you can leave us now. Pray
see that we are not disturbed."

Helps withdrew with noiseless slippered feet. A curtain was drawn in
front of the door, which the clerk closed softly after him.

"Excellent fellow, Helps," said Mr. Paget, "but mortal, decidedly
mortal. If you will excuse me, Wyndham. I will take the precaution of
turning the key in that door. This little room, Val's room, I call it,
has often been privileged to listen to state secrets. That being the
case one must take due precautions against eaves-droppers. Now, my dear
fellow, I hope you are hungry. Help yourself to some of those
cutlets--I can recommend this champagne."

The lunch proceeded, the elder man eating with real appetite, the
younger with effort. He was excited, his mind was full of trouble--he
avoided looking at Valentine's picture, and wished himself at the other
side of those locked doors.

"You don't seem quite the thing," said Mr. Paget, presently. "I hope
you have had no trouble at home, Wyndham. Is your father well? Let me
see, he must be about my age--we were at Trinity College, Cambridge,
some time in the forties."

"My father is very well, sir," said Gerald. "He is a hale man, he does
not look his years."

"Have some more champagne? I think you told me you had several
sisters."

"Yes, there are seven girls at home."

"Good heavens--Wyndham is a lucky man. Fancy seven Valentines filling a
house with mirth! And you are the only son--and your mother is dead."

"My mother is not living," responded Wyndham with a flush. "And--yes, I
am the only son. I won't have any more champagne, thank you, sir."

"Try one of these cigars--I can recommend them. Wyndham, I am going to
say something very frank. I have taken a fancy to you. There, I don't
often take fancies. Why, what is the matter, my dear fellow?"

Gerald had suddenly risen to his feet, his face was white. There was a
strained, eager, pained look in his eyes.

"You wouldn't, if you knew," he stammered. "I--I have made a fool of
myself, sir. I oughtn't to be sitting here, your hospitality chokes me.
I--I have made the greatest fool of myself in all Christendom, sir."

"I think I know what you mean," said Mr. Paget, also rising to his
feet. His voice was perfectly calm, quiet, friendly.

"I am not sorry you have let it out in this fashion, my poor lad. You
have--shall I tell you that I know your secret, Wyndham?"

"No, sir; don't let us talk of it. You cannot rate me for my folly more
severely than I rate myself. I'll go away now if you have no objection.
Thank you for being kind to me. Try and forget that I made an ass of
myself."

"Sit down again, Wyndham. I am not angry--I don't look upon you as a
fool. I should have done just the same were I in your shoes. You are in
love with Valentine--you would like to make her your wife."

"Good heavens, sir, don't let us say anything more about it."

"Why not? Under certain conditions I think you would make her a
suitable husband. I guessed your secret some weeks ago. Since then I
have been watching you carefully. I have also made private inquiries
about you. All that I hear pleases me. I asked you to lunch with me,
to-day, on purpose that we should talk the matter over."

Mr. Paget spoke in a calm, almost drawling, voice. The young man
opposite to him, his face deadly white, his hands nervously clutching
at a paper-knife, his burning eyes fixed upon the older man's face,
drank in every word. It was an intoxicating draught, going straight to
Gerald Wyndham's brain.

"God bless you!" he said, when the other had ceased to speak. He turned
his head away, for absolute tears of joy had softened the burning
feverish light in his eyes.

"No, don't say that, Wyndham," responded Mr. Paget, his own voice for
the first time a little shaken. "We'll leave God altogether out of this
business, if you have no objection. It is simply a question of how much
a man will give up for love. Will he sell himself, body and soul, for
it? That is the question of questions. I know all about you, Wyndham; I
know that you have not a penny to bless yourself with; I know that you
are about to embrace a beggarly profession. Oh, yes, we'll leave out
the religious aspect of the question. A curacy in the Church of England
is a beggarly profession in these days. I know too that you are your
father's only son, and that you have seven sisters, who will one day
look to you to protect them. I know all that; nevertheless I believe
you to be the kind of man who will dare all for love. If you win
Valentine, you have got to pay a price for her. It is a heavy one--I
won't tell you about it yet. When you agree to pay this price, for the
sake of a brief joy for yourself, for necessarily it must be brief; and
for her life-long good and well-being, then you rise to be her equal in
every sense of the word, and you earn my undying gratitude, Wyndham."

"I don't understand you, sir. You speak very darkly, and you hint at
things which--which shock me."

"I must shock you more before you hold Valentine in your arms. You have
heard enough for to-day. Hark, someone is knocking at the door."

Mr. Paget rose to open it, a gay voice sounded in the passage, and the
next moment a brilliant, lovely apparition entered the room.

"Val herself!" exclaimed her father. "No, my darling. I cannot go for a
drive with you just now, but you and Mrs. Johnstone shall take Wyndham.
You will like a drive in the park, Wyndham. You have got to scold this
young man, Val, for acting truant on Saturday night. Now go off, both
of you, I am frightfully busy. Yes, Helps, coming, coming. Valentine,
be sure you ask Mr. Wyndham home to tea. If you can induce him to dine,
so much the better, and afterwards we can go to the play together."



CHAPTER VII.


On a certain evening about ten days after the events related in the
last chapter, Valentine Paget and her father were seated together in
the old library. Good-natured Mrs. Johnstone had popped in her head at
the door, but seeing the girl's face bent over a book, and Mr. Paget
apparently absorbed in the advertisement sheet of the _Times_, she had
discreetly withdrawn.

"They look very snug," soliloquized the widowed and childless woman
with a sigh. "I wonder what Mortimer Paget will do when that poor
handsome Mr. Wyndham proposes for Val? I never saw anyone so far gone.
Even my poor Geoffrey long ago, who said his passion consumed him to
tatters--yes, these were poor dear Geoffrey's very words--was nothing
to Mr. Wyndham. Val is a desperately saucy girl--does not she see that
she is breaking that poor fellow's heart? Such a nice young fellow,
too. He looks exactly the sort of young man who would commit suicide.
Dear me, what is the world coming to? That girl seems not in the very
least troubled about the matter. How indifferent and easy-going she is!
I know _I_ could not calmly sit and read a novel when I knew that I was
consuming the vitals out of poor dear Geoffrey. But it's all one to
Val. I am very much afraid that girl is developing into a regular
flirt. How she did go on and amuse herself with Mr. Carr at the cricket
match to-day. Adrian Carr has a stronger face than poor young
Wyndham--not half as devoted to Val--I doubt if he even admires her,
and yet how white Gerald Wyndham turned when he walked her off across
the field. Poor Val--it is a great pity Mr. Paget spoils her so
dreadfully. It is plain to be seen she has never had the advantage of a
mother's bringing up."

Mrs. Johnstone entered the beautifully-furnished drawing-room, seated
herself by the open window, and taking up the third volume of a novel,
soon forgot Valentine's love affairs.

Meanwhile that young lady with her cheeks pressed on her hands, and her
eyes devouring the final pages of "Jane Eyre," gave no thought to any
uncomfortable combinations. Her present life was so full and happy that
she did not, like most girls, look far ahead--she never indulged in
day-dreams, and had an angel come to her with the promise of any golden
boon she liked to ask for, she would have begged of him to leave her
always as happy as she was now.

She came to the last page of her book, and, drumming with her little
fingers on the cover, she raised her eyes in a half-dreaming fashion.

Mr. Paget had dropped his sheet of the _Times_--his hand had fallen
back in the old leathern armchair--his eyes were closed--he was fast
asleep.

In his sleep this astute and careful and keen man of business dropped
his mask--the smiling smooth face showed wrinkles, the gay expression
was succeeded by a careworn look--lines of sadness were about the
mouth, and deep crow's-feet wrinkled and aged the expression round the
eyes.

The mantle of care had never yet touched Valentine. For the first time
in all her life a pang of keen mental pain went through her as she
gazed at her sleeping father. For the first time in her young existence
the awful possibility stared her in the face that some time she might
have to live in a cold and dreary world without him.

"Why, my father looks quite old," she half stammered. "Old, and--yes,
unhappy. What does it mean?"

She rose very gently, moved her chair until it touched his, and then
nestling up close to him laid her soft little hand on his shoulder.

Paget slept on, and the immediate contact of Valentine's warm, loving
presence, made itself felt in his dreams--his wrinkles disappeared, and
his handsome lips again half smiled. Val laid her hand on his--she
noticed the altered expression, and her slightly roused fears
slumbered. There was no one to her like her father. She had made a
mistake just then in imagining that he looked old and unhappy. No
people in all the world were happier than he and she. He was not
old--he was the personification in her eyes of all that was manly and
strong and beautiful.

The tired man slept on, and the girl, all her fears at rest, began idly
to review the events of the past day. There had been gay doings during
that long summer's afternoon, and Valentine, in the prettiest of summer
costumes, had thoroughly enjoyed her life. She had spent some hours at
Lords, and had entered with zest into the interest of the Oxford and
Cambridge Cricket Match. She lay back in her chair now with her eyes
half closed, reviewing in a lazy fashion the events of the bygone
hours. A stalwart and very attractive young man in cricketing flannels
mingled in these dreams. He spoke to her with strength and decision.
His dark eyes looked keenly into her face, he never expressed the
smallest admiration for her either by look or gesture, but at the same
time he had a way of taking possession of her which roused her
interest, and which secured her approbation. She laughed softly to
herself now at some of the idle nothings said to her by Adrian Carr,
and she never once gave a thought to Wyndham, who had also been at
Lords.



CHAPTER VIII.


"Val, child, what are you humming under your breath?" said her father,
suddenly rousing himself from his slumbers and looking into his
daughter's pretty face. "Your voice is like that of a bird, my darling.
I think it has gained in sweetness a good deal lately. Have you and
Wyndham been practising much together. Wyndham has one of the purest
tenor voices I ever heard in an amateur."

"Oh, what a worry Mr. Wyndham is," said Valentine, rising from her seat
and shaking out her muslin dress. "Everybody talks to me of his
perfections. I'm perfectly tired of them. I wish he wouldn't come here
so often. No, I was not thinking of any of his songs. I was humming
some words Mr. Carr sings--'Bid me to Live'--you know the words--I like
Mr. Carr so much--don't you, dad, dear?"

"Adrian Carr--yes," replied Mr. Paget in a slow deliberate voice. "Yes,
a good sort of fellow, I've no doubt. I heard some gossip about him at
my club yesterday--what was it? Oh, that he was engaged, or about to be
engaged, to Lady Mabel Pennant. You know the Pennants, don't you, Val?
Have you seen Lady Mabel? She is one of the youngest, I think."

"Yes, she's a fright," responded Valentine, with a decided show of
temper in her voice.

Her face had flushed too, she could not tell why.

"I did not know Lady Mabel was such a plain girl," responded Mr. Paget
drily. "At any rate it is a good connection for Carr. He seems a fairly
clever fellow. Valentine, my child, I have something of importance to
talk to you about. Don't let us worry about Carr just now--I have
something to say to you, something that I'm troubled to have to say.
You love your old father very much, don't you, darling?"

"Love you, daddy! Oh, you know--need you ask? I was frightened about
you a few minutes ago, father. When you were asleep just now, your face
looked old, and there were lines about it. It frightens me to think of
you ever growing old."

"Sit close to me, my dear daughter. I have a great deal to say. We will
leave the subject of my looks just at present. It is true that I am not
young, but I may have many years before me yet. It greatly depends on
you."

"On me, father?"

"Yes. I will explain to you by-and-bye. Now I want to talk about
yourself. You have never had a care all your life, have you, my little
Val?"

"I don't think so, daddy--at least only pin-pricks. You know I used to
hate my spelling lessons long ago, and Mdlle. Lacount used to worry me
over the French irregular verbs. But such things were only pin-pricks.
Yes, I am seventeen, and I have never had a real care all my life."

"You are seventeen and four months, Valentine. You were born on the
14th of February, and your mother and I called you after St. Valentine.
Your mother died when you were a week old. I promised her then that her
baby should never know a sorrow if I could help it."

"You have helped it, daddy; I am as happy as the day is long. I don't
wish for a thing in the wide world. I just want us both to live
together as we are doing now. Of course we will--why not? Shall we go
up to the drawing-room now, father?"

"My dear child, in a little time. I have not said yet what I want to
say. Valentine, you were quite right when you watched my face as I
slumbered. Child, I have got a care upon me. I can't speak of it to
anybody--only it could crush me--and--and--part us, Valentine. If it
fell upon you, it--it--would crush you, my child."

Mr. Paget rose. Valentine, deadly white and frightened, clung to him.
She was half crying. The effect of such terrible and sudden words
nearly paralyzed her; but when she felt the arm which her father put
round her tremble, she made a valiant and brave effort--the tears which
filled her brown eyes were arrested, and she looked up with courage in
her face.

"You speak of my doing something," she whispered. "What is it? Tell me.
Nothing shall part us. I don't mind anything else, but nothing shall
ever part us."

"Val, I have not spoken of this care to any one but you."

"No, father."

"And I don't show it in my face as a rule, do I?"

"Oh, no! Oh, no! You always seem bright and cheerful."

Her tears were raining fast now. She took his hand and pressed it to
her lips.

"But I have had this trouble for some time, my little girl."

"You will tell me all about it, please, dad?"

"No, my darling, you would not understand, and my keenest pain would be
that you should ever know. You can remove this trouble, little Val, and
then we need not be parted. Now, sit down by my side."

Mr. Paget sank again into the leathern armchair. He was still trembling
visibly. This moment through which he was passing was one of the most
bitter of his life.

"You will not breathe a word of what I have told you to any mortal,
Valentine?"

"Death itself should not drag it from me," replied the girl.

She set her lips, her eyes shone fiercely. Then she looked at her
trembling father, and they glowed with love and pity.

"I can save you," she whispered, going on her knees by his side. "It is
lovely to think of saving you. What can I do?"

"My little Val--my little precious darling!"

"What can I do to save you, father?"

"Valentine, dear--you can marry Gerald Wyndham."

Valentine had put her arms round her father's neck, now they dropped
slowly away--her eyes grew big and frightened.

"I don't love him," she whispered.

"Never mind, he loves you--he is a good fellow--he will treat you well.
If you marry him you need not be parted from me. You and he can live
together here--here, in this house. There need be no difference at all,
except that you will have saved your father."

Paget spoke with outward calmness, but the anxiety under his words made
them thrill. Each slowly uttered sentence fell like a hammer of pain on
the girl's head.

"I don't understand," she said again in a husky tone. "I would, I will
do anything to save you. But Mr. Wyndham is poor and young--in some
things he is younger than I am. How can my marrying him take the load
off your heart, father? Father, dear, speak."

"I can give you no reason, Valentine, you must take it on trust. It is
all a question of your faith in me. I do not see any loophole of
salvation but through you, my little girl. If you marry Wyndham I see
peace and rest ahead, otherwise we are amongst the breakers. If you do
this thing for your old father, Valentine, you will have to do it in
the dark, for never, never, I pray, until Eternity comes, must you know
what you have done."

Valentine Paget had always a delicate and bright color in her cheeks.
It was soft as the innermost blush of a rose, and this delicate and
lovely color was one of her chief charms. Now it faded, leaving her
young face pinched and small and drawn. She sank down on the hearthrug,
clasping her hands in her lap, her eyes looking straight before her.

"I never wanted to marry," she said at last. "Certainly not yet, for I
am only a child. I am only seventeen, but other girls of seventeen are
old compared to me. When you are only a child, it is dreadful to marry
some one you don't care about, and it is dreadful to do a deed in the
dark. If you trusted me, father--if you told me all the dreadful truth
whatever it is, it might turn me into a woman--an old woman even--but
it would be less bad than this. This seems to crush me--and oh, it does
frighten me so dreadfully."

Mr. Paget rose from his seat and walked up and down the room.

"You shan't be crushed or frightened," he said. "I will give it up."

"And then the blow will fall on _you_?"

"I may be able to avert it. I will see. Forget what I said to-night,
little girl."

Mortimer Paget's face just now was a good deal whiter than his
daughter's, but there was a new light in his eyes--a momentary gleam of
nobility.

"I won't crush you, Val," he said, and he meant his words.

"And _I_ won't crush _you_," said the girl.

She went up to his side, and, taking his hand, slipped his arm round
her neck.

"We will live together, and I will have perfect faith in you, and I'll
marry Mr. Wyndham. He is good--oh, yes, he is good and kind; and if he
did not love me so much, if he did not frighten me with just being too
loving when I don't care at all, I might get on very well with him.
Now dismiss your cares, father. If this can save you, your little Val
has done it. Let us come up to the drawing-room. Mrs. Johnstone must
think herself forsaken. Shall I sing to you to-night, daddy, some of
the old-fashioned songs? Come, you have got to smile and look cheerful
for Val's sake. If I give myself up for you, you must do as much for
me. Come, a smile if you please, sir. 'Begone, dull care.' You and I
will never agree."



CHAPTER IX.


It was soon after this that Valentine Paget's world became electrified
with the news of her engagement. Wyndham was congratulated on all
sides, and those people who had hitherto not taken the slightest notice
of a rather boyish and unpretentious young man, now found much to say
in his favor.

Yes, he was undoubtedly good-looking--a remarkable face, full of
interest--he must be clever too--he looked it. And then as to his
youth--why was it that people a couple of months ago had considered him
a lad, a boy--why, he was absolutely old for his two-and-twenty years.
A grave thoughtful man with a wonderfully sweet expression.

It was plain to be seen that Wyndham, the expectant curate of
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and Wyndham, the promised husband of Valentine
Paget, were totally different individuals. Wyndham's prospects were
changed, so was his appearance--so, in very truth, was the man himself.

Where he had been too young he was now almost too old, that was the
principal thing outsiders noticed. But at twenty-two one can afford
such a change, and his gravity, his seriousness, and a certain proud
thoughtful look, which could not be classified by any one as a sad
look, was vastly becoming to Wyndham.

His future father-in-law could not make enough of him, and even
Valentine caught herself looking at him with a shy pride which was not
very far removed from affection.

Wyndham had given up the promised curacy--this was one of Mr. Paget's
most stringent conditions. On the day he married Valentine he was to
enter the great shipping firm of Paget, Brake and Carter as a junior
partner, and in the interim he went there daily to become
acquainted--the world said--with the ins and outs of his new
profession.

It was all a great step in the direction of fortune and fame, and the
Rectory people ought, of course, to have rejoiced.

They were curious and unworldly, however, at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and
somehow the news of the great match Gerald was about to contract
brought them only sorrow and distress. Lilias alone stood out against
the storm of woe which greeted the receipt of Wyndham's last letter.

"It is a real trouble," she said, her voice shaking a good deal; "but
we have got to make the best of it. It is for Gerald's happiness. It is
selfish for us just to fret because we cannot always have him by our
side."

"There'll be no millennium," said Augusta in a savage voice. "I might
have guessed it. That horrid selfish, selfish girl has got the whole of
our Gerald. I suppose he'll make her happy, nasty, spiteful thing; but
she has wrecked the happiness of seven other girls--horrid creature! I
might have known there was never going to be a millennium. Where are
the dogs? Let me set them fighting. Get out of that, madame puss--you
and Rover and Drake will quarrel now to the end of the chapter, for
Gerald is never coming home to live."

Augusta's sentiments were warmly shared by the younger girls, and to a
great extent she even secured the sympathy of Marjory and the rector.

"I don't understand you, Lilias," said her pet sister. "I thought you
would have been the worst of us all."

"Oh, don't," said Lilias, tears springing to her eyes. "Don't you see,
Marjory, that I really feel the worst, so I must keep it all in? Don't
let us talk it over, it is useless. If Valentine makes Gerald happy I
have not a word to say, and if I am not glad I must pretend to be glad
for his sake."

"Poor old Lil!" said Marjory.

And after this little speech she teased her sister no more.

A fortnight after his engagement Gerald came to the rectory for a brief
visit. He was apparently in high spirits, and never made himself more
agreeable to his sisters. He had no confidential talks, however, with
Lilly, and they all noticed how grave and quiet and handsome he had
grown.

"He's exactly like my idea of the god Apollo," remarked Augusta. "No
wonder that girl is in love with him. Oh, couldn't I just pull her hair
for her. I can't think how Lilly sits by and hears Gerald praise her!
I'd like to give her a piece of my mind, and tell her what I think of
her carrying off our ewe-lamb. Yes, she's just like David in the Bible,
and I only wish I were the prophet Nathan, to go and have it out with
her!"

Augusta was evidently mixed in her metaphors, for it was undoubtedly
difficult to compare the same person to Apollo and a ewe-lamb.
Nevertheless, she carried her audience with her, and when now and then
Gerald spoke of Valentine he received but scant sympathy.

On the day he went away, the rector called Lilias into his study.

"My dear," he said, "I want to have a little talk with you. What do you
think of all this? Has Gerald made you many confidences? You and he
were always great chums. He was reserved with me, remarkably so, for he
was always such an open sort of a lad. But of course you and he had it
all out, my dear."

"No, father," replied Lilias. "That is just it. We hadn't anything
out."

"What--eh--nothing? And the boy is in love. Oh, yes, anyone can see
that--in love, and no confidences. Then, my dear, I was afraid of
it--now I am sure--there must be something wrong. Gerald is greatly
changed. Lilias."

"Yes," said Lilias. "I can't quite define the change, but it is there."

"My dear girl, he was a boy--now he is a man. I don't say that he is
unhappy, but he has a good weight of responsibility on his shoulders.
He was a rather heedless boy, and in the matter of concealment or
keeping anything back, a perfect sieve. Now he's a closed book.
Closed?--locked I should say. Lilias, neither you nor I can understand
him. I wish to God your mother was alive!"

"He told me," said Lilias, "that he had talked over matters with
you--that--that there was nothing much to say--that he was perfectly
satisfied, and that Valentine was like no other girl in the wide world.
To all intents and purposes Gerald was a sealed book to me, father; but
I don't understand your considering him so, for he said that he had
spoken to you very openly."

"Oh, about the arrangements between him and Paget. Yes, I consider it a
most unprecedented and extraordinary sort of thing. Gerald gives up the
Church, goes into Paget's business--early next summer marries his
daughter, and on the day of his wedding signs the deeds of partnership.
He receives no salary--not so much as sixpence--but he and his wife
take up their abode at the Pagets' house in Queen's Gate, Paget making
himself responsible for all expenses. Gerald, in lieu of providing his
wife with a fortune, makes a marriage settlement on her, and for this
purpose is required to insure his life very heavily--for thousands, I
am told--but the exact sum is not yet clearly defined. Paget undertakes
to provide for the insurance premium. I call the whole thing unpleasant
and derogatory, and I cannot imagine how the lad has consented.
Liberty? What will he know of liberty when he is that rich fellow's
slave? Better love in a cottage, with a hundred a year, say I."

"But, father, Mr. Paget would not have given Val to Gerald to live in a
cottage with her--and Gerald, he has consented to this--this that you
call degradation, because he loves Val so very, very much."

"I suppose so, child. I was in love once myself--your mother was the
noblest and most beautiful of women; that lad is the image of her.
Well, so he never confided in you, Lil? Very strange, I call it very
strange. I tell you what. Lilias, I'll run up to town next week, and
have a talk with Paget, and see what sort of girl this is who has
bewitched the boy. That's the best way. I'll have a talk with Paget,
and get to the bottom of things. I used to know him long ago at
Trinity. Now run away, child. I must prepare my sermon for to-morrow."



CHAPTER X.


At this period of her life Valentine was certainly not in the least in
love with the man to whom she was engaged--she disliked caresses and
what she was pleased to call honeyed words of flattery. Wyndham, who
found himself able to read her moods like a book, soon learned to
accommodate himself to her wishes. He came to see her daily, but he
kissed her seldom--he never took her hand, nor put his arm round her
slim waist; they sat together and talked, and soon discovered that they
had many subjects of interest in common--they both loved music, they
both adored novels and poetry. Wyndham could read aloud beautifully,
and at these times Valentine liked to lie back in her easy chair and
steal shy glances at him, and wonder, as she never ceased to wonder,
from morning to night, why he loved her so much, and why her father
wanted her to marry him.

If Valentine was cold to this young man, she was, however, quite the
opposite to the rector of Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. Mr. Wyndham came to
town, and of course partook of the hospitality of the house in Queen's
Gate. In Valentine's eyes the rector was old, older than her
father--she delighted for her father's sake in all old men, and being
really a very loveable and fascinating girl soon won the rector's
heart.

"I'm not a bit surprised, Gerald," the good man said to his son on the
day of his return to his parish duties. "She's a wilful lass, and has a
spirit of her own, but she's a good girl, too, and a sweet, and a young
fellow might do worse than lose his heart to her. Valentine is open as
the day, and when she comes to me as a daughter, I'll give her a
daughter's place in my heart. Yes, Valentine is all right enough, and
I'll tell Lilias so, and put her heart at rest, poor girl, but I'm not
so sure about Paget. I think you are putting yourself in a very
invidious position, if you will allow me to say so, my boy, coming into
Paget's house as a sort of dependent, even though you are his girl's
husband. I don't like the sound of it, and you won't care for the
position, Gerald, when you've experienced it for a short time.
However--oh, there's my train--yes, porter, yes, two bugs and a rag--I
mean two bags and a rug--Here, this way, this way. Dear, dear, how
confused one gets! Yes, Gerald, what was I saying? Oh, of course you're
of age, my boy, you are at liberty to choose for yourself. Yes, I like
the girl thoroughly. God bless you. Gerry; come down to the old place
whenever you have a spare Saturday."

The younger Wyndham smiled in a very grave fashion, saw to his father's
creature comforts, as regarded wraps, newspapers, etc., tipped the
porter, who had not yet done laughing at the reverend gentleman's
mistake, and left the station.

He hailed a cab and drove at once to his future father-in-law's
business address. He was quite at home now in the big shipping office,
the several clerks regarding him with mixed feelings of respect and
envy. Gerald had a gracious way with everyone, he was never distant
with his fellow-creatures, but there was also a slight indescribable
touch about him which kept those who were beneath him in the social
scale from showing the smallest trace of familiarity. He was
sympathetic, but he had a knack of making those who came in contact
with him treat him as a gentleman. The clerks liked Wyndham, and with
one exception were extremely civil to him. Helps alone held himself
aloof from the new-comer, watching him far more anxiously than the
other clerks did, but, nevertheless, keeping his own counsel, and
daring whenever he had the opportunity to use covert words of warning.

On his arrival, to-day, Wyndham sent a message to the chief, asking to
see him as soon as convenient. While he waited in the ante-room, for in
reality he had little or nothing to do in the place, the door was
opened to admit another visitor, and then Adrian Carr, the young man
whom Valentine had once spoken of with admiration, stepped across the
threshold. The two young men were slightly acquainted, and while they
waited they chatted together.

Carr was a great contrast to Wyndham--he was rather short, but thin and
wiry, without an atom of superfluous flesh anywhere--his shoulders were
broad, he was firmly knit and had a very erect carriage. Wyndham, tall,
loosely built, with the suspicion of a stoop, looked frail beside the
other man. Wyndham's dark grey eyes were too sensitive for perfect
mental health. His face was pallid, but at times it would flush
vividly--his lips had a look of repression about them--the whole
attitude of the man to a very keen observer was tense and watchful.

Carr had dark eyes, closely cropped hair, a smooth face but for his
moustache, and a keen, resolute, bold glance. He was not nearly as
handsome as Wyndham, beside Wyndham he might even have been considered
commonplace, but his every gesture, his every glance betokened the
perfection of mental health and physical vigor.

After a few desultory nothings had been exchanged between the two, Carr
alluded to Wyndham's engagement, and offered him his congratulations.
He did this with a certain guardedness of tone which caused Gerald to
look at him keenly.

"Thank you--yes, I am very lucky," he replied. "But can we not exchange
good wishes, Carr? I heard a rumor somewhere, that you also were about
to be married."

Carr laughed.

"These rumors are always getting about," he said, "half of them end in
smoke. In my case you yourself destroyed the ghost of the chance of
such a possibility coming about."

"I? What do you mean?" said Wyndham.

"Nothing of the least consequence. As matters have turned out I am
perfectly heart-whole, but the fact is, the only girl I ever took the
slightest fancy to is going to be your wife. Oh, I am not in love with
her! You stopped me in time. I really only tell you this to show you
how much I appreciate the excellence of your taste."

Wyndham did not utter a word, and just then Helps came to say that Mr.
Paget would see Mr. Carr for a few moments. Carr instantly left the
room, and Wyndham went over to the dusty window, leant his elbow
against one of the panes, and peered out.

Apparently there was nothing for him to see--the window looked into a
tiny square yard, in the centre of which was a table, which contained a
dish of empty peapods, and two cabbages in a large basin of cold water.
Not a soul was in the yard, and Wyndham staring out ought in the usual
order of things soon to have grown weary of the objects of his
scrutiny. Far from that, his fixed gaze seemed to see something of
peculiar and intense interest. When he turned away at last, his face
was ghastly white, and taking out his handkerchief he wiped some drops
of moisture from his forehead.

"My master will see you now, sir," said Helps, in a quiet voice. He had
been watching Wyndham all the time, and now he looked up at him with a
queer significant glance of sympathy.

"Oh, ain't you a fool, young man?" he said. "Why, nothing ain't worth
what you're a-gwine through."

"Is Carr gone?" asked Wyndham.

"Oh yes, sir, he's a gent as knows what he's after. No putting his foot
into holes with him. He knows what ground he'll walk on. Come along,
sir, here you are."

Helps always showed Wyndham into the chief's presence with great
parade. Mr. Paget was in a genial humor. When he greeted the young man
he actually laughed.

"Sit down, Gerald; sit down, my dear boy. Now, you'll never guess what
our friend Adrian Carr came to see me about. 'Pon my word, it's quite a
joke--you'll never guess it, Gerald."

"I'm sure of that, sir, I never guessed a riddle in my life."

Something in the hopeless tone in which these few words were uttered
made Mr. Paget cease smiling. He favored Gerald with a lightning
glance, then said quietly:

"I suppose I ought not to have laughed, but somehow I never thought
Carr would have taken to the job. He wants me to introduce him to your
father, Gerald. He is anxious to be ordained for the curacy which you
have missed. Fancy a man like Carr in the Church! He says he never
thought of such a profession until you put it into his head--now he is
quite keen after it. Well, perhaps he will make an excellent
clergyman--I rather fancy I should like to hear him preach."

"If I were you," said Gerald, "I would refuse to give him that
introduction."

"Refuse to give it him! My dear boy, what do you mean? I am not quite
such a churl. Why, I have given it him. I wrote a long letter to your
excellent father, saying all sorts of nice things about Carr, and he
has taken it away in his pocket. Her Majesty's post has the charge of
it by this time, I expect. What is the matter, Wyndham? You look quite
strange."

"I feel it, sir--I don't like this at all. Carr and I have got mixed
somehow. He takes my curacy, and he confessed that but for me he'd
have gone in for Val. Now you see what I mean. He oughtn't to have the
curacy."

Mr. Paget looked really puzzled.

"You are talking in a strange way, Gerald," he said. "If poor Carr was
unfortunate enough to fall in love with a girl whom you have won,
surely you don't grudge him that poor little curacy too. My dear lad,
you are getting positively morbid. There, I don't think I want you for
anything special to day. Go home to Val--get her to cheer your low
spirits."

"She cannot," replied Gerald. "You don't see, sir, because you won't.
Carr is not in love with Valentine, and Valentine is not in love with
him, but they both might be. I have heard Val talk of him--once. I
heard him speak of her--to day. By-and-bye, sir--in the future, they
may meet. You know what I mean. Carr ought not to go to
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold--it is wrong. I will not allow it. I will myself
write to the rector. I will take the responsibility, whoever gets my
old berth it must not be Adrian Carr."

Wyndham rose as he spoke--he looked determined, all trace of weakness
or irresolution left his face. Paget had never before seen this young
man in his present mood. Somehow the sight gave him intense pleasure. A
latent fear which he had scarcely dared to whisper even to his own
heart that Wyndham had not sufficient pluck for what lay before him
vanished now. He too rose to his feet, and laid his hand almost
caressingly on the lad's shoulder.

"My boy, you have no cause to fear in this matter. In the future I
myself will take care of Valentine, but I love you for your
thoughtfulness, Gerald."

"You need not, sir. I have something on my mind which I must say now. I
have entered into your scheme. I have----"

"Yes, yes--let me shut and lock the door, my boy."

Wyndham, arrested in his speech, drew one or two heavy breaths.

He spoke again in a sort of panting way. His eyes grew bright and
almost wild.

"I have promised you," he continued. "I'll go through with it. It's a
million times worse fate for me than if I had killed someone, and then
was hung up by the neck until I died. That, in comparison to this,
would be--well, like the sting of a gnat. I'll go through with it,
however, and you need not be afraid that I'll change my mind. I do it
solely and entirely because I love your daughter, because I believe
that the touch of dishonor would blight her, because unfortunately for
herself she loves you better than any other soul in the world. If she
did not, if she gave me even half of the great heart which she bestows
upon you, then I would risk all, and feel sure that dishonor and
poverty with me would be better than honor and riches with you. You're
a happy man during these last six weeks. Mr. Paget. You have found your
victim, and you see a way of salvation for yourself, and a prosperous
future for Valentine. She won't grieve long--oh, no, not long for the
husband she never loved--but look here, you have to guard her against
the possibility in the future of falling in love with another--of being
won by another man, who will ask her to be his wife and the mother of
his children. Though she does not love me, she must remain my widow all
her days, for if she does not, if I hear that she, thinking herself
free, is about to contract marriage with another, I will return--yes, I
will return from the dead--from the grave, and say that it shall not
be, and I will show all the world that you are--what you have proved
yourself to be to me--a devil. That is all. I wanted to say this to
you. Carr has given me the opportunity. I won't see Val to-day, for I
am upset--to-morrow I shall have regained my composure."



CHAPTER XI.


Wyndham was engaged to Valentine Paget very nearly a year before their
wedding. One of the young lady's stipulations was that under no
circumstances would she enter into the holy estate of matrimony before
she was eighteen. Paget made no objection to this proviso on Val's
part. In these days he humored her slightest wish, and no happier pair
to all appearance could have been seen driving in the Park, or riding
in the Row, than this handsome father and daughter.

"What a beautiful expression he has," remarked many people. And when
they said this to the daughter she smiled, and a sweet proud light came
into her eyes.

"My father is a darling," she would say. "No one knows him as I do. I
believe he is about the greatest and the best of men."

When Val made enthusiastic remarks of this kind. Wyndham looked at her
sorrowfully. She was very fond of him by this time--he had learned to
fit himself to her ways, to accommodate himself to her caprices, and
although she frankly admitted that she could not for an instant compare
him to her father, she always owned that she loved him next best, and
that she thought it would be a very happy thing to be his wife.

No girl could look sweeter than Val when she made little speeches of
this kind, but they had always a queer effect upon her lover, causing
him to experience an excitement which was scarcely joy, for nothing
could have more fatally upset Mr. Paget's plans than Valentine really
to fall in love with Wyndham.

The wedding day was fixed for the first week in July, and Valentine was
accompanied to the altar by no less than eight bridesmaids. It was a
grand wedding--quite one of the events of the season, and those who saw
it spoke of the bride as beautiful, and of the bridegroom as a grave,
striking-looking man.

If a man constantly practises self-repression there comes a time when,
in this special art, he almost reaches perfection. Wyndham had come to
this stage, as even Lilias, who read her brother like a book, could see
nothing amiss with him on his wedding day. All, therefore, went merrily
on this auspicious occasion, and the bride and bridegroom started for
the continent amid a shower of blessings and good wishes.

"Gerald, dear, I quite forgive you," said Lilias, as at the very last
minute she put her arms round her brother's neck.

"What for, Lilly?" he asked, looking down at her.

Then a shadow of great bitterness crossed the sunshine of his face. He
stooped and kissed her forehead.

"You don't know my sin, so you cannot forgive it, Lilly," he continued.

"Oh, my darling, I know you," she said. "I don't think you could sin. I
meant that I have learned already to love Valentine a little, and I am
not surprised at your choice. I forgive you fully, Gerald, for loving
another girl better than your sister Lilias. Good-bye, dear old Gerry.
God bless you!"

"He won't do that, Lilly--he can't. Oh, forgive me, dear, I didn't mean
those words. Of course I'm the happiest fellow in the world."

Gerald turned away, and Lilias kissed Valentine, and then watched with
a queer feeling of pain at her heart as the bridal pair amid cheers and
blessings drove away.

Gerald's last few words had renewed Lilias' anxiety. She felt restless
in the great, grand house, and longed to be back in the rectory.

"What's the matter, Lil?" said Marjory; "your face is a yard long, and
you are quite white and have dark lines under your eyes. For my part I
did not think Gerald's wedding would be half so jolly, and what a nice
unaffected girl Valentine is."

"Oh, yes, I'm not bothering my head about her," said Lilias. "She's all
right, just what father said she was. I wish we were at home again,
Maggie."

"Yes, of course, so do I," said Marjory. "But then we can't be, for we
promised Gerald to try and make things bright for Mr. Paget. Isn't he a
handsome man, Lilly? I don't think I ever saw anyone with such a
beaming sort of benevolent expression."

"He is certainly very fond of Valentine, and she of him," answered
Lilias. "No, I did not particularly notice his expression. The fact is
I did not look at anyone much except our Gerald. Marjory, I think it is
an awful thing for girls like us to have an only brother--he becomes
almost too precious. Marjory, I cannot sympathize with Mr. Paget. I
wish we were at home. I know our dear old dad will want us, and there
is no saying what mess Augusta will put things into."

"Father heard from Mr. Carr on the morning we left," responded Marjory.
"I think he is coming to the rectory on Saturday. If so, father won't
miss us: he'll be quite taken up showing him over the place."

"I shall hate him," responded Lilias, in a very tart voice. "Fancy his
taking our Gerald's place. Oh, Maggie, this room stifles me--can't we
change our dresses, and go out for a stroll somewhere? Oh, what folly
you talk of it's not being the correct thing! What a hateful place this
London is! Oh, for a breath of the air in the garden at home. Yes, what
is it, Mrs. Johnstone?"

Lilias' pretty face looked almost grumpy, and a decidedly discontented
expression lurked in the dark, sweet eyes she turned upon the good lady
of the establishment.

"Lilly has an attack of the fidgets," said Marjory. "She wants to go
out for a walk."

"You shall both come in the carriage with me, my dears. I was coming in
to propose it to you. We won't dine until quite late this evening."

"Delightful," exclaimed Marjory, and the two girls ran out of the room
to get ready. Mrs. Johnstone followed them, and a few moments later a
couple of young men who were staying in the house sauntered lazily into
the drawing-room.

"What do you think of Wyndham's sisters, Exham?" said one to the other.

Exham, a delicate youth of about nineteen, gave a long expressive
whistle.

"The girls are handsome enough," he said. "But not in my style. The one
they call Lilias is too brusque. As to Wyndham, well--"

"What a significant 'well,' old fellow--explain yourself."

"Nothing," returned Exham, who seemed to draw out of any further
confidences he was beginning to make. "Nothing--only, I wouldn't be in
Wyndham's shoes."

The other man, whose name was Power, gave a short laugh.

"You need not pretend to be so wise and close, Exham," he retorted.
"Anyone can see with half an eye that Wyndham's wife is not in love
with him. All the same. Wyndham has not done a bad thing for
himself--stepping into a business like this. Why, he'll have everything
by-and-bye. I don't see how he can help it."

"Did you hear that funny story," retorted Exham, "about Wyndham's life
being insured?"

"No, what?--Most men insure their lives when they marry."

"Yes, but this is quite out of the common. At four offices, and
heavily. It filtered to me through one of the clerks at the office. He
said it was all Paget's doing."

"What a villain that clerk must be to let out family secrets,"
responded Power. "I don't believe there's anything in it, Exham. Ah,
here comes the young ladies. Yes, Mrs. Johnstone, I should like to go
for a drive very much."



CHAPTER XII.


Some people concern themselves vey much with the mysteries of life,
others take what good things fall into their way without question or
wonder. These latter folk are not of a speculating or strongly
reasoning turn; if sorrow arrives they accept it as wise, painful,
inevitable--if joy visits them they rejoice, but with simplicity. They
are the people who are naturally endowed with faith--faith first of all
in a guiding providence, which as a rule is accompanied by a faith in
their fellow men. The world is kind to such individuals, for the world
is very fond of giving what is expected of it--to one hate and
distrust, to another open-handed benevolence and cordiality. People so
endowed are usually fortunate, and of them it may be said, that it was
good for them to be born.

All people are not so constituted--there is such a thing as a noble
discontent, and the souls that in the end often attain to the highest,
have nearly suffered shipwreck, have spent with St. Paul a day and a
night in the deep--being saved in the end with a great
deliverance--they have often on the road been all but lost. Such people
often sin very deeply--temptation assails them in the most subtle
forms, many of them go down really into the deep, and are never in this
life heard of again--they are spoken of as "lost," utterly lost, and
their names are held up to others as terrible warnings, as examples to
be shunned, as reprobates to be spoken of with bated breath.

It may be that some of these so-called lost souls will appear as
victors in another state; having gone into the lowest depths of all
they may also attain to the highest heights; this, however, is a
mystery which no one can fathom.

Gerald Wyndham was one of the men of whom no one could quite say it was
good for him to have been born. His nature was not very easily read,
and even his favorite sister Lilias did not quite know him. From his
earliest days he was so far unfortunate as never to be able to take
things easily; even in his childhood this characteristic marked him.
Sorrows with Gerald were never trivial; when he was six years old he
became seriously ill because a pet canary died. He would not talk of
his trouble, nor wail for his pet like an ordinary child, but sat
apart, and refused to eat, and only his mother at last could draw him
away from his grief, and show him it was unmanly to be rebellious.

His joys were as intense as his woes--he was an intense child in every
sense of the word; eager, enthusiastic, with many noble impulses. All
might have gone well with him but for a rather strange accompaniment to
his special character; he was as reserved as most such boys would be
open. It was only by the changing expression of his eyes that on many
occasions people knew whether a certain proposition would plunge him in
the depths of woe or raise him to the heights of joy. He was innately
very unselfish, and this characteristic must have been most strongly
marked in him, for his father and his mother and his seven sisters did
their utmost to make him the reverse. Lilias said afterwards that they
failed ignobly. Gerald would never see it, she would say. Talk of
easy-chairs--he would stand all the evening rather than take one until
every other soul in the room was comfortably provided. Talk of the best
in anything,--you might give it to Gerald, but in five minutes he would
have given it away to the person who wanted it least. It was
aggravating beyond words, Lilias Wyndham often exclaimed, but before
you could even attempt to make old Gerry decently comfortable you had
to attend to the wants of even the cats and dogs.

Wyndham carrying all his peculiarities with him went to school and then
to Cambridge. He was liked in both places, and was clever enough to win
distinction, but for the same characteristic which often caused him at
the last moment to fail, because he thought another man should win the
honor, or another schoolboy the prize.

His mother wished him to take holy orders, and although he had no very
strong leaning in that direction he expressed himself satisfied with
her choice, and decided for the first few years of his life as deacon
and priest to help his father at the dear old parish of
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold.

Then came his meeting with Valentine Paget, the complete upheaval of
every idea, the revolution which shook his nature to its depths. His
hour had come, and he took the malady of young love--first, earnest,
passionate love--as anyone who knew him thoroughly, and scarcely anyone
did know the real Wyndham, might have expected.

One pair of eyes, however, looked at this speaking face, and one keen
mental vision pierced down into the depths of an earnest and chivalrous
soul. Mortimer Paget had been long looking for a man like Wyndham. It
was not a very difficult matter to make such a lad his victim, hence
his story became one of the most sorrowful that could be written, as
far as this life is concerned. Had his mother, who was now in her grave
for over seven years, known what fate lay before this bright beautiful
boy of hers, she would have cursed the day of his birth. Fortunately
for mothers, and sisters too, the future lies in darkness, for
knowledge in such cases would make daily life unendurable.

Valentine and her husband extended their wedding tour considerably over
the original month. They often wrote home, and nothing could exceed
the cheerfulness of the letters which Mr. Paget read with anxiety and
absorbing interest--the rectory folks with all the interest minus the
anxiety. Valentine frankly declared that she had never been so happy in
her life, and it was at last, at her father's express request, almost
command, that the young couple consented to take up their abode in
Queen's Gate early in the November which followed their wedding. They
spent a fortnight first at the old rectory, where Valentine appeared in
an altogether new character, and commenced her career by swearing an
eternal friendship with Augusta. She was in almost wild spirits, and
they played pranks together, and went everywhere arm-in-arm,
accompanied by the entire bevy of little sisters.

Lilias and Marjory began by being rather scandalized, but ended by
thoroughly appreciating the arrangement, as it left them free to
monopolize Gerald, who on this occasion seemed to have quite recovered
his normal spirits. He was neither depressed nor particularly exultant,
he did not talk a great deal either about himself or his wife, but was
full of the most delighted interest in his father's and sisters'
concerns. The new curate, Mr. Carr, was now in full force, and Gerald
and he found a great deal to say to one another. The days were those
delicious ones of late autumn, when nature quiet and exhausted, as she
is after her time of flower and fruit, is in her most soothing mood.
The family at the rectory were never indoors until the shades of night
drove them into the long, low, picturesque, untidy drawing-room.

Then Gerald sang with his sisters--they had all sweet voices, and his
was a pure and very sympathetic tenor. Valentine's songs were not the
same as those culled from old volumes of ballads, and selected from the
musical mothers' and grandmothers' store, which the rectory folk
delighted in. Hers were drawing-room melodies of the present day,
fashionable, but short-lived.

The first night the young bride was silent, for even Augusta had left
her to join the singers round the piano. Gerald was playing an
accompaniment for his sisters, and the rector, standing in the back
ground, joined the swell of harmony with his rich bass notes. Valentine
and Carr, who was also in the room, were the silent and only listeners.
Valentine wore a soft white dress, her bright wavy locks of golden hair
were a little roughened, and her starry eyes were fixed on her husband.
Carr, who looked almost monastic in his clerical dress, was gazing at
her--her lips were partly open, she kept gentle time to the music with
her little hand. A very spirited glee was in full tide, when there came
a horrid discordant crash on the piano--everyone stopped singing, and
Gerald, very white, went up to Val, and took her arm.

"Come over here and join us," he said almost roughly.

"But I don't know any of that music, Gerald, and it is so delicious to
listen."

"Folly," responded her husband. "It looks absurd to see two people
gaping at one. I beg your pardon, Carr--I am positively sensitive,
abnormally so, on the subject of being stared at. Girls, shall we have
a round game? I will teach Val some of Bishop's melodies to-morrow
morning."

"I am going home," said Carr, quietly. "I did not know that anyone was
looking at you except your wife. Wyndham. Good-night?"

It was an uncomfortable little scene, and even the innocent,
unsophisticated rectory girls felt embarrassed without knowing why.
Marjory almost blamed Gerald afterwards, and would have done so
roundly, but Lilias would not listen to her.

At the next night's concert, Valentine sang almost as sweetly as the
others, but Carr did not come back to the rectory for a couple of
days.

"I evidently acted like a brute, and must have appeared one," said
Gerald to himself. "But God alone knows what all this means to me."

It was a small jar, the only one in that happy fortnight, when the
girls seemed to have quite got their brother back, and to have found a
new sister in pretty, bright Valentine.

It was the second of November when the bride and bridegroom appeared at
a big dinner party made in their honor at the house in Queen's Gate.

All her friends congratulated Valentine on her improved looks, and told
Wyndham frankly that matrimony had made a new man of him. He was
certainly bright and pleasant, and took his part quite naturally as the
son of the house. No one could detect the shadow of a care on his face,
and as to Val, she sat almost in her father's pocket, scarcely turning
her bright eyes away from his face.

"I always thought that dear Mr. Paget the best and noblest and most
Christian of men," remarked a certain Lady Valery to her daughter as
they drove home that evening. "I am now more convinced of the truth of
my views than ever."

"Why so, mother?" asked her daughter.

"My dear, can you not see for yourself? He gave that girl of his--that
beautiful girl, with all her fortune--to a young man with neither
position nor money, simply and entirely because she fell in love with
him. Was there ever anything more disinterested? Yes, my dear, talk to
me of every Christian virtue embodied, and I shall invariably mention
my old friend, Mortimer Paget."



CHAPTER XIII.


"Valentine," said her husband, as they stood together by the fire in
their bedroom that night, "I have a great favor to ask of you."

"Yes, Gerald--a favor! I like to grant favors. Is it that I must wear
that soft white dress you like so much to-morrow evening? Or that I
must sing no songs but the rectory songs for father's visitors in the
drawing-room. How solemn you look, Gerald. What is the favor?"

Gerald's face did look careworn. The easy light-hearted expression
which had characterized it downstairs had left him. When Valentine laid
her hand lovingly on his shoulder, he slipped his arm round her waist,
however, and drew her fondly to his side.

"Val, the favor is this," he said. "You can do anything you like with
your father. I want you to persuade him to let us live in a little
house of our own for a time, until, say next summer."

Valentine sprang away from Gerald's encircling arm.

"I won't ask that favor," she said, her eyes flashing. "It is mean of
you, Gerald. I married you on condition that I should live with my
father."

"Very well, dear, if you feel it like that, we won't say anything more
about it. It is not of real consequence."

Gerald took a letter out of his pocket, and opening the envelope began
leisurely to read its contents. Valentine still, however, felt ruffled
and annoyed.

"It is so queer of you to make such a request," she said. "I wonder
what father would say. He would think I had taken leave of my senses,
and just now too when I have been away from him for months. And when
it is such a joy, such a deep, deep joy, to be with him again."

"It is of no consequence, darling. I am sorry I mentioned it. See,
Valentine, this letter is from a great friend of mine, a Mrs.
Price--she wants to call on you; she is coming to-morrow. You will be
at home in the afternoon, will you not?"

Valentine nodded.

"I will be in," she said. Then she added, her eyes filling with
tears--"You don't really want to take me away from my father, Gerald?"

"I did wish to do so, dear, but we need not think of it again. The one
and only object of my life is to make you happy, Val. Now go to bed,
and to sleep, dearest. I am going downstairs to have a smoke."

The next morning, very much to her surprise, Mr. Paget called his
daughter into his study, and made the same proposition to her which
Gerald had made the night before.

"I must not be a selfish old man, Val," he said. "And I think it is
best for young married folks to live alone. I know how you love me, my
child, and I will promise to pay you a daily visit. Or at least when
you don't come to me, I will look you up. But all things considered, it
is best for your husband and you to have your own house. Why, what is
it, Valentine, you look quite queer, child."

"This is Gerald's doing," said Valentine--her face had a white set
look--never before had her father seen this expression on it. "No,
father, I will not leave you; I refuse to do so; it is breaking our
compact; it is unfair."

She went up to him, and put her arms round his neck, and again her
golden locks touched his silvered head, and her soft cheek pressed his.

"Father darling, you won't break your own Val's heart--you couldn't; it
would be telling a lie. I won't live away from you--I won't, so
there."

Just at this moment Wyndham entered the room.

"What is it, sir?" he said, almost fiercely. "What are you doing with
Val? Why, she is crying. What have you been saying to her?"

"My father said nothing," answered Valentine for him. "How dare you
speak to my father in that tone? It is you. Gerald; you have been mean
and shabby. You went to my father to try to get him on your side--to
try and get him--to try and get him to aid you in going away--to live
in another house. Oh, it was a mean, cowardly thing to do, but you
shan't have your way, for I'm not going; only I'm ashamed of you,
Gerald, I'm ashamed of you."

Here Valentine burst into a tempest of angry, girlish tears.

"Don't be silly, Val," said her husband, in a quiet voice. "I said
nothing about this to Mr. Paget. I wished for it, but as I told you
last night, when you disapproved, I gave it up. I don't tell lies. Will
you explain to Valentine, please, sir, that I'm guiltless of anything
mean, or, as she expresses it, shabby, in this matter."

"Of course, Wyndham--of course, you are," said Paget. "My dear little
Val, what a goose you have made of yourself. Now run away, Wyndham,
there's a good fellow, and I'll soothe her down. You might as well go
to the office for me. Ask Helps for my private letters, and bring them
back with you. Now, Valentine, you and I are going to have a drive
together. Good-bye, Wyndham."

Wyndham slowly left the room--Valentine's head was still on her
father's shoulder--as her husband went away he looked back at her, but
she did not return his glance.

"The old man is right," he soliloquized bitterly. "I have not a chance
of winning her heart. No doubt under the circumstances this is the only
thing to be desired, and yet it very nearly maddens me."

Wyndham did not return to Queen's Gate until quite late; he had only
time to run up to his room and change his dress hastily for dinner.
Valentine had already gone downstairs, and he sighed heavily as he
noticed this, or he felt that unwittingly he had managed to hurt her in
her tenderest feelings that morning.

"If there is much of this sort of thing," he said to himself. "I shall
not be so sorry when the year is up. When once the plunge is over I may
come up another man, and anything is better than perpetually standing
on the brink." Yet half an hour later Wyndham had completely changed
his mind, for when he entered the drawing-room, a girlish figure jumped
up at once out of an easy-chair, and ran to meet him, and Valentine's
arms were flung about his neck and several of her sweetest kisses
printed on his lips.

"Forgive me for being cross this morning, dear old darling. Father has
made me see everything in quite a new light, and has shown me that I
acted quite like a little fiend, and that you are very nearly the best
of men. And do you know, Gerry, he wishes us so much to live alone, and
thinks it the only right and proper thing to do, that I have given in,
and I quite agree with him, quite. And we have almost taken the
sweetest, darlingest little bijou residence in Park-lane that you can
imagine. It is like a doll's house compared to this, but so exquisite,
and furnished with such taste. It will feel like playing in a
baby-house all day long, and I am almost in love with it already. You
must come with me and see it the first thing in the morning. Gerry, for
if we both like it, father will arrange at once with the agent, and
then, do you know the very first thing I mean to do for you, Gerry? Oh,
you need not guess, I'll tell you. Lilias shall come up to spend the
winter with us. Oh, you need not say a word. I'm not jealous, but I can
see how you idolize Lilias, Gerry."



CHAPTER XIV.


At the end of a week the Wyndhams were settled in their new home, and
Valentine began her duties as wife and housekeeper in earnest. She,
too, was more or less impulsive, and beginning by hating the idea she
ended by adopting it with enthusiasm. After all it was her father's
plan, not Gerald's, and that in her heart of hearts made all the
difference.

For the first time in her life, Valentine had more to get through than
she could well accomplish. Her days, therefore, just now were one long
delight to her, and even Gerald felt himself more or less infected by
her high spirits. It was pretty to see her girlish efforts at
housekeeping, and even her failures became subjects of good-humored
merriment. Mr. Paget came over every day to see her, but he generally
chose the hours when her husband was absent, and Wyndham and his young
wife were in consequence able to spend many happy evenings alone.

By-and-bye this girlish and thoughtless wife was to look back on these
evenings, and wonder with vain sighs of unavailing regret if life could
ever again bring her back such sweetness. Now she enjoyed them
unthinkingly, for her time for wakening had not come.

When the young couple were quite settled in their own establishment,
Lilias Wyndham came up from the country to spend a week with them.
Nothing would induce her to stay longer away from home. Although
Valentine pleaded and coaxed, and even Gerald added a word or two of
entreaty, she was quite firm.

"No," she said, "nothing would make me become the obnoxious
sister-in-law, about whom so much has been written in all the story
books I have ever read."

"Oh, Lilias, you darling, as if you could!" exclaimed Val, flying at
her and kissing her.

"Oh, yes, my dear, I could," calmly responded Lilly--"and I may just as
well warn you at once that my ways are not your ways in a great many
particulars, and that you'd find that out if I lived too long with you.
No, I'm going home to-morrow--to my own life, and you and Gerald must
live yours without me. I am ready to come, if ever either of you want
me, but just now no one does that as much as Marjory and my father."

Lilias returned to Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and Valentine for some days
continued to talk of her with enthusiasm, and to quote her name on all
possible occasions.

"Lilias says that I'll never make a good housekeeper, unless I bring my
wants into a fixed allowance, Gerald. She says I ought to know what I
have got to spend each week, and not to exceed it, whether it is a
large or small sum. She says that's what she and Marjory always do.
About how much do you think I ought to spend a week on housekeeping,
Gerry?"

"I don't know, darling. I have not the most remote idea."

"But how much have we to spend altogether? We are very rich, are we
not?"

"No, Valentine, we are very poor. In fact we have got nothing at all."

"Why, what a crease has come between your brows; let me smooth it
out--there, now you look much nicer. You have got a look of Lilias,
only your eyes are not so dark. Gerald, I think Lilias so pretty. I
think she is the very sweetest girl I ever met. But what do you mean by
saying we are poor? Of course we are not poor. We would not live in a
house like this, and have such jolly, cosy, little dinners if we were
poor. Why, I know that champagne that we have a tiny bottle of every
evening is really most costly. I thought poor people lived in attics,
and ate bread and American cheese. What do you mean by being poor,
Gerald?"

"Only that we have nothing of our own, dearest; we depend on your
father for everything."

"You speak in quite a bitter tone. It is sweet to depend on my father.
But doesn't he give us an allowance?"

"No, Valentine, I just take him all the bills, and he pays them."

"Oh, I don't like that plan. I think it is much more important and
interesting to pay one's own bills, and I can never learn to be a
housekeeper if I don't understand the value of money. I'll speak to
father about this when he comes to-morrow. I'll ask him to give me an
allowance."

"I wouldn't," replied Gerald. He spoke lazily, and yawned as he uttered
the words.

"There's no use in taking up things that one must leave off again," he
added, somewhat enigmatically. Then he opened a copy of Browning which
lay near, and forgot Valentine and her troubles, at least she thought
he forgot her.

She looked at him for a moment, with a half-pleased, half-puzzled
expression coming into her face.

"He is very handsome and interesting," she murmured under her breath.
"I like him, I certainly do like him, not as well as my father of
course--I'm not sorry I married him now. I like him quite as well as I
could ever have cared for the other man--the man who wore white
flannels and had a determined voice, and now has been turned into a
dreadful prosy curate. Yes, I do like Gerald. He perplexes me a good
deal, but that is interesting. He is mysterious, and that is
captivating--yes, yes--yes. Now, what did he mean by that queer remark
about my housekeeping--'that it wasn't worth while?' I hope he's not
superstitious--if anything could be worth while it would be well for a
young girl like me to learn something useful and definite. I'll ask him
what he means."

She drew a footstool to her husband's side, and taking one of his hands
laid her cheek against it. Wyndham dropped his book and smiled down at
her.

"Gerry, do you believe in omens?" she asked.

Gerald gave a slight start. Circumstances inclined him to
superstition--then he laughed. He must not encourage his wife in any
such folly.

"I don't quite understand you, my love," he replied.

"Only you said it was not worth my while to learn to housekeep. Why do
you say that? I am very young, you are young. If we are to go on always
together, I ought to become wise and sensible. I ought to have
knowledge. What do you mean, Gerald? Have you had an omen? Do you think
you will die? Or perhaps that I shall die? I should not at all like it.
I hope--I trust--no token of death has been sent to you about me."

"None, my very dearest, none. I see before you a life of--of peace.
Peace and plenty--and--and--honor--a good life, Valentine, a guarded
life."

"How white you are, Gerald. And why do you say 'you' all the time? The
life, the peaceful life, and it sounds rather dull, is for us both,
isn't it?"

"I don't know--I can't say. You wouldn't care, would you, Val--I
mean--I mean----"

"What?"

Valentine had risen, her arms were thrown round Gerald's neck.

"Are you trying to tell me that I could be happy now without you?" she
whispered. "Then I couldn't, darling. I don't mind telling you I
couldn't. I--I----"

"What, Val, what?"

"I like you, Gerald. Yes, I know it--I do like you--much."

It ought to have been the most dreadful sound to him, and yet it
wasn't. Wyndham strained his wife to his heart. Then he raised his
eyes, and with a start Valentine and he stepped asunder.

Mr. Paget had come into the room. He had come in softly, and he must
have heard Valentine's words, and seen that close embrace.

With a glad cry the girl flew to his side, but when he kissed her his
lips trembled, he sank down on the nearest chair like a man who had
received a great shock.



CHAPTER XV.


"I'm afraid I can't help it, sir," said Wyndham.

Mr. Paget and his son-in-law were standing together in the very
comfortable private room before alluded to in the office of the former.

Wyndham was standing with his back to the mantel-piece; Valentine's
lovely picture was over his head. Her eyes, which were almost dancing
with life, seemed to have something mocking in them to Mr. Paget, as he
encountered their gaze now. As eyes will in a picture, they followed
him wherever he moved. He was restless and ill at ease, and he wished
either that the picture might be removed, or that he could take up
Wyndham's position with his back to it.

"I tell you," he said, in a voice that betrayed his perturbation, "that
you must help it. It's a clear breaking of contract to do otherwise."

"You see," said Wyndham, with a slow smile, "you under-rated my
attractions. I was not the man for your purpose after all."

"Sit down for God's sake, Wyndham. Don't stand there looking so
provokingly indifferent. One would think the whole matter was nothing
to you."

"I am not sure that it is much; that is, I am not at all sure that I
shall not take my full meed of pleasure out of the short time allotted
to me."

"Sit down, take that chair, no, not that one--that--ah, that's better.
Valentine's eyes are positively uncomfortable the way they pursue me
this evening. Wyndham, you must feel for me--you must see that it will
be a perfectly awful thing if my--my child loses her heart to you."

"Well, Mr. Paget, you can judge for yourself how matters stand. I--I
cannot quite agree with you about what you fear being a catastrophe."

"You must be mad, Wyndham--you must either be mad, or you mean to cheat
me after all."

"No, I don't. I have a certain amount of honor left--not much, or I
shouldn't have lent myself to this, but the rag remaining is at your
service. Seriously now, I don't think you have grave cause for alarm.
Valentine is affectionate, but I am not to her as you are."

"You are growing dearer to her every day. I am not blind, I have
watched her face. She follows you with her eyes--when you don't eat she
is anxious, when you look dismal--you have an infernally dismal face at
times, Wyndham--she is puzzled. It wasn't only what I saw last night.
Valentine is waking up. It was in the contract that she was not to wake
up. I gave you a child for your wife. She was to remain a child
when----"

"When she became my widow," Wyndham answered calmly.

"Yes. My God, it is awful to think of it. We must go in, we daren't
turn back, and she may suffer, she may suffer horribly, she has a great
heart--a deep heart. It is playing with edged tools to make it live."

"Can't you shorten the time of probation?" asked Wyndham.

"I wish to heaven I could, but I am powerless. Wyndham, my good friend,
my son--something must be done."

"Don't call me your son," said the younger man, rising and shaking
himself. "I have a father who besides you is--there, I won't name what
I think of you. I have a mother--through your machinations I shall
never see her face any more. Don't call me your son. You are very wise,
you have the wisdom of a devil, but even you can overreach yourself.
You thought you had found everything you needed, when you found
me--the weak young fool, the despairing idiotic lover. Poor? Yes,
cursedly poor, and with a certain sense of generosity, but nothing at
all in myself to win the heart of a beautiful young girl. You should
have gone down to Jewsbury-on-the-Wold for a little, before you summed
up your estimate of my character, for the one thing I have always found
lying at my feet is--love. Even the cats and dogs loved me--those to
whom I gave nothing regarded me with affection. Alack--and alas--my
wife only follows the universal example."

"But it must be stopped, Wyndham. You cannot fail to see that it must
be stopped. Can you not help me--can you not devise some plan?"

Wyndham dropped his head on his hands.

"Hasten the crisis," he said. "I want the plunge over; hasten it."

There came a tap at the room door. Mr. Paget drew back the curtain
which stood before it, slipped the bolts, and opened it.

"Ah, I guessed you were here!" said Valentine's gay voice; "yes, and
Gerald too. This is delightful," added she, as she stepped into the
room.

"What is it, Val?" asked her father. "I was busy--I was talking to your
husband. I am very much occupied this afternoon. I forgot it was the
day you generally called for me. No, I'm afraid I can't go with you, my
pet."

Valentine was looking radiant in winter furs.

"I'll go with Gerald, then," she said. "He's not too busy."

She smiled at him.

"No, my dear, I'll go with you," said the younger man. "I don't think,
sir," he added, turning round, with a desperately white but smiling
face, "that we can advance business much by prolonging this interview,
and if you have no objection, I should like to take a drive with my
wife as she has called."

Valentine instinctively felt that these smoothly spoken words were
meant to hide something. She glanced from the face of one man to
another; then she went up to her father and linked her hand in his arm.

"Come, too, daddy," she said. "You used always to be able to make
horrid business wait upon your own Valentine's pleasure."

Mr. Paget hesitated for a moment. Then he stooped and lightly kissed
his daughter's blooming cheek.

"Go with your husband, dear," he said, gently. "I am really busy, and
we shall meet at dinner time."

"Yes, we are to dine with you to-night--I've a most important request
to make after dinner. You know what it is, Gerry. Won't father be
electrified? Promise beforehand that you'll grant it, dad."

"Yes, my child, yes. Now run away both of you. I am really much
occupied."

Valentine and her husband disappeared. Mr. Paget shut and locked the
door behind them--he drew the velvet curtains to insure perfect
privacy. Then he sank down in his easy-chair to indulge in anxious
meditation.

He thought some of those hard thoughts, some of those abstruse,
worrying, almost despairing thoughts, which add years to a man's life.

As he thought the mask dropped from his handsome face; he looked old
and wicked.

After about a quarter-of-an-hour of these meditations, he moved
slightly and touched an electric bell in the wall. His signal was
answered in about a minute by a tap at the room door. He slipped the
bolts again, and admitted his confidential clerk, Helps.

"Sit down, Helps. Yes, bolt the door, quite right. Now, sit down.
Helps, I am worried."

"I'm sorry to observe it, sir," said Helps. "Worries is nat'ral, but
not agreeable. They come to the good and they come to the bad alike;
worries is like the sun--they shines upon all."

"A particularly agreeable kind of glare they make," responded Mr.
Paget, testily. "Your similes are remarkable for their aptitude, Helps.
Now, have the goodness to confine yourself to briefly replying to my
questions. Has there been any news from India since last week?"

"Nothing fresh, sir."

"No sign of stir; no awakening of interest--of--of--suspicion?"

"Not yet, sir. It isn't to be expected, is it?"

"I suppose not. Sometimes I get impatient, Helps."

"You needn't now, sir. Your train is, so to speak, laid. Any moment you
can apply the match. Any moment, Mr. Paget. Sometimes, if you'll excuse
me for speaking of that same, I have a heart in my bosom that pities
the victim. You shouldn't have done it from among the clergy. Mr.
Paget, and him an only son, too."

"Hush, it's done. There is no help now. Helps, you are the only soul in
the world who knows everything. Helps, there may be two victims."

Helps had a sallow face. It grew sickly now.

"I don't like it," he muttered. "I never did approve of meddling with
the clergy--he was meant for the Church, and them is the Lord's
anointed."

"Don't talk so much," thundered Mr. Paget. "I tell you there are two
victims--and one of them is my child. She is falling in love with her
husband. It is true--it is awful. It must be prevented. Helps, you and
I have got to prevent it."

Helps sat perfectly still. His eyes were lowered; they were following
the patterns of the carpet. He moved his lips softly.

"It must be prevented," said Mr. Paget. "Why do you sit like that? Will
you help me, or will you not?"

Helps raised his greeny-blue eyes with great deliberation.

"I don't know that I will help you, Mr. Paget," he replied; and then he
lowered them again.

"You won't help me? You don't know what you are saying, Helps. Did you
understand my words? I told you that my daughter was falling in love
with that scamp Wyndham."

"He ain't a scamp," replied the clerk. "He's in the conspiracy, poor
lad, he's the victim of the conspiracy, but he's no scamp. Now I never
liked it. I may as well own to you, Mr. Paget, that I never liked your
meddling with the clergy. I said, from the first, as no good would come
of it. It's my opinion, sir--" here Helps rose, and raising one thin
hand shook it feebly at his employer, "it's my opinion as the Lord is
agen you--agen us both for that matter. We can't do nothing if He is,
you know. I had a dream last night--I didn't like the dream, it was a
hominous dream. I didn't like your scheme, Mr. Paget, and I don't think
I'll help you more'n I have done."

"Oh, you don't? You are a wicked old scoundrel. You think you can have
things all your own way. You are a thief. You know the kind of
accommodation thieves get when their follies get found out. Of course,
it's inexpensive, but it's scarcely agreeable."

Helps smiled slightly.

"No one could lock me up but you, and you wouldn't dare," he replied.

These words seemed somehow or other to have a very calming effect on
Mr. Paget. He did not speak for a full moment, then he said quietly--

"We won't go into painful scenes of the past, Helps. Yes; we have both
committed folly, and must stand or fall together. We have both got only
daughters--it is our life's work to shield them from dishonor, to guard
them from pain. Suppose, Helps, suppose your Esther was in the
position of my child? Suppose she was learning to love her husband, and
you knew what that husband had before him, how would you feel, Helps?
Put yourself in my place, and tell me how you'd feel."

"It 'ud all turn on one point," said Helps. "Whether I loved the girl
or myself most. Ef I saw that the girl was going deep in love with her
husband--deep, mind you--mortal deep--so I was nothing at all to her
beside him, why then, maybe, I'd save the young man for her sake, and
go under myself. I might do that, it 'ud depend on how much I loved."

"Nonsense; you would bring dishonor and ruin on her. How could she ever
hold up her head again?"

"Maybe he'd comfort her through it. There's no saying. Love, deep love,
mind you, does wonders."

Mr. Paget began to pace up and down the room.

"You are the greatest old fool I ever came across," he said. "Now, mind
you, your sentiments with regard to your low-born daughter are nothing
at all to me. _Noblesse oblige_ doesn't come into the case with you as
it does with my child. Dishonor shall never touch her; it would kill
her. She must be guarded against it. Listen, Helps. We have talked
folly and sentiment enough. Now to business. That young man must not
rise in my daughter's esteem. There is such a thing--listen, Helps,
come close--such a thing as blackening a man's character. You think it
over--you're a crafty old dog. Go home and look at Esther, and think it
over. God bless me, I'd not an idea how late it was. Here's a five
pound note for your pretty girl, Helps. Now go home and think it
over."



CHAPTER XVI.


Helps buttoned on his great coat, said a few words to one of the
clerks, and stepped out into the foggy night. He hailed a passing
omnibus, and in the course of half-an-hour found himself fumbling with
his latch-key in the door of a neat little house, which, however, was
at the same moment thrown wide open from within, and a tall girl with a
pale face, clear grey eyes, and a quantity of dark hair coiled about
her head stood before him.

"It's father, Cherry," she said to a little cousin who popped round the
corner. "Put the sausages on, and dish up the potatoes. Now don't be
awkward. I'm glad you're in good time, father--here, give us a kiss. Do
I look nice in this dress? I made it all myself. Here, come up to the
gas, and have a good look at it. How does it fit? Neat, eh?"

The dress was a dark green velveteen, made without attempt at ornament,
but fitting the slim and lissom figure like a glove.

"It's neat, but plain, surely," replied Helps, looking puzzled, proud,
and at the same time dissatisfied. "A bit more color now,--more
flouncing--Why, what's the matter, Essie? How you do frown, my girl."

"Come in out of the cold, father. Oh, no, not the kitchen, I've ordered
supper to be laid in the dining-room. Well, perhaps the room it does
smoke, but that will soon clear off. Now, father, I want to ask you an
important question. Do I look like a lady in this dress?"

She held herself very erect, the pure outline of her grand figure was
shown to the best advantage, her massive head had a queenly pose, and
the delicate purity of her complexion heightened the effect. Her accent
was wrong, her words betrayed her--could she have become dumb, she
might have passed for a princess.

"Do I look like a lady?" she repeated.

Little Helps stepped back a pace or two--he was puzzled and annoyed.

"You look all right, Essie," he said. "A lady? Oh, well--but you ain't
a lady, my girl. Look here, Esther, this room is mortal cold--I'd a
sight rather have my supper cosy in the kitchen."

"You can't then, father. You must take up with the genteel ways. After
supper we're going into the drawing-room, and I'll play to you on the
pianner, pa; I have been practising all day. Perhaps, too, we'll have
company--there's no saying."

"Company?" repeated Helps. "Who--what?"

"Oh, I'm not going to say, maybe he won't come. I met him in the
park--I was skating with the Johnsons, and I fell, and he picked me up.
I might have been hurt but for him. Then he heard George Johnson
calling me by my name, and it turned out that he knew you. Oh, wasn't
he a swell, and didn't he look it! And hadn't he a name worth boasting
of! 'Mr. Gerald Wyndham.' Why, what's the matter, father? He said that
he had often promised to look you up some evening, to bring you some
stupid book or other. He said maybe he would come to-night. That's why
I had the drawing-room and dining-room all done up. He said perhaps
he'd call, and took off his hat most refined. I took an awful fancy to
him--his ways was so aspiring. He said he might come to-night, but he
wasn't sure. I didn't know you had young men like that at your office,
father. And what is the matter?--why, you're quite white!"

"I never talk of what goes on at the place of business," replied
Helps, in quite a brusque voice for him. "And as to that young gent,
Esther, he's our Miss Valentine's husband."

"Married? Oh, lor, he didn't look it! And who is 'our Miss Valentine?'
if I may be bold enough to ask."

"Mr. Paget's daughter. I said I didn't mention matters connected with
the place of business."

"You always were precious close, father. But you're a dear, good, old
dad, all the same, and Cherry and I would sooner die than have you
scolded about anything. Cherry, my fine beau's a married man--pity,
aint it? I thought maybe he'd suit me."

"Then you needn't have lit the fire in the drawing-room," answered
Cherry, a very practical and stoutly-built little maid of fifteen.

"Maybe I needn't, but there's no harm done. I suppose I can talk to
him, even if he is married. Won't I draw him out about Miss Valentine,
and tell him how father always kept her a secret from us."

"Supper's ready, uncle," said Cherry. "Oh, bother that fire! It's quite
out. Don't the sausages smell good, uncle? I cooked them myself."

The three sat down to the table, poor Helps shivering not a little, and
casting more than one regretful glance at the warm and cosy kitchen. He
was feeling depressed for more than one reason this evening, and a
sense of dismay stole over him at Esther's having accidentally made
Wyndham's acquaintance.

"It's a bad omen," he said, under his breath, "and Esther's that
contrary, and so taken up with making a lady of herself, and she's
beautiful as a picter, except when she talks folly.

"I liked that young man from the first," he murmured. "I took, so to
speak, a fancy to him, and warned him, and I quoted scripter to him.
All to no good. The glint of a gel's eye was too much for him, he sold
himself for her--body and soul he sold himself for her. Still, I went
on keeping up a fancy for him, and I axed him to look me up some
evening, and have a pipe--he's wonderful on words too--he can derivate
almost as many as I can. I'm sorry now I asked him--Esther's that
wilful, and as beautiful as a picter. She talks too much to young men
that's above her. She's set on being a lady. Mr. Wyndham's married, of
course, but Esther wouldn't think nothing of trying to flirt with him
for all that."

"Esther," he said, suddenly, raising his deep-set eyes, and fixing them
on his daughter, "ef the young man calls, it's to see me, mind
you--he's a married man, and he has got the most beautiful wife in the
world, and he loves her. My word, I never heard tell of nobody loving
their wife so much!"

Esther's big grey eyes opened wide.

"How you look at me, dad," she said. "One would think I wanted to steal
Mr. Wyndham from his wife! I'm glad he loves her, it's romantic, it
pleases me."

"And there's his ring at the door," suddenly exclaimed Cherry. "Esther
was right to prepare the drawing-room. I'm glad he have come. I like to
look at handsome gents, particular when they are in love."

Gerald's arrival was accidental after all. He and his wife were dining
in Queen's Gate, and after dinner he remembered his adventure on the
ice, and told the story in an amusing way.

"A most beautiful girl, but with such an accent and manner," he said.
"And who do you think she turned out to be, sir?" he added, turning to
his father-in-law. "Why, your cracked clerk's daughter. She told me her
name was Esther Helps, and I found they were father and daughter."

"Has old Helps got a daughter?" exclaimed Valentine.

"How funny that I should never have known it. I have always been rather
fond of old Helps."

"He has an only daughter, as I have an only daughter," replied Mr.
Paget. Valentine was sitting close to him; he put his arm around her
waist as he spoke.

"How queer that I should never have known," continued Valentine. "And
her name is Esther? It is a pretty name. And you say that she is
handsome, Gerry? What is she like?"

"Tall and pale, with an expressive face," replied Wyndham, lightly.
"She is lady-like, and even striking-looking until she opens her
lips--then----" he made an expressive grimace.

"Poor girl, as if she could help that," replied Val. "She has never
been educated, you know. Her father is poor, and he can't give her
advantages. Does old Helps love his daughter very much, dad?"

"I suppose so, Val. Yes, I think I may say I am sure he does."

"I am so interested in only girls with fathers," continued Mrs.
Wyndham. "I wish I had seen Esther Helps. I hope you were kind to her,
Gerald."

"I picked her up, dear, and gave her to her friends. By-the-way, I said
I'd call to see old Helps this evening. He has a passion for the
derivation of words, and I have Trench's book on the subject. Shall I
take Esther a message from you, Val?"

"Yes, say something nice. I am not good at making up messages. Tell her
I am interested in her, and the more she loves her father, the greater
my interest must be. See, this is much better than any mere
message--take her this bunch of lilies--say I sent them. Now, Gerald,
is it likely I should be lonely? Father and I are going to have two
hours all to ourselves."

But as Valentine said these light words, her hand lingered on her
husband's shoulder, and her full brown eyes rested on his face.
Something in their gaze made his heart throb. He put his arm round her
neck and kissed her forehead.

"I shan't be two hours away," he said.

He took up the flowers, put "Trench on Words" into his pocket, and went
out.

Wyndham had a pleasant way with all people. His words, his manner, his
gentle courteous smile won for him hearts in all directions. He was
meant to be greatly beloved; he was born to win the most dangerous
popularity of all--that which brought to him blind and almost
unreasoning affection.

He was received at No. 5 Acadia Terrace with enthusiasm. Esther and
Cherry were open-eyed in their admiration, and Helps, a little
sorrowful--somehow Helps if he wasn't cynical was always
sorrowful--felt proud of the visit.

Gerald insisted on adjourning to the kitchen. He and Helps had a long
discussion on words--Cherry moved softly about, putting everything in
order--Esther sat silent and lovely, glancing up now and then at Gerald
from under her black eyelashes. Valentine's flowers lay in her lap.
They were dazzlingly white, and made an effective contrast to her dark
green dress. It was a peaceful little scene--nothing at all remarkable
about it. Gerald fell more contented than he had done for many a day.
Who would have thought that out of such innocent materials mischief of
the deadliest sort might be wrought to him and his.



CHAPTER XVII.


When Wyndham came back to Queen's Gate his wife met him with sparkling
eyes.

"How much time can you give me to-morrow?" she said. "I want to go out
with you. I have been speaking to father, and he accedes to all our
wishes--he will give us an income. He says he thinks a thousand a year
will be enough. Oh, he is kind, and I feel so excited. Don't let us
drive, let us walk home, Gerry. I know the night is fine. I feel that
everything is bright just now, and you will come with me to-morrow,
won't you, Gerry? Father, could you spare Gerald from business
to-morrow? You know it is so important."

Mr. Paget was standing a little in the shadow, his face was beaming,
his eyes smiling. When Valentine turned to him, he laid his hand
lightly on her shoulder.

"You are an inconsistent little girl," he said. "You want to become a
business woman yourself. You want to be practical, and clever, and
managing, and yet you encourage that husband of yours to neglect his
work."

Gerald flushed.

"I don't neglect my work," he said. "My heavy work has never a chance
of being neglected, it is too crushing."

Valentine looked up in alarm, but instantly Mr. Paget's smiling face
was turned to the young man, and his other hand touched his arm.

"Your work to-morrow is to go with your wife," he said gently. "She
wants to shop--to spend--to learn saving by expenditure. You have to go
with her to give her the benefit of your experience. Look out for cheap
sales, my dear child--go to Whiteley's, and purchase what you don't
want, provided it is a remnant, and sold under cost price. Save by
learning, Val, and, Gerald, you help her to the best of your ability.
Now good-night, my children, good-night, both of you, bless you."

"It almost seemed to me," said Valentine, as they walked home
together--it was a starry night and she clung affectionately to her
husband's arm--"it almost seemed to me that father was put out with
you, and you with him. He was so sweet while you were out, but although
he smiled all the time after you returned I don't think he was really
sweet, and you didn't speak nicely to him, Gerald, about the work I
mean. Is the work at the office very heavy. Gerald? You never spend
more than about two hours a day there."

"The work is heavy, Val, and it will grow more so. I don't complain,
however--I have not the shadow of a right to complain. I am sorry I
spoke to your father so as to vex you, dearest----I won't do so again."

"I want you to love him, Gerry; I want you to feel for him a little
bit, as I do, as if he were the first of men, you understand. Don't you
think you could try. I wish you would."

"You see I have my own father, darling."

"Oh yes, but really now--the rector is a nice old man, but, Gerry, if
you were to speak from your inmost heart, without any prejudice, you
know; if you could detach from your mind the fact that you are the son
of the rector, you would not compare them, Gerry, you could not."

"As you say, Valentine, I could not. They stand on different pedestals.
Now let us change the subject. So you are the happy possessor of a
thousand a year."

"We both possess that income, Gerry. Is not it sweet of father--he felt
for me at once. He said he was proud of me, that I was going to make a
capital wife--he said you were a lucky fellow, Gerry."

"Yes, darling, so I am, so I am."

"Then he spoke of a thousand a year to begin with. He mentioned a lot
more, but he said a thousand was an income on which I might begin to
learn to save. And he gave me a cheque for the first quarter to-night.
He said we had better open a banking account. As soon as we get in, I'm
going to give you the cheque, I'm afraid to keep it. Father said we
might open a separate account in his bank."

"My father has always banked at the Westminster," said Gerald. "It
would suit me best to take the money there."

They had reached the house by this time. Gerald opened the door with a
latch-key, and the two went into the pretty, cosy drawing-room.
Valentine threw off her white fur wrap, and sank down into an
easy-chair. Her dinner dress was white, and made in a very simple
girlish fashion--her hair, which was always short and curled in little
rings about her head and face, added to the extreme youth of her
appearance. She raised her eyes to her husband, who stood by the
mantel-piece. The expression she wore was that of a happy, excited,
half-spoiled child, a creature who had been somebody's darling from her
birth. This was the predominating expression of her face, and yet--and
yet--Gerald seemed to read something more in the gaze of the sweet eyes
to-night; a question was half coming into them, the dawn of a possible
awakening might even be discerned in them.

"My darling," he said, suddenly coming up to her, putting his arm about
her, and kissing her with passion, "I love you better than my
life--better--better than my hope of heaven. Can you love me a little,
Valentine--just a little?"

"I do love you, Gerald." But she spoke quietly, and without any
answering fire.

His arms dropped, the enthusiasm went out of his face; he went back
again to his old position with his back to the fire.

"What kind of girl is Esther Helps, Gerald?"

"A beautiful girl."

"As beautiful as I am?"

"In her way quite as beautiful."

"Why do you say 'in her way?' Beauty must always be beauty."

"It has degrees, Esther Helps is not a lady."

Valentine was silent for half a minute.

"I should like to know her," she said then. "I wonder how much she
cares for old Helps."

"Look here, Valentine, Esther Helps is not the least like you. I don't
know that she has any romantic attachment for that old man. She is a
very ordinary girl--a most commonplace person with just a beautiful
face."

"How queerly you speak, Gerald. As if it were something strange for an
only daughter to be attached to her father."

"The amount of attachment you feel, darling, is uncommon."

"Is it? Well, I have got a very uncommon father."

"My dear Valentine, God knows you have."

Gerald sank down into a chair by the fire. He turned his face, dreary,
white and worn, to the blaze. Valentine detected no hidden sarcasm in
his tones. After a time she took the cheque out of her purse and handed
it to him.

"Here, Gerry, you will put this into your bank to-morrow, won't you? We
will open an account in our joint names, won't we? And then we can
calculate how much we are to spend weekly and monthly. Oh, won't it be
interesting and exciting. So much for my clothes, so much for yours, so
much for servants, so much for food--we need not spend so much on food,
need we? So much for pleasures--I want to go to the theatre at least
twice a week--oh, we can manage it all and have something to spare. And
no debts, remember, Gerry--ready money will be our system. We'll go in
omnibuses, too, to save cabs--I shall love to feel that I am doing for
a penny what might cost a shilling. Gerald darling, do you know that
just in one way you have vexed my father a little?"

"Vexed him--how, Valentine?"

"He says it is very wrong of you to croak, and have gloomy
prognostications. You know you said it was not worth while for me to
learn to housekeep. Just as if you were going to die, or I were going
to die. Father was quite vexed when I told him. Now you look vexed,
Gerry. Really between such a husband and such a father, a poor girl may
sometimes feel puzzled. Well, have you nothing to say?"

"I'm afraid I have nothing to say, Valentine."

"Then you won't croak any more."

"Not for you--I have never croaked for you."

"Nor for yourself."

"I cannot promise. Sometimes fits of depression come over me. There,
good-night, sweet. Go to bed. I am not sleepy. I shall read for a time.
Your future is all right, Valentine."



CHAPTER XVIII.


"I don't like it," said Lilias.

She was sitting in the sunny front parlor, the room which was known as
the children's room at the rectory. An open letter lay on her dark
winter dress; her sunny hair was piled up high on her shapely head, and
her eyes, wistful and questioning, were raised to Marjory's brisker,
brighter face, with a world of trouble in them.

The snow lay thick outside, covering the flower beds and the grassy
lawn, and laying in piles against the low rectory windows. Marjory was
standing by a piled up fire, one of those perfect fires composed of
great knobs of sparkling coal and well dried logs of wood. She, too,
had on a dark dress, but it was nearly covered by a large holland apron
with a bib. Her sleeves were protected by cuffs of the same, on her
hands she wore chamois leather gloves with the tips cut off. She looked
all bright, and active, and sparkling, and round her on the table and
on the floor lay piles and bales of unbleached calico, of coarse red
flannel, of bright dark blue and crimson merino. In one of Marjory's
capable hands was a large pair of cutting-out scissors, and she paused,
holding this implement slightly open, to listen to Lilias' lugubrious
words.

"If you must croak to-day," she said, "get it over quickly, and come
and help me. Twenty-four blue frocks and twenty-four red to be ready by
the time the girls come at four o'clock, besides the old women's
flannel and this unlimited supply of unbleached calico. If there is a
thing which ruffles my equanimity it is unbleached calico, it fluffs
so, and makes one so messy. Now, what do you want to say, Lilias?"

"I'm troubled," said Lilias, "it's about Gerald. I've the queerest
feeling about him--three times lately I've dreamt--intangible dreams,
of course, but all dark and foreboding."

"Is that a letter from Gerry in your lap, Lilias?"

"No, it is from Val--a nice little letter, too, poor child. I am sure
she is doing her best to be a good wife to Gerald. Do you know that she
has taken up housekeeping in real earnest."

"Does she say that Gerald is ill?"

"No, she scarcely mentions his name at all."

"Then what in the name of goodness are you going into the dismals for
on this morning of all mornings. Twenty-four blue frocks and
twenty-four red between noon and four o'clock, and the old women coming
for them to the moment. Really, Lilias, you are too provoking. You are
not half the girl you were before Gerald's marriage. I don't know what
has come to you. Oh, there's Mr. Carr passing the window, I'll get him
to come in and help us. Forgive me, Lil, I'll just open this window a
tiny bit and speak to him. How do you do, Mr. Carr? You can step in
this way--you need not go round through all the slush to the front
door. There, you can wipe your feet on that mat. Lilias, say 'how do
you do' to Mr. Carr, that is if you are not too dazed."

"How do you do, Miss Wyndham? How do you do, Miss Lilias?" said Carr in
a brisk tone. "It is very good of you both to let me into this pleasant
room after the cold and snow outside. And how busy you are! Surely,
Miss Wyndham, your family don't require such a vast amount of
re-clothing."

"Yes," said Marjory, "these bales of goods are for my shivering
widows," and she pointed to the red flannel and unbleached calico. "And
those are for my pretty orphans--our pretty orphans, Lilly darling,
twenty-four in the West Refuge, twenty-four in the East; the Easterns
are apparelled in red, the Westerns in blue. Now, Mr. Carr, I'll put it
to you as our spiritual pastor, is it right for Lilias to sit and croak
instead of helping me with all this prodigious work?"

"But croaking for nothing is not Miss Lilias' way," said Carr, favoring
her with a quick glance, a little anxious, a little surprised.

Lilias sprang up with almost a look of vexation. Valentine's letter
fell unheeded on the floor.

"You are too bad, Maggie," she said, with almost a forced laugh. "I
suppose there are few people in this troublesome world who are not now
and then attacked with a fit of the blues. But here goes. I'll shake
them off. I'll help you all I can."

"You must help, too," said Marjory in a gay voice, turning to Carr.
"Please take off your great coat--put it anywhere. Now then, are your
hands strong? are your arms steady? You have got to hold this bale of
red merino while Lilly cuts dress lengths from it. Don't forget, Lil,
nine lengths of three-and-a-half yards each, nine lengths of four yards
each, and six lengths of five yards each. Oh, thank you, Mr. Carr, that
will be a great assistance."

Carr was a very energetic, wide-awake, useful man. He could put his
hands to anything. No work, provided it was useful, was derogatory in
his eyes--he was always cheerful, always bright and obliging. Even
Gerald Wyndham could scarcely have made a more popular curate at
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold than did this young man.

"If anything could provoke me about him, it is that he is too sunny,"
Marjory said one day to her sister.

Lilias was silent. It occurred to her, only she was not sure, that in
those dark, quick, keen eyes there could come something which might
sustain and strengthen on a day of clouds as well as sunshine.

It came now, when Marjory suddenly left the room, and Carr abruptly let
the great bale of merino drop at his feet.

"Are you worried about anything?" he asked, in that direct fashion of
his which made people trust him very quickly.

Lilias colored all over her face.

"I suppose I ought not to be silly," she said, "but my brother--you see
he is my only brother--his marriage has made a great gulf between us."

Carr looked at her sharply.

"You are not jealous?" he said.

"I don't know--we used to be great chums. I think if I were sure he was
happy I should not be jealous?"

Carr walked to the fireplace.

"It would not be folly if you were," he said. "All sisters must face
the fact of their brothers taking to themselves wives, and, of course,
loving the wives best. It is the rule of nature, and it would be
foolish of you to fret against the inevitable."

He spoke abruptly, and with a certain coldness, which might have
offended some girls. Lilias' slow earnest answer startled him.

"I don't fret against the inevitable," she said. "But I do fret against
the intangible. There is a mystery about Gerald which I can't attempt
to fathom. I know it is there, but I can't grapple with it in any
direction."

"You must have some thought about it, though, or it would not have
entered into your head."

"I have many thoughts, but no clues. Oh, it would take me a long, long
time to tell you what I fear, to bring my shadowy dread into life and
being. I have just had a letter from Valentine, a sweet nice letter,
and yet it seems to me full of mystery, although I am sure she does not
know it herself. Yes, it is all intangible--it is kind of you to listen
to me. Marjory would say I was talking folly."

"You are talking as if your nerves were a little out of sorts. Could
you not have a change? Even granted that there is trouble, and I don't
suppose for an instant that anything of the kind is in store for your
brother, it is a great waste of life to meet it half way."

Lilias smiled faintly.

"I am silly," she said. And just then Marjory came into the room,
followed by Augusta, and the cutting out proceeded briskly.

Carr was an invaluable help. Some people would have said that he was a
great deal too gay and cheerful--a great deal too athletic and
well-knit and keen-eyed for a curate.

This was not the case; he made an excellent clergyman, but he had a
great sense of the fitness of things, and he believed fully in a time
for everything.

Helping three merry girls to cut out red and blue merino frocks, on a
cold day in January, seemed to him a very cheerful occupation. Gay
laughter and light and innocent chatter filled the room, and Lilias
soon became one of the merriest of the party.

In the midst of their chatter the rector entered.

"I want you, Carr," he said, abruptly; he was usually a very polite
man, almost too ceremonious. Now his words came with a jerk, and the
moment he had uttered them he vanished.

As Carr left the room in obedience to this quick summons. Lilias' face
became once more clouded.

The rector was pacing up and down his study. When Carr entered he asked
him to bolt the door.

"Is anything the matter, sir?" asked the young man.

Mr. Wyndham's manner was so perturbed, so unlike himself, that it was
scarcely wonderful that Carr should ask this question. It received,
however, a short and sharp reply.

"I hope to goodness, Carr, you are not one of those imaginative people
who are always foreboding a lion in the path. What I sent for you
was--well----" the rector paused. He raised his eyes slowly until they
rested upon the picture of Gerald's mother; the face very like Gerald's
seemed to appeal to him; his lips trembled.

"I can't keep it up, Carr," he said, with an abandon which touched the
younger man to the heart. "I'm not satisfied about my son. Nothing
wrong, oh, no--and yet--and yet--you understand, Carr, I have only one
son--a lot of girls, God bless them all!--and only one son."

Carr came over and stood by the mantel-piece. If he felt any surprise,
he showed none. His words came out gently, and in a matter-of-fact
style.

"If you have any cause to be worried, Mr. Wyndham--and--and--you think
I can help you, I shall be proud to be trusted." Then his thoughts flew
to Lilias, and his firm, rather thin lips, took a faint smile.

"I have no doubt I am very foolish," replied the rector. "I had a
letter this morning from Gerald. He tells me in it that he is going to
Australia in March, on some special business for his father-in-law's
firm--you know he is a partner in the firm. His wife is not to
accompany him."

The rector paused.

Carr made no answer for a moment. Then he said, feeling his way--

"This will be a trial for Mrs. Wyndham."

"One would suppose so. Gerald doesn't say anything on the subject."

"Well," said the rector, "how does it strike you? Perhaps I'm
nervous--Lilly, poor girl, is the same, and Marjory laughs at us both.
How does this intelligence strike you as an outsider, Carr? Pray give
me your opinion."

"Yes," said Carr, simply. "I do not think my opinion need startle
anyone. Doubtless, sir, you know facts which throw a different
complexion on the thing. It all seems to me a commonplace affair. In
big business houses partners have often to go away at short notice. It
will certainly be a trial for Mrs. Wyndham to do without her husband. I
don't like to prescribe change of air for you, Mr. Wyndham, as I did
for Miss Lilias just now, but I should like to ask you if your nerves
are quite in order?"

The rector laughed.

"You are a daring fellow to talk of nerves to me, Carr," he said. "Have
not I prided myself all my life on having no nerves? Well, well, the
fact is, a great change has come over the lad's face. He used to be
such a boy, too light-hearted, if anything, too young, if anything, for
his years--the most unselfish fellow from his birth. Give away? Bless
you, there was nothing Gerald wouldn't give away. Why, look here, Carr,
we all tried to spoil the boy amongst us--he was the only one--and his
mother taken away when he so young--and he the image of her. Yes, all
the girls resemble me, but Gerald is the image of his mother. We all
tried to teach him selfishness, but we couldn't. Now. Carr, you will be
surprised at what I am going to say, but if a man can be unselfish to a
_fault_, to a fault mind you--to the verge of a crime--it's my son
Gerald. I know this. I have always seen it in him. Now my boy's
father-in-law. Mortimer Paget, is as selfish as my lad is the reverse.
Why did he want a poor lad like mine to marry his rich and only
daughter? Why did he make him a partner in his house of business, and
why did he insure my boy's life? Insure it heavily? Answer me that. My
boy would have taken your place here, Carr; humbly but worthily would
he have served the Divine Master, no man happier than he. Is he happy
now? Is he young for his years now? Tell me, Carr, what you really
think?"

"I don't know, sir. I have not looked at things from your light. You
are evidently much troubled, and I am deeply troubled for you. I don't
know Wyndham very well but I know him a little. I think that marriage
and the cares of a house of business and all his fresh
responsibilities may be enough to age your son's face. As to the
insurance question, all business is so fluctuating that Mr. Paget was
doubtless right in securing his daughter and her children from possible
want in the future. See here, Mr. Wyndham, I am going up to town this
evening for two or three days. Shall I call at Park-lane and bring you
my own impressions with regard to your son?"

"Thank you, Carr, that is an excellent thought, and what is more you
shall escort Lilias or Marjory up to town. They have a standing
invitation to my boy's house, and a little change just now would
do--shall I say Lilias?--good."

"Miss Lilias wants a change, sir. She is affected like yourself with,
may I call it, an attack of the nerves."



CHAPTER XIX.


Valentine really made an excellent housekeeper. Nobody expected it of
her; her friends, the ladies, old and young, the girls, married or
otherwise, who knew Valentine as they supposed very intimately,
considered the idea of settling this remarkably ignorant young person
down with a fixed income and telling her to buy with it, and contrive
with it, and make two ends meet with it, quite one of the best jokes of
the day.

Valentine did not regard it as a joke at all. She honestly tried,
honestly studied, and honestly made a success as housekeeper and
household manager.

She was a most undeveloped creature, undeveloped both in mind and
heart; but she not only possessed intense latent affections, but latent
capacities of all sorts. She scarcely knew the name of poverty, she had
no experience with regard to the value of money, but nature had given
her an instinct which taught her to spend it wisely and well. She found
a thousand a year a larger income than she and Gerald with their modest
wants needed. She scarcely used half of what she received, and yet her
home was cheerful, her servants happy, her table all that was
comfortable.

When she brought her housekeeping books to her husband to balance at
the end of the first month, he looked at her with admiration, and then
said in a voice of great sadness:--

"God help me, Valentine, have I made a mistake altogether about you? Am
I dreaming, Valentine, are you meant for a poor man's wife after all?"

"For your wife, whether rich or poor," she said; and she knelt down by
his side, and put her hand into his.

She had always possessed a sweet and beautiful face, but for the last
few weeks it had altered; the sweetness had not gone, but resolution
had grown round the curved pretty lips, and the eyes had a soft
happiness in them.

"Pretty, charming creature!" people used to say of her. "But just a
trifle commonplace and doll-like."

This doll-like expression was no longer discernible in Valentine.

Gerald touched her hair tenderly.

"My little darling!" he said. His voice shook. Then he rose abruptly,
with a gesture which was almost rough. "Come upstairs, Val; the
housekeeping progresses admirably. No, my dear, you made a mistake, you
were never meant for a poor man's wife."

Valentine kissed his brow: she looked at him in a puzzled way.

"Do you know," she said, laying her hands on his, with a gesture half
timid, half appealing; "don't go up to the drawing-room for a moment,
Gerald, I want to say a thing, something I have observed. I am loved by
two men, by my father and by you. I am loved by them very much--by both
of them very much. Oh, yes, Gerald, I know what you feel for me, and
yet I can't make either of them happy. My father is not happy. Oh, yes,
I can see--love isn't blind. I never remembered my father quite, quite
happy, and he is certainly less so than ever now. He tries to look all
right when people are by; even succeeds, for he is so unselfish, and
brave, and noble. But when he is alone--ah, then. Once he fell asleep
when I was in the room, he looked terrible in that sleep; his face was
haggard--he sighed--there was moisture on his brow. When he woke he
asked me to marry you. I didn't care for you then, Gerald, but I said
yes because of my father. He said if I married you he would be
perfectly happy. I did so--he is not happy."

Gerald did not say a word.

"And you aren't happy, dear," she continued, coming a little nearer to
him. "You used to be; before we were engaged you had such a gay face. I
could never call you gay since, Gerald. You are so thin, and sometimes
at night I lie awake, and I hear you sigh. Why, what is the matter.
Gerald? You look ghastly now. Am I hurting you? I wouldn't hurt you,
darling."

Wyndham turned round quickly. He had been white almost to fainting, now
a great light seemed to leap out of his eyes.

"What did you say? What did you call me? Say it again."

"Darling."

"Then I thank my God--everything has not been in vain."

He sank down on the nearest chair and burst into tears. Tragedies go on
where least expected. The servants in the servants' hall thought their
young master and mistress quite the happiest people in the world. Were
they not gay, young, rich? Did they not adore one another? Gerald's
devotion to Valentine was almost a joke with them, and Valentine's
increasing regard for him was very observable to those watchful
outsiders.

Certainly the pair stayed in a good deal in the evenings, and why
to-night in particular did they linger so long in the dining-room,
rather to the inconvenience of the kitchen regime. But presently their
steps were heard going upstairs, and then Valentine accompanied
Gerald's violin on the piano.

Wyndham played very well for an amateur, so well that with a little
extra practice he might almost have taken his place as a professional
of no mean ability. He had exquisite taste and a sensitive ear. Music
always excited him, and perhaps was not the safest recreation for such
a highly strung nature.

Valentine could accompany well; she, too, loved music, but had not her
husband's facility nor grace of execution. In his happiest moments
Gerald could compose, and sometimes even improvise with success.

During their honeymoon it seemed to him one day as he looked at the
somewhat impassive face of the girl for whom he had sold himself body
and soul--as he looked and felt that not yet at least did her heart
echo even faintly to any beat of his, it occurred to him that he might
tell his story in its pain and its longing best through the medium of
music. He composed a little piece which, for want of another title, he
called "Waves." It was very sweet in melody, and had some minor notes
of such pathos that when Valentine first heard him play it on the
violin she burst into tears. He told her quite simply then that it was
his story about her, that all the sweetness was her share, all the
graceful melody, the sparkling joyous notes which coming from Gerald's
violin seemed to speak like a gay and happy voice, represented his
ideal of her. The deeper notes and the pain belonged to him; pain must
ever come with love when it is strongest, she would understand this
presently.

Then he put his little piece away--he only played it once for her when
they were in Switzerland; he forgot it, but she did not.

To-night, after her confession, when they went up to the drawing-room,
his heart immeasurably soothed and healed, and hers soft with a
wonderful joy which the beginning of true love can give, he remembered
"Waves," and thought he would play it for her again. It did not sound
so melancholy this time, but strange to say the gay notes were not
quite so gay, the warble of a light heart had deepened. As Wyndham
played and Valentine sat silent, for she offered no accompaniment to
this little fugitive piece, he found that he must slightly reconstruct
the melody. The minor keys were still minor, but there was a ring of
victory through them now; they were solemn, but not despairing.

"He that loseth his life shall find it," Wyndham said suddenly, looking
full into her eyes.

The violin slipped from his hand, coming down with a discordant crash,
the door was flung open by the servant, as Lilias Wyndham and Adrian
Carr came into the room.

In a minute all was gay bustle and confusion. Gerald forgot his cares,
and Valentine was only too anxious to show herself as the hospitable
and attentive hostess.

A kind of improvised meal between dinner and tea was actually brought
up into the drawing-room. Lilias ate chicken and ham holding her plate
on her lap. Carr, more of a stranger, was not allowed to feel this
fact. In short, no four could have looked merrier or more free from
trouble.

"It is delightful to have you here--delightful, Lilias," said
Valentine, taking her sister-in-law's hand and squeezing it
affectionately.

"Do you know, Lil," said Gerald, "that this little girl-wife of mine,
with no experience whatever, makes a most capable housekeeper. With all
your years of knowledge I should not like you to enter the lists with
her."

"With all my years of failure, you mean," answered Lilias. "I always
was and always will be the most incompetent woman with regard to beef
and mutton and pounds, shillings and pence who walks this earth."

She laughed as she spoke; her face was cloudless, her dark eyes serene.
For one moment before he went away Carr found time to say a word to
her.

"Did I not tell you it was simply a case of nerves?" he remarked.



CHAPTER XX.


Esther Helps was certainly neither a prudent nor a careful young woman.
She meant no harm, she would have shuddered at the thought of actual
sin, but she was reckless, a little defiant of all authority, even her
father's most gentle and loving control, and very discontented with her
position in life.

Morning, noon, and night, Esther's dream of dreams, longing of
longings, was to be a lady. She had some little foundation for this
desire. The mother who had died at her birth had been a poor
half-educated little governess, whose mother before her had been a
clergyman's daughter. Esther quickly discovered that she was beautiful,
and her dream of dreams was to marry a gentleman, and so go back to
that station in life where her mother had moved.

Esther had no real instincts of ladyhood. She spoke loudly, her
education had been of a very flashy and superficial order. From the
time she left the fourth-rate boarding-school where her father alone
had the means to place her, she had stayed at home and idled. Idling
was very bad for a character like hers; she was naturally active and
energetic--she had plenty of ability, and would have made a capital
shopwoman or dressmaker. But Esther thought it quite beneath her to
work, and her father, who could support her at home, was only too
delighted to have her there. He was inordinately proud of her--she was
the one sunbeam in his dull, clouded timorous life. He adored her
beauty, he found no fault with her Cockney twang, and he gave her in
double measure the love which had lain buried for many years with his
young wife.

Esther, therefore, when she left school, sat at home, and made her own
dresses, and chatted with her cousin Cherry, who was an orphan, and
belonged to Helps' side of the house. Cherry was a very capable,
matter-of-fact hearty little girl, and Esther thought it an excellent
arrangement that she should live with them, and take the drudgery and
the cooking, and in short all the household work off her hands. Esther
was very fond of Cherry, and Cherry, in her turn, thought there was
never anyone quite so grand and magnificent as her tall, stately
cousin.

"Well, Cherry," said Esther, as the two were going to bed on the night
after Wyndham's visit, "what do you think of him? Oh, I needn't ask,
there's but one thing to be thought of him."

"Elegant, I say," interrupted Cherry. She was looking particularly
round and dumpy herself, and her broad face with her light grey eyes
was all one smile. "An elegant young man, Essie--a sort of chevalier,
now, wouldn't you say so?"

"It's just like you, Cherry, you take up all your odd moments with
those poetry books. Mr. Wyndham ain't a chevalier--he's just a
gentleman, neither more nor less--a real gentleman, oh dear. I call it
a cruel disappointment. Cherry," and she heaved a profound sigh.

"What's a disappointment?" asked unsuspicious Cherry, as she tumbled
into bed.

"Why, that he's married, my dear. He'd have suited me fine. Well,
there's an end of that."

Cherry thought there was sufficiently an end to allow her to drop off
to sleep, and Esther, after lying awake for a little, presently
followed her example.

The next day she was more restless than ever, once or twice even openly
complaining to Cherry of the dullness of her lot, and loudly
proclaiming her determination to become a lady in spite of everybody.

"You can't, Essie," said her father, in his meek, though somewhat
high-pitched voice, when he overheard some of her words that evening.
"It ain't your lot, child--you warn't born in the genteel line; there's
all lines and all grooves, and yours is the narrowing one of the
poverty-struck clerk's child."

"I think it's mean of you to talk like that, father," said Esther, her
eyes flashing. "It's mean of you, and unkind to my poor mother, who was
a lady born."

"I don't know much about that," replied Helps, looking more despondent
than ever. "She was the best of little wives, and if she was born a
lady, which I ain't going to deny, for I don't know she warn't a lady
bred, I mind me she thought it a fine bit of a rise to leave off
teaching the baker's children, and come home to me. Poor little
Essie--poor, dear little Essie. You don't take much after her, Esther,
my girl."

"If she was spiritless, and had no mind for her duties, which were in
my opinion to uphold her station in life, I don't want to take after
her," answered Esther, and she flounced out of the room.

Helps looked round in an appealing way at Cherry.

"I don't want to part with her," he said, "but it will be a good thing
for us all when Essie is wed. I must try and find some decent young
fellow who will be likely to take a fancy to her. Her words fret me on
account of their ambition. Cherry, child."

"I wouldn't be put out if I was you, uncle," responded Cherry in her
even, matter-of-fact voice. "Esther is took up with a whim, and it will
pass. It's all on account of the chevalier."

"The what, child?"

"The chevalier. Oh, my sakes alive, there's the milk boiling all over
the place, and my hearth done up so beautiful. Here, catch hold of this
saucepan, uncle, while I fetch a cloth to wipe up. My word, ain't this
provoking. I thought to get time to learn a verse or two out of the
poetry book to-night; but no such luck--I'll be brushing and blacking
till bed-time."

In the confusion which ensued, Helps forgot to ask Cherry whom she
meant by the chevalier.

A few days after this, as Helps was coming home late, he was rather
dismayed to find his daughter returning also, accompanied by a young
man who was no better dressed than half the young men with whom she
walked, but who had a certain air and a certain manner which smote upon
the father's heart with a dull sense of apprehension.

"Essie, my girl," he said, when she had bidden her swain good-bye, and
had come into the house, with her eyes sparkling and her whole face
looking so bright and beautiful, that even Cherry dropped her poetry
book to gaze in admiration. "Essie," said Helps, all the tenderness of
the love he bore her trembling in his voice, "come here. Kiss your old
father. You love him, don't you?"

"Why, dad, what a question. I should rather think I did."

"You wouldn't hurt him now, Essie? You wouldn't break his heart, for
instance?"

"I break your heart, dad? Is it likely? Now, what can the old man be
driving at?" she said, looking across at Cherry.

"It's this," responded Helps, "I want to know the name of the
fellow--yes, the--the fellow, who saw you home just now?"

"Now, father, mightn't he be Mr. Gray, or Mr. Jones, or Mr. Abbott;
some of those nice young men you bring up now and then from the city?
Why mightn't he be one of them, father?"

"But he wasn't, my dear. The young men you speak of are honest lads,
every one of them. I wouldn't have no sort of objection to your
walking with them, Esther. It wasn't none of my friends from the city I
saw you with to-night. Essie."

"And why shouldn't this be an honest fellow, too?" answered Esther, her
eyes sparkling dangerously.

"I don't know, my dear. I didn't like the looks of him. What's his
name, Essie, my love?"

"Captain Herriot, of the ---- Hussars."

"There! Esther, you're not to walk with Captain Herriot any more.
You're not to know him. I won't have it--so now."

"Highty-tighty!" said Esther. "There are two to say a word to that
bargain, father. And pray, why may I walk with Mr. Jones and not with
Captain Herriot? Captain Herriot's a real gentleman, and Mr. Jones
ain't."

"And that's the reason, my child. If Jones walked with you, he'd
maybe--yes, I'm sure of it--he'd want all his heart and soul to make
you his honest wife some day. Do you suppose Captain Herriot wants to
make you his wife. Essie?"

"I don't say. I won't be questioned like that." Her whole pale face was
in a flame. "Maybe we never thought of such a thing, but just to be
friends, and to have a pleasant time. It's cruel of you to talk like
that, father."

"Well, then, I won't, my darling, I won't. Just promise you'll have
nothing more to say to the fellow. I'd believe your word against the
world, Essie."

"Against the world? Would you really, dad? I wouldn't, though, if I
were you. No, I ain't going to make a promise I might break." She went
out of the room, she was crying.

A short time after this, indeed the very day after Lilias Wyndham's
visit to London, Gerald noticed that Helps followed his every movement
as he came rather languidly in and out of the office, with dull
imploring eyes. The old clerk was particularly busy that morning, he
was kept going here, there, and everywhere. Work of all kinds, work of
the most unexpected and unlooked for nature seemed to descend to-day
with the force of a sledge hammer on his devoted head.

Gerald saw that he was dying to speak to him, and at the first
opportunity he took him aside, and asked him if there was anything he
could do for him.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Wyndham, you can, you can. Oh, thank the good Lord for
bringing you over to speak to me when no one was looking. You can save
Esther for me--that's what you can do, Mr. Wyndham. No one can save her
but you. So you will, sir; oh, you will. She's my only child, Mr.
Wyndham."



CHAPTER XXI.


"I will certainly do what I can," responded Wyndham, in his grave,
courteous voice.

He was leaning against the window-ledge in a careless attitude; Helps,
looking up at him anxiously, noticed how pale and wan his face was.

"Ah," he responded, rising from his seat, and going up to the younger
man. "'Tis them as bears burdens knows how to pity. Thank the Lord
there's compensation in all things. Now look here, Mr. Wyndham, this is
how things are. You have seen my Essie, she's troublesome and
spirited--oh, no one more so."

Helps paused.

"Yes," answered Gerald, in a quiet, waiting voice. He was not
particularly interested in the discussion of Esther Helps' character.

"And she's beautiful, Mr. Wyndham. Aye, there's her curse. Beautiful
and hambitious and not a lady, and dying to be one. You understand, Mr.
Wyndham--you must understand."

Wyndham said nothing.

"Well, a month or so ago I found out there was a gentleman--at least a
man who called himself a gentleman--walking with her, and filling her
head with nonsense. His name was Herriot, a captain in the Hussars. I
told her she was to have nought to say to him, but I soon found that
she disobeyed me. Then I had to spy on her--you may think how I felt,
but it had to be done. I found that she walked with him, and met him at
all hours. I made inquiries about his character, and I found he was a
scoundrel, a bad fellow out and out. He'd be sure to break my Essie's
heart if he did no worse. Then I was in a taking, for the girl kept
everything in, and would scarcely brook me so much as to look at her. I
was that upset that I took Cherry into my confidence. She's a very good
girl, is Cherry--the Lord hasn't cursed her with no beauty. Last week
she brought me word that Esther was going to the Gaiety with Captain
Herriot, that he had taken two stalls and they were to have a fine
time. She said Esther was almost out of her mind with delight, as it
was always her dream to be seen at the theatre, beautifully dressed,
with a real gentleman. She had shown the tickets to Cherry, and Cherry
was smart enough to take the numbers and keep them in the back of her
head. She told me, and I can tell you, Mr. Wyndham, I was fit to kill
someone. I went straight off to the Gaiety office, and by good luck or
the grace of God, I found there was a vacant stall next to
Esther's--just one, and no more. I paid for that stall, here's the
ticket in my pocket."

"Yes," said Wyndham, "and you mean to go with Esther to-night? A very
good idea--excellent. But how will she take it?"

"How will she take it, Mr. Wyndham? I feel fit to pull my grey hairs
out. How would she have taken it, you mean? For it's all a thing of the
past, sir. Oh, I had it all planned fine. I was to wait until she and
that fellow had taken their places, and then I'd come in quite natural,
and sit down beside her, and answer none of her questions, only never
leave her, no, not for a quarter of a minute. And if he spoke up, the
ruffian, I had my reply for him. I'd stay quiet enough till we got
outside, and then just one blow in the middle of his face--yes, just
one, to relieve a father's feelings. Then home with my girl, and I
think it's more than likely we wouldn't have been troubled with no more
of Captain Herriot's attentions."

Helps paused again.

"You speak in the past tense," said Gerald. "Why cannot you carry out
this excellent programme?"

"That's it, sir, that's what about maddens me. I came to the office
this morning, and what has happened hasn't happened this three months
past. There's business come in of a nature that no one can tackle but
myself. Business of a private character, and yet what may mean the loss
or gain of thousands. Oh, I can't explain it, Mr. Wyndham, even though
you are a partner; there are things that confidential clerks know that
are hid from junior partners. I can't leave here till eleven o'clock
to-night, Mr. Wyndham, and if you don't help me Esther may be a lost
girl. Yes, there's no mincing matters--lost, beyond hope. Will you help
me, Mr. Wyndham? I'll go mad if my only girl, my beautiful girl, comes
to that."

"I? Can I help you?" asked Wyndham. There was hesitation and distress
in his voice. He saw that he was going to be asked to do something
unpleasant.

"You can do this, sir. You can make it all right. Bless you, sir, who's
there to see? And you go with the best intentions. You go in a noble
cause. You can afford to risk that much, Mr. Wyndham. I want you to
take my place at the Gaiety to-night; take my ticket and go there. Talk
pleasant to Esther: not much, but just a little, nothing to rouse her
suspicions. Let her think it was just a coincidence your being there.
Then, just at the end, give her this letter from me. I've said a thing
in it that will startle her. She'll get a fright and turn to you. Put
her into a cab then, and bring her here. You can sit on the box if you
like. That's all. Put her into my arms and your task is done. Here's
the ticket and the letter. Do it, Mr. Wyndham, and God will bless you.
Yes, yes, my poor young sir--He'll bless you."

"Don't talk of God when you speak of me," said Wyndham. "Something has
happened which closes the door of religion for me. The door between
God and me is closed. I am still open, however, to the call of
humanity. You want me to go to the Gaiety to-night to save your
daughter. It is very probable that if I went I should save her. I am
engaged, however, for to-night. My sister is in town. We are going to
make a party to the Haymarket."

"Oh, sir, what of that? Send a telegram to say you have an engagement.
Think of Esther. Think what it means if you fail me now."

"I do think of it, Helps. I will do what you want. Give me the letter
and the theatre ticket."



CHAPTER XXII.


Valentine was delighted to have Lilias as her companion. She was in
excellent spirits just now, and Lilias and she enjoyed going about
together. They had adventures which pleased them both, such simple
adventures as come to poorer girls every day--a ride in an omnibus to
Kew, an excursion up the river to Battersea in a penny steamer, and
many other mild intoxicants of this nature. Sometimes Gerald came with
them, but oftener they went alone. They laughed and chatted at these
times, and people looked at them, and thought them two particularly
merry good-looking school-girls.

Valentine was very fond of going to the theatre, and of course one of
the principal treats in store for Lilias was a visit to the play.
Valentine decided that they would go to some entertainment of a
theatrical character nearly every evening. On the day of Helps' strange
request to Wyndham they were to see _Captain Swift_ at the Haymarket.
Mr. Paget had taken a box for the occasion, and Valentine's last
injunction to her husband was to beg of him to be home in good time so
that they might have dinner in peace, and reach the Haymarket before
the curtain rose.

Lilias and she trotted about most of the morning, and sat cosily now in
the pretty drawing-room in Park-Lane, sipping their tea, examining
their purchases, or chatting about dress, and sundry other trivial
matters after the fashion of light-hearted girls.

Presently Valentine pulled a tiny watch out of her belt.

"Gerald is late," she said. "He promised faithfully to be in to tea,
and it is now six o'clock. We dine at half-past. Had we not better go
and dress, Lilias?"

Lilias was standing on the hearthrug, she glanced at the clock, then
into the ruddy flames, then half-impatiently towards the door.

"Oh, wait a moment or two," she said. "If Gerald promised to come he is
safe to be here directly. I never met such a painfully conscientious
fellow; he would not break his word even in a trifle like this for all
the world. Give him three minutes longer. You surely will not take
half-an-hour to dress."

"How solemnly you speak, Lilias," responded Valentine. "If Gerald is
late, that could scarcely be considered a breaking of his word. I mean
in a promise of that kind one never knows how one may be kept. That is
always understood, of course."

There came a pealing ring and a double knock at the door, and a moment
after the page entered with a telegram which he handed to his mistress.
Valentine tore the yellow envelope open, and read the contents of the
pink sheet.

"No answer, Masters," she said to the boy. Then she she turned to
Lilias. "Gerald can't go with us to-night. He is engaged. You see, of
course, he would not break his word, Lilias. He is unavoidably
prevented coming. It is too bad."

Some of the brightness went out of her face, and her spirits went down
a very little.

"Well, it can't be helped," she said, "only I am disappointed."

"So am I, awfully disappointed," responded Lilias.

Then the two went slowly upstairs to change their dresses.

When they came down again, Mr. Paget, who was to dine with them, was
waiting in the drawing-room. There was a suppressed excitement, a
suppressed triumph in his eyes, which, however, only made him look more
particularly bright and charming.

When Valentine came in in the pure white which gave her such a girlish
and even pathetically innocent air, he went up and kissed her almost
fiercely. He put his arm round her waist and drew her close to him, and
looked into her eyes with a sense of possession which frightened her.
For the first time in all her existence she half shrank from the father
whom she idolized. She was scarcely conscious of her own shrinking, of
the undefinable something which made her set herself free, and stand on
the hearthrug by Lilias' side.

"I don't see your husband, my pet," said Mr. Paget. "He ought to have
come home long before now, that is, if he means to come with us
to-night."

"But he doesn't, father," said Valentine. "That's just the grief. I had
a telegram from him, half-an-hour ago; he is unavoidably detained."

Mr. Paget raised his eyebrows.

"Not at the office," he said, in a markedly grave voice, and with
another significant raise of his brows. "That I know, for he left
before I did. Ah, well, young men will be young men."

Neither Valentine nor Lilias knew why they both flushed up hotly, and
left a wider space between them and Valentine's handsome father.

He did not take the least notice of this movement on both their parts,
but went on in a very smooth, cheerful voice.

"Perhaps Gerald does not miss as much as he thought," he said. "Since I
saw you this morning, Val, our programme has been completely altered.
We go to _Captain Swift_ to-morrow night. I went to the office and
exchanged the box. To-night we go to the Gaiety. I have been fortunate
in securing one of the best boxes in the whole house, and _Monte
Christo Junior_ is well worth seeing."

"I don't know that I particularly care for the Gaiety, father," said
Valentine. "How very funny of you to change our programme."

"Well, the fact is, some business friends of mine who were just passing
through town were particularly anxious to see _Captain Swift_, so as I
could oblige them, I did. It is all the better for your husband,
Valentine; he won't miss this fine piece of drama."

"No, that is something to be thankful for," responded Valentine. "But
I'm sorry you selected the Gaiety as an exchange. I don't think Lilias
will care for _Monte Christo_. However, it can't be helped now, and
dinner waits. Shall we go downstairs?"

Mr. Paget and his party were in good time in their places. Valentine
took a seat rather far back in the box, but her father presently coaxed
her to come to the front, supplied both her and Lilias with opera
glasses, and encouraged both girls to look about them, and watch the
different people who were gradually filing into their places in the
stalls.

Mr. Paget himself neither wore glasses nor aided his vision with an
opera glass. His face was slightly flushed, and his eyes, keen and
bright, travelled round the house, taking in everything, not passing
over a single individual.

Valentine was never particularly curious about her neighbors, and as
Lilias knew no one, they both soon leant back in their chairs, and
talked softly to one another.

The curtain rose, and each girl bent forward to see and enjoy. The rest
of the house was now comparatively dark, but just before the lights
were lowered, Mr. Paget might have been heard to give a faint quick
sigh of relief.

A tall girl in cream-color and soft furs walked slowly down the length
of stalls, and took her place in such a position that Valentine could
scarcely look down without seeing her. This girl's beauty was so marked
that many eyes were turned in her direction as she appeared. She was
very regal looking, very quiet and dignified in manner. Her features
were classical and pure in outline, and her head, with its wealth of
raven black hair, was splendidly set.

She was accompanied by a tall, fairly good-looking man who sat next to
her.

When the curtain rose and the lights were lowered the stall at her
other side was vacant.

Mr. Paget felt his heart beat a trifle too fast. Would that stall be
full or empty when the curtain dropped at the close of the first act?
Would his heart's desire, his wicked and treacherous heart's desire be
torn from him in the very moment of apparent fruition. Suppose Gerald
did not put in an appearance at the Gaiety? Suppose at the eleventh
hour he changed his mind and resolved to leave Esther Helps to her
fate? Suppose--pshaw!--where was the use of supposing? To leave a girl
to her fate would not be his chivalrous fool of a son-in-law's way. No,
it was all right; even now he could dimly discern a faint commotion in
the neighborhood of Esther Helps--the kind of commotion incident on the
arrival of a fresh person, the gentle soft little movement made by the
other occupants of the stalls to let the new comer, who was both late
and tiresome, take his reserved seat in comfort. Mr. Paget sank back in
his seat with a sensation of relief; he had not listened for nothing
behind an artfully concealed curtain that morning.

The play proceeded. Much as he had said about it beforehand, it had no
interest for Mr. Paget. He scarcely troubled to look at the stage.
There was no room in his heart that moment for burlesque: he was too
busily engaged over his own terrible life's drama. On the result of
this night more or less depended all his future happiness.

"If she turns back to me after what she sees to-night then I can
endure," he said to himself. "I can go on to the bitter end--if
not--well, there are more expedients than one for a ruined man to throw
up the sponge."

The curtain fell, the theatre was in a blaze of light; Valentine and
Lilias sank back in their seats and began to fan themselves. They had
been pleased and amused. Lilias, indeed, had laughed so heartily that
the tears came to her eyes.

"I hate to cry when I laugh," she said, taking out her handkerchief to
wipe them away. "It's a tiresome trick we all have in our family,
Gerald and all."

She had a habit of bringing in Gerald's name whenever she spoke of her
family, as if he were the topmost stone, the crowning pride and
delight.

Mr. Paget had his back slightly turned to the girls. Once more he was
devouring the stalls with his eager bright eyes. Yes, Gerald Wyndham
was in his stall. He was leaning back, not exerting himself much; he
looked nonchalant and strikingly handsome. Mr. Paget did not wish him
to appear too nonchalant when Valentine first caught sight of him.
No--ah, that was better. Esther was turning to speak to him. By Jove,
what a face the girl had!

Mr. Paget had often seen Helps' only daughter, for he found it
convenient occasionally to call to see Helps at Acadia Villa. But he
had never before seen her dress becomingly, and he was positively
startled at the pure, high type of her beauty. At this distance her
common accent, her poor uneducated words, could not grate. All her
gestures were graceful; she looked up at Gerald, said something,
smiled, then lowered her heavy black lashes.

It was at that moment, just as Wyndham was bending forward to reply to
her remark, and she was leaning slightly away from her other cavalier,
so that he scarcely seemed to belong to her party, that Valentine,
tired of doing nothing, came close to her father, and allowed her eyes
to wander round the house. Suddenly she uttered a surprised
exclamation.

"Look, father, look! Is that Gerald? Who is with him? Who is he talking
to? How is it that he comes to be here? Yes, it is Gerald! Oh, what a
lovely girl he is talking to!"

Valentine's words were emphatic and slightly agitated, for she was
simply overpowered with astonishment, but they were spoken in a low
key. Lilias did not hear them. She was reading her programme over for
the twentieth time, and wondering when the curtain would rise and the
play go on.

"Look, father," continued Valentine, clutching her father's arm. "Isn't
that Gerald? How strange of him to be here. Who can he be talking to? I
don't know her--do you? Do you see him, father? Won't you go down and
tell him we are here, and bring him up--and--and--the lady who is with
him. Go, please, father, you see where he is, don't you?"

"I do, my child. I have seen him for some time past. Would you like to
come home, Valentine?"

"Home! What in the world do you mean? How queer you look! Is there
anything wrong? Who is with Gerald? Who is he talking to? How lovely
she is. I wish she would look up again."

"That girl is not a lady, Valentine. She is Esther Helps--you have
heard of her. Yes, now I understand why your husband could not come
with us to the Haymarket to-night. My poor child! Don't look at them
again, Valentine, my darling."

Valentine looked full into her father's eyes; full, long, and steadily
she gazed. Then slowly, very slowly, a crimson flood of color suffused
her whole face; it receded, leaving her deathly pale. She moved away
from her father and took a back seat behind Lilias.

The curtain rose again, the play continued. Lilias was excited, and
wanted to pull Valentine to the front.

"No," she said. "My head aches; I don't care to look any more."

She sat back in her seat, very white and very calm.

"Would you like to come home?" said her father, bending across to her,
and speaking in a voice which almost trembled with the emotion he felt.

"No," she said in reply, and without raising her eyes. "I will sit the
play out till the end."

When the curtain fell again she roused herself with an effort and
coaxed Lilias to come into the back of the box with her. The only keen
anxiety she was conscious of was to protect her husband from Lilias'
astonished eyes.

Mr. Paget felt well satisfied. He had managed to convey his meaning to
his innocent child's heart; an insinuation, a fall of the voice, a look
in the eyes, had opened up a gulf on the brink of which Valentine drew
back shuddering.

"I was only beginning to love him; it doesn't so much matter," she said
many times to herself. Even now she thought no very bad things of her
husband; that is no very bad things according to the world's code. To
her, however, they were black. He had deceived her--he had made her a
promise and broken it. Why? Because he liked to spend the evening with
another girl more beautiful than herself.

"Oh, no, I am not jealous," said Valentine, softly under her breath. "I
won't say anything to him either about it, poor fellow. It does not
matter to me, not greatly. I was only beginning to love him. Thank God
there is always my dear old father."

When the curtain rose for the final act of the play. Valentine moved
her chair so that she could slightly lean against Mr. Paget. He took
her hand and squeezed it. He felt that he had won the victory.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Gerald had found his task most uncongenial. In the first place he was
disappointed at not spending the evening with Valentine and Lilias. In
the second the close proximity of such a girl as Esther Helps could not
but be repugnant to him. Still she was a woman, a woman in danger, and
her father had appealed to him to save her. Had he been ordained for
the Church, such work--ah, no, he must not think of what his life would
have been then. After all, it was good of the distracted father to
trust him, and he must not betray the trust.

He went to the theatre and acquitted himself with extreme tact and
diplomacy. When Gerald chose to exert himself his manner had a quieting
effect, a compelling, and almost a commanding effect on women. Esther
became quiet and gentle; she talked to Captain Herriot, but not
noisily; she laughed, her laugh was low and almost musical. Now and
then her quick eyes glanced at Wyndham; she felt thirsty for even his
faintest approval--he bestowed it by neither word nor movement.

As they were leaving the theatre, however, and the gallant captain, who
inwardly cursed that insufferable prig who happened to have a slight
acquaintance with his beautiful Esther, grew cheerful under the
impression that now his time for enjoyment was come, Gerald said in a
low, grave voice:--

"Your father has given me a letter for you. Pray be quiet, don't excite
yourself. It is necessary that you should go to your father directly.
Allow me to see you into a cab. Your father is waiting for you--it is
urgent that you should join him at once."

Scarcely knowing why she did it, Esther obeyed. She murmured some eager
agitated words to Captain Herriot; she was subdued, frightened, shaken;
as Gerald helped her into a cab he felt her slim fingers tremble in
his. He took his seat upon the box beside the driver, and ten minutes
later had delivered Esther safely to her father. His task was done, he
did not wait to hear a word of Helps' profuse thanks. He drew a sigh of
relief as he hurried home. Soon he would be with his wife--the wife
whom he idolized--the wife who was beginning to return his love.
Suppose her passion went on and deepened? Suppose a day came when to
part from him would be a sorer trial than poverty or dishonor! Oh, if
such a day came--he might--ah, he must not think in that direction. He
pushed his hand through his thick hair, leant back in his cab, and shut
his eyes.

When he reached the little house in Park-lane he found that the lights
in the drawing-room were out, and the gas turned low in the hall. He
was later even than he had intended to be. The other theatre-goers had
returned home and gone to bed. He wondered how they had enjoyed
_Captain Swift_. For himself he had not the least idea of what he had
been looking at at the Gaiety.

He let himself in with a latch-key, and ran up at once to his room. He
wanted to kiss Valentine, to look into her eyes, which seemed to him to
grow sweeter and softer every day. He opened the door eagerly and
looked round the cheerful bedroom.

Valentine was not there.

He called her. She was not in the dressing-room.

"She is with Lilias," he said to himself. "How these two young things
love to chatter."

He sat down in an easy chair by the fire, content to wait until his
wife should return. He was half inclined to tell her what he had been
doing; he had a great longing to confide in her in all possible ways,
for she had both brains and sense, but he restrained himself. The
subject was not one he cared to discuss with his young wife, and,
besides, the secret belonged to Esther and to her father.

He made up his mind to say nothing about it. He had no conception then
what this silence was to cost him, and how different all his future
life might have been had he told his wife the truth that night.

Presently Valentine returned. Her face was flushed, and her eyes had an
unquiet troubled expression. She had been to Lilias with a somewhat
strange request.

"Lilias, I want you to promise me something, to ask no questions, but
just like a kind and truthful sister to make me a faithful promise."

"You look strange, Valentine; what do you want me to promise?"

"_Will_ you promise it?"

"If I can, I will promise, to please you; but I never make promises in
the dark."

"Oh, there's Gerald's step, I must go. Lilias, I've a very particular
reason, I cannot explain it to you. I want you not to tell Gerald, now
or at any time, that we were at the Gaiety to-night."

"My dear Val, how queer! Why shouldn't poor Gerald know? And you look
so strange. You are trembling."

"I am. I'm in desperate earnest. Will you promise?"

"Yes, yes, you silly child, if you set such store on an utterly
ridiculous promise you shall have it. Only if I were you, Valentine, I
wouldn't begin even to have such tiny little secrets as that from my
husband. I wouldn't, Val; it isn't wise--it isn't really."

Valentine neither heard nor heeded these last words. She gave Lilias a
hasty, frantic kiss, and rushed back to her own room.

"Now," she said to herself, "now--now--now--if he tells me everything,
every single thing, all may be well. I won't ask him a question; but
if he tells, tells of his own accord, all may be quite well yet. Oh,
how my heart beats! It is good I have not learned to love him any
better."

Gerald rose up at her entrance and went to meet her eagerly.

"Ah, here's my bright little wife," he said. "Give me a kiss,
Valentine."

She gave it, and allowed him to fold her in his arms. She was almost
passive, but her heart beat hard--she was so eagerly waiting for him to
speak.

"Sit down by the fire, darling. I don't like long evenings spent away
from you, Val. How did you enjoy _Captain Swift_?"

"We didn't go to the Haymarket; no, we are going to-morrow. Father
thought it a pity you should miss such a good play."

"Then where did you go? You and Lil did not stay at home the whole
evening?"

"No, father took us to another theatre. I can't tell you the name;
don't ask me. I hate theatres--I detest them. I never want to go inside
one again as long as I live!"

"How strongly you talk, my dear little Val. Perhaps you found it dull
to-night because your husband was not with you."

She moved away with a slight little petulant gesture. When would he
begin to speak?

Gerald wondered vaguely what had put his sweet-tempered Valentine out.
He stirred the fire, and then stood with his back to it. She looked up
at him, his face was very grave, very calm. Her own Gerald--he had a
nice face. Surely there was nothing bad behind that face. Why was he
silent? Why didn't he begin to tell his story? Well she would--she
would--help him a little.

She cleared her throat, she essayed twice to find her voice. When it
came out at last it was small and timorous.

"Was it--was it business kept you from coming with me to-night, Gerry?"

"Business? Yes, my darling, certainly."

Her heart went down with a great bound. But she would give him another
chance.

"Was it--was it business connected with the office?"

"You speak in quite a queer voice, Valentine. In a measure it was
business connected with the office--in a measure it was not. What is
it, Valentine? What is it, my dear?"

She had risen from her seat, put her arms round his neck, and laid her
soft young head on his shoulder.

"Tell me the business, Gerry, Tell your own Val."

He kissed her many times.

"It doesn't concern you, my dear wife," he said. "I would tell you
gladly, were I not betraying a trust. I had some painful work to do
to-night, Valentine. Yes, business, certainly. I cannot tell it, dear.
Yes, what was that you said?"

For she had murmured "Hypocrite!" under her breath. Very low she had
said it, too faintly for him to catch the word. But he felt her loving
arms relax. He saw her face grow grave and cold, something seemed to go
out of her eyes which had rendered them most lovely. It was the wounded
soul going back into solitude, and hiding its grief and shame in an
inmost recess of her being.

Would Gerald ever see the soul, the soul of love, in his wife's eyes
again?



CHAPTER XXIV.


A few days after the events related in the last chapter Mr. Paget asked
his son-in-law to have a few minutes' private conversation with him.
Once more the young man found himself in that inner room at the rich
merchant's office which represented more or less a torture-chamber to
him. Once more Valentine's untroubled girlish innocent eyes looked out
of Richmond's beautiful picture of her.

Wyndham hated this room, he almost hated that picture; it had
surrounded itself with terrible memories. He turned his head away from
it now as he obeyed Mr. Paget's summons.

"It's this, Gerald," said his father-in-law. "When a thing has to be
done the sooner the better. I mean nobody cares to make a long
operation of the drawing of a tooth for instance!"

"An insufficient metaphor," interrupted Wyndham roughly. "Say, rather,
the plucking out of a right eye, or the cutting off a right hand. As
you say, these operations had better be got quickly over."

"I think so--I honestly think so. It would convenience me if you sailed
in the _Esperance_ on the 25th of March for Sydney. There is a _bonâ
fide_ reason for your going. I want you to sample----"

"Hush," interrupted Wyndham. "The technicalities and the gloss and all
that kind of humbug can come later. You want me to sail on the 25th of
March. That is the main point. When last you spoke of it, I begged of
you as a boon to give me an extension of grace, say until May or June.
It was understood by us, although there was no sealed bond in the
matter, that my wife and I should spend a year together before
this--this _temporary_ parting took place. I asked you at one time to
shorten my season of grace, but a few weeks ago I asked you to extend
it."

"Precisely, Wyndham, and I told you I would grant your wish, if
possible. I asked you to announce to your own relatives that you would
probably have to go away in March, for a time; but I said I would do my
utmost to defer the evil hour. I am sorry to say that I cannot do so. I
have had news from India which obliges me to hasten matters. Such a
good opportunity as the business which takes you out in the _Esperance_
will probably not occur again. It would be madness not to avail
ourselves of it. Do not you think so? My dear fellow, do take a chair."

"Thank you, I prefer to stand. This day--what is this day?" He raised
his eyes; they rested on the office calendar. "This day is the 24th of
February. A spring-like day, isn't it? Wonderful for the time of year.
I have, then, one month and one day to live. Are these Valentine's
violets? I will help myself to a few. Let me say good-morning, sir."

He bowed courteously--no one could be more courteous than Gerald
Wyndham--and left the room.

His astonished father in-law almost gasped when he found himself alone.

"Upon my word," he said to himself, "there's something about that
fellow that's positively uncanny. I only trust I'll be preserved from
being haunted by his ghost. My God! what a retribution that would be.
Wyndham would be awful as a ghost. I suppose I shall have retribution
some day. I know I'm a wicked man. Hypocritical, cunning, devilish.
Yes, I'm all that. Who'd have thought that soft-looking lad would turn
out to be all steel and venom. I hate him--and yet, upon my soul, I
admire him. He does more for the woman he loves than I do--than I could
do. The woman _we both love_. His wife--_my child_."

"There, I'll get soft myself if I indulge in these thoughts any longer.
Now is the time for him to go. Valentine has turned from him; any fool
can see that. Now is the time to get him out of the way. How lucky that
I overheard Helps that day. Never was there a more opportune thing."

Mr. Paget went home early that evening. Valentine was dining with him.
Lately, within the last few weeks, she often came over alone to spend
the evening with her father.

"Where's your husband, my pet?" the old man used to say to her on these
occasions.

And she always answered him in a bright though somewhat hard little
voice.

"Oh, Gerald is such a book-worm--he is devouring one of those abstruse
treatises on music. I left him buried in it," or, "Gerald is going out
this evening," or, "Gerald isn't well, and would like to stay quiet,
so"--the end was invariably the same--"I thought I'd come and have a
cosy chat with you, dad."

"And no one more welcome--no one in all the wide world more welcome,"
Mortimer Paget would answer, glancing, with apparent pleased unconcern,
but with secret anxiety, at his daughter's face.

The glance always satisfied him; she looked bright and well--a little
hard, perhaps--well, the blow must affect her in some way. What had
taken place at the Gaiety would leave some results even on the most
indifferent heart. The main result, however, was well. Valentine's
dawning love had changed to indifference. Had she cared for her husband
passionately, had her whole heart been given into his keeping, she must
have been angry; she must have mourned.

As, evening after evening, Mr. Paget came to this conclusion, he
invariably gave vent to a sigh of relief. He never guessed that if he
could wear a mask, so also could his child. He never even suspected
that beneath Valentine's gay laughter, under the soft shining of her
clear eyes, under her smiles, her light easy words, lay a pain, lay an
ache, which ceased not to trouble her day and night.

Mr. Paget came home early. Valentine was waiting for him in the
drawing-room.

"We shall have a cosy evening, father," she said. "Oh, no, Gerald can't
come. He says he has some letters to write. I think he has a headache,
too. I'd have stayed with him, only he prefers being quiet. Well, we'll
have a jolly evening together. Kiss me, dad."

He did kiss her, then she linked his hand in her arm, and they went
downstairs and dined together, as they used to do in the old days
before either of them had heard of Gerald Wyndham.

"Let us come into the library to-night," said Valentine. "You know
there is no room like the library to me."

"Nor to me," said Mr. Paget brightly. "It reminds me of when you were a
child, my darling."

"Ah, well, I'm not a child now, I'm a woman."

She kept back the sigh which rose to her lips.

"I think I like being a child best, only one never can have the old
childish time back again."

"Who knows, Val? Perhaps we may. If you have spoiled your teeth enough
over those filberts, shall we go into the library? I have something to
tell you--a little bit of news."

"All right, you shall tell it sitting in your old armchair."

She flitted on in front, looking quite like the child she more or less
still was.

"Now isn't this perfect?" she said, when the door was shut, Mr. Paget
established in his armchair, and the two pairs of eyes fixed upon the
glowing fire. "Isn't this perfect?"

"Yes, my darling--perfect. Valentine, there is no love in all the world
like a father's for his child."

"No greater love has come to me," replied Valentine slowly; and now
some of the pain at her heart, notwithstanding all her brave endeavors,
did come into her face. "No greater love has come to me, but I can
imagine, yes. I can imagine a mightier."

"What do you mean, child?"

"For instance--if you loved your husband perfectly, and he--he loved
you, and there was nothing at all between--and the joy of all joys was
to be with him, and you were to feel that in thought--in word--in
deed--you were one, not two. There, what am I saying? The wildest
nonsense. There isn't such a thing as a love of that sort. What's your
news, father?"

"My dear child, how intensely you speak!"

"Never mind! Tell me what is your news, father."

Mr. Paget laughed, his laugh was not very comfortable.

"Has Gerald told you anything, Valentine?"

"Gerald? No, nothing special; he had a headache this evening."

"You know, Val--at least we often talked the matter over--that Gerald
might have to go away for a time. He is my partner, and partners in
such a firm as mine have often to go to the other side of the world to
transact important business."

"Yes, you and Gerald have both spoken of it. He's not going soon, is
he?"

"That's it, my pet. The necessity has arisen rather suddenly. Gerald
has to sail for Sydney in about a month."

Valentine was sitting a little behind her father. He could not see the
pallor of her face; her voice was quite clear and quiet.

"Poor old Gerry," she said; "he won't take me, will he, father?"

"Impossible, my dear--absolutely. You surely don't want to go."

"No, not particularly."

Valentine yawned with admirable effect.

"She really can't care for him at all. What a wonderful piece of luck,"
muttered her father.

"I daresay Gerald will enjoy Sydney," continued his wife. "Is he likely
to be long away?"

"Perhaps six months--perhaps not so long. Time is always a matter of
some uncertainty in cases of this kind."

"I could come back to you while he is away, couldn't I, dad?"

"Why, of course, my dear one, I always intended that. It would be old
times over again--old times over again for you and your father,
Valentine."

"Not quite, I think," replied Valentine. "We can't go back really.
Things happen, and we can't undo them. Do you know, father, I think
Gerald must have infected me with his headache. If you don't mind, I'll
go home."

Mr. Paget saw his daughter back to Park-lane, but he did not go into
the house. Valentine rang the bell, and when Masters opened the door
she asked him where her husband was.

"In the library, ma'am; you can hear him can't you? He's practising of
the violin."

Yes, the music of this most soul-speaking, soul-stirring instrument
filled the house. Valentine put her finger to her lips to enjoin
silence, and went softly along the passage which led to the library.
The door was a little ajar--she could look in without being herself
seen. Some sheets of music were scattered about on the table, but
Wyndham was not playing from any written score. The queer melody which
he called Waves was filling the room. Valentine had heard it twice
before--she started and clasped her hands as its passion, its
unutterable sadness, its despair, reached her. Where were the triumph
notes which had come into it six weeks ago?

She turned and fled up to her room, and locking the door, threw herself
by her bedside and burst into bitter weeping.

"Oh, Gerald, I love you! I do love you; but I'll never show it. No,
never, until you tell me the truth."



CHAPTER XXV.


"Yes," said Augusta Wyndham, "if there is a young man who suits me all
round it's Mr. Carr. Yes," she said, standing very upright in her short
skirts, with her hair in a tight pig-tail hanging down her back, and
her determined, wide open, bright eyes fixed upon an admiring audience
of younger sisters. "He suits me exactly. He's a kind of
hail-fellow-well-met; he has no nonsensical languishing airs about him;
he preaches nice short sermons, and never bothers you to remember what
they are about afterwards; he's not bad at tennis or cricket, and he
really can cannon quite decently at billiards; but for all that, if
_you_ think, you young 'uns, that he's going to get inside of Gerry, or
that he's going to try to pretend to know better than Gerry what I can
or can't do, why you're all finely mistaken, so there!"

Augusta turned on her heel, pirouetted a step or two, whistled in a
loud, free, unrestrained fashion, and once more faced her audience.

"Gerry said that I _could_ give out the library books. Now is it likely
that Mr. Carr knows more of my capacities after six months' study than
Gerry found out after fifteen years?"

"But Mr. Carr doesn't study _you_, Gus. It's Lilias he's always looking
at," interrupted little Rosie.

"You're not pretty, are you, Gus?" asked Betty. "Your cheeks are too
red, aren't they? And nurse says your eyes are as round as an owl's!"

"Pretty!" answered Augusta, in a lofty voice. "Who cares for being
pretty? Who cares for being simply pink and white? I'm for intellect.
I'm for the march of mind. Gerry believes in me. Hurrah for Gerry! Now,
girls, off with your caps, throw them in the air, and shout hurrah for
Gerry three times, as loud as you can!"

"What an extraordinary noise the children are making on the lawn," said
Lilias to Marjory. "I hear Gerald's name. What can they be saying about
Gerald? One would almost think he was coming down the avenue to see the
state of excitement they are in! Do look, Meg, do."

"It's only one of Gussie's storms in a tea-cup," responded Marjory,
cheerfully. "I am so glad, Lil, that you found Gerald and Val hitting
it off so nicely. You consider them quite a model pair for affection
and all that, don't you, pet?"

"Quite," said Lilias. "My mind is absolutely at rest. One night Val
puzzled me a little. Oh, nothing to speak of--nothing came of it, I
mean. Yes, my mind is absolutely at rest, thank God! What are all the
children doing. Maggie? They are flying in a body to the house. What
can it mean?"

"We'll know in less than no time," responded Marjory, calmly. And they
did.

Four little girls, all out of breath, all dressed alike, all looking
alike, dashed into the drawing-room, and in one breath poured out the
direful intelligence that Augusta had mutinied.

"Mr. Carr forbade her to give away the library books," they said, "and
she has gone up now to the school-room in spite of him. She's off; she
said Gerry said she might do it, long ago. Isn't it awful of her? She
says beauty's nothing, and she's only going to obey Gerry," continued
Betty. "What shall we do? She'll give all the books away wrong, and Mr.
Carr will be angry."

They all paused for want of breath. Rosie went up and laid her fat red
hand on Lilias' knee.

"I said it was you he stared at," she remarked. "_You_ wouldn't like
him to be vexed, would you?"

The words had scarcely passed her lips before the door was opened, and
the object of the children's universal commiseration entered. A deep
and awful silence took possession of them. Lilias clutched Rosie's
hand, and felt an inane desire to rush from the room with her.

Too late. The terrible infant flew to Adrian Carr, and clasping her
arms around his legs, looked up into his face.

"Never mind," she said, "it _is_ wrong of Gussie, but it isn't Lilias'
fault. She wouldn't like to vex you, 'cause you stare so at her."

"Nursie says that you admire Lilias; do you?" asked Betty.

"Oh, poor Gussie!" exclaimed the others, their interest in Lilias and
Carr being after all but a very secondary matter. "We all do hope you
won't do anything dreadful to her. You can, you know. You can
excommunicate her, can't you?"

"But what has Augusta done?" exclaimed Carr, turning a somewhat flushed
face in the direction not of Lilias, but of Marjory. "What a frightful
confusion--and what does it mean?"

Marjory explained as well as she was able. Carr had lately taken upon
himself to overhaul the books of the lending library. He believed in
literature as a very elevating lever, but he thought that books should
not only be carefully selected in the mass, but in lending should be
given with a special view to the needs of the individual who borrowed.
Before Gerald's marriage Marjory had given away the books, but since
then, for various reasons, they had drifted into Augusta's hands, and
through their means this rather spirited and daring young lady had been
able to inflict a small succession of mild tyrannies. For instance,
poor Miss Yates, the weak-eyed and weak-spirited village dressmaker,
was dosed with a series of profound and dull theology; and Macallister,
the sexton and shoemaker, a canny Scot, who looked upon all fiction as
the "work of the de'il," was put into a weekly passion with the novels
of Charles Reade and Wilkie Collins.

These were extreme cases, but Augusta certainly had the knack of giving
the wrong book to the wrong person. Carr heard mutterings and
grumbling. The yearly subscriptions of a shilling a piece diminished,
and he thought it full time to take the matter in hand. He himself
would distribute the village literature every Saturday, at twelve
o'clock.

The day and the hour arrived, and behold Miss Augusta Wyndham had
forestalled him, and was probably at this very moment putting "The
Woman in White" into the enraged Macallister's hand. Carr's temper was
not altogether immaculate; he detached the children's clinging hands
from his person, and said he would pursue the truant, publicly take the
reins of authority from her, and send her home humiliated. He left the
rectory, walking fast, and letting his annoyance rather increase than
diminish, for few young men care to be placed in a ridiculous
situation, and he could not but feel that such was his in the present
instance.

The school-house was nearly half a mile from the rectory, along a
straight and dusty piece of road; very dusty it was to-day, and a
cutting March east wind blew in Carr's face and stung it. He approached
the school-house--no, what a relief--the patient aspirants after
literature were most of them waiting outside. Augusta, then, could not
have gone into the school-room.

"Has Miss Augusta Wyndham gone upstairs?" he asked of a rosy-cheeked
girl who adored the "Sunday At Home."

"No, please, sir. Mr. Gerald's come, please, Mr. Carr, sir," raising
two eyes which nearly blazed with excitement. "He shook 'ands with me,
he did, and with Old Ben, there; and Miss Augusta, she give a sort of
a whoop, and she had her arms round his neck, and was a-hugging of him
before us all, and they has gone down through the fields to the
rectory."

"About the books," said Carr; "has Miss Augusta given you the books?"

"Bless your 'eart, sir," here interrupted Old Ben, "we ain't of a mind
for books to-day. Mr. Gerald said he'd come up this evening to the
Club, and have a chat with us all, and Sue and me, we was waiting here
to tell the news. Litteratoor ain't in our line to-day, thank you,
sir."

"Here's Mr. Macallister," said Sue. "Mr. Macallister, Mr. Gerald's
back. He is, truly. I seen him, and so did Old Ben."

"And he'll be at the Club to-night," said Ben, turning his wrinkled
face upwards towards the elongated visage of the canny Scot.

"The Lord be praised for a' His mercies," pronounced Macallister,
slowly, with an upward wave of his hand, as if he were returning thanks
for a satisfying meal. "Na, na. Mr. Carr, na books the day."

Finding that his services were really useless, Carr went away. The
villagers were slowly collecting from different quarters, and all faces
were broadening into smiles, and all the somewhat indifferent sleepy
tones becoming perceptibly brighter, and Gerald Wyndham's name was
passed from lip to lip. Old Miss Bates wiped her tearful eyes, as she
hurried home to put on her best cap. Widow Simpkins determined to make
up a good fire in her cottage, and not to spare the coals; the festive
air was unmistakeable. Carr felt smitten with a kind of envy. What
wonders could not Wyndham have effected in this place, he commented, as
he walked slowly back to his lodgings. Later in the day he called at
the rectory to find the hero surrounded by his adoring family, and
bearing his honors gracefully.

Gerald was talking rather more than his wont; for some reason or other
his face had more color than usual, his eyes were bright, he smiled,
and even laughed. Lilias ceased to watch him anxiously, a sense of
jubilation filled the breast of every worshipping sister, and no one
thought of parting or sorrow.

Perhaps even Gerald himself forgot the bitterness which lay before him
just then; perhaps his efforts were not all efforts, and that he really
felt some of the old home peace and rest with its sustaining power.

You can know a thing and yet not always realize it. Gerald knew that he
should never spend another Saturday in the old rectory of
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. That Lilias' bright head and Lilias' tender,
steadfast earnest eyes would be in future only a memory. He could never
hope again to touch that hair, or answer back the smile on that beloved
and happy face. The others, too--but Lilias, after his wife, was most
dear of all living creatures to Gerald. Well, he must not think; he
resolved to take all the sweetness, if possible, out of this Saturday
and Sunday. He resolved not to tell any of his people of the coming
parting until just before he left.

The small sisters squatted in a semicircle on the floor round their
hero; Augusta, as usual, stood behind him, keeping religious guard of
the back of his head.

"If there is a thing I simply adore," that vigorous young lady was
often heard to say, "it's the back of Gerry's head."

Lilias sat at his feet, her slim hand and arm lying across his knee;
Marjory flitted about, too restless and happy to be quiet, and the tall
rector stood on the hearthrug with his back to the fire.

"It is good to be home again," said Gerald. Whereupon a sigh of content
echoed from all the other throats, and it was at this moment that Carr
came into the room.

"Come in, Carr, come in," said the rector. "There's a place for you,
too. You're quite like one of the family, you know. Oh, of course you
are, my dear fellow, of course you are. We have got my son back,
unexpectedly. Gerald, you know Carr, don't you."

Gerald stood up, gave Carr's hand a hearty grip, and offered him his
chair.

"Oh, not that seat, Gerry," groaned Augusta, "it's the only one in the
room I can stand at comfortably. I can't fiddle with your curls if I
stand at the back of any other chair."

Gerald patted her cheek.

"Then perhaps, Carr, you'll oblige Augusta by occupying another chair.
I am sorry that I am obliged to withhold the most comfortable from
you."

Carr was very much at home with the Wyndhams by now. He pulled forward
a cane chair, shook his head at Augusta, and glanced almost timidly at
Lilias. He feared the eight sharp eyes of the younger children if he
did more than look very furtively, but she made such a sweet picture
just then that his eyes sought hers by a sort of fascination. For the
first time, too, he noticed that she had a look of Gerald. Her face
lacked the almost spiritualized expression of his, but undoubtedly
there was a likeness.

The voices, interrupted for a moment by the curate's entrance, soon
resumed their vigorous flow.

"Why didn't you bring my dear little sister Valentine down, Gerald?" It
was Lilias who spoke.

He rewarded her loving speech by a flash, half of pleasure, half of
pain in his eyes. Aloud he said:--

"We thought it scarcely worth while for both of us to come. I must go
away again on Monday."

A sepulchral groan from Augusta. Rosie, Betty and Joan exclaimed almost
in a breath:--

"And we like you much better by yourself."

"Oh, hush, children," said Marjory. "We are all very fond of Val."

"You have brought a great deal of delight into the village. Wyndham,"
said Carr, and he related the little scene which had taken place around
the school-house. "I'd give a good deal to be even half as popular," he
said with a sigh.

"You might give all you possessed in all the world, and you wouldn't
succeed," snapped Gussie.

"Augusta, you really are too rude," said Lilias with a flush on her
face.

"No, I'm not, Lil. Oh, you needn't stare at me. I like him, and he
knows it," nodding with her head in the direction of Adrian Carr; "but
you have to be born in a place, and taught to walk in it, and you have
had to steal apples in it and eggs out of birds' nests, and to get
nearly drowned when fishing, and to get some shot in your ankle, and
you've got to know every soul in all the country round, and to come
back from school to them in the holidays, and for them first to see
your moustache coming; and then, beyond and above all that, you've got
just to be _Gerry_, to have his way of looking, and his way of walking,
and his way of shaking your hand, and to have his voice and his heart,
to be loved as well. So how _could_ Mr. Carr expect it?"

"Bravo, Augusta," said Adrian Carr. "I'd like you for a friend better
than any girl I know."

"Please, Gerry, tell us a story," exclaimed the younger children. They
did not want Augusta to have all the talking.

"Let it be about a mouse, and a cricket on the hearth, and a white
elephant, and a roaring bull, and a grizzly bear."

"And let the ten little nigger-boys come into it," said Betty.

"And Bo-Peep," said Rosie.

"And the Old Man who wouldn't say his prayers," exclaimed Joan.

"And let it last for hours," exclaimed they all.

Gerald begged the rest of the audience to go away, but they refused to
budge an inch. So the story began. All the characters appeared in due
order; it lasted a long time, and everybody was delighted.



CHAPTER XXVI.


Lilias Wyndham never forgot that last Sunday with Gerald spent at
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. The day in itself was perfect, the air blew
softly from the west, the sun shone in a nearly cloudless heaven; the
gentle breezes, the opening flowers, the first faint buds of spring on
tree and hedge-row seemed all to give a foretaste of summer. Nobody
knew, none could guess, that in one sense they foretold the desolation
of dark winter.

It was in this light that Wyndham himself regarded the lovely day.

"I leap from calm to storm," he said to himself. "Never mind, I will
enjoy the present bliss!"

He did enjoy it, really, not seemingly. He took every scrap of
sweetness out of it, almost forgetting Valentine for the time being,
and living over again the days when he was a light-hearted boy.

He went to church twice, and sat in the corner of the square family pew
which had always been reserved for him. As of old, Lilias sat by his
side, and when the sermon came he lifted little Joan into his arms, and
she fell asleep with her golden head on his breast. The rector preached
and Gerald listened. It was an old-fashioned sermon, somewhat long for
the taste of the present day. It had been carefully prepared, and was
read aloud, for the benefit of the congregation, in a clear,
gentlemanly voice.

Gerald almost forgot that he was a man with an unusual load of
suffering upon him, as he listened to the time-honored softly-flowing
sentences.

"Blessed are the pure in heart," was the rector's text, and it seemed
to more than one of that little village congregation that he was
describing his own son when he drew his picture of the man of purity.

In the evening Carr preached. He was as modern as the rector was the
reverse. He used neither M.S. nor notes, and his sermon scarcely
occupied ten minutes.

"To die is gain" was his text. There were some in the congregation who
scarcely understood the vigorous words, but they seemed to one weary
man like the first trumpet notes of coming battle. They spoke of a
fight which led to a victory. Wyndham remembered them by-and-bye.

It was the custom at the rectory to have a kind of open house on Sunday
evening, and to-night many of Gerald's friends dropped in. The large
party seemed a happy one. The merriment of the night before had
deepened into something better. Lilias spoke of it afterwards as bliss.

"Do you remember," she said to Marjory, in the desolate days which
followed, "how Gerald looked when he played the organ in the hall? Do
you remember his face when we sang 'Sun of my soul?'"

The happiest days come to an end. The children went to bed, the friends
one by one departed. Even Lilias and Marjory kissed their brother and
bade him good-night. He was to leave before they were up in the
morning. This he insisted on, against their will.

"But we shall see you soon in London," they both said, for they were
coming up in a few weeks to stay with an aunt. Then they told him to
kiss Valentine for them, and went upstairs, chatting lightly to one
another.

The rector and his son were alone.

"We have had a happy day," said Gerald, abruptly.

"We have, my son. It does us all good to have you with us, Gerald. I
could have wished--but there's no good regretting now. Each man must
choose his own path, and you seem happy, my dear son; that is the main
thing."

"I never thought primarily of happiness," responded Gerald. "Did you
listen to Carr's sermon to-night? He proved his case well. To die _is_
sometimes gain."

The rector, who was seated by the fire, softly patted his knee with one
hand.

"Yes, yes," he said, "Carr proved his case ably. He's a good fellow. A
_little_ inclined to the broad church, don't you think?"

"Perhaps so."

Gerald stood up. His face had suddenly grown deadly white.

"Father, I kept a secret from you all day. I did not wish to do
anything to mar the bliss of this perfect Sunday. You--you'll break it
to Lilias and Maggie, and the younger children. I'm going to Sydney on
Wednesday. I came down to say good-bye."

He held out his hand. The rector stood up and grasped it.

"My dear lad--my boy. Well--well--you'll come back again. Of course, I
did know that you expected to go abroad on business for your firm. My
dear son. Yes, my boy--aye--you'll come back again soon. How queer you
look, Gerald. Sit down. I'm afraid you're a little overdone."

"Good-bye, father. You're an old man, and Sydney is a long way off.
Good-bye. I have a queer request to make. Grant it, and don't think me
weak or foolish. Give me your blessing before I go."

Suddenly Wyndham fell on his knees, and taking his father's hand laid
it on his head.

"I am like Esau," he said. "Is there not one blessing left for me?"

The rector was deeply moved.

"Heaven above bless you, my boy," he said. "Your mother's God go with
you. There, Gerald, you are morbid. You will be back with me before
the snows of next winter fall. But God bless you, my boy, wherever you
are and whatever you do!"



CHAPTER XXVII.


Valentine was sitting in her pretty drawing-room. It was dinner time,
but she had not changed her dress. She was too young, too fresh, and
unused to trouble, for it yet to leave any strong marks on her face.
The delicate color in her cheeks had slightly paled, it is true, her
bright hair was in confusion, and her eyes looked larger and more
wistful than their wont, but otherwise no one could tell that her heart
was beating heavily and that she was listening eagerly for a footstep.

Seven o'clock came--half-past seven. This was Gerald's last night at
home; he was to sail in the _Esperance_ for Sydney to-morrow. Valentine
felt stunned and cold, though she kept on repeating to herself over and
over:--

"This parting is nothing. He's sure to be home in six months at the
latest. Six months at the very latest. In these days there is really no
such thing as distance. What is a six months' parting? Besides, it is
not as if I were really in love with him. Father asked me the question
direct last night, and I said I wasn't. How could I love him with all
my heart when I remember that scene at the Gaiety? Oh, that scene! It
burns into me like fire, and father's look--I almost hated father that
night. I did really. Fancy, Valentine hating her father! Oh, of course
it passed. There is no one like my father. Husbands aren't like
fathers, not in the long run. Oh, Gerald, you might have told me the
truth? I'd have forgiven you, I would really, if you had told me the
truth. Oh, why don't you come? _Why_ don't you come? You might be in
time this last evening. It is a quarter to eight now. I am
impatient--I am frightened. Oh, there's a ring at the hall door. Oh,
thank God. No, of course, Gerald, I don't love you--not as I could have
loved--and yet I do--I _do_ love you--I _do_!"

She clasped her hands--a footstep was on the stairs. The door was
opened, Masters brought her a thick letter on a salver.

"Has not Mr. Wyndham come? Was not that ring Mr. Wyndham's?"

"No, madam, a messenger brought this letter. He said there was no
answer."

The page withdrew, and Valentine tore open the envelope. A letter
somewhat blotted, bearing strong marks of agitation, but in her
husband's writing, lay in her hand. Her eager eyes devoured the
contents.

    "I can't say good-bye, my darling--there are limits even to my
    endurance--I can't look at you and hear you say 'Good-bye, Gerald.'
    I bade you farewell this morning when you were asleep. I am not
    coming home to-night, but your father will spend the evening with
    you. You love him better than me, and I pray the God of all mercy
    that he may soften any little pang that may come to you in this
    separation. When you are reading this I shall be on my way to
    Southampton. I have bid your father good-bye, and he will tell you
    everything there is to tell about me. The _Esperance_ sails at noon
    to-morrow, and it is a good plan to be on board in good time. I
    cannot tell you. Valentine, what my own feelings are. I cannot
    gauge my love for you. I don't think anything could probe it to its
    depths. I am a sinful man, but I sometimes hope that God will
    forgive me, because I have loved as much as the human heart is
    capable of loving. You must remember that, dear. You must always
    know that you have inspired in one man's breast the extreme of
    love!

    "Good-bye, my darling. It is my comfort to know that the bitterness
    of this six months' separation falls on me. If I thought otherwise,
    if I thought even for a moment that you cared more for your husband
    than you do for the world's opinion, or for riches, or for honor,
    that you would rather have him with poverty and shame, that he was
    more to you even than the father who gave you your being, then I
    would say even now, at the eleventh hour, 'fly to me, Valentine.
    Let us go away together on board the _Esperance_, and forget all
    promises and all honor, and all truth.' Yes, I would say it. But
    that is a mad dream. Forget this part of my letter. Valentine. It
    has been wrung from a tortured and almost maddened heart. Good-bye,
    my wife. Be thankful that you have not it in you to love
    recklessly.

   "Your husband,

   "GERALD WYNDHAM."


"But I have!" said Valentine. She raised her eyes. Her father was in
the room.

"Yes, I can love--I too can give back the extreme of love. Father, I am
going to my husband. I am going to Southampton. What's the matter? What
are you looking at me like that for? Why did you send Gerald away
without letting him come to say good-bye? Not that it matters, for I am
going to him. I shall take the very next train to Southampton."

"My darling," began Mr. Paget.

"Oh, yes, father, yes. But there's no time for loving words just now.
I've had a letter from my husband, and I'm going to him. I'm going to
Sydney with him. Yes--you can't prevent me!"

"You are talking folly, Valentine," said Mr. Paget. "You are excited,
my child; you are talking wildly. Going with your husband? My poor
little girl. There, dear, there. He'll soon be back. You can't go with
him, you know, my love. Show me his letter. What has he dared to say
to excite you like this?"

"No, you shan't see a word of his dear letter. No, not for all the
world. I understand him at last, and I love him with all my heart and
soul. Yes, I do. Oh, no, I don't love you as I love my husband."

Mr. Paget stepped back a pace or two. There was no doubting Valentine's
words, no doubting the look on her face. She was no longer a child. She
was a woman, a woman aroused to passion, almost to fury.

"I am going to my husband," she said. And she took no notice of her
father when he sank into the nearest chair and pressed his hand to his
heart.

"I have got a blow," he said. "I have got an awful blow."

But Valentine did not heed him.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


"Yes, my darling," said Mr. Paget, two hours later; his arms were round
his daughter, and her head was on his shoulder. "Oh, yes, my dear one,
certainly, if you wish it."

"And you'll go with me, father? Father, couldn't you come too? Couldn't
we three go? Yes, that would be nice, that would be happiness."

"A good idea," said Mr. Paget, reflectively. "But really, Val, really
now, don't you think Wyndham and I rather spoil you? You discover at
the eleventh hour that you can't live without your husband, that as he
must cross to the other side of the world, you must go there too. And
now in addition _I_ have to accompany you. Do you think you are worth
all this? That any girl in the world is worth all this?"

"Perhaps not, father."

Valentine was strangely subdued and quiet.

"I suppose it would be selfish to bring you," she said; "and we shall
be back in six months."

"True," said Mr. Paget in a thoughtful voice; "and even for my
daughter's sake my business must not go absolutely to the dogs. Well,
child, a wilful woman--you know the proverb--a wilful woman must have
her way. I own I'm disappointed. I looked forward to six months all
alone with you. Six months with my own child--a last six months, for of
course I always guessed that when Wyndham came back you'd give yourself
up to him body and soul. Oh, no, my dear, I'm not going to disappoint
you. A wife fretting and mourning for her husband is the last person I
should consider a desirable companion. Run upstairs now and get your
maid to put your things together. I shall take you down to Southampton
by an early train in the morning, and in the meantime, if you'll excuse
me, Valentine, I'll go out and send a telegram to your husband."

"To tell him that I'm coming?"

"Yes, are you not pleased?"

"No, don't do that. I will meet him on board the boat. I know exactly
what the scene will be. He'll be looking--no, I shan't say how he'll be
looking--but I'll steal up behind him, and slip my hand through his
arm, and then--and then! Father, kiss me. I love you for making me so
happy."

Mr. Paget pressed his lips to his daughter's forehead. For a brief
moment his eyes looked into hers. She remembered by-and-bye their queer
expression. Just now, however, she was too overwrought and excited to
have room for any ideas except the one supreme longing and passion
which was drawing her to her husband.

"Shall we have dinner?" said Mr. Paget after another pause.

Valentine laughed rather wildly.

"Dinner? I can't eat. Had not you better go home and have something?
Perhaps I did order dinner, but I can't remember. My head feels queer;
I can't think properly. Go home and have something to eat, father. You
can come back later on. I am going upstairs now to pack."

She left the room without a word, and Mortimer Paget heard her light
step as she ran up to her bedroom. He began to talk vehemently to
himself.

"Does that child, that little girl, whom I reared and fostered--that
creature whom I brought into existence--think she will checkmate me now
at the supreme moment. No, there are limits. I find that even my love
for Valentine has a bottom, and I reach it when I see the prisoner's
cell, solitary confinement, penal servitude, looming large on the
horizon. Even your heart must suffer, little Valentine, to keep such a
fate as that from my door. Poor little Val! Well, the best schemes, the
most carefully laid plans sometimes meet with defeat. It did not enter
into my calculations that Val would fall madly in love with that
long-faced fellow. Pah! where's her taste? What men women will admire.
Well, Valentine, you must pay the penalty, for my plans cannot be
disturbed at the eleventh hour!"

Mr. Paget went softly out of the house, but he did not go, as Valentine
innocently supposed, home to dinner. No, he had something far more
important to attend to. Something in which he could be very largely
assisted by that confidential clerk of his, Jonathan Helps.

Meanwhile, Valentine and her maid were having a busy time. Dresses were
pulled out, trunks dusted and brought into the middle of the room, and
hasty preparations were made for a journey.

Valentine's low spirits had changed to high ones. She was as happy as
some hours ago she had been miserable. Her heart was now at rest, it
had acknowledged its own need--it had given expression to the love
which was fast becoming its life.

"You are surprised, Suzanne," said Mrs. Wyndham to her maid. "Yes, it
is a hurried journey. I had no idea of going with Mr. Wyndham, but
he--poor fellow--he can't do without me, Suzanne, so I am going. I
shall join him on board the _Esperance_ in the morning. You can fancy
his surprise--his pleasure. Put in plenty of dinner dresses, Suzanne.
Those white dresses that Mr. Wyndham likes--yes, that is right. Of
course I shall dress every evening for dinner on board the _Esperance_.
I wonder if many other ladies are going. Not that it matters--I shall
have my husband. What are you saying, Suzanne?"

"That it is beautiful to lof," replied the maid, looking up with
adoring eyes at her pretty animated young mistress.

She was both young and pretty herself, and she sympathized with
Valentine, and admired her immensely for her sudden resolve.

"Yes, love is beautiful," answered Valentine gravely. Her eyes filled
with sudden soft tears of happiness. "And there is something better
even than love," she said, looking at Suzanne, and speaking with a
sudden burst of confidence. "The highest bliss of all is to give joy to
those who love you."

"And you will do that to-morrow, madame," replied Suzanne fervently.
"Oh, this lof, so beautiful, so rare--you will lay it at monsieur's
feet--he is goot, monsieur is, and how great is his passion for
madame."

The young Swiss girl flitted gaily about, and by-and-bye the packing
even for this sudden voyage was accomplished.

"You will take me with you, madame?" said Suzanne.

"No, Suzanne, there is no time to arrange that, nor shall I really want
you. We may have to rough it a little, my husband and I; not that we
mind, it will be like a continual picnic--quite delicious."

"But madame must be careful of her precious health."

The color flushed into Valentine's cheeks.

"My husband will take care of me," she said. "No. Suzanne, I shall not
take you with me. You will stay here for the present, and my father
will arrange matters for you. Now you can go downstairs and have some
supper. I shall not want you again to-night."

The girl withdrew, and Valentine stood by the fire, gazing into its
cheerful depths, and seeing many happy dream pictures.

"Yes, I shall certainly go with him. Even if what I dread and hope and
long for is the case, I shall be with him. I can whisper it first to
him. I ought to be with _him_--I ought to be with my husband then. Why
did Suzanne speak about my health? No one will take such care of me as
Gerald. Even my father cannot approach Gerald for tenderness, for
sympathy when one is out of sorts. How soothing is Gerald's hand; how
quieting. Once I was ill for a few hours. Only a bad headache, but it
went when he made me lie very still, and when he clasped my two hands
in one of his. Yes, I quite believe in Gerald. Even though I do not
understand that night at the Gaiety, still I absolutely believe in my
husband. He is too noble to tell a lie; he had a reason for not
explaining what looked so strange that night. He had a right reason,
probably a good and great one. Perhaps I'll ask him again some day.
Perhaps when he knows there's a little--little _child_ coming he'll
tell me himself. Oh, God, kind, good, beautiful God, if you are going
to give me a child of my very own, help me to be worthy of it. Help me
to be worthy of the child, and of the child's father."

Mr. Paget's ring was heard at the hall door, and Valentine ran down to
meet him. He had made all arrangements he told her. They would catch
the 8.5 train in the morning from Waterloo, and he would call for her
in a cab at a sufficiently early hour to catch it.

His words were brief, but he was quite quiet and business-like. He
kissed his daughter affectionately, told her to go to bed at once, and
soon after left the house.

Valentine gave directions for the morning and went back to her room.
She got quickly into bed, for she was determined to be well rested for
what lay before her on the following day. She laid her head on the
pillow, closed her eyes, and prepared to go to sleep. Does not
everybody know what happens on these occasions? Does not each
individual who in his or her turn has especially desired for the best
and most excellent reason a long sleep, a deep sleep, an unbroken and
dreamless sleep found it recede further and further away--found eyes
more watchful--brain more active, limbs more restless, as the precious
moments fly by? How loud the watch ticks, how audible are the minutest
sounds!

It was thus with Valentine Wyndham that night. No sleep came near her,
and by slow degrees as the fire grew faint and the night deepened in
silence and solemnity, her happy excitement, her childish joy, gave
place to vague apprehensions. All kinds of nameless terrors came over
her. Suppose an accident happened to the train? Suppose the _Esperance_
sailed before its time? Above all, and this idea was agonizing, was so
repellant that she absolutely pushed it from her--suppose her father
was deceiving her. She was horrified as this thought came, and came. It
would come, it would not be banished. Suppose her father was deceiving
her?

She went over in the silence of the night the whole scene of that
evening. Her own sudden and fierce resolve, her father's opposition,
his disappointment--then his sudden yielding. The more she thought, the
more apprehensive she grew; the more she pondered, the longer, the more
real grew her fears. At last she could bear them no longer.

She lit a candle and looked at her watch. Three o'clock. Had ever
passed a night so long and dreadful? There would not be even a ray of
daylight for some time. She could not endure that hot and restless
pillow. She would get up and dress.

All the time she was putting on her clothes the dread that her father
was deceiving her kept strengthening--strengthening. At last it almost
reached a panic. What a fool she had been not to go to Southampton the
night before. Suppose Gerald's ship sailed before she reached it or
him.

Suddenly an idea came like a ray of light. Why should she wait for her
father? Why should she not take an earlier train to Southampton? The
relative depths of Valentine's two loves were clearly shown when she
did not reject this thought. It mattered nothing at all to her at this
supreme moment whether she offended her father or not. She determined
to go to Southampton by the first train that left Waterloo that
morning. She ran downstairs, found a time-table, saw that a train left
at 5.50, and resolved to catch it. She would take Suzanne with her, and
leave a message for her father; he could follow by the 8.5 train if he
liked.

She went upstairs and woke her maid.

"Suzanne, get up at once. Dress yourself, and come to me, to my room."

In an incredible short time Suzanne had obeyed this mandate.

"I am going to take you with me to Southampton. Suzanne. I mean to
catch the train which leaves here at ten minutes to six. We have plenty
of time, but not too much. Can you make some coffee for us both? And
then either you or Masters must find a cab."

Suzanne opened her bright eyes wide.

"I will go with you, my goot madam," she said to herself. "The early
hour is noting, the strangeness is noting. That olt man--I hate that
olt man! I will go alone with you, mine goot mistress, to find the goot
husband what is so devoted. Ach! Suzanne does not like that olt man!"

Coffee was served in Valentine's bedroom. Mistress and maid partook of
it together. Masters was aroused, was fortunate enough in procuring a
cab, and at five o'clock, for Valentine's impatience could brook no
longer delay, she and Suzanne had started together for Waterloo.

Once more her spirits were high. She had dared something for Gerald. It
was already sweet to her to be brave for his sake.

Before she left she wrote a short letter to her father--a constrained
little note--for her fears stood between her and him.

She and Suzanne arrived at Waterloo long before the train started.

"Oh, how impatient I am!" whispered Mrs. Wyndham to her maid. "Will
time never pass? I am sure all the clocks in London must be wrong, this
last night has been like three."

The longest hours, however, do come to an end, and presently Valentine
and Suzanne found themselves being whirled out of London, and into the
early morning of a bright clear March day.

The two occupied a compartment to themselves. Suzanne felt wide awake,
talkative, and full of intense curiosity; but Valentine was strangely
silent. She ceased either to laugh or to talk. She drew down her veil,
and establishing herself in a corner kept looking out at the swiftly
passing landscape. Once more the fear which had haunted her during the
night returned. Even now, perhaps, she would not be in time!

Then she set to work chiding herself. She must be growing silly. The
_Esperance_ did not leave the dock until noon, and her train was due at
Southampton soon after eight. Of course there would be lots of time.
Even her father who was to follow by the later train could reach the
_Esperance_ before she sailed.

The train flew quickly through the country, the slow moments dropped
into space one by one. Presently the train slackened speed--presently
it reached its destination.

Then for the first time Valentine's real difficulties began. She had
not an idea from which dock the _Esperance_ was to sail. A porter
placed her luggage on a fly. She and Suzanne got in, and the driver
asked for directions. No, the _Esperance_ was not known to the owner of
the hackney coach.

When the porter and the cabman questioned Mrs. Wyndham she suddenly
felt as if she had come up against a blank wall. There were miles of
ships all around. If she could afford no clue to the whereabouts of the
_Esperance_ the noon of another day might come before she could reach
the dock where it was now lying at anchor.

At last it occurred to her to give the name of her father's shipping
firm. It was a great name in the city, but neither the porter nor the
cabman had come under its influence. They suggested, however, that most
likely the firm of Paget Brothers had an office somewhere near. They
said further that if there was such an office the clerks in it could
give the lady the information she wanted.

Valentine was standing by her cab, trying not to show the bewilderment
and distress which had seized her, when a man who must have been
listening came up, touched his hat, and said civilly:--

"Pardon, madam. If you will drive or walk down to the quay, this quay
quite close, there is an office, you cannot fail to see it, where they
can give you the information you desire, as they are always posted up
with regard to the out-going and in-coming vessels. That quay, quite
near, cabby. Messrs. Gilling and Gilling's office."

He touched his hat again and vanished, being rewarded by Valentine with
a look which he considered a blessing.

"Now," she said, "now, I will give you double fare, cabman, treble
fare, if you will help me to get to the _Esperance_ in time; and first
of all, let us obey that good man's directions and go to Messrs.
Gilling and Gilling."

The quay was close, and so was the office. In two minutes Valentine was
standing, alas, by its closed doors. A sudden fierce impatience came
over her, she rang the office bell loudly. Three times she rang before
any one answered her summons. Then a rather dishevelled and
sleepy-looking boy opened the door wide enough to poke his head out and
asked her her business.

"I want to get news of the ship called the _Esperance_."

"Office don't open till nine."

He would have pushed the door to, but Suzanne stepping forward deftly
put her foot in.

"Mine goot boy, be civil," she said. "This lady has come a long way,
and she wants the tidings she asks very sore."

The office boy looked again at Valentine. She certainly was pretty; so
was Suzanne. But the office really did not open till nine, and the boy
could not himself give any tidings.

"You had better step in," he said. "Mr. Jones will be here at nine. No,
I don't know nothing about the ship."

It was now twenty-five minutes past eight. Valentine sank down on the
dusty chair which the boy pushed forward for her, and Suzanne stood
impatiently by her side.

Outside, the cabman whistled a cheerful air and stamped his feet. The
morning was cold; but what of that? He himself was doing a good
business; he was certain of an excellent fare.

"Suzanne," said Valentine suddenly. "Do you mind going outside and
waiting in the cab. I cannot bear anyone to stare at me just now."

Suzanne obeyed. She was not offended. She was too deeply interested and
sympathetic.

The slow minutes passed. Nine o'clock sounded from a great church near,
and then more gently from the office clock. At three minutes past nine
a bilious-looking clerk came in and took his place at one of the desks.
He started when he saw Valentine, opened a ledger, and pretended to be
very busy.

"Can you tell me, at once, please, from which dock the _Esperance_
sails?" asked Mrs. Wyndham.

Her voice was impressive, and sharp with pain and waiting. The clerk
thought he might at least stare at her. Things were slow and dull at
this hour of the morning, and she was a novelty. He could have given
the information at once, but it suited him best to dawdle over it.
Valentine could have stamped with her increasing impatience.

The clerk, turning the leaves of a big book slowly, at last put his
finger on an entry.

"_Esperance_ sails for Sydney 25th inst., noon. Albert and Victoria
Docks."

"Thank you, thank you," said Valentine. "Are these docks far away?"

"Three miles off, madam."

"Thank you."

She was out of the office and in the cab almost before he had time to
close his book.

"Drive to the Albert and Victoria Docks, instantly, coachman. I will
give you a sovereign if you take me there in less than half an hour."

Never was horse beaten like that cabby's, and Valentine, the most
tender-hearted of mortals, saw the whip raised without a pang. Now she
was certain to be in time; even allowing for delay she would reach the
_Esperance_ before ten o'clock, and it did not sail until noon. Yes,
there was now not the most remote doubt she was in good time. And yet,
and yet--still she felt miserable. Still her heart beat with a strange
overpowering sense of coming defeat and disaster. Good cabman--go
faster yet, and faster. Ah, yes, how they were flying! How pleasant it
was to be bumped and shaken, and jolted--to feel the ground flying
under the horse's feet, for each moment brought her nearer to the
_Esperance_ and to Gerald.

At last they reached the dock. Valentine sprang out of the cab. A
sailor came forward to help with her luggage. Valentine put a sovereign
into the cabman's hand.

"Thank you," she said, "oh, thank you. Yes, I am in good time."

Her eyes were full of happy tears, and the cabman, a rather hardened
old villain, was surprised to find a lump rising in his throat.

"Which ship, lady?" asked the sailor, touching his cap.

"The _Esperance_, one of Paget Brothers' trading vessels. I want to go
on board at once; show it to me. Suzanne, you can follow with the
luggage. Show me the _Esperance_, good man, my husband is waiting for
me."

"You don't mean the _Experiance_, bound for Sydney?" asked the man.
"One of Paget Brothers' big ships?"

"Yes, yes; do you know her? Point her out to me."

"Ay, I know her. I was helping to lade her till twelve last night."

"Just show her to me. I am in a frightful hurry. She is here--this is
the right dock."

"Ay, the Albert and Victoria. The _Experiance_ sailing for Sydney,
noon, on the 25th."

"Well, where is she? I will go and look for her by myself."

"You can't, lady, she's gone."

"What--what do you mean? It isn't twelve o'clock. Suzanne, it isn't
twelve o'clock."

"No, lady."

The old sailor looked compassionate enough.

"Poor young thing," he soliloquized under his breath, "some one has
gone and done her. The _Experiance_ was to sail at noon," he continued,
"and she's a bunny tidy ship, too. I was lading her up till midnight;
for last night there came an order, and the captain--Captain Jellyby's
is his name--he was all flustered and in a taking, and he said we was
to finish and lade up, and she was to go out of port sharp at eight
this morning. She did, too, sharp to the minute. I seen her weigh
anchor. That's her, lady--look out there--level with the horizon--she's
a fast going ship and she's making good way. Let me hold you up,
lady--now, can you see her now? _That's_ the _Experiance_."



CHAPTER XXIX.


The _Esperance_ was a well-made boat; she was about four thousand tons,
with improved engines which went at great speed. She was a trading
ship, one of the largest and most important of those belonging to Paget
Brothers, but she sometimes took out emigrants, and had room for a few
saloon passengers; old travellers, who knew what comfort was, sometimes
preferred to go in such ships as the _Esperance_ to the more
conventional lines of steamers. There was less crowding, less fuss;
there was also more room and more comfort. The meals were good and
abundant, and the few passengers, provided they were in any sense of
the word congenial spirits, became quickly friends.

Gerald, as one of the members of the firm, was of course accommodated
with the very best the _Esperance_ could offer. He had a large state
room, well furnished, to himself; he was treated with every possible
respect, and even consulted with regard to trivial matters. Only,
however, with regard to very trivial matters.

When he arrived at Southampton on the evening of the 24th, he went at
once on board the _Esperance_.

"We shall sail at noon to-morrow," he said to the captain.

Captain Jellyby was a pleasant old salt, with a genial, open, sunburnt
face, and those bright peculiar blue eyes which men who spend most of
their lives on the sea often have, as though the reflection of some of
its blue had got into them.

"At noon to-morrow," replied the captain. "Yes, and that is somewhat
late; but we shan't have finished coaling before."

"But we stop at Plymouth surely?"

"Well, perhaps. I cannot positively say. We may be able to go straight
on to Teneriffe."

Gerald did not make any further comments. He retired to his cabin and
unpacked one or two things, then he went into the saloon, and taking up
a book appeared to be absorbed with its contents.

In reality he was not reading. He had written a desperate letter that
morning, and he was upheld even now in this moment of bitterness by a
desperate hope.

Suppose Valentine suddenly found her slumbering heart awake? Suppose
his words, his wild, weak and foolish words, stung it into action?
Suppose the wife cried out for her husband, the awakened heart for its
mate. Suppose she threw all prudence to the winds, and came to him? She
could reach him in time.

He could not help thinking of this as he sat with his hand shading his
eyes, pretending to read in the state saloon of the _Esperance_, the
vessel which was to carry him away to a living death.

If Valentine came, oh yes, if Valentine came, there would be no death.
There might be exile, there might be poverty, there might be dishonor,
but no death. It would be all life then--life, and the flush of a
stained victory.

He owned to himself that if the temptation came he would take it. If
his wife loved him enough to come to him he would tell her all. He
would tell her of the cruel promise wrung from him, and ask her if he
must keep it.

The hours flew by; he raised his head and looked at the clock. Nine, it
was striking nine. He heard a sound on board, and his pulses quickened.
It passed--it was nothing. The clock struck ten, it was a beautiful
starlight night. All the other passengers who had already come on board
were amusing themselves on deck.

Gerald was alone in the saloon. Again there was a sound a little
different from the constant cries of the sailors.

Captain Jellyby's name was shouted, and there was a rush, followed by
renewed activity. Gerald rose slowly, shut his book, and went on deck.
It was a dark night although the sky was clear and full of stars. A man
in an overcoat and collar turned well up over his ears brushed past
Wyndham, made for the gangway and disappeared.

"Good heavens--how like that man was to old Helps," soliloquized
Gerald.

He stayed on deck a little longer; he thought his imagination had
played him a trick, for what could bring Helps on board the
_Esperance_. Presently the captain joined him.



CHAPTER XXX.


"I am sorry, Mr. Wyndham," said Captain Jellyby, "to have to offer you
on your very first night on board my good ship very broken slumbers. We
shall be lading with coals all night. Are you easily disturbed by
noise! But I need scarcely ask, for that noise would almost rouse the
dead."

Gerald smiled.

"A broken night is nothing," he said; "at least to me. I suppose there
always is a great commotion the last night before a vessel sails on a
long voyage."

"Not as a rule--at least that isn't my way. We meant to break off and
have a quiet time at midnight, and start operations again at six
o'clock in the morning. But I've had directions from head quarters
which oblige me to quicken my movements. Doocid inconvenient, too!"

"What do you mean?" said Gerald, the pulses round his heart suddenly
quickening. "We sail at noon to-morrow."

"We sail at eight in the morning, my good sir, and I, for one, call it
doocid inconvenient. (Yes, Cadgers, what do you want? Get all hands
possible on board.) I beg your pardon, Mr. Wyndham. (Yes, Cadgers.)
Back with you presently, sir."

The captain disappeared, and Wyndham went down to his cabin.

What did this sudden change mean? Who had given the order? Was that
really Helps who had been on board? Well, Wyndham was in a manner
master on this vessel. It was his own, part of his property; he had
been told over and over again by his father-in-law that on this
voyage, this pleasant voyage, he could give his own orders, and short
of anything which would jeopardize the safety of the boat, the captain
would humor his wishes. He would countermand an order which was putting
everybody out; he did not choose to leave his native shore before the
time specified--noon on the following day. In such a short life as his
even four hours were of moment. He would not lose the four hours of
hope, of the possibility of hope yet left to him.

He went on deck, sought out the captain where he was standing, shouting
out hoarse directions to gangs of energetic looking sailors.

"A word with you, Captain Jellyby," he said. "There is some mistake in
the order which you have received. I mean that I am in a position to
cancel it. I do not wish the _Esperance_ to sail before noon
to-morrow."

His voice was very distinct and penetrating, and the sailors stopped
work and looked at him. Astonishment was written legibly on their
faces.

"Lade away boys, work with a will," said the captain. Then he put his
hand on Gerald's shoulder, turned him round, and walked a pace or two
away.

"I quite understand your position, Mr. Wyndham," he said. "And in all
possible matters I shall yield you due deference. But----"

"Yes," said Wyndham.

"But--we sail at eight to-morrow morning, sharp."

"What do you mean? Who has given you the order?"

"I am not prepared to say. My orders are explicit. Another time, when
Captain Jellyby can meet the wishes of Mr. Wyndham with a clear
conscience, his orders shall also be explicit."

The captain bowed, laid his hand across his heart and turned away.

Wyndham went back to his own cabin, and was tortured all night by a
desire, sane or otherwise, he could not tell which, to leave the
_Esperance_ and return to London and Valentine.

The lading of the vessel went on ceaselessly, and sharp at eight the
following morning she weighed anchor and steamed away. Wyndham had lain
awake all night, but at seven in the morning he fell into a doze. The
doze deepened into quietness, into peaceful and refreshing slumber: the
lines departed from his young face; he had not undressed, but flung
himself as he was on his berth. When the _Esperance_ was flying merrily
through the water, Captain Jellyby had time to give Wyndham a thought.

"That is a nice lad," he said to himself. "He has a nice face, young
too. I don't suppose he has seen five-and-twenty, but he knows what
trouble means. My name is not Jack Jellyby if that young man does not
know what pretty sharp trouble means. Odd, too, for he's rich and has
married the chief's daughter, and what a fuss the chief made about his
reception here. No expense to be spared; every comfort given, every
attention shown, and his orders to be obeyed within reason. Ay, my
pretty lad, there's the rub--within reason. You looked keen and vexed
enough last night when I had to hasten the hour for the departure of
the _Esperance_. I wonder what the chief meant by that. Well, I'll go
and have a look at young Wyndham; he may as well come with me and see
the last of his native shore. As the morning is fine it will be a
pretty sight."

The captain went and begged for admission to Wyndham's cabin. There was
no answer, so he opened the door and poked his red smiling face round.

"Bless me, the boy's asleep," he said; and he came up and took a good
look at his new passenger.

Gerald was dreaming now, and a smile played about his lips. Suddenly he
opened his eyes and said:--

"Yes, Valentine, yes, I'm coming!" and sprang to his feet.

The captain was standing with his legs a little apart, looking at him.
The vessel gave a lurch, and Wyndham staggered.

"Are we off?" he said. "Good God, are we really off?"

"We were off an hour ago, young sir. Come up on deck and see what a
pretty coast line we have just here."

Wyndham put his hand to his forehead.

"I have been cheated," he said suddenly. "Yes. I've been cheated. I
can't speak about it; things weren't clear to me last night, but I had
a dream, and I know now what it all means. I woke with some words on my
lips. What did I say, captain?"

"You called to some fellow of the name of Valentine--your brother,
perhaps."

"I haven't a brother. The person to whom I called was a woman--my wife.
She was coming on board. She would have sailed with me if we had
waited. Now it is too late."

The captain raised his shaggy brows the tenth of an inch.

"They must be sending him on this voyage on account of his health," he
mentally soliloquized. "Now I see daylight. A little touched, poor
fellow. Pity--nice fellow. Well, the chief might have trusted me. Of
course I must humor him, poor lad. Come on deck," he said aloud. "It's
beastly close down here. You should have the porthole open, the sea is
like glass. Come on deck and get a breath of fresh air. Isn't Valentine
a rather uncommon name for a woman? Yes, of course, I heard you were
married. Well, well, you'll be home again in six months. Now come on
deck and look around you."

"Look here, captain," said Gerald suddenly. "I can't explain matters.
I daresay you think me queer, but you're mistaken."

"They all go on that tack," muttered the captain. "Another symptom.
Well, I must humor him. I don't think you queer," he said, aloud.
"You're finely mistaken. You had a dream, and you called on your wife,
whom you have just parted from. What more natural? Bless you. I know
all about it. I was married myself."

"And you left your wife?"

"I left her, and what is worse she left me. She went up to the angels.
Bless her memory, she was a young thing. I see her yet, as she bade me
good-bye. Come on deck, lad."

"Yes; come on deck," said Gerald hoarsely.

All that day he was silent, sitting mostly apart and by himself.

But the captain had his eye on him. In the evening he came again to
Captain Jellyby.

"You touch at Plymouth, don't you?"

"Sometimes."

"This voyage, I mean."

"No."

"I wish you to stop at Plymouth."

"Look here, my lad. 'No' is the only word I can give you. We don't
touch land till we get to Teneriffe. Go and lie down and have a sleep.
We shall have a calm sea to-night, and you look fagged out."

"Are you a man to be bribed?" began Wyndham.

"I am ashamed of you. I am not."

The captain turned his back on him. Wyndham caught him by his shoulder.

"Are you a man to be moved to pity?"

"Look here, my lad, I can pity to any extent; but if you think any
amount of compassion will turn me from my duty, you're in the wrong
box. It's my duty, clear as the sky above, to go straight on to
Teneriffe, and on I shall go. You understand?"

"Yes," said Gerald, "I understand. Thank you, captain, I won't bother
you further."

His voice had altered, his brow had cleared. He walked away to the
further end of the deck, whistling a light air. The captain saw him
stop to pay some small attention to a lady passenger.

"Bless me, if I understand the fellow!" he muttered.



CHAPTER XXXI.


When a die has been cast--cast irrevocably--as a rule there follows a
calm. It is sometimes the calm of peace, sometimes that of despair; but
there is always a stillness, effort is over, words don't avail, actions
are paralyzed.

Gerald Wyndham sat on deck most of that evening. There was a married
lady, a certain Mrs. Harvey, on board, she was going to Australia with
her husband and one little girl. She was about thirty, and very
delicate. Gerald's face took her fancy, and they struck up an
acquaintance.

The evening was so calm, so mild, the water so still, the sky above so
clear that the passengers brought wraps and lingered long on deck. Mrs.
Harvey talked all the time to Gerald. He answered her not only politely
but with interest. She was an interesting woman, she could talk well,
she had great sympathy, and she wanted to draw Wyndham out. In this she
failed, although she imagined she succeeded. He learned much of her
history, for she was very communicative, but when she joined her
husband downstairs later that evening she could not tell him a single
thing about their fellow-passenger.

"He has a nice face," they both remarked, and they wondered who he was.

It did not occur to them to speak of him as sad-looking. On the
contrary, Mrs. Harvey spoke of his cheerful smile and of his strong
appreciation of humor.

"It is delightful to meet a man who can see a joke," she said. "Most of
them are so dense."

"I wonder which family of Wyndhams he belongs to," remarked the
husband.

"I wonder if he is married," added the wife.

Then they both resolved that they would find out to-morrow. But they
did not, for the next day Wyndham did not come on deck at all. He
stayed in his own cabin, and had one or two interviews with the
captain.

"You know very little about me, Captain Jellyby," he said, once.

"I know that you are married to Miss Paget," replied the captain, "and
I am given to understand that she is a very charming young lady."

"I want you to keep the fact of my marriage to yourself."

The captain looked a little surprised.

"Certainly, if you wish it," he said.

"I do wish it. I am knocked over to-day, for the fact is, I--I have
gone through some trouble, but I don't mean to inflict my troubles on
you or my fellow-passengers. I hope I shall prove an acquisition rather
than otherwise on board the _Esperance_. But what I do not want, what
would be particularly repellant to me, is that the other saloon
passengers should gossip about me. When they find that I don't talk
about myself, or my people, or my wife, they will become curious, and
ply you with questions. Will you be mum on the subject?"

"Mum as the grave," said the captain rising and stretching himself.
"Lord, we'll have some fun over this. If there are a deadly curious,
gossiping, wrangling, hole-picking set in this wide world, it's the
saloon passengers on board a boat of this kind. I'll make up a
beautiful mystery about you, my fine fellow. Won't they enjoy it! Why,
it will be the saving of them."

"Make up any mystery you like," replied Wyndham, "only don't tell them
the truth. That is, I mean, what you know of the truth."

"And that's nothing," muttered the captain to himself as he went away.
"Bless me, he is a queer fellow. Touched--he must be touched."

Gerald spent twenty-four hours in God only knows what deep waters of
mental agony. The other passengers thought he was suffering from an
attack of sea-sickness, for they were just now meeting the heavy
channel sea, and the captain did not undeceive them. They passed
Plymouth before Gerald again appeared on deck, and when he once more
joined his fellow-passengers they were outside the Bay of Biscay.

Gerald had not suffered from any bodily discomfort, but others on board
the _Esperance_ were less fortunate, and when he once more took his
place in the saloon, and went up on deck, he found that work, which all
his life long seemed to fall to his share, once more waiting for him.
It was the work of making other people comfortable. The Harveys' little
girl was very weak and fretful. She had gone through a bad time, but
when Wyndham lifted her in his arms, sat down with her in a sheltered
part of the deck, and told her some funny fairy tales, his influence
worked like the wand of a good magician. She smiled, told Mr. Wyndham
he was a very nice man, gave him a kiss, and ran downstairs presently
to eat her supper with appetite.

Little Cecily Harvey was not the only person who came under Wyndham's
soothing influence. During this first evening he found himself more or
less in the position of a sort of general sick-nurse. But the next day
people were better, and then he appeared in another _rôle_. He could
entertain, with stories, with music, with song. He could recite; above
all things he could organize, and had a knack of showing off other
people to the best advantage. Long before a week had passed, Wyndham
was the most popular person on board. He was not only popular with
saloon passengers, but with the emigrants. There were several on
board, and he often spent some hours with them, playing with the
children, and talking with the mothers, or, rather, getting the mothers
to talk to him.

They were flying south now, and every day the air grew more balmy and
the sea smoother. The emigrants, boys and girls, fathers and mothers,
used to lie out on the deck in the sun, and a very pretty picture they
made; the children rolling about laughing and playing, and the mothers,
most of them were young mothers, looking on and regarding them with
pride.

There was scarcely an emigrant mother on board that ship who had not
confided her story, her hopes and her fears to Wyndham, before the
voyage was over.

Soon that thing happened which had happened long ago at
Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, which had happened in the small house in
Park-lane, which had happened even with the odds against him to his
wife--everybody loved Wyndham. Hearts warmed as he came near, eyes
brightened when they looked at him. He was in the position of a
universal favorite. That sometimes is a dangerous position. But not in
his case, for he was too unselfish to make enemies.

All this time, while his life was apparently drifting, while the hours
were apparently gliding on to no definite or especial goal, to a
landing at Melbourne--to a journey across a new Continent--while his
days were going by to all intents and purposes like anybody else's
days, he knew that between him and them lay an immeasurable gulf. He
knew that he was not drifting, but going very rapidly down a hill. The
fact is, Wyndham knew that the end, as far as he was concerned, was
near.

His father-in-law had planned one thing, but he had planned another. He
told no one of this, he never whispered this to a living creature, but
his own mind was inexorably made up. He knew it when he bade his
father good-bye that last Sunday; when he looked at Lilias and
Marjory, and the other children, he knew it; he knew it when he kissed
his wife's cheek that last morning when she slept. In his own way he
could be a man of iron will. His will was as iron in this special
matter. Only once had his determination been shaken, and that was when
he pleaded with Valentine, and when he hoped against hope that she
would listen to his prayer. The last lingering sparks of that hope died
away when the captain refused to touch at Plymouth. After that moment
his own fixed will never wavered.

His father-in-law had asked him for half a death; he should have a
whole one. That was all. Many another man had done what he meant to do
before. Still it was the End--the great End. No one could go beyond it.

He made his plans very carefully; he knew to effect his object he must
be extremely careful. He would die, but it must never be supposed,
never breathed by mortal soul that he had passed out of this world
except by accident. He knew perfectly what the captain thought of him
during the first couple of days of his residence on board the
_Esperance_.

"Captain Jellyby is positive that I am touched in the head," thought
Wyndham. "I must undo that suspicion."

He took pains, and he succeeded admirably. Wyndham was not only a
favorite on board, but he was cheerful, he was gay. People remarked not
on his high but on his good spirits.

"Such a merry, light-hearted fellow," they said of him.

Wyndham overheard these remarks now and then. The captain openly
delighted in him.

"The ship will never be lucky again when you leave her," he said.
"You're worth a free passage to any captain. Why you keep us all in
good humor. Passengers, emigrants, sailors and all. Here, come along. I
thought you rather a gloomy young chap when first I set eyes on you;
but now--ah, well, you were homesick. Quite accountable. Here, I have a
request from the second mate, and one or two more of the jack tars down
there. They want you to sing them a song after supper. They say it
isn't fair that we should have you to ourselves in the saloon."

Gerald laughed, said he would be happy to oblige the sailors, and
walked away.

"As jolly a chap as ever I laid eyes on," muttered the captain. "I
liked him from the first, but I was mistaken in him. I thought him
gloomy. Not a bit. I wonder his wife could bear to let him out of her
sight. I wouldn't if I were a lass. There, hark to him now! Bless me,
we are having a pleasant voyage this time."

So they were. No one was ill; the amount of rough weather was decidedly
below the average, and cheerfulness and contentment reigned on board.

The ship touched at Teneriffe, but only for a few hours, and then sped
on her way to the Cape. It was now getting very hot, and an awning was
spread over the deck. Under this the saloon passengers sat, and smoked
and read. No one suspected, no one had the faintest shadow of a
suspicion that black care lurked anywhere on board that happy ship,
least of all in the breast of the merriest of its crew, Gerald Wyndham.

The _Esperance_ reached the Cape in safety, there some of the
passengers, Gerald amongst them, landed, for the captain intended to
lie at anchor for twenty-four hours. Then again they were away, and now
they were told they must expect colder weather for they were entering
the Southern Ocean, and were approaching high latitudes of polar cold.
They would have to go through the rough sea of the "Roaring Forties,"
and then again they would emerge into tropical sunshine.

Soon after they left the Cape, little Cecily Harvey fell ill. She
caught a chill and was feverish, and the doctor and her mother forbade
her to go on deck. She was only eight years old, a pretty, winsome
child. Gerald felt a special tenderness for her, for she reminded him
of his own little sister Joan. During this illness she often lay for
hours in his arms, with her little feverish cheek pressed against his,
and her tiny hot hand comforted by his firm cool clasp.

"Mr. Wyndham," she said on one of these occasions. "I wish you wouldn't
do it."

"Do what, Cecily?"

"Run up the rigging as you do. I heard one of the sailors talking to
Mrs. Meyrich the other day, and he said you were too daring, and some
day you'd have a slip, and be overboard, if you did not look sharp."

"Oh, I'll take care of myself, Cecily. At one time I thought of being a
sailor, and I was always climbing, always climbing at home. There isn't
the least fear. I'm not rash. I'm a very careful fellow."

"Are you? I'm glad of that. Had you tall trees at your home?"

Gerald gave the little hand a squeeze.

"They were like other trees," he said. "Don't let us talk of them."

"Mustn't we? I'm sorry. I wanted to hear all about your home."

"I haven't a home, Cecily. Once I had one, but you can understand that
it is painful to speak of what one has lost."

"I'm very sorry for you, dear Mr. Wyndham. Did you lose a little
sister, too? Is that why you squeeze me so tight?"

"I have lost many little sisters; we won't talk of them, either. What
is the matter, Cecily? Do you feel faint?"

"No, but I hate this rough, choppy sea. I want it to be smooth again as
it used to be. Then I can go on deck, and lie under the awning, and you
can sit near me, and tell me stories. Will you?"

Gerald did not answer.

"_Will_ you, Mr. Wyndham?"

"I can lie to everyone else but not to the child," muttered Gerald.

He roused himself, and sought to divert her attention.

"We are in the 'Roaring Forties' now," he said. "Isn't that a funny
name? The sea is always very choppy and rough here, but it won't last
long. You will soon be in pleasant weather and smooth seas again."

Cecily was not satisfied, and Gerald presently left her and went on
deck.

The weather was not pleasant just now, it was cold and squally, always
veering about and causing a choppy and disagreeable motion with the
ship. Some of the ladies took again to their beds, and went through
another spell of sea-sickness; the more fortunate ones sat and chatted
in the great saloon--not one of them ventured on deck. Gerald, who was
not in the least indisposed in body, found plenty to do in his _rôle_
of general cheerer and comforter. When he was not nursing little Cecily
he spent some time with the emigrants, amongst whom he was a great
favorite.

On this particular day a round-faced young woman of five and twenty, a
certain Mrs. Notley, came up to him the moment he appeared on the lower
deck.

"They do say it, sir, and I thought I'd speak to you, so that you
wouldn't mind. They do say you're over rash in helping the
sailors--over rash, and none so sure-footed as you think yourself."

"Folly," said Gerald, laughing good-humoredly. "So I can't run up a
rope or tighten a rigging without people imagining that I am putting my
precious life in jeopardy. Don't you listen to any foolish tales, Mrs.
Notley. I'm a great deal too fond of myself to run any risks. I shan't
slip, if that's what you mean--for that matter I have always been
climbing, since I was a little chap no bigger than that urchin of yours
there."

"Ay, sir, that's all very well, but it's different for all that on
board ship; there may come a lurch when you least look for it, and then
the surest-footed and the surest-handed is sometimes outwitted. You'll
excuse my mentioning of it, sir, but you're a bonny young gentleman,
and you has the goodwill of everyone on board."

"Thank you, Mrs. Notley, I like to hear you say so. It is pleasant to
be liked."

"Ah, sure you are that, and no mistake, and you'll forgive me
mentioning it, sir, but you'll be careful, won't you? You ain't married
for sure, for your face is too lightsome for that of a married man. But
maybe you has a mother and a sweetheart, and you might think of them,
sir, and not be over daring."

Wyndham's face grew suddenly white.

"As it happens I have neither a mother nor sweetheart," he said. Then
he turned away somewhat abruptly, and Mrs. Notley feared she had
offended him.

The sailors prophesied "dirty weather;" they expected it, for this was
the roughest part of the voyage. Gerald was very fond of talking to the
sailors and getting their opinions. He strolled over to where a group
of them were standing now, and they pointed to some ugly looking
clouds, and told him that the storm would be on them by night.

Nothing very bad, or to be alarmed at, they said, still a rough and
nasty sea, with a bit of a gale blowing. The women and children
wouldn't like it, poor things, and it would be a dark night too, no
moon.

Gerald asked a few more questions.

"I have a great anxiety to see a storm," he said. "If it gets really
stormy, I'll come up; I can shelter beside the man at the wheel."

"Better not, sir," one or two said. "The vessel is sure to lurch over a
good bit, and it takes more sea-weather legs than yours to keep their
footing at such a time."

"All the same," remarked a burly-looking sailor, who was to take his
place at the wheel for some hours that night, and thought Gerald's
company would be a decided acquisition, "I could put the gent into a
corner where he'd be safe enough round here, and it's something to see
a gale in these parts--something to live for--not that there'll be much
to-night, only a bit of a dirty sea; but still----"

"Expect me, Loggan, if it does come," said Wyndham. He laughed and
turned away. He walked slowly along the upper deck. Captain Jellyby
came up and had a word with him.

"Yes, we're in for a dirty night," he remarked.

Then Wyndham went downstairs. He chatted for a little with the ladies
in the saloon. Then he went into his own cabin. He shut the door. The
time had arrived--the hour had come.

He felt wonderfully calm and quiet; he was not excited, nor did his
conscience smite him with a sense of any special wrong-doing. Right or
wrong he was going to do something on which no blessing could be asked,
over which no prayer could be uttered. He had been brought up in a
house where prayers had been many; he had whispered his own baby
prayers to his mother when he was a little child. Well, well, he would
not think of these things now. The hour was come, the moment for action
was ripe. There was a little daylight, and during that time he meant to
occupy himself with one last task; he would write a letter to his wife,
a cheerful, bright everyday letter, to the wife for whose sake he was
about to rush unbidden into the arms of death. He had a part to act,
and this letter was in the programme. To make all things safe and above
suspicion he must write it, and leave it carelessly on his table, so
that the next ship they touched should convey it to her.

He took out a sheet of foreign notepaper, and wrote steadily. His hand
did not shake, he covered the whole sheet of paper; his words were
bright, contented; no shadow of gloom touched them. They were full of
anticipation, of pleasure in the moment--of pleasure in the coming
reunion.

The writing of this letter was the very hardest task of the man's whole
life. When it was over great drops of sweat stood on his forehead. He
read it steadily, from beginning to end, however, and his only fear was
that it was too bright, and that she might see through it, as in a
mirror, the anguish beneath.

The letter was written, and now Wyndham had nothing to do. He had but
to sit with his hands before him, and wait for the gathering darkness
and the ever-increasing gale.

He sat for nearly an hour in his own cabin, he was past any consecutive
thought now; still, so great was the constraint he was able to put over
himself that outwardly he was quite calm. Presently he went into the
saloon. Cecily Harvey alone was there, all the ladies having gone in to
dinner. She sprang up with a cry of delight when she saw Gerald.

"Mr. Wyndham, have you come to stay with me? Why aren't you at dinner?
How white you look."

"I am not hungry, Cecily. I thought you would be alone, and I came out
to see you. I wanted you to give me a kiss."

"Of course I will--of course I will," said the affectionate child,
throwing her arms around his neck.

"You remind me of one of the little sisters I have lost," he said
hurriedly. "Thank you, Cecily, thank you. Be a good child, always. I
would say 'God bless you' if I dared."

"Why don't you dare? You are a good man, a very good man, the best I
know."

"Hush, Cecily, you don't know what you are talking about. Give me
another kiss. Thank you sweet little girl."

He went back again to his own cabin. The longing for compassion at this
crucial moment had made him run a risk in talking so to Cecily. He
blamed himself, but scarcely regretted the act.

It was certainly going to be a dirty night, and already the sailors
were busy overhead. The good ship creaked and strained as she to fought
her way through the waters. The ladies loudly expressed their
uneasiness, and the gentleman-passengers fought down some qualms which
they considered unmanly.

Wyndham rose from his seat in the dark, pressed his lips to the letter
he had written to his wife, suddenly he started, reeled a step and fell
back.

There is no accounting for what happened--but happen it did.

_Valentine herself stood beside him, stretched out her arms to him,
uttered a brief cry, and then vanished._

He felt like a madman; he pressed his hands to his head and rushed on
deck.

      *       *       *       *       *

"Stand there, Mr. Wyndham, there," said the sailor Loggan. "You'll be
safe enough. Oh, yes, more than one wave will wash us. Shall I lash you
to the wheel, sir? Maybe it would be safer."

"No, no, thank you."

The voice was quite quiet and calm again.

Certainly the night was a rough one, but between and under the loud
voice of the storm, Loggan and his companion exchanged some cheerful
phrases.

"No, sir, I ain't never afeared."

"What if you were to go to the bottom?"

"The will of the good God be done, sir. I'd go a-doing of my duty."

"You're an honest fellow, Loggan; shake hands with me."

"That I will, Mr. Wyndham. What are you doing with that rope, sir? It's
cold, it's slippery--oh, the knot has got loose, I'll call a man to
tighten it, sir; let me--let me. You'll be over, sir, if you don't look
out; we're going to lunge this way. Take care, sir--take care--_for
God's sake, take care_!"

Wyndham took care.



CHAPTER XXXII.


The summer came early that year. The rectory was a charming place in
the summer, and on this particular bright day in June one of the
numerous school-feasts was in course of preparation, and all the young
Wyndhams were working with a will and energy which could scarcely be
surpassed. The feast was in full progress; the village children
consumed tea and buns, as only village children can. Augusta was
refusing to help the babies to any more; Joan and Betty were
half-crying because she snatched the rich currant buns out of their
hands; Marjory was leading the most obstreporous members of her flock
away to the other end of the long meadow, where they could play orange
and lemons, nuts in May, and other festive games; and Lilias, as she
helped to pack away the remnants of the feast, was answering some
questions of Carr's.

"We ought to have heard by now," she was saying. "My father is a little
uneasy, but I am not--at least, of course, I am anxious for Valentine.
The suspense must be very trying for her!"

"When did your brother's ship sail?"

"On the 25th of March."

"And this is the 15th of June. The _Esperance_ must have been reported
at Lloyd's long ago."

"How stupid of me never to think of that," said Lilias, her face
brightening. "But would they not put the arrivals in the papers? I have
certainly looked and never seen it."

"You have probably overlooked it. I will write and inquire for you. The
_Esperance_, even allowing for delays, has probably reached its
destination some weeks ago. On the other hand it would be scarcely
possible for you to have had a letter from your brother. Yes, you are
right not to be anxious; I will go and have a chat with your father
presently. Is Mrs. Wyndham well?"

"I think so--fairly well. She is coming to stay with us next week."

Carr strolled away.

"What a nice comfortable young man he is turning into," said Marjory,
who came up at that moment. "Ah, yes, your face is brighter already for
having had an interview with him. Whisper no secrets to me. I know--I
know."

Lilias' clear brown skin was transfused with color.

"Don't be silly, Marjory," she said. "I don't mind owning that Mr. Carr
_is_ a comfortable person to talk to. He has just been removing my
fears about Gerald."

"Oh, I thought you had no fears."

"Well, father's fears, then. He has been saying things to me which will
remove my father's fears completely."

"That is right--Heaven be praised. You and the rector are nothing but a
pair of old croaks lately. Hey-ho! I am perfectly weary of your long
faces and your apprehensions. Thank goodness. Val is coming; she'll
wake us up a little."

Lilias opened her dark eyes.

"I did not know you cared so much for Valentine," she said.

"I admired her very much the last time I saw her. That was a month
ago--she seemed so spirited and courageous. I used to think her
something of a doll, but she's a woman now, and a fine one. Perhaps
it's the thought of the baby coming."

"Or perhaps," said Lilias, "she has found out at last what our Gerald
is."

"Both, most likely," said Marjory. "Anyhow, she's changed; and the
funniest part is that that old man----"

"What old man, Marjory?"

"Don't interrupt me--her father. I always call him that old man--well,
I think he's afraid of her. She doesn't pet him the way she used, but
she's very gentle with him. Oh, she's a good bit altered; there's
something in her now."

"I suppose there was always something in her," said Lilias. "For
Gerald"--her lips trembled--"gave up so much for her."

"No more than any man gives up for any woman," said Marjory. "A man
shall leave his father and mother. Oh, yes, poor old Lil, I know how
you felt it. You always made an idol of Gerald. I suppose you'll marry
some day; you are so pretty--and h'm--h'm--there's somebody waiting for
somebody--there, I don't want to tease, only when you do marry, my
pretty sister, I wonder if he'll come inside Gerald in your heart."

"I won't marry until I love some one even better than my only brother,"
replied Lilias in a grave voice. "That time has not come yet," she
added, and then she turned away.

The games went on as fast as ever; Marjory romped with the merriest.
Lilias was graver than her sister, not so fond of pastimes, perhaps not
quite so generally popular. She went into the house, sat down by the
organ in the hall and began to play. She had almost as much talent as
Gerald; her fingers wandered over the keys, she was in a dreamy mood,
and her thoughts were carrying her back to a bygone scene--to Gerald's
face on that Sunday night. She heard again the rich tones of his voice,
and heard his words:--

   "Till in the ocean of Thy love
   We loose ourselves in Heaven above."

"Oh, Gerald," she said with a kind of sob, "things have been hard for
me since you went away. It was not your marriage alone, I had prepared
myself for that; but it was more--it was more. The Church of God--you
gave that up. Yes, yes. There has been a shut door between us. Gerald,
since you and Valentine first met; and where are you now--where are you
now?"

"Lilias," said little Joan running in breathlessly, "father wants you
in his study, quickly. I don't think he's quite well. He has just had a
letter, and he looks so queer."

"I'll go to him at once," said Lilias.

She could be apprehensive enough, but in real danger, in times of real
anxiety, her head could be cool and her steps firm.

"Yes, father," she said, motioning the frightened little Joan away.

She shut the library door behind her.

"Yes, father. What is it? Jo says that you have got a letter, and that
you want me."

"Oh, I don't suppose it's anything," said the rector. "That is, I don't
mean to be uneasy. Here's the letter. Lilias. You ought to read it,
perhaps. It's from Paget. He is evidently nervous himself, but I don't
suppose there is any need. Read it, and tell me what you think."

The rector thrust a sheet of paper into his daughter's hand. Then went
over to one of his book shelves and pretended to be busy rummaging up
some folios. Lilias read as follows:--

    MY DEAR SIR,--I write on a subject of some little anxiety. I did
    not wish to trouble you before it was necessary, but now I confess
    that we--I refer to my house of business--have cause to feel
    uneasiness with regard to the fate of the _Esperance_. She is quite
    a month overdue at Sydney; even allowing for all possible delays,
    she is at least that time overdue. The last tidings of her were
    from the Cape, and it is feared from their date that she must have
    encountered rough weather in the Southern Ocean. Nothing is known,
    however, and every hour we look for a cable announcing her arrival
    at Melbourne if not at Sydney. It is possible she may have been
    injured, which will account for the delay, but I scarcely apprehend
    anything worse. I ought scarcely to say that I am anxious; up to
    the present there is no real cause to apprehend anything worse than
    an accident to the vessel. Vessels are often a month behind their
    time, and all is satisfactorily explained at the end. I am now
    troubling you with regard to another matter. I do not want my
    daughter and your son's wife to be needlessly alarmed. It is most
    important that her mind should be kept free from apprehension until
    after the birth of their child. You kindly asked her to go to see
    you. Can you have her at the rectory at once? And will you send
    Lilias to fetch her? I know you and yours will keep all fears from
    her, and, poor child, she reads my face like a book.

   Yours faithfully,

   "MORTIMER PAGET."



"Well, Lilias," said the rector. "Well? He's a little over nervous,
isn't he, eh? Vessels are often a month overdue. Eh, Lilias? But of
course they are. Somehow I'm not nervous since I got that letter. I was
before, but not now."

He rubbed his hands together as he spoke.

"It's summer now, and we'll have Gerald back before the next snow
comes. I told the boy so when he bid me good-bye; he was a bit upset
that night after you girls went to bed. Poor fellow, I had quite to
cheer him; he's a very affectionate lad. No, I'm not nervous, and I
wonder at Paget. But what do _you_ think, Lilias?"

Lilias folded up the letter, and put it back in her old father's hand.
Then she stole her arm round his neck, and kissed him.

"We will be brave," she said. "If we have fears we won't speak of them;
we have got to think of Valentine now, not of ourselves."

The rector almost shook Lilias' hand from his neck.

"Fears," he said, in a light and cheerful voice, a voice which was
belied by his tremulous hands, and by his almost petulant movement.
"Fears! my dear girl, they really don't exist. At this moment, were we
clairvoyant, we should see Gerald either rising leisurely from a good
night's rest, or sitting down to his breakfast in one of those
luxurious houses one reads of in Froude's 'Oceana.' Vessels like the
_Esperance_ don't go to the bottom. Now, Lil, at what hour will you go
to fetch Valentine? You will go up to town to-morrow, of course."

"By the first train," replied Lilias. Her lips quivered. She turned
away; there was nothing more to be said. Her father's manner did not in
the least deceive her.

"Dear old man!" she said to herself. "If he can be brave, so will I.
But oh, Gerald, does any heart ache more for you than the heart of your
sister Lilias?"



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Valentine had got a blow. The first real great blow which had ever been
dealt to her. It had a most curious effect. Instead of stunning or
rendering her weak and incapable, it suddenly changed her from a child
into a practical and clever and wide-awake woman. The very quality of
her voice changed. It became full, and inspired respect the moment she
spoke. She was quite aware that her father had deceived her, that he
did not mean her to accompany Gerald to Sydney.

She said nothing about this knowledge--not even that evening when she
got home and found her father looking ten years older, but standing on
the step of her own little home waiting for her.

"I was too late," she said, quietly. "The _Esperance_ sailed four hours
before its time. I must do without Gerald for six months; in six months
he will be home."

"In six months," echoed Mr. Paget, following her upstairs to the
drawing-room. "Kiss me, my darling," he said. "Valentine, you will come
back to your own home to-morrow."

Valentine raised her cheek to meet her father's lips.

"I think I would rather remain here," she said. "This, after all, is my
only real home; you don't mind my keeping the house, do you, father?"

"No, my dear, if you wish it. Only I thought----" His last words came
out almost tremulously.

"Sometimes we are mistaken in our thoughts," responded Valentine. "I
should like best to stay on in my husband's house. Six months will not
be long passing; and--father, I have some news for you. In July--if I
live until July--God is going to give me a child--Gerald's child and
mine. I should like it to be born here."

"Thank God," exclaimed Mr. Paget. "I am very glad of this, Valentine,"
he said. "This--this--is an inestimable mercy. I hope your child will
be a son. My dear daughter, this news lifts a great weight off my
mind."

He looked what he felt, delighted.

"Of course you must live wherever you like best," he said. "July--this
is March--the child's father will be----" but he did not finish this
sentence.

He went away soon afterwards. Ten years had been added to his life in
that one single day.

He knew, one glance into Valentine's eyes told him, that she no longer
believed in him. What was any success with the heart of his darling
turned aside?

He walked home feeling tottering and feeble; he had had a blow, but
also a strong consolation--his daughter's child--his grandson. Of
course the child should be a boy. There was something to live for in
such news as this. A boy to step into his shoes by-and-bye--to keep up
the credit of the old house; a boy who should have no shame on him, and
no dark history. Yes, yes, this was very good news, and unlooked for;
he had much to live for yet.

After this Mr. Paget followed his daughter about like a shadow. Every
day her mind and her powers were developing in fresh directions. She
had certainly lost some of the charm of her childish ways, but her gain
had been greater than her loss. Her face had always been spirituelle,
the expression sprightly, the eyes under their arched brows full of
light. People had spoken of the girlish face as beautiful, but now that
it belonged to a grave and patient, in some respects a suffering woman,
they found that it possessed more than ordinary loveliness. The soul
had come back again into Valentine's eyes. She knew two things. She
was loved--her husband told her that no woman had ever been loved so
well before. She was also to become a mother. She considered herself,
notwithstanding her crosses, blessed among women, and she resolved to
live worthily.

Patience and faith both were hers, and whenever she felt inclined to
rebel, to fret, to fume, she thought of the day when she should show
her baby to her husband, and tell him face to face that all her heart,
all her best affections were divided between him and their child.

She kept to her resolution of living on in the little house in
Park-Lane. She led a busy life, interesting herself a good deal in the
anxieties and cares of others. When a woman takes up that _rôle_ she
always finds abundance to do, for there are few pairs of shoulders that
have not a burden to carry. She also wrote by every mail to her
husband. She had already received one letter from him, posted at
Teneriffe. This letter was affectionate--cheerful. Valentine read it
over and over. It was a very nice letter, but its words did not reach
down into her heart as that other letter of Gerald's, written before he
sailed, had done. She was puzzled by it. Still she owned to herself
that it was just the letter she ought to receive, just the pleasant
happy words of a man who was leading a busy and useful life; who was
going away for a definite object, and hoped soon to return to his wife
and his home.

All went well with Valentine until a certain day. She rose as usual on
the morning of that day, went down to breakfast, opened one or two
letters, attended to a couple of domestic matters, and went slowly back
to the drawing-room. She liked to dust and tidy her little drawing-room
herself. She had put it in order this morning, had arranged fresh
flowers in the vases, and was finally giving one or two fresh touches
to Gerald's violin, which she always kept near her own piano, when she
was startled by the consciousness that she was not alone.

She raised her head, turned quickly, a cold air seemed to blow on her
face.

"Valentine!" said her husbands voice, in a tone of unspeakable agony.

She fancied she even saw his shadowy outline. She stretched out her
arms to him--he faded away.

      *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon Mrs. Wyndham paid her father a visit in the City. She
was shown into his private room by Helps, who eyed her from head to
foot with great anxiety.

Mr. Paget looked into her face and grew perceptibly paler. He was
certainly nervous in these days--nervous, and very much aged in
appearance.

"Is anything wrong, Valentine?" he could not help saying to his
daughter. It was the last sentence he wished to pass his lips--he bit
them with vexation after the words had escaped them.

"Sit down, my dear; have you come to take me for a drive,
like--like--old times?"

"I have not, father. I have come to know when you expect to hear
tidings of the arrival of the _Esperance_ at Sydney."

"Not yet, Valentine. Impossible so soon. In any case we shall have a
cable from Melbourne first--the vessel will touch there."

"When are you likely to hear from Melbourne?"

"Not for some days yet."

"But you know the probable time. Can you not ascertain it? Will you
hear in ten days? In a week? In three days?"

"You are persistent, Valentine."

Mr. Paget raised his eyes and looked at her from head to foot.

"I will ascertain," he said in an almost cold voice, as he sounded an
electric bell by his side.

Helps answered the summons.

"Helps, when is the _Esperance_ due at Melbourne?"

Again Helps glanced quickly at Mrs. Wyndham; he was standing rather
behind her, but could catch a glimpse of her face.

"By the end of May," he said, speaking slowly. His quick eyes sought
his chief's; they took their cue. "Not sooner," he continued. "Possibly
by the end of May."

"Thank you," said Valentine.

The man withdrew.

"I have nearly a month to wait," she said, rising and looking at her
father. "I did not know that the voyage would be such a lengthy one.
When you do hear the news will be bad, father; yes, the news will be
bad. I have nothing to say about it, no explanation to offer, only I
know."

Before Mr. Paget could make a single reply, Valentine had left him. He
was decidedly alarmed about her.

"Can she be going out of her mind?" he soliloquized. "Women sometimes
do before the birth of their children. What did she mean? It is
impossible for her to know anything. Pshaw! What is there to know? I
verily believe I am cultivating that abomination of the age--nerves!"

Whatever Valentine did mean, she met her father that evening as if
nothing had happened. She was bright, even cheerful; she played and
sang for him. He concluded that she was not out of her mind, that she
had simply had a fit of the dismals, and dismissed the matter.

The month passed by, slowly for Valentine--very slowly, also, for her
father. It passed into space, and there was no news of the _Esperance_.
More days went by, no news, no tidings of any sort. Valentine thought
the vessel was a fortnight overdue. Her father knew that it was at
least a month behind its time. When he wrote his letter to the rector
of Jewsbury-on-the-Wold he felt even more anxious than his words seemed
to admit.

The day after the receipt of this letter Lilias came to town and took
Valentine home with her. The next morning Mr. Paget went as usual to
his office. His first inquiry was for news of the _Esperance_. The
invariable answer awaited him.

"No tidings as yet."

He went into the snug inner room where he lunched, where Valentine's
picture hung, and where he had made terms with Gerald Wyndham. He sank
down into an easy-chair, and covered his face with his hands.

"Would to God this suspense were at an end," he said.

The words had scarcely passed his lips when Helps knocked for admission
at the inner door, he opened it, caught a glimpse of his servant's
face, and fell back.

"You heard," he said. "Come in and tell me quick. The _Esperance_ is
lost, and every soul on board----"

"Hush, sir," said Helps. "There's no news of the _Esperance_. Command
yourself, sir. It isn't that--it's the other thing. The young gentleman
from India, he's outside--he wants to see you."

"Good God, Helps. Positively I'm faint. Shut the door for a moment; he
has come, then. You are sure?"

"This is his card, sir. Mr. George Carmichael."

"Give me a moment's time, Helps. So he has come. It would have been all
right but for this confounded uncertainty with regard to the
_Esperance_. But it is all right, of course. Plans such as mine don't
fail, they are too carefully made. All the same, I am shaken, Helps.
Helps, I am growing into an old man."

"You do look queer, Mr. Paget; have a little brandy, sir; you'd
better."

"Thank you; a little, then. Open that cupboard, you will find the
flask. Brandy steadies the nerves. Now I am better. Helps, it was in
this room I made terms with young Wyndham."

"God forgive you, sir, it was."

"Why do you say that? You did not disapprove at the time."

"I didn't know Mr. Wyndham, sir; had I known, I wouldn't have allowed
breathing man to harm a hair of his head."

"How would you have prevented it?"

"How?"

The old clerk's face took an ugly look.

"Split on you, and gone to prison, of course," he said. "Now, shall I
send Mr. George Carmichael in? It was for his sake you did it. My God,
what a sin you sinned! I see Mr. Wyndham's face every night of my life.
Good God, why should men like him be hurled out of the world because of
sinners like you and me?"

"He's not hurled out of the world," exclaimed Mr. Paget.

He rose and swore a great oath. Then he said in a quieter voice:--

"Ask Mr. Carmichael to step into my office."

"Into this room, sir?"

"Into this room. Go, fool."

Certainly Mr. Paget had some admirable qualities. By the time a
pale-faced, slight, languid-looking man made his appearance, he was
perfectly calm and self-possessed. He spoke in a courteous tone to his
visitor, and bade him be seated.

They exchanged a few common-places. Then Mr. George Carmichael, who
showed far more uneasiness than his host, explained the motive of his
visit.

"You knew my father," he said. "Owing to a strange circumstance, which
perhaps you are aware of, but which scarcely concerns the object of
this call, certain papers of importance did not come into my hands
until I was of age. These are the papers."

He placed two yellow documents on the table.

"I find by these that I am entitled to money which you hold in trust."

"You are," said Mr. Paget, with a kindly smile.

"I am puzzled to know why I was never made aware of the fact. I was
brought up as a poor man. I had no expectations. I have not been
educated to meet the position which in reality awaited me. Somebody has
done me a wrong."

"I assure you not me, Mr. Carmichael. Perhaps, however, I can throw
some light on the subject. If you will do me the favor of dining with
me some evening we can talk the matter over at our leisure."

"Thank you, I have very little leisure."

The stranger was wonderfully restless.

"After a struggle I have succeeded in obtaining a good post in
Calcutta. I hurried over to see you. I must hurry back to my work. Oh,
yes, thanks, I like India. The main point is, when can you hand me over
my money. With interest it amounts to----"

"Including interest it amounts to eighty thousand pounds, Mr.
Carmichael. Allow me to congratulate you, sir, as a man of fortune.
There is no need to hurry back to that beggarly clerkship."

"It's not a clerkship, Mr. Paget, nor beggarly. I'm a partner in a
rising concern. The other man's name is Parr; he has a wife and
children, and I wouldn't desert him for the world. Eighty thousand
pounds! By Jove, won't Parr open his eyes."

Mr. George Carmichael was now so excited that his shyness vanished.

"When can I have my money, sir?"

"In a month's time."

"Not until then? I wanted to go back to India next week."

"It can be sent after you."

A slow suspicious smile crept round the young man's lips; he looked
more well-bred than he was.

"None of that," he said. "I don't stir until I get the cheque. I say,
can't you give it me at once? It's mine."

"Not a day sooner than a month. I must take that time to realize so
large a sum. You shall have it this day month."

"Beastly inconvenient. Parr will be in no end of a taking. I suppose
there's no help for it, however."

"None."

"This is the 17th of June. Now you're not playing me a trick, are you?
You'll pay me over that money all square on the 17th of July."

Mr. Paget had an imposing presence. He rose now, slowly, stood on the
hearthrug, under his daughter's picture, and looked down at his guest.

"I am sorry for you," he said. "Your education has certainly been
imperfect. Your father was a gentleman, and my friend. You, I regret to
say, are not a gentleman. I don't repeat my invitation to dine at my
house. With regard to the money it shall be in your hands on the 17th
July. I am rather pressed for time this morning, Mr. Carmichael, and
must ask you to leave me. Stay, however, a moment. You are, of course,
prepared to give me all proofs of identity?"

"What do you mean, sir?"

"What I say. The certificate of the marriage of your parents and
certificate of the proof that you are the person you represent yourself
to be must be forthcoming. I must also have letters from your friends
in India. No doubt, of course--no doubt who you are, but these things
are necessary."

Notwithstanding that he was the owner of eighty thousand pounds, Mr.
George Carmichael left the august presence of the head of Paget
Brothers feeling somewhat crestfallen.

He had scarcely done so before Helps rushed in.

"A cable, sir! Praise the Lord, a cable at last!"

He thrust the sheet of paper into his employer's hands. It came from
Melbourne, and bore the date of the day before.

    "_Esperance_ arrived safely. Delay caused by broken machinery.
    Accident of a painful nature on board. Full particulars by mail.

    "JELLYBY."



CHAPTER XXXIV.


Mr. Paget was most careful that the full contents of the cable did not
go to his daughter at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. He read it three or four
times, then he took up a telegraph form and wired to her as follows:--

   "_Esperance_ arrived safely. Delay caused by injury to machinery."

This telegram caused intense rejoicing at the rectory, and Mr. Paget
had his gloomy part to himself. He conned that part over and over.

A serious accident. To whom? About whom? What a fool that Jellyby was
not to have given him more particulars. Why did that part of the
cablegram fill him with consternation? Why should he feel so certain
that the accident in question referred to his son-in-law? Well, he must
wait over a month for news, and during that month he must collect
together eighty thousand pounds. Surely he had enough to think of. Why
should his thoughts revert to Wyndham with an ever-increasing dread?

"Wyndham is safe enough," he said. "Jolly enough, too, I make no doubt.
His money waits for him at Ballarat. Of course bad news will come, but
_I_ shall see through it. Oh, yes, _I_ shall see through it fast
enough."

Days of suspense are hard days--long and weary days. As these days
crept one by one away Mr. Paget became by no means an easy person to
live with. His temper grew morose, he was irritable, manifestly ill at
ease, and he would often for hours scarcely utter a word.

The 17th of July passed. Mr. Carmichael again called for his money. A
part was paid to him, the balance the head of the great shipping firm
assured the young man could not possibly be forthcoming for another
month or six weeks.

"I am sorry," Mr. Paget said, "extremely sorry not to be able to fulfil
my word to the letter. But I must have time to realize such a large
sum, and I greatly fear I must claim it."

Mr. Carmichael had a cheque in his hand for ten thousand pounds. He
could scarcely feel discontented at such a moment, and took his
departure grumbling but elated.

"Helps," said Mr. Paget, "I have taken that ten thousand pounds out of
the business, and it can ill afford to lose it. If news does not come
soon we are undone, and all our plotting and planning won't save the
old place nor the honor of the old house."

"No fear," muttered Helps. "The news will come. I have bad dreams at
night. The house will be saved. Don't you fret, Mr. Paget."

He went out of the room looking as morose and ugly as possible, and
Mortimer Paget hurled no blessings after him.

The next day was fraught with tidings. A thick packet lay on the
chief's desk, bearing the imprint of the _Esperance_ on it. By the side
of the packet was a telegram. He opened the telegram first:--

     Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, 10 a.m.

    "Valentine had a son this morning. Both doing well."

The tears absolutely sprang to Mr. Paget's eyes. His hands trembled; he
looked round furtively; there was no one by. Then he raised the
telegram to his lips and kissed it. Valentine had a son--he had a
grandson. Another head of the old house had arisen on the horizon.

He rang his electric bell; he was so excited that he could not keep
these tidings to himself.

"I have sent for you to receive your congratulations, Helps," he said;
"and--and here's a cheque for ten pounds. You must go home early and
have a good supper--champagne and all that sort of thing. Not a word,
Helps, my good fellow, you deserve it. You quite deserve it!"

"May I ask what for, Mr. Paget? Forgive me, sir. I see that the packet
from the _Esperance_ has come."

"So it has. It can wait. Take your money, Helps, and drink my
grandson's health. He arrived this morning, bless him--my daughter had
a son this morning."

"Indeed, sir. It's a pity the father isn't there. It would have been
pretty to have seen Mr. Wyndham as a father. Yes, sir. I'm glad your
young lady is doing well. Babes come with trouble, and it seems to me
they mostly go with trouble. All the same, we make a fuss of them--and
the world's too full as it is."

"This child supplies a long felt need," replied the baby's grandfather,
frowning. "He is the future head of the house."

"Poor innocent. Yes, sir, I congratulate you as in duty bound. You'll
soon read that packet, won't you, sir. It seems a sort of a coincidence
like, getting news of the father and the babe in one breath."

"I'll read the packet presently," said Mr. Paget. "Go away now, Helps;
don't disturb me."

Left alone, the pleased man spread out the pink sheet of paper in such
a position that his eye could constantly rest on it. Then he broke the
seal of Captain Jellyby's yarn, and began to read.



CHAPTER XXXV.


   _Esperance_, April 10.

    "MY DEAR SIR,--

    "I begin a letter to you under peculiarly afflicting circumstances.
    Your son-in-law, the favorite of every one on board, one of the
    nicest young gentlemen I have had the luck to meet, fell overboard
    last night, between nine and ten o'clock, when a very heavy sea was
    running. He was standing at the wheel, talking to a sailor of the
    name of Loggan. Loggan said he was very cheerful and keen to watch
    the storm. He was helping to tighten up a bit of rope when the boat
    gave a lurch. Loggan shouted to him to take care, but he was taken
    off his feet, and the next moment was in the water. We put out the
    boats and did all in our power, but in addition to the storm the
    night was very dark, and we never saw nor heard anything more of
    the unfortunate young gentleman. The night was so rough he must
    have gone to the bottom almost directly. I cannot express to you,
    sir, what a gloom this has cast upon all on board. As I said
    already, your son-in-law was beloved by passengers and sailors
    alike. His death was due to the most ordinary accident.

    "Well, sir, regrets are useless, but if regrets would bring Mr.
    Wyndham back, he would be safe and well now; he was one of the most
    taking young men I ever came across, and also one of the best.
    Please give my respectful condolences to his poor young widow----"

Here there was a break in the narrative. It was taken up some days
later.

    "I had scarcely written the last when an awful thing happened.
    There was a fearful crash on board, and in short, sir, our funnel
    was blown down. I can scarcely go into particulars now, but for
    many days we lay at the mercy of the waves, and I never thought to
    see land any more. It speaks well for the worthiness of the
    _Esperance_ that she weathered such a gale. But for many days and
    nights the destruction to your property, for the water poured in in
    all parts, and the miserable state of the passengers, baffles
    description. The ship was in such a condition that we could not use
    steam, and when the storm abated had to drift as best we could.
    For our main masts were also broken, and we could put on scarcely
    any sail. Our provisions were also becoming short.

    "A week ago, by the mercy of God, we came within hail of the
    steamer _Salamanca_, which towed us into port, and the _Esperance_
    has been put into dock at Melbourne for repairs.

    "Under these appalling circumstances, Mr. Wyndham's loss has not
    been forgotten, but to a certain extent cast on one side. Perhaps I
    ought to say here; sir, that when your son-in-law commenced his
    voyage to Sydney under my auspices, he appeared to be in such a
    state of agitation, and in such distress of mind, that I feared for
    his brain, and wondered if you had sent him on this voyage by a
    doctor's orders. He made also a request to me which seemed to
    confirm this view. He begged me not to let out to anyone on board
    the smallest particulars (I really did not know any) of his
    history. In especial he did not wish his wife spoken of. He looked
    strange when he made these requests, and even now I can see the
    despair in his eyes when I refused--you will remember, sir, by your
    express desire--to touch at Plymouth. I may as well say frankly,
    that had Mr. Wyndham continued as depressed as he was the first few
    days of the voyage, I should have scarcely considered his untimely
    end altogether due to accident. But I am happy to be able to
    reassure your mind on that point. That he felt the separation from
    his wife terribly at first there is no doubt, but there is also no
    doubt that he got over this feeling, that he was healthily happy,
    and altogether the brightest fellow on board. In short, sir, he was
    the life of the ship; even now we are never done lamenting him.
    Untimely as his fate was, no one could have been more ready to rush
    suddenly into the presence of his Maker. I enclose with this a
    formal certificate of Mr. Wyndham's death, with the latitude and
    longitude of the exact spot where he must have gone down accurately
    described. This certificate is duly attested by the Consul here,
    and I delayed one day in writing to you in order that it should go.

   "I remain, sir,

   "Yours respectfully,

   "HARRY JELLYBY."

   "P.S.--I forgot to mention that two of our boats have been absolutely
   lost; but I will send you a full list of casualties by next mail."


Helps had never felt more restless than he did that morning; he could
not attend to his ordinary avocations. Truth to tell, Helps' position
in the house of Paget Brothers had always been more or less a dubious
one. It was patent to all that he was confided in to a remarkable
degree by the head of the house. It was also observed that he had no
special or defined post. In short that he did a little of everybody's
work, and seemed to have nothing absolutely depending on himself.

All the same, when Helps was away the whole establishment felt a loss.
If the old clerk was useful for no other purpose, he was at least
valuable as a scape-goat. He could bear blame which belonged to others.
It was convenient to make excuses, and to shift uncomfortable omissions
of all sorts from one's own shoulders.

"Oh, I thought Helps would have seen to that."

Helps saw to a great deal, and was perfectly indifferent to these
inuendoes. Of one thing he was certain, that they would never reach the
chief's ears.

On this particular morning Helps would assist no one; he had ten pounds
in his pocket, and he knew that the future owner of the great business
lay in his cradle at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. Little cared he for that.

"What news of Mr. Wyndham?" This was his thought of thoughts. "What
secret lies hidden within that sealed packet? What is my master doing
now? When will he ring for me? How soon shall I know the best and the
worst? Oh, God, why did I let that young man go? Why didn't I split?
What's prison, after all? My God, what _is_ prison compared to a heart
on fire!"

Helps pottered about. He was a very wizened grey little fellow. The
clerks found him decidedly in the way. They muttered to one another
about him, and Mr. Manners, one of the juniors, requested him in a very
cutting voice to shut the door and go away.

Helps obeyed the command to the very letter. By this time his state of
mind might have been described as on the rack. For two hours Mr. Paget
had been reading that letter. Impossible; no letter would take that
time to read. Why had he not rung? Surely he must know what Helps was
enduring. Surely at this crisis of his fate--at this crisis of both
their fates--he must want to see his faithful servant. Why then did he
not ring?

At last in despair Helps knocked at the door of the outer office. There
was no answer. He turned the handle, pushed the door ajar and went in.
The room was empty. Mr. Paget's pile of ordinary business letters lay
unopened on his desk. Helps went up to the door of the inner room, and
pressed his ear against the keyhole. There was not a stir within. He
knocked against a chair, and threw down a book on purpose. If anything
living would bring Mr. Paget out it was the idea of anyone entering, or
disarranging matters in his office. Helps disarranged matters wildly;
he threw down several books, he upset more than one chair; still the
master did not appear. At last he knocked at the door of the inner
room. There was no response. Then he knocked again, louder. Then he
hammered with his fists. Then he shook the door. No response. The inner
room might as well have been a grave. He rushed away at last for tools
to break open the door. He was terribly frightened, but even now he had
sufficient presence of mind not to bring a third person to share his
master's secret. He came back with a pick-lock, a hammer and one or two
other implements. He locked the door of the outer office, and then he
set boldly to work. He did not care what din he made; he was past all
thought of that now. The clerks outside got into a frantic state of
excitement; but that fact, had he known it, would have made no
difference to Helps.

At last his efforts were crowned with success. The heavy door yielded,
and flew open with a bang. Helps fell forward into the room himself. He
jumped up hastily. A quiet, orderly, snug room! The picture of a fair
and lovely girl looking down from the wall! a man with grey hair
stretched on the hearthrug under the picture! a man with no life, nor
motion, nor movement. Helps flew to his master. Was he dead? No, the
eyes were wide open; they looked at Helps, and one of the hands was
stretched out, and clutched at Helps' arm, and pulled it wildly aside.

"What is it, my dear master?" said the man, for there was that in the
face which would have melted any heart to pity.

"Don't! Stand out of my light," said Mr. Paget. "Hold me--steady
me--let me get up. He's there--there by the window!"

"Who, my dear sir? Who?"

"The man I've murdered! He's there. Between me and the light. It's
done. He's standing between me and the light. Tell him to move away. I
have murdered him! I know that. Between me and the light--the _light_!
Tell him to move away--tell him--tell him!"

Mortimer Paget gave a great shriek, and covered his terrified eyes with
his trembling hands!



CHAPTER XXXVI.


"What is the matter, Lilias? I did not do anything wrong."

The speaker was Augusta Wyndham.

Three years have passed away since she last appeared in this story; she
is grown up now, somewhat lanky still, with rather fierce dark eyes,
and a somewhat thin pronounced face. She is the kind of girl who at
eighteen is still all angles, but there are possibilities for her, and
at five and twenty, if time deals kindly with her, and circumstances
are not too disastrous, she might be rounded, softened, she might have
developed into a handsome woman.

"What is it, Lilias?" she said now. "Why do you look at me like that?"

"It is the same old story, Gussie," replied Lilias, whose brown cheeks
were paler, and her sweet eyes larger than of old; "you are always
wanting in thought. It was thoughtless of you to make Valentine walk
home, and with little Gerry, too. She will come in fagged and have a
headache. I relied on your seeing to her, Gussie; when I asked you to
take the pony chaise I thought of her more than you, and now you've
come back in it all alone, without even fetching baby."

"Well, Lilias." Augusta paused, drew herself up, leant against the
nearest paling, crossed her legs, and in a provokingly petulant voice
began to speak.

"With how much more of all that is careless and all that is odious are
you going to charge me?" she said. "Oh, of course, 'Gussie never can
think.' Now I'll tell you what this objectionable young woman Augusta
did, and then you can judge for yourself. I drove to Netley Farm, and
got the butter and the eggs, and then I went on to see old James Holt,
the gardener, for I thought he might have those bulbs we wanted ready.
Then I drew up at the turnstile, and waited for that precious Mrs. Val
of yours."

"Don't," said Lilias. "Remember whose----"

"As if I ever forget--but he--he had others beside her--he never had
any Augusta except me," two great tears gathered in the great brown
eyes; they were dashed hastily aside, and the speaker went on.

"There's twice too much made of her, and that's a fact. You live for
her, you're her slave, Lilias. It's perfectly ridiculous--it's absurd.
You have sunk your whole life into hers, and since Marjory's wedding
things have been worse. You simply have no life but in her. He wouldn't
wish it; he hated anyone to be unselfish except himself. Well,
then--oh, then, I won't vex the dear old thing. Have you forgiven me,
Lil? I know I'm such a chatter-pate. I hope you have forgiven me."

"Of course I have, Gussie. I'm not angry with you, there's nothing to
be angry about. You are a faulty creature, I admit, but I also declare
you to be one of the greatest comforts of my life."

"Well, that's all right--that's as it should be. Now for my narrative.
I waited by the turnpike. Valentine and baby were to meet me there. No
sign of them. I waited a long time. Then I tied Bob to the gate, and
started on discovery bent. You know it is a pretty lane beyond the
turnpike, the hedges hid me. I walked along, whistling and shaking my
whip. Presently I was assailed by the tuneful duet of two voices. I
climbed the hedge and peeped over. I looked into a field. What did I
see? Now, Lilias the wise, guess what I saw?"

"Valentine and our little Gerald," responded Lilias. "She was talking
to him; she has a sweet voice, and surely there never was a dearer
little pipe than wee Gerry's. They must have looked pretty sitting on
the grass."

"They looked very pretty--but your picture is not quite correct. For
instance, baby was sound asleep."

"Oh, then, she had him in her arms, and was cooing to him. A lovelier
scene than ever, Augusta."

"A very lovely scene, Lilias; only, one woman's voice would not make a
duet."

Something in Augusta's eyes caused Lilias to droop her own. She turned
aside to pick a spray of briony.

"Tell me what you saw," she said abruptly.

"I saw Valentine and Adrian Carr. They were sitting close together, and
baby was asleep on _his_ breast, not on hers, and he was comforting
her, for when I peeped over I saw him touch her hand, and then I saw
her raise her handkerchief and wipe away some tears. Crocodile's tears,
I call them. Now, Lilias, out of my way. I mean to vault over this
gate."

"What for, dear?"

"To relieve my feelings. Now I'm better. Won't you have a try?"

"No, thank you, I don't vault gates."

"Aren't you going to show anything? Good gracious, I should simply
explode if I had to keep in things the way you do. Now, what's the
matter? You look white all the same; whiter than you did ten minutes
ago. Oh, if it was me, I couldn't keep still. I should roar like a
wounded lion."

"But I am not a wounded lion, Augusta, dear."

Lilias laid her hand on her sister's shoulder.

"I am older than you," she continued, "and perhaps quieter. Life has
made me quieter. We won't say anything about what you saw, Augusta.
Perhaps none of us have such a burden to bear as Valentine."

"Now, Lilias, what stuff you talk. Oh, she's a humbug, and I hate her.
There, I will say it, just for once. She took Gerald away, and now she
wants to take Adrian from you. Oh, I know you're an angel--you'd bear
anything, but I'm not quite a fool."

"They are coming; you _must_ hush," said Lilias, putting her hand
across her young sister's lips.

Augusta cast two wrathful eyes behind her, lightly vaulted back over
the gate, and vanished from view round the first corner. Lilias opened
the gate, and went slowly to meet the group who were coming down the
dusty country road.

Valentine was in black, but not in widow's weeds. She had a shady hat
over her clustering bright hair, and round this hat, the baby, little
Gerry, had stuck quantities of leaves and grasses and what wild flowers
his baby fingers could clutch. With one hand she was holding up her
long dress; her other held a basket of primroses, and her face, bright
now with color in the cheeks, laughter on the lips, and the fire of
affection in the eyes, was raised to where her sturdy little son sat on
Carr's broad shoulder.

The child was a handsome little fellow, cast in a far more masculine
mould than his father, to whom he bore scarcely any resemblance.

As Lilias, in her dark grey dress, approached, she looked altogether a
more sorrowful and grief-touched figure than the graceful, almost
childish young widow who came to meet her.

So Carr thought, as with a softened light in his eyes he glanced at
Lilias.

"A certain part of her heart was broken three years ago," he inwardly
commented. "Can I--is it in my power--will it ever be in my power to
comfort her?"

But Lilias, knowing nothing of these feelings, only noted the
happy-looking picture.

"Here we are!" said Carr, catching the boy from his shoulder and
letting him jump to the ground. "Run to your auntie now, little man."

Off waddled the small fat legs. Lilias stooped and received the
somewhat dusty embrace of two rounded arms, while cherub lips were
pressed on hers.

"You do comfort me, little Gerry," she gasped under her breath.

Then she rose, almost staggering under his weight.

"Let me carry him for you," said Carr, coming up to her.

"No, thank you, I like to have him," she said; and she turned and
walked by Valentine's side.

"Are you tired, Val? I did not mean you to walk home. I sent Augusta
with Bob and the basket chaise. I thought you knew they were to meet
you at the turnpike."

"I'm afraid I forgot," answered Valentine. "I met Mr. Carr, and we came
to a delicious field, full of primroses, and baby wanted to pick lots,
didn't you, treasure? We sat and had a rest; I am not very tired, and
Mr. Carr carried this big boy all the way home. Hey-ho," she continued,
throwing off her hat, and showing a head as full of clustering
richly-colored hair as of old, "what a lovely day it is, it makes me
feel young. Come along, baby, we'll race together to the house. It's
time for you to go to sleep, little master. Now, then--baby first,
mother after--one, two, three and away!"

The child shouted with glee, the mother raced after him, they
disappeared through the rose-covered porch of the old rectory. Lilias
raised two eyes full of pain to Carr's.

"Is she beginning to forget?" she asked.

"No; why should you say so? She will never forget."

"She looked so young just now--so like a child. Poor Val! She was only
twenty-two her last birthday. Mr. Carr. I don't want her to forget."

"In one sense rest assured she never will--in another--would you wish
her to endure a life-long pain?"

"I would--I would. It was done for her--she must never forget."

"You always allow me to say plain words, don't you?" said Carr. "May I
say some now?"

"Say anything you please, only don't teach her to forget."

"What do you mean?"

The man's eyes blazed. Lilias colored all over her face.

"I mean nothing," she said hurriedly. "Come into the flower-garden. We
shall have a great show of roses this year. Come and look at the buds.
You were going to say something to me," she added presently.

"Yes. I was going to prepare you for what may come by-and-bye. It is
possible that in the future--remember. I don't know anything--but it is
possible that in the future your young sister-in-law may once more be
happy. I don't know how--I am not going to prognosticate anything, but
I think as a rule one may safely infer that the very bitterest grief,
the most poignant sorrows which come before twenty are not abiding.
Mrs. Wyndham has her child. It would not do for the child to associate
only sorrow with the mother's face. Some time in the future she will be
happy again. It is my opinion that your brother would be glad of this."

"Hush; you don't know. My brother--my only brother! I at least can
never be the Lilias of old."

"I believe you," said Carr much moved by her tone. "You, too, are very
young; but in your heart, Miss Wyndham, in your heart, you were an
older woman, a woman more acquainted with the grave side of life, than
that poor young thing was when the blow fell."

Lilias did not answer for a moment or two.

"I am glad Marjory is out of it all," she said then. "You know what a
long nervous illness she had at the time. Dear old Marjory, she was
such a tempestuous darling."

"But she is happy now."

"Oh, yes, she has her husband. Philip is very good, he suits Marjory.
Yes, she is quite happy now, and I am not miserable--you mustn't think
it. I know in whom I have believed."

Her eyes were raised to the sky overhead.

"I know He won't fail me. Some day Gerald and I shall meet."

"Some day, assuredly," answered Carr.

"And in the meantime, I am not unhappy, only I don't intend ever to
forget. Nor shall she."

"One question," said Carr. "Have you heard news lately of Mrs.
Wyndham's father?"

"I believe he has recovered. He never comes here. I must own I have a
great antipathy to Valentine's father. I don't want to hear of him nor
to think of him."

"I can understand that. Still, if it will not trouble you greatly I
should like to ask you a question or two with regard to him. He was
very ill, at the--at the time, wasn't he?"

"He was very ill, mentally, he was quite off his head for several
months."

"Don't you think that was rather strange?"

"I never thought much about it, as far as he was concerned. Of course
he must have had a dreadful shock."

"But not such a shock as you had. Not a shock to be named with what
that poor girl, his daughter, went through. Your brother was not his
own son, and--and----"

"I never thought about it, Mr. Carr. I heard that he was ill, and that
the illness was mental. He has been quite well again for some time."

"I assure you you're mistaken. I met him a fortnight ago in town. I
never saw a man so completely altered in the whole course of my life."

"Please don't tell me about him. It never was, nor could be, an
interesting subject. Ah, there is my dear father calling me. I must run
to him."

The rector was seen approaching. His figure was slightly more bent, and
his hair whiter than of old. Lilias linked her hand within his arm, and
Carr turned away.

"I can never have it out with her," he said to himself. "I never seem
to have the courage when I'm with her. And besides, I don't believe
she'd leave her father. But if she did--if I ever could hope to win her
for my wife, then I might venture to whisper to her some of my
suspicions. How little she guesses what my thoughts are. Can I act in
any way without consulting her? I have a good mind to try."



CHAPTER XXXVII.


The house of Paget Brothers was never more flourishing than during the
spring and summer of 18--. It was three years since the death of its
junior partner, Gerald Wyndham, and three years since Mortimer Paget
had paid away in full the trust money of eighty thousand pounds which
he owed to George Carmichael, of the firm of Carmichael, Parr and Co.,
Calcutta. Although none of the parties concerned quite intended it,
certain portions of the story of this trust got abroad, and became the
subject of a nine days' gossip in the City and elsewhere. It had never
even been whispered that Paget Brothers were in difficulties. Still
such a sum would not be easy to find even in the wealthiest concern.
Then the fact also trickled out that Wyndham's life had been insured,
heavily insured, in three or four different offices. His death must
have come in handily, people said, and they said no more--just then.

The fact was, that had one been even inclined to suspect foul play, Mr.
Paget's dangerous illness at the time would have prevented their doing
so. Surely no man ever before grieved so bitterly for a dead son-in-law
as did this man. The blow had felled him with a stroke. For many months
his mind gave way utterly. The words spoken in delirium are seldom
considered valuable. What Mr. Paget did or said during the dark summer
which followed Wyndham's death never got known. In the autumn he was
better; that winter he went abroad, and the following spring he once
more was seen in the City.

He looked very old, people said, but he was as shrewd and careful a
business man as ever.

"I have to put things in order for my grandson," he would say.

Nobody ever saw him smile just then, but a light used to come into his
sunken dark eyes when the child's name was mentioned.

Valentine and the boy spent most of their time in the old house in
Park-Lane. She was very gentle with her father, but the relations they
had once borne to each other were completely altered. He now rather
shrank from her society. She had to seek him, not he her. He was
manifestly ill at ease when in her presence. It was almost impossible
to get him to come to see her in her own house. When he did so he was
attacked by a curious nervousness. He could seldom sit still; he often
started and looked behind him. Once or twice he perceptibly changed
color, and on all occasions he gave a sigh of relief when he said
good-bye.

The child visited his grandfather oftener than the mother did. With the
child Mortimer Paget was absolutely at home and happy.

The third summer after Wyndham's death passed away. Valentine spent
most of the time at Jewsbury-on-the-Wold. Mr. Paget went abroad, as he
always did, during August and September. In October he was once more in
town. Valentine came back to London, and their small world settled down
for its usual winter routine.

On all sides there were talks of this special winter proving a hard
one, the cold commenced early and lasted long. In all the poorer
quarters of the great city there were signs of distress. Want is a
haggard dame. Once known her face is dreaded. As the days grew short,
the darkness deepened, and the fogs became frequent, she was often seen
stalking about the streets. Poorly clad children, shivering women,
despairing defiant-looking men all trembled and fled before her. The
cold was intense, work became slack, and then, to increase all other
evils, the great cruel monster, Strike, put down his iron heel. Want is
his invariable handmaid. Between them they did much havoc.

It was on a certain short November day of this special winter that
Mortimer Paget arrived early at his office. He drove there in his
comfortable brougham, and stepped out into the winter cold and fog,
wrapped up in his rich furs. As he did so a woman with two small
children came hastily up, cast a furtive glance to right and left, saw
no policeman near, and begged in a high piteous whining voice for alms.

Mr. Paget had never been known to give alms indiscriminately. He was
not an uncharitable man, but he hated beggars. He took not the least
notice of the woman, although she pushed one of the hungry children
forward who raised two piteous blue eyes to the hard man's face.

"Even a couple of pence!" she implored. "The father's on strike, and
they've had nothing to eat since yesterday morning."

"I don't give indiscriminate charity," said Mr. Paget. "If your case is
genuine, you had better apply at the nearest office of the Charity
Organization."

He was pushing open the outer office door when something arrested his
attention.

A man came hurriedly up from a side street, touched the woman on the
shoulder, lifted one of the hungry children into his arms, and the
whole party hurried away. The man was painfully thin, very shabbily
dressed, in a long frock coat, which was buttoned tight. He had a beard
and moustache, and a soft slouch hat was pushed well forward over his
eyes.

The woman's face lit up when she saw him. Both the children smiled, and
the whole group moved rapidly away.

The effect of this shabby man's presence on those three helpless and
starving creatures was as if the sun had come out. Mr. Paget staggered
to his office, walked through the outer rooms as if he were dazed,
sought his sanctum, and sat down shaking in every limb.

Since his strange illness of three years ago, Helps had been more like
a servant and nurse to him than an ordinary clerk. It was his custom to
attend his master on his first arrival, to see to his creature
comforts, to watch his moods.

Helps came in as usual this morning. Mr. Paget had removed his hat, and
was gazing in a dull vacant way straight before him.

"You are not yourself this morning, sir," said the clerk.

He pushed a footstool under the old man's feet, removed the fur-lined
overcoat and took it away. Then standing in front of him he again
said:--

"Sir, you are not yourself to-day."

"The old thing, Helps," said Mr. Paget. He shook himself free of some
kind of trance with an effort. "The doctors said I should be quite well
again, as well as ever. They are mistaken, I shall never be quite well.
I saw him in the street just now, Helps."

"Indeed, sir?"

It was Helps' _rôle_ as much as possible to humor his patient.

"Yes, I saw him just now--he takes many guises; he was in a new one
to-day--a starved clerk out of employment. That was his guise to-day. I
should not have recognized him but for his hand. Perhaps you remember
Wyndham's hand, Helps? Very slender, long and tapered--the hand of a
musician. He took a ragged child in his arms, and his hand--there was
nothing weak about it--clasped another child who was also starved and
hungry. Undoubtedly it was Wyndham--Wyndham in a new guise--he will
never leave me alone."

"If I were you, Mr. Paget," said Helps after a pause. "I'd open the
letters that are waiting for replies. You know what the doctor said,
that when the fancy came you mustn't dwell on it. You must be sure and
certain not to let it take a hold on you, sir. Now you know, just as
well as I do, that you didn't see poor Mr. Wyndham--may Heaven preserve
his soul! Is it likely now, sir, that a spirit like Mr. Wyndham's,
happy above the sky with the angels, would come down on earth to
trouble and haunt you? Is it likely now, sir? If I were you I'd cast
the fancy from me!"

Mr. Paget raised his hand to sweep back the white hair from his hollow,
lined face.

"You believe in heaven then, Helps?"

"I do for some folks, sir. I believe in it for Mr. Gerald Wyndham."

"Fudge; you thought too well of the fellow. Do you believe in heaven
for suicides?"

"Sir--no, sir--his death came by accident."

"It did not; he couldn't go through with the sacrifice, so he ended his
life, and he haunts me, curse him!"

"Mr. Paget, I hope God will forgive you."

"He won't, so you needn't waste your hopes. A man has cast his blood
upon my soul. Nothing can wash the blood away. Helps, I'm the most
miserable being on earth. I walk through hell fire every day."

"Have your quieting mixture, sir; you know the doctor said you must not
excite yourself. There, now you are better. Shall I help you to open
your letters, sir?"

"Yes, Helps, do; you're a good soul, Helps. Don't leave me this
morning; he'll come in at the door if you do."

There came a tap at the outer office. Some one wanted to speak to the
chief. A great name was announced.

In a moment Mr. Paget, from being the limp, abject wretch whom Helps
had daily to comfort and sustain, became erect and rigid. From head to
foot he clothed himself as in a mask. Erect as in his younger days he
walked into the outer room, and for two hours discussed a matter which
involved the loss or gain of thousands.

When his visitor left him he did so with the inward remark:--

"Certainly Paget's intellect and nerve may be considered colossal."



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


Esther Helps still took charge of her father's house in Acacia Villas.
She was still Esther Helps. Perhaps a more beautiful Esther than of
old; a little steadier, too, a little graver--altogether a better girl.

For some unaccountable reason, after that night at the theatre when
Wyndham had sat by her side and taken her back from destruction to her
father's arms, she had almost ceased to flirt. She said nothing now
about marrying a gentleman some day, and as the men who were not
gentlemen found she would have nothing to do with them, it began to be
an almost understood thing among her friends that Esther, lovely as she
was, would not marry. This resolve on her part, for it amounted to an
unspoken resolve, was followed by other changes. She turned her
attention to her hitherto sadly neglected mind. She read poetry with
Cherry, and history and literature generally by herself. Then she tried
to improve her mode of speech, and studied works on etiquette, and for
a short time became frightfully stilted and artificial. This phase,
however, did hot last long. The girl had really a warm and affectionate
heart, and that heart all of a sudden had been set on fire. The flame
never went out. It was a holy flame, and it raised and purified her
whole nature.

She loved Wyndham as she might have loved Christ had He been on earth.
Wyndham seemed to her to be the embodiment of all nobility. He had
saved her, none knew better than she did from how much. It was the
least she could do to make her whole life worthy of her savior. She
guessed by instinct that he liked refinement, and gentle speech, and
womanly ways. So it became her aim in life to seek after those things,
and as far as possible to acquire them.

Then the news of his death reached her. Only Cherry knew how night
after night Esther cried herself to sleep. Only Cherry guessed why
Esther's cheeks were so sunken and her eyes so heavy. Her violent
grief, however, soon found consolation. Gerald had always been only a
star to be gazed at from a distance; he was still that. When she
thought of heaven she pictured seeing him there first of all. She
thought that when the time came for her to go there he might stand
somewhere near the gates and smile to see how she, too, had conquered,
and was worthy.

Now she turned her attention to works of charity, to a life of
religion. It was all done for the sake of an idol, but the result had
turned this flippant, worldly, vain creature into a sweet woman, strong
in the singleness of her aim.

Esther cared nothing at all about dress now. She would have joined a
Deaconess' Institution but she did not care to leave her father. She
did a great deal of work, however, amongst the poor, and at the
beginning of this severe winter she joined a band of working sisters in
East London as an associate. She usually went away to her work
immediately after breakfast, returning often not until late at night,
but as she wore the uniform of the association, beautiful as she was
she could venture into the lowest quarters, and almost come home at any
hour without rendering herself liable to insult.

One night as Cherry was preparing supper she was surprised to hear
Esther's step in the passage two or three hours before her usual time
of returning. Cherry was still the same strange mixture of poet and
cook that she had ever been. With the "Lays of Ancient Rome" in one
hand and her frying-pan held aloft in the other, she rushed out to know
what was the matter.

"Why, Essie," she exclaimed, catching sight of her cousin's face.
"You're ill, Essie; come in and sit down by the fire. I do hope to
goodness you haven't gone and caught nothing."

"I have caught nothing," said Esther. "I am not ill."

She untied her bonnet strings and loosened her long straight cloak.

"Is father in, Cherry? I want to see him the minute he returns."

"You'll have to wait then," said Cherry, turning away in a half
offended manner. If Esther did not choose to confide in her she was not
going to force confidence.

She resumed her cooking with vigor, reading aloud portions from the
volume on her knees as she did so.

   "The Lady Jane was tall and slim;
   The Lady Jane was fair----"

"Essie, I wish you wouldn't fidget so. Whatever is the matter?"

"I want my father," repeated Esther.

"Well, he's not in. Uncle's never back till an hour after this. I tell
him he's more and more of a nurse and less and less of a clerk every
day of his life; he don't like it, but it's true. That old Mr. Paget is
past bearing."

Esther rose with a sigh, folded her cloak, laid it on a chair, placed
her bonnet on top of it, and going over to the fireplace gazed into the
flames.

Cherry's cooking frizzled and bubbled in the pan, Cherry's own head was
bent over her book.

"This is the rarest fun," she exclaimed suddenly. "Didn't Lady Jane pay
Sir Thomas out? Lord, it were prime. You never will read the 'Ingoldsby
Legends,' Esther. Now I call them about the best things going. How
white you do look. Well, it's a good thing you are in time for a bit of
supper. I have fried eggs and tomatoes to-night, browned up a new way.
Why don't you take your cloak and bonnet upstairs, Essie, and sit down
easy like? It fidgets one to see you shifting from one foot to another
all the time."

"I'm going out again in a minute," said Esther. "I came in early
because I wanted my father. Oh, there's his latch-key in the door at
last. Don't you come, Cherry. I want to speak to him by myself."

Cherry's hot face grew a little redder.

"I like that," she said to herself. "It's drudge, drudge with
me--drudge, drudge from morning till night; and now she won't even tell
me her secrets. I never has no livening up. I liked her better when she
was flighty and flirty, that I did--a deal better. We'll, I'll see what
comes of that poor Sir Thomas."

Meanwhile Esther, with one hand on her father's shoulder, was talking
to him earnestly.

"I want you to come back with me, father--back this very minute."

"Where to, child?"

"To Commercial Road. There's to be a big meeting of the unemployed, and
the Sisters and I, we was to give supper to some of the women and
children. The meeting will be in the room below, and the supper above.
I want you to come. Some gentlemen are going to speak to them; it won't
be riotous."

Helps drew a deep sigh. It was a damp drizzling night, and he was
tired.

"Can't you let me be this time, Essie?" he said.

"No, father, no, you must come to-night."

"But I can't do nothing for the poor fellows. I pity them, of course,
but what can I do?"

"Nothing, only come to the meeting."

"But what for, Essie?"

"To please me, if for no other reason."

"Oh, if you put it in that way."

"Yes, I put it that way. You needn't take off your great coat. I'll
have my cloak and bonnet on again in a jiffy."

"What, child, am I to have no supper?"

Poor Helps found the smell from the kitchen very appetising.

"Afterwards, when you come back. Everything good when you come back.
Now, do come. It is so important."

She almost dragged him away. Cherry heard the house door bang after the
two.

"Well, I'm done," she exclaimed! "See if I'll cook for nobody another
time."

Esther and her father found an omnibus at the corner of their street.
In a little over half-an-hour they were in Commercial Road; a few
minutes later they found themselves in the large barn-like building
which was devoted to this particular mission.

The ground floor consisted of one huge room, which was already packed
with hungry-looking men and half-grown boys.

"Stand near the door," said Esther, giving her father explicit
directions. "Don't stay where the light will fall on your face. Stand
where you can look but can't be seen."

"You don't want me to be a spy, child. What is the meaning of all
this?"

"You can put any meaning you like on it. Only do what I tell you. I
want you to watch the men as they come in and out of the room. Watch
them all; don't let one escape you. Stay until the meeting is over.
Then tell me afterwards if there is any one here whom you know."

"What is the girl up to?" muttered Helps.

But Esther had already slipped upstairs. He heard sounds overhead, and
women and children going up the stairs in groups; he saw more than one
bright-looking Sister rushing about, busy, eager, and hopeful. Then the
sounds within the large lower room showed him that the meeting had
begun, and he turned his attention to the task set him by his daughter.

Certainly Esther was a queer girl, a dear, beautiful girl, but queer
all the same. In what a ridiculous position she had placed him in; a
tired elderly clerk. He was hungry, and he wanted his supper; he was
weary, and he sighed for his pipe and his easy-chair. What had he in
common with the men who filled this room. Some of them, undoubtedly,
were greatly to be pitied, but many of them only came for the sake of
making a fuss and getting noticed. Anyhow, _he_ could not help them,
and what did Esther mean by getting him to stand in this draughty
doorway on the chance of seeing an old acquaintance; he was not so much
interested in old acquaintances as she imagined.

The room was now packed, and the gentleman who occupied the platform, a
very earnest, energetic, thoughtful speaker, had evidently gained full
attention. Helps almost forgot Esther in the interest with which he
listened. One or two men offered to make way for him to go further into
the room; but this he declined. He did not suppose any friend of
Esther's would appear; still he must be true to the girl, and keep the
draughty post she had assigned him.

At the close of the first address, just when a vociferous clapping was
at its height, Helps observed a tall very thin man elbowing his way
through the crowd. This crowd of working men and boys would not as a
rule be prepared to show either forbearance or politeness. But the
stranger with a word whispered here, or a nod directed there, seemed to
find "open sesame" wherever he turned. Soon he had piloted his way
through this great crowd of human beings almost to the platform.
Finally he arrested his progress near a pillar against which he leaned
with his arms folded. He was more poorly dressed than most of the men
present, but he had one peculiarity which rendered him distinguishable;
he persistently kept his soft felt hat on, and well pushed forward over
his eyes.

Helps noticed him, he could scarcely himself tell why. The man was
poor, thin. Helps could not get a glimpse of his face, but there was
something in his bearing which was at once familiar and bespoke the
gentleman.

"Poor chap, he has seen better days," muttered Helps. "Somehow, he
don't seem altogether strange, either."

Then he turned his attention once more to watch for the acquaintance
whom Esther did not want him to miss.

The meeting came to an end and the men began to stream out. Helps kept
his post. Suddenly he felt a light hand touch his arm; he turned; his
daughter, her eyes gleaming with the wildest excitement, was standing
by his side.

"Have you seen him, father?"

"Who, child--who? I'm precious hungry, and that's the truth, Esther."

"Never mind your hunger now--you have not let him escape--oh, don't
tell me that."

"Essie, I think you have taken leave of your senses to-night. Who is it
that I have not let escape?"

"A tall man in a frock coat, different from the others; he has a beard,
and he wears his hat well pushed forward; his hands are white. You must
have noticed him; he is certain to be here. You did not let him go?"

"I know now whom you mean," said Helps. "I saw the fellow. Yes, he is
still in the room."

"You did not recognize him, father?"

"No, child. That is, I seem to know something about him. Whatever are
you driving at, Esther?"

"Nothing--nothing--nothing. Go, follow the man with the frock coat.
Don't let him see you. Find out where he lives, then bring me word.
Go. Go. You'll miss him if you don't."

She disappeared, flying upstairs again, light as a feather.

Helps found himself impelled against his will to obey her.

"Here's a pretty state of things," he muttered. "Here am I, faint for
want of food, set to follow a chap nobody knows nothing about through
the slums."

It never occurred to Helps, however, not to obey the earnest dictates
of his daughter.

He was to give chase. Accordingly he did so. He did so warily. Dodging
sometimes into the road, sometimes behind a lamp post in case the tall
man should see him. Soon he became interested in the work. The figure
on in the front, which never by any chance looked back, but pursued its
course undeviatingly, struck Helps once more with that strange sense of
familiarity.

Where had he seen a back like that? Those steps, too, the very way the
man walked gave him a queer sensation. He was as poor looking a chap as
Helps had ever glanced at, and yet the steps were not unknown--the
figure must have haunted the little clerk in some of his dreams.

The pursuer and pursued soon found themselves in quarters altogether
new to Helps. More and more squalid grew the streets, more and more
ruffianly grew the people. There never was a little man less likely to
attract attention than this clerk with his humble unpretentious dress
and mien. But in these streets he felt himself remarkable. A whole
coat, unpatched trousers, were things to wonder at here. The men and
the women, too, took to jostling him as he passed. One bold-faced girl
tilted his hat well forward over his eyes, and ran away with a loud
laugh.

Helps felt that even for Esther's sake he could not proceed any
further. He was about to turn back when another glance at the figure
before him brought such a rush of dazed wonderment, of uncanny
familiarity, that all thought of his own possible danger deserted him,
and he walked on, eager as Esther herself now in pursuit.

All this time they had been going in the direction of the docks.
Suddenly they turned down a very badly lighted side street. There was a
great brewery here, and the wall of the brewery formed for a long way
one side of the street. It was so narrow as to be little better than a
lane, and instead of being a crowded thoroughfare was now almost
deserted. Here and there in the brewery wall were niches. Not one of
these niches was empty. Each held its human being--man, woman, or
child. It seemed to be with a purpose that the tall stranger came here.
He slackened his pace, pushed his hat a little back, and began to
perform certain small ministrations for the poor creatures who were to
pass the night on the cold damp pavement.

A little girl was asleep in one of the niches; he wrapped her shawl
more closely round her, tucking it in so as to protect her feet. Her
hair hung in a tangled mass over her forehead. He pushed it back with a
tender hand. Finally he pressed into the little thin palm two
lollypops; they would give comfort to the child when she awoke.

Helps kept behind, well in the shadow; he was absolutely trembling now
with suppressed excitement. He had seen by the glitter of the flaring
gas the white hand of the man as he pushed back the child's elf-locks.
The two went on again a few steps. The man in front stopped
suddenly--they were passing another niche. It had its occupant. A girl
was stretched prone on the ground--a girl whose only covering was rags.
As they approached, she groaned. In an instant the stranger was bending
over her.

"You are very ill, I fear. Can I help you?"

"Eh? What's that?" exclaimed the girl.

She raised her head, stretching out something which was more like a
claw than a hand.

"What's that noise?" she repeated.

The noise had been made by Helps. It was an amazed terrified outcry
when he heard the voice of the man who was bending over the girl. The
man himself had observed nothing.

"You are very ill," he repeated. "You ought to be in a hospital."

"No, no, none of that," she said, clutching hold of his hand. "I ha'
lain down to die. Let me die. I wor starving--the pain wor awful. Now
I'm easy. Don't touch me--don't lift me; I'm easy--I'm a-goin' to die."

The stranger knelt a little lower.

"I won't hurt you," he said. "I will sit here by your side. Don't be
frightened. I am going to raise your head--a little--a very little. Now
it rests on my knee. That is better."

"Eh, you're a good man; yes, that's nice."

Her breath came in great pants. Presently she began to wander.

"Is that you, mother? Mother, I've been such a bad gel--bad every way.
The Almighty's punishing me. I'm dying, and He's a sending me to hell."

"No," said the quiet voice of the man. "No; _you_ are the one He wants.
He is seeking _you_."

"Eh?" she said. Once more her clouded brain cleared. "Eh, how my breath
does go. I'm a-going to hell!"

"No. He has sent me to find you; you are not going there."

"How do you know?"

She turned herself an inch or two in her astonishment and stared up at
him.

Something in his face seemed to fill her with astonishment.

"Take off your hat," she said. "Are you Jesus Christ?"

It was at this juncture that Helps turned and fled.

He ran as he never ran before in the whole course of his life. Nobody
saw him go, and nobody obstructed him in his headlong flight. Presently
he got back to the Mission Hall. The place was closed and dark. He was
turning away when a woman came out of the deep shelter of the doorway
and touched his arm.

"Essie, is that you? My God, Essie, I've seen a ghost!"

"No, father, no--a living man."

"This is awful, child. I'm shaking all over. I'd sooner be in my grave
than go through such a thing again."

"Lean on me, father. We'll walk a bit, and soon find a cab-stand. We'll
have a cab home. It's about time you had your supper. Don't talk a bit.
Get back your poor breath."

As they were driving home a few minutes later, in a hansom, she turned
suddenly.

"And you've got Mr. Wyndham's address?"

"Good heavens, Essie, don't say his name like that! I suppose it's a
sign of the end that I should have seen a spirit."

"Nonsense, father, you saw no spirit. That's Mr. Gerald Wyndham in the
flesh, as much as you and I are in the flesh. You saw no spirit, but a
living man. I recognized him this morning, but I wasn't going to take
my own word for it, so I got you to look him up. They call him Brother
Jerome down here. Nobody knows anything at all about him, how he lives,
nor nothing; only that he goes in and out amongst the people, and is
always comforting this one or cheering that, and quieting down rows,
and soothing people, and--and--doing more in a day than the Sisters or
I could do in a week. I've heard of him for a month past, but I only
saw him to-day. He's a mystery, and people wonder about him, and no one
can tell how he lives, nor where he sleeps. _I_ know, though. He sleeps
out of doors, and he starves. He shan't starve any longer."



CHAPTER XXXIX.


"Esther," said Helps, late that night, after Cherry, in a very sulky
humor, had gone to bed, "Esther, this is a very terrible, a very awful
thing for me!"

"How so, father!"

She was kneeling by his side. Now she put her arm round his neck, and
looked into his face. Her beating, throbbing, exulting heart told her
that her discovery of that day was new life to her.

"I am glad," she continued, after a solemn pause; "yes. I don't mind
owning I am very glad that a good man like Mr. Wyndham still lives."

"Child, you don't know what you are talking about. It is
awful--awful--his coming back. Even if he is alive he ought to have
stayed away. His coming back like this is terrible. It means, it
means----"

"What, father?"

"Child, it must never be known: he must be warned; he must go away at
once. Suppose anybody else saw him?"

"Father," said Esther.

She rose and stood over the shrinking old man.

"You have got to tell me the meaning of those queer words of yours. I
guessed there was a mystery about Mr. Wyndham; now I am certain. If I
don't know it before I leave the room to-night, I'll make mischief.
There!"

"Essie--Essie--I thought you had turned into a good girl."

"I'll turn bad again. Listen. I love that man. Not as a girl loves her
lover--not as a wife cares for her husband. He is married, and I
should not be ashamed to tell his wife how I love him. I glory in my
love; he saved me. Father, I wasn't coming home at all that night. He
saved me; you can understand how I feel for him. My life wouldn't be a
great deal to give up for him. There has been mischief done to him,
that I am sure. Now tell me the truth; then I'll know how to act. Oh,
father, you're the dearest and the kindest. Tell me the truth and you
won't repent it."

"No, Essie, child, I don't suppose I shall repent. Sit there. You know
too much, you may as well know all. Mr. Wyndham's life was insured."

"Yes?"

"Heavily, mark you, heavily."

"Yes." She covered her face with her hands. "Let me think. Say,
father"--she flung her hands into her lap--"was this done on purpose?"

"Ay, child, ay; and a better man never lived. Ay, it was done on
purpose."

"He was meant not to come back?"

"That's it, Essie, my dear. That's it."

"I see; yes, I see. Was the insurance money paid?"

"Every farthing of it, child. A large sum paid in full."

"If he appeared again it would have to be refunded?"

"If it could be, child."

"If it couldn't?"

"Then the story, the black story of why it was wanted, would have to
come out; and--and--Esther, is the door locked? Come close, Essie. Your
old father and my master would end our days in penal servitude."

"Now I see," said Esther.

She did not scream nor utter any loud exclamation, but began to pace
softly up and down the room. Mentally she was a strong girl; her calm
in this emergency proved her mettle.

After a few moments Helps began to speak; his words were wild and
broken.

"Over and over I thought I'd rather," he said. "Over, and over, and
over--when I saw what it meant for him, poor young gentleman. But I
can't, Essie, I can't. When it comes to the pinch I can't do it. We
thought he was dead, my master and I, and my master he went off his
head. And over he said, yes, over and over--'Helps, a clean cell and a
clean heart would be heaven to this.' But, bless you, Essie, he
couldn't stand it either at the pinch. We thought Mr. Wyndham lying
under the sea. Oh, poor young gentleman, he had no right to come back."

"No right? He has a wife and a child."

"A widow and orphan, you mean. No, Esther, he should have stayed away.
He made a vow, and he should have stuck to it."

"He has not broken his vow, father. Oh, father, what a wicked thing you
have done; you and that master to whom you have given your life. Now
let me think."

"You won't send me to prison, Esther?"

"No, no. Sit down. I must think things out. Even now I don't know
clearly about Mr. Wyndham; you have only treated me to
half-confidences. Stay, though, I don't wish to hear more. You mustn't
go to prison. Mr. Wyndham mustn't starve. I have it. Mr. Wyndham shall
come here."

"Esther!"

Poor old Helps uttered a shriek, which caused Cherry to turn uneasily
on her pillow.

"Keep yourself quiet, father. I'm a determined woman, and this thing
shall be. Mr. Wyndham shall eat of our bread, and we will shelter him;
and I--I, Esther Helps--will undertake to guard his secret and yours.
No one living shall guess who he is."

"You forget--oh, this is an awful thing to do. You forget--there's
Cherry."

"I'll blind Cherry. If I can't, she must go. I shall bring Mr. Wyndham
home to-morrow night!"

"Esther, this will kill me."

"No, it won't. On the contrary, you'll be a better and a happier man.
You wouldn't have him starve, when through him you have your liberty?
I'm ashamed of you."

She lit her candle and walked away.

Old Helps never went to bed that night.



CHAPTER XL.


Esther did not go out next morning. Cherry was surprised at this. Helps
went off at his usual hour. Cherry noticed that he ate little or no
breakfast; but Esther did not stir. She sat quietly by the breakfast
table. She ate well and deliberately. Her eyes were bright, her whole
face was full of light and expression.

"Ain't you going down as usual to these dirty slums?" quoth Cherry.
"I'm sick of them. You and your clothes both coming in so draggled like
at night. I'm sick of the slums. But perhaps you mean to give them up."

"Oh, no," said Esther, waking from a reverie into which she had fallen,
"but I'm not going this morning. I've something else to attend to."

"Then perhaps, Esther," said Cherry, with her round eyes sparkling,
"you'd maybe think to remember your promise of getting that pink gauze
dress out of your trunk; you know you promised it to me, and I've a
mind to make it up with yellow bows. I'm sure to want it for something
about Christmas."

"You shall have it," said Esther, in a sharp, short voice.

The abstracted look returned to her face. She gazed out of the window.

"Law, Essie, ain't you changed, and for the worse, I take it!" remarked
Cherry. "I liked you a sight better when you were flighty and
frivolous. Do you remember the night you went to the theatre with that
Captain something or other? My word, wasn't uncle in a taking. 'Twas I
found your tickets, and put uncle up to getting a seat near you.
Weren't you struck all of a heap when you found him there? I never
heard how you took it."

"Hush," said Esther, rising to her feet, her face growing very white.
"I was mad, then, but I was saved. That's enough about it. Cherry, you
know the box-room?"

"Yes," said Cherry. "It's stuffed pretty well, too. Mostly with your
trunks, what you say belonged to your mother."

"So they did. Well, they must go downstairs."

"Wherever to? There isn't a corner for them in this scrap of a house."

"Corners must be found. Some of the trunks can go in our bedroom--some
into father's; some into the passage, some into the drawing-room if
necessary. You needn't stare, it has got to be done."

Esther stamped her foot and looked so imperious that Cherry shrank
away.

"I suppose you're a bit mad again," she muttered, and she began to
collect the breakfast things on a tray.

"Stop, Cherry, we may as well talk this out. I'll go upstairs now and
help you with the boxes. Then we'll clean out the attic; if I had time
I'd paper it, but there ain't. Then I'm going out to buy a bedstead and
bedding, and a table and washhand stand. The attic is to be made into a
bedroom for----"

Here she paused.

"Well," said Cherry, "for whom, in the name of goodness?"

Esther gulped something down in her throat.

"There's a good man in the East of London, a very good man; he has no
money, and he's starving, and he has to sleep out of doors; and--and--I
can't stand it, Cherry--and I spoke to father, and we have agreed that
he shall have the attic and his food. That's it, his name is Brother
Jerome; he's a sort of an angel for goodness."

"Slums again," said Cherry; "I'll have nothing to do with it."

She took up her tray and marched into the kitchen. Esther waited a
minute or two, then she went to her room, put on a coarse check apron,
and mounted the narrow attic stairs. She commenced pulling the trunks
about; she could not lift them alone, but she intended to push them to
the head of the stairs and then shove them down.

Presently a thumping step was heard, and Cherry's round face appeared.

"Disgusting job, I call it," she said; "but if I must help you, I
suppose I must. I was going to learn 'Lord Tom Noddy' this morning. I
thought I might wear the pink gauze with yellow bows, and recite it at
Uncle Dan's Christmas party. Cousin Tom says I'm real dramatic when I'm
excited, and that's a beautiful piece, so rhythmic and flowing. But
then we all have to bend to you, Esther, and if I must help you I
suppose I must."

"I think you had better, dear, and some day perhaps you won't be sorry.
He's a good man, Brother Jerome is, he won't be no trouble. I'll clean
his room for him myself once it's put in order, and he's sure to go out
early in the morning. He'll breakfast upstairs, and I'll take him his
breakfast, and his supper shall be ready for him here at night. We must
see if that chimney will draw, Cherry, for of course he'll want his bit
of fire."

After this the two girls worked with a will; they cleaned and polished
the tiny window, they scrubbed the floor and brushed down the walls,
and polished the little grate. Then Esther went out and made her
purchases. The greater part of a five pound note was expended, and by
the afternoon Gerald Wyndham's room was ready for him.

"Brother Jerome will come home with me to-night. Cherry," said Esther.
"I may be late--I'm sure to be late--you needn't sit up."

"But I'd like to see him. Slums or no slums, he has given me a pair of
stiff arms, and I want to find out if he's worth them."

"Oh, he's nothing to look at. Just a tall, thin, starved-looking man.
He'll be shy, maybe, of coming, and you'd much better go to bed. You'll
leave some supper ready in his room."

"What shall I leave?"

"Oh, a jug of beer and some cheese, and the cold meat and some bread
and butter. That's all, he's accustomed to roughing it."

"My word, you call that roughing. Then the slums can't be so bad. I
always thought there was an uncommon fuss made about them. Now I'll get
to 'Lord Tom Noddy,' and learn off a good bit before tea time; you
might hear me recite if you had a mind, Essie."



CHAPTER XLI.


"Oh, yes, she's the sweetest missus in the world!"

That was the universal opinion of the servants who worked for Valentine
Wyndham. They never wanted to leave her, they never grumbled about her,
nor thought her gentle orders hard. The nurse, the cook, the housemaid,
stayed on, the idea of change did not occur to them.

Valentine and her little son came back to the house in town at the end
of October. Lilias came with them, and Adrian Carr often ran up to town
and paid a visit to the two.

One day he came with a piece of news. He had got the offer of an
incumbency not very far from Park-Lane. A fashionable church wanted a
good preacher. Carr had long ago developed unusual powers as a pulpit
orator, and the post, with a good emolument, was offered to him. He
came to consult Lilias and Valentine in the matter.

"Of course you must go," said Lilias. "My father will miss you--we
shall all--but that isn't the point. This is a good thing for you--a
great thing--you must certainly go."

"And I can often see you," responded Carr, eagerly. "Mrs. Wyndham will
let me come here, I hope, and you will often be here."

"I wish you would spend the winter with me, Lilias," said Valentine.
She had interpreted aright the expression in Carr's eyes, and soon
afterwards she left the room.

She went up to her own room, shut and locked the door, and then stood
gazing into the fire with her hands tightly locked together. She
inherited one gift from her father. She, too, could wear a mask. Now
it dropped from her, and her young face looked lined and old.

"It isn't the grief of losing him," she murmured under her breath.
"It's the pain--the haunting fear--that things are wrong. Have I known
my father all these years not to note the change in him? He shrinks
from me--he dreads me. Why? His conscience is guilty. Oh, Gerald, if I
had only let you look into my heart, perhaps you would not have gone
away. Oh, if only I had been in time to go on board the _Esperance_ you
would have been living now. Yes, Gerald, the terror never leaves me day
and night; you are dead, but God did not mean you to die. My own
Gerald--my heart would have been broken, or I should have lost my
reason, if I had not confided my fears to Mr. Carr. Some people perhaps
think I have forgotten--some again that I have ceased to love my
husband. How little they know! Of course I am bright outwardly. But my
heart is old and broken. I have had a very sad life--I am a very
unhappy woman. Only for little Gerry I couldn't live. He is sweet, but
I wish he were more like his father. Ah, there is nurse's knock at the
door. Coming, nurse. Is baby with you?"

Mrs. Wyndham unlocked her door, and a little round, dimpled,
brown-tinted child scampered in. He was followed by his nurse, a grave,
nice-looking woman of about thirty. She was a widow, and had a son of
her own.

"Has baby come to say good-night, Annette? Come here, sweet. Come into
mother's arms."

She sat down on a low chair by the fire, and the little man climbed on
her knee.

"I don't _'ike_ oo. I _'ove_ oo," he said.

"He's always saying that, ma'am," remarked the nurse. "He likes his
toys--he loves his mother."

"Course I 'ove my mother."

He laid his brown curly head on her breast.

"Nurse, is anything the matter? You don't look well."

"That's it, madam. I'm not ill in body, but I'm sore fretted in mind.
Now, baby, darling, don't you pull your dear ma to bits! The fact is,
ma'am, and sore I am to say it, I'm afraid I must leave this precious
child."

"Nurse!"

Valentine's arms dropped away from baby; baby raised his own curly
head, and fixed his brown eyes on the woman, his rosy lips pouted.

"Sore I am to say it, ma'am," repeated Annette, "but there's no help.
I've put off the evil day all I could, ma'am; but my mother's old, and
my own boy has been ill, and she says I must go home and see after them
both. Of course, madam, I'll suit your convenience as to the time of my
going, and I hope you'll get some one else as will love the dear child.
Come to bed, master baby, dear; your mother wants to go down to
dinner."

      *       *       *       *       *

A few days after this, as Helps was taking his comfortable breakfast,
cooked to perfection by Cherry's willing hands, he raised his eyes
suddenly, looked across at his daughter Esther, and made a remark.

"I'm told poor young madam is in no end of a taking."

"What young madam, father?"

"Mrs. Wyndham. The nurse is going and the child has got whooping cough.
He's bad, too, poor little 'un, and frets about the nurse like
anything. My master's in a way, too; he's wrapped up in that little
lad. It was he told me; he said perhaps you'd know of a nurse as would
suit, Esther."

"Don't stare so, Cherry," said Esther. "Anybody would think father was
talking of ghosts, to see the bigness of your eyes. Well, father, yes,
I'll think about a nurse. I'm sorry the child is ill."

"Don't you go and get a nurse from the slums," retorted Cherry. "You're
all slums, you are. My word, I am having a time since that new lodger
took possession."

Here Cherry paused to pour fresh water into the tea-pot. Esther and her
father exchanged frightened glances.

"Brother Jerome, indeed!" proceeded this energetic young person. "He's
a mighty uneasy sort of Brother Jerome. His good deeds don't seem to
quieten him, anyway. And why does he always keep a hat stuck on his
head, and never raise it when he passes me on the stairs. I know I'm
broad and I'm stout, and I've no looks to boast of, but it's meant for
men to raise their hats to women, and I don't see why he shouldn't.
Then at night he walks the boards overhead fit to work on anybody's
nerves. I don't recite half so dramatic as I did, because I can't get
my sleep unbroken."

"Your tongue ain't stopped, anyway," said her uncle, almost crossly.
"Esther, you'll think about the nurse for young madam."

He rose and left the room.

Esther sat still a little longer. She heard Cherry rattling the plates
in the kitchen. Presently, she got up, put on her bonnet and cloak,
called good-bye to her cousin, and went out. There could scarcely be a
better Sister of the Poor than Esther Helps. She was near enough to
them socially to understand their sorrows. She had never known
starvation, but she could take in what tiny means meant--their mode of
speech was comprehensible to her, she was sufficiently unfastidious to
go into their dirty rooms, to witness their uncouth, semi-savage ways
without repulsion. She liked the life, it suited her, and her it. She
was the kind of woman to be popular as a district visitor. She had
abundance of both sympathy and tact. When her sympathies were aroused,
her manners could be affectionate. In addition, she had a very lovely
face. The poor of East London adore beauty; it comes so rarely near
them in any case that they look upon it as an inestimable treasure. The
women and children liked to watch Esther when she talked and when she
smiled. The men treated her with the respect due to a regal presence.

Esther went down as usual to her mission work to-day. Sister Josephine,
the head of this branch of work, greeted the handsome girl with a smile
when she came in, drew her aside, and spoke to her about a particularly
difficult undertaking which was soon to be commenced. This undertaking
would require the utmost tact and talent; the sister asked Esther if
she would be willing to become the head of the movement.

"I don't know anyone more suitable," she said in conclusion. "Only if
you come, you must consent to sleep away from home. Some of our
work--our principal work--will take place at night."

Esther's clear ivory-tinted skin became a shade paler. She looked full
at the sister with troubled but unshrinking eyes.

"You do me a great honor," she said. "But I am afraid I must decline
it. At present I cannot sleep away from home. It is also possible--yes,
it is quite possible--that I may have to give up the work altogether
for a time."

"Esther, are you putting your hand to the plough and looking back?"

"I don't know, Sister Josephine. Perhaps I am."

The sister laid her hand solemnly on the girl's arm.

"Esther, if you love anyone better than God, you have no right to come
here," she said.

Then she turned away and walked sorrowfully down the long mission room.
She was disappointed in Esther Helps, and though Esther's own heart
never faltered, she felt a sharp pang pierce it.

That night she came home late.

"Has Brother Jerome come in?" she asked Cherry.

"No. How you do fash about that man! His supper's waiting for him, and
I saw to his fire. Now I'm going to bed. I'm dead tired."

"Do, Cherry. I'll sit up for Brother Jerome."

"Ask him, for goodness sake, not to march the boards so frequent. He'll
have my grey hairs to account for. He's picked up a cough, too, and
between the creaking of the boards, and the coughing, I have nice
nights lately."

"You study too much, Cherry, or you wouldn't mind such little noises.
Now go to bed, dear. I'll give Brother Jerome a hint."

"Good-night, Esther. Uncle's been in bed an hour or more. I hope that
brother of the slums won't keep you long."

Cherry ran upstairs, and Esther went into the bright warm little
kitchen. She left the door wide open, and then she sat and waited.

The substance of Sister Josephine's words rang in her ears.

"If you love another better than God, you have no right to come here."

Did she love another better than God? No, no, impossible. A man had
influenced her life, and because of his influence she had given herself
up, soul and body, to God's service. How could she love the man best?
He had only pointed to the higher way.

Then she heard his step outside; his latch-key in the door, and she
felt herself tremble. He went straight upstairs, never glancing in the
direction of the kitchen; as he went he coughed, and his cough sounded
hollow. His figure, never remarkably upright, was much bent.

Esther waited a few minutes; then, her heart going pit-a-pat, she crept
very softly upstairs, passed her own room and Cherry's, and knocked at
Wyndham's door.

He came and opened it.

"Can I speak with you, brother?"

"Certainly. Come in, Esther?"

The attic had been converted into a wonderfully snug apartment. The bed
and washing apparatus were curtained off, and the part of the room
which surrounded the hearth revealed a bright fire, a little table on
which a tempting cold supper was spread, and a deep easy chair.

"Sit down, brother," said Esther, "and eat. Let me help you. I can talk
while you eat your supper. Are you very tired to-night? Yes, I am
afraid you are dreadfully tired."

"I am always tired, Esther. That is in the condition of things."

He sank back into his chair as if he were too weary to keep out of it.
Then, with a flash of the old Gerald Wyndham in his eyes and manner, he
sprang up.

"I was forgetting myself. Will you sit here!"

"What do you take me for, Mr.--Brother Jerome, I mean. I have come up
here to see you eat, to see you rest, and to--to--talk to you."

"Esther, I have no words to thank you. You are, yes, you are the
noblest woman I know."

She flushed all over; her eyes shone.

"And isn't that thanks for ever and ever?" she said in a voice in which
passion trembled.

Wyndham did not notice. He had taken off his hat, and Cherry's good
supper stood by his side. He ate a little, then put down his knife and
fork.

"Ain't you hungry, sir?"

"No. At first, when I came here, I was so starved that I never could
eat enough. Now I am the other way, not hungry at all."

"And, sir, you have got a cough."

"Yes, I had a very bad wetting last week, and a cough is the result.
Strange. I had no cough when I slept out of doors."

"Mr. Wynd--Brother Jerome, I mean, you wouldn't go back to that old
life? Say you wouldn't go back."

The almost anguish in her voice penetrated for the first time to
Wyndham's ear. He gave her a startled glance, then said with warmth:--

"Esther, you and your father have been good Samaritans to me; as long
as it is safe I will stay with you."

"It shall and must be safe. Who would look for you here, of all places,
when they think you are buried under the waves of the sea?"

"That is true. I expect it is perfectly safe for me to stay."

He lay back in his chair, and gazed into the fire; he had almost
forgotten Esther's presence.

"And you like it--you feel happier since you came?" she asked,
presently, in a timid voice.

"What did you say?"

"Mr. Wyndham," the forbidden name came out with a burst, "do tell poor
Esther Helps that you are happier since she found you."

She had fallen on her knees, the tears were streaming from her eyes;
she held out her hands to him.

"Oh," she said, "I would give my life for yours."

In a moment Wyndham's dreamy attitude left him; he sprang to his feet,
all alive and keen and watchful. He was the old Wyndham; his eyes were
full of pity, which made his whole face radiant.

"Hush," he said. "Get up. Don't say any more. Not another word--not a
syllable. You forget yourself. Esther. I saved you once--I must save
you again. Sit there, yes, there; I am quite strong. I must tell you
the truth. Esther, I said just now that you were the noblest woman I
know. You must go on being noble. I will stay here on that condition."

"Oh, sir, will you?" Poor Esther would have liked to shrink through the
very boards. "Will you forgive me, sir?"

"Hush; don't talk about forgiveness. There is nothing to forgive.
Esther, I will show you how much I trust you. I will talk to you about
my wife. I will tell you a little of my story; I mean the part I can
tell without implicating others."



CHAPTER XLII.


Esther was now seated in the easy-chair; Wyndham stood by the
mantel-piece. He had got a shock, and that shock had given him
strength, and a good deal of his old manner.

"Esther," he said, "I cannot tell you all the story, but some of it I
should like you to hear. You are a friend to me, Esther, and the part
that relates to myself I will confide to you."

"Sir, I know the other part; you have been the victim of a wicked man."

"Hush; I don't wish to speak about anyone but myself. I don't blame
anyone but myself. I loved a woman, Esther Helps, so much better than
myself that for her sake I resolved to die to the world. I need not
give you the reason of this. It seemed to me necessary for her
happiness that I should do this; and I did not think it too much to do.
I married my wife knowing that the great love I had for her was not
returned. This seemed all for the best, as when I died, as die to all
appearance I should, her heart would not be broken. She could continue
to live happy and honored. Do you follow me?"

"Yes, sir, yes. Are you tired? Will you sit, Mr. Wyndham?"

"I was never less tired. When I speak of my wife I feel as if a fresh
vigor were coming into me. We were married, and I soon found that I had
overtaxed my own resolve. In one particular I could not complete the
sacrifice I had undertaken. I tried to make her love me, and for a
time--a short time--I thought I had succeeded."

The speaker paused, and the eagerness of his tone changed.

"I failed. The heart that I most craved for was not to be mine. I
tested it, but it did not respond. This was best, no doubt, but the
fact preyed on me dreadfully. I went on board the _Esperance_, and,
then, God forgive me, the thought took possession of me, the idea
overmastered me, that I would make my fictitious death real. Everything
had been carefully arranged with regard to my apparent death. That part
implicates others, so I will not touch upon it. I resolved to make
certainty doubly certain by dying in earnest. Thus my wife's future
would be assured. My death would be real, the thing that might come
upon her would be averted for ever. I was in a condition when I could
not balance right and wrong; but my intellect was sufficiently keen and
sensible to make me prepare for the deed I contemplated. I took steps
which would prevent anyone on board thinking that I had fallen
overboard by design. My death would be attributed to the merest
accident. Thus all was made absolutely safe. What is the matter,
Esther?"

"Oh, Mr. Wyndham! Oh, you frighten me. Did you--did you think of your
soul, sir?"

"I did, Esther. But I loved my wife better than my hope of heaven. I
resolved to risk even that for her. As I tell you, I had no sense of
personal right or wrong at that time. You see that I am a very wicked
man, Esther--no hero--a man who yielded to a dire temptation. I won't
talk about this. The night came, and I dropped into the water. There
was a storm that night. It was dark, but now and then the stars could
be seen through the rifts of the clouds. As I leapt overboard I looked
up, and saw the brightness of the Southern Cross. Then I went under.
The great waves closed over my head. The next instant I came to the
surface only possessed with one fierce frantic desire, to save the life
I meant to throw away. Better be a living dog than a dead lion, I said
to myself. Yes, I would live--if only like the miserable dogs of
Eastern towns, w ould live as the outcast, as the scum of the earth--I
would live. I had done a horrible thing in seeking to throw away my
life. I cried aloud in an anguish of terror:--'God spare me! God leave
my breath in my body! Don't take my spirit before the judgment seat!'
Through the rifts in the clouds I saw a boat at a little distance
manned by some of the sailors who were looking for me. I shouted, but
no living voice could be heard in the gale. Then I resolved to husband
my strength. I was an excellent swimmer, and I could always float like
a cork. I could not swim in that sea, but I could lie quite passive on
the waves. I turned on my back, and waited for the issue of events. I
closed my eyes and felt myself being moved up and down. The motion in
itself was not unpleasant. The waves were wonderfully buoyant. Instead
of losing my strength I was rested. My heart beat steadily. I knew that
my chance of life depended on my keeping very cool. Presently something
struck me. I put out my hand and grasped a floating oar. By means of
the oar I knew that unless I froze with the cold I could keep above the
water for hours. I placed it under my arms and kept above the water
with very little effort.

"The cold, however, was intense, and I doubt that I could have lived
till morning had not another chance of deliverance just then appeared.
The clouds had almost cleared from the sky, and by the brightness of
the southern constellations I saw something gleaming white a little
further off. It was not the ship, which must have been a league or two
away by now, but something I could see in my present horizontal
position. I ventured to raise my head a very little, and saw a boat--a
boat painted white--which, strange to say, had not been overturned by
the roughness of the waves. It was gently floating onwards in my
direction. The name _Esperance_ was painted in gold letters on the
outside of the boat, near the bow. I guessed at once what had
happened. One of the ships' boats had got loose from its moorings in
the gale, and was now sent to me as an ark of deliverance. It was
evidently on one of the ship's oars, too, that I was supporting my
head.

"Then I saw that God did not mean me to die, and a great glow of
gratitude and even happiness ran through me. You will wonder at this,
but you don't know how horrible death looked in the jaws of that angry
sea.

"The boat came nearer, and nearer and my happiness and sense of relief
grew to almost rapture. I cried aloud:--'God. I thank Thee! Take the
life you have thought worth preserving almost through a miracle, as
your own absolutely. Take my body, take my spirit, to spend, to
worship, to lose myself in Thee!' Then the boat came up, and I had to
duck under to avoid being stunned by her.

"It is no easy matter to get into an empty boat in a rough sea. My
hands were almost numb, too, for I had been a couple of hours in the
water. I felt, however, quite cool, self-possessed and quiet. I could
think clearly, and bring my little knowledge of boats to my aid. I knew
my only chance of not upsetting the boat was to climb over by the
stern. This, after tremendous difficulties, I accomplished. I lay in
the bottom of the boat for some time quite unconscious. When at last I
was able to rouse myself, daylight had come and the storm had gone
down. My clothes were drenched through with salt water. I could not
keep from shivering, and every bone ached. I was not the least hungry,
but I was consumed with thirst. There were two or three oars lashed to
the side of the boat. I could row, therefore, and the exercise warmed
me. Presently the sun came up in the heavens. I was glad of this, but
its rays beating on my uncovered head soon produced headache, which in
its turn brought on a queer giddiness and a feeling of sickness. I saw
now that I was going to be very ill, and I wondered how long I should
retain my senses. I knew that it behoved me to be very careful. I was
alive, but for my wife's sake I must appear to be dead. I saw that I
had taken the very best possible step to insure this end, and if I
could only carry on my purpose to its conclusion I should have adopted
a far better plan for securing the establishment of my own apparent
death than the one originally devised for me.

"Aching as I did from head to foot I found it difficult to keep my
thoughts collected. I managed, however, to do so, and also to scratch
out the name of the _Esperance_ from the bows of the boat. This I
accomplished with my pocket knife. I also cut away my own name from my
linen, and from two handkerchiefs which I found in my pockets. These
handkerchiefs had been marked by my wife. After this I knew there was
no more I could do. I must drift along and take my chance of being
picked up. I cannot recall how I passed the day. I believe I rowed a
little when I felt cold; but the greater part of the time I simply
allowed the boat to drift.

"That evening I was picked up by a trading vessel bound for the Cape.
Its crew were mostly Dutch, and several of the sailors were black. I
faintly remember going on board the vessel. Then all memory leaves me.
I had a long illness--a fever which changed me, turning my hair very
grey. I grew a beard in my illness, and would not allow it to be
removed when I got better, as I knew that in the future I must live
under the shadow of death, I must completely sink the identity which
made life of value.

"I was put into hospital when we arrived at Cape Town, and when I got
better was given a small purse of money, which had been collected by
some people who professed to take an interest in me. On the day I left
the hospital I really commenced my new life.

"It is unnecessary to tell you all that followed. I had not forgotten
my vow--the vow I made to God verily out of the deeps. I determined,
as far as it was in me, absolutely to renounce myself and to live for
God as He reveals himself in suffering man. I did not resolve to do
this with any ulterior motive of saving my own soul, and atoning for
the sin of the past. I felt that God deserved all that I could possibly
give Him, and to give it absolutely and without reservation kept me, I
believe, from losing my senses. For a time all went well. Then the
hunger which had been my curse came back. You will ask what that was.
It was a sense of utter starvation which no physical food could
satisfy, which no mental food could appease. I _must_ get near my wife.
I had sinned for her, and now I could not keep away from her. I must at
least live in the same country. I prayed against this hunger; I fought
with it. I struggled with it, but I could not beat it down. A year ago
I came back to England. I came to London, to the safest place for a man
who must hide. Willing hands are always needed to help to lighten some
of the load of misery in this great city. I called myself Brother
Jerome, and presently I found my niche. I worked, and I could have been
happy. Yes, starving in body, with nowhere to lay my head, I could have
been happy following _The_ Blessed example, but for the hunger which
always drove me mad, which was gnawing at my heart, which gnaws there
still--which--Esther--Esther Helps--is--killing me!"

Wyndham dropped his head on his hands. He uttered one groan. When he
raised his head again his eyes were wet.

"I am close to my wife," he said; "but I have never heard of her
once--not once since I returned."

Then he sat down in the chair which Esther rose from. He began to cough
again, and Esther saw the drops of sweat standing large on his
forehead.

It was now her turn to speak. She stood upright--a tall, slim woman--a
woman who had gone through a change so great as almost to amount to a
new birth--while Wyndham had been telling his story.

"Now," she said, "I am happy. I praise God for His mercies, for it is
given to me to comfort you."

Wyndham raised his head; he was too exhausted to ask her what she
meant, except with his eyes.

"Your wife is well, and from this day forth you shall hear news of her,
fresh news, once a week. Every Sunday you shall hear."

"Esther, don't torture me. Are you telling me truth?"

"I am telling you the solemn truth. Would I lie to a man like you? Mr.
Wyndham, do you know, has anyone ever told you that you have a child?"

"Nobody. Is this the case? My God, a child!"

"Yes, sir, a little boy; he is called after you. He is three years old.
You'd like to see him, maybe?"

"Good heavens, Esther, this is like new wine to me. I have a son of my
own--Valentine's son!"

He began to pace the floor.

"And you would like to see him, wouldn't you, sir?"

"Yes--no--the joy might kill me. People have died of joy."

"You wouldn't die of joy, sir. It has always been the other way with
you. Joy would make you live, would cure that cough, and that sinking
feeling you have told me of."

"And the hunger, Esther--the hunger which gnaws and gnaws. Esther, you
are a wonderful woman."

"Sit down, Mr. Wyndham. Keep quiet. Don't get excited. I'll do this for
you. I made up the plan this morning. It was about that I came to speak
to you. The baby wants a new nurse. To-morrow I am going to offer for
the place. I shall get it, too, no fear of that. I shall live in the
same house as your wife, every night your son will sleep in my arms.
Each Sunday I come here with my news--my weekful of news. Some day I
bring your son. What more natural than that I should come to my father
once a week. Who will suspect? Mr. Wyndham, that hunger of yours shall
have one weekly meal. No fear, no fear. And now, sir, go to bed, and
may God Almighty bless you!"



CHAPTER XLIII.


Valentine Wyndham had often said that no greater treasure of a nurse
could be found than the one who came to her when little Gerald was a
month old. When she saw Esther, however, she changed her mind. Esther
was superior to Annette in personal appearance, in intellect, and in a
curious unspoken intangible sympathy which brought a strange sense of
comfort to Valentine's strained and worn heart. Esther was full of
tact. She was not demonstrative, but her every look and word expressed
loving interest. Baby very soon ceased to fret for Annette. With a
child's fickleness he boldly declared that he liked "noo nurse better
than old nurse." His most loving word for Esther was "noo nurse," and
he was always contented and happy when he lay in noo nurse's arms and
listened to her stories. She had wonderful stories for him, stories
which she never dreamt of telling in his mother's presence, stories
which always led to one termination--a termination which had a
wonderful fascination for baby. They were about little fatherless boys,
who in the most unlooked for ways found their fathers. Baby revelled in
these tales.

"I'se not got a farwer, noo nursie," he would generally end
sorrowfully.

Then Esther would kiss him, and tell him to wait, and to watch for the
good fairies who were so kind to little boys.

His whooping cough soon got better, and he was able to go out. One day
Esther took him early into the Park. He was dressed all in white fur.
Esther told him he looked like Baby Bunting.

"But I haven't got a farwer to buy me a wabbit-skin," quoth baby.

That day, however, the father he did not know pressed two or three
burning kisses on his round cheek. Esther sat down on a chair near a
very worn and shabby-looking man. His back was partly to her. She said
a word and he turned round. He looked at the child. Suddenly a light
filled his sunken eyes--a beautiful light. He stretched out his arms,
and straight as an arrow from a bow, Baby Bunting found a shelter in
their close embrace.

"Kiss me," said the man.

The little lips pressed his cheek.

"I 'ove oo," said baby, in his contented voice. "Has 'oo little boys of
'oo own?"

"One little boy."

"Oo 'ove him, I pose?"

"Ay."

Three kisses were pressed on baby's face and he was returned to Esther.

"Nice man," he said patronizingly, by-and-bye. "But he gived raver hard
kisses when he crunched me up."

That evening baby told his mother that a man met him in the Park, who
kissed him and looked sad, and said he had a little boy of his own.

"And he crunched me up with kisses, mover," concluded baby.

"Was this man a friend of yours, Esther?" queried Mrs. Wyndham.

"Yes, madam, a friend of mine, and of my father's. A gentleman with a
very sorrowful story. I think it comforted him to kiss master baby."

Esther was a woman of acute observation. It seemed to her that if there
was an individual on earth to be envied it was Valentine Wyndham. What
matter though she thought herself a widow? Still she had won a love of
a quality and depth which surely must satisfy the most exacting heart.
Esther often said to herself that if she were Valentine she must surely
rest content. As to her forgetting Wyndham that could surely, surely
never be.

These were Esther's thoughts, always supposing the case to be her own;
but she had not been many weeks in the house in Park-Lane before she
began to open her eyes and to suspect that matters were otherwise with
her young mistress. Valentine, although still a wife, supposed herself
a widow. All the world thought her such. What more natural than that
she should turn her thoughts once more to love. At the time of her
supposed widowhood she was under twenty years of age. Why should she
mourn for her young husband all her days? Surely there was somebody who
considered that she ought not to mourn--somebody who came almost daily
to the house, whom Mrs. Wyndham liked to talk to. For Esther noticed
that her eyes were bright after Adrian Carr went away. She did not
guess that their brightness was generally caused by the shedding of
tears.

Esther began to feel very uncomfortable. Should she or should she not
tell Wyndham of the danger which was threatening Valentine?

There came a Sunday when Mrs. Wyndham entered her nursery with a
request.

"Nurse, my head aches dreadfully. I know you stipulated to have every
Sunday afternoon to yourself, but if you could stay at home to-day I
should be grateful."

No one could make requests more sweetly than Valentine, and Esther felt
herself coloring up with the pain of refusing.

"I am very sorry, madam," she said in a low constrained voice;
"but--but--my father will expect me. You know it was an understood
thing, madam, that I was to see him once a week. You remember my
telling you I am his only child."

"Yes, yes," said Valentine, "and I have thought of that. If you will
take care of Gerry this one afternoon I will send the page in a cab to
your home to fetch your father here." Esther changed color, from red to
white.

"I am more sorry than I can express, my dear madam, but it would make
all the difference to my father seeing me in my own little home and
here. My father is very humble in his ways, dear madam. I think,
perhaps, if you have a headache, Jane, the under housemaid, might be
trusted for once with master baby."

"Jane has already gone out," replied Valentine coldly. Then with an
effort she swallowed down her resentment. "I will be frank with you,
Esther," she said. "If it was simply a headache I could certainly take
care of my little boy, even at some inconvenience. But there is more
behind. I promised Miss Wyndham, who is now in town, to meet her this
afternoon at Mr. Carr's new church. She is most anxious to hear him
preach, and I should be sorry to disappoint her."

"You mean _you_ are anxious to hear him preach," quoth Esther, under
her breath. "And is it on that account I will leave a hungry heart to
starve?" Aloud she said: "Do you object to my taking master baby with
me, madam?"

"I do object. The child must not be out so late. Then you distinctly
refuse to accommodate me, Esther?"

"I am obliged to adhere to our arrangement, Mrs. Wyndham. I am truly
sorry."

Valentine held out her hand to her little boy.

"Come, then, Baby Bunting," she said. "Mother will play with her boy;
and poor Aunt Lilias must go to church alone."

She did not look at Esther, but went quietly away, holding the child's
hand.

"What a brute I am," soliloquized the nurse. "And yet, she, poor young
lady, how can she--how can she forget?"

Esther's home was in all its Sunday quiet when she reached it. Helps
was having his afternoon siesta in the kitchen. Cherry was spending the
day with the cousins who admired her recitations. Helps started out of
his slumbers when his daughter came in.

"Essie," he said, "I'm glad you've come. That young man upstairs is
very ill."

Esther felt her heart sinking down. She pressed her hand to her side.

"Is he worse, father?" she gasped.

"Oh, I don't know that he's worse; he's bad enough as it is, without
going in for being worse. He coughs constant, and Cherry says he don't
eat enough to keep a robin going. Esther, I wish to goodness we could
get him out of this."

"Why so, father? He doesn't hurt you. Even Cherry can't name any fault
in him."

"No, but suppose he was to die here. There'd be an inquest, maybe, and
all kinds of questions. Well, I'm not hard-hearted, but I do wish he'd
go."

Esther sank down into the nearest chair.

"You speak cruel words now and then, father," she said. "Who talks of
dying? _He_ won't die. If it comes to that, or any chance of it, I'll
come back and nurse him to life again."

"Essie, you think a sight of that young man."

"Well, I do. I'm not going to deny it. I'm going upstairs to see him
now."



CHAPTER XLIV.

AT THE SOUND OF THE CLOCK.


She left the room, tripping lightly upstairs in her neat nurse's dress.
When she got to Wyndham's door and knocked gently for admission her
heart, however, was beating so wildly that she feared he might notice
it.

"Come in," said his voice; she entered.

He was lying back in his easy-chair. When he saw Esther he took off the
soft hat which he always wore in Cherry's presence, and greeted her
with that brightness in his eyes which was the greatest reward he could
possibly offer her.

"You are a little late," he said; "but I thought you would not fail
me."

"I won't ever fail you, Mr. Wyndham; you know that."

"Esther, it is safer to call me Brother Jerome."

"Not at the present moment. The house is empty but for my father.
Still, if you wish it, sir."

"I think I do wish it. A habit is a habit. The name may slip out at a
wrong moment, and then--my God, think what would happen then!"

"Don't excite yourself, sir. Esther Helps is never likely to forget
herself. Still I see the sense of your wishes. You are Brother Jerome
to me always from this out. And now, before I go any further, I want to
state a fact. Brother Jerome, you are ill."

"I am ill, Esther. Ill, nigh unto death."

"My God, you shan't die!"

"Hush; the question of dying does not rest with you or me. I want to
die, so probably I shall live."

"You look like dying. Does Cherry feed you well?"

"Better than well. I want for nothing."

"Is your fire kept up all night?"

"Esther, I have not come to requiring a night nurse yet. My fire goes
out in the early hours before the dawn."

"The coldest part of the twenty-four hours. Brother Jerome, you must
give up visiting in East London at present."

"No, not while I can crawl. You forget that on a certain night I
surrendered my body as well as my spirit to the service of comfort.
While I can comfort others I will. There is nothing else left to me."

"Then, sir, you will die--you will deliberately kill yourself."

"No, I tried that once. I won't again. Esther, what is the matter? You
are a good girl. It is a mistake for you to waste your pity on me."

"You must forgive me, sir. Pity comes to one unbidden. Pity--and--and
sympathy. If you get worse, I shall leave my situation and come home
and nurse you."

"Then you will indeed kill me. You will take away my last hope. My one
goblet of new wine will be denied me. Then I shall truly die. Esther,
what is your budget of news? How is my wife? Begin--go on--tell me
everything."

"Mrs. Wyndham is well, sir."

"Well? Do you mean by that that she is happy? Does she laugh much? Does
she sing?"

"Sometimes she laughs. Once I heard her sing."

"Only once, Esther? She had a very sweet voice. I used sometimes to
tell her that it was never silent."

"Once, sir, I heard her sing."

"Oh, once? Was it a cheerful song?"

"It was on a Sunday evening. She was singing to your little boy. I
think she sang the 'Happy Land.' I don't quite remember. I came to
fetch the boy to bed, and she was singing to him. She took her hands
off the piano suddenly when I came in, and there were tears in her
eyes."

"Tears? She was always sensitive to music. And yet you say she does not
look sad."

"I should not call her sad, Brother Jerome. Her face is calm and quiet.
I think she is a very good young lady."

"You need not tell me that, Esther; you managed very well about the
boy."

"Thank you, sir. I think I did. What did you feel when you saw him,
sir?"

"Rapture. All my blood flowed swiftly. I lived and breathed. I had an
exquisite five minutes."

"The boy is not like his mother, sir."

"No, nor like me. He resembles my sister Lilias. Esther, I must see him
again."

"You shall, by-and-bye, but not too soon. We must not run any risks."

"Certainly not. I will have much patience. Hold out the hope only, and
I will cling to it indefinitely."

"You shall see the child again, Brother Jerome."

"God abundantly bless you. Now go on. Tell me more. How does my wife
spend her time? Has she many visitors?"

"Sometimes her father."

"Only sometimes? They used to be inseparable."

"Not now, sir. There is something wrong between them. When they meet
they are constrained with one another, and they don't meet very often.
I have orders, though, to take the child every morning to see Mr.
Paget."

"Have you? I am sorry for that. He kisses my son, does he?"

"Yes, sir. He seems wrapped up in him; he----"

"Don't talk of him. That subject turns my blood into vinegar. Go on.
Tell me more. What other visitor has my wife?"

"Sometimes your sister, Miss Lilias Wyndham."

"My sister? Esther, you don't know what that name recalls. All the old
innocent days; the little hymns before we went to bed, and the little
prayers at our mother's knee. I don't think I can bear to hear much
about Lilias; but I am glad she loves my wife."

"She does, sir. She is devoted to Mrs. Wyndham. I don't think any other
visitors come except Mr. Carr."

"Adrian Carr, a clergyman?"

Wyndham's tone had suddenly become alert and wakeful.

"I believe the gentleman's name is the Rev. Adrian Carr, Brother
Jerome."

"Why do you speak in that guarded voice, Esther? Have you anything to
conceal?"

"No, sir, no. Don't excite yourself. I conceal nothing; he comes, that
is all."

"But surely, not often? He is my father's curate; he cannot often come
to London."

"He is not Mr. Wyndham's curate now, sir; he has a church of his own,
St. Jude's they call it, at the corner of Butler-street."

"And he comes constantly to my house? To--to see my wife?"

"Your--your widow, sir."

"God help me, Esther! God help me! How am I to endure this! My poor--my
beloved--my sweet--and are you exposed to this? Esther, Esther, this
care turns me into a madman."

"You must stay quiet, Brother Jerome. Mr. Carr comes, and your--your
widow sees him."

"Do you think she likes him?"

"Oh, sir, I would rather die than have to tell it to you."

"I cannot listen to your sentimentalisms. Does my wife seem happy when
Adrian Carr calls upon her?"

"I think she is interested in him, Brother Jerome."

"Does she see him alone?"

"Often alone."

"And you say she seems pleased?"

"I think so. It is incomprehensible to me."

"Never mind whether you understand it or not. Do you know that by this
news you are turning me into a devil? I'll risk everything--everything.
I'll expose the whole vile conspiracy if my wife is entrapped into
engaging herself to Adrian Carr."

Brother Jerome was no longer a weak-looking invalid; he began to pace
his attic floor; a fire burnt in his sunken eyes, and he clenched his
thin hands. For the time he was strong.

"Listen to me, Esther Helps. My wife shall run no risk of that kind. It
was in the contract that _that_ should be prevented. I sinned for
her--yes, I willingly sinned for her--but she shall never sin for me.
Rather than that we'll all go to penal servitude. I, and your father,
and her father."

"Do quiet yourself, Mr. Wyndham. There may be nothing in what I told
you."

Esther felt really frightened.

"Perhaps the gentleman comes to see your sister, Miss Wyndham. He
certainly comes, but--but----"

"Esther, the whole thing must be put a stop to--the faintest shadow of
risk must not be run. My wife thinks herself a widow, but she must
retain the feelings of a wife. It must be impossible for her, while I
live, to think of another man."

"Can you not bring yourself back to her memory, sir? Is there no way?"

"That is a good thought. Don't speak for a little. Let me think."

Wyndham continued to pace the floor. Esther softly built up the fire
with trembling fingers. In this mood she was afraid of Wyndham. That
fire in his eyes was new to her. She was cowed--she shivered. With her
mental vision she already saw her grey-headed father in the prisoner's
dock.

"Esther," said Wyndham, coming up to her suddenly. "I have thought of a
plan. It won't implicate anyone, and if a chord in Valentine's heart
still beats true to me this must touch it. At what hour does Carr
generally call to see my wife?"

"He is a busy man; he comes mostly at night, about nine o'clock. He has
a cup of tea, and goes away at ten. When Miss Wyndham is there he
sometimes stays on till nearly eleven."

"He comes every night?"

"Almost every night."

"And he leaves at ten?"

"A few minutes after ten. When the clock strikes ten it seems to be a
sort of a signal to him, and he gets up and goes away."

"Thank you. Ten, then, will be the hour. Esther, something else may
happen at ten of the clock. You need not look so white. I said no risk
would be run. It is possible, however, that my wife may be agitated.
No, you don't suppose I am going to reveal myself to her--nothing of
the sort. Still, something will happen which may break down her nerve
and her calm. In that case she may even appeal to you, Esther, you will
be very guarded. You must remember that on the success of this scheme
of mine depends your father's safety, for if she engages herself to
Carr I swear by the God above me that we three, Paget, your father, and
I, go to prison."

"Sir, I must own that I feel dreadfully frightened."

"Poor Esther! And you don't deserve it, for you are the best of girls
and quite innocent. But that is ever the way. The innocent bear the
sins of the guilty. In this matter, however, Esther, you must trust
me, and keep your own counsel. Now, I want to know if you have any
money you can lend me?"

"I have two sovereigns in my purse, sir. Will that do?"

"Plentifully. I will tell you what I want the money for. I want to hire
a violin--a good one. Once, Esther, I used to express my feelings
through the violin. It talked for me. It revealed some of the tortures
of my soul. The violin shall speak again and to my wife. Now you are
prepared at all points. Good-bye. Be as brave as you are good, and the
worst may be averted."



CHAPTER XLV.


On the following night, as Esther was preparing to go to bed, the
nursery door was suddenly opened and Mrs. Wyndham entered.

"Esther," she said, "I want baby."

"He is sound asleep, madam. You would not wake him?"

"He can be moved without disturbing him. I want him to sleep in my bed.
I want his company. My little child?"

She was trembling. She caught hold of the rails of the baby's cot.

"Little children are sacred innocent things, aren't they, nurse? I want
my little child to-night."

"Strange," thought Esther. "I listened with all my might, and I could
not hear anything except the usual barrel organs and German bands in
the street. But she has heard something, there isn't a doubt. How queer
and shaken she looks. Poor young thing, I do pity her; she can't help
thinking she is a widow when she is a wife."

Aloud Esther complied with Mrs. Wyndham's request cheerfully.

"Certainly, madam. The child will never know that we are moving him. If
you will go on to your room, ma'am, I'll follow with master baby."

Mrs. Wyndham turned away at once.

When the nurse entered her mistress' room with the child, there was a
soft nest made in the big bed to receive him, and the fire in the grate
cast a cheerful glow over everything.

"Let me kiss him," said the mother. "My darling, my beloved. I'll take
him into my arms presently, nurse, and then all fears will fly away."

"Fears, Mrs. Wyndham? No one ought to fear in this cheerful room."

"Perhaps not, nurse; but sometimes I am superstitious--painfully so.
Yes, put baby there. Is he not a handsome boy? Although I could wish he
were more like his father."

"He seems to feature your sister-in-law, Miss Lilias Wyndham, madam."

"How queer that you should find that out! He is not like what Lilias is
now, but they all say she was just such another little child. Nurse, I
hate high winds--there is going to be a storm to-night."

"Would you like me to sleep on the sofa in your room, madam?"

"Yes, no--yes, oh, yes."

"I will bring a shawl, and wrap it round me and lie down."

"No, don't, nurse, don't. I must not yield to this nameless thing. I
must--I will be brave. And the child, my own little child, will comfort
me."

"What is the nameless thing, dear madam?"

"I cannot--I won't speak of it. Esther, are you--are you _going_?"

"Certainly not, Mrs. Wyndham. I mean, not yet."

"That is right. Take this chair; warm yourself. Esther. I don't look on
you as an ordinary nurse. Long ago I used to be so much interested in
you."

"It was very kind of you, madam; young ladies, as a rule, have no time
to interest themselves in poor girls."

"But I had plenty of time, and did interest myself. My father was
always so much attached to yours. I was an only child and you were an
only child. I used to wonder if you and your father cared for each
other as passionately, as loyally, as I and my father cared."

"I don't know that, madam; we did love each other. Our love remains
unchanged. True love ought never to change, ought it?"

"It ought never to change," repeated Mrs. Wyndham. Her face grew white,
her lips trembled. "Sometimes true love is killed by a blow," she said
suddenly. Then her expression changed again, she tried to look
cheerful. "I won't talk any more. I am sleepy, and that nest near baby
looks inviting. Good-night, dear nurse."

"Let me undress you, ma'am. Let me see you in your nest beside the
child."

"No. Go now. Or rather--rather--_stay a moment or two longer_. Esther,
had you ever the heartache?"

"There are a few women, madam, who don't know what the heartache
means."

"I suppose that is true. Once I knew nothing about it. Esther, you are
lucky never to have married."

Esther Helps made no response.

"To marry--to love--and then to lose," dreamily murmured Mrs. Wyndham.
"To love, and then to lose. Esther, it is a dreadful thing to be a
widow, when you are young."

"But the widow can become a wife again," suddenly replied Esther.

The words seemed forced from her lips; she was sorry the moment she had
uttered them.

Mrs. Wyndham opened her big eyes wide.

"I suppose the widows who can become wives again have not lost much,"
she responded in a cold voice.

Then she moved over to the bedside and began to undress.

A few moments later Esther left her. She felt puzzled, perplexed,
unhappy. She had no key to the thoughts which were passing in her
mistress' mind. Her impression was that Valentine loved Carr, but felt
a certain shame at the fact.

The next evening the vicar of St. Jude's called again. He came
hurriedly to the door, ran up the stairs without being shown the way,
and entered Valentine's presence with a brisk step. Esther leant over
the banisters to watch him as he entered the drawing-room. It was
half-past nine when he arrived; he had been conducting a prayer meeting
and was later than usual.

The drawing-room door was shut on the two, and Esther, who had been
sitting with the child, now crept softly downstairs and entered a small
bedroom at the back of the drawing-room. This bedroom also looked on
the street. It was the room occupied by Lilias when she visited her
sister-in-law. Esther closed the door softly behind her. The room was
dark. She went up to the window and looked eagerly up and down the
gaily-lighted street.

She could distinguish no words, but the soft murmur of voices came to
her through the drawing-room wall.

"You are better to-night?" said Carr, in a cheery, confident tone;
"although you took it upon yourself to disobey me."

"I could not go to the prayer-meeting. I could not."

"Well, well, you must act as you think best; only I don't think staying
at home is the best thing for you."

"Oh, I shan't get over-nervous; and Lilias is coming to me next week."

Carr's eyes brightened.

"That is good," he said. "Well, I must not stay. I just looked in for a
moment. I knew you would not let these superstitious fears get the
better of you. Good-night."

He held out his hand. Valentine put hers behind her.

"No," she said; "you always stay until past ten. It was at ten o'clock
last night----" She trembled--more words would not come.

"And I will stay until past ten to-night," responded Carr resuming his
seat. "Now, don't look at the clock. Turn your thoughts to me and my
affairs. So Miss Wyndham comes here next week?"

"She does."

"Shall I put everything to the test, then?"

Valentine's face grew bright.

"Oh how earnestly I wish you would," she cried, clasping her hands.

"Do you, indeed? Then you must think there is some chance for me. The
fact is, Mrs. Wyndham, I am the veriest coward that ever breathed. If I
win, I win for ever. I mean that I am made, body, soul, and spirit. If
I lose, I think morally I shall go under. A main spring will be broken
which has kept me right, kept my eyes looking upwards ever since I knew
your sister Lilias."

"But even if she refuses you, you will live on," said Valentine, in a
dreamy voice. "We often have to live on when the main spring is broken.
We creep instead of running, that is all."

"Now you are getting gloomy again. As your spiritual adviser I cannot
permit it. You have put a daring thought into my head, and you are
bound to think of me, not yourself, at present. Will you sing something
to me before I go? You know Lilias' song of triumph; you taught it to
her. Sing it to me to-night, it will be a good omen."

Valentine hesitated for a moment. Then she went over to the piano and
opened it. Her fingers touched one or two chords tremblingly. Suddenly
she stopped, her face worked. She looked at Carr with a piteous
expression.

"I cannot sing the triumph song," she said, "it is not in me. I should
do it no justice. This must take its place. But it is not for you,
remember. Oh, no, I pray God never for you. Listen, don't scold me
afterwards. Listen."

Her fingers ran over the keys, her voice swelled and filled the room:--

   "The murmur of the mourning ghost
     That keeps the shadowy kine.
   Oh, Keith of Ravelston.
     The sorrows of thy line!

   Ravelston, Ravelston.
     The merry path that leads
   Down the golden morning hill.
     And through the silver meads.

   Ravelston, Ravelston.
     The stile beneath the tree.
   The maid that kept her mother's kine.
     The song that sang she.

   She sang her song, she kept her kine.
     She sat beneath the thorn.
    When Andrew Keith of Ravelston
     Rode through the Monday morn.

   His henchmen sing, his hawk bells ring.
     His belted jewels shine--
   O, Keith of Ravelston.
     The sorrows of thy line!"

"Now, good-night," said Valentine, springing to her feet. "Don't
question me about the song. I sang it, but I cannot speak of it. The
clock is about to strike. It is your hour for farewell. Oh, yes, I wish
you all luck--all luck. The clock is striking----! Oh, what a noise
there is in the street!"

"What a silence you mean," said Carr, as he took her hand.

It was true. The thunderous rattle of a heavy waggon, the discordant
notes of a brass band, the din of a hurdy-gurdy frightfully out of
tune, suddenly stopped. It was as if a wave of sound had been arrested,
and in the quiet floated up the passionate wail of a soul. There are
no other words to describe what the sound meant. It had a voice and an
interpretation. It was beautiful, but its beauty was torture. Trembling
in every limb, Valentine sprang away from Carr, flew to one of the
French windows, wrested it open, and stepped on to the balcony. She was
in white, and the people in the street could see her. She pressed to
the front of the balcony and looked eagerly up and down.

The wailing of the lost soul grew more feeble--more faint. It stopped.
There was a pause of half a minute, and then the waggon lumbered on,
and the hurdy-gurdy crashed out its discordant notes.

"I saw nothing," said Carr, who had followed Mrs. Wyndham on to the
balcony and now led her back to the drawing-room. "I saw nothing," he
repeated. "I mean, I did not see the man who played."

"But you heard?"

"Oh, yes, I heard."

"You could not see. That was spirit music. My husband played. Don't
speak to me; don't touch me; you tried to argue me out of my belief
last night, but even _you_ heard to-night. My husband has come back in
the spirit, and he has played for me. Only _he_ knows that air--only he
in all the world. That was 'Waves.' Once I told you the story of 'Music
waves.'"

She did not faint, she crouched down by the fire; but no face to be
alive could be whiter than hers.

"What is the matter, Mr. Carr?" she said suddenly. "Why cannot my
husband's spirit rest? They say that those spirits that are hurried out
of life before their time cannot rest. O, tell me what you think. O,
tell me what it means. You heard the music yourself to-night."

"I did. I certainly heard it."

"And at the same hour. When the clock struck."

"That is a mere coincidence, not worth considering."

"I don't believe in its being a coincidence."

She beat her hands passionately together.

"The thing was planned--he planned it. He will come again to-morrow
night when the clock strikes ten."

Again she beat her hands together; then she covered her face with them.

Carr looked at her anxiously. The weird soft wailing music had affected
even his nerves. Of course he did not believe in the supernatural
element, but he was touched by the distress of the woman who was
crouching at his feet. This mental unrest, this superstitious terror,
might have a disastrous effect. He must do his utmost to check it. If
necessary he must even be cruel to be kind.

"Mrs. Wyndham," he said, "you must go away to-morrow; you must go into
the country for a few days."

"I will not. I won't stir a step."

"You ought, your nerves are shaken. There is nothing for shaken nerves
like change of air. Go to Jewsbury-on-the-Wold, and talk to Lilias.
She, too, loved your husband; she will sympathize, but she will not
lose sight of common-sense."

"I will not stir from here."

"I think for your child's sake you ought. The child belongs to your
husband as well as you, to your dead husband. The child is fatherless
as far as this world is concerned. You have no right--it is very, very
wicked of you to do anything to make him motherless."

"What do you mean? Why do you speak to me in that tone? I don't deserve
it."

"You do."

"I think you are cruel."

Valentine's eyes filled with sudden tears.

"What do you mean by saying that I will leave baby motherless?"

"I mean that if you encourage the fancy which has now taken possession
of you you are extremely likely to lose your senses--to become, in
short, insane. How can you train your child if you are insane?"

Valentine shuddered.

"But I did hear the music," she said. "The old story music that he only
played. How can I doubt the evidence of my senses? Last night at ten
o'clock I heard 'Waves' played on the violin, my husband's favorite
instrument--the melody which he made, the harmony and melody with all
the passion and its story, which he made about himself and me. No one
else could produce those sounds. I heard them last night at ten
o'clock, you were here, but you heard nothing. To-night there was
silence in the street, and we both heard--we both heard."

"I certainly heard some very melancholy music."

"Played on the violin?"

"Yes, played on the violin."

"In short, you heard 'Waves.'"

"I heard something which I never heard before. I cannot tell the name."

"No. What you heard was 'Waves,' in other words the cry of a soul."

"Mrs. Wyndham, get up. Give me your hand. Look me in the face. Now,
that is better. I am going to talk common-sense to you. You have been
from the first impressed with the idea that foul play was done to your
husband. For a time I own I shared your apprehension. I discovered one
or two things in connection with his death which far more than your
words inclined me to this belief. Since I came to London I have thought
a great deal over the matter. Last week a lucky chance brought me in
communication with Captain Jellyby of the _Esperance_. Ah, you start. I
saw him. I think you would like me to bring him here some night. He
entered into minute particulars of Wyndham's last days. He would like
to tell you the story himself. I can only say that a fairer story could
not be recorded of any man. He was beloved by every one on board the
ship. 'We all loved him,' said Captain Jellyby. 'Emigrants, passengers,
sailors, all alike. Sir,' he said, 'when Mr. Wyndham was washed over,
there wasn't a dry eye on board. But if ever a man humbly and
cheerfully went forth to meet his Creator, he was the man, sir. He met
his death trying to help the man at the wheel. Bless his heart, he
spent all his life trying to help other people.'"

Valentine was silently crying.

"You comfort me," she said; "you comfort me much. Go on."

"That is all, my dear friend, that is all. It set my mind at rest with
regard to your husband. It ought to set yours at rest also. He is a
glorious, and happy spirit in heaven now. Is it likely that he would
come back from there to frighten you for no object or purpose? No, you
must dismiss the idea from your mind."

"But the music--the unearthly music."

"Played by a strolling musician with a talent for the thing. That was
all."

"His air and mine--'Waves.' The air that no one else knew, that was
never written down."

"You imagined the likeness to the air you mention. Our imaginations
play strange tricks with us. The air played to-night was of a very
minor character, and had notes in common with the one your husband
composed. Hence a fleeting resemblance. It is more natural and in
accordance with sense to believe this than to suppose that your husband
came back from heaven to torture you. Now, good-night. You are good.
You will try and be brave. I ask you to be brave for the sake of your
noble husband's child."



CHAPTER XLVI.


As Carr was leaving the house he came across Esther, who, very white,
but with a resolute look on her face, met him on the stairs.

"How is my mistress, sir?"

Carr felt nettled at her tone.

"Why do you ask?" he said shortly; "when last you saw her I presume she
was well."

"No, sir."

"No?"

Carr paused. He gave Esther a quick piercing look, and his manner
changed. Her face was strong, it could be relied on.

"You are the little boy's nurse, are you not?"

"I am, Mr. Carr."

"And you are attached to your mistress?"

Esther hesitated.

"I--I am," she said, but her voice trembled.

"Mrs. Wyndham wants some one who can be kind and sympathetic near her.
Some one who can be tactful, and full of common-sense. Her nerves are
greatly shaken. For instance she was much agitated at some music she
heard in the street to-night."

"I heard it, sir. I was surprised. It wasn't like ordinary music."

"Oh, you thought so, did you? For heaven's sake don't repeat your
thoughts to Mrs. Wyndham. You look a sensible young woman."

Esther dropped a curtsey.

"I hope I am," she said in a demure voice.

"Has your mistress a maid--a maid she likes?"

"No. I render her what little services are necessary."

"Can you stay in her room to-night? She ought not to be alone."

"I will sleep on the sofa in my mistress' room."

"That is right. Don't allude to the music in the street if you can help
it."

Carr ran downstairs and went away, and Esther, slowly and hesitatingly,
entered the drawing-room.

Mrs. Wyndham was standing with her two arms clasped round her husband's
violin. The tears were raining from her eyes. Before she could
disengage herself Esther saw the action, and a queer pang, half of
pleasure, half of pain, shot through her. She saw at a glance that
Gerald Wyndham's wife cared for no one but her husband. She stepped
across the room quickly, and without any thought of the familiarity of
the action put her hand through her mistress' arm, and led her towards
the door.

"Come," she said, "you are tired and weak. Master baby is in his nest,
and he wants you. Come, I am going to put you to bed."

Valentine raised no objection. She was trembling and cold. The tears
were undried on her cheeks; the look of infinite pathetic patience in
her eyes almost crushed Esther Helps.

"What a fool I was to suppose she didn't love her husband," she
murmured. "As if any woman could be much with him and not love him. Ah,
lucky Mrs. Wyndham--notwithstanding all your sorrow you are the woman I
envy most on earth."

Valentine did not object to her maid's attentions. She felt shaken and
worn out, and was glad passively to submit. When she was in bed she
spoke for the first time.

"Esther, get a shawl, and lie here, outside the clothes. It comforts me
to have you near."

Esther obeyed without any comment. She wrapped a thick shawl around
her, and lay down near the edge of the big bed. Valentine took her
little rosy boy into her arms.

"Now you must go to sleep, Mrs. Wyndham," said the maid, and she
resolutely shut her own dark eyes.

For an hour she lay motionless, every nerve keenly awake, and on
tension. For an hour she never lifted her eyelids. At the end of that
time she opened them, and glanced at her mistress. Valentine was lying
as still as if she were carved in marble. Her eyes were wide open. They
were looking straight before her out into the big room. She scarcely
seemed to breathe, and never saw Esther when she glanced at her.

"This won't do," thought the maid. "Poor little soul, she has got an
awful shock. She will be very ill if I don't do something to rouse and
interest her. I know she loves her husband--I will speak of him."

Esther moved on purpose somewhat aggressively. Valentine's wide-open
eyes never flinched or changed their expression. The maid touched her
mistress on the shoulder.

"This isn't good of you," she said; "you ought to be asleep."

Valentine started and shivered violently.

"I thought I was asleep," she said. "At any rate I was far away."

"When people sleep they shut their eyes," quoth Esther.

"Were mine open? I did not know it. I was looking at a picture--a
picture in real life. It was lovely."

"I like beautiful pictures," said Esther. "Tell me what you saw."

By this time these two women had forgotten the relative positions they
bore to each other. Valentine observed no familiarity in Esther's tone.
Esther spoke and thought as though she were Valentine's social equal.
She knew she was above her mentally just then; it was necessary for her
to take the lead.

"Tell me what you saw, madam," she said. "Describe your beautiful
picture."

Valentine obeyed with the docility of a child.

"It was a seaside picture," she began. "The sun was setting, and there
was a path of light across the waters. The path seemed to go right up
into the sky, and melt, and end there. And I--I thought of Jacob's
ladder, from earth to heaven, and the angels walking up and down. On
the shore a man and a girl sat. He had his arm round her waist; and she
was filling her hands with the warm soft sand and letting it dribble
away through her fingers. She was happy. She felt warm and contented,
and protected against the whole world. Although she did not know that
she loved it so much, it was the arm that encircled her that gave her
that feeling."

Valentine stopped suddenly.

"That was a pretty picture, madam," said Esther. "A pretty picture, and
you described it well. I suppose the gentleman was the girl's lover or
husband."

"Her lover and husband in one. They were married. They sat like that
once during their honeymoon. Presently he, the husband, took up his
violin, which he had beside him, and began to play."

"Don't go into the music part, please, Mrs. Wyndham. I want just to
keep to the picture alone. I want to guess something. I am good at
guessing. You were the happy young girl."

"I was; oh, I was."

"And the gentleman was your husband; yes, your husband, whom you dearly
loved."

"Don't talk of him, he is lost, gone. Esther, I'm a miserable,
miserable woman."

Her icy quiet was broken up. Long-drawn sobs escaped her; she shivered
as she wept.

"It is an awful thing to love too late--to love loo late," she moaned.

"Madam, I'm going to give you some sal-volatile and water: when you
have taken it you shall tell me the whole story from first to last.
Yes, you had better; you have said too much or too little. I may be
able to comfort you if I know all."

Esther administered the restorative. When the distressful sobs were
quieted, and Mrs. Wyndham lay back exhausted on her pillow, she took
her hand, and said with infinite tact and tenderness:--

"You love him you have lost very deeply. Is that not so?"

"Beyond words to describe."

"You were young when you were married, Mrs. Wyndham; you are a very
young woman still. Perhaps, as a young girl, as almost a child-girl,
you did not know what great love meant."

"I always knew what great love meant. As a little girl I used to
idolize my father. I remember when I was very young, not much older
than baby here, lying down on the floor and kissing the carpet over
which his steps had walked. I used to steal into his study and sit like
a mouse; perfectly happy while I was watching him. When I saw his face
that was bliss; when he took me in his arms I thought Heaven could give
me no more. You are an only child, Esther Helps. Did you feel like that
for your father?"

"No, madam, I always loved my father after a quiet fashion; I love him
after a quiet fashion still. That kind of intense love I did not know.
And you feel it still for Mr. Paget? I suppose it is natural. He is a
handsome gentleman; he has a way about him that attracts people. For
instance, my father would do anything for him. It is still bliss to
you, Mrs. Wyndham, to watch your father's face."

"Come near to me, Esther; let me whisper to you. That love which I
thought unquenchable is--dead!"

"Madam, you astonish me! Dead?"

"It died, Esther Helps, on the morning my husband sailed away."

"Then you only love your husband now?"

"I love many people. For instance, this little child; for instance, my
sister Lilias. What I feel for my husband is high above all these
things. I cannot describe it. It lies here--in my heart--and my heart
aches, and aches."

"It would make Mr. Wyndham very happy to hear you," said Esther.

Her words were unguarded. Valentine began to sob feebly.

"He can never hear me," she said. "That is the dreadful part. I loved
him when we were married, but I did not know it. Then the knowledge
came to me, and I was so happy. One evening I told him so. I said, 'I
love you!' I shall never forget his face. Often he was sad, but his
face seemed to shine when I said those words, and he took me in his
arms, and I saw a little way into the depth of his great heart. Soon
after that something happened--I am not going to tell it, it doesn't
matter--please don't hold my hand, Esther. It is very queer that _you_
should be with me to-night."

"Why, dear madam? Don't you like to have me with you?"

"I think I do. I really quite think I do. Still it is strange that you
should be here."

"Your story interests me wonderfully, Mrs. Wyndham. Will you tell me
more?"

"There is not a great deal to tell. For a time I misunderstood my
husband, and the love which really filled my heart seemed to go back
and back and back like the waves when the tide is going out. Then the
time came for him to go to Sydney. He could not say good-bye; he wrote
good-bye. He said a strange thing in the middle of the letter; he asked
me if I really loved him to join him the next morning on board the
_Esperance_. Loved him! Of course I loved him! I was so relieved.
Everything was made clear to me. He was first--all others everywhere
were second. My father came in, and I told him what I meant to do. He
was angry, and tried to dissuade me. When he saw that I would not yield
he appeared to consent, and promised to go with me the next morning to
Southampton. The _Esperance_ was not to sail until noon. There seemed
lots of time. Still, for the first time, I began to doubt my father. I
determined not to wait for the train he had arranged to travel by with
me, but to go down by a much earlier one. I went to Southampton with a
German maid I had at the time. We arrived there at eight in the
morning, we reached the docks soon after nine, the _Esperance_ was
away--she had sailed at eight. Don't question me about that day, Esther
Helps. It was on that day my love for my father died."



CHAPTER XLVII.


It was nearly morning before Mrs. Wyndham fell asleep. Before then,
Esther had said a good deal.

"I am not surprised at your loving your husband," she began. "Men like
your husband are worth loving. They are loyal, true, and noble. They
make the world a better place. Once your husband helped me. I am going
to tell you the story.

"Three years ago, Mrs. Wyndham, I was a very different girl from the
one who now is by your side. I was handsome, and vain, and
empty-headed. I thought most of dress and of flirting. I had the
silliest form of ambition. I wanted to be a gentleman's wife. My mother
had been a lady by birth, and I thought it was only due to me to be the
same. My only chance of becoming a lady was by marrying a gentleman,
and I thought surely someone would be found who would make me his wife
for the sake of my handsome face. I had nothing else to recommend me,
Mrs. Wyndham, for I was empty-headed and untrained, and I had a
shallow, vulgar soul.

"One day I was skating in Regent's Park with some friends. I fell on
the ice and hurt my foot. A gentleman picked me up. I looked into his
face in the bold way I had, and then all of a sudden I felt ashamed of
myself, and I looked down, and a modest, humble womanly feeling crept
over me. The gentleman was your husband, Mr. Wyndham; the expression on
his face impressed me, and I could not forget it. He came to our house
that evening and brought a book to my father, and a present of flowers
from you to me. I felt quite silent and queer when he was in the room;
I did not talk, but I listened to every word he said. He was so
uncommon. I thought what a clergyman he'd make, and how, if he were as
eloquent in his words as in his looks, he might make us all good in
spite of ourselves. He made a great impression on me, and I did not
like to think my low silly thoughts after he had gone.

"Soon afterwards I made the acquaintance of a Captain Herriot, in
the --th Hussars; he was a very fine gentleman, and had very fine words,
and although I did not love him a bit nor a scrap, he turned my head
with his flattery. He did go on about my face--I don't know how I ever
was goose enough to believe him. He managed to get my secrets out of me
though, and when I told him that I meant to be a gentleman's wife some
day, he said that he was the gentleman, and that I should marry him,
and him alone. I thought that would be fine, and I believed him. He
made all arrangements--oh, how I hate to think of what I afterwards saw
was his real meaning.

"I was not to let out a thing to my father, and on a certain night we
were to go together to the Gaiety, and he was to take me home
afterwards, and the next morning we were to go to church and be
married. He showed me the license and the ring, and I believed
everything, and thought it would be fine to be the wife of Captain
Herriot.

"I kept my secret from my father, but Cherry, a cousin who lives with
us, got some of it out of me, for I was mad with vain triumph, and it
was indirectly through her that I came to be delivered. The night
arrived, and I went away from my home thinking how proudly I'd come
back to show myself in a day or two; and how Cherry would open her eyes
when I told her I was the wife of Captain Herriot, of the --th Hussars.
I reached the theatre, and Captain Herriot gave me his arm, and led me
into the house, and we took our places in the stalls. People turned and
looked at me, and Captain Herriot said it was no wonder, for I was the
most beautiful woman in the Gaiety that night.

"Then the curtain rose, the house was darkened, and some one took the
empty stall at my other side. I turned my head, Mr. Wyndham was sitting
near me. He said a courteous word or two. I bowed my head; I could not
speak. Madam, I did not see that play; I was there, looking on, but I
saw nothing. Captain Herriot whispered in my ear; I pushed away from
him. Suddenly he was horrible to me. I felt like a girl who was placed
between an angel and a devil. Instantly the mask fell from my eyes.
Captain Herriot meant to ruin me, never to marry me. Mr. Wyndham
scarcely said a word to me till the play was over, then he spoke.

"'Your father wants you,' he said. 'Here is a cab, get into it. I will
take you to your father.'

"He spoke out, quite loud and clear. I thought Captain Herriot would
have fought him. Not a bit of it. His face turned an ugly color. He
took off his hat to me, and slunk away through the crowd. That was the
last straw. He had not even spirit to fight for the girl who thought
she was about to become his wife.

"Mr. Wyndham got on the box of the cab, and took me to Mr. Paget's
offices. My old father came out, and helped me out of the cab, and put
his arms round me. He wrung Mr. Wyndham's hand, and said 'God bless
you, sir;' and then he led me inside, and told me how Cherry had
betrayed me, and how he (my father) had taken that stall ticket
intending to sit beside me that night, and give Captain Herriot a blow
in his face afterwards, as he was known to be one of the greatest
scoundrels going. Pressing business kept my father at the office that
night, and Mr. Wyndham promised to go in his place.

"'There isn't another young gentleman who would do it,' said my father.
'No not another.'

"After that, madam, I was changed; yes, a good bit. I thought I'd live
more worthy. Mr. Wyndham's face used to come between me and frivolous
ways and vain sins. It seemed as if his were the hand to lead me up.
You don't mind, do you, madam, that he should have rescued one poor
girl from the pit of destruction, and that she should love him--yes,
love him for what he has done?"

"Oh, Esther, do I mind? Come here, Esther, come here. Let me put my
arms round you. Kiss me. You have lifted something from my heart--how
much you can never know. Esther, _I_ was at the Gaiety that night, and
I saw my husband with you, and I--I doubted him."

"Madam--_you_?" Esther sprang away--her whole face became crimson.

"I did, Esther; and that was when my love went away like the tide going
out; but now--now----Esther, lie down. Let me hold your hand. I am
sleepy. I can sleep sweetly now."



CHAPTER XLVIII.


When the wandering minstrel, with his violin under his arm, left the
neighborhood of Park-lane, he walked with a somewhat feeble and
faltering step through Grosvenor-square and into Bond-street. A few
people looked at him as he passed, and a hungry-looking girl who was
leaning against a wall suddenly asked him to play for her. He stopped
at the sound of her voice and said a word or two.

"I am sorry my violin only knows one air, and I have played it."

"Can you not play it again?"

"It is not meant for you, poor girl. Good-night."

"Good-night, kind sir. I'll say a prayer for you if you like; you look
miserable enough."

The minstrel removed his soft hat, made a gesture of thanks, and
hurried on. He was going to Queen's Gate. The walk was long, and he was
very feeble. He had a few coins in his pocket from the change of
Esther's sovereigns; he determined to ride, and mounted on the roof of
a Hammersmith omnibus in Piccadilly.

By-and-bye he reached his destination, and found himself in familiar
ground. He walked slowly now, hesitating--sometimes inclined to turn
back. Presently he reached a house; he went up the steps, and took
shelter for a moment from the biting east winds under the portico. It
was late, but the lights were still shining in the great mansion.

He was glad of this; he could not have done what he meant to do except
under strong excitement, and sheltered by the friendly gas light. He
turned and gave the visitor's bell a full peal. The door was opened
almost instantly by a liveried footman.

"Is Mr. Paget within?"

The man stared. The voice was not only refined, but to a certain extent
familiar. The voice, oh, yes; but then the figure, the thin, long
reed-like figure, slouching forward with weakness, buttoned up tight in
the seedy frock coat whose better days must have been a matter of the
very distant past.

"Is Mr. Paget within?"

The tone was so assured and even peremptory that the servant, in spite
of himself, was overawed.

"I believe so, sir," he said.

"Ask if I can see him."

"Mr. Paget is not very well, sir, and it is late."

"Ask if I can see him."

The footman turned a little surly.

"I'll inquire," he said; "he's sure to say no, but I'll inquire. Your
name, if you please. My master will require to know your name."

"I am known as Brother Jerome. Tell your master that my business is
urgent. Go; I am in a hurry."

"Rum party, that," murmured the servant. "Don't understand him; don't
like him. All the same, I can't shut the door in his face. He's the
sort of party as has seen better days; 'ope as the umbrellas is safe."

Then he walked across the hall and entered his master's study.

The room, with its old oak and painted glass, and electric light,
looked the perfection of comfort. The tall, white-headed man who sat
crushed up in the big armchair was the envied of many.

"If you please, sir," said the servant.

"Yes; don't leave the door open. Who were you chatting to in the
hall?"

"A man who has called, and wants to see you very particular, sir."

"I can't see him."

"He says his name is Brother Jerome."

"I can't see him. Go away, and shut the door."

"I knew it would be no use," muttered the footman. "Only he seems a
sort of a gentleman, sir, and in trouble like."

"I can't see him. Shut the door and go away!"

"Yes, you can see me," said a voice.

The minstrel walked into the room.

"Good heavens!"



CHAPTER XLIX.


At the sound of his voice the footman fell back as white as a sheet.
Mr. Paget rose, walked over to him, took him by the shoulders, and
pushed him out of the room. He locked the door behind him. Then he
turned, and backing step by step almost as far as the window, raised
his hands, and looked at his forbidden visitor with a frozen expression
of horror.

Wyndham took his hat off and laid it on the table. Mr. Paget raised his
hands, covered his face with them, and groaned.

"Spirit!" he said. "Spirit, why have you come to torment me before the
time?"

"I am no spirit," replied Wyndham, "I am a living man--a defrauded and
injured man--but as much alive as you are."

"It is false--don't touch me--don't come a step nearer--you are
dead--you have been dead for the last three years. On the 25th April,
18--, you committed suicide by jumping into the sea; you did it on
purpose to revenge yourself, and since then you have haunted me, and
made my life as hell. I always said, Wyndham, you would make an awful
ghost--you do, you do."

"I am not a ghost," said Wyndham. "Touch me, and you will see. This
wrist and hand are thin enough, but they are alive. I fell into the
sea, but I was rescued. I came to you to-night--I troubled you to-night
because you have broken our contract, because----What is the matter?
Touch me, you will see I am no ghost."

Wyndham came nearer; Mr. Paget uttered a piercing shriek.

"Don't--don't!" he implored. "You are a lying spirit; you have often
lied--often--to me. You want to take me with you; you know if you touch
me I shall have to go. Don't--oh, I beseech of you, leave me the little
time longer that I've got to live. Don't torment me before the time."

He dropped on his knees; his streaming white hair fell behind him, his
hands were raised in supplication.

"Don't," said Wyndham, terribly distressed. "You have wronged me
bitterly, but I, too, am a sinner; I would not willingly hurt mortal on
this earth. Get up, don't degrade yourself. I am a living man like
yourself. I have come to speak to you of my wife--of Valentine."

"Don't breathe her name. I lost her through you. No, you are dead--I
have murdered you--your blood is on my soul--but I won't go with you
yet, not yet. Ha! ha! I'll outwit you. Don't touch me!"

He gave another scream, an awful scream, half of triumph, half of
despair, sprang to the door, unlocked it and vanished.

Wyndham took up his violin and left the house.

"Mad, poor fellow!" he muttered to himself. "Who'd have thought it?
Even from a worldly point of view what fools people are to sin! What
luck does it ever bring them? He made me his accomplice, his victim, in
order to keep his daughter's love, in order to escape dishonor and
penal servitude. He told me the whole story of that trust money--to be
his if there was no child--to be kept for a child if there was. He was
a good fellow before he got the trust money I have no doubt. The friend
died, and soon afterwards Paget learned that he had left a son behind
him. Mr. Paget told me--how well I remember his face when he told me
how he felt about the son, who was then only an infant, but to whom he
must deliver the trust money when he came of age. 'I wanted that money
badly,' he said, 'and I resolved to suppress the trust papers and use
the money. I thought the chances were that the child would never
know.'"

The chances, however, were against Mr. Paget. The friend who had left
him the money in trust had not so absolutely believed in him as he
supposed. He had left duplicate papers, and these papers were in the
boy's possession. One day Mr. Paget learned this fact. When he knew
this he knew also that when his friend's son came of age he should have
to repay the trust with interest; in short, he would have to give the
young man the enormous sum of eighty thousand pounds or be branded as a
thief and a criminal.

"I remember the night he told me this story," concluded Wyndham with a
sigh.

He was walking slowly now in the direction of the Embankment.

"So the plot was made up," he continued. "The insurance on my life was
to pay back the trust. Valentine would never know her father's
dishonor. She would continue to love him best of all men, and he would
escape shame, ruin--penal servitude. How have matters turned out? For
the love of a woman I performed my part: for the love of a woman and
self combined, he performed his. How has he fared? The woman ceases to
love him, and he is mad. I--how have matters fared with me? How? The
wages of sin are hard. I saw a sight to-night which might well turn a
stronger brain than mine. I saw my wife, and the man who may soon be
her husband. I must not dwell on that, I dare not."

Wyndham walked on, a burning fever gave him false strength. He reached
the Embankment and presently sat down near a girl who looked even
poorer and more miserable than himself. There were several men and
girls occupying the same bench. It was a bitter cold, frosty night;
all the seats along the Embankment were full, some poor creatures even
lay about on the pavement. Wyndham turned to look at the slight young
creature by his side. She was very young, rather fair in appearance,
and very poorly clad.

"You are shivering," said Wyndham, in the voice which still could be
one of the kindest in the world.

The poor worn young face turned to look at him in surprise and even
confidence.

"Yes," said the girl. "I'm bitter cold, and numb, and starved. It's a
cruel world, and I hate God Almighty for having made me."

"Hush, don't say that. It does no good to speak against the one who
loves you. Lean against me. Let me put my arm round you. Think of me as
a brother for the next hour or two. I would not harm a hair of your
head."

"I believe you," said the girl, beginning to sob.

With a touching movement of absolute confidence she laid her faded face
against his shoulder.

"That is better, is it not?" said Wyndham.

"Yes, thank you, sir. I'm desperate sleepy, and I shan't slip off the
bench now. I was afraid to go to sleep before, for if I slipped off
somebody else would get my seat, and I know I'd be dead if I lay on the
pavement till morning."

"Well, go to sleep, now. I shan't let you slip off."

"Sir, how badly you are coughing."

"I am sorry if my cough disturbs you. I cannot help giving way to it
now and then."

"Oh, sir, it is not that; you seem like a good angel to me. I even love
the sound of your cough, for it is kind. But have you not a home, sir?"

"I certainly have a shelter for the night. Not a home in the true sense
of the word."

"Ought you not to go to your shelter, sir?"

"No, I shall stay here with you until you have had a good sleep. Now
shut your eyes."

The girl tried to obey. For about ten minutes she sat quiet, and
Wyndham held her close, trying to impart some of the warmth from his
own body to her frozen frame. Suddenly the girl raised her eyes, looked
him in the face, and smiled.

"Sir, you are an angel."

"You make a great mistake. On the contrary I have sinned more deeply
than most."

"Sir?"

"It is true."

"I don't want you to preach to me, sir; but I know from your face
however you have sinned you have been forgiven."

"You make another mistake; my sin is unabsolved."

"Sir?"

The girl's astonishment showed itself in her tone.

"Don't talk about me," continued Wyndham. "It is a curious fact that I
love God, although it is impossible for Him to forgive me until I do
something which I find impossible to do. I go unforgiven through life,
still I love God. I delight in His justice, I glory in the love He has
even for me, and still more for those who like you can repent and come
to Him, and be really forgiven."

He paused, he saw that he was talking over the girl's head. Presently
he resumed in a very gentle pleading voice:--

"I don't want to hear your story, but----"

The girl interrupted him with a sort of cry.

"It is the usual story, sir. There is nothing to conceal. Once I was
innocent, now I am what men and women call _lost_. Lost and fallen.
That's what they say of girls like me."

"God can say something quite different to you. He can say found and
restored. Listen. No one loves you like God. Loving He forgives. All
things are possible to love."

"Yes, sir; when you speak like that you make me weep."

"Crying will do you good. Poor little girl, we are never likely to meet
again in this world. I want you to promise me that you won't turn
against God Almighty. He is your best friend."

"Sir! And He leaves me to starve. To starve, and sin."

"He wants you not to sin. The starving, even if it must come, is only a
small matter, for there is the whole of eternity to make up for it. Now
I won't say another word, except to assure you from the lips of a dying
man, for I know I am dying, that God is your best friend, and that He
loves you. Go to sleep."

The girl smiled again, and presently dropped off into an uneasy slumber
with her head on Wyndham's shoulder.

By-and-bye a stout woman, with a basket on her arm, came up. She looked
curiously at Wyndham. He saw at a glance that she must have walked from
a long distance, and would like his seat. He beckoned her over.

"You are tired. Shall I give you my seat?"

"Eh, sir, you are kind. I have come a long way and am fair spent."

"You shall sit here, if you will let this tired girl lay her head on
your breast."

"Eh, but she don't look as good as she might be!"

"Never mind. Jesus Christ would have let her put her head on His
breast. Thank you, I knew you were a kind hearted woman. She will be
much better near you than near me. Here is a shilling. Give it her when
she wakes. Good-night."



CHAPTER L.


Esther longed to go to Acacia Villas during the week. She often felt on
the point of asking Mrs. Wyndham to give her leave, but then again she
felt afraid to raise suspicions; and besides her mistress was ill, and
clung to her. Although Esther listened with a kind of terror on the
following evening, the sound of the violin was not again heard.

Sunday came at last, and she could claim her privilege of going home.
She arrived at Acacia Villas with her heart in a tumult. How much she
would have to tell Wyndham! It was in her power to make him happy, to
relieve his heart of its worst load.

Cherry alone was in the kitchen when she arrived, and Cherry was in a
very snappish humor.

"No, Esther, I don't know where uncle is. He's not often at home now. I
hear say that Mr. Paget is very bad--gone in the head you know. They'll
have to put him into an asylum, and that'll be a good thing for poor
uncle. Take off your bonnet and cloak, Esther, and have a cup of tea
cosy-like. I'm learning one of Macaulay's Lays now for a recitation.
Maybe you'd hear me a few of the stanzas when you're drinking your
tea."

"Yes, Cherry, dear, but I want to go up to Brother Jerome first. I can
see him while you're getting the kettle to boil. I've a little parcel
here which I want him to take down to Sister Josephine to the Mission
House to-morrow."

Cherry laughed in a half-startled way.

"Don't you know?" she said.

"Don't I know what?"

"Why Brother Jerome ain't here; he went out on Tuesday evening and
never came home. I thought, for sure, uncle would have gone and told
you."

"Never came home since Tuesday? No, I didn't hear."

Esther sat down and put her hand to her heart. Her face was ghastly.

"I knew it," murmured Cherry under her breath. "She have gone and
fallen in love with a chap from one of them slums."

Aloud she said in a brisk tone:--

"Yes, he's gone. I don't suppose there's much in it. He were tired of
the attic, that's all. I sleep easy of nights now. No more pacing the
boards overhead, nor hack, hack, hack coughing fit to wake the seven
sleepers. What's the matter, Esther?"

"You are the most heartless girl I ever met," said Esther. "No, I don't
want your tea."

She tied her bonnet strings and left the house without glancing at her
crestfallen cousin.

      *       *       *       *       *

That very same afternoon, as Mrs. Wyndham was sitting in her bedroom,
trying to amuse baby, who was in a slightly refractory humor, there
came a sudden message for her. One of the maids came into the room with
the information that Helps was downstairs and wanted to speak to her
directly.

Mrs. Wyndham had not left her room since Tuesday evening. There was
nothing apparently the matter with her, and yet all through the week
her pulse had beat too quickly, and a hectic color came and went on her
cheeks. She ate very little, she slept badly, and the watchful
expression in her eyes took from their beauty and gave them a strained
appearance. She did not know herself why she was watchful, or what she
was waiting for, but she was consciously nervous and ill at ease.

When the maid brought the information that Helps was downstairs, her
mistress instantly started to her feet, almost pushing the astonished
and indignant baby aside.

"Take care of Master Gerry," she said to the girl. "I will go and speak
to Mr. Helps; where is he?"

"I showed him into the study, ma'am."

Valentine ran downstairs; her eagerness and impatience and growing
presentiment that something was at hand increased with each step she
took. She entered the study, and said in a brusque voice, and with a
bright color in her cheeks:--

"Well?"

"Mr. Paget has sent me to you, Mrs. Wyndham," said Helps, in his
uniformly weak tones. "Mr. Paget is ill, and he wants to see you at
once."

Valentine stepped back a pace.

"My father!" she said. "But he knows I do not care to go to the house."

"He knows that fact very well, Mrs. Wyndham."

"Still he sent for me?"

"He did, madam."

"Is my father worse than usual?"

"In some ways he is worse--in some better," replied Helps in a dubious
sort of voice. "If I were you I'd come. Miss Valentine--Mrs. Wyndham, I
mean."

"Yes, Helps, I'll come; I'll come instantly. Will you fetch a cab for
me?"

"There's one waiting at the door, ma'am."

"Very well. I won't even go upstairs. Fetch me my cloak from the stand
in the hall, will you? Now I am ready."

The two got into the cab and drove away. No one in the house even knew
that they had gone.

When they arrived at Queen's Gate, Helps still took the lead.

"Is my father in the library?" asked the daughter.

"No, Mrs. Wyndham. Mr. Paget has been in his room for the last day or
two. I'll take you to him, if you please, at once."

"Thank you, Helps."

Valentine left her cloak in the hall, and followed the old servant
upstairs.

"Here's Mrs. Wyndham," said Helps, opening the door of the sick man's
room, and then shutting it and going away himself.

"Here's Valentine," said Mrs. Wyndham, coming forward. "I did not know
you were so ill, father."

He was dressed, and sitting in a chair. She went up to him and laid her
hand gravely on his arm.

"You have come, Valentine, you have come. Kneel down by me. Let me look
at you. Valentine, you have come."

"I have come."

Never did hungrier eyes look into hers.

"Kiss me."

She bent forward at once, and pressed a light kiss on his cheek.

"Don't do it again," he said.

He put up his hand and rubbed the place that her lips had touched.

"There's no love in a kiss like that. Don't give me such another."

"You are ill, father; I did not know you were so very ill," replied his
daughter in the quiet voice in which she would soothe a little child.

"I am ill in mind, Valentine, and sometimes my mind affects my body. It
did for the last few days. This afternoon I'm better--I mean I am
better in mind, and I sent for you that I might get the thing over."

"What thing, father?"

"Never mind for a moment or two. You used to be so fond of me, little
Val."

"I used--truly I used!"

The tears filled her eyes.

"I thought you'd give me one of the old kisses."

"I can't. Don't ask it."

"Is your love dead, child, quite dead?"

"Don't ask."

"My God," said the sick man; "her love is dead before she knows--even
before she knows. What a punishment is here?"

A queer light filled his eyes; Valentine remembered that whispers had
reached her with regard to her father's sanity. She tried again to
soothe him.

"Let us talk common-places; it does not do every moment to gauge one's
feelings. Shall I tell you about baby?"

"No, no; don't drag the child's name into the conversation of this
hour. Valentine, one of two things is about to happen to me. I am
either going to die or to become quite hopelessly mad. Before either
thing happens I have a confession to make."

"Confession? Father!"

Her face grew very white.

"Yes. I want to confess to you. It won't pain me so much as it would
have done had any of your love for me survived. It is right you should
know. I have not the least doubt when you do know you will see justice
done. Of late you have not troubled yourself much about my affairs.
Perhaps you do not know that I have practically retired from my
business, and that I have taken steps to vest the whole concern
absolutely in your hands. When you know all you will probably sell it;
but that is your affair. I shall either be in my grave or a madhouse,
so it won't concern me. If any fragment of money survives
afterwards--I mean after you have done what you absolutely consider
just--you must hold it in trust for your son. Now I am ready to begin.
What is the matter, Valentine?"

"Only that you frighten me very much. I have not been quite--quite well
lately. Do you mind my fetching a chair?"

"I did not know you were ill, child. Yes, take that chair. Oh,
Valentine, for you my love was true."

"Father, don't let us go back to that subject. Now I am ready. I will
listen. What have you got to say?"

"In the first place, I am perfectly sane at this moment."

"I am sure of that."

"Now listen. Look away from me, Valentine, while I speak. That is all I
ask."

Valentine slightly turned her chair; her trembling and excitement had
grown and grown.

"I am ready. Don't make the story longer than you can help," she said
in a choked voice.

"Years and years ago, child, before you were born, I was a happy man. I
was honorable then and good; I was the sort of man I pretended to be
afterwards. I married your mother, who died at your birth. I had loved
your mother very dearly. After her death you filled her place. Soon you
did more than fill it; you were everything to me; you gave early
promise of being a more spirited and brilliant woman than your mother.
I lived for you; you were my whole and entire world.

"Before your birth, Valentine, a friend, a great friend of mine, left
me a large sum of money. He was dying at the time he made his will; his
wife was in New Zealand; he thought it possible that she might soon
give birth to a child. If the child lived, the money was to be kept in
trust for it until its majority. If it died it was to be mine
absolutely. I may as well tell you that my friend's wife was a very
worthless woman, and he was determined she should have nothing to say
to the money. He died--I took possession--a son was born. I knew this
fact, but I was hard pressed at the time, and I stole the money.

"My belief was that neither the child nor the mother could ever trace
the money. Soon I was disappointed. I received a letter from the boy's
mother which showed me that she knew all, and although not a farthing
could be claimed until the lad came of age, then I must deliver to him
the entire sum with interest.

"From that moment my punishment began. The trust fund, with interest,
would amount to eighty thousand pounds. Even if I made myself a beggar
I could not restore the whole of this great sum. If I did not restore
it at the coming of age of this young man, I should be doomed to a
felon's cell, and penal servitude. I looked into your face; you loved
me then; you worshipped me. I idolized you. I resolved that disgrace
and ruin should not touch you.

"Helps and I between us concocted a diabolical plot. Helps was like wax
in my hands; he had helped me to appropriate the money; he knew my
secrets right through. We made the plot, and waited for results. I took
you into society, I wanted you to marry. My object was that you should
marry a man whom you did not love. Wyndham came on the scene; he seemed
a weak sort of fellow--weak, pliable--passionately in love with
you--cursedly poor. Did you speak, Valentine?"

"No; you must make this story brief, if you please."

"It can be told in a few more words. I thought I could make Wyndham my
tool. I saw that his passion for you blinded him to almost everything.
Otherwise, he was the most selfless person I ever met. I saw that his
unselfishness would make him strong to endure. His overpowering love
for you would induce him to sacrifice everything for present bliss.
Such a combination of strength and weakness was what I had been
looking for. I told Helps that I had found my man. Helps did not like
it; he had taken an insane fancy for the fellow. What is the matter,
Valentine? How you fidget."

"You had better be brief. My patience is nearly exhausted."

"I am very brief. I spoke to Wyndham. I made my bargain; he was to
marry you. Before marriage, with the plausible excuse that the
insurance was to be effected by way of settlement, I paid premiums for
insurances on the young man's life for eighty thousand pounds. I
insured his life in four offices. You were married. He knew what he had
undertaken, and everything went well, except for one cursed fact--you
learned to love the fellow. I nearly went mad when I saw the love for
him growing into your eyes. He was to sail on board the _Esperance_. He
knew, and I knew that he was never coming back. He was to feign death.
Our plans were made carefully. I was to receive a proper certificate,
and with that in my hand I could claim the insurance money. Thus he was
to save you and me from dishonor, which is worse than death.

"All our plans were laid. I waited for news. Valentine, you make me
strangely nervous. What is the matter with you, child? Are you going to
faint?"

"No--no--no! Go on--go on! Don't speak to me--don't address me again by
my name. Just go on, or I----Oh, God, I am a desperate woman! Go on, I
must hear the end."yourefforts

As Valentine grew excited her father became cool and quiet: he waited
until she had done speaking, then dropping his head he continued his
narrative in a dreary monotone.

"I waited for news--it was long in coming. At last it arrived on the
day my grandson was born. Wyndham had outwitted me. He could not bear
the load of a living death. Shame on him. He could take his bliss, but
not his punishment. He leaped overboard the _Esperance_--he committed
suicide."

"What? No, never. Don't dare to say such words."

"I must say them, although they are cruel. He committed suicide, and
then he came to haunt me; he knew that his blood would rest on my soul;
he knew how best to torture me for what I had done to him."

"One question. Was the insurance money paid?"

"Was it? Yes. I believe so. That part seemed all of minor importance
afterwards. But I believe it was paid. I think Helps saw to it."

"You believe that my husband committed suicide, and yet you allowed the
insurance offices to pay."

"What of that? No one else knew my thoughts."

"As you say, what of that? Is your story finished?"

"Nearly. I lost your love, and for the last three years I have been
haunted by Wyndham. I see his shadow everywhere. Once I met him in the
street. A few nights ago he came into the library and confronted me; he
spoke to me and tried to touch me; he pretended he was not dead."

"What night was that?"

Valentine's voice had changed; there was a new ring in it. Her father
roused himself from his lethargic attitude to look into her face. "What
night did my husband come to you?"

"I forget--no, I remember. It was Tuesday night."

"Did he carry a violin? Speak--did he?"

"He carried something. It may have been a violin. Do they use such
instruments in the other world? He was a spirit, you know, child. How
queer, how very queer you look!"

"I feel queer."

"He wanted me to touch him, child, but I wouldn't. I was too knowing
for that. If you touch a spirit you must go with him. No, no, I knew a
thing worth two of that. He went on telling me he was alive. But I knew
better, he couldn't take me in. Valentine, everything seems so far
away. Valentine, I am faint, faint. Ah, there he is again by the door.
Look! No, he must not touch me--he must not!"

Valentine glanced round. There was no one present. Then she rang the
bell. It was answered by the old housekeeper.

"Mrs. Marsh, my father is ill. Will you give him some restorative at
once? And send for the doctor, if necessary. I must go, but I'll come
back if possible to-night."

She left the room without glancing at the sick man, who followed her to
the door with his dim eyes. She went downstairs, put on her cloak and
left the house.

She had to walk a little distance before she met a hansom, and one or
two people stared at the tall, slim figure, which was still young and
girlish, but which bore on its proud face such a hard expression, such
a burning defiant light in the eyes. Valentine soon reached home.
Everything was in a whirl in her brain. Esther Helps was standing on
the steps. She flew to Esther, clasped her hands in a grasp of iron,
and said in a husky choked voice:--

"Esther, my husband is alive!"

"He is, dear madam, he is, and I have come to take you to him!"

"Oh, Esther, thank God!"

"Come indoors, madam, you have not a moment to lose. We will keep that
cab, if you please. I have only just come back. I was going to seek
you. Stay one moment, Mrs. Wyndham. You are in black; will you put on
your white dress--the one you wore on Tuesday night."

"Oh, what does it matter? Let me go to him."

"Little things sometimes matter a great deal; he saw you last in your
white dress."

"He was really there on Tuesday night?"

"He was there. Come, I will fly for the dress and put it on you."

She did so. Valentine put her cloak over it, and the two drove away in
the hansom. Valentine had no ears for the direction given to the
cabman.

"I am in heaven," she said once, under her breath. "He lives. Now I can
forgive my father!"

"Madam, your husband is very ill."

Valentine turned her great shining eyes towards Esther.

"All the better. I can nurse him," she said, with a smile, and then she
pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and did not speak another
word.

The cab drew up at one of the entrances to St. Thomas' Hospital.



CHAPTER LI.


"What place is this?" asked the wife.

She was unacquainted with hospitals and sickness.

"This is a place where they cure the sick, and succour the dying, dear
Mrs. Wyndham," gently remarked Esther Helps.

"They cure the sick here, do they? But I will cure my husband myself. I
know the way." She smiled. "Take me to him, Esther. How slow you are.
Beloved Esther--I don't thank you--I have no words to say thank
you--but my heart is so happy I think it will burst."

The porter came forward, then a nurse. Several ceremonies had to be
gone through, several remarks made, several questions asked. Valentine
heard and saw nothing. Esther helped Valentine to take off her cloak;
and she stood in her simple long plain white dress, with her bright
hair like a glory round her happy face.

The nurse who finally conducted them to the ward where Wyndham lay
looked at her in a sort of bewilderment. Esther and the nurse went
first, and Valentine slowly followed between the long rows of beds;
some of the men said afterwards that an angel had gone through the ward
on the night that the strolling minstrel, poor fellow, died. The sister
who had charge of the ward turned and whispered a word to Esther, then
she pushed aside a screen which surrounded one of the beds.

"Your husband is very ill," she said, looking with a world of pity into
Valentine's bright eyes. "You ought to be prepared; he is _very_ ill."

"Thank you, I am quite prepared. I have come to cure him."

Then she went inside the screen, and Esther and the nurse remained
without.

Wyndham was lying with his eyes closed; his sunken cheeks, his deathly
pallor, his quick and hurried breath might have prepared the young wife
for the worst. They did not. She stood for a moment at the foot of the
bed, her hands clasped in ecstasy, her eyes shining, a wonderful smile
bringing back the beauty to her lips. Then she came forward and lay
gently down by the side of the dying man. She slipped her hand under
his head and laid her cheek to his.

"At last, Gerald," she said, "at last you have come back! You didn't
die. You are changed, greatly changed; but you didn't die, Gerald."

He opened his eyes and looked her full in the face.

"Valentine!"

"Hush, you are too weak to talk. Stay quiet, I am with you. I will
nurse you back to strength. Oh, my darling, you didn't die."

"Your darling, Valentine? Did you call me your darling?"

"I said it. I say it. You are all the world to me; without you the
world is empty. Oh, how I love you--how I have loved you for years."

"Then it was good I didn't die," said Wyndham, he raised his eyes,
looked up and smiled. His smile was one of ecstasy.

"Of course it was good that you didn't die, and now you are going to
get well. Lie still. Do you like my hand under your head?"

"Like it?"

"Yes; you need not tell me. Let me talk to you; don't answer me.
Gerald, my father told me. He told me what he had done; he told me what
you had done. He wants me to forgive him, but I'm not going to forgive
him. I'll never forgive him, Gerald. I have ceased to love him, and
I'll never forgive him; all my love is for you."

"Not all, wife--not quite all. Give him back a little, and--forgive."

"How weak you are, Gerald, and your voice sounds miles away."

"Forgive him, Valentine."

"Yes, if you wish it. Lie still, darling."

"Valentine--that money."

"I know about it--that blood-money. The price of your precious life. It
shall be paid back at once."

"Then God will forgive me. I thank Him, unspeakably."

"Gerald, you are very weak. I can scarcely hear your words. Does it
tire you dreadfully to talk? See, I will hold your hand; when you are
too tired to speak your fingers can press mine. Gerald, you were
outside our house on Tuesday night. Yes, I feel the pressure of your
hand; you were there. Gerald, you were very unhappy that night."

"But not now, darling," replied Wyndham. He had found his voice; his
words came out with sudden strength and joy. "I made a mistake that
night, wife. I won't tell it to you. I made a mistake."

"And you are really quite, quite happy now."

"Happy! Sorrow is put behind me--the former things are done away."

"You will be happier still when you come home to baby and me."

"You'll come to me, Val; you and the boy."

"What do you say? I can't hear you."

"You'll come to me."

"I am with you."

"You'll come--_up_--to me."

Then she began to understand.

Half-an-hour later the nurse and Esther drew the screen aside and came
in. Valentine's face was nearly as white as Wyndham's. She did not see
the two as they came in. Her eyes were fixed on her husband's, her hand
still held his.

"He wants a stimulant," said the nurse.

She poured something out of a bottle and put it between the dying man's
lips. He opened his eyes when she did this, and looked at Valentine.

"Are you still there? Hold my hand."

"Do you think I would let it go? I have been wanting this hand to clasp
mine for _so_ long, oh, for _so_ long."

The nurse again put some stimulant between Gerald's lips.

"You must not tire his strength, madam," she said. "Even emotion, even
joyful emotion is more than he can bear just now."

"Is it, nurse? Then I will sit quiet, and not speak. I don't mind how
long I stay, nor how quiet I keep, if only I can save him. Nurse, I
know he is very ill, but, but----"

Her lips quivered, and her eyes, dry and bright and hungry, were fixed
on the nurse. Wyndham, too, was looking at the nurse with a question
written on his face. She bent down low, and caught his faint whisper.

"Your husband bids you hope," she said then, turning to Valentine. "He
bids you take courage; he bids you to have the best hope of all--the
hope eternal. Madam, when you clasp hands up there you need not part."

"Did you tell her to say that to me, Gerald?" asked the wife. "Oh, no,
you couldn't have told her to say those words. Oh, no, you love me too
well to go away."

"God loves you, Valentine," suddenly said Gerald. "God loves _you_, and
He loves me, and His eternal love will surround us. I up there, you
here. In that love we shall be one."

Only the nurse knew with what difficulty Wyndham uttered these words,
but Valentine saw the light in his eyes. She bowed her head on his thin
hand, her lips kissed it--she did not speak.

To the surprise of the sister who had charge of the ward. Wyndham
lingered on for hours--during the greater part of the night. Valentine
and Esther never left him. Esther sat a little in the shadow where her
pale face could scarcely be seen. If she felt personal grief she kept
it under. The chief actors in the tragedy, the cruelly-wronged husband
and wife, absorbed all her thoughts. No, she had no time, no room, to
think of herself.

Wyndham was going--Brother Jerome would no longer be known in the
streets of East London; the poor, the sorrowful, would grieve at not
seeing his face again. The touch of his hand could no longer
comfort--the light in his eyes could no longer bless. The Mission would
have to do without Brother Jerome--this missioner was about to render
up his account to the Judge of all.

The little attic in Acacia Villas would also be empty; the tired man
would not need the few comforts that Esther had collected round
him--the tiresome cough, the weary restless step would cease to disturb
Cherry's rest, and Esther's chief object in life would be withdrawn.

He who for so long was supposed to be dead would be dead in earnest.
Valentine would be a real widow, little Gerald truly an orphan.

All these thoughts thronged through Esther's mind as she sat in the
shadow behind the screen and listened to the chimes outside as they
proclaimed the passing time, and the passing away also of a life.

Every moment lives of men go away--souls enter the unknown country.
Some go with regret, some with rejoicing. In some cases there are many
left behind to sorrow--in other cases no one mourns.

Wyndham had sinned, he had yielded to temptation; he had been weak--a
victim it is true--still a victim who with his eyes open had done a
great wrong. Yet Esther felt that for some at least it was a good thing
that Wyndham was born.

"I, for one, thank God that I knew him," she murmured. "He has caused
me suffering, but he has raised me. I thank God that I was permitted to
know such a man. The world would, I suppose, speak of him as a sinner,
but to my way of thinking, if ever there was a saint he is one."

So the night passed on, and Valentine remained motionless by the dying
man's bed. What her thoughts were, none might read.

At last, towards the break of day, the time when so many souls go away,
Wyndham stirred faintly and opened his eyes. Valentine moved forward
with an eager gesture. He looked at her, but there was no comprehension
in his glance.

"What is the matter?" said Valentine to the nurse. "I scarcely know
him--his face has altered."

"It looks young, madam. Dying faces often do so. Hark, he is saying
something."

"Lilias," said Wyndham. "Lilly--mother calls us--we are to sing our
evening hymn."

   'Bright in the happy land!'

"Lilias, do you _hear_ mother; she is calling? Kneel down--our evening
prayers--by mother--we always say our prayers by mother's knee. Kneel,
Lilias, see, my hands are folded--'Our Father'----"

There was a long pause after the last words, a pause followed by one
more breath of infinite content, and then the nurse closed the dead
man's eyes.



CHAPTER LII.

TWO YEARS AFTER.


Augusta Wyndham was pacing up and down the broad gravel walk which ran
down the centre of the rectory garden in a state of great excitement.
She was walking quickly, her hands clasped loosely before her, her tall
and rather angular figure drawn up to its full height, her bright black
eyes alert and watchful in their expression.

"Now, if only they are not interrupted," she said, "if only I can keep
people from going near the rose-walk, he'll do it--I know he'll do
it--I saw it in his eyes when he came up and asked me where Lilias was.
He hasn't been here for six months, and I had given up all hope; but
hope has revived to-day--hope springs eternal in the human breast. Tra
la, la--la, la. Now, Gerry, boy, what do you want?"

A sturdy little fellow in a sailor suit stood for a moment in the porch
of the old rectory, then ran with a gleeful shout down the gravel walk
towards Augusta. She held out her arms to detain him.

"Well caught, Gerry," she said.

"It isn't well caught," he replied with an angry flush. "I don't want
to stay with you, Auntie Gussie; I want to go to my--my own auntie. Let
me pass, please."

"You saucy boy, auntie's busy; you shall stay with me."

"I won't. I'll beat you--I won't stay."

"If I whisper something to you, Gerry--something about Auntie Lil. Now
be quiet, mannikin, and let me say my say. You love Auntie Lil, don't
you?"

"You know that; you do talk nonsense sometimes. I love father in
heaven, and mother, and Auntie Lil."

"And me, you little wretch."

"Sometimes. Let me go to Auntie Lil now."

"I want to whisper something to you, Gerry. Auntie Lil is talking to
someone she loves much better than you or me or anyone else in the
world, and it would be very unkind to interrupt her."

Gerry was sitting on Augusta's shoulder. From this elevated position he
could catch a glimpse of a certain grey dress, and a quick flash of
chestnut hair, as the sun shone on it--that dress and that hair
belonged to Auntie Lil. It was no matter at all to Gerry that someone
else walked by her side, that someone was bending his dark head
somewhat close to hers, and that as she listened her steps faltered and
grew slow.

Gerry's whole soul was wounded by Augusta's words. His Aunt Lilias did
not love anyone better than him. It was his bounden duty, his first
duty in life, to have such an erroneous statement put right at once.

He put forth all his strength, struggled down from Augusta's shoulders,
and before she was aware of it was speeding like an arrow from a bow to
his target, Lilias.

"There, now, I give it up," said Augusta. "Awful child, what mischief
may he not make? Don't I hear his shrill voice even here! Oh, I give it
up now; I shall go into the house. The full heat of the sun in July
does not suit me, and if in addition to all other troubles Lilias is to
have a broken heart, I may as well keep in sufficient health to nurse
her."

Meanwhile Gerry was having a very comfortable time on Carr's shoulder;
his dark eyes were looking at his Aunt Lilias, and his little fat, hot
hand was clasped in hers.

"Well," he said suddenly, "which is it?"

"Which is what, Gerry? I don't understand."

"I think you are stoopid, Auntie Lil. Is it him or me?"

Then he laid his other fat hand on Carr's forehead.

"Is it him or me?" said Gerry, "that you love the most of all the
peoples in the world?"

"It's me, Gerry, it's me," suddenly said Adrian Carr; "but you come
next, dear little man. Kiss him, Lilias, and tell him that he comes
next."

"Gerald's dear little boy," said Lilias. She took him in her arms and
pressed her head against his chubby neck.

"Dear, dear little boy," she said. "I think you'll always come second."

She looked so solemn when she spoke, and so beautiful was the light in
her eyes when she raised her face to look at Gerry, that even he, most
despotic of little mortals, could not but feel satisfied.

He ran away presently to announce to all and everyone within reach that
Mr. Carr had kissed Auntie Lil like anything, and the newly-betrothed
pair were left alone.

"At last, Lilias," said Carr.

She looked shyly into his face.

"I thought I should never win you," he continued. "I have loved you for
years, and I never had courage to tell you so until to-day."

"And I have loved you for years," replied Lilias Wyndham.

"But not best, Lilly. Oh, I have read you like a book. I never came
before Gerald in your heart."

"No," she said letting go his hand, and moving a step or two away, so
that she should face him. "I love you well, beyond all living men, but
Gerald stands alone. His place can never be filled."

The tears sprang into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

"And I love you better for loving him so, my darling," answered her
lover. He put his arms round her, and she laid her head on his breast.

For a long time they paced up and down the Rose-walk. They had much to
say, much to feel, much to be silent over. The air was balmy overhead,
and the rose-leaves were tossed by the light summer breeze against
Lilias' grey dress.

Presently she began to talk of the past. Carr asked tenderly for
Valentine.

"Valentine is so noble," replied her sister-in-law. "You don't know
what she has been to me since that day when she and I looked together
at Gerald's dead face. Oh, that day, that dreadful day!"

"It is past, Lilias. Think of the future, the bright future, and he is
in that brightness now."

"I know."

She wiped the tears again from her eyes. Then she continued in a
changed voice:--

"I will try and forget that day, which, as you say, is behind Gerald
and me. At the time I could scarcely think of myself. I was so overcome
with the wonderful brave way in which Valentine acted. You know her
father died a month afterwards, and she was so sweet to him. She nursed
him day and night, and did all that woman could do to comfort and
forgive him. His brain was dreadfully clouded, however, and he died at
last in a state of unconsciousness. Then Valentine came out in a new
light. She went to the insurance offices and told the whole story of
the fraud that had been practised on them, and of her husband's part in
it. She told the story in such a way that hard business men, as most of
these men were, wept. Then she sold her father's great shipping
business, which had all been left absolutely to her, and paid back
every penny of the money.

"Since then, as you know, she and Gerry live here. She is really the
idol of my old father's life; he and she are scarcely ever parted.
Yes, she is a noble woman. When I look at her I say to myself, Gerald,
at least, did not love unworthily."

"Then she is poor now?"

"As the world speaks of poverty she is poor. Do you think Valentine
minds that? Oh, how little her father understood her when he thought
that riches were essential to her happiness. No one has simpler tastes
than Valentine. Do you know that she housekeeps now at the rectory, and
we are really much better off than we used to be. Alack and alas!
Adrian, you ought to know in time, I am such a bad housekeeper."

Lilias laughed quite merrily as she spoke, and Carr's dark face glowed.

"It is a bargain," he said, "that I take you with your faults and don't
reproach you with them. And what has become of that fine creature,
Esther Helps?" he asked presently.

"She works in East London, and comes here for her holidays. Sometimes I
think Valentine loves Esther Helps better than anyone in the world
after Gerry."

"That is scarcely to be wondered at, is it?"

Just then their conversation was interrupted by some gleeful shouts,
and the four little girls, no longer so very small, came flying round
the corner in hot pursuit of Gerry.

"Here they is!" exclaimed the small tyrant, gazing round at his devoted
subjects, and pointing with a lofty and condescending air to Adrian and
Lilias. "Here they is!" he said, "and I 'spose they'll do it again if
we ask them."

"Do what again?" asked Lilias innocently.

"Why, kiss one another," replied Gerry. "I saw you do it, so don't tell
stories. Joan and Betty they wouldn't believe me. Please do it again,
please do. Mr. Carr, please kiss Auntie Lil again."

"Oh, fie, Gerry," replied Lilias. She tried to turn away, but Carr went
up to her gravely, and he kissed her brow.

"There's nothing in it," he continued, looking round at the astonished
little girls. "We are going to be husband and wife in a week or two,
and husbands and wives always kiss one another."

"Then I was right," said Betty. "Joan and Rosie wouldn't believe me,
but I was right after all. I am glad of that."

"I believed you, Betty. I always believed you," said Violet.

"Well, perhaps you did. The others didn't. I'm glad I was right."

"How were you right, Betty?" asked Carr.

"Oh, don't ask her, Adrian. Let us come into the house," interrupted
Lilias.

"Yes, we'll come into the house, of course. But I should like to know
how Betty was right."

"Why you wanted to kiss her years ago. I knew it, and I said it. Didn't
you, now?"

"Speak the trufe," suddenly commanded Gerry.

"Yes, I did," replied Carr.

When Adrian Carr left the rectory that evening he had to walk down the
dusty road which led straight past the church and the little village
school-house to the railway station. This road was full of associations
to him, and he walked slowly, thinking of past scenes, thanking God for
his present blessings.

"It was here, by the turnstile, I first saw Lilias," he said to
himself. "She and Marjory were standing together, and she came forward
and looked at me, and asked me in that sweet voice of hers if I were
not Mr. Carr. She reminded me of her brother, whom I just barely knew.
It was a fleeting likeness, seen more at first than afterwards.

"Here, by this little old school-house the villagers stood and rejoiced
the last day Gerald came home. Poor Wyndham--most blessed and most
miserable of men. Well, he is at rest now, and even here I see the
cross which throws a shadow over his grave!"

Carr looked at his watch. There was time. He entered the little
church-yard. A green mound, a white cross, several wreaths of flowers,
marked the spot where one who had been much loved in life lay until the
resurrection. The cross was so placed as to bend slightly over the
grave as though to protect it. It bore a very brief inscription:--

   IN PEACE.

   GERALD WYNDHAM.
   AGED 27.


THE END.



JELLY OF CUCUMBER AND ROSES.


MADE BY W.A. DYER & CO., MONTREAL, is a delightfully fragrant Toilet
article. Removes freckles and sunburn, and renders chapped and rough
skin, after one application, smooth and pleasant. No Toilet-table is
complete without a tube of Dyer's Jelly of Cucumber and Roses. Sold by
all Druggists.

   =Agents for United States=--

   CASWELL, MASSEY & CO., New York & Newport.


Teeth Like Pearls!

    IS A COMMON EXPRESSION. The way to obtain it, use Dyer's Arnicated
    Tooth Paste, fragrant and delicious. Try it. Druggists keep it.

W.A. DYER & CO., MONTREAL.


DR. CHEVALIER'S RED SPRUCE GUM PASTE.

DR. NELSON'S PRESCRIPTION,

_GOUDRON de NORWEGE_.

ARE THE BEST REMEDIES

For COUGHS and COLDS.

Insist upon getting one of them.

25c. each.

For Sale by all Respectable Druggists.

LAVIOLETTE & NELSON, Druggists, AGENTS OF FRENCH PATENTS. 1605 Notre
Dame St.

      *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: Burdock BLOOD BITTERS]

THE KEY TO HEALTH unlocks all the clogged secretions of the Stomach,
Liver. Bowels and Blood, carrying off all humors and impurities from
the entire system, correcting Acidity, and curing Biliousness,
Dyspepsia, Sick Headache. Constipation, Rheumatism, Dropsy, Dry Skin,
Dizziness, Jaundice, Heartburn, Nervous and General Debility, Salt
Rheum, Erysipelas. Scrofula, etc. It purifies and eradicates from the
Blood all poisonous humors, from a common Pimple to the worst
Scrofulous Sore.

      *       *       *       *       *

DYSPEPSINE!

The Great American Remedy

FOR DYSPEPSIA

In all its forms.

As =Indigestion=, =Flatulency=, =Heartburn=, =Waterbrash=,
=Sick-Headache=, =Constipation=, =Biliousness=, and all forms of
=Dyspepsia=; regulating the action of the stomach, and of the digestive
organs.

   Sold by all druggist, 5Oc. a bottle.

   =Sole Proprietor, WALLACE DAWSON.=

   MONTREAL, CAN.,      ROUSES POINT, N.Y.


BOOKS IN "STAR" SERIES.

   107. LUCK IN DISGUISE, BY WM. J. ZEXTER                      .30
   108. THE BONDMAN, BY HALL CAINE                              .30
   109. A MARCH IN THE RANKS, BY JESSIE FOTHERGILL              .25
   110. COSETTE, BY KATHERINE S. MACQUOID                       .30
   111. WHOSE WAS THE HAND? BY MISS BRADDON                     .25
   112. THE PHANTOM 'RICKSHAW, BY RUDYARD KIPLING               .25
   113. THE STORY OF THE GADSBYS, BY RUDYARD KIPLING            .25
   114. SOLDIERS THREE, AND OTHER TALES, BY RUDYARD KIPLING     .25
   115. PLAIN TALES FROM THE HILLS, BY RUDYARD KIPLING          .25
   116. THE DEMONIAC, BY WALTER BESANT                          .25
   117. BRAVE HEART AND TRUE, BY FLORENCE MARRYAT               .25
   118. WORMWOOD, BY MARIE CORELLI                              .25
   119. GOOD BYE, BY JOHN STRANGE WINTER                        .25

For Sale by all Booksellers.


_Scarff's Marshmallow Cream_

For the Skin and Complexion, superior to anything in use for roughness,
or any irritation of the skin, sunburn, pimples, &c.

      *       *       *       *       *

TRY

HOREHOUND AND HONEY

COUGH BALSAM

For Coughs, Colds, &c., Pleasant, Reliable, Effectual.

      *       *       *       *       *

SCARFF'S

SAPONACEOUS TOOTH WASH

CARBOLATED.

Is the best preparation for Cleansing, Preserving and Beautifying the
Teeth and Gums.

PREPARED BY

CHAS. E. SCARFF, CHEMIST AND DRUGGIST

_2262 St. Catherine Street, opposite Victoria_.


CATALOGUE

OF LOVELL'S

CANADIAN COPYRIGHT SERIES

All the books in the Copyright Series are by arrangement with the
Authors, to whom a Royalty is paid, and no American reprints can
lawfully be sold in Canada.

   54. A Hidden Foe, by G.A. Henty                                    .30
   53. Lady Maude's Mania, by George Manville Fenn                    .30
   51. A Double Knot, by Geo. Manville Fenn                           .30
   49. Alas, by Rhoda Broughton                                       .30
   48. Name and Fame, by Adeline Sergeant                             .30
   47. Marcia, by W.E. Norris                                         .30
   46. Black Box Murder, by Maarten Maartens                          .30
   45. Famous or Infamous, by Bertha Thomas                           .30
   44. Heart of Gold, by L.T. Meade                                   .30
   43. Lover or Friend, by Rosa Nouchette Carey                       .50
   42. The Chief Justice, by Karl Emil Franzos                        .30
   41. Ruffino, by Ouida                                              .30
   40. The Moment After, by Robert Buchanan                           .25
   39. The Great Mill Street Mystery, by Adeline Sergeant             .30
   38. A Smuggler's Secret, by Frank Barrett                          .30
   37. A True Friend, by Adeline Sergeant                             .30
   36. A Scarlet Sin, by Florence Marryat                             .30
   35. A Woman's Heart, by Mrs. Alexander                             .30
   34. Her Last Throw, by The Duchess                                 .30
   33. The Burnt Million, by James Payn                               .30
   32. Syrlin, by Ouida                                               .50
   31. The Lady Egeria, by John Berwick Harwood                       .30
   30. By Order of the Czar, by Joseph Hatton                         .30
   29. April's Lady, by The Duchess                                   .30
   28. The Firm of Girdlestone, by A. Conan Doyle                     .30
   27. A Girl of the People, by L.T. Meade                            .30
   26. Was Ever Woman in this Humor Wooed? by Charles Gibbon          .30
   25. The Mynns' Mystery, by George Manville Fenn                    .30
   24. Sylvia Arden, by Oswald Crawford                               .30
   23. Nurse Revel's Mistake, by Florence Warden                      .30
   22. Hester Hepworth, by Kate Tannatt Woods                         .30
   21. Joshua, a Story of Egyptian-Israelitish Life, by Georg Ebers   .30
   20. Hedri; or, Blind Justice, by Helen Mathers                     .30
   19. Mount Eden, by Florence Marryat                                .30
   18. Earth Born, by Spirito Gentil                                  .30
   17. Buttons and Bootles' Baby, by John Strange Winter              .30
   16. The Haute Noblesse, by George Manville Fenn                    .30
   15. Kit Wyndham; or, Fettered for Life, by Frank Barrett           .30
   14. The Tree of Knowledge, by G.M. Robins                          .30
   13. Comedy of a Country House, by Julian Sturgis                   .30
   12. A Life Sentence, by Adeline Sergeant                           .30
   11. An I.D.B. in South Africa, by Louise Vescelius Sheldon         .30
   10. The Curse of Carne's Hold, by G.A. Henty                       .30
   9. That Other Woman, by Annie Thomas                               .30
   8. Jezebel's Friends, by Dora Russell                              .30
   7. Sophy Carmine, by John Strange Winter                           .30
   5. The Luck of the House, by Adeline Sergeant                      .30
   4. The Search for Basil Lyndhurst, by Rosa Nouchette Carey         .30
   2. The Fatal Phryne, by F.C. Phillips                              .30
   1. The Wing of Azrael, by Mona Caird                               .30


JOHN LOVELL & SON'S PUBLICATIONS.

   _A Woman's Heart_.      By MRS. ALEXANDER.

   An exciting and dramatically written story, full of woman's
   tenderness and compassion under the most trying circumstances.
   A captivating romance that is as interesting as it is elevating in
   tone.      PRICE 30 cents.

   _A True Friend_.      By ADELINE SERGEANT.

   The portrayal not the exaggeration of a noble character, from
   whom the reader can draw healthy inspiration.       PRICE 30 cents.

   _A Smuggler's Secret_.       By FRANK BARRETT.

   An exciting story of the Cornish Coast, full of adventure
   well put together and of a pure tone.       PRICE 30 cents.

   _The Great Mill Street Mystery_.       By ADELINE SERGEANT.

   The author is as usual true to life and true to her own noble
   instincts. Added to a feminine perception, Miss Sergeant has a
   dispassionateness and a sense of humor quite rare in her sex.
                                               PRICE 30 cents.

   _The Moment After_.      By ROBERT BUCHANAN.

   A thrilling story, giving the experience in the hereafter of a
   man who was hanged. It is weird but not revolting.      PRICE 25 cents.

   _The Bondman_.        By HALL CAINE.

   It is vigorous and faithful, portrays with the intimacy of
   entire acquaintanceship, not only the physical features of island
   life in the Northern Seas, but the insular habits of thought of the
   dwellers on those secluded haunts of the old Sea Kings or Vikings
   of the past.      PRICE 30 cents.

JOHN LOVELL & SON, PUBLISHERS, MONTREAL.



SECOND EDITION.

"A DAUGHTER OF ST. PETER'S"

BY JANET C. CONGER.

(MRS. WM. COX ALLEN.)

   In Paper Cover, 30 Cents,
   In Cloth Cover, 50 Cents,

Lovell's Canadian Authors' Series, No. 60.

The authoress is a Canadian, and her story is remarkably well
told.--_Advertiser_. London.

In this work a new aspirant for literary honors in the field of fiction
makes her first appearance before the public. The story which she tells
is neither lengthy nor involved. It is a simple, prettily told story of
love at first sight, with a happy ending, and little to divert the mind
of the reader from the hero and heroine. Mrs. Conger's literary style
is pleasing, and her production evidences a well cultured mind and a
tolerable appreciation of character. Her book will be found very
pleasant reading.--"_Intelligencer_," Belleville.

The plot is ingeniously constructed, and its working out furnishes the
opportunity for some dramatic situations. The heroine, of whose early
life the title gives us a hint, is a creature all grace and tenderness,
a true offspring of the sunny south. The hero is an American, a man of
wealth, and an artist _in posse_. The other _dramatis personæ_, who
play their parts around these central figures, are mostly Italians or
Americans. The great question to be solved is: Who is Merlina? In
supplying the solution, the author takes occasion to introduce us to an
obscure but interesting class of people. The denouement of "A Daughter
of St. Peter's" is somewhat startling, but we must not impair the
reader's pleasure by anticipation. We see from the advanced sheets that
it is dedicated to the Canadian public, to whom we cordially commend
it.--_The Gazette_, Montreal.

For a first effort, which the authoress in her preface modestly says
the novel is, "A Daughter of St. Peter's" must be pronounced a very
promising achievement. The plot is well constructed and the story
entertaining and well told. The style is light and agreeable, and with
a little more experience and facility in novel-writing we may expect
Mrs. Conger, if she essays a second trial, to produce a book that will
surpass the decided merits of "A Daughter of St. Peter's."--_Free
Press_. London.


      *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Note: Punctuation has been normalized.

Page 66; removed extra "one"  (Wyndham was one one).
Page 336; inserted "be"  (lawfully be sold in Canada).

The list of titles on page 336 is incomplete in the original,
i.e. mlssing: 52, 50, etc.





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